From buzzworthy debuts to domestic noir, immersive historical fiction, slick chick lit, and the long-anticipated return of a ripper literary crime series, we’ve got your winter-reading list covered. Here’s the top 10 books to try:
City of Girls (Bloomsbury Publishing, $32.99)
Six years after her excellent The Signature of All Things, Gilbert makes her much anticipated return to fiction with another period novel, this time set in a naughty 1940s New York. After flunking college, gifted teenage seamstress Vivian Morris takes the train to the Big Apple, where her Aunt Peg runs cheerfully low-brow Lily Playhouse. “Vivi” quickly starts transforming cheap costumes into resplendent creations for the showgirls, who sweep her up into their after-dark world of men and clubs. The teen is enchanted but soon learns coming of age means more than froth and fun.
The Electric Hotel (Allen & Unwin, $32.99)
In his luminous exploration of the birth of cinema, Smith (The Last Painting of Sara de Vos) slips between past and present to tell the tale of Claude Ballard, who launched his career in silent films working for the Lumiere brothers but who now lives out his days at a shabby Hollywood hotel. When a film-history student arrives to interview the movie pioneer, he unspools his story of a lost masterpiece—The Electric Hotel—and a lost love.
Whisper Network (Hachette Australia, $32.99, June 25)
If you’re craving a Big Little Lies-style yarn to curl up with, consider this slick, darkly funny murder-mystery set in a US law firm. Sloane, Ardie, Grace and Rosalita are longtime colleagues who resolve to take a stand when they learn their controversial boss has acted inappropriately with an employee. Whispers are it isn’t the first time. Their decision to speak up rocks the office, exposing secrets, lies and something far more sinister, as its tantalising prologue suggests: “If only you’d listened to us, none of this would have happened.”
Allegra in Three Parts (Macmillan Australia, $29.99)
The Sydney journalist’s debut novel “is the book I’m most excited about this year,” says Pan Macmillan Australia publishing director Cate Paterson, who published Liane Moriarty and Jane Harper last year. With an emotionally absent dad and a physically absent mum, eleven-year-old Allegra shuffles between the neighbouring homes of her polar-opposite grandmothers and her sad father, Rick, who occupies a flat out the back. A warm, sad and nostalgic family story exploring themes of growing up, friendship and faith, told in the voice of a young protagonist who will claim your heart.
Those People (Simon & Schuster, $29.99, July 1)
A standout in the ‘domestic thriller’ genre, British author Candlish is at her compulsively readable best. The premise of her twelfth offering will have many readers shaking their heads in solidarity: Lowland Way is the perfect street until Darren Booth moves in. Suddenly, there are problems—loud music, parking violations, etc.—that escalate … how far? Hopefully, most readers won’t relate to this part of the plot: One Saturday morning, someone turns up dead.
The bestselling author of The German Girl returns with another stellar historical-fiction novel inspired by events from World War II—this time, the Nazi massacre of the population of a French village in 1944. Beginning with elderly New Yorker Elise Duval receiving a package of letters that resurrect events long forgotten, the story moves to Berlin in 1939, as bookstore owner Amanda Sternberg prepares to flee Germany for France. From there, Correa spans seven decades unravelling a story that is harrowing as it is hopeful.
Big Sky (Doubleday, $32.99, June 18)
Fans of Atkinson’s brilliant Jackson Brodie crime series have waited nine years for the fifth instalment. These days, the former detective turned private investigator is ostensibly living a quieter, mostly solitary, life by the seaside, but his new ‘hood isn’t all seagulls and salt air. Tasked with gathering proof of a husband’s infidelity, he stumbles into an ominous web of secrets and lies, which puts him in the path of someone from his past.
Tidelands (Simon & Schuster, $32.99, August)
The author of The Other Boleyn Girl introduces a fresh series, jettisoning forward a century from the Tudors. It’s 1648 and England is at war with itself. In the marshy Tidelands of the south coast, wise woman Alinor waits in a graveyard beneath a full moon, seeking emancipation from an abusive husband. Instead, she helps a man on the run, and unwittingly invites danger into her world. These are risky times for an ambitious, gifted, woman, and—sure enough—a tide of fear threatens to overwhelm her.
The Nickel Boys (Hachette Australia, $32.99, July 16)
The Pulitzer Prize winning author’s follow-up to The Underground Railroad brings to life another strand of US history, this time through the story of Elwood and Turner, two boys sentenced to a stint in The Nickel Academy, a hellish institution inspired by a real Florida reform school that devastated thousands of children’s lives in its century of operation. While Elwood tries to live by the credo of Dr. Martin Luther King – ‘Throw us in jail, and we will still love you’ – Turner maintains survival lies in returning hate for hate.
Trails in the Dust (Macmillan Australia, $32.99, June 25)
The final installment in the award-winning Melbourne author’s bestselling Woody Creek series, it’s also a fine standalone that should draw in a new readership for a masterful storyteller. This family saga sees Jenny Hooper dealing with tragedy in a chapter of her life she’d hoped would be her most fulfilling. Meanwhile, her adopted daughter is in an abusive relationship, as Jenny and her other daughter futilely look on, and thoughts of Jenny’s beloved son haunt her. It’s been decades since they’ve been in touch but she’s convinced that only telling him the truth about the past will bring the peace she seeks.