Book reviews: One for the road - December 2013

One for the road - December 2013 One for the road - December 2013
One for the road - December 2013 One for the road - December 2013
One for the road - December 2013 One for the road - December 2013
One for the road - December 2013 One for the road - December 2013
One for the road - December 2013 One for the road - December 2013
One for the road - December 2013 One for the road - December 2013

If you’re heading off for some well-deserved R&R there’s no better time to grab a great book. Peta Stavelli reviews some of the latest offerings from New Zealand publishing houses.

Eyrie, Tim Winton, Penguin Books NZ, $55

Now we're talking! Regular readers will know that Tim Winton is one of my favourite authors. He's been twice nominated for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction (the world's most prestigious book prize) and the Miles Franklin Book Prize four times. With 21 books to his name, the 55-year-old Western Australian author is prolific. And he's a bibliophile's dream: a lyrical writer with an authentic voice, whose characters are so sharp they stand away from the page and cast a long shadow. Winton specialises in anti-heroes, the fringe dwellers, the down and outers. In Eyrie, the central character, Tom Keely, has fallen almost as far as he can go from his pedestal, his marriage and his former life. When he chances upon a childhood friend who has recently moved into the same rundown Fremantle apartment building, he is drawn into a world of child abuse, neglect and amphetamines — a world where misery begets misery. Breathtaking.

Fighting Talk, Bob Jones, Random House NZ, $30

You could be forgiven for expecting — as I did — that the latest book by property developer cum politician Sir Robert Jones relates to either of the above skills for which he is perhaps better known. He was, after all, the founder of New Zealand's far right, if short lived, Libertarian political party. But no, Fighting Talk is a book about etymology — the origin of words and phrases — and in this instance specifically referring to boxing terms that have entered the lexicon. And Sir Robert has not only proved himself capable of 'going the rounds', as it were, he's also no stranger to boxing, having been both a successful pugilist and commentator. If that does not sufficiently surprise you, the book, which is excellent — amusing interesting and delightfully illustrated with vintage diagrams and cartoons — will. I was quietly charmed.

Under a Mackerel Sky, Rick Stein, Random House NZ, $40

Rick Stein had the sort of Enid Blyton childhood of which most of us can only dream — living, as he did, between his family's Oxfordshire farm and their holiday home on the Cornwall coast where he and his four siblings ran wild and free. Rick's wealthy parents were charming, popular, gregarious, well travelled and marvellous hosts. Summer parties were long and frequent — and then there were the regular fishing trips with his father. On the surface, it was an idyllic upbringing — happy and untroubled — and the themes of good wholesome home-grown cooking, foraging and entertaining have remained dominant throughout Rick Stein's public life. But simmering below the surface has always been the tension created by his father's bipolar episodes, culminating in his tragic death when Rick was 18. Under a Mackerel Sky is a wonderful, rich and satisfyingly honest biography. Highly recommended.

The Shanghai Factor, Charles McCarry, Harper Collins Publishers, $30

Well, well. Surprises abound. Stuck for a weekend read when a great deal of ferry and bus travel was highlighted, I turned to this review book to carry me through and was engrossed from start to finish. I'm not normally one for spy novels but The Shanghai Factor is exceptionally well written. In fact, best-selling author Lee Child was motivated to quote: "Charles McCarry is better than John Le Carré, which makes him perhaps the best ever." If you like a good thriller or you think you may become converted to the genre, as I was, I'd suggest you get yourself a copy.

My Husband Next Door, Catherine Alliott, Penguin Books NZ, $37

Never judge a book by its cover, eh? I did not expect a lot from this book, which promised more fluff for the horsey set. The jolly, slightly plump heroine who somehow manages to win over the smart crowd even though she doesn't shop in the right places; sibling rivalry; Mummy and Daddy arguing by the AGA; the twins getting in with a bad crowd — you'll know the sort of thing. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find a lot more to this book than meets the eye, and I finished it off happily during a fabulous weekend of self-imposed exile. Jolly good, what?

Clover's Child, Amanda Prowse, Harper Collins NZ, $30

Set in sixties London, Clover's Child is a story of forbidden love, class, hypocrisy and betrayal. Dot is an East Ender, with aspirations far above her station, when she meets a West Indian soldier — improbably (and perhaps unimaginatively) named Solomon Arbuthnott. It's an undemanding, easy read, entirely plausible given the repressive time in which the novel is set, and light as a feather. The sort of non-taxing book you might read in one sitting while at the beach, the bach or on a dreary long-haul flight.

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