Best Contemporary/Literary Reads of 2018

This is another category that has many contenders. There were so many fabulous reads that have made me think, feel, inspired me to paint and at some that have brought a tear to my eye. If you have an opportunity to pick up any of these books I think you will be very impressed.

 

In no particular order:

Lenny’s Book of Everything – Karen Foxlee

Lenny's Book of Everything

The Children’s House – Alice Nelson

The Children's House

Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak

Bridge of Clay

Beneath the Mother Tree – D M Cameron

Beneath The Mother Tree by D M Cameron

Return to Roseglen – Helene Young

Return to Roseglen by Helen Young cover art

I Have Lost My Way – Gayle Foreman 

I Have Lost My Way

Ghosted – Rosie Walsh

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart – Holly Ringland

If Kisses Cured Cancer – T S Hawken

If Kisses Cured Cancer

Book of Colours – Robyn Cadwallader

The Book of Colours

 

Review: Lenny’s Book of Everything – Karen Foxlee

Lenny's Book of Everything

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Karen Foxlee

Allen and Unwin Australia

ISBN: 9781760528706

RRP $19.99

 

Description:

Our mother had a dark heart feeling. Lenny’s younger brother has a rare form of gigantism and while Lenny’s fiercely protective, it isn’t always easy being the sister of ‘the giant’. A book about finding good in the bad that will break your heart while raising your spirits in the way that only a classic novel can.

 

Lenny, small and sharp, has a younger brother Davey who won’t stop growing – and at seven is as tall as a man. Raised by their mother, they have food and a roof over their heads, but not much else.

 

The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia. Through the encyclopedia, Lenny and Davey experience the wonders of the world – beetles, birds, quasars, quartz – and dream about a life of freedom and adventure. But as Davey’s health deteriorates, Lenny realises that some wonders can’t be named.

 

A big-hearted novel about loving and letting go by an award-winning author.

 

‘A gorgeous, heartbreaking, and heartwarming book.’ – R. J. PALACIO

 

‘Such a big heart and not a beat out of place.’ – MELINA MARCHETTA

 

‘Tough, tender and beautiful.’ – GLENDA MILLARD

 

‘Unforgettable.’ – ANNA FIENBERG

 

‘Karen Foxlee, you’re a genius.’ – WENDY ORR

 

Author bio: https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/popular-fiction/Lennys-Book-of-Everything-Karen-Foxlee-9781760528706

Karen Foxlee is an Australian author who writes for both kids and grown-ups. Her first novel The Anatomy of Wings won numerous awards including the Dobbie Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, Karen’s first novel for children, was published internationally to much acclaim while her second novel for younger readers, A Most Magical Girl, won the Readings Children’s Fiction Prize in 2017 and was CBCA shortlisted the same year.

 

Karen lives in South East Queensland with her daughter and several animals, including two wicked parrots, who frequently eat parts of her laptop when she isn’t looking. Her passions are her daughter, writing, day-dreaming, baking, running and swimming in the sea.

 

 

My View:

Karen Foxlee’s novel, The Anatomy of Wings, is possibly my all-time favourite Australian read so when I saw a new novel by Foxlee I had to read it. The advanced press and glorious reviews for Lenny’s Book of Everything are justified. What a bitter sweet read. What a wonderful exploration of what it means to be a family, the importance of community, hope, love and…life (no spoilers here).

 

This contemporary read can be read and loved by many but maybe not my copy, the pages on my copy are a little damp…*sigh* What a wonderful, poignant, heartbreaking yet satisfying read.

Review: Matryoshka – Katherine Johnson

Matryoshka

Matryoshka

Katherine Johnson

Ventura Press

ISBN: 9781925384635

RRP $29.99

Description:

The award-winning author of The Better Son is back with Matryoshka – a beautifully written and haunting tale of family, secrets, violence, and refuge, set against the breathtaking backdrop of Tasmania.

 

When Sara Rose returns to live in her recently deceased grandmother’s Tasmanian cottage, her past and that of her mother and grandmother are ever-present. Sara’s grandmother, Nina Barsova, a Russian post-war immigrant, lovingly raised Sara in the cottage at the foot of Mt Wellington but without ever explaining why Sara’s own mother, Helena, abandoned her as a baby.

 

Sara, a geneticist, also longs to know the identity of her father, and Helena won’t tell her. Now, estranged not only from her mother but also from her husband, Sara raises her daughter, Ellie, with a central wish to spare her the same feeling of abandonment that she experienced as a child.

 

When Sara meets an Afghani refugee separated from his beloved wife and family, she decides to try to repair relations with Helena – but when a lie told by her grandmother years before begins to unravel, a darker truth than she could ever imagine is revealed.

 

Matryoshka is a haunting and beautifully written story about the power of maternal love, and the danger of secrets passed down through generations.

 

 

My View:

A contemporary read of exquisite design, beautifully crafted and guaranteed to connect to readers of so many levels: the settings, the dysfunctional family story(s) that is at the heart of the narrative, the contemporary issues surrounding Australia’s history of welcoming migration, albeit with the prejudices the “other” in the dominant
culture experiences (perhaps many of you reading this are the 2nd or 3rd generation Australians – you will know what I mean here) juxtaposed against modern prejudices of “other” and a culture of detention and family separation that is modern day Australia.

 

This is a gently written, poignant, interesting read that has great content for book club discussions around the world.

Review: Take Me In – Sabine Durrant

Take Me In

Take Me In

Sabine Durrant

Hachette Australia

Mulholland Books

Hodder

ISBN: 9781473608368

RRP $29.99

 

Description:

The sensational new thriller from the author of the Richard & Judy bestseller Lie With Me.

 

‘Need a reminder of what makes thrillers great? Read this.’ Emerald Street

 

Tessa and Marcus went on holiday to save their marriage.

Instead they nearly lost their son.

 

In that fatal moment of inattention a stranger stepped in. And now Dave Jepsom is in their lives.

 

They owe him – they know that – but he seems to want everything. He’s on the streets they walk down. He’s at the office where they work. He’s knocking at their front door…

 

And he’s exposing secrets they would do anything to hide.

 

If they could just go back. Not make that one terrible mistake.

 

But it’s never how it starts that matters. It’s always how it ends.

 

 

My View:

I am a big fan of this author. She never fails to surprise me, to lead me completely and easily away from the essence of truth in the narrative, I am always amazed and sometimes petrified by the end of the story.

 

You will read this in two sittings: there is so much tension, so much anticipation of the worst to come that you will walk away and let the knots unravel in your stomach before you pick this book up again and finish reading. A powerful read.

Review: The Children’s House – Alice Nelson

The Children's House

The Children’s House

Alice Nelson

Penguin Random House Australia

Vintage

RRP $32.99

 

Description:

Marina, ‘the gypsy scholar’, a writer and academic, and her psychoanalyst husband, Jacob, were each born on a kibbutz in Israel. They meet years later at a university in California, Marina a grad student and Jacob a successful practitioner and teacher who has a young son, Ben, from a disastrous marriage. The family moves to a brownstone in Harlem, formerly a shelter run by elderly nuns.

 

Outside the house one day Marina encounters Constance, a young refugee from Rwanda, and her toddler, Gabriel. Unmoored and devastated, Constance and Gabriel quickly come to depend on Marina; and her bond with Gabriel intensifies.

 

When out of the blue Marina learns some disturbing news about her mother, Gizela, she leaves New York in search of the loose ends of her life. As Christmas nears, her tight-knit, loving family, with Constance and Gabrielle, join Marina in her mother’s former home, with a startling, life-changing consequence.

 

Alice Nelson skilfully weaves together these shared stories of displacement and trauma into a beautifully told, hope-filled, outstanding novel.

 

 

My View:

Can a book both be intense and yet subtle? Can it be meditative yet urge you to take action? Can stories of displacement, war and war crimes, isolation and suicide have a more or less happy resolution? This highly complex yet very easy and engaging read broaches many contemporary issues in an eloquent and unassuming voice; this is accessible literary fiction at its best.

 

A fantastic read.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: At Dusk – Hwang Sok-yong

At DuskAt Dusk

Hwang Sok-yong

Scribe Publications

ISBN: 9781925322934

RRP $27.99

 

Description:

In the evening of his life, a wealthy man begins to wonder if he might have missed the point.

 

Park Minwoo is, by every measure, a success story. Born into poverty in a miserable neighbourhood of Seoul, he has ridden the wave of development in a rapidly modernising society. Now the director of a large architectural firm, his hard work and ambition have brought him triumph and satisfaction. But when his company is investigated for corruption, he’s forced to reconsider his role in the transformation of his country.

 

At the same time, he receives an unexpected message from an old friend, Cha Soona, a woman that he had once loved, and then betrayed. As memories return unbidden, Minwoo recalls a world he thought had been left behind — a world he now understands that he has helped to destroy.

 

From one of Korea’s most renowned and respected authors, At Dusk is a gentle yet urgent tale about the things, and the people, that we give up in our never-ending quest to move forward.

 

 

My View:

Reading At Dusk transported me to another region, a different society and gave me a view of a little bit of history. Despite all the differences between the landscapes I live in and that of Hwang Sok-yong, there was a unifying theme surrounding aging, regret and hindsight.  As we age (I speak from my own aging experience) we do question decisions we made in the past, how things might have been and question what is important in our life now?   Reflection on relationships, life choices abound. Whether we live in Korea, London or Cowaramup Western Australia these themes surrounding ageing and the meaning of life apply universally; Hwang Sok-yong has subtly reminded us of our similarities, humanness and frailties.

A sobering read.

 

 

 

 

Review: Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak

Bridge of Clay

Bridge of Clay

Markus Zusak

Pan Macmillan Australia

Picador

ISBN: 9781760559922

 

Description:

From the author of the no.1 New York Times bestselling novel The Book Thief.

 

“An amazing talent in Australian literature” Sunday Telegraph

 

Let me tell you about our brother.

The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay.

Everything happened to him.

We were all of us changed through him.

 

The Dunbar boys bring each other up in a house run by their own rules. A family of ramshackle tragedy – their mother is dead, their father has fled – they love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world.

 

It is Clay, the quiet one, who will build a bridge; for his family, for his past, for his sins. He’s building a bridge to transcend humanness. To survive.

 

A miracle and nothing less.

 

Markus Zusak makes his long-awaited return with a profoundly heartfelt and inventive novel about a family held together by stories, and a young life caught in the current: a boy in search of greatness, as a cure for a painful past.

 

PRAISE FOR BRIDGE OF CLAY

 

“Exquisitely written multigenerational family saga…With heft and historical scope, Zusak creates a sensitively rendered tale of loss, grief, and guilt’s manifestations.” Publishers Weekly

 

“An evocative, compassionate and exquisitely composed coming-of-age story about family, love, tragedy and forgiveness. Zusak’s prose is distinct: astute, witty, exquisitely rhythmic, and utterly engrossing. The deliberateness of his sentences, down to the punctuation is something to savour…a profoundly moving and engaging meditation on innocence and the pliable ties that bind family together in a quintessentially Australian setting.” Australian Books+Publishing Magazine

 

 

My View:

When I finished reading this book, about 1 in the morning, it took a great deal of self-control for me not to wake my husband up so I could talk to him about the book (he had read it a few days before me) and he loved it too! And now I cant wait for publication day to arrive so I can talk to others about this amazingly written (I loved the voice, the writing style), poignant, mesmerising read.

 

Perhaps my response to this book can best be summed up in the author’s own words (p. 568/569) “Twice I nearly broke down, and once I thought I’d be sick …” tears were close to flowing on several occasions, I swallowed them down in an effort to appear in control and dignified. I LOVED the book – can I make the call this early – THJE BEST BOOK I HAVE READ THIS YEAR!