Reading books for a living is a real tough gig (please note: sarcasm).
In my job as the culture editor at marie claire magazine, I get sent handfuls of books a day. My desk is covered in new release thrillers and heartwarming rom-coms; I’m physically drowning in Nordic noir and heart-wrenching memoirs. And you know what? I’m not in the least bit angry about it.
This year I’ve reviewed roughly 67 books for marie claire, and these are the six I couldn’t put down…
THIS WILL ONLY HURT A LITTLE by Busy Philipps (Hachette, $32.99)
Busy Philipps made a name for herself on Instagram stories for being honest, hilarious and BFFs with Michelle Williams. Her memoir is exactly the same as her Insta feed. Growing up as a bit of a dork in Scottsdale, Arizona, this book follows Busy though her awkward teenage years to Hollywood and her breakthrough role on Dawson’s Creek. Much to my surprise, the least interesting part of the book is her friendship with BFF Michelle Williams. Reflecting on her childhood and the trauma she’s faced, Busy’s story is so much more than that of an aspiring actress who finds fame on TV. She’s been through hell, and you can feel it on every page. If you follow her on Insta, you’ll love her even more after reading this book.
THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper (Pan MacMillan, $32.99)
Like the rest of the country, I was obsessed with Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry when it came out in 2016. I was also a fan of her second book Force of Nature last year. But this year’s The Lost Man is some of Jane’s best work yet. Set in the harsh Australian outback, the book follows a family of three brothers after one of them turns up dead at the eerie stockman’s grave on the border of the family’s property. Nothing about this novel is predictable. The characters are compelling, the plot is thrilling and the ending is so very satisfying. There’s something special about getting to the end of a book and figuring out the mystery. You’ll be left feeling content, a little shocked and desperate for more. Please Jane may we have another?
EGGSHELL SKULL by Bri Lee (Allen & Unwin, $29.99)
Brave is a word that gets thrown around too easily these days, but it’s the best word to describe Bri Lee. As a judge’s associate at the Queensland District Court, Bri Lee saw first hand the injustice faced by women and girls who’ve experienced sexual abuse. Two years later, she returned to the court as a complainant in her own case, telling her story after years of keeping it a secret. Eggshell Skull is a powerful memoir about standing up, speaking out and fighting back. Every single word is well-thought and important. The title Eggshell Skull refers to a well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must “take their victim as they find them.” Bri Lee explains, “If a single punch kills someone because of their thin skull, that victim’s weakness cannot mitigate the seriousness of the crime. But what if it also works the other way? What if a defendant on trial for sexual crimes has to accept his ‘victim’ as she comes: a strong, determined accuser who knows the legal system, who will not back down until justice is done?” Bri Lee isn’t afraid to ask the questions that need to be asked. She is bravery at its best.
SCRUBLANDS by Chris Hammer (Allen & Unwin, $32.99)
I haven’t felt this way about a book since I read Jane Harper’s aforementioned debut novel The Dry in 2016. Scrublands, written by journalist Chris Hammer, is a true hold-your-breath thriller. I physically could not put it down and read the whole thing in two days – it’s a 496-page book. The story centres on the anniversary of a mass shooting in a drought-stricken Riverina town. Troubled journalist Martin Scarsden travels to Riversend a year after the town’s young priest opened fire on his congregation, killing five locals and then himself. As Martin starts to ask questions about the shooting and the priest, he realises the town is overflowing with secrets. This book has more twists than the Murray River (see what I did there?). You simply must read it.
MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY by Lily Allen (Penguin, $34.99)
For over a decade, Lily Allen has been painted as a caricature in the British press: a drunk, wild, party girl. She redefines herself in this brutally honest memoir, writing, “So, this is me. Lily Allen. I am a woman. I am a mother. I was a wife. I drink. I have taken drugs. I have loved and been let down. I am a success and a failure. I am a songwriter. I am a singer. I am all these things and more.” Despite making headlines for admitting she hired female sex-workers when she married and touring the US, the real story in this book is one of vulnerability, heartache and strength. Lily writes openly about her unconventional childhood as the daughter of comedian Keith Allen and producer Alison Owen, her traumatic stillbirth, the breakdown of her marriage and her stalking ordeal. It’s a fascinating story; best read while listening to her breakthrough album Alright, Still.
BOY SWALLOWS UNIVERSE by Trent Dalton (HarperCollins, $32.99)
This isn’t just my favourite book of the year – it’s my favourite book of all time, by my favourite writer in the ~universe~. I’m not exaggerating when I say Trent Dalton’s debut novel is a masterpiece. Based on his own childhood in blue-collar Brisbane, the book tells the story of Eli, a young boy with “a lost father, a mute brother, and mum in jail, a heroin dealer as a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter.” It’s enthralling, addictive and so very emotional. (When I finished reading it, my boyfriend asked me if I was okay because I was sobbing so hard). If you’ve grown up in a dysfunctional family, fought your way out of your circumstances or tried your best to be a “good man,” this book will hit you in the guts. In the best possible way.