June Picks

Jan’s been reading:

Morgenstern, Erin (2011) The Night Circus. Doubleday.  The circus arrives without warning. It is a unique and magical circus called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. The circus is the stage for a fierce competition – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to participate in a game where only one will be left standing.  Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love. True love or not, the game must play out.  Debut novel. The circus is the star of this book, often overshadowing its cast of eccentric characters. A mercurial and inconsistent fantasy. Rating: 7.5/10.

Jan Mc’s been reading:

Sullivan, Fleur (2011) Fleur: The Life and Times of Pioneering Restauranteur Fleur Sullivan.  Random House. Fleur Sullivan is a South Island culinary maven responsible for not one but two iconic local restaurants Olivers in Clyde and the Fleurs Place in Moeraki. Now, at the age of 72, she’s running a third, The Loan and Merc in her home town of Oamaru. This is a memoir of her culinary adventures.  A fascinating life, thoroughly enjoyed.  Rating: 9/10.

Franzen, Jonathan (2010) Freedom.  Fourth Estate. Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul, Minneapolis – the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbour who could tell you where to recycle your batteries,  and a perfect wife and mother.  Walter is an environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, family man. Both were doing their small part to build a better world. But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have changed. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of too much liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire.  Good and meaty read.  Rating: 8/10.

Lackberg, Camilla (2011) The Ice Princess. Harper. Returning to her hometown, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life. Erica conceives a memoir about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their lost friendship. While her interest grows to an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about the small town with a deeply disturbing past. Best-selling Swedish author. Rating: 8/10.

Raewyn’s been reading:

Fallada, Hans (2010) Alone in Berlin. Penguin Classics. Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. Otto, an ordinary German living in a shabby apartment block, tries to stay out of trouble under Nazi rule. But when he discovers his only son has been killed fighting at the front he’s shocked into an extraordinary act of resistance, and starts to drop anonymous postcards attacking Hitler across the city. If caught, he will be executed. Soon this silent campaign comes to the attention of ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich, and a murderous game of cat-and-mouse begins. First published 1947. Very powerful, a masterpiece, but not an easy read.  Rating: 9/10.

Ann’s been reading:

Flanagan, Richard (2009) Wanting. Random House. It is 1839 and a young Tasmanian girl, Mathinna, is seeking help for her dying father, an Aboriginal chieftain. Twenty years later the most famous novelist of the day, Charles Dickens,  is about to abandon his wife, and risk his name. Connecting the two events are the most celebrated explorer of the age, Sir John Franklin – then governor of Van Diemen’s Land – and his wife, Lady Jane, who adopt Mathinna, as an experiment. Lady Jane believes the distance between savagery and civilisation is the learned capacity to control wanting. The experiment fails, Sir John disappears seeking the North-West Passage, and Lady Jane enlists Dickens’ aid to put an end to the scandalous suggestions that Sir John’s expedition ended in cannibalism. Clever, almost too clever, and complex tale.  Rating: 7.5/10.

Gopnik, Alison (2010) The Philosophical Baby. Picador. Psychologist Gopnik points out that babies have long been excluded from the philosophical literature, and argues that if anything, babies are more conscious than grownups. While adults often function on autopilot, getting through their busy days as functional “zombies,” babies, with their malleable, complex minds and penchant for discovery, approach life like little travelers, enthralled by every nuance of their exciting and novel environment. Very convincing.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Debbie’s been reading:

Simon, Rachel (2011) The story of a beautiful girl. Preface. On a stormy night  a young desperate couple, knock on a stranger’s door. When Martha, a retired schoolteacher living a safe and conventional life, answers their knock, her world changes forever. For they are fugitives. Lynnie, a young woman with an intellectual disability, and Homan, a deaf man with only sign language to guide him, have escaped together from The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, a brutal institution for people with disabilities. Lynnie has a newborn baby, but before she is recaptured  she pleads with Martha: “Hide her.” And so begins a tale of  lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact. Rating: 7.5/10.

Tearne, Roma (2010) The Swimmer. Harper Collins. 43-year-old Ria is used to being alone. All her life, she has struggled to form a meaningful relationship with any man. Her existence is a solitary one – until she discovers the swimmer. It is midnight when she first sees him, across the river. His name is Ben and he is a Sri Lankan doctor, awaiting a decision from the Home Office on his asylum application. He is also 18 years Ria’s junior but despite this, their friendship steadily grows. At first, she resists anything more than his companionship, but in the long summer days that follow they are irresistibly drawn to each other. Then tragedy strikes, and in an act of violence Ria’s life is changed forever. A book in three-parts. Beautifully written.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Roz’s been reading:

Winton, Tim (2009) Breath. Picador.  ‘Pikelet’ has lived all his short life in a tiny Western Australian sawmilling town from where the thundering sea can be heard at night. He longs to be down  on the beach, amidst the pounding waves, but for some reason his parents forbid him. It’s only when he befriends Loonie, the local wild boy, that he finally defies them. Intoxicated by the sea and by their own youthful endurance, the two boys spurn all limits and rules, and fall into the company of adult mentors whose own addictions to risk take them to places they could never have imagined.  A book that would appeal to surfers.  Good read.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Glass, Julia (2009) I see you everywhere. Hutchinson. Louisa and Clem: two sisters who love each other more the further apart they move. Louisa, the eldest, is the conscientious student, precise and careful, who yearns for a good marriage, a career in the arts, a family. Clem, the archetypal younger sibling, is the rebel: uncontainable, iconoclastic, committed to her work but not to the men who fall for her. Alternating between their voices this is a is a cleverly woven tale of the bonds of sisterhood and of what we can and cannot do for those we love.  Rating: 8/10.

Atkinson, Kate (2010) Started early took my dog. Doubleday.  A day like any other for security chief Tracy Waterhouse, until she makes a purchase she hadn’t bargained for – a child.  One moment of madness is all it takes for Tracy’s world to be turned upside down, the tedium of everyday life replaced by fear and danger. Witnesses to Tracy’s purchase are Tilly, an elderly actress teetering on the brink of her own disaster, and Jackson Brodie who has returned to his home county in search of someone else’s roots. All three characters learn that the past is never history and that no good deed goes unpunished.  Clever writer.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Cath’s been reading:

Tolle, Eckhart (2005) A New Earth. Michael Joseph.  In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just being. We worry about what people think of us, we compare ourselves with our friends, family and neighbours, and deep down we worry we’re not ‘good enough’.  Tolle provides the spiritual framework for people to move beyond themselves in order to make this world a better, more spiritually evolved place to live.  A chance to reflect on your life. Rating: 8.5/10.

Sacheri, Eduardo (2011) The secret in their eyes. Harper Collins.   On the day of his retirement criminal investigator Benjamín Chaparro is determined to put to rest his obsession with the decades-old brutal rape and murder of a beautiful young married woman in Buenos Aires by writing a book about it from his point of view as the chief investigator. As Chaparro sifts through the evidence of the investigation that has haunted him all these years, he begins to revisit the lives of people with whom he had become entangled in pursuit of the murderer.  Originally published in Spanish and now a successful movie. Rating: 9/10.

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