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12 Best Books = 1 Great Year of Reading

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by Susan Jackson (subscribe)
Gold Coast Explorer since Jan 2010. Always on the lookout for fun, family things to enjoy with my four kids.
Published August 10th 2020
Best Reads

Ever long for more time to read - to join a book club and actually manage to get there each month, to discover a new author or just escape to another world every now and then? The solution - set aside some moments of 'me time' and indulge your passion for a good read. The aim is to read one book a month, for a year.



Consider these 12 must-read books to get you started. Print the list and enjoy a year full of reading pleasure. Start with the current month and work your way through the '12 Best Books' featured below.

January The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A memorable quote from this book, "When life robs you, sometimes you have to rob it back", introduces us to the main character. Liesel, a young girl in Nazi Germany, takes her first book to retain a tenuous link with her dead brother but is unable to read it. Her story is narrated by Death, so it seems no coincidence that the title of that first book is "The Gravedigger's Handbook". Enter new foster parents, a childhood best friend and a Jewish man hidden in the basement. This is a book that you will think about over and over after you have finished it. The end is frustratingly open to your own interpretation.

February The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

A refreshingly funny read, as you follow the quest of a genetics professor to solve "The Wife Project". It's a quirky love story that made me laugh out loud. The main character, Don, comes to realise that "despite best scientific efforts, you don't find love, love finds you". In his search for a perfect partner, Don designs an in-depth, 16-page questionnaire to filter through applicants and casts out the women who do not match his criterion. He is getting married but is just not sure who the bride will be. What he does know is that she will not be "a smoker, a drinker, a barmaid or a late arriver". In the midst of this, Rosie, who fails the questionnaire on most counts, asks for his help with the "Father Project" which calls on Don's genetic expertise to solve the identity of Rosie's father. Their relationship, with Don's undiagnosed Asperger's, is a very human introduction to the syndrome and the challenges he experiences with social interaction. It's a great book and there's a sequel by Melbourne based writer, Graeme Simsion, - The Rosie Effect.

March The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

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This book is the first in a series that I have come to enjoy, like a good friendship, and the set sits happily together in my bookcase. Precious Ramotswe, "an African woman of traditional build" (I smile every time I read that phrase) was born in Botswana, loves Botswana and established Botswana's first ladies' detective agency. Her understanding of the ways of people and innate common sense leads her to solve a variety of cases. There is a gentle goodness about these books, so I am always delighted when another book extends the series.

Having lived in Southern Africa, I can picture the scenes described, hear the African ladies talking and feel the slower pace of Africa time as Botswana's number 1 lady detective and her assistant go about their daily lives. Each book made me smile and laugh while enjoying Ma Ramotswe's shrewd judgment of human nature and her perceptiveness in knowing how to fix some of the issues and predicaments presented to her by her clients.

If you haven't yet discovered this delightful set of books, get down to your local bookshop or library and pick up a copy of the first in the series. I do hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

April Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

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Mao's Last Dancer was a book I read around the time we crossed China overland, from Beijing to the Westernmost border. Seeing the rural scenes played out before us, gave me more understanding of the life Li describes from his childhood. Times were hard in his large family and his parents saw the opportunity for him to do something different with his life, when he was selected to train at the Beijing Dance Academy, leaving home at age 11. It is the kind of story that movies are made of, with an offer to dance with the Houston Ballet in America, a dramatic defection and an ending, which will make you weep. Li Cunxin is currently artistic director for the Queensland Ballet and was named Queensland's Australian of the year 2014. I hope one day to have the privilege to meet him. You can watch the movie but the book is a great read which will touch your heart.

May War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

I enjoy Michael Morpurgo, although I do find his novels tend to be tear-jerkers (can you honestly say you made it through Born to Run without shedding a tear?) and War Horse is no exception. It reminds me a lot of my childhood favourite Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. In War Horse, we follow Albert's hopeful journey from England to the Front Line of the WW1, after his horse is sold to the cavalry. It's now also a movie and an international hit stage play. Click here for a theatre review. The interlinking stories of the characters and their universal suffering of the war were the attraction for me in this novel. I also loved where the idea for the novel came from. Click here and read the section under "Genesis".

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Image courtesy of michaelmorpurgo.com


June A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is an Afghan-American author who also wrote The Kite Runner. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a moving story set in Afghanistan. It's both the tale of two women and the tale of two cities Herat and Kabul. It's a harsh and brutal existence they face in the life behind the burka. Their friendship, which grows as they endure a prison-like existence, with its backdrop of violence, is the enduring strength of the novel. It's thought-provoking and filled with loss and grief and yet the strength of spirit is uplifting. It will stay with you, as all good books do, and is well worth reading.

July A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

Hearing Saroo Brierley talk about his story, in a radio interview as I was driving one day, led me to seek out a copy of this remarkable book. There is something very compelling for both the author and the reader, about wanting to know what happened to the 5-year-old boy, lost on a train in India.

This lost boy ends up in an orphanage and is adopted by an Australian couple. Although happy, he retains a strong need to know where he was from and how his family are. As a man and with the advent of Google Earth, Saroo spends many hours pouring over the images on his computer. One day he finds a landmark he recognises and he returns to India to search for his mother. This true story has a "can't put down" quality, as you quickly become drawn into his moving story. Lion is the movie portrayal.


August The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a book from my childhood that I also read aloud to my children. It is another land, a magical place and although people may label it as a children's book, it can be read on an adult level too. Four siblings are evacuated during the war to a large house in the country. The wardrobe in the spare room is the portal to Narnia, an enchanted land with talking animals and other mythical creatures. There is a White Witch to defeat and a destiny to fulfil. The children are divided but the family bond holds them together in times of crisis. It is most likely the first book you will read in the Narnia series but later books fill in some history to the first, such as where the lamppost in the wood (where Lucy first arrives in Narnia) originated. There are 7 books in the Narnia series.

September - The Garbage King by Elizabeth Laird

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I discovered this book at the Storyfest Beach Library at Surfers Paradise. It's a wonderful initiative which creates an annual pop up library on the beachfront, where books are free. You can sit and read or simply take a book home with you. I picked up The Garbage King, started reading, then next thing I knew I was already on Chapter 3 and hooked, keen to know what would happen to one of the main characters. Inspired by the true story of a desperate African childhood, it's set in Ethiopia and follows two young boys living on the edge of destitution. It is a story you will be left thinking about for some time afterwards. The author lived and taught in Ethiopia for several years. The stories she learned from street children in Addis led directly to the writing of The Garbage King.


October - Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I changed things up a little for this month by downloading the Gold Coast Libraries App and through that, BorrowBox (using my library membership number) and downloaded this book as an eAudiobook onto my phone. This has let me "read" a book or rather enjoy the luxury of having a book read to me, during my morning chores routine. I enjoyed the frank honesty of this story and the language use has made me smile, reflect and think deeply, at different parts. It is also a movie with Julia Roberts but reading or listening is the best way to experience the descriptive language. It's a memoir which chronicled author Elizabeth's travels after a difficult divorce, as she explored Italy, India & Indonesia on an enjoyably articulate voyage of self-discovery.

November - A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

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Image courtesy of Penguin.com.au

A Town Like Alice is narrated by an ageing British Solicitor, who shares the tale of one of his clients. This historical novel, published in 1950, was based on a WWII story Nevil Shute had heard, in which a group of women and children, prisoners of war, were marched around from place to place because the Japanese had no prison camp to put them in. It falls into distinct parts, joined by the main character Jean Paget and "contains courage and determination when the odds are against you... and taking action to change others' lives and the world around you for the better". Our heroine meets an Australian POW in Malaya and travels to his home town in the outback after the war. No spoilers here. Just read it. It's old fashioned and a record of another time and another place, transporting you around the world in an engaging story.

December - Becoming by Michelle Obama

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There was serious contention for this final spot of the year. Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander and The Yield by Tara June Winch were close seconds and are highly recommended reads. However, the last review goes to Michelle Obama for her memoir Becoming. This honest and deeply personal account of her life, from a childhood on the South Side of Chicago through to the end of her days as First Lady in the Whitehouse, is a tribute to her spirit. With the odds against her, she grew up striving to excel in everything she committed to. Her passion and determination to make a difference, lead her to become a powerful advocate for women and girls, which makes this book all the more inspiring. A thoroughly engaging, warm, informative and witty read, this book is a great climax to your year of reading.


This article started out as a year of reading. Now, with coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing, it's the perfect time for reading indulgence. So if you are looking for ways to get outside when you are stuck inside, this is the perfect escape.

"Losing yourself in a great novel is one of life's most enduring and dependable joys. Job satisfaction comes and goes, partners enrapture and abscond, but you can always fall back on the timeless ability of literature to transport you to a different world".

"The 40 best books to read during lockdown by Ceri Radford and Chris Harvey. The Independent."

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Why? Why would you need a reason to read?
When: Anytime
Where: Anywhere
Cost: Free loan from your library
Your Comment
Susan, you have inspired me to start reading again. I have read some of the books on your list, and have seen the movie versions of others. But nothing beats forming your own vision of the world depicted by the words of the author. I have replaced reading with writing for way too long. Now is the time to change that. I usually opt for the Kindle version if it is available, but your list is going to be my springboard back into the world of books and reading. Thank you....
by Maureen Durney (score: 2|200) 49 days ago
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