My favourite books of 2019

all the little happy things - favourite books of 2019
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

How was everyone’s Christmas? I hope you all enjoyed some happy holiday time. Now that the festivities are over and 2020 is just over the horizon, I’ve started planning for the new year and reflecting on 2019. As part of all of that, today I’m sharing the books that I read in 2019, and highlighting a few of my favourites!

These were the books I read (including a couple of graphic novels!):

  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
  • The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch
  • William Shakespeare Punches a Friggin’ Shark And/or Other Stories by Ryan North
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bollard
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Teen Boat! by Dave Roman and John Green
  • Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch
  • The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

all the little happy things - my favourite novels of 2017

1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
all the little happy things - And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
From the blurb:
‘Ten…’ Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious ‘U.N.Owen’.
‘Nine…’ At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.
‘Eight…’ Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by an ancient nursery rhyme counting down one by one… as one by one… they begin to die.
‘Seven…’ Which amongst them is the killer and will any of them survive?

Can you believe that I’ve never read any Agatha Christie mysteries until now? I picked this up at the Lifeline Bookfest, and I am so glad I did – this was an utterly fascinating, gripping read and I really could not put it down. I can’t really say too much about the story as the whole point of it is the mystery… but suffice to say that I was thoroughly engrossed and ended up reading into the wee hours of the morning because I just had to find out how it all ended before I went to sleep! I will definitely be reading more Agatha Christie novels in the future!

2. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
all the little happy things - Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
From the blurb:
When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a couple of key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace and two, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.
Soon, Rachel’s relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers…

I know, I’m pretty late to the party on this one! As a Chinese-Australian with Singaporean parents, I had a hugely emotional reaction when I watched the movie, so my husband bought me the book as a Christmas gift and it was the first book I read this year. I normally prefer to read a book before I watch a movie/TV adaptation, but I didn’t mind having it the other way around in this case. I really liked that, while the main story is about Rachel and Nick, the rest of the family members have their own stories to tell which are equally engaging. There were plenty of characters that I really liked, and plenty more characters that I enjoyed disliking! And similar to how I felt when I watched the movie, there was something really special about reading a book that deals with the confusing issue of cultural identity in such an entertaining and funny way.

3. Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch
all the little happy things - Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

I’m not going to share the blurb for this one, because my husband has just started reading this series and I don’t want to give away any spoilers!! Lies Sleeping is the latest book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, which is an urban fantasy series that I have described to people as “kind of like a police procedural, like Law and Order, but with magic”. I started reading the series a few years ago and have really enjoyed it. This entry into the series was particularly fun to read, as a whole lot of different plot threads from past books started drawing together from pretty early on, making for a pretty thrilling ride! The only problem with this book was that I felt like I finished it far too quickly – which means I have to wait a long time for the next one!

That’s it for 2019! I’m looking forward to a new year of reading – I’ve still got a short stack of novels that I bought at the Lifeline Bookfest that I haven’t opened up yet. What were your favourite books of 2019, and what’s on your reading list for 2020?

My favourite books of 2018

all the little happy things - favourite books of 2018
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas! Now that the festivities are over and 2019 is rapidly approaching, I’ve been reflecting on the past year and making plans for the year ahead. As part of all of that, today I’m sharing the books that I read in 2018, both novels and non-fiction, and highlighting a few of my favourites!

all the little happy things - novels read in 2018

  • Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
  • The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
  • The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman
  • The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
  • The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

all the little happy things - non-fiction books read in 2017

  • Materially Crafted by Victoria Hudgins
  • Care Packages by Michelle Mackintosh
  • The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright
  • Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew
  • Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee
  • How to Invent Everything by Ryan North
  • Tokyo by Steve Wide and Michelle Mackintosh

all the little happy things - my favourite novels of 2017

1. How to Invent Everything by Ryan North
all the little happy things - How to Invent Everything by Ryan North
From the blurb:
Imagine you are stranded in the past (your time machine has broken) and the only way home is to rebuild all of human civilization, but better and faster this time. In this one book, learn How to Invent Everything. Ryan North provides all the science, engineering, art, music and general know-how you need, no matter how far in the past you’ve gone. Thanks to his detailed blueprint, we can mature quickly and efficiently this time – instead of spending 200,000 years without language or thinking disease was caused by weird smells. Along the way you’ll discover technologies needed at each stage of progress (from writing and farming to buttons and birth control). So if you’ve ever wondered if you could do history better, now is your chance to find out how.

Ryan North is hands down my favourite living writer. I’ve been reading his webcomic Dinosaur Comics for over 10 years, and we even have a dedicated ‘Ryan North’ shelf full of his comics and books in our living room. His latest book, How to Invent Everything, is not only full of interesting information about the various inventions and technologies that humanity developed to survive and thrive over thousands of years, but it’s also presented with a completely hilarious framing story – so you’ve gone back in time and you need to rebuild civilisation. His writing is both informative and funny, and the book itself is full of brilliant little details, from the Pocket Temporal Flowchart to find your place in time on the endpapers, to the metric ruler printed on the book jacket, to the hilarious fine print disclaimer on the copyright information page. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!!

2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
all the little happy things - Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
From the blurb:
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To Elgie Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind, she’s his hilarious, volatile, talented, troubled wife. To fellow mothers at the school gate, she’s a menace. To design experts, she’s a revolutionary architect. And to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, quite simply, mum. Then Bernadette disappears. And Bee must take a trip to the end of the earth to find her.

Last year I read another of Maria Semple’s novels, This One Is Mine, and did not like it. That’s why I was so surprised to find that I really enjoyed reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette? The mystery of Bernadette unfolds through emails, notes, and other documents that Bee is reviewing for clues to her mother’s whereabouts, interspersed with Bee’s own commentary and narration about the events described in those documents. I love this unusual style of storytelling, and the way it shows that one’s actions and words can be perceived in a myriad different ways depending on the person who is observing them. The characters are quirky and vibrant, and the story develops at a nice, steady pace. Overall, this book was a pleasure to read, and I’m glad I gave Maria Semple another chance!

3. The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright
all the little happy things - The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright
From the blurb:
As a quirky Jewish kid and promiscuous, punk-ass teen, Jamie Wright never imagines becoming a Christian, let alone a missionary. Yet she is barely an adult when the trials of motherhood and marriage push her through the doors of a suburban megachurch and onto a collision course with Jesus.
Before long, Jamie sets off with her family for the green fields of Costa Rica, where they plan to serve God and change lives. But faced with a yawning culture gap and persistent shortcomings in herself and others, she soon loses confidence in the entire missionary enterprise.
In the clutches of a dark funk, she decides to take a huge risk. She will tell the whole truth, starting with herself.
She launches a renegade blog, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, to chronicle the everyday dumbness, hilarious ineptitudes, and downright disasters of a wannabe world-changer who would rather just stay in bed. In a surprising twist, Jamie’s blog wins a large and passionate following, suggesting that maybe a “bad” missionary – awkward, doubtful, and bare-butt honest – is exactly what the world and the throngs of American do-gooders need. Funny, outrageous, and pitch-perfect, The Very Worst Missionary is a memoir for the frustrated idealist in all of us.

I found Jamie Wright’s blog a couple of years ago, and loved the unflinching, unfiltered, and honest way she took on faith, life, and Christian culture. My husband Dannii bought this book for me as a gift, and I really loved it. It’s written in Jamie’s signature conversational style, making it easy to read, but it’s probably the most searing and real book on faith that I’ve ever read. Jamie doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of being a human in this world, and the different type of ugliness that pervades the modern Western church, and I found myself nodding and thinking “Yes, girl” as I read about her battles with both. This was probably the book that gave me the most to think about this year, and for that I’m very grateful.

That’s it for 2018! I’m looking forward to a new year of reading – the first book I’ve got lined up for 2019 is Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. What were your favourite books of 2018, and what’s on your reading list for 2019?

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?

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?