Book reviews: January 2019

Looking for a good book to read this summer? Check out our reviews of some of the latest titles to hit the shelves.

Reptiles-of-NZ.jpgAmphibians of New Zealand

Dylan van Winkel, Marleen Baling, and Rod Hitchmough

Auckland University Press

RRP $49.9

New Zealand’s list of reptiles and amphibians is growing with new discoveries, even as 80 percent of species are at risk of extinction. Illustrated with extraordinary new photography, this field guide features all of New Zealand’s native herpetofauna. From the ancient tuatara, the sole surviving member of its order, to the world’s largest collection of long-lived and live-bearing lizards, our geckos and skinks, New Zealand’s 123 species of reptiles and amphibians represent an extraordinary aspect of this country’s biodiversity. Key features of this field guide include expert and up-to-date information on all 124 species of reptiles and amphibians in New Zealand, range maps for every species, a regional checklist and a handy quick guide on the inside flaps.

VWs Downunder.jpgVWs Downunder

Steve Reid

Plus One

RRP $39.99

The humble Volkswagen has won hearts and minds all around the world. Whether it’s the Beetle or the Kombi, millions of stories are waiting to be told by ‘Dub’ enthusiasts. The VW factory opened its doors in 1937, and when the one-millionth Beetle rolled off the assembly line in December 1958, it was just a taste of what was yet to come. Its younger sibling, the Kombi van, opened up a new world of possibilities. Summers would never be the same again, courtesy of these two great motoring icons. But there’s more to Volkswagen than just the Beetle and Kombi. This beautiful new coffee-table book offers a look at the beloved cars and vans across the entire VW collection throughout New Zealand and Australia. 

WIN! We're giving away a copy of VWs Downunder. Enter here before 11 January 2019.

Francescas Italian Kitchen.jpgFrancesca’s Italian Kitchen

Francesca Voza & James Stapley

Penguin Random House

RRP $50

Francesca’s Italian Kitchen is a popular South Island restaurant serving authentic Italian cuisine. This cookbook presents Francesca’s popular pasta, pizza, and traditional Italian dishes and desserts adapted for the home kitchen and using local New Zealand ingredients. Co-owner Francesca Voza says she is continually being asked when she will be releasing a cookbook, so here it is! Former Whare Kea Lodge executive chef James Stapley is Francesca’s partner in the business and has been involved in the writing and preparation of the recipes. There are approximately 80 recipes spanning pasta, pizza, antipasti, and mains such as lamb shoulder ragu, and roasted pork hock with a cannellini bean salad, and, of course, fabulous dolci (desserts) and tempting cocktails.

The French Way.jpgThe French Way

Lorraine Thomson

South Pacific Books

RRP $34.99

Former magazine publisher and editor Lorraine Thomson is used to deadlines, drama, and challenges. She’s no stranger to pushing herself physically either, having completed four marathons, trekked Hadrian’s Wall, and cycled both the 160km Round Lake Taupo event and the 300km Alps to Ocean Trail. But her greatest challenge was her epic solo 800km trek from St Pied de Port in France, over the Pyrenees, across Spain and to the ancient burial place of St James—Santiago de Compostela. Throughout, Lorraine’s driving force was helping her youngest son Jacob to overcome his life-threatening metastatic osteosarcoma. This one-of-a-kind adventure reveals what time away from city life can do for your inner self and for setting life strategies.


Stephen Fry

Penguin Random House

RRP $37

Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes. In this companion to his bestselling Mythos, Stephen Fry brilliantly retells these dramatic, funny, tragic, and timeless tales. Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta—who was raised by bears—outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera. Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of—at our worst and our very best.

The Wych Elm.jpgWych Elm

Tana French

Penguin Random House

RRP $37

After dodging a scrape at work, happy-go-lucky charmer Toby is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home, Ivy House, to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Ivy House is filled with cherished memories of wild-strawberry summers and teenage parties with his cousins. But not long after his arrival, a skull is discovered tucked neatly inside the old wych elm in the garden. As detectives begin to close in, Toby is forced to examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his past, and himself.

Scenic Playground.jpgScenic Playground

Peter Alsop, Dave Bamford, and Lee Davidson

Te Papa Press

RRP $80

This handsome 416-page hardback is lavishly illustrated with historic hand-coloured photographs, paintings, advertisements, and posters from the 1890s onwards, many of them from author Peter Alsop’s personal collection. A collaboration between Alsop, independent tourism advisor Dave Bamford, and university lecturer Lee Davidson, Scenic Playground explores how the country built its tourism reputation as an alpine destination and, alongside, how mountains became central to a sense of belonging to Aotearoa.

"From the first explorers to the first climbers, the first ascents, to the first mountain-access roads and the first hotels, Scenic Playground is unequivocally a book of mountain dreams. Buoyed by those dreams that we know as reality, the book encourages us to dream of what comes next," Alsop says.

A Spark of Light.jpgA Spark of Light

Jodi Picoult

Allen & Unwin

RRP $36.99

As a dedicated Jodi Picoult fan, I couldn’t wait to crack into her latest offering. Picoult has tackled some controversial topics in her past books—from racism to gay rights—and this was no exception with the plot centred around a deadly hostage situation in a Mississippi abortion clinic over a period of 12 hours. Like all of Picoult's books, I devoured this one within days and enjoyed her effortless writing style. However, I did find the narrative, which started at the ending and jumped back an hour in time with each chapter, a little discombobulating. I also found some parts of the book a little overly descriptive, so be warned that it could be upsetting for some readers. 


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