By Rebecca F. Kuang
Published by HarperCollins / RRP $35

Yellowface Book Cover

A favourite among the ‘booktok’ set (booklovers on social media platform TikTok), Yellowface is the story of a brazen literary heist. The opening premise is simple: when a young novelist dies in a freak accident, her conniving frenemy steals the manuscript and passes it off as her own. Things go better than expected when the book becomes an instant bestseller, but as people start to suspect a con, the reader’s stress levels ramp up alongside the main character’s as she goes to greater lengths to cover her tracks. But behind the rollicking plot, the book is a comment on the less-than-glamorous side of the publishing scene. Throughout the novel, the author paints a grim picture of a fiercely competitive rat race filled with casual racism, where white authors view writers from other cultures as trendy rather than talented. The disturbing insights into the book trade, alongside the audacious characters and often darkly funny dialogue, makes Yellowface a cracking summer read. 

Laughing at the Dark

By Barbara Else
Published by Penguin Books / RRP $39.99

Laughing at the Dark Bookcover

In her fast-paced and vividly descriptive memoir, Kiwi author Barbara Else tells stories of childhood, family life and coming of age in 1960s and 70s New Zealand. As short vignettes and razor-sharp memories, these tales combine an engaging and easy read with astute observations of the societal norms of the day. There’s the time a ‘dirty old man’ follows her from the bus and shaken by the incident, she confides in her mother. The mother’s response is to pretend she hasn’t heard and promptly exit the room, leaving 11-year-old Barbara stinging with “an empty pain I can only call loss”. Later, she has to keep her drive to write women’s stories a secret from her then husband, who makes it clear he thinks women’s lives are a second-rate topic. But this book has a happy ending. As she blossoms as a writer and begins to live the life she’s always dreamed of, it’s a joy to be taken along for the ride. 

Demon Copperhead

By Barbara Kingsolver
Published by Allen & Unwin / RRP $36.99

Demon Copperhead cover

Born in a trailer park and bounced around foster homes, Damon (nicknamed Demon) has to grow up fast in the heart of Appalachia. Along the way, his unconditional friendships, witty observations and Holden Caulfield-like commentary provide plenty of lighter moments, but the dark twists are relentless as Demon navigates everything from childhood neglect and family violence to binge drinking and bitter disappointments. With the author herself a resident of Southern Appalachia, the broader themes of poverty, opioid addiction and everyday struggles of life in one of America’s most depressed rural areas are deftly woven throughout the story. But above it all, the deep-rooted values and collective sense of pride in being ‘mountain people’ is just as palpable. It might sound all too heavy, but it’s a story that’s beautifully told, and the snackable chapters and stunning language make it hard to put down. 

Maintenance Phase artwork cover

If you haven’t yet discovered this ever-popular podcast, prepare to be hooked. Hosted by journalist Michael Hobbes and author and activist Aubrey Gordon, the pair delve into the conspiracies, old wives' tales and junk science behind some of the world’s most popular health and wellness fads. From disgraced paleo diet devotee Pete Evans to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and the Elizabeth Taylor diet book, there’s never any shortage of nonsensical nutrition advice to poke a stick at. Each episode is well researched and easy to listen to, and with powerful forces like major supermarket chains and agricultural lobby groups in the spotlight, it’s surprising how political and wide-ranging some of the discussions can get. 

Gallery of Lies podcast artwork

Art fans will enjoy this six-part deep dive into the sketchy life of a criminal mastermind most people have never heard of. Helge Achenbach was one of Europe’s most prominent art dealers and a trusted adviser to a list of wealthy clients until a string of questionable moves landed him in court. In a complex tale involving the billionaire heir of the Aldi supermarket chain and an international trail of doctored invoices, Achenbach is interviewed on the podcast about his side of the story, but there’s still a sense he’s spinning the truth. 

Kingdom of Dreams

Available on Netflix

Kingdom of Dreams artwork

Even if you’re not particularly interested in the rag trade, it’s impossible not to get sucked into the drama of these fashion house feuds. Spanning the early 90s into the 2010s, this four-part series looks at the power struggles within top-name empires like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, the competition for design talent, the intense build up to runway shows, the head honchos pulling the strings and the mind-blowing amounts of cash they are raking in along the way. 

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