The summer break is the best time to dip into the TBR pile. Here are some of our favourite holiday reads from other publishers.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (Text) is narrated by the woman whose job it becomes to watch over 10-year-old twins who spontaneously combust when enraged. Yes, literally. To complicate matters, their father is a US politician with big ambitions that can only be hampered by kids who catch fire in public. This is a totally compelling exploration of friendship and betrayal, of isolation and connection, of basketball, flame-retardant fabrics and our capacity to love. It’s funny, moving, and the twist at the end – holy smoke! I genuinely did not see that coming.
Nina Kenwood’s young adult novel It Sounded Better In My Head (Text) warmed my heart, soothed my soul and made me experience many, many ~emotions~. I devoured it over the course of a train trip from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast and then pushed it into my sister’s hands and forced her to read it so that we could debrief on our return trip. An absolute delight. I can’t wait to see what Kenwood writes next.
Lanny by Max Porter (Faber & Faber) is moving, joyful and whacky (in the best way). I adored Porter’s imagery and way with words – so full of life! Although it’s not exactly a ‘happy’ book, reading this while the country was on fire provided me a space of respite and hope. Also, shout-out to the typesetter who must have had fun getting the scatterings of conversation laid out just right.
This summer I’ve really enjoyed reading an oldie but a goodie – Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (HarperCollins). The scene setting and characterisations are so fun and playful, and although I’m only a few pages away from the end I have no idea who did it!
The Need by Helen Phillips (PRH) is unsettling, strange and utterly compelling. The first few chapters prepare you for a thriller, but what comes next takes this story in a completely different direction. I highly recommend this for anyone who, like me, loves their fiction weird and a tiny bit creepy.
I’m a sucker for a binge-worthy thriller and The Whisper Man by Alex North (PRH) was my ideal holiday read. It starts out with some of the time-honoured hallmarks of thriller writing: a grieving father and son move towns for a fresh start, and they soon sense their new home has a dark past. But that’s where the tropes end. What ensues is a stomach-dropping and heart-wrenching multigenerational saga. Usually I’m wary of supernatural elements creeping into crime/thriller reads, but Alex North just handles them so deftly. Superbly creepy; Stephen King fans will adore this book.
I have to admit to getting totally absorbed in the bushfire coverage and my climate change neurosis that I barely made a dent on my stack of holiday reads. But I did finish Zadie Smith’s Grand Union (PRH)! Short story collections aren’t my thing usually but Zadie won me over with her genuinely funny and clever observations of society and human nature. One highlight was ‘The Lazy River’ – a bunch of Brits enter blissful mental stagnation as they float around a circular tide pool at a Spanish resort. Grand Union is a mixed bag; some stories are more memorable than others but the best ones hum like White Teeth and On Beauty.
I powered through She Said (Bloomsbury) by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey – the journalists who exposed Harvey Weinstein and propelled the #MeToo movement with their Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation in The New York Times. The lengths they went to in order to dig up the information was fascinating – highly recommended reading for any and everyone.
I wasn’t prepared to love Lenny’s Book of Everything (Allen & Unwin) as much as I did. We follow Lenny Spink, whose brother has a rare medical condition that causes unstoppable growth. Time is an important element of the story and I loved how the passing of time is conveyed through the steady delivery of a build-it-at-home encyclopaedia set that the Spink family win in a competition. We follow the Spinks from A to Z, witnessing Lenny’s awe of the wider world and travelling through her compelling inner world all the way.
The first books I read on the Christmas break were Christos Tsiolkas’s Damascus (Allen & Unwin) and Anna Burns’s Milkman (Faber & Faber) – both fascinating, challenging and dark. Add that to a pretty troubling summer and I was desperate for some light distraction, so on impulse I picked up a copy of Star-Crossed (PRH) by Tassie author Minnie Darke, the first rom-com I’d read in years. It really hit the spot. It’s an astrology-themed rom-com (bear with me) that’s perfectly balanced by a delightfully Australian stoicism. I’m a sceptic when it comes to astrology but the humour, self-awareness and general fun of this novel had me hooked. If I see you this week, there’s an 80 per cent chance I will ask you what your star sign is.
My daughter Lucinda (7) and I have been reading Anh Do’s WeirDo series (Scholastic). Lucy is a very strong reader but even then it’s fascinating to see she doesn’t have the confidence or desire to read longer text-only books, so the simple, illustrated style of these bestsellers really works as a stepping stone. We go to Book & Paper in Williamstown or The Younger Sun in Yarraville to buy the next book in the series as we complete each one (and delight in coming up with silly word play based on people’s names).