We Are Pirates
By Daniel Handler (Bloomsbury)

This is an odd, slippery sort of a read. I never knew quite where I was with it. Whip-smart and wryly funny, it's as dark as you'd expect a book to be when it comes from the writer who penned the A Series Of Unfortunate Events children's novels under the name Lemony Snicket. It begins as a story about conventional things but dealt with from the outset in a most unconventional way. Phil Needle is a San Francisco radio producer on the verge of a big deal. His teenage daughter, Gwen, is going through the usual high-school dramas and is caught shoplifting at a drugstore. From there things become entirely insane. Intent on a life of piracy, Gwen takes to the high seas with her new best friend, as well as the brother of the boy she has a crush on, an old man with Alzheimer's and a rest-home worker. Very quickly things stop being funny. Modern piracy, it turns out, is not remotely like the storybooks. As a novel about white, middle-class angst and outsiders who feel trapped by the societies they live in this is as original as it is grotesque. Unfortunately I also found it almost fatally uninvolving and struggled to stay engaged.

My Underground Kitchen
By Jess Daniell (Penguin Random House)

For the past two years Jess Daniell has been running an Auckland catering company that supplies tasty, freshly made food for time-poor people to pick up and take home for dinner. Many of the dishes are paleo-friendly and the Wairarapa farmer's daughter draws her influences from travels around the world. She has produced this appealing recipe book to encourage us to try creating dishes from her menu as well as some of her favourites. Divided into seasons, it's a mixed bag of recipes, all clearly marked so if you're vegan, vegetarian, paleo or suffer from a food intolerance it's easy to tell which are for you. There's fun family food such as shredded beef nachos and vegan-friendly meals such as lentil bolognaise. Plus she shares her secret recipe for her popular beef and mozzarella lasagne. This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to come up with a more interesting answer to the perennial question: "What's for dinner."


The Digestive Health Solution
By Benjamin Brown (Exisle)

Feeling bloated? Suffering stomach pain? Is your digestive system all over the place? You may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders in the world. British naturopath Benjamin Brown has battled with this and his guide to managing the symptoms and improving gut health is informative and practical. He looks at the myths surrounding the condition, as well as the most effective courses of treatment and outlines his five-step plan to controlling symptoms and enjoying better health. Written in a clear and friendly style, this is a worthwhile read for anyone whose digestive system is a weak spot.

The Dragon Riders
By James Russell (Dragon Brothers Books)

The third book in the Dragon Brothers trilogy is a handsome hardback volume with lively illustrations by Link Choi that transform a pohutukawa-clad New Zealand into a place where magical things might happen. Flynn and Paddy are two small boys who have a pet dragon called Elton John. He's big, green, and the size of a horse so it's tricky keeping him hidden from mum. One day, Elton John takes them flying across the country and inadvertently plunges them into danger. Told in rhyming verse, The Dragon Riders is a charming picture book for young children, with lots of action and a poignant finish.

Blood, Wine & Chocolate
By Julie Thomas (HarperCollins)

Waikato's Julie Thomas proves she has a deft hand for multiple genres as she switches from historical romance and spins an intriguing yarn in this, her first crime thriller. Described as "blackly comic", it's certainly a tale with moments that are dark and light, although "comic" is a stretch. Vinnie Whitney-Ross has found middle-aged bliss as a Waiheke Island winemaker married to his chocolatier sweetheart, an idyll a world away from his former life on the periphery of one of London's most psychotic gangland families. But his Kiwi dream was bought with the betrayal of a childhood pal who won't forgive or forget, and soon Vinnie faces a collision between lives old and new. Thomas skilfully evokes the gritty violence of Vinnie's East End life before switching gears as he moves from small-time hood to loved-up wine merchant. More a mixed case of quality quaffables than a Petrus, this is an enjoyable and easy read.

Review by Craig Sisterson, who blogs about crime fiction at kiwicrime.blogspot.co.nz
By Jane Higgins (Text)

This is the brilliant sequel to Christchurch author Jane Higgin's first YA novel, The Bridge. Often a second novel doesn't achieve the high quality of a first - but this is a stunning exception. Read The Bridge first, then grab Havoc and become totally immersed in the dystopian future of this city. Amid the chaos of war, teenagers Nik and Lanya are drawn into a complex web of power and betrayal. They are vivid and very real characters, often scared and conflicted. They have the courage to challenge adult authority, confront appalling prejudice and are forced to make terrifyingly real moral decisions. Much of this novel relates to conflicts around the world today, particularly the sinister form of terrorism that Cityside is developing. These two powerful novels have been likened to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series. There is rich material here for discussion with teenagers. For adults they are two gritty, engrossing reads.

Review by Carole Beu of Auckland's The Women's Bookshop.

Nicky's best read

Whether you're trying your hand at fiction or need to sharpen skills for your job, the latest edition of The Writer's Diet by Helen Sword will help you strip unnecessary padding from your work and develop healthier prose habits.

Book lover

Penny Ashton is an Auckland comedian and actor whose Hot Pink Bits plays April 28 to May 2 at Loft, Q Theatre in the NZ International Comedy Festival.


The book I love most is ... Why Do Dogs Sniff Bottoms by Dawn McMillan.

The book I'm reading right now is ... The Real Jane Austen: a life In Small Things by Paula Byrne. I'm touring my show, Promise And Promiscuity to Edinburgh this year and want to be completely ready for any Janeite [Jane Austen fan] quizzing me.

The book I'd like to read next is ... 50 Shades Of Grey by EL James as research for the history of B&D section of my show Hot Pink Bits.

My favourite bookshop is ... As much as I love the smell and feel of actual books, the travelling minstrel in me loves my Kindle.

The books that changed me are ... Any book by David Sedaris, Bossypants by Tina Fey and Screw You Dolores by Sarah-Kate Lynch.

The book I wish I'd never read is ... I Remember Me by Carl Reiner. You'd think the writer of the movie Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid would be more than capable of writing a funny book but you'd be wrong.