Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 30, 2017

2017 ANZLitLovers Australian and New Zealand Best Books of the Year

I looked at last year’s post about the best books of the year before starting this, and since I still get that ‘warm glow’ when I look at my 2016 final choices, I’ve decided that my rather rough-and-ready methodology is actually quite good!  So I’m doing it exactly the same way this year:

These are the books I really liked and admired during 2017.  They are books that I read this year, not necessarily published this year.  The contenders are ANZ authors only.  If you read this blog regularly you know that I also read international authors and translations too, but for this list, well, it’s summertime here so let the sun shine on antipodean authors.  All links go to my reviews.

Fiction Longlist

I rated all of these Australian and New Zealand books 4-stars at Goodreads, and I felt a surge of pleasure remembering them when I looked at their covers at See What You Read in 2017.  (NB I reserve five stars for a work of genius such as James Joyce’s Ulysses).  Here are my books in the order that I read them… authors from New Zealand are in italics.

  1. The Dyehouse (1961, Text Classics reissue) by Mena Calthorpe
  2. Landscape with Landscape (1987, Giramondo reissue) by Gerald Murnane (5 stars)
  3. The Museum of Modern Love (2016) by Heather Rose
  4. Flame Tip (2017) by Karenlee Thompson
  5. Bloodlines (2017) by Nicole Sinclair
  6. Songs That Sound Like Blood (2016) by Jared Thomas
  7. R&R (2015) by Mark Dapin
  8. The Custodians (1997) by Nicholas José
  9. Storyland (2017) by Catherine McKinnon
  10. Asking for Trouble (2014) by Peter Timms
  11. Hinterland (2011) by Caroline Brothers
  12. The Hope Fault (2017) by Tracy Farr
  13. Waiting (2016) by Philip Salom
  14. No More Boats (2017) by Felicity Castagna
  15. Blindness and Rage (2017) by Brian Castro
  16. Heat and Light (2014) by Ellen van Neervan
  17. Who We Were (2013) by Lucy Neave
  18. Hinterland (2017) by Steven Lang
  19. The Second Bridegroom, Yandilli Trilogy #1 (1991) by Rodney Hall
  20. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, (2017) by Shokoofeh Azar, translated by Adrien Kijek
  21. This Water: Five Tales (2017) by Beverly Farmer
  22. Taboo (2017) by Kim Scott
  23. The Black Opal, (1917, A&U reissue) by Katharine Susannah Prichard
  24. The Wish Child (2016) by Catherine Chidgey
  25. Terra Nullius (2017) by Claire G Coleman
  26. Soon (2017) by Lois Murphy
  27. Lady of the Realm (2017) by Hoa Pham
  28. Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms (2017) by Anita Heiss
  29. The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc (2017) by Ali Alizadeh
  30. The Life to Come (2017) by Michelle de Kretser
  31. Blessed Are The Dead, Detective Emmanuel Cooper #3 (2012) by Malla Nunn
  32. Atlantic Black (2017) by A.S. (Alec) Patric
  33. A Sea-Chase (2017, by Roger McDonald
  34. Aukati (2017) by Michalia Arathimos
  35. First Person (2017) by Richard Flanagan
  36. Bridget Crack (2017) by Rachel Leary
  37. The Book of Dirt (2017) by Bram Presser
  38. A Long Way from Home (2017) by Peter Carey
  39. The Lost Life, Eliot Quartet #1 (2009) by Steven Carroll
  40. A World of Other People, Eliot Quartet #2 (2013) by Steven Carroll
  41. A New England Affair, Eliot Quartet #3 (2017) by Steven Carroll
  42. Whipbird (2017) by Robert Drewe
  43. Sodden Downstream (2017) by Brannavan Gnanalingam
  44. Chaconne (2017) by Diana Blackwood
  45. Archipelago of Souls (2015) by Gregory Day (my last book of the year, review is coming,).

Non Fiction Longlist including Life Stories (BTW I am really mean with 4 star ratings for non-fiction.)

  1. Australian Women War Reporters, from the Boer War to Vietnam (2015) by Jeannine Baker
  2. Margaret Flockton, a Fragrant Memory (2016)  by Louise Wilson
  3. Griffith Review 55, State of Hope (2017) edited by Julianne Schwarz and Patrick Allington
  4. No Way But This, in search of Paul Robeson (2017) by Jeff Sparrow
  5. Damned Whores and God’s Police (1975, updated edition 2016) by Anne Summers
  6. Return to Moscow (2017) by Tony Kevin
  7. The Art of Time Travel, Historians and their craft (2016) by Tom Griffiths
  8. Don’t Take Your Love to Town (1988), by Ruby Langford
  9. Maybe Tomorrow (1998) by Boori Monty Prior
  10. The Art of Frugal Hedonism (2016) by Annie Raser-Rowland with Adam Grubb
  11. Can You Tolerate This? (2017) by Ashleigh Young
  12. Songlines, Tracking the Seven Sisters (2017) edited by Margo Neale

The shortlists

The first thing to note about the fiction list is that Australia’s preeminent authors all published books this year and any Best-of list that doesn’t include most of those books is not serious.  If you haven’t read them and don’t plan to because they’re mostly by men or some other agenda-driven reason, then, trust me,  you are missing out on some beaut books. But this wealth of terrific books does mean that a short shortlist would by definition squeeze out some very fine books indeed.  So mine is a long shortlist.

How did I whittle them down? I had to be brutal with some lovely books.  If I had any reservations about them, out they went, (though I kept Waiting by Philip Salom which should have gone because of its sloppy proofreading).  Then as in 2016 my criteria was: which books have I banged on about most to people in my f2f life?  Once again I have read 200+ books this year and I am always talking about books online, but the books that made their way into everyday conversation with family and friends had something special about them. These books weren’t just good to read, pleasurable, entertaining, or absorbing.  I earbashed f2f people about the themes and issues and insights in these books because they matter.  And I could not whittle them down to a nice tidy number.

Best ANZ LitLovers Fiction Books of 2017

  1. The Dyehouse (1961, Text Classics reissue) by Mena Calthorpe
  2. Flame Tip (2017) by Karenlee Thompson
  3. Songs That Sound Like Blood (2016) by Jared Thomas
  4. Storyland (2017) by Catherine McKinnon
  5. Waiting (2016) by Philip Salom
  6. No More Boats (2017) by Felicity Castagna
  7. Blindness and Rage (2017) by Brian Castro
  8. Taboo (2017) by Kim Scott
  9. Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms (2017) by Anita Heiss
  10. The Life to Come (2017) by Michelle de Kretser
  11. Atlantic Black (2017) by A.S. (Alec) Patric
  12. A Sea-Chase (2017, by Roger McDonald
  13. Aukati (2017) by Michalia Arathimos
  14. First Person (2017) by Richard Flanagan
  15. A Long Way from Home (2017) by Peter Carey
  16. Whipbird (2017) by Robert Drewe
  17. Sodden Downstream (2017) by Brannavan Gnanalingam

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Best ANZ LitLovers Non Fiction Books of 2017 

  1. Griffith Review 55, State of Hope (2017) edited by Julianne Schwarz and Patrick Allington
  2. No Way But This, in search of Paul Robeson (2017) by Jeff Sparrow
  3. Return to Moscow (2017) by Tony Kevin
  4. The Art of Time Travel, Historians and their craft (2016) by Tom Griffiths
  5. The Art of Frugal Hedonism (2016) by Annie Raser-Rowland with Adam Grubb
  6. Songlines, Tracking the Seven Sisters (2017) edited by Margo Neale

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And finally…

The ANZ LitLovers Book of the Year is… 

*drum roll*

Flame Tip by Karenlee Thompson.  

Gasp!  I hear you say.  A book of short fictions?  Not Lisa’s most favourite form of writing … and by a little-known author, published by a small indie publisher here in Melbourne.  Really???
And this is why…

The day after Boxing Day, we heard a fleet of helicopters overhead and thought at first they were chasing a horde of speedsters up and down the highway.  But they were actually fighting an out-of-control bushfire in my little Amber’s favourite park, the Flora and Fauna reserve in Park Road, near the golf club.  The fire was ten minutes walk from our house; I breathed its smoke. It threatened places I care about: our local primary school where my neighbour’s children go; the historic Pioneer Cemetery which I have explored many times over 30 years in this neighbourhood; and the house of a friend of mine in Glebe Avenue – where residents had to be evacuated to safety.  Here in suburban Melbourne, miles from the urban fringe!  All good writing moves me, but articulating the loss and heartbreak of bushfire still felt decades later, Karenlee’s powerful words from Flame Tip kept piercing my anxious heart as the long afternoon wore on and still the fire was not under control despite the brilliant efforts of 100 firefighters and four helicopters.  Like every other Australian, I have always cared about the victims of bushfire, but I have never before felt the risk of an out-of-control fire anywhere near where I live.

Which just goes to show really, that at the end of the day, it’s the personal response to a book that lodges it permanently in the heart.

Over to you

Your thoughts on my choices?  What was your best book of the year?




  1. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  2. Love your lists! And especially happy about your your book of the year. Have a happy new year and a great year of reading ahead!

    • *chuckle* I thought you’d be pleased:)
      I’m not going to ask you about your favourite book for 2017 because you’d have to choose among all your authors!

  3. Looks like a great year for literature

    • Absolutely! And then there’s all the ones I haven’t had time to read yet: Alexis Wrght’s Tracker, Gerald Murnane’s Border Edges, Stephen Orr’s Incredible Floridas – they would have been on these lists for sure!

      • It’s hard to keep up. I think the only Australian novel I read and enjoyed was Taboo

        • Yes, that’s a great book. Everything that Scott writes is…

  4. Well, Lisa, I haven’t read a single book on either of your lists! Not one! So that gives me a good list to start off from for 2018

    • *chuckle* I shall have to work harder at my reviewing style – so that you will feel an irresistible urge to drop whatever you are reading and read the book I’ve reviewed instead!

  5. Gosh, I’ve only read one book from your short list (although I have read more from your long list). I guess this is partly explained by my mission to read from my shelves. I always have trouble picking a favourite but contenders would be Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and The Fall of Light by Niall Williams. This doesn’t really reflect that about one third of the books I read were by Australian authors but there you have it 😑

    • I would certainly agree with you about Things Fall Apart, that’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

      • Have you read any others in the series? I haven’t got around to getting copies of them yet.

        • No, I haven’t yet. I saw Arrow of God at the library last week and hesitated because UI couldn’t remember whether I had it or not. I should have grabbed it while I could!

  6. I’ve read a few of your longlist, and of those would probably have rated Landscape with Landscape the best writing and perhaps The Museum of Modern Love the best novel – personally I would have both it and Taboo ahead of Storyland … mais, chacun à son goût.

    • I rate Storyland very highly, but would have rated it higher if the concept hadn’t been done before in Cloud Atlas.

  7. […] 2017 ANZLitLovers Australian and New Zealand Best Books of the Year […]

  8. Naturally I was thrilled to discover my Margaret Flockton book on your list, Lisa. Thank you. In hardcover format the Flockton book sold out during 2017 but Wakefield Press has plans to reprint it as a paperback.

    I’ve discovered many new books with a history theme through your blog, for which I thank you too. For the benefit of us all, may your voracious reading AND writing habits continue into 2018 and beyond. :) :)

    • Thanks Louise, I’m glad to hear your book is doing so well.
      And I shall do my best in 2018!

  9. Amazing list Lisa. Thanks so much for your reviews. I make so little time to read. Must try harder in 2018! Happy reading in 2018

    • Hello, Chele, lovely to hear from you!
      When I look at your creative endeavours on Facebook, I wonder that you have any time to read at all, and you make such beautiful things!
      Have a wonderful festive season and happy new year to you too xo

  10. Flame Tip. Fantastic choice Lisa. A favourite of mine that I trust more will now read given your post. Look forward to your review of Murnane’s Border Districts as well. Keep up the good reading and thank you for your wonderful work.

    • Thank you Jessica, happy reading in the new year!

  11. Thank you Lisa. My TBR list is right out of control now. But I have bookmarked your list to take to the next bookclub planning meeting. Your reviews will help me to promote them to my pals : )

    • That’s great, Joanna, it all helps to spread the word:)

  12. Beautiful, beautiful post, Lisa! I am ashamed to say that I am so less informed and not at all well read on Australian literature and reading your year end posts are always an educational experience for me. From your longlist, I have heard of only Karenlee Thompson (Didn’t she write ‘8 States of Catastrophe’? I love that title), Kim Scott, Michelle de Kretser (I remember you gushing about one of her books earlier), Richard Flanagan and Peter Carey. I loved your thoughts on Karenlee Thompson’s ‘Flame Tip’. I will add it to my TBR and look for it. I also want to read ‘The Art of Time Travel, Historians and their Craft’ by Tom Griffiths. It looks quite fascinating.

    Thanks so much for this post, Lisa! I will take inspiration from this and try to read more Australian literature this year. Thanks for inspiring me.

    • Thank you, Vishy, I appreciate your comment:)
      Yes, Karenlee did write 8 States of Catastrophe with its weird motorcycle hero… I hope you can get a copy of Flame Tip, I think you would find it very moving.
      Actually, I must thank you for something nice that happened today… I have a new cleaner, and when we were introduced today I realised that he was from India. So when we went into my library so that he could see what needs to be cleaned in here, we chatted about books, and I said that I had some books by Narayan (which you had recommended to me!), he was so pleased. I think it helps to make new migrants feel welcome when they realise that we know a bit about their culture and I was able to show that because you had suggested this author to me – so thank you!

      • Thanks for sharing that experience, Lisa! It is so wonderful! Glad to know that you made him feel welcome and glad to know that he was happy to find Narayan’s book on your shelf. So beautiful!

        I will look forward to reading Karenlee Thompson’s ‘Flame Tip’ soon.

  13. What a fantastic list of Australian and New Zealand books! I think we share a passion for reading books from our home country. :) I feel bad that I haven’t read any of them, but I do recognize and even have some of them on my various reading lists.
    It’s so true what you say at the end – about it being the personal response to a book that lodges it in our hearts. I think that’s partly why it’s so fascinating to see what other readers have loved (or not loved).

    • We do indeed share that love Naomi, and as Kevin from Canada argued so cogently, there is a natural affinity between Canadian literature and ours, because our nations have so much in common.
      Last year I read my first-ever book from Quebec, and I’m hoping that one day my French will be good enough to read more from there in the original French, that would be so good!

      • That would be an accomplishment! I don’t know if my French will ever be that good. My kids are there already, though!

        • Lucky children, that’s the best time to learn:)

  14. […] 20/1/18: In my 2017 ANZLitLovers Australian and New Zealand Best Books of the Year, I wrote that The first thing to note about the fiction list is that Australia’s […]

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