Middleton, Nick (2015) An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist: A compendium of fifty unrecognised and largely unnoticed states. Macmillan. Physical geographer Nick Middleton takes a detailed look at the world’s hidden states and forgotten peoples. Filled with stories and 50 regional maps it outlines the history and legitimacy of countries, from island nations to states within states, that lack diplomatic recognition or UN membership. The coverage is broad from the obscure like Pontinha (pop 4), Transnistria (pop 518k), Ahwaz (pop 4.5m), and Balochistan (pop 13m) to those with mutable political status like Tibet, Taiwan, Catalonia, and Crimea. Very informative. Rating: 8.5/10.
Lowry, Brigid (2016) Still Life with Teapot: on Zen, writing and creativity. Fremantle Press. Brigid Lowry 62, the author eight books for young adults, a fan of Zen Buddhism, former Aucklander, twice divorced and an eccentric, lives in a retirement village in Australia. In this eclectic mix old age and loneliness are weighing her down. She starts with a series of lists inspired by Japanese courtesan Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book then moves on to some useful gems on writing and creativity. Inconsistent and indulgent. Rating: 7/10.
Maguire, Emily (2016) An Isolated Incident. Picador. The brutal murder of 25-year-old Bella Michaels in the small town of Strathdee devastates her elder sister Chris and stuns the community, resulting in a media storm. Chris, a local barmaid, is plunged into despair and as the days go by with no arrest she starts to suspect those around her. Told in the first-person by Chris, and the third-person by Sydney reporter May, Emily Maguire explores the themes of everyday violence, the media’s treatment of the deaths of attractive girls, rage, grief and guilt. Although classed as a psychological thriller this is not a simple whodunit, rather an exploration of the complexity of the human condition. Intense. Rating: 7.5/10.
Kidman, Fiona (2016) All Day at the Movies. Vintage. In 1952 recently widowed Irene takes her young daughter to Motueka to start work in the tobacco fields. Her decisions during this time will have profound consequences for all her children. This is a poignant family epic of secrets and of life far removed from the glamour of the silver screen. Dame Fiona Kidman captures a bit of the social history of growing up in New Zealand, from the early 50s to modern day, through the fortunes of one family. Poignantly crafted. Rating: 8.5/10.
Oliva, Alexandra (2016) The Last One. Ballantine Books. A reality TV show, twelve contestants, an outdoors endurance challenge, then something terrible happens off-camera. Cut off from civilisation the contestants are unaware of the devastation. Zoo, alone and disoriented, refuses to quit. As her grasp on the reality disintegrates she must call on all her physical and emotional reserves to survive. This post-apocalypse thriller forces us to confront the role reality television plays in manipulating our perception of truth. Tense and compelling. Rating: 8.5/10.
Dyer, Geoff (2016) White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World. Canongate. In a blend of travel writing, essays and fiction Geoff Dyer creatively explores why we travel. From tracking Gauguin’s ghost in French Polynesia, to an encounter with a tour guide in Beijing’s Forbidden City, to the trauma of picking up a hitchhiker on Highway 54 from Alamogordo El Paso, to a slight ischemic stroke in the Californian sun, Dyer uniquely catalogues his pilgrimages, often where there is a paucity of subject matter. An affirmation of travel and experience of place. Rating: 8.5/10.
Vincent, Isabel (2016) Dinner with Edward: A story of an unexpected friendship. Affirm Press. New York Post journalist Isabel meets nonagenarian Edward following the death of his wife of 69 years. Thinking she is doing a favour for Edward’s daughter Isabel soon realises that the weekly meetings with Edward are mutually beneficial. Edward is a sublime cook and it is through the subtleties of his food and tête-à-tête that Isabel begins to deconstruct and relish her own life. With each chapter a menu this warm-hearted memoir is in the ilk of Julie and Julia and Tuesdays with Morrie. Nourishing. Rating: 8/10.
Overington, Caroline (2016) The One Who Got Away. Harper Collins. Loren, a girl from the wrong side of town, has it all – a rich and handsome husband, beautiful twin daughters, and a stunning home, until one day her picture-perfect marriage is spectacularly exposed revealing lies, betrayal and murder. Who is to blame? Who will be brought to justice? This new addition to the psych-thriller genre is skilfully told through the eyes of four characters. These changing voices move the story along at a gripping pace and you are kept guessing until the final pages, leaving you feeling duped. Page-turner. Rating: 8.5/10.