Stuck without a good book to read this month? The Australian Women's Weekly has you sorted with our selection of best reads for February.
Each title has been reviewed by our respected book reviewers, Katie Ekberg and The Weekly's editor at large Juliet Rieden.
We have something to suit every kind of book worm, so settle in with one of these Women's Weekly recommended reads, all available through Booktopia.
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The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell, Bloomsbury
Swirling storytelling in the backstage machinations of the Mercury "tragic-play" Theatre Company. Jenny Wilcox's theatre painter brother stole the family money and absconded with a "soubrette" (supporting actress) to America.
She has a job interview with theatre owner's wife Mrs Dyer, who says her job is "correspondent": to keep an eye on lead actress Lilith, who Mrs Dyer believes is sleeping with her husband.
The salary is £40 a year – our protagonist becomes a spy. But menacing superstitions hover behind the curtain. Bewitching Lilith has a pact with Melpomene, the tragic muse of Greek mythology, to become the greatest actress ever to grace the stage.
Besotted Jenny befriends her but commits a cardinal sin when she speaks the play's name (Macbeth). A curse is unleashed.
River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer, Hachette
It's 1834 and Rachel has been a slave for 40 years at the Providence Plantation, Barbados.
When the Master announces that the King has decreed the end of slavery, but they must all still serve a six-year apprenticeship, Rachel runs. Freedom would be hollow if she didn't find her children.
One day a sack is pulled over her head and she's taken to a house. Mama B – Bathsheba – took her because "Me see it in your face. Your pickney [children]. You want to find them."
Mama B's working girl protege Hope helps Rachel find mute daughter Mary Grace. Thomas Augustus begs her to stop and stay with him at a camp of runaway slaves.
Then on Trinidad she finds fashionable (fairer-skinned) daughter Cherry Jane and kind-hearted pregnant daughter Mercy being beaten.
The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland, Michael Joseph
Inspired to write this moving, dignified novel after striking up a conversation about a book a homeless woman was reading, Ireland recalls, "She said most people didn't even make eye contact with her. She felt normal for a while."
Dolly Jamieson, 78, doesn't use the word "homeless"; she's "without a permanent abode". Plucked from her Geelong mill machinist job at 14, the talented singer, and dancer wowed in lead roles in '60s West End and Broadway productions.
A life of hard knocks has not destroyed gutsy Dolly's spirit when she meets a sad, well-heeled younger woman, writer Jane. The pair connect, discovering identical losses.
Dolly's star is born again as her story is penned by Jane in a magical memoir.
The Favour by Nicci French, Simon & Schuster
Jude is planning her wedding to bland Nat when the dangerous boy she devoted a summer of loving to before going to university to become a doctor pops up out of the blue.
Despite not having seen each other for a decade, Liam has an audacious and odd favour to ask and – bizarrely – Jude feels she can't refuse. Cue a slick, twisty plot that leads to Liam's murder and Jude's life unravelling at an alarming pace as she is caught up in the investigation.
Nicci French's best-selling thrillers are the work of married writing couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Do their combined brains cancel out gender bias, giving their characters yin and yang? It's hard to say, but together they certainly create a pounding and addictive aura of suspense.
The Lost Song of Paris by Sarah Steele, Hachette
London 1941: A German Luftwaffe bomb has Baker Street in chaos. Children in pyjamas run for underground shelters, the "Moaning Minnie sirens" at full tilt. French agent Colette arrived in her hotel minutes before and must jump from her window ledge.
Below Flight Lieutenant Alec Scott grabs an ARP warden to catch the injured spy in a blanket. When he visits her in hospital she has complete memory loss, but he realises, "I would walk on hot coals to hold this hand again."
Jump to 1997, and widow Amy Novak's daughter Holly doesn't want to go to school again. Once a classical musician, Amy now researches Cabinet Office declassified files.
Amy meet Colette: two peas in a pod.
The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes, Hachette
A hypnotic debut thriller about posthumous baby Maya who never met her Guatemalan father. Her nurse mother warned her there was mental illness in the family and she should steer clear of drugs.
But grown-up Maya is having withdrawals from panic attack pills, which she used to buy from a friend who's now disappeared. Her boyfriend Dan doesn't know of her addiction, nor that she drinks morning vodka shots.
Maya hasn't been back to the "cabin in the woods" where her friend Aubrey died "a sudden unexplained death" at 17. When another woman suffers a similar fate there, Maya is forced to return.
There's embarrassing light relief as glass-eyed Maya consumes daquiri, red wine, and no food, at Dan's birthday dinner for his mother at his parents' posh house in what is a spine-chilling Gothic tale.
Solito by Javier Zamora, Oneworld
Javier is nine, waiting to join his mother and father in 'La USA'. Born during El Salvador's 1990 civil war, he was a baby when his father fled, and gets nervous talking to him on the bakery telephone, but notes he has a soft voice. He lives with grandparents in a tiny village and is tired of relatives talking about his upcoming trip.
There are two types of courier, the one bringing expensive American toys to "Chepito" – he has a Panasonic video player – and the "coyote" Don Dago, who will accompany him on the 3000-mile journey, which was to take two weeks but lasts two months. When Grandpa has to return to El Salvador long before the journey is over, sensitive Javier feels "alone, lonely, solo, solito, solito de verdad (really alone)".
But his fellow migrants tenderly pass care of the boy from one to another, teaching him survival skills.
The Artist’s Secret by Alexandra Joel, HarperCollins
Art historian Wren Summers possesses talent, taste and integrity. Daughter of a brilliant hippie artist, she was brought up in a commune. In 1987 she lands her dream job at Sydney Art Museum as a curator and is chosen to go to Rome to collect a rare Raphael painting.
When she meets Signor "call me Alessandro" Baretti, who owns the gallery, "a tide of attraction swept through her. She'd never felt so drawn to a man."
A former editor of Harper's Bazaar, author Joel gifts us insider fashion observation at a 1988 Sydney Opera House gala.
"You look fabulous. I wish they'd put me in what you're wearing," Princess Diana tells Wren. "Wren could swear she glimpsed a hint of desperation in Diana's limpid blue eyes."
Life Unhurried by Celeste Mitchell, Katie Gannon and Krista Eppelstun, Hardie Grant
Slowing down is the new post-pandemic travel mantra and in this stunning book based on the blog of the same name, you'll find a dreamy collection of Australian retreats to visit, switch off and recalibrate.
With a focus on sustainable tourism in small-scale sanctuaries, these are truly unique and enticing finds showing a new way to have a break. Enjoy!
Kiki Man Ray: Art, Love and Rivalry in 1920s Paris by Mark Braude, Hachette
Illegitimate Alice Prin was 12 when summonsed to Paris by her mother. She loved the city on sight and would become artists' muse "Kiki de Montparnasse" at the Jockey nightclub in the gritty neighbourhood where she was queen in the 1920s.
She never knew if she would perform; sometimes too drunk, but the clang of cutlery on tables by adoring fans would bring her on stage purring and growling to the "music of organ grinders and dancing bears". If a singing voice could smell, hers would be "garlic hitting a pan's hot butter and wine," writes Braude.
It was her decade-long entanglement with artist and photographer Man Ray that propelled him to wealth and fame, and she to capture the spirit of the age, by doing no more than making a performance of herself.
"The affection from her ardent watchers sprung from recognition of shared circumstances."
MARCH TOP BOOK PICK: Read our in-depth review for Return to Valetto by Dominic Smith here.