We had the world's politest fight over who got first dibs on the most promising of the new novels on our Fiction Fix hot list this month:

Christine: "You take it."
Bronwyn: "No, you take it."
Christine: No, seriously, you saw it first."
Bronwyn: "No, no, no. If you want it, you can have it."
Christine: "No, it's yours. Honestly."
Bronwyn: "Okay!"
Christine: "Damn..."

So Bronwyn lost the politeness competition but won the right to read There But For The by English writer Ali Smith. It's a social satire about a guest who comes to dinner and refuses to leave - for months.

Halfway through dinner he bars himself in an upstairs room of his hosts' elegant London home and the rest of the novel continues without him, as the other characters - and eventually the media - obsess over his behaviour.


It's attracted some of the most glowing reviews of any book we've seen this year. On Radio New Zealand National, Carole Beu of the Women's Bookshop said: "It is totally and utterly brilliant ... This is one of the best novels I have ever read."

The Guardian called it "a novel that is playful, humorous, serious, profoundly clever and profoundly affecting".

Bronwyn has not only secured the first read, but she's declared There But For The her feature book for August. That leaves Christine with Caleb's Crossing as her August feature book. As second choices go, it's looking pretty good. (Three lucky readers will win a copy of both books. Read on to enter.)

To get to Caleb's Crossing we head to the island now known as Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. Pulitzer-prize winning author Geraldine Brooks weaves her narrative around the scant known facts about the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard - in 1665.

The narrator is 12-year-old Bethia, who is struggling against the bounds of her Puritan religion. The New Zealand Herald's Carroll du Chateau found the book "truly fascinating" while novelist Jane Smiley, writing in the New York Times, said: "Caleb's Crossing could not be more enlightening and involving. Beautifully written from beginning to end, it reconfirms Geraldine Brooks's reputation as one of our most supple and insightful novelists."

Two other books round off our July Fiction Fix hot list. State of Wonder is the latest from Orange Prize-winner Ann Patchett. Scientist Marina Singh works for a pharmaceutical company trying to develop a youth-preserving fertility drug based on the secrets of a remote Amazonian tribe, but Dr Swenson, the reclusive lead scientist, insists upon keeping her location and research a secret.

Three months after Marina's male colleague is sent to Brazil to obtain a progress report, she receives a brief note announcing his death and burial in the jungle.

Marina must retrace his steps to find out what happened, track down the fearsome Dr Swenson, and unlock the secrets of the jungle. According to the UK's Daily Telegraph, "it pulls you on with a powerful undertow of profound questions, compelling characters and startling revelations ... the exhilarating ending really did leave this reader in a state of wonder."


When we meet the heroine of Irma Voth by Miriam Toews, she is a recently married and even more-recently separated 19-year-old, living in a Mennonite community in northern Mexico.

She takes a job as a translator for a film crew making a feature about the apparent simplicity of life in the community. After a confrontation with her bullying father, Irma and her younger sister Aggie flee to the city with their newborn sibling, and a web of family lies begins to unravel.

Writing in the Financial Times, novelist Annie Proulx described it as "a strong and skilful novel ... rich with oddball observations and arresting images".

Next week we'll wrap up our July feature reads, Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff and The Larnachs by Owen Marshall. Then we'll get stuck into There But For The and Caleb's Crossing.