Whether you are looking for books for gifts or for your own holiday reading, I have a list for you! I also have a giveaway – I have an extra copy of Hannah Kent’s The good people and would love to give it to a loyal blog reader! Please leave a comment to tell me about the best book you read this year and subscribe to my blog if you haven’t already done so. All comments will go into a draw to win this book.
- The good people by Hannah Kent – I loved Hannah Kent’s first book, Burial Rites, so I couldn’t wait to read her second one when it came out only a month or so ago. This time, the story is set in Ireland, in 1825 and follows the story of three women. There’s Nora who loses her beloved husband in the first chapter and is responsible for caring for her grandson, Micheal. She can’t cope with Micheal’s ‘differentness’ so she employs Mary, a fourteen-year-old girl to look after him while she works. The third woman is Nance, a strong presence throughout the book, and her link to ‘the good people’ or fairies is both a curse and a blessing to her. I felt absorbed in this Irish world – Hannah Kent’s skill lies in creating authentic settings.
- The dry by Jane Harper – if you’re the sort of person who likes to say, ‘Oh, yes, I’d like to see that movie – I read the book YEARS ago,’ then perhaps you should read this book now! Jane Harper is a UK-born, Australian-based journalist/novelist and The dry is her debut novel. It’s set in a small Australian rural town and follows two murder stories, set twenty years apart. The thread in the present is about Aaron Falk, a city-based detective who goes back to his home town for the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke, his wife, Karen, and one of their two children. As Aaron uncovers some discrepancies in this case, he is forced to confront his memories about the death of his friend, Ellie, who supposedly drowned twenty years ago. I really cared about these characters – I wanted to find out whodunit but I wanted to know why the characters behaved the way they did and what their tangled relationships meant. A fabulous summer read for everyone. I’ll be there on the opening night of the film!
- The course of love by Alain de Botton – this one should be mandatory reading for every married couple. My husband read it and enjoyed it – even though it’s not the type of book he would choose to read. It’s a blend of a fictional story about Rabih and Kirsten, how they met, courted, married, had kids and how one of them had an affair, interwined with philosophical musings on the nature of marriage, human behaviour, female and male tendencies in thinking and behaving. My friend P and I had a shouted discussion about this during our kids’ school disco – it was worth shouting about! This is not an easy read, but it’s an entertaining one and perfect for the discerning, thoughtful reader who would like a slow, reflective read over the holidays. I wrote a longer review here.
- A kiss from Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester – transport yourself to 1920s New York, where Evie has given up her fashionable, comfortable life with a potential marriage to a reputable, wealthy young man, in order to follow her dream to become an obstetrician. Evie is a likeable, engaging character and the setting of New York, plus fashion, glamorous parties, a speakeasy makes this book a light page-turner – perfect for summer reading or anyone’s Christmas stocking. You can read my interview with Natasha here.
- The paper house by Anna Spargo-Ryan – this is another debut novel. This one brought me to tears, as it follows the journey of Heather, a young married woman who lost her baby at almost full-term. It’s a quiet, reflective story about the spiral of grief for Heather and her family. It doesn’t sound like a wonderful, joyful Christmas present but it’s a beautifully written book that took my breath away with wonderful language and the depth of emotion. I know Anna is writing a second novel, and I’m looking forward to reading it when it’s published.
- Be Frank with me by Julia Claiborne Johnson – this is an engaging, original book – one of my favourite reads for the year because of the engaging, original characters. Mimi is a reclusive writer, living in a mansion in Bel Air with her nine-year-old son, Frank. Alice is a publisher’s young assistant, sent to help Mimi with anything and everything, in order for Mimi to finish her new manuscript. Frank is an unforgettable, quirky character – an adult head on a kid’s shoulders, obsessed with old movies, and has two rules – don’t touch me, don’t touch my things. Wish this would be made into a movie. A wonderful read for all bookworms. There’s a longer review here.
- The beast’s garden by Kate Forsythe – I have read nearly all of Kate’s books because she manages to build a tightly structured plot with every single thread beautifully woven together which sits invisibly behind an array of interesting, complex characters with deep desires and hidden secrets. She is an amazing storyteller and wordsmith, and I learnt a lot from her in the Sydney workshop I attended earlier this year. The beast’s garden is about Ava, a young German woman, living in Berlin through World War II. Ava is sympathetic to the Jews and helps many of them, even though the man she loves is one of Hitler’s men. This book weaves love, history, politics, betrayal, family in a book which is full of tension. I blame Kate for a late dinner one night – I could not put this book down at 6.30 in the evening because I HAD to finish it. She told me that was a lovely compliment – I told her I had hungry kids! A fabulous read for anyone who loves a page-turning, historical love story.
- All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr – this was one of my favourite books I read this year. I passed it on to my husband to read, and he enjoyed it so much that he bought a few copies to give as gifts. It’s a dual narrative, set in World War II, and follows Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living in Paris, and Werner, a orphaned German boy, who has a skill with radios. The book jumps around a bit in time, so it does require a little work from the reader. Because you have a sense that the characters will eventually meet up, the fragments of Marie-Laure and Werner’s stories have a feeling of urgency, even though the writing is beautiful and evocative rather than fast-paced. The characters were wonderfully depicted, so you felt such empathy for both of them, even though they were on opposing sides of the war. Doerr writes lyrically and creates a sensory-rich world. If you call yourself a reader, please read this book!
- Bel Canto by Ann Pattchet – this book is truly a marvel. It’s the story of Latin terrorists who hold a large group of people hostage for a few months. Both hostages and terrorists have to forge new relationships and ways of living, and the two different groups blend and separate, blend and separate. The characters are wonderful – an opera singer, her greatest fan – a Japanese man, the Vice-President whose house is overtaken, a translator. Even the terrorists are described as individuals. I’ve read a few of Ann Pattchet’s books, and this one is my favourite.
- The birdman’s wife by Melissa Ashley – I chose this book by its cover – simple, elegant and evocative. It’s a novel but it’s based on the life of Elizabeth Gould, an artist who was overshadowed by her husband’s career. I’ve only just started this book, but I’m enjoying the mix of art, birds and life in 1820s London.
I hope you find something for yourself or your friends and family on this list. Please leave a comment about the best book you read this year and subscribe to my blog (if you haven’t already) to go into the draw to win a copy of The good people by Hannah Kent. The winner will be drawn on Friday 16th December at midday, and I’ll post the book out before Christmas.
Happy reading and Christmas shopping!