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What Amanda read in 2011

So, it’s the beginning of 2011, my fiction writing efforts have taken a big dive, and this blog has been terribly neglected – but I will get back on the horse! I’m writing a lot more at the moment (more on that to come but look at 750words.com if you need help too) and have, of course, been reading all this time. I thought the first thing to do is gather all the virtual scraps of paper where I’ve listed my 2011 reading fun and make a definitive list – I’d hate to lose the record of all these great books I’ve read and enjoyed. You’ll have seen the first twenty-odd books listed here before but I thought I’d put them all together for you … so with no further ado …

  1. Twenty-Somewhere by Kristan Hoffman – yes, my writing friend whose blog I closely follow – someone who I know I’m going to be able to say “I knew her before she was famous”. Twenty-Somewhere was also my first ever e-book, read on my new iPad. Oh – before I forget – it’s an episodic, chick-littish read, following three college friends as their lives take different paths in their twenties – lots of fun.
  2. Dexter Is Delicious by Jeff Lindsay. A totally random read for me, I found it on a summer reading list from the local ABC radio, in connection with our upcoming writers festival. A thriller featuring cannibalism, not my normal style at all, but well-written, great story, and, well, totally different! Since I’m aiming to read some different genres this year, I’m glad I read this. Don’t think I’ll go back and read the others in the series, though.
  3. The Still Point by Amy Sackville – I read most of this last year but just finished it off – a story of an Arctic misadventure and its impact a couple of generations later, and a nice enough story but I felt like I knew nearly all about it right from the start and then the book slowly told me not much.
  4. Dancing In The Moonlight by Raeanne Thayne … oh goodness me. In the spirit of expanding my genre experience, and with the thrill of downloading books on the Kindle app on my iPad, I tried a Harlequin romance novel. The reviews said stuff like “not as corny as its title” and “I didn’t even realise it was a romance novel until the end” but … these reviews were wrong. Romance genre experiment officially over.
  5. Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor is an excellent piece of Australian literature, with the same kind of “slice of modern life” feel to it as I got from Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. If you’re a fan of the other Aussie fiction I like, you’ll like this.
  6. In the Wake by Per Petersen, a Norwegian writer of some note. Haunting, lyrical story. Very readable and lovely.
  7. Heart Songs by Annie Proulx, since she’s coming along to the Perth Writers Festival this year. It’s a short story collection which started out all being about hunting (not really my taste) but ended up being much broader – beautifully written.
  8. The Legacy by Kirsten Tranter, a new Aussie novelist who will also be at the Perth Writers Festival. Bit of a mystery novel, bit of a typical lit fic, definitely enjoyable and nice to see a novel set partly in New York but with an Australian perspective.
  9. Be Near Me by Andrew O’Hagan (also coming for the Perth Writers Festival) – a novel about a Catholic priest, it had a great beginning, a great ending but for me, a bit of a so-so middle with a hefty chunk of back story that had me skipping through it to “get back to the story”.
  10. Why You Are Australian by Nikki Gemmell – a non-fiction “letter to her children” detailing her trial return to Australia for a few months, trying to decide whether she could live her again after many years as an ex-pat in London. For me, a beautiful homage to what is best about my country and why I wanted to raise a family here and not elsewhere. To the general reader who is either not Australian or hasn’t had an ex-pat life, and doesn’t have children – perhaps less of interest.
  11. Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris of Chocolat fame, though it’s best not to think about that, because the two books couldn’t be more different – yet are both excellent. Blueeyedboy is kind of a mystery/thriller told through online fan-fiction and blog-style entries. Bizarre but excellent.
  12. Wonders of a Godless Worldby Andrew McGahan, one of my favourite Aussie writers. Every book he writes seems totally different, and this was no exception; a vaguely fantasy-style story that’s hard to explain yet a beautiful read. Perhaps my favourite of his?
  13. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, a re-read of this YA book I read at least a decade ago, after seeing Melina Marchetta speak at the Perth Writers Festival (ooh, just Wikipedia-ed her and discovered we share the same birthday!). Excellent novel. Vivid and honest about the life of an Aussie-born teenage daughter of immigrants in Sydney, and it says a lot about Australia and our way of life here, both good and bad. With a suitable dose of teenage angst!
  14. Baby Steps: A Bloke’s-Eye View of IVF by Jason Davis – creative non-fiction, which you may recall I decided to put on this list; a fluffy account of a slightly more important subject, but interesting to see a man’s perspective.
  15. The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan is a cross between comedy and crime, lots of fun and with a few interesting plot twists. I think it’s the first in an ongoing series, although I probably didn’t enjoy it quite enough to grab the next one.
  16. The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins, another non-fiction (but well-written) addition to my list. Scary stuff about the pressure teenagers are under to succeed in high school and college life in the United States.
  17. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta – yes, I had to keep reading her stuff after loving Looking for Alibrandi last month. This YA novel was good, but not great – nowhere near as powerful as her debut.
  18. Surfacing by Margaret Atwood; I haven’t read any of her stuff for ages but since I’ve been following her on Twitter (she’s a real addict – @MargaretAtwood) I felt the need.
  19. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, again. This is her newest, and involves the same characters as Saving Francesca, but five years on (and it stands alone as a novel). Heaps better than Saving Francesca in my opinion, excellent in fact, although definitely for the older end of YA or even just for fully-grown adults like me! Great Aussie slice of life.
  20. What is Left Over, After by Natasha Lester, a local writer who I met at the Perth Writers Festival. This novel won the TAG Hungerford award and I can see why it beat mine. A million times better! It’s got a great storyline about a woman suffering from a tragic loss and much of it is set in the south-west of WA.
  21. Land’s Edge by Tim Winton – it’s a memoir, rather than a novel, but is typical Winton – quite mesmerising, especially for a fellow West Aussie like me who can picture the beaches and coastlines he’s talking about. I learnt we grew up in the same Perth suburb, and am hoping that’s a Lucky Thing!
  22. Dead Line by Stella Rimington – another in her Liz Carlyle spy series, and yes the only spy author I read – but she’s authentic! And lovely! And I saw her at the Perth Writers Festival a few years ago. I’ve even got another of hers on my to-read pile right now.
  23. Fall Girl by Toni Jordan – her second, and one I was inspired to read after seeing her at the Perth Writers Festival again. Excellent book, amazing how she got me all sympathetic to this family of con-men (and con-women), so funny with many laugh-out-loud moments and some lovely twists in the plot. Something different to everything else I’ve read lately, so very refreshing!
  24. Avoiding Mr Right by Anita Heiss. I really wanted to *love* this book, because I love the idea of it – urban Aussie chick lit with a strong Aboriginal woman as the protagonist. But unfortunately I just couldn’t get past the chick lit part. It’s just not my genre. If it’s yours, however, then this is an excellent book. If I were a chick lit lover I think the only criticism I’d have is that it reads at times like a guidebook to Melbourne cafes and pubs (not necessarily a bad thing!).
  25. Present Danger by Stella Rimington – yes, another in the Liz Carlyle series, this time caught up in the leftovers of the Northern Ireland conflict. Good but I should have left a bigger gap between reading the previous one and this – it started to all sound a bit the same.
  26. When My Husband Does the Dishes by Kerri Sackville, an Aussie blogger turned published author – this is non-fiction and hilarious, easy for any wife and mother to relate to.
  27. Belly Dancing for Beginners by Liz Byrski – a local writer – and I admit when I started this novel I thought I was not going to like it, as it seemed clearly aimed at women somewhat older than me. Fortunately I read on, and it was a delight. I love books set in Perth (so exciting to know the places!) and the characters here were so lifelike yet so interesting. A great read.
  28. Mosquito Advertising by Kate Hunter – a writer I heard about on Twitter. This is YA and fantastic – a bunch of teenagers who put together an advertising campaign and beat the big-wigs! I think there’s a second one out which I must look up.
  29. Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor. It came on my list via the First Tuesday Book Club. And it follows a bored teenager who has an affair with, you guessed it, Mr Booker. Loved it.
  30. Lucy Springer Gets Even by Lisa Heidke. Another writer who came to my attention on Twitter (yes, writers, it’s totally worth you being there if you’re not!). This is chick-lit and not entirely my scene but would be excellent for chick lit lovers.
  31. We Are All Made of Glue by┬áMarina Lewycka, the third of hers and both different and similar from the first two – didn’t love it as much but still worth a read.
  32. Undertow by Nicole Lobry-de Bruin, a novel I read because Nicole was about to turn up in my advanced blogging class! (I love meeting proper published novelists!). It’s, as she said, a kind of typical coming of age novel but I thought it was beautifully written and I look forward to Nicole getting back on the novel-writing wagon.
  33. Last Summer by Kylie Ladd. Kylie’s another writer I’ve “met” on Twitter and probably my favourite of all my Twitter discoveries (people or otherwise!). Last Summer is the story of a bunch of friends and what they do when one of them dies – it’s so every day but totally perceptive and beautifully-written. This is the kind of novel I would love to publish myself. One day!
  34. Under Suspicion by The Mulgray Twins. I read this little who-dunnit entirely because I was intrigued by the idea that these twin sister wrote it (and several other books, I believe). They have lived parallel lives (as English teachers) and have lived together the whole time! I’d love to see them writing – it must be a lot of fun for them and that comes across in the book.
  35. The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, a famous Australian comedian and refugee immigrant from Vietnam – it’s tragic and comic all at once, a quick read but a great read, and should be compulsory for all Australians who are concerned about “too many” refugees being allowed to enter Australia.
  36. The Children by Charlotte Wood – would you believe she’s another of my Twitter discoveries? In other words, another female Australian novelist, definitely my favourite kind of writer. The Children looks at a bunch of grown-up kids coming back to their hometown when their father ends up in hospital and it’s brilliant.
  37. The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker is non-fiction but well-written and a very interesting tale of Barker’s experiences as a journalist in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
  38. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy is non-fiction again, a memoir of sorts, a collection of essays by Hardy who is one of my personal Aussie heroes ­čÖé
  39. My Favourite Wife by Tony Parsons is a great novel set in China, following an ex-pat family, I loved it both for the story and for the setting.
  40. Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy is, again I’m sorry, non-fiction, but it is on my list because I think every parent in the universe should read it so you will remember to breathe and let your children experience life without wrapping them up in sixty layers of cotton wool.
  41. The Naked Husband by Mark D’Urbanville is chilling. It’s the story of a man who has an affair but it’s told so frantically that I often had to stop reading it. But I had to keep going back to it. It’s hard to explain but it’s really something.
  42. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas was one of my favourite novels the year it came out, and this year the TV series adapted from it was screened for the first time and I just had to re-read it. It’s still great although, for probably the first time in my life, I might actually say that the TV version is even better! It has a few tweaks to the plot which makes it all the more dramatic and effective.
  43. The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood, yes I have become a big Charlotte Wood fan and am gradually gathering her novels from the library. This one was beautiful though sad and features some fascinating characters.

That’s it (in so far as I can’t find any more virtual scraps of paper in my email account). You’ll see I have an increasing emphasis on female Australian novelists, which I don’t think is a terribly bad thing considering I would like to be one! Stay tuned for some more news of my fiction writing life in the near future … and do feel free to add some reading recommendations for me, or your favourite read of 2011, in the comments below.

Amanda Kendle

3 Comments

  1. I’ll be chasing down that Tony Parsons’ book. I have read a couple of his books and I really enjoyed them. Great to see you back here! I’ll be looking forward to reading more about your fiction writing. Are you going to the Perth Writers Festival? I’m put my name on the volunteer list – I hope to get involved this year!

  2. If you want to get more active in your blog I would suggest something like getting a weekly writing prompt to post up here. I am trying to get something going. My favorite website for prompts just stopped posting. If you are interested email me.

    I love the website by the way, especially your tagline. We all procrastinate. I am along the same goal as you, trying to become a writer so it was nice digging through the blog.

    ~Ian

  3. @ Gill, yes definitely will be at the Writers Festival, and going to the First Tuesday Book Club filming on the Friday! Didn’t have enough time (well, enough babysitting) to be a volunteer though, hopefully in a year or two!

    @ Ian, glad you enjoyed it – although I’m kind of sorry I helped you procrastinate!

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