The Life & Loves of A He Devil
By Graham Norton (Hodder & Stoughton)
Turning 50 sparked the idea for Graham Norton's second memoir. The eternally popular chat-show host has woven anecdotes about his life around his seven greatest passions - dogs, Ireland, New York, divas, booze, men and work. He's a born raconteur who can make even the story behind a house purchase entertaining, so it's a fun read, but he's also pretty upfront about his foibles and failings. The section on booze is as vomit-soaked as you might expect and the chapter that covers his coming to terms with his sexuality is wryly amusing and candid (he stops just on the right side of too much information). Norton is more guarded when it comes to behind-the-scenes stories about his chat show, and anyone expecting him to dish dirt on the stars who share his sofa will be disappointed. Still, this memoir is easily as much of an audience-pleaser as his shows and Norton's voice comes through loud and clear.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
By Jeremy Clarkson (Penguin)
Love him or loathe him, there's no denying Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson can write. He's also opinionated, politically incorrect and largely incapable of sticking to the point, all of which makes his latest book a moreish read even if you don't much care about cars. His collections of columns, originally published in the UK's Sunday Times newspaper, have been reliably appearing this time of year for as long back as most of us can remember. Posing as car reviews, the latest batch covers his usual bugbears - public transport, speed limits and caravanning - but this time he's also exploring stuff as varied as the case for invading France and the inconvenience of a gin and tonic. Each column is three to four pages long so it's an ideal book for dipping in and out of whenever short periods of distraction are required. My husband's copy invariably ends up in the bathroom.
How To Drive
By Ben Collins (Macmillan)
Put most New Zealanders behind the wheel of a car and something odd happens to them. There appears to be only one rule of the road - "out of my way I'm coming through". So this how-to guide from racing driver Ben Collins might be a good buy for those who have been on the roads for years as well as learner drivers. As Collins points out, many of us receive a licence with fewer than 18 hours' experience. Meanwhile, a Starbucks barista gets 24 hours of training before being let loose on an espresso machine. Collins promises to show us the road through a racing driver's eyes, taking readers through the basics, from driver position to balancing a car, braking smoothly and taking corners. There are sections on avoiding accidents, avoiding and controlling skids and escaping disaster. And then to polish it all off Collins breaks with being responsible and shares his wisdom on stunt driving, including doughnuts and burnouts. It's a big book but it's written in chatty style and livened up with lots of diagrams and a sprinkling of shots of Collins racing supercars.
Bungalow: From Heritage To Contemporary
By Nicole Stock & Patrick Reynolds (Random House)
We're a nation of bungalow-dwellers on the whole, and this smart coffee-table book celebrates them in all their different styles, from humble and classic to more modern interpretations. There is history and nostalgia within its pages, with old black-and-white photos of our suburbs in the 1920s and shots of rumpty and brightly painted bungalows. But there is also a focus on grander homes, complete with original interiors' pictures, and lots of lavish photos of the way they look today. Anyone renovating or building will find inspiration in what is essentially a home and garden magazine on steroids. The stories of these dwellings and the people who own them are told in accessible style. Some bungalows, like that of artist Jacqueline Fahey, are quirky and cluttered with a lifetime's possessions; others are so tiny they are very nearly baches; a few are very posh indeed. It's a beautiful book that says a lot about who we are, where we've come from and how we live.
Hello Girls & Boys: A New Zealand Toy Story
By David Veart (Auckland University Press)
Historian David Veart tells our story through the toys we've loved in this fascinating and informative hardback. It's a treasure trove of nostalgia but it's also a deeply researched and insightful examination of an aspect of history that often gets overlooked - play. Starting with early Maori toys like kites and spinning tops, Veart works his way through to toys imported by European settlers, dolls of the late 19th century, intricate rocking horses and wooden sail boats, looking at the way the games that kids played developed and changed. As it moves into the 20th century it's a book to stoke the memories with Meccano, Hornby trains, dolls' houses, toy cars and paper dolls. Veart covers crazes like the hula hoop and the toys that came free in our cereal boxes, all the riches of the golden age of play before the digital revolution glued kids to their screens. An ideal book for collectors or anyone looking for a new perspective on our past.
Curry Easy Vegetarian
By Madhur Jaffrey (Ebury Press)
Choosing to eat less meat is on trend at present so veteran food writer Madhur Jaffrey's latest book is well timed. She says Indian vegetarian foods are the most flavourful and varied in the world, and sets out to prove it with an array of recipes for dishes Indians eat at home, in local cafes and ashrams, at wedding banquets and religious festivals. This isn't a style of food that you're likely to find on your local curry-house menu although much of it is easy to make once you've tracked down the ingredients. Jaffrey introduces us to poriyals - Indian stir fried vegetables - as well as an Indian-style risotto called upma and a flattened rice dish, poha, that is eaten for breakfast or as a snack food. Her book takes readers far beyond the sorts of curries Westerners are used to eating. The dishes are more authentic and much more interesting. Jaffrey places them in context, telling their stories and the tales of those who cook and eat them. Plus she simplifies some of the more complex traditional recipes. On my must-make list is Kodava mushroom curry with coconut, the roasted cauliflower with Punjabi seasonings and the aubergine in peanut and sesame sauce.
Jo Seagar Bakes
By Jo Seagar (Random House)
Kiwi cook Jo Seagar celebrates the great New Zealand tradition of family baking in her sugar-laden latest volume. It's an ideal book for those coming new to the art of making cakes, slices and biscuits as Seagar shares generous portions of baking wisdom along with her recipes. New Zealand classics are well represented, from Afghans to Anzac biscuits, lamingtons and ginger crunch. There are new ideas, like the outrageous Bounty Bar chocolate slice and the date-filled lumberjack cake with caramelised coconut topping. And although Seagar strays into tricky territory with her fashionable macarons, many of the classics are simple enough to have fun making with the kids. The photography is sweetly nostalgic and the recipes clearly presented. Not a book for dieters, this is a shamelessly indulgent collection for those who have a sweet of tooth.
Donuts: 50 Sticky Hot Donut Recipes to Make At Home
By Tracey Meharg (Murdoch Books)
There's a vast difference between a freshly made doughnut and a packaged one that's been on shop shelves too long. In this cute book, Tracey Meharg shares her secrets to airy, fluffy, heavenly, home-made doughnuts. Often no deep-fryer is required (you can bake doughnuts, too), and recipes range from the simplest yeast doughnuts to croissant/doughnut eclairs and show-stopping doughnut cakes. The 50 recipes include international variations, such as a spiced one from India, a French version known as "nuns' farts" and fruit-filled Dutch delicacies. Meharg is an Australian food writer and she's clearly inventive. For the health conscious she has come up with a supergreens doughnut topped with honeyed kale chips.
How to Be Parisian: Wherever You Are
By Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret & Anne Berest (Ebury Press)
Parisian women may be famed for their effortless style but when they're preaching to us about how they don't get fat or need facelifts they can be a bit wearing. Fortunately, the four young French women who have collaborated on this book aren't playing that game. Instead it's a diverting mash up of aphorisms, style and dating advice, film recommendations, recipes, home decor tips and more, a scrapbook of anything and everything with Parisian attitude, much of it tongue-in-cheek but with a measure of wisdom to it anyway. Whether it's how to cheat on your lover, how to kiss with cinematic flair or the art of being a mother , there is a Parisian take on it. Sample tip: "As your face gets messier with age, your hair can get neater, for balance."
1411 QI Facts to Knock You Sideways
By John Lloyd, John Mitchinson & James Harkin (Faber)
Did you know that Whoopi Goldberg used to be a bricklayer? That jaguars are attracted by the Calvin Klein scent Obsession? Or that the ancient Romans used powdered mouse brains for toothpaste? Do you care about any of these things? If the answer is yes and you - or someone you know - love to mop up trivia like a sponge then this book of facts will fascinate. And if you don't believe the facts included, or want to explore the background detail, you can go to the QI website, type in the page number and get the whole story. Ideal for pub quiz organisers and total info geeks, this is a book to boggle the mind ... because the longest bout of hiccups lasted for 67 years ... ladybird orgasms last for 30 minutes ... and in Iceland it's illegal for parents to threaten their children with fictional characters ...
The Art of Film Magic: 20 Years of Weta
This hefty two-volume set is the ultimate for local film fans. It records 20 years of creativity at Wellington's Weta Workshop, from its beginnings in an abandoned railway shed where Richard Taylor and his partner Tania Rodger made the props for Sir Peter Jackson's Braindead right up to the present day with Weta Digital's epic work on the Hobbit movies. In between is an in-depth look at special effects, combined with a memoir of the ups and downs of working on a host of hit movies. From sourcing entrails for Braindead, to building animatronics for The Frighteners, and designing creatures for the Lord Of The Rings, the curtain is well and truly lifted and we are taken behind the scenes and treated to pages of photography. Inevitably the volume devoted to the work of Weta Digital is more technical and oriented towards those in the industry, but there is so much visual material and so many personal recollections and insights included in both books that they'll satisfy any serious film buff.
Christmas At Home
By Sandra Kaminski & Geoff Hedley (Batemen)
Although it's Christmas-themed, this lovely book from stylist and floral artist Sandra Kaminski will also provide inspiration for celebrations throughout the year. Table settings feature prominently and decorating with flowers is a major feature. There are ideas for using tree trimmings and pine cones to create a woodland theme, clever concepts for place-markers and chair-back gift stockings, inventive ways to incorporate vintage items, display candles or use a colour palette. There's even a chapter on a recycled Christmas that gives a second life to everything from worn-out denim jeans to old muffin trays. This is very much a visual feast rather than a how-to book. It's all about simple, fun ways of adding glamour to at-home celebrations.
The Rosie Effect
By Graham Simsion (Text)
This must be the comedy novel of the year. Professor Don Tillman is an oddball with Asperger's-like problems and he struggles to fit in with "normal" society. In this follow-up to the best-selling The Rosie Project he is wrestling with marriage and impending fatherhood and coming close to losing it all. A charming story with insightful as well as funny moments.
The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters (Virago)
My personal best read this year. This novel is set in 1920s London where Frances Wray and her mother are living in genteel poverty in the suburbs, having lost all the men in their family because of the war. They take in paying guests to help make ends meet. But lively working-class couple Lilian and Len Barber disrupt the household and their presence leads to a clandestine romance. A slow build of a story that explodes into pure melodrama.
The Hundred Foot Journey
by Richard C Morais (Allen & Unwin)
The novel that was turned into a hit movie, this is a total reader-pleaser about a young Indian boy who flees Mumbai with his family to France where the snobbish proprietor of a Michelin-starred restaurant recognises his talent and trains him to be a chef. An amusing, effortless read.
How To Build A Girl
by Caitlin Moran (Ebury)
A hugely amusing tale about the trials of the teenage years that is a thinly disguised autobiography from British writer Caitlin Moran. Her hero, Johanna Morrigan, is a prodigiously clever oddball who longs to move to London and reinvent herself. And so she becomes the top-hat-wearing Dolly Wild, embarks on a career in music journalism, falls in love and has a lot of sex, some of it alarming. Laugh-out-loud stuff, opinionated and sparky.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
By Karen Joy Fowler
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this is a novel with a twist you'll never see coming. Rosemary Cooke is in her fifth year of university and still no closer to graduating. She finds herself drawn to an impulsive, chaotic girl called Harlow even though she is clearly bad friend material. The reason for the attraction is tied up with Rosemary's childhood and her life with a fractured family that avoids talking about the past. Deeply tragic and super smart, this is a book about our memories and the tricks they play on us.