With Christmas almost here, Canvas book reviewers take the hassle out of gift-shopping with ideas for all ages and tastes.
NEW ZEALAND BOOK OF THE YEAR
New Zealand's Native Trees by John Dawson and Rob Lucas
Craig Potton $120
Dr John Dawson, former associate professor of botany at Victoria University, and photographer Rob Lucas worked together for nearly seven years to produce this magnificent, comprehensive survey of our trees. The result is a lifetime treasure for any household, perhaps for generations beyond.
As Dawson and Lucas say in the preface, "What we've got is beyond quantifying; it's bigger than all of its parts and bigger than us, too ... we now realise that what we have is not replicated elsewhere in the world - it is truly unique."
New Zealand's Native Trees carries all the trademarks of a Craig Potton publication: meticulous attention to production details, clear and attractive layout, first-class paper stock. Absolute class in every aspect. The sequence is straightforward: conifers (10), tree ferns (2), and flowering trees (73), with attached boxes throughout, explaining and illustrating associated issues such as cabbage tree decline, "thieving from a thief" (a fungal pathogen), epiphytes on tree ferns, and so on.
The authors must have walked hundreds of kilometres as part of their research, visiting the same trees at various stages of the year to capture seasonal changes.
Lucas' images are astonishing in their range, capturing sweeping coastal and inland vistas, then honing in on the most minute details of a tree's form and development, its juvenile and adult leaves, its buds, flowers, seeds. He has frozen the moment when a tui takes nectar from a kakabeak (Clianthus maximus), thereby pollinating the flower; a monarch butterfly glutting on lacebark flowers; a perfectly camouflaged cabbage tree moth resting on a dead cabbage tree leaf.
And Dawson's text is engaging, crisp and descriptive, supplemented by essays by a handful of authorities and ecologists.
At just over 550 pages, it's a book for dipping and dreaming. Craig Potton managing director and publisher Jane Connor, who nurtured the enterprise, states in her preface:
"Immersed over several years in what sometimes seemed like interminable detail, I often asked myself: 'Why do we need to know all this?'; 'Why does it matter?'
"It matters because the astonishing biodiversity that all this detail expresses is unique and priceless."
This book is a document which helps us understand what we've got, and that may help us protect what is under threat.
- Linda Herrick
The Hungry Heart: Journeys With William Colenso by Peter Wells
Random House $49.99
Colenso, who was born in Cornwall in 1811 and emigrated to the Bay of Islands in 1834, is vividly depicted in Wells' study of a key figure in New Zealand's earliest colonial days. A Church Mission Society printer, Colenso printed the Treaty of Waitangi in Maori, forwhich he was present at the signing on February 6, 1840, daring to question whether the chiefs understood what they were doing. For that (and other things), he was not popular. Not only did he fail to fit in with the northern CMS, when he moved to Napier his career and marriage were darkened by an extramarital affair and child with a Maori woman. Remarkably, he endured and became an MP for Napier, and he was admitted to the clergy towards the end of his life. Wells' narrative - contemporary and personal - is compelling, matched by a superb range of illustrations.
The Broken Book by Fiona Farrell
Auckland University Press $34.99
In September 4 last year, Fiona Farrell and her husband, who had just that day finished refurbishing their apartment in central Christchurch, were awoken by the first major earthquake and the sound of things crashing around them. Farrell, who had started writing a "travel" book, rescued the remnants from the rubble, and she has transfigured it into a collection of stories linked to the arc of her life - walking and thinking, family past and present, a thread of poems and a final piece on earthquakes, A Walk on Shaky Ground.
A Point Of View by Clive James
Clive James regularly contributed his views on anything he fancied (or not) to the BBC Radio 4 series, A Point of View, and as they closely mirror what was going on in his life at the time, this collection of essays from the show counts as an idiosyncratic biography. James, who is battling leukemia, notes in the postscript that for years, he'd made "capital out of the mileage I had on the clock, with many a philosophical remark meant to convey my equanimity at the thought of approaching death". When he fell gravely ill and "almost bought the farm", he found himself a lot less philosophical. This collection - thoughtful and provocative - does him proud.
Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney
Fig Tree/Penguin $48
Chaney, who wrote the definitive biography of Elizabeth David, delivers an equally meticulous portrait of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. The great designer's style - "pared down, seductive and elegant" - was only one aspect of her life, in which Chanel transformed herself many times over. While previous biographies acknowledged gaps and concealment, Chaney made a "raft of discoveries" - drug use, bisexuality, an affair with a German spy during World War II. It all adds up to a gripping read about a complex woman who was vexed by her love life and some very poor decisions yet she always defined "a new kind of glamour".
That Woman by Anne Sebba
Weidenfeld & Nicolson $39.99
New archival material became available after the death of the Queen Mother, giving British historian Anne Sebba access to letters and diaries which help cast a slightly more sympathetic light on "That Woman", as the Queen Mother referred to Wallis Simpson. The result is a compulsively readable account of an unstable, immature Prince of Wales who would have been a huge liability to Britain during World War II had he not done the nation a service by abdicating so he could marry the divorcee. It's a portrait of a lopsided love, a fractious marriage given oxygen through parties, trinkets, couture and celebrity.
- Linda Herrick
Tupaia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator by Joan Druett
Random House $55
Maritime historian Joan Druett delivers a long-overdue homage to the Tahitian navigator who sailed with Captain Cook to New Zealand and beyond and defused dangerous confrontations created by the "mindless and barbaric actions" of Cook, Banks and the Endeavour crew. As a teen, the handsome Tupaia had been selected for the arioi cult, an exclusive guild of artists, and his skills were deep and diverse: master navigator, high priest, translator. But when Tupaia joined Cook on the Endeavour in 1769, the English captain was dismissive of his expertise. Tupaia died on board in November 1770, probably of typhoid fever due to weakening by scurvy; Cook's epitaph wrote him off as "proud and obstinate ... disagreeable".
Bligh: William Bligh In The South Seas by Anne Salmond
Cook dies in Hawaii on page 38 in this magnificent biography of the much-maligned Bligh, who first came to the Pacific on Cook's third voyage in 1777. As Salmond points out, Bligh, unlike his colleague, was the most perceptive observer of local culture of any of the early European visitors. And he didn't lash his men as often as Cook. So why did his captaincy of the Bounty lead to that famous mutiny? Salmond's conclusions are compelling and balanced; and the book is an enlightening account of the exploration of the Pacific, Polynesian culture during that critical first contact period, and the workings of the navy which underpinned the whole enterprise.
The Gentry: Stories Of The English by Adam Nicolson
Harper Press $54.99
Nicolson, grandson of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, lives in Sissinghurst, the garden and estate they made famous. He wrote a brilliant, lyrical book a few years ago about its history and restoration. Now he turns his eye to the "middle zone" of English society, family histories from the 15th century to today. The stories reveal valour, humiliation, ambition and eccentricity, related with sensitivity and humour by a master writer examining what he calls "the heart of Englishness".
The Lost Photographs Of Captain Scott by David M. Wilson
Little, Brown $65
Polar historian David Wilson's great-uncle, Dr Edward Wilson, died with Scott and his party on their return from the South Pole in 1912, giving this collection of photos taken by Scott on that folly added poignancy, deepened by the images of the ever-diminishing number of ponies and dogs that got dragged along. As Wilson explains, the prints (the original negatives have vanished) lay neglected in the basement of a photographic agency for decades before being sold in 2001 in a New York auction. Then they re-emerged in London: 109 silver-gelatin contact prints, stored in a plastic folder. The photos go back to Scott's earlier efforts to explore the Antarctic, and Wilson's animated narrative captures the spirit - or "Pole Mania" - which drove the adventure.
Leningrad: Tragedy Of A City Under Siege, 1941-44 by Anna Reid
Former Ukraine correspondent for the Economist, Anna Reid has created a grim record from diary accounts and material kept by survivors of Germany's two-and-a-half year siege of Leningrad, during which more than 750,000 civilians (Hitler called them "useless mouths") were deliberately starved to death. The degradation was appalling. Reid uncovered KGB files which revealed cannibalism, neighbours killed for their ration cards, the eating of pets, glue and face cream, children fighting over the most minute crumbs. Some weight of the horror is balanced by tales of kindness, faith and heroism.
- Linda Herrick
Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli
Fourth Estate $69.99
Locatelli, considered one of the top Italian chefs in Britain, grew up in the north of Italy at a time when people sneered at "lazy" Sicilians. By the time he finally visited he was "completely blown away" by the intense flavours of the island's produce, and the culinary influences from centuries of invasion. Now a frequent visitor, he brings enormous enthusiasm to this thorough survey of Sicilian cuisine. He even touches on the malign relationship between the Mafia and food production. A most worthy successor to his Made in Italy, which received the 2007 Glenfiddich Food and Drink Best Food Book award. Note that although it is well illustrated, there isn't a pretty picture with each recipe; this is about content over style.
Simple Dinners by Donna Hay
Fourth Estate $49.99
Hay has a flair for devising dishes with a little extra twist that are so easy to follow. Her premise is that if you have a well-stocked pantry and some fresh staples on hand, you will be able to produce a quick, delicious meal. Well, that makes sense. This would be a useful gift for someone short on time who needs a single recipe book to kick-start a basic repertoire.
The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon
Hardie Grant Books $59.99
One of the most highly regarded Asian food writers in the world, Solomon has revised and updated her 1976 classic, offering 800 recipes from 15 countries. She travelled extensively to test the recipes' authenticity and, while aiming to preserve the flavour of each dish, she has reduced some of the more labour-intensive methods. Dividing the chapters into regions, Solomon opens with the food of India and Pakistan. She also covers the food of Sri Lanka - the land of her birth, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Korea and Japan. One of the most useful books you could own.
River Cottage Veg Every Day! by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Locatelli has made just two TV series, while HFW has been on high-rotate on the Food Channel since the late 90s. But he's always entertaining, and his books are just like him: practical, wholesome, tasty. A self-confessed "notorious carnivore", Hugh's been on a health-kick this year to get his cholesterol down, so he's been eating veg every which way, and we get to benefit from his expertise with this imaginative collection. As Hugh says, it's about getting on "with the life-enhancing business of enjoying the extraordinary range of fresh seasonal vegetables". Judging by the cover photo, it's done him a world of good.
The Molten Cookbook by Michael Van de Elzen
Random House $65
If you relish a challenge in the kitchen, and you like to make time to indulge, try this handsome effort by Van de Elzen, who runs Molten in Mt Eden, with evocative images by Herald photographer Babiche Martens. Perfect for this time of year as his first chapter offers four cocktail recipes - a Frosty Boy, anyone? - and some excellent nibbles ideas. The starters look divine, like the black fig tarte tatin with Parma ham or the smoked kahawai pie. The mains include an unusual twice-baked kumara souffle (accompanied by the bold words "you cannot fail!") and in the desserts, a chocolate torte with whisky ice cream and tobacco syrup, created for Anthony Bourdain "to satisfy both his need for nicotine and our non-smoking policy". It starts with 8g of rolling tobacco infused in boiling water ...
- Linda Herrick
Summer Houses by Simon Devitt and Andrea Stevens
A selection of New Zealand houses which "address summer living" and "engage with the outdoors" in urban, rural and beach settings. They are not all new; a renovated 1920s Arts and Crafts Cottage on Auckland's North Shore is a welcome surprise, and the predominance of timber in many of the designs works spectacularly without being too "crafty". The pleasing thing is that, unlike some recent New Zealand architecture picture books, these structures actually look like real homes.
Kevin McCloud's Principles of Home: Making a Place to Live
An updated edition of McCloud's much larger book, which was released last year, and better for it because it's more concise and easier to follow. McCloud is frustrated "by how little craftsmanship and the sweat of labour are appreciated nowadays". His point is, reduce that trashy cheap mass-production stuff, opt for lasting quality - and inhale some ethics. "If everyone on the globe consumed as much and as fast as we do in the West, we'd need three planets to support us," writes the Grand Designs presenter.
New Zealand By Design by Michael Smythe
Speaking of "stuff", New Zealanders have invented a lot of it over the years, as this 500-page survey proves. Starting with exquisite Maori artefacts (toki adze, pounamu mere, feathered cloaks, gourd vessels), Smythe leads us to the crafts of the early colonists, like the intricate furniture designs of Anton Seuffert. The ingenuity and diversity gather pace through the 20th century until we come, in the final pages, to a simple ecological casket and shroud. Somewhere in between is the tomato sauce squeeze bottle.
D.E.S.I.G.N. by Ewa Slorz
Gecko Press $39.99
To really get back to basics, this charming Gecko Press picture book introduces readers aged "8 to infinity" to 69 objects - "only things that can be found at home" - and uses symbols to indicate the designer's home country, date of making, material, and its use, such as "for sitting on", "for sleeping on", "for playing with". It manages to be amusing and educational in one pop. But New Zealand is not represented at all.
- Linda Herrick
FLORA & FAUNA
Native By Design: Landscape Design with New Zealand Plants ed. by Ian Spellerberg & Michele Frey photography by John Maillard
Canterbury University Press $45
Twenty contributors describe their approach to garden design, the principals applied in specific projects, and why certain species were selected. Some were urgent enterprises, others given time to develop. Some were designed to attract native birds, others as exercises in sustainability. The examples shown are extremely varied. The gardens surrounding Queenstown Airport, for example, provide an "appropriate gateway" to the spectacular setting, while an informal garden in an Auckland suburb features threatened plants. It's an aesthetic far away from the English cottage gardens that dominate many New Zealand gardens. Not a box hedge to be seen.
Trees of New Zealand: Stories Of Beauty And Character by Peter Janssen & Mike Holman
Hodder Moa $69.99
In a completely different approach to New Zealand's Native Trees, with the writers focusing on specific trees, and the stories behind them. It's a fascinating exercise, starting with Te Aroha, the lone pohutakawa on the tip of Cape Reinga, the final departure point for the spirits of the dead. "Once at the cape the spirits use the gnarled roots of Te Aroha as steps to make their way down to the sea and the door to the underworld." And did you know that in Auckland's Albert Park, there is a "tree that refused to die"? An interesting, witty browser.
The Big Book Of New Zealand Wildlife by Dave Gunson
New Holland $39.99
Although this is aimed at readers aged 7-14, its comprehensive survey of more than 400 birds, animals, insects, fish, plants and fungi would be useful to anyone whose education needs refreshing. It opens with extinct creatures such as the freshwater crocodile - one can only be thankful these 3-5m beasts no longer hang around in our swamps. And it closes with me being able to identify the bird that has taken to divebombing my cat: the Australian magpie. A basic but handy reference tool.
Fifty Animals That Changed The Course of History by Eric Chaline
Crows Nest $39.99
The relationship between man and beast is so important yet so one-sided in many ways. This beautifully illustrated book focuses on animals which have played key roles in human history and development, from the deadly disease-spreading mosquito, to the horrendous slaughter of the minke whale; from the cow, surely one of the most practical species, to the domestic cat, "which provides little or no work to humans [but] was one of humanity's first animal pets and companions".
- Linda Herrick
Christchurch 22.2: Beyond The Cordon
Hodder Moa $49.99
After Christchurch's February 22 earthquake, that city's nine police forensic photographers were joined by 16 colleagues from around the country to begin documenting the devastation, with full access to the red zone and the rescue operations. The introduction notes that not a single picture was taken on that first day because they'd had to evacuate the central police station, leaving their gear behind, and their first duties were to the public. But in the days that followed, they combed the city, with 256 pictures chosen for the book. Words can barely express what you feel as you flick the pages. Royalties will go to Family Help Trust in Christchurch.
Historic Auckland & Northland by Richard Wolfe
David Bateman $49.99
Historian Richard Wolfe notes that the first known photograph in New Zealand was taken in Wellington in September 1848; his focus here is very much on images of Auckland where the Union Jack was raised on Pt Britomart and the urban area "began as a collection of temporary huts and tents on the foreshore ... at the foot of a muddy track" which soon became Queen St. This collection of black and white photos casts a wide net: cows grazing on Onehunga beach, trams and horse carts on Queen St, impressive houses in rural-looking Remuera and Epsom, lots of picnic groups and tonnes of kauri being felled up north. It ends with the demolition ball swinging into His Majesty's Theatre in 1986, a shameful moment captured by Gil Hanly, but then so many of the buildings within these pages have gone as well.
Precious Metal: Classic Fighters In New Zealand by Gavin Conroy
Craig Potton $59.99
The boys in the office squealed when this one landed. Conroy, who has flown for many years and specialises in aviation photography, worked on this for six years, focusing on World War II-era fighters. The images are awesome (say our guys), accompanied by text about their history, technical details and words from each pilot on what they are like to fly. Pilot John Lanham on the Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX: "The Spitfire wraps around you; you are part of it, a fighter to go to war in." A Boy's Own dream.
Fiordland: Landscape And Life by Roger Wandless
Roger Wandless Publishing $79.95
John Hall-Jones' misty, mysterious photographs supplement historian Roger Wandless' text, visiting 100 different locations in the region he has been exploring since 1994. It's a treasure trove of knowledge - for example, he explains the origins and location of the Lost Tribe of Fiordland, and the history of some of the earliest ventures into the hinterland; one such route would become known as the Milford Track. Even as late as the 1950s, the map for the area west of Lake Te Anau was marked "unexplored".
- Linda Herrick
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Jonathan Cape $34.99
Winner of this year's Man Booker Prize, this short, elegant novel is a meditation on memory, history and the elusive quality of the past. Tony Webster has led an ordinary life, but the unexpected arrival of a lawyer's letter sets him sifting through events that have shaped his notion of himself. How accurate is our understanding of the past, and how much do we colour it with our own subjective yearnings? With precision and wit, Julian Barnes explores regret, ageing, and the mysteries that shape ordinary lives.
All That I Am by Anna Funder
Hamish Hamilton $40
Anna Funder, the author of Stasiland, has written a novel with the eye-catching opening sentence, "When Hitler came to power I was in the bath." In the 1930s, a group of Germans is forced to flee the Nazi regime. In the present, an elderly woman recalls the difficulties and terrors of exile. And in 1939, a German poet is writing his version of his life. Funder weaves the stories together to produce a satisfying portrait of ordinary people tested by extraordinary events.
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
Atlantic Books $24.99
In Russia, a "snowdrop" is slang for a dead body covered by snow all winter and only revealed during the spring thaw. A.D. Miller's narrator, Nicholas, is a slightly aimless Englishman living in Moscow and, working as a solicitor, documenting the dodgy deals that characterise the wild new deregulated Russia under Putin. When Nicholas meets a mysterious woman, Masha, it soon becomes apparent he's caught in a trap that may corrupt him completely.
The Desolation Angel by Tim Wilson
"When I first met the Desolation Angel he was sprawled insolently across the top of my refrigerator." Stylish and cynical, this collection of 12 short stories is a worthy follow-up to Tim Wilson's idiosyncratic novel, Their Faces Were Shining. The writing is crisp and the tone witty, and even in places where you may recoil, Wilson creates enough interest to draw you on. Set in various countries, its title borrowed from Kerouac, it's fast-paced and edgy, the work of a writer perpetually on the road.
Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo
Atlantic Books $36.99
This gory and original thriller, now translated into English and winner of this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Award, is set in the aftermath of the Maoist insurgency in Peru, when the Shining Path created an atmosphere of terror and social dysfunction throughout the country. During Holy Week, when dead bodies begin to turn up amid claims that informers are being targeted by "people's justice", a prosecutor starts to investigate the government's official line that "there is no terrorism." An atmospheric, bloody and fascinating novel.
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
In 1913, a young poet arrives to stay with his friend, George Sawle. During the visit he writes a poem that will become famous, and link his family and the Sawles through future generations. Alan Hollinghurst is famously a gay writer, and one reviewer did remark that the novel tells the story of "what must surely be one of the gayest families in British literature". While Hollinghurst's portrayal of women is slightly awkward, it's worth reading for the beauty and precision of the prose.
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
A.S. Byatt called this novel "one of the best stories I've ever read". Jamrach's Menagerie is a vivid account of a voyage and a shipwreck, a harrowing survivors' tale. It falls apart slightly at the end, and the fate of the survivors drifting in small boats after the shipwreck is so appalling (cannibalism is involved) that it's almost too much to stomach. You may question whether there's something slightly cerebral and heartless in choosing such disturbing subject matter, or you may, like A.S. Byatt, simply be enthralled.
Last Man In Tower by Aravind Adiga
Atlantic Books $32.99
Aravind Adiga has been criticised for being savage about India; his reply is that he is following the tradition of Flaubert, Dickens and Balzac, who subjected their societies to harsh scrutiny. Adiga's new novel is an account of corruption in modern Mumbai. A group of residents in a tower block is offered money to leave by a local developer. Some refuse, but eventually the last to hold out is an elderly teacher, Masterji. A hard-hitting novel about moral ambiguity and human survival.
The Larnachs by Owen Marshall
The Larnachs, Owen Marshall's restrained and absorbing historical novel, is a fictional reworking of the life of William Larnach, the businessman, landowner and Member of Parliament who built Dunedin's famous Larnach Castle. The novel opens with Larnach's marriage in 1891 to his third and much younger wife, Connie. Connie eventually began a scandalous love affair with Larnach's favourite son, Douglas, and the affair was the most likely reason for Larnach's suicide in a committee room at Parliament in Wellington, in 1898.
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
This debut novel made it to this year's Booker shortlist. It's been labelled everything from a work of genius to wildly overhyped, but is worth reading for its energetic depiction of life in London's hellish housing estates. The novel draws on a real London murder, the tragic death of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor on an estate in Peckham in 2000, a killing that caused the British media briefly to turn its attention to the plight of children living in environments vastly more savage than any we have in New Zealand.
- Charlotte Grimshaw
Daughter Of Smoke And Bone by Laini Taylor
Hodder & Stoughton $34.99
Looking back over the year, this was my sweetest reading surprise. It inhabits the same general territory as the Twilight books - she's an indigo-haired teenage artist with an otherworldly secret, he's an angel with a bad attitude - but Taylor's writing is so much better, her story is so much stronger, and the least of her minor characters trumps any character Stephenie Meyer has created. The setting for much of the book is Prague and Taylor has clearly been there, she makes the place real.
Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
Did someone say Massive Great Thumping Tome? If you need a beach book that will last the distance, Paolini has you covered. His Inheritance series was derailed slightly when he opted to spin it out from three books to four, but here the story which began with Eragon finally comes to its conclusion. Old school fantasy: elves, dwarves, monsters, dragons, and a showdown with an evil king. We're talking serious battle scenes. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.
Steampunk! ed. by Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant
Far and away the most exciting science fiction anthology of the year. A grand slate of writers - first rate talents all, but absolutely not the usual suspects for this sort of book; the list includes New Zealand's Elizabeth Knox and Dylan Horrocks - have been invited to reimagine the rivets-and-gas-light tropes of the steampunk sub-genre. The stories are a constant stream of delightful surprises, and as a physical object this hardback, rough cut, beautifully designed book is one of the most attractive.
The Alloy Of Law by Brandon Sanderson
One of the leading practitioners of the Massive Great Thumping Tome school of fantasy epics, Sanderson here takes a break from books with four-figure page counts and delivers instead a fun little adventure, set in his Mistborn universe. Having spent three earlier books exploring the possibilities of an unusually well-defined magic system, he now leaps ahead several centuries, allows for social change and the emergence of new technologies, and makes his setting a version of the early industrial age.
Harry Potter, Page To Screen by Bob McCabe
Insight Editions $159.99
Yes, it's expensive. Yes, it's worth it. Coffee-table format hardback, profusely illustrated, one half devoted to the making-of stories of the eight films, the other to the conceptual art behind them. It isn't quite the warts-and-all film-making story I'd like to read (the equivalent Star Wars stories took years, sometimes decades to come out), but it's full of facts and pictures that haven't been made public before.
- David Larsen
The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
The final novel in Jennifer Donnelly's epic, multi-generational Rose series is such a cracker of a read you'll find it hard to put down in between bites of Christmas pud. Seamus Finnegan, home in between expeditions to the far corners of the earth, is still pining for Willa, who left him after losing her leg in an accident on Kilimanjaro. She is also desired by Max von Brandt, a mysterious German with many secrets. Donnelly keeps you hooked with gripping storylines and plot twists.
Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney
Michael Joseph $37
Energetic and fun-loving 84-year-old Lola needs a break from her loving, but demanding family and insists they go away for Christmas, leaving her in charge of the motel her son owns in South Australia's Clare Valley. While glad of the break, she stills wants some company, so secretly invites a handful of mystery guests to the motel. But Lola's cunning plans look certain to derail when a few of the issues boiling under the surface of her family start to come to a head. A lovely story of how important friendships and family can be.
The Next Always by Nora Roberts
Best-selling author Nora Roberts is a master of trilogies and quartets, and the first instalment of her latest series leaves you wanting more. The handsome Montgomery brothers are hard at work restoring the historic hotel in their home town of Boonsboro. Architect Beckett has something else on his mind though - the bookstore owner across the street who returned to the town a few years earlier with her three young sons after her soldier husband was killed in Iraq. Beckett is helped along by Lizzy, the inn's resident ghost. Recommended.
Christmas Magic by Cathy Kelly
Irish author Cathy Kelly has put together a collection of uplifting short stories telling the tales of Irish women and their day-to-day dilemmas. There's Elsie, who has sent hundreds of letters to her sister Maisie in the US embellishing the truth about her family but who fears being caught out when her grand niece plans a trip to Ireland; Marsha, whose husband moves out just before her 50th birthday and the women at the travel agency whose lives are changed forever thanks to a fortune teller.
A Life In Stitches by Rachael Herron
In this quirky memoir made up of 20 essays, Rachael Herron cleverly manages to link the most important moments of her life to her voracious knitting habit. This is definitely not a book just for knitters - the stories she tells about falling in love, the loss of her mother, and her cantankerous cat, Digit, will resonate with even the least crafty reader thanks to her evocative and heartfelt writing style. An interesting way to bring alive what is really just an ordinary life.
- Shandelle Battersby
The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
Text Publishing $26
Maile Meloy's The Apothecary may promise schoolkids, magic and mystery in the blurb, but readers should not expect a Harry Potter-style tale. Instead, we are transported first to 1952 Los Angeles, then London, where 14-year-old Janie must move with her parents. We discover hints of what the political climate was like in the post-war period in both countries and how dreary London seems to an American. However, Janie makes a friend in Benjamin and is thrown into a world of espionage, the nuclear threat, anti-communist feeling and - yes - magic. Ian Schoenherr's illustrations go hand in hand to create magic with this page-turner.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Walker Books $31.99
When British novelist Siobhan Dowd died in 2007, she left an idea for a novel. Walker Books commissioned Patrick Ness to write it. The result is a poignant novel. This hardback is beautiful, with illustrations by Jim Kay inherently tied to the text. A Monster Calls tells the story of 13-year-old Conor whose mother has cancer. His father lives in America and his grandmother is cold and unfriendly at best. At school he is tormented by bullies, at home by a recurring nightmare. But the monster that turns up in his waking life is not the one from his nightmare, but one far more demanding. It wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor, it wants the truth. The monster tells stories which demand in-depth thought from Conor and the book as a whole requires careful analysis from the reader, too. This may not be a happy story but it is compelling and inspiring. A story of facing up to personal nightmares and how to gain the courage to grow and move on.
People's Republic by Robert Muchamore
Hodder hardback $39.99
Not another Cherub book, some may say. Yes, but a new series is kicked off with a new set of recruits in 12-year-old Ryan, now trained enough to score his first spying mission for the secret branch of the secret service already loved by many teen readers; and Ning, a Chinese girl who discovers her adopted father is not the wonderful man she thought and who must flee the country as an illegal immigrant. Muchamore closed his first series, starring James Adams, with Shadow Wave. Now a new generation of readers can be seduced into reading with People's Republic, the first of a planned trilogy. Another for the page-turner list, Muchamore writes in a believable style and People's Republic can be read without prior knowledge of series one. The sequel is due out October 2012.
The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon
Allen & Unwin $28.9
Freya is a 12-year-old girl who lives in modern-day London, although the year is 5012 AW - After Woden. For Freya, Christianity is an exotic minor cult that died out before the end of the Roman Empire. The official state religion is that of the pagan Saxons and Vikings, with people worshipping the old Norse gods. Freya's mum is a pagan priestess, her dad a security guard in the British Museum. She accompanies him to work one night and, blowing Heimdall's horn, she awakens four Lewis chess pieces. Freya is whisked back in time with them to the magical realm of Asgard where they go on a perilous quest to restore the Viking gods to youth. Their journey through the harsh landscape of Norse mythology sees them meet wolves, giants and ghosts. This illustrated hardback would make a fine Christmas gift for the tween audience.
Colin Thiele Collection by Colin Thiele
New Holland $34.99
For the animal or bird lover in particular, this is a boxed set of four books by the late Australian author, Colin Thiele. The titles: Storm Boy And Other Stories, Pinquo, Magpie Island and Albatross Two. With a common theme of the environment and with young people dealing with their own hardships, the reader is encouraged to remember that wildlife needs human help whether the foe is nature or humankind. Lovers of Des Hunt's novels are bound to relate to this collection. Heartwarming and suited to a range of ages from late primary to early secondary.
- Sue Baxalle
The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner
Allen & Unwin $24.99
Aaron lives at the trailer park with his guardian, "Mam", a former academic who is losing her marbles. He's been a loner at school. So what could he possibly get out of a work experience job at a funeral home? Plenty, it seems. Gardner's fine macabre sensibility has Aaron taking to the task like a duck to water, buoyed by the kindness of funeral director Mr Barton and his family. In fact, Aaron's new profession starts to provide the sole point of stability in a life slowly breaking down; haunted by disturbing fragments of memory he glimpses only in his dreams, he is sleepwalking his way into danger.
Girl Parts by John M. Cusick
Walker Books $19
When cynical, privileged David Sun witnesses the suicide of a young girl on the internet and fails to do anything about it, his parents feel something is wrong. But the solution proposed by the school counsellor for his "disassociation" is nothing he could possibly have expected - a lifelike "girl" robot programmed to teach him how to behave like a human. Meanwhile Charlie Nuvola, who lives with his Dad "off the grid" on the other side of town, has his own reasons for disassociating; he just doesn't fit with the world around him. When the perfect Rose comes into their lives, the three become entwined in a story that touches on some of the thorny problems of adolescence. It's a poignant, and often funny, novel about what it is to be alive.
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
Walker Books $21.99
This is my first Mal Peet book, but I'll be checking out the rest of his catalogue on the strength of this - a stunning mix of modern and personal history that is charming in its complexity. War and Clem have been connected since his birth; his mother was startled into labour by the sound of a World War II bomber. Now a teen, he is living through the Cold War; as his nutty grandmother joins a religious sect and Kennedy sweats over the Cuban missile crisis, Clem is locked in an unsuitable romance with a local landowner's daughter. The world is approaching the Eve of Destruction and there are things a young man must do before Everything ends.
The Power Of Six by Pittacus Lore
This follow-up to the best-selling I Am Number Four - and the movie of the same name - is another action-packed sci-fi adventure. On the run from the evil race who destroyed their planet, the first book's hero, Number 4/John Smith has now teamed up with Number Six, and best friend Sam and is on the run as a fugitive after being blamed for the death and destruction wrought in their battle with the Mogadorians. We also meet Number Seven, who has been in hiding as a pupil in a Spanish monastery . . . but the Mogadorians are closing in.
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Allen & Unwin $22.99
The movie rights to this debut novel have already been picked up by the makers of X-Men: First Class and it's not hard to see why; the heroine, Juliette, has similar talents. Her touch can kill; she is a "walking weapon". In a bleak-sounding future she has been taken from her terrified parents and tossed in an asylum with other misfits, at the mercy of the "Reestablishment" who are meant to be rehabilitating the world and saving society. For almost a year she is alone; until, in short succession, she comes face to face with a piece of her past and the Reestablishment decide they want to utilise the walking weapon in their war. Mafi's title is apt; her writing is hauntingly brittle.
- Isobel Marriner
The Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book by Jeff Kinney
Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has amused and even inspired many pre-teens with its lessons on growing up. Now, the DIY book will allow them to begin a diary of their own - with a difference. Sprinkled throughout with interactive quizzes, games, lists to formulate, drawings to do, just like the original Wimpy Kid, Greg Heffley, there is still plenty of room for self-expression in the back section of lined pages. The perfect holiday time-filler, kids may be inspired to write a novel, draw comic strips, or tell their life story. And if they get bored, they can read the comics in the middle section.
Precious And The Monkeys by Alexander McCall Smith
Subtitled "Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case", this slender hardback may intrigue the many adult fans of the Scottish writer as well as spark a new, young fanbase for the African lady detective. McCall Smith teams up with illustrator Iain McIntosh to create a special atmosphere while unveiling the source of her skills. The trigger, it turns out, is when food starts disappearing from her schoolmates' bags while they are in class. Themes and moral issues are in the background as she battles classroom bullies who jump to conclusions as to the culprit. The short chapters are not too difficult but challenging enough to be engaging for a confident reader.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Pop-Up Book by Roald Dahl
This beautifully-bound hardback presents a new twist on the Roald Dahl classic. This is great for readers for whom the illustrations are just as vital as the words and this would make a fabulous interactive Christmas gift. The moving parts and the pop-up buildings bring Quentin Blake's superb images to life. The tale is somewhat abridged to fit the format but, like the chocolate of the title, it's almost good enough to eat.
Wild West Gang by Joy Cowley
Gecko Press $29.99
Not to be confused with the American Wild West. Here, beloved author Joy Cowley presents a collection of 10 adventures of Michael, the son of uber-conservative snobby parents and his cousins, the West family. These tales, originally published between 1998 and 2004, can be read as short stories or as a chapter book and will appeal to those who like mud and mayhem. Uncle Leo and Auntie Rosie are all about having fun without expensive toys. The humour throughout makes this a real page-turner.
George And The Big Bang by Lucy and Stephen Hawking
Excitement was rife in our household when we discovered the Hawking father and daughter team had released the last of the trilogy starring the space-travelling George and Annie. These books are a fine read for those interested in science and space and cleverly combine fictional narrative with non-fiction sections. The Big Bang, for example, contains child-friendly essays by top scientists (including Stephen Hawking) explaining the theory itself, Newton's laws of gravity and Einstein's theory of relativity. The illustrations by Garry Parsons are central to the story of Annie and George's time and space travelling and help draw in the reader. The Big Bang closes the series skilfully and is simultaneously entertaining and educational. One drawback - we are left still unsure what happened to Freddy the pig.
- Sue Baxalle
Where's Asterix? by Goscinny and Uderzo
Everyone's favourite Gaul is back, this time in a Where's Wally kind of format that will mean hours of fun for young and old, and is ideal for road trips and rainy days at the bach. As well as searching for the tricksy little Ancient Frenchman in the detailed pages created by the original illustrator, Albert Uderzo, you'll be looking for best friend Obelix (shouldn't be too hard) and his loyal companion Dogmatix, the druid Getafix, Vercingetorix (whoops, sorry, wrong Gaul) and various assorted legionaries and tribespeople.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Penguin Threads Series $26
Just in time for Christmas and in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its release, Penguin has produced the most beautiful version of the classic tale of a lonely young orphan sent home from India who finds friendship and healing in a magical walled garden. The Threads debut collection, all with hand-stitched, sculpture-embossed covers created by Canadian Jillian Tamaki, also includes Jane Austen's Emma and Anna Sewell's Black Beauty. Perfect presents and real keepsakes for a crafter or book lover.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce
First it was a 1964 book written by James Bond author Ian Fleming for his son. Then it became a hugely popular movie starring Dick Van Dyke. There was even a reprise as a stage musical in London in 2002. But now, acclaimed author Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions, Framed) has returned to the original medium with a sequel engagingly adapted to modern life. Although Tom Tooting loses his job (because his fingers are too big to work on the even tinier parts the Very Small Parts for Very Big Machines company he works for is now manufacturing) and also loses his company vehicle, he is determined to keep the family dream of travelling the world alive. So he buys a run-down campervan which he fits with a second-hand engine, thus setting the wheels in motion for adventure as Chitty - for it is she, the flying car with a mind of her own - takes the family on a breakneck journey in search of her missing parts. Magic words, and gorgeous illustrations by Joe Berger. Hopefully there's another film in it.
Small Blacks Annual by Peter Harold
With a Rugby World Cup victory still fresh in our minds, the annual of the TV programme Small Blacks TV could be a welcome present either here or for overseas posting. It has all the usual (though rugby-themed) puzzles, jokes, stories and activities, and there are rugby skills' features with Dan Carter (DC), cooking classes with Richard Kahui (Kaks) and Maori lessons from "Mr Piri" Weepu.
The Book Of New Zealand Records And Firsts by Stephen Barnett
Ever wondered where the longest chocolate bar in the world was made? Or where the largest number of forward rolls happened? Well, the answer to both of those questions is: right here in New Zealand. Barnett has collected records with a "Kiwi connection" ranging from the banal to the bizarre, to entertain, amuse and inform - and quite possibly encourage another generation of New Zealanders to take their place in the record books.
- Isobel Marriner
A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham
Walker Books $29.99
With an ability to capture tender moments in everyday life, Graham can weave an engrossing tale around seemingly mundane events. That storytelling ability is backed up by a beautiful illustrative style rich in detail and mischievous humour - and some of his trademark bird's-eye view illustrations are just stunning. When Stella discovers an abandoned bus outside her house, the old vehicle becomes a catalyst for bringing her community together as people pitch in to restore it and then use it as a neighbourhood drop-in centre.
The Jewel Fish Of Karnak by Graeme Base
There's no doubting that Base loves creating a good mystery and he's at it again here in much the same way as earlier books The Eleventh Hour and Enigma, where a puzzle at the back of the book can only be unlocked by gathering clues scattered throughout the story. In this vividly illustrated hardback, a jackal and ibis caught stealing at the markets must redeem themselves by bringing the jewel fish to the Cat Pharaoh. They fail and need your help to escape punishment.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Boardbook & Block Set by Eric Carle
Carle's boardbook is rightly an all-time favourite among kids with its easy-to-follow tale and bold illustrations of a caterpillar munching its way through various foods (and the pages of the book) as it bulks up before going into its cocoon. As well as the boardbook, this set has number and picture blocks that can be used for counting or to make pictures of the caterpillar or the beautiful butterfly that it eventually becomes. Great pressie for the young 'uns.
Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
Another fantastic hardback from Jeffers whose deceptively simple but highly expressive illustrations complement a crafty sense of humour. This story is something in the vein of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly as Floyd gets his kite stuck in a tree and hurls bigger and bigger objects up there to dislodge the previous one, with all of them getting entangled in the branches. Before you know it, he's got a whale, ship, lighthouse, fire engine and orangutan up there among a collection of improbable missiles.
The Bicycle by Colin Thompson
A Christmas present with a conscience, this one, with all the royalties going to Save the Children. Thompson was inspired by a Save the Children bicycle programme in Cambodia that changed children's lives to produce this hardback book, an ode to the humble bicycle. Illustrators from around the world have contributed a diverse range of bicycle-themed artworks that either stand on their own or are accompanied by inspirational quotes. Thought-provoking.
The Bippolo Seed And Other Lost Stories by Dr Seuss
The seven stories in this large format hardback collection were originally published in magazines but this is the first time they have appeared in a book. Well, apart from Gustav the Goldfish, which Dr Seuss' wife, writing as Helen Palmer, turned into A Fish Out of Water, in which a boy overfeeds his fish with disastrous results. As you'd expect from Dr Seuss, a lot of the stories focus on the strife caused by greed, stupidity and pride, and the illustrations are terrific.
The Margaret Mahy Treasury by Margaret Mahy
This chunky hardback is a treasure trove indeed, with a collection of 11 of Mahy's much-loved stories kicked off by the one that launched her writing career, A Lion In The Meadow. It's also a showcase of her offbeat humour and ability to head off on a flight of fancy and take you along for the ride as demonstrated in The Three-Legged Cat. A book packed with wonderful imagination that children will want to come back to time and again.
Christmas In The Bush by Lindy Kelly
When city kid Josh leaves his mother behind to spend Christmas with his father on a farm, he worries that it's going to be a festive flop. His fears seem justified on Christmas morning when there are no presents for him but his dad has a surprise in store - a treasure hunt through the bush with gifts along the way followed by a campfire dinner. As Josh's father proves, Christmas isn't all about expensive presents; it's about spending quality time together.
Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark Sommerset
Dreamboat Books $29.99
For their first two collaborations, husband and wife team Mark and (illustrator) Rowan Sommerset produced the delightfully whimsical Cork And The Bottle and Cork On The Ocean. In their third book together they've developed a nice line in toilet humour that won them the Children's Choice award at the Children's Book Awards. The fun begins when gullible gobbler Quirky Turkey happens along and Little Baa Baa decides to trick him into eating poo. Snappily written and gorgeously illustrated.
A Kiwi Jingle Bells by Yvonne Morrison
The Kiwification of Christmas - a strong theme in local books this time of year - continues with the re-release of this New Zild take on Jingle Bells in a boardbook format. Morrison does a good job of taking this traditional Christmas carol and turning it into a rhyming celebration of a family camping holiday at the beach. This song may not catch on for carol-singing but learning the lyrics will certainly keep the kids busy and give them a laugh on a long car trip.
- Graham Hepburn