Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Features & Discussion (page 2 of 52)

Best Books of 2022

Can you believe we made it through another year? Thankfully, 2022 went down a little smoother than the years prior. As always, I’m amazed – looking back – at how many brilliant books I had the opportunity to read this year. Check out the best books of 2022 (back-list AND new release).

Best Books of 2022 - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
You’ll be the best READER of 2022 if you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase – I’ll earn a small commission.

Legitimate Sexpectations by Katrina Marson

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I considered myself fairly open-minded and well-informed about sex education prior to reading Legitimate Sexpectations – even though I received little more than the standard “how to use a pad” and “how the sperm penetrates the egg” at school, as far as I can recall. And yet, Marson opened my eyes, again and again, as to how the system as it stands is failing kids (and adults). Most importantly, she doesn’t just identify the problems; Marson outlines potential solutions. I want to thrust Legitimate Sexpectations into the hands of every politician, parent, and school principal. It’s one of the best nonfiction books of 2022, one that has the power to affect real change. Read my full review of Legitimate Sexpectations here.

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

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Is it too soon for a COVID-19 murder mystery? Catherine Ryan Howard surely hopes not. 56 Days is her latest high-concept crime thriller, set in Dublin in the early days of the city’s first lock-down. It’s a well written, well paced, with tantalising clues and a couple of truly excellent fake-out twists. The couple at the heart of the story barely know each other when they’re forced into the pressure cooker pandemic situation, so the reader gets two (or more?) very different perspectives on the same events. I thoroughly enjoyed 56 Days – so my verdict is that it’s not too soon for a COVID-19 novel, as long as it’s a good one. Read my full review of 56 Days here.

Here Be Leviathans by Chris Flynn

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I loved, loved, loved Chris Flynn’s last book, Mammoth – it was one of the best books I read in 2020. So, when I saw he had a new book coming out, I sat up straight and said “yes, please!” in my polite voice. Here Be Leviathans is a collection of nine short stories, narrated by animals, places, objects, and even the (very) odd human. A grizzly bear on the run, a plane seat in a terrifying crash, a genetically modified platypus with the power of speech – each and every one, bizarre and brilliant. Flynn really pushes the boundaries of what we can expect from perspective and it takes a special, rare writing talent to pull it off. Read my full review of Here Be Leviathans here.

Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe

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If you loved Say Nothing and Empire Of Pain (like I did), you’ll be overjoyed (as I was) to get your hands on a copy of Rogues, a collection of Patrick Radden Keefe’s most celebrated articles from The New Yorker and one of the best books of 2022. These delightfully detailed investigative pieces focus on his favourite subjects: “crime and corruption, secrets and lies, the permeable membrane separating licit and illicit worlds, the bonds of family, the power of denial”. Honestly, I could talk about each and every one of these stories for hours. They’re all masterfully crafted, perfectly balanced, and totally gripping. Read my full review of Rogues here.

The Importance Of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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The farcical premise and witty dialogue have made The Importance Of Being Earnest Wilde’s most enduringly popular play. I can attest to the fact that it’s a lot more fun than The Picture Of Dorian Gray, to boot. Wilde’s wit and insight shines at full strength throughout, and he gently pokes at the social mores and conventions of the time while still maintaining a timeless quality. It’s still beloved by critics, readers, and theatre-goers alike, and I’m happy to join them in singing its praises. It’s a quick read, remarkably clever, and delightfully ridiculous. Read my full review of The Importance Of Being Earnest here.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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Very few blurbs have grabbed me like that of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being. It’s a brilliant premise: a writer finds a diary, locked inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washed up on the beach in remote coastal Canada. She suspects it to be debris from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. She reads the diary, and finds herself increasingly obsessed with the life and inner world of 16-year-old Nao, the diary’s keeper. I mean… isn’t that fascinating?! I was very pleased to discover that the contents of Ozeki’s novel – one of the best books I read in 2022 – totally lived up to the high, high expectations that blurb set. Read my full review of A Tale For The Time Being here.

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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I inhaled Weather Girl in one sitting. The plot is just the right level of ridiculous for a rom-com, the characters are well-developed and well-intentioned, and it has plenty of snort-laughs to offer. Best of all, though, were the steamy and – this is key – realistic sex scenes! Honestly, I wanted to high-five Solomon through the page. For once, rom-com characters experience the actual awkwardness and anxiety of intimacy with someone new, without it ruining the vibe. I gave this one five stars for that alone, one of the best books of 2022 for sure. Read my full review of Weather Girl here.

Sadvertising by Ennis Ćehić

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Every so often, a short story collection comes along that changes the game completely. In 2017, it was Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body And Other Parties. I’m pretty confident that Ennis Ćehić’s Sadvertising is next. It’s a collection of short, sharp stories about modern life, technology, and marketing, and one of the best books of 2022. The stories are drenched in black humour, existential dread, and late-capitalist yearning. Some of them are seriously short – as in, 1-2 pages – so they’re quick to read, but deeply resonant. It struck me as I read through the collection that it would be an especially great read for fans of Black Mirror and the Gruen Transfer. Read my full review of Sadvertising here.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace is a fascinating and compelling work of historical fiction, one that tells us just as much about Canadian society and gender roles and the field of psychiatry at the time as it does the crimes of Grace Marks. I also loved the sneaky Gothic elements, which felt very true to form for a story of this nature. This book both satisfied my Murderino curiosity and met high literary standards – no mean feat, as it would have been easy to make this story schlocky and scandalous. Atwood has expressed some troubling views of late, but damn if this wasn’t one of the best books I read in 2022. Read my full review of Alias Grace here.

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

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Karen Joy Fowler wrote one of my favourite and most-often-recommended books, so I did an excited “squeeee!” when I saw she had a new one coming out. Booth is superbly readable. The pages flow by even when nothing particularly thrilling is happening. Fowler paints intimate portraits of each family member, and the narration includes deft wink-nods to the reader and the future. I was most impressed by the way Fowler kept the day-to-day family drama in the foreground – it struck me as very realistic. My hat goes off to her once again – she’s written an incredible, timely, and provocative novel, one of the best books of 2022. Read my full review of Booth here.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Of all the great books I read this year, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks was the first one that came to mind when I sat down to write my list of the best books of 2022. To call it a ‘biography’ feels reductive, as it’s so much more than dates and the facts of a life. It’s a masterpiece of journalistic non-fiction, written by a first-time writer no less. It’s a study of bioethics, a masterclass in accessible science writing, and a testament to the human consequences of scientific discovery. And it’s compelling as heck, to boot! Read my full review of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks here.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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Setting aside any regards for its contents, Horrorstor is one of the best books of 2022 for design, alone. Look at it! It’s formatted to look like an IKEA catalogue, complete with an order form for a copyright page and product descriptions for chapter headers. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful tomes I’ve ever had the privilege of placing on my shelves. The concept is brilliant, too: haunted IKEA. Doesn’t that just send shivers down your spine? But it’s not all schlocky spooks and jump-scares. This story has hidden depths. Hendrix mines the mind-fuck of consumerism and late-stage capitalism to fuel your nightmares. Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

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Despite the (very) heavy subject matter and Vermette’s talent for stark realism, The Strangers is surprisingly readable. The pages fly by! It really exceeded my expectations, and I’m still mulling over it, months later. It’s “a searing exploration of race, class, inherited trauma, and matrilineal bonds that – despite everything – refuse to be broken”. Katherena Vermette is a Red River Métis (Michif) writer, from the heart of Métis nation (Canada), and her heritage permeates this incredible First Nations novel – one of the best books of 2022. Read my full review of The Strangers here.

Calypso by David Sedaris

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David Sedaris is a must-read auto-buy author for me now, but I’m forcing myself to take it slow. I make myself read only one book of his at a time, instead of gobbling them all down at once. I started with Me Talk Pretty One Day, then last year Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim, and now in 2022 Calypso – a collection of autobiographical essays that (once again) was one of my best reads of the year. Even though the content of this one is a bit darker in parts, he still writes with the humour and panache that makes him unique. It’s impossible not to be impressed by his mastery of the form, the way in which he can punch in any direction and still manage to remain thoroughly likeable and hilarious. Read my full review of Calypso here.

Odd Hours by Ania Bas

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There’s been no shortage of quirky protagonists in recent years, but Gosia in Odd Hours is a different breed. She’s like the Polish love-child of an Ottessa Moshfegh character and a Fredrik Backman character, with a little of a Gail Honeyman character thrown in. The dark, wry humour keeps the story entertaining, rather than wearisome, but it’s far from a light-hearted rom-com. It lives up to the blurb’s promise of “a razor-sharp social comedy about human connection”. The plot builds to an unconventionally happy ending that will delight odd ducks everywhere. Read my full review of Odd Hours here.

Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata

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As with Convenience Store Woman and Earthlings before, Life Ceremony was translated into English from the original Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori – and, once again, she’s done a fantastic job. It’s a collection of “weird, out of this world” short stories that mix “taboo-breaking horror with feminist revenge fables”. Exactly as you’d expect from Murata if you’ve read her work before, it’s full of the joyfully strange aspects of human nature and surreal conceits that will blow your mind. The stories vary in length and complexity, but they’re all fascinating in equal measure. Read my full review of Life Ceremony here.

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

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I was truly blown away by the TV series The Cry when I caught it by chance on the ABC a few years ago. I didn’t actually realise it was adapted from a book until I came across a copy! Even though the ending was ‘spoiled’ for me, I was still keen to read it – and it was still completely gripping. The Cry is a dark, psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma, perfect for anyone who enjoys a story about good people doing bad things. And if, like me, you’ve already seen the show, trust me when I say that it’s still worth a read – it’s one of the best books I read in 2022! Read my full review of The Cry here.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

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One of my most recent reads is also one of the best books of 2022 (in my humble opinion). Demon Copperhead is surely destined to become a contemporary classic, an essential component of the burgeoning canon of books about the generation of lost boys in 21st century America. Kingsolver crafts a compelling adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic novel, David Copperfield, transporting the story – complete with abusive parents, neglect, poverty, disease, and loss – to the Southern Appalachian mountains of Virginia. Even Kingsolver’s Uriah Heep character is every bit as creepy as the original, if you can believe it! Read my full review of Demon Copperhead here.

What I Learned From My 2022 Book Acquisition Tracker

I don’t know what got into me, but I thought it would be a fun little experiment to track how many books I acquired over the course of this year. My books come from many sources – I buy them (of course), but I’m also gifted many by wonderful friends, and sent copies for review by publishers and authors (I am very, very lucky). Now that the end of the year has (almost) rolled around, it’s time to take a look at the results. Obviously, anything Santa brings me won’t be included – but it’s still a pretty good overview of my book acquisition habits.

What I Learned From My 2022 Book Acquisition Tracker - Keeping Up With The Penguins

How many books I acquired

Alright, let’s get the obvious out of the way. How many books did I acquire this year?

142

That’s roughly twelve a month, or just under three a week – not bad at all! Not the crisis situation I was imagining. Especially when you consider that I’ve already read well over 100 books this year, so it’s practically almost parity.

How many books I bought

I wasn’t foolish enough to track how much money I spent on books (sometimes, ignorance really is bliss), but I did keep track of where the books came from. Of the 142 books I acquired, I only actually spent money on 57 of them! That’s barely one a week – not too shabby!

The remaining 85 books were gifts from friends, review copies sent by authors and publishers, and – on the rare, lucky occasion – opportunistic finds on hard rubbish days.

Books on my wishlist vs impulse purchases

Of the books that I bought, I also kept track of which ones were actually on my wishlist (yes, that’s a real document that actually exists), and which ones were bought on impulse.

I’m proud to report that 33 of the books I bought this year were actually on my wishlist! That means that more than half the time, I wasn’t just being an impulsive book buyer – I was buying with purpose.

Month(s) with most books acquired

I would have assumed that I would have acquired the most books in April (the month of my birthday), but I was wrong!

I acquired the most books in February and October, 18 each. There weren’t even big book fairs those months or anything, so I’m not sure how to explain it.

Month(s) with fewest books acquired

Another surprise: I acquired the fewest books in November and December, with 6 each. I suppose that’s explained by spending the end of November isolating at home and comatose with COVID, and the fact that December isn’t technically over yet. Or maybe I just saw the number on my tracker creeping up towards the end of the year, and subconsciously decided to rein it in…

Favourite acquisitions

Many of my favourite acquisitions were those super-lucky wishlist finds. I found The Librarian (Sally Vickers), Here In The After (Marion Firth), The Know-It-All (A.J. Jacobs), and The Lost Apothecary (Sarah Penner) – all on my wishlist – at op shops and book fairs, for spare change.

I also had a particularly impressive haul from one hard rubbish day, where a house across the street had put out a box of amazing books – that’s where I picked up Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury) and The Lottery (Shirley Jackson), among others!

Of all the books that were sent to me by authors, DeadStar was definitely a winner. Nick Griffiths made such a charming pitch, and it was a great read! Special shout-out also to Bronwyn Birdsall, who arranged for her publisher to send me a copy of her brilliant debut, Time And Tide In Sarajevo.

And some of my best reads of the year – like 56 Days (Catherine Ryan Howard), Sadvertising (Ennis Ćehić), Weather Girl (Rachel Lynn Solomon), and Demon Copperhead (Barbara Kingsolver) – were all sent to me by their publishers for review. I feel so privileged and honoured to get to read these books and share them with you all.

And that’s a wrap! How many books did you pick up this year? Let me know in the comments!

Edited to add: After I put this post together, I remembered where I got this idea! It was from Hannah, at Read The Best Books First, who kept a similar tracker for her 2021 book acquisitions. Cheers, Hannah! This was fun!

15 Life-Affirming Books

Why “life-affirming books”? Why not “uplifting books” or “books that will make you split your sides laughing” or just “books that’ll make you happy”? Well, it’s because having our lives affirmed isn’t just about making us feel happy or good. Life-affirming books can still be upsetting, or tough to read – but in the end, they make us feel glad to be alive and hopeful about what the future might hold. That’s what I reckon, anyway! Here are fifteen life-affirming books to read when you need a little reminder.

15 Life-Affirming Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
You know what else is life-affirming? Supporting a book reviewer by using an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase 🙂

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

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Matt Haig has written enough life-affirming books to fill a library all on his own – and one of the most popular is The Midnight Library. It’s a premise that will appeal to all bookworms who have ever struggled with mental illness. Nora has decided to end her life, and on the precipice between our world and the hereafter, she encounters her childhood librarian who offers her a chance. Every book in the library contains a different version of Nora’s life. She can undo mistakes, take opportunities missed, and see what could have been – what could be, if she wants it. The story and prose might be a bit too saccharine for some, but The Midnight Library has definitely resonated for a lot of people.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – it says so right there in the title. She has her life timetabled out to the minute: work, frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But when life throws her a curve-ball or two, she gets the chance to see that it could all be better than fine. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine hit the best-seller list when Reese Witherspoon picked it for her book club. Readers really responded to Eleanor’s weirdness, her foot-in-mouth moments, and her carving out a better life for herself than she ever could have dreamed. This might be a darker book than you’re expecting, but it’s definitely life-affirming in the end.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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A Man Called Ove doesn’t sound like the stuff of great life-affirming books. A lonely old guy trying to off himself? Complete with wacky neighbours and hijinks? Indeed, Backman had trouble finding a publisher at first. Based on his pitch, they said the book had “no commercial potential”, and that Ove was too much of a Debbie Downer. But Backman is uniquely skilled at getting readers to care, and finding the joy and laughter in the darkest of times. He’s managed to make the old man’s cynicism and indignation endearing. Ove, stick-in-the-mud as he may be, feels disconnected and lost – who can’t relate to that? And he finds, in his new neighbours, new purpose (mostly to tell them how they’re doing it all wrong) – who can’t relate to that, too? Read my full review of A Man Called Ove here.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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Doctors keep us alive – I guess you could call it a literally life-affirming profession – but what happens when the doctor becomes the patient? When Breath Becomes Air has captured the hearts and minds of readers with that exact question. Paul Kalanithi was just wrapping up his training to become a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. “One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.” Alongside his wife and his newborn, he was forced to confront his own mortality, and the eternal struggle to find what makes life worth living. This is an incredibly moving and life-affirming book, even if you yourself are healthy as a horse.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

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For bookworms, reading in and of itself is life-affirming. So, reading life-affirming books about bookworms reading should be like, life-affirming squared, right? The Reading List is about a to-read list that brings complete strangers together, and helps them find meaning and connection. A nervous teenager working in a library finds the list on a scrap of paper in a returned book, and decides to read her way through it. When a widower comes into the library looking for something to help him connect with his granddaughter, she passes the list along to him, and an unlikely friendship forms. This is a beautiful and relatable life-affirming book about the power of words.

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If Forrest Gump is one of your comfort-watch movies, then The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared should be one of your life-affirming books. The story begins with Allan Karlsson sitting in his retirement home, contemplating the impending celebration of his one-hundredth birthday. Frustrated by the prohibition policy of the home, he decides (bugger it!) he’ll jump out the window. What follows is an incredible adventure around the world, complete with flashbacks that flesh out Allan’s incredible life. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief a little, but it’s totally worth it. Read my full review of The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

This Is Not A Book About Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan

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What small, ‘ridiculous’ thing brings you joy? For Tabitha Carvan, stuck at home with two small children and overwhelmed by the business of life, it was a crush on the actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Now, as the title suggests, This Is Not A Book About Benedict Cumberbatch – but it is a book about unapologetically enjoying your life. The rallying cry: “find your thing, whatever it may be, and love it like your life depends on it”. You know those fan-girls screaming in the front row of concerts? They look pretty happy, don’t they? This will be a particularly life-affirming read for women stuck working ‘the second shift’, day in and day out, who are wondering where their sense of fun went.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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Arthur Less is about to turn fifty, and he worries that he is the “first homosexual to ever grow old”. These fears are compounded by the arrival of an invitation, to the wedding of his much-younger former lover to his new far-more-age-appropriate beau. Desperate to avoid attending, at all costs, Arthur Less accepts every other invitation he has received, to every half-baked literary event around the world. And so begins the journey at the heart of Less, a Pulitzer Prize-winning satirical comedy and one of the most delightful and surprising life-affirming books of the past decade. Read my full review of Less here.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

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For a while there, you couldn’t walk into an Australian book shop without being assaulted by the bright pink cover of Boy Swallows Universe on every shelf. In some shops, you still can’t! This block-buster book first came out in 2018, and it’s still going strong. The semi-autobiographical story begins in 1980s Brisbane, with Eli’s mother in jail, his step-father dealing heroin, and his brother refusing to speak. So, yeah, his situation isn’t great. But adversity makes the diamond and all that: through all the heartbreak and pain, there’s a thread of brotherhood, friendship, love and joy running right to the end.

Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

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If you could travel back in time, where would you go? Who would you want to speak to? What would you change? Four strangers confront these questions in Before The Coffee Gets Cold, a quirky and heart-warming novel about a Tokyo cafe with a fun twist. Guests can travel back in time, but there are rules – the most important of which is that they must return (you guessed it) before their coffee gets cold. This is the first in a series of life-affirming books by Japanese author Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated into English by Geoffrey Trousselot.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

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Is there anything more refreshing, more hopeful and optimistic, than a fresh start? But starting over can be complicated… In Linda Holmes’s debut novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, a young recently-widowed woman meets a baseball player with the yips, and both of them find solace in not talking about their troubles with each other. What starts as an unlikely friendship grows into something more, but before they can move forward, they must reckon with their respective pasts. This is one of those life-affirming books that won’t fool you into thinking everything can be beer and skittles, but offers a more realistic take on a happy ending.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Sometimes, the most life-affirming books are the ones that give us warm nostalgic feels. Little Women is that book for many of us, Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about four sisters finding their places in the world (or not, as the case may be – poor Beth!). Even though our lives look nothing like that of a family living in genteel poverty during the American Civil War, between the four March sisters we can all find something to relate to. There’s Meg the beauty, Jo the career woman, Beth the dutiful wallflower, and Amy the romantic – not to mention the ever-wise, ever-patient Marmee. We should all be so lucky as to have a Marmee in our lives. Read my full review of Little Women here.

Year Of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

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Year Of Yes is a non-fiction book about the transformative power of being open to new things and overcoming ingrained anxiety, as exemplified by one extraordinary woman. Before I read it, all I knew about Shonda Rhimes was Grey’s Anatomy-related, and she preferred it that way. She said “no” to opportunities for publicity, to time in the spotlight, to meeting new people… until she committed to saying “yes”. To everything. For one whole year. This is one of the most life-affirming memoirs I’ve ever read, and (not to be cheesy but) I often think back to it when I find myself afraid to say “yes” to something new. Read my full review of Year Of Yes here.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Before we were reading cutesy life-affirming books about weddings and women and coffee and travel, Charles Dickens was trying to lift readers up with stories about miserable old coots being haunted by ghosts. Seriously! If you think you “know” the story of A Christmas Carol, I can guarantee the version in your mind is a lot more rose-coloured than the original book. Ebenezer Scrooge is a real piece of work, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come have their work cut out for them. It may be a classic, but it’s far from warm and cuddly.

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa

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Alright, let’s end with one of the life-affirming books that all bookworms will relate to. The Cat Who Saved Books begins with bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki about to close his beloved late grandfather’s secondhand booksop for the last time. Suddenly, a talking cat(!) appears, and demands Rintaro accompany him on his mission. Together, they save books – the unread, unloved books languishing on the shelves of neglectful owners, the books cut into pieces by well-meaning but ignorant artists, and the books butchered to be mass-produced by publishing drones. This kooky adventure – with a wonderful message – was translated from the original Japanese into English by Louise Heal Kawai.

10 Books About Revenge

Revenge fantasies aren’t just the stuff of Taylor Swift albums – they’ve inspired plenty of great books, too. For those of us who find vengeance incredibly satisfying (it’s me, hi), books about revenge give us a safe space for cathartic release without actually destroying any lives. Here are ten great books about revenge, from a wide range of eras and genres.

10 Books About Revenge - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Alright, let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Count Of Monte Cristo is the ultimate, the GOAT, the pinnacle of all books about revenge. In the hundred-and-eighty-odd years since it was first published, it hasn’t been beat. Dumas’s story of the teenage Edmond Dantès, falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned, has remained one of the most popular books of the 19th century, despite its length and heft. Perhaps it’s because the story is so enticing (not to mention action-packed); Edmond meets a man in prison who helps him figure out who ruined his life, and plot an elaborate revenge on all of them, with a trove of riches to boot.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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If we had to summarise Wuthering Heights, we wouldn’t be far off in saying that Heathcliff responds to rejection by ruining everyone’s lives. Seriously, that’s about it. Emily Brontë’s only novel, a Gothic story of vengeance and undying fury, was so dark and depraved that critics accused her of communing with the devil (seriously). Don’t let all the emo girlies fool you – this is hardly a classic love story for the ages. Rather, it’s a would-be love affair between step-siblings gone wrong that inspires one of the great books about revenge. Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Jumping forward to contemporary books about revenge, we can’t look past Gone Girl, the internationally best-selling story of women’s vengeance. It wasn’t just the fact of Amy’s meticulously plotted and carefully calculated revenge against her floundering, philandering husband that captured us – it was her coldness, her ruthlessness, and her unreliability as a narrator that really made the story stand out. All too often, in books about revenge, we’re shoehorned onto the side of the revenge-taker for narrative convenience. Gillian Flynn challenged that trope by forcing us to delve into the minds of both an impressive but deeply unlikeable woman and her ‘victim’ (who might be just as guilty as she). Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

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Sadie is a fun, contemporary twist the tropes of books about revenge for young adult readers, styled in part as the transcript of a true crime podcast. The story revolves around the murder of 13-year-old Mattie Southern, and her older sister Sadie’s disappearance. What the podcast host and his listeners don’t know is that Sadie’s disappearance was of her own design – she’s on the hunt for Mattie’s killer, seeking her own retribution on the man who took her sister. Their stories alternate until they finally catch up with one another in a surprising denouement. It’s the perfect choice for fans of Veronica Mars and other plucky-teen revenge stories. Read my full review of Sadie here.

Carrie by Stephen King

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If you were ever the subject of mean taunts in high-school, books about revenge in that setting probably have special significance for you. Carrie is the prime example: an unfortunate, impoverished girl, subject to cruelty at school and at home, harnesses her powers of telekinesis to exact her vengeance against everyone who has been cruel to her. This is not a story about rising above or taking the high road; this is a story about unleashing your inner monster, and turning to violence and destruction in order to teach some very important lessons. This isn’t one for the squeamish (or readers who are particular about how women are portrayed by male writers), but it’s a classic from the pen of the King of Horror.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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To say that Moby Dick is a book about any one thing is hopelessly reductive. It’s a book about many things: whales and whaling, patience, nature, human relationships, isolation, leadership and mutiny, sunk-loss fallacy… and revenge. Captain Ahab, at the helm of the Pequod, seeks revenge on the white whale that bit off his leg in a previous expedition. Although the Pequod’s ostensible mission is to hunt whales for profit, over the course of some six hundred pages it becomes clear that the wider hunt is merely a pretense under which Ahab takes vengeance against the beast who maimed him. Melville’s classic takes many re-reads to fully comprehend, but a reading for themes of revenge is essential. Read my full review of Moby Dick here.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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A woman with a seemingly-perfect life snaps one day and shoots her husband in the face. Sounds like a fairly standard opener for books about revenge, don’t you think? The Silent Patient has a few twists in store, though. For starters, the woman – Alicia Berenson – has remained steadfastly mute since she murdered Gabriel, and no one can fathom why she might have killed him. Psychotherapist Theo Faber is desperate to find out, and sure that he’s the only man who can get Alicia talking. Why does he care so much about what motivated Alicia’s vengeful turn? Alex Michaelides is the master of plotting out answers that give rise to more questions.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

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So many young bookworms delight in Matilda – not just because it’s joyful to see a heroine much like yourself on the page, but because she triumphs over her oppressors. For many of us, this was one of the first books about revenge we encountered, and it gave us a taste for vengeance. The young neglected girl’s bookishness becomes her superpower. Cheered along by her teacher Miss Honey (the only kind adult in her life, really), Matilda uses her brain to defeat the terrifying headmistress Miss Trunchbull, and her awful parents to boot. It’s well worth revisiting this one as an adult, if only to rediscover the magic of naive courage and determination.

The Recovery Of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

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Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is a terrifying but fascinating disease, whereby a caregiver deliberately makes a vulnerable person unwell in order to attract the attention of doctors and other medical professionals. Stephanie Wrobel explores this horrific experience from the victim’s perspective in The Recovery Of Rose Gold (called Darling Rose Gold in some regions), and gives her the opportunity to get her own back on the woman who traumatised her so severely. As a premise for a thriller it’s fresh and fascinating, and it really ups the stakes for books about revenge. Read my full review of The Recovery Of Rose Gold here.

The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

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Let’s end on a less depressing note – not all books about revenge involve murder and bloodshed! The First Wives Club sees a group of respectable middle-aged women, all abandoned by their husbands for younger models, seek revenge against the men they helped to make. These ladies refuse to be traded in without a fuss. Over lunch, they begin to plot the downfall of their former husbands, taking away that which they hold most dear – their wealth and prestige in New York’s high society. This is a wickedly fun and delightful novel that looks at the sweet side of revenge.

10 Books About Road Trips

The last few years, I haven’t been travelling much (for… obvious reasons). Now that travel is feeling like a reality again, I realise my perception of it has changed. The idea of spending thousands of dollars to stick myself in a metal tube with hundreds of strangers for 10+ hours seems unappealing, especially when I’d have to leave Fyodor Dogstoyevsky at home. I’d much rather jump in a car, with my canine sidekick, and start our adventure straight away – plus, spend our precious tourist dollars closer to home, in communities that have been ravaged by climate emergencies. I went looking for literary inspiration, and turned up these ten books about road trips.

10 Books About Road Trips - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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On The Road by Jack Kerouac

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Every list of books about road trips begins with On The Road – it’s truly iconic. This classic of the Beat generation is based on 20-something Kerouac’s travels across the United States in the years following WWII. In fact, it’s more than “based on”: it’s basically a true story with a bunch of fake names to protect the guilty. From New York to San Francisco and back again, Virginia to New Orleans, Denver to Chicago and Detroit, across Texas and down into Mexico, Kerouac (ahem, I mean “Sal”) and his friends criss-cross the country in a hodge-podge fashion, always seeking adventure and finding trouble. I’m not sure it’s one I’d like to emulate exactly, but it’s certainly romantic in theory. Read my full review of On The Road here.

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M Pirsig - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a pop psychology/philosophy book, masquerading as one of the classic books about road trips. A father and son undertake a summer trip on motorcycles, forcing them to confront the ‘confusion of existence’. They discover how to reconcile the silences between them and between their spiritual lives through (you guessed it) motorcycle maintenance, an unfortunate reality of motorcycle journeys turned beautiful metaphor. This book also holds the dubious honour of being (officially!) the most-often rejected best-seller, having been turned down an astonishing 121 times before it found a publisher and went on to sell over five million copies.

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

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Of all the books about road trips, this is my favourite example of one gone wrong. I first became familiar with the story of Christopher McCandless when my husband encouraged (read: forced) me to sit and watch the film adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book Into The Wild. Whichever medium you choose to learn the story, it’s the same. A privileged white boy takes it into his head that he needs to escape his suffocating life of comfort, and takes off across the country completely unprepared. In a display of hubris the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Greek tragedies, McCandless takes a break from hitchhiking and civilisation to hike off into the wildnerness, never to be seen alive again. This is a frustrating read about a feckless young man, and an excellent example of what not to do.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

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One of the more bizarre books about road trips is Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel’s vision of a post-pandemic world with a travelling troupe performing Shakespeare for the remainders of humanity. This one kind of picks up where Fahrenheit 451 leaves off, a small band of true believers dedicating what’s left of their lives to keeping the arts alive in the wake of disaster. The story jumps back and forth, between the pre- and post-pandemic years, so it can be a little confusing – not to mention triggering for those of us still living it. But it’s a rich and fascinating book, one that shows the desire to hit the road never really dies.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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Speaking of post-apocalyptic dystopian books about road trips, you can’t go past The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s most widely-read novel. The father-son motif features in this one, as well. A father and son (maybe? kind of? it’s never really clear) follow the road through the landscape of a ravaged America, hoping to reach the coast (again, for reasons not really known). They face danger at every turn, as if the perilous climate weren’t risk enough, and all they have to sustain them is each other. This isn’t exactly an uplifting read, but it does interrogate the depths of our connections with one another. It was enough for Oprah to select it as an unlikely Book Club pick, anyhow!

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying is one of the books about road trips for bummer reasons (as opposed to the devil-may-care let’s-adventure have-fun variety). Addie, the matriarch of a disadvantaged Southern family, ails and dies in the opening chapter, laying on her bed and listening to her family chop wood for her coffin outside her bedroom window. Her final wish is to be laid to rest in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. So, her family gathers their meager resources and hoist the coffin onto their shoulders, and make their way across the American South. It’s a fraught journey, with family drama playing out at every turn, and the hardships of the journey intensifying it all. Read my full review of As I Lay Dying here.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild - Cheryl Strayed - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Alright, strictly speaking, Wild isn’t so much one of the books about road trips as it is one of the books about hiking trails – but Strayed spends considerable time in cars, and a road’s a road’s a road, isn’t it? She set out on a grueling trek (1,100 miles!) along the Pacific Crest Trail almost entirely unprepared, with an overstuffed backpack and zero training. Along the way, she loses a shoe, grieves her mother, runs out of money, reads poetry, and learns a whole heck of a lot real fast. It’s basically Eat, Pray, Love meets Survivor, one that will make you think about what you’re really looking for next time the road calls to you. Read my full review of Wild here.

Paper Towns by John Green

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Paper Towns requires you to suspend your disbelief a bit. The nerdy, underappreciated boy-next-door (Quentin “Q” Jacobsen) “loves” Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar for years. She is (surprise, surprise) beautiful, mysterious, and edgy. Margo goes missing, and Quentin goes looking for her, following her trail of clues. I mean, I’ve never met a teenager with enough foresight to leave complex metaphorical breadcrumbs when they run away, and, indeed, why would they? The whole point of running away is, y’know, to not get caught. Still, it’s what John Green went with, and it’s one of the most popular young adult books about road trips, so I’m hardly in a position to turn my nose up. Read my full review of Paper Towns here.

(John Green wrote another popular young adult book about a road trip, too: An Abundance Of Katherines.)

The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock

The Other Side Of Beautiful - Kim Lock - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sometimes, you pick up a book and its premise resonates in a way neither you nor the author anticipated. That’s what happened for me with The Other Side Of Beautiful. It opens with a really tight first chapter, one that will grab you and not let go: Mercy watches her house burn down, forcing her out into the world that her agoraphobia has kept her from for years. She finds herself in a camper van, with her ever-faithful sausage dog Wasabi (my absolute hands-down favourite character) by her side, driving the length of Australia, from Adelaide to Darwin. I feel so lucky to have found a book about my dream road trip – canine companion included! Read my full review of The Other Side Of Beautiful here.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This story of a migrant family pulling themselves up out of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression seems eerily relevant and poignant in a post-Trump and post-Brexit world. The Grapes Of Wrath is another one of the iconic American books about road trips, this time featuring the impoverished Joad family and their pursuit of the American dream (you know, having enough money to feed themselves). They pile into a truck and drive from Oklahoma to California, where they’ve heard there’s jobs aplenty, only to discover that they aren’t the only family who had the idea to look for work in the Golden State. Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

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