Reading

I read so many wonderful books last year that I lost track of them by the time it came to my “Top Ten of 2015”, so I’ve resolved to keep a running tab of books read in 2016 here, along with a star rating.

I am also participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

My star rating system:

***** Devoured. Will probably read again and rave about it. Will make note to self to write more like this author. Will ponder the themes and plot devices for days /  weeks afterwards.

**** Enjoyable, engaging, but too many books on TBR pile so may not read again.

*** Can’t fault the writing, but it didn’t grab me.

** Finished it.

* Didn’t finish.

January

  1. The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau *** Rich character inner lives and evocative setting. #AWW2016
  2. Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham **** New genre for me. Highly engaging and well plotted.
  3. A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George ***1/2 Crime again, but no surprising twist, largely character-driven.
  4. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell ** Intriguing premise but too much ‘tell’ and heavy-handed foreshadowing.
  5. Six Degrees by Honey Brown ***1/2 Six, sexy, circular stories. 4 stars for half of them, 3 stars the other half. #AWW2016
  6. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris ****1/2 Dual timeline, fictitious memoir. Intrigued by the unreliability of the narrator and unresolved ending.
  7. Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic **** Fascinating MC, easy read. Not the run-of-the-mill crime novel. #AWW2016
  8. Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood *** A Phryne Fisher novel, evocative historical detail, but apart from MC, characters are 2D. #AWW2016
  9. The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay ****1/2 Heart-breaking tale of grief and loss. Poetic quality. #AWW2016
  10. After You by Jojo Moyes ****1/2 Perfect follow-up to Me Before You. Had me gripped for completely different reasons to its predecessor.
  11. The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse ***** Unputdownable. Gothic thriller, fantastic voices and marshy setting.

February

  1. The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson ***** Georgian era murder mystery set in a debtors’ prison — thoroughly enjoyed it.
  2. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith ****1/2 Had me guessing all the way through. Well-plotted crime novel.
  3. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante ***1/2 I would have abandoned this early on but felt compelled to finish it given the hype. Around the 2/3 mark I found myself engrossed and will probably read the next to find out if Lenu marries Nino.
  4. In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl **** Dual narrative, historical and medical research woven in well. #AWW2016
  5. The Chocolate Promise by Josephine Moon ***1/2 Slow to start, second half more enjoyable. #AWW2016
  6. The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd ****1/2 Lyrical, compelling historical fiction. Skilful weaving of fact and fiction.
  7. The Whites by Richard Price **1/2 Finished this only because I paid for it. Difficult to engage with the characters. Rambling.
  8. The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr ***** I was enticed and saddened by the MC in this fictional memoir. I could taste the salty air at Cottesloe. #AWW2016

March

  1. After the Darkness by Honey Brown ***1/2 Psychological thriller. Unravelling of a marriage after a brutal assault. #AWW2016
  2. Treading Air by Ariella Van Luyn ****1/2 Female empowerment and morals. Read my review here. #AWW2016
  3. Rosetta: A scandalous true story by Alexandra Joel ***1/2 A conjuror’s dream. Read my review here. #AWW2016
  4. As If I Were A River by Amanda Saint *** Dual narrative, exploring questions of what compels a person to leave their loved ones and how those left behind cope.
  5. The Promise Seed by Cass Moriarty ****1/2 Questions ‘family’ and ‘home’. Consequences of early childhood trauma. Beautifully drawn characters. Read my review here. #AWW2016
  6. Eden Gardens by Louise Brown **** Independence-era India. I lived Calcutta with every page of this.

April

  1. Hold by Kirsten Tranter ***1/2 Australian Gothic: liminal spaces and grief. Read my review here. #AWW2016
  2. Maestra by L.S. Hilton *** Not as bad as expected from reviews. Definitely some questionable parts though.
  3. The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild ** Poorly edited. Too many characters with absolutely no relevance to the plot. The resolution seemed ‘tacked on’.
  4. The Sun is God by Adrian McKinty *** Lovely slice of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ set in colonial New Guinea.
  5. All These Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford **** The advantage of telling the story: removing culpability. Read my review here. #AWW2016
  6. Nelly Dean by Alison Case ***** A Wuthering Heights-fan, I was at first skeptical, but now I can’t imagine WH without this story. Less gothic melodrama, more nuanced characterisation and heart-break.
  7. Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson **** Softly flowing, like the Calare river that runs through this novel. Indictment on our destruction of Indigenous culture. #AWW2016
  8. The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson **** Sequel to The Devil in the Marshalsea. This took a little longer to set up the premise and ‘ticking clock’, but still a cracking Georgian-era read. I hope there’s a third.
  9. A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester ***** 1920s’ attitudes towards women’s sexuality and roles. Read my review here. #AWW2016

May

  1. Ghost Girls by Cath Ferla ***1/2 Crime set in seedy Sydney Chinatown and ESL colleges. Mouth-watering descriptions of food. #AWW2016
  2. We Ate the Road like Vultures by Lynnette Lounsbury *** Sixteen-year-old girl finds Kerouac and Cassady in the Mexcian desert. Kerouac-like stream of consciousness and imagery. #AWW2016
  3. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith ***** Poignant, layered masterpiece on ageing and the lost promise of youth. Utterly captivating.
  4. An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire ***1/2 A crime novel of narrative, rather than plot. Read my review here. #AWW2016
  5. Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins ****1/2 I haven’t read fantasy since I was a child and I loved it. #AWW2016
  6. Ice Letters by Susan Errington ***1/2 Violence within silence. Read my review here. #AWW2016
  7. The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse *** Tale of restitution of the memory of those lost in war. I found the narrative style a little distracting and drawn out, though.
  8. The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty *** Intriguing premise and promise of mystery reveal. #AWW2016
  9. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters ****1/2 Twists and turns in this Victorian gothic.
  10. My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier **** My first YA book, gripping psychological examination into the nurture/nature of a psychopath. #AWW2016

June

  1. The Wicked Boy:The mystery of a Victorian child murderer by Kate Summerscale *** Well-researched history hinging on a boy murdering his mother, encompassing asylums, court process, early studies in pathology. Just not enough story.
  2. The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest ****1/2 Surprised by this story of a heist gone wrong. Full of pathos. Multiple characters’ lives twist around each other, and turn on chance encounters.
  3. Reckoning by Magda Szubanski ***** Weepy and wow moments throughout as so much resonated with my family. Deserved award-winner. #AWW2016
  4. All That I Am by Anna Funder ***** Pre-WW2 espionage, based on true events of devastating betrayal. Narrative structure weaves memory with imagination, and the need for documentation as proof. #AWW2016
  5. Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi **** Huge payoff at the end. Tale of Monet’s village of Giverny and three generations of women caught up in a deadly web. Like the town of Giverny, they are captive, unable to pursue their own choices.
  6. The Secret Heiress by Luke Devenish ***1/2 Dual narrative gothic tale of twins exchanging identities (not a spoiler).
  7. Front  Page News by Katie Rowney ***1/2 Small-town crime novel that kept me guessing until the end. Tightly plotted. Nothing saggy. #AWW2016

July

  1. Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko ****1/2 Immersed in language and country. Visceral writing. Characters I wanted to get to know. This one will stay with me for a while. #AWW2016
  2. The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan **** Creating lives out of stories and stories out of lives: disintegration and loss. Read my review here. #AWW2016
  3. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton *** Historical page-turner. A doll-maker who can see the inner lives of Dutch women’s lives, laying open one household’s secrets. But who is the miniaturist? Ultimately I was disappointed.
  4. The Muse by Jessie Burton **** Weaving two timelines: Spanish Civil War and 1960s London; the connection between the two teased out until the end. Explores the idea of creativity, the subjective roles of artist and audience in co-creation.
  5. Wild Chicory by Kim Kelly ***1/2 Novella weaving stories of several generations of an Irish migrant family. #AWW2016
  6. Gotham by Nick Earls ***** Novella one of a linked series. Over the course of a working night as parents do whatever they can to help their children be superheroes. Tears welled up while reading this on the bus.
  7. Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss ***1/2 Story of forbidden love between a Japanese prisoner and Aboriginal girl after the Cowra breakout. #AWW2016
  8. The Dry by Jane Harper ***** Desperate measures to hold onto family. Read my review here. #AWW2016

August

  1. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman ***1/2 I loved many of these stories, such as:’The Thing About Cassandra’, ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains…’ and ‘Black Dog’. Others I skimmed.
  2. Venice by Nick Earls ***1/2 Second in the Wisdom Tree novella series. Explores the arrangement and shape of family.
  3. Faithful by Alice Hoffman ****1/2 So very different to The Marriage of Opposites. Close-focus on what it takes to restore faith in life, yourself, and other people once it is lost. At first I didn’t like the POV and tense, but I became absorbed.
  4. Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa ****1/2 Outstanding debut novel charting the disintegration of a family in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war. Absorbing and evocative.
  5. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty ***1/2 The ending redeemed this book for me, tying together thematically the multiple perspectives that circled the edges of the event at the heart of the novel, which frustrated me in the first half. #AWW2016
  6. Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall ***1/2 Filling in the silences in personal and historical memory. See my review here. #AWW2016
  7. Who’s Afraid? by Maria Lewis **** I would never have imagined reading a book about a blue-haired, half-Maori werewolf! But this was a page-turner. #AWW2016
  8. Queen Bees by Sian Evans *** Social history of six society hostesses between the wars. Explores their use of ‘soft power’. Could have been more structured, the intertwining lives of six personalities sometimes confusing.

September

  1. The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley **** A portrait of the mundane, domestic aspects of the species. Behind every great man, etc. Stirring, soft and sensory. See my review here. #aww2016
  2. Sisters of the Fire by Kim Wilkins **** Part 2 of series, following fates of 5 sisters. High pace, twists and turns. Interesting development with Ivy’s story thread. Looking forward to more action from Xena-like Bluebell. #aww2016
  3. Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes *** Enjoyed first half more, saggy middle. But tears, and one missed bus stop.
  4. Never Never by James Patterson & Candice Fox *** A soldier is playing a deadly game on a remote uranium mine site. My first James Patterson, and I don’t think I’ll read any more from him. But I am keen to read Fox’s Hades. #aww2016
  5. The Historian’s Daughter by Rashida Murphy **** Abandoned by her mother, Hannah’s family moves to Perth from India. A search for her identity. Lilting and sensory. #aww2016
  6. Vancouver by Nick Earls *** Third in the Wisdom Tree series. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two. But a beautifully drawn portrait of a ‘giant’ from a boy’s childhood memory. Interesting commentary on editing and fiction writing.
  7. Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout **** Gothic mystery underpinned by haunting landscape. See my review here. #aww2016
  8. The Safest Place in London by Maggie Joel ***** Loved, loved, loved this historical fiction novel. So much narrative tension hinging on the question of ‘what would you do?’ Because nobody behaves as they think they would during war. #aww2016
  9. The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs ***1/2 I had such high expectations–this book contains everything I love: 1920s’ bohemian Paris, real historical figures, women sidelined from history, gorgeous writing–but it fell short. I had to push my way through it.

October

  1. Dying: a memoir by Cory Taylor **** I had put off reading this for fear it would be confronting, like The Year of Magical Thinking. My favourite part is the final montage of her life and had me wondering what scenes  I would choose from my life. #aww2016
  2. The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke ****1/2 A memoir of an Australian childhood subjected to casual, overt, and institutionalised racism. I gave this to my daughter to read immediately the moment I finished it. So much was familiar, so much so unimaginably horrific. #aww2016
  3. Disclaimer by Renee Knight **1/2 I found this ‘psychological thriller’ a bit slow and the characters didn’t engage.
  4. The Good People by Hannah Kent ***** I marvelled at Kent’s wielding of language and finely crafted sentences. Immersive and evocative, stimulating all senses. #aww2016
  5. The Patterson Girls by Rachael Johns ***1/2 Slow to start but became engrossing, though it was easy to guess the ‘secret’ early on. A bit of an iffy message regarding unprotected sex. #aww2016
  6. The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks ***** Gripping espionage thriller set in Elizabethan London, with a female protagonist, theatrical types, the Queen’s spymaster, and the most heart-clenching switch at the climax. #aww2016
  7. Exposure by Helen Dunmore **** With minimal characterisation, this book dragged me into its web of point-of-view characters. 1960s’ Cold War-era intrigue, but focus on a marriage with the strongest of bonds.
  8. Music and Freedom by Zoë Morrison ****1/2 Music as a process of resurrection. See my review here. #aww2016
  9. The Secret Recipe for Second Chances by J.D. Barrett ***1/2 Unconventional romance with recipes. I’m not a foodie, but it made me hungry. Very visual, read like a quirky ‘chick flick’. #aww2016
  10. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters ***1/2 Unusual structure, going back from 1947 to 1944 and then 1941. Intertwined stories of a brother and sister, her colleague, and her colleague’s ex-lover, amid the devastation and reconstruction of the Blitz.
  11. Juneau by Nick Earls **** Novella four of The Wisdom Tree. I love a bit of family history research and treading in the steps of ancestors, so this was up my alley.

November

  1. Utopian Man by Lisa Lang *** Vogel Prize co-winner 2009. Interesting story of an idealist whose business interests ran counter to the prevailing White Australia policy of the time. #aww2016
  2. The Prodigal Son by Sulari Gentill **** Love anything Rowly-related. This is a free novella to tide fans over until the eighth instalment. Takes us back to the beginning. I didn’t care that the ‘crime’ was a little obvious, it was how the group came together that had me on the edge of my seat. #aww2016
  3. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan ****1/2 Brilliantly engaging, bedroom farce but so much more. We’re not bacteria who can reproduce asexually, but imperfect organisms. #aww2016
  4. Goodwood by Holly Throsby ***1/2 A small-town mystery of missing people, though the heart of this story is in the everyday lives of a close-knit community. #aww2016
  5. The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns **** Women’s-fic or life-lit as the author refers to the genre. Three friends with sons the same age, travel to New York where one faces up to a long-held secret, one escapes a long-held secret, and one’s secret is revealed. #aww2016
  6. Noho by Nick Earls **** Family #5 in the Wisdom Tree novella series. Charlie spends his time doing a distance ed assignment in an art gallery, waiting to be picked up by his mother who is busy orchestrating his sister Cassidy’s Hollywood career. If they were a sculpture, the family’s central focus is Cassidy.
  7. Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood ***1/2 Slow burn. The Tempest revisited, as an ex-theatrical director puts on a performance to settle old scores.
  8. Grace’s Table by Sally Piper **** Food brings this family together, but each of a mother and two adult children feel alone and misunderstood in their suffering following a tragic event in their past. #aww2016

December

  1. Dark Emu: Black Seeds: agriculture or accident? by Bruce Pascoe ****1/2 Pre-colonial Aboriginal economy was not hunting-gathering as the Australian narrative imagines. This slim volume provides a wealth of evidence of complex systems of agriculture, aquaculture, architecture, storage, and fire management, which could strengthen and reinvigorate Australia’s economy into the future.
  2. The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter by Deborah Challinor **** Fourth in a series, it only took me a couple of chapters to get a sense of the dynamics between this motley crew aboard a ship that sails between old Sydney, Otago, and Hong Kong in the mid-19th century.
  3. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta ***** Easily the best crime novel I’ve read this year. Gripping, complex layering of lives broken by anti-terror laws and a public that demands a scapegoat. #aww2016
  4. Blind Side by Jennie Ensor ***1/2 London, 2005. Heightened terrorism fears from the bombings  mean that Georgie begins to suspect her Russian ex-soldier boyfriend Nikolai. Somebody is following and watching them.
  5. On the Blue Train by Kristel Thornell ***1/2 What happened in Agatha Christie’s missing 11 days? This is a beautifully imagined story of the relationships she formed. #aww2016

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