By Geraldine Brooks
Growing up with a father who liked the odd flutter put me off horse racing. So I came to this novel by Pulitzer prize-winning Australian/American author Geraldine Brooks with unkind thoughts. But how wrong was I? Yes, the lightning rod is Lexington, the real and extrroadinary late 19th Century Kentucky bay stallion revered as the fastest horse in the world, but this hefty novel is about so much more: there’s art, history, the ulginess and beauty of humanity and the rocky terrain of race. It opens in 2019 with Theo, the Lagos-born art historian son of two diplomats who lives in Washington and, one day, pulls a painting of Lexington out of the rubbish. The action then gallops back to 1850 and Jarret, an enslaved groom who raises Lexington from a foal and risks his life to protect the horse. There are a few more time frames and voices, including a young Australian scientist and a New York gallery owner in 1954, all skillfully knitted together to form the strong bones of this epic saga. The shocking ending of Theo’s story proves that even in the 21st century, life for black people in America is still grim. Even as I reach for the word brilliant to describe this novel, I know it isn’t enough. Put it on your literary bucketlist NOW.
by Jody Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
I’d read a shopping list written by Jodi Picoult. For what seems like her zillionth book, the prolific author has collaborated with fellow American writer Jennifer Finney Boylan on a novel that once again isn’t shy of embracing contemporary themes: this time it’s domestic violence, LGBTQ+ issues, depression and suicide. Olivia McAfee is a beekeeper and single mother, raising her hockey star son Asher after fleeing what appeared to be the perfect life with her surgeon husband. Lily Campanello, and her mother, enter their orbit when they move to town, also starting a new life after escaping trauma. Then Lily is found dead, Asher is the main suspect and the plot veers off into the kind of I-did-not-see-that-coming twists that will keep you as riveted as, well, bees to honey.
by Erin Young
There’s a lot of grisly stuff in this novel from British author Erin Young who, randomly, based her first contemporary thriller among the flat corn fields of Iowa. This is a slow burn mystery meets political thriller meets small town farmers Vs Big Agriculture. Riley Fisher is a young, newly-promoted female sergent charged with investigating the bodies that keep piling up in her patch. Naturally, Riley has her own closet full of sekeltons, inclduing a complex childhood friendship with one of the victims. It’s pretty dark and the death scenes are possibly more graphic than they need to be, but Erin keeps the dials turned up to 11 in this seriously gripping romp.
By Naomi Toilalo
The cover of this book says it all: ‘Feel-good baking to share aroha and feed hungry tummies’. Naomi Toilalo is an Instagram favourite, known for her beautiful, approachable baking. My advice: don’t thumb through this book when you’re hungry! It’s jam-packed with every kind of baked thing you might care to make – breads, cakes, biscuits, pastry and slices, plus a wonderful section of Family Food – He kai o te Whānau – whose recipes are perfect for whanau baking sessions, and display Naomi’s kaupapa: that kai is about aroha and sharing. Apart from the mouth-watering recipes here, the thing that makes this book special is the ingredients lists and titles are all in te reo Maori as well as English. This adds a layer of beauty and personal connection that makes this book one to treasure.
The Homemade Table
By Nicola Galloway
Nicola Galloway is a bread-baking guru and fermentation goddess – and if you’re looking for a place to start on sourdough or pickles, this is the book for you. But there’s also a ton of other goodness here, from quick family dinners to delectable puds and desserts. I’ve dog-eared the chocolate, prune & beetroot brownie and the tahini chocolate slice for easy sharing snacks, and the many beautiful seasonal vegetable dishes will be a source of year-round inspiration. I’m pretty keen to have a go at home-made tomato paste when high summer hits, too.