The Versions Of Us
By Laura Barnett (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow did it entertainingly in the movie Sliding Doors. Author Kate Atkinson did it brilliantly in Life After Life. And now UK journalist Laura Barnett has borrowed the same device for her debut novel The Versions Of Us, looking at the way a single event can change a life. There are three versions of Eva Edelstein's and Jim Taylor's story. Each begins in 1958 when they are students at Cambridge University. Eva is cycling when a dog rushes into her path. In one version she swerves, her tyre runs over a rusty nail and is punctured. In one, she falls off. And in another, the dog darts away at the last minute. Jim happens to be walking towards her and offers help. The way Eva responds to him will lead them to different futures. Essentially, this is a love story with a lot of near misses and paths not taken. It's a tremendous juggling act for Barnett and a bit of a brain workout for the reader since you must keep tabs on which version you're reading and who Jim and Eva are to each other in it.
By Elena Ferrante (Text)
Elena Ferrante is an enigma. She's the Neapolitan author of highly wrought stories about women but little is known about her. She refuses interviews and there are no photographs. Despite this, her work has developed a following and now her first novella, Troubling Love, has been republished. It's an unsettling story, a mystery in which Naples, a city where passions always seem at boiling point, has a starring role. Delia has come home because her mother has died in sinister circumstances; drowned in the sea clothed only in a fancy bra. As she tries to discover the truth about what has happened, Delia becomes caught up in old feuds, family secrets and memories of her childhood. There is an increasingly hallucinatory quality to the prose, a vulgarity and grotesqueness, too. Ferrante's novels are regarded as brilliant. Gritty and confronting, they are about an underbelly of southern Italy tourists rarely see.
MasterChef: The Masters At Home
This cookbook collects the recipes of the real master chefs, not the winners of TV shows but the big stars of the restaurant world, people like Ferran Adria of Spain, Sydney's Tetsuya Wakuda, London's Ruth Rogers and our own Peter Gordon. The idea is they are sharing the secrets of the dishes they like to eat at home rather than the more complex creations they serve customers. So, from Ferran Adria, the king of molecular gastronomy, comes a simple chilled soup of watermelon, tomato and basil plus a wonderful twist on a crema Catalana for dessert. There are 32 top chefs included, with a short intro about each that includes their secret food haunt and three recipes. I can only imagine how hard it was for these culinary geniuses to edit down their favourite dishes so severely but the result is a treat; a real bible for anyone who wants things to be more exciting in their kitchen but not necessarily more complicated. Basically, it's foodie heaven in book form. My favourite quote is from restaurateur Joe Bastianich: "A meal without wine is called breakfast."
Etta And Otto And Russell And James
By Emma Hooper (Fig Tree)
Etta's greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of 82 she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate and her best boots, and begins walking the 3218km to the coast. Otto, her husband, waits patiently at home with only his memories. The neighbour, Russell, also remembers, and he still loves Etta as much as he did 50 years earlier, before she married Otto. This story follows Etta from the time she leaves home as a young woman; Otto as he leaves his family and their farm to fight in the war; and Russell as he stays at home and falls in love with Etta. In case you're wondering about the James in the book title, he meets up with Etta on her trek to the ocean. A delightful story.
• Review by Tracey Lawton of The Village Bookshop in Matakana.
By Bianca Zander (Hachette)
Aucklander Bianca Zander's marvellous second novel, The Predictions, captures life at Gaialands, an "alternative lifestyle" Coromandel commune in the late 1970s. Self-sustaining, vegan, avoiding the nuclear family, involving hard work and high ideals - Poppy and Lukas grow up there, with five other kids, in a fascinating parenting experiment. Visitor Shakti, in her flowing muslin robes, shakes everything up with her healing rituals and her "predictions ceremony". As young adults in the heady music scene of 1980s London, Poppy and Lukas must overcome the legacy of the commune and face the less idealistic realities of life. This is a lively, tender story of good intentions, mistakes made and of finding your place in the world. Written in a clear and easy style, it is utterly engaging.
• Review by Carole Beu of Auckland's The Women's Bookshop.
Peas In A Pod
By Tania McCartney, illustrated by Tina Snerling (Exisle)
Peas In A Pod is about quintuplets Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg. They look the same and do exactly the same things, until one day, they rebel. They start to do everything differently, causing chaos in the house. Their parents put them back in their place and life returns to normal until they rebel again, taking on different personas. At the end, they all suck their thumbs in bed asleep, the one thing they now share. Peas In A Pod is a book about finding one's own identity. Great as a quick read for a group of children at mat-time.
• Review by author and journalist Danielle Wright.
Nicky's best read
Ever read the latest "it" book and been horribly disappointed? The experience is captured in a column on bookriot.com, an entertaining website about everything reading. You can also discover the 10 signs you have low bookish self-esteem and the dangers of a book life.
Kapiti coast writer Mandy Hager's book Singing Home The Whale has been shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
The book I love most is ... A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I love how he could draw a memorable character with just a few perfect strokes.
The book I'm reading right now is... New Zealander Constant J. Mews' book, Abelard And Heloise (Great Medieval Thinkers), which relates to the historical novel I am currently writing.
The book I want to read next is... Ben Okri's A Way Of Being Free, a collection of his essays.
My favourite bookshop is... The Children's Bookshop, in Kilbirnie, Wellington.
The book that changed me is... 1984 by George Orwell. It terrified me when I read it as a teenager (well before 1984!) and left me wondering if it was possible the world could come to this.
The book I wish I'd never read is... I'd like to change this to "the book I wish I'd never had to read" - and that would by my brother Nicky's book, Dirty Politics. I challenge anyone not to be truly horrified by the level of cynicism and corruption of democracy it reveals.