This glorious time between Christmas and New Years has always been the sweet spot for catching up on reading new and interesting books.
As a kid in Australia, my family would always head down to the beach to kick off our summer holidays right after Christmas Day. Invariably my mum, sister and I were always loaded up with some chunky books to read on the sand as we spent long and lazy days at Anglesea surf beach. Even Dad normally got a hold of a cricketers biography or other sporting novel to while away the days and hours we spent by the ocean, in between bouts of body boarding, beach cricket and dodging extreme sunburn (with varying degrees of success!).
Here in Vienna, the weather situation is of course completely different, but I still find myself reaching for long chunky books to enjoy over this slow holiday period – currently, I’m almost done with Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, but there are always more good books on my list!
Considering my never-ending quest to find the next ‘good book’ I thought I’d share with you guys my best reads of the year.
From an astounding 50+ books read this year (honestly, where do I find that time?) the selection below were the ones that stayed with me, that made me think, that inspired me to write more, learn more and understand other cultures. Some were perfect for poolside reading, others were heart-rending and insightful – but all are worth putting on your shortlist to read in the New Year.
Hope you enjoy the selection, and if you want to keep up with my current or previously read books, you can check out my Goodreads profile here.
#1 Everything I know about Love – Dolly Alderton
I purchased and read this book right around Valentines Day, so very early in 2018, and if memory serves, I gorged it within 3 days flat. Even then, I sensed it would be a hard book to top, and though I read a lot of really excellent writing this year, Everything I Know about Love was the only book I immediately loved (all puns intended) for how much it resonated and entertained.
I adored this book for so many reasons – the blazing honesty, the recognisable foibles of a twenty-something young woman, the relatable stories of partying in and around Camden in London and so much more.
Dolly Alderton’s writing is extremely accessible, and her honesty and love of her girlfriends in this debut novel shines through. I returned to the book again just a few weeks ago, and even on second reading, it holds up – with some beautifully poetic descriptions of what love is and can be and surprisingly hilarious and useful recipes. Similar to Laura Jane Williams’ Becoming, it was a book I loved, teared up to, and immediately wanted to gift to my friends. Put it on your Wishlist now if you haven’t already read it!
#2 Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
I made a conscious effort this year to read more fiction telling the stories of other cultures and countries. It can be challenging in Austria to find well written, English novels in bookstores that go beyond just the American market fiction, probably due to the limited demand for it here.
I’m also just straight up bored of reading similar stories from the white, middle class US perspective, so was actively seeking new stories this year, which is how I came across Yaa Gyasi’s fascinating debut novel ‘Homegoing’.
The story is built around the split fates of two half-sisters, born in the 18th Century to an Asante woman, Maame, in what is now modern-day Ghana. One sister is married off to an Englishman and becomes wealthy aristocracy at Cape Coast Castle, while her half-sister is unknowingly sold into slavery and shipped to America from the dungeons below the very same castle. The stories of their descendants unfold from there, covering 300 years of history and the impact of slavery across generations.
Historical fiction is my absolute favourite kind of fiction to read, so this novel was completely enthralling, for its illumination of a culture that I had no idea about, its clever storytelling across generations right up to modern day America, and the engaging writing style. Completely different and refreshing, it will keep you busy for a good few weeks but a very satisfying read.
#3 Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
In all honesty, this book may have only just squeaked in as a 2018 read – I think I started it at Christmas last year, but it has stuck in my mind as a great read for the year and so, it’s making the list!
Pachinko is another historical fiction spanning multiple generations – this time following the fate of a Korean woman in the early 1900s who accidentally falls pregnant to a rich and powerful man, a suspected yakuza. When she discovers he is married, she refuses his offers to care for her. Instead, she marries a minister and moves with him from Korea to Japan, which sets the scene for a tightly wound novel centred around immigrant living, the tension between ethnic Koreans and the Japanese and deeply personal family dynamics.
Having no idea about the conflict between Japanese and Koreans, this was an enlightening read about two very different cultures, framed within a family saga – my favourite way to learn about history in a personalised way.
This book opened up a lot of questions about ethnic and immigrant difficulties that are still faced today, but does so gently, never demonising any one character in the book. It’s cleverly written and one of those novels that you never want to end!
Very addictive and honing in on the sacrifice and work that women undertake in times of hardship to keep their families afloat, this is a must read look into 20th Century Japan and Korea.
#4 The Alice Network – Kate Quinn
The last of my historical fiction favourites – the Alice Network is a rollicking thriller and drama centred around female spies in Belgium in WWI, that in parallel tells the story of a woman in 1947 who is desperately searching for her cousin, Rose, in the aftermath of WWII.
Kate Quinn weaves together the story of two very different but determined women who find themselves unlikely allies against a common enemy. Quinn manages to highlight the struggles of women across both generations to the storyline, while weaving in true stories of the bravery and sacrifice of female spies during the war.
A classic WWII spy drama with a feminist twist, I loved this book as it had me rushing to find out how much of it was true, and guessing the entire time about the final outcome.
Honestly, I didn’t think this book could live up to the hype, so many reviewers and readers raved about it, I wondered if it was just another trending topic that somehow hit the sweet spot to get on the bestsellers list.
Then I read it…and as is almost always the case, I understood where the hype was coming from.
Tara Westover writes of her life being raised by survivalists in the mountains of Idaho. Having never set foot in a classroom until age 17, she tells her (frankly unimaginable) story of breaking free from her violent home environment and isolated world, to eventually study at Cambridge and Harvard university, stepping out into the wider world and culture far removed from her own, in the process.
The memoir is striking for the clear push-and-pull relationship the author has with her home, her past and her people.
What struck me most was the shocking mundanity of violent incidents she faced while working with her father in a steel scrapyard, and the ease in which families can be sucked into one parents paranoid realities, impacting children’s entire lives.
This is a shocking – in the true sense of the word – book, but one that will break your brain open to the reality of poverty and value of education in modern America.
#6 Chase the Rainbow – Poorna Bell
Ooof, this book cut close to the bone and the heart. Poorna Bell explores topics of toxic masculinity, depression, suicide and stigmas surrounding mental health and its treatment, addiction and heartbreak.
Her husband, Rob Bell, a successful and seemingly happy scientific journalist and partner, killed himself in 2015 near his hometown in New Zelaand, following a long battle with Depression and a history of addiction he managed to hide from her for years.
Poorna’s book is a love story to him, an unpacking of the causes and treatment of depression springing from toxic suburban masculinities unreachable ideals, and a searing indictment of the insufficient health systems meant to support sufferers and addicts.
It sounds like a depressing read, but actually she infuses it with joy, and comedy and an uplifting perspective on her own strength that grew out of the horrific experiences she and Rob suffered. An enlightening, must read, for anyone who has loved ones struggling with depression and anxiety – especially the men in your life.
#7 Before we were Yours – Lisa Wingate
This was my favourite holiday read on our trip to Bali last April.
I consumed so many novels over 3 weeks away – from the fluffy fun reads (Crazy Rich Asians, the Nanny Diaries) to the acclaimed hot books of the year (Manhattan Beach, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) but this was the book that stayed with me as the pick of the bunch.
What struck me most was the illuminative writing, and the fact that the novel was based on real events that occurred in 1940’s Tennessee. Before We Were Yours centres around a set of siblings who were born and raised as children on a shantyboat along the Mississippi, then kidnapped from their home and parents, to an orphanage where they are groomed to be adopted out to a wealthy family.
It follows the stories in parallel of modern day Avery Stafford as she tries to unravel the mystery of her families heritage, and the perspective of the oldest sibling, Rill, in 1939 as she tries to keep her siblings together.
The writing sucks you in, the story is shocking enough to keep you hooked until the end and its original enough that the ideas will stay with you long after reading.
#8 The Rules do not Apply – Ariel Levy
Ufff this is another quite heavy but fascinating read.
The author, Ariel Levy, you may know from her early 2000’s ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ or her regular columns in the New Yorker and other major publications. Her memoir goes beyond her journalistic style and dissects the unrealistic idea of her generation of women built around the dream of ‘having it all’.
Following a catastrophic miscarriage in a hotel room in Mongolia and a heart rending divorce, Levy investigates whether her unbridled pursuit of a different life – one filled with travel, career, marriage and pursuing parenthood via artificial insemination – led to her own destruction.
“The future I thought I was meticulously crafting for years has disappeared, and with it have gone my ideas about the kind of life I’d imagined I was due.”
Though a difficult read, I found it engrossing and honest, questioning many things that we, as privileged (white) women now, take as our right to have, and whether this idea is entirely self destructive or not. I appreciated the flaming brutal truth of this book, and in some bizarre way, it was a relief to have an author speak openly about the flipside of success, of pursuit and the drive to check all the boxes.
Worth reading to gain some perspective, and grounding to the absolute wild lack of control we each have over our own fates.
#9 How do you like me Now – Holly Bourne
This book is a fantastic fun read, that dives into serious topics and the mental push-pull of an emotionally abusive relationship.
It sounds intense, but Holly Bourne manages to write in such a way that you can be giggling and enjoying paragraphs as you slowly realise how destructive the relationship is.
Tori Bailey is on the brink of turning 30 and seemingly has it all – the perfect partnership, a bestselling book and millions of adoring fans in Instagram following her honest posts. But behind the facade, she’s unhappy – wondering if she’ll be left behind by her friends getting married and having babies, questioning the never ending expectations put upon her and wishing for more from her so-called perfect boyfriend.
The book takes you unnervingly into the inner monologue of Tori as she tries to balance everything and confront the instantly recognisable and relatable struggles of a late-twenties-early-thirties something. A lot of readers found the book uncomfortable or the protagonist irritating, but I ripped through this novel in a day or so and was engrossed from start to finish.
It’s witty, pacy and very of-the-moment for depicting pressures of modern women and society. Loved it.
#10 The Barefoot Investor – Scott Pape
This is a bit of a different pick to round out the Top 10, but I had to include it as the book had such a massive impact on 2018 for our household finances, relationship and communication around money.
Anyone in Australia will be familiar with Scott Pape’s insanely popular book, the Barefoot Investor. You actually can’t walk into any bookshop in the country without seeing his smiley, farmer-friendly face offering straightforward, fairdinkum financial advice.
For those not familiar, the Barefoot Investor walks you through some structures and basic principles that are simple to follow and DON’T include an unrealistic budget/spreadsheet/complex process to save money.
Essentially, he proposes you merge your accounts as a household, and then set up simple ‘buckets’ in which to distribute your income –
- ‘Blow’ (for daily expenses and splurge money)
- ‘Mojo’ (safety backup money)
- ‘Grow’ (for reitrement fund and long term wealth)
Within that, you can setup your ‘Blow’ bank account into simple ‘Daily Expenses’ ‘Splurge’ ‘Smile’ and ‘Fire Extinguisher’ which covers you everyday bills, occasional drinks rounds and fancy meals, mid term holiday savings and back up ‘oh shit the dishwasher broke money.
It sounds complicated, but the process actually simplifies your monthly budgets and makes your spending habits and priorities super transparent.
The book is quite specific to Australian insurance, superannuation and investment funds, but we’ve taken the principles and adjusted them to Austrian reality a little bit further. What I appreciated most was that it gave Stefan and I a joint language and communication format in which to tackle money matters, which to be honest we were probably well overdue for!
This book is straightforward, helpful and the most sensible book about taking control of your own finances I’ve come across (this coming from the daughter of two financial planners, so trust me, I’ve heard allllll the different ways to manage money over the years!)
BONUS TIP: My thoughts Exactly – Lily Allen
I read a lot of memoirs this year, from Busy Phillips, the above mentioned Ariel Levy, Michelle Obama and more, but the one that really struck me as different and enlightening was Lily Allen’s.
If you were on any sticky pub dancefloor or university house party in the early 2000’s, you were likely dancing to Lily Allen’s tracks and loving the cheeky lyrics. For women my age, Lily was a mouthy, smart, fun and funny pop star who went her own way and wasn’t afraid to say it like it is as a young woman growing up in the burgeoning MySpace/Facebook era.
What that level of fame and popularity meant for her at a personal level, and the path it led her down in her twenties was a long way removed from the media images we saw in magazines & press.
The memoir explores in searing honesty her struggles with fame, drugs, a miscarriage, a broken marriage and the pernicious influence of Britains horrific gossip media.
Lily details the issues she had in convincing the police she had a stalker over a period of years when he was pursuing her and endangering her family, she’s disarmingly honest about her own struggles with becoming a mother and finding her identity and isn’t afraid to speak honestly about the difficult relationship she has had with her own family.
The book is written in Allen’s trademark charming raw style, but deals with some big picture feminist issues of our time – her story is engaging enough as a standalone book, but she cleverly uses her platform to unpack core concerns of modern day Britain and femininity.
This is the book you should gift your girlfriends in the New Year.
They were my favourites from a year of reading – what were yours? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, as a total book nerd I love hearing other people’s reccommendations and ideas!
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