* Inspirational Gardens of New Zealand by Kristin Lammerting (Penguin, $82)
Even those whose backyards are knee-high in weeds can dream of perfect gardens and this classy hardback book feeds those fantasies. Lammerting and photographer Ferdinand von Luckner travelled New Zealand exploring some of the most exciting and beautiful gardens and discovering what inspired them. There are 34 gardens, from the beachside house with a roof of native grasses to Josie Martin's famous mosaic garden in Akaroa.
The stories of the people who created these elegant and creative landscapes and the beautifully presented photography make this a special book. And although most of us don't have the same sort of acreage to play with, there are still ideas to inspire anyone with a patch of earth to make beautiful.
* The Tui NZ Kids Garden (Penguin, $30).
Will delight younger gardeners.
Crammed with practical advice to help kids grow their own fruit and veges, plus cooking instructions and recipes, fun ideas to discourage birds, decorating a garden, and a planting guide.
If it doesn't get kids enthused about eating their veges then nothing will. Though it is intended for children, this book would be perfect for any beginner.
FOR WOULD-BE WRITERS
Tackling children's fiction often seems a less daunting prospect to those trying to get published. One of New Zealand's best-loved authors has written her guide to writing for kids.
* Writing From The Heart by Joy Cowley (Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust, $25).
A small, plain volume but it's packed with valuable advice on everything from how to present a manuscript for publishers to the nuts and bolts of plots, dialogue and characters.
Cowley's advice is friendly and encouraging. She understands not only writing but the way children read and what they look for in a book. It is wise and generous.
Anyone wanting to write a children's story, play or poem would benefit from Cowley's many years of experience.
* Dreaming of Chanel by Charlotte Smith (Harper Collins, $39.99).
Smith inherited a priceless collection of vintage clothing from her godmother, Doris Darnell. Spanning 250 years, this collection is a fashion history that includes the work of legendary couturiers.
Smith shared some of the stories behind these fashion pieces in her first book, Dreaming of Dior, and now she's followed up with this second, quirky little hardback, gorgeously illustrated by Grant Cowan.
Smith opens up a wardrobe of clothes made up of 3500 different items (and weighing 1200kg apparently), and showcases some of the most exquisite creations, telling the stories of the women who found them or wore them, and the designers who created them.
* Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life by Justine Picardie (HarperCollins, $49.99).
A portrait of an abandoned child who became the most influential figure in fashion, this biography takes you inside Coco Chanel's world.
Author Justine Picardie is clearly an obsessed fan as she tours Chanel's Paris apartment and traces her history. Nevertheless, this is an authoritative book which sheds new light on the designer's life and her relationships. Visually it's also a treat, with shots of tiny details like Chanel's signature buttons, and photos of the woman herself over the decades.
FOR HORSEY GIRLS
* Pony Club Rivals: Showjumpers by Stacy Gregg (HarperCollins, $16.99).
Auckland novelist Stacy Gregg scored a hit with the tweens with her Pony Club Secrets series.
Now she's appealing to girls who like boys as well as horses with her new series. The stories are set at the Blainford All Stars Academy where Georgie Parker and her headstrong horse, Belladonna, are excelling in the show ring. This is the stuff that teen fantasies are made of. Possibly the next best thing to giving a pony for Christmas.
FOR NAUGHTY BOYS
* Monstrosity by Janice Marriott (HarperCollins, $18.99).
From award-winning Wellington writer Janice Marriott, the story of a mischievous trickster called Brewster who wreaks havoc wherever he goes. It can be tough to get boys to sit down with a book, but this one is so much fun it should hook them in - although it may give them new ways to be mean to their sisters, to avoid eating things they hate and to annoy teachers.
FOR POETRY LOVERS
* 99 Ways Into New Zealand Poetry by Paula Green and Harry Ricketts (Vintage $49.99).
Poetry can be tricky, both confusing and elitist, frightening off many readers. This book aims to make it more accessible. It differs from the average collection in that, as well as the 85 poems, there is clear analysis of the different forms of verse plus sections where the poets talk about what inspired the work and tell us what it actually means. Most of the New Zealand verse chosen is approachable rather than pretentious.
Readers will find new favourites here and new ways to enjoy them.
* Rural Delivery: Poems And Images From New Zealand Farms (Random House, $39.99).
Something of a coffee-table book, combining shots of Kiwi country life with matching poetry. Photographer Stephen Robinson toured the country recording images of Kiwi life - the reality of cow dung as well as the pretty pastoral image of sheep on a misty morning - and matched them with verse sourced by internet provider Farmside from poets in the farming community. Old classics are dotted among the new discoveries, but on the whole this is a slightly nostalgic celebration of a rural way of life that still exists from the old woolsheds to the doughty old possum trappers.
FOR PROUD KIWIS
* The Jade of New Zealand: Pounamu by Russell Beck with Maika Mason (Penguin, $92).
Generous in size and extravagantly glossy, this beautiful volume celebrates jade and its cultural connection with NZ. The authors are pounamu specialists who explore its Maori myths and history, where it is found and how it is carved. But it's the photography by Andris Apse, often setting jade in the environment in which it is found, that really turns this book into a treasure.
There's as much romance as there is geology and the stories of the search for pounamu are especially vivid. Al Brown is known for his food books but there's not much in the way of cooking in his latest publication:
* Coasters with Al Brown (Random House, $49.99).
This is more is more of a travelogue. based on an upcoming TV series. Brown takes us on a journey around our coastlines where he gets to know the locals and tells their stories. Taking us from the Bay of Islands to Doubtful Sound, this is the perfect choice for anyone yearning to discover a little more about our country and it is likely to inspire journeys off the beaten track.
* A Home Companion by Wendyl Nissen (Allen & Unwin $29.99).
Anyone who has yearned for a more simple way of life will enjoy Nissen's account of how she tried to turn herself from a career woman into a born-again hippy. The straight-talking former magazine editor is upfront about the successes and failures on her road to the good life. The book alternates from chatty to bossy in tone and, although most people may not want to be as extreme as Nissen in their nana-style living, there are loads of useful recipes for home-made beauty treats, old-fashioned dishes, cleaning products and even bird-food cakes.
FOR NEW YEAR RESOLUTION-MAKERS
* Short Fat Chick In Paris by Kerre Woodham (HarperCollins $34.99).
Anyone who has ever sworn that next year will be the one in which they'll train for a marathon needs to read broadcaster and Herald on Sunday columnist Kerre Woodham's account of pounding the pavements in both hemispheres.
This follow-up to her best-selling Short Fat Chick To Marathon Runner tells of Woodham's less-than-glorious bid to run the London marathon, her battles with high-fat food and "the piss fairy", and how she redeemed herself in Paris.
Woodham's journey is supplemented with wisdom from trainer Gareth Brown and stories of other runners. She may seem an unlikely role model for would-be runners, but this will inspire couch potatoes to give it a go.By Nicky Pellegrino