Meyer, Stephanie (2016) The Chemist. Sphere. As a fan of the Twilight saga I was keen to read Stephanie Meyer’s little hyped latest offering. Interrogator and medic, Alex, tortured terrorists for a shadowy US government organisation before the agency turned on her. Now she is on the run carrying various chemical compounds to keep the assassins at bay. One day she receives an email from her former handler wanting her to use her dark skills, one more time, to prevent a biological catastrophe. Is this a trap or a chance to redeem herself? A twisted pulpy thriller with not a touch of the supernatural. Rating: 7/10.
Kostova, Elizabeth (2017) The Shadow Land. Ballantine Books. On her arrival in Sofia, Bulgaria, Alexandra helps an elderly couple into a taxi and accidentally keeps one of their bags. Inside the bag she finds an urn, carved with the name of Stoyan Lazarov. She sets out with the help of local taxi driver, Bobby, to locate the family and falls into a mire of intrigue as she traverses the country. Bulgaria, its culture, landscape and dark past, is very much the star of this mystery. The narrative is somewhere between a tourist guide and a historical novel. Transporting and lyrical storytelling. Rating: 8.5/10.
Gregory, Philippa (2017) The Last Tudor. Simon & Schuster. The ill-fated Grey girls, legitimate heirs to the English throne, were all pawns in a bloodline power play. In Gregory’s final Tudor novel we share the fate of usurper Queen Jane Grey, and the tribulations of her younger sisters Katherine and Mary, who also faced imprisonment and death at the hands of an increasingly malicious Queen Elizabeth. Like her previous novel Three Sisters, Three Queens this one also drags (especially when you are familiar with the herstory), with none of the delights of her earlier novels. The Last Tudor may be my last Philippa Gregory too. Rating: 7.5/10.
Butland, Stephanie (2017) Lost for Words. Zafffre. I was drawn to this little tale because I am a sucker for books about books. Loveday Cardew has the first lines of her favourite novels tattooed on her skin, works at a York book emporium, and is an aspiring poet. She lives a reclusive life, preferring books to people, but things are set to change when books from her past start turning up unexpectedly. Can she find the words to tell her own painful story? Quirky and sweet. Rating: 7.5/10.
Vance, J D (2016) Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Harper. This is a personal testimony about the social, cultural and regional disintegration facing white working class Americans from the Rust Belt States. The Vance family moved north to Ohio from Kentucky’s Appalachia region, post-war, to escape poverty and gain work. In Middletown, Ohio, they struggled with their new middle-class status, never wholly escaping hillbilly culture with its legacy of abuse, alcoholism, trauma and its cycle of blame. Although J D Vance is in the process of achieving the American ‘dream’ the burdens of his chaotic past continues to impact on him. After reading this memoir you have some understanding of why the region has embraced the Republican Party, and you learn a new way to talk about poverty outside of a political context. Compassionate and powerful. Rating: 9/10.
Weiss, Leah (2017) If the Creek don’t Rise. Sourcebooks. Sadie has been a wife for fifteen days, pregnant and hitched to the sadistic Roy Tupkin. Sadie is in desperate need of a lifeline when up the mountain comes the new teacher, and for once her world is open to possibilities. Told by multiple characters this unfolding story captures the bleak life of 1970s Appalachia, with its enduring myths and culture of moonshine, religion and poverty. A debut novel with huge emotional appeal – a heartbreaking Loretta Lynn ballad. Bittersweet and beguiling. Rating: 9/10.
Withers, Joan (2017) A Woman’s Place: Life, Leadership and Lessons from the Boardroom. Penguin. Joan Withers shares her life and career in this candid account of her journey from school leaver, and stay-at-home mum, to in-demand director and board chair of several of New Zealand’s largest companies. An advocate of boardroom diversity (only 13 per cent of NZX company directors are women), and equal pay, she champions gender equality to boost women in leadership and economic growth. A bountiful handbook for aspiring women directors. Rating: 8/10.
Niven, Jennifer (2016) Holding Up the Universe. Knopf. Bestselling young adult author Niven delivers a poignant tale about falling in love with yourself. Libby Strout was once America’s Fattest Teen, and now she is returning to school. Jack Masselin is fill of swagger and has learned how to fit in and hide his disability. One day they get entangled in a cruel game, which lands them in counselling. Spending time together encourages each of them to become stronger. The narration alters between the Libby and Jack, allowing the reader to get inside their heads. Brims with heartfelt hope and resilience. Rating: 8.5/10.
Clarke, Richard A., R.P. Eddy (2017) Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes. Ecco/Harper Collins. In Greek mythology Cassandra foresaw calamities, but was cursed by the gods and ignored. Warnings explores disasters where modern-day Cassandras have been ignored, such as with Fukushima, the rise of ISIS, and Hurricane Katrina, and investigates the experts who are warning of future disasters and threats – calls that are not being heeded. Clarke and Eddy put forward a methodology and a “coefficient” matrix to separate the expert Cassandras from the doomsayers and detractors. Enlightening must-read that will open your mind to dangers in an increasingly risky world. Rating: 9/10.
Ellison, J T (2017) Lie to me. Mira. Fans of Gone Girl will welcome another domestic noir novel. Wife gone, was she murdered? Husband prime suspect. Sutton and Ethan appear to be the picture-perfect couple. Consumed by professional jealousies, personal betrayals and financial woes Sutton vanishes one morning, leaving everything behind, including a note telling Ethan not to look for her. As the banal plot evolves we are exposed to major flaws in the storyline and the unpleasant characters are hard to stomach. Not for me. Rating: 7/10.