Book reviews: September 2015

By: Peta Stavelli


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

Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul Rick -Stein -From -Venice -to -Istanbul

Rick Stein
BBC Books, $65

Rick Stein is my absolute favourite chef. Not in the least because he is married to an Australian women, which means I can line up at his restaurant or book signing with some faint hope. Seriously, you can taste his food, simply by reading the recipes.

He does regional food so brilliantly, you’ll be planning your next themed dinner party before you get through the first section, which, in this instance, is the mezze of the eastern Mediterranean. Classics abound – hummus from eastern Turkey; Avgolemono, Halloumi (sic) Saganaki and beetroot skordalia – all from Greece. Seafood dishes are so mouth-watering you’ll smell the salt air. And then there is Stein’s take on street food. This will always capture my heart. Just like the great cook himself.

Black Rabbit Hall Black -Rabbit -Hall

Eve Chase
Michael Joseph, $37

Eve Chase always wanted to write about families, the broken and disenfranchised, who inhabit big, old houses with crumbling walls. No surprises then, this timeless classic about a family torn apart by tragedy is touted as Michael Joseph’s biggest fiction launch of the season.

The book begins in 1968 with the Alton family returning to their holiday home, Black Rabbit Hall, where – in the midst of an idyllic childhood summer – time seems to stand still. When tragedy strikes, time really does stand still for the family. Thirty years later, Lorna Smith is looking for a wedding venue when she is drawn to Black Rabbit Hall and becomes wrapped in a mystery that is unexpectedly linked to her own history.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend Readers -of -broken -wheel

Katarina Bivald
Chatto and Windus, $35

Sara is 28 and has never been outside Sweden – except in the (many) books she reads. When her elderly pen-friend Amy invites her to come and visit her in Broken Wheel, Iowa, Sara decides it’s time. But when she arrives, there’s a twist waiting for her – Amy has died. Finding herself utterly alone in a dead woman’s house in the middle of nowhere was not the holiday Sara had in mind. But Sara discovers she is not exactly alone. For here, in this town so broken it’s almost beyond repair, are all the people she’s come to know through Amy’s letters: poor George, fierce Grace, buttoned-up Caroline and Amy’s guarded nephew Tom. Sara quickly realises that Broken Wheel is in desperate need of some adventure, a dose of self-help and perhaps a little romance, too.

In short, this is a town in need of a bookshop. This international bestseller is translated from the original Swedish by Alice Menzies.

The Good Life on Te Muna Road The -good -life -on -nte -muna

Deborah Coddington
Random House NZ, $40

Former ACT MP and journalist Deborah Coddington’s life has frequently been lived out in a very public way. She has mostly appeared as an ultra-conservative, so it was with some surprise that I learnt of her former hippie life, financial strife and the sense of shame she had to overcome to return to Martinborough in the Wairarapa.

Decades after having slipped out of town under a financial cloud, Coddington returned and was welcomed with open arms and a dawning sense of what lies at the heart of community. When that community was under threat from amalgamation into the wider Wellington region, Coddington decided the time had come to pay a special tribute to her own Turangawaewae.

The Writers' Festival Thw -writers -festival ---Copy

Stephanie Johnston
Vintage, $38

I am a great fan of New Zealand writer Stephanie Johnson whose last book, The Writing Class, took us behind the scene into an intimate world of would-be writers coming to terms with their own personal dramas. Some of these characters have made their way into Johnson’s new novel, but if you did not read the former, you will still enjoy the latter.

Johnson follows literary rule 101: writing about what she knows. She founded the Auckland Writers Festival in 1999 with Peter Wells and has since acted in various capacities including as a board member; artistic director; and as an author in her own right.

It is with a background such as this that she is able to create such authentic characters and situations in a novel sure to please.

The Pale North The -pale -north

Hamish Clayton
Penguin, $30

Wellington, 1998. A series of catastrophic earthquakes has left the city destroyed. Returning to the ruin from London, a New Zealand writer explores the devastation, compelled to find out what has become of the city he left years ago. As he drifts through the desolate streets, home now to the shell-shocked and dispossessed, he finds a woman and a child among the survivors, and experiences a strange sense of recognition.

The Pale North is a disarming novel every bit as visionary and intrepid as its award-winning predecessor, Wulf. It is a layered meditation on love, history, creativity and loss. Mesmerising.

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