September Picks

Jan’s been reading:

McEwan, Ian (2012) Sweet Tooth. Cape. In Britain in 1972 Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of a Bishop, has been groomed for the intelligence service.  This is a period of industrial unrest and terrorism, and she is sent on a  secret mission (codenamed ‘Sweet Tooth’) that brings her into the literary world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer.  Haley is part of the plan to co-opt writers of a leftish but non-communist bent, with a view to influencing the British intelligentsia away from its increasingly anti-western bias. His debut as a writer now takes centre-stage. Serena falls in love with him and becomes less and less comfortable with the enormous lie she’s being forced to live. A story within a story. Well crafted, but somewhat hampered by McEwans’s unconvincingly feminine portrayal of Serena.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Harkness, Deborah (2011) A Discovery of Witches. Viking.  Scholar Diana Bishop requests an old alchemical manuscript Ashmole-82 in the course of her research at the Bodleian Library. Coming from an ancient line of witches Diana’s discovery stirs up the underworld of daemons, witches and vampires, including eminent geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont.  A romantic and suspenseful tale of the collision of magic, alchemy, science and history; and the closely guarded secrets of an enchanted world. Book One of a trilogy.  Entertaining read.  Rating: 8/10.

Roz’s been reading:

Harris, Joanne (2012) Peaches for Monsieur le Cure. Doubleday. When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight years ago, she opened up a chocolate shop. But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and a minaret.  The incomers from North Africa that have brought big changes to the community and Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary from Chocolat, is now disgraced and under threat.  Charming book.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Brophy, Ken (2012) The Berlin Crossing. Headline. The Berlin Wall is down, the country is reunified and thirty-year-old school teacher Michael Ritter feels his life is falling apart. His wife has thrown him out, and his new West German headmaster has fired him for being a socialist and former Party member. Feeling angry and lost, Michael heads home to care for his terminally ill mother. Before she dies, she urges him to seek out an evangelical priest, Pastor Bruck, who is the only one who knows the truth about his father. When Michael eventually tracks him down, he is taken on a journey of dark discovery, one which will shatter his foundations.  Great read, builds understanding of this challenging time in German history.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Debbie’s been reading: 

Gimenez, Mark (2012) The Governor’s Wife. Sphere. Bode Bonner is the Republican governor of Texas with a very settled, comfortable  and easy life. He longs for one more moment of excitement, one more challenge. Lindsay Bonner his wife is bored too – bored of Bode’s womanising, the endless cocktail parties and receptions, and  she is desperate to break free.  And that moment comes when she saves a poor Hispanic boy’s life. From that moment on, nothing is the same for Bode and Lindsay Bonner. Gimenez is touted as the new John Grisham. Readable, good light read. Rating: 7.5/10.

See, Lisa (2010) Shanghai Girls. Bloomsbury.  Shanghai, 1937. Pearl and May are two sisters from a bourgeois family, inseparable best friends. One day their father tells them that he has gambled away the family’s wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to two ‘Gold Mountain’ men: Americans. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, the two sisters set out on the journey  that will take them through the villages of southern China, in and out of the clutches of brutal soldiers, and across the ocean, through the humiliation of an anti-Chinese detention centre to a new, married life in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Here they begin a fresh chapter, despite the racial discrimination and anti-Communist paranoia.  Nice cultural aspects.  Rating: 7/10.

See, Lisa (2011) Dreams of Joy.  Bloomsbury. Sequel to Shanghai Girls.  Nineteen-year-old Joy Louie has run away from her home in 1950s America to start a new life in China. Idealistic and unafraid, she believes that Chairman Mao is on the side of the people, despite what her family keeps telling her.  Joy arrives in Green Dragon Village, where families live in crowded, windowless huts and eke out a meagre existence from the red soil. And where a handsome young comrade catches her eye.  Her mother/aunt Pearl returns to China to bring her daughter home, but the Great Leap Forward has begun, bringing ever greater hardship.  Enjoyed the cultural and historical elements.  Rating: 7/10.

Cath’s been reading:

Downer, Lesley (1989) On the Narrow Road to the Deep North. Cape. In 1689 Matsuo Basho, one of Japan’s greatest poets, began an 800 mile journey through the remote northern provinces of his country to the Sacred Mountains. His account of the journey became The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a classic of Japanese literature. This modern travelogue, inspired by Basho’s work, took the author through parts of rural Japan to discover a world and a way of life which most Japanese believe has vanished forever. She encountered people who had never met a Westerner before, stayed with them in their villages, dined on snakes and grasshoppers and finally she too arrived at the Sacred Mountains. The book is a unique record of a lost Japan that is a world away from today’s high-tech society and of an ancient culture.  Fascinating insight.  Rating: 9.5/10.

Harding, Georgina (2012) The Painter of Silence. Bloomsbury. Early 1950s Romania. A frail  man is found on the steps of a hospital. He carries no identification and utters no words, and it is days before anyone discovers that he is deaf and mute. And then a young nurse called Safta brings paper and pencils with which he can draw. Slowly, painstakingly, memories appear on the page: a hillside, a stable, a car, a country house, dogs and mirrored rooms and samovars in what is now a lost world. The memories are Safta’s also. For the man is Augustin, son of the cook at the manor at Poiana that was her family home. Born six months apart, they grew up with a connection that bypassed words. There are things that Augustin must tell Safta that may be more than simple drawings can convey. Story of self-discovery, and   an amazing story of the horrors of destruction for a person with no sound. Rating: 9/10.

Lynne’s been reading:

Knowles, Deborah (2004) Mixed BlessingsNew Zealand Children of Holocaust Survivors Remember. Tandem Press.  Provides a NZ perspective on the tragedy of Hitler’s Europe and brings the legacy home to this part of the world. 19 contributors expand their recipe-related memories to include details of their parents’ lives in pre-war Europe, their escape and eventual arrival in NZ. These personal stories are thoughtful, loving and often told with humour. A fascinating social history of an immigrant group which has had a significant effect on the arts, culture and business of post-war New Zealand.  Rating: 8/10.

Jan Mc’s been reading:

O’Farrell, John (2012) The man who forgot his wife. Doubleday. Vaughan has forgetten he has a wife. Her name, her face, their history together, everything she has ever told him, everything he has said to her – it has all gone, mysteriously wiped in one catastrophic moment of memory loss. And now he has rediscovered her – only to find out that they are getting divorced.  Easy read, easy laugh, although an unsatisfactory ending. Rating: 8/10.

Sanghera, Jasvinder (2007) Shame. Hodder. When she was fourteen, Jasvinder Sanghera was shown a photo of the man chosen to be her husband. She was terrified. She’d witnessed the torment her sisters endured in their arranged marriages, so she ran away from home, grief-stricken when her parents disowned her. Shame is the heart-rending true story of a young girl’s attempt to escape from a cruel, claustrophobic world where family honour mattered more than anything – sometimes more than life itself. Jasvinder’s story is one of terrible oppression, a harrowing struggle against a punitive code of honour – and, finally, triumph over adversity. Amazing story.  Rating: 8/10.

Isaac, Tuhoe ‘Bruno’ (2010) True Red: The life of an ex-Mongrel Mob Gang Leader. Self-published. Autobiography.  Explores the life of  the gang life of ex-Mongrel Mob Gang Leader Tuhoe ‘Bruno’ Isaac and what it  took for him to leave that environment and find a new life. True Red is a glimpse into the harsh reality of gang life in New Zealand. It is also a story of hope and redemption for the next generation.  Brutal.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Carol’s been reading:

Bell, Graham (2008) Murder, Mayhem and Mischief. Halcyon Press. Police Ten-7 brought Graham Bell into the living rooms of New Zealanders.  Graham worked as a detective inspector on some of the most sensational cases of the past two decades. In this very personal account, he reveals the day-to-day lives of everyday police men and women, the frustrations and satisfactions of the job, the villains and the low-lifes, the inter-departmental tensions, police hierarchy and working with good and bad cops. Graham Bell takes us behind the scenes into the police investigations of some of the high profile cases that have gripped the media and the country. Real staunch guy.  Good read. Rating: 8.5/10.

Adams, John (2011) Brief Case. Auckland UP. The first book of poems by District Court Judge John Adams.  The collection is presented as a briefcase of lost documents and poems, allowing the author to play with a wide range of stylistic ideas around a central narrative theme, producing a melange of poems – in traditional and experimental forms – and other texts: affidavits, police reports, a Sudoku puzzle, court transcripts, a menu, wills, commentaries. A disordered novella in legal documents, brutal and amusing by turns, Briefcase unfolds a fascinating story and also superbly explores the role of language as a vessel for truth and an implement of justice. Different experience, uplifting, quirky and clever.  Rating: 9/10.

Raewyn’s been reading:

Robotham, Michael (2010) Bleed for me. Sphere. When Sienna Hegarty turns up at his family home one night, covered in blood and frozen in shock, psychologist Joe O’Loughlin finds himself drawn deep into her world, trying to unearth the dark secrets her mind has buried. The police find a major piece of the puzzle at Sienna’s house: her father, a retired cop, is face-down in a pool of his own blood, his throat slashed and his skull caved in. The blood covering Sienna was his. The 14-year-old can’t remember what happened that night but, at the same time, Sienna doesn’t mourn her father’s death. What was going on behind closed doors in the Hegarty household?  Psychological thriller. Short sentences, well-drawn characters. Great read. Rating: 9/10.

Robotham, Michael (2012) The Wreckage. Sphere. In London, ex-cop Vincent Ruiz rescues a young woman from a violent boyfriend but wakes next morning to find that he’s been set up and robbed. As he tracks down the thieves, he discovers the boyfriend’s tortured body and learns that powerful men are looking for the girl. What did Holly Knight steal that is so important to them? Meanwhile in Baghdad, billions of dollars in reconstruction funds has gone missing and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Luca Terracini is trying to ‘follow the money’. The dangerous trail will lead him to London where he teams up with Vincent Ruiz and together they investigate the disappearance of an international banker and a mysterious ‘black hole’ in the bank’s accounts. A many-layered story.  Great read. Rating: 9/10.

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