Here in Australia we’re in the middle of winter and over the last few days many areas have experienced particularly cold snaps. On Queensland’s Sunshine Coast where I live, we shiver and rug up if it gets below 18 degrees Centigrade. (64 degrees Farenheit).
Regardless of where you live, there’s nothing more comforting in winter than snuggling up on the couch under a blanket in front of a roaring fire with a hot chocolate and a can’t-put-it-down book. (I don’t have a fireplace but I can dream!)
Writers are by definition avid readers – that’s how we learn our craft. As Steven King says, if you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others – read a lot and write a lot. For me and I guess most readers, a book is a chance to immerse myself in another world. Escapism is a common term used to describe it but for me it’s more than that, because I often learn things about myself and the world – from fiction as well as non-fiction. And books serve different functions – some are light and funny, pure entertainment, while others make you think, their themes and characters resonating with you and staying with you long after you finish the book.
Author and blogger Joanna Penn has written an interesting and comprehensive blog on her reading habits called Reading Habits of a Digital Junkie. She says that she rarely reads print books and no longer buys them, reading almost exclusively on her Kindle, on which she has over 1000 books stored.
I must confess to a foot in both camps here – I like both print and e-books. I love my Kindle because it’s very portable and I always take it travelling with me. I love the immediacy of the buying process – I see a book on Amazon I want to read, one click and it’s on my Kindle. (Which can also be a trap for compulsive book buyers).
But there’s something about a print book that I can’t let go of. It’s the sensory experience – the colour and design of the cover, the crisp new pages holding the promise of the journey within them and their fresh, newly minted aroma. Yes, I have to fess up: I’m a book sniffer. It’s essential for me to have a whiff of the pages before I dive in, to the amusement of my partner. It doesn’t matter if the book is new, second hand or borrowed from the library. (I know I’m not alone in this – come on, I know you’re out there!) I’ve written about my affliction here on my previous blog.
I like reading the recommendations of other readers (Goodreads is a great site to post your own reviews and read other peoples’) and that’s often how I find books that interest me. So if you’re looking for a good book to cuddle up to, here are 10 of my favourites. I’ve tried to include as wide a variety as I can, but you won’t find any category romance, spec fiction or fantasy, as they’re not my cup of tea.
I’ve included a link to each book’s site on Amazon, if you’d like to purchase it.
Suspense/thriller: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. When Ted reveals he’d like to kill his wife Miranda, Lily offers to help. Their bond grows stronger as they plot Miranda’s demise, but soon these co-conspirators are embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.
This book had me reading into the early hours of the morning. The plot, characters and narrative tension are excellently executed. It’s not your typical psychological thriller and the author breaks quite a few writing “rules” (which I can’t mention without including spoilers) but he pulls it off well. Due to the multiple viewpoint structure, he manages to evoke empathy for some otherwise rather unlikable characters. I loved the ending – implied but totally satisfactory.
Buy here The Kind Worth Killing: A Novel
Historical Fiction: All That I Am by Anna Funder. Set in Germany leading up to the rise of Hitler, this is the story of eighteen-year-old Ruth Becker, who with her lover, journalist Hans Wesemann, eagerly joins in the heady activities of the militant political Left in Germany. Ten years later, when Hitler is elected chancellor of Germany, Ruth and Hans, together with her cousin Dora and her lover, become hunted outlaws overnight and are forced to flee to London. They dedicate themselves to a dangerous mission: to inform the British government of the very real Nazi threat to which it remains wilfully blind.
This was a brilliant debut novel which won one of Australia’s most prestigious literary awards, The Miles Franklin Award, in 2012. The whole story is told as a flashback by Ruth, now an old woman. It’s a story of courage, love and betrayal with thoroughly believable and sympathetic characters. The author had obviously meticulously researched that era of history right down to the tiniest details, as I was instantly transported to that time and place, and I really enjoyed learning so much about that era that I hadn’t known before. It’s written so well that it could so easily have been true, and it’s the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve finished it
Buy here All That I Am: A Novel
Memoir: Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson
This is the true story of the author’s mother Yvonne, whose baby Peter was literally snatched from her arms by her husband as she was escaping his abuse to start a new life. She doesn’t see her son for another 36 years.
The memoir follows, along parallel tracks, the subsequent lives of Yvonne and Peter – how Yvonne re-marries and starts a new family, all the while repressing her grief, while Peter has a tragic childhood, yearning for his missing mother.
As is evident from the story, this book is about emotions – the whole gamut from guilt and grief to hope and love and everything in between. The author handles them beautifully, never becoming sentimental or mawkish, and she has a descriptive and lyrical style that’s a delight to read. The parallel narrative of the lives of Yvonne and Peter works well and kept me engrossed. It’s a poignant story that had me in tears when Yvonne and Peter finally reunite.
Buy here Boy, Lost
Fiction (Historical/Relationships): My Beautiful Enemy by Cory Taylor
Arthur Wheeler is haunted by his infatuation with a Japanese youth he encountered in the enemy alien camp where he worked as a guard during World War 2. Abandoning his wife and baby son, Arthur sets out on a doomed mission to rescue his lover from forced deportation back to Japan, a country in ruins.
This is a love story with a difference – a beautifully written novel about the relationship between Arthur and Stanley, from their youth to old age, and the love that is never able to be acknowledged due to circumstances and the attitudes of the times. The author’s simple, understated language is evocative and at times emotionally wrenching. Arthur is the narrator of the story – he is a flawed character with some unlikable qualities, yet due to the author’s skill in his portrayal I found myself empathizing with him and gunning for him to find happiness. A poignant story that left me moved at the end. Cory Taylor does forbidden love very well, as evidenced in her first novel, Me and Mr Booker.
Buy here My Beautiful Enemy
Non-Fiction: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
At least one third of the people in the world are introverts. This book, impressively researched and filled with indelible stories of real people, shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. The author also introduces us to successful introverts and offers advice on how to better negotiate differences with extroverts and how to empower an introverted child.
Introverts should read this book to understand themselves better and extroverts should read it to understand introverts better. Before I read this book, I hadn’t realised that many of my attitudes and thought processes were due to being an introvert and not personality traits peculiar to me. Even though I long ago learned to embrace and nurture my introversion (although I would have killed to be an extrovert when I was a teenager), I was uplifted by this book. Susan Cain has woven facts, figures, history, literature, anecdotes, case studies and some thoroughly sensible advice to parents and teachers into a readable, entertaining and thought provoking book.
Susan also does a great impression of not being an introvert at a TED lecture which you can see on YouTube here. http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_t…
Introverts Rule! (as long as we can do it curled up in a chair with a book).
Romantic comedy: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Socially challenged genetics professor Don Tillman has never been on a second date, but deciding it’s time to find a wife, he embarks on the Wife Project. He designs a questionnaire to find the perfect woman but finds himself becoming attracted to Rosie, a feisty woman who is the exact opposite of his ideal woman.
It soon becomes apparent that Don has Asperger’s syndrome, and consequently thinks and acts very differently to the rest of the characters. Some of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny and it is to the author’s credit that he never pokes fun at Don and is able to create empathy for him. I thought the ending predictable (but I guess that’s the nature of the genre) though that didn’t detract from my enjoyment and the story overall is original and engaging.
Since The Rosie Project was published, many other books and films featuring ‘Aspies’ have been produced, which has led to more exposure and understanding of the condition. My classification as romantic comedy may be misleading, however, as my partner read it and enjoyed it and he would normally never touch a book that even hints at romance.
Crime/Suspense: Life or Death by Michael Robotham
Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of his gang. Five million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is. For ten years he has been threatened and tortured almost daily by fellow inmates and prison guards, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he’s due to be released.
The author has said that he considers this his best book to date, and having read a few of his books, (all of which I‘ve enjoyed), I agree. The characters are very well-drawn, especially Audie, who’s an enigma in the beginning, and much of the suspense of the story is wanting to get to know him better and the reasons behind his actions. It’s apparent as you’re reading the book that you’re in the hands of a masterful storyteller, who knows all the tricks of the trade to keep you intrigued. It’s a thick novel, but the pace never lags and the story comes to a satisfying conclusion.
Buy here Life or Death
Non-Fiction: The Antidote: Happiness for People who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman
In this ‘anti self-help’ book, British journalist Oliver Burkeman examines the history and nature of the self-help, positive thinking culture and why the pursuit of happiness often leads to stress and misery. He examines a range of beliefs from Greek philosophers to Buddhism and comes to the conclusion there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty—the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid.
This book is written in an easy to read, engaging style, with an effective blend of factual information, humour and personal narrative. He doesn’t delve into any of the philosophies in depth, leaving that to the reader if they want to pursue them. It’s a thought-provoking book and if you’re someone who would rather gouge your eyes out with a cake fork than declare “I’m awesome and I’m going to kick butt today!” in the mirror every morning, then this book is for you.
Thinking Woman’s Romantic Comedy: One Day by David Nicholls.
Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation from University. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?
This book follows the lives of Emma and Dexter on 15 July, the anniversary of the day they met, every year for the next 20 years. Their on-off friendship ebbs and flows around the events and other relationships in their lives, the only thing they have in common being an intense attraction to each other. The characters are real and believable, the dialogue snappy and the humour laugh-out-loud on occasions. This book is both funny and sad with an almost unbearable poignancy. And don’t be put off if you’ve seen the movie – the book is much better. Which is strange, considering David Nicholls wrote the screenplay as well.
Crime Noir: Ronnie and Rita by Deborah Sheldon
This is a gripping tale of what happens when an ordinary, rather simple man comes under the spell of a sociopathic woman.
If you feel like something you can read in one afternoon, try this cracker of a novella. The characters are excellently drawn, especially Ronnie, and the pacing and tension as he becomes drawn against his will into Rita’s devious plan is so well executed that I had to read it all in one sitting.
It is a testament to the author’s skill that I also found the story entirely believable, even the twist at the end. Other authors might have spun the narrative into a full length novel, but this author’s tight, economical writing meant that the story lost none of its impact by being a novella.
This is one of those books, that when I’d finished reading it, I thought, ‘I’d wish I’d written that story!’
If you buy Deborah’s novella Dark Waters, (also a gripping read) you will receive Ronnie and Rita as a bonus novella. Buy here.
If you’ve read any of those books, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or your suggestions for a good read. Chime in!
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.