Best reads of 2015

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academy-award146921345.jpg.pagespeed.ce.6E9Vey4TIgNot the best reads, mind you.  Simply my best reads for 2015.  Which may or may not include books published before 2015.  My blog, my rules!  It’s great to be a despot….

Now to set the scene, you’ll have to imagine the red carpet, the glorious frocks and the tedious speeches…

The nominees for my favourite non-fiction read of 2015:

  • H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald (Remarkable, compelling, lyrical, insightful)
  • The Invisible History of the Human Race – Christine Kenneally (Brilliant)
  • Six Square Metres – Margaret Simon (Excellent)
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed (Couldn’t put it down – complex dual narrative of grief and life on the trail)
  • Hello Beautiful – Hannie Rayson (Lovely, like an extended conversation with a warm and funny friend)

And the winner is (drum roll please):

With H is for Hawk a very close second.  I chose Keneally partly because she is an Australian writer (from Melbourne, no less), partly because The Invisible History of the Human Race is an important book about issues that impact us all but mainly because it is an absolutely fascinating and compelling read.

The nominees for my favourite fiction read of 2015:

  • Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty (Top quality commercial fiction, funny and true)
  • Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar (Layered and complex, compelling and harshly beautiful)
  • Long BayEleanor Limprecht (Superb, raw, compelling)
  • Coming Rain – Stephen Daisley (Surely the best author I’d never heard of)
  • Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (Hilarious, rollicking, ‘Lace’ for the modern era)
  • The Earthsea series – Ursula Le Guin (The Earthsea series spoke to me of love, life, death and self.  Not really kids books at all).

And the winner is: Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley (or Traitor, his first novel – they are both excellent).  Daisley is simply a superb writer and I’m embarrassed that he hitherto slipped under my radar, despite winning some big prizes.  That said, it was much harder to choose a favourite novel because the nominees varied so widely.  Frankly, and probably depending on your mood, any of the nominees are worth reading.

Best book for a Christmas gift: Six Square Metres by Margaret Simons.  A beautiful little book, beautifully written.

The wooden spoon for my most disappointing read of the year goes to Harper Lee for Go Set A Watchman.  Plenty of people far more erudite than me have voiced their opinions about this one, but for my money Ursula Le Guin’s review is the most even-handed and insightful.

To follow is my reading list (so far) for 2015.  The notes are simply what I jotted down at the time…  Links are to the books I reviewed on this blog.  This list is probably more for my benefit than yours because writing them all down like this allows me to look at some numbers.

Books read and recorded:

  • Non-fiction 23 (16 women authors, 7 male authors)
  • Fiction 35 (25 women authors, 10 male authors)

Unrecorded books include those I turn to (often again and again) for my Elizabeth Macarthur research, a few novels that I picked up but never really got my teeth into, and possibly a few that I forgot to record.  What were you expecting – the ABS?

All in all it feels like I’ve had a pretty rich and rewarding reading year.  I hope you have too.

Non-fiction

Last Woman Hanged – Caroline Overington (Failed to capture me – was it because I knew the ending?)

The Practical Australian Gardener – Peter Cundall (Excellent – must buy my own copy)

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald (Remarkable, compelling, lyrical, insightful)

The Invisible History of the Human Race – Christine Kenneally (Brilliant)

How to be a Heroine – Samantha Ellis (Engaging narrative voice)

Wild – Cheryl Strayed (Couldn’t put it down – complex dual narrative of grief and life on the trail)

Hello Beautiful – Hannie Rayson (Lovely, like an extended conversation with a warm and funny friend)

Shy: A Memoir – Sian Prior (Clunky, neither fish nor fowl, writing pedestrian)

Lost Relations: fortunes of my family in Australia’s Golden Age – Graeme Davison

The Rum Rebellion – HV Evatt (Polemic, clearly takes sides)

Am I Black Enough For You? – Anita Heiss (Didactic, wrong tone and yet still I learned things)

The Strangest Family: the private lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians (fascinating but under-edited prose, repetitive)

First People: The Eastern Kulin of Melbourne, Port Phillip and Central Victoria – Gary Presland

Aboriginal Melbourne – Gary Presland

Latest Readings – Clive James (Very Clive James: funny, intelligent, rambling and in the end I’m not sure he said anything useful)

Prick With a Fork – Larissa Dubecki (Better as a magazine article)

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Lee Gutkind

The Lamb Enters the Dreaming – Robert Kenny

The Girl from Botany Bay – Carolly Erickson

Six Square Metres – Margaret Simon (Excellent)

A Steady Hand: Governor Hunter & His First Fleet Sketch Book – Linda Groom

Best Australian Science Writing – Bianca Nogrady (ed)

Dear Fatty – Dawn French

 

Fiction

The Emperor’s Children – Clare Messud (Stylish, compelling, intricate)

A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin (Far more to it than I remembered)

The Tombs of Atuan – – Ursula Le Guin

The Farthest Shore – Ursula Le Guin

Tehanu – Ursula Le Guin

Tales of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin

The Other Wind – Ursula Le Guin (The Earthsea series spoke to me of love, life, death and self.  Not really kids books at all).

The Family Men – Catherine Harris (Did not finish – lost interest)

Eragon – Christopher Paolini (Struggled to finish)

The Commodore – Patrick O’Brian (Still the best)

Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee (Awful. Several hours of my life that I’ll never see again).

Balancing Act – Joanna Trollope (Comfort fiction, although the characters are unrealistic in how well they articulate their feelings)

Man Drought – Rachael Johns (Good fun, awful dialogue)

The Girl from the South – Joanna Trollope

The Golden Age – Joan London (Joyous, despite the dour subject – polio)

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler (Struck me as very American.  Very enjoyable too)

The Strays – Emily Bitto (Beautiful)

The Yellow Admiral – Patrick O’Brian (Never gets old)

Long BayEleanor Limprecht (Superb, raw, compelling)

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (Hilarious, rollicking, ‘Lace’ for the modern era)

China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan (As above but not quite as good)

Disclaimer – Renee Knight (Gripping, secrets and shocks in every chapter, excellent ending)

The Hundred Days – Patrick O’Brian (Still able to surprise me)

Traitor – Stephen Daisley (Beautiful paean to lives wrecked by war, a wonderful book)

Coming Rain – Stephen Daisley (Surely the best author I’d never heard of)

The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller (Good, but not quite a 12th century voice?)

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty (Top quality commercial fiction, funny and true)

Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar (Layered and complex, compelling and harshly beautiful)

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett (Whaling in Eden)

The Landing – Susan Johnson

Persuasion – Jane Austen (my favourite Austen novel, after Pride and Prejudice)

Secret Keeping for Beginners – Maggie Alderson

Dying to Tell – Robert Goddard

Mothers Grimm – Danielle Wood (Left me ambivalent, funny given it’s all about ambivalent mothers)

The Children Act – Ian McEwan (Fantastic – a moral Gordian knot)

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11 responses »

  1. I love a list of fave reads. Thanks for sharing. I’ve added Christina Keneally to my list. I really enjoyed the husbands secret but my fave fiction was the natural way of things… Mesmerising 🙂

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    • So glad you liked it (it felt a bit self-indulgent but ’tis the season!) I have The Natural Way of Things on hold at the local library – it’s been recommended so many times that I’m really keen to read it. I enjoyed the The Husband’s Secret too but I thought Big Little Lies was much better. Merry Christmas!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a good list! Thank you for sharing. I’ve often found myself thinking about the Christina Keneally during the year, which is a sign of an important book I reckon.

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  3. So nice to see the Earthsea books on this list, I read them almost forty years ago and still remember them well, so much so that I still occasionally have nightmares about being trapped underground and not knowing my name. (I think that was Book 2?)
    I’m interested in those Gary Presland ones about Aboriginal Melbourne. I read his Place for a Village and really liked it so I might see if I can track those others down too. I recently read a book of Walking Trails to discover Melbourne’s Black History and found I wanted to know more.
    PS Happy New Year!

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    • Yes, the second book is the underground one! How awful for you! It was almost as long for me since I’d read the Earthsea books and they were definitely worth revisiting. They spoke to me in quite a different way this time round.
      The Gary Presland books were interesting although you’d really only need to read one, not both (quite a lot of overlap). And not as good as Dark Emu, for example. I sourced them both from my local library.
      Happy new year to you too – love your blog. Long may it (and you) prosper!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m going to have a look in my library for the Presland. I promised myself that I would do another of the trails in the book that I have, and I’d like to read up a bit before I do it. (That gives me time to wait for more congenial walking weather too.)

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  4. Pingback: Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee | theaustralianlegend

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