Search for happiness is rich ground for witty one-liners.

The Seed Collectors
By Scarlett Thomas (Canongate)

The moment I finished this novel I wanted to re-read it to be sure I had fully appreciated its subtleties. Magnificently eccentric and streaked through with one-liners so brilliantly witty they made me laugh out loud, it's about the lengths people will go to when seeking happiness. Others might have a different interpretation, though, as part of Thomas' skill is managing always to keep the reader slightly off balance. It is the saga of the Gardener family, a botanically named and minded lot, living in southeast England. A large chunk of the older generation is missing, presumed dead, having gone off adventuring to far-flung places in search of a fabled plant. Now Great Aunt Oleander is also dead and she has left them all a mysterious and rather sinister seed pod. This family is hiding secrets: from beautiful Fleur who can never be with the man she really loves to unhappy Bryony who survives on the temporary highs of shopping and alcohol. Whether writing about the difficulties of reaching enlightenment or the unexpected complexities of buying a piece of fish, Thomas is equally genius and offbeat.

The Seed Collectors

is a joy to read.


Everyday Super Food
By Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph)

This is Jamie Oliver's midlife crisis book. Approaching 40, he cleaned up his act, lost weight and now wants to equip us all to do the same. He's certainly put in the groundwork, studying for a degree in nutrition and meeting some of the world's longest-living people to discover their healthy eating secrets. Divided into chapters covering breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, like all of Oliver's books, this one is beautifully presented and full of approachable recipes. I'm a big fan of his dishes but nothing from this one really screamed must-cook at me. Novelties include fruit soups for breakfast, snack bowls of lettuce-based salads and stuffed cucumber sticks to nibble on between meals and flavoured waters to drink instead of alcohol. And as we head into asparagus season there are some nice ideas for those lovely green spears, including a pea, mint and asparagus mash to serve with fish. But rather than the worthy Oliver, I think I preferred this TV chef when he was all wey-hey let's get the mates over and cook up a storm.

Vintage Paua Shell Jewellery
By Elly van de Wijdeven (Bateman)

This book sprang from Auckland academic Elly van de Wijdeven's PhD work, so it is as deeply researched as it is beautifully illustrated. Over the years, paua shell jewellery has morphed from art souvenir to tourist kitsch and now it's collectible. This handsome volume showcases extraordinary designs that go far beyond the tiki and kiwi you might expect. Lovers of jewellery will find plenty to pore over and the background stories are well worth delving into, even if the writing is a little dry at times. I liked the balance between visuals and information, but for those who want to know more about the cultural history of paua shell jewellery an e-book compendium is available - New Zealand Paua Shell Jewellery.

The Taming Of The Queen
By Philippa Gregory (Simon & Schuster)

Twice widowed, beautiful and still young at 30, Kateryn Parr has no choice when the much older King Henry VIII asks her to be his sixth wife. She is under no illusion of the precariousness of such a position - four of his queens have already died, two lasted less than 18 months. As she weds and beds the King, who has become grossly overweight, she has to steel herself not to gag. If it weren't for her sister Nan, an experienced courtier who served two of the previous queens, Kateryn would be swamped by the connivances and contrivances of the court and its King. The intrigue is heightened by her hidden love for Thomas Seymour - a love the King may never know about or they would be executed. Expert Tudor historian Philippa Gregory weaves a compelling and credible tale around the real people and events of Henry VIII's reign, spicing up the less exciting details of Parr's pious life. Gregory has turned the scandals of the Tudor court into a terrific read that provides a valuable history lesson.

Review by author Felicity Price whose latest novel is A Jolt To The Heart (Blackjack Press).
The Art of Killing Well
By Marco Malvaldi (MacLehose Press)

A locked room mystery in a country manor? What sounds like the start of a classic Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh mystery is the set-up for a delightful tale from a modern-day Italian crime writer (although it's set in 1890s Tuscany). Elderly merchant and gastronome Pellegrino Artusi is visiting a Baron's castle in Tuscany, researching for his new cookbook. Then the Baron's butler is found dead in the locked wine cellar, poisoned by port, and someone tries to shoot the Baron on a boar hunt. A smooth read with an eclectic cast of characters, red herrings and clues. The 19th century Tuscan setting sprinkles extra flavour on to a classic recipe: Italy has just been unified, and regional and class prejudices are on show as fiefdoms mix with an increasingly industrialised world. This is a delicious tale, tasty without leaving the reader overstuffed.

Review by Craig Sisterson who blogs about crime fiction at
Friday Barnes Big Trouble
By R.A. Spratt (Penguin Random House)

Friday Barnes is the 11-year-old girl who loves to out-sleuth everyone in the book series of the same name. Friday Barnes Big Trouble is the third in the series by Nanny Piggins author Rachel Spratt and this time focuses on Friday's mum being kidnapped, as well as Princess Ingrid of Norway enrolling in her school. Friday will need to unmask an elusive thief at school, rein in a royal brat and find her mother, all while wearing her trusty brown cardigan. If you want your 6-9-year-old daughter to have a smart role model, who's into science rather than shoes, this is the book to get her.

Review by journalist and author Danielle Wright.
Nicky's best read

Ever fancied starting your own book blog? YA blogger Megan Quibell - aka TheBookAddictedGirl - shares her advice in How To Start A Book Blog at the She covers everything from set up, to finding a unique angle and scoring advanced reading copies from publishers.