As the days become longer, and we move to a slower, sun-soaked tempo, our team shares the Australian and international titles, from Karen Wyld’s Where the Fruit Falls to Daisy Johnson’s Sisters, that have been their constant companions—on the bus, by the beach and at home.
Michaela, Artistic Director
The Searcher, Tana French
When the pandemic began, and everyone turned to books and TV shows for comfort, I had the same desperate thought again and again: I know there’s a new manuscript on Tana French’s computer or in her bottom drawer, just publish it already. Now, finally, The Searcher is here, just in time to be devoured over the Australian summer holidays. In a year when police brutality and corruption have dominated international headlines, this marks a timely departure from the flawed but heroic detectives who populate her Dublin Murder Squad series. Fittingly, our new protagonist is Cal Hooper, a former detective who retired after 25 years on the Chicago police force after seeing too much police brutality from his colleagues. In a bid to get far, far away from it all, he buys a rundown house on a small plot of land in a tiny, one-pub village in Ireland; a town he believes must be so small and far away from the city to be free of trouble of any kind. Cal minds his own business, but trouble, in the form of a local kid whose brother has gone missing, comes knocking on his doorstep. The Searcher has all of the suspense, densely plotted twists and turns and cleverly obscured character motivations of French’s other novels. And although it’s not my favourite from her catalogue, it’s nevertheless a brilliantly gripping literary page-turner, perfect for a summer read.
Fathoms: the world in the whale, Rebecca Giggs
Rebecca Giggs’ astonishing Fathoms was one of the brilliant Australian debuts that were published amid the pandemic this year and therefore missed most of the fanfare, festival appearances and bookstore tours that it so richly deserved. Fathoms expands on Gigg’s spectacular 2015 Granta essay ‘Whale Fall‘ and elegantly combines natural history, philosophy and science to consider what whales can tell us about the fragility, beauty and complexity of our oceans and our world. Fathoms has since been published in the UK and US, where The New York Times Book Review called it a ‘delving, haunted, and poetic debut’ and has been a finalist for both the 2020 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. Closer to home, she’s been praised by Maria Tumarkin, who says ‘I can’t think of many books in which love for the world and uncompromising, ever-deepening rigour come together in this way. Time slows down. This book makes a permanent dent in the reader.’ This is the work of a proper genius, and if you haven’t picked up a copy already, I implore you do so this summer.
Gene, Associate Director
The Mother Fault, Kate Mildenhall
There is something rotten in the state of Australia: the climate crisis has ravaged land and sea, and an overbearing, underhanded government is tracking everyone. When Mim’s husband goes missing, she must rally both resolve and a pair of understandably angsty children to find him, all the while dodging the clutches of the sinister state officials nipping on her heels. Kate Mildenhall’s The Mother Fault is a fast-paced adventure-thriller teeming with suspense and remarkable feats of survival, offset with tender portrayals of a family intent on being together. It is a book worthy of your attention this summer.
The Prophets, Roberts Jones, Jr
One of the most anticipated novels of 2021 (released in Australia on 5 January), The Prophets is a commanding and compassionate work of historical fiction portraying the fight for life and love in the American Deep South. Samuel and Isaiah’s story unfurls in evocative prose, detailing their love for each other through their own eyes, as well as through the eyes of fellow slaves and those presiding over them. Expertly propelled through layers of backgrounding and action, the plot is a slow simmer at first, boiling over in the final third when Samuel and Isaiah risk falling victim to insidious forces threatening their union. A challenging, life-changing reading experience, and a book which is sure to be an instant classic.
Nadia, Copywriter and Content Producer
Dark Wave, Lana Guineay
A hardboiled whodunnit transposed to the sun-drenched, tropical surrounds of the Whitsunday Islands, written by debut author Lana Guineay (full disclosure: Lana is a dear friend of mine). It follows the story of George Green; a pro-surfer turned private eye who uses a unique blend of charisma and almost transcendental intuition to solve his cases: think part The Dude, part Dale Cooper. When his old flame Paloma summons him to her family’s island to investigate a case of blackmail, George is drawn into their moneyed world of luxury yachts, pristine beaches, and long-guarded family secrets. On one level, it’s a classically formulated detective caper; on another, a sensitive portrait of a relationship over seasons, from bloom to decay to regeneration. Filled with lush prose and a sharp sense of mystery, Dark Wave breathes new life—and surf—into the noir genre.
Sisters, Daisy Johnson
The trope of the monstrous mother has long haunted the horror genre … but what about the monstrous sister? Here, Daisy Johnson tells the story of teenage siblings July and September, the former introverted, full of questions and superstitions; the latter vital, demanding, impulsive. After a terrible, unnamed incident at their high school, they flee to the country with their mother, to the house in which September was born and which serves as the gravitational well of the story. There, their mother takes to her room and July and September are left to their own devices, inhabiting a world full of just the two of them and their increasingly alarming games. The mood is claustrophobic; the mystery slow and relentless in its unravelling. Johnson takes the architecture of unsettlement and builds a new kind of haunted house: one that blurs the boundaries between bodies and dwellings, love and co-dependency, and ghosts and memories.
Chloe, Philanthropy Manager
The Adversary, Ronnie Scott
Throughout one stifling summer, a young Melbourne man navigates shifting relationships with his best friend and housemate Dan, and the people within their orbit—boyfriends, friends of friends, and Grindr hook-ups. I loved following this unnamed protagonist on his ennui-infused escapades, and happily devoured Ronnie Scott’s funny, snappy prose.
The Swimmers, Chloe Lane
This novel tells the story of twenty-six-year-old Erin, whose mother has motor neurone disease and has decided to end her own life. The sorrow and gravity of the situation are beautifully balanced by the wittily-drawn nuances of Erin’s family members, and their complicated love for each other.
Jessica, Business and Operations Coordinator
Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow, Jessica Townsend
One of the first things I did when lockdown eased was go to my local bookshop. While I was excited to browse books, I was overjoyed and comically excited to find out that the third book in the YA Nevermoor series was instore, a New York Times bestseller about a cursed girl who escapes death and arrives in a magical world. To the bookseller who sold me the book, my apologies if I was a bit much at that moment—if you’ve read the first two, you’d understand. If you need more of a push to read this series, just consider: giant talking magic cats and secret societies.
Finna, Nino Cipri
I read Finna earlier this year when it came out, and at 144 pages it’s a speedy read. I don’t think I gave it the time it deserved though because I find myself gravitating towards it again, wanting to reread it, thinking about it. So that’s what I’m going to do. The basis is simple: the winding IKEA pathways generate portals to other dimensions. When a customer falls into another dimension, two employees get sent to retrieve them; kinda sucks that those two employees broke up last week. Full of queer feelings and a pirate, this time I’m giving it a proper block of my time.
Winnie, Development Coordinator
The Good Girl of Chinatown, Jenevieve Chang
The author’s gripping memoir traces her breakout in Shanghai as an Australian-Chinese burlesque dancer. As her character developed, I found myself rooting for Chang as she reclaimed herself through honouring her passion and finding her roots. This book is not only about her reckoning, but a touching story of a three-generation-family across China, Taiwan and Australia.
Burnt Sugar, Avni Doshi
This novel centres around the question of how to love and care for parents who brought you up with recklessness and negligence. An illuminating read, Doshi’s story about a daughter battling between her tenacious attachment and compulsive grievance towards her mother, makes a thought-provoking summer read.
Sonia, Program Manager
Where the Fruit Falls, Karen Wyld
Karen Wyld’s impressive debut follows the lives of Brigid Devlin and her twin daughters Maggie and Victoria as they journey across the colonised, white supremacist Australia of the 1960s and 70s in their quest to find family, language and justice. Wyld’s dreamlike narrative marries fact with fiction, where reoccurring emblems and the elasticity of time are signposted by real-life occurrences like the granting of voting rights for First Nations Australians, land reclamation marches, and the Stolen Generation. Just like Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half—another one of my favourites this year—Wyld uses twins to depict the effects of colourism and the ability to pass. Wyld has a deft playfulness with language and rich characters that linger on in your mind long after you’ve finished the book.
The Lying Life of Adults, Elena Ferrante
The first novel published since her Neapolitan quartet, The Lying Life of Adults charts the inner life of Giovanna from the age of 12 to 16 as she grapples with the evolving shape of her family, burgeoning sexual desires and an oscillating sense of self. Set in Ferrante’s old stomping ground, Naples, this novel is about betrayals—the betrayals of being a woman, of being a daughter, of being an adolescent, and, finally, of being an adult—set against the irrepressible powers of sex and desire. As she did so adroitly in her Neapolitan novels, Ferrante skewers the conventions of gender and femininity through the prism of class and female friendship and captures the tangled web of emotions that permeate families, both biological and chosen. I raced through this in a day.
To purchase the books above, visit a Readings store near you or browse online