When the man you love lives in a bush: Intrepid romance, humour and travel

Just in case you wondered, How to Fall in Love With A Man Who Lives in A Bush is not set in he wilds of Africa and the protagonist is certainly no Jane Goodall.

An engaging and entertaining journey of self realization across the turbulent oceans of the earth, How to fall in Love is a story of boy meets girl.

No wait, dirty boy meets very clean girl.

This is a true story; of how Emmy, a Swedish actress and author, met her partner, Viv; a Canadian who was travelling, surviving on odd jobs and living rough – yes, in a bush.

It’s kismet – fate – as they sit together on a park bench in Austria; Julia looks into his eyes, and falls for Ben’s sense of humour (that and the size of him!).

Yet the two are very different people:

Ben : You live your life so…safely. I’ve seen how you never take any risks.

Julia: And that’s news? I told you the very first time we were on the Donausinel: that I don’t like surprises…

I’m actually so sick of the myth that adventurous people are somehow better than the rest of us. That you’re only worthy of attention if you’ve swum naked in the Ganges or stroked a dolphin. “Oh look at me! I’m covered in mud at a music festival where there are no toilets. I’m so cool!” (p.107).

Will the two find a middle ground?

Julia’s stay at home, safe character is hilarious in the wild:

I’m going camping. I’ve never been camping before. I’m an indoor person. Nothing makes me more nervous than a sunny, cloudless day, because I know I should be outside, doing the kind of thing outdoorsy people do…The closest I’ve come to being a nature person was when I hiked in the Lainzer Tiergarten one time. I tried to impress (Rebecca and Jesus-Jakob) with my knowledge of nature but almost managed to kill (them) by mistaking lily-of-the-valley for wild garlic. (pp176-7).

Emmy Abrahamson’s first book for adults is laugh out loud funny and not sickly romantic at all. (Julia can’t even kiss Ben at first, until he’s cleaned his teeth.)

My kind of romance.

How to fall in love with a man who lives in a bush
by Emmy Abrahamson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:9780008222338

Further reading

Yet another fantasy school that I wish I could enrol in: Magnalia House

Magnalia House was the sort of establishment where only wealthy, talented girls mastered their passion. It wasn’t designed for girls who were lacking, for girls who were illegitimate daughters, and certainly not for girls who defied kings. I, of course, happen to be all three of those things.

It is quite often with a bit of apprehension that I pick up a first book by a new author. There’s no reputation, no recommendations, and no familiar writing style. However, I knew from the first three sentences that this book was for me, and was unable to put it down until the end. At three in the morning.

What it’s about:

Brienna has spent her adolescent years in a special boarding school, trying to attain mastery in one of the arts, and showing little promise. But why is she even allowed to be there? As her time in Magnalia House draws to a close, her true adventure is only beginning, with memories of a long-lost relative starting to surface, leading her into a world of intrigue, plots and deception.

My personal thoughts:

A beautiful read! I found the main character extremely loveable, as a fellow book lover and history buff. If you like Tamora Pierce or Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, you will definitely come to love the beautiful world crafting and lyrical language that Rebecca Ross provides. There are sweet elements of sisterhood, complex courtly conspiracies and a delightful slow-burning romance.

Another plus is while there is a second book on the horizon (bring on 2019!), it can comfortably sit as a stand-alone. No agonizing cliffhangers here!

Tl/dr: 9/10. Lovely fantasy read. Pretty words. Would read again.

The Queen’s Rising
by Rebecca Ross
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:9780062471345

Queens of crime combine: Money in the morgue

Taking over from Dame Ngaio Marsh, one of the original Queens of Crime, would be a daunting prospect for any writer, but Stella Duffy (winner of the CWA Dagger Award, and Stonewall Writer of the Year) has beautifully risen to this task in the new inspector Alleyn novel, ‘Money in the Morgue‘.

Set in New Zealand during World War Two, Marsh’s beloved detective finds himself called into a murder investigation, right in the middle of an espionage case. The novel opens when courier Mr Glossip finds himself marooned at a military hospital, thanks to a terrific storm. When the wages which Glossip has just delivered go missing, then an unexpected body turns up in the morgue, it is left to inspector Alleyn to unravel the nights mysteries. He does so with his usual charm, and perfect manners (let’s just say you wouldn’t be surprised to read that upon being asked by Alleyn to pass along the salt, a woman fainted by his feet).

His sidekick is a kind of inspector Fox substitute and cunningly, there are so many mentions of inspector Fox as Duffy talks about this man who is clearly not inspector Fox, that by the end of it you have somehow wound up concluding that this clearly not inspector Fox man, is actually Inspector Fox. There is also mention of Troy, as Alleyn tries and fails to pen a letter to her (but manages an epic three page masterwork to inspector Fox, just saying).

In many respects, Duffy is the ideal candidate to finish a novel started by Ngaio Marsh. As well as being an esteemed writer of sixteen novels (five of these being crime), like Ngaio Marsh, Duffy spent her childhood in New Zealand, moved to London, and as a producer, and scriptwriter, has had a long standing relationship with the theatre. There are some lovely references to the world of theatre, in particular Shakespeare, as Alleyn absently quotes the Bard to himself on several occasions, much to the bewilderment of the local constabulary.

As Eric Morecambe would have said to Ernie Wise you just  ‘can’t see the join’, when you read ‘Money in the Morgue’. The two writers just dovetail so perfectly. Later I learnt that Marsh wrote the first three chapters of this work, Duffy the rest, but had it not been for a sneaky look at a interview with Stella Duffy, and one tell tale passage toward the end of the novel (where Alleyn muses on New Zealand as being like a ‘living entity”, not the most 30s European attitude toward the land) I would not have picked this for myself.

There is a strong cast of characters too including shell shocked Dr Hughes, the stern yet endearing Sister Comfort, and the sparky Rosamund Farquharson. Marsh and Duffy conjure to life an intriguing array of suspects, against the dramatic backdrop of WWII New Zealand. Readers are treated to some evocative descriptions of the land, as well as some lovely insights into New Zealand culture, as seen through the eyes of a young Māori soldier, corporal Brayling. The ending is a satisfying one (all important for any mystery) and the novel is consistently packed with all the fun and endearing Alleyn moments a fan could wish for. This is a truly fantastic partnership between two queens of crime that will leave you wanting more. With any luck, another of Marsh’s unfinished works will be unearthed soon and we will be treated to another Marsh/Duffy installment in this classic series.

Money in the morgue
by Stella Duffy and Ngaio Marsh
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:  9780008207113

Ngaio Marsh House event – Sunday 27 May 2pm

The Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust is putting on an event to celebrate the Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy’s new novel “The Money in the Morgue”:

Celebrate with style and panache the publication of Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy’s new novel “The Money in the Morgue”. Be theatrical and wear your vintage clothing, fedoras or berets.
You will get to view the improvements to the Ngaio Marsh House, and then got to Cashmere Presbyterian Church for drinks, hors d’oeuvres and entertainment. Scorpio Books will have a selection of Ngaio’s book’s for purchase.

Find out more on Facebook.

Ngaio Marsh House
Ngaio Marsh House. 15 December 2015. Flickr 2015-12-15-IMG_1617

How we met: The ways great love begins by Michele A’Court

How We Met has a pretty simple concept – Michele A’Court (feminist-comedian-badass) interviews a bunch of enduring Kiwi couples about how they met. There’s all sorts in there, lots of missed opportunities and first date mishaps, disapproving parents and friends, coincidences and romance.

The stories themselves are, of course, wonderful – Michele captures them on paper in a way that makes you feel that you’re sitting across from the couple with a cuppa – but what makes the book so special is the larger idea behind these stories. The ‘how we met’ story, Michele reckons, serves a greater purpose than just letting someone know the juicy details of how it all went down. Recalling that story provides an opportunity to really engage in the feeling, the same connection, spark, joy, that they felt way back when. Further, it seems that revisiting these feelings in tangible ways helps to keep a long-lasting, enduring relationship fresh and exciting.

So How We Met is a collection of glorious, real-life stories from Kiwi couples, but it’s also a reflection on relationships in general – the common and also totally unique experiences, difficult and glorious, of living life with your ‘one in particular’.

The thing I liked most about this book was how accessible and relatable it felt. Many of these stories are so intimate, so personal, so full of ‘in-jokes’ and ‘you had to be there’ moments, that it would be easy for the reader to feel a little removed from the action. But Michele tells them in such a comfortable way – I could tell because, as I was reading, I was finding something on nearly every page that I wanted to read aloud to my partner.

CoverMany of these relationships started at a similar time, although there are exceptions to that, of course. A happy and perhaps unintentional result of this means that the book reads a little bit like a snapshot of life for young people in New Zealand in the 70s and 80s. I loved this aspect of the book – it made me think of my parents, the stories I have heard from them (over and over) about how they met. And of course, New Zealand being very small, there were places and even people described in the book that, by a degree or two of separation, I had a connection to.

I also enjoyed the practical elements weaved through the book – the science behind the way our brains make memories, made accessible to non-science-brained folks like me. The list of relationship advice from these couples towards the end, too, felt totally sensible and not at all far-fetched (as those kinds of lists can sometimes be).

Michele is in Ōtautahi next Tuesday 15 May, interviewing the magnificent Robert Webb (of Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look fame), with thanks to WORD Christchurch and the Auckland Writers Festival. Robert Webb’s book How Not To Be A Boy was in my top 3 reads last year. It’s remarkable and funny and challenging, and this event will be really special.

TL;DR: This is a sweet, generous and intelligent book. I recommend it – especially if you’re looking for something cozy, curled up on a winter afternoon.

How we met
by Michèle A’Court
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775540939

Ray
Upper Riccarton Library

Pax: searching for peace

A recent addition to the children’s fiction shelves, Pax by Sara Pennypacker is a deeply emotional story that explores the special connection between a boy and his fox. The narratives of the two main characters, Peter and his fox Pax, are beautifully entwined in the tale of an epic journey through a world threatened by war.

Peter and Pax have both faced difficult family challenges early in their lives. When Peter finds and rescues Pax, an important relationship begins to develop that proves mutually supportive and healing. When Peter and Pax are separated by forces beyond their control (the decisions of their human elders and the destructive forces of war) the strength of their bond calls each of them back to one another. Their journey to be reunited turns into a voyage of self discovery. Along the way, both characters encounter two- and four-legged companions that hesitantly, yet expertly, guide them. But will they ever manage to find each other and will their respective experiences have changed the bond between them?

CoverThis is a story that presents a realistic view of life from the perspective of both children and animals. As hinted at in the naming of the fox Pax, it explores the journey taken to find an inner peace. The novel addresses mature topics such as war, grief and anger. These are treated sensitively, and balanced with discussion of ideas such as acceptance, the peace and freedom that comes from knowing oneself, what it really means to be home – and the importance of letting go.

Perhaps more suitable for readers 8 years and older, it may still suit those in the younger age bracket if time is allowed for discussion around some of the heavier themes involved. It is also a fantastic read for teenagers and adults! I particularly enjoyed the way in which Pennypacker’s extensive research of red fox behaviour lent credibility to the story of Pax. The portrayal of Pax’s thoughts and feelings is realistic and offers the kind of insight not often seen in more idealised animal characters of children’s fiction.

With both dystopian and fairytale undertones, the world of Peter and Pax is brought to life in the book with the aid of the moody illustrations of Jon Klassen. The author Sara Pennypacker also wrote the acclaimed Clementine series as well as many other popular children’s stories.

If you are interested in this book you may also wish to take a look at…

Pax
by Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008158286

The Crime Scene – The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

There’s a new crime fiction author at work!

I’ve recently had the opportunity to read the debut novel from a new Irish-Australian author by the name of Dervla McTiernan. She’s from County Cork originally, but she’s a West Australian nowadays and has produced her first book. The Ruin is set in Galway and sits nicely in the noir crime genre.

It’s a great read! Entitled The Ruin, we see a Dublin city detective Cormac Reilly returning to his rural home town to take up a post in the local Galway Gardaí. He’s got some emotional baggage (of course, this is noir crime!) and is drawn back into a case from when he was first on the force – the death of an alcoholic drug addicted mother, and the institutionalisation of her two young children. It shifts to 2013 and the now-adult son has been found dead in the city river, but there are suspicions around what exactly happened. His sister (who has been working in the Australian outback) has returned to Ireland and slowly builds a case that the gardai refuse to engage with. With the help of her brother’s recently pregnant girlfriend and Detective Reilly searching from the other end of the investigation, they seek the truth, uncovering scandal, corruption, and small town parochial mindsets.

McTiernan writes with good pace, interesting character development, and a very strong sense of place – you may find yourself shivering as she describes the sideways sleeting of winter Galway! It’s a good blend between a police procedural and a whodunnit, all the ingredients are there, and she delivers a good read.

CoverThe Rúin sees a new addition to the noir crime genre, a genre that is ever-expanding and increasing in its quality as it incorporates new cultures and inspirations. It contains all the ingredients for good crime fiction; an unsteady detective, darkness and winter, a who-can-you-trust sense of uncertainty, and an intricate plot of twists and turns – everyone is under suspicion! And it got me thinking about countries outside of Scandinavia who are producing quality noir crime literature. We know the depth of Scandi Crime and there seems to be an endless source of sinister criminal imagination coming out of that region, but what about the rest of the world?

So if you like books like the ones listed, there’s a big chance you’ll like this new author and will soon be awaiting her next… and her next… and her next book!

CoverThere’s Scotland’s Ian Rankin; his Rebus novels have grown to unimaginable heights for crime fiction. They’re dark and disturbed, and feature a flawed detective barely holding on to his own sense of worth. A twisting plot line and some harrowing criminal acts

CoverAustralia has the recently deceased Peter Temple; The Jack Irish books (and films!) are first class crime fiction, offering a look at the dark underbelly of Melbourne, Australia. His use of language in particular make his characters very deep and believable, and his plots are twisting and his characters are never quite out of danger – exciting and full of regional levity. As the blurb says; “Melbourne in winter. Rain. Wind. Pubs. Beer. Sex. Corruption. Murder.” What’s not to love about that sentence!?

CoverHow about our own Paul Cleave? Who knew Christchurch could be such a hotbed for underworld sinister occurrences! His police procedural novels featuring detective Theodore Tate are gripping, dark, and give the reader a look into the fictionalised seedy side of Christchurch, New Zealand. He has written other stand-alone novels too and continues to produce dark and sinister stories to revel in from the comfort of your armchair.

There’s plenty of dark mystery set in and around our own region and for a first book The Ruin is a solid start, and should create a great foundation for the author to build on. I’m looking forward to more from her! Give it a go…

Slāinte!

The Ruin
by Dervla McTiernan
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460754214

Where sci-fi and fantasy collide: Carve the Mark

When looking for a book to read, there are a few boxes that I prefer to be ticked: strong female protagonist, sassy side characters, fantasy dystopian futures with rebellions and creative interpretation of both sides being morally grey (hey, I didn’t say that the check list was realistic).

Carve the Mark, upon first glance, appears to fulfil this perfectly. There are bad guys, there are good guys. Both think they’re good, both have morally corrupt aspects. And in the middle of it all, there’s Cyra and Akos, diametrically opposed foes, bound together by fate.

My personal thoughts:

I have not read the Divergent series (gasp), and I tend to avoid authors who have copious amounts of fan service behind them, worrying that their next book will fall flat as a pancake. My initial hesitation was correct. It took more effort to get past the first fifty pages of exposition than reading all of Brisingr by Christopher Paolini.

CoverThings happened. Characters that I was supposed to somehow be attached to died. The main character’s gift was hurting her. That’s it. You can now skip the first fifty pages and get into the actual story. You’re welcome.

Once it actually got into the story, I was pleased to find it improved. Relationships and conflicts felt real, there were a few twists that I didn’t quite expect. However, what I truly found great about this book was its main character Cyra.

My best friend from high school suffered from chronic pain, and I found the description of Cyra’s curse to be relatable and realistic, not shying away from the ever-present pain. It wasn’t something that could simply be lifted by magic. It was something that had bad days and worse days, and through therapy and self-reflection could be managed.

TL;DR 7/10, but skip the first bit

Carve the Mark
by Veronica Roth
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008159498

Five cool things about The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

The Woman in the Window is a stone cold blockbuster. Even Mr Sir Stephen King has been singing its praises. In Library Land, holds/reserves are a good indicator of how popular a book is. 164 people are waiting to read the book, and 27 are waiting for the eBook. That is POPULAR.

I don’t read many thrillers or crime books, but this had me glued to the couch with nowt but copious cups of teas and Easter eggs to sustain me. Here are five things that make it cool.

It is Classic Noir

The story of The Woman in the Window is classic film noir.  Anna is a child psychologist suffering from agoraphobia, and she takes photos of her neighbours and noseys at them. So far, so Hitchcock. But it isn’t just the premise that is noir-ish. Old movies are part of the story, and Anna is often watching one, remembering previous viewings, or encouraging other people to enjoy them.

Incidentally, there is a 1944 movie called The Woman in the Window, directed by Fritz Lang.

It has a believable female lead

A recent thread on Twitter asked women to ‘Describe yourself like a male author would’. I doubt you will see A.J. Finn quoted in this thread, because he has managed that rare thing – made a convincing female lead character. Anna Fox is a compelling, nuanced character. You don’t hear much about her looks, because women don’t tend to go around thinking about how big their boobs are, or lustrous their locks. Oh, and she is a woman. Not a girl.

The Woman in the Window

It has oodles of atmosphere

Anna Fox’s world is a lonely one. She is stuck in her apartment, dosed up on medication, and drinks a lot of wine. This creates a sense of woozy uncertainty which plays with your mind, like it does with Anna’s.

It’s Twisty

So many. So good. This is the Nürburgring of thrillers! More twists than you find in a pack of Twisties!

There is a New Zealand Connection!

Daniel Mallory is a book editor and he has written his first novel under the nom de plume A.J. Finn. In NZ interviews, he has revealed as a big Ngaio Marsh fan!

“I absolutely love Ngaio Marsh!” he says. “She’s probably my favourite golden age doyenne, which is taking nothing away from Agatha Christie.

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : "Ngaio in the spotlight" [194-] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038
Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” [194-] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038

More about A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window
By A.J. Finn
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008234164

Three Things About Elsie

In Three Things about Elsie, we join Florence Claybourne (‘Flo’ only to a select few) mulling over the various scenarios that could occur once some kind soul at the Cherry Tree Nursing Home realises they haven’t seen her for a few hours. She is lying on the floor of her apartment where she has recently fallen

Florence is a mentally fragile (inferred by other inhabitants and members of staff at the Nursing Home) octogenarian, worried that her inability to summon both the right words and behaviour at the right time is influencing the ‘Powers that Be’ (namely Misses Ambrose and Bissell) that she is a suitable candidate for Greenbank where there is a far higher staff-to-resident ratio.

The thinly veiled threat of a probationary period just to see if Florence can rein in her unpredictable behaviour doesn’t help matters much.

Thank goodness she has an ally in her old and very dear friend Elsie to whom she can unburden her thoughts and fears. Especially so, when a new, unwelcome arrival at the Nursing Home is someone Florence and Elsie remember all too clearly from their past – and whom they both believed long dead. Why is he is now masquerading under an assumed name? Who will believe her when her current lapses in memory are causing concern to both herself and others?

CoverWhat evolves during the novel is both a murder/mystery needing to be solved, but more importantly an awareness of how people can disappear into old age and no longer be counted.

Florence is a delightful and very droll character – the very realistic everyday conversations that go off at various tangents evolve whilst trying to navigate and understand the different world that she, Elsie and other occupants of Cherry Tree find themselves in today.

It was a gardening programme.  Someone was standing on a patio in clean wellington boots, explaining how to plant seeds.  Jack pointed at the screen with his walking stick.  ‘At our age, it’s an act of optimism, planting seeds.’

Hats off to Joanna Cannon who in Three Things about Elsie has vividly captured the vulnerability and flawed natures of so many credible characters, and imbued them with the wit, courage and strength to battle yet another day.
Three Things About Elsie

by Joanna Cannon

Published by HarperCollins New Zealand

ISBN: 9780008196929

The Wife’s Tale: A brutal but beautiful memoir

In The Wife’s tale, Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam recounts the life of her grandmother Yetemegnu, an indomitable woman who lived through the most extraordinary century in Ethiopia’s history.

Edemariam first introduces readers to Yetemegnu on the day of her wedding, when she is just eight years old. Barely aware of the vows she is making, Yetemegnu is being married to Tsega, an ambitious priest more than two decades her senior. Over the next thirty years, Tsega is varyingly tender and brutal to his wife – a tyrant who beats her when she returns home from merely buying food, and a father who..

‘…when I was a child braided my hair.
Trimming the rough edges, teaching me manners.
My husband who raised me’

Edemariam heartbreakingly evokes Yetemegnu’s secluded marriage, (as a child bride and a clergyman’s wife), and her difficult motherhood which consisted of ten births, infant deaths, and difficult partings to give her children a better future. Edemariam brings her grandmother’s voice to life with vivid descriptions of her daily routine, observations of the world around her, and her prayers offered to the Virgin Mary. Edemariam’s narrative is  filled with rich prose that perfectly evokes her grandmother’s life, such as:

“The dry season wore on… Wild figs darkened in the trees. The peaches mellowed.”

Edemariam also gives a fascinating and unique perspective into the events of the time. Born over a century ago, Yetemegnu lived well into her nineties and bore witness to the 1930s Italian occupation as well as famines, revolutions, and political coups. She vividly recounts events such as Yetemegnu fleeing her city during allied bombardment, her audiences with Emperor Haile Selassie to defend and avenge her husband; and her battles in a male dominated court to protect her property rights. With a housewife’s unique perspective, Yetemegnu also bore witness to economic and educational changes, as well as the huge changes in culture and attitude Yetemegnu herself had to struggle to understand.

Edemariam’s distinctive narrative manages to delve not only into the mind of her grandmother, but also into the rich history and culture which surrounded her. Elegant, and superbly researched, ‘The Wife’s Tale’ is both a rich panoroma of 19th century Ethiopia, and an inspiring tribute to the courage and importance of seemingly ordinary wives like Yetemegnu.

The Wife’s Tale
by Aida Edemariam
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780007459605