August Picks





Debbie’s been reading:

McCullough, Colleen (2008)  The independence of Miss Mary Bennet. Harper Collins.  McCullough’s sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Mary Bennet now thirty eight years old, unmarried, gets a makeover. Freed from her daughterly duties of caretaker to Mrs. Bennet, the new and improved Mary Bennet has independent plans for her life. Inspired by the writing in the newspaper of a social activist, she is determined to write a book about the plight of the poor and sets off on an adventure of discovery to research the conditions of the working classes in Northern England. Plunging from one predicament into another, Mary finds herself stumbling across long-buried secrets, unanticipated dangers, and unlooked-for romance.  Rating: 7/10

See, Lisa (2007)  Peony in love. Random House. Based on true Chinese 17th century stories.  Young Peony, betrothed to a suitor she has never met, falls in love with an seemingly impossible suitor .  The lyrics from The Peony Pavilion opera mirror her own longings. The opera, which provides the frame for this story, gave rise to the “lovesick maidens”, young women of privilege who fell in love, quit eating, and literally wasted away.   Super read. Rating: 9/10

Ann’s been reading:

Edlin, Nicholas (2010) The Widow’s daughter. Penguin.  This story focuses on Peter Sokol, a US marine and surgeon, who is stationed in Auckland in the early 1940s and becomes involved with a mysterious, dysfunctional British family through his passionate and besotted relationship with Emily.  The book switches between this setting and the Californian coast in the 70s, where Sokol lives with his partner and works as an artist. The release of memoirs by a fellow Marine  becomes the catalyst for him to try and make sense of this unsettling period of his life. This is a first novel by a young Aucklander currently living in Britain. It’s a narrative full of mysteries.  Rating: 8.5/10

Lynne’s been reading:

Lewycka, Marina (2010)  We are all made of glue. Penguin. Georgie writes for a magazine called Adhesives In The Modern World, her marriage is breaking up and her son is turning to Jesus sites on the internet and worrying about Armageddon, when she strikes up a friendship with her ancient, rancid Jewish neighbour Mrs Shapiro. As she helps Mrs Shapiro pull her life together her own life becomes increasingly fragmented. Filled with comical scenes and characters, amusing coincidences and  misunderstandings, Lewycka continues her theme of love, hate and odd titles. She also tackles many social issues at a variety of levels, from care of the elderly, parenting and marriage relationship breakdowns, to the Jewish experience in Europe during the war and the current Middle East crisis. Loved it.  Rating: 9/10

Julie’s been reading:

Trollope, Joanna (2010) The Other Family. Random House. Richie Rossiter, a successful musician has died unexpectedly of a heart attack, leaving behind him a wife, a girlfriend and four children to divide what remains of him between them.  The wife is Margaret, Richie’s childhood sweetheart. Richie left Margaret for the younger and more glamorous Chrissie. Only he never married Chrissie. After 23 years together and three daughters, he still hadn’t divorced his wife.  Chrissie and her three daughters are left high and dry.  She has transformed and managed his career for 20 years, but is the victim of the tax law that means only married people can be exempt from death duties. She has no income, and is about to be made homeless. To make matters more painful, he has left his piano, and the rights to his early and most popular songs, to his 66-year-old wife Margaret and son Scott. The substance of the novel lies in the different emotional journeys taken by the six principal characters after the shock of Richie’s bequest.  Bittersweet. Rating: 9/10

de Bernieres, Louis (2008) The Partisan’s daughter. Vintage. Set against a backdrop of 1970s counterculture, a middle-aged Englishman falls in love with a young Yugoslav illegal immigrant and sometime prostitute, who hypnotises him with exotic tales of her father’s wartime exploits as one of Tito’s partisans and her own picaresque sexual adventures across Europe. Rating: 5/10

Torday, Paul (2010) The hopeless life of Charlie Summers. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.  The narrator is Hector Chetwode-Talbot, known as ‘Eck’,  a former soldier now investment fund advisor, set during the affluence of turn of the century. On holiday in the south of France, Eck meets Charlie Summers, a fly-by night entrepreneur who is hiding out in France after a ‘misunderstanding with Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue’. Back in England, Charlie turns up in Eck’s life again, intent on relaunching his Japanese dog food business. While Eck is troubled by a persistent sense of not having any purpose in life, Charlie, his cheery doppelgänger, bumbles blithely on, living from moment to moment.  Two men from very different backgrounds, but who has the most to lose?  Rating: 6/10

Raewyn’s been reading:

Standage, Tom (2009) The edible history of humanity. Tantor.   A lighthearted chronicle of how foods have transformed human culture throughout the ages traces the barley and wheat driven early civilizations of the near East through the corn and potato industries in America, comparing the progress of farming cultures to those of hunter-gatherers while citing the pivotal contributions of global trade.

Barb’s been reading:

Mitchell, David (2010) The thousand autumns of David de Zoet. Sceptre. Short-listed for the 2010 Man Booker.  The year is 1799 and the place is Nagasaki, where David, a  young clerk seeking his fortune in the trading ports of the Wild Wild East, has just disembarked from a long sea voyage. De Zoet is not actually in Nagasaki, as the city, along with the rest of Japan, is literally sealed against all foreign influence. De Zoet has actually landed in Dejima, a man-made island crammed with shipping warehouses in Nagasaki’s harbour. Here a corrupt gaggle of Dutch traders and hired hands in the employ of the Dutch East Indies Company conduct the only licensed trade with the shuttered Japanese nation. Dejima’s bizarre mix of isolation and proximity symbolizes the many dislocations of place, ethnicity and identity Mitchell explores in the novel. It also stands in as a microcosm for the historical clash between the forces of European colonialism and Japanese tradition that played out in the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. Reviews have been mixed. Rating: 8.5/10

Brook, Timothy (2007) Vermeers’s hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. Bloomsbury. Professor Timothy Brook explores the roots of world trade in the 1600s through six paintings by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer. It focusses especially on the growing ties between Europe and the rest of the world, and the impact of China. Rating: 7.5/10

Jenny’s been reading:

Fraser, Antonia (1969) Mary Queen of Scots. Random House. A classic biography.  A 40th-anniversary edition of the book was published in 2009.  Rating: 8/10

Mawer, Simon (2009) The glass room. Little, Brown.  Set in 1930s Czechoslovakia.  Architect Rainer von Abt wishes to “take Man out of the cave and float him in the air”. His ambition, he announces, is to build a house of glass. The audience for his announcement could hardly be more receptive. Liesel and Viktor Landauer, a young Czech couple, are on honeymoon in Venice in 1929 when they meet von Abt. They are rich, cultivated, full of energy and hope. Viktor has embraced the aesthetics of the Modern Movement that flowered, briefly but brilliantly, during the Czech First Republic. He loathes the decadent decorative opulence of Austro-Hungary. For his new married life he requires a space that represents the future: a place of clarity, openness and light.  Once built, the Glass Room proves to contain within its limpid space an infinity of paradoxes. War comes. Viktor, who is Jewish, flees the Glass Room with his family to begin a new life in a new world. But the building remains, with its singular quality of trapped emotion: witness to whatever has passed, and will come to pass, within its walls. Shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.  Different. Rating: 9/10

Cath’s been reading:

Binney, Don (2010) Drawings of the Waitakere Coast. Random House.  The drawings are richly evocative of the coast. Binney’s text takes the reader on an imaginary journey from Huia to Te Henga (Bethells), drawing on his extensive contact with and love for this coast and with the Waitakere Ranges in general. Rating: 8.5/10

Parr, Alison (2010) Home; Civilian New Zealanders Remember the Second World War. Penguin. Stories of those who stayed at home during the Second World War,  Highly illustrated with photographs, many previously unpublished, this book reveals the reality of civilians during wartime New Zealand.  Fabulous.  About our parents. Rating: 9/10

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