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December 21, 2023

Read all about CityMag’s summer book club

The summer break is a great time to catch up on those books you've been meaning to read, but haven't got around to. Here are CityMag's recommendations based on our favourites for the year.

In the CityMag newsroom, we believe you cannot be a good writer if you don’t read.


Looking for a place to buy one (or many) of these titles?

Check out the best places in Adelaide to buy books. 

Even the non-writers among us are partial to a good book. In our offices, you’ll find books slid from desk to desk as we show off our latest buys and a TBR pile stacked high. Whether you’re after an audiobook to listen to on a summer road trip, or love the feel of the pages between your fingers as you lay on the beach or hibernate in the air conditioning, we’ve got a pick for you.

Although there’s the occasional overlap – Demon Copperhead was highly rated this year –  our team have varied taste. The one thing all these titles have in common is that we think they’re a perfect summer read.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow Gabrielle Zevi
Recommended by Claudia Dichiera, CityMag reporter

As much as I would love to claim I don’t judge a book by its cover, I’m afraid I do. And when I saw Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow on the Dymocks book stand last year, I couldn’t look away. Thankfully, for a book so beautiful, it was a decent read too.

I am well aware this book had its moment in 2022, but it was brought to my attention that I clearly hadn’t boasted about it loudly enough after my best friend told me she’d never read it. So here we are, my perfect summer read.

It follows protagonists and best friends Sam and Sadie as they create their first game Ichigo together, and how their sudden rise to fortune impacts what once was an extraordinary relationship. I cried, I cheered, I was heartbroken and I followed this friendship to its dying moments.

Good Material – Dolly Alderton
Also recommended by Claudia Dichiera, CityMag reporter

It was Good Material by Dolly Alderton that brought me out of my end-of-year reading slump. Being the second book I’ve read of hers — the first being Everything I Know About Love — I knew I could trust her to give me a fruity, juicy, easy summer read, and she did not disappoint.

I was taken on a frustrating, yet significant story of heartbreak as protagonist Andy grapples with his long-term girlfriend, Jen, breaking his heart unexpectedly. The failed comedian questions his life, wondering where he went wrong, only to learn it was never really about him, it was only ever about Jen.

Again, I initially chose this book for its cover, and again I ended up bursting into tears (God, I can be so predictable), but Dolly has this way of putting the most visceral thoughts into words so simply and eloquently, and it’s truly admirable.

Personality and Power: Builders and Destoyers of Modern Europe – Ian Kershaw
Recommended by Charlie Gilchrist, CityMag reporter

Personality and Power: Builders and Destroyers of Modern Europe is the latest book by the University of Sheffield Professor of Modern History Sir Ian Kershaw. A specialist in the history of Nazi Germany, Kershaw is best known for his two-part biography of Adolf Hitler.

Personality and Power tackles head-on the “great man” theory of history with twelve mini-biographies of 20th-century European leaders, including Vladimir Lenin, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Margaret Thatcher.

This book is a scholarly work written in an accessible style and is vital reading for anyone interested in the question of whether history is made by individuals or driven by the pre-existing conditions of society. 

Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver
Recommended by Kate Robinson, CityMag account manager

2023 was a bumper reading year for me (thank you Bali) so I found it difficult to isolate a single book for this list. Alas, one story did leave more of a mark on me than others, and that was Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver.

Anyone who’s read Barbara’s famous 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible can be reassured that, 25 years later, this girl has still got it. Not a single word of the nearly 600 pages is wasted, her prose is straightforward and easy to read while still being creative and engaging.

The novel is told in first-person style, from the perspective of 10-year-old Damon Fields as he fiercely prevails through a life littered with poverty, abuse and addiction. A captivating coming-of-age story that, although heart-wrenching, you never want to end. 

Demon Copperhead (again) and The Fake Jesus – Malcolm Sutton
Recommended by Jim Plouffe, CityMag publisher

CityMag liked Demon Copperhead so much we’re recommending it twice. Some books you read for the plot, others to learn something new, but these two books I read in quick succession are whirlwinds of perfectly pitched prose that bring you along on a journey inside the mind of the lost boy protagonists.

Neither Demon Copperhead (2022) or The Fake Jesus (2021) is new, both have sat threatening to topple off my bedhead for quite some time. Once I flipped each open, I was caught in the frenetic stream-of-consciousness flow of dialogue so true to life it made me laugh out loud turning each page – not always appreciated when reading in bed.

You meet Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead as he recounts his birth and then it’s a rollercoaster ride in his head as you accompany him in a recount of his young life – told exactly as a young hillbilly (he rants against this depiction) would talk. The book is a modern-day David Copperfield exploring the plight of poverty and would make Dickens jealous.

Local author Malcolm Sutton achieves the same as his young (drunk) male from the Adelaide Hills discovers a fake Jesus coming ashore at Grange and, while trying to expose this ruse over a few unusually hot SA winter days (we all know those days), brings us on a perfect Aussie expletive-laden rant about modern media and advertising. It’s all set in and around Adelaide, so you can picture the journey – especially one down Port Wakefield Highway in a beat-up van passing by greenhouses and an ill-conceived housing development.

They’re two books to binge this holiday.

Yellowface – R. F Kuang
Recommended by Helen Karakulak, CityMag reporter

Yellowface has been everywhere this year and recently won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction 2023, but let me add my voice to the choir and sing its praises. When Athena Liu, a literary darling, dies in a freak accident, her friend June Hayward steals her unpublished manuscript and publishes it under an ambiguous pseudonym, Juniper Song. 

Kuang’s Yellowface addresses cultural appropriation and social media pile-on. It incorporates themes of casual racism and microaggressions throughout a first-person narrative as June justifies why she could do such a thing, the chaos that ensues once she has, and of course why none of the blame should be June’s to own. Usually, an unhinged, frustratingly flawed narrator such as June would stop me from finishing a book. As unlikeable as she is, I couldn’t put Yellowface down. 

The Woman in Me – Britney Spears
Also recommended by Helen Karakulak, CityMag reporter

The Woman in Me is wonderfully honest, divulging Britney’s reflections on her childhood, relationships and battling perinatal and postpartum depression amid a media that would not leave her alone. Of course, detailing the horrors of her 13-year conservatorship is what made this book so highly anticipated. Not a Britney stan, I went into this hesitant and I didn’t expect to become so engrossed in Britney’s story. The pace of the writing, the depth of her reflections and the humorous, kind voice that shines through made this an easy read to fly through.

Come for the gossip about Justin Timberlake and the music industry of the early 2000s, and stay for the insight into Britney’s pop artistry and aching introspection about being a mother in pain. Before hearing Britney speak for the first time in 2021 about the impact of her conservatorship, my knowledge of her life was limited to the spark notes and radio bangers: Baby One More Time, dancing with a snake at the VMAs, Toxic, iconic double denim and a circus perfume gifted to many a tween girl for Christmas in the 2010s. Whether you know more or less, this memoir is an accessible read and a worthwhile one. 

Tom Lake – Ann Patchett 
Recommended by David Washington,
CityMag editorial director

It’s spring 2020, and protagonist Lara is locked down at her family’s idyllic cherry orchard in Michigan with her husband and three daughters. At her children’s insistence, perhaps to pass the time, she tells them the story of her brief relationship with Peter Duke, before he became a wildly famous actor.

The action, then, moves from the 50-something Lara’s present life to a golden 1980s summer, when she performed with Duke in a season of theatre at rural Tom Lake – a place and an institution, not a person.

Patchett’s tale of past love and a career lost, but not necessarily mourned, is a gentle and finely observed meditation on nostalgia, motherhood, fame, belonging and much more. It’s a beautiful novel, surprising and multi-layered, including for the literary-minded, with a play by Thornton Wilder framing the narrative, and the ghost of Anton Chekhov always hovering in the wings.  


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Young Rupert: The Making of the Murdoch Empire – Walter Marsh
Also recommended by David Washington, CityMag editorial director

This meticulously researched and pacy biography of the early career of media mogul Rupert Murdoch is not only revealing about the man himself, but also says a lot about how power in Adelaide works. Local journalist Walter Marsh is a brilliant writer and brings to vivid life Murdoch’s beginnings as the “boy publisher” of Adelaide newspaper The News.

His battles with the establishment Advertiser and the political leadership are deeply ironic with the benefit of hindsight. Murdoch’s editor at the time, the dashing and respected Rohan Rivett, was infuriated by “the deep ties between the city’s political and commercial establishment, and a morning paper that seemed happy to exploit its influence with zero accountability”. Essential history for every South Australian.

Everything I Need I Get From You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know ItKaitlyn Tiffany
Recommended by David Simmons,
CityMag reporter

Over the past 12 months, we’ve entered a monocultural world. Taylor Swift stands alone at the top of the music industry, having monopolised streaming services, live music and even cinema. She’s been inescapable, and her always-ravenous megafans dominate both online and IRL.

Kaitlyn Tiffany’s 2022 book Everything I Need I Get From You is a deep dive into stan culture and how fans use sites like Tumblr and Twitter (now X) to act as a free promo machine for the likes of One Direction, Taylor Swift and more. Even if you’re not big on the world’s most popular artists, you’ll get plenty out of this read which dives into how online communities are formed and interact, as well as the darker side of fandom.

Stone Yard Devotional – Charlotte Wood
Recommended by Suzie Keen, InReview editor

As someone who often daydreams about taking a break from the daily grind and the depressing global news cycle, I was instantly drawn to the latest novel by Stella Prize-winning Australian author Charlotte Wood. My retreat of choice wouldn’t be a community of nuns, but that is where Stone Yard Devotional’s disillusioned atheist narrator finds herself after leaving her marriage and her life in the city. This is a deceptively quiet book ­– ‘meditative’ is the publisher’s description ­– in that the story centres almost entirely on the small monastery and Wood lures readers to surrender to its rhythms. But as a series of incidents unsettle the nuns and prompt the woman to recall things from her past, you, too, will find yourself forced to contemplate some uncomfortable truths about grief, relationships and human behaviour.

A Winter Grave – Peter May
Also recommended by Suzie Keen, InReview editor

UK author Peter May is a master at capturing the essence of a place. His trilogy of mystery novels set on the Isle of Lewis inspired me to visit Scotland’s Outer Hebrides this year, and on the same holiday I read his new thriller while travelling through the Highlands countryside where it is set. Few readers will have that luxury, but A Winter Grave is also the perfect companion for an afternoon on the beach during a hot Australian summer. As the mercury rises, let yourself be transported to an icebound Scottish village in 2051, when climate change has dramatically altered the landscape and a Glasgow detective must battle both the brutal elements and mortal enemies as he tries to solve the murder of a man whose body has been discovered at a mountain-top weather station. There’s nothing meditative about this action-packed novel, but it is excellent escapism.

The People in the TreesHanya Yanagihara
Recommended by Jayde Vandborg,
CityMag designer

After reading A Little Life for my entry in last year’s Summer Book Club, I was left enamoured with Yanagihara’s writing and in need of another all-consuming fix. The People in the Trees is intense from the get-go. You are introduced to the main character by being made aware that he has some serious allegations standing against him, and you spend the entire novel debating their extent and legitimacy. Yanagihara has a way of planting doubt in your mind as you read, toying with it as you learn more about the situation at hand. The only way to resolve it is to press forward, reliving the fictional travels of Doctor Norton Perina on the remote island of Ivu’ivu, and constantly being astonished by what he discovers there. It’s magical, destructive and brutal, and I could never read it twice – but it has stuck with me ever since turning the last page.

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