Writer of art-world satire knows her topic at intimately close quarters.
The Improbability of Love
By Hannah Rothschild (Bloomsbury)
Part love story, part satire of the London art world, this novel is a delight. It's the story of a lost masterpiece, called The Improbability of Love, by 18th-century French artist Antoine Watteau. Annie McDee picks up the painting for a few pounds in a junk shop, with no idea of its true value, and becomes drawn into all the skulduggery and scandal of the art scene, from unscrupulous dealers to desperate auctioneers and outrageously wealthy people hiding terrible secrets. Along the way Annie, whose heart has been broken, discovers love may not be so improbable after all. At times things become a little whimsical - the painting gets to narrate parts of the story - and Rothschild does like to draw out her tale. But it's filled with fabulous characters and underpinned by an insider's knowledge of the art world - Rothschild, a writer and documentary-maker, is set to become chair of London's National Gallery later this year. Clever and fun, this is definitely a story to get lost in.
The Silver Spoon: Puglia
Traditional southern Italian food is celebrated in this culinary journey through Puglia and Basilicata. The people of these mountainous regions have lived through great poverty and so their cooking is humble, hearty and seasonal, although it can be dressed up for celebrations. What could be more warming and tasty than pancotto, a soup that makes use of leftover stale bread, or simpler than pasta with broccoli, or a classic baked pasta al forno? Although some ingredients aren't going to be so available and cheap here as they are in Puglia, this isn't one of those cookbooks that involves a massive investment in fancy stuff. There are some unusual dishes - fried hyacinth bulbs - as well as special occasion foods such as timballo, a pasta pie. But, for the most part, the Silver Spoon's cooks have gathered recipes for authentic regional meals families would enjoy at home. Lots of location photography gives a travelogue feel.
By Ned Barraud (Potton & Burton)
The usual children's picture book fare involves bright, colourful illustrations. Wellington's Ned Barraud offers something different with Moonman since the story takes place mostly at night and the pictures are moody, dark and fantastical. Moonman is the moon's caretaker, keeping it clean and gleaming. One night he hitches a ride on a shooting star to a mysterious blue planet. But it's not what he imagined, and all Moonman wants is to go home. A quirky, original tale for young children with a few minor scary moments and a friendly owl.
At the Water's Edge
By Sara Gruen (Faber)
It's 1943, and cut off by his father after a drunken escapade, Ellis Hyde, a New York socialite, is convinced by his friend Hank that the only way out of his hard times is to go to Scotland and prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster (a feat his father had earlier failed to do). So, despite his wife Maddie's resistance - after all, there is a war in Europe - the trio set off. The moneyed American men are not prepared for the hardships of wartime Scotland. Nor are they attuned to the lack of sympathy for their antics from hotel staff in the remote village where they find themselves. Maddie, however, starts to see things from the perspective of the locals and is drawn into their lives. Though this has dire consequences for her marriage it seems to give her new awareness - of the realities of war, of love and of what really matters. Although based on an improbable premise, this is a great read with likeable heroes, action, intrigue and romance that draw you in.
Review by Mary and Helen Wadsworth of Auckland's Pt Chev Bookshop and Resource Room.
A God in Ruins
By Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, one of the best books of 2013 in my opinion, was a mind-boggling achievement , telling and retelling the parallel lives of Ursula Todd as she navigates the first half of the 20th century. A God in Ruins tells the companion story of Ursula's beloved brother, Teddy, the eccentric Todd family's perennial prodigal son, feared shot down in World War II. Teddy returns physically to his family at the end of Life After Life, but A God In Ruins makes it clear that emotionally and mentally he never really leaves the war behind. Although the book is much simpler in its structure than its predecessor, Atkinson still masterfully plays with the timeline so you jump back and forth through different characters' lives, often several times within the same page. It gives this examination of one life incredible depth, complexity, poignancy and realism. Worth reading even if you haven't touched Life After Life, but really, you should do yourself a favour and read both.
Review by journalist Kerri Jackson.
The Way of the Runner
By Adharanand Finn (Faber)
Adharanand Finn's first book won the Sunday Times Sports Book of the Year and delved into the secrets of running with the Kenyans, the fastest on the planet. This, his second, is about his time in Japan discovering the fabled world of Japanese running. The Way of The Runner is more than just a sports book, however. It highlights the ups and downs of moving to the other side of the world with a young family. Finn's experience of journeying by train from Britain to Japan is just as interesting as his conversations with top coaches and athletes. His examination of the Japanese wish to conform in society - known as wa or harmony - is also enlightening. Running is a good profession to have in Japan and something that may provide a regular pay cheque and security. Finn looks at the pros and cons of this approach to sport, and life, while giving a warts-and-all account of his own running struggles and ambitions.
Review by journalist and author Danielle Wright.