Book reviews: One for the road - February 2014

If you’re heading off for some well-deserved R&R, there’s no better time to grab a great book. Peta Stavelli reviews some of the latest offerings from New Zealand publishing houses.

Book -1George Clarke's Amazing Spaces

George Clarke and Jane Field-Lewis,,$34.99

Have you watched the TV programme? I loved watching as these remarkable transformations took place and (one after another) metaphorical ugly ducklings became beautiful swans. Building on this, the book takes you places the television series could not, explaining how each build was achieved and including new material to show how the designs can be adapted to more conventional spaces.

Practical artwork, together with before and after images, will inspire, while the text offers detail on effective decorating, including floor coverings, lighting, colour and textures.

Book -2The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Richard Flanagan, Random House NZ, $38

In epic Flanagan style, The Narrow Road to the Deep North continues the author's exploration of the twin themes of endurance and the human psyche, interwoven with his passion for the paradox of the zen koans.

Tasmanian-born Flanagan is a former Rhodes scholar and the author of numerous novels, including The Sound of One Hand Clapping — later made into a movie of the same name. He writes with deep affection for the characters and places of his home state. This intimate relationship between people and place echoes throughout his work, and it is unflagging as he follows their brutal lives as captive soldiers working on the Burma Trail. His graphic portrayal is deftly interwoven with flashes of past and future lives, and a tender tale of love, all of which offers some much needed relief from the gruesome spectacle of man's inhumanity to man.

Book -3Dolphins of Aotearoa

Raewyn Peart, Craig Potton Publishing, $60

Love dolphins? Who couldn't? These mystical sea creatures captivate us all with their friendly frolicking encounters with humans. And who among us has not considered the possibility of a special inter-species connection? Dolphins of Aotearoa explores our relationship with dolphins and shows how both Maori and Pakeha have sought them out for profoundly life-changing encounters. Raewyn Peart is the policy officer of the Environmental Defence Society. She is a trained lawyer and economist who has written widely on environmental topics.

Book -4Artisan Pizza

Guiseppe Mascoli and Bridge Hugo, New Holland Publishers, $34.99

From the owner of Franco Manca, judged to make "the best pizzas in Britain" (according to the Observer), comes this compact book that goes back to basics, bringing the reader more than 50 recipes to create authentic Neapolitian flavours. And you don't need any fancy equipment — just a pizza stone or a heavy baking tray and a conventional oven. Mama mia! You'll be making delicious pizza with your favourite fresh toppings in no time.

Book -5The Infinite Air

Fiona Kidman, Random House NZ, $38

Dame Fiona Kidman's fictional account of the life of New Zealand aviatrix Jean Batten weaves a colourful tapestry of a complex and courageous young woman who rose from obscurity to international acclaim. Elusive, beautiful, and daring, Batten was also gifted with parents whose enduring belief in her abilities ensured success against the odds. After her parents' separation, Batten's central relationship was with her unconventional and fiercely protective mother, Nellie, who was undisputedly the wind beneath her wings. Throughout the rise and fall of their integrated fortunes, the two women shared a bond that remained unbroken until Nellie's death. Cut adrift, Batten's life became increasingly remote until her end in a pauper's grave in Teneriffe. This is a gripping tale of derring-do and flapper glamour. A brilliant and surprising read.

Book -645 South

Lawrence Fearnley and Arno Gasteiger , Penguin Group NZ, $65

The 45th parallel is an invisible marker halfway between the equator and the South Pole which mostly passes over ocean. New Zealand is one of the few land masses in its path. It is these diverse landscapes inland from the SH1 marker near Oamaru that Fearnley and Gasteiger traverse to interview the inhabitants whose stories are intertwined with the land. From coastal to Central Otago and on to the wild West Coast, they scratch the underbelly of the refined and the remote to bring the reader an unforgettable portrait of an ever-changing land.

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