We’ve come to that point of the year where things begin to wind down for the year, and where those of us in the business of reviewing and writing about art, music, books and films stop and begin to agonise over our “Top 10” or “Best of” lists.
2018 has been another great year in publishing and all things bookish, with thousands of books being published, read and enjoyed. We in the Book Review team have looked back over the year’s releases and compiled this list of our favourite reads. It’s an interesting and somewhat diverse list of fiction and non-fiction, and includes works in translation and books for children and young adults.
Here are the sixteen books, in no particular order, that caught our eye this year and stuck with us…
In Our Mad and Furious City – Guy Gunaratne
Simon: Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City was one of my firm favourite reads of 2018, and frankly I’m still shocked that it didn’t make the shortlist for the Man Booker. The novel follows, over the course of 48 hours, the lives of three young men – Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf – living in suburban north London. It’s a tense, and utterly gripping read, with the threat of violence almost ever present, though it’s also a celebration of friendship. A compelling, timely and assured debut (Tinder Press).
How To Be Famous – Caitlin Moran
Jodie: Ever had one of those moments when you think “This was created specifically for me?” That’s what happened when I read How To Be Famous. Every page was like looking in a mirror, and having nineteen year old me staring straight back, horrendous hair, torn band t-shirt and all. Clever, funny, and empowering, it’s also surprisingly touching and sweet. Fiercely, fiercely good stuff (Penguin).
Anatomy of A Scandal – Sarah Vaughan
Natalie: This book is incredibly timely in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Vaughan deconstructs a relationship rape case involving a well-respected politician and a young junior staffer. For those who love Ian McEwan’s moral quandaries with a good dash of suspense, this one is for them (Simon & Schuster).
The Everlasting Sunday – Robert Lukins
Emily: This debut novel by Robert Lukins was one that I eagerly picked up at this year’s Perth Writers Festival, and then devoured. It reminded me a little of The Dead Poet’s Society in its tone and its setting, but it was the literary skill with which it was written that made it one of my favourite books of 2018 (UQP).
Washington Black – Esi Edugyan
Simon: Washington Black from Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan was another favourite this year. The novel follows the story of eleven year old field slave, Wash, who finds himself made personal servant to one of the eccentric owners of a cane plantation in Barbados. Washington Black is not simply another harrowing slave narrative though, instead Edugyan crafts a wonderful blend of historical fiction, steampunk and adventure. It was a gripping and throughly enjoyable read, with engaging and eccentric characters (Serpents Tail).
Wundersmith – Jessica Townsend
Jodie: I’ve been pretty much hurling copies of Nevermoor at people since I first read it last year and I’m about to start doing the same with sequel Wundersmith. Sure it’s for kids, but if you want to read something that reminds you why reading is amazing, these books are absolutely the way to go. Whimsical, inventive, and with real heart, this is a series to get stuck into as soon as possible (Hachette Aus).
The Lost Man – Jane Harper
Natalie: Jane Harper has done it again! Gifting readers with another gripping mystery set in the Australian outback. Like The Dry you will be hooked and guessing right until the final page. You need to drop everything and read Harper’s books, because you’ll be kicking yourself otherwise (Pan Macmillan).
The Female Persusion – Meg Wolitzer
Emily: It’s been a big year for Meg Wolitzer, with her novella The Wife coming to screens starring the ever-incredible Glenn Close. Her newest novel, The Female Persuasion, was an absorbing read that looked at gender politics without feeling preachy or like she was trying to jump on the #MeToo bandwagon. 2018 was the year Meg Wolitzer became one of my favourite authors (Vintage).
Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi
Simon: Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad is a modern wartime spin on Mary Shelley’s most famous creation. Filled with dark humour, a diverse cast of characters, and its fair share of violence, Frankenstein in Baghdad is surreal, political and utterly brilliant. There are so many different narrative strands and layers at work within the novel, this is not simply a book about a creature terrorising a city at night. At times humorous, moving and horrifying Frankenstein in Baghdad is a must read (Oneworld Publications).
Reign of Mist – Helen Scheuerer
Jodie: Okay, so this is another two-for-one because in recommending Reign of Mist, I’m also recommending Heart of Mist, the first in the series. Homegrown YA fantasy at its finest, the Oremere Chronicles boast great characters and simply stunning world building. It’s been a long time since I’ve read high fantasy that’s gripped me like this. Read it now and lend your support to an independent author! (Talem Press)
Best Foot Forward – Adam Hills
Natalie: This was an incredibly uplifting memoir about how Adam Hills got his break into comedy. Prepare for a conversational heart-to-heart that is leaps and bounds above your stock-standard celebrity biography (Hachette Aus).
Circe – Madeline Miller
Emily: Madeline Miller’s retelling of The Odyssey from the point of view of the witch, Circe, is a poetic and inventive look at one of history and literature’s greatest stories from a different point of view. It was unputdownable in the greatest sense of the word (Bloomsbury).
Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds – Jeremy Lachlan
Simon: Sure Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds might be a kids book, but quite frankly you’re never too old for a good dose of adventure and derring-do! With impressive world building, great pacing and a host of engaging and likeable characters, including a suitably sassy heroine, this novel has a lot going for it, and is a properly enjoyable read (Hardie Grant).
Boys Will Be Boys – Clementine Ford
Jodie: A truly vital piece of social commentary from Australia’s fiercest feminist, Boys Will Be Boys should be shoved into the hands of every person you know. Clementine Ford has done her research – despite what her angry detractors would have you believe – and spits truths about toxic masculinity and the dangers of the patriarchy with passion and a wonderfully wry sense of humour. Read it, learn from it, and share it – this book is absolute GOLD! (Allen & Unwin)
The House – Helen Pitt
Natalie: Sydney’s Opera House doesn’t have a drama theatre for nothing as this fascinating account proves. Pitt delves into the history of one of the world’s most beloved buildings one amusing moment and drama-filled story at a time. This is the closest you’ll get to the Opera House walls talking! (Allen & Unwin)
Mrs. Gaskell and Me – Nell Stevens
Emily: I’ve raved about this book non-stop since I read it a few months ago, but to put it simply, this is the book that made me fall in love with literary memoirs. Stevens’ take on academic and writerly life is written in such a way that it made me as a reader feel like I was not alone, and it came into my life at exactly the moment I needed it, reinvigorating my reading life for the rest of the year. I then went on to read Bleaker House which I loved almost as much. I don’t reread often but these books will definitely be reread in the year to come (Pan Macmillan).
Thanks to Emily Paull, Jodie Sloan, Natalie Salvo and Simon Clark for their contributions to this list.