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Books

What to read in July, according to The Weekly: Horse, The Ghost Tattoo, and more great reads

There's something for every kind of reader.

By Juliet Rieden and Katie Ekberg
Stuck without a good book to read this month? The Australian Women's Weekly has you sorted with our selection of best reads for July.
Each title has been reviewed by our respected book reviewers, Katie Ekberg and The Weekly's editor at large Juliet Rieden.
Starting out with our Great Read for this month, Horse by Geraldine Brooks, we have something to suit every kind of book worm.
Plus… subscribe below and you'll receive a monthly Reading Room newsletter filled with our top picks for the month, plus 15% off some amazing products from hardtofind.com.au
So settle in with one of these Women's Weekly recommended reads, all available through Booktopia
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Great read

Horse by Geraldine Brooks, Hachette (Image: Booktopia)
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Three time zones interweave in Geraldine Brooks' soulful tour de force, and the thrill is as much in the individual tales and their colourful personalities as it is in watching the strands converge in a denouement that leaves the reader gasping for air.
Ostensibly Horse is the story of the legendary Lexington, and while the novel is a work of imagination, this exquisite racehorse very much did exist. He was the fastest racer in US equine history and went on to sire champions. He was also, "a horse so handsome that the best equestrian artists vied to paint him" notes Brooks, and all this as Civil War brewed in a deeply-divided nation.
We start in 2019 with one of those paintings as Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, rescues a damaged canvas from the curbside opposite his apartment, thrown out by his grieving recently widowed, and cantankerous, neighbour.
In seamless leaps this leads us to Jess, an endearing and nerdy Australian scientist, passionate about bones, working at the Smithsonian's research laboratories where she discovers an equine skeleton languishing unceremoniously in a storage room.
Add in gallery owner Martha Jackson in 1994 New York, a friend of Jackson Pollock and his wife. And then in alternating chapters, the backstory of the marvellous Lexington in 1850s' Kentucky and the enslaved groom Jarret, whose profound bond with the horse results in his brilliance on the race track.
Through this extraordinary epic saga, the author splashes around in the romance of men's relationship with horses and America's dark history of slavery and racism, also throwing in some sharp-edged art history.
"I work very instinctively, without a plan, and as the stories emerge I can begin to see the points where they intersect and echo one another," explains Brooks of her writing process.
The storytelling is magical and so too are the characters, whose pleasure and pain we feel intensely. While writing, the author lost her husband and soulmate and that is perhaps reflected in the deep emotion that pulsates throughout the narrative.
"I had only completed about half the novel when he died. I read that aloud to him during a long car drive and to my relief, he liked what I had done. He was a great expert on the American Civil War period and was always my best editor. It is just one of the hundreds of ways I miss him every day," Brooks tells The Weekly.

Memoir

The Ghost Tattoo by Tony Bernard, Allen & Unwin (Image: Booktopia)
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When he was 15, Bernard's Polish-born Sydney Northern Beaches doctor father Henry went to Germany for a war crimes trial. He asked if Tony wanted to come, but about to sit his own medical exams, he declined.
The eldest of three, Tony was his father's confidant and he knew of his time in Auschwitz. A rifle hung in the lounge, "in readiness for resistance" in case of anti-Semitic attacks.
His Auschwitz tattoo was visible on his arm, but it was the 'ghost tattoo' of what happened before which haunted Henry and which Tony recaptured to produce this vital testament to a selfless, family man.
Henry's father recruited him into the ghetto police, where Henry witnessed atrocities. He blamed himself for not saving his mother from deportation.

Contemporary fiction

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, Bloomsbury (Image: Booktopia)
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Imagine a giant Pacific octopus as your wily narrator – Marcellus McSquiddles. It's an intriguing idea that works surprisingly beautifully in this touching character-driven debut novel about human frailties and finding love in unlikely places.
Octopuses, we're told, are super smart as Marcellus is aboutto reveal. He can not only think, he understands emotions and is soon escaping from his tank in the Sowell Bay Aquarium to help our protagonists.
These are 70-year old widow Tova who needs to keep busy so she doesn't ponder on what happened to her treasured son and 30-year-old Cameron, a washed-up musician whose mother abandoned him when he was nine.
A sort of mystery unfolds, and very quickly we are sucked in, one tentacle at a time.

Storytime

The Cove by Alice Clark-Platts, Raven (Image: Booktopia)
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A classy, atmospheric thriller. Author Adam and wife Lou are at a luxury Malaysian resort, with son Raffy, eight, and daughter Laila, four months. They are with a couple they met only recently; barrister Noah and wife Eliza, and twins Chloe and Sam, eight. At Turtle Cove, uni backpackers babysit, leaving parents free to carouse.
We begin with hungover Adam, struggling to kayak to "a person waiting to meet him." Bombshells drop fast – Lou intends to tell Adam their marriage is over.
Adam flirts openly with Eliza, who observes Lou floundering, taking valium while trying to breastfeed a screaming baby. "The wheels are falling off." Lou senses there's something malevolent here. "They shouldn't have come." Monsoon approaching.
The Way From Here by Jane Cockram, HarperCollins (Image: Booktopia)
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A roller-coaster tale of two incompatible Australian sisters. Practical Camilla's "infuriating and impractical" sister Susie has died – stringing fairy lights for her 40th birthday, she falls from a ladder. She leaves five letters to be opened after her death – "very Susie; revelatory, a touch scatterbrained" – and instructions to where Camilla should scatter her ashes.
At each destination we learn more about this secret-soaked family. Weaving between current day and 1998, Susie on her European travels, where she falls for two guys on L'Île de Clair. "She was as infuriating posthumously as alive," notes Camilla. Mother Margaret joins Camilla, revealing the truth of her own son born on I'le de Clair.
Em & Me by Beth Morrey, HarperCollins (Image: Booktopia)
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Hearty, feel-good story of barista Delphine, 28, her grieving widowed father, and literary prodigy daughter Em, 11, a chip off Mum's block. When Delphine is fired from her job for spilling coffee, life spirals out of control.
A brilliant student, she left school at 16, pregnant, never taking her English, French and music exams. Her beloved French mother Jo-Jo died in a car accident, the sponge cake Delphine requested for her birthday still in the bicycle basket.
Guilt washes over her. How to get back on track? Getting a job in a jazz café, where she serves, plays piano and sings, taking her school exams with the aid of a former teacher. Who is Em's father? Morrey keeps us guessing until the bittersweet end.

Rural fiction

Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor, Macmillan Australia (Image: Booktopia)
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Move aside The Dry, Dirt Town has hit bookstores and it's a mighty, sophisticated, intoxicating read.
The debut crime noir by NSW writer Hayley Scrivenor combines all the intrigue of a small town whodunnit with impressive literary devices such as a classical Greek-style chorus of Durton's "kids" in chapters simply titled "We".
Here in this rural backwater, Esther's body has been found. She went missing aged 12 and the subsequent investigation into what happened unlocks an avalanche of secrets. '
Cloaked in the tapestry of the landscape and the town's personalities, it's a story that at times feels ripped from newspaper headlines, only here it is lifted onto a higher plane that digs into childhood trauma and subtle nuances of small-town isolation. Superb.

Family drama

French Braid by Anne Tyler, Chatto & Windus (Image: Booktopia)
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We are back in Baltimore – familiar territory for lovers of US author Anne Tyler – for this deft multigenerational drama which hinges on a family holiday in 1959 that will have ramifications in the years to come.
Chapters focus on the experiences and dramas of different characters and flit through six decades, opening in 2010 with Serena who spots her cousin Nicholas at the train terminal, only she's not sure it's him. Her newish boyfriend is surprised, why is this family so disconnected?
The quietness of Tyler's probing as she digs into family dynamics is compelling. It's the telling rather than the action as we are immersed in her created world that is both comforting and intriguing. Another Tyler triumph.

Science history

The First Astronomers by Duane Hamacher, Allen & Unwin (Image: Booktopia)
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The First Peoples of the world were the first astronomers, "who existed and thrived before the advent of Western science," writes astronomer Hamacher as he and six Elders take us on an observation of the stars.
"The idea that 'everything on Earth is reflected in the sky' and 'reading the stars' to understand your environment are two of the most widespread themes in Indigenous astronomy."
Indigenous science is dynamic, adapting to change, such as the profound disruptions of climate change.
Illustrated with breathtaking artwork and photographs, plus a beautiful foreword from Professor Marcia Langton on taking her children from the city lights to lay swags near a camp fire and stargaze as she did in her childhood.
"Relatives and friends had wonderful names like Starlight, Sunlight and Moonlight."

Courtroom intrigue

The Dictator's Wife by Freya Berry, Hachette (Image: Booktopia)
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Captivating debut. Political journo Berry wanted to explore how far wives can be blamed for their husbands' criminal actions after covering the US election and observing Melania Trump.
Laura Lazarescu is a junior partner in the law firm defending First Lady Marija Popa, who could face the death penalty if found guilty of her late husband President Constantin's crimes of bribery and corruption.
Set in fictional communist Yanussia, Laura returns to the country her family fled when she was seven for England. Defectors swam the Danube. The legal team shall stay at Marija's mansion, where Laura swims with "the hypnotic blend of Joan of Arc and Imelda Marcos, goddess and she-devil." Laura pulled a masterstroke when she told "the black spider", as she is called, that she believed in her innocence.
A bomb drops in court when we discover the First Lady knew Laura's mother Gabriela, who worked in a factory 10 hours a day. "What was she like?" Laura asks heartbreakingly of the tight-lipped, broken woman who cannot show her daughter love. "Happy, always happy," is the beguiling reply. The queen's next move?
You can read this story and many others in the July issue of The Australian Women's Weekly - on sale now

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