Sophomore books that will impress

The curse of the second book, or the sophomore slump, is often talked about by writers and readers. Here, we’ve collected together 10 sophomore outings from authors that will impress – and maybe even inspire some first-time authors to persevere.


Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan

Conspiracies, memes, and therapies of various efficacy underpin this beguiling short-story collection from Elizabeth Tan. In the titular story, a cat-shaped oven tells a depressed woman she doesn’t have to be sorry anymore. A Yourtopia Bespoke Terraria employee becomes paranoid about the mounting coincidences in her life. Four girls gather to celebrate their underwear in ‘Happy Smiling Underwear Girls Party', a hilarious take-down of saccharine advertisements. Smart Ovens for Lonely People cements Tan’s role as one of Australia’s most inventive writers.


He Started It by Samantha Downing

Beth, Portia and Eddie are siblings. Like all siblings, sometimes they don’t get along. They just have better reasons than most. But when their grandfather dies, he leaves a troublingly specific condition in his will. For them to inherit his wealth, they’re required to retake a road trip they took with him when they were children, and scatter his ashes at the end of it. Of course, reuniting after all this time brings back memories of that ill-fated trip. But it’s not only memories they have to worry about. Someone is following them.


The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid' was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it… Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reimagines the beginnings of the first Oxford Dictionary through the eyes of Esme, whose father is one of the compilers working on James Murray’s epic first edition of the iconic work.


Sheerwater by Leah Swann

Ava and her two young sons, Max and Teddy, are driving to their new home in Sheerwater, hopeful of making a fresh start in a new town, although Ava can’t but help keep looking over her shoulder. They’re almost at their destination when they witness a shocking accident – a light plane crashing in the field next to the road. Ava stops to help, but when she gets back to the car, she realises that somewhere, amongst the smoke, fire and confusion, her sons have gone missing…


Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

Meet the Ramdin-Chetan family: forged through loneliness, broken by secrets, saved by love. Irrepressible Betty Ramdin, her shy son Solo and their marvellous lodger, Mr Chetan, form an unconventional household, happy in their differences. Happy, that is, until the night when a glass of rum, a heart to heart and a terrible truth explodes the family unit, driving them apart.


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

In Shaker Heights, everything is meticulously planned - from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost.


Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Human beings, we’re taught, are selfish and governed primarily by self-interest. This is a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. Here, Rutger Bregman looks back over the last 200,000 years of human history to reveal a counter-argument – one that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary. Humankind: A Hopeful History is a radical history of our innate capacity for kindness.


The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay

Hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, and allergic to bullshit, Jean is not your usual grandma. She’s never been good at getting on with other humans, apart from her beloved granddaughter, Kimberly. Working as a guide in an outback wildlife park, Jean hears news of a strange pandemic sweeping the country that allows humans to understand the language of animals. As the flu progresses, the unstoppable voices become overwhelming, and many people begin to lose their minds, including Jean’s infected son, Lee. When he takes off with Kimberly, heading south, Jean feels the pull to follow her kin.


The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (available 9 June)

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' story lines intersect?


A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura (available 26 August)

Okay, Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s cookbook is still a few months off but we’re so excited that we had to include it! Whether it’s a cooling coffee granita to start a summer’s day or the comfort of a hearty baked maccheroni in darkest winter, this is the kind of food you will want to share with your loved ones throughout the year. There are plenty of quick recipes and some that require more time to bubble away on the stove. This is generous, delicious food that the whole family will love, all year round.