Book Review: That Girl from Nowhere, by Dorothy Koomson

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_that_girl_from_nowhere

I’ll confess. I’m not really a pensive chick-lit fan. I love my trashy beach reads – sex and shopping is a great palate cleanser between great classical works and thrillers and memoirs; but those slightly drippy, overly emotional female-focused books that always seems to feature only part of a woman on a cover, usually her feet, with the background out of focus, often dropping something (why is that?) just aren’t my bag.

Guess what the cover of That Girl from Nowhere is?!

BUT having never read Dorothy Koomson, and being game for most things, I gave it a go, and I really enjoyed this book.

The story of an adopted woman of colour into a white British family, and her quest for a genetic identity, whatever that meant, was utterly absorbing. I couldn’t put this down! I was desperate to follow Clemency’s story as she negotiated the tricky path of reconnecting with her birth family while trying to reassure her own family that they were still her real family.

The question of belonging is something that everyone wrestles with; but when the colour of your skin is the polar opposite to those you share a name with, that question seems so much more profound, with consequences a lot further reaching than for those who look alike.

Well written with rich characterization and beautiful detail, That Girl from Nowhere is the ultimate reminder not to judge a book by its cover.

by Sarah McMullan @sarahmcmullannz

That Girl from Nowhere
by Dorothy Koomson
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780893358

Book Review: Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter, by Michèle A’Court

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

I usually approach books by comedians with some trepidation. The reality is, many cv_stuff_i_forgot_to_tell_my_daugthercomedians aren’t actually that funny. Worse is the fact that the label ‘comedian’ is being slapped on all kinds of people who don’t qualify on a good day let alone in 200 pages of print. Thankfully, Michèle A’Court is the real deal.

Within 5 pages of Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter, I was laughing out loud, already making mental notes of what I should share with my mum. 75 pages in, I knew I’d just buy Mum her own copy. By the end of the book the list of people I’ll buy this for had expanded to my 18 year old “little sister”, good friends who are mums to my goddaughters and my little brother who is about to become a dad.

A mix of anecdotes, salient advice for life and considered musings on what it means to be a modern woman in NZ, A’Court’s style is a genuine delight to read. Never too hefty even when tackling “serious issues”, she’s wise, honest and undeniably funny.

Michèle A’Court is not the kind of comedian to crack jokes with punchlines. She’s the kind of comedian who knows how to tell a great story, how to share information of all types in a way that’s engaging and memorable. A natural born entertainer, she’s a natural born writer as well.

As far as I’m concerned, buying this is the natural choice for Mothers’ Day.

by Sarah McMullan
nzsarahmcmullan@gmail.com @SarahMcMullanNZ

Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter
by Michèle A’Court
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781775540519

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Book Reviews: Five Minutes Alone, by Paul Cleave

cv_five_minutes_aloneAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Award-winning Christchurch crime writer Paul Cleave is back with his eighth book, and I’m relieved to say it’s every bit as good as his previous works.

Former ‘Coma Cops’ Theodore Tate & Carl Schroeder are back amongst the land of the living. Or at the least the land of the functioning members of society. Supposedly. But after that many years on the police force, seeing what they’ve seen, doing what they’ve done and time in Coma Land? Well it’s not surprising that things feel a little off, like they don’t fit anymore.

When a vicious rapist is found dead under suspicious circumstances, and another two are found shortly afterwards, it appears that a vigilante may be helping victims of horrific crimes exact revenge by giving them five minutes alone with those responsible for causing them misery. Obviously that makes the vigilante a criminal too, someone who should be taken off the street – or does it?

Showcasing his trademark plotting prowess and knack for exceptional characterisation, Cleave has once again crafted a book you just don’t want to put down until you’re finished.

While it’s a little unnerving to read about a Christchurch without an earthquake, you can quickly bypass that and lose yourself in the story, one that flows on easily from Cleave’s previous books; but I think would still be enjoyable and understandable to someone picking up one of his novels for the first time. (Though I recommend of course you start at the beginning – treat yourself!)

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan
nzsarahmcmullan@gmail.com

Five Minutes Alone
by Paul Cleave
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143572312

Book Review: The Skeleton Cupboard, by Professor Tanya Byron

Available now at bookstores nationwide. 

Now an experienced Clinical Psychologist with over 25 years under her belt, Tanya cv_the_skeleton_cupboardByron specialises in child & adolescent psychology. Working with various mental health charities, she advises on mental health policy at both a national and international level as well as co-writing television productions for the BBC & Channel 4, numerous radio programmes, and many regular newspaper and magazine columns including in The Times and Good Housekeeping. She is a self-assured, successful woman. But like everyone, she had to start somewhere – and this is her recollection of those first terrifying years when she was just a baby doctor first confronted with the realities of her profession.

Guiding us through her 6 placements, this beautifully written book is part memoir part fiction as Byron lets us into her own closet where the ghost of her Grandmother lives. Brutally murdered when Tanya was just 15, it was her death that first interested her in psychology and on more than one occasion her mind returns to the awful day when she found her.

To say this book is gripping is an understatement. I couldn’t put it down. I also found myself in tears on more than one occasion. At times for Byron, as she struggled, with the realisation that we all experience the issues her patients present with – the difference is that most of us can control or deal with them in a healthy way; the realisation that her own psychology was not perfect, and that without life experience, study was at times inadequate. At other times I cried for her patients, some of which had suffered terribly.

Anyone who’s interested in psychology, criminology or plain old crime or thrillers will really enjoy this. And that goes for men too – it’s by no means a female targeted book.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

The Skeleton Cupboard
by Professor Tanya Byron
Published by Macmillan RRP:$34.99
ISBN  9781447262077

Book Review: Eeny Meeny, by M. J. Arlidge

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

An established television writer in the UK with acv_eeny_meeny number of successful crime and thriller scripts under his belt, I’m surprised it’s taken Arlidge this long to be snapped up by a publisher.

For a first novel, Eeny Meeny is a remarkably assured and easy read, very much in the vein of Mo Hayder or earlier James Patterson (the good ones!) with an intriguing plot and well-rounded characters not usually found in books so easily read.

Central character DI Helen Grace kicks against the usual female detective stereotype in that she’s as complex as her case in a believable, logical way. No Hollywood hair or CSI wardrobe here. Its obvious Arlidge has spent time researching police procedure as well as the British legal system along with forensics and pathology, and it pays off with a disturbingly plausible story.

Taking the familiar concepts of innocence and guilt, right and wrong and twisting them in ways you just don’t see coming, Arlidge managed to keep me guessing almost right to the end, something that hardly EVER happens!

I read this in one sitting and have consequently been raving about it to fellow crime and thriller fans. With a gritty edge and undertone that suggests more than just a passing dalliance with the dark side, I hope to read more from this author soon. Definitely a talent to watch.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan @sarahmcmullannz

Eeny Meeny
by M.J Arlidge
Published by Penguin,  RRP $37
ISBN 9781405914888

Book Review: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

I am not a sentimental reader. I loathe feeling likecv_the_collected_works_of_AJ_fikry I am being emotionally manipulated. To me, it cheapens the relationship between a writer and a reader so it was with some trepidation I agreed to read this book having seen pages of gushing comments from American Mom book groups online.

But then I read the first 5 pages.

The house could have caught on fire and I wouldn’t have known. For the next 2 hours my world disappeared and I instead inhabited the world of A.J Fikry.

A recent widow, he’s the notoriously prickly owner of bookstore on a small island that relies on summer tourists and the goodwill of locals. Adrift without his wife, he plans on drinking himself to death amongst his precious books angry at a world that robbed him of his future. But like the plot of many great books, surprises are coming and in unlikely forms.

With a plot that sounds like it should come with a lemon attached to offset what sound like cloying sweetness, this is one of the funniest, most insightful and charming books I’ve read in years. I was literally in fits of laughter, tears rolling down my face reading this.

If you’ve ever worked in a bookstore or been involved with publishing, you’ll recognise a lot of the banter, conversations and problems A.J & Amelia face on a regular basis. Likewise, any true reader will relate to the wisdom and love for books that A.J., Amelia and Maya feel.

Whether you read to escape or to learn or to experience what you have not yet encountered, books open that door for us. And this book captures that magic and the salvation that those opportunities offer. I won’t lie. I was in floods of tears at the end of this − happy and sad. It’s a beautiful book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Which is why I bought a copy for my Mum and for my three closest reading friends. (Male and female by the way, remarkably it works well for both − he’s already finished it and loved it.)

If there’s one book you buy this year. THIS is the book to buy.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan  @sarahmcmullannz

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry (published in the USA as The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)
by Gabrielle Zevin
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN  9781408704615

 

Book Review: Juno & Hannah, by Beryl Fletcher

We have two copies of Juno & Hannah to give away, enter here.

Set in the NZ bush post-WW1, we meet Hannah and her unusual little sister, Juno. Living in cv_junoandhannahsome kind of religious commune, it’s obvious that the girls don’t fit in, that there’s more than just something a little odd about Juno and that the mysterious stranger that Hannah saves from the flooded river is just the beginning of a much larger story that will sweep the girls away from the all that they have known of late.

A scary prospect for Juno, Hannah can’t help but wonder if she’ll finally get answers to the questions she has about her mother. Are they memories? Dreams? Why won’t anyone tell her why she and her sister ARE at the commune? And why all of a sudden is Juno such a problem?

This true slice of Kiwi gothic will get inside your head and stay with you long after the last page has been read. Cleverly combining aspects of Maori spirituality with tales of early settlers woven through with the horrifying aspects of the early eugenics movement, Juno & Hannah reminds us once again why Beryl Fletcher was the recipient of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book back in 1992. Short at just 170 pages, a wee gem to add to your book shelf or to gift to the book lover in your life

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

Juno & Hannah
by Beryl Fletcher
Published by Spinifex Press
ISBN 9781742198750