Orwellian theme conjures up masterly and witty parable for our times

Holy Cow
By David Duchovny (Headline)

In the TV series


US actor David Duchovny played a novelist called Hank Moody. Now, in a neat example of life imitating art, he's produced a novel of his own.


Holy Cow

is pretty much bonkers. It's a parable for our times with Orwellian connotations. And hey, guess what? The actor can write. Our narrator, Elsie Bovary, is a wildly anthropomorphised cow living happily on a dairy farm in upstate New York until one night her life changes forever. While her friend Mallory is flirting with bulls she happens to glimpse a programme about factory farming on the human's "Box God". Finally understanding the reality of her situation, she realises she has to flee to the one place she will be safe - to India where cows are sacred. So in the company of a cellphone-toting turkey and a pig that wants to be Jewish she heads off towards danger and adventure. Wisecracking and knowing, with a sly eye to product placement, Elsie is determined to speak the truth and have Jennifer Lawrence play her in the movie version of her story. From the ethics of farming to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Duchovny hilariously tackles politics, pop culture and religion.

Holy Cow

is not the first satirical novel with farm animals but it's brilliantly original all the same.

Vanessa and Her Sister
By Priya Parmar (Bloomsbury)

It must have been a daunting prospect creating a novel about the Bloomsbury Set. So much has been written about this group of early 20th-century English bohemian intellectuals and so many of their letters collected, that simply deciding which part of their story to concentrate on would have been a challenge. British novelist Priya Parmar has focused on two sisters, the artist Vanessa Bell and the writer Virginia Woolf, and the part of their lives before they achieved fame and success. I'm not one to judge how closely she has stuck to the historical template but I can confidently say she has produced a terrific story. Her imagined version of Vanessa's inner life is finely nuanced and emotionally authentic. The Bloomsbury Set were a complicated crowd, forever having affairs with each other and being ostentatiously clever, but by telling the story in Vanessa's voice, in diary form, covering a period when she suffered tragedy and heartbreak as well as joy and grew into herself as a woman, Parmar has found the human centre of the story. I loved this novel. But Virginia Woolf is portrayed as being as monstrous as she was mad.

Supercharged Food: Eat Clean, Green and Vegetarian
By Lee Holmes (Murdoch Books)

"Wellness warrior" Lee Holmes' mission is to get us all to eat more vegetables and this book is full of ideas for incorporating them into every meal, from breakfast through to dessert. The promise is no nut roasts or hockey-puck vege patties but dishes that are delicious and loaded with nutrients. You'll need a fondness for on-trend super-foods such as kale, chia seeds and quinoa to make the most of these recipes but there are some mouthwatering options like the guilt-free raw berry and chocolate torte as well as more unusual ones - cauliflower and raspberry cheesecake or spinach ice cream, for instance. Holmes devotes a chunk of this book to nutritional information and advice on how to "veganise" recipes, as well as how best to store fresh vegetables and cook them for optimum nutrition. I could have done with fewer full-page shots of Holmes playing the green goddess but this is a rewarding book for vegetarians looking to make their eating more interesting and anyone with a dairy or gluten intolerance. And if just the thought of eating healthier makes you want to reach for a pie, Holmes has that covered too.

My New Zealand Colours Book
(Te Papa Press)

This is one of three bright and beautiful board books for kids (the others are on numbers and the alphabet). Combining English and te reo Maori with treasures from our national museum and rhyming verses, they are small works of art. They're designed for children under 3 and were developed by the museum's curators and educators. Paintings, carvings, sculpture, vintage toys, weaving, jewellery and even a pair of super-cool Jandals illustrate their pages, and some of our most prominent artists are represented. Although there are details of all these objects and artworks to satisfy adult curiosity what the kids will get from these books is lots of fun, a unique approach to improving language skills and a sweet dose of Kiwiana.

By Phillip Mann (Sargasso Press)

Phillip Mann is not well known outside science-fiction fan circles but he certainly deserves to be and new editions of three of his books from Sargasso Press should see to that. Pioneers is a stunning tale exploring love and humanity, and feels timeless in its depiction of the future. Angelo and Ariadne are adapted humans, engineered to be powerful and tasked to bring back to Earth the Pioneers, humans sent into space to create outposts. Their story will resonate with readers, mirroring many of the issues we face.


- Review by Ngaire Atmore Pattison who blogs about books at bookiemonster.co.nz
Time and Time Again
By Ben Elton (Bantam)

If you could change just one thing in history, what would it be? Ben Elton's 15th novel, Time and Time Again, explores this question. Secret documents written by Sir Isaac Newton and lodged for two centuries within the vaults of Cambridge University have provided humanity with one slender chance to alter the past. The date when it all went wrong? June 1914. The event? The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Can the terrible wars of the 20th century be averted? It is 2024. Hugh Stanton is an ex-soldier, academic and recently bereaved husband and father. He has nothing left to lose and is the perfect choice for a seemingly hare-brained scheme devised by a group of Cambridge dons. Time and Time Again kept me on my toes with its many twists and complications. I thought I knew how it was going to wrap up, but I was wrong. Although far from original in the time travel formula, the story still packs an impressive punch.

- Review by Victoria Elmes, an Auckland teacher of English and classics.