April Picks

Johnson, Stephanie (2021) Everything Changes. Vintage.

Buying a rundown motel and tearooms to establish an off-grid retreat, in Northland’s Brynderwyn Hills, seems like a chance to start again for Collette, husband Davie, pregnant daughter Liv, and their disreputable dog Muzza. As this dysfunctional family starts to renovate their new home, with the help of Choir, an adolescent on home detention, they take on their first guests, with tragi-comic consequences. An unpredictable and fast paced story, with short chapters and multiple narrators. Chaotic and often grim, nonetheless Johnson’s insightful and cynical eye manages to make change contemporary and amusing.

Rating: 8.5/10

Fforde, Katie (2021) A Wedding in the Country. Century.

It is Spring 1963 and Lizzie has arrived in London to attend a cooking course, in preparation for her life as a wife. Her mother is determined that she find a suitable man and have a nice wedding in the country. But nineteen-year-old Lizzie has plans of her of her own and gets into the swing of the sixties by shortening her hemlines, cutting her hair, moving into a run down Belgravia house with her new friends, and falling for an unsuitable man. A romantic little tale, set within the confines of the era. Feel good escapism.

Rating: 8/10

Drysdale, Pip (2021) The Paris Affair. Simon & Schuster.

Harper Brown takes up a job as an art and culture journalist, in Paris, as she struggles to come to terms with the breakdown of a long-term relationship. Harper has an obsession with true crime, and has a few criminal tendencies of her own. She aspires to be an investigative reporter. After finding herself entangled with break-through artist Noah X, she becomes involved in an intrigue that soon has her on the trail of a murderer, seeking the scoop of a lifetime. This is a slow-burn novel with most of the action happening in the latter part of the book. A throughly modern protagonist and an entertaining read.

Rating: 8.5/10

Thompson, Hamish (2021) Marks of Identity: New Zealand Logos 1960-80. H. Thompson.

Now for something different. During the 1960s and 1970s New Zealand graphic designers crafted logos for some of New Zealand’s most iconic organisations/corporates/products, some of which are still in use today. This was a time when organisations recognised that they needed a unique identity or product mark that would differentiate them in the marketplace. This succinct little book of 1,000 words contains over 100 logos and is a remarkable testament to the creativity of designers of the era. Fascinating documentation of New Zealand’s visual history.

Rating: 8/10

Mallery, Susan (2021) The Vineyard at Painted Moon. HQN.

Mackenzie Dienes is a successful winemaker at her family’s winery, in the wine country of Walla Walla, Washington. Unfortunately it is her husband’s family winery and when their marriage disintegrates her mother-in-law seeks to wreak vengeance. Whilst staying at the winery as an employee is an option, she determines to build a wine legacy of her own at Painted Moon. Heartwarming story of realising a dream, family drama, romance and wine. Comforting rainy day read.

Rating: 8/10

Swanson, Peter (2021) Every Vow You Break. Morrow.

Abigail Baskin has a drunken last fling with a sexy stranger on her bachelorette weekend, just before her wedding to millionaire Bruce Lamb. Bruce is an all-round good guy and rich, so she puts the one-night stand behind her and gets married. Then the mysterious stranger turns up on her secluded island honeymoon. Should she ruin her honeymoon, and possibly her marriage, by telling her husband the truth about her infidelity, or should she handle the stalker on her own? Something is off about the island too and things start to get real dark. The nightmare begins. Thrilling. The best Swanson to date.

Rating: 8.5/10

Griffiths, Elly (2021) The Night Hawks. Quercus.

In this new Dr Ruth Galloway mystery a group of metal detectorists, called the Night Hawks, stumble upon a body on a north Norfolk beach while out treasure seeking. DCI Nelson believes the death may have been an accidental drowning, whilst forensic archaeologist Ruth is more interested in the hoard of Bronze Age weapons found nearby. Then the deaths start to pile up, including an apparent murder-suicide at the isolated Black Dog Farm where the legendary spectral hound, the Black Shuck, has been spotted. The farm becomes the centre of the investigation and again Ruth is called in to excavate a possible body in the garden. Comfortable procedural.

Rating: 8/10

Philyaw, Deesha (2020) The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. West Virginia UP.

Nine stories that explore the lives of Black women who are caught between the church’s double standards and their own wants and needs. Secret and forbidden longings and intimacies have seduced these ladies to be free, unfaithful, unrepentant, and find love and comfort in each other. Fierce multifaceted characters with a strong female voice. Raw, tender and wonderful.

Rating: 9/10

Hawkins, Danielle (2021) Two Shakes of a Lambs Tale: The Diary of a Country Vet. Harper Collins.

Danielle Hawkins is a novelist, farmer’s wife, mother, part-time farm vet, and a cancer survivor. She lives on a sheep and beef farm near Otorohanga in the North Island of New Zealand. Her diary tells the funny side of domestic, agricultural and veterinary life. Each season brings its challenges from weaning lambs, calving cows and scanning heifers, to saving kingfishers, rearing pet lambs, and spraying tradescantia, to home schooling during Covid and grappling with her garden. This expose of rural life is exhausting and delightful at the same time.

Rating: 8.5/10

Kolbert, Elizabeth (2021) Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. Bodley Head.

This is a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems. Kolbert introduces well-intentioned scientists, microbiologist, engineers, ornithologists, entomologists, and entrepreneurs who are using technology for not so much the control of nature as the control of the control of nature. The proposed interventions, from electric fish barriers for Asian carp, pulling carbon from the atmosphere, assisted evolution and gene drives for cane toads, to geoengineering to prevent no longer fully natural ecosystems from collapse and catastrophe, are fraught and tempered by doubt – “another Anthropocene irony”. Humankind has moved a long way from the balance of nature. Can a new balance be found where environmental fixes don’t invite new issues, or make matters worse? An insightful must-read.

Rating: 9/10

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