Our Five favourite Spring Reads
The last few months I have been reading an eclectic mix of general fiction and historical fiction with a little romance thrown in. I have also started researching a new book while my current historical is off with my beta readers. I find it is often the characters that linger when you have long forgotten the plot of a book and this selection of favourite reads certainly lives up to that.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
I was lucky enough to hear Pulitzer prize winning author Jennifer Egan speak at the Sydney Writers Festival earlier this year and began reading her latest novel, Manhattan Beach, with both anticipation and a big question mark in my mind. Would the book live up to the hype? With its beautiful writing, strong, flawed and original characters and pitch-perfect realisation of setting and time it is well worth the read. Set in New York during the depression and the New York Naval dockyards during WWII there is a sense of brooding tension throughout the book. The characters seethe with hidden undercurrents of desire, yearning, and a need to break free. Against the odds, the main character Anna Kerrigan embarks on a career as a civilian diver, a “man’s job” as she is constantly told. As she begins to plunge the depths of the harbour she is dragged into the murky depths of her family’s past. In her quest to unlock the mystery of her father’s disappearance she becomes entangled with the nightclub owner, Dexter Styles, a charismatic underworld figure who dwells in the borderland between respectability and organised crime. The diving theme provides the perfect metaphor to explore what lies on the surface compared to what lies beneath, while the rich historical detail vividly brings the grittier side of New York to life.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
When Count Alexander Rostov is declared a non-person by a Bolshevik court in 1922 and sentenced to indefinite house arrest at the Metropol Hotel his future looks bleak. To make matters worse he is banished from his luxurious suite to a one-room attic. Despite his vastly altered circumstances the Count’s natural joie de vivre and charm win him many loyal friends at the hotel including a nine year old girl called Nina who gifts him the keys to the kingdom (or in this case a skeleton key to every room). A novel set in Moscow from 1922 until 1954 raises the expectation of being serious, tragic and somewhat bleak, given that it spans the worst excesses of the communist collectivisation, Stalinism, WWII and the start of the cold War. However thanks to the author’s wry style and gentle ironic humour, A Gentleman in Moscow is warm, funny and delightful. A lover of fine food, wine, literature and music Count Rostov makes the most of his situation by living in the moment, following his own rituals and setting his own standards for how to live a good life. This is a rare book that celebrates simple pleasures, the human spirit, the small connections that enrich us and the unexpected pathways that can lead to joy and love.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Who says the Scandinavians don’t have a sense of humour? A Man Called Ove sets out to prove that premise wrong. Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man next door, widowed, redundant and seemingly mistrustful of other humans. However, Ove is the human version of a pineapple, prickly and tough on the outside with a thick unwelcoming skin that hides the sweetness of the inner fruit. I defy anyone to read this and not fall in love with Ove, the unlikely hero. Funny, poignant and bitter sweet, A Man Called Ove is a book that will restore your faith in humanity as it slowly reveals the quiet dignity of an ordinary but exceptional man.
Neanderthal seeks Human by Penny Reid
I downloaded this romantic comedy as a free ebook on the recommendation of fellow blog hopper Laura Boon and am so glad I did. I loved this author and have downloaded (and paid for) the next two books in the series, proving that if the book delivers, a free giveaway can be a great marketing tool. Penny brands her books as “Smart” romances since her characters are on the brainy side. They are also very human and very funny. If you love witty dialogue, quirky characters and a full length romance to really have time to hang out with the characters, then this first book in her Knitting in the City series is a great place to start. It’s no surprise she is a New York Times best-selling author.
Imperium by Robert Harris
There are not many books that I will give a second or third reading but I have just finished a re-read of Imperium. Robert Harris has a genius for turning history into drama that is relevant for all times. First book in a trilogy that traces the rise and fall of Cicero in the days of the Roman republic when Pompey and Caesar were circling for political dominance, Imperium is a classic study in the corrupting nature of politics and power. “Power has many privileges. A clean pair of hands is seldom one of them,” is a quote from the book that sums up the theme. In this saga of ancient Roman politics there are so many familiar elements that feature in today’s political climate- narcissistic win-at-all-costs leaders, shameless buying of influence and votes, back-stabbing, factions, power plays, and the compromising of principals for the sake of hanging onto or gaining power. Thankfully actual crucifixion is no longer the usual way to dispatch conquered enemies but apart from that, Harris’ work confirms the theory that the more things change the more they stay the same.
If you’d like to find out what my fellow Writer’s dozen authors have in their recommended reading pile then here are the links to the blogs of Rae Cairns, Laura Boon and Pamela Cook. Happy reading.