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Article  •  3 December 2019


Staff picks of 2019

Suggestions from the book lovers at Penguin Random House Australia.

As you can imagine, Penguin Random House people are big readers! We’re lucky to have access to a huge number of amazing titles each year. After powering through some very tall ‘to be read’ piles we’ve compiled this list of top picks for 2019:

The Sparkle Pages by Meg Bignell
This debut novel from Tasmania’s Meg Bignell grabbed my attention immediately and didn’t let go. The Sparkle Pages is Susannah’s hilarious and heartfelt diary, charting her attempts to rekindle the spark in her marriage, which she feels has gone missing in the everyday minutiae of life with four kids. What I loved most about this book was Susannah’s voice and her wit, her mixture of low and high brow. She reminds you that none of us is just one thing – parent, child or even famous musician like her best friend, Ria – and her commentary on family life, friendship and the passions we pursue in life really packs an emotional punch that will surprise you. – Amanda, Adult Publishing

Fly by Jess McGeachin
My absolute favourite picture book from this year has been Fly by debut author and illustrator, Jess McGeachin. Fly is a heart-warming (and heartbreaking) story about the relationship between a father and daughter, and Jess’s illustrations and narration hit you at your core. I gave this book to my own dad for Father’s Day this year and I know that he was just as moved by it as I was. It is a story about grief, about life, about moving on, and about how sometimes not everything that has been broken can be fixed. I can’t wait for Jess’s next book. – Kate, Young Readers

The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory by Corey White
Take the bleakest, most unimaginably awful and heartbreaking real-life scenario, then retell it in the sharpest, most ruthless, smartarse and achingly hilarious way possible. Now you get the gist of Corey White’s memoir, The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory.

As the son of a drug-addicted mother and an unpredictable and violent father, the odds were stacked against White ever to rise above the cumulative damage of his childhood experiences. Then, after losing his mother to heroin and his father to jail, he was separated from his siblings and left to navigate the turmoil of the foster-care system alone.

White’s childhood fragments swing wildly from hilarity to horror. As a demonstration, in one scene a young White escapes a molestation attempt by climbing onto the roof and urinating on the perpetrator. It’s outlandish, hilarious and horrific all at once. And while it might not exactly scream ‘feel-good hit of the year’, The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory is a memoir of trauma and survival, discovery of self, self-acceptance, belief and resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. – Samson, Marketing

The Yield by Tara June Winch
My mummy, she said, ‘The Aborigine is a pity, my son.’ She said that everyone was always insulted by her no matter what she did, so she let herself do the most insulting thing she could think of – take the poison they brought with them and go to town.

We don’t have a Z in our alphabet, I reckon, so I thought I’d start backwards, a nod to the backwards whitefella world I grew up in, start at Y – yarrany. Say it – yarrany. It is our word for a spearwood tree: and from it I once made a spear in order to kill a man.

The brutality and power of this novel can’t be overstated. Read it for an exciting thriller, a reckoning of colonisation, and taut prose that hits you right between the eyes. – Bella, Publicity

Talking to Strangers Audiobook by Malcolm Gladwell
If you’re a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast – to my mind, one of the best podcasts out there – then Talking to Strangers is going to make you supremely happy. It’s vintage Gladwell: personal, intimate stories extrapolated into big-picture ideas. The audiobook plays like an extended episode of Revisionist History, featuring original archival interviews, a brilliant musical score, and of course, Gladwell’s trademark journalistic storytelling and radical empathy. It’s by no means an easy listen, but it’s a brilliant one, and so perfectly suited to the audio format. – Radhiah, Young Readers

Expectation by Anna Hope
Expectation is Anna Hope’s first foray into a contemporary time period. The story covers the lives of three women over the course of their friendship, spanning primarily from university days to their late 30s. Hope gives particular focus to their lives when the women are in their mid-30s and are experiencing everything from post-natal depression to infertility, marriage breakdown, jealousy, career disappointment, new friendships, and the death of a loved one.

It is an engrossing read, not just because of what happens, but rather because of how the story is told: with compassion, raw honesty, and a true understanding of the human condition – at least as far as being a woman in this day and age is concerned. It is so real, and I absolutely loved it. – Taryn, Sales

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
This stunning debut novel by award-winning poet Ocean Vuong is hands down my favourite read of 2019.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous takes the form of a letter written by a son to his mother who cannot read, a paradox which allows the structure of the writing to jump around and play with usual linear narratives. Narrated by Little Dog, a Vietnamese American in his late twenties, this unique prose poem explores a family history rooted in war and displacement, and soon reveals parts of Little Dog’s life that his mother can never know.

This novel broke my heart, yet I loved every second of it. Vuong has such a tender, graceful way with words and captures every emotion, every moment, so exquisitely. It’s no wonder this book has been featured in must-read lists from publications the world over, and is being recommended by authors, critics and readers alike! – Bec, Sales

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Normally I would not pick up Jojo Moyes as something I would want to read, thinking her stories were too contemporary for me, but this one drew me in. The history behind it appealed to me: women venturing into unknown territory against the odds, riding through the mountains on horseback to remote homes to reach families who otherwise would not have had access to books. I could picture the battlers living in the mountainous area where the story is set, and see in my mind the strong characters and the friction building in many of their lives. I related to the women, their daily struggles; I could feel their strength and sided with them in their battles. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would recommend it to everyone. – Debra, Sales

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn and The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn is the true story of Ray Winn and her husband Moth who, after losing their home/farm and thus their income due to a dodgy friend’s bad investment scheme, set out to walk 630 miles around the south west coast of Britain with basically nothing. The week before they set out on this amazing trek, Moth is diagnosed with a terminal illness. It is utterly astonishing how they survived 'wild camping' with barely any money. The writing is beautiful and their resilience is awe inspiring. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates… Don’t just take my word for this one, Oprah is also on board and is rarely wrong in choosing an exceptional book. Coates is an award-winning US journalist – this is his first fiction and, I hope, the first of many. Set on a slave plantation in the Deep South, this is an exquisitely crafted story of oppression and resistance with magical realism weaving its way through the complex story arc. I loved it. – Louise, Sales

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
I was a huge fan of Morgenstern’s first novel, The Night Circus, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Starless Sea. The seven-year wait between books was well worth it, this new novel is layered, filled with stories within stories, packed with pop culture references and, of course, magic. University student, Zachary Rawlins, discovers a strange book hidden in the library that leads him on a quest, to a masquerade ball, through a magical door and to a subterranean labyrinth. This is the kind of book you want to tell all of your friends to read, so that you have someone to discuss it with. – Emily, Marketing

This Is Not a Drill by Extinction Rebellion
Be warned, this book is a call to action. Simply organised into two parts: ‘Tell The Truth’ and ‘Act Now’, This Is Not a Drill is a series of short and compelling essays from academics, farmers, lawyers, firefighters, indigenous people, MPs, economists and scientists from around the world, outlining the current state and impacts of the climate emergency and what the necessary next steps are for any concerned citizen. Vandana Shiva writes, ‘It is a moral imperative to rebel against a system that is driving extinction’. By the end of this short book I had gleefully signed up and joined in at my first event in Melbourne. – Eve, DK Sales

Ice Cold Heart by P. J. Tracy
Ice Cold Heart is the story of a murder of a young married woman, whose death suggests that she was leading a secret life. The two detectives, Magozzi and Gino, who are the principles in this story, are tasked with solving who killed her and why, by trying to piece together her movements prior to her untimely death. Their enquiries lead them to a somewhat dodgy club and an art gallery displaying disturbing and highly controversial works.

When they are informed that this latest murder is strikingly similar to another case some twelve months prior, the detective’s engage the help of Magozzi’s partner, Grace McBride, and her technically gifted colleagues at a software company called Monkeewrench to help them try and connect the two.

This is an engaging read and one that has enough twists and sub-plots to keep you turning pages, much to the detriment of your sleep. – David, IT

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