Book reviews: May 2016


Peta Stavelli selects some of the best new books from New Zealand publishing houses. Check out these mini book reviews.

The House at the Edge of Night The -house -at -the -edge -of -night

Catherine Banner
Random House NZ, $37

As the only doctor on the tiny fictional island of Castellamare, near Sicily, Amedeo Esposito is called to urgently assist the island’s contessa with a difficult birth. At home, his wife Pina is about to deliver their first child. When Pina hears that her husband is also believed to be the father of the countess’s newborn son, the family’s troubles are only just beginning. Amedeo is stripped of his livelihood and his dignity by a furious count. But Pina insists they remain on Castellamare and open a bar: the novel’s namesake.

The family saga continues against a backdrop of breathtaking beauty, bougainvillea-scented nights, heart-rending love affairs and terrible tragedies, all to the soundtrack of relentless gossip. Here is myth, intrigue, history, romance and a romping great read, spanning several generations of the same family from before the Great War until the financial crisis of 2008.

Predator Predator

Wilbur Smith with Tom Cain
Harper Collins NZ, $45

The third book in the Hector Cross series follows the story of the ex-SAS officer, private security expert and widower. His wife was taken much too soon, by Johnny Congo, psychopath, extortionist, terrorist. Cross wants him dead. So does the US Government. Congo is locked up on death row in the most secure prison in the free world, counting down the days until his execution. He’s escaped before and knows he can again. Cross is still licking his wounds from his last bruising encounter with Congo but a life spent in the SAS and private security has left him hardwired for pain, and he will not stop until he has snared his prey.

One Pot Favourites One -Pot

Pete Evans
Macmillan, $40

From risottos to curries, to soups and braises, this paleo-inspired cookbook from award-winning Australian cook, restaurateur and TV host, Pete Evans. Evans was recently under fire for his paleo approach to cooking, but you’ll find no complaints from me.

I am a ready convert to this way of eating and when you learn more about the common-sense way of cooking, you will learn that it is not so much a new, as old, way of preparing meals. Think pork and cabbage stew; braised lamb with Jerusalem artichokes; and Rogan Josh chicken. There is nothing overly fancy about these meals; just simple, hearty, healthy fare you can create from ready ingredients, using only one pot. Yum.

At the Edge of the Orchard At -the -edge -of -the -orchard

Tracy Chevalier
Harper Collins, $35

From the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring comes a powerful new novel of family struggle, personal determination and the might of nature.

What happens when you can’t run any further from your past? Ohio, 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life is harsh in the swamp, and as fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts.

Fifteen years later, their youngest son Robert is drifting through Goldrush California when he is forced to confront the brutal reason he left behind everything he loved. In this rich, powerful story, Tracy Chevalier is at her imaginative best, bringing to life the urge to wrestle with our roots, however deep and tangled they may be.

The Mother The -Mother

Yvette Edwards
Macmillan, $35

This is the second novel from the Man Booker Prize longlisted author. The book is set around a trial at the Old Bailey where Marcia has gone to face the man accused of her son’s murder. As she tries to make sense of how her son became caught up with his murderer, she realises that the woman who holds the clues is the accused man’s girlfriend, Sweetie. When Marcia tries to draw answers from her she finds that Sweetie is as terrified of the man on the stand, as her son should have been. Is her complicity motivated by fear? Can the accused be convicted while Sweetie provides him with the perfect alibi? As the trial continues, Marcia finds that nothing is as it seems anymore.

The Other Mrs Walker The -other -Mrs -Walker

Mary Paulson-Ellis
Macmillan, $35

This unusual book has been described as "a detective story with no detective" as well as "a beautiful, beguiling and intensely moving debut" from Mary Paulson-Ellis who was awarded the inaugural Curtis Brown Prize for Fiction in 2009 and the Maverick Award from the Tom McGrath Trust in 2011. Her writing has been likened to Kate Atkinson (Scenes behind the Museum).

Paulson-Ellis delicately crafted novel deftly weaves family history with mystery as she follows the shared lives of a recently deceased old woman who has died alone in her cold Edinburgh flat with that of middle-aged Margaret Penny who has returned to her homeland. Are the two women bound by more than a small square box with faded name inscribed on it?

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