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You have to love a good wrap up of the best books read for the year, right?
Living abroad, I am constantly on a mission to keep up to date with good books, and love nothing more than scouring podcasts and my favourite blogs to find my kind of books, only to devour them far too quickly.
In Vienna, I adore wandering Thalia bookshops (the Mariahilferstrasse store has an excellent English section) or Shakespeare & Co. bookshop for hidden treasures and stories that help switch my brain off and transport me to other worlds.
For this years wrap-up, I thought I’d sort my favourite reads into 2 seperate categories – fiction and career. My reading habits tend to swerve between those two topics, so I hope you can find these useful to pick and choose.
Favourite Fiction Books 2019 -2020
#1 – Fleishmann is in Trouble, Taffy Brodesser Akner
As anyone subscribed to my newsletter knows, I will not stop banging on about this book! The author, Taffy Brodesser Akner is whipcracking smart, wry and witty in her takedown of modern living in New York.
What starts as a straightforward domestic drama of divorce and parenting, becomes something else entirely with its twist 3/4 of the way through that you never see coming.
Above all though, the writing is sharp, funny and searing in its analysis of modern womanhood. Brodesser Akner is better known for her indepth pieces on celebrities for the New York Times (the iconic Gwyneth Paltrow one is peak Taffy) and brings all her relatibility and pop culture sensibility to this book.
Its part thriller, part dramedy and the perfect lazy weekend or summer beach read. Get it here.
# 2 – City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert
Is it sacrilege to say I don’t really rate Eat, Pray, Love? The book that made Elizabeth Gilbert a household name is fine, but the author really captured my interest with her creative call to arms, Big Magic.
Initially, I was curious, but maybe a little less than enthused about her newest fiction work, City of Girls.
However, its set in 1930s-40s New York City and focusses on the lives and experiences of showgirls in the era. I cannot resist a well-written historical fiction and so dove into this with relatively low expectations.
Reader, I was wrong. This is a shining, fun bubbly and feminist look at the friendships, morals and lives of women in an era that I knew relatively little about from the US side of things. The story rushes along with villans, love stories, intrigue and ultimately, a triumphant tale of a woman who chose to live on her own terms in a time that didn’t really have the capacity for that.
It was so much better than expected, and completely transporting. One to share around with your girlfriends.
Kindle prices are low right now for this one, get your copy here.
#3 – Daisy Jones & the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Loosely based on the stories of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks in particular, this is a rollicking novel of rock ‘n roll era LA.
Normally I resist books about the US because the stories are so oversaturated, but this was a fun, well written escape to another world. Seeing how the alchemy of personalities, creative inspiration and good old band tension dynamics plays out up close is a lot of fun.
Reading it feels like taking a peep behind the rock n roll curtain, to get up close with how and why (or why not) choices and actions are made. I inhaled it in a day or so, as it manages to blend entertainment with an intriguing storyline from the very beginning, so you are completely suckered in.
Lots of fun, fascinating characters and ultimately a heroine you can get behind, despite her foibles and failings. Fall in love with it all by clicking here.
#4 – Our Stop, Laura Jane Williams
The ultimate summer beachside read, this is rom com updated for the Millenial era.
Nadia is a bit of a messy character of a woman, relatable but not cringily so, missing the Tube, spilling coffee on herself sometimes, having wine nights out and not really looking for love until she sees the message in the missed connections part of the paper that looks like its for her.
Daniel is struggling with his fathers death, while trying to plow on with work and having a social life in London. Spotting the girl on the train, on a whim, he decides to reach out the old fashioned way.
Filled with will-they-won’t-they suspense and a wonderfully positive take on romance, toxic masculinity and navigating the ups and downs of friendship and heartache, I love the relatability of this book.
Even if I’ve never lived in London, fallen in love on the Tube or anything else, reading this felt like becoming the characters best friends and offered a window into their lives and an uplifting take on romance.
#5 – Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton
I always try to keep up with a bit of Australian fiction throughout the year, to feel like I’m still a little bit in tune with home, and this was a cracker of a read, with real heart.
Boy Swallows Universe is a magical book following the story of young Eli, a 12 year boy in the 1980’s Brisbane, whose life story encompasses a notorious criminal for a babysitter, a mute brother who speaks in riddles, a murdered father and a burgeoning love story with a journalist.
Though the setting sounds bleak, it somehow manages to be uplifting, a coming of age drama that vividly evokes what Brisbane was like in the early 80’s.
I loved the descriptions of the sights and sounds of the city, the heartfelt dynamics of being on the cusp of adulthood and skirting the edges of poverty and the criminal underbelly, and the humour of this book.
Its emotional, funny and so well written, whether you’re Aussie or not, very highly recommend it!
#6 Those Who Are Loved, Victoria Hislop
Historical fiction by an absolute master, Those Who Are Loved follows the history of a Greek family through the German occupation and ensuring civil war from 1941 onwards.
The family the story is built around is politically split between left and right wing brothers and sisters, which starts out with passionate arguments at the kitchen table and unravels into much more dramatic consequences as the siblings become adults in a war torn country.
With plenty of unexpected turns, family confrontations and an insight into a part of European history that I had very little knowledge about, the book draws you into its epic saga.
Victoria Hislop is one of my favourite writers for creating characters and worlds that you never want to leave, and this book will definitely be on the summer bestseller lists and hotel share library shelves for years to come.
Transport yourself in its pages by clicking here.
#7 Ordinary People, Diana Evans
This is a claustrophobic, nostalgic novel set in 2008 London, that follows the lives of two couples, dealing with life in their 40’s and all the struggles of kids, marriages, careers and life.
It’s funny, heartfelt and rings really really true to life for the honesty and vulnerability of the key characters.
Questioning their relationships, what they have done with their lives, whether they will get a chance to chase their dreams and how to deal with wounding loss.
Diana Evans writes beautifully about, well, ordinary people and their ordinary struggles. Invoking the sense of claustrophobia and haunting in the walls of a poorly-chosen house, or within as you question if you’ll ever become the person you hoped.
Really enjoyed this book, but if you’re not down for family realism about life in your 40’s then steer clear. If you are curious you can check the details here.
The one fiction book I hated that was hyped all year….
#7 My year of Rest & Relaxation, Otessa Moshfeg
This book has exploded everywhere over the last two years, and though the writing itself is sparse and clever, I just could not with this book.
The lead character wasn’t gripping enough for me to care about whether she woke up or not, the selfishness and indulgence of the characters rubbed me the wrong way, and honestly the storyline seemed like it was leading up to something and then…not much happened.
While I appreciate the thematic points it was making, and respect the writerly approach to making a comment on society, I couldn’t get into it and dragged my ass through reading all the way to the end, only to be annoyed by the lack of resolution.
It was hard, and sad and made me think about why this in particular annoyed me, and perhaps I’m not being literary and discerning to dislike it as much as I did, but this was my frustratingly bad pick for the year. Albeit a very well written and clever ‘bad’ book!
Make up your own mind by clicking here to read it.
Favourite Non-Fiction Books 2019 – 2020
There are plenty of books I read that are either for personal development, sticky beaking into memoirs or just educating myself on diverse topics. Sometimes they challenge me, sometimes they find me at just the right moment when I need advice the most.
These are the non-fiction works that stayed with me long after reading and imparted some important lessons, I hope you guys can get something interesting and inspiring from them too!
#1 Becoming, Michelle Obama
This was a Christmas present in 2018 and so was the very first book of 2019 that I read and dammed if it wasn’t the most inspiring way to start a year!
Much has been written about this book, and its a bestseller worldwide so you’ve surely heard about it, but what I appreciated most was the insight into the push and pull of long term marriage.
How does it work when two well educated, ambitious, successful people come together, build a life together, and one goes on to become President? The honesty and transparent way Michelle writes about her struggles with this, how they navigated, compromised and worked together to make it happen were the greatest lesson of all.
Its a good book because its a good story, the near-fairytale like ascent of America’s first black President, but its the small details, the nitty gritty of family life and career insight in this engaging memoir that really made it stay with me.
Very much recommend for any career-minded women! Check the current price here, its regularly on sale.
#2 Company of One, Paul Jarvis
Ugh THIS BOOK! It was the first business minded book that gave me permission to want a small, sustainable, satisfying business.
Coming from within the hellscape of startup #hustlehard, scale-big-at-all-costs universe, this incredibly balanced and helpful insight from the entrepreneur and designer Paul Jarvis came along at exactly the right time.
He contests that ‘growing big’ at all costs is not the only kind of success to chase, and that in fact, building a small, successful business that can sustain itself with just 1 person can be more rewarding. To which I can only scream ‘HALLELUJAH!’ because that is exactly what I’m looking to build for myself.
The book is filled with practical how-to’s and inputs from experts across multiple industries giving their examples of how staying ‘small’ actually worked to their advantage, and how they made more money this way.
Its a book I return to regularly and will continue to gift to every self-employed entrepreneur I know, because the message is so resonant.
#3 Any Ordinary Day, Leigh Sales
This is a different kind of book – not a novel, not a business book, but a measured, deep and heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting look into the human experience.
Australian journalist Leigh Sales regularly deals with people who have suffered traumatic events in the course of her work – victims of terrorism, natural disaster, horrific accident – which led her to question, when the worst happens, what comes next?
Alternating between sharing her own challenges with horrific life changing experiences, and interviewing survivors of unprecedented events – like Stuart Diver, the lone survivor of a horrific landslide – Sales interrogates the impact and statistics that surround tradgedy.
The writing balances statistical research and investigative reporting, alongside delicate respect and interrogation of survivors experience, post-trauma.
The fact that an unexpected tragedy can occur on ‘Any Ordinary Day’ anchors each story, and helps paint the picture of everyday life, before and after heartbreak.
Its unlike any other book I’ve read, and manages to be reassuring while dealing with some of the most unimaginable events in a persons life. A must read in these times of uncertainty.
#4 Hashtag Authentic, Sara Tasker
If you haven’t come across Sara Tasker’s work online, you are in for a treat. She has such a distinctive creative style, and captures small moments of life beautifully, across her Instagram and blog.
Her podcast, with the same name as the book, is always insightful, generous with knowledge sharing, and she approaches her business in a way that feels honest, transparent and true to herself.
Which is why I was so keen to get my hands on this lovely book, a hybrid of coffee table masterpiece photography and exceptionally helpful, understandable tips for building community and business online as a creative.
I whizzed through this the first time so fast because I was hungry for the insights, but its a book I keep returning to, over and over again, taking small bites, a chapter here, to get reinspired.
Sara has such a way of writing and sharing her wisdom that it truly feels like she is on your side, and her integrity to do things in service of her community shines through.
This is a fantastic book for creatives, photographers and anyone wanting to build their own voice on Instagram and beyond, Sara gives you permission to do so on your term.
#5 Three Women, Lisa Taddeo
This is another book that’s almost novel, but based on fact and real life reporting.
Lisa Taddeo worked with multiple women over a span of 8 years, talking with them about sex, their relationships and sexuality, desire and unmet needs.
I’ve never really read anything like, the way the author weaves the story from the women’s retelling, and expresses their innermost thoughts is fascinating. What’s more, the topic itself feels like its never been covered before in such a comprehensive way.
Its a book that will make you think, wonder about women’s place in the world and will stay with you long after you finish reading. Fascinating.
Books to look forward to in 2020
These are already pre-ordered and I’m eagerly awaiting their publication dates! Fingers crossed they live up to my nerdy excitement.
#1 Outlander Book 9, Diana Gabaldon
A new Diana Gabaldon book only happens once every 5-6 years, so this is a BIG DEAL for Outlander super fans like me. I’ve been reading the series since I was 16, and I swear to you my Mum, sister and I talk about the characters as if they were family.
Since the Starz TV show blew up, Outlander has rightfully become a pretty mainstream obsession, but I will always adore the books for the rich detailed descriptions of surrounding nature, the unflinchingly honest, funny, complex characters and the depth of writing.
There is simply nothing as good as Gabaldon’s writing, and this new instalment of the historical fiction family drama is my most anticipated read of 2020.
#2 How do we Know We’re Doing it Right & other essays on Modern Life, Pandora Sykes
Pandora Sykes is one half of the hosting duo from my favourite podcast, the High Low Show, and her writing pieces and take on modern life and culture.
I’m really looking forward to what I know will be a well researched, in-depth and balanced look at some of the biggest questions of modern living as a woman in the world. Her previous small essay collection with the Pound Project was excellent so I’ve already pre ordered this baby!
If you want to get your hands on it too, you can check out all the details here.
#3 A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende
Another historical fiction master, Isabel Allende has juuuuuust released this baby into the world and I have it loaded onto my kindle for beach reading while in Australia!
Her books always transport you to another world, getting wrapped into the emotional lives of characters and placing you within the atmosphere of an historical era easily.
This is set in her homeland of Chile, so is sure to be an instant classic. Put it on the list!
#4 If I Had Your Face, Frances Cha
A debut author, this looks right up my alley as it deals with the storylines of three young women living in Seoul, South Korea.
As ever, I love an engrossing novel about different cultures, family dynamics and challenges, especially if it’s from a culture so removed from our Western world. This looks like just the ticket!
#5 Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid
This book has a lot of early hype, dealing with race relations, modern day privilege, and what happens when a black woman is accused of kidnapping the child she is actually babysitting?
This look like it will be a thriller-drama-conversation starter wrapped up in engrossing storyline from a fantastic debut author. I’ve already pre-loaded it onto the Kindle for some beachy reading and cannot wait to get stuck inshortly and report back to you guys on what is already a Sunday Times Bestseller.
That’s my shortlist, but I’d love to hear what you read and loved in the last year and really enjoyed – you can never get enough book nerd inspiration!
Let me know in the comments what’s stolen your heart in the last few months and we can get a book club rolling to stay inspired.
Here’s to another year of good reads!
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