January Picks

Strout, Elizabeth (2021) Oh William! Viking.

Lucy Barton, in her third outing, is at a crossroads and she starts to muse on her first husband, William. Lucy is navigating her life as a widow, mother of two adult daughters, and a successful author, when she reconnects with William. This leads her to reflect on the mysteries of marriage and long intimate relationships, and the memories that bind us and the secrets we keep. After the pain of their parting can they ever become friends again? A multilayered novel with great insight and complexity, delivered with the all the subtly and nuance that only Elizabeth Strout can do. Wonderful.

Rating: 9/10

Abbott, Megan (2021) The Turnout. Virago.

Dara and Marie Durant were brought up by a glamorous mother who founded the the Durant School of Dance. After her tragic death the girls build the school into a thriving small-town business, with the support of Charlie, Dara’s husband and their mother’s protégée. When a suspicious fire at the dance studio introduces an interloper, in the form of a building contractor, the dynamic is upset and their tight-knit world starts to unravel. A dark and brutal tale of family, sexuality and power. Uncomfortable and unconventional.

Rating: 8.5/10

Wilkerson, Isabel (2020) Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Random House.

This book explores the hierarchy of human rankings shaped by caste. Caste is centred on power and privilege, with status determined by an accident of birth. A system beyond race and class, which underpins lives, behaviours and place in society. Linking to the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany, and using immersive research, narratives and stories, Wilkerson articulates how caste has shaped America. A book that deepens knowledge of what Black people are up against in the US. In an era now demanding public accounting has the backlash begun?

Rating: 9/10

Beckerman, Hannah (2021) The Impossible Truths of Love. Lake Union

When her father on his deathbed murmurs that she was “never really (his) to love”, Nell in a wave of confusion and sorrow tries to understand what her father meant. Thus begins a dual narrative, as Nell seeks to unravel a mystery, alternate chapters deliver the trauma that transformed her mother Annie’s life 35 years earlier. A story about how both love and loss can lead to family secrets and angst. Fraught, moving and finely observed.

Rating: 8/10

Hyland, Adrian (2021) Canticle Creek. Ultimo Press.

When Jesse Redpath, a Northern Territory rural cop, discovers that Adam Lawson, a wild young fella who had absconded from her patch, has been accused of murder and has killed himself near Canticle Creek, she doesn’t believe it so sets out to investigate. The police assume it is an open and shut case. When Jesse starts asking questions, she uncovers a coterie of locals with secrets to hide, and even more to lose. It will take all her tracking skills to solve this mystery in the oppressive heat. Another not bad outback crime read.

Rating: 8/10

Lapena, Shari (2021) Not a Happy Family. Bantam.

After a tense Easter celebration meal Fred and Shelia Merton are found brutally murdered, their three adult children the prime suspects. They each stand to inherit millions. But which one is capable of killing their controlling father and fey mother? As Detectives Reyes and Barr seek to unravel family secrets they become deeply suspicious of its members and struggle to identify the culprit. Are they all psychopaths? A clever whodunit with lots of suspense and manipulative twists; the tension mounting till the last page.

Rating: 8.5/10

Chan, Alina, Ridley, Matt (2021) Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19. Harper.

As Covid continues to impinge on our health and our freedoms it is important that we have an understanding of its origins. This substantive book reads like a page-turning mystery, following the science and the arguments as the world seeks to apportion blame. Whilst it is generally believed that the virus is not a bioweapon current thinking indicates with ‘moderate confidence’ that the first infection came about as a result of ‘a laboratory-associated incident’, probably involving the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Censorship and rebuttals, conspiracy theories, media incuriosity, and obscuration at an intelligence and state level has created confusion as to the likely path of this pathogen. There is more to this story – will the truth eventually out? An informative and balanced debate.

Rating: 9/10

White, S R (2020) Hermit. Harper.

This Australian bushland police procedural is set over the course of 12 hours. Detective Dana Russo has been given the lead on investigating the puzzling death of a local shopkeeper. The prime suspect is a man who had disappeared without trace 15 years ago. Dana is faced with the task of getting him to talk, but with the intensity of each interview her own traumatic past begins to reveal itself. A claustrophobic slow burn. Found it hard to stay the distance.

Rating: 7.5/10

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