Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 15, 2018

2018 ANZLitLovers Australian and New Zealand Best Books of the Year

As in previous years, these are the books I really liked and admired during 2018.  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, there are plenty of other sources singing the praises of books published elsewhere.  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 Goodreads See What You Read in 2018 (which doesn’t, due to some glitch, I suppose, actually record everything I read in 2018 but I’ve found a way round that).  (NB I reserve five stars for a work of genius such as James Joyce’s Ulysses).  I have been brutal, removing some beaut books to get this list to a maximum of 40.  Here are my books in alphabetical order… 8 authors from New Zealand are in italics.

  1. Relatively Famous (2018) by Roger Averill
  2. Book of Colours (2018) by Robyn Cadwallader
  3. The Beat of the Pendulum (2017) by Catherine Chidgey 
  4. Shadow Sisters (2018) by Shelley Davidow
  5. A Sand Archive, (2018) by Gregory Day
  6. The Sweet Hills of Florence (2018) by Jan Wallace Dickinson
  7. The New Ships (2018) by Kate Duignan
  8. The Earth Cries Out (2017) by Bonnie Etherington
  9. Salt Picnic (2017) by Patrick Evans
  10. The Bridge (2018) by Enza Gandolfo
  11. Gwen, (2017) by Goldie Goldbloom
  12. A Week in the Life of Cassandra Aberline (2018) by Glenda Guest
  13. Heloise (2017) by Mandy Hager
  14. A Stolen Season (2018) by Rodney Hall
  15. The Year of the Farmer, (2018) by Rosalie Ham
  16. The Last Garden (2018) by Eva Hornung
  17. Stories from Suburban Road, (1983, reissued 2018) by TAG Hungerford
  18. The Bed-making Competition (2018) by Anna Jackson
  19. Dustfall (2018) by Michelle Johnston
  20. The Newspaper of Claremont Street (1981, reissued 2015) by Elizabeth Jolley
  21. Swim, (2018) by Avi Duckor-Jones
  22. Paint Your Wife, (2004) by Lloyd Jones
  23. A Perfect Stone (2018) by S K Karakaltsas
  24. Too Much Lip (2018) by Melissa Lucashenko
  25. The Everlasting Sunday (2018) by Robert Lukins
  26. Big Rough Stones (2018) by Meg Merrilees
  27. A Superior Spectre, (2018) by Angela Meyer
  28. Dyschronia, (2018) by Jennifer Mills
  29. The Fireflies of Autumn, (2018) by Giovannoni Moreno
  30. Border Districts (2017) by Gerald Murnane
  31. The Biographer’s Lover (2018) by Ruby J Murray
  32. The Children’s House, (2018) by Alice Nelson
  33. Shell (2018) by Kristina Olsson
  34. We Are Not Most People, (2018) by Tracy Ryan
  35. The Day They Shot Edward (1991, revised edition 2018) by Wendy Scarfe
  36. Half Wild, (2017) by Pip Smith
  37. Mr Hogarth’s Will (1865, reissued 1988) by Catherine Helen Spence
  38. Poor Man’s Wealth (2011) by Rod Usher
  39. Welcome to Orphancorp (2015) by Marlee Jane Ward
  40. Nyarla and the Circle of Stones, (2015) The Fethafoot Chronicles #1, by Pemulwuy Weeatunga

Non Fiction Longlist including Life Stories (BTW my original list was closer to 30.)

  1. A Coveted Possession, the Rise and Fall of the Piano in Australia, (2018) by Michael Atherton
  2. Trump in Asia, The New World Disorder, (2018) Australian Foreign Affairs Vol #1
  3. The Big Picture, Towards an Independent Foreign Policy, (2018) Australian Foreign Affairs Vol 2
  4. The Forgotten Notebook (2015) by Betty Churcher
  5. Letting Go, How to Plan for a Good Death, (2018) by Dr Charlie Corke
  6. Close to the Flame, the Life of Stuart Challender (2018) by Richard Davis
  7. On Rape, (2018) by Germaine Greer
  8. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, (2018) edited by Anita Heiss
  9. Mary Gaunt, Independent Colonial Woman (2014) by Bronwen Hickman
  10. The Arsonist, a Mind on Fire (2018) by Chloe Hooper
  11. How to Be Deaf (2016) by Rosie Malezer
  12. On Borrowed Time, (2018) by Robert Manne
  13. Vodka and Apple Juice (2018) by Jay Martin
  14. Captured Lives, Australia’s Wartime Internment Camps, (2018) by Peter Monteath
  15. Always Another Country (2018) by Sisonke Msimang
  16. Wild Asparagus, Wild Strawberries (2018) by Barbara Santich
  17. Bella and Chaim, the Story of Beauty and Life, (2017) by Sara Rina Vidal
  18. Elizabeth Macarthur, a Life at the Edge of the World, (2018) by Michelle Scott Tucker
  19. Without America: Australia in the New Asia (2018) by Hugh White (Quarterly Essay #68)
  20. You Daughters of Freedom, (2018) by Clare Wright

The shortlists

Now, how to whittle them down? Gosh, this was hard this year.  Once again my criteria was: keep the books that have I banged on about most to people in my f2f life, but that meant some really absorbing, interesting or innovative books went by the wayside, which is testament to the quality of Australian and New Zealand writing.  However, I still think it’s a good criteria, because it goes to the longevity of a book.  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 discuss significant ideas. (And note Catherine Helen Spence’s Mr Hogarth’s Will—published in 1865 and still relevant today). 

For publication dates, see the longlists.

Best ANZ LitLovers Fiction Books of 2017 

  1. Relatively Famous by Roger Averill
  2. The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey
  3. The Earth Cries Out by Bonnie Etherington
  4. The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo
  5. Gwen, by Goldie Goldbloom
  6. The Year of the Farmer, by Rosalie Ham
  7. Dustfall by Michelle Johnston
  8. Paint Your Wife, by Lloyd Jones
  9. Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
  10. A Superior Spectre, by Angela Meyer
  11. Border Districts by Gerald Murnane
  12. The Biographer’s Lover by Ruby J Murray
  13. Shell by Kristina Olsson
  14. Half Wild, by Pip Smith
  15. Mr Hogarth’s Will by Catherine Helen Spence

Best ANZ LitLovers Non Fiction Books of 2017 

  1. The Big Picture, Towards an Independent Foreign Policy, Australian Foreign Affairs Vol 2
  2. Letting Go, How to Plan for a Good Death, by Charlie Corke
  3. On Rape, by Germaine Greer
  4. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, edited by Anita Heiss
  5. The Arsonist, a Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper
  6. Captured Lives, Australia’s Wartime Internment Camps, by Peter Monteath
  7. Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang
  8. Bella and Chaim, the Story of Beauty and Life, by Sara Rina Vidal
  9. Elizabeth Macarthur, a Life at the Edge of the World, by Michelle Scott Tucker
  10. You Daughters of Freedom, by Clare Wright

And finally…

The ANZ LitLovers Book of the Year is… 

*drum roll*

(no surprise really, because I have raved about this book, but this has been a great year for both fiction and non-fiction!)

Shell by Kristina Olsson.  




Over to you

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

PS 17/12/18 An email newsletter from The Wheeler Centre tells me that

A too-relaxed festive season is like a too-sweet cup of cordial: sickly and ultimately unsatisfying. You don’t want that. No, the Christmas break must contain just the faintest sour note – a hint of anxiety; a dash of disquiet – to make it extra delicious…

So here’s my sour note:  just one of the mishmash of recommendations from Wheeler’s Centre staff also features on my 2018 List of Bests.  Bouquets to the well-read receptionist Harry Reid, who recommends The Arsonist, by Chloe Hooper which was one of my Top Ten NF list, and also The Town by Sean Prescott, a fine book which I reviewed in 2017.  Unless I failed to notice it, the only other Australian novels recommended by staff of Melbourne’s City of Literature Wheeler Centre (which one might have expected would take the opportunity to promote Australian literature with enthusiasm), are Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee; The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland (see Theresa Smith’s review here); YA titles Nevermoor and Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend; and Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s Catching Teller Crow.  There’s Blakwork, a collection of poetry by Alison Whittaker,  The World was Whole, a collection of essays by Fiona Wright; Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin; Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia by Marcia Langton and Jessie Cole’s memoir Staying.  But where are the novels for grownups??  Not many: Krissy Kneen’s Wintering, and Toni Jordan’s Fragments (on my TBR)…


But enough of disappointments and wasted opportunities, this, at Overland, cheered me up immensely.  Overlanders recommended a generous sprinkling of Australian fiction along with must-read NF.  Mentions include Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck, Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains, Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic and SJ Finn’s praise for books I’ve loved too: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn, Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills, and her very best favourite, Some Tests by Wayne Macauley.  Other recommendations included Judith Brett’s brilliant biography of Alfred Deakin (see Nathan Hobby’s review); and Clementine Ford’s Fight like a Girl plus also The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser.

And there was this:

2018 was also a year of black excellence in literature, with Alexis Wright taking out the Stella Prize for her phenomenal biography of Tracker Tilmouth, Claire Coleman’s harrowing speculative fiction novel Terra Nullius winning the Norma K Hemming Award, and the shortlisting of four fantastic releases for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards – Tony Birch’s Common People, Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, Kim Scott’s Taboo, and Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork – each highly anticipated releases from writers working in the height of their powers.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

You see, best-of book lists around the world are only ever going to include Australian writing as an afterthought, and mostly only high-profile award winning books.  That’s not because our books don’t compete, it’s because people don’t know about them.   It’s up to us to give a shout-out to what we know are great books, by great Aussie writers.


  1. Oh dear. I haven’t read ANY of your best books yet, but some are on the pile. I will be posting my top reads in early January as usual, but, unlike you and all those awards judges, I won’t be naming a top top read. I just can’t do it.

    I have given Shell away on the basis of your recommendation, but haven’t got it myself. One day.


    • I don’t usually do a best book either. I think I’ve only done it once before and that was Kim Scott’s That Deadman’s Dance. Like Shell, it was a book I wanted everyone to read!
      PS (The Next Day) *slaps forehead* How could I have forgotten? Last year I had a Book of the Year: it was Karenlee Thompson’s Flame Tip which resonates with me still, especially since reading Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist and the bushfires we’ve had already, in November…


  2. I cant even! I thought I read a lot of books, but these are only your best! I’m too in awe of your quantity to even begin to think about quality.


    • I don’t think it matters how many books we read… what matters is that we love them:)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What great lists, Lisa – you’re pushing me over the edge on a few here I have been meaning to read.


    • Well, don’t forget you are working, writing a bio and raising two beautiful children, while I am able to read like this because I don’t do anything else.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That is an amazing list Lisa. I am green with envy over how many books you have read this year. It has been a really slow reading year for me (64 books so far, with many of these audio books) – too busy and I have also abandoned quite a few books. I have Shell out on library loan and I looked at it last night and it looks delicious but it is obviously a book to be savoured and I am not in the right frame of mind to do that ATM so I am going to return it and treat myself to a copy.

    I have only read one fiction title on your list – The Year of the Farmer – which I liked but not as much as you, I think. I have just borrowed The Bridge from the library as yours is the second recommendation I have had of this book recently. I haven’t read any on your non-fiction list but I am really looking forward to reading Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia which you so kindly sent to me.

    Using your criteria, my favourite fiction reads for the year were Pat Barker’s Life Class trilogy which I reread this year, Smile by Roddy Doyle and Terra Nullius by Claire Coleman.

    My favourite non-fiction reads were Stan Grant’s Talking to My Country and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air.


    • Not quite using your criteria as mine are not all ANZ authors 😐


      • Yes, you’re right about Shell, it’s a book that needs to be savoured. You need some long lazy summer days to enjoy it properly.

        I love Pat Barker’s writing. I have her Silence of the Girls on the TBR and am looking forward to reading it. And *snap* Claire Coleman was just on Radio National talking about Australian Spec Fic as I drove home tonight from dinner out with my French class:)


        • PS I’ve just looked up When Breath Becomes Air at Goodreads, that sounds like an inspiring book. I’ll look out for it at the library, thanks for the recommendation.


  5. I’m thrilled to be on your list!! And will add ‘Shell’ to my must read list. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such a beautiful book, Sara, and if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s the one NF book that is about hope. In the worrying world we live in, it’s good to read a book that shows that people can transcend hatred and horror.


  6. Hi Lisa, what a great varied list. I will be certainly looking for some of them at the library to read. I just finished reading the Silence of the Girls, and really enjoyed the read. I have had many good reads during the year, so can’t choose the ‘best’ one.


    • Yes, it’s crazy really, because so many books I’ve read have given me such pleasure. I often find myself thinking that some author has given up years to write the book that I’ve read and loved, and the only way I can give thanks is to tell everyone that I liked it in a review.
      So a this-one-in and that-one-out list is really a silly thing to do.
      I excuse it because I’ve been asked to do it and I assume it’s because people need suggestions for gift-giving.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m looking forward to that one too, but I’m reading Melmoth right now, so many people have recommended it:)


  7. I have read Elizabeth Jolley, Lloyd Jones, and Gerald Murname (I couldn’t understand Border Districts at all). For Jones and Jolley, not the ones on your list but others. I recognized the name Rodney Hall. Other than that I don’t know any of these writers.
    At one point I considered myself fairly well-versed in Australian and NZ literature, but I guess that was historical.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL well that’s the aim of this blog, and this list, to raise awareness of OzLit and KiwiLit:)
      But re Murnane: if I may presume to know what he’s on about, you’re not meant to ‘understand’ him… the idea is to let his thoughts lead yours off on tangents too, and to look at what you see, inspired by him, in a more intense way. You remember that part about the stained glass near the beginning of the book? Every time I see stained glass now I see it differently.


  8. What a wonderful list Lisa, with reviews for readers to check out so as to make the choosing easier. ‘Shell’ is next on my TBR list then!


    • I think you will love it.
      And I must apologise (see my comment to Sue), I had forgotten that I chose Flame Tip as my book of the year last year…
      I got it out again just recently, when there was a huge grass fire on the urban fringe and authorities were warning us that anyone who lives within cooee of parkland needs a bushfire plan. I re-read your piece that’s a newspaper ad for things lost in the fire, wondering if any plan can prepare us for that kind of loss.
      I am waiting as patiently as I can for news of your novel-in-progress:)


      • Haha, I didn’t notice the comment. Yes, the newspaper ad piece ‘Lost’ seems to resonate with so many people. I don’t think anything can prepare us and everyone goes through it in their own way.
        The new novel continues . . . I worry away at it in the early hours. Parts of it are on the fifth draft. It is certainly taking me longer than I had anticipated but I hope it will be worth the wait.


        • I’m sure it will be. Since #MyLipsAreSealed I know a little bit about what it’s about, I can’t wait to see it in print, but I know I must wait patiently because good writing takes time…

          Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve read a few on your shortlist and agree that they were excellent. I think, from memory, that Half Wild was on my top reads list last year. There’s a few on your list that I am yet to read but have waiting on my shelves. I am also keen to have a read of You Daughters of Freedom. I’ve read some favourable reviews recently.


    • Hi Theresa, well, I’ve found some good reads thanks to your reviews and Half wild was one of them. But I should edit the post to put in the year of publication, I think…
      I’ll aim to do it today, but I have some small neighbours coming to “help” decorate the Xmas tree so my time is not my own today.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A very Christmassy day then, for you. Likewise, there are many good reads I wouldn’t have discovered if not for your reviews. A whole lot of book purchases that have been made but not yet read as well!


        • LOL I could perhaps have added a pile of new books on the TBR, but I’m in denial about how many there are…

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so much, Lisa, for another year of wonderful insightful reviews. Your lists are amazing! For me it wasn’t such a great year in reading, since I read a lot of books in my bookcase of titles that I wanted to read one day and most were disappointing. Shell is such a terrific book that I put it away after the first few pages to read and savour over Christmas. I hadn’t realised that I’d missed a novel by Lloyd Jones. He’s such a great writer and I’ve recently read ‘Here at the End of the World’, which was a terric novel from said bookcase!


    • I’ve had that happen too, buying books that were a disappointment by the time I got round to them. I think it’s less likely to happen to me now because I get most of my recommendations from bloggers I trust, whereas some of the books languishing on my TBR date back to when all we had to go on was a bookseller’s advertising catalogue and a blurb.
      Here’s a to a great year in 2019!


  11. Thanks for including me on your shortlist! I really need to read Shell, and a bunch of other books on your list.


  12. […] Kristina Olsson, Shell (Australian) (ANZLitLovers’ top read for 2018) […]


  13. I have Shell on my TBR thanks to your review – do you think it will be a contender for next year’s Stella? Same re: The Arsonist – both I’m desperate to read (but will have to wait until next year – I’m travelling at the moment and only carrying my Kindle {I always buy hard copies on Aus authors from my local bookshop}).

    A couple of others on your long list that I have waiting, including Book of Colours that I’m very much looking forward to after reading The Anchoress last year, a book that has really stayed with me.


    • The Stella: yes definitely to Shell and to The Arsonist, also The Bridge should be on the Stella radar, plus Dustfall, and The Biographer’s Lover. Would Growing Up in Australia be eligible?


  14. Also… my Aus books of the year? Fighting it out between a bunch of memoirs: Reckoning, The Green Bell, In My Mother’s Hands, Staying.


    • I haven’t read it, (too sad) but I reckon Staying must be brilliant, I have heard so much about it, plus heard Jessie Cole talking about it on RN.


  15. Thank you for including me in your list, Lisa. It really is an honour. And, as you always do, you’ve prompted me to look into some interesting reads that I may otherwise have passed over. Love your work!


    • Thanks Michelle, and I look forward to seeing some of these as Stella nominees in 2019!


  16. […] know the answer to this one if you’ve checked out my 2018 Best Australian and New Zealand Books.  It’s Shell by Kristina Olsson.  I just loved it, and I know I will revisit […]


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