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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Violet Black, by Eileen Merriman
This is Merriman doing what she does so well, pacy adventure writing for young adults. Violet Black is a story that begins in the near future of Auckland with two late teens – Violet and Ethan – hospitalised with M-fever, a measles derivative that makes Covid seem like a runny nose. This virus targets teenagers. Ten percent of those infected with M-fever will develop encephalitis. Ninety five percent of those with encephalitis will die. Wow. Kids, this is fiction, OK? Ignore the fact that it is written by a doctor who we generally trust to tell us the truth about medical matters and that the whole scenario sounds pretty convincing at the beginning. If you feel your stress levels going up while reading, take several deep breaths. This nightmarish stuff–pandemics, sinister government organisations, anti-vax terrorism–is all imaginary.
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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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Harbouring, by Jenny Pattrick
I’ll admit to being nervous in approaching this book. I love Jenny Pattrick’s rousing stories of colonial New Zealand communities and I’ve walked through the mud with her characters. Like many others I was introduced to her books through Denniston Rose and Heart of Coal and Denniston became part of my mental map. The same thing happened with Landings, and Catching the Current. Pattrick offers lively characters as guides to explore our colonial history.
Her new book, Harbouring, is set amid the NZ Company’s arrival in Wellington and the establishment of the colony there. Hence the nerves. Two years ago I published Jerningham. It’s the same story, wrought from the same material. What would an expert storyteller like Pattrick make of it?
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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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small bodies of water by nina mingya powles
Straight away this book indicates poetry, from the lack of capitalisation on the cover to the beautiful title. Small bodies of water. That’s us. I thought about this when I was swimming recently and think I have never been described so beautifully.
“I never told you anything important about myself but if you had asked, if you had paused to listen, I would have said: my dreams take place in the rainy season.“
Poetry or very poetic prose. Every sentence carries a lyricism, a hint of a wider, more exotic world, and hits a feeling that builds on this central emotion of being awash.
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The Telling Time by P J McKay
We meet Gabrijela stuffing sardines into tins at a factory, greasy and fish-stinking and dreaming of life beyond her village on an island off the Dalmatian coast. It’s 1959 and there is no bright future for a girl like her: it’s a family or the fishery. She’d like to be a teacher.
She loves her mother, her brother and her friends; her father is domineering but she accepts this and it’s a happy childhood. Then her mother’s half-brother, who has been distant for years and is now an official in Tito’s party, comes to oversee some work on the island and takes up residence in the household.
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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 read Waitapu over a couple of leisurely evenings and loved it. It’s a beautiful book, elegantly written and so evocative of every small town in New Zealand that we know from a drive past, or a dip into when we visit a grandparent. I remember going with a Wellington friend home to small town NZ and this takes me back there, the interconnected community, the talk across the fence, the visits. There was a sort of pride that everyone knew each other but an embarrassment, too. My friend couldn’t wait to be away again.
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