Back from Germany and the assignment that went horribly wrong, Violet doesn’t know who to trust:

It’s fortunate for me that the Foundation staff can’t read my thoughts. . . If they could read my thoughts, they’d never let me go. I’d be a liability, and I know what happens to liabilities.

Phoenix is equally adrift:

For an hour I will forget who I am, what I have done . . . But . . . I will wake with the heavy knowledge that I am the Black Wolf, never to be trusted, never to be loved — because the only people I’ve ever loved are either dead or hate my guts.

The only thing both of them know for sure is that they have to escape the Foundation’s clutches . . .

Black Wolf: Black Spiral Trilogy #2

Eileen Merriman


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Dylan Howell

Eileen Merriman, an award winning kiwi author released Black Wolf in August 2021, a sequel to Violet Black in the black spiral trilogy. Set in the near future, teenagers who’ve survived an epidemic have gained incredible abilities as a result of their brain becoming fully optimised, and are imprisoned by a secret organisation to have their powers and skills harvested and taken advantage of. After a traumatic defeat, and a great loss, our heroes plan to escape the foundation and figure out the truth behind their powers. Black wolf is a relatively strong follow up to the first novel that expands on the threats the characters face, develops their relationships, and increases the intrigue of what these virally optimised teenagers can do.

After a fairly bleak ending to its predecessor, this book fills a hole in it’s protagonists by expanding on my favourite character, Johnny/Johnno/Fletcher/Phoenix/Black wolf/Wolf Black, the angsty teenage soldier with a storied past and a hundred pseudonyms. The building of his relationship with Violet takes up a bulk of the story and is handled in a tasteful fashion that lends to the tone and suits the audience. Once again though, this entry relies on the ‘instalove’ trope. Which occasionally can be acceptable in a narrative, it just feels unearned and strange for some of this book, considering how many pages are devoted to them fawning over one another after a lot of conflict in the early chapters. Like a switch was flipped halfway. However, with their telepathic interactions growing in complexity and raising a tonne of questions about their capabilities and their connection that make me enthusiastic for a follow up. Discovering more of Johnno’s history and unravelling some of the trauma that makes him interesting is a strong element of the story, I’d love to see him developed more as he’s set up with a lot of potential complexity. Another thing that this new entry manages to improve upon is making its villains hateable. Bringing them into the forefront and driving the plot more than in the first book. This time around their names and actions are memorable and their evil made me root for the protagonists.

In conclusion. This was a strong second entry to the series, and I powered through it much faster than the first, as the intrigue develops through character relationships, powers, and the stakes are much higher than before. If anything, I wish the novel was longer so we could have gotten more than a few hundred pages about two superpowered teenagers taking a road trip around the desert having unprotected sex. As the conflict with the foundation is what I find most compelling about the series. I definitely think it’s worth reading as a follow .up to Violet Black, as it sets up for what I hope will be a powerful conclusion.

Violet Black review here

Who’s the best at weaving, the kuia or the spider? They decide to ask their grandchildren . . .

Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa’s 1981 classic story The Kuia and the Spider returns in a dual reo Maori and English text, with Hirini Melbourne’s original translation.

A bilingual Maori and English edition of Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa’s award-winning picture book.

Tera tetahi kuia ko tana mahi
kete hoki.
I te koko o tona kihini e noho ana he pungawerewere
ko tana mahi he hanga whare tukutuku.

Mai i te putanga i te 1981, kua noho Te Kuia me te Pungawerewere a Patricia Grace raua ko Robyn Kahukiwa hei tino paki turoa no Aotearoa.

Once there was a kuia who made mats and baskets
In the corner of her kitchen lived a spider who made webs.

Since its publication in 1981, Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa’s award-winning story about two old friends bickering over whose weaving is best has become a New Zealand classic.

Review of Te Kuia me te Pungawerewere: The Kuia and the Spider – Patricia Grace & Robyn Kahukiwa, translation Hirini Melbourne

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

There was a grandmother (kuia) who was a talented weaver of mats and baskets and in her kitchen lived a spider.  They had co-existed peacefully for a while but then the spider started boasting her weaving was better.  They argued and argued over whose weaving was better until they decided to each do some weaving and let their grandchildren decide on their next visit. 

So they both wove and spun, making a variety of things to be judged.  Then the grandchildren came and they proudly showed off their efforts and waited to be told whose weaving was better.  But the grandchildren didn’t care abut the competition………..

This is a well-known story in New Zealand, everyone growing up in the last 40 years has read it/had it read to them.  Now it has been re-released as a bilingual book has the original translation as well as te reo text.

The illustrations are so lifelike, very colourful and they describe what’s happening in the story so well.  The text is in simple paragraphs and the background colours make it easy to read, while the book itself is light and easy to hold.

A Kiwi classic, this book is perfect to read out loud and shared with the next generation.


Set in the near future, this first book in a fast-paced trilogy will hook you in from the first page.

Violet Black and Ethan Wright are both in a coma after contracting the lethal M-fever. They have never met:

I couldn’t speak, but I was trying so hard to communicate and then . . . then . . .
I pushed. And something, someone, pushed back.
Her name is Violet. Violet, but she is sunshine-yellow, and I need to find her because I think she might be just like me.

But there is a far more serious reason for Ethan to find Violet: the sinister Foundation is trying to hunt them down.

Violet Black: Black Spiral Trilogy #1

\Eileen Merriman


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Dylan Howell

Set in the near future of Aotearoa, the world is ravaged by an extremely lethal virus called m-fever. Many kiwis find themselves suffering with little chance of recovery. Two teenagers, Ethan and Violet miraculously recover from m-fever to find themselves able to do things they couldn’t before. Their brains optimised to a higher level of function, they discover they have the power of telepathy. As a result of their newfound abilities they are taken away by a mysterious organisation calling themselves ‘the foundation’ and begin training to be deployed as psychic weapons.

This book has a lot to offer, with an enjoyable premise and an interesting situation for the characters to throw into. Making for intrigue that kept me reading the sequel. However, it’s a bit of a red flag when the first pages give you a list of characters and their relation to one another. I personally felt that most of the important characters’ relation to one another was established fairly well. This was an unnecessary addition to the book and while I understand the intention, it detracts from the enjoyment of discovering the world for yourself as a reader.

The main draw for Violet Black is the way it’s protagonists are able to interact with each other, and while love at first sight is a cliche in most books, the relationship between Ethan and Violet is believable and progresses naturally. The descriptions for their conversations and the way two telepaths understand and read one another are genuinely interesting and make for much more interesting conversation within the story.

An interesting choice for this series is the writing style, slightly segmented, told in the present tense, describing each action in a staccato fashion. In a lot of ways it fits the tone of the story but I found it a little difficult to get used to. Despite this,  I enjoyed the way each chapter swaps between the two protagonists, the difference in perspective kept some mystery. I would’ve liked to see more chapters dedicated to the antagonists perspective, as sometimes it was difficult to sympathise or feel invested about the conflict when you’re as confused as the protagonists about their situation and the people they’re up against.

The highlight of this book for me was the last third, where the telepathic abilities are brought to their logical extreme and get the application they deserve. It doesn’t end on much of a cliffhanger but the introduction of threats at the end influenced me to read the sequel. I can recommend this series to teenagers 14 and up, as there are some slightly more mature themes of sex and drug use mentioned but presented in a perfectly restrained way. Violet Black is an enjoyable read with a lot of potential in its sequels, I always love to see Aotearoa as a set piece represented well. Overall,  a good addition to any YA novel library.

Relaxed, flexible home cooking from Yotam Ottolenghi and his superteam.

Whether they’re conjuring up new recipes or cooking for themselves at home, the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen team do what we all do: they raid their kitchens. But then, they turn whatever they find into approachable creations with an ‘Ottolenghi’ twist.

This instinct is in perfect sync with recent times, when we’ve all been standing in front of our kitchen shelves, our cupboards and our fridges, wondering what to cook with what we’ve got; how to put a can of chickpeas or a bag of frozen peas to good use, instead of taking an extra trip to the shops.

For the first time, the team welcome us into their creative space. These dishes pack all the punch and edge we expect from Ottolenghi, but offer more flexibility to make them our own, using what we’ve got to hand. There’s the ultimate guide to creamy dreamy hummus, a one-pan route to confit tandoori chickpeas and a tomato salad that rules them all.

This book is all about feeding ourselves and our families with less stress and less fuss, but with all the ‘wow’ of an Ottolenghi meal. It’s a notebook to scribble on and add to, to take its ethos and absolutely make it your own.

This is how to cook, the OTK way.

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi

Ebury Press

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Yotam Ottolenghi has produced another cookbook, his seventh. Usually culinary chefs exhort us to use only the freshest, the best ingredients, and THE RECIPE MUST BE FOLLOWED, no exceptions. This is not that sort of cookbook. Instead, you are invited to raid the shelves of your pantry where those unloved tins and jars lurk. We’ve all got ingredients we thought we’d use ages ago but could never find the right recipe. Well, now you’ve got no excuse (and in this case you means me, dammit).

As can be guessed by the subtitle, Shelf Love is about using those unloved ingredients. Naturally there are rules pertaining to pairing of flavours (and occasionally textures). These are explained. And then we are encouraged to make changes. When constructing recipes exploiting odd tins or jars in the pantry, we are not guaranteed to have the desired ingredient. Unusually for a cookbook, we are offered alternatives, ways of breaking the rules.

The book is organised into seven sections, from Tins & Jars, through the Veggie Box, to Nuts & Seeds. There are recipes here for all tastes. Naturally vegetables and spices compose the two largest sections, mostly because these are the base ingredients people have trouble starting from (I’ve got sumac and a fennel root…). The book does have a British and East Mediterranean bias, because Ottolenghi is based in London and he and Murad are from the Eastern Med. So it’s going to take a bit of adapting for the Kiwi kitchen. The index is good, and there plenty of useful photos showing want the dishes should look like as well as progress shots.

While not quite the Edmonds cookbook, it plugs that much needed gap between beginner and haute cuisine; the frazzled. Definitely a worthwhile addition to the kitchen library. Many thanks to Juliet McGhie at Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Home is more than a place. It’s a feeling.

Rick Stein has spent his life travelling the world in search of cooking perfection – from France and Italy to Australia and the far east – and inspiring millions of food lovers with the results. In Rick Stein At Home, he takes us into the rhythms and rituals of his home cooking. In his first book to celebrate his all-time favourite home-cooked meals, Rick shares over 100 very special recipes, including many from his recent Cornwall series – from sumptuous main courses such as Cornish Bouillabaisse and Braised Pork Belly with Soy and Black Vinegar to indulgent desserts like Apple Charlotte and Spiced Pears Poached with Blackberries and Red Wine.

Rick explores family classics that evoke childhood memories and newer dishes that have marked more recent personal milestones – along with unforgettable stories that celebrate his favourite ingredients, food memories, family cooking moments and more. Sharing the dishes he most loves to cook for family and friends throughout the year, Rick takes you inside his home kitchen unlike he’s done in any previous book.

Rick Stein at Home: Recipes, Memories and Stories from a Food Lover’s Kitchen

\Rick Stein

BBC Books

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

Now it’s a well-know fact that I’m a big fan of Rick Stein’s TV shows. He is very easy to listen to, and I do find the travel-with-food show to be very relaxing viewing. But I’ve never read any of his books (although I have been known to look up a recipe that caught my eye on the internet). Turns out that he’s very easy to enjoy in print as well; you can almost hear Rick speaking as you read.

The book is very much a product of the pandemic, of much time spent at home in lockdown, cooking for family. It is a collection of recipes you can and will cook at home; interspersed with essays full of memories and of sound advice. Like using the microwave to make your Christmas feast easier to manage (a thing chefs certainly do, but rarely advise).

The recipes are an eclectic mixture, collected from Rick’s family and friends, and on his travels. They are sorted in familiar order, from bar snacks through to desserts and baking, including an excellent vegetarian section; and there is a good index.

The emphasis is on simplicity and ease of preparation; the presentation quite homely, even a bit rustic, not at all cheffy. The illustrations are lovely and show what the dish should look like when you, a mere mortal, make it.

This is exactly what it says it is, a collection of Rick Stein’s favourite recipes, simplified for home cooks. I can see a number of them becoming favourites in many households, including mine.


Hop on and sing along to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus” in this collectable new picture book series!

Roar, stomp and clap along with a class of playful dinosaurs as they go on their first bus journey!

“The Wheels on the Bus” transforms into the squeals on the bus as the little dinos travel up and down, round and round, all through the land. Packed full of actions to join in, with a calming ending to wind down after all the excitement, this is the perfect first picture book to enjoy together.

Young readers will stomp their feet and clap their hands in delight as they sing along with this fun-filled, dinosaur reinvention of this popular rhyme!

The Dinos On The Bus

Peter Millet & Tony Neal


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

A bunch of little dinosaurs are going for their first trip on the bus!

They meet many interesting, passengers on the journey as they travel up and down, round and round, all through the land.

The book is large and easy to hold while juggling a lap full of little people. The illustrations are bright and colourful and fun to look at.  The text is easy to read black and varies in size and thickness, while the placement of the words is quirky and uses the whole page.

The story is so much fun to read out loud and sing along to, with the catchy lyrics of the familiar song being complemented by the stunning illustrations. The action starts to slow down near the end and the final scene is calming and a good way to ease into naptime.

This book is a must have and a great way to engage babies or toddlers with books and reading.  Parents may become sick of the repeditiveness of the song though.

A game-changing thriller about two teenagers a generation apart, connected by one bullet with the power to devastate both of their lives. Get ready to reconsider everything you thought you knew about time . . .

Esso is a teenager running out of time and into trouble. Accidentally caught up in a gang war, he receives an unexpected gift: access to a world where he can see glimpses of the past and future. But now Esso has the devastating knowledge that the road he is on will eventually lead to the deaths of the people he loves most.
A generation later, football prodigy Rhia is about to lose everything. When a man comes into her life claiming to know the key to time travel and asking for her help, she becomes obsessed with finding a way back to the past to save the parents she never got to meet . . .

Two teenagers. Fifteen years. One chance to stop a bullet.

The Upper WorldFemi Fadugba


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

This is a very odd book, a strange mixture of ancient philosophy, esoteric physics and East London youth culture. It seems to be aimed at young adults, or more accurately at those who think they know what young adults should want to read.

I did not find it at all relatable, and I’m not sure that many New Zealand young people would get into it either. It might have helped had there been a second appendix translating the copious amounts of East London slang for those who don’t happen to live in that culture.

There are two protagonists, a boy named Esso, living in our time (not quite, there is no pandemic) and a girl named Rhia, living fifteen years in the future. As I think of it, it may be in part that near future with no pandemic that threw me. This is not our world, for all the realism, and that was jarring. And with the publication date being 2021, there could have been some editing.

So, we have ancient philosophy, Plato’s ‘Upper World’. We have a lot of physics (there is an appendix full of calculus). We have a couple of kids who get caught up in a gang war in different times. And we have a strange kind of mental time travel, and a desire to change the past. But somehow, none of this grabbed me. I’m not sure that it ever would have. I know the critics liked this book. I didn’t. There is apparently going to be a Netflix series. I won’t be watching.

Sneaky Slinky Malinki is creating mayhem at Christmastime!

Christmas was coming.
Out came the tree,
dressed up in finery,
splendid to see.
Trinkets and tinsel
with baubles and bows,
a mouse with a hat
and a very red

It’s Christmas in Slinky Malinki’s house and the rapscallion, mischievous cat is most curious about the Christmas tree. With its reindeer, ribbons, baubles and bells, it’s too tempting a treat for Slinky not to investigate. So Slinky Malinki, with mischievous glee, creeps out from the shadows to climb up the tree . . .

Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers

Lynley Dodd

Puffin MR

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Christmas is coming and the tree needs to be decorated!  It’s lavishly covered with trinkets and tinsel, baubles and bows, and a fairy on top of the tree.  Then Slinky Malinki sneaks out to investigate and climbs the tree, destroying the decorations and hiding objects.  The humans appear to make things right and restore the tree top its former glory. 

Something’s missing from the top of the tree though and the humans search everywhere unsuccessfully.  But then someone spots something.  The tree now has an extra special fairy…….

The book is a board book that’s easy to hold and pages that won’t be accidentally crumbled and torn by eager little fists.  The illustrations are magical and full of detail and restful colours.  The text is easy to read black set on a solid contrasting background.

The story is so much fun to read out loud and the perfect present for your favourite little person.  The illustrations are exquisite and this book is a must-have on your bookshelf.

(As the owner of a miniature black panther who’s naughtier than Slinki Malinki, this scenario is why I’m not putting the tree up this year – why ask for trouble?!)

Scheming Mallory and her reluctant sidekick Arthur have a Halloween misadventure involving nasty tricks, time travel and a sneaky cat.

Mallory wants candy, as much as she can grab, and she’s prepared to play some tricks (and kick a pesky black cat) to get it. But when she and her reluctant sidekick Arthur tangle with the owner of a spooky old house, the trick is on them. In the beat of a bat’s wing, they’re a century back in time with a mission to find that slippery cat, or Mallory will change shape forever . . .

Mallory, Mallory: Trick or Treat

James Norcliffe


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

Mallory is back in another short novel aimed at older children, but that can easily be enjoyed by adults who will no doubt be intrigued, but probably figure out as soon as I did what is really going on.

Mallory, you understand is not a good girl. She has one friend, Arthur, from whose point of view the story is told. She is always getting the two of them into trouble – strange and unusual troubles – and mostly it’s Arthur that gets them out again.

When it comes to Halloween, it’s obvious that Mallory is more interested in tricks than treats. But then she tricks altogether the wrong person, and then something quite extraordinary happens. The children find themselves in the past. With a mission to find a cat. Which is not as simple a task as it might seem.

Mallory and Arthur meet up with children from that time and learn that the past is a very different place. Oh, and that it’s a good idea to be nice to black cats.

This is a fun tale, with some excellent twists. Recommended for tweens and their adults.

Gavin Bishop’s stunning, once-in-a-generation compendium introduces readers to the pantheon of Maori gods, demigods and heroes, and explores Aotearoa’s most exciting legends from the Creation to the Migration.

Meet the gods, demigods and heroes of the Maori people of Aotearoa in this breathtaking, large-scale illustrated book for children.
Before the beginning there was nothing.
No sound, no air, no colour – nothing.
No one knows how long this nothing lasted because there was no time.
However, in this great nothing there was a sense of waiting.
Something was about to happen.
Meet the gods, demigods and heroes of the Maori world, and explore Aotearoa’s exciting legends from the Creation to the Migration. Fascinating, beautiful and informative, this once-in-a-generation compendium deserves a place on every bookshelf.

Atua: Maori Gods and Heroes

Gavin Bishop

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

This book is stunning!

It tells the story of how the gods came to be and explains who each one is and their responsibilities.   This is cleverly displayed on paged that fold out to create a page twice the size of the book – which is a good size anyway.

It shares the stories of creation and explains them, like how man gained the three kete of knowledge and two sacred stones  all that is needed to create wisdom in the world – and explains what each holds, as well as how we got sandflies mosquitoes

The artwork uses bold colours and is very detailed.  I found it very hard to read some of the text as the lettering was blue on a black background or a faded black on a white background.

There’s a glossary in the back that explains what the Maori words mean – and what a kete is – and the credit section is an interesting read.

This was very interesting read that helped me find out more about Maori legends and explained words and concepts in simple language, such as tikanga and why food is offered as a gift.  I only had a vague notion of what they were or why it was done.  Knowing why some thing is done is good knowledge to have.

I would recommend this for any te reo speaker, those looking to increase their knowledge of Maori legends, anyone interested in mythology…..  Growing up in the 80s, I never heard these stories and am glad I have now.