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Opinion: Books to read over the holidays – 2022/23

One of the wonderful things about the summer holidays is getting the chance to relax and read a good book. If you are looking for a good distraction over the Christmas holidays this year, I’d suggest some of the books I’ve read this year.


IN AMBER’S WAKE

by Christine Leunens

In Amber’s Wake is a novel by New Zealand author Christine Leunens. It is the story of Ethan Grieg, a film student, and chronicles a period of his youth in the turbulent 1980s. Written in the first person, we gain a very intimate sense of who Ethan is, and what motivates him, and his love for an enigmatic woman called Amber. Leunens provides great characters with enough complexity to make them feel very real. One’s loyalty to any one of them can be tested by their inconsistencies and at times selfishness. As a testament to the author’s talent, I changed my sympathies towards several characters on multiple occasions, so cleverly has she constructed them. 


THE DOCTOR’S WIFE

by Fiona Sussman

Fiona Sussman is a South African born author who now resides in New Zealand. The Doctor’s Wife is a murder mystery set in the city of Auckland. It is a psychological whodunnit thriller with plenty of fascinating twists and turns. Sussman has a style of writing that creates wonderfully deep characters, and each of them feels real. The book is full of secrets, and enough red herrings to keep you on your toes! I literally could not put this book down and read it in a single day!


ANCESTRY 

by Simon Mawer

Part biography, part fiction, Mawer’s book based on some of his ancestors is a beautifully descriptive story that shows the futility of war, the awful conditions in 18th and 19th century British society, and the contempt shown by the ruling elite towards those beneath them. Yet it also shows the determination and the love of people that history mostly ignores. What comes out of this is a rich colourful tapestry of family history. His writing is so good that it is possible to ‘hear’ the voices, and even ‘see’ the expressions on their faces. The humour, the anger, the coldness, and the passion are all mixed into an emotional and rewarding story that I believe encourages the reader to begin to re-imagine and reassess their own family histories. 


NA VIRO

by Gina Cole

Gina Cole is a New Zealand born writer with Scottish, Welsh and Fijian ancestry. Na Viro is a sci-fi novel about a woman terrified of space who must venture into our galaxy to save her sister. It’s a great book, full of twists and revelations, that weaves Pacific stories and legends into the plot of the book in a wonderfully spiritual and intriguing way. 


JESUSTOWN

by Paul Daley

Jesustown is a novel written by Australian author and journalist Paul Daley. Written in the first person, it is the story of a historical writer who faces a huge tragedy in his life and must somehow pick up the pieces. In doing so, he goes back to a small town on the northwest coast of Australia and confronts his past, and the legacy of his deceased legendary but fierce grandfather.  I particularly liked the depictions of aborigine culture and people. Their stories are beautifully woven into the book, and though at times tragic, their resilience and spirit are strong. This is a story for anyone who is fascinated by an individual’s journey through emotional hell on the way to some sort of redemption. 


FEATHERHOOD

by Charlie Gilmour

Featherhood by is an autobiographical story about a young man trying to find identity and self-love. His birth father was Heathcote Williams, a brilliant, but mad English writer and activist who abandoned Charlie and his mother when the boy was a baby. What emerges in the book is a strong sense that being honest about one’s own failings, and a willingness to acknowledge that our parents are not perfect and cannot fulfil all our needs, can lead to healing. By finding a path through all of this, and shining a very hard and honest light on his own journey, Charlie Gilmour provides a lesson for us all. 


SHELTER 

by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins is a well-known writer, columnist, and recipient of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his contribution to New Zealand Architecture and design. Shelter is his debut novel about a gay man living in Auckland and navigating his way through love and relationships. Covering a span of twenty years the novel weaves in the architectural history of the city from the 80s till now and creates a vivid and emotional journey through time. 


THE INTOXICATING MR LAVELLE

by Neil Blackmore

The Intoxicating Mr. Lavelle is a fascinating story of a well-to-do Englishman called Benjamin Bowen who undertakes a grand tour of Europe in the 1760s with his brother Edgar. While there, he meets an exotic foreigner called Horace Lavelle. They engage in a torrid love affair, which has some very intense and unintended consequences. This is a beautifully constructed book with a few shocks, lots of intrigue, and a curious set of characters. 


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