My favourite novels of 2017

all the little happy things - favourite novels of 2017
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Over the last couple of years I’ve been getting back into reading novels. As a kid, I used to read all the time, but during university I guess all those textbooks and law reports took their toll on me and I stopped reading for fun. But for the past two years, I’ve been hitting up my local library with the goal of reading a new novel each month, and I’m really enjoying it. So today I thought I’d share the list of novels that I read this year, with brief reviews/recommendations for my favourites!

all the little happy things - novels read in 2017

  • The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaranovitch
  • This One Is Mine by Maria Semple
  • A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In by Magnus Mills
  • The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
  • The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni
  • The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
  • Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura
  • Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace
  • Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
  • Faithful by Alice Hoffman
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
  • The Book of Days by K.A. Barker
  • A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

Of this list, I disliked two (The Book of Days and This One Is Mine), liked three (The Hanging Tree, Charlotte Street and Vinegar Girl), was indifferent to the rest, and really loved three. Which brings us to my favourite novels of 2017!

all the little happy things - my favourite novels of 2017

1. The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
From the blurb:
Only very special people are chosen by children’s author Laura White to join ‘The Society’, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a tenth member has been selected: Ella, literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips. But soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual, ‘The Game’? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura’s winter party, in a whirlwind of snow? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there once another tenth member, before her?Slowly, disturbing secrets that had been buried come to light…
I read the English translation of this gorgeous novel by Finnish author Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen and was immediately drawn into its mysterious, subtly magical world of writers, secrets and snowstorms. I loved the way the threads of the story were slowly unravelled only to tangle up again, and even though I finished the novel with lingering questions, I didn’t feel like I’d read something unfinished. I’d love to read it again once I’ve had time for the story and its characters to soak in, as it really feels like a novel that rewards close attention and repeated readings.

2. Faithful by Alice Hoffman
From the blurb:
Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl growing up on Long Island until one night a terrible road accident brings her life to a halt. While her best friend Helene suffers life-changing injuries, Shelby becomes crippled with guilt and is suddenly unable to see the possibility of a future she’d once taken for granted. But as time passes, and Helene becomes an almost otherworldly figure within the town, seen by its inhabitants as a source of healing, Shelby finds herself attended to by her own guardian angel. A mysterious figure she half-glimpsed the night of the car crash, he now sends Shelby brief but beautiful messages imploring her to take charge of her life once more …What happens when a life is turned inside out? When you lose all hope and sense of worth? Shelby, a fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookshops, and men she should stay away from, captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding oneself at last.
I’ve never read any of Alice Hoffman’s novels before, though I was aware that she had written Practical Magic (the movie adaptation was one of my secret favourites growing up!), so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And what I got was a deeply moving story of how a broken soul finds redemption and healing. I don’t know what to say about this book other than I loved it, it made me cry in the best way, and it was a deeply emotional and satisfying read.

3. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
From the blurb:
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book. Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.
It’s really hard to pick my favourite thing about The Invisible Library – the world-building (the protagonist spends most of the time in a cool steampunk version of London), the smart female protagonist, the very idea that there is an interdimensional Library searching for unique and important books… I loved it all! And the best part is that I inadvertently picked up the first book in a series. I will definitely be tracking down the next installments to read next year!

I’m looking forward to continuing my renewed love affair with novels in 2018, and have already got my January book sorted – Forest Dark, the latest novel by one of my favourite authors, Nicole Krauss. What were your favourite books of 2017, and what’s on your reading list for 2018?

Advertisements

Five… favourite childhood novels

When I was in primary school, I was a devoted bookworm. I read all the time – during school, in the car, during meals, even while brushing my teeth. The library was my favourite place to be. We would take a trip to the local library every weekend, and I would come back with a crateful of new books to read. I would actually get into trouble from my parents and my teachers for reading too much instead of paying more attention to other things that were happening around me!

Although I liked reading pretty much anything I could get my hands on, I definitely cherished some books more than others. I thought it would be fun to share five of my favourite childhood novels today, as a little trip down memory lane!

1. Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein
all the little happy things - five favourite childhood novels - Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein
I have read (and loved!) nearly all of Robin Klein’s books, but Hating Alison Ashley has always been my very favourite. It’s written from the perspective of eleven-year-old Erica Yurken, who has always believed that she is more talented, graceful and exceptional than her embarrassing family and her classmates at her poor suburban state school. That is, until she meets Alison Ashley – a talented, beautiful new student who embodies everything that Erica wants to be. But, of course, Erica learns that Alison Ashley’s life isn’t quite as wonderful as it first seems…

The cultural references are pretty dated (and were dated even when I first read this book in the mid-90s!), but it’s a lot of fun to read due to Erica’s quirky perspective on things, and teaches a lot of great lessons about self-worth, jealousy, and looking beyond appearances.

The book was adapted into a movie starring Delta Goodrem as Alison Ashley and set in high school instead of primary school, but the movie is actually nothing like the book. The book is much better. 😉

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl
all the little happy things - five favourite childhood novels - Matilda by Roald Dahl
I think most people my age have a favourite Roald Dahl book, and mine is Matilda – the story of a neglected girl-genius who develops telekinesis and ends up triumphing over her horrible family and bully of a school principal. The character of Matilda appealed to me as a fellow bookworm, and I loved the idea that the knowledge and mind-power gained from reading lots of books could be transformed into its own kind of superpower.

Unlike Hating Alison Ashley, the movie adaptation of Matilda starring Mara Wilson is actually great, and a childhood favourite of mine!

3. The Magic Apostrophe by Jenny Sullivan
all the little happy things - five favourite childhood novels - The Magic Apostrophe by Jenny Sullivan
Before I got into Harry Potter in 1999, I was already keen on the idea of being a witch, thanks to The Magic Apostrophe by Jenny Sullivan. It’s set in Wales and tells the story of Tanith Williams, who, on her 13th birthday, discovers that her mother and six aunts – and now her – are all witches. Tanith embraces the world of magic, but when a new girl named Astarte arrives at her school, Tanith finds that her family has powerful magical enemies as well.

I loved the world that Jenny Sullivan created in this book, with a very practical sort of magic that also gave glimpses of centuries-old traditions and lore. I discovered only recently that The Magic Apostrophe spawned a number of other sequels and prequels – might be time to track those down!

4. 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened by Elizabeth Honey
all the little happy things - five favourite childhood novels - 45 and 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened by Elizabeth Honey
The first thing that caught my eye about 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened was the cover – covered in scrawly handwriting that just hints at the context and story of the book within. I definitely judged this book by its cover, and my judgment was accurate – it was hilarious, fun, and just a little bit unusual.

The story is written by eleven-year-old Henni Octon, and it’s about the adventures of her and her friends who live on Stella Street. What I loved about this book was that it was grounded in everyday life, the kinds of things that kids experienced (or, at least what suburban kids in the 1990s experienced), all the while telling a bigger story about money laundering, of all things! I loved that the whole thing was written as though Henni herself was writing her story down – it made everything so relatable and down-to-earth. The scribbly drawings and handwritten notes sprinkled throughout just add to the charming ‘handmade’ feeling.

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
all the little happy things - five favourite childhood novels - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Ending things on a classic, Little Women has been my favourite book since I was about 8 years old. I still have the copy that was given to me by my friend Dayle when I was 10 – the plastic on the hardcover is peeling and a few pages are falling out, but it’s one of my most treasured possessions.

The story is a little preachy at times, but I actually have always liked the little lessons that fall out of the pages as I read and re-read this book. After reading it, I always feel encouraged to keep working hard, being kind and thinking of others, and it’s a feeling that has stayed with me from childhood to adulthood. I think it makes sense, as the whole thing is like a re-telling of The Pilgrim’s Progress, featuring four sisters instead of ‘Christian’.

The movie adaptation starring Winona Ryder as Jo is a very faithful (though condensed) adaptation as well, and is one that I love re-watching, even though it makes me cry!

So these are 5 of my favourite childhood novels! What books did you love reading as a child?

Five… reasons why I love (500) Days of Summer

As soon as I watched the teaser trailer for (500) Days of Summer in late 2008, I knew I wanted to see it. Dannii and I went to see it together when it came out in Australia, and I immediately fell in love.

(500) Days of Summer is one of those movies that I will never tire of re-watching. There are so many things that I love about it! Here are just five of those things.

all the little happy things - five reasons to love (500) Days of Summer

Continue reading

Five… favourite animated movies

There’s nothing like a good animated movie to cheer you up on a dreary, grey day. From Disney hand-drawn classics to the latest Pixar family romp, everyone has their personal favourites. Here are five of mine, in no particular order!

1. Aladdin
all the little happy things - five favourite animated movies - Aladdin
It’s probably no surprise that this is my favourite Disney classic, given my well-documented love of Princess Jasmine. There’s just so much to love! Alan Menken’s incredibly catchy score and songs, one of Disney’s most memorable villains, Robin Williams’ inimitable performance as the Genie, the classic story… and, of course, my favourite sassy and rebellious princess!

2. The Incredibles
all the little happy things - five favourite animated movies - The Incredibles
If Aladdin is my favourite Disney classic, then The Incredibles is definitely my favourite Pixar classic. It’s so rare to find a ‘fully-intact’ family in an animated movie, and I love that The Incredibles focuses on the family dynamic in such a fun and hilarious way. The Incredibles was also the first superhero movie I saw that dealt with the ‘details’ of supers existing and working in the world, like the consequences of collateral damage, what it’s like for supers pretending to be normal, and who makes those fancy costumes (who doesn’t love Edna Mode?)!

3. The Emperor’s New Groove
all the little happy things - five favourite animated movies - The Emperor's New Groove
The Emperor’s New Groove kind of snuck up on me, but now it’s one of my go-to cheer-up movies. Its self-referential, trope-busting sense of humour is right up my alley, and I always find myself actually laughing out loud whenever I watch it! Plus, it features one of the best non-traditional ‘happy birthday’ songs I’ve ever heard!

4. Paperman
all the little happy things - five favourite animated movies - Paperman
If you haven’t seen Paperman, you definitely should. It’s included as an extra on the Wreck-It Ralph DVD, and I am so, so glad I didn’t skip over it. It has a whimsical, romantic storyline, and the lack of dialogue means that the gorgeous score and the animation can really shine. The animation itself is interesting, blending traditional hand-drawn techniques with computer animation. The result is a simply beautiful short film that feels both nostalgic and modern.

5. Anastasia
all the little happy things - five favourite animated movies - Anastasia
Finally, a non-Disney film! Anastasia has everything that you could want from a good animated movie: a story based on a well-known tale, an inevitable romance, a couple of lovable animal characters, good catchy songs, a memorable villain, and a good dose of magic. Anastasia also has, in my opinion, the best chemistry between its romantic leads, and one of the very best songs in Journey to the Past.

So that’s it for my list! Of course, there are plenty of other brilliant animated movies out there, and these are just five of my personal favourites. What are your favourites? Comment below and let me know!

Five… favourite albums

My taste in music is pretty eclectic, and I tend to prefer individual tracks by various artists, rather than whole albums. But there are a few albums that I love to listen to in their entirety, start to finish. Here are five of my favourites!

1. Eyes Open by Snow Patrol

all the little happy things - five favourite albums - Eyes Open by Snow Patrol
What I love about this album is it’s full of what I like to call ‘soundtrack music’. You can image each track playing over a scene in a TV drama or a movie. When I listen to this album, everything feels just that little bit more cinematic.
Stand-out track: Set The Fire To The Third Bar, featuring Martha Wainwright

2. Timekeeper by Lucy Schwartz

all the little happy things - five favourite albums - Timekeeper by Lucy Schwartz
My favourite thing about this album is how each song tells a story. Lucy Schwartz is a talented lyricist and musician, and each track in this album is thoughtful and full of vivid imagery. I also love how varied the music styles are – each song has its own atmosphere and setting.
Stand-out track: Boomerang (Fun fact: this song was featured at the end of season 4 of Arrested Development. Lucy’s dad did the music for the show!)

3. Everything In Transit by Jack’s Mannequin

all the little happy things - five favourite albums - Everything In Transit by Jack's Mannequin
This is another album that I love for its lyrics! The first time I ever listened to it, I felt really emotionally connected to the songs, and it’s a feeling that has stuck with me ever since.
Stand-out track: Dark Blue, one of my favourite songs of all time.

4. Bomb in a Birdcage by A Fine Frenzy

all the little happy things - five favourite albums - Bomb in a Birdcage by A Fine Frenzy
I read recently that Alison Sudol will no longer make music under the name ‘A Fine Frenzy, which is a pity, but at least I’ll always have this gorgeous album. With Alison’s sweet, pure vocals, well-blended instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics, this album has long been in my list of favourites.
Stand-out track: Happier – one of the most beautifully bittersweet songs I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to. (Fun fact: the music video features indie singer Landon Pigg!)

5. On Your Shore by Charlotte Martin

all the little happy things - five favourite albums - On Your Shore by Charlotte Martin
Charlotte Martin is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter and pianist, and I’ve loved this album since the first time I heard it in 2007. It’s the kind of music that will both soothe and uplift you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Absolutely gorgeous.
Stand-out track: Really difficult to choose, but I’ll go with Every Time It Rains.

Five… songs I can listen to on repeat

I’m one of those people who likes to re-watch favourite movies and TV shows, and re-read favourite books. It’s the same with music. Every now and then I feel like listening to a certain song on repeat for a while, because I love it so much. These songs are typically catchy (hence wanting to listen over and over again!), easy to sing along with, and fairly emotionally neutral (no power ballads or angry rock!). Here’s a list of five of those favourite songs!

1. Slide by Goo Goo Dolls

2. Dark Blue by Jack’s Mannequin

3. Gimme Sympathy by Metric

4. Get Lucky by Daft Punk

5. Boomerang by Lucy Schwartz

Five… excellent picture books

I love picture books! As a kid, I loved reading, and I read and re-read books all the time. As an adult, I still love reading – and I still love reading picture books. A few of my friends and I even buy picture books for each other as gifts every now and then. In some ways I think I can appreciate picture books a little more now that I can better understand the work that goes in to them. Dannii and I are slowly building up our collection as we come across new treasures and some old favourites.

Here’s a little list of five picture books that I really love!

1. Nobody Owns the Moon by Tohby Riddle
obody Owns the Moon by Tohby Riddle
Image from Boomerang Books
“Clive Prendergast is a fox with a regular job and a place to call home. His friend Humphrey is a struggling donkey with no fixed address. Life in the city is a mixed bag for these two, but a special-looking blue envelope is about to change everything – at least for one wonderful night.”

I came across this book whilst visiting an exhibition on Australian children’s books at the State Library of Victoria with Dannii a few years ago. We were both really drawn to the strangely bittersweet story, and the unusual collage art style. Tohby Riddle’s notes on the book pretty much sums up why I really like this book – it’s a lot more thoughtful than it first appears, with a lot of hidden depth.

2. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
Image from Oliver Jeffers
My friend Katie gave this book to me as a birthday or Christmas gift several years ago because we had a weird sort of inside joke about penguins. I fell in love with it instantly – it’s just so charming! The artwork and the story are very sweet, and I love how much emotion the shows penguin despite it not really having any facial features to speak of!

3. Sometimes I Forget You’re a Robot by Sam Brown
Sometimes I Forget You're a Robot by Sam Brown
Image from explodingdog
“For a boy who’s always dreamed of having his own robot, actually getting one isn’t what he expected at all. The robot can’t fly, swim, or even talk. All it does is BEEP BEEP BEEP. But this robot does have some hidden talens – and one of them is being a great friend.”

Dannii and I have been reading the explodingdog webcomic for a long time. We both particularly love the red robot character that frequently features in the drawings – one year I gave Dannii a cross-stitch I’d made of the red robot as a birthday gift. So when Sam Brown released his first picture book, featuring none other than our favourite red robot, I bought a copy to give to Dannii for his 27th birthday. It’s another sweet yet poignant story, with that classic Sam Brown art style that we’ve loved for so long. It’s definitely a great addition to our little library.

4. Letters From Felix by Annette Langen & Constanza Droop
Letters From Felix by Annette Langen and Constanza Droop
Image from Amazon
Poor Sophie! It is the end of the holidays, and her favourite little toy rabbit, Felix, is lost at the airport. Then, a week later, a letter in wobbly writing arrives for Sophie from London, and it’s from Felix. Other letters follow from Paris, Rome, Cairo, a safari park in Kenya, and from New York. When will Sophie see her beloved toy rabbit again? Felix’s funny letters are exciting and informative about the places he visits.

This was my absolute favourite picture book as a little girl. I loved the story, I loved opening the envelopes and reading the ‘handwritten’ letters, and I loved reading about all the different places that Felix visited. It’s entirely possible that my affection for letter-writing stemmed from my love of this book. It’s definitely one that I’ll hang on to and treasure for many, many years!

5. I Don’t Believe in Dragons by Anna Walker
I Don't Believe in Dragons by Anna Walker
Image from Anna Walker
Everyone in Miss May’s class believes in dragons – except for Jack.

I stumbled across this adorable book while browsing in a bookstore in Melbourne, but I made the sad mistake of leaving the store without buying it. Over the next few years, I tried looking for it in pretty much every bookstore I came across, but never with any luck. Then my friend Katy found it in a bookshop in Bulimba and bought me a copy as a ‘just because’ present. It was such an unexpected treat! I really love Anna Walker’s illustrations, and I especially love the big orange-spotted dragon in this book. I’m so pleased to finally have a copy of my own!