McLean, Felicity (2019) The Van Apfel Girls are Gone. Fourth Estate. The Van Apfel sisters, Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth, disappeared into the surrounding bushland during the school’s Showstopper concert. Tikka was eleven in that summer of 1992 and now she has returned home to make sense of what happened to her friends. Does what she witnessed make sense in hindsight? A smart Aussie thriller with echoes of Picnic at Hanging Rock and a sense brooding malevolence. A good read. Rating: 8.5/10.
Macfarlane, Robert (2019). Underland: A Deep Time Journey. H. Hamilton. We know very little of the world beneath our feet – we tend to look up not down. It is a world long wondered at and feared. Macfarlane’s exploration of the Earth’s underworlds take us on a human journey into ‘deep time’. The underworld is mapped in mythology, literature, history, ecosystems and geologic time, from burial chambers, caves, catacombs, sinkholes, and fungal networks to melting glaciers, mining imperatives, and waste ‘hiding places’. A lyrical voyage from darkness to the Anthropocene epoch. A truly epic and extraordinary adventure. Rating: 9.5/10.
Wolff, Michael (2019) Siege: Trump Under Fire. Little Brown. In his second exposé of the Trump presidency Wolff has presented a front-line report of controversy and chaos. Trump is portrayed as more impulsive, temperamental and erratic as he faces the Mueller investigation, a deep dive into his finances, an ever-changing team of advisors, a continuing media war, and a Democrat victory at the polls. How will this dysfunctional administration end? Will Trump be the “guy that gets away with it”? Crazy and riveting. Rating: 8.5/10.
Koch, Herman (2019) The Ditch. Text. The popular second-term mayor of Amsterdam, Robert Walter, suspects his wife is cheating on him, his parents are planning to end their lives, his best friend is dying, and his cat has gone missing. Robert’s life is spinning out of control – is it panic or paranoia or does he finally have clarity in his life? This is a slick, dark and often amusing story, translated from the Dutch, by an author who masterfully gets under your skin. Intriguing. Rating: 9/10.
Diamond, Jared (2019) Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change. Allen Lane. Diamond provides case studies on the way different nations have dealt with (political) crises. He focuses on countries he is familiar with – Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, and Australia. He compares the crises these nations have faced with how we survive personal crises, using his 12-step framework as a benchmark. He concludes with lessons for the US, whilst not admitting they are in crisis. Although he does not pose solutions to the problems he raises, his storytelling approach resonates A somewhat flawed mixed-bag. Rating: 8/10.
Jones, Brian Jay (2019) Becoming Dr Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination. Dutton. For over 80 years the imaginative works of Dr Seuss have stirred passion into the hearts of children. Author of more than 60 books, including The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch, Horton, The Lorax, and many other fantastic favourites, his books continue to enthuse children to the wonders of reading. Jones’ insightful biography introduces us to the genius of Theodor Seuss Geisel, his exacting work ethic, his relationships and collaborators, and above all his legacy in revolutionising children’s literature. Absorbing and magical. Rating: 9/10.
Kara, Lesley (2019) The Rumour. Bantam. Joanna hears a rumour at the school gates. A rumour that a notorious child killer in living in their midst. Forty-eight years ago ten year old Sally McGowan stabbed little Robbie Harris to death. Joanna did not intend to pass on the rumour, but soon everyone is talking. How dangerous can idle gossip be, and who is Sally? Keeps you guessing. Rating: 8/10.
Isaac, Catherine (2019) Messy, Wonderful Us. Simon & Schuster. When Alice finds a secret letter it turns her life upside down. She travels to Northern Italy with her best friend Ed, whose marriage is in trouble, in search of her past. Secrets emerge about her family’s tangled history, and force Alice and Ed to confront the truth of their own relationship. Unremarkable light family drama. Rating: 7.5/10.
Reichl, Ruth (2019) Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir. Random House. Food writer and critic Ruth Reichl takes us on a personal journey sharing her decade of transformation as Editor- in-Chief of Gourmet; in the years prior to the demise of this world famous epicurean magazine in 2009. Her memoir is about following a passion in the corporate world of Condé Nast, during the golden age of the magazine, before the internet turned everything on its head. A wonderful book about food, food movements and recipes, legendary writers, restaurants and cooks, and inspiration. Delicious. Rating: 9/10.
Fifield, Anna (2019) The Great Successor: The Secret Rise and Rule of Kim Jong Un. John Murray. Kim Jong Un was born in 1984 the scion of one of the world’s most secretive and ruthless regimes. Cosseted as a child he inherited the North Korean family dictatorship at the age of 27. Fifield’s extensively-researched study of this third-generation dictator is about myth, propaganda, farce, horror and ultimate power, with an inkling of optimism in the final pages. As the world holds its breath will this terrifying figure in world politics yet become an enlightened reformer? Excellent. Rating: 9/10.