Mr Mac and Me
By Esther Freud (Bloomsbury)
The careful, lyrical prose is the greatest joy of UK author Esther Freud's latest novel. It is nostalgic and understated; it takes you smoothly to another time and slowly unfolds its story of art, friendship and war. It is 1914 and Thomas Maggs is the only surviving son of the innkeeper in a sleepy coastal Suffolk village. Thomas has a twisted foot and his parents are protective but he's a curious boy and when war breaks out he keeps his eyes wide open for spies and invaders. Then a stranger appears in the village. The man called Mac has an odd accent and wears a big black cape. At first, Thomas thinks he's a detective but in truth he is the Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who is suffering a crisis and has come to Suffolk with his wife to concentrate on their art. Thomas is fascinated and gradually an unlikely friendship develops between the teenage boy and the lonely, tormented man. Freud has a home in the Suffolk village where the story is set and she writes of its landscapes and characters with great affection. Mackintosh is the only one who did exist in real life, but the salty sea dogs, doughty rope maker and sparky herring girls all feel as if they might have done. A gentle, haunting story.
By Mona Simpson (Constable & Robinson)
I don't know how many versions of the coming-of-age story I've read but new ones keep coming and many are brilliant. Casebook is about a snoopy Californian kid called Miles Adler-Hart, who starts spying on his mother, hoping to find out stuff about himself. Instead, what he discovers is that she isn't very happy. Miles' parents separate and he continues to eavesdrop and rummage.
Then his mum gets a new boyfriend called Eli and Miles and his friend Hector suspect he is hiding something and try to find out what. Charming and bittersweet, Casebook is beautifully told. It's a story about the confusion and powerlessness of being young, the secrets that lurk in every family, and it's quirky and often funny. The story is presented as a memoir produced by Miles and Hector so it has a sprinkling of random footnotes and begins with a note from a fictional comic bookshop owner we are told is selling the memoir via print-on-demand. This conceit doesn't entirely come off and doesn't seem needed anyway - the novel is a gem in spite of it.
A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children
Edited by Paula Green, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Random House)
Bright and with beautiful illustrations, this is a mix of Kiwi classics, new poems and work by winners of a children's poetry competition, judged by the book's editor Paula Green. There's lots of verse about animals including Janet Frame's Cat of Habit and Joy Cowley's Bookshop Elephant. There are fantastical creatures like dragons, fire-breathing taniwha and even a pet gorilla. There are short pithy poems, longer funny ones, even the odd verse that rhymes. In hardback, A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children would make an ideal gift, a book to be read aloud and enjoyed by all the family.
by Chelsea Winter (Random House)
This is MasterChef star Chelsea Winter's second book and it is packed full of appealing, easy recipes that are fast and affordable enough to cook for everyday meals once you've stocked up on a few long-lasting pantry essentials. The book has a definite Kiwi feel and there are plenty of crowd-pleasers as Winter takes us through breakfast, small meals, mains and desserts. She is strong on classic family favourites like pies, curries, spaghetti and meatballs, burgers and macaroni cheese. And although there's lots of butter, cheese, cream and sugar flung around there are healthier options too such as Good Green Spaghetti with a whole bag of spinach, and a Good Energy Slice that's dense with nuts and seeds. This is a practical, friendly recipe book, and one that is likely to get used regularly rather then left sitting on a shelf.
View from the Road
Photography Arno Gasteiger, text Kennedy Warne (Penguin)
Through the lens of an Austrian-born photographer, 2047km of tar-sealed road becomes the story of a nation. Gasteiger travelled the length of State Highway 1 from Bluff to Cape Reinga, recording its sights, quirks and characters. There are breathtaking shots of well-known landmarks like the Moeraki Boulders but there are also ones of rumpty shops, rusting cars and roadworks. Still, this is more than classic Kiwiana. Through his images, Gasteiger reflects the diversity of New Zealand. Meanwhile, journalist and author Kennedy Warne tells the story of the road, once notorious for long stretches of perilous clay bogs and twisty hill tracks. People have protested on State Highway 1, marched along it and made pilgrimages. It's part of all our lives.
Tottie and Dot
by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling (EK Books)
Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling's colourful picture book will strike a chord with many mums, as well as entertain their preschool daughters. It's a tale of two girls who do everything together, side by side, until one day they start competing to outdo each other. McCartney founded the Kids' Book Review website and the writing feels straight out of an interiors magazine - the two little girls don't just share ordinary tea, it's marshmallow tea. They don't just paint their houses a simple colour, they paint them pistachio and mauve. Things aren't placed, they're "plonked" or "dotted". Opening this book is like entering a perfect fairy-tale house where even the mess is pretty. The littlest interior decorators will love delving into its pages and the simple message not to compare yourselves to others is a good reminder for parents and children.
Review by Danielle Wright, creator of award-winning children's books and the news site newsmummy.com