Books

What to read in February: My Sweet Guillotine by Jayne Tuttle, Lessons by Ian McEwan, and more great reads

For every type of book worm.
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Stuck without a good book to read this month? The Australian Women’s Weekly has you sorted with our selection of best reads for February.

Each title has been reviewed by our respected book reviewers, Katie Ekberg and The Weekly‘s editor at large Juliet Rieden.

We have something to suit every kind of book worm, so settle in with one of these Women’s Weekly recommended reads, all available through Booktopia.

Want more book reviews from The Australian Women’s Weekly? Sign up for our e-Newsletter!

The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding by Holly Ringland, HarperCollins

The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding by Holly Ringland. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: HarperCollins))

The first skin is death and the seventh homecoming.

A year after sister Aura’s disappearance – she was last seen walking towards the sea – Esther, or “Starry” as big sis Aura adorned her, returns to her family’s Tassie home for a memorial. “I’ll find the dreamer in you one day,” Aura used to say.

Dad made a promise to Aura at 15 never to reveal the reason she was hospitalised as a teen.

Esther travels to the fifth great-grandmother’s family home in Copenhagen, where Aura also visited, and meets the artist who tattooed words from Aura’s journal down her spine. Travelling on to the Faroe Islands, shocked Starry meets Aura’s fiancé.

Breathtaking, soaring prose.

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

My Sweet Guillotine by Jayne Tuttle, Hardie Grant

My Sweet Guillotine by Jayne Tuttle. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: Hardie Grant))

Part two of fearless Tuttle’s journey as a Paris drama student 20 years ago. Paris Or Die – which was widely acclaimed and adapted for stage with Jayne as herself in the one-woman show – focuses on the freak accident involving a free-falling elevator in an apartment block which broke her neck and nearly decapitated her.

The actor boyfriend who abandoned her in hospital makes way for “M”, a Melbourne musician. He visits the scene of the accident to discover life goes on as though nothing happened in the block.

When Jayne fears she may have damaged her neck playing boules, she relives wanting to die after agonising treatment, while mourning the death of her mother. She was encased from hips to neck with a plastic, metal and Velcro brace. Jayne’s inspiration for her play, Alice In Wonderland, proves ideal not for actors, but mind-blowing for marionettes!

“Ugly, yet beautiful.”

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey, Bloomsbury

They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: Bloomsbury))

A family of ballet dancers and choreographers betray each other in this dance of mirrors, reflecting an inability to show feelings.

Carlisle’s former dancer father Robert lives with partner, dance teacher James, in a NYC brownstone. Her mother, Isobel, Balanchine-trained, has remarried and has a son, Yuto, whom she loved on sight, in a way she didn’t with Carlisle.

It’s 1983, the height of the AIDS epidemic. When Carlisle, 10, goes to NYC, Robert and James take her to La Cage aux Folles. Carlisle now 42 – so tall it’s impossible to partner her – gets a call to say Robert is “nearing the end”. James has fallen for Alex, who he asks Carlisle to visit. Alex and Carlisle have an affair, but then he leaves for Germany.

“His telling me he loved me is still the most romantic moment of my life,” Carlisle says. Waiting in the wings, the choreographer of a new Firebird ballet shall rise.

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

Red Carpet Oscars by Dijanna Mulhearn, Thames & Hudson

Red Carpet Oscars by Dijanna Mulhearn. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: Thames & Hudson)) (Credit: (Image: Thames & Hudson))

Get ready for March’s Oscar night with this compendium of red-carpet glamour from 1929 to 2022 curated by Sydney fashion writer Dijanna Mulhearn.

“The Oscars red carpet has always seemed to me to be a high-profile intersection between fashion, visual art and theatre … When I was unexpectedly catapulted into the fray, I found myself in a wonderland,” writes Cate Blanchett in the foreword.

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

Lessons by Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape

Lessons by Ian McEwan. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: Jonathan Cape))

When Roland Baines’ family moves from a military base in Libya to London in 1959 the 11-year-old begins his serious education – French, Latin, sport and music.

His piano tutor is the sadistic Miss Miriam Cornell, who pinches his leg, producing a ripe bruise, when he messes up his Bach prelude. Such acts of violence morph into a kiss on the lips and an instruction to visit her home.

This doesn’t happen until he’s 14 when a sexual relationship with the now 25-year-old teacher begins. The horror of the bond is given context in jumps to the future, with Roland now a sole parent – his wife, Alissa, fleeing after the birth of their son.

All this is set against 70 years of turbulent history culminating in the COVID pandemic.

A masterful and ultimately surprising tale from one of Britain’s finest writers.

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

On The Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, OneWorld

On The Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: OneWorld))

Louisiana, 1953, nurse Vivian begged husband Ellis to leave the warmth for cold San Fran after a Klansman with a shotgun dragged her father to his death. When Ellis dies, leaving Vivian with three young daughters, she makes the journey on her own.

This stirring story is about religious community, where good people are there for those who are down on their luck. Vivian invites the widowed preacher for home-made suppers – he and Mr Baines, the butcher, took Vivian stews and roasts, which “rebirthed her”.

Esther and Ruth rehearse jazz up on the roof as The Salvations and sing at the Champagne Supper Club on Friday nights. Prodigy baby Chloe joins them, but the talented trio have different dreams to Mama about their future. Triumphant.

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

Saha by Cho Nam-Joo, Simon & Schuster

Saha by Cho Nam-Joo. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: Simon & Schuster)) (Credit: (Image: Simon & Schuster))

The outcasts who live in Town, a country divided by class, fall into two categories: those who have and those who have not. Citizens, known as Ls, are of a certain financial status or have required skills. L2 visas are issued to those with clean criminal records.

It’s controlled by a secret organisation called the Seven Premiers, and a man was executed for revealing information as to who one of the seven was. When Jin-kyung’s younger brother, Dok-kyung, is the prime suspect in the murder of Su, a young doctor, Jin knows they will never be caught in Saha.

“After a long residents’ meeting, they are accepted into their midst. They are neither Citizen or L2; but simply Saha, the term seemed to say ‘This is as far as you get’.”

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra, Hachette

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: Hachette))

Rome, 1940s. Attorney Giuseppe hasn’t told his wife of his financial ruin since Mussolini’s rule, nor that he takes daughter Maria to Sunday movies, not church. When Blackshirts storm the theatre, he’s hauled away.

Escaping to LA, Maria assimilates all; but her mother’s embarrassed the “cosy-kit bungalow” home that arrived in the mail is from a store that also sold underwear. At 14 Maria is secretary to a “Doctor” who peddles cure-alls from his “executive suite” phone box.

By 28 she’s associate producer at Artie Feldman’s Mercury Pictures, where he changes toupées to suit the occasion: “The Mephistopheles” to convince the Senate Investigators of Wartime Propaganda to pass new script Devil’s Bargain.

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

Hopeless Kingdom by Kgshak Akec, UWA

Hopeless Kingdom by Kgshak Akec. BUY NOW

(Credit: (Image: UWA))

Kgshak Akec, 24, has been storytelling since she learned to write English at six and this novel is inspired by her own life migrating from Africa to Australia.

Heroine Akita was born in South Sudan and spent her early years in Giza, Egypt, before the family emigrated, ending up in Geelong. There, spiky head-teacher Madame Atef calls brother Santo and Akita’s mother to their school.

Santo has been involved in “incidents” before, but not Kita, who wouldn’t hurt a mosquito. But today, when Samra pulled her hair for no reason and Santo picked up a rock to hurl at her, she forgot Mama and Baba’s words: “It is power to act as it is to stay silent.” Kita tells herself, “Today is the day I let Mama down.”

Brilliant debut.

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

Elizabeth & John, The Macarthurs of Elizabeth Farm by Alan Atkinson, New South

Elizabeth & John, The Macarthurs of Elizabeth Farm by Alan Atkinson. BUY NOW

“The Macarthur family papers are like a great forest. Get well into that forest and the voices start calling from all sides,” writes Atkinson, who has spent the past 50 years exploring the dynamics of the historic couple.

“The first thing that strikes this wanderer is that they must have been a careful and persevering couple. There was no way otherwise, in the small spaces they lived in, that they could have filed away so much. What they did with their sheep in preserving the breed, they also did with their bits of paper.”

According to poet Thomas Gray, “there was no way of learning things other than by moving about”.

So, for two children of the English West Country, the fashionable “locomotive disposition” was on the horizon in Australia.

BUY NOW at Booktopia.

FEBRUARY TOP BOOK PICK: Read our in-depth review for The Heroines by Laura Shepperson here.

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