Here’s your list:
1. A classic book to buy a young person just off to University or a first job.
Meredith Drake chooses: Post-Mortem by Patricia Cornwell.
It seemed appropriate to suggest a classic crime thriller this year as crime – fiction or true, in books, on TV or in podcasts – was a huge trend for most of 2018. “Post Mortem” was first published in 1990 and it won every possible prize for a debut crime novel: the Edgar, the Anthony, Crime Writers Association, the Macavity. Set in Richmond Virginia it introduced Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner, and followed her investigations into a string of unsolved strangulations. The book was ground-breaking at the time for its lead female character and its forensic detail. It’s a superb crime thriller and a classic of the forensic genre in particular.
David Gaunt chooses: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Like virtually everything he wrote, this is eye-poppingly and uniquely disturbing: just what you need on your way to Uni or a job. Jokes aside, it’s profoundly original, and quite funny. Slight in length, but not in genius.
Jon Page chooses: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. A new Australian classic perfect for a young person about to set off into the world. Set in 1980s Brisbane, the story centres on 13-year-old Eli and his mute older brother August. Eli’s dad is out of the picture, his mother is a recovering heroin addict and his step father is small time drug dealer. (Oh and his babysitter is an infamous jail breaking ex-con.) Eli must navigate the cards the world has dealt him as he tries to figure out his place in the universe. As his world starts to become more serious Eli must step up and face the secrets, the lies and the truths that surround him as he struggles to figure out what makes a good man amongst all the chaos. This is a coming-of-age story that will knock your socks off and more. An addictive read that will give you withdrawals when you put it down. A true Australian classic you will read again and again.
2. A fine, and just published, literary work for your brainiac 40-something Aunt, who always seems to have read everything.
Meredith Drake chooses: Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People is simply-put a love story, but what a love story. Exquisitely and beautifully told this book is electrifying – it follows Connell and Marianne from high school and into university, from the first awkward beginnings of a relationship through to the power love gives each to bring beauty and solace and pain to the other. I found this book enormously evocative and sometimes almost painful in the accuracy of its depiction of a powerful relationship.
David Gaunt chooses: The Children’s House by Alice Nelson Second book from young Australian writer set in 1980s New York. Deeply affecting and engaging novel centre around an unwanted little refugee boy, and a woman in search of herself and her past
Jon Page chooses: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.
Set across two centuries in the same house in Vineland, New Jersey we follow Willa in the turbulent year of 2016 as her family and their home literally and figuratively begin to fall apart. Willa’s story alternates with that of Thatcher Greenwood who has recently moved to the new town of Vineland in 1871, built upon utopian ideals, to be it’s first high school teacher. When he begins to advocate the theories of Charles Darwin the town founders grow increasingly concerned. The genius of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel is that she uses the past to comment about the modern day and the modern day to comment on the past and by doing so shows us the parallels between both. The literary novel of our times.
3. A real page turner for your brother in law to take on a beach holiday
Meredith Drake chooses: The Lost Man by Jane Harper.
It’s been a great year for crime fiction, but I couldn’t go past the new Jane Harper as the best I’ve read this year. Set in outback Queensland the story revolves around the Bright family, particularly the families sons: Nathan, Cameron and Bub and what happens when Cameron is found dead, miles from his car in the unforgiving landscape at the edge of the desert. Jane Harper has written a more complex, character driven book this time. The landscape and its influence on her characters is ever present as is a pervading sense of menace that builds as the book approaches its climax – I couldn’t put it down.
David Gaunt chooses: Heaven Sent by Alan Carter. As always from this this fine West Australian writer, great plotting, great atmosphere, and rich character. This is the fourth “Cato Kwong” thriller, and it’s on song.
Jon Page chooses: November Road by Lou Berney. November 1963 and JFK has just been assassinated. Frank Guidry, a fixer for the New Orleans mob, has unknowingly become a loose end in the crime of the century and must set off cross country with a ruthless hitman hot on his heels. Meanwhile Charlotte Ray has finally decided to leave her alcoholic husband, packing the car with their two kids and heading west. Frank and Charlotte’s paths will soon cross and they both might be the solution to each of their problems. Or they might both get each other killed. A cat and mouse thriller you won’t be able to put down.
4. A lively read for a not-too-keen on books 17-year-old boy.
Meredith Drake chooses: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. In “Mortal Engines” the world, ravaged by war, has become unstable, and in an effort to survive cities have become mobile, with the larger cities chasing down smaller settlements for scrap and slaves. This is a grand adventure set in a dystopian future with enough action and inventiveness to entice our 17-year-old. Originally published back in 2001, it’s recently been released as a film which is a useful hook for the reluctant reader.
David Gaunt chooses: The White Darkness by David Grann. New Yorker writer Grann has given us a memorable account of one man’s attempt to fulfil an obsession to cross Antarctica in the footsteps of Shackleton. Gripping, highly readable, and illustrated
Jon Page chooses: Scythe by Neal Shusterman. This is the best YA novel I’ve read since The Hunger Games. Set in the future where humanity has solved all its problems: disease, starvation, conflict, even death. People can live forever, resetting their age whenever they like. The only problem is overpopulation and that is where The Scythedom comes in. It is a Scythe’s job to glean people for a real and final death. Citra and Rowan have both been chosen as Scythe Apprentices. They have one year to learn the art, responsibility and power of being the only ones able inflict death. But only one of them can become a Scythe. The other will become their first gleaning. Action packed with twists a plenty the sequel Thunderhead is even better and both are unputdownable!
5. A gift for old Uncle Dennis who thinks fiction is a bit of a waste of time, on account of the fact that it’s all made up.
Meredith Drake chooses: A Die Hard Christmas by Doogie Horner and illustrated by JJ Harrison. This year I’m assuming that Old Uncle Dennis believes, like me, that Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie of all time, just so I can give him the best Secret Santa gift to come across my desk this year. A Die Hard Christmas re-tells the story of John McClane and Hans Gruber as a picture book with rhyming text:
Karl swept the ground floor,
shooting every guard dead
while visions of bearer bonds
danced in his head.
This is a favourite for me, but please note there is some language that may offend some readers – definitely not a picture book for the kids, but an absolute classic for anyone who grew up in the eighties and remembers the films.
David Gaunt chooses: Schadenfreude: the Joy of Another’s Misfortune by Tiffany Watt Smith. Divided into chapters such as “Accident”, “the Smug”, “Justice” and “Glory” this stylishly designed collection from a British cultural historian will have Uncle Dennis feeling superior and popular (all those anecdotes to share) at once
Jon Page chooses: Arnhem by Antony Beevor. No one writes military history as well as Antony Beevor and his latest book is no different. After detailing the Allied invasion on D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Beevor turns his focus to Operation Market Garden and Montgomery’s bold gamble to end the war before 1945. Beevor meticulously details the Allie’s doomed plans and using newly uncovered material from German, Dutch and Polish archives he reconstructs the German reaction to the offensive. As always Beevor also details the horrors experienced by those caught in the middle; the Dutch civilians. After raking Monty over the coals in previous books Beevor spares the Field Marshall another grilling instead saving the harshest criticism to those that allowed Montgomery to pursue his obviously doomed operation to begin with. Beevor at his absolute best.
6. A good kid’s book
Meredith Drake chooses: Thelma the Unicorn and Hat Gift Set by Aaron Blabey. I’m a big Aaron Blabey fan and this year I have especially enjoyed reading his book Thelma the Unicorn to my 3 year-old daughter. It’s a sweet, funny story about a little horse that dreams of being a unicorn and one day, while pretending to be a unicorn with a carrot tied to her head, her dreams come true by way of a fortunate accident with a truck full of pink paint and glitter, however Thelma soon finds out that sometimes it’s difficult pretending to be something you’re not. So I was smitten when I saw this special edition that comes with your very own unicorn hat so you can be Thelma. It’s a super-cute gift for any unicorn-mad, small person.
David Gaunt chooses: Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. Thisis an utter joy to read, warm, wise and witty, tragically sad and at the same time uplifting. Beautifully written for primary, teens and adults. I loved it.
Jon Page chooses: Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell.Cressida Cowell has done it again! Following last year’s Wizards of Once Xar and Wish return in what we think is Cressida Cowell’s best book she’s ever written. Xar has been imprisoned for infecting himself with Witch’s blood in order to steal its magic. Wish is desperately trying to hide her forbidden magical powers from her warrior Queen mother. Both must escape so that they can find the Kingwitch before it is too late for everyone. A glorious adventure that will have you laughing and crying, again and again!
7. The single book from this year that had the most impact on the booksellers themselves
Meredith Drake chooses: Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales.
Like many people who have experienced an ‘ordinary day’ Leigh Sales book really struck a chord with me. It put into words many of the things I’d thought and felt with a clarity that I could never achieve myself. It’s a lesson in compassion and empathy and a reminder not to judge others without thinking about what their experiences might have been.
David Gaunt chooses: The Only Story by Julian Barnes. When Barnes is engaged in his subject (and he certainly is here) he writes like a dream. “The Only Story” (and the only story is “Love” of course) has stayed with me all year, so fresh and original is the language and feeling.
Jon Page chooses: Lost Connections by Johann Hari.
A lot of books we read often reconfirm what we already believe or think we understand. It is a rare book that can make you stand back and completely rethink and re-evaluate the way you perceive a subject. This is exactly what Johann Hari did to me with this book. Through his own experience and extensive research Johann shows the way we deal with the depression and anxiety is flawed and that when we re-examine the causes of depression and anxiety we find they are symptoms of another issue. One we can find solutions to that doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals.