From thriller novels to self-help guides, this round up of best new books are reading list gold.
1. Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
If there was a prize for literature’s best murdered girl – and there really should be – it would have to go to Alice Lee.
Not only does the 18-year-old’s backstory shape this blisteringly original debut by Kiwi writer Jacqueline Bublitz, but her spirit also hangs around to narrate the story.
Two women arrive in New York City on the same day. Alice has a pocketful of cash and a camera stolen from a former teacher who abused her in small-town nowheresville USA. Her mother committed suicide when she was young and no one really cares where Alice is or what she’s doing.
Ruby Jones, on the other hand, is 36. She’s Australian, fleeing from a bloke at work who’s engaged but is keeping her on for booty calls. She’s sufficiently cashed up that she can quit her job and spend six months mooching around New York slaying her emotional demons.
Just as Alice is finding her feet – flatting with the kindly Noah and working at his dog-walking business – she is brutally raped and killed. She becomes known as Jane Doe, Riverside Park murder victim.
Meanwhile, Ruby is drinking too much and spending too long staring at her bedroom ceiling, unable to forget her cruel lover. One morning, while out for a run, she discovers Alice’s body and the two women’s lives are connected forever.
Ruby feels protective of the dead girl and tries to learn everything she can about her, while Alice hangs around the margins, a ghost trying to push Ruby towards solving her murder.
So well does Jacqueline write about life in the Big Apple, I was surprised to learn that she’s actually based in New Plymouth. Apparently, she spent a summer hanging around New York’s parks and morgues, which provided the basis for her sure-footed debut.
Yes, it’s a sucker-punch of a novel, and you’ll weep over the way both Alice and Ruby are treated by men, but Jacqueline’s sensitive handling of the subject matter makes it a winner.
Go and buy this book, then clear your schedule for a few days because once you start, you won’t be able to stop.
2. The Final Review of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Genre: General fiction, Historical
It’s the 1970s and Nev, a ginger-haired British muso, teams up with Opal, a black American singer who’s the sassy yin to his awkward yang. They’re an unlikely pair poised for great success, until a racially-charged incident ends their fame as quickly as it began. Fast forward to 2016 when a music journalist starts poking around in their story and uncovers a heap of secrets. An impressive debut.
3. Inspiring New Zealand Women by Wendy Gillespie
Tauranga-based writer and artist Wendy Gillespie has met oodles of amazing women in her lifetime. She’s decided to share the incredible stories of 10 of them in this uplifting book that goes heavy on the inspiration. There’s the woman who started an apprenticeship at 68, the one so severely beaten she had to teach herself to walk, and Wendy’s own story of earning seven degrees while raising two kids solo. Just brilliant.
(Wendy Gillespie Publishing, RRP $19.95)
4. Tall Bones by Anna Bailey
Genre: Crime, Mystery
The collars are blue, the necks are red and Whistling Ridge – the small Colorado town at the heart of this novel – runs on secrets and religion.
In other words, it’s the best setting for a crime novel.
Abigail (Abi) Blake is a typical 17-year-old, the hormones coursing through her veins pushing her to seek adventure outside her claustrophobic home. One night, Abi and her best mate Emma attend a party in the shadow of the Tall Bones, the white rocks that are a local landmark.
Only one of them makes it home.
Consumed by guilt over leaving Abi alone, Emma sets out to uncover the truth about what happened to her. But while unravelling Abi’s movements in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, Emma turns over stones that many in Whistling Ridge would rather she didn’t.
Enter folk not normally on Emma’s radar – people like Hunter, the son of the town’s big-wig, and Rat, a Romanian loner who lives in a trailer and is called “the gypsy” by townsfolk who don’t take kindly to anyone “not from around here”.
It’s nothing new for Emma, a Latino girl who’s felt the pointy end of racism all her life. That’s why she finds herself spending time with Rat, who plies her with the alcohol she’s becoming too fond of.
When the town’s hate-filled pastor encourages his congregation to turn on the “outsiders”, it’s only a matter of ime before the festering boil of anger and resentment is popped.
British writer Anna Bailey based her debut novel on the time she spent living in small-town USA. She flits back and forth through time, revealing events through the eyes of her characters as they pick their way through the carnage of not only that night, but also their lives.
It’s not subtle, but it’s not meant to be. Anna tosses around topics such as racism, homophobia, abuse and incest, but her silky smooth writing saves it from becoming too depressing. Plus, she’s a master at keeping readers engaged.
Remember the name Anna Bailey, because I predict we’ll be hearing it a lot more from now on.
5. The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird
Genre: Thriller, Sci-Fi
With so many words written about the global pandemic, you’d assume it had nowhere left to go.
Apparently not – although, to be fair, Christina Sweeney-Baird wrote her first novel before Covid-19 crashed into our planet. But her dystopian narrative about a virulent pandemic that decimates the male population at times feels eerily close to home.
It’s 2025 and in a Scottish hospital, A&E doctor Amanda Maclean treats a man with flu-like symptoms. Within three hours he’s dead and other men soon fall like dominoes. Naturally, Amanda frantically waves the red flag, but her concerns are ignored.
So the plague is left free to sweep across the globe, killing 95% of the world’s men (some are immune). It’s a story told exclusively by various women, from the UK to Sweden (even Auckland gets a look in), as they deal with the horrific passing of their husbands, sons and brothers.
If you’ve ever thought the world would be better run by women (who hasn’t?), this gives a taste of what that might look like. Surprise, surprise, it actually works pretty well – from women drafted into previously male-dominated jobs, such as rubbish collection, to campaigns to produce and raise male children. Admittedly, the latter does slide into some dodgy Handmaid’s Tale territory, with IVF lotteries, compulsory C-sections and mandatory child rearing pools.
But I was so invested in the various story strands that I was willing to overlook these minor hiccups, as well as Christina’s sometimes obvious disregard for logic. Because all the usual thriller hooks are present and accounted for and Christina, a British lawyer, knows how and when to add dashes of gasoline to the fire to keep the reader hanging on.
Is reading a book about a pandemic in current times a little bit draining? I would have thought so, but instead the opposite happened: I found myself comparing the actual pandemic to this more terrifying fictional one and thinking, sure ours is bad, but at least it’s not this bad.
not this bad.
(HarperCollins, RRP $32.99)
6. Wild Seas to Greenland by Rebecca Hayter
A famous sailor, the chilly vastness of the Greenland fjords and a risky ocean trip – these are the threads of a true-life story that Kiwi yachting journalist Rebecca Hayter sews together in her fourth book. So involved in the story of Ross Field’s refit of an old yacht and his perilous journey is Rebecca that she eventually signs on to crew with him. A crisply told tale of adventure.
7. A Richer You by Mary Holm
Genre: Non-fiction, Self-help
Women live longer than men, earn less and arrive at retirement worse off. So we should learn how to make our money work better for us, something that veteran financial journalist Mary Holm’s seventh book can help with. Compiled from 20+ years of answering reader letters in the New Zealand Herald, Mary helps us get our heads around money, from what dollar-cost averaging is to how the sharemarket works. Essential reading.