Dunedin Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute

Recent Books

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker – Athenaeum Book Club 2019

By Jennifer Chiaverini

April 17, 2019

Athenaeum Book Club selection 2019

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini’s compelling historical novel unveils the private lives of Abraham and Mary Lincoln through the perspective of the First Lady’s most trusted confidante and friend her dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley.

In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave.  A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion.  A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trails of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.

The Life of De’Ath – Athenaeum Book Club 2019

By Majella Cullinane

April 17, 2019

Athenaeum Book Club selection 2019

In this accomplished debut novel, the mysterious narrator recounts Theodore De’Ath’s life before and during the Great War.  After a family tragedy, Theodore moves to Otago to live with his grandparents.  Influenced by his scholarly grandfather he becomes fascinated by the Underworld, reading the Inferno, Paradise Lost and Faust.  When war breaks out in Europe, unlike his peers, Theodore is not swept up with the fervor to enlist, but when conscription comes in 1916 he is obliged to join the New Zealand Division in France.

Theodore, a shy man, is more an observer of life than participant.  Although expert on Hell in literature, it is not until confronted with the reality of war that he understands its true meaning.  Soon he has to survive as a deserter, risking court martial and a death sentence.

The Life of De’Ath draws on historical events: New Zealand military involvement at the Western front, anti-German sentiment here during World War I, and the New Zealand soldiers who were shot for desertion between 1916 and 1918.  At its heart, though, is the story of a young man going against the tide of social and family pressure, and struggling to express his feelings for Elizabeth Paterson before it’s too late.

Identity Crisis – Athenaeum Book Club 2020

By Ben Elton

April 17, 2019

Athenaeum Book Club selection 2020

Why are we all so hostile?  So quick to take offence?  Truly we are living in the age of outrage.

A series of apparently random murders draws amiable, old-school detective Mick Matlock into a world of sex, politics and reality TV – and a bewildering kaleidoscope of opposing identity groups.  Lost in a blizzard of hashtags, his already complex investigation is further impeded by the fact that he simply doesn’t ‘get’ a single thing about anything any more.

Meanwhile, each day another public figure confesses to having ‘misspoken’ and prostrates themselves before the judgement of Twitter.  Begging for forgiveness, assuring the public ‘That is not who I am.’

But if nobody is who they are any more – then who the F##K are we?

Ben Elton returns with a blistering satire of the world as it fractures around us.  Get ready for a roller-coaster thriller, where nothing – and no one – is off limits.

The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty – Athenaeum Book Club 2019

By Marsha Mehran

April 17, 2019

Set in Buenos Aires during the Falklands War.  The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty is the story of a group of displaced Iranian refugees living in a multi-level Beaux Arts building in the city centre.

The inhabitants of the building form an eclectic community: a poetry-loving ex-prisoner and his daughter, a promising medical student; a visionary beautician; a newlywed couple with a dark past; a young revolutionary; an eccentric pilgrim of Mecca; and at the heart of the group Zadi Heirati, a single mother struggling to make ends meet at the beauty salon she operates from her apartment.

Drawn together by a revolution in their homeland, they find solace in weekly poetry meetings.  The words they share inspire each to turn inward and discover beauty long buried.

As a new war unfolds in their adopted country, this group of disenchanted individuals begins to form a family.  At once familiar and extraordinary, this moving story weaves disparate lives together into a tapestry of unique grace, wit and lyricism.


Pearly Gates – Athenaeum Book Club 2019

By Owen Marshall

February 12, 2019

Pat ‘Pearly’ Gates has achieved a lot in his life and evinces considerable satisfaction in his achievements.  He has a reputation as a former Otago rugby player and believes he would have been an All Black but for sporting injuries.  He runs a successful real-estate agency in a provincial South Island town, of which he is the second-term mayor.  Popular, happily married, well established, he cuts an impressive figure, especially in his own eyes.

But will his pride and complacency come before a fall?

The Year of the Farmer – Athenaeum Book Club 2019

By Rosalie Ham

October 8, 2018

In a quiet town somewhere in country New South Wales, war is brewing.

The last few years have been punishingly dry, especially for the farmers, but otherwise, it’s all Neralie McIntosh’s fault.  Is she’d never left town then her ex, the hapless but extremely eligible Mitchell Bishop, would never have fallen into the clutches of the truly awful Mandy, who now lords it over everyone as if she owns the place.

So, now that Neralie has returned to run the local pub, the whole town is determined to reinstate her to her rightful position in the social order.  But Mandy Bishop has other ideas.  Meanwhile the head of the local water board – Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle – is looking for a way to line her pockets at the expense of hardworking farmers already up to their eyes in debt.  And Mandy and Neralie’s war may provide just the chance she was looking for…

The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax – Athenaeum Book Club 2021

By Andrew Cartmel

August 15, 2018

He is a record collector – a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs.  Some end up on his turntable, some are sold at a handsome profit, and all sound a hell of a lot better than any digital recording.

His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and certain people take this more literally than others.  Like the mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording – on behalf of a wealthy, shadowy and somewhat sinister client.

Given that he’s just about to run out of cat food, this gets our hero’s full attention.  So begins a dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all…

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