Claire’s holiday reading recs

I’m gearing up for literally the busiest work period of the year for me, followed by wrapping up at work and packing before I leave for Melbourne, so I’m not in holiday mode yet, but I know plenty of people who are!

Here are some books I’ve enjoyed that I would classify as good holiday reads. I can’t guarantee they’re all relaxing, but they all kept me glued to the page. A few are recent-ish but most are a few years old.

I hope you enjoy, and tell me if you read anything from this list!

If you like celebrity gossip, cult memoirs and sassy women who take no shit:
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
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The sitcom star and former Scientologist (who donated millions to the church over her life) explores her path through Scientology, her gradual disillusionment and decision to leave, and her life now. Remini has a very distinctive voice and this book is an easy read despite the intense subject matter. It contains SERIOUSLY CREEPY Scientology celebrity gossip and some heartbreaking examples of the group’s effect on families and individuals.

If you’ve dealt with the unpredictability of maintaining a close friendship group after high school and university:

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty
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I read this in one evening – a very easy read, relatable characters and an intriguing mystery to solve. Four friends since high school are now in their thirties and on holiday together – as part of a game they each anonymously share a secret. One of the women finds a fifth secret that’s horrifying and changes the dynamic of their friendships. I’ve read a few of Nicola Moriarty’s books and always enjoyed them- what a talented family! (Yes, she is Liane and Jaclyn’s sister, two more amazing authors).

If you’ve ever stumbled upon one of those “In Defense of Mrs Bennett” think-pieces and thought ‘Hey, they have a point!’ (see here for a key example)
Longbourn by Jo Baker
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The Downstairs to Pride and Prejudice’s Upstairs takes a sobering, gritty look at the world surrounding the Bennett family. It’s not the most lighthearted novel but it’s engrossing and feels very real to this longtime P&P fan.

If you don’t have a lot of time to read but want to be caught up in a magical, fun new world:
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
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This was one of the most-hyped books of the year and since its recent release has hit bestseller charts here and in the States. It’s an absolutely charming kid’s book in the vein of Harry Potter, but it has enough unique characters world-building to be its own special universe. It’s aimed at kids but honestly, if you enjoyed HP then you’ll devour this.

If you want some thought-provoking non fiction that will stick with you:
 The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
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An extraordinary memoir about a woman whose business is cleaning up after unimaginable scenes (murder scenes, hoarding situations and more). Sandra Pankhurst’s early life is juxtaposed with her current career, and the graphic nature of her life and work is explored with sensitivity. It’s not a light read by any means but is compelling and very well written.

If you want something straight up trashy and fun (and still nurture a soft spot for Sweet Valley High’s most amoral blonde, Jessica Wakefield):
Mad by Chloé Esposito
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This was an uber dramatic, over the top, salacious beach read. Alvina’s life in London is a drunken, lonely mess, and when her seemingly perfect twin sister Elizabeth (Sweet Valley wink much?) dies, Alvina takes the opportunity to become Elizabeth. Lots of drugs, sex, murder and other BAD decisions. It’s not high literature but it was hard to put down (and yes, I did read this one on a beach holiday).
What classic holiday reads should I add to my list?

My Go-To List of Lovely Books for New Babies

Now I’m in my thirties, a lot of my friends and family are having babies – and they need books! I love choosing books for kids, especially the ones that you hope will last a long time and become a treasured part of their library growing up. I do usually tend toward the sturdier hardcovers for that reason, but there are some books only available in paperback that I am always eager to gift. I’ve listed below some of my favourites to help anyone looking for a nice baby present.

By the way, if you have any specific questions about the content of these books, sing out and ask me! Goodreads.com is also a good place to get a feel for the content of a book, so I’ve linked their review page. I’ve marked Australian authors with an (A), as that’s been a specific request I’ve had a few times when helping friends find baby books.

Animalia by Graeme Base (A)

A lushly illustrated, intricate alphabet book with so many lovely details to discover over time.

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The Baby’s Catalogue by Janet and Allen Ahlberg

I had this book as a kid and adored it – I pored over it endlessly. It’s a sweet and gently humorous collection of objects a baby might encounter in their daily life: prams, breakfasts, baths, nappies and my favourite page as a kid – accidents! The accidents page included eating lipstick, falling into a toilet, and helpfully shelving books into a fish tank. As a toddler I apparently put a phone into a family friend’s fishbowl so it possibly spoke to me on a deep level.

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The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

This is one to be read aloud – it’s very silly, lots of fun and is written by the guy who plays Ryan in The (American) Office. Here’s a video of Novak reading his book to an enraptured audience.

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The Day the Crayons Quit – Drew Daywalt

I had been handselling this book for ages when I worked at Ariel Booksellers, and so I felt personally vindicated when it became an international bestseller. It’s a cute story about a young boy’s crayons who have decided they’re sick and tired of being used in the same old ways.

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Diary of a Wombat – Jackie French  (A)

An Aussie classic that keeps the reader up to date with the extremely full schedule of a naughty wombat.

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Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – Mo Willems

There are several Pigeon books and I LOVE all of them. The reader is put into the position of having to stop the pigeon from doing all manner of things (drive a bus, stay up late, eat a hotdog). The pigeon alternately rages and cajoles and it’s delightful. These are only out in paperback, so I’ve often given the first few books in this series as a present.

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I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The bear has a hat, he’s lost it and he wants it back! The spare illustration style manages to convey so much emotion and the slightly shocking ending makes this a very memorable read. Followed by this one is This Is Not My Hat, and We Found A Hat – great gift ideas all together or individually.

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Imagine by John Lennon

The lyrics to Lennon’s song Imagine accompanied by bright, cheerful illustrations, with a foreword by Yoko Ono. It was released in partnership with Amnesty International, with a portion of the proceeds going to Amnesty.

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Interrupting Chicken – David Ezra Stein

I have a bad feeling this one is out of print but I LOVE it so I’m including it here. I came across it for the first time when I was teaching Year Eleven Extension English. We were doing Narratology and it was a fantastic example of embedded narrative (story within a story). (By the way, using picture books to illustrate complex literary techniques is so so much fun). Papa Chicken is reading fairy tales to Little Chicken, who can’t help but insert herself into the story and give all the characters some well-needed advice.

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Mirror – Jeannie Baker  (A)

Jeannie Baker is basically magic. I was once lucky enough to see an exhibition of her work and examining the artwork’s she’s constructed is awe inspiring. Mirror tells two parallel stories of two children – one in Sydney, one in Morocco. It’s wordless,  constructed ingeniously and is the type of book to foster an appreciation of the similarities very different families can share.

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My Very First Mother Goose edited by Iona Opie

An adorably illustrated collection of nursery rhymes. It comes in a lovely big hardcover and is something I’ve given as a christening present.

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Possum Magic by Mem Fox (A)

Another Aussie classic full of love and good things. It came out in 1983, so it’s the right vintage for people who read it in childhood to now be sharing it with their kids.

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When I Grow Up by Tim Minchin (A)

A more recent entry to the list, this has just been released.  It’s a joyful recitation of all the things a child will be able to do once they are grown up (eat sweets on the way to work, watch cartoons until their eyes go square, and be brave enough to fight creatures under the bed). Fans of the Minchin-penned Matilda musical will recognise the lyrics from the second act opener.

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Where The Forest Meets the Sea – Jeannie Baker  (A)

Another Jeannie Baker classic, this one with a focus on environmental conservation and the changes that take place in a landscape over time.

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Please let me know what your favourite baby gift books are! There are so many adorable babies, and they all need mountains of fantastic books.