My Favourite Books of 2021

It’s impossible to overstate the ways in which life was different this year, and my reading choices proved no exception. This was the year in which I craved hope, light, laughter and entertainment. I consciously put down books that were too dark and difficult (ahem … Shuggie Bain) and turned towards the light. That’s not to say that everything I read was fluff. Not at all. To date, I’ve read 44 books this year and the topics covered in them have run the gauntlet of human experience – from sexual assault and mental illness, to dysfunctional family Christmases and Grandmas-on-the-run. You can see my full list of books on Goodreads and I’ve included a selection below to help choose one that’s right for you, or your circle.

The hot debut

Love and Virtue – Diana Reid

The blurb says …
Michaela and Eve are two bright, bold women who befriend each other their first year at a residential college at university, where they live in adjacent rooms. They could not be more different; one assured and popular – the other uncertain and eager-to-please. But something happens one night in O-week – a drunken encounter, a foggy memory that will force them to confront the realities of consent and wrestle with the dynamics of power.

My take …
I read this one for my Book Club and boy did it create some discussion! This is an excellent exploration of the complexities and ethics of consent, both over one’s body and one’s story. Reid captures the casual intensity of being a university student, its excesses and deficiencies. All of the characters contain nuance and offer strengths and weaknesses. It definitely took me back to my own university experiences and gave me much to think about and re-examine. Click here for more info.

When you need a cry

The Wattle Island Book Club by Sandie Docker

The blurb says ….
Long-term Wattle Island resident, Anne, and Island newcomer, Grace, must come together to help the residents of Wattle Island find the bravery to move beyond the trauma that tore their book club apart. Budding relationships offer new hope, along with a library project for the town’s future – but it will take more than a few lively literary debates to break the silence and heal the past.

My take …
I loved this book! If you are looking for a story to sweep you away, tear at your heart strings and give you a smile, this one is for you! Sandie Docker is such a clever, emotionally sensitive writer who has a knack of making you feel both comforted and challenged at the same time. My only question – when can I move to Wattle Island? For more info, click here.

Other favourite weepie: All We Have is Now by Kaneana May. You’ll need definitely need the tissues them in this sensitive and moving portrayal of love and loss. Kaneana has gone deep with this story of friends – Elsie, Olive and Bree – and it’s absolutely worth the emotional pain. Loved it!

When you need a laugh …

This Has Been Absolutely Lovely by Jessica Dettmann

The blurb says …
Molly’s a millennial home organiser about to have her first baby. Obviously her mum, Annie, will help with the childcare. Everyone else’s parents are doing it.
But Annie is finally dreaming of freedom – her dreams of music stardom have been on hold for thirty-five years. 
As Molly and her siblings gather in the close quarters of the family home over one fraught summer, shocking revelations come to light. Everyone is forced to confront the question of what it means to be a family.

My take ….
This is a witty and completely relatable book about family function and dysfunction. Jessica Dettmann is such a clever writer – her imagery is fresh and hilarious and her ‘take’ on life is so dry and funny. But beyond the humour, this is a book that also has something profound to say about mothering at any age. So, so good! Click here for more info.

Other favourite funnies
Apples Never Fall – Liane Moriarty in sparkling form with this whip-smart, page turner that nails family dynamics.
The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital – Joanna Nell turns her warm and witty spotlight on the hospital tea room. Watch the bun-puns fly!

Let’s rewind

The Riviera House by Natasha Lester

The blurb says …
Paris, 1939. While working at the Louvre, Eliane Dufort  finds herself working with the mysterious Rose Valland on a dangerous secret mission for the French Resistance: to record all the priceless national treasures the Germans are stealing.
Present Day. Desperate to escape her grief, Remy Lang arrives at a stunning private estate on the French Riviera. While working on her vintage fashion business, she discovers a catalogue of artworks stolen during World War II and is shocked to see a painting that hung on her childhood bedroom wall in Sydney.

My take …
Another brilliant story from Natasha Lester with all the emotion, and historical intrigue that we’ve come to expect of her novels. With every book, she takes it up a notch and this one is no exception. A thorough treat! Click here for more info.

Let’s get literary

Love Objects by Emily Maguire

The blurb says …
Nic is a forty-five-year-old trivia buff, and the owner of a decade’s worth of daily newspapers, enough clothes and shoes to fill Big W three times over. Every Sunday, she meets with her niece, Lena,  to gossip about the rest of the family and bitch about work.

One Sunday, Lena arrives at Nic’s house only to find her aunt unconscious under an avalanche of stuff. While Nic recovers in hospital, Lena sets about cleaning things up for her, never once contemplating just how much she is taking from her aunt

My take …
This is kind of book that makes me want to be a better writer. The exquisite characterisations made me interrogate so many of my own prejudices and assumptions, particular around what it means to hoard objects. Love Objects is a book in which every word contains an idea and I was captivated by all of them. Click here for more info.

For tortured creatives

The Luminous Solution by Charlotte Wood

The blurbs says …
Drawing on research and decades of observant conversation and immersive reading award winning writer, Charlotte Wood, shares what artists can teach the rest of us about inspiration and hard work, how to pursue truth in art and life, and to find courage during the difficult times: facing down what we fear and keeping going when things seem hopeless.

My take ….
It is a sad fact of the creative life that for every moment of glorious inspiration, there are ten more moments of self-doubt and hopelessness. In this tremendously consoling book, Wood writers frankly about her own discomfort and provides wise words about accepting the challenges of the writing life, and persisting anyway. Click here for more info.

Criminally good

The Good Mother by Rae Cairns

The blurb says …
Australian soccer mum Sarah Calhoun keeps the terrifying secrets of her time as an overseas aid worker from everyone she loves. Until two men from Northern Ireland hunt her down – one an obsessive policeman with demons of his own, the other a brutal IRA executioner, too closely connected to her past.

My take …
Rae Cairns has penned a bloody good book – pacy, sexy and incredibly precise writing. I listened to it on audio and the narrator, Edwina Wren, totally nails all the accents, especially the Belfast ones. How good are Irish accents? While the book is only available in audio at present, the good news is that it will be out in paperback in March 2022. Click here for more info.

Other favourite crime 
The Housemate by Sarah Bailey was a standout for me. Complex female protagonist and excellent twisty plot.

Let’s get real

Heartsick by Jessie Stephens

The blurb says 
Based on three true stories, Heartsick is a compelling narrative nonfiction account of the many lows and occasional surprising highs of heartbreak. Bruising, beautiful, achingly specific but wholeheartedly universal, it reminds us that emotional pain can make us as it breaks us, and that storytelling has the ultimate healing power.

My take …
I listened to the audio version of this book, which Jessie Stephens narrates – and does an excellent job. This is a beautifully written book and Stephens has the most wonderful handle over imagery and metaphor. It’s difficult to articulate the experience of love and heartbreak but this book meets the challenge admirably and provides a worthy contribution to a discussion that’s not being had. If you enjoyed Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo, this one’s for you. Click here for more info.

Other favourite non-fiction
I was a little late to the Educated (Tara Westover) party but gosh – I am there for it now. An excellent memoir of Westover’s ‘escape’ from her violent, survivalist family. I’ve not met a single person who hasn’t loved this book.

Need some country heart?

Magpie’s Bend by Maya Linnell

The blurb says … 
Lara McIntyre and journalist Toby Paxton are thrust into the limelight when an accident puts the beating heart of their community in jeopardy.

Featuring a black tie ball, a fun run, a magpie called Vegemite and a snake-chasing kelpie called Basil, Magpie’s Bend is a story about rural lives, family, love and letting go.

My take …
When it comes to rural fiction, Maya Linnell is the real deal. Her instagram account is glorious (come for the scones and stay for the lamb-spam) and will have you packing the bags for a tree-change. No wonder Maya’s books reek of authenticity and celebrate everything that’s wonderful about small-town living. Click here for more info.

Other favourite ru-ro
Starting from Scratch – Penelope Janu has done it again – a fabulous, fresh, rural romance with complex characters, a tight-knit community and some really well-written intimate scenes. Perfect for those who love the genre and those who are completely new to it. Watch out for her new one – Clouds on the Horizon – coming in January 2022.

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