A Fortunate Age
By Joanna Rakoff (Bloomsbury)
I was completely caught up in the lives of the characters in Joanna Rakoff's chunky novel, A Fortunate Age. They're observed so keenly and drawn so finely that reading about them almost felt like spending time as part of their group. This is a mostly realistic piece of fiction about that second great coming-of-age in life, the end of the freedoms and idealisms of young adulthood, and the dawning of responsibility and harsh reality. It is centred on six Jewish college friends in New York and opens as they gather for a wedding. They are a talented, middle-class bunch, convinced they are different from their parents' generation but, at 26, already are beginning to learn the world is more complicated than they had imagined. The story zooms in and out of focus on each of them as they grapple with personal and professional issues. There is Emily, an impoverished actress, Lil the newlywed, Beth, who's in love with struggling musician Dave, successful Tal and beautiful Sadie. Rakoff is a fan of long sentences, piling on the details, and she knows her material so well it is clear there is a measure of autobiography here but the line between what is real and imagined is invisible. This is a hugely absorbing read.
Prick With A Fork
By Larissa Dubecki (Allen & Unwin)
Restaurant memoirs have become almost a genre of their own, as chefs and wait-staff compete to share their insider secrets. Spilling the beans this time is Larissa Dubecki, a Melbourne waitress-turned-restaurant critic who carved out her inglorious hospitality career in some of her city's less fabulous eateries. She supplements recollections with scuttlebutt and funnies from other wait-staff but doesn't need to as she has a fund of stories about terrible bosses, cockroaches on pizza and chefs who can't poach an egg. Dubecki is a sparky writer with a sense of humour and a smart take on the industry she worked in but I'd had enough of this memoir about three-quarters of the way through. Perhaps I've just read too many restaurant tell-alls and this one isn't in the same vein as Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.
The Big Book Of Home Brew: A KiwiGuide
By Michael Donaldson (Penguin)
Michael Donaldson's step-by-step guide to brewing your own craft beer is likely to appeal to a whole generation of bearded hipsters. Friendly and approachable in tone, it takes readers through the basics and has lots of useful tips on getting the best out of a typical starter kit. There's advice on bottling and changing the beer's profile, making it stronger or boosting the flavour. There's a chapter on the mysteries of yeast and another on creating a serious home brewery, plus a bunch of recipes - in short, all that is needed to make an ordinary person into a beer geek. This is a very text-heavy book, packed with information and for all Donaldson may claim brewing isn't complicated, clearly, there is a lot to know. Timed for Father's Day, it's a volume with man appeal that will richly reward borderline obsessives.
All the Light We Cannot See
By Antony Doerr (Fourth Estate)
The winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, All The Light We Cannot See centres on the lives of two young people, French Marie-Laure and German Werner, during the darkest days of World War II. Blind since age 6, Marie-Laure's world is experienced through sound and touch, both of which enable her to transcend the boundaries of her disability. Her father, a locksmith from the Museum of Natural History in Paris, is her sole caregiver. When he is charged with the possession of a priceless (and possibly cursed) diamond before the German occupation, he becomes dangerously entangled in one Nazi officer's obsession with obtaining European treasures for the Reich. Werner is an orphan whose genius with technology brings him to the attention of Hitler Youth. His obsession with radio transmission will eventually draw him into the life of Marie-Laure, as American bombs rain down on the walled city of Saint-Malo. A moving, nuanced and elegant novel.
Review by journalist Joanna Mathers.
A Crooked Rib
By Judy Corbalis (Vintage)
Judy Corbalis is a New Zealander who lives in London and returns home regularly. Her latest historical novel is a lively and engaging exploration of the marriage of Sir George Grey and his independent young wife Eliza Lucy. Trapped in a loveless union, both sought affection elsewhere - her indiscretion became a scandal broadcast in The Times, even reaching the ears of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, while the nature of his liaison with his young Maori protege remained the subject of speculation. Corbalis' detailed research results in a vivid picture of life in the New Zealand colony of the mid-to-late 1800s. Te Rauparaha is there plus other prominent Maori chiefs; Bishop Selwyn, and Lady Mary Martin make appearances. The novel raises interesting arguments about the English concept of being "proper" and what it really means to be civilised. Lucy's life is revealed through the perspective of her fictitious English friend, Fanny, who offers an intriguing interpretation of Sir George's behaviour, and who is caught up in the lure of Maori culture. This is a fascinating way to read New Zealand history.
Review by Carole Beu of Auckland's The Women's Bookshop.
Fast And Fresh Baby Food
By Jacqueline Burt Cote (Exisle)
Fast and Fresh Baby Food features 120 recipes to make simple and naturally wholesome meals for different ages and stages. Asparagus Frittatas, Confetti Couscous and Mozzarella Poppers are a trio of the fun and healthy recipes to choose from to spice up mealtimes. Writer Jacqueline Burt Cote is a mother of three and a regular contributor to popular American parenting magazines.
Review by journalist and author Danielle Wright.
Nicky's best read
To mark its 10th anniversary, HarperCollins is publishing a new edition of the late Celia Lashlie's guide to raising boys, He'll Be OK. With an introduction from Lashlie's son and her straight-talking advice in response to correspondence from parents, this remains useful, wise and insightful reading.