Adult fiction July-August. Best books, 1-5 stars.
The Road to Urbino by Roma Tearne. PB from Little Brown and Hachette. RRP $29.99
This story is about two men, who do not know each other. Alex is a journalist and successful writer whose love of Delia is the one constant in his life. Because Delia is happily married to another, the relationship is only as friends. Ras is a refugee from the Tamil War in Sri Lanka. He is interested in art and is working in London. The book seems disjointed and the two stories quite separate but it eventually comes together through Ras’s exotic daughter Lola after Ras steals a painting and Lola seduces Delia’s husband. OK reading.
*No Child of Mine. By Susan Lewis. PB from Random House.
Alex Lake is a social worker dealing with people who desperately need help, but who sometimes resent what they see as interference in their unpleasant and unhappy lives. Alex gets an anonymous phone call to check out the Wade family. Father is a controlling deputy headmaster, mother a drugged up recluse and their young daughter Ottilie is either shy or abused. Alex finds it difficult to remain detached when Ottilie’s well being is at stake. This book makes you keep reading it in the hope things get better. Alex’s past was worse than that of many of the children with whom she is dealing and now her house is to be sold from under her. The dramatic finish tidies it all up. It is not a pleasant story, but the writing is dramatic, and evocative, and it makes for compelling reading.
*Istanbul Passage. By Joseph Kanon. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99
Turkey was neutral during the Second World War. Istanbul was a city where both sides of the conflict had their refugees and spies, while some people tried to make an honest living there as well. Leon Bauer was an expatriate American businessman who bought tobacco and did small amounts of undercover work, mostly trying to help Jewish refugees get out of Europe and into Palestine. Leon finds himself in a situation where he needs to get a Romanian war criminal away from the Russians; it is a time when it is difficult to know who to trust, and what is going on. It’s a good story of intrigue and love, and an excellent description of life in one of the most interesting of all world cities. Good reading.
Bertie Plays the Blues. By Alexander McCall Smith. PB from Abacus and Hachette. RRP $$19.99
A story about several of the dysfunctional families who live in Scotland St Edinburgh. Mathew and Elspeth find themselves the parents of triplets, all boys, and battle to stay afloat and sane and able to recognise the the babies apart. Angus and Domenica are to marry, and it takes almost all the book until this occurs. Bertie’s family life is not all that pleasant, and his parents often argue. Bertie decides to put himself up for adoption on e-Bay. The quirky humour and clear sighted manner in which the author unfolds his characters and the every day events which fill their lives makes for pleasant reading, but without the feeling that the reader will be really keen to read the next instalment.
The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorata. PB from Hodder and Stoughton. RRP $29.99
In the late 16th Century, the Venetians and Turks battled each other to control the Mediterranean. In 1576 the Turkish sultan devised a plan to send a ship carrying the plague to Venice. Bubonic Plague would be an easy way to weaken the city and kill a large number of its citizens. Feyra was a young beautiful doctor to a harem; she was the daughter of a Venetian woman who had been captured by the Turks and Feyra was keen to escape her future as a concubine of the sultan. Knowing all about the plague and keen to foil the plot, Feyra becomes a stowaway on the ship bound for Venice. She is unable to prevent the spread of the plague, but finds a job at a hospital in Venice. The writing is good, the story is interesting and it is an excellent read.
The Last Boyfriend. By Nora Roberts. PB form Piatkus and Little Brown. RRP $29.99
As with all of Roberts’s stories, this is eminently readable, and in its own right, quite apart from its place as the second in a trilogy, as Owen Montgomery, working in partnership with his two brothers, seeks to open a stylish B and B in his home town. The love interest in the story comes from Owen and Avery McTavish, and a reflowering for them both of an old attraction. Appealing easy reading, mainly for women.
**Fifty Shades of Grey, fifty Shades Darker and fifty shades Freed, by E.L James PBs from Arrow, RRP $17.95 each.
This trilogy has had extraordinary press, mainly because of its explicit sex scenes, which have been described variously as pornographic, or as educational or a mixture. I have read a couple of reviews where the writing is criticised as overly descriptive and naïve. I found these gushy sections easy to skip. I did not appreciate all the space taken up with puerile emails and text messages, and I did not bother to read most of the sex stuff. However, my interest was taken by the comments and evidence in the first book that Christian had had an abusive childhood and it had obviously very strongly influenced his attitudes to women and sex. I was interested to read how Ana, herself young and innocent, would react. As the three stories unfold, there is much more of the relationship between the two, the threats to them both, and of life in the wealthy lane as it affects Ana. The characters remain consistent with Ana showing resilience and persistence so that gradually Christian relaxes and develops into a loving husband and father. So—a lot of hype, and some of the criticisms justified, but to give the author credit, persistence to the end of the third book was rewarding as the story line strengthened and the relationship matured.
Overseas, by Beatriz Williams. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This is a very low key and overall more readable Every Shades of Grey. The young New York banker Kate Wilson attracts the interest of the most eligible young billionaire in the city. It’s a love story with an unexpected twist as half the book is set in Amiens during World War 1. In this section there is a sort of reincarnation as Captain Julian Ashford falls for a strange American woman. The other half of the book is where this couple meets again in modern life. It’s quite a pleasant story, but I had a bit of trouble to remember the plot when I came to prepare this review!
Eleanor and Park. By Rainbow Rowell. PB from Orion and Hachette RRP $29.99
After reading this book I’m not sure if this should be adult or teenage fiction. No matter which, it is quite a sweet story, and will bring memories to many women of their first foray into boy-girl friendships. Eleanor has just moved to a new town and has troubles with her family, who are all a bit odd. When she meets Park, he seems odd too, but over time a friendship grows. Then things go a bit haywire, and it is only at the end of the book that all seems sweet. Light reading, and I suspect for girls of about 16 and older.
The Headmaster’s Wager. By Vincent Lam. PB from Fourth Estate and Harper Collins. RRP about $30
Percival Chen was the Chinese born head of an English School in Saigon. Life does not go well for him; his wife divorces him and lives with the Americans, fighting their war while life in Saigon is difficult and corrupt. Their son is expected to enlist in South Vietnam’s army. The book seems too much of a tragedy, and was not pleasant to read. The period of history is interesting, but I did not finish the story.
Where’d you go Bernadette, by Maria Semple. PB from Orion and Hachette. RRP $29.99
This is rather a weird story, but also quite appealing. Bee is very clever, and seems destined to win a place at boarding school. Bee’s mother Bernadette is really weird and makes lots of quirky decisions. The house they live in has lots of space, but is rundown, and a hazard for the neighbours, especially with spreading weeds. In her past, Bernadette was a prize-winning architect, until something goes wrong. She also has several deep-seated phobias. Now things are going wrong again, and when Bernadette disappears, Bee has to find her. Lots of wacky and improbable adventures follow. OK reading if you like a story with a difference.
The Storm, by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.95
The problem with Clive Cussler books, and especially those which deal with NUMA, the National underwater and Maritime Agency, is that they now seem to me blended into my mind as the same story. However, there are lots of fans out there who look forward to each next and somehow different instalment of NUMA investigations. In this story some crooked scientists have created some mini-robots which are capable of altering sea temperatures, and therefore influencing world weather patterns. It is all suspense and action, so if you are a fan of Kurt Austin and his team, here is some good reading.