My Favourite Books of 2017

This year has been an absolute whirlwind of killer books. I have read so many brilliant books this year that I thought it was worth sharing my list of my best books of the year.

Please note: this list is in no particular order, but I have categorised them by genre for those looking for specific recommendations.

 

American War

Best Dystopian/Political Fiction:  American War by Omar El-Akkad (Pan Macmillan) 

Okay, I might have said that I have listed these in no particular order, but hands down this is my favourite book of the year. I was sent a copy for review earlier in the year but simply could not form the words to do this book justice. Taking place in 2047, where America has been ravaged by a second Civil War and a devastating plague, this book follows a young Sarat Chestnut who is caught up in the politics and devastating effects of the Civil War from age six. Oil is outlawed, Louisiana is half underwater, unmanned drones fill the sky, and death seems to permeate the air. Soon Sarat begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious man, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war.

This book came to me in one of my deepest moments of grief over the Trump Presidency earlier this year, and I would be amiss to say that grief did not shape my reading of this book. However, I think, rather boldly I know, that this book is our generation’s 1984. Omar El Akkad’s American War has all the makings of dystopian fiction – a post-fossil fuel world, a war, changing geographic landscapes, altered political boundaries, a weaponised disease, displacement narratives, a rebel army, and a heroine who has grown up in this space of conflict. But more than that, it feels so unbelievably close to happening.

This book made me mad in so many ways, and made me feel all the grief and loss of the world that Sarat makes her choices in, as well as the grief and loss and sheer anger of our current socio-political landscape. This is the book I will never ever forget, and the one that has shaped so much of how I view our world as it currently stands. For a debut, this book sets a sky-rocketing precedent for how books should be written and I cannot recommend this book enough.

 

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Best Novella or Short Novel: The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay (Peirene Press) 

Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove fundamentally changes how you think and feel about a major contemporary issue. But it is also a book that makes you feel conflicted about that change, largely because that issue here is suicide bombings. Whilst it in no way justifies these horrible acts of violence, it does create a space to think about the term ‘victim’ in a more nuanced way, including those who are deliberately misled and coerced into committing acts of violence on behalf of organised terror groups in that victim label – especially since the person committing an act of violence in this book is a small child.

I’m not going to say too much more about this book as I reviewed it earlier this year, but if you would like to know more, check out my review here.

 

The Mothers

Best Fiction: The Mothers by Brit Bennett (Penguin Random House)

This is an incredible debut novel by such an extraordinary talent. Brit Bennett’s The Mothers is such an incredible read, rich with the promise of being a modern classic. Filled with secrets that flourish in a small town, this book hooked me from the very first sentence and I couldn’t put it down. I read it so quickly despite trying to savour it and I immediately lent it to a friend so I could talk to someone about it. This book was so incredibly wonderful in its exploration of the dynamic between our younger selves and the people we become as a result of those younger selves, as well as how our relationships with ourselves and others are changed by personal choices. I was also incredibly impressed by the unabashed way this book talked about abortion without any hesitation about it – something few novels do. This book discusses abortion as a fact rather than with any judgement or debate about morality, and that was really something new to me in fiction and I really found it refreshing to read a book that didn’t try to tip-toe around it.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Brit Bennett at this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival, and hear her talk about the book and its many seemingly controversial themes, which only increased my love for this book ten-fold. I can’t wait to read more from Brit Bennett in the years to come.

 

Hunger

Best Memoir: Hunger by Roxane Gay (Hachette)

Reading Hunger felt like a punch to the gut. The sheer raw intimacy of the novel and Roxane Gay’s incredible candor about her own body, and her reflection on the way we talk about our relationship with our bodies really got to me. I won’t lie, I cried in public A LOT reading this book, and often refer to it when I am reflecting on my own experiences with food and my body. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t incredibly moved by this book and I cannot express my love for it enough. Whether you have ever had a negative relationship with your body or not, this book should be required reading for everyone, especially in a world so focused on bodies and the space they take up in our everyday lives.

 

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Best Junior Fiction: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (Lothian Children’s Books)

Working at Hachette Australia during the lead up to and during the release of Nevermoor has been one of the highlights of my year, and will likely be one of the highlights of my career. I read this gorgeous book back when I first started full-time at Hachette in June and instantly fell head over heels for this magical world led by the magnificent young Morrigan. Jessica has created such a brilliant world and I can’t wait to read more and more. I wrote a piece about how incredible a moment Nevermoor is in children’s literary history here and I encourage you to read this brilliant book as soon as you can.

 

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Best Junior Fiction (Illustrated): The Wonderling by Mira Bartok (Walker Books)

Okay, I am being a little sneaky here and popping a second junior fiction book in to this list simply because I could not decide between these two marvellous books. Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling has re-ignited my love for children’s books and I cannot praise it enough. Everyone I know who has read it thus far has been entirely enchanted by it and I will be holding onto my copy for a very long time. I reviewed it earlier this year and was entirely taken with it, and I highly recommend that anyone with children add this to the pile of books they read with their child, if only to give them an excuse to fall in love with this incredibly sweet book and it’s hero Arthur.

 

The Hate You Give

Best YA Fiction: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books)

I have read quite a bit of YA in my time and yet, I think this is the book that changed how I see YA as a whole. Starting with the death of a young African-American teenager at the hands of a white police officer and following the aftermath of his death throughout the community, this book was an incredibly powerful read. Dealing with powerful topics such as racial politics, social class, family dynamics, crime and justice, and overarching themes of friendship, family and personal identity, this book is the standout YA novel I think we all needed to read. After hearing pre-publication buzz about it, I practically begged Walker Books for a review copy and I read and reviewed it so quickly simply because of how brilliant it was. I know many of my friends are reading it now and I will continue to recommend it to those who haven’t yet read it. Like American War, this book fell into my hands at just the right moment and I felt so angry and sad and yet somehow full of hope all at the same time. Young people deserve books like this that talk about what is happening in their world, and I can only hope that more authors write books as powerful as this for YA audiences.

 

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Best Graphic Novel: Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (Hachette Children’s Books)

I’m not usually one to read graphic novels, and as a first taste of the genre, I have to say that Illegal really won me over. A depiction of the experiences of a young refugee making his way across Europe, Illegal is an incredible introduction for young readers into the discussions around refugees and their experiences. As an adult reader, I didn’t feel that this book particularly skewed towards children in such a way that it alienates older readers, and that only made it feel like a more essential text overall. I think that this book should be made required reading in schools, particularly young high-schoolers just starting to find their voices in relation to current social and political debates. Truly an incredible introduction to both graphic novels and their potential for creating important discussions.

 

Artemis

Best Sci-Fi: Artemis by Andy Weir (Penguin Random House)

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the new Andy Weir novel since I first finished reading The Martian. The Martian was such an incredibly unique book that I was a little worried at first about how Artemis would stack up against it. However, it really got me in from the first page and didn’t let go. Led by a female protagonist who has spent most of her life living on the lunar colony Artemis, this book diverges from Andy Weir’s debut book and creates a more accessible tale about a futuristic life on the moon, with Andy Weir’s signature scientific realities woven throughout. Whilst there is less science directly written into the story than The Martian, this story still uses the particularities of Weir’s scientific style to lend a more realistic glimpse into a potential future of life on the moon, and the link between a lunar colony, law and governance, and the potential for crime to flourish in the space between a lunar city like Artemis, and the Earth.

 

41rrZplMctL      The Sun and Her Flowers

Best Poetry: milk and honey/the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (Andrews McMeel) 

I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Rupi Kaur at the Sydney Writer’s Festival this year and hearing her speak about her work only cemented my love for her poetry. As a long time lover of poetry, reading both her collections this year really drove home how influential poetry can be, especially when detailing both personal and political experiences. the sun and her flowers in particular was incredibly compelling and broke open so many important social themes that I am interested in learning more about and reading more about and, of course, Rupi brings such beauty and raw truth to every word that she writes. Whilst I know poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and Rupi’s work has drawn controversy for some of its content, I highly recommend that you give it a read.

 

Special Mentions:

All of these books below were incredible reads, and I want to mention them for their amazing storytelling and ability to make me remember them long after I finished them.

Moonrise

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)  See my review here.

The Hate Race

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette Australia)

Release

Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books)  See my review here.

City of Thieves

City of Thieves – David Benioff (Hachette)

 

All the books mentioned in this piece are available in all good bookstores now. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores.

Thanks to all the publishers who have sent me books for review over the course of 2017. As always I have not been paid to write any reviews by the publishers or authors of these books, however I would like to extend my appreciation for their time and effort in publicising these books and sending me copies in exchange for honest reviews.

 

© Hayley New 2017

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A Gilmore Girl’s Guide to Culture: A Review of Brodie Lancaster’s ‘No Way! Okay, Fine’

I love a good feminist essay collection/memoir, especially when a book like that talks about topics of particular interest to me. From Clementine Ford’s Fight Like A Girl, to Lauren Elkin’s Flaneuse, the last twelve months have brought me some brilliant feminist non-fiction, and now Brodie Lancaster’s No Way! Okay, Fine has made its way into that beloved collection.

No Way! Okay, Fine is the first book from Richell Prize shortlisted writer Brodie Lancaster. A brilliant feminist essay collection/memoir/pop culture criticism novel, No Way! Okay, Fine is a book that was desperately needed by newly minted “adults” in Australia. This book spoke to my own experiences of growing up in a way that a lot of similarly classified books by international authors have not, and I was incredibly grateful to find a voice that shared beliefs and experiences like my own in this book.

Brodie discusses topics as varied as body image, coming of age stories, the idea of home, living and working abroad as a young person, feminism, Kanye West and the Kardashians, taste hierarchies and family. Each chapter of her book details an honest and incredibly down to earth viewpoint (or in many cases, series of viewpoints) of a topic that will resonate not only with young Australians, but readers of nearly all backgrounds. Despite prefacing her opinions and experiences with the fact that her work comes from a middle class white female, there are moments and ideas throughout this collection that could easily speak to a number of varied experiences.

Perhaps one of the thoughts from her book that resonated with me the most was Brodie’s take on how public pop culture tastes are categorised and judged, especially in terms of deeming a person’s likeability based on their tastes. It paralleled some of the thoughts vocalised by author Brit Bennett at this year’s Sydney Writers Festival, namely that of the dismissal of young girls as valuable tastemakers despite the fact that a significant amount of popular culture is shaped by their wants and desires. “What are young men and boys into?” asked Brit Bennett, “No-one knows. But if I ask you what young women and girls are into right now, you could probably list a bunch of things.” Brodie’s chapters on Kanye, the Kardashians, One Direction, and music particularly speak to this. Brodie’s recounts of her teenage desire to get in with the boys sees her try to replicate their tastes at multiple times, only to find that her own tastes are just as valuable if not the popular tastes themselves. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it isn’t just a valid a taste choice – a lesson this book dishes out without any remorse.

Brodie Lancaster’s writing itself is brilliant. I could not help thinking that she and I would be great friends, just from reading her writing. With a heavy serving of Gilmore Girls references for all possible situations, I found myself reading No Way! Okay, Fine late into the night and loving every bit. Her down to earth approach to writing, with a clear cut sense of self and desire to be true to her style, makes Brodie one to keep an eye on, and I would highly recommend No Way! Okay, Fine to any and all readers looking for the perfect place to start a love of local non-fiction.

 

Brodie Lancaster’s No Way! Okay, Fine (Hachette, RRP $32.99)  is available from 27 June 2017 in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of No Way! Okay, Fine. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

“With All His Aching Heart”: A Review of ‘RELEASE’ by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is one of those authors whose name you know even if you have never read a single one of his books. You have seen his books in bookstores, in your libraries and even in the hands of your friends. But if ever there was a time to pick up a Patrick Ness novel, it is now.

Release, the newest book from Ness, has been published this month, and it is a total gem. The book follows Adam who is having one of the most confronting days of his life. From friends moving away to family issues to relationship crises to workplace harassment and down to his own struggle to feel loved by the people around him, Release unabashedly tackles some of the most poignant themes and issues of being a young person with eye opening clarity.

Release carries with it echoes of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, a deliberate choice acknowledged by the author both in his author’s note and in the opening line of the novel – “Adam would have to buy the flowers himself.” I have never been the biggest fan of Mrs Dalloway, but Ness’ homage to the classic is brilliantly done. Much like Mrs Dalloway, Release takes place over the course of a single day with flashes of the past colouring the book in vivid detail. More than that, it is a carefully preserved flash of what it is like to be a young person in a world that is often still stuck in the past.

Release also owes a debt of gratitude to Judy Blume’s infamous Forever. The frank and somewhat explicit depictions of sex, discussions around loss of virginity and the boundaries of love and sex in relationships are crucial in the telling of this story, particularly when it comes to Adam’s ability to recognise and define his own attachments to other people. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing X-rated in these pages, but I would not recommend this book to younger readers. In my opinion, Release fits more aptly into the category of New Adult fiction than young Adult fiction, but I leave this up to your own judgement.

What made this book different from the typical Young Adult/New Adult novels I have read about young love, sex, and identity, was the strange yet stunning intertwinement of the ghost storyline into the book. At times, the sudden break in Adam’s storyline and shift into the perspective of the faun spirit following his Queen seemed abrupt and weird, yet it was entrancing all the same. Stemming from the news of the death of a local girl at the hands of her meth-head boyfriend, the spirit storyline brought with it the same sort of power as Adam’s storyline, as Katie, the young dead girl, confronts the people she knew in life, including her murderer, to enact her final judgements upon them. Paralleled with Adam’s grief and difficulties with his family, the spirits give the reader a chance to see what anger could have done to him in his times of pain, and what vengeance he could enact on the people who hurt him. However, it is Adam’s choice to be vulnerable and open to love that makes him fundamentally different, and what inadvertently ends the rage of the spirits.

My one criticism of this novel is the open thread left regarding the sexual harassment Adam faces at work from his boss. Seeing the struggle Adam has with the imbalance of power and the potential consequences of reporting his boss, alongside his own father’s doubt about the legitimacy and basis of the crime is one of the parts of this novel that really got at me, and so I would have liked to have seen some closure regarding this particular event. The novel ends with Adam’s co-workers pledging to help him get justice for the harassment, but ultimately, I think that I would have liked to see more done here. In saying that though, the conversation Adam has with his father about the sexual harassment and blackmail is one of the most heartbreaking discussions I have read in fiction lately, especially when it concludes with Adam’s father blaming Adam’s homosexuality for the advances from his boss, and final admission that he doesn’t love his son unconditionally – “You have know idea how much I work to love you”. Those words were a punch to the gut for both Adam and I.

Ness’ prose is exquisite. The ease and pulse of the writing meant that I devoured this book in just under 24 hours, whilst taking in every detail described. I felt at home in this story, despite some of the unfamiliar territory it covered. I felt as though Adam’s friend Angela was my own friend, and honestly, I did see a lot of my own friendships in the close bond that Adam and Angela shared. The friendship between them is one of the big standouts of this novel for me, and I think that is what held this novel together so well in amongst all the chaos of the events themselves. I think it is fair to say that this is a coming of age story for people who have already taken their first steps in adulthood, and reading this book with that perspective only enriches the story that Ness gives us in Release.

This is a novel that I will be passing onto friends, and I highly encourage you to get out and get your hands on a copy of this moving and tender novel. You won’t regret it.

Release

Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, RRP $24.99) is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of Release. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

Singing A Much Needed Song: A Review of Ayobami Adebayo’s ‘Stay With Me’

Stay With Me, the debut novel by Ayobami Adebayo, is a book that I probably won’t stop talking about for a long time, precisely because it is so deeply important and unique a read.

Set in 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me follows the complicated domestic life of Yejide, a woman who has been hoping desperately for a child. Hounded by her husband’s family to produce a male heir to the family name, she has tried everything: medical consultations with fertility specialists, pilgrimages up mountains, dances with prophets and many prayers to her God. However, when her husband is forced by his family to take a second wife, Yejide is forced to confront all the things she thought she was safe from.

It is no wonder such a compelling and original novel such as Stay With Me has been shortlisted as part of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction – Adebayo sings a much needed song about women, their health, their family lives and their fight to be heard above the noise of their communities. Stay With Me is so incredibly different from books I have read in the past. Its expression of Nigerian culture and family life is vivid and living, unafraid to make comment on the banality of the everyday. In saying that, Adebayo tackles subject matter that is usually left undiscussed in literature, from phantom pregnancy to infant death to culturally imposed polygamy. I was particularly captivated by the ways in which Yejide’s husband’s family and the pressure they put on her to conceive ended up causing her to imagine a pregnancy. It was refreshing to read about the intersections between motherhood, family pressure and women’s mental health, especially when they are written about with such intensity. Beyond this, it was interesting to see how the death of multiple children affected the family unit, and how cultural traditions influenced the reception and interpretation of these deaths, even as recently as the 1980s. I will admit I am not very well versed in the cultural traditions of Nigerian communities, but Stay With Me provided an incredible insight into the clash of modern family values and the long-held traditions of families and cultural communities.

Beyond the domestic and family spaces that dominate the narrative, Adebayo explores the tumultuous politics of 1980’s Nigeria, and how the social landscape of Nigeria was changed by reactions to the government and protests against it. From raids of local communities by bandits and gangs, to student protests and acts of revolution, Stay With Me is punctuated with intensely felt descriptions of fear, joy and sacrifice. Paralleled with the turmoil of the home spaces in this novel, readers are captivated by the feeling of helplessness that Yejide so often confesses. Sure she has her independence, but she is also trapped by her own desires – for freedom, for love, for a child, for sexual pleasure, for the ability to feel safe in her own body.

Yejide is a woman like no other, and I can’t help but feel as though she is one of the most uniquely written women I have come across this year in fiction, with an equally unique, diverse and compelling story that everyone should invest it. I can’t help but admire Ayobami Adebayo’s incredible talent for character development and storytelling, alongside her ability to draw our attention towards stories that have traditionally been pushed aside in favour of Western-orientated books. As a debut novel, Stay With Me dazzles, and introduces a new talent to keep our eyes on, and I can’t wait to see what Adebayo writes next. I’m calling it now – she is one of the best voices of our time.

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Stay With Me (Allen & Unwin, RRP $27.99) is now available in all good book stores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from, and support their local independent book stores.

Thank you once again to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me for review. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

As Complex as Stars: A Review of ‘The Last Summer’

The pen might be mightier than the sword, but the typewriter is a loaded bomb.

Ricarda Huch’s The Last Summer tells the story of the Governor of St Petersburg and his family following his decision to close the state university due to student unrest during the early twentieth century. The family soon receives a death threat, so they hire a bodyguard for the Governor – but even the bodyguard has a secret agenda, and it may cost the Governor his life.

The Last Summer is a novel made up completely of letters sent between the family members, and from Lyu, the young bodyguard to his friend Konstantin. The choice to structure the novel like this was surprising at first, but a unique way of telling a story such as this. Most novels I have read surrounding the early stirrings of the Russian Revolution have relied on action and dialogue, but to have this story completely rendered through letters gave a depth of insight into each character that I have not encountered in a novel about political and social unrest as this.

I haven’t read an epistolary novel like this in a long time, and even then, most of the epistolary novels I have read have only been framed by letters, rather than told completely by them. The short format of this novel allows for these letters to tell the whole story uninterrupted without seeming too dense, and I think that is why this story works so well. If the novel had been longer, I don’t think that this format would have worked, but the concise writing and cleverly hid details show that Huch really knew what she was doing.

I won’t lie – this book still requires serious concentration while reading it. Part of this is because of the book’s reliance on correspondence to tell the story, and unless you are really paying attention, you can easily forget who is writing to whom and why the little details they share with each other are important. But if I am going to be honest, part of the reason I needed to concentrate so hard was due to the characters’ unfamiliar names. Given that I am not so great at picking up Russian names, I found the letters hard to follow in some places, simply because I was confused as to who was who, but once I picked it up, I had no issues whatsoever.

Whilst this is a novel that centres on the aftermath of highly charged political events in the early twentieth century, it is clear that this novel is largely about people – how they interact with one another, how families are changed by individual action and how they choose their loyalties. This theme comes through particularly strong with Lyu, who despite his goals, quickly became my favourite character. Although we hear from Lyu less frequently than the family he has infiltrated, it is him we see most often, and by seeing him through the eyes of others, we get the greatest picture of him. Whilst he is ultimately plotting the assassination of the Governor, it is clear that in his plotting, he deeply cares for the family. He is one of the most flawed yet most empathetic characters I have come across, and it was strange to feel such empathy for the character committing the novel’s bad deeds. Unlike most books about class clashes, neither the Governor’s upper class family or the students and their supporters are written as the ‘bad guys’, and it is exactly this sentiment that underpins the novel. It is impossible to choose a side in the novel simply because we know both sides too well to see the other as undeniably wrong. Both sides are incredibly complexly constructed, forcing the reader to confront the complexity of human behaviour and action. It reminds me of something author John Green is known for saying – “We have to imagine people complexly” – and Huch has succeeded in making her readers notice how incredibly complex human relationships and loyalties are in the grand scheme of human behaviour.

Towards the end of the novel, Lyu writes perhaps my favourite line in the whole novel:

“We have as little power over people as we do over the stars; we see them rise and set according to their engrained laws.”

For me, that is exactly what The Last Summer is about – trying to understand the people around you and realising that you have precisely no power to do so. It is amazing that in such a short novel, Huch has accomplished something that many authors take hundreds of pages to say. People are complex creatures, and nothing is quite clear about them except that they only become more complex the closer you look.

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The Last Summer is available in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene Press. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Last Summer. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

50 Book Challenge 2017

In 2016, I attempted the 50 Book Challenge for the first time. By the end of December, I had read 52 books – an average of a book per week.

So, I am doing the 50 Book Challenge again this year, but this time around, I am adding some rules for the books I read in order to broaden the spectrum of books I read, and to support under-represented voices in literature.

Here are my rules for my 2017 50 Book Challenge.

  •  At least half of all books must be written by female-identifying people  (F)
  •  At least half of all books must be written by people of colour/non-white people (POC)
  •  At least ten books must be translated works (T)
  •  At least ten books must be non-fiction (NF)
  •  At least ten books must be written by Australian authors (AUS)

I will be keeping a record of all the books I read this year on this page, with the codes above next to the titles, to keep track of how I am going with this challenge, and so you guys can see what I read this year.

I would encourage all the avid readers out there to join me in doing this challenge, and please let me know if you adopt these rules (or a version of them) for your own reading goals this year. I’m curious to see what you end up reading.

50 Book Challenge 2017

  1. Sula by Toni Morrison (F, POC)
  2. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (F, POC)
  3. The Mothers by Brit Bennett (F, POC)
  4. The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri (F, POC, T, NF)
  5. The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch (F, T)
  6. milk and honey by Rupi Kaur (F, POC)
  7. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (POC, NF)
  8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (F, POC)
  9. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (F, POC)
  10. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (F, POC, NF)
  11. American War by Omar El Akkad (POC)
  12. We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan (F)
  13. The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay (T)
  14. Release by Patrick Ness
  15. Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare (F)
  16. One by Sarah Crossan (F)
  17. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
  18. No Way! Okay, Fine. by Brodie Lancaster (F, AUS)
  19. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag (POC, T)
  20. The Cut by Anthony Cartwright
  21. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (F, AUS)
  22. All That She Can See by Carrie Hope Fletcher (F)
  23. Hunger by Roxane Gay (F, POC)
  24. Tin Man by Sarah Winman (F)
  25. City of Thieves by David Benioff
  26. Everless by Sara Holland (F)
  27. Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
  28. Moonrise  by Sarah Crossan (F)
  29. The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles (F)
  30. The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (F)
  31. The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke (F, POC, NF, AUS)
  32. The Wonderling by Mira Bartok (F)
  33. the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (F, POC)
  34. Artemis by Andy Weir
  35. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
  36. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (F, POC)
  37. A Thousand Perfect Notes by CG Drews (F, AUS)
  38. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco (F)
  39. How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne (F)

A Siren Call to Remember – A Review of Christine Dibley’s ‘To The Sea’

I have often shied away from novels set in Australia, largely because most of the Australian novels I was forced to read in high school were ‘bush books’, books that pigeon-holed Australian stories as tales that were dependant on outback settings and dry bushland. Whilst so many Australian stories are set in these places, these have never been the stories I have been able to feel connected to – my Australia has always been a coastal Australia, about cities bordered by the sea. Christine Dibley’s To The Sea is perhaps one of the first Australian novels set in Australia that I have truly felt at home in. Whilst I have never been to Tasmania, where this novel is set, the feeling of being so close to the sea and the city felt like home.

To The Sea follows the stories of four different people caught up in the disappearance of seventeen year old Zoe Kennett, a young girl from a well-to-do family, and the most recent in a long line of women who share a strange secret originating in Ireland. From the perspectives of her father John, her mother Eva, her sister Sadie and DI Tony Vincent, we get a strange mystery that brings the worlds of small town crime and Irish folklore crashing together.

I first read about the mythological Selchies (or Selkies) in a book picked up from a primary school book fair years ago, and I instantly fell in love with the myth of these transformative people, shifting between human and seal form. Whilst this might sound strange to those unfamiliar with the myths, I love that the folklore surrounding Selchies is so removed from the popular myths that are brought to life in film and TV. For me, Selchie folklore is linked almost exclusively to literature, and that is part of their magic.

But To The Sea does something more than just play into my love of Selchie folklore. By centring the novel so much on the power of mother-daughter storytelling and sharing, To The Sea reminded me of all the times I have spent sharing stories and personal histories with the women in my family. Much like my own family, the women of this book are linked by storytelling and sharing memories, and I love the power that this gives the women in this book. The women of this book are not only physically strong, being able to swim long distances and survive incredibly survivable events and conditions, but they are also granted an emotional strength that endures all the worst possible things. This book shows these women dealing with incredible loss, heartbreaking choices between love and family, mental illness and being labelled as crazy because of belief in a folklore that has been passed down through generations.

On a completely different note, I loved getting to read this novel at the time I did. The plot takes place in the days between Christmas and New Year, and I was fortunate enough to read it in the days between Christmas and New Year in 2016, completely by chance. Whilst this is not the only way to read this book, I recommend re-reading it later in the year to get the same feeling that the story weaves around this time (especially if you have a large family – you’ll understand when you read the book). The cover has also been beautifully designed, with the most beautiful colours that just seem to bring this story to life even further.

There is something enchanting about this book, about the way it discusses the power of storytelling, and the way it portrays women as the people who pass down power between generations. Christine Dibley has achieved something incredible with her debut novel and I look forward to seeing what else she can accomplish with her work in the future.

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To The Sea by Christine Dibley is published by Pan Macmillan Australia and is now available at all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support local independent bookstores.

Thanks to the lovely Clare over at Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of To The Sea for review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Whilst I was sent a copy for review, I was not paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017