Heavenly Hirani's School of Laughing Yoga
By Sarah-Kate Lynch (Random House)
Heartfelt is the word I'd use to describe the latest novel from New Zealander Sarah-Kate Lynch. She always sets her books in interesting places and this time she takes us to India and all the colour and confusion of the city of Mumbai. Annie Jordan is a middle-aged woman who is going through a tough time. She has lost her mother and her dog, her kids have left home and her husband barely seems to notice her. So when he offers to take her with him on a business trip to Mumbai she thinks, why not? India is daunting and Annie struggles at first. Then she is taken to a laughing yoga class on Chowpatty beach and finds she rather likes it. With the help of kindly guru Heavenly Hirani she begins to see India and her own life in a whole new light. This is one of Lynch's best.
By Nick Hornby (Penguin)
I've never been a devotee of Nick Hornby's more laddish books but this one isn't blokey and I loved it. Funny Girl is the story of the pop culture of the 1960s, when television sitcoms were beginning to make their mark. Barbara Parker is a young pneumatic blonde in the mould of Diana Dors (Google her, kids) who wins a beauty contest but surrenders her crown to follow her dream of becoming a comedienne like her heroine Lucille Ball. She moves to London where she lands a role in a long-running sitcom and shoots to stardom. Hornby has a lot of fun sending up cultural snobs and punctuation pedants as well as touching on more serious subjects, such as the reality of being gay. It's a smooth and entertaining read that captures an era in British television that was more naive and immeasurably more glamorous.
It Started With Paris
By Cathy Kelly (Orion)
The mantle of the late Maeve Binchy most certainly belongs to fellow Irish writer Cathy Kelly now. This novel is incredibly reminiscent of her warm, wise stories. It starts, as its title says, in Paris where a young man proposes to his girlfriend on top of the Eiffel Tower. But the story centres on their hometown and the network of friends and family who are caught up in their wedding plans. Best friend Leila is heartbroken at the end of her marriage; Grace is a no-nonsense school principal who may be kidding herself about how she really feels; widowed Vonnie's second chance at love is proving complicated and mousey Birdie is dominated by her wealthy, overbearing husband. There are more characters, all beautifully fleshed out. Kelly knows how to draw a reader in and, despite the outsized cast, somehow manages not to let things get confusing. This is a reassuring read - you know the good people will make it through their tough times and the bad people get what they deserve - but it's never shallow or twee. One for lovers of quality chick-lit.
By David Nicholls (Hachette)
David Nicholls is the master of writing about the ups and downs of relationships as his bestseller One Day proved. His latest book is more down than up, however - it's the story of the end of a marriage. Middle-aged Douglas Petersen is devastated when his wife Connie announces she wants to leave him. Douglas adores Connie so he embarks on a family holiday, a grand tour of Europe's galleries and museums, in the hope he can mend his relationship with her and his teenage son, Albie. The tragi-comedy that ensues is alternated with the tale of how Douglas and Connie met and married in the first place. And therein lies the problem. I was never quite convinced that dull science geek Douglas and beautiful artistic Connie would ever have made it beyond a one-night stand, never mind sustain a long relationship. But there are moments of brilliance in this novel and as a study of the way people misunderstand and mismanage each other, it is an astute, poignant and blackly funny tale.
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Miss Carter's War
By Sheila Hancock (Allen & Unwin)
Sheila Hancock is an actress and the widow of Inspector Morse star John Thaw. She has written successful memoirs but this is her first attempt at fiction. It's set in Britain just after World War II as people are struggling to settle back into ordinary lives. Marguerite Carter is half French, half English, and spent her war in France working on special operations. But that is over now and she is looking forward to a new life as an English teacher in a girls' grammar school. Idealistic and passionate, she believes she can change the world one pupil at a time. The book swiftly moves beyond the classroom. As it charts Marguerite's life, it takes in a great sweep of British history from the fight for gay rights to the battle for nuclear disarmament, the Thatcher years and Aids. It's a very political novel but not to the detriment of Marguerite's story. The people she loves are just as important as the protests and marches. Hancock is 81 and a lifetime of experiences and emotions power this novel. It's compelling stuff.
By Jodi Picoult (Allen & Unwin)
Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult's 22nd novel, and with it she demonstrates yet again her mastery of the art of storytelling. Alice Metcalf, mother of 13-year-old Jenna, studied elephant behaviour for many years, in the wild and at the sanctuary to which she and her husband devoted their lives. The problem? On the night that a keeper was killed, Jenna's mother walked out of the hospital and was never heard of again. Jenna seeks help from an unlikely pair; Serenity Jones, a discredited psychic, and Virgil Stanhope, the detective who investigated Alice's disappearance years earlier. Engrossing from start to finish, complex in its plot and characterisation, this is a polished and impressive read that's hard to put down. A highly recommended read.
*Review by Victoria Elmes, an Auckland teacher of English and classics
Nicky's best read
If you want to encourage your kids to write creatively check out the Story Builder App for iPad. It's targeted at ages 6 to 10-plus and aims to help them organise ideas, form paragraphs and structure a story. With audio clips and the facility to record stories and add photographs it's designed to be as fun as it is educational. Available on iTunes.
Tom Ang is New Zealand photographer and the author of Photography The Definitive Visual History (Dorling Kindersley)
The book I love most is ... Percy Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music. For more than 40 years it's been my most referred-to guide to my big love of classical music.
The book I'm reading right now is ... The Social Conquest Of The Earth by Edward O Wilson.
The book I want to read next is ... A History Of The Crusades by Steven Runciman: I have all three volumes of it waiting to be lifted off the shelves.
My favourite bookshop is ... Dear Reader in Grey Lynn, Auckland. I always find at least three books I "have" to read.
The book that changed me is ... They all change me: reading any book imports new thoughts, inspires new ideas - good or bad, small or big; all change.
The book I wish I'd never read is ... I'm long past having to read anything I don't want to read.