THE CRANE WIFE C.J. Hauser (Viking, $35) When C.J. Hauser’s personal essay The Crane Wife was first published online in 2019, the New York State-based novelist and creative-writing professor rapidly found herself with a hit on her hands. Roxane Gay, Dolly Alderton and Caitlin Moran were among the many fans of the moving, wryly humorous non-fiction piece, which struck a chord with its evocation of the personal lessons Hauser learnt during her time on a scientific field trip studying whooping cranes in the immediate aftermath of calling off her wedding. Three years on, The Crane Wife appears alongside an additional 16 pieces in Hauser’s first non-fiction book, a highly anticipated “memoir in essays” of the same title. The collection touches on subject matter ranging from family history to robotics to The X-Files, but always circles back to its central interests in love, grief and self-discovery as the author attempts to make sense of her own chequered relationship history. Some of the pieces feel sharper and more successful than others, but Hauser makes for a consistently compelling narrator — perceptive and honest, with a keen eye for comic detail. At their best, they’re strong examples of what the personal essay form can do so well, showing us a writer in the process of working out what they think about something while also questioning the stories we tell about our lives through an intimate lens. Indeed, as the book progresses, Hauser increasingly comes to redefine what she considers a “successful” love story, as she asks: “What stories were you told, and not told, about the shape of love, the shape of your yourself, the shape of a happy life?” She thus begins to reorient her expectations away from the “dramatic, storified kind of love” she has previously prioritised to encompass the bonds she has found to be more enduring: those of family, friendship and community. ELLA AND THE USELESS DAY Meg McKinlay & Karen Blair (Walker, $25.99) The line between imparting a valuable message and reading as overly didactic can be a tricky one to navigate in children’s books, but this new release from Fremantle author and illustrator team Meg McKinlay and Karen Blair does so beautifully. It’s a joyful ode to upcycling and creative reuse centred on a girl named Ella, who spends a day with her dad clearing out the “useless” things from their house and shed — only to discover that all of this apparent rubbish is actually exactly what their friends and neighbours happen to be looking for. The design of McKinlay’s text and the ways it interacts with Blair’s lively, engagingly detailed illustrations are a particular highlight, imparting a palpable sense of energy and fun. THE WRONG WOMAN J.P. Pomare (Hachette, $32.99) With his acclaimed 2019 novel In the Clearing, inspired by Australian cult the Family, currently being adapted into a Disney+ series starring Miranda Otto, Teresa Palmer and Guy Pearce, J.P. Pomare returns with his fifth book. Building on the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based author’s reputation for smart, twisty psychological thrillers, The Wrong Woman follows an American private investigator named Reid as he reluctantly revisits his home town after years away. Contracted by an insurance company to investigate a potentially suspicious car crash which has left a local man dead and his wife in a coma, Reid soon finds himself drawn into a parallel mystery relating to the disappearances of two teenage girls. GROUNDED Alisa Bryce (Text, $34.99) “If I’m at a party and I don’t want to talk to someone I’ve just met, I’ll tell them I’m a soil scientist,” quips Alisa Bryce in her new book, which aims to overturn the prejudices epitomised by these hypothetical partygoers and acquaint readers with the ways “the sticky, macabre and quite frankly fascinating world of soil underpins much of life, culture and society” by providing “a fun introduction to something you probably didn’t realise was so fabulous”. Bryce’s enthusiasm for her subject is certainly contagious as she delves into the significance of soil to everything from forensic science to wine production, the beauty industry and even some commonly prescribed medications.