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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

#LoveOzYA short-story anthology, coming May 2017!

... and I'm going to be editing it! 

I am delighted and excited to be working with HarperCollins on this anthology of Aussie YA short stories! This is definitely a “pinch me” moment, because I still can’t quite believe that having enough love and respect for something could land me in this position – about to embark on a passion project that lets me work with Australian YA authors I’ve so long admired, contributing to our national youth literature that’s always been my reading-lodestone. 

This project was borne out of bad news, in a way – the #LoveOzYA hashtag was created in response to The Australian Library and Information Association’s (ALIA) list of the most borrowed books from libraries for the first quarter of 2015. Libraries provided their top ten most-borrowed books in four categories: adult non-fiction, adult fiction, YA fiction and children’s books. And in all but one of these categories, Australian writers accounted for half of the most popular books – except in the YA category, which was largely dominated by American authors. 

As a result – a group of nearly 300 authors, editors, reviewers, industry workers and enthusiastic readers banded together to change the conversation around the poor showing of Australian YA, using the term “LoveOzYA” to frame the discussion. 

The term is now a celebration of our youth literature, as I wrote for Kill Your Darlings Literary Journal back in July: ‘We all need to celebrate and #LoveOzYA more. We need to celebrate the enormous talent within Australian Young Adult literature – founded by literary legends like Ruth Park, Robin Klein, Victor Kelleher, Nan Chauncy, Patricia Wrightson and so many more who helped shape our national identity. We need to make sure we continue to give that same gift of recognition and connection to a young reader today, by putting an OzYA book in their hands.’ 

And now I can’t think of a better way to continue the celebration of our youth literature, than with this anthology of short stories featuring some of its most remarkable authors!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Favourite Books of 2015

It’s that time of year again – nearly the first of the month and time for my list of ‘Favourite Books’ from the year that is wrapping up. I always try and time this post around about the first of December (with varying degrees of success) because I do hope that people out there are like me – thinking of presents for their loved ones – and I do genuinely believe that books are one of the best gifts you can give.   
I’ve been remembering author David Nicholls’ speech at the London Book Fair, talking about ‘Publishing for Digital Minds’. The gist of his speech was summarized in this Guardian article: Browsing bookshops then buying online is a 'genteel form of shoplifting' … but in the context of Aussie teens, a recent survey undertaken by Dymocks found; ‘97.3% of 1072 Australians under the age of 20 preferred paper books to ebooks.’ 
So rather than discuss that aspect of Nicholls’ speech, I was inspired by his recounting being in Germany around Christmastime, and marveling at the fact that more fiction than gift books were displayed in bookshops and actually selling. 
He summarized the phenomena thus; "In Germany, you get a chance to push at the limits of what an audience can take." Germans actually give fiction books as Christmas gifts; counter to this long-held belief that books are very personal things and you’re better off buying a “gift book” or gift voucher rather than picking out a bookish adventure for someone to go on.
I love that. 
So for those of you who are thinking they’d like to push the limits and give the gift of a book – I have some recs that might help. But these recs are really just the tip of the iceberg – so I do encourage you to pop into your local bookshop (independents are particularly great) and find the perfect book for someone. Remember; a book is a gift you can open again and again …

'The Flywheel' by Erin Gough
This book.

Not only is this one of my favorite books of 2015, it’s hands-down one of my all-time favorite books, ever– and that it’s a debut from an Australian YA author is just the cherry on top. ‘The Flywheel’ is a lesbian romance and coming of age; telling the year in the life of seventeen-year-old Del who drops out of high school because she’s no longer able to endure the homophobic slurs, at the same time that her dad takes a much-needed overseas trip and leaves her in charge of their crumbling café, the Flywheel. There’s a flamenco-red romance, caramel milkshakes and fierce friendships – this was love from the first page for me.

Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie
This book dropped not so long ago, on November 16 … I’d been anticipating it for a while, and knew I had to read it ASAP because people were raving and I was salivating. I tried doing a speed-read, but only one chapter in and I realized that Currie’s ‘Clancy of the Undertow’ demanded a slow, savored read. It’s the story of Clancy who likes girls, and whose life is turned upside down when her father becomes the suspect in a road accident that kills two local teens, and has the town turning on her family.

'How to Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Sex and Teenage Confusion’ by David Burton
The only thing better than reading David Burton’s debut memoir, is listening to the author live. I was lucky enough to hear Burton talking about his memoir and life in general at the wonderful Brisbane Writers Festival, and in a Robinsons Bookshop event! … and let me just tell you, as funny and insightful as David is on the page, he’s about that X500 in person. Read his book, get him to come and give an author talk at your school, nab tickets to any of his Writers Festivals appearances – anything! Trust me on this.

'Every Move' Every #3 by Ellie Marney
This was the final book in one of an all-time favorite series – a modern, young adult riff on Sherlock Holmes featuring country girl Rachel Watts and her mysterious neighbor James Mycroft. I loved this series for so many reasons – a delicious romance, gritty crime, clever Conan Doyle references and that it was a thriller to keep me guessing until the very last page … I’m so sad that the series has come to an end because it was unparalleled as YA crime – but I have my fingers crossed that there will be more in store for this world Marney has created, maybe in the form of a spin-off series? (no, seriously – when I say my fingers are crossed, I mean they’re in rigor mortis for more, more, more!)

'The Foretelling Of Georgie Spider' The Tribe #3 by Ambelin Kwaymullina
‘The Tribe’ is one of my favourite young adult series of all time, and while I was sad to read its end with Georgie Spider, I can’t deny that Ambelin Kwaymullina went out on an incredible high note. The entire series has been an epic-Dystopic thriller and it’s one of those ‘must-read’ to believe series.

'Soon' by Morris Gleitzman
Not *technically* YA, but ... I think by now everyone knows what a fan I am of Gleitzman and this series of his, but let me just say that in light of recent tragic worldwide events this year, I truly believe his books are more important than ever. Children need to read these books, and try to understand a little of our history, and our potential for darkness … as well as our ability to overcome, and always hope.

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex’ by Gabrielle Williams
I love Gabrielle Williams. She’s one of the best Aussie YA writers out there, and with this new book she’s pushing herself even more … which seems kind of impossible seeing as her last book covered resurrected Jesus on a holy road-trip. ‘The Guy, the Girl, the Artists and His Ex’ is hedging into New Adult territory – alongside the story of two teens falling in love, there’s also a pretentious wunderkind male artist and a single-mother – all playing out against the historic backdrop of 1980s Melbourne and the infamous theft of a Picasso painting. This book is wholly unique, and uniquely Gabrielle Williams … so in other words, it’s freakin’ fabulous!

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy
This was one of my favourite books presented at this year’s Reading Matters; a breathtaking collection of short stories and six graphic stories, this is an Australian/Indian collaborative sci-fi collective and it’s epically wonderful.

'Cloudwish' by Fiona Wood
‘Exactly when did I go from being invisible to being visible?’
Another wonderful book set in Wood’s world of Crowthorne Grammar, this time about the quiet and studious ‘scholarship kid’, Vân Uoc – daughter of Vietnamese refugee parents who rely on her for much of their social interactions with the English-speaking world, and expect great things from their intelligent daughter. I really enjoyed this book, especially in light of a powerful piece by YA author Sarah Ayoub from last year; ‘Still looking for Alibrandi: migrant teens deserve their own young adult fiction’.

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson
I love love. The romance genre is the freakin’ best and YA romances are among my favourites – matters of the heart tied up with coming-of-age and the imprinting of first times … and nobody writes young love quite like Lili Wilkinson. She just gets it – I mean, read this Stella Prize Schools Blog of hers about ‘Princess Politics’ in defense of ‘chick lit’ and love stories and you’ll get some idea of how awesome she is – and then see it crystallized in her fabulous romance, ‘Green Valentine’.

'A Small Madness' by Dianne Touchell
I have so much respect for Australian YA author Dianne Touchell. She writes hard-hitting complexity that’s never more vital than in this fiction book about teen pregnancy and the fallout of terrible mistakes. This book is tender and painfully honest, and cements Touchell as one of Australia’s most important voices writing YA.

'The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms' Fairy Tales' by Shaun Tan
I’m going to make a big statement and say that this new book from Shaun Tan is a new Australian classic. It’s sure to be one of those books every Aussie kid should have on their shelves growing up – alongside the likes of ‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’, ‘The Magic Pudding’ and ‘Possum Magic’ etc. al.

'Pieces of Sky' by Trinity Doyle
Mum painted my brother’s coffin. It was beautiful, if such a thing can be – the waves of the ocean, gradients of green to blue mixed with the white of sea foam. Despite the grim irony that the ocean which smothered his lungs should cover him in death, it suited him. Cam was made with more water than most.

Wow, 2015 had a lot of amazing Australian YA debuts. Seriously – it was #LoveOzYA-a-palooza up in here this year! Doyle’s debut felt like heralding Australia’s answer to Jandy Nelson – which is high praise indeed!

Illuminae’ The Illuminae Files_01 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Speaking of #LoveOzYA-a-palooza – check out this epic epistolary novel by two of Australia’s best and brightest, the first installment in a trilogy that’s so grand in scale, 20 voice actors feature on the first audiobook! ‘Illuminae’ is blitzing the NYT-bestseller lists, is shortlisted in the Goodreads Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction and is just generally scoring all the goals – also: IT'S BEING MADE INTO A FILM
It’s masterful and really does have to be read to be believed!

'Inbetween Days' by Vikki Wakefield
Morning arrived late to our town and night came early; it was ten by the time the sun made it over Pryor Ridge and around four when it ducked behind Mount Moon. Everything in Mobius stretched to reach the light: we built out houses on stilts, our trees grew tall and spindly, our shadows were long.

Vikki Wakefield is a national treasure.
There, I said it.
We were all thinking it – I just put it out there!
In her third book ‘Inbetween Days’, Wakefield explores her version of a love story that’s as gut and heart-wrenching as only Wakefield could conjure. In this book about small-town claustrophobia Wakefield has never sounded more like Harper Lee, with poignant descriptions and on-point characterisations.
Like I said – national treasure.

'Burn' The Rephaim #4 by Paula Weston
Another Aussie YA series I was both sad and elated to read conclude in 2015. But in the case of Weston’s ‘The Rephaim’ series, excited may have just won out because the cliffhangers were about killing me with the year-long waits for installments! This is now one of my all-time favourite paranormal series, and the hands-down best angel-themed out there. I do hope Weston isn’t completely done with this world though, because I would love some more Jude & Daisy …

'Becoming Kirrali Lewis' by Jane Harrison
This is the new novel from Indigenous author and playwright, Jane Harrison. Winner of the State Library of Queensland’s 2014 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship. Let me just say that black&write! is up there with the best for discovering new YA writing talent – along with the likes of the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, and Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Prize. Jane Harrison is just the latest author to win this award and absolutely floor me with the originality and complexity being bought into Aussie YA through this Fellowship.

Alllllll the other books!...

Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I had to read this, after watching Coates’ appearance on ‘The Daily Show’.
After the year we’ve had, I truly believe this novel is one of the most important you can read, even as it very much speaks to American race relations.

I mean; “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

This novel is going to stay with me forever I’m going to take it and learn from it and celebrate it, forever. An incredibly worthy winner of the National Book Award.

But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.”

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
“We’re going to usurp the throne, and invade Switzerland just to be cute,” I said.

Oh Lordy did I love this book. How much? Um – enough to watch Channel Ten’s ‘Mary the Making of a Princess’ purely because Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark’s real life princess story feels like it was part inspiration for Cocks & Morgan’s rom-com, royal dramedy about an American university student who falls for her dorm-mate … who happens to be in line for the British throne.
How awesome is this book? Um. Well. Lauren Graham is adapting it for film with her Parenthood daughter Mae Whitman for the lead.
That’s how awesome it is.
Nuff’ said.
Drop all the mics!
(P.S. - *picks the mic up again to broadcast the fact that I really, really want a Freddie/Prince Harry sequel. FREDDDDDDDIE!!!*)

'Vision in Silver' The Others #3 by Anne Bishop
Anne Bishop is one of the best writing urban fantasy at the moment – her ‘The Others’ series is a complex slow-burn that has me and so many other readers on the edge of our seats for new installments. This third book was more brilliance from an unparalleled voice in fantasy – and I’m just in awe of her series.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
This is up there with Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life’ for me. While not strictly about writing – Gilbert’s book speaks on any and all creative levels, and just generally encourages creative outlets in all lives – but I found a lot to relate to in the writing process. I think a big appeal of this book for me, and so many others, is just Gilbert writing down what we’re all thinking and struggling with. There’s real power in that – and in the fact that a lot of her message is just to not be so hard on ourselves.
I’ve kept this book by my bed since September, and I suspect it’s going to be a comfort read for the rest of my life.

‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon
I can’t even with this book.
I. Can’t. Even.
I read it once and then had to read it again – it’s that good. About a girl who is allergic to the world and the boy who reaches out to her.
Yoon is shortlisted as Best Debut Goodreads Author, but I expect we’ll see this book on many more shortlists – and taking home a few prizes – in the coming months. I do have a long review planned for this book, I just need to collect all my feels that spilled out before I can possibly hope to write something halfway cohesive.  

Relativity by Antonia Hayes
This one hooked me after I read Hayes’ article about ‘Writing From the Wound’: For Antonia Hayes, the dark cloud of her son being diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome over a decade ago has a silver lining; not just his complete recovery, but also as the spur for her career as a novelist.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in this complex and heart-wrenching Australian debut.

Paper Girls comic, story by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang

Oh my gosh, I love this new comic series from Vaughan and Chiang. It's Super 8 meets Now and Then and it's all awesome. It's set in the 1980s, and follows a group of tween girls who work a regular paper route; the story begins when they encounter mysterious ninja-men one Halloween night, and see strange lights in the sky... it's addictive and gutsy, nostalgic and fresh - I'm head over heels for this series, from the same man that gave me Saga

Dietland by Sarai Walker
“We can’t hide it or fake it. We’ll never fit society’s idea for how women should look and behave, but why is that a tragedy? We’re free to live how we want. It’s liberating, if you choose to see it that way.”

Bow down to Walker’s debut – which she heartily explains as a feminist riff on ‘Fight Club’ full of body positivity and Fuck Your Beauty Standards.
In a year that’s seen the fabulous Tess Holliday making the cover of People magazine, Ashley Nell Tipton take out Project Runway with the show’s first ever (beautiful!) plus-size collection, and Gabourey Sidibe give a great big middle-finger and enjoying the heck out of her sex scene on ‘Empire’ – it does feel like the body positivity movement is changing and winning. And Walker’s debut about vigilante women, and a plus-size heroine helping to bring down a “beauty” empire is worthy of further fist-pumping. Riots, not Diets people!

Lion's Share Wildcats #1 by Rachel Vincent
I was a really big fan of Vincent’s urban fantasy/paranormal romance ‘Shifters’ series – so when I heard she would be returning to that world of big cat shifters, I was thrilled. And the new ‘Wildcats’ spinoff certainly delivers with first installment ‘Lion’s Share’ – it’s Vincent’s brand of sexy and shifter politics, and I loved it so much that I’m now rabid for any news about the second book in the series.

'Lumberjanes' Vol. 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen
I’d been holding out for Volume 1 of this comic book series, ever since I attended All Star’s Women's Comic Book Club and had it enthusiastically recommended to me by a fellow attendee … and I was not disappointed. This series is feminist, funny, and heartfelt and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s not just that Noelle Stevenson is kinda killin’ it this year, but the whole ‘Lumberjanes’ concept was designed to bring tween girls into the comics/graphic novels fold which is super, but it has so much appeal beyond that audience – thanks to sci-fi elements, amazing references (“What in the Joan Jett are you doing?”) and a fantastically diverse cast of awesome lady friends. It’s the bees knees.
(P.S. – Molly and Mal 4 Eva!)

'Nimona' by Noelle Stevenson
That’s right – because Noelle Stevenson is the fuckin’ coolest, she’s on this list. TWICE. As if ‘Lumberjanes’ wasn’t awesome enough, Stevenson went ahead and released this “deadpan epic” that feels a little ‘Monty Python’ but with subversive storytelling, a flip of traditional gender-roles and a romantic back-story between two characters called Ballister and Goldenloin.
Noelle Stevenson is the Comic Queen of 2015 and we all hail her, mmkay?

'Magic Shifts' Kate Daniels #8 by Ilona Andrews
I could really feel Ilona Andrews winding up for the end with this book … and it’s a testament to their incredible series that I’m both dreading and deliriously excited for that finale! My only semi-complaint is that I always want more Julie … and by extension, more Julie/Derek/Ascanio … BUT I’m choosing to believe (in my fandom delirium) that Ilona Andrews are holding back because they have something in store for Julie once Kate & Curran’s story concludes (and yes, this is based on flimsy hope inspired by a single tweet).

Deep’ Stage Dive #4 by Kylie Scott
So, because I’m a total glut I resisted the temptation to read Kylie Scott’s ‘Stage Dive’ series in installments that started back in 2013 … instead I gorged on the entire series when fourth and final book ‘Deep’ came out this year and HOLY MOLY – I got whacked with a whole lotta swoon in one go. I admit, when I got through with the third book and knew that bass player Ben Nicholson was going to be the hero of the final, I voiced my reservations to a Kylie Scott fan-friend who gave me knowing raised eyebrows and was all “Ok, come back and tell me what you think when you’re through with Deep” … that same friend then listened to me rave about Ben for a good half hour after I’d finished. Uhhhhhhhh … be still my bass-beat heart because Ben is a darling and I want one. Now. Please.

'The Shameless Hour' The Ivy Years #4 by Sarina Bowen
Sarina Bowen is one of my favorite romance authors at the moment, the creator of one of my absolute favorite romance series – ‘The Ivy Years’. I recently wrote about how I find New Adult or ‘college romance’ to be one of the most diverse and interesting romance sub-genres at the moment, and a lot of that has to do with Sarina Bowen. She totally blew me away with her first book ‘The Year We Fell Down’ which featured a disabled heroine, and third book ‘The Understatement of the Year’ which featured a male/male romance. With this fourth book Bowen ventures further into cutting contemporary critique by exploring slut-shaming and rape culture on college campuses. That Bowen released this book the same year as critically-acclaimed documentary ‘The Hunting Ground’ came out, and Emma Sulkowicz carried a mattress around her college campus in an artistic statement about rape and sexual assault called “Carry That Weight”, Bowen’s fourth book struck a nerve and balance as a compulsively-good romance read that also spoke to wider issues of patriarchy and feminism.

Anticipation’ Brothers Ink #2 by Sarah Mayberry
So – by now everyone should know that I love Sarah Mayberry. She’s one of my favorite romance authors of all time (and, oh yeah, when I met her at the Australian Romance Readers Convention earlier this year, I fangirled. Hard.) I absolutely adored her first book in the ‘Brothers Ink’ series, ‘Satisfaction’ and was beyond thrilled when the second book came out this year. Now this is one of my favorite romance series that I cannot recommend highly enough – it features hunky Brazilian twin brother tattoo artists, and … what more do you need to know, really?

‘Juniors’ by Kaui Hart Hemmings
I love Kaui Hart Hemmings’ short stories – love! So I was thrilled when she turned her pen to a young adult book – particularly because when she wrote about youth in her ‘House of Thieves’ collection, they’ve been some of my favorite stories. ‘Juniors’ is more of what marks Hemmings writing so unique and complex – Hawaii setting and concentration on social dynamics and clash of classes. It all comes together in ‘Juniors’ about a teenage girl called Lea who is part Hawaiian, part Mainlander and all outsider. But when she enrolls at the prestigious Punahou school and finds herself befriending the prominent West family, Lea’s world is turned even more upside down … Hemmings’ tale of a teen just trying to fit in may sound ho-hum, but the unique Hawaiian setting and complexity of upper-class families elevates it to something so much more and absolutely riveting.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
I didn’t read too many middle-grade books this year, for no particular reason – but I think Ali Benjamin’s contemporary debut would have been pretty hard to beat for the high bar she set. It’s the story of Suzy who is trying to cope with the death of her best friend – her decision not to talk anymore isn’t helping her grief, so instead she decides to start a little investigation into how she thinks her friend might have died … this book squeezed my jellyfish-heart and didn’t let go. Benjamin reminded me a little of Rebecca Stead for how viscerally she placed readers in the shoes of 12-year-old Suzy, and in her fallout from grief she writes an incredibly universal tale that will appeal to all ages.

'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda' by Becky Albertalli
This is one of the most buzzed-about YA books of 2015, and it deserves all the hype. It’s a little mystery, a lot of romance and doses of friendship highs and lows. But it’s not just Albertalli’s unique voice and accomplished storytelling that elevates this book into something so much more – it’s the breath of fresh air for it being about Simon Spier, who is coping with coming out as gay to his family and friends, while also juggling an online romance with an anonymous boy from his school and a blackmail attempt from another fellow classmate. I’m so thrilled that there’s a movie in the works, because this book deserves all the success.

'Dumplin'' by Julie Murphy
If living in my skin has taught me anything it's that if it's not your body, it's not yours to comment on.

This is another much-hyped about YA book that deserves all the accolades … I could go into the fabulous protagonist, heart-thumping romance and just general quote-worthy awesomeness, but I think this tumblr post from the author more perfectly sums up the sheer brilliance of this story: ‘The Fat Girl Gets the Guy and Wish Fulfillment’.
I’ll say it again: A-fuckin’-men!

'Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man' by Abdi Aden with Robert Hillman
I don’t normally read a lot of non-fiction, but I heard so many good things about this memoir that it became a must-read of 2015 for me.
And in a year that’s seen the United Nations Human Rights Review overwhelmingly condemn Australia’s refugee policy, and I’ve become increasingly ashamed of my country for its response to asylum seekers – reading Abdi Aden’s life story was an incredible testament to courage and resilience.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Illustrated Edition written by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay
The only thing that could possibly improve upon Harry Potter is Jim Kay illustrating Harry Potter. This is quite possibly the definitive Christmas present of 2015.
Worth it.

A Time of Secrets by Deborah Burrows
I just finished reading this only recently, and while I was reading it I just kept muttering to myself; ‘This is so good, this is SO. GOOD!’ And I was only surprised because I went into it with no context or expectation, and came out absolutely head-over-heels in love with Burrow’s historical romance. It’s a little bit Foyle's War - if the protagonist was the infinitely cooler Sam Stewart. It’s set in Melbourne in 1943 and is about Australian Women's Army sergeant Stella Aldridge who overhears a murder plot while out on the town one night … the mystery/thriller aspect is brilliant, as is the historic accuracy and delicious romance with Staff Sergeant Eric Lund. I loved this – I’m now going to go back and read everything by Deborah Burrows.

'The Natural Way of Things' by Charlotte Wood
This was a hard, but necessary book to read. A patriarchal dystopian made all the more frightening for how believable it is – with many characters having a ‘ripped from the headlines’ feel to them. I loved this book, even though it kind of crushed me. I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone as entirely vital, if brutal, reading.

'Go Set a Watchman' by Harper Lee
This one might be a contentious favorite … but who the heck cares? This is my list, and I loved Harper Lee’s long-lost book, covering Scout’s adult years.

I wrestled with even the idea of reading this book, given the dubious circumstances around the discovery of the manuscript and who was really profiting from publication (answer: everyone, when it was dubbed ‘the greatest comeback in literature’.) But I did read it, and I kinda loved it.

Part of that love was no doubt nostalgia and just being drunk on new words from Harper Lee, but I made sure to sit with my reaction to the book for a while – contrasted against the general harsh criticism from just about everybody else …. And I came to my own very personal conclusion that a little bit of the negativity around ‘Go Set a Watchman’ is that the book is very much a woman’s story, where ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was arguably more male-driven. Scout is the hero of this work – certainly not Atticus, or Boo Radley, or even symbolically Tom Robinson. It’s Scout – sharing stories of how the men in her life have let her down, interspersed with the occasional first menses flashback and first kiss from a boy. I refer again to this great piece by Natalie Kon-yu about how male-centric stories written by women are still held in higher esteem than women’s-centric stories, and I think some of the negativity around ‘Go Set a Watchman’ comes down to that.

'Skin' by Ilka Tampke
I was recently asked to write a six-word review of one of my favourite books by an Australian author this year, and I couldn’t go past praising Tampke’s ‘Skin’: Iron-Age adventure, remarkable journeywoman heroine.

'Goodbye Stranger' by Rebecca Stead
“Okay, so love is also like a hamburger? You know it when you taste it?”
Em laughed. “A hamburger is more deliberate. You have to make it, or ask for it. … Music just kind of breaks over you.”

Rebecca Stead owns my heart, I swear. Her books just make me happy down to my toes, and ‘Goodbye Stranger’ was more pure joy from this masterful middle-grade author.

'Lois Lane: Fallout' Lois Lane #1 by Gwenda Bond
FYI, comic-based YA novels are a thing now and they’re amazing. I’m a total convert because of Gwenda Bond and her version of Lois Lane – who is a teenage army brat just moved to the city of Metropolis, and joined her school’s student newspaper when she uncovers some strange happenings amongst the student population … she puts on her investigator’s hat (her hero is Nellie Bly!) to get to the bottom of things, with only a little bit of help from her anonymous online friend SmallvilleGuy (!).
This is a great mystery with comic-crossover, but what’s really fantastic is that Lois Lane is front-and-center and completely allowed to shine on her own, away from Superman. It’s a feminist comic feast!

'The Maxwell Sisters' by Loretta Hill
I love Loretta Hill and all of her ‘fly in, fly out’ romances. So when I heard that she would be venturing into one of my all-time favourite women’s lit categories – the family saga – I was over the moon excited. ‘The Maxwell Sisters’ totally delivered  – winery setting, family tension, rugged hero, unrequited love, sisters doing it for themselves – just, ALL THE BOXES WERE TICKED! I really hope there’s more Franklin family saga coming soon, because I was head-over-heels for this first book.  

 Six Degrees: The Power of Attraction Connects Us All by Honey Brown
I adore Honey Brown. Even more so after she turned her normally thriller-pen to romance and erotica in this smart and sexy collection of six short stories. The emphasis on female sexuality, and complicated relationships make this a great introduction to the romance genre for anyone who has never been brave enough to dive in. I do hope that Honey Brown goes back to her mystery/thriller genre eventually, but I'd also love her to explore further this romance-erotica writing she's just teased us with... 

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
I'm still processing this one. A high-fantasy dystopian from an exciting new voice in YA, Sabaa Tahir. The cliffhanger at the end of this first book is ridiculous, so much so that I really don't think I can write a review until I've read and calmed myself with the second book ... but, trust me - this one is brilliant. 

Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin

This is another book that came out late-ish this year (October), but when I read the synopsis I just had to squeeze it into my end-of-year reading ... and I'm so glad I did. This YA novel is for anyone who has just binged on the TV adaptation of Philip K. Dick's book The Man in the High Castle. Graudin (who by the way, is a female author) has written an alternate history of the world, set ten years after Germany won the war and the rest of the world fell to the Nazi empire ... her protagonist is a young woman who was experimented on by a Josef Mengele-type sadist, and consequently has the ability to shape-shift to look like other people. That's all I'll say because this book is just too intense and complex to give anything away ... all I can say is I'm glad it's the first in a series, because this first book just whet my appetite for MORE!