New and Recommended



Vicious circle by C J Box

Game warden Joe Pickett has an enthusiastic following among Ashburton readers.  Joe is alarmed at the reappearance of Dallas Cates, the rodeo star favourite son of local psychopath Brenda Cates, whose war on the Pickett family resulted in the deaths of most of her clan and her own imprisonment.  Wherever Dallas goes, murder and mayhem follows, but there seems to be no way of proving his involvement.  In the meantime, Joe’s family is at risk of their lives once again, as they are hunted by an axe wielding meth-head.  The Pickett’s scary friend Nate Romanowski comes to the rescue.

Corpus by Rory Clements

This is that rare thing, a ripping good adventure yarn that is classy as well.  Set in 1936, the year of the Berlin Olympics, and the abdication of Edward the Seventh.  Nancy Hereward, the daughter of a British Fascist sympathiser is found dead of an apparent heroin overdose after a trip to Berlin.  Her friend Lydia lives next door to history professor Tom Wilde, in Cambridge.  Wilde comforts Lydia, who is further distressed by the brutal murder of the parents of another close friend.  This couple, too, had been Nazi sympathisers.  At the heart of the mystery is the fey figure of the abdicating King and his nemesis, the stolid Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin.

Birdcage walk by Helen Dunmore

A gripping story set in Bristol at the time of the French Revolution.  Lizzie Fawkes comes from a family of Radical writers; her mother and stepfather are excited by the promise of liberty and equality from the events in France.  Lizzie’s husband, an over-extended property developer, fears the political upheaval’s effect on house sales.  His possessiveness and jealousy of Lizzie’s family becomes pathological, and she is forced into deciding where her deepest loyalty lies.


The summer house party by Caro Fraser

Caro Fraser is the daughter of the author George MacDonald Fraser, creator of the Flashman series that some readers will fondly remember.  This is another novel set in the late 1930’s and the war years.  It follows the fortunes of the young guests and family members at a country house weekend in 1936, as they form relationships and careers, which are disrupted by the rise of Hitler.


 The confessions of young Nero by Margaret George

Nero’s family life rivalled that of Henry Tudor for its violence and intrigue. Nero had the excuse of coming from a long line of familial murderers.  His mother Agrippina was a sister of the bloody tyrant Caligula, and is generally thought to have smoothed Nero’s way to the imperial throne by murdering the Emperor Claudius and his son, Britannicus.  Nero repaid this favour by having Agrippina killed, probably because she was conspiring to kill him.  Charming family.  Not surprisingly, the author only partly succeeds in making Nero a sympathetic character, a task she will continue in a further volume.

Mothering Sunday by Rosie Goodwin

Rosie Goodwin is a natural successor to Catherine Cookson.  In this novel, an abandoned workhouse baby, called Sunday because that was the day she was found on the doorstep, grows up into a feisty young woman.  Always ready to champion the underdog, when her fortunes change and she finds a good job, Sunday rescues several of her friends from the orphanage too.  But could her fortunes improve beyond her wildest dreams?


The chalk pit by Elly Griffiths

British crime novelists tend to bring a strong sense of place to their writing.  With Elly Griffiths that place is Norfolk.  We gain an insider’s view of the saltmarshes where her heroine, archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway lives, and Norwich, where she lectures.  But not all is well in that lovely city.  A hole appears in the road, exposing an underground cavern and what Ruth finds is a disturbingly recent skeleton.  Then the homeless start to disappear.  As DCI Nelson searches, he begins to hear rumours that they have “gone under”, but it takes the efforts of all his team, and Ruth as well, to discover what this means.

The orphan's tale by Pam Jenoff

In 1944 Holland, sixteen year old Noa has been cast out by her family.  She has become pregnant by a German soldier, and has to give up her new born baby to the Lebensborn programme.  Working as a railway cleaner, she finds a cattle truck containing tiny Jewish babies, dying in the cold.  She takes one of the babies and sets off into the snow.  The pair are rescued by a German travelling circus, and Noa trains on the high-wire under the tutelage of Astrid, a Jewish performer who is hiding with the circus.  This is the story of their rocky friendship, the tragedies they encounter, and how in the end, love and loyalty triumph.  Very readable, but don’t expect a completely happy ending.

A piece of the world by Christina Baker Kline

Many will know the moving and evocative painting “Christina’s World” by the American artist, Andrew Wyeth.  It shows a crippled girl gazing or crawling across a grassy expanse.  In the distance is a weathered farmhouse and outbuildings.  This is the story of that girl, Christina Olson, and her life in rural Maine after the onset of paralysis, and the liberation she feels when Wyeth brings contact with the outside world.


War cry by Wilbur Smith

Another book in the long-running Courtney series, about a white African family and their adventures.  We are now in the middle of the 20th Century, and the heroine is Saffron, the spirited daughter of Leon Courtney.  While Leon’s commercial and farming interests are a sub-plot, she remains centre stage.  Saffron’s upbringing in Kenya and England, her star-crossed affair with a young German pilot are followed by adventure on the high seas.  Saffron and her father attempt to snatch the Greek gold reserves from under the noses of the invading German army.  All good high octane adventure.


Penguin Bloom, the odd little bird who saved a family by Cameron Bloom

The rescue of an injured baby magpie by one of the three young Bloom boys followed closely on the severe paralysis injury of their mother, Sam, in a fall during an Asian holiday.  In this book their father Cameron uses touching, often funny, photographs of the bird, Penguin, to mirror his wife’s painful adjustment to her injury and subsequent return to family life.  Not just the record of Sam’s emotional journey, this book offers not only hope and but some wrenchingly realistic advice for people suffering from spinal cord injuries, and their families.

Evelyn Waugh, a life revisited by Philip Eade

An interesting study of the life and times of the famous English novelist and travel writer, mainly known these days for his bestselling novel Brideshead Revisited.  An irascible character given to bluster and the bottle, we have to take it on trust that Waugh possessed any charm, but he had many loyal lifelong friends, not all of them with the aristocratic backgrounds he seems to have preferred. He was certainly a clever and funny man, although often cruel.  This book gives a glimpse into the British upper class way of life between the wars and after (Waugh died in 1966), and the lives of many famous people of the time.

Debriefing the president by John Nixon

In 2003 John Nixon was a CIA analyst with specialist knowledge about Saddam and his regime.  He was called in to identify Saddam, and to question him.  The main official reason for this was to find out where any weapons of mass destruction were held.  We now know that this arsenal did not exist.  But the revelation of Saddam’s motives, character, and beliefs makes fascinating reading.  A ruthless tyrant, who killed hundreds of thousands of his own people, Saddam had one great virtue; he believed that religion should play no part in politics.  During his rule, Saddam was a strong and successful opponent of radical Islamic extremism in Iraq.  His removal created a power vacuum in Iraq, assisting in the rise of a surely even greater evil, ISIS.

Young and damned and fair by Gareth Russell 

A re-examination of the short life and tragic death of Henry VIII’s fifth queen, the teenaged Catherine (or Katherine) Howard, beheaded for treason within a year of their marriage.  Catherine had a clandestine affair during her adolescence.  During the later months of her marriage she developed a romance with Thomas Culpepper, one of the King’s attendants. The author does not agree with the usual analysis that the Howard family pushed an impressionable Catherine forward as a queen replacement for her cousin, Anne Boleyn. He sees her as a thoughtless, popular girl who liked intrigue and to be the centre of attention.  Unfortunately, she caught Henry’s roving eye, but then could not survive the inevitable close scrutiny of her life.

Insane clown president by Matt Taibbi

The author does not much like President Trump, and such is his wit and withering scorn, it is difficult to finish this book without a strong sense of unease about the future.  As the author tellingly puts it, hopefully with much exaggeration “Twenty years from now, when we’re all living live prehistory hominids and hunting rats with sticks, we’ll probably look back at this moment as the beginning of the end”.  Taibbi, a journalist, kept a journal on the Trump campaign “bus”, so we can see the saga unfold across America.  From disaffected town to town, we hear the voices of voters who feel thrown on the rubbish heap by the political establishment, and come to realise why this result should not have been hard to predict.


Children and Teens​

Annual edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris

Back in the far off days when television hadn't been invented many children found an Annual in their Christmas stockings.  They featured heroes such as Rupert the bear and other popular book and magazine characters. Kate De Goldi, Susan Paris and friends have put together an Annual following a similar format.  Stories are mixed with poems, jokes, things to do and comic strips.  The look may be retro but the content is definitely 2017. Annual is the perfect browsing book, with something for everyone.

Troll stinks by Jeanne Willis

Remember the three Billy Goats Gruff?  Grandson Billy and his friend Cyril star in this modern twist on the goats versus troll story.  Billy picks up a phone that the farmer has lost.  The friends have some laughs.  But when do a few texts and the threat of an internet posting cross the line from harmless fun to cyber bullying?

Our earliest stories were often written to illustrate a moral.  It’s interesting to see this continued to cover 21st century themes.



Page reviewed: 25 May 2017 4:22pm