So many favourite adult fiction books I’ve read this year! I hope these brief reviews – in no particular order – give you some ideas for Christmas shopping for summer reading. There’s a variety of authors – female, male, Australian and international, and a variety of themes – family, friendship, ageing, art, mistakes, death.
As a thank-you for being such lovely supportive blog readers this year, please leave a comment telling me which book you would love to read by Thursday 5 December, 5pm. All readers with comments will go into a draw to win the book of your choice! The winner will be announced in my blog post on Friday 6 December. Good luck!
- Gravity is the thing by Jaclyn Moriarty – This book is quirky and endearing with beautiful language. Abigail is a woman in her mid-30s who is still looking for her missing brother who disappeared when he was 17. She’s a single mum in Sydney who accepts an invitation for a weekend retreat for people who once received separate chapters from a self-help book called The Guidebook as teenagers. This novel is full of lyrical phrases, slightly whacky situations and characters who are wonderful and flawed. I’m almost ready to read this one again.
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – A young sister and brother are evicted from their childhood home – an acclaimed house built by a Dutch family – by their stepmother when their father dies. They spend their lives mourning the loss of their home and identity, until the unexpected appearance of their mother changes their lives again. This would make a wonderful bookclub discussion. You can read a longer review here.
- A ladder to the sky by John Boyne – This was on my bookclub reading list, and we all enjoyed it. It’s told in a few different sections by different narrators who cross the path of Maurice Swift, a writer at different stages of his life. Maurice first appears as a young man, who cultivates a friendship with an older writer and cajoles him into telling a shameful story set in war-torn Germany. Maurice is so hell-bent on becoming not only a writer but a famous one that he writes his mentor’s story and publishes it to critical acclaim. Our bookclub had a great night discussing who owns a story and who has the right to tell it. Clearly, it’s a book to be discussed and was definitely a page-turner.
- Into the fire by Sonya Orchard – It’s a story about womanhood and friendship. Lara, the protagonist, and her friend Alice, become friends when they meet in the Women’s Studies department at Melbourne University but as they grow into young adults, they make different choices which leads to a drifting in their friendship. Readers know from the beginning that Alice was killed in a home fire. The story begins when Lara is returning to visit Alice’s husband and three children, a year after Alice died. You can read a longer review here.
- Boy swallows universe by Trent Dalton – This is the story of Eli Bell and his older, mute brother August. After their junkie mother and heroin dealer stepfather are caught up in a drug scandal, the boys are sent to live with their father, whom they haven’t seen for years. Eli has a compelling voice, the novel has an original concept and the ending had me turning pages swiftly to find out what happened next.
- City of girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – This is New York 1940s style glamour with theatre business against a backdrop of war. Vivian moves to New York to live with her theatre director aunt and ends up designing costumes for her shows and hanging out with the actors and show girls and socialites of New York. It’s her downfall – and it’s catastrophic for the time – that leads her, eventually, back to New York and to a life she couldn’t imagine. Great summer reading, full of history, scandal, glamour and love.
- Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak – this story of five brothers living alone is told with a strong, distinctive voice and so much heart. There are many moments of beautiful tenderness – ‘It’s a mystery, even to me, how boys and brothers love’. The characters are real and messy and flawed and beautiful. We’re shown the best and worst of them. The narrative flips around in time, so that we have an understanding of how the characters grow into their later selves. The breadth of the novel is astonishing – we have Michaelangelo, horse-racing, a typewriter, a few animals, a piano, Greek mythologies, running, two marriages and a divorce, an artist and of course, a bridge.
- The lost man by Jane Harper – This is another fabulous crime novel from Harper, this time without detective Faulk. The setting is outback Queensland on a cattle property, where three brothers have spent most of their lives. But one of them is dead, and the remaining two brothers search for answers. This would make a wonderful summer read as one of Harper’s strength is her descriptive settings, particularly in the heat.
- Normal people by Sally Rooney – Irish writer Sally Rooney has created an intimate world for Connell and Marianne, two teenagers at school in the west of Ireland. The book focuses on their metamorphosis from uncertain teenagers into young adults with dreams, dramas, relationships, politics and problems. I felt I knew them both well because Rooney focuses with such detail on their lives and shows the awkwardness and uncomfortable feelings and tenderness without becoming sentimental.
- The weekend by Charlotte Wood – I’ve only started this one but I’m already gripped. It’s the story of three women in their seventies who go away for a weekend to help sort out a deceased friend’s beach home. There’s an excellent review in The Sydney Morning Herald here. Wood wrote this when she had her writer in residency at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre with opportunities to speak with health professionals on campus.