Reader First, Writer Second: Tess Woods

Reader First, Writer Second: Tess Woods

I consider myself reader first and writer second. I could survive if I couldn’t write any more but life wouldn’t be worth living without books to read. When Better Reading asked me to recommend my favourite reads for 2018 I jumped at the chance, there’s nothing I love to talk about more than books glorious books! So here are my top picks for you guys to read this year.

I’m going to start with the five books I’ve loved for many years:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.

I thought everyone had read this classic blockbuster, but I’ve recently been hearing about more and more readers who haven’t and that’s totally not okay with me! Colleen McCullough is the queen of Australian fiction and this was the first “grown up” book I read as a teen. Evocative, quintessentially Australian and oh so passionate, it’s definitely the book at the top of my list when I get asked for reading recommendations. The most exciting thing hands down for me when I was signed by HarperCollins, was that I now shared a publisher with Queen Colleen!

Evening Class by Maeve Binchy.

 Maeve Binchy is my favourite ever author, as in ever, ever. I’ve inhaled every single one of her novels about small town Irish life. Evening Class is the stand out for me though because I don’t think I’ve ever loved a character as much as I loved Signora who taught the Italian evening classes in this delightful second chance love story. If you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps, read this book, it’s sunshine for the soul.

Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes.

What I love the most about Marian Keyes is her gift for bringing hard hitting issues to the page with her trademark warmth, charm and humour. Rachel is an addict in love with an addict – it’s a touching, raw, very sexy, sad and at times eye-wateringly hilarious read. I enjoyed Marian Keyes’ older books more than I have her novels in recent years so if you’re yet to read her stories, I recommend starting at the beginning of her back list and reading your way through them chronologically.

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller.

This remains my all-time favourite love story. I think it’s the closest thing to perfect that was ever put on paper.  A big ticket item on my bucket list is to one day go to Iowa and stand on those bridges. The simple spare prose in this heartbreaking story has stayed with me since the day I read it and Robert Kincaid is the most romantic wonderful male character of all time. He’s the muse when I write every book.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani.

When My Big Fat Greek Wedding hit the screens, I wondered if Nia Vardalous was actually the same person as Adriana Trigiani. They both performed the same kind of magic by bringing the stories of European girls growing up torn between two cultures alive. Funny, poignant, sassy and with a huge cast of unforgettable small town characters, The Big Stone Gap trilogy was a gift I bought for several close friends after I read it so that we could share the laughs.

And now for five books that have resonated with me in 2017:

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig.

This novel is a literary masterpiece. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read and I haven’t stopped harping on about it since. I almost don’t know what to rave about – the tragic and triumphant story line, the characters that crawl under your skin and stay there for weeks after you finish reading it, the statement it makes about man’s inability to learn from the past, the humour, the romance that will tear your heart in two, the brilliantly drawn relationships between parents and their children, the surprise guests that drop in to make you smile. I hear it’s being made into a movie and I can hardly wait!

The Shape of Us by Lisa Ireland.

This is a confronting story for anyone who has ever stood on a scale and felt worse about themselves than they did before they hopped on, but it’s also a triumphant one of love and loss in its many forms. When I was reading it, I didn’t want it to end. The Shape of Us captures the relationships women have with one another, their partners, their families and their own bodies with truth so raw it hurts. Lisa Ireland’s writing is sensitive, bold, smart and so very courageous and her characters are utterly believable. She has a new book called The Art of Friendship coming out this April and I’ll be charging into my local Dymocks like a bull at a gate when it’s released to see what she comes up with next.

Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub.

As a Middle-Eastern Christian girl growing up in Australia to immigrant parents, this story was achingly familiar to me. Sarah Ayoub perfectly captures the agony and ecstasy of growing up Arab-Australian. From the mouth-watering Mediterranean food and the large warm loud know-it-all Arab community, to the sexism and injustice of having different rules to male siblings “because you’re a daughter”, from the angst of falling in love to the pain of being stifled by parents as you make the leap from adolescence to adulthood, Hate Is Such A Strong Word hits the right note with all of it. Told with warmth, empathy, wisdom, passion and lots and lots of humour, this is without doubt one of the most engaging, entertaining and poignant YA novels I’ve ever read.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

A clever, hilarious and deeply touching story for anyone who loved The Rosie Project. I actually thought this book was even better that the Rosie books! Eleanor is a tragic and endlessly loveable character and this really was one of those books that had me laughing out loud in some parts and crying in others. It’s not at all mushy or overly sentimental, but it sure does pack a mighty punch – Eleanor’s story will break your heart and then mend it again. Eleanor is not fine. She’s far from fine. But Gail Honeyman is so completely fine that I’ll be rushing out to buy every book she ever writes from now on.

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth.

And to finish off with, here’s a book so new it isn’t even out yet! I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of The Family Next Door. I hadn’t read any of Sally Hepworth’s other novels but I’ll be making my way through her back list now after reading this unputdownable story of Aussie suburban mums that reminded me a lot of the TV series, Desperate Housewives. It’s so cleverly crafted and the secrets are drip fed until the last pages, just riveting! Look for it in bookstores in March.

If we share the same taste in books, let me know and we can fan girl together!


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