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Books: The Best Books of 2015 According to a Panel of 10 Experts. Our First Expert – Rachael King

Christchurch writer Rachael King chooses three New Zealand novels, and two personal essays by two extremely cool American women.

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The Chimes, by Anna Smaill

I loved the premise of The Chimes from when I first heard of it. It demands to be read slowly while savouring the puzzle of the language, the rules of the dystopian society shaped by music, and the tentative relationships that form when new memories can’t. Just beautiful.

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The Predictions, by Bianca Zander

The Predictions is a galloping good read that explores important themes of community, family and hair metal with dark wit. Zander writes rock and roll swagger better than anyone, and her masterful portrayal of second wave feminism and communes remind us that gender politics have always been as fraught and slightly bewildering as they are today.

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The Pale North, by Hamish Clayton

A haunting, layered book that needs to be read to the end to appreciate and understand the whole. The first part is a novella that explores the narrator’s relationship with Wellington in the wake of an earthquake, and is followed by an essay about the discovery of the manuscript and the disappearance of the novella’s fictional author, Gabriel North. The book holds an eerie beauty, takes risks with its structure and its slightly archaic prose, and succeeds.

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Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine

Understated yet hard-hitting prose poems, essays and photographs that speak honestly about what it means to be a black woman in America and the casual and blatant racism that black people encounter every day. Unsettling, confronting and lyrical.

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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, by Carrie Brownstein

It’s been a big year for memoirs by women in rock (Kim Gordon, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde), but this is the one I read. I was hooked from the moment Brownstein buys her first guitar, aged 15, just as I did. She writes beautifully about nostalgia and how we love the music of our youth not because of the music itself but because of who we were when we experienced it – usually live, surrounded by our closest friends. It documents the exhilaration and the conflict of playing in a band in the Riot Grrl movement and I felt a teary sort of pride and resonance as I read it.

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