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New Books (and Old) Recommended by Wine, Books and More

WBM Aug 1

One of the great things about coming along to the library’s book groups is the chance to see some of the new releases that have been just processed ready for the library shelves. There’s usually a few that make it home to be read for the next meeting, and passed on around the table. This time we also had some classics as well as some old favourites turning up at the recent session of Wine, Books and More.

Among the new books were Atlas: the story of Pa Salt. This is the last in the hugely popular Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley. The book explores the life and motives of the enigmatic man who adopted seven daughters from different parts of the world. The story mostly ties up all the loose ends, but isn’t quite as enjoyable as the previous books. A little ho-hum.
We also talked about The Missing Sister, which is the penultimate Seven Sisters novel, and concerns the quest of the six sisters to find their last sister, a journey that will take them across the world. One of those series you just have to see to the end. 

The Bookbinders of Jerichothe new book by Pip Williams, is a gripping read that was hard to put down. Peggy and Maude are twin sisters who work at a book bindery at Oxford University Press. It is 1914 so the men are off to war. While Maude is happy with her lot, Peggy dreams of study and of life’s possibilities, but the war will offer new paths they couldn’t have imagined. Absolutely fabulous.

Pip Williams first book, The Dictionary of Lost Words is a fictional account around the creation of the Oxford Dictionary. It is 1901 and young Esme spends her days in the scriptorium where her father works on the dictionary. She finds all kinds of discarded words, often words that describe women, in a world that is ruled by men. You can’t help but get wrapped up in the protagonist’s story.

The Dead of Winter by Stuart MacBride is a standalone novel, which follows two police officers who have to deliver a prisoner with failing health to a state-funded village-like facility in the Cairngorms. Things go wrong when they discover an ex-cop tortured to death as a blizzard closes in. Plenty of tension, but not a patch on the popular Logan McRae series by this author.

The Drift by C J Tudor is another story where there’re blizzard conditions, here in three different situations: a bus crash, a stranded cable car and a ski chalet where the generator is in trouble. A killer is on the loose, but who will make it out alive? The stories intersect in interesting ways for a well-plotted and interesting thriller.

Bournville by Jonathan Coe is also fairly new and well recommended. It’s a funny and brutally accurate picture of Britain through several generations of a family, set in the Birmingham suburb of Bournville, home of the famous chocolate factory. It’s an easy read if a little disjointed as it is a series of different chapters over various time periods from 1945 to 2020. But really interesting all the same.

Then there were some new books that retell old stories. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell reimagines the doomed character from Browning’s poem, My Last Duchess. This is a five star read, as there is so much to enjoy with a lavish description of Renaissance Italy and brilliantly brought to life characters. Lucrezia is a young heroine you really feel for as she is a bargaining chip between two powerful families. The story is her battle for survival.

WBM Aug 2nd

Notorious by Olivia Hayfield, is loosely based on the story of the princes in the tower, supposedly murdered by their uncle, Richard III. Instead of royalty, we have a couple of famous celebrities and their children, who also seek fame. Except for Emma, who finds herself seeking out the dark secrets around her family. A surprisingly good read.

But there were also some classics in the discussion, beginning with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Our reviewer reread the story of Scout and Jem, their lawyer father Atticus and the prejudices of their small town, and discovered how much they had missed when they read this as a teenager. Five stars.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens is the famous novelist’s first book, written in 1836. This is a very long book, and a bit of a slog until the middle, where there’s an event that happens that suddenly gives the story some order and makes it more coherent, as well as giving useful insight into the protagonist. Our reader also loved the writing style, which makes it seem like Dickens is showing off. Another five star read.

There were a few murder mysteries that made it to the table, including Dissolution by C J Sansom. This is the first book in the Shardlake series, and opens at the time of the newly established Church of England in 1537. Henry VIII is on the throne and the monasteries are being dissolved. Lawyer Matthew Shardlake is sent to investigate murder at a monastery on the south coast. Well written with a lot of detail that gives a good picture of the time.

The Doll by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is another gritty Nordic Noir story in the Freyja and Huldar series. It involves child abuse in a care home, a skeleton on the seabed, a doll caught up on a fishing line and the spiralling events this sets in motion. Really well written if a little violent, so no for the faint hearted.

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham concerns Evie Cormac, a mysterious girl from a children’s home who was discovered as a child, living by her wits in a house being renovated. Years later she is evaluated by psychologist, Cyurus Haven to see if she is ready for life in the wider world. But she is full of secrets, both accursed and also gifted. The first in the Cyrus Haven series, and a dramatic and unnerving thriller.

The Other Wife also by Michael Robotham is a classic murder mystery with plenty of red herrings. We’ve got Joe O’Loughlin, a clinical psychologist, who discovers secrets around his parents and their marriage when his father is brutally attacked. Quite a good read.

A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo is Number 10 in the popular series featuring small town Chief of Police, Kate Burkholder, who often has to investigate cases involving the local Amish community. This time the body of a young Amish man is discovered when a barn is burned to the ground and dark secrets begin to emerge. Another ripping read, well recommended.

WBM Aug 3

Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville is the first in the DCI Serena Flanagan series. Serena reinvestigates the case of a newly released prisoner who was put inside for the murder of his foster father. It was a case she was involved in years ago, but now there are doubts and lies and secrets bubbling to the surface. A good set up and a likeable story.

The Miss Fortune mysteries by Jana DeLeon is a cosy mystery series that starts off with Louisiana Longshot and features CIA assassin Fortune Redding. In the first book she goes off grid when an informant puts her life in danger.  She fetches up in Sinful, Louisiana, posing as a librarian and former beauty queen, but crime seems to find her when she uncovers a human bone in her new backyard. Lots of fun, but a little dark.

The Paper Lantern by Will Burns takes its name from a pub in a village near the Chequers Estate. Set at a time of Covid, the narrator goes for walks in the Chiltern hills, evoking a past scarred with trauma while his present lacks direction. A readable, three star kind of novel.

There are always a few fantasy titles too, and this time around we heard about Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb. This is the second book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy and involves a magical kingdom where there may be dragons. Here the Fool has been betrayed by his people, and Fitz tries to help but when his daughter is kidnapped he must find a way to rescue her. Meanwhile the Fool thinks only of revenge. Quite a lot of philosophising so a bit of a marathon.

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness
This is a kind of historical fantasy novel, the fourth in a brilliant series. Here Matthew de Clermont meets a surgeon on the battlefields of the American Revolution, who offers our protagonist a chance at immortality. He transforms into a vampire. Centuries later he meets Phoebe, an employee at Sotherby’s, who decides to walk the same path as Matthew, but complications ensue. 

Grass for His Pillow by Liam Hearn
Young Otori Takeo has secret skills of invisibility and acute hearing, making him a deadly assassin. But instead of following his own path, and the girl he loves, he has pledged his life to the Tribe and their brutal ways. Beautiful, descriptive writing and layering of story, so good it gives you the tingles.

Some brilliant historical novels were discussed, including two by New Zealand’s popular bestselling Deborah Challinor. The Leonard Girls is set in 1969, and the Vietnam War, where nurse Rowie Leonard is serving a tour of duty. Her sister Jo is a student at university and vehemently opposes the war but falls for a soldier. Both girls will struggle with their beliefs as the plot unfolds.

The other Challinor novel is Fire, which is based on events that echo the Christchurch Ballantyne’s Department store fire of 1947. The story concerns four working class friends who work at Dawsons, a glamorous department store that caters to well-heeled shoppers. It’s another really good story and our reviewer recommends anything by this author. 

Another five star read is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, which describes the decades Count Alexander Rostov spends under house arrest at a high-end Moscow hotel after the Russian Revolution. The world slowly changes outside, occasionally bursting in to the cushioned world of the hotel. Full of humour and great characters, this is a must read.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
This book recently made it to the small screen, and is a different kind of historical novel, as Ursula Todd dies and relives her life again and again, while the world endures the Spanish flu, and another world war. Is Ursula destined to save the world from its inevitable destiny? It’s a very descriptive novel which our reader mostly enjoyed but found a little wordy.

21 August 2023

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