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The Australian book industry narrows down its list of the best of 2019. Here are my thoughts.

The Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) shortlist was announced this month, and there are some wonderful Aussie and international books in the running. I’ve added many of them to my tbr list.

The awards celebrate the collaboration between authors and publishers to create noteworthy books. Here are my thoughts on the shortlisted books that I have read:

Book of the Year for Younger Children (ages 7-12)

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow: Nevermoor 2,  Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia)

The 104-Storey Treehouse, Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Bad Guys Episode 7: Do-You-Think-He-Saurus?!, Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Australia)

I have to defer to my eight-year-old son for this category, or at least for the second two books on the list. My son devoured both of these series, and I have read some of them with him. They offer a fun and easy entry to reading that has inspired my son to continue to read more complex books. In particular, I’ll be forever grateful to Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton for their inventive, funny and accessible books that have encouraged many young people to read.

I have Wundersmith on my bookshelf, after reading the first in the series, Nevermoor, but I haven’t started it yet. The award-winning Nevermoor, by young author Jessica Townsend was imaginative and hugely enjoyable. I gave a copy to my 10-year-old niece and she loved it.

Children’s Picture Book of the Year (ages 0-6)

Cicada, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)

Macca the Alpaca, Matt Cosgrove (Scholastic Australia)

The two contenders for Children’s Book of the Year that I have read are very different styles of book. Cicada is beautiful and moving, with gorgeous pictures and a poignant storyline, while Macca the Alpaca is funny and light hearted. I pity the judges who have to choose between such different books.

General Fiction Book of the Year

The Nowhere Child, Christian White (Affirm Press). The premise of this book is irresistible: a woman discovers she is a child who went missing in America decades earlier. She returns to her former home to find out what happened and the truth is strange and compelling. The Nowhere Child was a real page-turner that was surprisingly believable, despite some seemingly outlandish events that were apparently inspired by reality, including a religious group that involved snakes in its worship.

The Rúin, Dervla McTiernan (HarperCollins Publishers). I’m not usually fond of police procedurals, but The Ruin is more than that. It touches on ethics and morality, and how history continues to impact the present.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris (Echo Publishing). I’m a bit torn about this one. I thought it was illuminating and touching in its representation of life in Auschwitz as a prisoner forced to tattoo other inmates. However, I struggled with the ending that seemed far removed from the rest of the story, and more recently I have heard criticism of the book in its portrayal of some aspects of the story.

International Book of the Year

Circe, Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury Publishing). I really loved reading Circe, a reimagining of Homer’s Odyssey, told from the viewpoint of the witch named Circe. It provided some insight into ancient mythology, while remaining an engaging read. It was one of my favourite reads of the year.

Less, Andrew Sean Greer (Hachette Australia). I loved this one, too, and it was another of my favourite books of the year. It was the funny, moving story of Arthur Less, who deals with the marriage of an ex and his 50th birthday by going on a worldwide book tour. However, despite leaving, he doesn’t escape life’s little humiliations and disappointments.

Literary Fiction Book of the Year

Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton (HarperCollins Publishers). This book has had praise heaped on it this year, and it would not be surprising at all if it won the title of Literary Fiction Book of the Year as well. While I enjoyed it and felt it was extremely well written, it didn’t move me in quite the way it seemed to move many others.

Bridge of Clay, Markus Zusak (Pan Macmillan Australia). I just finished reading Bridge of Clay and I’m still thinking about this book. At times, it was a struggle to get through as it was quite a tome and the language was beautiful, but required concentration. But it was unquestionably moving in its portrayal of family life for the Dunbar boys, and in particular, the drawn out death of their mother. I cried in parts, which for me is a sign of a believable story and characters.

Small Publishers’ Adult Book of the Year

The Geography of Friendship, Sally Piper (The University of Queensland Press). Even though I sometimes found it hard to sleep after reading The Geography of Friendship, given the creepy sceptre that haunts the women who have embarked on a bushwalk, I really enjoyed it. It was a story of past hurt, friendship and redemption, with the bonus of being set in Australia’s beautiful bushland.

Visit the ABIA website to find out which other books were shortlisted. The winners will be announced on 2 May.

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