It is impossible to pick an exact list of the hottest books for the year—after all, some of them haven’t even been written yet! And just because a book is the centre of a mad bidding war and earns the author a six figure advance doesn’t actually mean the book will have broad appeal and sell well.
Equally, I am willing to bet that there are plenty of sleepers that will creep up on us and become bestsellers.
There are some certainties. Autobiography and memoir will be huge in 2014. On local shores, a change of government at election always results in a surge of political bios. Julia Gillard’s memoir, released in October 2014, promises to be huge, Let’s hope she tells all.
But the other biggie will be Hilary Rodham Clinton’s memoir—out in June. It’s described as being candid reflections about the key moments during her time as Secretary of State, as well as her thoughts about how to navigate the challenges of the 21st century. That woman has had an amazing life and I, for one, cannot wait to read about it.
While we’re waiting, here are some great books to whet your appetite.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Hetty “Handful” Grimké, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimké household.
The Grimké’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Events are set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. The story follows their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
The Invention of Wings was inspired by the real-life Sarah Grimké and via her story, Sue Monk Kidd looks at a devastating wound in American history, through two women’s struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression.
When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan
Dylan Mint has Tourette’s. His life is a constant battle to keep the bad stuff in—the swearing, the tics, the howling dog that seems to escape whenever he gets stressed. But a routine visit to the hospital changes everything.
Overhearing a hushed conversation between the doctor and his mum, Dylan discovers that he’s going to die in March. So he makes a list of things he must do before he dies.
First, he wants to have real sex with gorgeous Michelle Malloy; second, he’s got to find his autistic best friend Amir a new best bud; third, he’s got to get his dad back home from the army so they can say goodbye properly. It’s not a long list, but it’s ambitious, and he doesn’t have much time.
Scottish writer Brian Conaghan makes you travel every step of the way in Dylan’s shoes, laughing and crying—often at the same time—as Dylan faces the twists and turns of an unfair world with glorious optimism and wit.
Funny, clever, poignant, rude and absolutely brilliant—Conaghan’s gobsmackingly original novel does for Tourette’s syndrome what The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time did for Asperger’s.
On Cringila Hill
When a teenage boy is killed in a targeted shooting, the events that unfold rock the lives of the migrant families of Cringila, Wollongong.
After seasoned police detective Gordon Winter is assigned the murder case, his investigations uncover long-buried secrets and an entrenched culture of loyalty and fear.
Author Noel Beddoe worked as a high school principal for 20 years including 12 years as principal at Warrawong High School. Many of the characters and stories in On Cringila Hill are drawn from the interviews conducted in Beddoe’s office.
Beddoe says ”We had 63 languages spoken in the homes of our students. Most of the families came to Australia to work at the Port Kembla steelworks, when nearly 30,000 people lived there. Now about 3,000 are employed. The gun crime which now afflicts the area has been growing for 20 years. I thought that the story of the area needed telling.”
On Cringila Hill weaves a gripping story of power, racial tensions and blood ties in a once-vibrant industrial community.
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
In the early spring of 1920, a young man stands on a headland in Cornwall and looks out to sea.
He is back from the war, homeless and without family. Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life, forged in a crucible of shared suffering. Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him. He is about to step into the unknown, but will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?
Set during and just after the First World War, The Lie is an enthralling, heart-wrenching novel of love, memory and devastating loss. It’s about two men who come from very different backgrounds, and their intense relationship which neither of them are quite able to acknowledge. Helen Dumore explores memory, loss and trauma—and what it takes to survive in a post-war Britain in which there is no form of support for young men to come home to. It’s beautifully, lyrically written and there’s an emotion deep inside the story that catches hold and won’t let go.
Helen Dumore is regarded as one of Britain’s foremost storytellers. Her third novel, A Spell in Winter won the inaugural Orange Prize in 1996 and she has won and been shortlisted for many more awards.
The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
Until the moment he received a frantic call from his father, Daniel believed his parents were headed into a peaceful, well-deserved retirement.
They had sold their home and business in London, and said “farewell to England” with a cheerful party where all their friends had gathered to wish them well on their great adventure: setting off to begin life anew on a remote, bucolic farm in rural Sweden.
But with that phone call, everything changes. “Your mother’s not well,” his father tells him. “She’s been imagining things—terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and has been committed to a mental hospital.”
Daniel prepares to rush to Sweden, on the first available flight the next day. Before he can board the plane, his father contacts him again with even more frightening news: his mother has been released from the hospital, and he doesn’t know where she is. Then, he hears from his mother:
“I’m sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad. I don’t need a doctor. I need the police. I’m about to board a flight to London. Meet me at Heathrow.”
Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a horrible crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.
Tom Rob Smith made a name for himself when his debut novel Child 44 was long-listed for the Man Booker prize. The Farm will consolidate his reputation as an outstanding crime writer.
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heatwave and a smallpox epidemic.
Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman called Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice—if he doesn’t track her down first.
The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.
In thrilling, cinematic style, Frog Music digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boom town like no other.
Emma Donoghue is one of the strongest voices in contemporary fiction. Every novel she writes is welcomed with a sense of great anticipation. Frog Music promises to delight and astound.
A Mad and Wonderful Thing by Mark Mulholland
In this passionate and heart-wrenching debut novel by Irish writer Mark Mulholland, we meet Johnny Donnelly—an intense young man who is in love with books, with his country, and with the beautiful Cora Flannery.
But in his dark and secret other life he is an IRA sniper. As his two worlds inevitably move towards a dramatic collision, Johnny takes us on a journey through the history, legends, and landscapes of his beloved Ireland. In the end, Johnny has to make sense of his inheritance and his life, and he does so in a riveting, redemptive, and unforgettable climax.
Told in Johnny’s unique voice, and peopled by a cast of extraordinary characters, A Mad and Wonderful Thing tells its tale lightly, but pulls a heavy load. It takes us beyond the charming, familiar, and often funny experiences of everyday life to the forces that bind people together, and that set them against one another—and to the profound consequences of the choices that they make.
The Lost Child by Suzanne McCourt
Sylvie is five. It’s the 1950s and she lives in Burley Point, a fishing village south of the Coorong on Australia’s wild southern coast.
She worships her older brother Dunc. She tries to make sense of her brooding mother, and her moody father who abandons the family to visit The Trollop, Layle Lewis, who lives across the lagoon.
It’s hard to keep secrets in a small town, but when Dunc goes missing, Sylvie is terrified that she is the cause. Now her father is angry all the time; her mother won’t leave the house or stop cleaning. The bush and the birds and the endless beach are Sylvie’s only salvation, apart from her teacher, Miss Taylor.
In the tradition of the novels of Anne Tyler and Eudora Welty, The Lost Child is a beautifully written story about family and identity and growing up. Sylvie is a charming narrator with a big heart and a sharp eye for the comic moment. As the years go by she learns how tiny events can changes entire lives, and how leaving might be the only solution when the world will never be the same again.
The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon
Surrounded by the scents of orange, lavender, lemongrass and bergamot, Kate Fullerton loves every day of being the creative lead tea designer at The Tea Chest, a boutique tea store in Brisbane.
But when she inherits half the multi-million dollar company after her mentor Simone dies, she finds that few people in her life truly have confidence in her ability to run the business. Now, she’s faced with the enormous task of going to London to set up a new store from scratch in just six weeks and prove to her family, her hostile business partner and herself that she’s worth the risk. She has to—The Tea Chest is just too precious to lose.
Josephine Moon’s debut novel was subject to a hotly contested auction. Fans of writers such as Monica McInerney and Cathy Kelly will be delighted with the writing of this fresh Australian voice.
Wild Things by Brigid Delaney
In an Australian university college called St Anton′s reside privileged young men destined to join the ranks of lawyers and merchant bankers in the corporate world once they finish their degrees.
Eight of them are part of the college cricket team that goes away to a house in the mountains for a wild weekend of revelry.
Things get out of control one night and a young Malaysian student they′ve dragged along with them as a cruel prank goes missing after being physically and emotionally terrorised by the drunken men. A few of the more remorseful students mount a search for Kevin the next day but cannot find him. Given that nobody knows that Kevin was up in the mountains with them, the men make a pact to remain silent and not reveal any involvement with Kevin, so as to avoid any repercussions their wild behaviour might have on their golden futures.
When Kevin is found by some bushwalkers on a rock ledge, barely clinging to life as a result of the horrific injuries he′s sustained, most people think it′s because of a fall, but the St Anton′s men know better. Some of them don′t show or feel any remorse; others are plagued by despair and guilt, but somehow not quite enough to risk jeopardising their promising futures. None of them is brave enough to break the bonds of the group and its insular world of power and prestige.
While Kevin remains comatose on life support in hospital, the stress of keeping their collective secret becomes harder and harder to bear and the group begins to fracture as each young man deals with the consequences of his actions, or lack thereof, in different and unexpected ways.
This is a cracker of a novel from Brigid Delaney. Wild Things is a story of power, prestige and the dangerous pack mentality that forms the underbelly of campus life at a prestigious university—a supposed bastion of intelligent, civilised, cultured life. It is also a story of wilful blindness, hypocrisy and what makes some people feel above the law—and how the type of playful bullying that starts in school can become dangerous and insidious as it grows with its perpetrators into high school, university and then the corporate world.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE…
*Meredith Jaffé is a writer, avid reader and The Hoopla’s books editor. Her reviews have been featured in the NSW Writers’ Centre 366 Days of Writing and in 2013 she was a member of the expert panel that selects the longlist for the Australian Book Industry Awards. When she is avoiding work, she cooks, plays Scrabble online or occasionally updates her Facebook page.