Book reviews: December 2014

By: Peta Stavelli


If you're heading away for the summer holidays, there's no better time to grab a great read. We review some of the latest offerings from New Zealand publishing houses.

Walking the Waitakere Rangers

Alison Dench and Lee-Anne Parore
New Holland Publishers, $30 Walking -the -Waitakere -Ranges -NE-2014-300dpi

In this, the fourth update of this popular tramping guide to the Waitakere Ranges, the authors cover 45 walks, each ranging from a half-hour stroll to an all-day tramp.

Using the book as a guide, the reader will be able to traverse the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park; which covers a vast and diverse area comprising black sand surf beaches, to dense forest and magnificent waterfalls.
A handy table ranks the walks in order of difficulty, from easy to hard. It covers essential topics like kauri dieback, what to pack and car security and lists each walk in detail, along with enticing photographs.

Our big blue backyard

Janet Hunt
Random House NZ, $55 Big -blue -backyard

Our Big Blue Backyard is based on the six-episode television series made by Natural History New Zealand, to be screened on TVNZ in late 2014; but it goes a great deal further.

It is an entertaining, beautiful and engaging book about our little-known backyard oceans, the place where the world's largest marine predators and weirdest fish live, covers a wide variety of life from the sub-tropical seas to the sub-Antarctic oceans. It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the sometimes contested waters that surround us – from New Zealand's most distant marine reserves (the Kermadecs and the Auckland Islands) to the Poor Knights, and from the five reserves of the Hauraki Marine Park to the ten reserves of Fiordland.

It's a fascinating tale, with stories of conger eels prowl for sleeping fish, mass gatherings of fish, tropical turtles, the snatch-and-grab habits of gannets and much, much more. Highly recommended.

Open Season

Dave Witherow
Random House NZ, $40 Open -season

Zoologist, ex-RAF pilot, writer, raconteur and passionate angler Dave Witherow has entertained readers through his columns in the Otago Daily Times, and more recently in Fish and Game. His writing celebrates adventure, angling as an art-form; and mateship.

This charming collection of stories will inspire alarm, awe and admiration - for this daredevil pilot not only flies planes; he also builds them. And it is these small mechanical wonders which have allowed Witherow to access angling spots beyond the reach of the average angler.

Spirit of the South

Andris Apse
Penguin Books NZ, $90 Sprit -of -the -South]

It is said that you cannot gild the lily, and I am delighted that no attempt has been made to embellish this exquisite photographic essay from one of New Zealand's elite landscape photographers. The images speak dramatically, evocatively and passionately of the majesty of the South Island with little observable augmentation and few words - save the discreet captions and a few eloquent essays.

Few as they are, the essays from noted New Zealanders – including former All Black, Anton Oliver and novelist Fiona Farrell, perfectly polish what must surely be one of the best photography books of the year. This is a coffee table book to treasure, or to gift to one you love.

The New Easy 

Donna -Hay

Donna Hay
Harper Collins NZ, $55 

One Christmas the family joined me for a working bee in my cottage garden. I didn't have a lot of money but I did have a lot of cookbooks acquired through my years of reviewing. The first to go was Donna Hay's much coveted Seasons, and we have bantered about it ever since.

Gorgeous book though that was (sigh) The New Easy has eclipsed it. Hay's books are stunning. Her approach to food is stylish, yet simple. This divine book will become your new classic.

Pete the Bushman

Peter Salter with Nigel Zega
Penguin Random House Books, $40 Pete -the -Bushman

Pete the Bushman is a wild West-coaster from Pukekura: New Zealand's answer to Crocodile Dundee and a man who owns his own town.

This book about a true New Zealand bushman, of a life lived against the grain, of adventure in New Zealand's thickest wilderness and a lifestyle any Kiwi bloke would envy. Pete the Bushman has lived a life inseparable from the bush. These are his stories of running down deer on foot, heli-hunting in his own chopper, finding the perfect woman and eking out a living from the bush.

Pete's café and the Puke Pub is famous for wild food, particularly possum, offering snacks like possum jerky, possum pie and possum pâté. The café won one of the Monteith's Wild Food Challenges, with 'Chicken of the Forest', 'a baked, spiced possum on a bed of fresh vegetables with a touch of wild bush mint sauce'.

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