June Picks

Shipstead, Maggie (2021) Great Circle. Doubleday.

From the moment the infant Marian Graves (and her twin) are rescued from a sinking ship, until she flies a great circle around the globe, polar cap to polar cap, Marian’s life is one big momentous adventure. For she is a woman who will not allow her gender to define her. As a daredevil female aviator she seeks freedom and danger, determined to chart her own course in life. Half a century later Hollywood starlet Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian, and in the search for her own destiny Marian’s story unfolds. Epic.

Rating: 8.5/10

Grimshaw, Charlotte (2021) The Mirror Book: a memoir. Vintage.

Charlotte Grimshaw’s memoir has received significant attention in the media, and been the subject of innumerable discussions with Auckland University alumni who have interfaced with her father C K Stead, and family, over the years. A father who has had no qualms about writing his version of her life into his memoirs. Brilliant and self-obsessive Grimshaw has written “a story about it” – her memories of a traumatic and liberal New Zealand upbringing, whilst at the same time seeking her own truth. Brutally raw and brave, but leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

Rating: 8.5/10

Hunter, Cara (2021) The Whole Truth. Penguin.

An Oxford student accuses his female professor of sexual assault – one of them is lying. Meanwhile a woman is murdered in suspicious circumstances with the trail leading directly to DI Adam Fawley – someone is out to frame him. Will Fawley’s team solve both crimes while he is out of action? It has been a long time between outings so a welcome addition is the summary of key members of Fawley’s team in his fifth police procedural. Plenty of pace but not my fav of series.

Rating: 8/10

Bublitz, Jacqueline (2021) Before You Knew My Name. Allen & Unwin.

On her eighteenth birthday Alice Lee arrives in New York, looking for fresh beginnings with a stolen camera and $600 cash. A month later she becomes a Jane Doe. Ruby Jones is also seeking to start over in New York, a lonely thirty-six year old Australian lost in a big city, that is until she finds Alice’s body in the Hudson River. While the two women never meet Alice, narrating from the afterlife, believes that Ruby will be the catalyst to solving her murder. This book is many things – a New York love story, a crime story, a story of self-discovery and of female trauma. Far from a conventional whodunit.

Rating: 8/10

Ovenden, Richard (2020) Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge under Attack. John Murray.

As long as knowledge has been written down, people have been trying to destroy it. Richard Ovenden, Director of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, takes us on a journey from Mesopotamia to book burnings to the digital revolution, uncovering the dangers that have faced ideas and their preservation over the centuries. Along the way there have been heroes who have recognised that the survival of libraries and archives are crucial to the survival of civilisation itself. The book ends with a Coda on the importance of preserving society’s written record and not letting it slip away though neglect, ignorance or underfunding. A rich and fluent history.

Rating: 8.5/10

Weir, Alison (2021) Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife. Ballantine.

In the final volume of her series on Henry VIII’s six wives Weir tells the story of the well-educated and twice-widowed Katharine Parr. During her marriage to the ageing king Katharine becomes a mother to his children and manages to navigate dangerous times. Four years into their marriage Henry dies, allowing her to marry long-term love Sir Thomas Seymour, remaining never far from the dynastic struggles that surround Henry’s nine-year son and heir Edward. Convincing portrait brought to life only in the way Weir can.

Rating: 8.5/10

Michaelides, Alex (2021) The Maidens. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Mariana Andros is struggling with the death of her husband, and the demands of her therapy clients, when her niece Zoe calls her to St Christopher’s College, Cambridge, when one of her friends is murdered. As the murders mount at the centre of the mystery is an exclusive group of students known as The Maidens, who are under the sinister influence of classics professor Edward Fosca. Mariana begins to investigate and her quest soon becomes an obsession. Lots of classical and literary references. Predictable, melodramatic and disappointing, no The Secret History.

Rating: 7.5/10

Berry, Flynn (2021) Northern Spy. Viking.

Tessa is a producer for the BBC in Belfast, two decades after the Good Friday Agreement. The IRA are still active and when Tessa sees her sister Marian on security footage at the scene of a robbery she is faced with an impossible dilemma. For the police believe that Marian has joined the IRA. What happens next will test Tessa’s courage and values, and threaten her infant son. An atmospheric and chilling tale of espionage and the contemporary IRA, of grievances, conflict and continuing political unrest, and above all of motherhood and family. Keeps you on edge.

Rating: 8.5/10

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