Wellington Author Interview: Jess Richards

“Dying faces are the colour of soiled linen. It’s the eyes which shine, as if the world around the person who is dying has brightened itself, so it’s fully seen and felt and known.”

So begins City of Circles, the third novel by acclaimed Wellington author Jess Richards. Richards’ work has been described as “brilliantly peculiar” and “a cornucopia of secrets and surprises”, with her debut novel Snake Ropes being nominated for the Costa First Novel Award, the Scottish Book Awards and the Green Carnation Prize. City of Circles tells the story of orphaned circus performer Danu as she negotiates grief, love and the mystery at the heart the fantastical city of Matryoshka . . .

Your work has been compared to Angela Carter and Erin Morgenstern, both of whom use circuses as key elements in their work. What do you think it is about circuses that continue to appeal to readers and writers?

Circuses have great potential to be made magical in fiction, because of their potential to appeal to all the senses, and also their rich history and traditions. They’re archetypal places of wildness and strangeness – performance and storytelling, which speak to our very human need for wonder. This is so often lacking in the ‘real world’ – as adults, we often lose sight of our desire for magic and strangeness. Within stories, we can find a parallel world to disappear into, between mundane daily rituals, tasks and chores. The people within circuses can be strange in so many ways – from the bearded lady to the cartwheeling clown, from the strong man to the contortionist. These slightly off-kilter people can be unique and intriguing characters to read and write about. The ordinary, distorted. The usual, made strange.

In Snake Ropes, the world of the story has been described as intentionally minimal in order to create the feeling of an “insular society”. How did creating Matryoshka and the world within City of Circles differ to this?

After writing Snake Ropes, which was set on a remote island, my second novel, Cooking with Bones began with two sisters fleeing a futuristic city (called Paradon) who quickly found their way to a strange and remote village. So both of my first two novels were mainly set in insular locations which had their own rules, folklore, mythology and sense of community. In City of Circles, I wanted to invent a magical city which also had all of these things, but on a larger scale. I used more description for the city, as it was such a unique and remarkable place, full of strange characters and places. Even the houses had their own unique ‘atmospheres’ and the house that Danu squats in has its own narrative voice. It was great fun to consider what kind of character a house could be – as cities are crammed full of buildings as well as people I came to see the buildings and the city itself as having their own personalities. As well as being part of the setting in that they were interesting things for the main characters to look at and explore, they also became part of the story.

As someone who has lived in several different places and recently moved to Wellington, how has your own experience with cities and identity compared to Danu’s?

When I’d just started to write City of Circles, I left my home of 18 years, and decided to remain voluntarily homeless for a period of time. During the next two years I couldn’t settle anywhere, so I looked after other people’s homes and pets, even their holiday cottages, which were sometimes in isolated rural places and sometimes in villages, towns, and cities. I slept in many different beds and was quite envious of Danu owning her own mattress, even though the caravan it was in kept moving on. All the places I lived in or visited found their way into City of Circles, as aspects of the places the circus travelled through, and several cities (London, Chicago, Wellington to name only a few) added to the descriptions of the different areas and revolving circles within Matryoshka, the city she eventually remains in. When Danu fell in love with Matryoshka, she experienced it almost as a living and breathing place, filled with enchanting scents and intriguing secrets. While I was exploring many different ‘homes’ I deeply wished to find somewhere which called me to it. Somewhere to love. As it happens, it was a person, not a city, I fell in love with, and that’s how I came to move to Wellington. I followed my heart to a person, while Danu followed her heart to a city.

Several reviews have praised your treatment of grief in City of Circles. How did you approach this theme?

My father died suddenly while I was writing City of Circles, and just three months after his death, I came to New Zealand. Experiencing grief so far away from anyone who knew him was an isolating experience. When we’re not with people who also knew the person who died, because no one is talking about them, there are no new memories to be had. All I could do, while grieving at such a great distance was to pour my grief into this novel. To give it to Danu, as it was too hard a thing to carry alone. As Danu’s parents had died right at the beginning of the novel, I wrote about her grief at the same time as I experienced my own. The physical pain of grief is something that few people talk about, so I gave aspects of this to Danu. I had her describe watching someone die, which is also something that few people talk about. She ties her mother’s locket like a choker around her throat, and trusses her ankles with her father’s bootlaces. The pain, to her, is a constant reminder of the strength of her love, and the strength of her loss. When she finally faces her grief, she does so from a high rooftop, throwing lily petals into the sky, and letting the wind carry them away. She’s trying desperately to part with her sorrow, and let it fly from her. But the truth of grief is that it never goes away. We each have to find our ways of living alongside it. And that is what Danu does as well. Learning to live beside grief takes time and courage. Others are also affected by it, which we see in Morrie, a charismatic hunchback who is in love with Danu, though she can’t reciprocate.

You were recently involved in an event at the Post-Apocalyptic Book Club in London. How did this go, and how do you see your work in terms of the genre of dystopian and speculative fiction?

It was a lovely event – with a great chairperson who had prepared excellent questions about City of Circles in advance. She got me to talk about more things than I’d realised I could. The audience were also great – really interested in the process of ‘world building’ and inventing an imaginary city. I tend not to think too much about genre when I write – to me, the main thing is the characters, and their story, and the world they are in being believable. That said, speculative fiction is a broad term which spans a variety of genres such as fantasy, sci-fi, young adult fiction and literary fiction. To me, what speculative fiction means is that the author has been ‘speculating.’ Asking… what if? And then answering their question in the form of a story. What if… there was an undiscovered island off the edge of a map? (This was the question behind Snake Ropes.) What if… an old woman was several people, and not just one? (One of the questions within Cooking with Bones.) And what if… a city was built which was made out of revolving circles, like a clockwork toy… and what if… a grieving woman thought she was alone in the world, and then discovered she had a double… In terms of dystopias – they’re far more interesting to write about than utopias, because I don’t believe that utopias exist. I also like writing amoral characters, who are neither completely good nor totally bad, but somewhere ambiguous in between. Darkness is, to me, much more interesting than light.

Wellington author interview: Pip Adam

Author image by Victoria Birkinshaw

Spacious open plan living. Nest or invest. Classy urban retreat. If you’ve spent a bit of time browsing real estate brochures, you’ve probably read these words before. But there’s another, darker story of renting and home ownership in New Zealand, one without floor plans or glossy full-page photos: The New Animals, by Pip Adam.

Adam’s work has appeared in a range of journals and anthologies, with her short story collection Everything We Hoped For published in 2010 and her debut novel I’m Working on a Building in 2013. She’s been described as “the woman who is making literature subversive fun in this country again… The most wired-in to the seething discontent below the housing bubble.” So put down the brochure and get a copy of The New Animals today!

The blurb for The New Animals references intergenerational tension, however the story also looks at tensions of class, wealth and gender. What was it like shaping a story around these conflicts?

I always think conflict and complexity give ‘life’ to stories. It seems like a boringly obvious thing to say but it is also constantly a surprise to me. I often use writing to sort out things that confuse me about life and I guess confusion is often a state of conflict for me – one idea against another, or maybe things acting in ways that don’t gel with my world view that cause a disruption to the things I believe and understand. For me it is always scary writing about people who I am not, but I have always loved the idea of trying to imagine myself into a mindset that seems confusing to me. Like often I might see someone do something and I have this idea that people always act in ways they see as ‘good’ or ‘right’. I’ve met lots of people and no one ever seems to make decisions by thinking ‘this is wrong thing to do’, even people who have broken the law. So yeah, I am always interested in trying to imagine myself into a mindset that would see decisions I see as odd as the ‘right’ decision.​ I enjoyed it particularly in this work because it was a bit like Sudoko or those tile puzzles, where someone would act and there would be a domino tumble of other people being forced to act.

You recently talked about your relationship with fashion – its power and ability to answer societal questions, but also its environmental impact. How did you approach this in The New Animals, especially with fashion playing such a large role in the story?

I am really interested in design of all types, particularly the form and function, or form versus function. Before I started the book I had this love of fashion which I think was a hangover from my hairdressing days. Like I loved seeing how fashion changed and yeah, also I really like looking at beautiful things. For this book I started taking a more intense interest. I became a rampant foll​ower of fashionable people and people in the fashion industry. I just consumed everything I could. I visited shops as well, touched the clothes, saw them on the hangar and on people. I was also really interested in the history of fashion and some of the theories around fashion. I am especially obsessed with the work of Rei Kawakubo and the way she deconstructs the human form. I love the play of her work but also the real seriousness and almost horror of some of her work. I am also quite obsessed with Alexander McQueen’s life and work – in a lot of cases the violence of it. One of the hard things about writing about fashion is that it is often talked about in quite ‘light’ ways. I had to read very deeply to find the language that had weight and importance. There is a risk that fashion can seem shallow because, I think, it is ephemeral and seems to be about adornment when often it is about so much more.

The New Animals is very grounded in Auckland. How do you think the city’s geography helped with the story?

I really love Auckland. I grew up there and I visit a lot.​ It’s interesting you ask about geography because I think it is a really interesting city that way. Like you have that massive volcanic basin that is the harbour and then you have that network of volcanoes that have formed Mt Wellington and Mt Eden and, yeah, I often think of Auckland as this volatile place. My parents live close to Stonefields which is a development built on the site of an old quarry. Auckland has this feeling for me of land acted on. Land in flux, land in change and to me this book is a lot about that, about change and fluidity and evolution and I think walking around Auckland, travelling over it which I did heaps of for this book it’s impossible not to feel that. For instance, the train I catch a lot from Glen Innes travels over the Orakei Basin, this incredibly changeable place. If the tide is in, it looks like a body of water, but when the tide is out it transforms into this muddy almost wasteland. Everything that was covered by the water is exposed. I like that as an image as well, the way things can be exposed by changes in environment. Tides are a big part of my thinking around this book. The way the moon pulls these huge bodies of water around, the way they kind of create these weather patterns deep below us. And then don’t even get me started about how humans began as fish, how the ocean must have some strange pull on us still.

One aspect that really stood out was the friendship between Carla and Duey, with the contrast between their interactions and their personal thoughts, and their awareness of the friendship’s decline. Was this relationship a difficult one to write?

For a long time, in the writing process, Carla and Duey had been lovers and it just wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. We so often place the ‘sex’ relation above all other intimate relationships. I am really interested in friendship. I find it so interesting. What keeps friendships alive is so complicated but also so purely unselfish. I liked the idea that Carla and Duey were at a stage where the relationship (as if it were a separate thing from the two people in it) was in decline, like despite all their care and thought for each other nothing was going to save it. It was difficult to write because I don’t read many books about friendships that are like that, so in a way the models I had were very much about love and sex relationships. So it took some sorting out, like some real close work. The other thing that I loved about writing that relationship is that I think it is pretty cool how humans can think one thing and then act in a better way. I love how we do that for each other. I guess also, finally, I was interested in deconstructing some of the ‘work’ we do in human relationships. Like, I find people pretty confusing sometimes, a lot of the relating stuff doesn’t come automatically to me. So, I am often thinking a lot about what the right thing to say is or what a person is saying (like actually saying). It was fun to make some of that work apparent, to sort of uncover that and show it.

Reviews of The New Animals have generated some discussion about New Zealand literature and the reviewing process. What has it been like seeing the passion your work has brought out in people?

Writing is a weird thing. I really like the part of writing that takes place in a room by myself. I love working on something, like really working on something – crafting it and messing it up and having to fix it and ​living with it. I find I get so ‘into’ that work (like I literally feel like I climb inside the story) that I forget that other people will read it. So yeah, sometimes publication is a bit of a shock. Like I remember after my first book was published someone I didn’t know said to me, ‘I read your book,’ and I was like, ‘I never said you could.’ I just forget that people will read it. So, it’s pretty amazing when people I respect say they like what I’ve written. People will email me and tell me in person and it means heaps because I’ve sort of ‘shown my hand’ as a human. I’ve said, ‘I made this. I think this is how life is awesome,’ and when someone says, ‘I see what you’ve made and it made me think this is how I think life is awesome,’ that is just incredible. I love how art can do that and I’m not sure much else can. I put a lot of stake in passion. I love the way, in my life, I have been granted the opportunity to come into contact with many people who make me feel passionate and I just get fired up about the idea that our work sort of sparks off each other. Like no matter what is going on. No matter what other people are saying about our work, we can sustain ourselves. It’s like the biggest collaboration. Because although I love those times by myself working, I am never far from the work of others, I will be reading those writers to keep me going, to keep me passionate.

Pip Adam's The New Animals

Wellington author interview: Mandy Hager

Mandy Hager has influenced a generation of readers with her politically astute, emotionally rich YA novels, including The Crossing and The Nature of Ash. But it’s her recent historical novel, Heloise, that’s been causing a stir this year. Described as “brilliant” by the Listener, Heloise tells the story of 12th century lovers Heloise d’Argenteuil and Peter Abelard, and the politics and attitudes they must negotiate during the Gregorian Reforms.

You’ve mentioned that you spent 18 months researching before starting to write Heloise. Were there any particular discoveries that stood out for you, or altered your approach?

Two things really impacted on how I ultimately told the story. The first was a very good piece of advice from academic Dr Constant Mews, who recommended I read as many of the texts Heloise would have read as possible, as all her writing is steeped in references to them. This really enriched the story, especially when I discovered her love of Ovid’s Heroides and saw how I could use it as a mirror for her own story. It was also a really good reminder that, though the incidentals of the 12th century are different, human emotion is consistent across time.

The second thing was discovering the politics that lay behind the story, which made the actions make sense and put them into context. This proved crucial to cracking open the various character’s motivations.

From early on, Heloise fights against the notion that as a woman, she must “learn in silence with all subjection.” How did this struggle, and its on-going relevance, influence your telling of the story?

For a start, the whole act of writing her story countered this: giving her back her voice and own personal agency. Thematically, it taps into several strands I wanted to focus on: the systematic silencing of women across the ages; the effects of church and state power and control, especially as it affected women; and on a craft level, the challenge of telling a story that still has pace and action when the central character is cloistered away and mainly interacts through letters and hearsay.

How difficult was it to capture the voice, thoughts and feelings of a character from the 12th century? Especially someone with Heloise’s background?

As I mentioned above, by reading what Heloise read, it helped me find appropriate ways of expressing her feelings through the literature of her day. Plus, I had the advantage of her letters, which gave me an insight into how she put words on a page and thought. I wrote the whole first draft in a kind of heightened 17th century voice to try and get away from modern concepts, metaphors and language. It didn’t work from a readers point of view (too dense and saccharine) but it helped me make the shift in my head and meant that when I rewrote my head was much more seated in the language and thought constructions of the time. That said, it’s amazing how hard it is to pick up all the modern words and ideas – and I’m extremely grateful to the team of editors and readers for digging them out!

In terms of feelings, once the situation is defined by its context, then it’s just a matter of imagining myself into the character’s head and focussing on what would be the most truthful human reaction to each situation. I think we make a mistake thinking people back then thought in a less emotionally sophisticated way. Heloise’s letters make it clear nothing changes in the history of the heart!

How did writing historical fiction compare with writing stories set in the near future, such as The Nature of Ash?

One’s solely based on imagining a future, with the ability to reference current culture as a kind of shorthand for what’s going on. Historical fiction requires a lot more digging around for shorthand references that are pertinent to the day but still resonate with today’s readers. Another less delicate way of putting this is, in books like The Nature of Ash (which I’m currently writing a sequel to) I’m free to make shit up! That’s a whole lot easier!

Does your approach to writing fiction such as Heloise differ to your approach to writing young adult fiction?

I think when writing young adult fiction there’s an overriding need for pace that is more pressing than adult fiction, along with the need for a young adult protagonist, but overall I don’t think there is that much difference. It’s still a matter of digging into character and trying to bring them alive on the page.

Has Heloise had an on-going influence on your own life, writing or politics?

Most undoubtedly all three! It’s by far the hardest book I’ve ever written (in terms of both its scope and the amount of time it took) and I had to dig really deep to keep going and not give up. I think the gift of the residencies I had during the time meant I felt a great deal of personal pressure to perform and come up with the goods, and though that was exhausting and at times overwhelming, I’m proud of myself for persevering! But I think it’s also taught me a lot as a writer, mainly thanks to my amazing editor, Harriet Allan, who really pushed me (in the best possible way) and I’m hoping that the lessons I’ve learned transfer through to all my writing in the future. The politics have had a huge impact. It’s depressing to realise the very same issues Heloise struggled with are still evident today, and we seem no closer to really solving them. We rabbit on a lot about how we should use history to learn how to progress and improve human lives, but the truth is we’ll go on making the same mistakes over and over – and the same people will continue to be oppressed – if we don’t actually heed the lessons and make a concerted effort to implement change. Heloise’s courage in speaking her truths and supporting those around her is one I now try even harder to emulate as a result of this.

2016 New Zealand Fiction prize winners announced

Syndetics book coverThis year’s Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize of $50,000, has been awarded to Catherine Chidgey for her novel The Wish Child. This is her fourth novel since her first, In a Fishbone Church, was published in 1998, and is thirteen years after her last novel, The Transformation.
The Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction was awarded to Gina Cole for her short story collection Black Ice Matter.

 

New Zealand stories – New ‘Other Genres’ for February

New Zealand writers are featured in this month’s ‘Other Genres’ selection of new material. There are several historical novels that bring into focus New Zealand’s political, cultural and social development over the last century. Highly recommend it the new novel by award winning author Karen Hay, titled The March of the Foxgloves.

Syndetics book coverThe Assyrian girl / Thomas W Devine.
“Security contractor, Matt Couper, returns from Iraq with memories of a fifteen year old Assyrian girl, Tara Nasrim, whose life he saved. Five years later, as a refugee, Tara shows up in New Zealand. Even there, Islamic extremism rears its head. Religion clashes with love, vengeance is pursued, and Matt’s world overturns.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe march of the foxgloves / Karyn Hay.
“A late 19th century tale of triumph over obsession and humiliation. London, 1893, and Frances Woodward is tormented by the restrictions of her puritanical father and the cruelties of 19th century narcissist, Benedict Hunt. Having meted out a particularly creative form of revenge upon Hunt, Frances transcends the social norms of the late-Victorian era and travels alone to the far-flung colony of New Zealand, where she is forced to look beyond the establishment life seemingly pre-ordained for her. Falling in with other artists and non-conformists, and inspired by the revolution in thinking brought about by heroic literary figures and social reformers of the time, Frances forges a new path of her own making” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWe the ones / Julie Helean.
“Struggling with their own disparate agendas, members of this dysfunctional yet fervent anti-racism cell embark on an earnest quest to disrupt the celebrations planned for the 150-year anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi. As Waitangi Day draws near, Charlie, disgruntled with her Pakeha anti-racism group’s endless meetings, leadership squabbles and debates over rhetoric, joins her Maori flat mate Kat on a reckless journey to sabotage the 1990 celebrations and stop the Queen from attending. With growing disregard to consequences, the pair commits to do whatever it takes to have the Treaty honoured and the Maori flag flying at Waitangi.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLewisville / Alexandra Tidswell.
“Martha Grimm has a sorrowful secret, and her daughter Mary Ann is the only other person in New Zealand who knows it. Growing up dirt-poor in Willoughby, Warwickshire, in 1814, Martha dared to imagine a different life. Now she is a wealthy and respectable Wellington settler half a world away. But the cost has been high. Martha cannot speak of the past or the people she left behind. The story of one woman’s ambition, of escape and reinvention, and the bittersweet consequences of achieving one’s dreams.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA striking truth / Helen McNeil.
“Leo Harris, union president at the mill in a one-industry town in the rural heartland, has a problem. So long as I live and breathe, he says, I’ll stand up to power. But the mill’s CEO insists this was a showdown waiting to happen. It’s 1986 and the entire town and its people are caught in the stalemate between the two. With their livelihoods, their families, their identities under siege, everyone must choose where their loyalties ultimately lie. It’s not just about work; marriages, family relationships, whakapapa are in jeopardy and long held secrets burst to the surface.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSecond time around / E.M. Richmond.
“Established business journalist Georgia Hayden is asked to interview an old friend, Quinn Masters when he returns to New Zealand from the UK where he has been for the past twelve years. Quinn’s wife, and mother of his teenage daughter, died in a tragic accident thirteen years earlier. Georgia is divorced from her husband and has a two year old son. When they meet they discover a mutual attraction, but are both gun-shy. If they can get past their own issues, they may find love is indeed lovelier the second time around.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA French wedding / Hannah Tunnicliffe.
“Max is turning forty. All he wants for his birthday is for his six oldest friends to come to France to eat, dance, drink and laugh for one weekend, and to finally declare his secret, undying love for his best friend, Helen. Juliette gave up the dream of owning an acclaimed Parisian restaurant and returned to her tiny coastal village to nurse her aging parents, but she finds her home much changed, even the boulangerie where she first learned to love baking has fallen upon hard times. Now, as she tries to find her way to a new future, Max’s birthday weekend may just provide the new beginning Juliette is wishing for, but at whose cost?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFurry blur : tales of flash fiction / Barbara Unković.
“Bold, distinctive and written with an acute sense of observation, these diverse tales highlight Unkovic’s skill as a talented writer of Flash Fiction. A unique collection of twenty-eight tales with clear-cut voices from sweet to shocking.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

The Best of the Best: must reads from this month’s fiction selection

The following titles have been chosen from our monthly new fiction selections. They are all highly recommended for great reading.

Syndetics book coverThe wish child / Catherine Chidgey.
This wonderfully authentic novel is compelling reading, a great accomplishment.

Syndetics book coverHot dog taste test : a cook [crossed out] book / by Lisa Hanawalt.
A very funny exploration of the author’s anxieties and obsessions, making the mundane disturbing and the strange normal.

Syndetics book coverMagpie murders / Anthony Horowitz.
A brilliantly multilayered thriller with a very satisfying twist.

Syndetics book coverDeath and the seaside / Alison Moore.
A dark unsettling novel, at times funny, that you will want to read again.

Syndetics book coverThe gradual / Christopher Priest.
A challenging, but thought provoking novel from this much acclaimed skillful writer.

Fiction Newsletter for the new year

Welcome to this month’s Fiction Newsletter. New Zealand writers feature in our ‘Other Genres’ category. We only have room for three titles from each genre’s selection of new material, just as a sample, so do visit the complete lists, where you will find more great reading.

Library News

Contemporary fiction

There is some great entertaining reading in this month’s new contemporary fiction, perfect for the long hot, lazy days of summer. From the new additions to the collection, we have selected new novels from three of the most popular writers for this newsletter, but do check out all the other great reads chosen.

Syndetics book cover Moonglow / Michael Chabon.
Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession, made to his grandson, of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at mid-century and, above all, of the destructive impact and the creative power of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The dark flood rises / Margaret Drabble.
“Fran may be old but she’s not going without a fight. So she dyes her hair, enjoys every glass of red wine, drives around the country for her job with a housing charity and lives in an insalubrious tower block that her loved ones disapprove of. And as each of them, her pampered ex Claude, old friend Jo, flamboyant son Christopher and earnest daughter Poppet, seeks happiness in their own way, what will the last reckoning be? Will they be waving or drowning when the end comes?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The whole town’s talking : a novel / Fannie Flagg.
“Lordor Nordstrom created, in his wisdom, not only a lively town and a prosperous legacy for himself but also a beautiful final resting place for his family, friends, and neighbors yet to come. “Resting place” turns out to be a bit of a misnomer, however. Odd things begin to happen, and it starts the whole town talking. This is an unforgettable story of life, afterlife, and the remarkable goings-on of ordinary people.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Graphic novels

There was another fabulous selection of Graphic Novels added to the Wellington City Libraries collection this month. There is as always a diverse range of genre and art work, making this collection one of our library’s most popular and heavily read, and therefore difficult to select just three for this newsletter.

Syndetics book cover We stand on guard / Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Skroce.
“A subversive, action-packed military thriller. Set 100 years in our future, the story follows a heroic band of Canadian civilians turned freedom fighters who must defend their homeland from invasion by a technologically superior opponent, the United States of America.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Day of the magicians / Michelangelo La Neve and Marco Nizzoli ; introduction by Alexandro Jodorowsky.
“Drazen; a child kidnapped, trained by a mysterious band of magicians, and destined to seek out and destroy his own father. Lancaster; a father who will stop at nothing to achieve his own plans, including manipulating his son’s childhood friend. Torn between destiny and desire, the young magician will be forced to confront these conflicts, with terrible consequences.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Cruising through the Louvre / David Prudhomme ; translation by Joe Johnson.
“Author David Prudhomme meanders through the Louvre, feeling as if in the panels of a giant comic while he himself is creating his own. In this institution, all manner of people from all over the world rub elbows quietly. So he decides to cruise through the Louvre at a quick pace, not to look at the art but to observe the people and their interaction with it.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Mysteries

Although police procedural mysteries were predominant in this month’s selection of recently arrived novels, we have chosen three with very different plots for this edition of the fiction newsletter.

Syndetics book cover Without mercy / Jefferson Bass.
“Forensic anthropologist Bill Brockton has spent twenty-five years solving brutal murders but none so horrific and merciless as his latest case: A ravaged set of skeletal remains is found scattered in the woods of nearby Cook County. They are all that is left of a victim who had been chained, hand and foot, to a tree on a remote mountainside. The bones tell Brockton and his longtime graduate assistant, Miranda, that the victim was a young male under the age of thirty. As they dig deeper to establish his identity, they uncover warning signs that long-simmering hatred is about to explode into violence, engulfing the region in chaos.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Between the crosses / Matthew Frank.
“Now a freshly-minted DC, war-hero-turned-copper Joseph Stark is called to the scene of a double murder. The husband and wife victims were shot dead in their own home. It looks like a tragic burglary gone wrong. But Stark has a creeping feeling that the killings might be something more chilling. And when new evidence points to a twenty-year-old cold case the hunt is on.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Rather be the devil / Ian Rankin.
“For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand and it still preys on his mind. Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria’s killer has never been found. Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science fiction/fantasy

There were some amazing new Science Fiction and Fantasy novels received this month. The three selected here for this newsletter illustrate the scope of imagination writers of this genre possess.

Syndetics book cover Night without stars : Chronicle of the Fallers / Peter F. Hamilton
“The planet Bienvenido is in crisis. It has finally escaped the Void, emerging into regular space. But it’s millions of light-years from Commonwealth assistance, and humans are battling the Fallers for control of their world. This rapacious adversary, evolved to destroy all sentient life, has infiltrated every level of human society, hijacking unwilling bodies so its citizens fear their leaders, friends and family. A mysterious figure known as the Warrior Angel leads a desperate resistance. But the government obstructs the Angel’s efforts at every turn, blinded by prejudice and technophobia. Then astronaut Ry Evine uncovers one last hope. On a mission against the enemy, his spacecraft damages an unidentified vessel carrying unexpected cargo: a baby. This extraordinary Commonwealth child possesses knowledge that could save them all. But if the Fallers catch her, the people of Bienvenido will not survive.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Death’s end / Cixin Liu ; translated by Ken Liu.
“Book three of the Three-Body Trilogy concludes with Death’s End . Half a century after the Doomsday Battle, the uneasy balance of Dark Forest Deterrence keeps the Trisolaran invaders at bay. Earth enjoys unprecedented prosperity due to the infusion of Trisolaran knowledge. With human science advancing daily and the Trisolarans adopting Earth culture, it seems that the two civilizations will soon be able to co-exist peacefully as equals without the terrible threat of mutually assured annihilation. But the peace has also made humanity complacent.Cheng Xin, an aerospace engineer from the early 21st century, awakens from hibernation in this new age. She brings with her knowledge of a long-forgotten program dating from the beginning of the Trisolar Crisis, and her very presence may upset the delicate balance between two worlds. Will humanity reach for the stars or die in its cradle?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Mort(e) : a novel / by Robert Repino.Mort(e)
“After the War With No Name, a cat assassin searches for his lost love in this strange, moving fantasy epic. The colony of ants has risen up to set about creating a human-free Utopia on Earth. Former housecat turned war hero, Mort is famous for taking on the most dangerous missions and fighting the dreaded human bio-weapon EMSAH. But the true motivation behind his recklessness is his ongoing search for a pre-transformation friend, a dog named Sheba.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Other genres

New Zealand fiction is featured in this month’s ‘Other Genres’ category, showcasing great writing and a diverse range of subjects. This month we received the much acclaimed new Catherine Chidgey novel, and new work from Deborah Challinor and Emma Neale. So with the novels we have selected for this newsletter we are highlighting three different, but just as skillful writers.

Syndetics book cover Daylight second / Kelly Ana Morey.
“In a new novel about the Australian race horse Phar Lap, award -winning writer, Kelly Ana Morey recreates the short life of the gigantic chestnut gelding who became the darling of the Australian race tracks during the Depression years. From Timaru in New Zealand where he was born, to Australia where he rewrote track and race records and finally Mexico where he would run his last race, Daylight Second chronicles the death threats and attempts on Phar Lap’s life that were made before the running of two of the three Melbourne Cups he contested, his many triumphs including winning the Melbourne Cup in 1930 and the Agua Caliente Handicap in 1932, and finally his death in America in mysterious circumstances.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Strip / Sue Wootton.
“Their dreams of parenthood dashed, Harvey and Isobel go for dream jobs instead. Harvey hangs up his stethoscope to become a cartoonist and Isobel takes a promotion at the local museum. Then an abandoned baby comes up for adoption, and Harvey and Isobel discover a family is more work than they bargained for. By Fleur’s eighth birthday it’s all come together nicely, but that’s before a voice from the past threatens to nuke their hard-won happiness. Harvey doesn’t stop to think. He acts, and with tragic consequences” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The student body / written by former police detective Simon Wyatt.
“A popular fifteen-year-old girl is strangled to death at a school camp on Auckland’s west coast. The posing of the body suggests a sexual motive. Nick Knight, a week into his role as a newly promoted detective sergeant, is tasked with the critical job of leading the Suspects Team. Nick, who turned his back on a lucrative career as a lawyer, is well-versed at dealing with the dark sides of human nature. With no shortage of suspects, he sets a cracking pace on the trail of the murderer, grappling his own personal demons along the way. But are things really as they seem?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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New ‘Other Genres’ for December, this month featuring New Zealand fiction

There are many great reads in this selection for our ‘Other Genre’ category that features New Zealand fiction. Included is the long awaited forth novel by Catherine Chidgey titled, The Wish Child. New novels also from Deborah Challinor and Emma Neale, and highly recommended is the debut novel Strip by Sue Wootton.

Syndetics book coverThe cloud leopard’s daughter / Deborah Challinor.
“On the gold fields of the colonies, enemies are easily made. In the confines of a ship, they can turn deadly. When Kitty and Rian Farrell sail their schooner Katipo III into Dunedin Harbour in 1863, they are on tenterhooks. The new Otago goldfields have attracted all-comers, including their friend Wong Fu from Ballarat, who has sent a message for their help. To their surprise, Wong Fu reveals he is more than a mere fortune seeker, he is in fact a Cloud Leopard tong master and his daughter, Bao, has been kidnapped and taken to opium-ridden China. Kitty and Rian agree to retrieve the missing Bao, but as they sail closer to their quarry the stakes jump dramatically. And little do they know that the deadliest threat lies in their midst.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe wish child / Catherine Chidgey.
“It’s 1939. Two children watch as their parents become immersed in the puzzling mechanisms of power. Sieglinde lives in the affluent ignorance of middle-class Berlin, her father a censor who cuts prohibited words such as love and mercy out of books. Erich is an only child living a rural life near Leipzig, tending beehives, aware that he is shadowed by strange, unanswered questions. Drawn together as Germany’s hope for a glorious future begins to collapse, the children find temporary refuge in an abandoned theatre amidst the rubble of Berlin. Outside, white bedsheets hang from windows; all over the city people are talking of surrender. The days Sieglinde and Erich spend together will shape the rest of their lives.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRuby and the blue sky / a novel by Katherine Dewar.
“Grammy night, 2021. Ruby wins ‘Best Song’ and makes an impulsive acceptance speech that excites nature lovers across the world. While Ruby and her band celebrate, an extreme evangelical sect, funded by covert paymasters, dispatches a disciple on a ruthless mission to England. As the band plays its sold-out tour, Ruby is pursued by eco-groupies insisting she use her new fame to fight climate change. In a storm and drought-plagued world, run by cynical old men and self-serving corporations, could one young woman lead change?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe pretty delicious café / Danielle Hawkins.
“On the outskirts of a quiet hamlet on the New Zealand coast, Lia and her friend Anna work serious hours running their restored ‘villa’ cafe. The busy season, they know, is just around the corner. There are plenty of other things distracting them too. Anna is about to marry Lia’s twin brother; Lia’s older half-brother, who lives hours away on the family farm, looks like he might be disinherited by their curmudgeonly father; and Lia’s ex-boyfriend seems not to understand it’s over. And there’s all the delicious cooking. Then, when a gorgeous stranger taps on Lia’s window near midnight and turns out not to be a serial killer, it seems a healthy new interest could develop. But the past won’t let them be, and when Lia’s ex becomes dangerous, she must decide whether events rule her life or she does.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCan’t help falling / Kara Isaac.Can’t Help Falling: A Novel
“Emelia Mason has spent her career finding the dirt on the rich and famous. But deep down past this fearless tabloid-reporter facade, there’s a nerdy Narnia-obsessed girl who still can’t resist climbing into wardrobes to check for the magical land on the other side. When a story she writes produces tragic results, she flees to Oxford, England, home to C.S. Lewis, to try and make amends for the damage she has caused. Peter Carlisle was on his way to become one of Great Britain’s best rowers, until he injured his shoulder and lost his chance at glory. He’s determined to fight his way back to the top even if it means risking permanent disability to do so. It’s the only way he can find his way past failing the one person who never stopped believing in his Olympic dream. When Peter and Emelia cross paths on her first night in Oxford, the attraction is instant and they find common ground in their shared love of Narnia. But can the lessons from a fantasyland be enough to hold them together when secrets of the real world threaten to tear them apart?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Fixing Mrs Philpott / Rachel McAlpine.
“Zoe Philpott packs up her yellow caravan and drives away from post-earthquake Christchurch and a husband in denial. Her very identity is under threat. That yellow caravan acts like a magnet for other women with secret struggles and satisfactions. While Zoe pulls herself together, and her marriage too she is on the receiving end of amazing advice and outrageous revelations. From crisis and chaos Zoe gains new friends and an explosion of confidence.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDaylight second / Kelly Ana Morey.
“In a new novel about the Australian race horse Phar Lap, award -winning writer, Kelly Ana Morey recreates the short life of the gigantic chestnut gelding who became the darling of the Australian race tracks during the Depression years. From Timaru in New Zealand where he was born, to Australia where he rewrote track and race records and finally Mexico where he would run his last race, Daylight Second chronicles the death threats and attempts on Phar Lap’s life that were made before the running of two of the three Melbourne Cups he contested, his many triumphs including winning the Melbourne Cup in 1930 and the Agua Caliente Handicap in 1932, and finally his death in America in mysterious circumstances.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverStrip / Sue Wootton.
“Their dreams of parenthood dashed, Harvey and Isobel go for dream jobs instead. Harvey hangs up his stethoscope to become a cartoonist and Isobel takes a promotion at the local museum. Then an abandoned baby comes up for adoption, and Harvey and Isobel discover a family is more work than they bargained for. By Fleur’s eighth birthday it’s all come together nicely, but that’s before a voice from the past threatens to nuke their hard-won happiness. Harvey doesn’t stop to think. He acts, and with tragic consequences” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe student body / written by former police detective Simon Wyatt.
“A popular fifteen-year-old girl is strangled to death at a school camp on Auckland’s west coast. The posing of the body suggests a sexual motive. Nick Knight, a week into his role as a newly promoted detective sergeant, is tasked with the critical job of leading the Suspects Team. Nick, who turned his back on a lucrative career as a lawyer, is well-versed at dealing with the dark sides of human nature. With no shortage of suspects, he sets a cracking pace on the trail of the murderer, grappling his own personal demons along the way. But are things really as they seem?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

New eBook Fiction in December

In these troubled times, dear reader, you have two options: you can turn away from the horrors of the world and embrace the fantasy that literature provides. Or, you can face the disasters head-on, with books that magnify the precipice of doom we stand on. Then again, you could also just enjoy your summer with a range of insightful and surprising new titles – all available through Overdrive!

Overdrive cover Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry
“After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, go on to fight in the Indian wars and, ultimately, the Civil War. Their lives are enriched and imperilled when a young Indian girl crosses their path, and the possibility of lasting happiness emerges, if only they can survive. Both a poignant story of two men and the lives they are dealt, and a fresh look at some of the most fateful years in America’s past, Days Without End is a novel never to be forgotten.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Name on the Door is Not Mine, by C. K. Stead
“A striking new collection of accessible yet elegant stories from literary giant and master craftsman C.K. Stead. They are clever, sensual, wry and beautifully written, with Stead’s subtle sense of humour evident at every turn. The collection can be read as a meditation on the writerly life, and includes a number of new, previously unpublished stories, including ‘Last Season’s Man’, which won the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Reykjavik Assignment, by Adam LeBor
“UN covert negotiator, Yael Azoulay, has been sent to Reykjavik to broker a secret meeting between US President Freshwater and the Iranian president. Both parties want the violence to stop, but Yael soon realises that powerful enemies are pulling the strings. Enemies for whom peace means an end to their lucrative profit streams. In this gripping thriller, Adam LeBor uses insights gained from twenty-five years of reporting to show us who really has the upper hand in international politics.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Wrong Side of Goodbye, by Michael Connelly
“Harry Bosch is working as a part-time detective when he gets the invitation to meet with the ageing billionaire Whitney Vance. When he was eighteen Vance had a relationship with a Mexican girl called Vibiana Duarte, but soon after becoming pregnant she disappeared. Now, as he reaches the end of his life, Vance wants to know what happened to Vibiana and whether there is an heir to his fortune. And Bosch is the only person he trusts to undertake the assignment.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Next, by Stephanie Gangi
“Is there a right way to die? If so, Joanna DeAngelis has it all wrong. She’s consumed by betrayal, spending her numbered days obsessing over her ex, watching him thrive in the spotlight while she wastes away. So she embarks on a sexy, spiritual odyssey. As she travels beyond memory, beyond desire, she is transformed into a fierce female force of life, determined to know how to die, happily ever after.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover City Woman, by Patricia Scanlan
“Devlin’s flair and ambition has made a success of the ‘City Girl’ health and leisure complex. But what of Luke Reilly, a man used to getting his own way? Caroline, still coming to terms with her husband’s revelations, has to do some serious thinking. Can she face the future on her own? Maggie, torn between motherhood and career, finds her marriage under threat. She must decide if it’s time to put herself first.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Bitter Fruits, by Alice Clark-Platts
“The murder of a first-year university student shocks the city of Durham. The victim, Emily Brabents, was from the privileged and popular set at Joyce College, a cradle for the country’s future elite. As Detective Inspector Erica Martin investigates the college, she finds a close-knit community fuelled by jealousy, obsession and secrets. But the very last thing she expects is an instant confession . . .” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover Peacock and Vine, by A S Byatt
“This ravishing book opens a window onto the lives, designs and passions of two charismatic artists. Born a generation apart, they were seeming opposites: Mariano Fortuny, a Spanish aristocrat thrilled by the sun-baked cultures of Crete and Knossos; William Morris, a British craftsman, in thrall to the myths of the North. Yet through their revolutionary inventions and textiles, both men inspired a new variety of art, as vibrant today as when it was first conceived.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
“On a warm summer night in 1974, six teenagers play at being cool. They smoke pot, drink vodka, share their dreams and vow always to be interesting. Decades later, only Ethan and Ash, now married, have remained true to their adolescent dreams. As the group’s fortunes tilt precipitously, their friendships are put under the ultimate strain of envy and crushing disappointment.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

Overdrive cover The Everything Box, by Richard Kadrey
“22000 B.C. A beautiful angel stands on a mountaintop. He smiles because soon, the last of humanity who survived the great flood will meet its end, too. The angel reaches into his pocket for the instrument of humanity’s doom. Must be in the other pocket. Then he frantically begins to pat himself down. Dejected, he realizes he has lost the object. The majestic angel utters a single word. “Crap.”” (Adapted from the Overdrive description.)

New eBook Fiction in October

This month’s additions to Overdrive showcase the changing role of the hero. For traditionalists, we have T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, while those with a taste for grittier protagonists can browse several new detective series, including the award-winning A Rising Man. And if you don’t like heroes at all? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered, too – the events in the Booker-nominated His Bloody Project are described by an entire community. To start a quest of your own, just sign in here.

Overdrive cover Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernières
“Set against the backdrop of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, Birds Without Wings traces the fortunes of one small community in south-west Anatolia, a town in which Christian and Muslim traditions have co-existed peacefully for centuries – until war is declared and the peaceful fabric of life is threatened with destruction. Epic in sweep, intoxicating in sensual detail, it is an enchanting masterpiece.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler
“22-year-old Tess has come to New York to take on her destiny. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the punishing, privileged life of a backwaiter, on and off duty. She’s pulled into the thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman whose connection to both young lovers is murky, sensual and overpowering. These two will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover The Portable Veblen, by Elizabeth Mckenzie
“A laugh-out-loud love story with big ideas – and squirrels. Can squirrels speak? Do snails scream? Will a young couple, newly engaged, make it to their wedding day? Will their dysfunctional families ruin everything? Will they be undone by the advances of a very sexy, very unscrupulous heiress to a pharmaceuticals corporation? Is getting married even a remotely reasonable idea in the twenty-first century? And what in the world is a ‘Veblen’ anyway?” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover Dirt Road, by James Kelman
“Murdo, a teenager obsessed with music, dreams of a life beyond his Scottish island home. His dad Tom has recently lost his wife and is terrified of losing control of what remains of his family. Both are in search of something as they set out on an expedition into the American South. As they travel they encounter a new world and we discover whether the hopes of youth can conquer the fears of age.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet
“A brutal triple murder in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae is guilty, but the police and courts must uncover what drove him to murder. A story ingeniously recounted through the accused’s memoir, trial transcripts and newspaper reports, His Bloody Project is a riveting literary thriller, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover A Rising Man, by Abir Mukherjee
“Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective, is a new arrival to Calcutta. Desperately seeking a fresh start after his experiences during the Great War, Wyndham has been recruited to head up a new post in the police force. But with barely a moment to acclimatise, he is caught up in a murder investigation that will take him into the dark underbelly of the British Raj. The start of an atmospheric and enticing new historical crime series.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore
“New York, 1888. A young lawyer named Paul Cravath takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country? The task facing Cravath is daunting, and the stakes are immense: the winner of the case will illuminate America.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover The Once and Future King, by T. H. White
“T.H. White’s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legend is an abiding classic. The Once and Future King contains all five books about the early life of King Arthur (The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight, The Candle in the Wind and The Book of Merlyn). White brings to life the major British epic with brilliance, grandeur, warmth and charm.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover Jake’s Long Shadow, by Alan Duff
“The third volume in the hard-hitting, best-selling Once Were Warriors trilogy. The millennium has changed but have the Hekes? Where are they now? Son Abe who has rejected violence but violence finds him; Polly, as beautiful as her sister Grace, who committed suicide; the gang leader, Apeman, who killed Tania, what’s prison like, does it change a man? And then there’s Jake Heke, casting his long shadow over everyone.” (Adapted from the Overdrive description)