Stuck without a good book to read these holidays? The Australian Women’s Weekly has you sorted with our selection of best reads.
Each title has been reviewed by our respected book reviewers, Katie Ekberg and The Weekly’s editor at large Juliet Rieden.
So settle in with one of these Women’s Weekly recommended reads, all available through Booktopia.
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The Orphans by Fiona McIntosh, Penguin
This is Fiona McIntosh’s first novel set entirely in Australia. Her heroine, Fleur, is just eight when she is already helping her adoptive undertaker parents prepare bodies. Mother Mae knows their only daughter is capable of running the Port Adelaide business and so does Dad Henry. As Fleur battles the male-dominated profession she becomes the first Australian female undertaker. Running parallel is the tale of Tom, 10, who does everything at home to help pregnant Mum while Dad herds cattle. When an “earth shock” brings Mum’s labour on prematurely, Tom suffers a life-changing tragedy. Eventually Tom and Fleur meet and develop a unique bond. Flawless.
This Devastating Fever by Sophie Cunningham, Ultimo
It’s 1936 and Virginia Woolf, keen for herself and husband Leonard to attend a dress-up do at her painter sister Vanessa’s, reveals why they must go. “We’re going as bookshelves, fiction and non-fiction.” “Which of us will be which?” he asks, hangdog. In 2020, Melbourne writer Alice Fox is penning a memoir of “Lenny”. Set in two time zones, this extraordinary tale conjures an imaginary Leonard talking to Alice. Extinction, climate change, the pandemic, love and loss are all there in this vital, virtuoso candle in a jar for eternity.
Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie, Bloomsbury
In Karachi, Pakistan, in 1988, Maryam and Zahra, both 14, can’t wait to see each other after the summer break. Maryam’s mother drops her off in the family Mercedes; Maryam back from their annual sojourn in London. They are entering class 10, after which they will go to an English or American university. Maryam has fleshed out – she wears a “sack-like grey kameez”. It was her father who insisted she cover up her curves. Maryam will return to Karachi after uni, to take over the luxury leather goods business which pays for expensive armed guards at their home. Zahra has no intention of returning. Two super-smart women, on different sides of the road.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, Faber
It’s 1985 and times are tough in New Ross, Ireland. Almost 40, Bill Furlong is happily married with five daughters and solid work, but “lately, he had begun to wonder what mattered”. Into this the unsettling work of “the Good Shepherd nuns” who shelter “unfortunate girls” is woven. This surprising and beautiful novel was short-listed for the Booker.
Seeing Other People by Diana Reid, Ultimo
Diana Reid’s new novel is set in post-pandemic Sydney with twenty-something sisters Eleanor and Charlie reshaping their lives. Eleanor is straitlaced, Charlie bohemian, and as their worlds overlap notions of happiness, love and family are raised – laced with Reid’s ironic tone.
Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson, Doubleday
Dive into the sleazy nightclubs and jazz dens of post-WWI London in this novel from multi-award-winning Atkinson. Hedonism, illegal underworlds and dark trauma merge as our tapestry of characters vivdly intermingle.
Runt by Craig Silvey, A&U
For kids and adults, this charming tale centres on Annie Shearer, a loner who loves fixing things, and adopts stray dog Runt. Thanks to his tough street life, Runt has brilliant acrobatic skills which prompt Annie to enter him in a dog show, hoping the prize money will save her parents’ farm.
The Matchmaker by Saman Shad, Penguin
The “desi” (South Asian) culture of matchmaking makes for a sweet and spicy subject in this debut novel of “Parramatta meets Pakistan”. Matchmaker Saima is paid by Kal’s parents to secretly set him up with chance encounters in Sydney. When Saima mistakes Kal’s car for her Uber, a little bit of stardust has been sprinkled.
Tripping Over Myself by Shaun Micallef, Hardie Grant
Who is the man behind the joke? Mad as Hell’s Micallef finally reveals himself – the success, failure, love, loss, wine, women and song. “In my 30-year career, I’ve often played a character with my name, but it was never really me.”
Time of my Life by Myf Warhurst, Hachette
Growing up in a rural community, the youngest child and only girl of four kids, TV and radio were important connections for Myf, who would gather round to watch Countdown on a Sunday. “The show was our church.”
The Night Tide by Di Morrissey, Pan Macmillan
After a disastrous election night loss political staffer Dominic Cochrane decides to take a break to review his career options and moves into a mate’s converted boatshed in picturesque Flounder Bay on Sydney’s northern beaches. The peaceful haven is just what he needs.
But intrigue is afoot when Dom starts investigating the mysterious disappearance of his neighbour’s beloved husband, and meanwhile, in the background, a wealthy businessman is trying to buy up properties for a new development that could destroy this idyllic spot.
Add in recluse Snowy and a burgeoning love story and you have another gripping tale from Di Morrissey.
Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris by Paul Gallico, Bloomsbury
“Ada ‘Arris” is the irresistibly honest Cockney cleaner who dreams of owning a Dior dress like the one in Lady Dant’s wardrobe. She wins on the football pools, but then loses everything at the dog races. But when she hands in a valuable clip she finds in Belgravia (where her clients live) she is richly rewarded and starts saving. Giving up gin, cigarettes – and gambling – due to the “divine intervention” of God, she follows her heart to Paris and the House of Dior. Everyone falls in love with her innocence and when she delivers cash for the runway frock “Temptytion” – she has no notion she will have to wait for her chosen creation to be made. A delight!
The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth, Penguin
Fascinated by the Minotaur in the Labyrinth myth, Forsyth sets her story in Crete 1941, where protagonist Alenka listens to stories from her Yia-Yia (grandma) and is inspired by the myth’s feisty Ariadne. Yia-Yia dies that winter and when the island is occupied by the Nazis, Alenka joins the Resistance and saves the lives of two Aussie soldiers, best mates Jack and Teddy. In opposition is her traitor brother who considers himself German and welcomes the invaders. Both Aussies fall in love with Alenka, and why wouldn’t they – she’s a captivating character – but a difficult love triangle ensues as the underground work becomes more dangerous.
Clarke by Holly Throsby, A&U
Muti-talented Throsby (also a musician who has released five albums and been nominated for five ARIAs) was partly inspired by the case of Lynette Dawson, who disappeared in 1982, leaving two daughters. Her husband, former rugby league footballer Chris Dawson, was found guilty of Lynette’s murder in August 2022. It’s set in regional Clarke, where Barney is woken to the sound of policemen in his backyard, looking for the body of a missing woman. Next door lives travel agent Leonie Wallace, who lives with Joe, four, and is convinced Barney killed her friend, Ginny Lawson, and buried her body on his property. But where is Joe’s mother and where is Barney’s wife?
A Year With Wendy Whiteley by Ashleigh Wilson, Text
This thoughtful book is as close as we’ll get to a memoir of Wendy Whiteley. Author Ashleigh Wilson, who has known Wendy for decades and also wrote the biography of Brett Whiteley, sat down for a series of conversations over the course of a year. The result offers an insight into the pain and pleasures of an extraordinarily creative life and the resilience and passions that sometimes fire her soul. Her famous public garden below her home on Sydney’s harbour, where husband Brett and their daughter Arkie’s ashes are buried, is now fading out of Wendy’s life as she finds herself becoming worryingly “quite isolationist”.
Agatha Christie by Lucy Worsley, Hachette
In this breathtaking biography of Britain’s detective author, Worsley unlocks the essence of this much misunderstood woman. Born into a rich family, sister Madge was launched into London society at the Waldorf. But when it was Agatha’s turn the family was ruined; her father – addicted to shopping and allergic to work – losing his inheritance. Agatha,17, was sent on a cheaper version of coming out to Egypt, where it was easy to mingle with men of the British regiments at dances. Agatha was happy with upper middle class; she scoffed at toffs. Brilliantly researched; Christie seems no longer elusive and we gain crackling insights into her attractions, including her “hot” and unfaithful husband, Archibald.
Elizabeth Macarthur’s Letters edited by Kate Grenville, Text
An intriguing compendium of 65 letters by Macarthur that led to Kate Grenville’s novel A Room Made of Leaves. “What I’d learned about the Macarthurs at school hadn’t interested me much. John Macarthur was the ‘father of the wool industry’, Elizabeth his devoted wife. Hardly stuff to set the pulse racing.” But she discovered that John – clever, ruthless and one of the richest men in the penal colony – spent two long periods back in England facing legal proceedings, during which time Elizabeth was the “mother” of the wool industry. Grenville notes: “Do not believe the stereotype of women of the past being content with their lot.”
Three Times a Countess by Tina Gaudoin, Constable
Though this is a biography of Raine Spencer, it’s really about three women: the smart and determined Raine, her mother, prolific romance novelist Barbara Cartland, and her famous stepdaughter Diana, Princess of Wales. Raine married Johnnie, the 8th Earl Spencer, in 1976 and earned a reputation as the scheming evil stepmum who dominated Diana’s father. Here, journalist Tina Gaudoin explodes that myth and talks to those who knew Raine best, offering an entertaining window on the high society and royal world Raine played in, showing how she eventually became a close confidante to Diana.
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