One of the absolute best bits about running a website like PRIMER is that we are lucky enough to be sent hundreds (and hundreds!) of books every year. But because of the sheer volume, it’s not until summer holidays that we have a chance to get to all of them.
Here are some of our favourites, along with a couple of oldies but goodies, and recommendations from our book club (which you can join here).
When Blythe Connor becomes a mother, the first few months confirm her worst fears. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally; she resents her inability to work; and, worst of all, baby Violet doesn’t even seem to like her that much.
The Push opens with a portrait of motherhood that is both bleak and, at times, familiar, but as it progresses, the novel becomes darker and more suspenseful until the reader is forced to wonder: Is Blythe an unfeeling mother? Or is her daughter Violet the unnatural one?
Too often, books that focus on motherhood are saccharine and obvious; this novel – written by an ex-book publicist – is neither. I was gripped by this smart, nuanced thriller. – Anna Saunders
It’s like this book was engineered in a lab to please me: Northern California setting, enigmatic recluse inviting a young woman into his beautiful mid-century modern home to “sort through” his famous photographer mother’s papers, the uncovering of an unspeakable past crime…
Here’s the thing: I have weird reading taste – I’ll usually read almost anything, from any genre – but the through line to it all is that I like books that really take me to a specific place, whether it’s Regency-era London’s marriage market, the dark corridors of a WW2 espionage sting or a really nice house in Carmel where a woman is slowly solving a thrilling mystery.
This book is a great whodunnit that reads like immersive literary fiction, and it has a lot to say about art, motherhood and mental illness. If you like crime as a genre, but your crime reading veers more Kate Atkinson than, like, Ann Cleeves (no shade! We stan a legend), this is for you. – Hannah Rose-Yee
When a publicist I respect mentioned that State Highway One was one of the best books she’d read in 2020, I laid it on my bedside table, faithfully intending to read it. Several months later, I finally picked it up – and couldn’t put it down.
Set in New Zealand (where I’m from), State Highway One follows a young man whose estranged parents have been killed in a sudden accident, and who embarks on a road-trip down the length of the country to come to terms with his loss.
Yes, it’s a grim premise (which may have contributed to the delay in me reading it). But State Highway One is beautifully written, taut with tension and cleverly constructed. Indeed, it’s one of the best books I read in 2020, too. Highly recommend. – Anna Saunders
I’m married to a doctor, so there’s quite enough medical chat in our household. But the moment I idly flipped open this unusual book, I was hooked. Part memoir, part philosophical exploration, this is a beautiful and moving exploration by German cardiac surgeon Dr Reinhard Friedl of the function and meaning of the heart. Can heartbreak actually harm our hearts? Can the heart feel? Yes, it all sounds very heavy, but Friedl writes with surgical precision and at times the poetry of his words is breathtaking. – Felicity Robinson
Yes, yes, I’m late to this novel by British writer Emma Gannon, who released it midway through last year. But Olive is worth revisiting (and, in pandemic times, with our whole lives on hold, what’s a few months’ delay here or there anyway).
I ripped through Olive, which charts the lives of four young women as they leave their 20s and find their way in the world. At its heart, Olive is about whether or not to have children – and whether starting a family is a conscious decision or predetermined destiny.
I loved this book, which is accessible and smartly written, because it explores the plurality and complexity of women’s experiences – and the vital importance of female friendships, and the way they so often outlast romantic relationships. – Anna Saunders
As a student with a vague desire to help refugees, writer Vanessa Russell briefly exchanged letters back in 2002 with an Afghan asylum seeker detained in Port Hedland. Over 10 years later, she googled his name, only to discover he’d been murdered. This powerful, moving book charts Vanessa’s journey to discover what happened to Ahmad Shah (and you can read more about her story in PRIMER today). – Felicity Robinson
Oldies but goodies
The Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn
You binge-watched the Netflix show, now it’s time to binge-read the books. That’s right: binge-read. If you’ve been in a reading slump and want the triumphant feeling of tearing through a book (or eight! There are eight of these things) then try Julia Quinn’s 00s romance series.
If you’ve seen the Netflix show, which has become the most successful series on the streaming platform ever, you know the drill. The year is, um, whenever Jane Austen was around, and the Bridgerton brood, all eight of them, need to get married – each novel focuses on a different sibling, with the first following Daphne, then Anthony, then Benedict, then my husband Colin, etc etc.
A warning: these are romance novels! Proper ones, with plentiful actual bodice ripping and women being pleasured on chaise lounges. If your mileage for that kind of stuff is low, then skip them. But I am a really, seriously firm believer that there is no shame in reading something fun, and books don’t come more fun than these. Lean in. – Hannah-Rose Yee
This American author won the Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres (based on King Lear), so when I saw this novel on my mother-in-law’s bookshelf it seemed a good choice for a more elevated beach read. (I’d just finished a Jack Reacher.)
In Good Faith, a small-town, laidback real estate agent gets caught up in the tangled web of a large, charismatic family and their get-rich-quick deals, and Smiley dissects it all with wry amusement. Also, it’s the ’80s, so no one has mobile phones or email, which adds to the escapism. Felicity Robinson
I read – and loved – Craig Silvey’s latest blockbuster Honey Bee in 2020, so it seemed about time to finally read his first, bestselling, book Jasper Jones.
Set in a fictitious rural Western Australian town in the ’70s, the book opens with 13-year-old Charlie Bucktin being woken one night by a local Indigenous boy, Jasper Jones, who desperately needs his help.
It turns out that a local girl, 16-year-old Laura Wishart, is dead, and Jones is certain that he will be blamed for her death. He enlists Charlie to help uncover the real killer, and the result is a whodunnit set against a backdrop of complex racial and political tension. Jasper Jones has been compared to To Kill A Mockingbird, and frankly, I loved it so much I can’t believe I hadn’t read it sooner.
Books our book club read and loved this summer:
The Dry by Jane Harper
I finally got around to reading The Dry because I wanted to read it before I went to see the movie adaptation, and holy moly! I devoured it in about six or seven hours. It was phenomenal and I can’t wait to see the movie! – Shivanii Alderman
Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
It took me two nights to finish it, such a fast-paced page-turner. Nausheen Mohamed
Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Librarians weather snow, rain, heat and gender expectations as they deliver books and magazines to their community in Eastern Kentucky in 1937. I listened to part of this splendid historical novel on audiobooks then finished it on my kindle (with the wonderful Southern drawl continuing in my head). There were so many beautiful descriptions, complicated characters, stirring romance and the thread of a gripping drama. Amy Moore
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
I read this book at a stage in my life where it just spoke directly to my situation and gave me the courage to grow. Lydia Carol
The Language of flowers by V Diffenbaugh.
A mesmerising fiction read Kara Le
The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong.
Loved it more than Boy Swallows Universe. #micdrop Lauren Hiscox
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
A reasonably quick read to fit around the chaos of school holidays, but so beautifully crafted. The growing sense of impending doom was impeccably delivered. Elyssia Connolly
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
It’s like a warm hug – gives you all the feels. Also loved The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – it makes you appreciate what you have, even if sometimes you can’t see it. – Natasha Last
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
This was my favourite read during my holiday because it absolutely terrified me. I haven’t been so challenged by the content of a book in years. It was haunting and terrific and I think little snippets of it will stay with me forever – Rachelle Forbes
Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Simply, it’s about a coffee shop in Tokyo that allows its customers to travel back in time. It’s been fun to read books by authors outside of English speaking cultures! Stefanie Crisafi