George Pantis is in a pickle. After walking out on his wife Rosie on Referendum night 2016 to shack up with hairdresser ‘Brexit Brenda’ next door, he thinks he’s got it made – especially when he wins millions on a Kosovan lottery he only vaguely remembers entering. Unfortunately, he’s forgotten his password and can’t get at his money. Which is a problem because he suddenly has to contend with lots of forceful new friends desperate to know his mother’s maiden name.

As things quickly get out of hand, George must make a mad dash from Sheffield to the Adriatic – and into the arms of organized crime gangs who specialize in illegal kidney transplants and heroin smuggling. George is in need of rescue – both from this pickle and from himself. But will his son Sensible Sid, Brenda and Rosie put aside their differences long enough to help? And might the journey bring this dysfunctional family back together?

The Good the Bad and the Little Bit Stupid

Marina Lewycka

Fig Tree

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

George and Rosie Pantis, a Sheffield couple, have a row on Brexit night 2016. Rosie locks him out in the rain, and their neighbour, “Brexit Brenda”, takes him in. At which point, the Pantis’ marriage sort of collapses. Both Rosie and George cannot take the first step to rebuilding it, and when George is informed he has won millions of lek in a Kosovan lottery, their son “sensible” Sid is drafted to talk sense to at least one of them.

This is Lewycka’s sixth book, and is the first set in her current home town of Sheffield. The characters are believable: George and Brenda are an aging couple from different backgrounds. George is English-Greek and a former university lecturer, and Rosie was once a student of his. Brenda owns a hair dressing salon and seems more style than substance. Sid and Cassie, the kids, are recognisable characters. Even the Albanian gangsters interested in George’s bank account (or his organs) have more than one dimension.

Lewycka’s characters seem a little stereotypical, but they aren’t. They have escaped central casting, and have that dazed manner of cosseted inmates coping with reality. The Good the Bad, and the Little Bit Stupid is not a long book, and with numerous short chapters with differing PoV characters, is a quick read. I enjoyed it, as it was moderately humorous and certainly diverting. I thank Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Rumble the dinosaur loves to have fun… but will he get to bed on time?

Written specifically for bedtime, this story is full of muddy puddles, tropical birds, erupting volcanoes… and one fun-loving little dinosaur.

Crashing through the jungle, Rumble the triceratops is off on an adventure! Weaving a journey from lively beginning to gentle end, the ten minute countdown to bed is at the heart of this adorable, heartwarming story. This beautifully illustrated picture book is the perfect length for sending little ones off to sleep.

Ten Minutes To Bed Little Dinosaur

Chris Chatterton & Rhiannon Fielding


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Rumble the dinosaur lives in the far away Land of Nod, where his mum always roars out a countdown for his bedtime that the whole jungle hears.  But Rumble is having too much fun and decides to go on an adventure instead of bed.   Then a scary thing happens and he is lost and alone until his mum finds him.

The story is sweet and fun with the words catchy and rhythmic, flowing easily and having a steady beat. The illustrations are  beautifully detailed and tell the story well.  The colours are rich and vivid, yet restful to look at.  At the back is a cleverly illustrated Land of Nod, and the other books set there are listed.

This book is perfect for bedtimes and can be read over and over and over and over, until the parent is sick of it.  I highly recommend this book for any little one.

Meet mischievous Hairy Maclary and his rollicking gang in this delightful shaped board book for babies.

A shaped board book about Lynley Dodd’s most delightful canine character that’s perfectly pitched for babies and toddlers.Hairy Maclary is a rascally dog,he’s a playful dogand a hungry dog.

Wherever Hairy Maclary goes, trouble is never far away! Find out all about the raggedy rascal in this delightful introduction to the bestselling Hairy Maclary and FriendsTM series by Lynley Dodd.

All About Hairy Maclary

Lynley Dodd

Puffin MR

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

The book introduces you to Hairy Maclary and gives a short description of his character.

The writing is on one side of the pages and is short – barely a sentence – but catchy and rhythmic. The other side has the appealing images of Hairy Maclary we’re all familiar with.

The pages are nice and thick – ideal for little hands – and they can be easily wiped down with a damp cloth if they need cleaning.  The book is cut in the shape of Hairy Maclary’s outline rather thn the usual straight edges, which looks a bit different and is eye-catching.

I highly recommend this book for your favourite toddler, either to introduce them to Hairy Maclary or to say hi to a much loved character.

Delicious and accessible recipes from the team that put together a series of successful and hip cafes around Auckland, offering highly Instagrammable dishes.

Fran Mazza is a half-Italian pastry chef, with a flair for design. She is also a hard-working mother of three children, and knows the time limitations that operate in most modern households. This book offers over 100 great recipes for people who enjoy tasty food that can be cooked easily with readily available ingredients.

Together, Fran and her husband Aaron Carson have been the masterminds behind a series of highly popular Auckland cafes, scattered around the city and suburbs – from Winona Forever and Fang in Parnell, to Major Tom in Albany and Just Like Martha in Three Kings, their trademark original artworks, vibrant fit-outs and food that is fresh, colourful and tasty have made each and every cafe a success within its community – and also become destinations in themselves for people wanting great flavour and good atmosphere. Interspersed between the recipes are the stories of each of these cafes – the idea behind them, how their names were chosen, and the communities in which they operate.

Feed Me Feed Me

Fran Mazza

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

There is something ironic about receiving a café cookbook for review when the city is in lockdown, and going to a café for more than a takeaway isn’t an option. Not that I’m much of a café person, and I can’t recall ever visiting any of those featured in this book, although they are all in Auckland.

It’s an eclectic collection, of both cafés and of recipes. You can be looking at vegan smoothies, and next page there’s gluten-free cocoa drinks, and a couple of pages on, you find meat pies. Which, of course, you would often find on a café menu, which has to please a variety of customers. Does it work for a recipe book? I’m not so sure. I will say that those are indeed a tempting selection of pies, and that there are some lovely recipes in the extensive collection of cakes and slices which occupies the latter half of the book. I was particularly taken with the Belgian Slice.

This is not a book for a beginning cook, and some of those would be challenging for an experienced baker. I would have appreciated more recipes for basics – a nice sourdough loaf, and home-made ricotta (because store-bought is very expensive and it is easy to make). Physically, the book is nicely bound, sits flat, and is beautifully illustrated. I do question the apparently random interspersion of the café stories – not that they shouldn’t be there, but they don’t seem to fit with the recipes around them.

However, I am quite sure that the fans of those cafés will adore this book; and the rest of us will find some nice ideas for brunch, or maybe for lunch, and definitely something nice for when you need to ‘take a plate’.

Review of The Deep – Alma Katsu

Posted: September 7, 2020 in history, horror, Review

Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers – including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher – are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

Brilliantly combining fact and fiction, the historical and the horrific, The Deep reveals a chilling truth in an unputdownable narrative full of unnerving moments and with a growing, inexorable sense of foreboding.

The Deep

Alma Katsu


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

It’s 1916 and Annie Hebbley has to leave the insane asylum where she has been living in order to make room for returning soldiers suffering shellshock.  She has a letter from a friend -Violet Jessop, who she worked with on the Titanic – inviting her o join her in serving as a stewardess for the Red Cross, sailing on the HMHS Brittanic evacuating the military troops.  Tending the wounded, she discovers a man she looked after on the Titanic, a man who perished…..

The character Violet Jessop is an actual person and she was holding a baby when she was rescued from the Titanic.  Violet survived the sinking of three ships which is bizarre – surely any sane person would think ”well I survived two, better not push my luck again”.

The story was told in two times – 1916 and 1912 – and each chapter is clearly labelled so you know instantly which time period you’re in.  the story plot gripped me at the start – based on real people, an intriguing mystery, the unexplained reason a tragedy happened – but there was too much back story and too many characters to make the story flow quickly.  I lost interest halfway in and it was a real struggle to finish.   The ending tied up the story nicely and maybe is exactly what happened.

Try it as it’s an interesting idea.  Maybe you have a longer attention span than me.

A little book to help anyone (big or small) take a moment and some nice, deep breaths.

Are you feeling a little bit (or a lottle bit) anxious?

Meet DOT, who’s here to help.

In this beautiful little hand-drawn book, DOT offers a practical way to comfort and calm anyone anxious, stressed or overwhelmed.

For anyone (big or small) who wants to take a moment and some nice, deep breaths.

My Name Is Dot

Kieran Scott


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

This book was created to help comfort and calm anyone anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed.  The author had struggled with anxiety for years, and watching a friend’s child struggle too, he came up with the concept of Dot – to comfort her and teach calming breathing techniques.

The right hand page has a dot on it, with the left hand page containing a small amount of text.  It’s like the dot is speaking to you and is a calming influence.

As I’m not the target audience I asked a friend with anxiety what she thought about the book.  Her response is below.

“Dot is a great book.  It makes you focus on the dot and helps you to breathe calmly.  You don’t even realise you’re doing it.  This is a very good book, love it.  It’s like having your therapist with you all the time to help you to focus and remind you to breathe.  The size means I can slip it in my handbag and take it to job interviews, where I can pull it out to read and calm down.”

I highly recommend this book for anyone with anxiety.  It’s a simple book but it really helps.

Review of Smoke – Dan Vyleta

Posted: August 20, 2020 in nonfiction

In an alternate Victorian England those who are wicked are marked by the smoke that pours out of their bodies. The aristocracy are clean, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot.

Thomas Argyle is the only son of a wayward aristocrat. Charlie Cooper is his best friend. When Thomas finds himself under the boot heel of a sadistic headboy in the treacherous halls of their elite boarding school, he and Charlie begin to question the rules of their society. Then the boys meet Livia, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful family. She leads them to a secret laboratory where they learn that smoke may not be as it seems, and together they set out to uncover the truth about their world.


Dan Vyleta

Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Supplied by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Charlie and Thomas are due to go down to London for an educational trip. They are students at a private school. In a world where personal sin is expressed as smoke. Smoke causes a stain on anything it touches for everyone to see. Smelling another’s smoke is a bit like a narcotic, increasing the chances of committing sins. Thus, cities are literal dens of iniquity.   But the elite have strategies for hiding their sins, and these for part of the curriculum of their schools.

The story starts with Thomas and Charlie facing one of the tests in this pursuit of a clean soul as seen by the world. And in London there exists at least one man totally unaffected by all this – a man without smoke.

Vyleta has created an interesting world: elites capable of dissembling their faults, a trade in sin, and someone totally unaffected by all this. And at this point I started wondering about two things: how it happened to come about, and what will be the fate of the unsmoking man. The former question doesn’t need to be explained, as Smoke is the McGuffin of the story, but the latter? In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Or living a very precarious existence. Vyleta missed the obvious protagonist to explore something different.

I’m in two minds about this book. On the one hand, we have a story set in a very different (steam-punkish) Britain and Charlie and Thomas must determine their fate and that of their society. All well and good. But we could’ve had a story about someone who must negotiate a path between entrenched factions or face a shortened existence.

Smoke is a good read and Vyleta has a future ahead of him as a novelist – did I mention this was a first novel? Thanks to Hachette NZ for the copy and apologies for the awful delay in providing a review.


A beautiful story about how a new baby needs time to hatch and grow, for all young brothers- and sisters-in-waiting.

Will the egg EVER hatch? This is a story for all children eagerly awaiting a new sibling.

‘When Baby wakes up,
will she hop and jump?’
‘Not yet, Kiwi Iti,
these things take time.’

Helen Taylor’s gentle text and exquisitely detailed illustrations show that growing a family takes patience and love, but is oh-so-worth the wait.

Kiwi Baby

Helen Taylor

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

After discovering an eg and learning it holds his sister, Kiwi Iti impatiently waits for it to hatch.  He bombards his dad with questions about when she can do things.  He waits and waits and waits…….. until finally she’s born.

This was a very sweet story that will help older siblings eager to play with the news baby.  The illustrations are very descriptive and are very descriptive drawings.  The colours are strong but restful, with the text bold and easy to read.

I recommend this for any child waiting for a sibling.

A woman’s cryptic dying words in a Venetian hospice lead Guido Brunetti to uncover a threat to the entire region in Donna Leon’s haunting twenty-ninth Brunetti novel.

When Dottoressa Donato calls the Questura to report that a dying patient at the hospice Fatebenefratelli wants to speak to the police, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, waste no time in responding.

‘They killed him. It was bad money. I told him no’, Benedetta Toso gasps the words about her recently-deceased husband, Vittorio Fadalto. Even though he is not sure she can hear him Brunetti softly promises he and Griffoni will look into what initially appears to be a private family tragedy. They discover that Fadalto worked in the field collecting samples of contamination for a company that measures the cleanliness of Venice’s water supply and that he had died in a mysterious motorcycle accident. Distracted briefly by Vice Questore Patta’s obsession with youth crime in Venice, Brunetti is bolstered once more by the remarkable research skills of Patta’s secretary, Signora Elettra Zorzi. Piecing together the tangled threads, in time Brunetti comes to realize the perilous meaning in the woman’s accusation and the threat it reveals to the health of the entire region. But justice in this case proves to be ambiguous, as Brunetti is reminded it can be when, seeking solace, he reads Aeschylus’s classic play The Eumenides.

Trace Elements

Donna Leon

William Heinamannn

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Brunetti is back!

Commissario Guido Brunetti and Claudia Griffoni are called to a hospice to hear the last words of a woman dying of cancer.  The story intrigues him enough to start digging for more information.

Vittorio Fadalto was the victim of a hit-and-run on his motorbike and drowned in a ditch.  But was he deliberately struck and killed?  He was a by-the-book scientist who worked at the company overseeing Venice’s water supply and testing it was safe for human consumption.  Why would anyone want to kill him?

The story flows well and has wonderfully descriptive wording, such as this description of the tech-genus secretary, Signora Elettra Zorzi.  “She looked at him in surprise, but then her expression changed to that of a leopard seal just noticing a baby penguin paddling in the water above it.”

The ending was a bit disappointing to me – as I enjoy seeing bad guys get their just desserts.  It does point out the difference between differences between guilt and responsibility though.

If you dream of travel in this Covid-19 world, the story is set in Venice in the middle of a heatwave and the richly expressive language puts you there, dripping with sweat alongside the locals, then this is the book for you.  If you just want a good story though, this is also the book for you.

An icon in the world of television news, Blaise McCarthy seems to have it all: beauty, intelligence and courage. But privately there is a story she has protected for years . . .

Blaise’s daughter Salima, blinded by juvenile diabetes, lives at a year-round boarding school. But when the school suddenly closes, she returns home to Blaise’s New York apartment with her new carer, Simon. As new challenges change the way they see one another, the bond between mother and daughter deepens as never before.

Then Blaise’s personal and professional worlds collide, and the well-guarded secrets of her home life are exposed. Suddenly her life is no longer perfect, but real. Can mother and daughter together learn how to face a world they can’t control?

A Perfect Life

Danielle Steel


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Blaise is a top notch journalist at the top of her career.  She’s an elegant, quiet woman who everyone loves who has a perfect life.  Then her daughter, Salima, comes home when her school is unexpectedly closed.  A teacher, Simon, comes with her to be employed as a babysitter, though he is determined that she learns to do things by herself.

Simon is drop dead gorgeous, smart, a good guy, cordon bleu cook, and 20 years younger than Blaise.  They slowly become friends… then sparks happen!  They’re happy for a while, then Blaise gets cold feet about the age difference and Simon has to leave while he sorts his feelings for a past lover out.  Will he return?

This is a Danielle Steel novel, so while true love has a rocky path, it wins in the end.  I’m bemused by the author’s view on disability though, which seems to suggest anyone with one is content not to function as independent.  A previous book had a wheelchair-bound woman who had to be carried everywhere.

 In this one being blind means you need to be lead everywhere and helped to bathe, dress, eat food.  The blind daughter is 19 and she lets someone brush her teeth?!  Two days after meeting the hero she’s doing everything for herself perfectly?  Yeah right.  And a school for the blind would let this babying happen by a staff member?

Ignore that and it is a fun read while curled up in front of the fireplace this winter.  A good book to escape with.