Elegant writing takes us through the highs and lows of a woman’s life.

Academy Street
By Mary Costello (Text)

No one tells a melancholy story quite like the Irish.

Academy Street

, the debut novel from Dublin short-story writer Mary Costello, is a slim volume, book-ended by tragedy, with sadness sprinkled liberally throughout.

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It is an intimate study of a small and timid life. Tess Lohan grows up in rural Ireland in the 1940s and the death of her mother from tuberculosis robs her of the contentment of childhood.

Tess is a quiet child and family is everything to her. But her siblings begin to grow up and leave home and, eventually, she follows a sister to New York. There, she experiences the heartache of love and the mixed joys of motherhood. Her fate is more suffering, of course, which Tess seems to bear as if it were her birthright.

Costello's first book was a collection of short stories and her writing has the sharpness and simplicity that form of fiction demands. In fewer than 200 pages, she takes us through six decades of a woman's life, profoundly and satisfyingly. The opening chapters, with a child's-eye perspective of loss, are especially acute.

Academy Street is an elegant and insightful piece of writing but I was thankful for its brevity. I'm not sure I could have coped with much more heartbreak.

Fast: Good Home Cooking
By Michael Van de Elzen
(Random House)

If you're sick of your own meal repertoire and want to serve something different, this is the recipe book for you. Through his TV series The Food Truck, Michael Van de Elzen has become known for his healthy take on fast food. His fourth cookbook is the obvious progression from that, packed with ideas for tasty, nourishing dishes that are mostly affordable and won't take forever to make.

Starting with breakfasts and smoothies, moving through to vege curry, mushroom risotto and lamb tacos, with old favourites like roasted bird, fish pie, beef stew and apple tart, it's the kind of food you want to eat now, and all of it beautifully photographed.

These are not simple meals, necessarily. Van de Elzen incorporates ingredients you may have to seek out in specialty food stores. But once assembled the cooking doesn't get too complicated.

He is especially good on wholesome desserts, packed with healthy seeds, nuts and vegetables. His homemade ice blocks should be a hit with the kids this summer and for adults there are some delectable cocktail ideas. There's even a section on baby food.

Paradise Saved
By Dave Butler, Tony Lindsay and Janet Hunt (Random House)

With all the doom and gloom in the world it does the heart good to read a positive conservation story. This handsome book tells of how, in 130 sanctuaries throughout the country, committed and passionate people are helping to prevent the extinction of our unique species.

It's almost like a collection of illustrated short stories as we learn how pests were removed from each piece of land and the animals and plants that live there reintroduced or encouraged to thrive. There are also useful details on how to visit each place, stay where possible or help out as a volunteer. Some of these sanctuaries, like Tiri Tiri Matangi, are well known; many others you won't have heard of. A book for anyone with an interest in conservation and New Zealand's wild places written by people who know what they're talking about.

Night Sky Watcher
By Raman Prinja
(QED/New Holland)

Night Sky Watcher comes in a nifty plastic zippered case with silver trim, just the thing for little adventurers to take with them to the top of the nearest hill on clear spring evenings as their star-gazing companion.

There's information on how to spot the Milky Way, plus methods to navigate by constellations, advice on the best time to spot comets and discussions on why the Moon's appearance has changed over time. Symbols are used to show what can be seen in the Northern or Southern Hemispheres so the book is useful for New Zealand skies.

Review by Danielle Wright of children's books and the news site newsmummy.
The Land Across
by Gene Wolfe (Tor Books)

Gene Wolfe's The Book Of The New Sun is a classic of 20th-century science fiction. The Land Across is not in that league, but this twisty tale of an American sort-of innocent abroad in an imaginary East European country kept me entertained and there were enough of the trademark Wolfean reveals and reversals to leave me well satisfied. A worthy extension to the Wolfe canon for those who know and love his work - a good starting point for those who don't.

Review by Tim Jones a Wellington author, poet and editor
Of Things Gone Astray
By Janina Matthewson
(The Friday Project)

A highly original debut novel from a New Zealand writer, Of Things Gone Astray is witty, moving and thoughtful. On a normal morning in London, things start disappearing for a small group of characters. Things like a sense of direction, a workplace and the front of a house. In the midst of this, the relationship between a young boy and his father slowly starts to disappear. Referencing the Christchurch earthquakes, Matthewson creates a magical world with some stunning writing. A book that lives in the reader's mind long after it's finished.

Review by Ngaire Atmore Pattison who blogs about books.
Searching for Sky
By Jillian Cantor (Bloomsbury)

Fifteen-year-old Sky has grown up on an island paradise with her mother, her friend River and his father Helmut. Their lives are untouched by modern technology. But when a boat appears, Sky is convinced by River it's time to leave the island. They are taken home to California where Sky struggles to cope with sleeping in a bed, travelling in a car and using money, ATMs and ipods. For Sky our modern world becomes a dystopia. A well written and heart breaking romance for teenage girls.

Review by Mary Wadsworth of Pt Chev Bookshop and Resource Room.