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Top 10 Australian books.

Australian Books JellicoeLast year the First Tuesday Book club conducted a survey to discover Australia’s favourite all-time books. These were the top ten Aussie books to read before you die:

1. Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
2. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
3. A Fortunate Life – A.B. Facey
4. The Harp in the South – Ruth Park
5. The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay
6. Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey
7. The Magic Pudding – Norman Lindsay
8. The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
9. The Secret River – Kate Grenville
10. Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

These books were vigorously debated by the panel on the show and like many readers I question a couple of the inclusions, but I am more astounded at some of the omissions: books by Peter Carey, Geraldine Brooks and Nobel Prize winning Patrick White.

Since the announcement of these top ten Australian books I have been pondering my own favourites and have come up with my Top 10 Australian books. My choices are based on the memories these books evoke (something I wrote about here) and the pure joy they have elicited. So, after much deliberation and angst, here are my Top 10 Australian books:

1. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute.
I have long been intrigued by all history regarding the Second World War. Perhaps this is because growing up I heard many stories from family members relating to that era. For me, the World War Two era is history within touching distance – only one or two generations removed from my reality. I remember reading A Town Like Alice as a teenager and I simply adored it. I loved the history, the scenery, the romance and most of all the characters. Joe Harman is the quintessential Aussie digger and Jean Paget remains one of my all-time heroes, featuring in my list of Top 10 heroes from literature, where I wrote “As a teenage girl I was mesmerised by Jean in A Town Like Alice. She spent three years as a POW being marched around Malaysia, surviving the brutalities of war. Later when she finds out Joe Harman is still alive, she travels half way around the world to a very foreign country to find him. She endures the harshness of outback Australia with dignity and humour, and shows entrepreneurial skill in an era when women garnered little co-operation or respect in doing so. She is one tough lady”.

2. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
This features in my Top 10 favourite books of all time, where I wrote: “Whilst she is better known for her other works such as Looking for Alibrandi, for me Jellicoe Road is Marchetta’s best work. The plot is original and the narrative structure is perfect. When I first read this book I was so moved and excited by it that I wanted to share it. I gave it to an English teacher at my school, who returned it unread. I promptly gave it back to her, insisting “you must read this book”.
She returned the book to me with tears in her eyes saying “thank you for making me read this book”. Years later she met Melina Marchetta and told her the story. Marchetta signed a copy of the book for me with the inscription “I’m glad you thought it was worth the journey”. It was and I treasure that signed copy”.

3. The Women in Black by Madeleine St John.
Published in 1993, I only discovered this book a couple of years ago. I love it for the magic and romance it evokes. Set in a Sydney department store in the 1950’s The Women in Black provides a snapshot of a more innocent city, with brilliant observations of the human spirit, underscored by St John’s superb wit.

4. Grand Days (The Edith Trilogy) by Frank Moorhouse.
I read this book within the last year (you can read why here). Set in the 1920’s amid the establishment of the League of Nations in Geneva, the story centres around an ambitious young Australian woman named Edith Campbell Berry. She is quite simply one of the most entertaining and engaging characters I’ve ever read.

5. For Love Alone by Christina Stead.
This was one of my English texts during my final year of school. As a teenager, I found the protagonist quite intriguing: Teresa Hawkins, a strong-willed young woman willing to defy societal norms to follow her heart to London. Though her passion may have been misguided, the book for me was about the ability of a woman to reject expectations in order to discover her own fulfilment. Way ahead of its time (first published in 1945), I probably didn’t fully appreciate the strength of Teresa as a young girl, but this book always brings back memories of my before school English classes with my brilliant English teacher Mrs Wade.

Australian Books Alice

6. A Fortunate Life by A. B Facey.
I read this book as a teenager and I believe it captured my imagination due to my own grandfather’s story. Whilst I have written about my grandfather’s rich reading history here, I failed to mention his days as a young man in the Depression traipsing around the countryside looking for work. Much of A Fortunate Life made me think of my own Pop and as a teenager living a comfortable life, reading about the hardships of others is a humbling experience (which is why I believe so many teens have embraced Ahn Do’s The Happiest Refugee). At one stage the sum total of my grandfather’s possessions was his bicycle and swag, and he had to rely on the generosity of strangers or the luck of his rabbit trap for a meal. Yet like Mr Facey, my grandfather believed he lived a fortunate life.

7. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville.
This is another inclusion in my Top 10 favourite books of all time. Set in a small Australian town Harley and Douglas have some serious self-worth issues and both are full of their own inadequacies. I think I love this book because there is something really affirming about thoroughly decent yet less-than-perfect characters.

8. For the Term of his Natural Life by Marcus Clarke.
Published in the 1870’s this is a remarkable story of convict life in early Australia. Following the life of wrongly convicted Rufus Dawes, the book provides a rich history of convict life in the early years of settlement which, as a teenager when I first read this book, I found utterly intriguing.

9. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.
This was another hotly contested book by the panel of the First Tuesday Book Club, specifically as it has been referred to as Australia’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I believe this reference does not do justice to the richness of Silvey’s work. Yes the novel explores racism and bigotry, but there is so much more to Jasper Jones than the division of a town. One of the joys of Silvey’s work for me is the beautifully crafted friendship between Charlie and Jeffrey, and the wonderful humour injected by Silvey into this partnership. And I love protagonists who are well-read like Charlie.

10. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin.
Published in 1901 and set during the same era, this book about the headstrong and entertaining heroine Sybylla Melvyn and her rural upbringing thoroughly captivated me as a young teenager. I was also intrigued that Miles Franklin was herself a teenager when she wrote this semi-autobiographical novel and that it was published with the help of Henry Lawson.

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Top 10 reads for summer

This list is my personal one. As much as I enjoy young adult fiction, the summer break means I don’t have to read as much of it and can enjoy a few indulgences. These are the books I am going to read, re-read or that I read last summer and now recommend to you:

1. Shall we Dance? by Maggie Alderson.

I read this last summer and it was divine. Maggie Alderson weaves the romantic world of vintage fashion into the modern world of motherhood and relationships. I loved this book so much it deliberately takes first place at the top of the list.

 

2. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

This is wrapped and waiting under the tree for me. It’s P.D James appropriating the characters of Pride and Prejudice to create a classic murder mystery, set in 1803.

 

3. The Shadow Girl by John Larkin

I had to put one young adult fiction on the list. Read my review of this wonderful book here.

 

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s time to re-read this in preparation for Baz Luhrmann’s movie in 2012. I last read Gatsby in 1986, so it’s definitely time for a re-visit.

 

5. All that I Am by Anna Funder

This is another one on my summer wish list. I have read numerous glowing reviews of Anna Funder’s first novel, which has been compared to Suite Franҫaise and The Reader.

 

6. Lola’s Secret by Monica McInerney.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without Monica McInerney. For twenty years she has moved between Australia and Ireland, working as a writer and producing best-selling novels. I secretly covet her life.

 

7. How Now, Brown Frau by Merridy Eastman

This is the third memoir by Merridy Eastman, following There’s a Bear in There and Ridiculous Expectations. This one caught my interest as it recounts Merridy’s move to Bavaria to begin a new life with her German fiancé. Having lived in Bavaria for a short time as a teenager, I knew I would connect with Merridy’s experiences. What I didn’t expect was to enjoy her humour and wit so much.

 

8. Worse Things Happen at Sea by William McInnes and Sarah Watt.

Part biography, part love story, this is a poignant collection of reminiscences. Sarah Watt, the celebrated filmmaker, died from breast cancer earlier this year. For this reason alone, the book is somewhat confronting, but it is also a powerful salute to the vitality of the human spirit and the beauty of love.

 

9. Emma by Jane Austen

I re-read an Austen every year, and this year it’s Emma’s turn.

 

10. Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.

What can I say? Stephanie Plum, Lulu and Grandma Mazur just make me laugh.

 

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How many of these books have your kids read?

Dymocks recently published its list of the Top 51 books for kids. You can see the original list here with recommended reading ages.

I’ve added a few annotations to the list – how many books on the Top 51 list have you and your children read?

 1. The Harry Potter series. J. K. Rowling.

First place is really no surprise and reflects the popularity, quality and longevity of the Harry Potter series. (The first book was released fourteen years ago). Perhaps these are the reasons why the Harry Potter books also rate a mention on nearly every one of my Top 10 lists .

2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle.

A classic picture book first published over forty years ago. It should be on the bookshelf in every child’s room.

3. The Very Bad Book. Andy Griffiths

This is classic Andy Griffiths, and definitely a book that to which some parents and teachers will need to apply Reading Rule no.6  – loosen your filter.

4. Where is the Green Sheep? Mem Fox & Judy Horacek

This is a great book to teach younger children that despite external differences we are all the same.

5. The Vampire Academy novels. Richelle Mead.

These books are extremely popular with teenage girls which is clearly reflected by their place in this list. They also hold third place in my Top 10 books for teenage girls .

6. The Hunger Games trilogy. Suzanne Collins.

This is a fabulous series, equally popular with girls and boys. The much anticipated movie release due in 2012 will only serve to heighten both the awareness and popularity of the book.

7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Jeff Kinney.

Hilarious for all ages and great for sharing at bedtime.

8. Anne of Green Gables. Book 1. L. M. Montgomery.

A classic novel with a delightfully clever and precocious protagonist.

9. Possum Magic. Mem Fox.

One of the more famous Australian picture books. This is the book I send friends overseas when they have a baby.

10. The Tomorrow series. John Marsden

This series makes my Top 10 books for teenage boys and my Top 10 books in the library lists. It is one of the most popular literary series for YA ever written in Australia.

11. Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak.

A powerful picture about the magnificence of childhood imagination.

12. The Twilight Saga. Stephenie Meyer.

Put aside your literary snobbery (Reading rule no. 5) and celebrate a series that has sold over 100 million copies and got kids around the world reading.

13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl.

Pure Dahl genius combining every child’s fantasy with a message about honour and integrity.

14. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Mem Fox.

Published only a few years ago, this has quickly become a new Mem Fox classic.

15. The Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the first and best known of this seven book series. Fantasy at its best.

16. The Magic Faraway Tree. Enid Blyton.

Children of all ages just adore Moonface, Silky and the Saucepan Man.

17. Goodnight Mr Tom. Michelle Magorian.

A beautiful book set in wartime England.

18. Green Eggs and Ham. Dr Seuss.

Loved by all ages, this is the first of a few mentions of books by the celebrated Seuss.

19. The Percy Jackson series. Rick Riordan

This refers to the first series of five books, loved by boys and girls alike. The second series, Heroes of Olympus is proving equally as popular.

20. The Ruins of Gorlan. Book 1 of the Ranger’s Apprentice series. John Flanagan.

This fantasy series has eleven books in it, with another due out in November 2011. Very popular with teenage boys.

21. The Cherub series. Robert Muchamore.

The most recent book in this series is currently the third most borrowed book in the library. I have trouble keeping this series on the shelves.

22. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy. Lynley Dodd.

The very popular picture books about a lovable dog and his friends.

23. The Gruffalo. Julia Donaldson

Another picture book about the power of childhood imagination. Fantastic rhyming.

24. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll.

Always popular, even before Johnny Depp became the Mad Hatter.

25. Artemis Fowl. Book 1. Eoin Colfer.

Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old criminal mastermind. These books have great plots and terrific humour.

26. The Mortal Instruments series. Cassandra Clare.

This series is extremely popular with the boys in the library.

27. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Michael Rosen.

A fantastic picture book for reading aloud (Reading rule no.3). This was a favourite in our house when our children were little.

28. Winnie-the-Pooh. A. A. Milne

A favourite of children and adults everywhere.

29. Wombat Stew. Marcia K. Vaughan.

Like Possum Magic, this is another classic Australian picture book, a modern folktale.

30. Obernetwyn. Book 1. Obernetwyn Chronicles. Isabelle Carmody.

Classic fantasy, and in my experience more popular with girls than boys.

31. The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. May Gibbs

This book has never been out of print and contains the most beautiful illustrations in Australian literary history.

32. Stormbreaker. Book 1. Alex Rider series. Anthony Horowitz.

I love the Alex Rider books. Alex is intelligent, decent and funny.

33. Dear Zoo. Rod Campbell.

A picture book for early readers, great for reading aloud.

34. Diary of a Wombat. Jackie French.

I laughed out loud the first time I read this book. A picture book for all ages about a wombat with serious attitude.

35. Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Dr Seuss.

More classic Seuss. No explanation necessary.

36. Grug. Ted Prior.

Over thirty years old, this story set in the Australian bush is still a favourite.

37. Guess How Much I Love You. Sam McBratney

A beautiful book which has become a worldwide phenomenon selling over 18 million copies. I even have a copy in German.

38. Hush, Hush. Becca Fitzpatrick

This book is for teenage girls who enjoyed the Twilight series. It meets the needs of the current interest in the paranormal.

39. Treasure of the Emerald Eye. Book 1. Geronimo Stilton. Geronimo Stilton.

An adventure story for primary aged children.

40. Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Maggie Stiefvater

Fantasy romance series about (in the words of the author) “werewolves and kissing”.

41. The Cat in the Hat. Dr Seuss

My all time favourite Dr Seuss. I learned it off byheart as a child and can still recite most of it. I must have driven my parents mad. 

42. The Hobbit. J. R. R. Tolkien.

Lord of the Rings is more popular in the library, but The Hobbit is an all-time classic.

43. The Witches. Roald Dahl.

Dahl’s witches are the original and the best.

44. Zac’s Moontrip. Book 1. Zac Power Test Drive. H. I. Larry

Primary school boys love Zac Power.

45. Maze of Bones. Book 1. The 39 Clues. Rick Riordan.

Whilst this series hasn’t taken off in the library, it has been incredibly popular elsewhere. Riordan knows how to write great mystery and adventure.

46. Each Peach, Pear Plum. Janet and Allan Ahlberg

A more stylish Where’s Wally, where children read the poem for clues to help them find a character hiding in the illustration.

47. The B.F.G. Roald Dahl

The third Roald Dahl on the list. He is the original and one of the best.

48. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit is so cheeky, and Mr McGregor is the classic cranky farmer. Accompanying the entertaining story are the beautiful and very famous illustrations.

49. Magic Beach. Alison Lester

Alison Lester is a prolific writer of picture books and a  favourite of teachers who love her work. This book explores the perfect beach.

50.Little Women. Louisa May Alcott

This book has stood the test of time due mainly to the character of Josephine March who makes my list of Top 10 heroines for girls.

51. Five on Treasure Island. Book 1. Famous Five. Enid Blyton.

I am so glad that the Famous Five made this list! Every child should read adventures involving smugglers and spies, washed down by lashings of ginger beer.

It’s a well-rounded list including a mixture of the old and the new; books for early readers, primary school children and young adults. Adults too actually, as I’ve read most of them. The ones I haven’t are now on my list.

How many have you read?

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My top 10 heroes in literature

It is nigh on impossible to pick just ten heroes from the plethora of books I have read over the years. To narrow it down, I decided  to concentrate on the characters who stayed with me long after I read the final chapter; characters whom I used as a yardstick to measure the charm and integrity of others; and characters that I simply enjoyed for their unique and enduring appeal. After much deliberation, I came up with this list:
 

1. Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)

Scarlett is rebellious and manipulative but at the same time she is so full of passion, courage and determination that it is impossible not to admire her spirit. She is unafraid to buck convention: when she is young for her own gain; as she matures out of sheer loyalty to those she loves and protects. She is one of the vainest, fiercest and possibly least insightful characters I have ever read, and I simply adore her.

2. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

So great is his love for Elizabeth Bennett, he moves heaven and earth to save the reputation of her sister Lydia, one of Austen’s least likeable characters. Moreover, he is man enough to admit his failings and mistakes, and concede his pride. He is literature’s perfect gentleman.

3. Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)

She is a strong, intelligent woman and like so many literary protagonists, well before her time. She utters one of the most powerfully moving short sentences in literary history: “Reader, I married him”.
 

© Catherine Powers 2011

4. Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter series, J.K.Rowling)

Much like the ugly duckling, Neville blossoms into an extraordinary young man and leader in the Deathly Hallows. Throughout the previous Harry Potter books Neville is constantly bullied and harassed, yet he never loses his pleasant demeanour, nor does he waver from his hatred of Voldemort or his loyalty towards his family.

5. Fanny Price (Mansfield Park, Jane Austen)

Fanny is regarded as Austen’s least likeable heroine, but she is one of my favourites.  Fanny has to endure hardship and discrimination but never ever yields from her admirable scruples and innate goodness. Her childhood is hideous, she is treated poorly at Mansfield Park, particularly by the revolting Mrs Norris, yet she is never tempted to change who she is. Like all of Austen’s women she extremely self-assured, yet unlike Emma, she is not arrogant in her self-acceptance.

6. Jean Pagett (A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute)

As a teenage girl I was mesmerised by Jean in A Town Like Alice. She spent three years as a POW being marched around Malaysia, surviving the brutalities of war. Later when she finds out Joe Harman is still alive, she travels half way around the world to a very foreign country to find him. She endures the harshness of outback Australia with dignity and humour, and shows entrepreneurial skill in an era when women garnered little co-operation or respect in doing so. She is one tough lady.

7. Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)

Much as I don’t want to list two characters from the same book (even if it is a Pulitzer Prize winner), it would be dishonest of me not to include Rhett as one of my favourite heroes. Despite his best attempts to appear otherwise, Rhett is a decent, caring and sympathetic man. Extremely intelligent, impeccably dressed, warm and sensual he may be literature’s first metrosexual.

8. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)

The most honourable man and father in literature, progressive, tolerant and well before his time, Atticus is a true literary hero.

9. Felix (Once, Morris Gleitzman , and the sequels Then and Now)

Felix is possibly the most candid, clever, funny and likeable boy I’ve read in recent years. In a novel that tackles one of the most tragic times in modern history, the Holocaust, Gleitzman manages to create a character who is utterly charming. Felix is a beautiful hero as his spirit never changes despite the trauma he endures.

10. Grandma Mazur (Stephanie Plum books, Janet Evanovich)

Indulge me. The Stephanie Plum books could hardly be called literature, but Grandma Mazur has to be on this list because she makes me laugh out loud and I want to be just like her when I grow up.

With special mentions to: Madame (Emma) Bovary, Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Woodhouse, Anna Karenina, Holly Golightly and the Cat in the Hat.

Who is your favourite literary character?

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Top 10 books in the library

These are the Top 10 books in the library at the moment.

The library is in a boys’ secondary school and the Top 10 clearly reflects the teenage male demographic.

1. I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore.

This takes out the number one spot thanks largely to the release of the 2nd book in the series (see no. 4). Through word of mouth, the popularity of this series is spreading and the boys are scrambling to read the first book so they can move on in the series.

2. The Dead of the Night by John Marsden.

This is the second book in the Tomorrow series. Despite being first published in 1993, this book is consistently popular with teenagers.

3. People’s Republic by Robert Muchamore.

The first book in a new series of the Cherub franchise, this time introducing a new protagonist: the young Ryan Sharma.

4. The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore.

This is the second book in the Lorien Legacies series. This series is genius, and a winner with the boys. See my review here.

5. Department 19 by Will Hill.

Best book of the year. See my review here.

6. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden.

Marsden really tapped into something in the teenage psyche with this series. The movie adaptation has renewed interest in this wonderful book.

7. Burning for Revenge by John Marsden.

Number 5 in the Tomorrow series.

8. Dark Fire by Chris d’Lacey.

The only fantasy book to make the Top 10, this is the fifth book in the Last Dragon Chronicles. 

9. Just tricking by Andy Griffiths.  

Thank you Year 7 for including some timeless Andy Griffiths’ fun in this list.

10. The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

A brilliant dystopian novel – the first in a trilogy. The second book The Scorch Trials is also extremely popular and the last book is eagerly anticipated by the boys.

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Top 10 books for teenage girls

In terms of books which will get girls reading, this is my current Top 10. There are a lot of vampire books here, as they really are popular at the moment. I have tried to balance these with all-time classics and other favourites.
 
  1. Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling – because girls love this series as much as boys. Thank you J.K. Rowling for creating Hermione Granger – the strong, intelligent female protagonist without whom Harry would not have survived.
  2. Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.
  3. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead.
  4. Any book by Jodi Picoult
  5. Before I fall by Lauren Oliver. Every teenage girl should read this book.
  6. Sisterhood of the travelling pants series by Ann Brashares
  7. Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
  8. Any book by Jane Austen
  9. Fallen series by Lauren Kate
  10. Any book by Meg Cabot

With special mentions to The Vampire Diaries by L.J.Smith, Peeps by Scott Westerfield, The Mortal Instruments series by  Cassandra Clare, The Notebook  by Nicholas Sparks and authors Margaret Clark and Sarah Dessen.

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My top 10 favourite books of all time

Compiling this list is totally impossible of course, as favourites change and I keep reading excellent books which should be added to it.

Also, because our reaction to a book depends on the life experience we bring to it, a book I loved years ago might not stand the test of time. Similarly, great books I have read but wasn’t ready for might not make the list simply because I experienced them at the wrong stage of my life.

Applying those limitations I have come up with the following ten books. This is not a literary list. It is not my “best books of all time”. It is my favourite books – the ones I have loved, the ones I laughed at or wept over and the ones I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I’d read the last chapter.

It’s an eclectic list, but compiling it has made me want to read these books all over again. They are that good.

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

It may seem like a cliché to put this first but it would be dishonest not to, because I love Jane Austen and this novel in particular. I have read Pride and Prejudice countless times. Jane Austen’s writing is perfection. Her wit is spectacular and her characterisation is superb. Mr Darcy is and always will be the perfect gentleman.

 

 

  1. On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta

Whilst she is better known for her other works such as Looking for Alibrandi, for me Jellicoe Road is Marchetta’s best work. The plot is original and the narrative structure is perfect. When I first read this book I was so moved and excited by it that I wanted to share it. I gave it to an English teacher at my school, who returned it unread. I promptly gave it back to her, insisting “you must read this book”.

She returned the book to me with tears in her eyes saying “thank you for making me read this book”. Years later she met Melina Marchetta and told her the story. Marchetta signed a copy of the book for me with the inscription “I’m glad you thought it was worth the journey”. It was and I treasure that signed copy.

  1. Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

It would be unfair to single out one book from this series. They have all made me laugh and cry. The final scene between Harry and Voldemort in the Deathly Hallows is one of the most suspense-filled literary scenes I have read. When I joined the queue to buy my copy of Deathly Hallows in 2007 (I was 73rd in the line) there was an elderly lady in front of me, and a young man about twenty years of age behind me. He had been out partying the night before and had joined the queue to buy his copy before heading home. Surrounding us were boys and girls, and men and women of all ages. As I surveyed the crowd, I realised that I don’t know of any other book or book series in history that has had such a huge impact. J.K Rowling is a genius.

  1. Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Browsing the shelves of my school library in Year 6, I came across this book and borrowed it. I had no idea what it was about and had never really heard of the Civil War. But when I read those opening lines “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when captivated by her charm as the Tarleton twins were”, it was me who was captivated. I devoured the book. I learned about the Civil War and the Deep South. I read and re-read, watched the movie, then read the book again.

Despite portraying a very romanticised version of slavery, this books makes my top ten because of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. They should be utterly unlikeable: Scarlett is conceited and ignorant, Rhett is superior and selfish. Yet they are two of the most entertaining literary heroes ever.

  1. Extremely loud and incredibly close – Jonathan Safran Foer

This is a book that polarizes people. Some critics hated it, but I think it is brilliant. The protagonist is a nine year old boy, Oskar Schell whose father died in 9/11. The book follows Oskar’s journey to discover information about his father, whilst also exploring the story of his grandparents. I fell in love with Oskar who is the most amazing child narrator I’ve ever encountered.

  1. Small island – Andrea Levy

A prize-winning book set in England after World War II, which follows the lives of Jamaican immigrants in Britain. The Jamaican men have fought for the ‘mother country’ during the war, but face overt discrimination and bigotry when they attempt to begin a new life in the mother country. This book is beautifully written and I love it because the characters are so vivid, and the themes are both timeless and universal.

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A small community of delightful, quirky characters come together under the German occupation of Guernsey in World War II.  Written in epistolary style, this is a heart-warming tale about human nature. Both poignant and entertaining, its author was also a librarian – so I was always going to love this book.

  1. Back when we were grown ups – Anne Tyler

I love everything Anne Tyler has written. This book is a favourite because it examines a common theme in a unique manner:  the self-discovery of a woman who “discovered she had turned into the wrong person”. Set in Baltimore like most of her work, Tyler’s appeal is in her ability to write about the everyday in a distinctive way.

  1. The Betrayal of Bindy MacKenzie – Jaclyn Moriarty

I love Bindy MacKenzie. She is so perfect somebody wants to kill her. Part thriller, part comedy and part examination of adolescent girl psyche, this young adult book is unforgettable. Bindy MacKenzie has the most distinctive voice of any female protagonist in recent history.

  1. The idea of perfection – Kate Grenville

How can you not love a book about the idea of perfection? Harley and Douglas have some serious self-worth issues and both are full of their own inadequacies. Set in a small Australian town, accompanying these less-than-perfect characters on their journey of discovery is my idea of perfection.

With special mentions to Little Women – Louisa May Alcott, Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson, Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier, and all of Jane Austen’s works.

 

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