September Picks

Kassabova, Kapka (2020) To The Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace. Granta. Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa are two lakes in the borderlands of North Macedonia, Albania and Greece, joined by underground rivers, with a brutal and tumultuous history. The story of the Southern Balkans is once again captured by Kapka Kassaboa as she lyrically explores her turbulent ancestry in a landscape layered with human narratives. Her journey traverses the history, geography and geopolitics that shaped the lake region and how the lives of a long-suffering people continue to be imprinted. The magic and mystery of this ancient part of Eurasia takes the reader on an unforgettable human journey, made all the more eloquent by my own via Egnatia travels through Northern Greece in the 1980s. Spellbinding. A massive fan. Rating: 9.5/10.

Albright, Madeleine (2020) Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir. Harper. Former US Secretary of State Albright’s latest memoir focuses on her “afterlife” of service.  She shares personal stories and lived experiences and tells of how she has managed to stay relevant since she left office.  At the end of her tenure as secretary of state she was worn out but she examined her options and has found meaning as an author, on the lecture circuit, teaching, and in founding a “do good” consulting firm with a focus on diplomacy and the art of negotiation.  A rather rambling memoir with some interesting retrospective reflections.  Rating: 8/10.

Delaney, J P ( 2020) Playing Nice. Ballantine Books. One morning Pete Riley is greeted by stranger at his door, Miles Lambert, with the news that his two-year old son was switched at birth.  For Pete, his partner Maddie, and the son they have been raising, life will never be the same. What starts as good intentions between the families soon deteriorates, with sinister consequences. Pete and Maddie are determined to keep their family safe at all costs – and soon become unwilling to “play nice”. A psychopathic tale of secrets and trust. Rating: 8/10.

Perry, Kyle (2020) The Bluffs. M Joseph. Three decades ago, five teenage girls from Limestone Creek disappeared in the remote Great Western Tiers of Tasmania, and the legend of ‘the Hungry Man’ was born. When another group of teenagers goes missing on a school camping trip in the same wilderness, foul play is suspected. A teacher is found knocked unconscious and latterly a body found at the bottom of a cliff.  Detective Con Badenhorst must fight his own demons, corrupt cops, drug dealers, local vigilantes, and an unprincipled teenage YouTube sensation to solve the case. However, you have to suspend belief with this bungled investigation. This is a tense and atmospheric Picnic at Hanging Rock genre mystery and whilst it starts out well it soon deteriorates into a frenetic shambles. Rating: 7.5/10.

Cruz, Angie (2019) Dominicana. Flatiron Books. When thirty-two year Juan Ruiz proposes to fifteen-year-old farm girl Ana Canción it is with her family’s blessing, for it is a business transaction and Juan is taking her to live in New York City. Their marriage will provide an opportunity for her entire family to eventually immigrate. However there is no love between Juan and Ana and she is lonely and miserable confined to their cold Washington Heights apartment.  When Juan returns home, to the political turmoil of the Dominican Republic, his free spirited younger brother César takes Ana in hand and opens up the possibilities of life in America. A coming of age portrait of personal fulfilment versus filial duty, and the disenfranchised immigrant experience. Nuanced and disarming. Loved it. Rating: 9/10.

Kantor, Jodi, Twohey, Megan (2019) She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that helped ignite a Movement.  Penguin. In 2017 the two Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalists began their investigation into Harvey Weinstein following a trail of shadowy allegations, secret payments and non-disclosure agreements. Weinstein sought to evade scrutiny, and sabotage the investigation, with the support of his high-powered friends and lawyers. When Kantor and Twohey were finally able to persuade sources to go public a showdown with the New York Times was set in motion, opening a veritable Pandora’s box of sexual harassment and abuse claims and igniting the #MeToo movement. Read alongside Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill. Exemplary chronicle of the corruption wrought by unbridled wealth, privilege and power.  Rating: 9/10.

Tursten, Helene (2019) Hunting Game. Soho Crime. I recently read and enjoyed Winter Grave, the second book in the Embla Nyström investigative series. In this first book Detective Inspector Embla Nyström is on leave from her stressful job, with the police mobile unit, to attend the annual moose hunt with family and friends. Unsettling incidents on the hunt, then the disappearance of two hunters, cuts short her vacation as Embla takes charge of the investigation. Embla is a smart and capable hero, whose personal life and impulsive nature often blurs her professional role. A refreshingly light Scandi Noir mystery. A fan. Rating: 8.5/10.

Collins, Judith (2020) Pull No Punches: Memoir of a Political Survivor. Allen & Unwin. Judith Collins entered the New Zealand Parliament in 2002, and when the National Party won office in 2008 she became Minister of Police, Corrections, and Veterans. In this candid account Collins describes political life as a survivor and a woman. Her strength has been her hard work, tenacity, resilience, and focus on the best outcomes for her constituents and portfolios. This memoir provides a positive insight into a high-achiever and well-known public figure, without any hyperbole or indeed thrills, on the verge of the 2020 election.  Interesting with some intriguing glimpses, no surprises here.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Trump, Mary L (2020) Too Much and Never Enough: How my family created the world’s most dangerous man. Simon & Schuster. The title says it all.  A toxic, greedy and damaged family bred the man who now occupies the White House. Patriarch Fred Trump encouraged his middle son’s worst qualities – bullying, lack of empathy, and disrespect, while giving him every opportunity and financing his mistakes, until they both believed in his infallibility. Mary L Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald Trump’s only niece, provides an insider’s perspective to the destructive relationships, estrangements, trauma and dark history of a dysfunctional family.  Well-written but makes grim reading. Rating: 8.5/10.

Cleeves, Ann (2020) The Darkest Evening. Macmillan. DCI Vera Stanhope returns in Cleeves’ ninth Vera novel.  On a snowy evening Vera gets a bit disoriented and comes across an abandoned car with a toddler in the back seat.  Vera collects the child and takes it to a neighbouring stately home, Brockburn, her father’s family home. At Brockburn there is a party in full swing, until a young woman is found lying dead in the snow. Vera and her team start to investigate.  Although there is a divergence between the Vera novels and the TV series Vera, the characters and backstory are familiar. We await the retelling of The Darkest Evening on tele. A classic police procedural. Rating: 8/10.



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