November Picks

TheWritingClassJohnson, Stephanie (2013) The Writing Class. Vintage.  Merle is an author who also teachers a Creative Writing class.  Merle mentors the aspirations of her students in their final semester, as they prepare to submit their manuscripts.  Amidst this tension and drama Merle observes the romantic entanglement of her colleague, worries about her husband’s downward spiral, and is drawn to her mysterious lodger.  Johnson melds together an engaging story with a useful writing guide. A  sequel is due in 2015.  Rating: 8.5/10.

before we metWhitehouse, Lucie (2014) Before we met. Bloomsbury. When Hannah met Mark she lets her guard down and after a whirlwind romance marries him, but when Mark fails to return from a business trip her carefully planned life slowly begins to unravel.  Is Hannah’s perfect marriage a lie? This gripping psychological thriller ratchets up the tension page by page as Hannah delves into her husband’s secret past. Unnerving and cleverly woven story. A great new author find. Rating: 9/10.

voyages-in-americaRobinson, James (2014) Voyages in America: A Story of Homes Lost and Found. Self-published. When James Robinson’s blog Voyages in America was cancelled on stuff.co.nz he turned to Kickstarter and his blog became a book.  He edited his favourite blog posts to tell the story of his experience of America, from falling in love, daily life States-side, the cultural abyss, big cities, funny accents, strange politics, homesickness, to what it means to be a New Zealander in a foreign land. An honest and engaging account of leaving, finding and shaping “home”.  Insightful.  Rating: 9/10.

The bed I madeWhitehouse, Lucie (2010) The bed I made. Bloomsbury. In a similar vein as  Before we met Lucie Whitehouse has again delivered a gripping tale of obsession and suspense.  Kate meets Richard and starts a reckless relationship with him.  Now eighteen months later she has fled London for the winter landscape of the Isle of Wight, intent on moving on with her life, but sinister Richard is not about to let her escape. Tense and eerily atmospheric. Stunning psychological drama. Rating: 8.5/10.

artmadefrombooksHeyenga, Laura comp. (2013) Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculptured, Carved Transformed. Chronicle. Whilst I find the wilful destruction of books abhorrent this clever book, of art made from books, shows there is life beyond the written page.  On the premise that the way we interact with books today is radically different than in the past, the artists portrayed stitch, paint, cut and otherwise transform old often discarded books into thought-provoking works of art.  Some beautifully creative pieces.  Rating; 8/10.

The house at MidnightWhitehouse, Lucie (2008) The House at Midnight. Bloomsbury.  In a novel reminiscent of  Donna Tartt’s The Secret History Lucie Whitehouse places Joanna and her group of old university friends in the claustrophobic confines of Lucas’ inheritance, Stoneborough Manor. Over a decadent year the past and secrets reveal themselves and sexual tensions escalate, shattering the group’s friendship and changing all their lives irrevocably.  A dark and bitter story of obsession, desire, betrayal and menace. Gripping.  Rating: 8/10.

What ifMunroe, Randall (2014) What if?  Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Based on Randall Munroe’s web-comic xkcd.com this is a collection of answers to popular questions from xkcd’s blog.  His responses and illustrations accurately and cheerfully provide answers to everything from what are the odds of meeting your soul-mate, to what would happen if you took a swim in a nuclear fuel pool?  The most telling facts relate to a world without humans – our plastic and radioactive trash would remain for aeons! Weird, informative and entertaining.  Rating: 8/10.

Women in the Game of ThronesFrankel, Valerie Estelle (2014) Women in Game of Thrones: Power, Conformity and Resistance. McFarland.  Critics are divided on how feminist the popular TV series Game of Thrones is.  The female characters in the TV series and books embody a range of archetypes – warrior queens, warrior women, damsels in distress, priestesses, crones, career women, mothers, maidens and whores.  This book analyses the women in the series one by one, along with historical inspirations. This is accompanied by television studies, from male gaze to depiction of race. This literary criticism provides a fascinating feminist review of the women in imaginary world of Westeros.  Rating: 8.5/10.

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