What We're Reading

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Neil

The Slow Roll, by Simon Lendrum (Upstart July 2022)

This world class, incredibly gripping Auckland-set crime novel was picked off Upstart's slush pile. It's set in Auckland's high-stakes poker scene, both in the casino and in private locations, and weaves in money laundering, Chinese criminals, biker gangs, drug dealing, and murder. There are twists and turns to satisfy the most devoted crime reader, a good dose of humour, and the benefit of familiar locations which take on an air of menace in Lendrum's well drawn underworld. He is an author to watch.

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Neil

Home Theatre, by Anthony Lapwood (THWUP, 2022)

A genre-bending collection of stories, linked by the apartment building in which the characters live, this is a compelling and intelligent book. Sometimes rooted in the grim reality of the present, sometimes open to the profound implications of time travel, it's always tonally consistent and intense, even claustrophobic. I loved it.

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Neil

The Amur River, by Colin Thubron (Chatto 2021)

In his 80th year, esteemed travel writer Thubron travelled 3000 miles along the Amur River from Mongolia to the Okhotsk Sea. For most of its length the river forms the often disputed border between Russia and China, and Thubron criss crosses the border regularly on his journey on horseback, hitchhiking, by boat, train and bus; all the while talking with locals in his revived Russian and Mandarin, surviving injury and arrest.

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Neil

Greta & Valdin, by Rebecca K. Reilly (VUP 2021)

Greta & Valdin, shortlisted for this year's Ockham Prize for fiction, is a stunningly good comic novel. I hesitate to describe it as it needs to be discovered by the reader, but, as Kate Duignan says on the cover blurb: 'Greta & Valdin is a complete world...it is warm and funny, inventive and charming, with a genuine and earned tenderness at its heart'. That is absolutely right. Mostly set in a vivid Auckland, it's a lively, tender and hilarious look at a very smart, very blended, extended family.

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Neil

Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene (Vintage 2019, first published 1958)

Our Man in Havana is one of what Graham Greene described as 'entertainments' rather than his serious novels, but with the benefit of hindsight it does take on a more serious aspect. Greene was in MI6 in 1941, which this novel satirises, and it predates, and anticipates the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It concerns a somewhat hopeless English vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana, who is approached by a mysterious Englishman who offers him extra money in exchange for a little espionage. He fabricates his reports, but they are taken seriously by MI6, and remarkably, start to come true.

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Neil

Scary Monsters, by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin 2021)

Michell de Kretser is one of Australia's most important writers over the last 25 years. Born in Sri Lanka, she moved to Australia when in her teens, and published her first book in 1999, and has published 8 books and won numerous awards. Her novels are characterised by their international focus, her characters are varied, many of them have travelled widely or are migrants, and have a global perspective. Scary Monsters is two books in one, they can be read in any order, and their connection is thematic rather than directly linked.