De Goldi, Kate (2015) From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle. Longacre. 12-year-old Barney Kettle was a ‘megalomaniac’ when it came to filmmaking. Global fame was his ultimate goal. He had already made four 15-minute films, with his sister Ren, when one summer holidays he began a documentary of life in High Street, the street where he lived. The story is told from the hospital bed of an injured man as we follow Barney’s imitable quest to reveal his neighbourhood and solve a mystery in the months prior to catastrophe. Clever in its originality and detailed exploration of a community. Rating: 8/10.
Sullivan, Rosemary (2015) Stalin’s Daughter: The extraordinary and tumultuous life of Svetlana Alliluyeva. Fourth Estate. Svetlana spent her formative years inside the walls of the Kremlin, beloved child of Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin. On his death Svetlana learnt the extent of her father’s crimes. The paradox of her life became how to reconcile the father who had loved her with the man who could murder millions. Her rejection of his legacy came in 1967 when she shocked the world by defecting to the US, leaving behind her two children. Emotionally fragile and naive, often a political pawn, she lived a nomadic existence between Britain and America until her death in 2011. Epic biography that combines compassion, history and tragedy, worthy of a Russsian novel. Extraordinary. Rating: 9.5/10.
Walker, Martin (2015) The Dying Season: A Bruno Chief of Police Novel. Quercus. While Bruno is at the 90th birthday of a powerful local patriarch, a war hero with high-level political connections in France, Russia and Israel, a murder occurs. The family try to cover it up and this exposes a world of secrets Bruno would prefer not to know about. Meanwhile, battle lines have been drawn in St Denis between hunters defending their traditions and environmentalists protecting local wildlife. Bruno is up for the challenge in this ninth adventure. Enjoyable tale of life and crime in the Dordogne. Rating: 8.5/10.
Gregory, Philippa (2015) The Taming of the Queen. Simon & Schuster. In her latest Tudor Court novel Gregory’s subject is Kateryn Parr, Henry VIII’s last and surviving queen. Kateryn has no doubt about the danger she faces: the previous queen lasted sixteen months, but she forges a bond with her monstrous husband by her intellectual pursuits and relationship with the royal children. A leader of religious reform and a published author, Kateryn is an independent woman with a mind of her own, and a steadying influence, that is until Henry’s paranoid gaze turns on her. A cleverly wrought political novel of a talented woman usually obscured by the unfortunate lives of her predecessors. Rating: 9/10.
Ferrante, Elena (2012) My Brilliant Friend. Europa Editions. The story of Elena and Lila is one of enduring friendship in the face of the harsh realities, deprivation and violence of the tough streets of 1950s Naples. Elena meets her ‘brilliant’ friend at school, in the first grade. The two girls seem destined, through education, to escape their origins, but as Elena’s star rises Lila stays trapped in her world. Reads like a classical tragedy during a time of momentous change in Italy. The first of four novels, in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, that follow Elena and Lila from childhood into adulthood. Stunning and unforgettable. Rating: 9.5/10.
Barrowman, Rachel (2015) Maurice Gee : Life and Work. Victoria UP. Maurice Gee’s long literary career began in the 1950s. One of New Zealand’s leading writers he has produced adult and children’s novels, short stories, and screenplays. Self-proclaimed as a ‘New Zealandy sort of writer’ his work reflects domestic lives and place based on his lived experience. Barrowman interweaves the story of his life with his fiction, portraying his long and productive writing career. Whilst a welcome addition to the collection of New Zealand literary biographies, it also serves as reminder to the literary world that opened to me as a young librarian in the 1970s. Rating: 8.5/10.
Knoll, Jessica (2015) Luckiest Girl Alive. Simon & Schuster. Ani has a secret that her perfect ‘have it all’ life is hiding. There is something buried in her past that still haunts her. As a teenager at Bradley High School she experienced shocking and painful events. Will protecting the scandalous truth destroy her carefully laid plans or set her free? This novel is full of unexpected twists and turns with a horrific event that you don’t see coming. Complex page-turner. Rating: 8.5/10.