“What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?”
I asked this of bookshop staff around Australia. Many were flat out with Christmas sales as this year’s bestsellers walked out the door, but they were still keen to talk to us about the books they loved.
These books aren’t all published in 2021. They’re all different genres and styles. They all stand out from the crowd.
Here’s a list of books to relax with these holidays, from the people who know what’s good.
The Hobart Book Shop: ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ (2021) by Anthony Doerr
Manager Bronwyn Chalke explains this ambitious novel.“It’s a mixture of different characters’ points of view, and it ranges from historic characters – like in B.C. Constantinople – right to our future with our planet destroyed and everyone living on a spaceship. So at the beginning you don’t really understand how the characters are going to mesh.
“Even though it’s quite sad in a way with what happens, the author still manages to keep everything light and you still feel positive about it.”
Cloud Cuckoo Land is also described as “a gift of a novel” (The Guardian)
Doerr also penned Pulitzer-winning ‘All the Light We Cannot See’.
Aesop’s Attic (Kyneton): ‘A Room Made of Leaves’ (2020) by Kate Grenville
Aesop’s co-owner Clare prefers real biographies, but this work of historical fiction intrigued her. Kate Grenville explores the inner world of Elizabeth Macarthur, a clever, wilful woman dealing with the limitations of a challenging marriage in colonial Australia. The novel has been praised as a “stunning literary achievement”.
Clare also recommends a biography of Elizabeth McCarther by local Macendon Ranges author Michelle Scott Tucker. “It was interesting to compare the two.”
“There were aspects of the fictional work that I found a little difficult to believe, but it is a work of fiction!”
Find both books here: Home (aesopsattic.com)
Aesop’s Attic (Kyneton): ‘The Yorkshire Shephardess’ series (2014-2019) by Amanda Owen
Co-owner Daniel is a farmer, and he’s enjoying Yorkshire sheep farmer Amanda Owen’s bestselling autobiographical series.
According to Clare, “It’s another perspective. In Yorkshire the weather’s dreadful, so it’s interesting to be able to see how they manage!”
Find the series here: Home (aesopsattic.com)
Red Kangaroo Books: ‘An Alice Girl’ (2020) by Tanya Heaslip
This Alice Springs bookshop specialises in books specific to Central Australia. Manager Bronwyn Druce immediately recommends Tanya Heaslip’s autobiography ‘An Alice Girl’.
“It’s about the life of Tanya, who actually still lives here. She grew up on a cattle station, and basically she tells what it was like growing up working on a station in the seventies and the eighties in Alice Springs.
“It’s a very small world, the cattle station world, and she shared with us her mum’s story, the story of her siblings.
“She was basically working on the station from a very young age. And the freedom, the whole lifestyle that they had, is just really different from living in a city. And there’s that whole romance of the Outback that appeals to people.”
Bronwyn says some of the characters are “still around town”!
Find it here: Red Kangaroo Books
Elizabeth’s Bookshop: ‘The Waves’ (1931) by Virginia Woolf
Prepare for modernist brilliance with Virginia Woolf. ‘The Waves’ is made up of six soliloquys by three women and three men, who are grappling with a beloved friend’s death. “Woolf draws her characters from the inside, revealing them through their thoughts and interior soliloquies,” writes one reviewer. The Waves has It’s been hailed as “a book of great beauty and a prose poem of genius”.
Poppy of Elizabeth’s Bookshop knows why she likes The Waves:
“And I just find it so lovely and beautiful that someone could write about being content. It’s just a really beautiful book to read.”
Find it here: Elizabeth’s Bookshop
Elizabeth’s Bookshop: ‘Semiosis’ (2018) by Sue Burke
If you liked ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’, you’ll like this book. Set in the early 23rd century it deals with sentient, non-human intelligence and learning to live on an alien planet. It’s also character-driven: we get to watch several generations cope with leaving earth, traveling 158 years through space, and colonising a planet of highly intelligent plants.
Rhiannon reads a lot of sci-fi and fantasy and says ‘Semiosis’ is a genre stand-out. “I stumbled across it while working here.”
“Key words would be ‘different’ and ‘refreshing’.
“I think it’s underrated! I think everyone should read it.”
It’s won a lot of awards, so Rhiannon might be right.
Find it here: Elizabeth’s Bookshop
Ulmurra Books and Collectibles: ‘Go Tell the Bees that I am Gone’ (2021) by Diana Gabaldon
This new release is the ninth book in the bestselling ‘Outlander’ series (also on Netflix). Want to be immersed in detailed historical fiction and a lot of romance? Gabaldon is the one to read.
Jane says it’s a worthy member of the series. “I’m halfway through it. It’s quite a large book! She goes into the history.”
BookFace Pacific Fair: ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ (2017) by Taylor Jenkins Reid
“Super, super popular,” says manager Sophie. “We sell out constantly.”
“All the girls who work here were a little worried that the hype was going to be too much, but we all read it and loved it.”
Goodreads reviewers agree. “This is one of the best books I’ve ever had the privilege to read,” writes one reviewer. “This is genuinely one of the most remarkable novels I have ever read,” writes another. “Amazing. I marvelled at the writing craft, the storytelling,” writes yet another.
I’m going to have to read this one.
Find it here: BOOKFACE (bookfacestores.com.au)
Alex is a journalist and freelance writer who loves bringing you inspiring stories. Have an idea for a story? Let her know at firstname.lastname@example.org