what I'm currently reading
For four days an estranged mother sits by her ill daughter's hospital bedside. Their conversations, and the memories unleashed, afford a deeply moving exploration of this mother daughter relationship. Beautifully observed and powerful, especially the unexpected .
Luke Livingstone is a successful barrister who, after thirty years of marriage, finally confronts something he has kept hidden for almost all of his life – gender dysphoria. Author Charity Norman does a superb job of exploring Luke’s reality and its impact on those he loves. This is fiction at its best, enhancing the reader’s empathy for those who navigate life on the periphery of a norm.
Set in mid-nineteenth century Ireland, this is the story of a young eleven year old lass who has supposedly survived on nothing but 'manna from heaven' for four months. An English nurse and a local nun are sent to observe the child for a fortnight to either confirm or refute the claims. Is the child a saint, the victim of fervent Catholicism characteristic of the era, or the victim of something more sinister?
Nadine Gordimer’s 1974 novel was a joint winner of the Booker-McConnell Prize. Through exploring the complex relationship that a wealthy white businessman has with his rural ‘weekend’ farm, the story proffers a much wider commentary on the more subtle evils of the apartheid era.
Journalist Marianne Thamm grew up in a world where the philosophies of Hitler, Verwoerd and Mandela would directly impact her. This is a moving, affecting, and at times humorous memoir about one woman’s search for her place, and that of her children, in a bigoted world. A recommended read.
The first book in a trilogy comprising the fictional biography of explorer James Cook. This first in the series offers a fascinating account of Cook's early life and first major voyage of exploration. The account is grounded in fact and skilfully expanded on by Lay.
This big novel spans three timeframes. At the core is World war II and its impact on three generations of Italian and New Zealand families. The riddle of present day characters' lives is interpreted and understood against the backdrop of what went on in Northern Italy between 1942-44.
As a neurosurgical resident, Paul Kalanithi dealt with death on a daily basis. But when, at the age of thirty-six, he was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, he had to face his own mortality. A moving and thought-provoking account of his journey from a doctor at the top of his field to a terminally-ill patient and new father.
A boat with a dead man and a baby washes up on a remote Australian island. The childless couple who discover it make a decision which will come to haunt all the characters. A powerful and emotional read.
13-year-old Theo Decker survives a bomb blast at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which kills mother. In the chaotic aftermath, he steals her favourite painting from the museum – Carel Fabritius's The Goldfinch. The painting comes to assume greater and greater significance for Theo as he navigates a troubled teenagehood and becomes embroiled in an underworld of drugs, art theft and murder. Around the periphery though, are good people. Which world ultimately wins out is the impetus behind this Bildungsroman.
Helen Garner follows the court case of Robert Farquharson, charged with driving his car into a dam with the intent of killing his three small sons in an act of revenge against his ex-wife . Garner documents this emotive case with great clarity and skill, and gives a fascinating account of the law at work. The subject matter, however, is incredibly sad.
J K Rowling
My children told me I couldn't call myself an author is I hadn't read Harry Potter. I'm not one for fantasy, I cried, as I began the read reluctantly. Then something magical happened . . . I was completely swept up in the wonderful world of child wizards, Hogwarts, the Dark Arts and dreadful Dursleys. J K Rowling is a storyteller extraordinaire, and I find myself deserting the pile of books at my bedside to reach for the next in the series.
A young man's quest to 'find himself' leads him to travel to New Zealand to unravel his heritage. He learns of the beautiful, but beleaguered love-affair between his Māori grandmother, Oriwia, and his deceased Japanese grandfather, Chappy - a story that will ground him in his past and take him forward into the future. A lovely, gentle tale exploring man's need to belong.
This story is based on true events. Set in Iceland in 1829, it centres around a young woman sentenced to death for her role in the murder of two men. With no prisons in Iceland, she is sent to stay with a family on their farm for the winter leading up to her execution.The relationship she develops with these strangers forms the crux of this fascinating and moving historical novel.
A sensitive and insightful portrayal of Kate Grenville's mother's life, highlighting the challenges faced by this remarkable woman, and indeed all independent women living in early twentieth century Australia. This book confirmed for me just what a superb writer Kate Grenville is.
Two children – one French and one German – navigating the vicissitudes of life during World War II. Heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. My favourite read of the year!
The fascinating account of Helen Macdonald's training of a goshawk in the wake of her father's death. The taming of Macdonald's grief in many ways parallels her taming of this wild bird. A beautiful book for its prose, its difference, its honesty. I highly recommend it.
First published in 1957, Janet Frames's debut novel is a powerful commentary on the New Zealand of her era. Through the story of the Withers family, she explores the grind of poverty, the horror of mental institutions, and the artifice and insincerity of so much of the adult world. She deftly juxtaposes this with the honesty and instinctive hope of childhood. Acutely observed, masterfully narrated and deeply human – a book which resonates with the reader even half a century after it was first written.
A historical novel inspired by a true story, 'People of the Book' traces the tenuous survival of an ancient Hebrew codex from its creation in medieval Spain to modern day war-torn Sarajevo, where it is again is saved from destruction by a Muslim librarian. A fascinating read.
This is Bryce Courtenay's final work – a compilation of his reflections and musings about life, his approaching death (he died last year), about reading and the craft of writing. It is a inspirational gem of a book and will definitely find a permanent home on my bookshelf.
A History of Silence
An arresting memoir that unearths hidden truths within a family with the same devastating impact as the 2011 Christchurch earthquake (where in fact, the story begins). Beautifully written. This book lingered with me long after the last page.
Sue Monk Kidd
"The Invention of Wings" is another powerful and beautifully written novel by Sue Monk Kidd, based on the true story of Sarah Grimke – a woman who fought tirelessly for both the abolition of slavery and women’s rights at the start of the nineteenth century. A harsh and poignant reminder of this era in America's history.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Ann Patchett offers a memoir-like compilation of some of the most significant moments and experiences in her life. Candid and fascinating, the book affords a rare insight into her world.
The Parihaka Woman
Witi Ihimeara seamlessly blends fact with fiction to create an engaging and moving read about an important period in Maori history.
An immensely satisfying murder mystery set during the nineteenth century New Zealand gold rush. This intriguing yarn never once flagged; I kept turning the pages - all 832 of them! As a winner of the Man Booker Prize, The Luminaries is a great example of accessible literary fiction.
Annie Barrows, Mary Ann Shaffer
An epistolary novel set in 1946, following the end of the German occupation of Guernsey. A charming and uplifting read celebrating the power of the written word and the ability of the human spirit to rise above adversity.