Book reviews: April 2016

By: Peta Stavelli


Peta Stavelli selects some of the best new books from New Zealand publishing houses. Check out these mini book reviews.

The Japanese Lover The -japanese -lover

Isabel Allende
Simon and Shuster, $35

Former neighbour and conservationist, the late Don Chappell, offered much valued advice on writing prose, by suggesting I read Isabel Allende. In turn, I urge you to read anything you can get your hands on of the numerous books written by this internationally best-selling author.

From the first pages of The Japanese Lover I struggled to put down this sweeping multi-generational novel. Among the many indelible characters of San Francisco's eccentric Lark House are elderly resident, Polish-born Alma Belasco who escaped the holocaust, and the mysterious Romanian assistant Irina Bazili. Their curious allegiance unfolds on to the pages against a background of world-shaping historical events.

These are artfully interwoven with contemporary themes of race, family ties, sex, abuse, aging and enduring love, into an epic read that will knock your socks off. This is how to write.

The New Easy Y 648

Donna Hay
Harper Collins NZ, $55

Donna Hay’s new cookbook is the result of her ongoing quest to make things faster, simpler and tastier in the kitchen. It offers solutions to the age-old dilemmas of home cooks everywhere – what can I put on the table through the week that's fast and delicious? And what do I serve on the weekend that's a little more special?

Full of short, concise recipes that are big on flavour, the new easy offers five chapters: weeknights, weekends, sides and salads, baking, and desserts. Each chapter contains clever ideas to restyle particular recipes. These twists are all about versatility for a whole new and easy repertoire.

The Girl Who Came Back The -Girl -who -came -back

Susan Lewis
Random House NZ, $37

When Jules Bright hears a knock on the door, the last person she expects to find is a detective bringing her the news she's feared for the last three years: Amelia Quentin is being released from prison. Jules's life is very different now to the one she'd known before Amelia shattered it completely. Knowing the girl is coming back she needs to decide what to do. Friends and family gather round, fearing for Jules's safety. They know that justice was never served; every one of them wants to make the Quentin girl pay. The question is: what will Jules do? And which of them has the most to fear? 

The Gangster The -Gangster

Clive Cussler
Penguin Books NZ, $37

It is 1906 and in New York City the Italian crime group known as the Black Hand is on a menacing spree: kidnapping, extortion, arson. Detective Isaac Bell of the Van Dorn Agency is hired to form a special 'Black Hand Squad', but the gangsters appear to be everywhere. Bell wonders if there are imitator mobs emerging. But then the murders begin – each one of a man more powerful than the last. Bell knows that copycat or not he's facing a lethal organisation, and to his dismay their ultimate target may be the most powerful man of all.

This is vintage Cussler, with swashbuckling delivery.

Wild Pork and Watercress Wild -Pork -and -Watercress

Barry Crump
Penguin Books NZ, $38

When Social Welfare threatens to put Ricky into care, the overweight Maori boy and cantankerous Uncle Heck flee into the remote and rugged Ureweras. The impassable bush serves up perilous adventures, forcing the pair of misfits to use all their skills to survive hunger, wild pigs and the vagaries of the weather. Worse still are the authorities, determined to bring Ricky and Uncle Hec to justice.

But despite the difficulties of life on the run, a bond of trust and love blossoms between the world-weary man and his withdrawn side-kick. This rattling good yarn has now been made into a major movie: Hunt For the Wilderpeople, directed and written by Taika Waititi, and starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison.

Rachel’s Legacy Rachels -legacy

Julie Thomas
Harper Collins NZ, $34

The much anticipated sequel to The Keeper of Secrets, following the fortunes of the Horowitz family from pre-war Berlin to the present. When Dr Kobi Voight is given a set of old letters by his mother he has no inkling that they will lead him around the world and deep into the tragic past of his family.

Within the letters – written in Hebrew and filled with delicate illustrations - lie the reflections of a young Jewish woman, forced to give up her baby daughter while fighting with the Resistance in Berlin. Who is the author, known only as 'Ruby', and what became of her child? And how does a priceless work of art, stolen by the Nazis, form part of the unfolding mystery?

Julie Thomas returns with the next episode in the dramatic fortunes of the Horowitz family, set in Australia, Europe and America, from World War II to the present.

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