A clever page-turner and an ABC reporter’s powerful memoir: What to read next

Book reviewers Cameron Woodhead and Steven Carroll take a look at new fiction and non-fiction releases. Here are their reviews.

Fiction selection of the week


Louise O’Neill, bantam, $32.99

Feminist self-help guru Samantha Miller cannibalizes her own life for her books. The bestselling author and social media influencer doesn’t skimp on monetizing her followers, building a business model to rival Gwyneth Paltrow at her Goopiest.

His next book, Chaste, promises to “start a conversation” about chastity, and Samantha achieves her usual virality with a feature article as part of the prep, detailing sexual experimentation with Lisa, her best friend in high school. But Lisa remembers it differently, and when doubts arise about her consent, Samantha’s manager is forced into damage control while the online idol herself returns to her hometown, where a reunion with Lisa sparks an ominous twist.

Louise O’Neill has constructed a compulsively readable business thriller based on complex contemporary social issues. Idol is a page-turner that you won’t need to turn off your brain to enjoy.


Guilty women
Melanie Blake, HarperCollins, $29.99

The sequel to last year’s Ruthless Womenwhich saw its author labeled “Queen of the Bonkbuster”, Guilty women is another shamelessly trashy game from Melanie Blake.

Glamor Soap falcon berry was rocked by a scandal when star actress Madeline Kane died on set (during a live Christmas special, no less). Four months have passed; four women stay behind to keep the show on the road and raise money. Amanda King, Helen Gold, Farrah Adams, and Sheena McQueen know full well that Madeline’s death was no accident, and they’ll stop at nothing to make sure their secret stays that way.

As filming for a new season begins on the luxury island of St Augustine, the guilty cast plot and plot in a devious new episode that blends melodrama and murder with dark fun.


Sandra Newman, Granta, $29.99

Men caused a stink long before it was published. It was inevitable. The novel describes a world in which anyone with a Y chromosome suddenly and mysteriously disappears. Accusations of gender essentialism and transphobia have been thrown around (given the genetic parameters of the storyline, trans women and some intersex people also disappear) and to be honest, the book’s drastic thought experiment makes them hard to defend .

The plot revolves around the relationship between a black presidential candidate and our narrator Jane – a woman who fell victim to predatory men in her youth and strived to be the ideal mother in response. Men has some interesting things to say about grief, sexuality, repressed trauma, the long-term effects of abuse and coercive control, but it never quite gets over its shocking premise.

This dystopian fiction might have been stronger if his headline-grabbing vanity hadn’t sucked up all the oxygen in the room.


White noise
Mercedes Mercier, HarperCollins, $32.99

Mercedes Mercier’s debut mystery novel has an intriguing set-up, but it flounders halfway through and strains credibility and suspense as it tries to cover the fictional distance.

Dr. Laura Fleming is a prison psychologist with her own baggage. Impulsive behavior ended her marriage, and although she tries to rebuild her relationship with her daughter and her friends afterward, it’s her job that keeps her together. She has it all with Justin Jones, a charismatic inmate who tricked everyone into thinking he was ideal for early release.

Laura sees through his charm, but she needs proof that Jones is dangerous to keep him behind bars. As she investigates Jones, however, increasingly personal attacks on her mount threaten to unravel her precarious mental state. Prison psychology is a fascinating field, but the novel’s plot and pacing aren’t as sure as they should be.

Non-fiction pick of the week


Hip-hop and anthems
Mawunyo Gbogbo, Penguin, $34.99

Mawunyo Gbogbo, music and pop culture reporter for Double J and ABC News, paints an uncompromising self-portrait in this fiercely candid but circumspect memoir. Born in Ghana (her mother from local royalty), the family emigrated to Australia in the 1980s and settled in Muswellbrook, NSW.

Here she experiences racism at school, makes lifelong friends, loses her virginity – the awkwardness of teenage sex is captured really well – but also begins an enduring and lasting “bad boy” love. unfortunate that takes years to run its course.

Her love of writing leads her to journalism and studies in New York, which is exhilarating but the start of a series of breakdowns which in turn leads to a tearful adherence to her Christian faith – in the hospital . This difficult and hard-hitting tale has real impact.


The school that escaped the Nazis
Deborah Cadbury, Two Roads, $32.99

World War II continues to tell incredible stories of bravery, like this one about German teacher Anna Essinger. Together with her siblings, she ran an unconventional school in southern Germany modeled after Summerhill. But in October 1933, after the Nazis seized power, she was exposed and, in a surprisingly coordinated exercise designed to look like a field trip, smuggled all 65 students from her school to England. An excursion!

Settling in rural Kent, she eventually won the approval of English school inspectors and set about expanding her school largely thanks to Britain’s Kindertransport scheme – the government abolished visa requirements – which saved children (mainly Jews) from Germany. This is an atmospheric portrait of an inspiring moment in dark times.


The Queen
Andrew Morton, Michael O’Mara Books, $32.99

At the start of World War II, the Germans planned to parachute commandos into Buckingham Palace to kidnap the royal family, and the king and queen in turn began packing heaters – all watched by the teenage princess somewhat relentless Elizabeth.

It’s one of the most interesting episodes in this roundup of the woman most of us just call “the queen” – like there’s never been another. The most poignant moments come early, wishing her parents had a son so they wouldn’t have to become queen, and in Kenya in 1952 when at the age of 25 she accepted the inevitable with the words “She’s one of these things”. A few hours later, arriving at Heathrow, she saw a queue of Daimlers waiting and observed, “Ah, they sent those hearses.” Social history as much as biography, it covers all the bases.


Jeff McGill, Allen and Unwin, $32.99

As a young woman, the eponymous Rachel, née Kennedy, rode astride her horse and not side-saddle, which was just as well because she was hunting brumbies in remote bush. Jeff McGill, her great-great-grandson, has compiled an engaging and informed portrait of a pioneering woman, born in 1845 and raised in the Warrumbungle Mountains of western New South Wales, who lived and worked the land, was a mother through two marriages, helped establish a local school, library and cricket team, hid bushrangers and fought squattocracy – all while maintaining close relationships with the indigenous peoples of the region. To some extent it’s a family story, but it’s also a keyhole in the history of the country itself, with Rachel dying in 1930 in a completely changed world. A truly colorful, even epic, life with a cast of colorful characters.

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