Booklist 2017

60. We are Never Meeting in Real Life – Samantha Irby
Story – A collection of essay by a black female writer/comedian.
Thoughts – I gave this a try, even though I had never heard of the writer before. In the end I am pretty neutral on it – I think that overall I found the tone too dark and negative, although there were some funny parts and other times that were really raw and vulnerable.

59. Max – Sarah Cohen-Scali
Story – The life story of “Max”, a child born and raised within the ideals of the Nazi party, to be the great future of the Aryan race.
Thoughts – Considering that this book opened with a sentient foetus narrating his birth, it’s a weird book. Max is born in a special home as part of the ‘Lebensborn’ program, where ‘racially pure’ women were encouraged to birth perfect little Aryan babies who were then fostered or adopted by higher ranked Nazi families. (I did not know until this book that this is a true thing that occurred- unwed mothers were encouraged to give up their babies, Germanic looking women in occupied countries (particularly the Scandinavian areas) were also encouraged to breed for the Nazi, some orphan children were taken, and even some children kidnapped.) Learning about the Lebensborn program was fascinating and the final section in Berlin painted a vivid picture of the city ruined at the end of the war, but the story was uneven and really asked for too much suspension of disbelief.

58. Listen to Your Mother- Ann Imig (ed)
Story – Essays by a variety of writers about the concept of motherhood.
Thoughts – I liked this one quite a lot. Short, thought provoking chapters looking at the subject from a really wide range of perspectives.

57. The Day the Nazis Came- Stephen Matthews
Story – Stephen Matthews was a child living in Guernsey during the second world war. The Nazis occupied the Channel Islands and Stephen’s family, along with a large group of other islanders, were deported to an internment camp in Germany.
Thoughts – This was a really interesting story, but it was written in such a jolly English way that it seemed to lack a little heart. I hadn’t known about German internment camps- I thought it was all actively trying to kill people in concentration camps for the Nazis. In this camp they were not made to work, they had food (although poor) and were given Red Cross parcels regularly. It is so hard to comprehend how difficult those years were, and how many families were separated and struggling.

56. No Apparent Distress – Rachel Pearson
Story – The true story of a medical student, studying and working in poverty stricken neighbours in post-flood Galveston, Texas.
Thoughts – This book was so depressing. American healthcare is appalling- this book is very clear about how it fails, and the devastating impact on families and individuals. I cannot imagine living in a country that boasts proudly of being a world leader, and yet lets its own citizens die of treatable illnesses because of lack of insurance.

55. The Trick Jumpers – Josephine Pullein-Thomson
Story– To raise money at the village fair, a group of children band together to put on a trick jumping exhibition.
Thoughts – Sometimes, you just want to read a pony book. So I did, and it was perfect. The Pullein-Thomson pony books are my favourites (after the Jill books).

54. Mid-Life Ex-Wife – Stella Grey
Story – The story of a 50 year old ex-wife and her journey through the world of online dating in search of love.
Thoughts – I really enjoyed this. I would never have been so brave as to keep putting myself out there like that, so I sincerely hope I never end up alone at fifty! Parts of it were funny, but it was also quite a serious and introspective reflection, which gave a really insightful look at the topic. Definitely worth a read.

53. Dear Hank Williams – Kimberly Willis Holt
Story – Tate’s teacher sets the class an assignment to write to a penpal, and Tate chooses Hank Williams, a country singer she hears on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. Through Tate’s letters we get to know her and her family, and see the stories and heartbreaks that make up their lives.
Thoughts – This kids’ book was a touching surprise. Beautifully written in terms of time and place and character- I loved the idioms and the way Tate’s worldview was shaped by her environment. A sweet, sad and lovely book that I’m glad I read.

52. Bipolar Disorder, the Other Depression – Robert Grieco
Story – Non fiction book about bipolar disorder, with a large focus on the depression side of it.
Thoughts – This didn’t really present me with any new information, but it was still a good read. It talked in depth about how hypomania can present very briefly, which is relevant to my experiences. It also talked a lot about anxiety as a facet of bipolar disorder, which is also something that I feel reflects my personal experience.

51. The Polygamist’s Daughter – Anna LeBaron
Story – The true story of Anna LeBaron, whose father Ervil LeBaron was the leader of a murderous polygamist community.
Thoughts – Fundamental polygamist sects are both horrifying and fascinating. Anna was one of more than fifty children born to LeBaron, and the poverty and harshness those children grew up with is deeply disturbing. Anna spent a lot of time being passed around to various family members in the USA and Mexico (and in those cults practically everyone is family in some way) as her father and other members of the cult were on the run from the FBI. Anna eventually found the strength to leave, and was lucky enough to have people who were willing to help her. One of the things that I found most interesting about this book was that it didn’t end at Anna’s escape, and she wrote a little about how her relationship with her mother (who still believes in polygamy) has changed and developed over the years since her escaped.

50. The Awkward Age – Francesca Segal
Story – Julia can’t believe that she has been so lucky as to find a second chance at love with James. But there’s a shadow in paradise- her daughter Gwen dislikes and despises her new quasi-stepfather and his son, and Julia has to admit that she is not so fond of Nathanial herself. But then a family holiday that starts with arguments and tensions ends with something even worse, when Nathaniel and Gwen go from fighting to kissing, and then a bit more. All Julia had wanted was for everyone to get along, but this has gone too far and now the whole structure of her new happiness is threatened.
Thoughts – I actually liked this one quite a lot. It felt real to me- real characters, real relationships, real problems driving the action. It was interesting, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen. Although the characters could be somewhat frustrating at times- Gwen was pretty much a brat fairly often, and both parents were blind to their own children’s faults. I can’t help wondering what my reaction would be in that situation though- how do you blend a family when you’re still on opposing teams like that?

49. As Nature Made Him – John Colapinto
Story – Bruce and Brian were identical, 8 months old twin boys when they went to hospital for what should have been a simple circumcision. But an accident during surgery made it anything but routine for baby Bruce, who sustained an injury that essentially amputated his penis. Under the supervision of scientist John Money, Bruce’s parents did what they believed was best- Bruce was castrated and raised as a girl named Brenda, who had no idea that she had had her sex reassigned. With Brian there as the perfect ‘control subject’, Money looked to the twins case to prove his theory that gender identity was a matter of socialisation more than biology. Tragically for ‘Brenda’ though, no amount of socialisation could change his innate belief that he was not meant to be a girl and that something about him and his life was very, very wrong. At fourteen, after suicide attempts, ‘Brenda’ was told the truth and immediately took her place in the family as a boy named David.
Thoughts – This was an amazing story to read. David’s stubborn refusal to be the girl that he was ‘supposed to be’, in terms of mannerisms, dress, beliefs and genital surgeries, is awe inspiring. He was basically just a little kid, with all the doctors, psychiatrists, his parents etc all pressuring him to take the hormones and undergo the surgery that would ‘fix’ his genitals (which had been left as a fairly rudimentary female shape after the castration) and he just clung to his own belief about what was real for him. This book was also kind of horrific in terms of what was done to David, and other babies who suffered similar accidents, or were born with ambiguous genitals, even after intersex people and people who had been reassigned sex as babies were speaking out against the practice. The book was a really fascinating look at gender and sex and our personal identities and influences. Highly recommend.

48. Finders Keepers – Belinda Bauer
Story – Children are disappearing on Exmoor. Taken from their cars with a simple, chilling note left behind. You don’t love them.
Thoughts – I didn’t realise until I was reading it that this was the third book in a trilogy, so there was a lot of things in the story that lacked context for me. The mystery itself was easy to follow though, and I certainly didn’t pick the perpetrator- I doubt anyone would. And usually that’s a good thing, but I just found the actual reason and what was happening to be just not quite believable.

47. Confessions of a High School Disaster – Emma Chastain
Story – The diary of freshman Chloe as she navigates her first year of high school, including friends, enemies, boys, the school musical, and family.
Thoughts – This book was a gorgeous surprise. I started reading it expecting it to be a basic high school diary book, pretty fluffy and cute but not much more to it, but it was honestly better than that. I mean, it IS fluffy and cute and fairly predictable, but it wrote the character of Chloe so well! She was so real, and so relatable and likeable that I actually finished the book wishing that there was a sequel, just because I didn’t want to stop reading her diary.

46. Summer of Fear – Lois Duncan
Story – Rachel is settling in for a long, relaxing summer when tragedy strikes distant family and her cousin Julia moves in. At first Rachel is keen to make her cousin feel welcome, but there is something about Julia that makes Rachel uneasy, something dark, something that terrifies Rae but that that no one else seems to feel at all…
Thoughts – I read this book when I was in primary school and it SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME. I cannot emphasis enough how utterly terrified by it I was! I didn’t even like looking at the spine when I was searching for something to read at the library, let alone touching it!
However I reread it when I was at high school, (and supposedly older and braver) and although it always creeped me out I also kind of loved it- this was probably the first book I ever read where I thought that fear could be a little bit fun too. Rereading it now as an adult I still think it’s creepy, and I still think it’s fantastic- definitely worth another look for me.

45.Survivors Club – Michael Bornstein
Story – When the Soviets entered the Auschwitz death camp they found just over 7000 prisoners still there, mostly sick and dying Jews, a tiny fraction of the millions that had been sent there. But within that tiny fraction was an even smaller group- 52 children under eight years old, who had somehow managed to survive. One of those was four year old Michael Bornstein from Poland.
Thoughts – I have read so many Holocaust memoirs, and for all of the horror and brutality that makes me feel so sick and scared, there are these amazing stories of survival that make me believe so much in people’s own inner strength. They are also stories of fantastic luck and crazy coincidences, because to survive the Nazi death machine was damn near impossible, and yet people did. Even, in this case, a child. Born in a ghetto, moved to a factory camp, taken to Auschwitz and tattooed, put in a children’s barracks, smuggled out of there and hidden by his mother and grandmother, sick enough to be taken to the infirmary and yet strong enough to survive his illness, advised by a doctor to stay there as the camp was emptied out, to wait for Soviet liberation…if it was fiction you wouldn’t believe it, but it DID happen and it made for an absolutely compelling book. (Not to mention the front cover, a photograph the Soviet liberating troops took of the miniscule number of children they found in the camp, with Michael’s tiny little face down in the front corner.)

45. The Missing Ones – Patricia Gibney
Story – A body is found in a church, strangled. A body is found hanging in a tree. Both have the same tattoo on their thighs, but what is the connection? Detective Lottie Parker’s investigation takes her back into the past, and comes with a chilling link to her own life.
Thoughts – There was just way too much going on in this book. It’s the first one in a series, so some of it was just needing to set the scene and introduce ongoing characters I think, but I found it a bit excessive. I would read the second book in the series if I came across it, but I probably wouldn’t really seek it out.

44. Forever or a Long, Long Time- Caela Carter
Story – Flora and her brother Julian don’t believe they were ever born. Years in various foster homes mean that there aren’t any stories about where they came from and when they were babies, so they make up their own. Now they’ve been adopted and their new mom says it’s forever, but when you don’t have a past it’s hard to believe in a future. So Flora, Julian and their new mom are going on a journey to try and find the answers.
Thoughts – I was looking forward to reading this book because the author’s first book (My Life With the Liars) was so brilliant, and it didn’t disappoint. There was just such a touching vulnerability about Flora, and all her confused thoughts and beliefs and tentative hopes. I wanted just to scoop her up and hug her, and then I wished that I could do something for all the other Floras and Julians who don’t have homes…heartbreaking and beautiful book.

43. A Corner of the Universe – Ann M. Martin
Story – Hattie’s life is turned upside down when Adam, an uncle she knew nothing about, comes home from his school to spend the summer with family. Despite his odd behaviour and manner Hattie accepts Adam as he is, and the two of them spend time together that will change Hattie’s view of the world and her family.
Thoughts – I really wanted to love this, because it’s Ann M Martin! And it was very good in some ways, with a beautiful sense of time and place, but it ultimately felt dissatisfying. I think Adam was meant to be autistic, although it wasn’t spelled out, and he was written well. It was Hattie that I think I just didn’t quite connect with – probably one of those times when a book written for kids just isn’t quite working for me as an adult.

42. Beswitched – Kate Saunders
Story – When Flora Fox is reluctantly on her way to boarding school, she isn’t expecting to like it. But what she REALLY isn’t expecting is a timeslip that lands her in 1935, and at a boarding school that isn’t anything like the one that she thought she’d be getting!
Thoughts – I loved this. Funny thing, as a kid I started writing pretty much this exact storyline, of a modern heroine in a Malory Towers-esque universe- obviously I should have stuck with it! This was just a really fun read for me, with cute characters and so much historical era slang in the boarding school, really enjoyable.

41. One Little Mistake – Emma Curtis
40. Weekends at Bellevue – Julie Holland
39. Last Night I Sang to the Monster – Benjamin Alire Saenz
38. Among the Dolls – William Sleator
47. The Missing Ones – Patricia Gibney
36. The Burning- Jane Casey
35. See If I Care – Judi Curtin and Roisin Meaney
34. Sister Sister – Sue Fortin
33. Ghost Child- Caroline Overington
32. The Child Snatcher – Aria Johnson
31. Locked in Time- Lois Duncan
30. Things Unsaid – Diana V Paul
29. Silent Child – Sarah A Denzil
28. Behind her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough
27. Ruby’s Tuesday – Gillian Binchy
26. The Golden Child – Wendy James
25. Snowbirds – Crissa-Jean Chappell
24. Night – Elie Wiesel
23. Next Year for Sure – Zoey Leigh Peterson
22. My Sister’s Child – Caroline Finnerty
21. Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris
20. Rose Under Fire – Elizabeth Wein
19. Their Crime was Being Jewish – Anthony S. Pitch
18. The Pharmacist of Auschwitz – Patricia Posner
17. The Fifth Letter – Nicola Moriarty
16. Grey – E.L. James
15. A Necessary End – Holly Brown
14. The Space Between Us – Megan Hart
13. This is How it Always Is – Laurie Frankel
12. The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty
11. Raising Cubby – John Elder Robison
10. Homecoming – Rob Aspinall
9. Creatures of the Rock – Andrew Peacock
8. City Mouse – Stacey Lender
7. Between Sisters – Cathy Kelly
6. See Me Not – Janelle Harris
5. The Far End of Happy – Kathryn Craft
4. Maybe in Another Life – Taylor Jenkins Reid
3. Tell No One Who You Are – Regine Miller
2. The Bad Things – Mary Jane Riley
1. Hollow Men – Rob McCarthy