Book reviews: December 2015


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

Going South December -books1

Colin Hogg
Harper Collins, $35

Colin Hogg is, and seems to me to have always been, part of New Zealand’s literary landscape. He’s roughly the same age, I’ve occasionally read his columns, and somewhere along the line we shared a former colleague, or two. Despite this he seemed, in the way that New Zealand celebrities often do, to be best known for being well known.

So I was only mildly curious about his latest book before his publisher brought it to my attention and I realised from her notes that this was exactly my kind of book. Part memoir, part travelogue. And so it turned out to be: a delightful meditation on friendship, New Zealand and journalistic excess. This is definitely a trip worth taking.

Starlight Peninsula December -books2

Charlotte Grimshaw
Random House NZ, $39

Charlotte Grimshaw is a New Zealand author whose previously imagined books including The Night Book and Soon have received critical acclaim. In a sense, Starlight Peninsula continues the lives of characters from these earlier novels whose fictional lives are deftly woven into a real life so contemporary it features someone very like Kim Dotcom. And it is this proximity to characters and events that are both real and imagined that I found the only jarring aspect of an otherwise beautifully crafted book.

To me it was somewhat akin to counting in a foreign language as I tried to constantly reference the imagined characters back into ‘real’ life. Numerous scenarios distracted from an otherwise great read.

The Road to Little Dribbling December -books3

Bill Bryson
Penguin Random House, $50

If you know someone who respects eloquent writing; is frequently irreverent and loves a good laugh; buy them this book. And buy a copy for yourself as well. The only irritating thing about Bill Bryson is enduring the second hand laughter of someone reading one of his books.

This one comes with a warning not to read it in a public place. I could have written that myself, having previously laughed so long and loud, while reading The Lost Continent on a plane, that I would not have been surprised upon disembarkation to have been met by large men wearing white jackets. Bryson is possibly the best living travel writer, but his writing talents also include brilliant works on linguistics and science, among numerous other topics.

If you have not yet read his books, begin today.

Seasons of Erewhon December -books4

Yvonne Martin and David Hallett
Penguin Books NZ, $65

Regular readers will recall my recent review of Snow on the Lindis, Madge Snow’s delightful memoir from which this most recent book on the high country does in no way detract. While the former was a personal trip down memory lane, Seasons of Erewhon is a glossy coffee table book redolent with rich photography to accompany a story largely told by outsiders.

These differences in no way make this a less valuable insight into the living history and inhabitants of this epic landscape. And from the first plate until the last, the photography will blow you away. If you love tales of high country farms, you will really appreciate this one.

Famous graves to visit before you die December -books5

SK Cooper
New Holland NZ, $30

It may seem like a morbid subject but anyone who enjoys a poke around an old graveyard will understand how compelling a good cemetery can be. Famous graves to visit before you die showcases the final resting places of the famous, the infamous and the historic… from Bogart and JFK, to Henry VIII and the Great Pyramid of Giza, they’re all here in one great book.

Compiled by former history teacher and author Steve Cooper, this eclectic list features potted biographies of each subject, the stories behind their often fascinating lives and spectacular deaths, as well as maps and images of their gravesites around the world.

Mum’s the Word December -books6

Danielle Wright
New Holland NZ, $27

If you, or anyone you know, could use some inspiration about building a fabulous family environment full of fun and adventure, together with recipes for interesting and appetising foods, this could be the book for you.

From craft to recipes for playthings which ease illness (playdough with a few drops of eucalyptus oil to relieve congestion before bed, or lemon oil to enhance a good mood upon waking) this is both inspired and inspiring. But happily just offering plain good sense, with nothing too new age.

It is a wonderful book for mums, dads and even grandparents to read and find ways to improve their own, and their offspring’s, lives.

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