It’s almost December, the perfect time to break my blog-post drought with a selection of my favourite reads in 2023.
I listened to a lot of audiobooks this year. They’re so convenient. I play them while driving, walking the dog, cooking or baking, or doing boring chores around the house. Life’s exciting!
The only time I get to read a real book is in bed. Usually, I manage about 30 minutes.
I tend to avoid novels with an extended focus on trauma because I’m having an existential crisis over the state of the planet and the humans on it. I want to feel hope for the future after I finish a novel, not like I’ve been dragged down an alleyway with no clear way out.
Most of my picks are commercial fiction. That’s where I’m at at, and I’m happy with that.
And not all the novels on my list are from 2023. Some are much older. Mend the Living and Last Chance Cafe are from 2014; Shallows was published in 1984.
Here are my favourites, in no particular order, seven of them are audiobooks:
Mend The Living by Maylis de Kerangel: (Paperback) I ordered this book during the pandemic, after hearing the French author on the BBC’s World Book Club. This story is told in the 24 hours after the death of a young man in a car accident. His organs are still viable, including the most prized of all, the heart. An incredible novel that dives deep into the highly sensitive topic of organ donation, and explores grief in all its guises.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland: (Audiobook) If you love a family saga, you’ll devour this novel, which follows the story of Alice Hart and her female lineage. It’s been made into a TV miniseries, with Sigourney Weaver in the role of the matriarch of the Hart family, Ruth Hart.
After the Party by Cassie Hamer: (Audiobook) Don’t let the cute cover (which I love) fool you into thinking the content is flimsy, and push through the birthday party scene to get into the swing of it. Another Australian author (Holly Ringland’s an Aussie too), Cassie Hamer has written a cracker of a tale, which is a thriller, now that I think about it. It’s funny in parts (Hamer has a great sense of humour), but it’s also terrifying and cuts through to the core of psychological domestic violence.
Last Chance Cafe by Liz Byrski: (Audiobook) This one’s for the more mature female reader (as in old!). It follows the lives of two best friends who are in their 70s. Both are old-school feminists and activists who get back their mojo when they are called upon to help galvanise a new generation of young women to action. Byrski is a pro who knows her market.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid: (Paperback) Is there anything TJR can’t do? You feel like you’re in the head of all the characters – Jenkins Reid can pull off head-hopping where other authors stumble and fail. And she evokes the period – the early 1980s – and place – Malibu, USA – in panoramic detail. I’m on that wave, sand is stuck in my hair, my cossie and between my toes, the party’s started, and we know it’s going to end badly.
Someone Else’s Shoes by JoJo Moyes: (Audiobook) Talk about a plot twister. Moyes, author of the bestseller Me Before You, spends so much time building up her character profiles so the reader gets to know each of them intimately. The novel starts with a mix-up after Sam Kemp accidentally takes home Nisha Kantor’s kit bag from the local gym. This is the set up for a wild ride where we witness these women as they crash and burn. Their spiral to rock bottom plays out on the same timeline in a parallel universe until they finally meet in the latter third of the story. It’s clever, surprising, and so much more than a romance.
Shallows by Tim Winton: (Audiobook) There’s 99+ reasons why Winton is on a pedestal with the most revered of Australian authors, but I won’t list them here. Shallows was the novel that won him the Miles Franklin when he was 27 years old in 1984. Winton is an environmental activist, always has been. He’s passionate about the conservation and preservation of aquatic animals and their environment, and is involved in the campaign to stop exploratory drilling in the Exmouth Gulf in WA. Shallows is where he started to write about whales, the ocean, conservation, dislocation, isolation, love, loss, hope, death, life, legacy.
Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes: (Audiobook) I enjoy Keyes’ books in audio form. She narrated her latest novel, and it’s nice to listen to her beautiful Irish accent. It’s a long rambling romcom with profound moments. The main character Rachel is a recovering alcoholic who manages a rehab centre. This gives Keyes, also a recovering alcoholic, the chance to play around with a charismatic ensemble cast of ‘inmates’ who struggle with their addictions. Thank goodness it has a happy ending, otherwise I would have been cranky.
Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman: (Audiobook) Laugh out loud, cry real tears of sadness, fall in love, grieve and believe anything is possible. I cannot begin to tell you the pure joy Richard Osman has brought me through the Thursday Murder Club series. If you don’t already know, the novels are set in Cooper’s Chase retirement village in provincial England where Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron meet in the activities room (the Jigsaw room) every Thursday to figure out cold cases that Elizabeth has access to (I won’t give anything away about her, but she is awesome). When there’s a murder at Cooper’s Chase, the four have a real crime to solve. These books will appeal to readers of all ages and genders, from all walks of life. I listened to the first two novels read by actress Lesley Manville. Life affirming.
Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: (Paperback) Both Thursday Murder Club and Lessons in Chemistry are debut novels. *Shakes head in disbelief*. This novel has been made into a TV miniseries. I recommend you read it first because I don’t believe Six Thirty – a dog with its own point of view – could work on film. Set in the 1950s/1960s, it has a big heart and enough belly laughs to counter the tears. Elizabeth Zott is a wonderful eccentric protagonist, a scientist working in a male-dominated, misogynistic vacuum where women are relegated to secretarial duties. Feisty no-filter Zott ends up as a host on a TV cooking show, which becomes outrageously successful as she empowers her female fans with lessons in chemistry and life.