Christmas is the time to make sure you give your loved ones something special of lasting value — and there’s nothing more heart-warming than a good book. Books editor Linda Herrick and her reviewers select the best for all ages and interests

Coffee TableNew Zealand by Craig Potton (Craig Potton $79.99)

Potton has been an environmental activist since he was a student, helping found a group that stopped a Japanese company from destroying 60,000 hectares of native West Coast beech forest to make pulp. Crazy days. The introduction to this elegant tome points out that Potton "set out first of all to photograph the things that mean something to him on an emotional level, and then to seek an audience for his vision". That's why he took up photography seriously when he was 30: "How do you tell people in Auckland how good the West Coast forests are? You show them photographs!" Potton, who uses a Pentax 6x7 camera, creates crystal clear images, transporting the viewer to our unpeopled mountains, forests, coasts and gorges. Or, should I say, gorgeous.

Secrets & Treasures by Ray Waru (Random House $59.99)

Subtitled "Our stories told through the objects at Archives New Zealand", this wide-ranging survey gathers an abundance of riches (plus weird, wacky and ghastly) from the thousands of boxes of holdings in our national archives. Divided into five parts, it opens with "The Constitution Room" (documents and objects from the office of the Prime Minister), and moves through "Living in Aotearoa" (hokey pokey, the dog tax war, Pelorus Jack), to "Exploring the Family Tree", "The Black Museum" (Portrait of a Terrorist - Te Kooti, Spies!, the voices from the Mt Erebus-Air New Zealand black box) and winds up with war stories in "From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth". Well-illustrated and informative, it's a treasure trove for dipping and browsing.

On A Saturday Night: Community Halls Of Small-Town New Zealand by Michele Frey and Sara Newman (Canterbury University Press $45)

An ode to our small communities, where tiny halls have historically provided a hub for parties, plays, dances and the competitive arts of baking and bottling. From Whakapara Memorial Hall in Northland to Mossburn Hall on the Lumsden-Te Anau Highway, the authors pay homage to 18 halls in the North Island and 21 in the South, with romantic names like Moonlight Hall, near Blackball, and The Gaiety in Akaroa. The contemporary photos, by John Maillard and John O'Malley, are matched by historical images, while Frey and Newman have chatted to locals to get the anecdotes. The pictures of the old pianos, the trestle tables, the rolls of honour and the plain, functional kitchens, really take you back. There's a mood of goodwill we could do more of.

Selling The Dream: The Art Of Early New Zealand Tourism by Peter Alsop, Gary Stewart, Dave Bamford (Craig Potton $79.99)

A hefty 407-page, 1,000-image overview of historical tourism posters and magazine covers that sold New Zealand to the world, with the bonus that it gave Kiwis a sense of national identity. The images, which range from cheesy to cheerful, lurid to lovely, are astonishing in their quantity, quality and variety, while the essays, by writers like art historian Richard Wolfe and historian Mark Derby, are short and sweet. Most of the book is given over to the pictures, which is fitting. These were simpler times. One poster, for the Shaw Savill Line, offers "New Zealand via Panama Canal", while the Hermitage at Mt Cook boasts "happy good fellowship above the Worry Level".



The Natural Garden by Xanthe White (Godwit $55)

Warning: this book contains disturbing messages. A quick flick will have you eyeing your lawns with vicious intent, dreaming of replacing those useless patches with curving pathways, shrubs and plant beds. You might even be tempted to turn your back lawn into a silver beet patch! A fabulously illustrated, beautifully written guide which will have aspiring and established garden nuts champing at the bit as White argues against "rows of monoculture that mimic architecture in their rigidity". She offers advice for various types of gardens plus handy tips on containers, walls and fences, irrigation, composting and even brick-laying. White is eminently sensible: on the subject of borders, she advises generosity in relation to the size of the lawn. In fact, to reiterate, "one should never be afraid to give up on lawn". So, watch out lawn. I've got my eye on you ...

Contemporary Gardens Of New Zealand by Carol Bucknell and Sally Tagg (Penguin $65)

On the other hand, there are lawns and straight lines aplenty in this second collaboration between writer Bucknell and photographer Tagg. Bucknell's introduction somewhat fudges her efforts to define "contemporary" as ... "connected with the present". The first garden, surrounding an Auckland 1920s Arts and Crafts house, is a symphony of manicured grass, concrete edging, box hedging; the second, a coastal house, has manicured grass, concrete edging, box hedging ... the gardens start to soften up as the book proceeds but straight, hard edging does seem to have become a New Zealand thing, as represented in this book anyway. My favourites: A modernist garden overlooking New Plymouth featuring a lounging dog sculpture; a rugged alpine vista on the flank of the Remarkables; and a shrubby native space clinging to the side of Te Mata Peak in Hawkes Bay.

Garden Tours Of New Zealand by Michele Hickman, photographs by Steven Wooster (Random House $49.99)

A guide to 50 mainly private gardens, along with five botanic gardens (Dunedin, Auckland, Otari, Wellington and Christchurch - under repair after substantial earthquake damage). The photos are exquisite and the gardens sublimely lush, opening with Butler Point in Northland (veg included), and ending with Seaforth near Hokitka, the only representation of West Coast gardens. I'd argue the Coast is neglected here, as usual, but then so, too, is the entire east coast of the North Island; an appendix offers a list of websites if you want to search further.

The Beginner's Garden by David Haynes (Penguin $35)

Everyone has to start somewhere and this slim book (160 pages) offers solid advice on growing veg, herbs and some fruits (berries and currants). Haynes agrees that with more than 16,000 gardening tomes listed on Amazon, you might be thinking "Oh no! not another ... " but he aims to provide a "pragmatic and easily referenced manual", with general advice on establishing your patch before launching into seasonal guides and the specifics of each plant. He is hot on plant protection, including how to stop those annoying blackbirds (which plague my garden) from ripping seedlings apart.


The Spirit Of The Dog: An Illustrated History by Tamsin Pickeral (Frances Lincoln/Quintessence $59.99)

Christmas is the time to indulge your family animals and fans of our canine friends couldn't get a more handsome or comprehensive homage. British art historian Pickeral teams with photographer Astrid Harrisson to catalogue the history and characteristics of various groups of breeds, starting with elegance and speed (including the borzoi, afghan hound, greyhound, whippet), beauty and endurance
(malamute, husky, samoyed, chow chow), and so on, through to my personal favourites, the schnauzer (nobility and faithfulness) and the cocker spaniel (agility and wisdom). The text is illuminating and the photos magnificent.

Safari: A Photicular Book by Carol Kaufmann; images by Dan Kainen (Workman Publishing $49.99)

We've had lots of fun in the office flicking this book's "photicular" pages back and forth, which make Kainen's photos of the African animals move and spring to life. But it's probably aimed at kids, with descriptions and fact boxes matched by the images (the cheetah on the cover can move at up to 112km per hour; its tail can grow as long as nearly 1m). The only thing the book lacks is sound. It would be great to hear the screech of the gorilla, the roar of the lion or the trumpeting of the elephant as you look at the animals "shot" in their natural habitats.

The Country Diary Of A New Zealand Lady by Christina Ferens (Faith House Publications $45.95)

Unashamedly inspired by Edith Holden's Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (written in 1906, published in 1977), this has grown into a popular little self-published number, based on Ferens' observations while living in the midst of a natural bird sanctuary in Taheke in Northland for a couple of years. Each day's entry describes the birds she sees and hears, as well as other animals like the yearling that wanders down for a drink from the pond and "the delicate perfection of a sparkling spider's web". The quality of the picture reproduction doesn't quite match the standard of the writing but that may be polished in later editions.

Diary Of A Dog-Walker by Edward Stourton (Black Swan $24.99)

An engaging small book by BBC Radio 4 presenter Edward Stourton who adopted a spaniel puppy called Kudu when he was in his 50s and was invited by the Daily Telegraph to write a column about his canine adventures "following the lead". To his surprise (but not his readers'), the column became so popular it continued for more than a year, when he retired Kudu from public life. While Stourton bases the columns around the discoveries he makes about the world according to Kudu, he ranges far and wide, from the use of dogs in the British Army in Afghanistan to the Brown Dog Affair - a public vivisection in London in 1902 that provoked riots. It's deeply humane yet unsentimental, with lovely line drawings.


Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington (Knopf $49.99)

Grace Coddington, American Vogue's flame-haired creative director since 1988 and reluctant star of the documentary The September Issue, has had a full and fabulous life. Born in Anglesey, she moved to London in the Swinging 60s when she was 18 and modelled for the likes of David Bailey and Helmut Newton, before working for British Vogue as fashion editor where her fantastical photo-shoot ideas began to emerge. She opens with a backgrounder to September Issue, saying that once she'd agreed to take part she decided to be herself (ie, swearing like a trooper) because she thought it would be cut. It wasn't. This is a very fine biography: candid, modest, lyrical and honest with charming line drawings by Coddington and a generous selection of photos. There's even one of her boss Anna Wintour with a big smile on her face.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life Of Julia Child by Bob Spitz (Random House $59.99)

There have been biographies of Child before, and the movie Julie & Julia, but this is the most thorough scrutiny yet of the tall, formidable American who found her calling - the art of French cooking - in Paris and went on to forge a rock star career in the US as a food writer and television cook. She literally changed the way Americans cooked. Spitz goes way back to the beginning, focusing on Child's wealthy, ultra-conservative family in Pasadena, in particular her relationship with her narrow-minded father, from which she emerged a liberal. Spitz details her exploits as an intelligence officer in the Far East during World War II, when she met her husband Paul, and the cuisine which galvanised their lives when they moved to Paris. The latter part of the book sees the couple, back in the US, plagued by illness, which Child handled with typical pragmatism; not so her husband. It's a very readable tribute to a true eccentric, in the context of her times.

I'm Your Man: The Life Of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons (Jonathan Cape $37.99)

Excellent effort by British music journalist Simmons to untangle the complex life of the enigmatic singer-writer - with his co-operation but not his approval, if you can fathom that. Women are one common thread in Cohen's life, from childhood (his father died when he was 9), flowing into a series of intense relationships throughout his life, including a short affair with Joni Mitchell (who called him "a boudoir poet") and engagement to actor Rebecca De Mornay, after which he became a monk. Spirituality is undoubtedly Cohen's sustenance - significantly, Zen Buddhism. But real life intruded: when he emerged in 2004 from a five-year retreat at a Zen centre, he discovered his business manager had cleaned him out and he had to resume recording and touring, much to the delight of his fans worldwide. A must for Cohen obsessives. There is no other kind of Cohen fan.

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran (Ebury Press $36.99)

You could call this collection of essays, reviews and interviews by British journalist Moran a loose biography, because it includes plenty of insights into her family life, but best of all it is highly amusing and often pretty brave. Her interview with Keith Richards on International Talk Like a Pirate Day is hilarious; as is her account of a night out with Gaga - destination, a sex club in Berlin ("3am. I am pretty wasted. I am kneeling on the banquette, with Gaga lying by my knees ... her eyes are pointing in slightly different directions"). The chapter "I am Caitlin Moran, and I was a Skunk Addict" would be a bold confession to four years of bad behaviour when she was smoking dope - but "I can't really remember any of it".

History / Travel

On The Map: Why The World Looks The Way It Does

by Simon Garfield (Profile Books $36.99)

The inside covers of this clever book show a map of the world based on the London Underground, long coloured lines spreading out to all corners of the globe. Garfield starts his exploration with the vanished Great Library of Alexandria, created in 330BC with the ambition to "contain the sum of human knowledge" at a time when that was achievable. Its scholars drew up the first maps of the world and from there on through history a wealth of tricky puzzles kept changing the rules: Where did the world end? Do the planets revolve around Earth? Is it flat? Centuries later came the vile spread of colonialism, which kept changing the shapes and colours of maps. The book ends with a sharp debate on SatNav, role-playing video games which create new worlds (with maps) and the "always-on, Me-mapping of Everywhere" world of Google.

1912: The Year The World Discovered Antarctica by Chris Turney (Text Publishing $45)

British geologist Professor Chris Turney conjoins a series of ripping yarns stemming from 1912 as interest in Antarctica reached a frenzy and five teams from five countries vied against each other to explore the region and "win the race". The teams, from Britain, Norway, Australasia, Germany and Japan, were both foolhardy and heroic. But their exploits enthralled the world and paved the way for modern scientific endeavours in the Antarctic. Turney is a great story-teller, and the photos capture the mood of gung-ho endeavour - and, mostly, utter futility.

The Golden Door: Letters To America by A. A. Gill (Weidenfeld and Nicolson $39.99)

A. A. Gill turns his sights on the US, firing off potshots galore and some glorious anecdotes as he attempts to describe what America is today and how it became that way. He argues convincingly against the international cliché that Americans are stupid (last month's election speaks for itself in that regard), and points to the concepts of freedom, equality and human rights as great things to spread worldwide. But this is not blind love: He also eviscerates American horrors like guns, obesity, batty religions and its movie industry. Highly entertaining.

Brazil by Michael Palin (Weidenfeld & Nicolson $59.99)

Aside from the naff cover photo of Palin doing the thumbs-up, this is a valiant effort by the populist "explorer" to get to grips with the massive South American nation, which he visited several times to make a BBC TV series (not scheduled here yet) and write this companion book. Palin has an easy, accessible writing style and he makes a big effort to get to know the locals, learn the history, worry about the future (especially as the jungles recede) and reach as many corners - urban, jungle, tribal, slum - as possible. Definitely one for Palin's hordes of fans.

The Second World War by Antony Beevor (Weidenfeld & Nicolson $60)

Beevor's 800-page marathon overview of World War II (six years, 60 million lives lost) unfolds as an intense, often gruelling read best taken in short bursts. Beevor, master of modern historical investigations into prolonged crises like the siege of Leningrad and the Spanish civil war, writes with vigour and economy, immersing the reader in a compelling narrative, depicting appalling blunders, ignorance, sadism and madness, just as he salutes courage and sacrifice on a monumental scale. A tour de force and a must for history buffs.


Bouchon Bakery

by Thomas Keller & Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan $99.99)

It's Christmas, so why not go over-the-top with this mother of all bakery books, put together by French Laundry legend/chef Keller and his executive pastry chef Rouxel, who oversees Keller's American group of restaurants and bakeries. We
are talking multi-Michelin stars here, so this is baking taken to the highest level. Well, you can dream ... but this collection is full of recipes that seem accessible, from "cookies" (biscuits) to cakes and tarts, brioche to breads and confections. The directions are clear and concise, with handy tips ("common mistakes in bread making"), and the photos are inspiring, often featuring kids stirring the ingredients. Keller advises home cooks to make the same recipe "over and over" so you learn "the nuances of the way ingredients behave". Wise man.

The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo (Michael Joseph $50)

I was in possession of a little Paris kitchen just once, during a short holiday, but I never used it. I was too busy stuffing my face in the local cafes. But Khoo, a Londoner who moved to Paris to study pastry at Le Cordon Bleu and now runs her La Petite Cuisine, a Paris business, from her tiny kitchen, has got to grips with the divine French repertoire, and offers 120 recipes in this mouth-watering book. Each section - snacks, picnics, aperitifs, everyday cooking, sweet treats - are accompanied by little anecdotes and the food looks superb yet not too fussy. Prawn and asparagus blancmange? Chicken dumpling soup? Mmm. Khoo also adds some basic recipes at the end, plus the addresses of some of her top foodie places in Paris.

The Food Of Spain by Claudia Roden (Michael Joseph $60)

One of the world's leading food writers (Book of Middle Eastern Food, Book of Jewish Food) turns her meticulous gaze on Spain in a very handsome large tome. Roden, born in Cairo, acknowledges the Muslim influence on southern Spain's architecture and food, as well as the country's important Jewish legacy, and spends the first 100 pages discussing the impact of historical events on the many regional cuisines. And then she launches into the full and glorious range of recipes: from tapas all the way through to desserts and drinks. A definitive, well-illustrated guide to a most interesting cuisine and country.

The Collection by Antonio Carluccio (Quadrille $59.99)

London-based Carluccio has developed a sterling career as a restaurateur, food writer and television star, and you can count on his recipes being authentic and
delicious. This collection, from Italy's 20 regions, "is all about simplicity and flavour", he writes. "What Italian food is not so known for is change, at least not radical change." And yet he gives himself the licence to "tinker", just a little, with the aim of making the recipes accessible to a wide audience. Italian food has always been based on frugality and believe it or not, he includes a recipe for "Cooked Water" soup. It looks delicious.

Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate $59.99)

Saving the best till last, if you only have the room or budget for one new cookbook this year, look no further. Slater's earlier Kitchen Diaries were a dream to browse - a beautiful blend of "chat" about the weather, his garden, the cats and his moods alongside the most amazing recipes for everyday cooking. This one is just as good, possibly better. Slater is a cook, not a chef, so we can all relate to his style: "a new sausage roll"; "needs must"; "the best sandwich. Ever." It's like cooking with a very nice friend. So why not give this to a very nice friend - or cook something from this for them.


Bring Up The Bodies

by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate $39.99)

There's something very unoriginal about naming the winner of the Man Booker prize as my best fiction read of the year, but Bring Up The Bodies was an outstandingly enjoyable achievement. I was captured by its predecessor, Wolf Hall, and Mantel's accomplishment second time round is just as magisterial. This is a writer at the peak of her powers, creating characters of complexity and total conviction, in a style all her own, muscular and distinctive even if it is a little hard to get into. Once engaged, the grip on the reader is vicelike. The historical background is multidimensional, creating a vanished world of its own, physically and psychologically. But there is universality in its analysis of the nature of political power. We all know how Anne Boleyn's fall from favour moves to its tragic end but Mantel gives her narrative the tension of a thriller. And, most memorably, she creates in Thomas Cromwell an extraordinary portrait of a man, flawed, brutal but totally compelling. We all know how he ends, too, but I can't wait for Mantel's follow-up.

HHhH by Laurent Binet (Harvill Secker $34.99)

Another historic event of which we know the outcome provides the subject for HHhH. This is a wide-ranging yet wonderfully concise examination of the 1942 assassination plot against Reinhard Heydrich, the notorious Nazi overlord of Bohemia and Moravia. Not content with providing an enthralling account of the events and their consequence, Binet also engages in a personal dissection of the nature of historical fiction to provide an original book.

A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks (Hutchinson $37.99)

Faulks provides a range of characters in his unusual A Possible Life, a set of five almost entirely separate stories with little to connect them apart from a shared humanity. His characters range from a modern folk-rock singer to a God-fearing domestic servant in Napoleonic rural France and a future neurologist tracing the physical origins of human self awareness. This book left me waiting for Faulks' next one.

Capital by John Lanchester (Faber & Faber $36.99)

Contemporary life and the world financial crisis drive Capital, a novel which manages to be both funny and thought provoking. Based around the inhabitants of one London street, it has a range of characters who provide a cross-section of contemporary urban life from the banker and his unspeakable shopaholic wife through to the Muslim corner shop owner and his family, and the old lady who has seen the street in all its metamorphoses. There is an element of stereotyping but the narrative skips along and there is a winning combination of fun and serious intent.

Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury $36.99)

A more wicked sense of fun is on display in Zoo Time, a fizzing energetic comedy of sexual and literary obsession. Guy Ableman is a writer who has enjoyed success but is slipping as his world collapses around him. Literacy is on the way out in the world of tweets and apps and quick hit reading. As his career goes west so does his marriage to the glamorous Vanessa, complicated by Ableman's lust for her mother. Jacobson combines a firework display of high emotion with careful prose.

Soon by Charlotte Grimshaw (Vintage $37.99)

Grimshaw continues the dissection she began in The Night Book of a vulpine National Party leader and turns the screws as David Hallwright (now PM) holidays in a plush compound on an exclusive beach north of Auckland. David's wife Roza, a vulnerable addict in the first book, has hardened up into a more vicious persona, while David's politically neutral friend Simon Lampton, a doctor infatuated with Roza, stumbles badly when a journalist turns up threatening to expose a shadow from the past. Grimshaw smoothly satirises the repulsive braying nouveau riche who fawn on Hallwright but there's a rising stench as corruption and paranoia creep, from within the compound and beyond.

A Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (Little, Brown $49.99)

Some lit-snobs may be a bit sniffy about Rowling's first foray into adult writing, but so what? She leaves the boy wizard in the dust as she sustains a thrilling pace throughout the book's 500 pages. Her device is to portray a small, traditional English town and its moribund stalwarts threatened by Britain's widening range of new demographics: Multicultural, working class, benefit-dependent, drug-addicted, young. There are some really unpleasant people in the pages, including a psychotic wife/child-beater, an obese perv who presents himself as the pillar of society, and an array of hypocrites we can all recognise. A couple of the kids struggle to be heroes but no one escapes the harshness Rowling metes out.

Dominion by C. J. Sansom (Mantle $34.99)

A substantial (570 pages) epic which starts in 1952, 12 years after Britain has become a German satellite after acceding to the Nazis. It's a frightening, depressing scenario, in which Britain's puppet government kowtows to the Nazis, and informers (and police) are everywhere to crush the underground. The tale centres around civil servant David Fitzgerald, who has Jewish heritage (a secret), and scientist Frank Muncaster, incarcerated in a mental hospital after killing his brother, also a scientist. David becomes involved in the resistance just as the authorities start to sweep through Britain "cleansing" the Jewish population. Meanwhile, the German-Russia war grinds on. Sansom, acclaimed author of the Shardlake historical series and the gripping Winter In Madrid, has based his "what if" narrative on a raft of research cited at the back; he also acknowledges Robert Harris and Len Deighton who explored the same scenario. A terrific, brutal read.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape $37.99)

McEwan sets his 15th novel in 1969, as looked back on 40 years later by his narrator, Serena Frome. Recruited by the stuffy sexist British secret service to perform a "mission", young Serena, who prides herself on her wide-ranging literary tastes, is given the task of inveigling Tom, a young leftist writer, on to their side/payroll without him knowing it to somehow counter Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. Against a backdrop of hippiedom, rock music and booze, Serena and Tom embark on an affair; but they both feel they are being watched; Serena's flat is almost certainly bugged - and then McEwan plays a really audacious trick.

Waiting For Sunrise by William Boyd (Bloomsbury $36.99)

Anything Boyd writes is worth your time, and Waiting For Sunrise, about the travails of an impotent English actor called Lysander Rief as he seeks treatment in Vienna in 1913, is a gripping foray into the murky world of espionage. Rief's skills as an actor on stage may be dubious but they prove handy for Britain's War Office as they press him to trace a mole leaking secrets to the Germans. Boyd has fun with the mood and pace as he follows Rief around Europe as he feigns various personas and applies the skills of theatre to the theatre of real life. An enjoyable romp.


Standing In Another Man's Grave

by Ian Rankin (Orion $36.99)

Hang on - didn't Rebus retire some years ago? He's back, which doesn't come as a complete surprise. If you really want to kill off your greatest character (and money-spinner) you, er, kill him off. Anyway, good news: he and Rankin are in fine form. Cleverly, and with a nod to his loyal readership, Rankin pits Rebus against his newer character, Malcolm Fox, who is horrified to find Rankin on his patch and up to his old tricks. Fox is a man with ambition and a talent for sucking up to get to where he wants to be. Rebus is anti-establishment to his core; he'd rather let a crook get away than suck up to management. Rebus is a boozer; Fox doesn't drink (although he used to). Their relationship is the psychological heart of the story. The plot involves young women going missing, over a period of years, from a Scottish road. Only the last victim's mother and Rebus see the connection. Rebus takes to the road, and we go willingly with him.

The Jewels Of Paradise by Donna Leon (William Heinemann $36.99)

The mystery here might be: Whatever has become of Commissario Brunetti? Perhaps he's gone on holiday. This is Leon's first standalone novel and the lack of Brunetti might go down as well as a blue cheese gelato with traditionalists. But this is terrific fun: a young music historian, banished by lack of work at home to bleak Birmingham, scurries back when she hears about a job - researching the contents of two mysterious chests that belonged to a now forgotten baroque composer. There are two cousins who claim to be the composer's heir; there may be more at stake. It is light relief - and expertly written as usual - from wondering what Brunetti is going to have for his lunch.

The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugdall (Text Publishing $37)

The second Cate Austin novel from Dugdall is, already, familiar stuff. The rather irritating probation officer, Cate, has a new nutter to deal with. This one, Alice, aided a suicide: that of her lover. It's all a bit weirder than that; Dugdall does good, complicated nutters. Alice met, or rather hunted, the man on the internet. He was advertising for a beautiful woman to help him die. Cate must decide what sort of prison sentence to recommend for Alice. Is she a murderer, or a compassionate helpmate, or a nutter? The plotting's expert, but Cate really needs to get her own life sorted out.

The Black Box by Michael Connelly (Allen & Unwin $33.99)

The Black Box is usually the data storage unit retrieved from crashed planes. Here it is the murder files containing the blurry memories of what happened after the 1992 LA riots. Harry Bosch was on the beat back then. In the aftermath of the riots he was sent to the homicide scene of a young woman, a foreign journalist, found dead in an alley. He was given 15 minutes to assess the scene. These were chaotic and frightening times. Twenty years on, this is still on his conscience. This is good, solid, gritty, familiar Bosch territory.

Creole Belle by James Lee Burke (Orion $36.99)

Detective Dave Robicheaux is on morphine after getting shot and so the dreamy, steamy, atmosphere is even dreamier and steamier. There is a missing woman who needs his help. She visits him in hospital. But does she exist? This is the sort of stuff which could drive a weaker person to call for more drugs, but Lee Burke manages to get away with it. He can do plot and dialogue and he is funny. A copper threatening a scumbag with being beaten to marmalade? Made me laugh.



by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit $36.99)

My book of the year. Robinson returns to the rich, humane, all-too-plausibly crisis-ridden future of his great Mars Trilogy for a standalone novel, at once an intimate love story and a grand tour of our now fully inhabited solar system. His two lovers are vivid and engaging characters, intriguingly post-human (genetic tinkering is all the rage 300 years from now) and yet all too human-like. Robinson is working at the peak of his considerable powers here, and manages to fit a trilogy's worth of extrapolative speculation into the story while keeping it light, airy, and delightfully readable.

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz $36.99)

The most exciting science fiction writer to appear on the scene in the past several years is unquestionably Hannu Rajaniemi. I would have said this just on the basis of his debut novel, The Quantum Thief, but this wildly imaginative sequel cements the verdict. Against the backdrop of an ongoing solar-system-wide war over the ultimate meaning of physics for sentient beings - does quantum mechanics make true immortality impossible? - the greatest thief in human history escapes from Mars, and makes his way towards Earth. Which has become a very strange place indeed.

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin $19.99)

I first read Margo Lanagan's latest novel at the very start of this year, and it has haunted me ever since. I initially took it for a lesser book than her astonishing previous novel, Tender Morsels, but I've come around to the view that it's merely more subtle. Over the course of a generation, the people of isolated Rollrock Island discover the true meaning of the selkie myth, as more and more of their men are captured by the irresistable charms of seal brides, and abandon the island's women.

A Blink Of The Screen by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday $49.99)

I had regretfully concluded, on the basis of his last two novels, that Terry Pratchett's great books were all behind him. Not so fast. This retrospective collection brings together a lifetime's worth of short fiction, spanning 1963-2009, and it's a treat: Good reading cover to cover, and a chance to track the evolving style of a great storyteller. Slightly less than half the book consists of Discworld stories; the remainder includes such gems as The High Meggas, the launchpad for a series Pratchett would have written had the first Discworld book not changed his life by becoming an unexpected bestseller.

The Unreal And The Real, Vols I and II by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer Press $33.95 each)

A career-spanning two-volume sampling of Ursula Le Guin's short stories, in beautiful hardbacks, as chosen and introduced by the author herself. The stories add up to a masterclass in contemporary fiction, divided according to setting - the ones in Where On Earth all take place on some version of this planet, with Outer Space, Inner Lands visiting locations further afield. Even if, like me, you own all nine of Le Guin's original collections, these books are too beautiful to resist.

Chick Lit

The Girl You Left Behind

by Jojo Moyes (Michael Joseph $35)

The Girl You Left Behind is a painting beloved by two women in different centuries. Sophie Lefevre is the girl in the portrait, which was painted by her husband Edouard before he left to fight in World War I, while for modern-day Liv Halston, it's one of the few keepsakes she has from her husband David who died suddenly just four years into their marriage. Author Jojo Moyes skilfully jumps between eras to tell the stories of what each woman goes through when she faces losing the painting, weaving the two dual plots together in an intoxicating way. Highly recommended.

Mrs Queen Takes The Train by William Kuhn (Allen & Unwin $29.99)

What would happen if the Queen went AWOL, and not even her closest staffers knew where she was? That's the premise of this book by William Kuhn, who has the Queen travelling all the way from London to Scotland on a public train. As a reader you have to just go with Kuhn's fantastical plot, and imagine Her Maj as just a regular person who happens to have one of the oddest jobs in the world and is a bit sick of it all. Good fun.

Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French (Michael Joseph $37)

The Silvia of the title of this blackly comic novel by Brit comedienne Dawn French is its central character, though she doesn't utter a single word. That's because she's in a coma, and so the story of her life is told by the people visiting her in hospital. To balance still-wounded ex-husband Ed and estranged children Jamie and Cassie, there are cheerful and caring nurse Winnie, new age older sister Jo and loyal housekeeper Tia, with whom French has great fun. Difficult subjects are deftly dealt with, and though this is an uneasy read, it's a rewarding one.

One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins $34.99)

After losing her mentor and editor to cancer, Irish journalist Kitty Logan sets about paying her tribute by writing the one story Constance wished she'd been able to pen before she died. But all Kitty has to go on are a list of 100 unconnected names of mostly ordinary people, and no clue from Constance as to why she wanted to write about them. She concentrates on six, and finds that as she discovers more about them, she's also learning about herself. At times a little clunky but you can't help but appreciate Ahern's message, which becomes clear only in the final few chapters.

The Perfect Hope by Nora Roberts (Piatkus $36.99)

This is the final book in the Boonsboro Inn trilogy about the lives and loves of the three Montgomery brothers. Readers of the series will have seen the plot of this coming for a while as the last single brother, Ryder, starts dating the beautiful but wary innkeeper Hope. The book also wraps up the mystery of Lizzy, the inn's resident ghost, tidying up all the trilogy's loose ends. A nice, romantic read for those who have been following the series from book one.

Teen Books


by Eishes Chayil (Walker Books $19.99)

This moving semi-autobigraphical novel is the story of teenage Gittel, growing up inside the Jewish community of Borough Park, New York, sheltered from the outside world. The girls dress modestly, are kept away from influences such as television and newspapers, and attend Jewish schools as they work toward their goal of arranged marriages. The tragedy comes when Gittel witnesses the incestuous abuse of her best friend Devorah. In her naivety, she is unaware of what is actually going on even when Devorah, whose many cries for help go unheard, is driven to take her own life. The author grew up in an ultra-Orthodox community, and when her book was originally published she used a pseudonym for fear of a backlash - she and her publishers received threats after its publication. It is a harrowing story, though beautifully told and lightened throughout with touches of Jewish humour, but Eishes Chayil - an apt choice of pen name for Judy Brown, meaning woman of valour - has given a brave voice to the victims of a society that barricades itself against the evils of the outside world yet fails to recognise the darkness inside its own walls.

The ACB With Honora Lee by Kate De Goldi (Longacre $34.99)

One of the most beautiful books out this year in form as well as narrative, De Goldi's story is beautifully illustrated, with pictures and endplates by Gregory O'Brien. When Perry's parents run out of after-school activities for her to take part in, she decides to spend an afternoon a week visiting her gran, Honora, in the Santa Lucia retirement home. Honora is what Perry's dad calls "disinhibited", which is why it's too much trouble for her to join the family on their outings; and she is losing her memory. But Perry may be a little "disinhibited" too; after all she does play "Improper I Spy" with her grandmother, who thinks Perry is a boy, and one of her old pupils. Perry decides to create an alphabet book for Honora, so, because her Gran is out of order, the book is too; it's an anarchic ABC, the ACB.

The Farm by Emily McKay (Penguin $21)

I'm a bit over vampires, zombies and dystopic futures when it comes to Young Adult books, and this one has all three; but it's such a good story and so well-written I have to relent. In a future America where the population has been ravaged by monsters, Lily and her autistic sister, Mel, have been sent, along with hundreds of other young people, to a fortified school. This is ostensibly to protect them from the mutant Ticks, who have a particular taste for the hormones in teen blood. However, the place is a prison, a blood farm, where the young are milked like cattle until they turn 18, to feed the ravenous mutants. Lily plots their escape, only to be thrown into confusion when she discovers a newcomer at the farm, a boy from her past, who seems to have other plans for her - plans that include his vampire compadre. What makes this stand apart is that it is truly chilling, touching without being overly sentimental; you are with the characters all the way, desperately willing them to escape their horrific circumstances.

Every Day by David Levithan (Text $26)

Another intriguing "out there" kind of book from Text Publishing - who always manage to find the curiously brilliant - this is the story of "A", who for some reason that is never explained but seems totally believeable, wakes up every day in the body of a new person. This is something A has learned to live with - one day a boy, the next a girl; one day a genius, the next a stoner - and manages by trying to imprint as little of himself on his host as he can. That is until A wakes up as Justin, a rather obnoxious, self-interested person, and falls in love with Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon. Life becomes complicated as, despite the various bodies (male and female) A lands in, the mission is always to get back to Rhiannon and gain her trust. Levithan has crafted a fascinating look into belonging and acceptance.

The Boy In The Olive Grove by Fleur Beale (Random House $19.99)

From one of my favourite authors, this mixes reality with the supernatural in the story of Bess, who is expelled from school after an uncharacteristic incident with alcohol. What she can't explain is that she was drinking to forget a terrible vision from the past, her stepmother being burnt at the stake as a witch. Things become even more complicated when her father suffers a heart attack and asks her to take over his failing business. Her embittered mother is hardly speaking to her. And there are those recurring hallucinations of the young man in the olive grove ...

Marked by Denis Martin (Walker Books $29.99)

Kiwi author Denis Martin has come up trumps with another thriller, this time set in the Coromandel. Newly arrived at Cooksville, Cully thinks small-town life will be quiet. Then he comes across the mysterious but stunning Kat and is intrigued. He knows he should stay out of it, but is drawn into a deadly web. And it's too late to hide from those who hunt them. Combining the fiction of mystery and action - guns and abductions - with real-life teen problems of bullying and relationship angst, this is a great choice for Christmas.

Guardian Angel by Robert Muchamore (Hachette $34.99 hardback)

One of the long-awaited books of the year, Muchamore's sequel to The People's Republic does not disappoint. The perfect gift for a Cherub series fan and also for any newcomer who enjoys teenagers being the focus and the protagonists in action-packed James Bond-style storylines, Guardian Angel is full of plot twists and while it is compelling fiction, has a believable tone. The main hero, Ryan, has a new mission - though related to his previous outing - and we follow him to Kyrgyzstan in a bid to save Ethan. Particularly good for boys, but girls who like action will enjoy it too. Now we just have to wait until next year for the closing episode of the trilogy.

Silver by Andrew Motion (Jonathan Cape $36.99)

It was far too long since I'd read Treasure Island, so it was with some trepidation I launched upon this "sequel", subtitled "Return to Treasure Island", written nearly 123 years later but set just 40 years after the original. Motion has created a standalone novel, yet it is full of references to the original. He is faithful to the Victorian setting in style, with Jim Hawkins jnr and new friend Natty - Long John Silver's daughter - speaking and acting believably. And while Motion does not go in for the swashbuckling piracy of his predecessor - no yo ho ho-ing or mutinous plundering (although there is a good knife fight) - the reader is drawn into the tale through the quality of the prose. After being tracked down by Natty, Jim "borrows" the old map from his father's sea chest. At the behest of the old, blind Long John, the pair set sail for Treasure Island to retrieve the silver. They expect to find only the three Maroons left behind by their fathers. Yet these three are now ruthless tyrants, ruling over a village of shipwrecked slaves. Cue difficult times for the new generation of treasure hunters.

MetaWars by Jeff Norton (Hachette $18.99)

I admit to being reluctant to delve into what I thought would be "yet another story set in a computerised dystopian world". I was soon proved wrong. This first instalment, "Fight for the future", is set in a future - perhaps not too far-off - London, in which our worst nightmares of global warming have taken effect and the greater population is living in poverty, coping with oil, food and water rations; but there is an escape: the Metasphere. In this virtual world, everyone is represented by an avatar and can carry out a dual life with amazing abilities. A fast-paced read, MetaWars offers much real-life comparison, such as climate change, political chaos and - of course - teen relationships. While being in the Metasphere is like living inside a game, it soon becomes a terrifying reality as hero Jonah is launched into a battle between the Guardians and the Millenials, the factions warring for control. MetaWars is perfect for the action lover - and those who spend more time with a computer than a book.

Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket (Hardie Grant Egmont $19.99)

The last of Lemony Snicket's popular 13-part Series Of Unfortunate Events was published in 2006. Now he has reappeared with the first of a new series, All The Wrong Questions. That this instalment is titled with a question is the first indication that "baffling" is an apt way to describe it. Supposedly "autobiographical", Snicket relates the tale of his 13-year-old self being an apprentice to S. Theodora Markson, a woman who seems hopeless at solving the cases she's been hired for. They arrive in Stain'd-by-the-Sea, an empty town surrounded by a waterless sea and a treeless forest. Twists and turns and playing on words are par for the course as he attempts to unravel the mystery involving a statue of a mythical sea beast and unusual characters - particularly being hindered rather than helped by Markson. The illustrations by Seth are scene-setters too.

Kids' Books

The Word Witch

by Margaret Mahy (HarperCollins $46)

The late, beloved Margaret Mahy was certainly a spinner of magical literary spells and this collected edition of her poems, first published in 2009, is testament to her whimsical imagination and puckish sense of humour. The poems cover most of her life; some were written when she was a schoolgirl; some were contributions to the School Journal and others come from her private papers. Her wit and wisdom bounce from the page, illustrated sympathetically by David Elliot, who also provided the pictures for her The Moon And Farmer McPhee, last year's Book of the Year in the NZ Post Childrens' Book Awards. There's also a bonus CD of Mahy reading some of the poems. This book is a must-have for any Mahy fan; it will be a well-loved and lasting memorial.

Small And Tall Tales Of Extinct Animals by Helene Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt (Gecko Press $36.99)

As soon I set eyes on it, I wanted this book for the cover art and design alone; it's gorgeous, a book to be looked over again and again, and cherished. Gecko have a great track record when it comes to sourcing beautiful books, and this is no exception. The content, too, is fascinating; plenty of well-illustrated facts on extinct creatures, some you will have heard of and some you won't. There's the dodo, of course, and our own moa, but who knew about the tratratratra, also known as the tretretretre? (It was a giant lemur.) Plus there's a really interesting piece about New Zealand's Haast's eagle with a little suggestion that it could have inspired the Maori legend of the Pouakai, the mythological man-eating bird. All fascinating stuff, and a joy to read.

Uncle Trev And The Whistling Bull by Jack Lasenby (Gecko Press $19.99)

A welcome return to the town of Waharoa, as imagined by one of our finest storytellers. It's the 1930s and our narrator is home from school with one of those nasty illnesses that ravaged children in those days. There are hints that his mum, stalwart and bossy though she is, is finding it hard to cope alone, so she relents to let Uncle Trev, her "cocky" brother, watch over the invalid (despite the fact Trev always forgets to take off his hats, trails his muddy boots over her clean kitchen floor and warms his feet in the stove). Uncle Trev has the most amazing stories to tell: of old Waharoa, his amazing farm animals (including the whistling bull of the title and his dog Tip, who is so afraid of the dark he turns on all the lights in the house). Then there's his neighbour, Old Gotta ("gotta shovel, Trev?"), who dressed in a suit of armour and terrified the Rawleighs Man, and the tale of the time Captain Cook defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waharoa. This is Lasenby at his warm, comic best, spinning terrific yarns and at the same time capturing for posterity a little of the old-time New Zealand.

Four Children And It by Jacqueline Wilson (Puffin $23)

In joyous homage to one of her own favourite books, popular author Wilson brings Edith Nesbit's wonderful tale (Five Children And It, published in 1902) of the four Edwardian children and the Psammead, a peculiar and ancient creature which grants wishes into the modern world. Rosalind and Robbie are stuck for the holidays with their distracted dad, his glam new wife and their precious toddler, and stepsister Smash, a loud, bullying and pretty obnoxious character. But what seems like holiday hell turns magically on its head when they discover a strange monkey-like creature in a sandpit in the woods and set off on a series of adventures. However, the Psammead's wishes come with a catch; the magic ends at sunset - and the kids discover it might be a case of "be careful what you wish for". A book that will appeal to today's youngsters and hopefully inspire them to hunt out the original classic.

Ivy And Bean: No News Is Good News by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall (Chronicle $11.99)

For starting-out self-readers, this is one of a very popular series - bestsellers in the United States - with an appealingly cheeky attitude. Best friends Annie and Bean have a problem. Everybody else in their class gets "lowfat Belldeloon in a special just-for-you serving size" cheese in their lunchboxes. (Actually it's special because once you take off the red wax coating you can play with it, just like playdough.) Annie and Bean's parents think it's too expensive. So they suggest the girls should earn the money for it themselves. They are too young to babysit, and making their magical potion to sell ends in disaster. So they decide to start a local newspaper. But are their neighbours ready for what Annie and Bean might discover? Loads of fun, and the books come with activities at the back (warning: the quizzes cover the whole series, so might become an addiction).

Geek Dad by Ken Denmead (Viking $30)

Okay, so it's technically not a read for the younger crowd, but being packed full of projects and activities to make and do using everything from paper to electronics and Lego. It's full of handy hints and ways to use the projects - and all are well explained, with such vital considerations as cost, difficulty and reusability rated. The whole idea is for cool family fun. As author Denmead says: "Most 'parenting' books aren't about things you can do with your kids. Most are about things to do to your kids, tricks and tactics for tweaking their behaviour in some desired manner usually at odds with what kids really want: to play, and to spend real quality time with you."

Discover Earth's Secrets by David and Helen Orme (QED Publishing $24.99)

Subtitled "how our planet was formed, shaped and continuously changes", this volume is full of fascinating facts and excellent photos in four categories: Inside Earth, Shaping Earth, Moving Earth and Aerial Earth. This would be a great gift for the curious younger reader and a useful resource for school projects too. Volcanoes, tsunamis, pollution and climate change are among the many subjects featured.

The Grunts In Trouble by Philip Ardagh (Nosy Crow $19.99)

It's always good to get a well-illustrated hardback and this adventure is a fine example. Fans of Roald Dahl's The Twits may find similarities in this family - Mr and Mrs Grunt and their adopted son, Sunny (who is dressed in one of his mother's old dresses - dyed blue because she knew boys should always be dressed in blue), and their cat Ginger Biscuit and donkeys Clip and Clop. Youngsters will love the revolting habits of the Grunts, such as Mrs Grunt pulling out her nose hairs with barbecue tongs and eating badger porridge - or perhaps it was stew. Because the Grunts know boys don't like tidying their bedrooms, Sunny doesn't have one. Of course there is a mystery for him to solve, with Lord Biggs and his strange household at the centre and a circus involved too. The typeface is a good size for early readers and illustrator Axel Scheffler has given pen and ink attention to every page, perfectly in tune with the theme.

School Of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari (Little, Brown $16.99)

Four children with excessive phobias are accepted into the School of Fear - somewhat like Hogwarts, a mysterious boarding school - for six weeks over summer. Each is understandably terrified at the prospect and this is not helped when they meet the principal, Mrs Wellington, who appears to think they are contestants in a beauty pageant. Instead of a gymnasium there is a Fearnasium, full of books on all possible phobias from acarophobia to zemmiphobia and all sorts of equipment designed to make people face their fears. The food is flavoured with Casu Frazigu - maggot cheese. In all, the school is more fearsome than the children's actual fears. Add to the mix the death of the principal, a mad lawyer who kidnaps her heir - Mac the dog - and the children having to race against time to save him and the result is a bizarre and entertaining story. Interwoven between chapters are definitions of various phobias, such as arachibutyrophobia, the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth. And readers will discover how sometimes the best thing is to face up to fear.

Ratburger by David Walliams (HarperCollins $24.99)

Little Britain co-star Walliams has produced another surefire winner for kids, with plenty of gruesome imagery such as Zoe's disgusting stepmother Sheila who sprays the carpet with half-chewed pieces of prawn cocktail crisps when she speaks and Raj the newsagent recycling chocolate bars that he has let Zoe either nibble or lick first, or mints she has sucked on, being too poor to buy them. Zoe wants to be a famous animal trainer, but her dreams of her pet, Gingernut, becoming the world's first breakdancing hamster are dashed when he unexpectedly dies. And there begins a fun-filled read with amazing twists and turns. With illustrations by Tony Ross, very much in the style of Quentin Blake, the reader is entertained from cover to cover.

Picture Books

The Dragon Hunters

by James Russell (Dragon Brothers Books $29.95)

Driven along by some nifty rhymes, this tale of adventure is a real pleasure to read aloud for child and parent. It comes as no surprise that Aucklander Russell road-tested the verses on his boys to get them just right. The story of two brothers off in search of their dog after it is snatched by a dragon is the first in a trilogy, and has moody illustrations (and some neat monochrome detail sketches) by Link Choi that capture the drama as it unfolds.

Remember That November by Jennifer Beck (Huia $20)

November 5 is a day most of us recognise as Guy Fawkes Day but this story turns our attention to the peaceful Maori community of Parihaka, which was raided and destroyed by Government troops on that day in 1881 in a dispute over land. Beck tells the story simply, using the voice of a Maori girl, a Parihaka descendant, competing in a speech contest. Lindy Fisher uses mixed media to powerfully illustrate a shameful chapter in our history. Also available in te reo as Maumahara ki tera Noema.

Mouse Mansion: Sam And Julia by Karina Schaapman (Allen & Unwin $29.99)

Three years of graft went into creating Mouse Mansion, with Schaapman using cardboard boxes, papier-mache and recycled materials (including vintage fabrics) to create the house, its rooms and the characters that inhabit it in mesmerising detail. From there, Schaapman uses her magical creation to inspire the stories about Sam and Julia, two mice who come from very different families. Intricate scenes are created and photographed to illustrate stories of daily life in Mouse Mansion. Absolutely fascinating.

Grandma McGarvey's Christmas by Jenny Hessell (Scholastic $19.50)

As anyone who is familiar with Grandma McGarvey will know, she's a tough old bird willing to give anything a crack. But in this tale (the 12th title in a series spanning more than 20 years) she is reluctant to step in to replace a sick Santa at the camping ground because she has her own party to plan. As usual, Hessell's lively rhymes power a rollicking yarn that has Grandma McGarvey saving the day yet again - although unwittingly this time.

Read Me Another One, Please! ed. by Dorothy Dudek Vinicombe and Belynda Smith (Whitcoulls $29.99)

There's something for children of all ages and tastes in this collection of more than 30 New Zealand stories, extracts and poems, with works by the likes of Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley, Tessa Duder, Gavin Bishop and Dorothy Butler among them. Most of the stories are short enough for reading at bedtime, and a wander through the pages of this hardback makes you realise we have some of the best children's authors and illustrators in the world.

Just Right For Christmas by Birdie Black (Nosy Crow $18.99)

Rosalind Beardshaw's cute and upbeat illustrations capture the optimism of this tale, which has similarities to two other stories, Joseph Had A Little Overcoat and Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree. In this version, a king buys a roll of bright red cloth for a cloak. The scraps of cloth from that are left at the back door and make a jacket for someone else, the scraps from which make a hat for another person and so on. Timely Christmas message about giving, sharing and recycling.

The Very Hungry Bum by Claudia Rowe (Atlas Jones A$18)

Bum is a strangely satisfying word to say out loud and it's one that will always elicit giggles from youngsters. In this parody of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Rowe uses cheeky humour and a sense of the absurd that will delight children even if the portrayal of various objects disappearing up a ravenous bottom might be slightly unnerving. The story follows a similar arc to the caterpillar as the bum eats more and more, then turns into a beautiful ... bummerfly.

Snow Bunny's Christmas Wish by Rebecca Harry (Nosy Crow $29.99)

This charming Christmas story in a large format hardback will appeal to littlies as author-illustrator Harry creates a magical winter wonderland decorated with splashes of glitter. Snow Bunny lives by herself in the wintry forest and her greatest desire is to have a friend, a request she makes to Santa. When she misses the post, she has to deliver the letter to Santa herself and her good deeds along the way make her wish come true.

The House That Wonky Built by Craig Smith (Scholastic $29)

Building on the success of the Wonky Donkey book and CD, this release has those two items included with a fold-out play set that features Wonky's stable and some other rooms with cardboard play pieces and re-usable stickers. Kids enjoy the rhyme and repetition in this cumulative song about an unfortunate donkey and love being able to sing along to the CD. With the extras here, it will make a great Christmas present.

I Love Lemonade by Mark Somerset (Dreamboat Books $29.99)

This beautifully crafted hardback is a sassy follow-up to Baa Baa Smart Sheep and sees Quirky Turkey trying to extract revenge after Little Baa Baa tricked him into eating poo. He attempts to pass off a glass of goat's pee as refreshing lemonade but he's having a tough time getting the wily sheep to swallow that story. Rowan Somerset's illustrations are a delight, capturing the nuances of the exchanges between the two as they try to out-manoeuvre each other.

Check out Linda Herrick's top title for 2012.