The Secret Life of Luke Livingstone
By Charity Norman (Allen & Unwin)
Move over Jodi Picoult. New Zealand-based author Charity Norman has the same clever knack of taking an issue and examining it from all angles, to see the effect it has on everyone involved. In
The Secret Life of Luke Livingstone
the focus is on gender-identity disorder. Luke is a middle-aged middle-class man. He's a lawyer, husband and father and has known his whole life that he ought to have been born a woman. Pushed to the brink of suicide by having to suppress his real self for so many years, Luke decides it is time to tell everyone the truth even if it means shattering his family's world, shocking his colleagues and becoming an outcast in the community in which he once had good standing. Norman has had international success with her fearless stories about families in crisis. She writes sensitively and thoughtfully; at one point I was moved to tears. Although the plot follows a reasonably predictable arc, the lack of unexpected twists only makes it seem more true to life. Insightful and compassionate, Norman's latest novel has that Picoult-like quality of making you consider how you would feel if you were in the characters' shoes.
The Utopia Experiment
By Dylan Evans (Picador)
This autobiographical book opens with Dylan Evans incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. So we know from the outset his bid to form a self-sufficient community and simulate post-apocalyptic life has gone very, very wrong. This may rob his account of a measure of tension but it doesn't make it any less fascinating. Clearly, Evans is an extraordinary man - intelligent and fatally grandiose. Why else would he decide to quit his job, sell his home and belongings and move to the wilds of Scotland to live in a makeshift camp of yurts with a bunch of odd people he recruited online. His reasoning was that the world was in a mess and civilisation might collapse. His mission was to create conditions that might exist in a dystopian future, and see how well humanity could adapt. It's an experiment that fails spectacularly - his yurts leak, his leadership falters and the group doesn't even manage to stay away from the supermarket. Excruciatingly honest and stranger than fiction, The Utopia Experiment is a riveting look at the eccentric world of doomers and preppers.
By Penny Oliver (Penguin Random House)
On evenings when cooking dinner feels like an effort, this is the book to reach for. No-nonsense meals from long-time
food writer Penny Oliver range from stir-fries, soups and stews to salads, tarts and speedy bakes. It's homely food and, aside from the salads, there is a slow-cooked wintry feel to much of it. I can see her spiced beef with silverbeet and the baked lamb and oregano meatballs becoming staples over the colder months. The allure of one-pot dinners is less washing up and although Oliver hasn't stuck faithfully to the concept - occasionally an extra pan or a bit of blending is required - most of these robust, family-friendly meals generate a minimum of dirty dishes. The casserole section is especially good, with cheaper cuts such as beef cheeks and chuck steak making an appearance. A great go-to book of everyday recipes.
Men Explain Things to Me - and Other Essays
By Rebecca Solnit (Granta)
The term "mansplaining" - where a man assumes an expertise he does not necessarily have and proceeds to "explain" to a woman who may well know more about the topic - grew out of Rebecca Solnit's well-known essays. It's funny and infuriating, as are many of the pieces in this stunning collection. The essay on rape culture is searing and shocking. "So many men murder their partners and former partners that we [in the United States] have well over a thousand homicides of that kind a year - meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11's casualties, although no one declares a war on this particular kind of terror." Her other essays, all written with clarity and grace, are equally brilliant.
- Reviewed by Carole Beu of Auckland's The Women's Bookshop.
My Heart & Other Black Holes
By Jasmine Warga (Hodder)
Teenagers Aysel and Roman meet through an internet site dedicated to suicide partnerships. Aysel's father is in jail for murder and her reasons for ending her life are many, but she can't figure out why handsome, popular Roman wants to die. As they get to know each other, and plan the unthinkable, Aysel starts to think there may be a reason to live after all. But will she be able to change Roman's mind or has everything gone too far? This touching story about teen suicide is very life-affirming. A mature teen read.
- Reviewed by Tracey Lawton, who owns Matakana's The Village Bookshop.
An Aussie Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids
By Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling (Exisle)
An Aussie Year follows five children from different ethnic backgrounds living in Australia. There are many similarities to a Kiwi child's year - with a few tweaks in terminology. When my children read it they were really interested in which activities they shared with the Australian children in the book, as well as what they did differently. The pages are busy with phrases and illustrations from a child's-eye perspective, showing how much fun every season of the year can be. A lovely book for primary-school-aged children.
- Reviewed by Danielle Wright, creator of award-winning children's books and news site
Nicky's best read
US chick lit author Jennifer Weiner is a busy tweeter and writes a good blog. She's having a verbal stoush with American literary novelist Jonathan Franzen. Check it out at
Comedian and writer Jesse Mulligan hosts Best Bits on TV One.
The book I love most is ... Whatever Love Means, by David Baddiel. So incredibly funny and zeitgeisty.
The book I'm reading right now is ... David Foster Wallace's Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity. Maths was a big part of my life as a kid and I love to get my head back into the zone.
The book I'd like to read next is ... Theatre of the Gods, by one of my best friends, Matt Suddain. I haven't read it yet because it's long and I'm a terrible friend.
My favourite bookshop is ... Unity Books in Wellington.
The book that changed me is ... One of Alain de Botton's, probably. Status Anxiety is a book every person with a TV career should know by heart.
The book I wish I'd never read is ... The Food of Love, by Anthony Capella. It was given to me as a reader and a foodie, and to be fair both these aspects of me were equally patronised.