Book reviews: September 2017

The MCD team has selected the best of some recent inspiring reads

A Strange Beautiful Excitement

By Redmer Yska

Otago University Press

RRP $39.95

Reviewed by Claire Smith

MCd 159-Strange -Beautiful -Excitement"I’m out in the open, retracing the pent wind-corrugated streets of the Wellington you walked as a child and young adult, one day sublime, the next uninhabitable, its gales tearing away certainties, pomposities, much as you did in your deadliest stories. You departed soon enough but the city beneath the writer’s skin continued to pulse." 

From the grubby, wind-blasted streets of Thorndon to the hushed green valley of Karori, author Redmer Yska, himself raised in Karori, retraces Katherine Mansfield’s old ground: the sights, sounds, and smells of the rickety colonial capital as experienced by the budding writer.

Along the way, his encounters and dogged research—into her Beauchamp ancestry, the social landscape, the festering, deadly surroundings—lead him (and us) to re-evaluate long-held conclusions about the writer’s shaping years. They also lead to a thrilling discovery.

Dog Zen

By Mark Vette

Penguin Random House

RRP $45

Reviewed by Claire Smith

MCD159-Dog -ZenFans of Mark Vette’s show, Pound Pups to Dog Stars and those who have followed Mark’s incredible work with doggy TV stars—such as Monty the giant schnauzer who was taught to drive a Mini—have been eagerly awaiting the release of this book (due for release 18 September). And I’m certainly among them.

I’ve put many of Mark’s tips and advice into practice with my own dog (a boisterous Labrador) who was a total handful as a young pup.

What I love about Mark’s approach is that he is extremely gentle, patient, and consistent with his training. Not only that but his methods are simple and logical. 

A great book for new puppy owners, those who have dogs with ‘problem’ behaviour, or any dog owner who just wants to better understand their pet’s behaviour and built a strong, loving bond.

Haunted New Zealand Road Trip

By Mark Wallbank

New Holland

RRP $35

Reviewed by Claire Smith

MCD159-HauntedWhat do The Civic Theatre, Dunstan House, Lion Rock, and the Auckland Harbour Bridge have in common? They’ve all had reports of hauntings, apparitions, or other paranormal activity.

Paranormal investigator, Mark Wallbank has been ghost hunting since the early ’80s, and his research has taken him all over New Zealand.

Although he doesn’t consider himself to be a ‘believer’, his personal experiences have led him to believe that paranormal research is very worthy and valid.

In this, his third book, Mark and his team road trip through "this beautiful and at times mysterious land of ours", speaking to many of the town locals to hear their stories of their communities’ urban legends and local ghost stories. After all, who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Just think twice before reading this one at night.

Little Bird Goodness

By Megan May

Penguin Random House

RRP $60

Reviewed by Claire Smith

MCD159-Little -Bird -GoodnessAuthor Megan May has a passion for good food. With an intolerance to gluten, dairy, and sugar, Megan spent much of her childhood sick.

However, having grown up on an organic farm, she also had the opportunity to see where her food truly came from, with some of her earliest memories being making fresh butter from cow’s milk and pastry from scratch.

After realising that a predominantly raw plant-based diet made her feel incredibly positive, clear-headed, and energised, Megan was determined to share her experience and the potential of high-quality, organic plant-based foods, and so the Little Bird seed was sown.

In her latest book, Megan’s life-long experience and passion for creating high-quality and artisan foods is expressed in a collection of 130 recipes of both raw and cooked plant-based dishes.


By Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

Penguin Random House

RRP $65

Reviewed by Claire Smith

MCD159-SweetWhen Sweet arrived in our office recently, it was handed about the team to a chorus of ‘ooohs’ and ‘mmms’. Such are the deliciously decadent and utterly mouth-watering recipes within its covers.

In this stunning new baking and desserts cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh use fresh, evocative ingredients, exotic spices, and complex flavourings to create divinely indulgent cakes, biscuits, tarts, puddings, cheesecakes, and ice cream.

If you’re looking for the recipe book to help you break out of your baking rut, this is the one. A quick browse will have you upgrading your chocolate chip cookies and brownie slices to goodies such as Chocolate Guinness Cakes with Bailey Irish Cream and Raspberry and Rose Powder Puffs.

And with Christmas just around the corner, what better excuse to start practising a few special recipes for family and friends.

Be in to win a copy of Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. To enter, visit here. Competition ends on 27 September 2017.

The Choice

By Edith Eger

Penguin Random House

RRP $35

Reviewed by Claire Smith

MCD159-The -ChoiceThis beautiful and inspiring book by Holocaust survivor Edith Eger tells an extraordinary and compelling story of the human spirit and our capacity to heal.

Now an eminent psychologist, Edith was just 16 years old when she was sent to Auschwitz in 1944. Her heroic actions helped save her sister’s life and helped her bunkmates to save her life during a death march after which she was found barely alive.

Edith explains how many of us live within a mind that has become a prison and shows how freedom becomes possible once we confront our suffering.

What a gift this incredible lady has given us in her book. As difficult as it was to read in some parts, I absolutely loved it. In fact, like many, I’d describe it as life-changing. 

Epic Drives of the World

Lonely Planet


Reviewed by Esha Chanda

Epic -Drives -of -the -World -1-[HB]-9781786578648Driving on strange lands as a stranger is probably the best way to become familiar with the unfamiliar. The open road is irresistible for many travellers. 

In Epic Drives, Lonely Planet offers 50 classic drives around the world (and 200 ideas for great drives). The beauty of the book lies in its gorgeous illustrated cover and the postcard-perfect photographs that feature in the pages that follow. It is a big, chunky book (300 pages) and while it may not be something you pack in your backpack to take along on your road trips, it definitely serves as an inspiration to pack a backpack.

There are no turn-by-turn directions here—an aspect deliberately left out and rightly so in this age of smartphone where you can Google Map your way to almost anywhere. But in letting go of that aspect, Epic Drives makes more room for first-hand accounts of the journeys undertaken on each road that adds a more personal touch. It is a good compromise.

There are handy hints, a featured fact box for each drive, and ideas for similar drives, and as a special for Kiwis, two New Zealand driving routes. Epic Drives is a coffee table book that your guests will enviously pass around.

Billy and the Minpins

By Roald Dahl

Penguin Random House


Reviewed by Laura Batten

Billy And The MinpinsThis certainly is a must-read if you’re a Roald Dahl fan. The book has beautiful illustrations by Quentin Blake that transported me straight back into my childhood, capturing my imagination once again.

The tale follows Billy—disobedient to mother but obedient to adventurous nature—escaping out the window into the forbidden dark forest beyond. Here, he meets the Minpins—tiny tree-dwelling people—who he takes comfort with when avoiding monsters such as the terrible, galloping Gruncher.

Billy not only saves the Minpins and himself but also learns an important message: Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. 

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