92. Love You Gone – Rona Halsall
91. The Prophet Calls – Melanie Sumrow
90. It’s Okay to Laugh – Nina McInerny Purmort
89. Malignant – Anita Waller
88. Henry – Katrina Shawver
87. Not Taco Bell Material – Adam Carolla
86. Cut and Run – Mary Burton
85. Outcry – Manny Steinberg
84. The Birthday – Carol Wyer
83. First One In, Last One Out – Marilyn Shimon
82. How Do You Like Me Now? Holly Bourne
81. The Ex-Wife – Jess Ryder
80. Tear Me Apart – J.T. Ellison
79. In the Dark – Cara Hunter
78. Pretty Little Things – T.M.E. Walsh
77. Two Rings – Millie Werber
76. They Don’t Know – Patricia Dixon
75. Not Her Daughter – Rea Frey
74. Little Liar – Lisa Ballantyne
73. Just Before I Died – S.K. Tremayne
72. Gross Anatomy – Mara Altman
71. Broken Dolls – Sarah Flint
70. Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life – Shelley Tougas
69. The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank – Willy Lindwer
68. The Date – Louise Jensen
67. The Book of Essie – Meghan Maclean Weir
66. A Mother’s Sacrifice – Gemma Metcalfe
65. Letters to the Lost – Brigid Kemmerer
64. You Belong Here – Laurie Steed
63. The Friend – Teresa Driscoll
62. Educated – Tara Westover
Story – Memoir of a girl who grew up in an abusive home with religious fundamentalist prepper nutjobs for parents. Despite never having been to school (and not even being homeschooled in any particular way) she studied herself until she was able to be accepted into college, and then went on to study abroad and eventually earn her doctorate.
Thoughts – This story was fascinating, although the abuse she suffered at the hands of her brother was extremely disturbing. The writing was so well done that I was able to picture her bizarre childhood vividly, even though it was nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s really amazing that Tara was able to get herself to college and fight against her conservative and controlling family to continue her education and achieve the academic success she did.
61. The Bright Beauty – Emily Cavanagh
Story – Francie and Lottie are twins, identical in appearance but also fundamentally different. Francie is stable, married with twin daughters, and Lottie suffers from bipolar disorder. After a falling out they haven’t spoken for a year when Francie receives a call that Lottie has had an accident and is in hospital, and Francie is needed to go and look after the daughter she didn’t know her sister had.
Thoughts – I have some mixed feelings about this one. The writing was good, the characters were well drawn and likeable, and the storyline was interesting. But the view of bipolar…I don’t know. Possibly I can’t look at this impartially, even though the bipolar type 2 that I have is not the same as the more severe form that Lottie lived with. Having said all that, I think I was disturbed by the implication that Lottie couldn’t be a good, safe parent because she had bipolar, rather than making the important distinction that she couldn’t be a good, safe parent because she kept willingly and deliberately going off her medication. I also didn’t like the resolution of the problem – there was no happy (or even happy-ish) ending for Lottie. I don’t know, despite all this I’d read something else by this author, I think it was just the subject matter of this one that bothered me.
60. The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir – Lesley Allen
Story – Biddy tells the story of her years of extreme bullying, and the impact this is had on her adult life and the way she is fighting to regain her own sense of self and happiness.
Thoughts – This was pretty depressing for a lot of it. Bullying is hideous, and the way that so many things happened to Biddy and no one really stepped in to help her was not that much fun to read about. While there was ultimately a happy ending, I’m not sure it made up for the absolute destruction of a life that the rest of the book chronicled!
59. Too Close to Breathe – Olivia Kiernan
Story – When DCS Frankie is handed the case, it initially looks like a suicide. But when further investigation reveals clues that point to murder, it’s just the beginning. There are more bodies, and then Frankie finds terrifying links to the crime and killer that nearly killed her.
Thoughts – This was the first book in a series, but since half of it referenced a crime and killer that took place before the events in this book, it’s not surprising I got confused. The storyline was interesting (there were affairs, and the dark web, and people’s weird kinks etc) and the characters were good and will probably work well in a series, but the structure of it didn’t really work for me. I just felt like I was missing too much, and the fact that this story resolved a crime that had already been committed before the story started just didn’t seem to make sense to me. It felt like a book in a series where I was missing a few volumes.
58. The Next Girl – Carla Kovach
Story – A newborn baby is found abandoned outside a library. When an anonymous phone call urges the police to run a DNA test, everyone is shocked to discover that the baby is the daughter of a woman who went missing four years ago and has never been found.
Thoughts – This was pretty good, although I found myself feeling bad for basically all the characters involved! Being kept prisoner by a madman for four years, and forced to give birth alone while chained to the wall is the stuff of nightmares. The cast of police characters were good, and the investigation unfolded well. It’s the first book in a series and I think there’s potential, but I also found myself a little bit confused by the number of police and their relationships – it felt a bit like I’d been dropped into the middle of a series rather than it being the start.
57. You Were Gone – Tim Weaver
Story – A woman turns up at a police station, claiming to be investigator David Raker’s wife Derryn. The only problem? Derryn died eight years ago, so who is this woman and what does she want?
Thoughts – I didn’t realise this was part of a series. It also read pretty well as a stand alone though, so that was nice. It was well done and the characters were good, but I just didn’t get all that emotionally invested.
56. The Road to Rescue – Mietek Pemper
Story – Mietek Pemper was a Polish Jew who ended up as Kommandant Amon Goeth’s personal secretary in the Plaszow labour camp. He was instrumental in the camp being classified as concentration camp, and was also a key player in the construction of Oskar Schindler’s list and the survival of so many Jewish people. After the war Mietek was also involved as a translator and witness in several trials of Nazi war criminals.
Thoughts – This man was one of the luckiest people alive when you consider what he survived. It was absolutely unheard of for a Jewish prisoner to do the work he did and have access to so much classified information, and if Goeth hadn’t been arrested it’s pretty unlikely he would have survived. I am absolutely in awe of this man’s courage.
55. A Killing Mind – Luke Delaney
Story – A serial killer with a brutal MO, leaving his victims with teeth and nails ripped out. DI Sean Corrigan is a man with almost uncanny insight into serial killers, and he’s on the case.
Thoughts – This was enjoyable, as long as I didn’t look at it all too critically because it was also pretty unrealistic! I’d still read another one in the series, although I have to say at this point I have read so many police procedural series that they’re all beginning to blur into one another and I can’t keep any of the detectives straight – I am beginning to long for the simplicity of a good standalone, where the crime and investigation is enough of a storyline without adding in police relationship dramas.
54. Life and Death – Stephenie Meyer
Story – Genderbent Twilight, with Beau Swan moving to Forks and falling in love with the vampire Edythe Cullen.
Thoughts – I will never get over Stephenie Meyer writing and publishing this instead of Midnight Sun, but that’s not really relevant here.
I’ve read this before, right after it first came out, so this was a reread at a slightly slower and more thoughtful pace. It’s interesting, and while I actually probably like Beau as a character more than I liked Bella I think that the Beau/Edythe relationship just failed to fully convince me. Edward and Bella were always an appalling example of insta-love for no reason, but for some reason it just didn’t work with Beau and Edythe in the same way. I think my other problem with this book is that I’ve read gender-swapped Twilight fanfics that were better than this!
53. In the Blood – Ruth Mancini
Story – Ellie has been accused of a heinous crime, that of poisoning her own baby and nearly killing him. Sarah, herself the mother a profoundly disabled son, is given the job of defending Ellie in court and sets out to find the truth.
Thoughts – This was a solid legal/crime drama. I admit I question the reality of a solicitor doing as much investigative work as Sarah did though – shouldn’t that be the job of the police? However the characters were engaging and the plot was interesting, so it was a good read.
52. Letters From Belsen 1945 – Muriel Knox Doherty
Story – Letters from Muriel Doherty, who was the UN chief matron of the hospital established at the former concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. Muriel arrived in Germany to run the hospital several months after the liberation of the camp, and oversaw the recovery and rehabilitation of thousands of victims of Nazi brutality.
Thoughts – This was a fascinating look at the aftermath of the war and the Nazi death camp system. Liberation saved them from the Nazis, but for a horrifying number of people that didn’t occur soon enough and they still died from the effects of starvation and disease. Even for those who lived, the road back to the health and finding an independent home was fraught. This book gave some great insights into the practicalities of dealing with such a disparate and traumatised population. Highly recommend.
51. Those Other Women – Nicola Moriarty
Story – When Poppy’s husband, who has always been steadfastly childfree alongside her, betrays her with her best friend, she’s shattered. Her friend Annelise agrees with her though, and the two of them set up a facebook group for other women like them- women who don’t have or want kids. It’s meant to be something fun, something a little bit cheeky and a little bit supportive, but when they clash with an area group of facebook mums, things get a little out of hand.
Thoughts – This was a good read. The characters were great, and the whole premise was contemporary and intriguing. Always good to have an Australian read too – I like this author and this was an enjoyable book.
50. Saving Grace – Grace Kitto
Story – Memoir/biography/I don’t know written by Grace about her three year weight loss journey.
Thoughts – Although weight and health are quite depressing things for me to think about, this was probably a good thing for me to read. Grace’s weightloss efforts were steady and consistent and SLOW, and I think there’s a lesson in that for me. The whole thing about her talking to her subconscious just didn’t resonate with me though, and so I think that stopped me from really connecting with her as a person.
49. The Girl in the Green Dress – Cath Staincliff
Story – When transgender teenager Allie heads off to her prom, all her dad wants is for her to have a fun night. But Allie doesn’t come home, and is discovered beaten to death in a laneway. A brutal, shocking crime that will test the police department and members of the community in ways they would never have expected.
Thoughts – This was excellent. The criminal investigation was done well and the characters were engaging. The subject matter was fairly relevant to a lot of things I’ve been reading online too, so it really all just came together. Crime fiction I’d recommend.
48. From Broken Glass – Steve Ross
Story – Steve Ross was an eight year old child when Nazis invaded his Polish village. Against all odds he survived the next six years, moving through death camps including Auschwitz and Dachau before he was finally liberated. He and an older brother were the only members of his family alive at the end of the war. The book tells the story of his war years, as well as his life working as a truant officer in a tough, inner city Boston neighbourhood and his work with youth there. It also details his involvement in getting the Boston Holocaust memorial built and his efforts in keeping alive the memory and meaning of the atrocity he lived through.
Thoughts – This was a heartbreaking and hopeful memoir. His experiences in the camps were brutal, but the way he used these experiences to inspire a new generation of American youth was amazing. The fact that he has lived long enough to see a resurgence of anti-Semitism (including the vandalism of the monument he saw constructed) in his new country is horrifying, and something that I think we as a society should find deeply shameful.
47. Don’t Make a Sound – David Jackson
Story – Malcolm and Harriet Benson love their daughter Daisy. They think it would be so nice for her have a little sister, and for their family to expand. The problem with that, is that Daisy isn’t really theirs and the little girl that’s going to be their next daughter isn’t either…
Thoughts – This was excellent. It’s the third in a series, so I there’s backstory with the police characters that would have probably meant more if I had read the previous books, but it wasn’t necessary. I thought it was a strong crime thriller that kept me wanting to read more, and I’d like to try the others in the series.
46. Sticks and Stones – Jo Jakeman
Story – Three women – the ex wife, the current wife, the new partner – join together to protect themselves from and get revenge on the man who wronged them all.
Thoughts – This one was pretty ridiculous honestly. The credibility factor was really not high, but at the same time it kind of kept me coming back to see what was going to happen so I guess that’s a plus. Not really a recommend, but I’d be willing to try something else from this author.
45. A Midwife in Amish Country – Kim Woodard Osterholzer
Story – This is the story of Kim’s apprenticeship and training in midwifery, working much of the time with Amish families in the community.
Thoughts – I love birth stories, and midwife memoirs are always interesting to me. This one was a little bit light on the birth side and a little too heavy on Kim’s personal religious beliefs though – she’s an evangelical Christian, and to be honest I’m not really into reading her personal testimony about how God works in her life. Especially when she didn’t treat her suicidal depression, and then claims that God miraculously healed it, which is the kind of thing that really makes me quite frustrated.
44. Why Mummy Drinks – Gill Sims
Story – Ellen is an exhausted mum dealing with two primary school aged kids, a job, a husband, a dog, assorted family members causing her grief, a house, the school gate perfect mummies and everything else. Thank goodness for wine. And her newly created app, named ‘Why Mummy Drinks’.
Thoughts – This was funny and likeable for the most part, although Ellen frankly seemed pretty alcoholic rather than just your average occasional wine drinking mum!
43. In Hitler’s Shadow – Tim Heath
Story – Non fiction account of the lives of German girls in the last day of the Reich and the occupation aftermath.
Thoughts – There were some pretty horrific stories in this book, between girls being dragged in to fight to protect Berlin and then all the rapes that happened in the immediate occupation. I know that many people have mixed feelings about the Germans given what the country as a whole was doing to the Jewish people at the time, but damn no one deserves what happened to some of those German girls.
42. A Life Made of Lava – Lissa Del
Stories – Evie is a happily married mother of three, and she’s dying. Her husband wants her to fight, but all Evie wants is to make sure that her beloved family will be looked after once she’s gone. Hiring the perfect nanny is the first step.
Thoughts – This story ran the line of being clichéd and overly schmaltzy, but came down on the right side. A lot of this was due to the way Evie was written, a funny smart ass with a sense of humour, and the best character in the book. I enjoyed reading it and I could relate to what Evie was really wanting – if I were dying, knowing that there was someone who would love my babies and my husband when I was no longer there to do it would be a big comfort.
41. We’ll Fly Away – Bryan Bliss
Story – Luke and Toby are close to escape. It’s senior year, Luke’s wrestling scholarship is settled, and the two of them know that soon they’ll be able to leave Toby’s violent father and Luke’s irresponsible mother and have a chance to live their own lives. But something went wrong, and now Luke is writing letters from jail and facing the ultimate punishment.
Thoughts – This story was really beautifully done. Luke was just a character that grabbed my heart, and made me wish so badly that things could be different for him. It’s a depressing story because it reflects a reality where kids DO grow up like that, with home lives that mean the odds are stacked against them, and getting out isn’t always possible. It was also interesting to read a book about the death penalty aimed more at a YA audience.
40. Being Jazz – Jazz Jennings
Story – Biography of Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl from Florida who transitioned at the age of five and has since become an ambassador, with several international interviews and now her own show.
Thoughts – An interesting insight into the issues that face transgender children and their families. Jazz is only sixteen, so there’s still a lot that’s going to happen for her, but the story of her conviction from such an early age that she was meant to be a girl despite her physically male body was really interesting. I really love reading about families that do such a good job loving and supporting each other through tough things too, and Jazz’ family is pretty great.
39. I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree – Laura Hillman
Story – The memoir of a woman who survived the Holocaust as one of the many names on Schindler’s List. Hannelore was at boarding school in Berlin when she received word that her family were being deported, and she actually wrote to the Nazis to ask if she could have permission to travel back to her home and accompany them. This was granted, and thus her journey between ghettos and camps began. She lost her family, but met and fell in love with her future husband at the camp and was somehow given a place on the list of Schindler’s workers that allowed her to be taken out of Auschwitz to the relative safety of his factory.
Thoughts – This was such an interesting memoir. I loved reading about the way the relationship between Hannelore and her husband developed in the camps, and the contrast between this growing love and the grief and sorrow and fear that surrounded them was intense. Being one of ‘Schindler’s Jews’ was also a fascinating element, although part of this was that Hannelore never really knew for sure how she gained her place – odd given the competitive nature for places on the list and a real shot at survival. Definitely a recommended Holocaust read.
38. The Second Child – Caroline Bond
Story – Sarah and Phil have a strong marriage and love their children, sixteen year old James and fourteen year old Lauren. Life is good, until they make the devastating discovery that the profoundly disabled Lauren is not their biological daughter. This book explores the impact of that decision on everyone in the family, and in the other family that they are now inextricably linked to.
Thoughts – It’s really every parents’ worst nightmare, to find out that the child you’ve raised and loved isn’t really yours, and that there is another child that you’ve never met that IS. I don’t even know what I’d do (and don’t really think it’s very likely, most of my kids have pretty strong family resemblances) so this was an interesting and thought provoking read.
37. The Other Woman – Sandie Jones
Story – Emily thinks Adam is perfect, the man she can’t wait to spend the rest of her life with. There’s only one problem – his mother Pammie, who seems determined to insert herself into the relationship and ruin things…even if no one can see this except Emily.
Thoughts – Everyone loves a psycho mother in law, so this one was a good, fun read. I just had to ignore the fact that the mother in law really showed what she was doing so early on that Emily had plenty of time to run before she got too attached and she didn’t! Adam never seemed worth it, so there was a bit too much suspension of disbelief there, but as long as I didn’t think too hard about that it was still a good book.
36. There Once was a Child – Debra Webb
Story – A predator, jailed for abducting and abusing children, has been released. But the police find blood in his apartment and the man missing…has he taken another victim, or has he become the victim?
Thoughts – This felt like it was part of a series, since there was so much detail about the two police investigating the crime that just felt superfluous to the actual investigation storyline. However it was a standalone, so I’m not sure why the extensive backstory and side plots were necessary, I didn’t really think they added much. Apart from that it was reasonably well written and engaging, although hasn’t left me feeling very inspired to want more.
35. Norman – Stephen Lancaster
Story – A paranormal researched becomes the owner of a doll that carries with it an evil spirit.
Thoughts – Supposedly a ‘true’ retelling of events, but I’m pretty sceptical. The fact that there is apparently all this video surveillance evidence that he won’t release because it shows his private home? Um..sure. Anyway, this book was not particularly well written but it was still about a possessed doll so it was creepy by default.
34. Laughing at my Nightmare – Shane Burcaw
Story – Autobiography of Shane, a young man with a devastating form of muscular dystrophy that leads to progressive weakening of all muscles in the body.
Thoughts – This book was an honest and amusing look at someone living with an incredibly challenging disease. I have to say I admire the way Shane has approached his life and the development of his foundation to support people with disabilities. However I also have to say there was one thing in the book that really rubbed me the wrong way, and that was his attitude to other disabled people, especially those with mental challenges. He just seemed to go overboard in insisting that he wasn’t like all those other, slightly more icky and less cool disabled people, to the point where I actually found myself feeling kind of offended on their behalf! Although to be fair, he wrote this book when he was about 21 I think, and most 21 year old guys are pretty full of themselves and place a much higher priority on the idea of being ‘cool’ than it warrants. I looked him up online and he’s still alive and (at least on Tumblr and instagram) comes across as less of a dick, so perhaps he’s just grown out of it? He’s certainly pretty impressive with what he’s achieved, and I will read his second book if I come across it.
33. Mine – Susi Fox
Story – Sasha wakes up in the hospital after an emergency caesarean, desperate to see her premature baby. But when they take her to the nursery, she knows that the baby they show her is not her son, and now she must fight the hospital and everyone around her to discover the truth.
Thoughts – This one was surprisingly good actually. It was more unpredictable than I had anticipated and less melodramatic, in a good way! It was Australian, which is something I enjoy. The flashback scenes didn’t really add anything to the narrative though and felt a bit like they’d been included to bump up the word count or something. Having said that, I enjoyed this one more than I had expected and would happily read another work by this author.
32. Family and Other Catastrophes – Alexandra Borowitz
Story – Emily and David are getting married, and so they’re heading back to their childhood home for the week leading up to the big day. This book is all about the family drama, with Emily’s therapist mother, SJW feminist sister, out-of-touch academic father and sexist dudebro brother; as well as David’s neckbeard LARPing brother and his parents (who are somewhat normal?)
Thoughts – I don’t read a lot of chick-lit anymore, and this book is probably a good example of both what I do and don’t like in the genre. First of all, the writing is cute and the story is fun and I enjoy reading it! But the characters are often just so caricatured to the point of being ridiculous, and this book was pretty extreme in that respect. The characters were just every single internet stereotype mashed together and dialled up a notch, and it felt like too much.
31. My Mother, A Serial Killer – Hazel Baron
Story – Dulcie Bodsworth is one of the rare Australian female serial killers, responsible for the death of three men, one of whom was her husband. She was finally caught and convicted on the evidence of her daughter Hazel.
Thoughts – This story was crazy. I’m generally not that big on true crime stories – I find them depressing and I’m uncomfortable when the worst moments of people’s lives are presented as entertainment, but this one was Australian and I thought it might be interesting. It really was – she murdered three people all because they were either in her way or she thought she would gain something from their death. The way the crimes were investigated and the prosecution case put together in the early 60s was also really interesting and not something I knew anything about prior to this. Hearing about her as an elderly woman post-jail was fascinating, especially the way her relationship with her daughter evolved, considering that she murdered her dad and then the daughter is the one who got her sent to jail.
30. The Perfect Girlfriend – Karen Hamilton
Story – Juliette loves Nate. She’s even become a flight attendant and joined the airline he’s a pilot for. They’re going to spend the rest of their lives together, and it’s going to be beautiful. The fact that they broke up six months ago and Nate has moved on? Minor detail. Juliette can work it out.
Thoughts – I enjoyed this one! Nice twist on the stalker psychological thriller narrative. My only quibble was the particular bit of info that she was using to blackmail him at the end didn’t seem necessarily realistic, but the characters were good and the motivations and sequence of events all worked pretty well – this one was unexpectedly good.
29. Gallery of the Dead – Chris Carter
Story – A serial killer whose victim selection and MO changes with each kill, although all are linked by the Latin words he leaves carved into their backs. DI Hunter and Garcia join forces with the FBI to solve the puzzle and catch this enigmatic killer.
Thoughts – It shows how brutal Chris Carter’s killers usually are that this one (who mutilated the bodies in various ways but didn’t generally have them suffer) seemed rather mild in comparison! I like the detectives in this series, and although this one probably wasn’t the best in the series it was still excellently done.
28. Night Shall Overtake Us – Kate Saunders
Story – In 1907, four girls at a boarding school swear a vow of eternal friendship and promise to always be there for each other. The story follows the dramatic turns their lives take over the next decade, through romances and political activism and social issues and war, where their vows will be tested in ways they could never have imagined.
Thoughts – I love this book. It was in the junior school library and I read it when I was twelve or thirteen, at which point the hugely romantic, sweepingly melodramatic saga of it was everything! Not to mention that it had sex scenes, which back in the day always made a book something of a scandal, ha ha ha. I reread it multiple times during my two junior school years and have remembered it ever since, so when I found it in a market stall I snatched it up – still just as much fun to read as I remembered!
27. Children of Nazis – Tania Crassianski
Story – A look at the lives of children of prominent Nazi party members, including before, during and after the war.
Thoughts – This was interesting. I’ve read a lot of Holocaust memoirs in the past year or two, so seeing how the other half lived in this story was pretty eye opening. There were chapters devoted to various Nazi’s children, and although the biographical details were interesting several of the children have refused interviews altogether or given few public statements and so I felt the book lacked some depth. It was a good overview, but I supposed I didn’t come away feeling as though I’d gained any great insights or with much to think about.
26. The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater – Alanna Okun
Story – a book of personal essays about life and craft.
Thoughts – I have no idea who this person is, or why she ended up with a book, but I like knitting and I thought I would give it a try. It was interesting – moving in places and amusing in others, but overall it didn’t really grab me.
25. Born Evil – Julia Derek
Story – Jennifer has known that her son Shane has the brain of a psychopath since he suffered a head injury as a child. She has always hoped that nurture and love will be enough to keep him from expressing these tendencies. That is, until the day she comes home and finds him stabbing the family cat to death.
Thoughts – This book was rubbish. Right from the start I struggled with it – for one thing, the whole ‘doctor told me he was a psychopath’ just sounds like crap. They don’t do brain scans on children and decide they’ve got psychopathic tendencies! Then who sees their child kill an animal, then discover photos of a dead girl on his phone, and still do nothing? Especially when you saw him SHOOT HIS OWN FATHER as a child??? The whole story was based around the unreliable narrator idea, but when that narrator is obviously a lunatic without a shred of believability the story just isn’t going to work.
24. A Year of Biblical Womanhood – Rachel Held Evans
Story – Rachel was a Christian woman who decided on a life experiment – to spend a year living ‘biblically’, focussing on a different virtue each month and attempting to live by biblical precepts of womanhood.
Thoughts – I loved this! Written with humour and respect, Rachel’s journey was funny, informative and illuminating. She is intelligent, and her approach was thoughtful and sensitive to the issues involved in such an experiment. The book is very much an exploration of faith, written with a desire to learn and understand more, not solely to discredit some of the more bizarre aspect of ‘Biblical womanhood’. I loved learning about the way different groups have interpreted the Bible and the way these women live their faith. Definitely recommend this one.
23. The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris
Story – The story of Lale, the tattooist of Auschwitz-Birkenau responsible for numbering thousands of Jews entering the camps, and his love affair with a girl named Gita.
Thoughts – Somehow I missed that this was based on fact and read it as fiction. I loved it, and then finding out at the end that it was true was extraordinary. It’s an absolutely amazing story, beautifully written and utterly captivating, with characters (who are real people!) who just steal your heart. One of my favourite reads so far this year.
22. The Goldfish Boy – Lisa Thompson
Story – Matthew, a child suffering from severe OCD, hasn’t been to school in weeks, instead spending his days cleaning and washing his hands. Matthew also spends time every day watching his neighbours and taking notes of the comings and goings in the close. Then one day a toddler goes missing from his neighbour’s yard and Matthew finds himself in the middle of a mystery.
Thoughts – Jericho got me to read this book. He kept talking about it while he was reading it, and once he’d finished it he bailed me up and we had a good chat about it, which inspired me to read it too. And I’m glad I did!
This book was like a kids’ book version of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, given it had a protagonist with a condition and a mystery. However I loved that book and I loved this one too, although it was so hard to read in places! Matthew just grabbed my heart, and I hurt for him so much. Highly recommend.
21. Best Friends Forever – Margot Hunt
Story – Kat and Alice have been friends for years. But then one day Kat’s husband turns up dead and Alice is charged with his murder…how well do you ever know your best friend?
Thoughts – This book was fairly well written but ultimately unsatisfying. The characters and relationships were not fully convincing, and the final twist really failed to raise much emotion in me besides ‘meh’. It was a quick, easy read and not awful, but pretty forgettable.
20. We Are Here – Fiona Harari
Story – A collection of holocaust memoirs from some of the last living survivors living in Australia.
Thoughts – Each chapter in this book consisted of a factual overview of the person’s life before, during, and after the war written by the editor, and then a commentary on their life by the survivor themselves. This worked really well- it was fascinating to see what parts of their stories the survivors chose to elaborate on. I really loved reading about how the war influenced them in their parenting and now grandparent/great grandparenting roles, and how they incorporated such surreal and horrific war experiences into a normal life afterwards. The sense of distance from the events and the perspective that gave the narrators was something different to the more usual style of holocaust memoir, and really added something extra.
19. I Have Lived a Thousand Years – Livia Bitton Jackson
Story – Elli is thirteen when the Nazis invade Hungary and she is deported to Auschwitz. Her blonde hair, unusual amongst European Jews, catches the attention of the man doing the selection and she is told to lie about her age. This lie kept Elli from the crematorium, sent her through the hell of the Nazi death camps, and ultimately helped her survive.
Thoughts – It turns out I had already read this book at school, although it was called Elli: Surviving the Holocaust or similar back then, which is why I didn’t recognise it. I read it again anyway, and it was actually interesting to reread it at this point in my life, after the number of Holocaust memoirs I’ve read now as opposed to how little I knew when I read it in Year 12.
18. The Wife – Alafair Burke
Story – Angela Powell’s husband is a high profile professor, author, and private consultant in NYC when one of his interns accuses him of inappropriate sexual behaviour. Days later another woman steps forward, this time accusing Jason of rape, and the situation for Angela and her family deteriorates rapidly. Angela has to decide if she is going to stand by her husband’s side and fight this with him, but with her own past secrets weighing heavily on her and new information arising daily, it’s not an easy decision to make.
Thoughts – This book was almost too convoluted. I enjoyed reading it, I thought some of the side characters were exceptionally well done (I really liked the detective Corrine- I thought she might have been a series character but this this is a stand alone book) but sometimes it just felt like everything was a lie and it almost reached ridiculous levels. I mean, I picked the final twist a lot earlier only because every single thing any character said turned into a lie, so I knew that that part of the story would have to b a lie too. It was no so much a matter of ‘is this true or false’ as ‘in what way is this false’. Having said all that, it was an enjoyable read for the most part and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another book by this author (which I will no doubt notice because of her peculiar first name).
17. The Children Money Can Buy – Anne Moody
Story – Anne Moody began her work with children as a social worker for kids in foster care, during a time when reuniting families was the preferred goal for all situations. She went on to work in the area of private adoption – both American and international – and saw first hand the way commonly accepted practise went from closed to open adoptions, the ways families seeking babies and birth mothers seeking families have changed, and the way costs have vastly increased for all. Anne is also the adoptive mother of a daughter born in Korea, and so also has some personal insight into the situation.
Thoughts – Reading about adoption and foster care is kind of an exercise in frustration. The flaws and gaps and holes in the system are boundless and it’s children, the most vulnerable and fragile members of society that are being hurt by this. Family reunification is an admirable goal, but when it results in children spending years languishing in foster care before parental rights are finally terminated, it may not be an appropriate goal for many situations.
The subject of children and families is one I find interesting, and this book had a lot of valuable insight. The changes in the openness of adoption over the past thirty years are huge and really benefit everyone involved, although the rise in money changing hands over adoption and the growth in surrogacy is something that I personally find concerning.
16. Flat Broke With Two Goats – Jennifer McGaha
Story – After losing their house and comfortable middle class life to foreclosure and bankruptcy, Jennifer and her husband moved to a remote mountain cabin in North Carolina and started living a homesteading life.
Thoughts – I enjoyed reading about the rustic cabin and country lifestyle that they found themselves living, especially when she talked about some of the hardships and differences between their old life and the new one. I loved reading about the animal keeping adventures too, with the goats and chickens, and also the scariness of the local wildlife- I think having poisonous snakes in your kitchen would freak me out a lot! However I also found the book a bit slow in parts, and perhaps lacking a little bit of heart? I don’t know, there was a lot of waxing lyrical about her ancestors and country heritage, but I guess I would have been more interested in her current relationships with her husband and kids, and have a little more explanation about her change in attitude towards the cabin.
15. If You Knew Her – Emily Elgar
Story – Frank is in the ICU, trapped inside a body that he cannot make respond, able to hear but not able to make himself known at all. Into the bed opposite comes Cassie Jensen, a woman also in a coma after a hit and run accident, a woman whose secrets are coming to light on the ward even if Frank is the only one who can put it all together.
Thoughts – This was pretty good. The story went between the point of view of Alice (the ward nurse), Frank (the patient) and Cassie (in the past, before her accident). It was good getting to know the characters, and the mystery was okay although not super thrilling- basically a fun read for a couple of days, but pretty forgettable after that.
14. Time’s Witnesses – Jakob Lothe
Story – Women’s stories of the Holocaust. Interesting because the editor had done another collection of Norwegian men’s stories and thought they would do a women’s collection, but not one of the Jewish women or children deported from Norway ever returned from the death camps. The women in this story are from various other countries, although several of them settled in Norway afterwards.
Thoughts – I read these memoirs all the time, and yet in some way it never gets easier…simultaneously the very best and worst that people are capable of.
13. Esfir is Alive – Andrea Simon
Story – Historical fiction based on the life of Esfir Manevich, a Jewish girl from Poland and the only known survivor of the mass killing of Jews at Brona Gora, a secluded forest location now in Belarus. The real life Esfir gave a brief account of her survival of this horrific mass slaughter to the Soviets after liberation in 1944, and then disappeared.
Thoughts – This book was different to many other holocaust memoirs as it focused a lot on the pre-war years and the different political affiliations of Esfir and her friends/ neighbours/ family. I’m not familiar with this at all, so some of it was difficult for me to understand but it was also really interesting to see how the approaching storm influenced people’s political views in a different way to what other books I’ve read have done.
12. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
11. Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson
Story – Blogger Jenny Lawson’s stories, of her family, friends, mental illness and taxidermy.
Thoughts – This was a reread, but I still laughed a lot. I like her frankness about her mental illnesses, I like her realistic approach to keeping well and taking care of herself, and I love the stories of her crazy dad and family.
10. The Break – Marian Keyes
Story – Amy is a busy woman- three daughters, a dad who is succumbing to dementia, a mum who seems to be finding herself, a job commuting between Dublin and London, a big extended family and friends, and a husband who has been distant and depressed since the death of his father and friend. Then, as if this isn’t enough, her husband announces that he is taking a break, taking six months away from his wife, family and work, to go backpacking and ‘clear his head’.
Thoughts – I love Marian Keyes, and this book didn’t disappoint. Amy was a really likeable and sympathetic lead, possibly even more so because she had her flaws and made some questionable decisions. Hugh…well, I don’t think I’ve ever loathed a character as much as I loathed him when he presented Amy with his letter basically saying he wanted a complete break away from his life, including his marriage vows and his parenting duties, and leaving Amy to deal with everything! But getting to know them through the story, feeling all that genuine emotion from Amy as she had to get used to being on her own and taking care of her three girls, reading about her relationships with friends and family and lovers, was really enjoyable. I really love Marian’s focus on family, and think this is one of her better books- definitely a recommend.
9. 102 Minutes – Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn
Story – Non-fiction retelling of the events of 9/11, detailing how things unfolded for those people in the World Trade Centre.
Thoughts – This book…it’s only January, but I’m betting this will be on my list of best books of the year just because of the impact it had on me. It was like reading the worst kind of thriller, knowing how it ended and reading a step by step story of people’s actions that were leading them either to safety or death. The stories of how some people survived were amazing- one guy in the south tower literally watched the plane fly into his window and somehow survived. I learned a lot about the engineering factors that went into the survival and then the collapse, and even that was interesting. The book had the potential to be dry, but the truth is it hit me so hard that I periodically had to stop reading, just to get away from it. The whole book is the story of the worst people can do, and the best people can do- the selflessness of the rescuers, the cooperative spirit of people under incredible pressure, the determination of those trapped, the love messages from those on the upper floors who knew they were never coming home.
8. The Foster Child – Jenny Blackhurst
Story – When child psychologist Imogen meets Ellie, all she sees is an eleven year old girl grieving the loss of her family and needing help. But Ellie’s foster family and teachers see something else. When Ellie gets upset, people get hurt. Imogen refuses to believe in such superstitious interpretations, but as more things happen, the more she is pushed to consider an unspeakable truth…
Thoughts – I enjoyed this book, although I did spend a lot of time reading it and not being really sure what genre I was in…was it a straightforward thriller, or was there really a supernatural element at play? I suppose that was the point- it was something different and that did make the book stand out for me. An interesting read that leaves me curious to try the author’s other works.
7. Unravelling Oliver – Liz Nugent
Story – Oliver, a handsome and charismatic author, lives with his wife Alice, the illustrator of his books. They seem to be leading a privileged, successful life that others would envy…until one night, after dinner, Oliver beats Alice into a coma. This book details the aftermath, as Oliver tells his story and friends and acquaintances share their memories of his and Alice’s past.
Thoughts – I really enjoyed this. The premise was interesting, and the writing had a slight quirkiness that really appealed to me. The characters were well written and the details of the story were interesting and unusual, making me want to keep reading and find out what happened next. My only disappointment was that the ending seemed quite abrupt, but I think that was just because I was pretty invested in the whole story by then and wanted it to keep going – the arc of the story didn’t require more.
6. The Present – D.S Devlin
Story – A serial killer nicknamed Santa is sending presents and murdering people to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas.
Thoughts – This was like the most unrealistic police procedural ever, with the smallest cast of characters. Normally crime stories are overloaded with characters, this one consisted of approximately three people, so there weren’t really that many options for who the killer might be. At the same time, it was a pretty interesting story and the writing kept me engaged, so I’m not completely dismissing it.
5. The Innocent Wife – Amy Lloyd
Story – Samantha begins a letter writing relationship with a man on Death Row, believed by many to be innocent. When he is finally exonerated and released Sam is ecstatic, but as time goes by and her questions mount she begins to wonder what the truth really is.
Thoughts – This book had a really irritating main character (which I should have expected really when you consider who might start a romance and marry someone on death row!) and that really ruined it. It was an interesting idea, but just not quite as gripping as I hoped for. Pretty mediocre.
4. Optimists Die First – Susin Nielsen
Story –For sixteen year old Petula everything is dangerous, from walking past the construction site to eating ground beef, and she lives her life in a constant battle against her own anxiety. The worst part of her week is the mandatory art therapy class that brings her together with a small group of other misfits. When Jacob joins the group Petula doesn’t want anything to do with him, but sometimes even the most controlled life can throw up a whole lot of surprises.
Thoughts – This was a really good YA novel dealing with mental health issues. Petula’s anxiety and OCD were believable and well written, and I liked the development of her coping strategies. The changing family relationships during the story were touching, and I like the optimistic but not unrealistic happy ending.
3. My Husband The Stranger – Rebecca Done
Story – Alex and Molly were the couple people were jealous of. Deeply in love, happy with their jobs and their future plans, they had it all worked out. Until an accident causes a traumatic brain injury in Alex, and Molly finds herself married to someone who feels like a stranger.
Thoughts – This was not the easiest read, simply because it’s pretty much one of my nightmares. Losing the person you love to a stranger that you’re now tied to for life? Not only losing your spouse as a companion and equal, but gaining a temperamental adult that requires constant care and a whole bunch of money worries? I’m a horrible person, because I don’t think I would be able to stick with it the way Molly did without having a breakdown. Anyway, it was a pretty intense story in that sense, although it did end quite happily and I liked that!
2. The Inside Dark – James Hankins
Story – When failing crime writer Jason wakes up chained to a stable wall, captured by the notorious serial killer Crackerjack, he thinks it’s all over. But then a second man arrives, and between them they overpower the killer and Jason kills him. Emerging from the ordeal a hero, Jason is soon juggling book deals, talk show appearances, and even a possible reunion with his estranged wife. But he soon realises that the nightmare that he thought ended in the stable might be only just beginning.
Thoughts – This was a pretty good psychological thriller. The main character wasn’t particularly likeable, but it was interesting to see the way his character dealt with the unfolding events and changed his thoughts. I saw a lot of it coming, but it was still well written enough to keep me reading.
1. Here Lies Daniel Tate – Cristin Terrill
Story – A savvy street kid thinks he’s found his way out of a tight spot when he claims to be Daniel Tate, a missing Californian boy. But when the family turns up to claim him he finds himself entangled in a situation that he can no longer control. What are they hiding that’s important enough to overlook the fact that they’ve taken in a stranger?
Thoughts – This book was fairly predictable, but was still a pretty reasonable YA mystery. The main character, Daniel (as he’s called) was relatable as the narrator, and the premise is a good one.