Staff Picks: Books of the Year

Staff Picks: Books of the Year

Todd Alexander

Orient by Christopher Bollen. A riveting and brilliantly crafted whodunnit set in a small town on the tip of an island off New York.  While it keeps you guessing until the very end, it’s Bollen’s perfectly drawn characters that make this book one of the year’s best.  It’s a book you’ll love recommending to your friends.

The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner. A stunning debut novel from lauded Australian film maker Ann Turner, this is a page turner in the truest sense – Hitchcockian in its suspense, Turner’s characters are incredibly believable and her use of location is so evocative that this book truly transports the reader.  I can’t wait for her next one, Out of the Ice.

The Cook & Baker by Cherie Bevan and Tass Tauroa. With a cookbook collection in the hundreds, I’m always looking for a new title that stands out from the rest – one packed with original and delicious recipes that are easy to follow and make at home, beautiful photography to feast on and interesting stories behind each recipe.  The Cook & The Baker over delivers on all counts and is the best baking book I’ve bought in years.

Liz Durnan

Reckoning by Magda Szubanski. I usually read more fiction than biographies, but I couldn’t get enough of memoirs this year; there were so many good ones. Magda’s is deep, thoughtful, funny and sad – I couldn’t put it down.

John le Carré: The Biography by Adam Sisman. While I’ve only a read a couple of le Carré novels, I was fascinated by his life which was intriguing well before his early career as a spy – from his bizarre childhood, raised by his philandering, conman father and abandoned by his mother as a young child, to his phenomenal literary success with which he is never quite satisfied.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. I came late to Elena Ferrante’s much-hyped Neapolitan quartet late as I have a tendency to resist books that everyone’s talking about. However, by the second in the series of four, The Story of a New Name, I was hooked.

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau. There’s a dream-like quality to Juchau’s third novel, set in the hinterland of a NSW north coast town, that instantly has you under its spell.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. I loved Atkinson’s Life and Life so I couldn’t wait for the ‘sequel’ which takes up the story of Ursula’s loveable brother Teddie. It’s a stark reminder of our mortality.

Liz Bray

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop. I loved curling up and spending some time with this evocative and heartbreaking story about motherhood, marriage and creativity. Stephanie Bishop’s descriptions of Cambridge, Perth and India are vivid and gorgeous. It’s melancholy in parts and quite powerful – a book that has stayed with me in the months since I read it.

Cold Deception: Dark Mountain 1 (ebook only) by D.B. Tait. I hadn’t heard of D.B. Tait until this ebook was recommended to me, and – snobbish I know – I probably wouldn’t have picked it up based on the cover alone. But now I’ve read this first book featuring heroine Julia – just released from prison – and local cop Dylan, I’m keen to go back for more. It’s quick, escapist, page-turning (or, as it’s an ebook only, perhaps page-swiping?) reading with a character you just have to know more about, and I loved the Blue Mountains setting.

 Finders Keepers by Stephen King. And speaking of escapist reading, Stephen King is pretty much the master of compulsive storytelling, and in this crime thriller he kept me guessing all the way – how would all the story threads finally pull together? I was desperately nervous for the characters I’d grown to care so much about, especially young hero Pete whose plight reminded me a little of the boy character, Mark, in John Grisham’s The Client. As he did in Misery, King riffs on the topic of psychopathic obsessions with writers and their characters.

Best Australian Science Stories. I so enjoyed dipping in and out of this collection, which covers topics from anthropology to robotics, medicine to maths and everything in between. I was familiar with some of the issues, like the ‘march’ of the cane toads, brain training, and the anti-statin medication debate; but a lot of them were new to me. There are fascinating facts to quote to your friends, and some of the portraits of scientists working at the coal face are deeply moving as well as inspiring.

Island Home by Tim Winton. Really beautiful and really thought provoking – I couldn’t resist reading passages of this aloud to my husband, who is now reading the whole book for himself. I think it’s a must-read for anyone who has spent time in the Australian landscape, or is interested in the creative process.

The Anti-Cool Girl by Rosie Waterland. Rosie Waterland has led a pretty extraordinary life: as a kid she experienced constant relocation, trips to rehab with her mum, assault, bullying, PTSD and eating disorders, her father’s death and mother’s attempted suicides. In this book she shares it all as if she’s chatting to you in person in a loud room, over several wines. She had me laughing out loud and gasping in horror all at the same time.

Cheryl Akle

Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham. I love crime fiction and particularly Michael Robotham. This is the eighth in the Joe O’Loughlin series, but it can be read stand alone. Close Your Eyes moves at a fast pace right the way through to the ending – and it’s a real shock.  A hugely entertaining page turner.

The Story of the Lost Child and the other novels in the Neapolitan quartet.  I can’t really tell you what these beautiful books are about; they’re about everything and nothing. They’re about lifelong friendship, love and jealously and told in a way that is compelling and addictive. I can’t wait for book five! 

Charlie Anderson’s General Theory of Lying. It’s a quirky and entertaining read about an unlovable man called Charlie who is a philanderer and a liar, yet has charisma and charm that makes you want to know more and read more. It’s brutal and funny at the same time and had me engaged right to the end.


 Click on the covers below to find out more about each of these titles.

See our list of 40 book ideas to give every different kind of book lover this Christmas 


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