Our Favourite Reads of 2022

Another year, another brilliant annum of reading. Below, the Words on the Waves committee share a few favourites from 2022, ranging from devastating local award-winners to riveting non-fiction. Plus of course, ideas for littler readers shared by our kids program committee can be browsed over here.

This year Words on the Waves doubled it program, meaning we were lucky to welcome over 60 authors to the Central Coast rather than over 30. So, you may recognise a number of 2022 Festival faces in the list below… and, psst, there may even be some teasers for next year amongst the list too! Can you guess who?

As always, if you are inspired to grab any of these for a summer read or gift, we encourage you to shop at your local independent bookstore. In the words of the great Neil Gaiman: “What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”

Adult Fiction

Faithless by Alice Nelson
The third novel by Australian author Alice Nelson explores the relationship between an older married man and an undergraduate student. As the years pass their underlying yearning for each other is almost unbearable and unrelenting. An affair of the heart and mind as they share common interests in writing and yet lead separate lives – a forbidden and hidden love. This book reminded me of the love affair between Doctor Zhivago and Lara – where traditional morality is questioned. (Kaye)

The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane
This is a truly wonderful, engrossing novel. Set in colonial era Australia, with the gripping search for a lost child at its heart, the story is told from the perspectives of a variety of people, from all different backgrounds and classes, and it reveals so much about the time. The writing is stunning, the South Australian landscape is a character in its own right, and this has all of the ingredients to be an Australian classic in years to come. (Mary-Jayne)

Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down
This years’ Miles Franklin winner is a dark tale that has sparse, beautiful writing. Down’s storytelling is compelling as we follow the story of a young girl who is in foster care and the devastation that follows in her adult life when she loses her children. Bodies of Light has devastation and heartbreak, fake identities, love, loss and tremendous resilience. (Mandi)


Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
The title of this book was slightly off-putting but the story was far from that. Set in the era of the marketing 1960’s Mad Men, one women takes on sexism and equality with an air of determination and grit. It’s refreshing to read a book that is different in content and style which may explain its popularity this year. (Kaye)


To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

Easily the most affecting, impactful book of the year for me. I will wax lyrical about this 720-page brick to all who will listen, and I am unafraid to throw around the ‘M’ word… just you wait! To Paradise is split into three sections, with the first taking the reader to an imagined New York of 1893, the second to both Hawaii and Manhattan in 1993, while the third gut-punches you all the way to a dystopic 2093. Throughout, Yanagihara asks: what does it mean to yearn for a better life, even with the odds heavily stacked against you? Ooft. A capital M masterpiece. (Angela)

The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis
Gripping and timely Australian crime fiction, with a compelling protagonist and supporting characters, including of the canine variety. The Unbelieved asks the pressing questions and sweeps you along breathlessly in the story. So good. (Mary-Jayne)



Throat by Ellen van Neerven
Playful. Incisive. Wry. Ellen takes no prisoners in this collection. Each poem is a wake-up call to herself, her country and the unquestioned views we feel compelled to spout. (Jacqueline)



Limberlost by Robbie Arnott
This is my pick for Australian fiction of the year. This novel is a perfect introduction to Arnott for newcomers, but will also be enjoyed by those who read his earlier bestselling works. Ned’s brothers are away at the war, and he lives with his Dad and his sister who has suddenly returned home. The narrative weaves through Ned’s life, but we mostly spend time in his 15th summer as he navigates the silence at his house, the grief of missing family and the joys of friends and escaping on to the waterways. Full of absolutely beautiful storytelling, this is a must-read for summer. (Mandi)

Enclave by Claire G. Coleman
The eponymous enclave is a walled city in a remote area in Australia that has been imagined by Indigenous writer Claire G Coleman. This is a dystopian fiction set in Australia where class, race and environment all intersect. (Mandi)



Salonika Burning by Gail Jones 

Salonika Burning recounts the hardscrabble life of those on the periphery of WW1, in more ways than one. None of the protagonists directly engage in battle, and they all are stationed in Salonika (now Thessaloniki, Macedonia), felt to be a lesser frontline than the more action-packed and gruesome battlefields of France. The four main characters are based on real wartime personalities, with plucky ambulance driver Olive (Olive King), steely surgeon Grace (British painter Grace Pailthorpe), raving artist Stanley (Stanley Spencer), and entitled aspiring writer Stella (Miles Franklin). Their loosely intersecting narrative is lit by the spark of the great city burning, a tragedy not even of war’s making. A lush, jewel-like portal into the great insanity and injustice of human violence. My first Gail Jones, and it will not be my last. (Angela)

Jesustown by Paul Daley

This is a fictional yet powerful tale of the complexity of working with the Indigenous people in Western Australia at a time when missionaries or anthropologists were the main points of contact. We follow a fictional character who lives with and tries to protect ‘the people’ but he is a flawed individual with complex motives. His grandson is the modern-day protagonist and he must face his own disgrace as well as investigating the legacy of his famous grandfather. An engaging and thought-provoking read. (Mandi)

This Devastating Fever by Sophie Cunningham
It’s a rare read that is literary and fun, but This Devastating Fever manages to boldly pitch a tent in both camps. With a self-referential structure and ghostly appearances from Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf, the book explores what it means to live on the cusp of great change, whether that be fires, pandemic or war. Like me, you might grow fond of dorky old Leonard, even in phantasm form, and find yourself excusing his many mistakes as a colonial administrator in Sri Lanka and later as a lectern-thumping publisher and doting nurse to Virginia. Devastating, and feverish, indeed. (Angela) 

The Burning Island by Jock Serong
This is book two of Jock Serong’s Australian historical fiction trilogy set in the early days of the colony in Sydney and then in the wild seas off Tasmania during the time of the Frontier Wars. The novel is gripping and reads as a thriller in many places, especially as the crew is chased around the islands. Serong provides a piercing look at the treatment of women and the Indigenous as well as poor white released convicts along the way. (Mandi)

The Islands by Emily Brugman
Based on the author’s family history, The Islands is an evocative debut following a group of Finn migrants who work crayboats on the wild and remote Albrohos Islands, off the coast of WA. Through a series of poignant vignettes, we circle the hardy island-dwellers: Onni, Alva and their adventurous daughter Hilda; gruff and watchful ‘Latvian Igor’; troubled boys Mika and Ismo; little Lauri and his artist mother Helvi. Amidst the loneliness and harsh beauty, over the generations an ache for ‘home’ (whatever that may mean) emerges. A literary talent to watch! (Angela)

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au
Dreamy. Soothing. Compelling. Nothing happens, but it happens beautifully. (Jacqueline)



Adult Non Fiction

Speaking in Tongues by Tom Tilley
Tom Tilley is an Australian journalist and a well-known radio host on Triple J. The memoir describes his life growing up in a Pentecostal church and a family with strict rules of conduct that set him apart from other kids. As he grew older, Tom started to question the teachings of the church, especially the extreme act of talking in tongues. Failure to adopt this practice would eventuate in going to hell and being an outcast from his community. Listening to stories of his parent’s past before they joined this cult, plus the freedom that he saw his school friends experiencing forced him to face his doubts and speak up. I enjoyed reading this memoir, especially during the reign of Scott Morrison. It exposes how parents can force their beliefs onto their children, making it hard for them to experience a balanced approach to life. Tom’s journey to independence is a coming-of-age story as he breaks from the life that was created for him and embarks on his own journey. (Kaye)

The Uncaged Sky by Kylie Moore-Gilbert
I thought that this book might be depressing but it was far from that. On September 12, 2018 British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert was arrested at Tehran Airport by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards and convicted of espionage. In a dodgy trial, managed by a notorious judge she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The resilience of this young woman despite desperate physical and mental anguish is astonishing. Fighting back became her game plan with multiple hunger fasts, smuggled letters to the media and protests with other prisoners. More than two years passed and finally Kylie is released in a three nation prisoner swap. Written with immediacy, this book is a page-turning, uplifting read with hope and freedom central themes. (Kaye)

Tell Me Again by Amy Thunig
This is a powerful and inspiring memoir with a strong link to the author’s Indigenous roots and understanding of her country and society. It contains a forgiveness of flawed parents who loved her but could not give her the childhood she deserved and redemption is found in the power of education and coming into her own voice. Highly recommended. (Mandi)


The Ballad of Abdul Wade by Ryan Butta
A vivid, dust-stirring story following Australia’s early Afghan cameleers, who were instrumental in the development of remote areas of the country in the late 1800s. As Butta recounts instance after instance of the racism the cameleers endure, foundational myths of mateship and a ‘fair go’ crumble before your eyes. (Angela)



Helen Garner’s Diaries, volumes 1 – 3
Raw. Untampered. Honest. As a writer, single mum and older woman, she makes me feel like I am not alone. Plus, it’s a poignant reflection on the Melbourne and the Australia I grew up in. (Jacqueline) 



Paris or Die and My Sweet Guillotine by Jayne Tuttle
What a pleasure to be allowed into the bright, effervescent life and times of Jayne Tuttle, who recounts her bone-deep amour for Paris over two bracing books. It’s a love that’s sweet and true, but one that does not come easy; at the end of Paris or Die Tuttle experiences a near-death accident at the hands of the city (and its antiquated lifts). My Sweet Guillotine chronicles her attempts to come back from the abyss, and reclaim a life on her terms in the City of Love. Perfect for aspiring artists, readers with itchy feet, or those who want to know what it means to survive a sliding doors moment. (Angela)


Words on the Waves 2023 will take place May 31 – June 5, on the scenic Central Coast. The program will be revealed in April 2023.