Book reviews: Autumn 2015


If you're looking for some great books for some holiday reading, Peta Stavelli has some recommendations for you.

Professor Penguin

Lloyd Spencer Davis
Random House, $40 Books -Autumn _1

This engaging book is written by one of the world's penguin experts, Lloyd Spencer Davis.

He skilfully marries scientific knowledge with his own anecdotes – told with humour, hard-earned knowledge and insight. He also includes stories about those who have helped advance our knowledge of penguins – other 'Professor Penguins'.

Implicit throughout is Davis' philosophy – the more we learn about the natural world, and specifically penguins, the more we learn about ourselves. And he asks: Is the isolation of Antarctica sufficient to protect penguins from us?

Greenilicious – 100 Ways To Love Your Greens

Amanda Benham and Leigh Drew
New Holland NZ, $45 Books -Autumn _2

Clean eating is all the rage at the moment, but for followers of this healthy trend, it's more about lifestyle than fashion. For many however, it's confusing. Enter Greenilicious.

The authors are well qualified to demystify this approach to preparing food which aims to maximise a healthy enjoyment of plant-based food that not only looks and tastes stunning, but which is also good for you. Amanda Benham is a nutritionist with more than 20 years' experience.

Meanwhile, Leigh Drew is a vegan cook and author of several prior cookbooks. Her stunning images will have your mouth watering, and the recipes will inspire you to clean up your eating.

In The Hands Of Strangers

Beverly Wardle-Jackson Books -Autumn _3
Penguin Random Books, $38

Beverly Wardle-Jackson was born in 1952. She was born into poverty in Porirua; one of 10 children eventually separated from their siblings and placed in 'care'. Beverly was made a ward of the state at age 12. She was naturally frightened and confused by her circumstances, and desperately missed her parents and siblings. Sadly, she was a victim of prolonged and vicious mistreatment and sexual assault throughout her many years of enforced institutionalisation.

While I would recommend this well-written and compelling book, in truth I had to skip some parts because of the challenging nature of the subject matter.

The Strange Library

Haruki Murukami
Penguin Random House, $35 Books -Autumn _4

You probably have to be a fan of Murakami's unique and strangely offbeat style of writing to appreciate this fine little book.

The Strange Library manages to build a nostalgic link to libraries of the past, while delivering a contemporary story with a dark undertone. It is short, not so sweet, and yet strangely palatable. It is over all too soon and you may be left wondering what exactly happened.

What happened, I suspect, is that you were absolutely enthralled in a story so obscure and different, you might as well be the small boy lost in the labyrinth below the library. That is the weird and wonderful way of Murakami. He leaves you with the sense you just experienced something remarkable, but you couldn't exactly say what.

Te Ara Puoro – A journey into the world of Maori music

Richard Nunns with Allan Thomas Books -Autumn _5
Craig Potton publishing, $70 with CD

One of the largely unseen consequences of the European colonisation of Aotearoa was that the playing of, and knowledge about the traditional musical instruments of the Maori almost completely disappeared.

In the 1970s a young pakeha schoolteacher, Richard Nunns, started asking questions of his Maori friends about these instruments, which sparked a 40-year journey of rediscovery. Over that time Richard has become internationally recognised as the leading figure in the revival of taonga puoro, alongside the late Hirini Melbourne, educator and musician, and Brian Flintoff, master carver and instrument maker. Te Ara Puoro tells the story of Richard Nunns' remarkable journey.

This is a remarkable and important story. Lavishly illustrated with photographs of the instruments, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in Maori culture.

The Monogram Murders (Agatha Christie)

Sophie Hannah Books -Autumn _6
Harper Collins, $50

"C'est impossible," you say? Agatha Christie has been dead for almost 40 years, so how is it possible for a new novel to have come from the world's bestselling crime author? Surely this is a mystery for the little grey cells of Hercule Poirot?

Since the publication of her first book in 1920, Agatha Christie wrote 33 novels, two plays and more than 50 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot. For the first time, the guardians of her legacy have approved a brand new novel featuring Dame Agatha's most beloved creation.

Internationally bestselling author Sophie Hannah creates an exceptionally clever puzzle which will have the reader hooked from the first.

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