We're stuck in the past this month, or so it would seem from our selection of hot new novels. It wasn't intentional, but four of our five recommended reads are historical:19th century New Zealand, 1912 England, 1950s Romania and - curiously - 1980s Auckland. Whether shoulder pads, taffeta petticoats or plain old jeans are your literary style, here are five ways to get your April fiction fix.
1. The Open World, by Stephanie Johnson
Acclaimed New Zealand author Stephanie Johnson turns to her roots to tell the tale of her forebear Elizabeth Horelock Smith, widow, mother and companion to Lady Martin, wife of New Zealand's first chief justice. Elizabeth sails to New Zealand in 1841, where she tries to establish herself under the watchful and disapproving eye of Bishop Selwyn and Judge Martin. Elizabeth helps to run the Native Hospital for Maori at Judges Bay in Parnell, a settlement Johnson vividly brings to life. But though she appears to be an upstanding widow, Elizabeth is guarding secrets she will not reveal to anyone - even her two sons - until she reaches old age and has returned to London. The Open World is Johnson's much-anticipated fifth historical novel, and an intriguing tale, elegantly told.
2. The Beginner's Goodbye, by Anne Tyler
Aaron's wife Dorothy has come back from the dead. Or at least that's how it seems to him. It's been almost a year since her lifeless body was pulled from the wreckage of their home, crushed by a fallen oak tree. A year in which a bereft Aaron has buried himself in his work at the family publishing company, convincing himself that he and Dorothy truly loved each other. And now here she is, appearing by his side in the strangest of places with all her familiar quirks. But soon they are bickering and Aaron begins to realise that their marriage may not have been so happy after all.
3. Painter of Silence, by Georgina Harding
When an unknown deaf-mute man is found on the doorstep of a Romanian hospital in the 1950s, a young nurse brings him pen and paper so he might draw. She does not tell her colleagues that she knows the man, that they were raised together on her family's estate in the days before the war and before communism. At first his drawings make little sense, but slowly he reveals what has happened in the traumatic days since her family fled to Britain and she joined the army as a nurse. This slow, eloquent story of the places and people to which we are bound has been long-listed for the 2012 Orange Prize. Read our full review here.
4. The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones
An Edwardian comedy of manners gets a good old-fashioned haunting in British author Sadie Jone's novel The Uninvited Guests. Emerald Torrington and her family and friends are determined to celebrate her 20th birthday in style - even when their country house is invaded by a mysterious group of survivors from a nearby train crash. The family shoehorn the third-class passengers into the morning room and throw a spot of tea at them while they wait for the railway authorities to collect them, but after several hours the uninvited guests refuse to be contained. Of more concern, however, is the sole first-class passenger, who takes it upon himself to liven up the birthday party with scandalous revelations about the family's past. It's a playful and rollicking tale with writing that crackles with originality and wit. Read our full review here. Read an excerpt here.
5. Love & Money: A Novel, by Greg McGee
After a long career in writing for theatre and screen, 60-something Greg McGee has released his first novel. Well, to be accurate, it's his third novel, but his first under his own name - last year he revealed himself to be Alix Bosco, the author of a duo of crime novels. McGee is best known for his classic New Zealand rugby play Foreskin's Lament, which premiered in the early 1980s. He returns to that decade for Love & Money, a comic blokey tale set in Auckland in 1987 about a "middle-aged romantic lead with a clapped-out VW and three kids to different mothers". Interestingly, McGee says he began working on the concept for this story in 1987, intending it to be a screenplay. Read Kiran Dass's review here. Read an extract here.
* Read any good new-release books lately? Share them in the comments below.By Bronwyn Sell Email Bronwyn, Christine Sheehy Email Christine