'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 17 December 2020

KBR Spreading the Merry 2020!

In the immortal words of Monty Python's Life of Brian*, 'Whenever life gets you down, Mrs Brown, and things seem hard or tough. And people are stupid, obnoxious, or daft, and you feel that you've had quite enough. Just re-member that you're standing on a planet that's evolving, revolving at 900 miles an hour...' 

Many of us would be forgiven for wanting to forsake our planet and mankind this year with an insistent and desperate need to escape. While some of the freedoms we've always taken for granted were abruptly removed, reading and books remained the balm that staved isolation, buoyed hope and promised better times to come, not to mention kept us and our kids all smiling. So what better question for our KBR team this year than to share their standout reads for 2020; both for kids and adults. Read on for some brilliant highlights. We hope these help brighten your year and fill you with cheer. Merry Christmas from the entire crew of Kids' Book Review!

Adult: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Penguin Books)
Pure magnificence. A Gentleman in Moscow is a story of grand proportions, immense character and infinite humor. And like all stories of colossal significance, those most successful and long remembered, it is utterly transformative. Therein lies the poetic essence of this tale; the multitude of ways we are transformed by life as it itself yields to constant change. In the manner of the rich scent of a gentleman's expensive cologne, it lingers in ones senses, heart and mind long after that gentleman has left the room. Loved this beyond words. Closely followed by American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple - oh my...

I Am Change by Suzy Zail ( YA - Walker Books)
I absolutely adored Zail's unashamedly barefaced and poetic narractive. She portrays Lilian's innocence and coming of age with candidness and confidence so that the reader's relationship with Lilian is never spoiled. The beautiful balance between Lilian's gritty strength and her childlike naiveté is one of the biggest drawcards of this story making it a compelling and empowering read for teen girls and boys alike. 

Also Azaria: A True Story by Maree Coote (Melbourne Style Books) is dead set stunning. Even if you think you know the story of Azaria Chamberlain and even if you can't quite dislodge that first assumption, this is an achingly beautiful, thoughtfully rendered, significant work of art that is an excellent cross-curricular resource addressing an infinite number of nuances for discussion with children from as young as five. And Tree Beings by Raymond Huber and Sandra Severgnini (EK Books). (Books are like fruit mince pies; who can stop at one! Ed.)

Adult: I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast: A Celebration of Plants Around the World by Michael Holland and Philip Giordano (Flying Eye Books) 
We really needed a book like this for kids. Modern, quirky, a MUST, it features striking graphic design-style illos, a fab layout and brilliant info on the importance of plants and why they matter. Topics covered include plant parts, all about pollination, seeds, evolution, food chains and webs, how plants end up on your plate and what they ‘give’ us—from nutrition to how they taste and smell to a cleaner Earth. 

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Affirm Press) 
I was utterly mesmerised by this book, from the opening page. It’s a brilliantly-conceived tale (based on true life, which I ever love) with luscious characters and a superb balance of all that draws us into a novel—drama, tenderness, heartbreak, curiosity, humour—but what I loved the most is that Williams didn’t compromise her voice for story. She is an exquisite writer, and the language used had me frequently-eye-closed—to fully drink in the words (and then read them over again). One of my favourite novels of all time, actually. 

Adult: 7 Steps to Get Your Child Reading by Louise Park (NF - Allen & Unwin)
I read this book in February and I'm still implementing the strategies Louise outlines. I also loved it because there are tools and tricks that help your kids from the moment they are born. This isn't a book just for primary-school kid parents! 

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller (YA - UQP): Gripping, mysterious, heart-pounding + heart-breaking, I still can't stop thinking about Ghost Bird almost a year after I read it in January. (Reading this now and 100% true! Authentic, thrilling, gritty - love it! Ed.)

I'm not a big consumer of crime fiction; there are other genres I would prefer to read - so for me to nominate such a book, The Wife and The Widow, by Christian White, it must mean that it had a pretty huge impact. And it did! It's well written with relatable characters and an intriguing premise. 

Every chapter ends with a hook so that you are enticed to read on. Okay, gripping, but nothing out of the ordinary - so far. But there's a twist. An oh-my-gawd-I-never-saw-that-coming twist. It is so brilliantly and masterfully executed that I can only take my hat off to Mr White and say, Bravo, sir, you are a master craftsman! I compare it to the Murder of Roger Ackroyd, published nearly 100 years ago, with a twist that readers of the day had never encountered (the narrator being the murderer) such that it caught its audience completely by surprise and elevated Agatha Christie to the status of doyenne of the whodunit genre. Well, The Wife and The Widow is Christian White's "Roger Ackroyd" moment. Read it and you will see what I mean. This is Christian White's second novel and I sincerely hope it will not be his last! 

Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew (Walker Books Australia) 
I raved about it in the review and now, looking back, it is the book that has stayed with me the longest, with its themes of cyberbullying, friendship, sexual politics and fighting back. I loved that it also tackled the issue of menstruation and the taboos surrounding what is a perfectly normal and healthy bodily function. I think it's an important book for any teen or parent of teen to read.

 Little Light by Kelly Canby
This beautiful book was more than I expected and I love how my children love it too, without necessarily seeing the same references that I do in it.

I'm ashamed to admit I've read no books specifically 'for adults' (it's been that kind of year). I listened to a few audio books but none I'd mention as a standout, maybe Barefoot Investor for Families. I am super interested in Shayes fave of 7 Steps to Get Your Child Reading, though!


Searching for Charlotte by Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell
Beautifully presented, honest and well researched, this historical biography put me in each scene, sharing all that the authors were experiencing. 

Kids': The kids book that moved me the most was Once, I was Loved by Belinda Landsberry
This was deeply moving and I found a duality to the story. The reflections on how toys begin new and grow old, with their value and usefulness, like the toy, Tock, being determined by their age, applies to people too. These messages are hidden shadows within the text. 

 The Woman in The Window by A J Finn (HarperCollins)

Davina Bell's and Alison Colpoy's Under The Love Umbrella (Scribble Books).

 I can’t go past The Dreamer: An Autobiography by Sir Cliff Richard, recently released for his 80th birthday and exploring how a boy’s dreams of stardom came true. It’s packed with memories and stories, from his childhood in India, through to becoming Britain’s first real rock ‘n’ roll star, and celebrating his 60th anniversary in the music industry. 

I have to name two picture books for this one: The Great Realisation by Tomos Roberts  and Nomoco (HarperCollins) and The Fire Wombat by Jackie French and Danny Snell (HarperCollins)
Both deal with difficult events experienced during 2020 (the pandemic and bushfires), and despite serious themes, they offer hopeful and uplifting messages for readers of all ages. 

 The first one is The Bluffs by Kyle Perry. 
A debut Australian novel set in the Tasmanian wilderness that keeps you on the edge of your seat as it twists and turns and pits character against character until the final page you have no idea who is at fault. 

The second adult book is The Divine Feline by Belinda Alexandra. 
Recently released (3 November) this book delves into the relationship women have with their cats, dispels the crazy cat lady stereotype and instead celebrates feisty felines and their owners. I am interviewing Belinda about this book on Thursday for a library event and should have some kittens to play with while I interview her - not distracting at all. 

Dogography by Maree Coote (Melbourne Style Books) - the illustrations combined with the typography is so clever and allows for interaction with the reader - definitely a standout for me.

Phosphorescence, by Julia Baird (HarperCollins Australia)
Sometimes a book seems to magically appear on the shelves at the very moment we need it. In this crazy, chaotic and, at times, downright miserable year, I found so much solace in Julia Baird's shining words and insight into wonder and awe during times of darkness. Poignant, inspiring and incredibly beautiful (and that cover!). 

Girls Can Fly, by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Sally Morgan (illustrated by Sally Morgan), Magabala Press. 
This is a stunning and uplifting book jam-packed with advice and inspiration for tween and teen girls. I found it perfect for my young daughter as she navigated the uncertain world of lockdown and the overwhelming return to school. It's bold and colourful and spot-on with its message, which is drawn for the authors' life experiences, with feedback from the participants of the Kimberley and Pilbara Girls program. 

Adults:  American Gods by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow).

Goodbye House, Hello House by Margaret Wild and Ann James (Allen & Unwin)

Lily (Junior Reviewer):

Trials of Apollo: Tower of Nero by Rick Riordan (Penguin Random House) Favourite of the year. But it was a hard choice!

*Galaxy Song from Life of Brian -  Monty Python.