My five favourite reads of 2020

Online bookseller and kids and YA author Leanne Hall shares five of her favourite reads from 2020, including an enthralling middle grade fantasy, a gripping crime debut, a highly imaginative anthology of terrific Australian writers, and more.

The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller

This atmospheric middle grade fantasy contains many of my favourite things: folk tales, sentient animals, maps, unmastered magical powers, challenging family members and a slightly surly child heroine. Jessica Miller’s second novel is a wonderfully funny and exciting fantasy adventure that transports the reader to an icy northern world, where the complicated history between the human and bird kingdoms has drastic consequences for young cartographer Olga Oblomova.

The Better Liar by Tanen Jones

If I told you the plot of this thriller, you’d think it couldn’t possibly work … but it becomes utterly plausible in Jones’s skilful hands. After the death of her father, Leslie needs her estranged sister Robin to come with her to claim their inheritance. But when Robin is discovered dead in her apartment, Leslie asks random actress/waitress/lookalike Mary to pose as her sister with her family’s solicitor - and things get very complicated. I love strange and unpredictable crime fiction, and this dark, immersive story was very tense and captivating.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Four young women living in a rundown Seoul apartment building grapple with careers and relationships in this debut that held my rapt attention from start to finish. Kyuri milks every dollar out of her hostess job at an upmarket ‘room salon’, while hair stylist Ara resists her parent’s expectations and obsesses over her favourite K-pop star. Serious artist Miho maintains her integrity while dating one of society’s ultra-elite, and Wonna keeps her pregnancy a secret from her demanding boss. If I Had Your Face explores similar social divides as Bong Joon-ho’s Academy Award-winning film Parasite, but keeps a sharp focus on how narrow and perilous the paths are for women in contemporary South Korea.

After Australia by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (editor)

Anthologies of short fiction are my literary catnip, and they are extra desirable if they involve speculative elements. After Australia brings together emerging and established Australian First Nations writers and writers of colour to imagine our nation’s future, and truly, every story is a winner. I loved how laterally the task was approached; there are alternate colonial pasts, weird almost-presents, and very near futures in this collection.

It’s Been A Pleasure, Noni Blake by Claire Christian

If you just need to feel better, stronger and more optimistic, then you must pick up this soul-fortifying novel. Protagonist Noni’s personal quest for pleasure, self-love, clarity and healing in Europe is about as close as I’ll get to overseas travel for some time. There’s sexy times with sexy people (and some relatable unsexy and disappointing times, too), new tattoos, new friends, new experiences… All in all, this is a highly entertaining and effervescent romp, that also manages to encompass the type of deep self-reflection and learning that comes when life requires big changes from a person.

Leanne Hall is the children’s specialist for Readings online. She also writes books for children and young adults.

Cover image for The Better Liar

The Better Liar

Tanen Jones

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