1. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Adelaide writer Hannah Kent’s debut novel is based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be publicly executed in Iceland in 1829. Beheaded for the murder of two men, Agnes has traditionally been portrayed as a cold-blooded “witch”, but Kent imagines a more complex and very human woman, isolated and desperate in the harshly beautiful Icelandic countryside.
Sample quote: “They will say ‘Agnes’ and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.”
2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a genetics professor with Asperger’s syndrome who is determined to find a wife, even though he’s never managed to make it to a second date. To increase his chances of success, Don creates a 16-page questionnaire that outlines his perfect woman. Enter Rosie, a hot mess of a barmaid, who definitely doesn’t fit Don’s criteria for the ideal wife – but just might be perfect for him, anyway. Adorableness ensues.
Sample quote: “I am thirty-nine years old, tall, fit and intelligent, with a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor. Logically, I should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, I would succeed in reproducing.”
3. Eyrie by Tim Winton
Eyrie is a heart-wrenching page-turner filled with raw emotion, flawed characters, and Winton’s characteristic humour. It tells the story of Tom Keely, who has hit rock bottom and spends his life trying to avoid the world. That is until he runs into a woman from his past and her strange grandson, and finds he can’t help but get involved – for better or worse.
Sample quote: “Hapless, Keely looked to the kid, not really knowing what he expected – fraternal understanding? Weren’t pissweak jokes milk and honey to a six-year-old? The boy studied him. Shade or no, Keely felt hotter than he had with the sun beating on his skull.”
4. The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth
Dubbed “one of the greatest untold love stories of all time”, The Wild Girl is based on the real-life love affair between Dortchen Wild and Wilhelm Grimm (of THE Grimm brothers). Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, it reveals how Dortchen was the source of many of the Grimms’ stories, and how she had her own fairy tale romance with one of the brothers – if you take fairy tale to mean something dark and slightly horrific, as many of the Grimms’ tales were.
Sample quote: “The day Dortchen Wild’s father died, she went to the forest, winter-bare and snow-frosted, so no one could see her dancing with joy… Holding out her bare hands, embracing the cold winter wind, Dortchen spun alone among the linden trees, her black skirts swaying.”
5. Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
Framed around teenage protagonist Danny Kelly and his quest for Olympic swimming glory, Tsiolkas’ follow-up to The Slap explores themes that are central to Australian identity – like multiculturalism, class and sport – in his characteristic unflinching, uncomfortable and unputdownable way.
Sample quote: “He asked the water to lift him, to carry him, to avenge him. He made his muscles shape his fury, made every stroke declare his hate. And the water obeyed; the water would give him his revenge. No one could beat him, no one came close.”
6. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
A story of love, life and death told through the lens of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian surgeon in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp in 1943. The Narrow Road to the Deep North reveals in graphic detail the brutal conditions under which the Thai-Burma railway was built.
Sample quote: “A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul. Such books were for him rare and, as he aged, rarer. Still he searched, one more Ithaca for which he was forever bound.”
7. No Place Like Home by Caroline Overington
Overington specialises in creating compelling stories around important social justice issues, and No Place Like Home is her latest offering, tackling the treatment of refugees in a provocative thriller. A boy with a bomb strapped under his hoodie walks into a popular Bondi shopping centre and inadvertently takes four bystanders hostage. Who he is, where he came from, what he wants and what pushed him to this point forms the central tension of the novel.
Sample quote: “There was no hint in what lay ahead – not for him, not for anyone. That’s not the way life works. You don’t get warning of the things that will change you. They come out of left field.”
8. The Vale Girl by Nelika McDonald
When 15-year-old Sarah Vale, the daughter of an alcoholic prostitute, goes missing, the only person who seems to care is her one friend, Tommy. He urges the police to find Sarah, and the following investigation reveals what’s really lurking beneath the picturesque surface of the small country town.
Sample quote: “Where the locals actually lived and ate and fought and played and slept, it was just an ordinary town, plain and dull. And in ordinary towns, there were broken things, ugly things, desolate and deserted things, and people who were all those things too.”
9. Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
If there’s one thing Australian authors do well, it’s contemporary YA fiction. Life in Outer Space is the perfect example of this, telling the story of film nerd Sam, who is bullied on a daily basis and having problems at home, but who ends up more worried about what the mysterious new girl thinks of him. It’s a cute, fun and touching read told in an authentic teen voice.
Sample quote: “She doesn’t follow me. She doesn’t call out my name and chase after me in the rain. It isn’t even raining. The sky doesn’t even have the decency to provide me with a good movie cliché.”
10. Girl Defective by Simmone Howell
Sky is a 15-year-old girl with an absent mother, alcoholic father and a little brother who won’t take off a pig-snout mask. In a vividly rendered St Kilda setting, Sky tries to figure out who she is and where she fits in as she explores friendship, lust, family, music, a mystery and art.
Sample quote: “Late in the night, in the yoga light, I listened to Leonard Cohen but I didn’t have to coax the sadness out. His voice was a long tunnel with the tiniest pinprick of light at the end.”
11. Wildlife by Fiona Wood
A companion novel to YA romance Six Impossible Things, Wildlife is a story of loss, and what it takes to rebuild the pieces when your world falls apart. An uplifting, emotional and stunningly realistic portrayal of what it’s really like to be a teen.
Sample quote: “Greatest pain in the world: the moment after waking. Remembering again as consciousness slaps my face in the morning’s first sigh. Nips fresh the not-healed wound. Clubs its groundhog self into my brain, a new sharp bite, a new blunt instrument for every single day of the week.”
12. The Accident by Kate Hendrick
The Accident centres around a car crash on a rainy night, told from the perspective of three different teens – Sarah, who was in the accident, Will, who feels alienated in his own family, and Eliat, a mum at just 16. Told against an atmospheric backdrop of wild Australian weather, The Accident is as hopeful as it is heartbreaking.
Sample quote: “I explore each memory carefully, trying to squeeze out as much detail as possible before moving on. Sometimes, rarely, I get something new, something long filed away… Impossible to know if it’s even real, or if my mind has simply started manufacturing memories. Making up answers because I don’t have them.”
13. All This Could End by Steph Bowe
Bowe may only be 19, but she’s already an accomplished writer. All This Could End is her second novel, a refreshing narrative about the Pretty family, bank robbers who are always on the run. The book opens with 17-year-old Nina holding a gun to her best friend Spencer’s head. It’s hard to put down from there.
Sample quote: “He wants to tell her that while he was with her he stopped feeling that his skin was too tight and that he was too awkward to function in normal society. But that would just be weird.”