The Akaroa Cooking School
By Lou and Ant Bentley (HarperCollins)
Kiwi couple Lou and Ant Bentley did what so many people dream of. They escaped their corporate jobs, moved to the place they liked to holiday and set up a business. Their cooking school in Akaroa is now 5 years old and they've collected some of their favourite recipes in this practical and pretty book. Pictures of the school and Akaroa landscapes are dotted among pages of recipes that have a strong emphasis on New Zealand produce, particularly seafood. The pair kick off with lots of bruschetta ideas, move on to light meals and mains, and finish with sweet things and sauces. It's a conventional set-up and there's nothing all that extraordinary about the dishes featured either but this is the kind of fresh, tasty fare that you'll find yourself wanting to reproduce to lift your everyday cooking to another level. Akaroa is famous for its salmon so there are lots of tempting ways to prepare it - mahogany glazed fillet with soba noodles is calling to me. I'll also be trying the eggplant stuffed with spiced lamb and the pan-fried groper fillets with their sauce of capers, garlic and chorizo.
Lillian On Life
By Alison Jean Lester (John Murray)
It reads like a memoir or one of those collections of magazine columns filled with nuggets of wisdom and although it seems very real, Lillian On Life is fiction, a novel about a woman in her 50s looking back on her life and lovers. Lillian has had a lot of lovers and as the narrative meanders between them, she shares her hopes, disappointments, heartbreaks and what she has learned about life. It's a story told in brief vignettes with disorienting chronology. I never fully got to grips with the events of Lillian's life as she moves between countries and jobs but I did feel treated to an intimate understanding of her as a human being. In this debut novel, Lester takes us inside the head of a free-spirited, unapologetically promiscuous mid-century woman. It's a poignant and elegant piece of writing and Lillian is so finely created - so acerbic, fallible, lonely and brave - that even as I reached the final pages I couldn't shake the feeling I was reading about someone who truly existed.
Shoes: An Illustrated History
By Rebecca Shawcross (Bloomsbury)
I've never entirely understood the passion many women have for footwear but this sleek coffee-table book is more than shoe porn. It goes far deeper as it examines our long and complex relationship with what we put on our feet. Beginning with prehistoric sandals made with fibrous plant material and the pampootie, one of the earliest kinds of leather shoe, it takes us through the centuries showing how craftsmen and designers responded to our different needs and desires. In the Middle Ages, impractical shoes with long toes were status symbols and platform heels made an appearance. In the 17th century, war brought military influences. Gradually, shoes became more decorative and flamboyant as fashions and humans changed. Splashy illustrations are paired with relatively brief but interesting chunks of information. And there's a real nostalgia factor in the later pages as we reach the shoes we wore in the late-20th century - the trainers, Dr Martens and power-dressing heels.
The American Lover
By Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)
A diverse and dazzling collection of short stories from the author of Music And Silence (among other brilliant novels). My two favourites are The Housekeeper and 21st-Century Juliet. In the first, Danni, the polish housekeeper at Manderville House, meets author Daphne du Maurier when she visits Lord de Withers in the summer of 1936. "Everybody believes I am an invented person: Mrs Danvers - Miss du Maurier's finest creation. But I have my own story." And what a delicious, cruel, passionate and funny story it is. 21st-Century Juliet is a hilarious re-imagining of the Romeo and Juliet story. Juliet is about to turn 30, works for a boss nicknamed Nursey, has a cousin called Tibs, snobby parents who live at Cappell House, and is expected to marry the filthy rich Hon Peregrine Paris. Recorded in a series of witty diary entries is her love affair with an illegal Moldavian builder called Romeo. The result, of course, is tragic disaster.
Review by Carole Beu of Auckland's
The Women's Bookshop.
By James Ellroy (Random House)
Iconic crime writer James Ellroy returns to Los Angeles for his latest, doorstop-sized outing. But it's a different city from the one found in his first quartet which featured the classics Black Dahlia and LA Confidential. This is Los Angeles on the eve of America's entry into World War II, covering 23 days of December 1941. The first chapter starts with the murder of a Japanese family, the second covers the bombing of Pearl Harbor and so begins an epic examination of the corruption of crime on a domestic and global scale. It has to be said it's all a tad exhausting. A lot is going on here and although Ellroy's trademark short, sharp sentences certainly add tone, you do at times feel like you're being shouted at, which makes it harder for the reader to fully immerse themselves in this murky world. I'm not sure this is a novel to be enjoyed so much as admired for its scope and achievement in casting a microscope over America at a crucial point in its history.
Review by Auckland freelance journalist Kerri Jackson
An Unreal House Filled With Real Storms
By Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press)
The print edition of the inaugural Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture from last year - which was written and delivered by New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox - is a thin but powerful tome. It must have been amazing to be at the lecture as Knox covers her many inspirations, childhood stories, what pushes her to write, dealing with unexpected loss and grief, and the fragility of age. The writing is deeply thoughtful and heartfelt, and gives some insight into one of our best authors, making it a must-read for passionate readers and writers. It is short but will stay with you for a long time.
Review by Ngaire Atmore Pattison who blogs about books at bookiemonster.co.nz
Nicky's best read
Make a date with yourself to read a poem every week with the help of the Tuesday Poem blog. It's curated by Wellington author Mary McCallum and Dunedin artist/writer Claire Beynon who post their own work and verse they admire by poets from New Zealand and beyond. You'll also find interviews with some of the poets featured.