Book of the year
The Best Of New Zealand Geographic: Exploring Our Land & Culture
(Kowhai Publishing Ltd/NZ Geographic $69.95)
When New Zealand Geographic first wrote about the plight of the kakapo 20 years ago, there were fewer than 50 of the flightless birds left in the country. Two decades later, the numbers of Strigops habrotila have risen to more than 120, so it's fitting that Gideon Climo's photo of a newly fledged kakapo adorns the cover of this magnificent book, a celebration of our country's natural heritage.
Editor James Frankham and his team have chosen 63 stories (with images) from 500 contenders published in 100 back issues, a task he describes as "a brutal process" of selecting "first among equals". All is not well in paradise, he points out: just 12 per cent of the country's original forest cover remains and that loss brings attendant problems. "With every story of ecological triumph is a sobering reminder of the fragility of our most unique species, cornered in their evolutionary cul-de-sac and ill-prepared for newcomers."
The book opens with a section called "Ocean", an outstanding collection of essays and imagery, including taking the reader on a trip to Cape Adare in the Ross Dependency to meet a group of Adelie penguins. The Tale of Two Frogs, written by Warren Judd, is in the "Earth" section where, among other creatures, we meet bell frogs, immersed in water as they keep an eye on the world above.
"Industry" is a section that looks at human endeavour on the land, such as shearing, mining, shipping and ... home birthing. "Identity" examines us, the people of New Zealand, including an essay by Bernard Steeds on that most peculiar breed, politicians. Other sections include "Sky", "Mainland" and "Islands".
So there is a great deal to admire in The Best of New Zealand Geographic: the astonishing photos, the very fine writing, the peeping into the nooks and crannies of places most of us will never be able to access. It's a book to dip into many times. As Frankham concludes, "We shall never run out of material."
The Heart Of The Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography
by David Hempleman-Adams, Sophie Gordon & Emma Stuart
(Royal Collection Publications $75)
Amazing value considering the depth of its coverage, which focuses on the historic imagery by photographers Herbert Ponting, with Captain Scott on the Terra Nova in 1911-12, and James "Frank" Hurley, who was with Ernest Shackleton on the Endurance in 1914-17. The narratives, by "adventurer" Hempleman-Adams, Royal Photograph Collection curator Gordon and Royal Library bibliographer Stuart, are highly dramatic and haunting, the images even more so.
The Magnetic North: Notes From The Arctic Circle
by Sara Wheeler
(Jonathan Cape $64.99)
The author of Terra Incognita, a meditation on the empty beauty of Antarctica, turns her attention to the Arctic region, in contrast "over-populated" in countries like Russian Asia, Canada, Greenland, Alaska and the United States, and Scandinavia. What she discovers is a brutal history of land grabs and repression, welfare-dependent native peoples, alcoholism, industrial toxins and pollution destroying flora and fauna, devastating evidence of climate change. There's a lot to absorb here, and many of the people Wheeler encounters in this engaging read are real characters.
James Cook And The Exploration Of The Pacific
(Thames & Hudson $90)
Published to accompany an exhibition in Bonn, this documents Cook's three voyages and reproduces about 500 ethnographic and natural history items along with paintings, drawings and charts. The essays are by scholars from the National Maritime Museum, the Smithsonian Institute, the Australian National University and the universities of Hawaii and Auckland, including one by Paul Tapsell, formerly of Auckland Museum, and Anne Salmond, who writes on the death of Cook. A little academic in tone but Cook obsessives will love it.
Galapagos Of The Antarctic
by Rodney Russ & Aleks Terauds
(Heritage Expeditions $87.50)
Subtitled "Wild Islands South of New Zealand", this is published by the company that specialises in natural history tour groups, supplementing its goal of widening the appreciation of wild places. There's nothing like the real thing but this book provides an armchair journey through the geography, geology, flora, fauna and history of the Chathams, Bounty, Antipodes and Auckland Islands groups, along with peeks at Campbell Island, Macquarie Island and The Snares. The text is accompanied by drawings, maps and photos which whet the appetite for a visit.
Backroads: Charting A Poet's Life
by Sam Hunt
(Craig Potton $49.99)
Sam Hunt swaps poetry for prose in his memoir - but naturally poetry permeates every page in this handsome, illustrated production based on transcripts from conversations with Craig Potton co-owner Robbie Burton over the past two years. "The more we've talked, the more I've heard, and the more I've got to know him, it's always the poems that keep rising to the surface," writes Burton in the foreword. The book bears witness to that. In addition, Hunt's anecdotes about his family, friends (and dogs) reveal a man "older, sadder - but wiser, never/ not on these heron legs, no: that's when I say I got to go/ hit the road. Which goes on forever." Nice one, Sam.
The Blaze Of Obscurity
by Clive James
James' fifth volume of memoirs delves into life after Fleet St, which he left in 1982 to earn a living on television, "thoroughly compromising" his literary reputation. For our entertainment, James soldiered on in the world of celebrity for a couple of decades. These essays on that period, and those people, make this a highly amusing yet thoughtful collection of scuttlebutt. On filming Ivana Trump: "Incorrectly supposing that there was nothing off-putting about her air of superior knowledge, she came forth readily enough with a supply of polished banalities ... I would also have liked to suggest that she was a nitwit, but there was no time."
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother
by William Shawcross
At roughly 950 pages, plus family trees, notes, bibliography, index and photos, this is a solid survey of the QM's event-filled life, which spanned all of the 20th century (1900-2002). Shawcross, who wrote the TV series Monarchy, has done extensive research and spoken to many sources. He writes fluidly, presenting his subject as a charming woman who had a strong will and loved fun. When she celebrated her 100th, attending a service at St Paul's Cathedral, she greeted other centenarians as she left. "Do you know, they were all in wheelchairs," she said with a touch of mischief. "I spoke to them when I walked down the aisle."
by Edmund White
Subtitled "My Life in New York during the 1960s and 1970s", the American writer follows his earlier memoir, My Lives, with a review of the years when he was young, poor and "desperate for recognition". It was also the first days of gay liberation, and White's narrative about what-when-who that involved is as full and frank as you'd expect. Many people he knew didn't survive. Quite a sad book but humane and reflective.
Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? The James Packer Story
by Paul Barry
(Allen & Unwin $59.99)
A strangely addictive biography of Kerry Packer's son and heir, a man wrecked in many ways by his father's bullying. Branded a "loser" by his father since he was a boy, Packer jnr grew up trying to prove his worth to his dad, who left him a $6 billion empire. As an adult, "he appears to believe in nothing except making money", with mixed results. Chuck in ownership of a media group, Scientology, friends like Tom Cruise and Eddie Maguire, catastrophic casino investments, ballooning weight and a filthy temper, and you've got yet another powerful treatise on the poisonous relationship between money, power and happiness.
The Prophet And The Policeman
by Mark Derby
(Craig Potton $39.99)
Historian Mark Derby brings to life the dramatic encounter in 1916 between the head of the New Zealand police force, John Cullen, and Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana in the raid on the Maungapohatu community in the Ureweras. Cullen came from a dirt-poor Irish farm labouring family. He joined the Irish constabulary before sailing to New Zealand in 1876, where he rose through the ranks. Against a complex backdrop including pressure to "break open" the Ureweras for settlement, and decimation of Maori by disease, Rua had risen to prominence as a healer, a pacifist, then a spiritual leader hailed as a prophet. The brutal raid, led by Cullen, against Rua and his people was bloody - Rua's unarmed son was killed - and, as Derby writes, the incident was "a historic low point for the police ... that resounds to this day". It's a disturbing but illuminating read.
Halfway To Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988
by Michael Palin
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson $60)
Palin is addicted to his diary products. Following on from his Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years, he moves into the period when Monty Python starts to fade from his life - although they released The Meaning of Life in 1983 - and he because involved in film projects like Time Bandits, The Missionary, Brazil, A Private Function and A Fish Called Wanda. In 1988, his career entered yet another phase with the first of what was to become many TV travel series, Around the World in 80 Days. Once again, Palin's relaxed style engages the reader in anything from putting out the milk bottles to filming with Maggie Smith in Kenya to the death of the family's beloved cat, Denis. It's like chatting to an old mate - one who's doing all the talking.
Kitchen Garden Companion
by Stephanie Alexander
The perfect time to get stuck into the fruit and veg garden, inspired by the great Australian cook who has turned her energies into a state-by-state programme on how to create sustainable school kitchen gardens. In this massive and practical book, she outlines how to get started in your own garden, what to plant and when. The bulk of the book is an A (amaranth, a leafy veg) to Z (zucchini) of plants, accompanied by delectable recipes. This would be a most impressive gift for anyone who loves gardening and cooking. Its sheer bulk might also prompt a weeding-out of unused recipe books that take up more room than they earn.
The Aunt Daisy Cookbook
ed. by Barbara Basham
(Hodder Moa $29.99)
I thought this "heritage collection" of recipes hon-ouring the doyenne of radio from the 1930s-60s might be outdated and it certainly has some curiosities. The savoury dishes section involves ingredients like brains and suet and a thing called Inky Pinky Fish Pie; the poultry section toys with the slow cooking of pukeko and swan; a salad dressing recipe recommends golden syrup. But the biscuits and cakes sections are crammed with classics, and the chutneys, pickles, sauces, jams and jellies recipes are worth the price alone, the proceeds of which go to the Barbara Basham Medical Charitable Trust. Basham was Aunt Daisy's daughter, and the compiler of this collection.
New Zealand Food And Cookery
by David Burton
(David Bateman $59.99)
A revised, larger fourth edition of Burton's 1982 classic, saluting our culinary heritage. It opens with an interesting section on Maori food and cookery, before the arrival of the "strange new food of the Pakeha", including pigs and potatoes. Burton's chapter on the early settlers is a lesson in food shortages, then we move on to what we ate during the wars and the Depression (see recipe for "Hard-Times Stew").
Post WWII, the impact of immigration, fine dining, restaurant culture (great anecdotes here), takeaway foods, celebrity chefs (Graham Kerr) and on to today. That's the first 100 pages, then we have 200 more of recipes which are the essence of New Zealand. And another pukeko recipe. Seasons by Donna Hay (Fourth Estate $54.99)
A book with too many pointless photos which may nevertheless set the stomach rumbling. Divided into the four seasons, each section extensively covers "savoury" and "sweet" recipes which look within the skill range of anyone reasonably competent looking for new ideas. Her summer section starts with barbecued bacon, tomato and scrambled egg sandwich and ends with a crushed raspberry tart. This should have the lucky recipient marching off to the kitchen immediately.
by Antonio Carluccio
(Quadrille Publishing $59.99)
The self-taught Italian cook introduces us to 50 years of his "secrets", which he started gathering as a student in Vienna. "All my ideas came from a solid foundation: the years I had spent absorbing food facts, techniques, textures and tastes from my mother," he writes in the introduction. The secret with Italian food, he adds, is "that it is always very simple and always uses the best ingredients possible". Many of the recipes involve vegetables, the meat section is relatively small and he advocates free-range poultry. It's the Italian way.
Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History
by Adam Nicolson
(Harper Press $27.99)
One of the most thoughtful, elegantly written books I've read all year. Nicolson, the grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, grew up living in one of England's most treasured gardens, Sissinghurst. He absorbed the gardens, its working farms and the surrounding countryside as if it was his own DNA. It was also the setting for his parents' unhappy marriage, which eventually disintegrated.
Years later, when Nicolson eventually inherited the right to return and live in Sissinghurst, it was as a tenant. By then, the estate was owned and operated by the National Trust, no longer as a farm but as a tourist destination with the usual generic NT shops and cafes, a kind of blanding out. In the face of incredibly rigid bureaucracy and opposition, Nicolson set about trying to persuade a restoration of Sissinghurst back to its former status as a farm which would provide an income by growing food for the cafe and shops.
The story of that struggle and its results, which are ongoing, is fascinating, as is his ability to delve into the history of his family, and the evolution of the region. An eye-opener for anyone who has visited Sissinghurst, or hopes to. Nicolson is a superb writer of books on history, travel and the environment; this won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. It was also made into a BBC TV series. I wonder if we will see that here?
Extraordinary Gardens Of The World
by Monty Don
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson $95)
Sissinghurst is included in Monty Don's large-format collection of photographs, a follow-on from his TV series in which he made a dozen trips around the world to visit gardens "in their artistic, cultural and social setting". The book is divided into seven sections: personal, spiritual, natural, botanical, historical, edible and communal.
Two New Zealand gardens are included: Ayrlies in Auckland and Te Kainga Marire in New Plymouth. He visits surprisingly few gardens in France (perhaps because they have been so well-covered elsewhere), but he does have an eye for projects in more off-the-beaten-track places such as Mexico, India, Brazil, South Africa and Bali. The book is published, incidentally, by the company established by Adam Nicolson's father.
Organic Vegetable Gardening
by Xanthe White
A month-by-month guide by Auckland landscape designer White "to help you plan your organic vegetable garden in a logical manner, one step at a time, so it never feels overwhelming". Step one seems obvious: look hard at your space to assess what you've already got in terms of existing plants, size, soil, wind and light, then start working. Oddly, White starts the book in the month of April, but there's a reason for that, as you'll see. It's attractively laid out with nice photography and a final section which covers compost and fertiliser, raised gardens, sowing seeds and herbs.
Tender: A Cook And His Vegetable Patch
by Nigel Slater
(Fourth Estate $59.99)
This could have easily gone into the slot occupied by Stephanie Alexander's sumptuous book (see above) as they are both occupied with the same thing: growing veg in your garden, then creating sensational recipes for them. Slater is a longtime favourite, his writing is up there with the very best and his user-friendly recipes never fail to interest. So while his narrow, 12m-long garden is in London, the same principals apply, just swap the seasons around. He ends his preface in typical Slater style: "I have just come in from the vegetable patch - a romantic mingling of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers - and feel elated." Flicking through this book has exactly the same effect.
by Brian Turner
(Victoria University Press $25)
Perfect summer reading, Brian Turner's substantial new poetry collection issues a ticket to the glorious rewards of Central Otago. We get to stand where "rock breaks through the skin of the land" and absorb Turner's supreme and beautiful focus. These poems, which include some of the best I've read all year, are reflective but seldom laboured. The poems that poke a tongue at city folk and capitalists seem like a necessary barb in Turner's palette but less appealing. The addictive landscape, in contrast, is a springboard to infectious musings that look beyond and within: on relations, memory, human behaviour, love and death.
Dressing For The Cannibals
by Frankie McMillan
(Sudden Valley Press $19.99)
Frankie McMillan's superb first collection of poetry establishes a unique voice that is fresh, humorous and satisfying. Aside from the occasional flat poem, the writing appears effortless in its mix of graceful ease and subtle music, and surprising in its unexpected revelations, candid twists and sharp edges. McMillan's quirkiness as a writer is not so much in how she strings words together, for the syntax is conventional and the lines free from embellishment, but in where the words lead you. The joy of McMillan's take on lives and on living, at times fablesque, at times surreal, is manifold.
by Charlotte Trevella
(Steele Roberts $19.99)
Charlotte Trevella is an award-winning poet, nationally and internationally, from Rangi Ruru Girls' School, and her first collection of poetry will inspire budding secondary school poets. While many younger poets are snared, understandably, by teenage angst, Trevella engages with the wider pleasures of poetry. Her ear is attuned to deft line endings, to nimble rhythms and to shrewd detail. The collection pays tribute to the infinite possibilities of sky; the sky, featuring in three-quarters of the poems, is the blanket, skin, or anchor through which the poet filters her place in the world. A terrific start.
Walking To Africa
by Jessica Le Bas
(Auckland University Press $24.99)
Jessica Le Bas has produced an astonishing follow-up to Incognito, her award-winning debut, with a collection that is deeply and movingly autobiographical. Walking to Africa negotiates her daughter's passage from child to young adult under the weight of mental illness, and casts courageous light on a family's ability to cope. These poems are born out of maternal agony, strength, fear and love, and while emotion is a necessary core, it takes root in the gaps rather than overstatement. The collection is both tough to read and a joy to read as it traverses dark and light. The language darts and lifts and falls in order to move and astound. We need books like this.
Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry From New Zealand
ed. by Mark Pirie & Tim Jones
(Interactive Press $28.95)
Mark Pirie and Tim Jones have edited an anthology of science-fiction poetry that features a well-considered mix of New Zealand poets, past and present. Poets include Janet Charman, Bill Sewell, Rachel MacAlpine, David Eggleton, Anna Jackson, Iain Sharp, Fiona Kidman, Robert Sullivan and Hilaire Kirkland. Subjects range from global warming to Daleks to space travel to new brains. The writing travels through ideas that are strange, thought provoking, entertaining and witty. One of my favourite poems, Vivienne Plum's The Last Day of the World offers a phrase which is how I see poetry: a "pinprick of light on the road ahead."
To The Moon: An Anthology Of Lunar Poems
ed. by Carol Ann Duffy
Duffy, Britain's poet laureate, writes that when she edited an earlier anthology, Answering Back, she started to notice how many of the poems referred to the moon. The result is this fine collection of verse celebrating the moon, starting from around 600BC (The Moon, by Sappho), and moving chronologically to early Chinese, Korean and Japanese odes, then 16th century English poets Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, through to Milton, Robbie Burns, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Browning. Duffy also includes Walt Whitman, Matthew Arnold, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, A.E. Housman, Yeats, Robert Frost, D.H. Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, E.E. Cummings, and more. She winds up with one of her own, The Woman in the Moon ("When your night comes, I see you staring back as though you can hear my Darlings, what have you done, what have you done to the earth?) and Prayer by Alice Oswald.
Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology Of Poems About Birds
ed. by Billy Collins; paintings by David Allen Sibley
(Columbia University Press/Footprint Books $46.95)
Billy Collins tells us that poems about birds reflect "the ways in which attitudes toward birds change as history and culture run their courses ... our perceptions of them have vacillated since ancient times". Homer thought they were omens, early English poets believed they were mythological and symbolic. They often played the role of messengers in love poems, then the Romantics expressed jealousy of their ability to fly in words, says Collins, that "often fall into the kind of theatrical excess that can give poetry a bad name". He hopes that one day someone will write a poem for New Zealand bar-tailed godwit E7, which flew non-stop for more than seven thousand miles. This is the perfect book for bird-lovers, of whom we know there are many.
by Terry Pratchett
Among Pratchett's 37 Discworld novels, there are two, perhaps three that don't work for me. The others range from good through fabulous, and a disproportionate number of the really outstanding ones are in the most recent dozen. Pratchett, in other words, just keeps getting better. Elements combined to hilarious effect include riffs on Romeo and Juliet, football hooligans, and inter-university politics as practised by wizards. Smoldering underneath, a serious look at one of the great undigested problems of potboiler fantasy fiction: is it okay to assume someone's evil just because they happen to be a goblin?
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin is, for my money, the greatest living fantasy writer: a large claim, but read this book and tell me I'm wrong. Every sentence sings. Le Guin retells the final third of Virgil's Roman epic, The Aeneid, through the eyes of a minor character: the young Italian girl Lavinia, who marries Virgil's hero in an attempt to forestall a war. The war happens anyway. Beautiful writing, one of the great war stories to come out of America's Iraq years. Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (Voyager $34.99) Robinson was the man who took on this year's Booker Prize committee over their ignorance of genre fiction. If you want to judge his claim that some of today's best writing is shelved in the science fiction section, give this time travel romance a try. Robinson not only takes us inside the mind of Galileo, he takes him to the far future, showing us one of history's greatest minds grappling with centuries of progress.
Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 22
ed. by Gardner Dozois
Another indispensable anthology of short science fiction from Dozois, now into his third decade as the editor of this series. These books are where you'll get your first glimpse of exciting young writers, cheek by jowl with the likes of Ian McDonald, Michael Swanwick and Maureen F. McHugh. And if you don't know those names, it's time you did. Essential reading.
The Gathering Storm: Book 12 Of The Wheel Of Time
by Robert Jordan & Brendan Sanderson
The megaton fantasy series lurches triumphantly towards its close, despite the death of its author two years ago. Jordan, two million words into his magnum opus but too ill to complete it, spent the last weeks of his life jotting down detailed notes so someone else could take over for the final three volumes. Sanderson does a credible job. Good beach reading.
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest
by Stieg Larsson
(Maclehose Press $37.99)
The third, and last, in Larsson's series picks up with the wayward, peculiar Salander in a hospital after having had a bullet removed from her head. A few rooms away is her sadistic father, the mysterious Zalachenko. Salander is about to be taken to prison for attempting, for the second time, to kill him. Larsson's characters are outsiders: Salander is a bisexual computer hacker who can't form relationships. She was put in the bin as a teenager for her earlier attempt on her father. Her unlikely champion is the crusading journalist Blomkvist. These are enormous books, which can get bogged down in detail. They are about conspiracies: the Swedish secret police are involved in suppressing what Salander and Blomkvist know. The theme is an old one: good versus bad, governments versus citizens, secrets versus truth. The second volume wobbled rather under its own weight, but this is a ripper.
by Nicci French
The husband and wife writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French have a winning formula: the domestic murder mystery/psychological thriller. In Complicity there is the usual bunch of misfits: here a group of amateur musicians who have got together to play at a wedding. We are supposed to be lulled into thinking we know who did it, but this is old-fashioned whodunit story telling. Not the very best offering from these writers, but the writing is so good, you forgive a lot.
by Peter Temple
(Text Publishing $37)
A "companion" to Temple's brilliant The Broken Shore, Truth features Inspector Stephen Villani, the Melbourne cop who lives for work. He is investigating the death of a young woman. She has died in a flash apartment, a monument to success in a city where status and corruption are easy companions. It's summer and the bush is about to burn. "A burning world - scarlet hills, grey-white funeral plumes, trees exploding, blackened vehicle carapaces, paddocks of charcoal, flames sluicing down a gentle slope of brown grass, the helicopters' water trunks hanging in the air." This is Black Saturday, and it is the backdrop to Villani's summer in which he finds his belief in the truth of what he does also begins to crumble. Terse, complex and terrific.
by William Boyd
Boyd does not write thrillers but he has taken the genre and used its conventions to take a very frightening look at identity. Adam, a climatologist, is framed for a crime. He disappears in the easiest, and most difficult way: by becoming one of London's homeless. As in all good thrillers, the city is an important character. Boyd/Adam's London is menacing and corrupt and depressing. It is also affluent and leafy. Adam joins a strange church whose members are given a new identity: a number as a name. Clever and much more realistically scarier than most of the year's real thriller releases.
The Dying Light
by Henry Porter
This is set in Britain, in the not-too-distant future, where every citizen is the subject of non-stop surveillance for their "security". The multi-sourced surveillance is fed into a central computer system supposedly controlled by the government but operated by an American company. When David Eyam, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, resigns then dies in an explosion in Colombia, the autopsy rules he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then his former lover, a feisty lawyer named Kate Lockhart, starts getting messages that throw the autopsy findings into question. She suspects that the Prime Minister and others are involved in some very sinister machinations, all in the name of "security". Porter is a terrific writer who points out in his afterword that the scenario he paints of Britain in the future has already started.
A Bed Of Roses
by Nora Roberts
Have to 'fess up. I have started a few of Roberts' earlier books but never made it far. Not so with Bed of Roses. Indeed, how could it fail to please romantics, set in the marriage industry and focusing on wedding florist Emma, who longs to find her own Mr Right. Turns out she has known him for years, but the biggest hurdle for Emma is whether she can risk friendship to find love. Lovely, light, flirty read that will have your fingers crossed that Emma catches one of her own bouquets.
The Book Of Tomorrow
by Cecelia Ahern
(Harper Collins $36.99)
If you loved P.S. I Love You, you'll be chomping at the bit to read this whimsical book by Ahern. Grit your teeth for the first 50 pages, as she does rave on a bit, but thereafter it's an enjoyable, escapist read. All about a poor little rich Irish girl whose dad has killed himself through despair at his plunging fortunes, and her mum, as expected, is distraught. But there's a lot of mistakes to be made and secrets to be demystified before everyone can start healing.
A Change In Altitude
by Anita Shreve
(Little, Brown $38.99)
The appeal of Shreve is that she is unpredictable. In A Change In Altitude, she focuses on Americans Margaret and Patrick and how each person and their new marriage are tested as they adjust to life in Kenya. Every day is an adventure in this land, even more so when they embark on a climbing trip to Mt Kenya where a horrific accident puts a huge strain on their relationship. Fingers are pointed. Can they move on, learn to forgive and trust again?
by Julie Buxbaum
(Random House/Bantam Press $38.99)
Sombre, yet tender, material with American Ellie Lerner dropping everything to rush across the Atlantic to London to care for her goddaughter Sophie after her mum, and Ellie's best friend, Lucy, is murdered in Notting Hill. That everything includes Ellie's husband, who feels abandoned and has done so since their baby was stillborn. Ellie reads The Secret Garden to Sophie, as a form of comfort. The comfort and healing slowly extends to Ellie's own pains and distress.
Breaking The Rules
by Barbara Taylor Bradford
(Harper Collins $36.99)
Intrigue from the first page, with Bradford's mysterious "M" and her fellow characters. She drip-feeds information as you get to know her key people and then introduces their nemesis who wants to destroy them all. With glamorous backdrops of New York, Paris and London.
Book of the year