July Picks

Jan’s been reading:

Morton, Kate (2010)  The Distant Hours.  Allen & Unwin. Edie and her mother have never been close, but when a long lost letter arrives with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Edie begins to suspect that her mother’s emotional distance masks an old secret. Evacuated from London as a thirteen year old girl, Edie’s mother is taken to live at Millderhurst Castle with the Blythe family. Fifty years later, Edie too is drawn to Milderhurst and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now. Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past, and the secrets hidden in the distant hours of Milderhurst Castle. A great gothic yarn and artfully constructed story about place, the past, and time’s reverberations. Rating: 8.5/10.

Lynne’s been reading:

Obreht, Tea (2011) The Tiger’s Wife. Hachette. Set in war-torn Yugoslavia, a young doctor strives to unravel the mystery of her grandfather’s death, and his search for a mythical figure called the Deathless Man. In her quest to find out how her grandfather, a man of science, could turn to this fantasy, she discovers during his childhood that a tiger had escaped from a zoo, settling just outside his peasant village.  Obreht’s inspiration for the novel came from a National Geographic documentary  about Siberian tigers,  and The Jungle Book stories of Kipling. 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction. Imaginative.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Roz’s been reading:

Reid, Atka and Hana Schofield (2011) Goodbye Sarajevo. Allen & Unwin.  It is May 1992 and  twelve-year-old Hana is put on one of the last UN evacuation buses fleeing the besieged city of Sarajevo. Her twenty-one-year-old sister, Atka, staying behind to look after their five younger siblings, is there to say goodbye. Thinking that they will be apart for only a few weeks, they make a promise to each other to be brave. But as the Bosnian war escalates and months go by without contact, their promise to each other becomes deeply significant. Hana is forced to cope as a refugee in Croatia, far away from home and family, while Atka battles for survival in a city where snipers, mortar attacks and desperate food shortages are a part of everyday life. When Atka finds work as a translator  with a photojournalist from New Zealand, life takes an unexpected turn. A moving and compelling true story of courage, hope and extraordinary human kindness. Rating: 8.5/10.

Buford, Bill (2007) Heat.  Random.  The memoir of an amateur cook surviving  in a professional kitchen. Buford was asked by The New Yorker to write a profile of Mario Batali, a Falstaffian figure of voracious appetites who ran one of New York’s most successful three-star restaurants.  Buford accepts the commission on the condition Batali lets him work in his kitchen, as his slave. He works his way up to being a ‘line cook’ and then apprentices himself under the very teachers who had taught his teacher: preparing game with Marco Pierre White, making pasta in a hillside trattoria, and finally, in a town in Northern Italy, becoming an Italian butcher. Mature and well-crafted.  Rating: 9/10.

Carol’s been reading:

Milne, Kevin (2010) The life and times of a brown paper bag. Random. This memoir focuses on Kevin’s long 40 year television career, including 25 years on the long-running, top-rating Fair Go. He includes many wonderful anecdotes about the well-known reporters he worked with over the years.  The Listener magazine wrote, “In an age of glossy packaging, Kevin Milne is a brown paper bag”. What a joy, genuine and anchored with integrity.  Rating: 9/10.

Grimshaw, Charlotte (2011) Singularity. Random.  A collection of interlinked stories. Grimshaw  has continued to develop the structure she explored in Opportunity. Characters from that book reappear, and new characters are added. The stories in Singularity cover a wide range of territory, from childhood innocence to adult desperation, from the depths of poverty to cushioned affluence, from London to Los Angeles, Ayers Rock  to the black sand beaches of New Zealand’s wild west coast. Adored, an authentic voice. Rating: 9/10.

Raewyn’s been reading:

Cronin, Justin (2011) The Passage. Random. As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey, spanning miles and decades, towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.  A big engrossing read that sucks you in. Rating: 9.5/10.

Julie’s been reading:

Trollope, Joanna (2011) Daughters-in-Law.  Transworld. Rachel has always loved being at the centre of her large family.  She has fiercely devoted herself to her three sons all their lives, and continues to do so even though they are all grown up.  They are, of course, devoted to her, but when Luke, her youngest, gets married, Rachel finds that control is slipping away. Other people seem to be becoming more important to her children than she is, and she can no longer rely on her role as undisputed matriarch. A power struggle develops which can only end in unhappiness; her three daughters-in-law want to do things their own way, and so, to her grief, do her sons.  Rating: 7.5/10.

McLain, Paula (2011) The Paris Wife. Random.  Captures the love affair between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group, the fabled “Lost Generation”, that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises.  A portrayal of love, deception and torn loyalty. Rating: 9/10.

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