Matching loved ones with summer reading gifts is easier said than done. We've taken the guesswork out of it for you.
You can't go wrong with any or all from this quartet. Home Fire, the seventh novel by celebrated Pakistani-British writer Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury, $25), is a blistering modern retelling of Sophocles' tragedy Antigone. A young British Muslim man goes to fight with Islamic State, triggering a chain of events that will see families tear each other apart. Utterly gripping, with an unforgettable dénouement.
Salman Rushdie is in top form inThe Golden House (Jonathan Cape, $33), a fable-like tale of the downfall of one man and his three sons. Set in glamorous downtown Manhattan in the period between the elections of US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and referencing everything from pop culture to philosophy, this tale of politics, power and lust is at once tragic and darkly humorous.
Manhattan Beach (Hachette Australia, $33) is by American writer Jennifer Egan, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for A Visit from the Goon Squad. Set in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and World War II, it's a gripping story about an unconventional woman making her way in Brooklyn's male-dominated Navy Yard, and gangster underworld.
Alex Miller's The Passage of Love (Allen & Unwin, $33) is a fictional account of his early days forging a career as a writer and managing a challenging relationship with his troubled first wife. A profound insight into love, creativity and writing from one of our best writers, twice winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
There are plenty to choose from this year. I Am, I Am, I Am (Hachette, $30), by acclaimed Irish novelist Maggie O'Farrell, is impossible to put down. O'Farrell recounts in chillingly spare prose her 17 near-death experiences, from being held at machete-point in a remote part of Chile to a life-threatening childhood illness. A testimony to O'Farrell's fortitude and a reminder to all of us to seize the day – with a title drawn from Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.
Classicist and academic Daniel Mendelsohn's An Odyssey: A Father, a Son and an Epic (HarperCollins, $40) is another powerful memoir, this one about what Mendelsohn learnt about his father Jay, with whom he'd had a troubled relationship, when Jay sat in on his lectures on Homer's Odyssey. The two then did a Mediterranean cruise based on it.
HELEN GARNER FAN-GIRL (OR GUY)
Helen Garner is one of Australia's greatest living writers and her collection of essays, diary entries and stories written over almost 50 years is just the thing for the lover of fine writing. A compilation of three nonfiction collections, True Stories: The Collected Short Non-Fiction (Text Publishing, $40), covers everything from family, love and marriage, sex and motherhood to travel, writing and criminal trials. Her piercing intellect, fearlessness and compassion shine through in every word.
You might also include academic Bernadette Brennan's superb literary portrait of Garner, A Writing Life: Helen Garner and her Work(Text Publishing, $33), which combines a close analysis of Garner's work with illuminating insights into her life. Garner gave Brennan unprecedented access to her archives and spent long hours in conversation with her. It shows.
Edited by science journalist Michael Slezak, The Best Australian Science Writing 2017 (NewSouth, $30) is a goldmine of fascinating information. Real, human stories that we can all relate to, whether it's the ecologist who emerges from the ocean weeping after he sees the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, or the frustration of a cancer scientist whose mother dies of the disease he has spent his life researching. Loads of random food for thought, too, such as whether Aborigines were the first astronomers, and the work of "bioinspirationists", who look to nature to solve scientific problems – and create surgical staples based on porcupine quills.
Distinguished English-born neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, once described as the poet laureate of medicine, produced The River of Consciousness (Picador, $33) just before he died in 2015. Sacks had a talent for reducing complex ideas to simple, accessible language, and these essays on the human mind touch on a range of topics, from the fallibility of memory to the nature of creativity.
For an insight into Sacks the person, throw in Bill Hayes' Insomniac City (Bloomsbury, $30), a loving homage to his partner Sacks as well as to New York, where Sacks lived for most of his life.
John Le Carré's latest novel, A Legacy of Spies (Viking, $33), is a sequel to his 1963 hit The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. In it, a retired British spy is called to account for his role in dubious Secret Service activity during the Cold War. Brilliant storytelling, beautiful writing and bucketloads of suspense guarantee this will appeal as much to those who've never read Le Carré as it will to devotees. The master of the spy thriller remains at the top of his game.
POLITICAL JUNKIE (AUSTRALIA)
An engrossing book about Australian prime ministers and political leadership from 1949 to 2016, The Pivot of Power by Paul Strangio, Paul 't Hart and James Walter (The Miegunyah Press, $50) is the second in a series by three leading Australian political science academics. It examines how each person got there, their style of leadership, and what they achieved. It also considers the influence of each on the office of prime minister and, in light of the turbulence of the past decade, asks whether the job has become impossible.
For something a bit lighter, wrap this up with The Chaser/The Shovel Annual 2017 (The Chaser, $25). With a cover photo of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the caption "21 signs your electorate is just not that into you" and a lead story on Labor leader Bill Shorten "The personality behind the politician, our special one-line profile", this year's version is as irreverent as ever.
POLITICAL JUNKIE (UNITED STATES)
"The press is the enemy." Sound familiar? This was the mantra of Richard Nixon, who early in his political career earned the nickname "Tricky Dick" for his willingness to employ smear campaigns and dirty tricks to undermine his opponents. Journalist John A. Farrell had access to a huge volume of new material on the former US president, and Richard Nixon: The Life (Scribe, $60) contains fresh allegations of political skulduggery as well as a compelling analysis of Nixon the man and politician.
For a dose of more recent political nostalgia, you can't go past the stunning photographs in Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza (Allen Lane, $90). Chief White House photographer throughout Barack Obama's presidency, Souza's great skill lies in capturing the unguarded moment in which Obama reveals himself.
Imagine a long, intimate discussion about all the things that matter: love, death, religion, travel, sex. Catholic priest Tony Doherty and much younger writer Ailsa Piper are kindred spirits who share just such a conversation in their book The Attachment (Allen & Unwin, $30) – a joyful celebration of friendship and of life itself. The perfect gift for anyone, really.
Foodies Helen Greenwood and Melissa Leong asked 100 of Australia's leading cooks, chefs and bakers what they cook for the people they love. The response is a cornucopia of mouth-watering recipes proudly reflecting our cultural diversity – from lamingtons and roast lamb to laksa and chilli mud crab. Contributors to The Great Australian Cookbook (Echo Publishing, $50) include Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander, Jill Dupleix and Kylie Kwong, with proceeds going to food rescue charity OzHarvest. Beautifully illustrated with on-location shots.
The best in a multitude of books about eating for good health is Maggie Beer's Maggie's Recipe for Life, written with Edith Cowan University's Professor Ralph Martins (Simon & Schuster, $40). Flavour-packed recipes from one of Australia's best-loved cooks – and who wouldn't want to look as good as Beer at 72?
Australian Food (Murdoch Books, $45), the latest cookbook from that all-Aussie bloke Matt Moran, is chockablock with delicious recipes inspired by our coast and countryside. There's a lot to love in this collection aimed at the home cook, with its strong emphasis on seasonal produce. Salmon gravlax, anyone?
Look no further than former test bowler Ashley Mallett's Great Australian Test Cricket Stories (ABC Books, $30), a collection of entertaining anecdotes involving many of the game's biggest names, from David Warner and Michael Clarke to Victor Trumper and Donald Bradman. Find out also how Dennis Lillee earned the nickname FOT (f … ing old tart).
Annie Leibovitz Portraits 2005–2016 (Phaidon, $120) is the standout illustrated book of the year. Often startling, always strikingly original, Leibovitz's photographs capture luminaries from the worlds of politics, Hollywood, literature, art and sport, from Donald Trump to Beyoncé to Serena Williams, in places that mean something to them. She planned the book's final portrait to be of Hillary Clinton in the White House, perhaps at Eleanor Roosevelt's desk. It was not to be.
…AND JUST FOR FUN
For those who want to keep the grey matter ticking over during the summer break, The Penguin Book of Puzzles (Penguin Books, $35) is the thing. Featuring every conceivable kind of puzzle – mathematical, word, logical, geometric – it's suitable for novices as well as your resident puzzle whiz.