A Fish in the Swim of the World, by Ben Brown
Ben Brown (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Korokī, Ngāti Paoa) is a story teller. His stories are philosophical and luminous and funny and intellectual and they plunge from one mood to the other without missing a beat. I spent a week in a van driving around Taranaki with him recently and our conversations changed me, though it’s hard to say exactly how.
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Prianesi, by Susanna Clarke
“When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule.” As a first sentence that’s a big turn off for someone jaded by fantasy. But the book was recommended by my friend Tess, who is a sensible woman and a journalist and unlikely to send me off to some hokey warring kingdoms where women with shining braids and medieval gowns face boy warriors with superpowers who are battling some evil psycho. Happy to say this turned out to be one of the most original novels I’ve read since…oh, lets go back a lifetime to John Fowles’s The Magus. But without the horror.
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Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly
This is so refreshing for a New Zealand book—hooray for getting away from the cliché that all kiwis are boring monoglot parochials. Here’s a great new cast of characters, a whole blended extended Vladisavljevic whanau of Russian, Māori, Catalans, some other eastern Europeans I think – Romanian? There’s a complicated relationship with this lot, academics and students at Auckland Uni woven around the main unit of Greta and her brother Valdin, who are our storytellers. I’ve never met people like them but wish I had. The dinner time conversations are epic. ‘The first time I brought you round to my parents’ house I told everyone to act like regular people and V threw the remote out the window so no one could change the channel from Eurovision and a squid had exploded on my dad at work.’ There’s a confusing series of relationships across the group, bi, straight and gay—an uncle’s husband’s brother is the boyfriend of Valdin and a brother-in-law’s husband a straight ex-lover (ex?). I had to draw a curly family tree to get it straight. Like life. It’s complicated.
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Catching the Current, by Jenny Pattrick
If you have read and enjoyed Jenny Pattrick’s latest, Harbouring, do go for a romp around her backlist. They’re consistently good. I’ve just reread Catching the Current and enjoyed it the second time around even more than in 2005 when it was first published.
This is a prequel to Denniston Rose, but reads as a stand-alone story based on the early life of Faroe Islander, Conrad Rasmussen—known to Denniston fans as Con the Brake. He’s tall, fair and handsome, playful, talkative, a renowned singer and teller of tales, and pretty full of himself. He excels at everything he turns his hand to, a man not to be ignored. He’s quick to temper and loyal to his friends—a lover, a hero.
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Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Woman’s liberation in the 1960s has never been so powerfully portrayed as in this book, where a woman is up against the male world of scientific research. Elizabeth Zott wants to study abiogenesis for God’s sake, no less than the origins of life, but that goes pear shape because she’s a woman and the very worst obstacles are thrown in her way along with endless casual misogyny. So she makes her name on the telly, teaching cookery as you’ve never known it before – as a science.
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All the light we cannot see, by Anthony Doerr
This is another war story (they are so unavoidable). It’s the story about the frog in the pot of water: the one where the frog will jump out of boiling water, but won’t take action if the heat is applied slowly, and so cooks. Here it’s used as a metaphor for complacency as the Germans move in and occupy France, and also, I think, of the German people themselves becoming immune to the violence building in their own country. Interesting in that we are invited to have sympathy for both the main characters as victims of war, even though one is a blind French girl and the other a partly radicalised Nazi youth. If you’ve wondered how nice kids were turned into Nazis, here it suggests they were put in the pot when the water was cool and inviting, and were cooked from the inside out.
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Remember Me, by Charity Norman
Ah! Charity Norman. I wanted a book to be hooked on and I knew her latest, Remember Me, would deliver. I’ve read dozens of books over summer and only a few of them have made it to review. The rest, ho hum, won’t hit these pages because they simply didn’t grip me. This blog is meant to be a collection of books I’ve enjoyed! So, thanks Charity, for getting me back on track.
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Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
The Lincoln Highway follows Amor Towles’ masterpiece that is A Gentleman in Moscow, which I highly recommend. That’s a hard act to follow and this new novel is bigger and more ambitious with a wide cast of characters, multiple viewpoints and a storyline that deliberately goes in the wrong direction. Where the Moscow gentleman was confined to one hotel for almost the entire book, this 580 page monster of a story roams halfway across America.
It is in the style of a classic 1950s American roadie and features a group of footloose young men and a couple of cars.
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The New Ships, by Kate Duignan
Stripped bare, this is a book a story about a man stripped bare.
Peter is confronted by a portrait painted by his wife. It’s a naked man, sitting on a chair. Nothing else. He is not even sure it is him. He wife has died of cancer, Peter is in mourning and he finds the painting in a shed at their Castlepoint bach, a exposed place he wants to sell. Even the bach is not what he thought; the field he believed was his actually belongs to a neighbour.
This is a mid-life crisis story if ever there was one. Every concept Peter uses to define himself is stripped away on the turning point of his wife’s death.
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I’d have bought stacks of Loop Tracks for my women friends for Christmas if most of my wf hadn’t already read it and recommended it to me.
Sue Orr has hit the zeitgeist with this story of a 50-something woman living on a Wellington hill and bringing up her socially awkward teenage grandson. There are many topics in the book, which begins with the woman as a sixteen-year-old girl on the verge of an abortion which she decides against, a decision that comes to define her life. The loops run through themes of women’s rights, shame, love, trust, control, freedom and responsibility like a loop pedal on the sound track of a young woman’s guitar.
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