Book reviews: May 2015


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

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League Miss -Hazel

Jonathan Odell
Penguin Random House, $37

A week later and I am still hearing the voices of the many indelible characters that populate this brilliant novel.

Set in Mississippi just as racial tensions reach a peak, change was sparked by the actions of one courageous Black American woman: Rosa Parks who refused to stand on the bus to allow a white man to sit. Miss Parks lit a flame which was carried forward by Mississippi maids, each of whom stood beside Miss Parks, refusing to take the bus to work for more than a year, and sending at least one bus company broke.

Their powerful and peaceful strike gave rise to the likes of better known activists like Martin Luther King. But the real groundswell began with the maids. This incredible, joyful, book will inspire you to let your own voice be heard.

The Marriage Game – a Novel of Elizabeth I Marriage Game

Alison Weir
Random House, $38

My grandmother – who spoke five languages – was no intellectual slouch. She always had an enormous pile of books beside her bed. Usually these were tales of the Tudors. So it was really in her memory that I decided to read Alison Weir’s latest book.

Weir, by the way, is the United Kingdom’s largest selling female historian. She marries meticulous research with conjecture to create a compelling read about that most fascinating of royals.

Queen Elizabeth I, nimbly side-stepped marriage against the wishes of her closest advisors. Instead, the fearsome daughter of Henry VIII ably played the marriage game. She successfully maintained the love of her people, warded off enemies, and fended off a steady stream of suitors using her feminine wiles as a political strategy. Elizabeth conducted at least one long and passionate affair. Yet throughout her long reign, she maintained the pretense of eligibility and virginity.

Was she really the virgin queen?

La Boca Loca La Boca

Lucas Putnam and Marianne Elliot
Potton and Burton, $60

Change the world one taco at a time? It seems to be working for author activist and restaurateur extraordinaire, Marianne Elliot, who is one half of the dynamic duo behind Wellington taquerira, La Boca Loca.

In her 2012 book release, Zen Under Fire, Marianne detailed her stressful United Nations role In Afghanistan. She is still active in humanitarian issues and is national director of New Zealand change driver Action Station. Through La Boca Loca she and Lucas walk the talk with their focus on sustainability, actively believing you can change the world by changing the way you eat.

The difficulty they faced finding organic, ethically and sustainably sourced Mexican food products in New Zealand led to the opening of La Boca Loca. If you love Mexican food, buy the book, or buy La Boca Loca’s ingredients from Farros, Moore Wilson's or Piko Wholefoods. Yum.

Fiona’s Flame Fiona Flame

Rachel Herron
Penguin Books NZ, $35

Fiona Lynde is a fairly straightforward girl. As the owner of the Cypress Hollow gas station and garage, Fee’s Fill, she’s not one for pretty dresses or fussy make-up. In fact most days she forgets to brush her hair.

But she does have one guilty little secret – she’s been in love with Abe Atwell, the town’s handsome harbormaster, for over 10 years. The problem is Abe barely knows she exists – until Fiona petitions the council to demolish a deserted old lighthouse. Abe is just as determined to preserve the local landmark. Battle-lines are drawn – just as the spark between them is finally ignited.

Without a Trace Without -a -trace

Lesley Pearce
Penguin Random House NZ, $37

Lesley Pearce is clearly on to a winner. From a child who was told she had far too much imagination, Pearce has grown to become an internationally bestselling author with sales of more than seven million copies of her books to date.

Without a Trace continues the series of stories about willful and fearless ex-pat New Zealander, Molly Heywood. Molly slips away from Coronation Day celebrations to visit her friend Cassie only to make a shocking discovery. Now she finds herself truly alone in the blitz-ruined East End. Has she extended herself too far this time?

A Great Indoors for the Great Outdoors

Don Jessen
Bateman, $35 Great -Indoors

Liteweight Caravans was begun by the author Don Jessen’s parents, Tek and Margaret Jessen, who built their first caravan in 1946. Liteweight was to become an iconic New Zealand brand which during the four decades of its heydays produced around 15,000 caravans.

Liteweight also produced more than 2000 mobile buildings and a great number of boats. It’s 25 years since the factory was forced to close, but the majority of Liteweight caravans remaining in use are a fine testament to the brand. This is the gripping story behind New Zealand’s largest caravan manufacturer from its humble post war beginnings to its inglorious end 44 years later.

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