Our favourite smart summer reads of 2019

If you’re looking for something smart and compulsive to read by the poolside (or while curled up in a couch!), here are some of our best recommendations for smart summer reads of this year.


Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor

It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flaneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Reverberating with the sharp ring and pulsing bass of the 1990s queer scene, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a blistering novel that shifts and shimmies and never goes where you expect.


The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

In 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Meanwhile, Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail… Woven through with Chinese folklore and a tantalising mystery, The Night Tiger is a captivating novel.


The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

Four women in their seventies have shared a lifelong friendship of the best kind – loving and practical, frank and steadfast – but when Sylvie dies, her absence sends reverberations along the faultlines of the remaining bond between the other women. The three of them come together at Christmas, not to celebrate but to clean our Sylvie’s beach house before it’s sold. Over the next couple of days, tensions rise and tempers fray, and it becomes clear their friendship may not survive.


Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories, Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, Gingerbread is a true feast for the reader.


Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. But then Rachel drops their two children off at his place and vanishes. As Toby tries to figure out where she went, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband with the too-ambitious wife is his sole consolation. But is that really what happened here? Fleishman Is in Trouble is a blistering satirical novel about marriage, divorce and modern relationships.


The Old Lie by Claire G. Coleman

Shane Daniels and Romany Zetz have been drawn into a war that is not their own. Lives will be destroyed, families will be torn apart. Trust will be broken. When the war is over, some will return to a changed world. Will they discover that glory is a lie? Following on from her acclaimed debut novel, Terra Nullius, Noongar writer Claire G. Coleman again employs the tropes of speculative fiction to explore the experiences of First Nation people today. Ostensibly a space opera, The Old Lie takes us to a familiar world to ask us what we have learned from the past.


Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

When Lillian receives a mysterious job offer from her glamorous and wealthy ex-high school friend, Maddison, she views it as a way out of her dead-end life. The job: taking care of Maddison’s twin stepkids who spontaneously combust when they get agitated, leaving them unharmed but causing havoc around them. So, over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the kids must learn how to trust each other – and stay cool – while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband.


The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre (translated by Stephanie Smee)

Patience Portefeux, a newly-widowed 53-year-old French-Arabic translator, works for the Ministry of Justice to decode telephone tapings and it struggling to stay on top of university fees for children and nursing home costs for her ageing mother. Happening upon an especially revealing set of police wiretaps ahead of all other authorities, she makes a life-altering decision that sees her infiltrating the machinations of a massive drug deal. Translated from the french by Australian Stephanie Smee, Hannelore Cayre’s sharp and blackly funny novel shines a light on the European criminal underground.


Inland by Téa Obreht

Nora is a brittle and unflinching frontierswoman. Awaiting the return of the men in her life, she bides her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home, and her husband’s seventeen-year-old cousin, who communes with spirits. Lurie is an outlaw; haunted by ghosts and relentlessly pursued by the law, he’s on the run with his trusty steed. Mythical, lyrical, and gripping, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history and in its pages Téa Obreht thrillingly subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West.


The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

When Rosie first meets Jimmy, she has just walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, she returns to Sydney to lay claim to to her father’s house – now occupied by Martha, the woman Rosie’s dad remarried. As the battle lines between the two women are drawn, Jimmy re-enters Rosie’s life, bringing some baggage of his own. This is a beautiful, hope-filled novel that our reviewer describes as an antidote to a world that can feel dark and cynical.


The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald

Tippy Chan is eleven, a fan of Nancy Drew, and lives in a small town in a very quiet part of the world - the place her Uncle Pike escaped from the first chance he got as a teenager. Now Pike is back with his new boyfriend Devon to look after Tippy while her mum’s on a cruise. When her teacher’s body is found beside Riverstone’s only traffic light, Tippy seizes her chance to solve a mystery and she and her minders form The Nancys, a secret amateur detective club. The Nancys is gripping and glorious, a heartwarming novel for anyone who’s ever felt they were on the outside looking in.


Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis

On a hot day in late June, a sixteen-year-old girl kneels outside a convent, then falls on her face. When the nuns take her in, they name her Dolores. As the girl adjusts to the rhythm of her new life – and relieves memories of her life before – a baby is growing inside her. This visceral, claustrophobic novella sits at just under 150 pages, making it perfect for a one-sit read. Find even more suggestions for short novels to read in a day here.

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Andrea Lawlor

$18.99Buy now

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