Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Features & Discussion (page 1 of 62)

10 Audiobooks That Will Make You Forget What You’re Doing

I find the easiest way to make time pass when I’m doing something I don’t want to be doing is to pump up an audiobook. Big pile of dishes? Audiobook. Long walk in disgusting humidity? Audiobook. Boring wait for an overdue appointment? Audiobook. All the better if the audiobook is so good that I’m completely immersed in it, rather than what’s going on around me. Here are ten audiobooks that will make you forget what you’re doing.

10 Audiobooks That Will Make You Forget What You're Doing - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Good Material by Dolly Alderton

Good Material - Dolly Alderton - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Have you ever read or heard something that made you stop and think “wow, I thought I was the only one who was crazy like that”? That’s the feeling you’ll get all through Good Material. Jen and Andy have just broken up, and Andy can’t for the life of him figure out why. He’s heartbroken, he’s homeless, and he’s struggling to get his fledgling comedy career off the ground while everyone around him seems to have grown up overnight. This is another fantastic millennial novel from the pen of Dolly Alderton, which manages to capture the frustration and bewilderment of approaching mid-life. You’ll drop what you’re doing to listen to Andy and realise, hey, maybe you’re not alone.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie - Courtney Summers - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If true crime podcasts aren’t hitting the spot the way they used to, you need to check out Sadie. Courtney Summers’ break-out novel is styled (at least in part) on your NPR staples, depicting the story of a teenage girl who vanished from a small town trailer park while searching for the man who murdered her younger sister. Half the story plays out from Sadie’s own perspective, the other from that of podcaster West McCray. In addition to the hair-raising storyline of Sadie’s search, you’ll be on the edge of your seat waiting for their two storylines to collide. Read my full review of Sadie here.

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

Big Swiss - Jen Beagin - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Anyone who’s ever been in therapy knows the deal. It’s meant to be private. Like, seriously private. But what if a therapist is writing a book? What if he’s getting someone to transcribe audio recordings of someone’s sessions? And what if that transcriber were to… fall in love with the patient? That’s basically the premise of Big Swiss, and it’s definitely an audiobook that will make you forget what you’re doing. It’s weird, it’s traumatic (heads up!), and it’s got some of the most fucked-up characters ever put to the page – or to the earbud, as it were. Read my full review of Big Swiss here.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age - Kiley Reid - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You might download Such A Fun Age before your next holiday, thinking it looks like a delightful summer read. It won’t take you long to realise that behind the bright cover lurks a serious critique of race, class, and good intentions. A young (Black) woman is falsely accused of kidnapping her (white) baby-sitting charge by a supermarket security guard, and the whole incident goes viral online. She falls in love with the man who filmed the interaction, not realising that he and her boss share a past. This book ricochets from whip-sharp dialogue to penetrating insight so fast, you’ll be pumping up the volume to make sure you don’t miss a moment. Read my full review of Such A Fun Age here.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Know My Name - Chanel Miller - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In January 2015, Miller was a 22-year-old graduate living in Palo Alto. One night, on a whim she decided to attend a Stanford campus party with her sister and friends. Within hours, Brock Turner sexually assaulted her, and she became “unconscious intoxicated woman” – Emily Doe. In Know My Name, her 2019 memoir, Chanel Miller reclaims her name and shares her story. You’ve never read an account of sexual assault so detailed, so depressing, and so empowering. You’ll never again wonder why a woman might not come forward. This is an audiobook that will make you forget what you’re doing, in the best and worst possible way simultaneously. Read my full review of Know My Name here.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage - Tayari Jones - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Epistolary novels always feel more personal and intimate, and the audiobook format takes it to another level. An American Marriage unfolds through letters between Roy and Celestial, a middle-class Black couple torn apart when Roy is falsely accused and convicted of sexual assault, and others in their orbit. Tayari Jones zooms right in on the issue of incarceration rates in the Black community, making it tangible in the dissolution of one relationship that ripples out through a family network. It’s so compelling, you won’t be able to bring yourself to switch the audiobook off. Read my full review of An American Marriage here.

Empire Of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Empire Of Pain - Patrick Radden Keefe - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Die-hard fiction fans will be skeptical when I say that non-fiction books can be every bit as gripping and compelling, but I’ll simply direct them to download Empire Of Pain. Patrick Radden Keefe’s extraordinary work of investigative journalism unpacks the history of the Sackler family. You might not have heard of them before you press play, but you’ve definitely heard of their product: OxyContin, the drug that triggered an epidemic of opioid abuse that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. You’ll be so flabbergasted and enraged by what you hear in this audiobook, you’ll forget what you’re doing for sure. Read my full review of Empire Of Pain here.

The Likeness by Tana French

The Likeness - Tana French - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You ever hear the premise of a book that’s just so outrageous, you drop everything else and download it immediately? That’s what will happen with The Likeness, a 2008 murder mystery by the reigning queen of Irish crime Tana French. Detective Cassie Maddox is trying to find her balance after a major trauma, when a murder victim who looks exactly like her is found. For very good(ish) reasons, the only way to find the murderer is for Cassie to take the dead girl’s place, and pretend she survived the attack that killed the dead girl. It’s a far-fetched doppelganger story, but damn if the audiobook won’t make you forget everything you’re doing with each twist and turn. Read my full review of The Likeness here.

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski

Come As You Are - Emily Nagoski - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Self-help audiobooks are rarely so gripping they make you forget what you’re doing, but Come As You Are is something special. It’s not even self-help so much as it is a historically- and scientifically-informed guide to sexuality and pleasure. Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and researcher, and in this incredible book, she shares everything she wishes everyone with a vagina already knew. There’s no cheesy nonsense, no ridiculous euphemisms, and no frustrating puritanism. It’s a completely frank, no-holds-barred book that will transform your life, in and out of the bedroom. Just make sure you don’t accidentally hit play at full volume in public.

Big Duke Energy by Emma Hart

Big Duke Energy - Emma Hart - Audiobook - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Let’s end on a light note, with an audiobook that will make you forget what you’re doing but won’t make you cry or rage. Big Duke Energy is a thoroughly charming grumpy/sunshine romance novel, about a best-selling romance author and her muse. Ellie is suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block, and she’s hoping that a lakeside getaway will cure her. That’s where she finds Max, the enigmatic Duke of Windermere, who gives her just the inspiration she needs. Will she be able to avoid the fate of her heroine, or will she fall in love with the duke against her better judgement? Seriously, this audiobook is so much fun, you won’t be able to resist pressing play at every opportunity.

15 Quirky Heartfelt Novels

If you’re like me, when you see a book described as ‘heartfelt’, you’re immediately skeptical. I’ve read too many books that are overtly manipulative, or achingly earnest, and it’s made me wary. For some reason, the qualifier of ‘quirky’ sets me at ease. It promises a book that’s a little more offbeat, and that offsets the sickening sincerity somehow. Here are 15 quirky heartfelt novels that won’t give you the ick.

15 Quirky Heartfelt Novels - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Don Tillman has never had a second date. He’s got a good job as a genetics professor, he’s highly intelligent and articulate, he maintains a good level of personal fitness and hygiene, and he can cook (according to his carefully calibrated Standardised Meal System). But something always goes wrong – like the Ice Cream Incident. Or the Jacket Incident. In The Rosie Project, Don sets out to find love with a questionnaire he’s designed to find his most compatible potential partner. He soon discovers that the woman he’s most drawn to doesn’t actually tick any of the boxes, but maybe that’s okay if the Incidents aren’t deal-breakers. Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.

Hot tip: I highly recommend reading this quirky, heartfelt novel on audiobook. Some of the nuance doesn’t quite land on the page, but it really sparkles in the audio format.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Eleanor Oliphant is a bit of an odd duck. She has a routine for everything: work, meals, chats with Mummy, vodka, and that’s about it. It’s a lonely life, because she also has an… unusual way of relating to people. But, as Gail Honeyman reveals gradually throughout Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, it turns out she has a very good reason for being a little left-of-center. As “fine” as Eleanor is with the way things are, perhaps there’s more to life than what she’s had so far. It’s a lot more trauma-heavy than your standard feel-good fare, but this quirky, heartfelt novel is sure to make you want to hug it to your chest by the end. Read my full review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine here.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Evvie Drake Starts Over - Linda Holmes - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In a sleepy small town on the Maine coast, Evvie Drake rarely leaves her big empty house. All the neighbourhood gossips blame the death of her husband for her self-isolation, and she lets them think that – even though it couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s where Evvie Drake Starts Over begins, but it’s all about to change. Professional baseballer Dean Trenney arrives to rent Evvie’s granny flat, and the two of them strike a deal: she won’t ask him why he’s suddenly lost the ability to pitch, as long as he won’t ask about her dead husband. This is a quirky, heartfelt novel about new beginnings and unlikely connections.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This quirky, heartfelt novel will have you making room in your heart for the guy who grumbles in the queue at the post-office. A Man Called Ove follows a curmudgeonly old-before-his-time 59-year-old man (called Ove, in case you missed it). He’s been having a rough trot. He’s still mourning the loss of his wife, and recently found himself forced into early retirement. As fate would have it, on the day he plans to intentionally depart this mortal coil, an exuberant young family moves in next door. That’s when everything changes for Ove, even though he resents it every step of the way. Read my full review of A Man Called Ove here.

Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman

Funny You Should Ask - Elissa Sussman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Chani Horowitz is a twenty-something journalist, desperate for her big break. She thinks it’s going to come in the form of an interview with heart-throb (and her celebrity crush) Gabe Parker. And it does… just not in the way she expected. Funny You Should Ask is a quirky, heartfelt novel that plays out across two timelines. The first is Chani’s interview-cum-whirlwind weekend with Gabe, the second is a decade later, after a brutal divorce and a lot of therapy. Chani’s tired of being asked about the profile that changed everything for her, but maybe revisiting it could heal the wounds she thought she’d have to live with forever.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

The Reading List - Sara Nisha Adams - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re looking for quirky, heartfelt novels that will appeal to bibliophiles, you’ll get the best of both worlds in The Reading List. Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager with a summer job at her local library. One day, she finds a crumpled up piece of paper in the back of one of the returns, a reading list full of novels she’s never read. On a lark, she decides to read her way through the list – and ends up passing it on to a patron, Mukesh. Mukesh is a widower, desperately seeking any way to connect with his bookworm granddaughter. This list of books might be the very thing to save them both.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less - Andrew Sean Greer - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Arthur Less worries that he is “the first homosexual to ever grow old”. He finds himself suddenly single, when his long-time fuck-buddy dumps him to marry a far more eligible (and age appropriate) bachelor. Arthur Less decides that he must act. He can’t RSVP “no” to the nuptials and admit defeat, but he couldn’t possibly attend either, especially with his own 50th birthday looming… so, he proceeds to accept every half-baked invitation he’s received to literary events around the world, and sends his ex his regrets, citing “unfortunate” prior engagements. Less is a quirky, heartfelt novel with a road-trip vibe and the literary chops to win a Pulitzer Prize. Read my full review of Less here.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A 24-hour bookstore sounds like every booklover’s dream – who wouldn’t want a place to go when you get the itch for a book haul at 3AM? But there’s more to Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore than meets the eye, as Clay Jannon is about to find out. The shop has barely any customers and they never seem to actually buy the books on the shelves; they simply ‘check out’ weird titles from little-used corners. Clay turns to some of his analytical friends to try and figure out what’s really going on here, but it turns out the bookstore’s secrets – and those of its enigmatic owner – extend far beyond its walls.

The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It doesn’t get any more quirky or heartfelt than The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared. Centenarian Allan Karlsson is sitting in his retirement home, contemplating the dreadful birthday party the staff and residents are planning for him (with no booze), when he decides to do something different. He jumps out the window, and so begins a whirlwind adventure, with hoodlums and drug money and foiled assassination plots and elephants and (of course) lots of vodka. It’s like a European Forrest Gump, but less earnest and more funny. Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

The Cat Who Saved Books - Sōsuke Natsukawa - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Quirky, heartfelt novels often have strange bedfellows at their heart – and they don’t get much stranger than a bookish high-school student and a talking cat. In The Cat Who Saved Books, Rintaro Natsuki finds himself roped into helping the feline save the world’s books from neglectful owners. They visit the man who leaves his books locked in cabinets unread, the company director who cuts books down into snippets in the name of teaching others to ‘speed read’, and persuade the publishing magnate to set aside his profit dreams to make books what they should be. It’s an unusual and fantastical story, but all the most heartfelt ones are.

The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock

The Other Side Of Beautiful - Kim Lock - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Mercy Blain hasn’t been outside her house in years. Until she watched it burn down, that is. In The Other Side Of Beautiful, she finds herself living in a camper van, with her ever-faithful sausage dog Wasabi by her side, forced to re-enter the world she’s been avoiding. Lacking any other options (or any permanent address), she drives the length of Australia from Adelaide to Darwin. She has to contend with badly-timed breakdowns, grey nomads, a potential love interest, and a mysterious box of cremated remains under the passenger seat. This is a quirky, heartfelt novel about plunging headfirst into what scares you. Read my full review of The Other Side Of Beautiful here.

Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows - Balli Kaur Jaswal - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You don’t need to read a word of Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows to know that it’s a quirky heartfelt novel – just look at that title! The story has the goods, too, with an unusual premise and a close examination of cultural politics in immigrant communities. A twenty-something in dire financial straits takes on a job teaching creative writing at a local community center. That’s how she finds herself drawn into the heart of London’s Punjabi community, with a group of older Sikh widows learning for the first time to express their desires and creativity. Of course, the unconventional approach risks invoking the ire of the Brotherhood, but some secrets need to be shared, even if they risk scandal.

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson

Nothing To See Here - Kevin Wilson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Lillian is 28-years-old and down on her luck. She could’ve lived the good life, but her mother was bribed into letting her take the fall for her roommate’s drug possession back in high school. So, she drifts from shitty job to shitty job, barely able to see past the fog of poverty and depression. The inciting incident of Nothing To See Here comes when Lillian receives a letter, from that roommate who escaped a drug charge. Madison begs Lillian to come and take her up on a “job opportunity”. She doesn’t know until she gets there that the “job opportunity” is taking care of Madison’s step-kids. Who spontaneously combust, at inconvenient times. Just… whoosh! It doesn’t get any more quirky than that. Read my full review of Nothing To See Here here.

The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer - Ilsa Evans - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer is one of those books with a dark premise, but a tone so quirky and heartfelt that it’s an absolute delight to read. Two older women on opposing sides of a family divide come together to protect their granddaughter after they learn she is being abused by her father. Beth and Shirley are very Odd Couple: the cynic and the optimist, the conscientious planner and the free thinker. But Winnie, the sneaky and snarky great-grandmother, really takes the cake. This is a wise and witty novel about the lengths women will go to protect their family. Read my full review of The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer here.

When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald

When We Were Vikings - Andrew David MacDonald - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Zelda is 21 years old. She lives with her older brother, Gert, and she’s obsessed with Vikings. Not the TV show, or the football team – literal Vikings, the Norse people who kicked around Northern Europe up until the 11th century. Zelda’s a little bit different, and she knows that, but she’s figured out how to get by in the world. That is, until she figures out that Gert has made friends with some not-nice people who are getting him to do not-nice things for money… and she decides to take matters into her own hands. When We Were Vikings is a surprisingly charming and quirky heartfelt novel that balances compassion with humour in a beautiful way. Read my full review of When We Were Vikings here.

10 Romance Books For Bibliophiles

It’s the season for romance and passion – and there’s nothing we’re more passionate about than books! So, here’s a list of romance books for bibliophiles, love stories with bookish themes, and happily-ever-afters for book lovers.

10 Romance Books For Bibliophiles - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Beach Read by Emily Henry

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If you’ve spent even a minute on #Bookstagram over the last year or two, you’ve encountered an Emily Henry book. The best-selling author of sunny romances really found her people in the online book lover communicate, and she leaned into it – nothing wrong with giving the people what they want! Beach Read is exactly what you’d expect of romance books for bibliophiles. A romance novelist and a literary fiction author happen to take neighbouring beach houses, both in the hopes of breaking their own spell of writer’s block. They went to the beach looking for inspiration, and they found each other instead. But is their chemistry enough to overcome all of their differences?

By The Book by Jasmine Guillory

By The Book - Jasmine Guillory - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Venn diagram of adult bibliophiles who read romance books and who loved Disney’s Beauty & The Beast is very nearly a circle. For any book lover, a remote mansion with a huge library (and a sexy beast willing to let you use it) is pretty much the dream. The Meant To Be book series re-imagines these Disney fairytales for adults, and the grown-up version of Beauty & The Beast is By The Book. Jasmine Guillory transforms Belle into a twenty-something publishing professional, desperate to progress in her career – even if it means becoming a live-in cheerleader for a moody high-profile author who’s behind on delivering his manuscript.

Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon

Meet Cute Club - Jack Harbon - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The romantic leads of Meet Cute Club are Jordan – founder of the fledgling titular club – and Rex – a “frustratingly obnoxious and breathtakingly handsome” bookseller who makes fun of Jordan for buying books “meant for grandmas”. Naturally, they’re destined to be together. This is a wonderfully sweet rom-com with relatable characters, and an important message about (forgive me) not judging a book by its cover. It’s also one of the most delightful queer romance books for bibliophiles you’ll find on any shelf.

How To Find Love In A Bookshop by Veronica Henry

How To Find Love In A Bookshop - Veronica Henry - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The clue is in the title: How To Find Love In A Bookshop is the ultimate romance book for bibliophiles. The story follows Emilia Nightingale’s fight to keep her late father’s bookshop out of the hand of developers, while her village customers look for love and the life they want to live. It’s a delightful story with the coziest possible vibes, a David and Goliath battle against gentrification and corporate greed, sharp and sweet dialogue, and heart-warming love connections. You’ll find yourself browsing for love as well as books next time you’re at your local independent bookstore.

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

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A blocked ghost writer falls in love with her dead, sexy, no-longer-corporeal editor? Yes, please! The Dead Romantics is both a spooky story and a fun romance read for bibliophiles – that’s the best of both worlds! The fact that the main character can see and speak to ghosts is almost incidental to the romance plot at first, but it’s the crucial hook that makes this a fun and delightful read. Plus, most editions come with bonus content, including a list of the author’s own favourite comfort reads. Read my full review of The Dead Romantics here.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

The Bromance Book Club combines all the elements that bibliophiles love in romance books. Baseball player Gavin Scott tumbles head-first into a crisis of confidence when he finds out his wife is divorcing him. Turns out, she’s been faking her orgasms for the entire duration of their marriage. Ouch! In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship (and ignite their sex life), he joins Nashville’s all-alpha-male romance book club. Will the wisdom of Courting The Countess help Gavin unleash his inner Fabio? “The first rule of book club: You don’t talk about book club.” This is the first in a best-selling series of romance books for bibliophiles.

Thank You For Listening by Julia Whelan

There’s plenty of romance books for bibliophiles about authors and readers, but what about those hard-working heroes who narrate our audiobooks? They finally get a look-in in Thank You For Listening, a moving and uplifting romance about overcoming your fears to find love. Sewanee Chester has long given up on the idea of fairy-tale romance, and has no expectations of being swept off her feet when she takes on a job narrating an audiobook for one of the world’s most beloved romance authors. When sparks fly with her co-narrator, Brock McNight, she starts to realise that maybe romance books aren’t totally unrealistic after all.

Well Met by Jen De Luca

Well Met - Jen DeLuca - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“All is faire in love and war.” That’s the slogan of Well Met, an enemies-to-lovers romance novel that takes place in the unlikely setting of a small-town Renaissance Faire. The heroine, Emily, moves to Willow Creek, a (fictional) small town in Maryland, to help her sister and niece recuperate after a serious car crash. She finds herself roped into volunteering at the Faire, when she’s not working at the local independent bookshop. She clashes with Simon, the Faire’s organiser, but once they’re both in costume and hanging out in the tavern, all bets are off! Read my full review of Well Met here.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop - Nina George - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Paris is for lovers… book lovers, that is. With Shakespeare & Co, literary salons, and a rich history as a haven for prolific bohemian authors, it’s the logical setting for romance books featuring bibliophiles. The Little Paris Bookshop is one such book, the story of the city’s (sadly, fictional) ‘literary apothecary’. Monsieur Perdu can prescribe a book to heal any pain or problem… except his own. For years, he’s been dispensing paperback cures from his floating book shop on the Seine, but he might finally be ready to pursue a cure for his own broken heart.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A book club formed as an alibi for German occupiers of an English Channel island during World War II seems an unlikely basis for a romance book… but that’s what you get in The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society. This epistolary novel is part sweet, slow-burn romance, part WWII historical fiction. A writer is searching for a story for her next manuscript, when she receives a letter from a man who lives on the island of Guernsey. They strike up a correspondence, and soon she is drawn into his isolated community, where books and food keep neighbours and friends connected in a world that’s falling apart. Read my full review of The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society here.

13+ Australian True Crime Books

I know Australia has a bit of a reputation, being full of snakes and spiders and other dangerous critters… but it’s not just the animals that want to kill you Down Under. Here’s a selection of Australian true crime books that might put you off visiting my home country forever (if the crocodiles and box jellyfish haven’t done that already).

13+ Australian True Crime Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

The Arsonist - Chloe Hooper - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Every Australian was impacted, in some way, by the Black Saturday bushfires. It seemed to be a natural disaster on an unprecedented scale, the deadliest wildfires of Australia’s recorded history (180 people killed, hundreds more injured, and thousands of homes destroyed). Imagine, then, the stomach-dropping realisation that some of the fires were deliberately set. In The Arsonist, Chloe Hooper explores what might’ve led Brendan Sokaluk to light a fire in the LaTrobe Valley on a scorching hot day in February 2009. It sheds completely new light on what we all think we know and remember about that weekend, and the way we understand and investigate acts of arson. Read my full review of The Arsonist here.

Bonus: Hooper is probably better known for another Australian true crime book, The Tall Man, in which she investigates the death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody.

Trace by Rachael Brown

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The unsolved murder of Maria James is a case that hits home particularly hard for Australian booklovers. The Melbourne mother of two was brutally stabbed in the flat behind her bookshop in 1980, and to this day no one has been charged with the crime. Rachel Brown initially investigated the case for a podcast, before putting together everything she had learned for a book by the same name, Trace. She very deliberately steers away from the “entertainment” aspect of the true crime genre, and spends a lot of time interrogating the ethics of what she’s doing. Ultimately, she decides that it’s the best – and maybe the only – way to generate public interest in the case, and with public interest comes jogged memories and heavy consciences that might just see the crime solved. Read my full review of Trace here.

The Teacher’s Pet by Hedley Thomas

The Teacher's Pet - Hedley Thomas - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Speaking of Australian true crime books that began as podcasts: even international listeners and readers will be familiar with The Teacher’s Pet, Hedley Thomas’s investigation into the disappearance (likely murder) of Lynette Dawson. The podcast was downloaded over 30 million times and made front-page news every time a new episode dropped, and now the whole story is laid out in this comprehensive book. It took forty years for Lynette’s murderer to be brought to justice, and it might never have happened if not for Thomas’s investigative journalism and incredible determination. Read my full review of The Teacher’s Pet here.

Carnage by Mark Dapin

When Australians re-watch or quote the viral arrest video for the thousandth time – “this is democracy manifest!”, “what is the charge? eating a meal? a succulent Chinese meal?” – they often forget the strange conflation of circumstances that saw Jack Karlson apprehended outside of a Fortitude Valley restaurant. Mark Dapin has, at long last, pieced it all together in Carnage. It’s an unusual Australian true crime book, in that it doesn’t center on the perpetrator of one terrible crime, but on a shadowy figure lurking in the background of many. As well as being the ripping yarn of one theatrical outlaw, it’s a de-facto history of organised crime in Australia from the 1960s to today.

Fake by Stephanie Wood

Fake - Stephanie Wood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

To be catfished is a uniquely modern phenomenon, enabled by the proliferation of dating apps and new levels of technological literacy that allow fake identities to be forged and verified online. At the same time, investigative journalists have never been more empowered to investigate the catfishers, and get to the heart of their motivations. Stephanie Wood fell in love with a former architect turned farmer, and the relationship only soured when he frequently cancelled their meet-ups and found flimsy excuses for her rightful concerns. In Fake, she discovers that the man she loved never actually existed, and she effectively exposes the dark underbelly of contemporary dating.

Larrimah by Kylie Stevenson & Caroline Graham

Larrimah - Caroline Graham and Kylie Stevenson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re looking for contemporary Australian true crime books that have classic Australiana vibes, look no further than Larrimah. It has all the elements: “a missing man, an eyeless croc and an outback town of 11 people who mostly hate each other”. The titular town is a remote outback settlement with nothing to see or do, and only the occasional journalist or filmmaker dropping by to try and solve one of the most bizarre missing persons cases in Australia’s living memory. Kylie Stevenson and Caroline Graham have given it the best go they can, and ultimately they’ve written a love letter to this town, one full of dark humour and a deeply Australian sensibility.

This House Of Grief by Helen Garner

This House Of Grief - Helen Garner - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Helen Garner has written some of the most iconic Australian true crime books of the past century, and This House Of Grief is arguably the best. Robert Farquharson’s crimes horrified the nation; in 2005, he drove off a Victorian road and into a dam, causing his three sons in the car with him to drown. It took seven years for the tragic case to make it through the court system, and Garner dutifully attended each hearing and motion, taking copious notes and leaning forward when most Australians chose to look away. The resulting true crime book is one of the most haunting and incredible narratives you’ll ever read, in any genre.

Bonus: Joe Cinque’s Consolation is another of Garner’s iconic Australian true crime books, covering the murder of a young man in Canberra by his girlfriend, and the culpability of one of their friends.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

Eggshell Skull - Bri Lee - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s one of the most intense and insightful Australian true crime books of the decade: Eggshell Skull. Bri Lee brings a unique perspective to the experience of sexual violence survivors in this country. She is a survivor herself, and also worked as a judge’s associate for over a year, sitting in on trial after trial on the regional court circuit, watching the wheels of justice turn over endless cases that mirrored her own. It’s one of the few true crime books that sits in the middle of the Venn diagram between the victim and the “justice” system, and it will forever change the way you think about how both perpetrators and victims are treated. Read my full review of Eggshell Skull here.

Shark Arm by Phillip Roope & Kevin Meagher

Shark Arm - Phillip Roope - Kevin Meagher - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The first line of Shark Arm sets it up beautifully: “On 25 April 1935, a 4.4 metre tiger shark – caught one week earlier off the coast of New South Wales – horrified onlookers at a Sydney aquarium when it vomited up a human arm.” The “shark arm”, as it obviously became known, led police down a rabbit hole of smuggling, insurance fraud, and – not one, but two – grisly murders. This is one of the most bizarre and unlikely Australian true crime books, one that turns every stone in an attempt to get to the truth of the decades-old cold case. Read my full review of Shark Arm here.

Reasonable Doubt by Xanthe Mallett

Reasonable Doubt - Xanthe Mallett - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Of all the Australian true crime books out there, very few focus on wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice. Dr Xanthé Mallet, internationally-renowned forensic scientist and criminologist, sets out to restore the balance and shine a spotlight on this neglected issue in Reasonable Doubt. She uses a series of Australian case studies to explore the systemic failures of our criminal justice system, with a focus on the factors of a case that increase the likelihood of a wrongful conviction. By examining how and why miscarriages of justice occur, Mallett reveals opportunities for us to avoid them, and highlights the importance of making adequate restitution where they do occur. Read my full review of Reasonable Doubt here.

CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie

CSI Told You Lies - Meshel Laurie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Have you ever heard about a true crime case and thought “why don’t the police just…?” or “if I were on the jury, I would…?”. You might’ve fallen victim to the CSI Effect, the unrealistic expectations the general public have of forensic pathology based on that TV show and others like it. In CSI Told You Lies, Meshel Laurie offers the facts to try and counteract those false perceptions. Her approach makes this book a de-facto collection of Australian true crime stories told from a different perspective, that of the forensic pathologists who make it possible to identify and prosecute perpetrators of violent crime. Read my full review of CSI Told You Lies here.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Mark Tedeschi

Missing, Presumed Dead - Mark Tedeschi - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan came from opposite sides of Sydney. They were both (very) comfortably middle class, but other than that they had little in common. They ran in different circles, they had different hobbies, they never met. So, how did they both vanish without a trace, never to be seen again? Mark Tedeschi’s Missing, Presumed Dead unspools this tangled web. Tedeschi was the Crown Prosecutor in both cases, so he’s able to provide a lot of insight into the cases and, in so doing, he dispels a lot of damaging myths – like the assumption that a solid case can’t be built on circumstantial evidence, or that the absence of a body means a perpetrator can’t be convicted of homicide. Read my full review of Missing, Presumed Dead here.

Whiteley On Trial by Gabriella Coslovich

Whiteley On Trial - Gabriella Coslovich - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When you think of Australian true crime books, you’d be forgiven for thinking mostly of grisly murders and mysterious disappearances. Whiteley On Trial looks at a major crime of a different type altogether, but one no less fascinating: the biggest case of alleged art fraud to ever come before the Australian criminal justice system. Two men were found guilty of faking artworks by gifted Australian artist Brett Whiteley, only to be acquitted a year later by the appeal bench. The artworks were returned to their owners, with a giant question mark hanging over them – are they fakes, or are they the real deal?

75 Book Club Discussion Questions For Every Genre

If your New Year’s resolution was to join a book club, or you’re heading back to one after a long absence, you might feel a bit intimidated at the prospect of asking or answering book club discussion questions. Reading the book is all well and good, but some of us freeze up when it comes to actually delving into the nitty-gritty of what we liked or what we thought, and there’s no shame in that at all. I thought it might be a good idea to put together a list of book club discussion questions, whether you want to use them to spark your own conversations or just mentally prepare for your next meet-up.

75 Book Club Discussion Questions For Every Genre - Keeping Up With The Penguins

General Book Club Discussion Questions

  1. How much did you know about the book before you started reading it? Did it live up to your expectations?
  2. How does the title relate to the book’s story or themes? Do you think it gave you a good idea of what to expect?
  3. What was your favourite part of the book? Were there any stand out scenes or sections for you?
  4. Were there aspects of this book that you didn’t enjoy? Were there characters, scenes, or style choices that didn’t work for you?
  5. Did you have a favourite character, or one you found particularly relatable?
  6. Do you think this book was too long, too short, or just right? Are there any parts that you would take out, or anything you think could have been explored more?
  7. Was it a page turner for you? Did you race to the end, or did you take it slow?
  8. Was it an easy read for you, or a challenging one?
  9. Would you recommend this book to other readers? Why (or why not)?
  10. Did this book remind you of any other books you’ve read? How would you shelve it in a bookstore, or describe its “vibe” to other readers?
  11. If you were adapting this book for the screen, who would you cast in it?
  12. Did you highlight any particular quotes or passages? Were there any sentences that stood out for you?
  13. Have you read any other books by this author? Would you want to, based on your experience reading this book?
  14. Have you ever experienced anything in your own life that you saw reflected in the book? If so, did you feel it was realistic or related to your own experience?
  15. Did anything about this book take you by surprise?
  16. Were you satisfied by the book’s ending? Did you feel everything was sufficiently resolved?
  17. What do you think would happen to the characters after the story “officially” ends?
  18. What questions would you ask the author about this book?
  19. Do you think this book will stay with you? Will you still be thinking about it in a few weeks, a few months, or a few years?
  20. Would you re-read this book?

Book Club Discussion Questions for Romance Books

  1. What did you think of the “spice” level in this book? Was it too spicy, not spicy enough, or just right for you?
  2. How did you feel about the leading characters? Could you see yourself “falling” for any of them?
  3. Were you “rooting for” the characters to end up together?
  4. Did the love story feel realistic to you? If not, why not?
  5. What were the main obstacles to the romance? Did you agree with how the characters went about overcoming them? What might you have done differently?
  6. How did the characters grow and develop over the course of the story? Did their romance support that growth, or diminish it?
  7. Were there any interesting side characters?
  8. What romantic tropes did you recognise in the story? Did you like them, or not?
  9. Did the story have a Happily Ever After ending? How do you feel about the “rule” that romance books must end happily?
  10. If the book is part of a series, would you want to read the next book?

Book Club Discussion Questions for Mysteries & Thrillers

  1. How did the author grab your attention? Was the story compelling from the start, or did it take a while to warm up to the mystery?
  2. Were there any/enough “twists” in this book for you? Did you see them coming? Did anything take you by surprise?
  3. Were there any red herrings? Did any of them throw you off track?
  4. Did the setting or atmosphere play a role in this story? How do you think it enhanced, or detracted from, the action?
  5. How did you feel about the characters’ choices along the way? Would you have chosen differently, if you were in their situation/s?
  6. How did the author raise the tension, and/or the stakes as the story developed? Do you feel like the story was well paced? Why/why not?
  7. How was law enforcement involved in this story? How do you feel about how they were portrayed?
  8. Did the villain have any redeeming qualities? Could you understand their actions, or empathise with their point of view?
  9. How did this book make you feel? Did you notice your heart racing, or did you get goosebumps?
  10. Were there any questions left unanswered, or mysteries left unsolved?

Book Club Discussion Questions for Literary Fiction

  1. How important was the time period and setting to the story? Could it have been set at a different time, or in a different place?
  2. Did this book win any awards or accolades? Do you agree with the judge’s decision(s)?
  3. Did the author incorporate any genre elements into the story? (Suspense, romance, magical realism, etc.) Did this enhance the story, or detract/distract from it?
  4. What do you think the author was trying to say or achieve with this book?
  5. Did this book, its characters or its story, evoke any emotional reactions from you? What were they?
  6. Did you find anything particularly challenging while reading this book?
  7. How did you feel about the author’s stylistic choices (e.g., punctuation and formatting)? Did they enhance or detract/distract from the story?
  8. Did the author use dialogue effectively? How did conversations between characters progress the story? Are there any conversations that stood out for you?
  9. Do you feel that the “mood” of this book is optimistic or pessimistic?
  10. If you’ve read other books by the author, how does this book fit in with their body of work? Are there any stories, themes, or characters that recur throughout their books?

Book Club Discussion Questions for Non-Fiction Books

  1. How would you describe the author’s style? Is this book fact-focused, story-focused, or emotion-focused?
  2. How was the book organised? Did it cover the subject chronologically, episodically, or thematically? Why do you think the author chose to write this book the way they did?
  3. Did you learn anything new from this book? Did it change the way you think about a particular subject?
  4. Were there any key “fun facts” that stuck out for you?
  5. Did you have to Google anything while reading this book?
  6. Did this book make you want to learn more about the subject/s it covers?
  7. Did this book inspire you to take action, or change anything in your own life?
  8. Is there anything you think the author missed? Do you think the author covered the subject in enough depth?
  9. Did you doubt the author’s authority on the subject at any stage? Did you question any of the information that they relayed?
  10. What do you think motivated the author to write this book, on this subject? Do you think they achieved their goal?

Book Club Discussion Questions for Sci-Fi & Fantasy

  1. Did the author do a good job of making the world and its lore believable? Did you think there was enough detail in the world building?
  2. Were there any maps, glossaries, or appendices included alongside the story? Did you find them helpful?
  3. Would you want to live in the world depicted in this story? Why (or why not)?
  4. Did any of the characters have special abilities or skills? Would you want to have them for yourself?
  5. How did the author depict different races, genders, or cultures in their fictional world?
  6. What were the metaphors in this story? How does the story and its setting relate to the real world?
  7. How did common themes – heroism, loyalty, destiny – factor into the story?
  8. Do you think the author’s style and voice suits speculative fiction?
  9. How does this book compare to other books you’ve read from the same genre? Can you see how other stories or authors have influenced this book?
  10. How do you feel about how violence and conflict were depicted in this book?

Book Club Discussion Questions for Classic Books

  1. Classic books usually have big reputations. How did what you know about the book or its author impact your reading experience? Do you think the book is overrated, or underrated?
  2. Have you ever read or watched any adaptations of this book? How do they compare to the original?
  3. Were there any classic lines, scenes or characters you recognised? Did they have any new resonance or meaning in their original context?
  4. If your edition of this book came with an introduction or footnotes, did you read them? Did they enhance your experience of the story, or detract from it?
  5. How do you think this book was received when it was originally published? Do you think its reputation has improved or deteriorated since then?
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