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Catching Up with Wine, Books and More

April reads 1

Here's what we've been reading over the last few weeks at Wine, Books and More. You can click on the titles for catalogue information.

Some interesting genre fiction made the list, among them four mysteries, starting with another complex story from Robert Galbraith. The Ink Black Heart is the latest in the Cormoran Strike series and brings the books into line with the TV series. It’s a fat book, and while it takes a long time to tell the story, it’s well-told and worth sticking with.

At the other end of the scale is this tiny book of six interlocking stories. An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helen Tursten is the second collection featuring 88-year-old Maud who has a tendency to take matters into her own hands in interesting and unpredictable ways. An amusing and diverting read.

The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville is a stand-alone novel told over two timeframes that are connected by a house in Northern Ireland. Sara’s husband has brought his family to where he grew up, and it’s a house with a disturbing history. Mary, silent for sixty years, lives in a care facility, but makes friends with Sara while disturbing secrets of the past are set to be revealed. Recommended.

The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney is a prize-winning mystery, the first in a series set in Glasgow. It is 1969 and the Quaker is a serial killer, so the police turn to new kid on the block, DI McCormack, to hunt him down. There’s loads of police rivalry and a story that will keep you guessing to the end.

The White Bathing Hut by Thorvald Steen is a Norwegian novel that is also a kind of genetic detective story. Its wheelchair bound narrator has an accident that leaves him thinking back over his family history for clues to the truth about his inherited illness. The novel makes you think about society and its views of disabled people.

Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham is the story of a transgender woman’s re-entry into life after twenty years in prison. The novel looks at how the American justice system works. Its lively prose moves in and out of first and person and it’s one of those books you just have to finish to find out what happens.

We can’t get enough of spec fic at Wine, Books & More and this month we came across some terrific reads, beginning with Oryx and Crake from literary lioness, Margaret Atwood. It’s a quirky tale set in an all-too-imaginable future of our own world following an ecological disaster. It has a brilliant cast of characters and is one of those beloved books our book club reader goes back to again and again.

Myrren’s Gift by Fiona McIntosh is the first in the Quickening trilogy. A young general is sent on a suicidal mission for a cruel despot, but is blessed or cursed with a mysterious power. A classic fantasy epic that has you hooked - a ‘just one more chapter’ kind of book. And yes, this is the same Fiona McIntosh who has written a raft of historical fiction including the best-seller, The Champagne War.

Sometimes it’s fun to read books you read as a teenager to see if they still hit the spot. Violet Eyes and Silver Eyes by Nicole Luiken are two books that made for an enjoyable reread. We’ve got specially gifted young people, dark powers with a hint of romance.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson is a story of multiple universes where Cara fights to survive. She’s an outsider who can travel between worlds and who discovers a secret that threatens her very existence. Our reader found it a great read but wasn’t so happy about the ending.

April reads 2

Last month we were really excited about Widowland by C J Carey. Queen High is its sequel. If you recall, the series is set in a post-war Britain where Hitler won the war. Here poetry is outlawed and Rose Ransom infiltrates secret meetings where subversives gather to recite outlawed verse. The new book was a great read, but the first book was perhaps more enjoyable. The third book, Queen Wallis, is due out later this year.

Segwaying into actual historical fiction, The Denniston Rose by Jenny Pattrick has become something of a Kiwi classic – hard to believe it is twenty years since it was first published. Set in the west coast coal mining town of Denniston, it’s a tough life for five-year-old Rose and her mother. Still a great read that keeps you hooked.

The Thornbirds by Colleen McCulloch is another classic, and published in 1977 is even older. It’s a lengthy saga of a book, set in the Australian outback and follows three generations of the Cleary family. There’s anguish, forbidden love and a powerful priest. Another enjoyable read that keeps you turning the pages.

The Pickwick Papers is Charles Dickens debut novel - a comic masterpiece that catapulted the young twenty-four-year-old author into the spotlight. Full of unforgettable characters, our reviewer said they read it slowly because the writing is so lovely you want to savour every word.

The group read some amazing non-fiction over the weeks, beginning with the memoir Someone’s Wife by NZ journalist Linda Burgess. Burgess recounts her life and marriage to a famous rugby player. Each chapter reads like a different aspect of her life, some are personal, some are observational – a bit like a collection of essays. Our reviewer enjoyed the book overall, apart from the last chapter.

Me by Elton John is the only official autobiography of the iconic superstar, describing his eventful life with joy, humour and honesty. Rock bios can be a bit hit and miss but this one’s a good’un. Not too bad, and quite well told, says our reader.

Revenge: Meghan, Harry and the war between the Windsors by Tom Bower describes the events that made the headlines in a bit more detail. You’ve got Meghan’s lifelong dream of celebrity, the fabulous wedding, and then the dream that turned to nightmare. Bower also shows the effects of these events on public perception of the Royal Family in this engrossing read.

Teller of the Unexpected by Matthew Densen is an unofficial biography of another literary great: Roald Dahl. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read once you get used to the style, which varies between academic in tone to something with more flair. The book is a concise life of the author, from childhood, and how he tapped into a child’s viewpoint to create his popular books.

The Steel Bonnets by George Macdonald Fraser describes the history of the raiders and outlaws who terrorized the Anglo-Scottish Border in the sixteenth century and the March wardens’ battle to bring order to the region. Fraser is the author of the Flashman series of novels and brings this history to life. (This history might ring a bell if you remember The Borderers TV series starring Iain Cuthbertson and Michael Gambon.)

Parachute Infantry: the book that inspired Band of Brothers by David Kenyon Webster is another look at some history that made it to the small screen. It’s World War II this time, and the story of Easy Company, and the events leading up to and following D-Day. The book is an interesting, descriptive read that doesn’t get too bogged down in statistics. Recommended.

11 May 2023

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