The Villa at the Edge of the Empire
By Fiona Farrell (Vintage)
I met New Zealand writer Fiona Farrell at the Marlborough Book Festival recently and I'm glad I hadn't read this book at that point, as I might have been too awed to speak to her. It is a tremendous piece of work from a brilliant mind that examines Christchurch, how the city was made and how it is remaking itself post-earthquake. There are all the stories you would expect, of people whose lives are hostage to the whims of insurance companies, of neighbourhoods scattered and schools closed, of government and money. But Farrell takes a broader view, visiting the historic Italian town of L'Aquila, also devastated by earthquake and also rebuilding itself, but with a very different approach. Essentially, this is long-form journalism, warmed by a personal touch, enlivened by the unexpected connections Farrell's mind makes, fuelled by anger, passion and hope. Farrell conceived it as a two-volume project. Next, she will examine her city in recovery through fiction. It's a hallmark of real genius to be able to tackle such a difficult topic and create such a readable book.
From Venice To Istanbul
By Rick Stein (BBC Books)
Initially, I found myself rather disappointed by television chef Rick Stein's latest book. I had thought it would take me on a culinary voyage from Venice to Istanbul but I think I'll have to watch the accompanying TV series for that. There is not much sense of journey here, just a large collection of recipes from the Eastern Mediterranean, arranged in classic cookbook style, punctuated with chatty anecdotes. I was won over in the end, as the photography is stunning and the recipes scream "try me". I'm keen to try my hand at the Turkish dishes, in particular Kapuska, a stew of spiced cabbage and minced lamb as well an Albanian dish that involves frying potatoes with nutmeg and honey - yum!
Healthy Brain, Happy Life
By Dr Wendy Suzuki (William Heinemann)
As well as being good for you, exercise boosts your brain. In this blend of autobiography and science, New York neuroscientist Dr Wendy Suzuki explains why. After a lifetime of putting her career first, Suzuki found herself nearing 40, overweight, friendless and unhappy. Joining a gym, she discovered that the fitter she got, the sharper her mind became. So Suzuki delved into decades of research to find out exactly why. What she learned is that physical activity can cause striking changes in the brain, allowing it to better receive and process information, improving memory and creativity, and essentially helping it grow. This discovery changed Suzuki's area of research and her life. Clear explanations and personal recollections help juice up what could otherwise be dry reading. Suzuki also shares her brain hacks - four-minute exercises to enrich the brain - making for a practical, fascinating book.
A Song of Shadows
By John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton)
A poet of crime fiction, Irishman John Connolly brings back his quirky hero, battered and bruised, in this latest instalment in the excellent Charlie Parker series. The trouble magnet private eye is slowly recuperating in small-town coastal Maine. When the body of an obsessive Nazi hunter washes ashore, the near-dead Parker must call on all his resources to battle modern foes whose darkness was forged by the historic evil of the Holocaust. Adroitly blending noir and paranormal, Connolly asks big questions of his characters and readers, while never stumbling over a soapbox or losing an enthralling narrative drive. Powered by elegant prose, this is one of the finest crime novels of the year.
Review by Craig Sisterson who blogs about crime fiction at kiwicrime.blogspot.co.nz.
Circling The Sun
By Paula McLain (Hachette)
Once again, McLain has written a fictionalised version of a remarkable woman's life. Circling The Sun brings us the fearless and captivating Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator who was caught up in a passionate love triangle with Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen. Brought to Kenya from England as a child, then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by her father and the local tribe. Her unconventional upbringing transforms her into a bold young woman and her uncommon style attracts the attention of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who live and love by their own set of rules. The ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton introduces Beryl to the freedom and power of flying. This novel will be a great hit with book clubs.
Review by Tracey Lawton of The Village Bookshop in Matakana.
Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook
By Anne Vittur Kennedy (Candlewick Press)
This is my latest favourite book because it makes me laugh out loud every time I read it (and it's short and pithy so I read it often). Ragweed is great at dispensing advice to prospective farm dogs. The first thing a farm dog needs to know is not to wake the farmer in the morning - that's the rooster's job. Says Ragweed, "You'll really, really want to wake the farmer. But don't wake the farmer," and on the next page: "If you do wake the farmer, you can get a biscuit just to go away." Soon it becomes clear that Ragweed's talent lies in working out the best ways to get biscuits. Rolling in mud, chasing chickens and even eating grass can all lead to a biscuit, although, in the case of eating grass, the biscuit you get will be a regurgitated one. I suppose this hilarious picture book is meant for 4- to 6-year-old children but I say buy it for yourself - guffaws guaranteed.
Review by Helen Wadsworth of Pt Chev Bookshop And Resource Room.