fficially Max McLean doesn’t exist. An off-the-books assassin for the British government, he operates alone.

But when a routine hit goes badly wrong, a cryptic note on a $100 bill prised from his target’s dead fingers suggests there’s more to the mission than meets the eye.

Is someone from Max’s former life trying to send him a message?

From Paris to Jerusalem and on to the frozen wastes of north-west Russia, Max is forced into a desperate race for the truth – with unknown enemies determined to stop him at any cost.

And when the secret coded into the banknote is finally revealed, only one thing is certain: with the fate of the world in his possession, failure is not an option.; . .


James Brabazon

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

A highly skilled assassin, Max does the dirty jobs the British Government won’t admit to.  His latest target is a former IRA boss holed up in a remote cottage on the Irish coast.  Only when he gets there his target ism already dead, a bullet hole in his head and clutching a US$100 bill.  Then a bullet hits his shoulder and he flees with the banknote after setting fire to the cottage to destroy the evidence, jumping into the Irish Sea to escape.  Shot and needing a doctor, he turns to an old family friend from his past life.

Bad guys want the banknote.  Many, many bad guys.  Max gets tortured on a Russian trawler, shot at in a high speed chase in Paris, chased in Jerusalem, survives a car bomb in Moscow, as he searches for answers.

A very fast-moving story that is full of tightly wound twists and turns that leave you breathless.  It is full of action and you need to follow closely so as not to miss anything.

I lost sympathy for Max in the beginning – you do not kill police dogs – but grew to like him.  A few things puzzled me – a man who trusts no one takes the word of a stranger without checking him out – but most were answered at the end.  But that then raised more questions!  I highly recommend this for fans of thrillers and non-stop action.


Acclaimed Wellington restaurant La Boca Loca is one of New Zealand’s best Mexican taquerias. Owners Lucas Putnam and Marianne Elliott have always had a clear goal of presenting the freshest flavours of Mexico using the finest, locally available ingredients, which is also the philosophy behind this cookbook.

La Boca Loca gathers together the most popular dishes from the restaurant into one colourful, tasty, revised collection. The book is an excellent guide to the essentials of a Mexican pantry and where to source ingredients here in New Zealand.

Learn the basics of Mexican cooking, ensuring confidence in handling chillies, preparing masa, pressing tortillas and making fresh and cooked salsas. Then enjoy cooking these easy-step recipes that form the heart of this collection.

This is the essential New Zealand cookbook for anyone interested in authentic and delicious Mexican food.

A Boca Loca

Lucas Putnam and Marianne Elliott

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Maree Pavletich

The book of the restaurant in Wellington.

Proper Mexican food. Mole, tortillas, chillies quesadillas, tamales, enchiladas, superb hot chocolate; all the flavour of Mexico but not a sniff of chile con carne, nachos, fajitas or chimichangas. Those are Tex-Mex. Just like the Chicken Tikka Masala was a British invention.

Takes you through the basics and what to do with Mexican produce, all the way to a relaxed Mexican feast.

Well worth getting out the maracas!

This is a board book edition of Lynley Dodd’s beloved rhyming story about a girl who wishes she had a more exciting peterfect for little hands.

‘But just for once
it might be fun
if you changed from dog,’ she said.
‘To something HUGE
or something FIERCE
or something ODD

When Susie Fogg takes her dog for a walk, she dreams of having a more exciting pet. What if Sam were a dragon in a wagon?

Review of Dragon in a Wagon

Lynley Dodd


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

This book is so cute!

takes her dog Sam on walks all the time.  Sam is an ordinary dog though, and sometimes Susie longs for a more exciting pet…….  A litany of possible pets is given by Susie of more exciting, exotic creatures in unusual situations, like a giraffe in a scarf, a shark in the dark, or a gnu with the flu.  Then Sam reminds her of how great he is and how lucky Susie is to have him as part of her life.

The text is rhythmic and flows when read out loud.  The illustrations are brilliantly depicted, so lifelike and adding fun to the story.  This is a board book so has sturdy pages that will withstand little hands and teeth.

An essential addition to any child’s library.

From the leading talent in fantasy, a magical coming-of-age trilogy with a hilarious female anti-hero – a darker more intelligent Harry Potter for adults.

In the start of an all-new series, the bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver introduces you to a dangerous school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death – until one girl begins to rewrite its rules.

Enter  school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.

Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.

Wry, witty, endlessly inventive, and mordantly funny – yet with a true depth and fierce justice at its heart – this enchanting novel reminds us that there are far more important things than mere survival.

Review of A Deadly Education: Lesson 1 of the Scholomance

Naomi Novik

Del Rey

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree Pavletich

This is not Hogwarts. If your class experiment isn’t done on time it animates and comes after you. It’s a very solid teaching technique. Basically you graduate or die trying. El Higgins should be fine with it, she has an affinity for dark magic and mass destruction but she doesn’t particularly want to wipe the school and all the students off the face of the earth. No matter how annoying some can be, especially the ones trying to poison her or date her. And would that guy Orion please stop saving her life? She is perfectly capable of doing that herself. El is determined to survive but she may have to make friends with people she cannot trust or stand, maybe. This sets up the next books. El is a little whiny but you still want to follow her story.

It’s time to face the final trial . . .

The battle for Camp Jupiter is over. New Rome is safe. Tarquin and his army of the undead have been defeated. Somehow Apollo has made it out alive, with a little bit of help from the Hunters of Artemis.

But though the battle may have been won, the war is far from over.

Now Apollo and Meg must get ready for the final – and, let’s face it, probably fatal – adventure. They must face the last emperor, the terrifying Nero, and destroy him once and for all.

Can Apollo find his godly form again? Will Meg be able to face up to her troubled past? Destiny awaits . . .

The Tower of Nero: The trials of Apollo #5

Rick Riordan


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree Pavletich

Apollo annoyed Zeus and now he is a teenager named Lester on the mean streets of Manhattan. After overcoming many trials, but not his ego, and fighting and saving Camp Jupiter, with plenty of snark, Apollo and partner Meg are back in the city that never sleeps to do final battle with Nero. That Nero, fiddle and all. And then Python, Apollo’s sworn enemy (pardon the pun). If they win; Apollo will get his divinity back. If they lose, they die and humanity will suffer. Being humiliated isn’t the end it’s just the beginning.

If you get annoyed by irrepressible ego this book is not for you, however, it shows even gods can learn and although it may rife on the first Thor movie there is a lot more going on.

Monique Fiso is a modern-day food warrior, taking Maori cuisine to the world.

After years overseas in Michelin-star restaurants, Monique returned to Aotearoa to begin Hiakai, an innovative pop-up venture that’s now a revered, award-winning restaurant in Wellington.

Monique has also gone on to feature on Netflix’s ‘The Final Table’, alongside 19 other international chefs, with Hiakai being lauded by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Forbes and TIME magazine, which named Hiakai in 2019 as one of the ‘100 Greatest Places’ in the world.

This book is just as unforgettable: ranging between history, tradition and tikanga, as well as Monique’s personal journey of self-discovery, it tells the story of kai Maori, provides foraging and usage notes, an illustrated ingredient directory, and over 30 breathtaking recipes that give this ancient knowledge new life.

Hiakai offers up food to behold, to savour, to celebrate.

Hiakai, Modern Maori Cuisine

Monique Fiso

RHNZ Godwit

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Hiakai is both the Maori word for hungry and a noted restaurant in Wellington. Monique Fiso has credentials – she started with Martin Bosley, worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in New York. and focused on Maori cuisine after returning to New Zealand in 2016. As with any cookbook, there are photos of ingredients, finished dishes, and Fiso out foraging for wild goodies.

Hiakai is modern Maori cuisine. So, don’t expect recipes featuring tui, sealion, or Ngati Lost-the-War as you would be prosecuted for trying (as would they for promoting it), nor anything for hangi, boil-ups, or fry bread. Actually, that last one does make it in, but the bread ain’t plain rewena – it’s fancy! And that is the thrust of this book – modern. Just because the recipes are “Maori”, there is no need to tie them to pre-contact ingredients.

The book is divided into three broad sections: beginnings, ingredients, recipes. Naturally, there are further subdivisions, particularly with the recipes. For those wishing to recreate some of these recipes at home, you will need a mixture of patience, fitness, and observational skills – finding hakeke (wood-ear mushroom) in the shops is not a starter. Hiakai the restaurant is apparently highly successful and has attracted international attention. Unfortunately for me, this book arrived during lockdown so neither I nor a suitable stunt double have managed to get along to Wallace St in Mt Cook to sample the wares first-hand. But that is going to change.

I recommend this book. It breaks the stereotypes of Maori cooking and the recipes are fairly straight forward. Sourcing some of the ingredients may suit those with an interest in New Zealand flora more than others, but isn’t that half the fun of “ethnic” cuisine – shopping somewhere other than Countdown? Buy, try, surprise yourself. Thank you to RHNZ/Godwit for the review copy.

The eighth and final book in a bestselling junior fiction series inspired by true stories from the Wilson Sisters’ childhoods.

It’s their greatest adventure yet — a road trip in search of ponies!

In this exciting conclusion to the bestselling Showtym Adventures series, Amanda, Kelly and Vicki go on a road trip to find their dream ponies!

Nine-year-old Amanda is thrilled when her parents announce plans to travel the length of the country in search of a Grand Prix show jumper for Vicki, as well as a new pony each for Kelly and Amanda.

From wild beaches and lake swims to high-country musters, each day on the road brings the three sisters new experiences — and new challenges. Will Amanda and her new pony Syd survive the dangerous overnight cattle muster? And will Vicki find the Grand Prix pony of her dreams?

In this story inspired by the Wilson Sisters’ early years, Vicki, Kelly and Amanda first taste the freedom of exploring the world on horseback.

Syd, The Muster Pony: Showtym Adventures #8

Kelly Wilson


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

The Wilson sister’s are searching for ponies for Kelly and Amanda and a Grand Prix showjumper for Vicki.  They find two likely Grand Prix ponies but one is in Christchurch while the other is in Invercargill.  All the sisters want to view them but airfare for the whole family would be too expensive.  There’s only one solution – ROAD TRIP!!!

The sisters convince their parents to travel round New Zealand for three months in the horse truck, hopefully finding for ponies for Kelly and Amanda.  They have a lot of fun adventures and meet many people, while riding their ponies all over New Zealand.

A brief explanation of the real life ponies and their accomplishments that the book was based on features at the end.  A detailed explanation of travelling with ponies/horses is also given.  It covers; preparing to travel, the journey, arriving at your destination.

It‘s well thought out and full of handy tips.

A fitting end to a series that was all about the Wilson sister’s adventures with ponies. Any pony-mad teen will love it.

Review of Katt vs. Dogg – James PattersonThe most famous enemies in the animal kingdom finally meet face-to-face… and the fur is about to fly!

Oscar is a rowdy pooch who loves everybody – except katts! His family of down-to-earth doggs enjoys giving those snooty katts a hard time.

Molly is a pretty kitty who’s destined for fame and fortune as an actress. Her family of well-bred katts thinks all doggs are dirty and disgusting!

But while on family camping trips, Molly and Oscar get hopelessly lost in the dangerous woods. The only way for them to survive is for the mortal enemies to work together…

Yeah, not gonna happen!

Katt vs. Dogg

James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree Pavletich

Katts believe dogs are dirty and disgusting.

Doggs believe Katts are snooty and only good for chasing

Sworn enemies.

But when two youngsters; Oscar the dogg and Molly the katt, get lost in the woods, they find sworn enemies have to team up to survive and by doing that they may, just may, change their world. But first they have to get past years of being told they shouldn’t even look at each other let alone talk or help each other!

I found this on the simplistic read side but younger readers will love it.

        Peter Gossage’s famous Maori myth about discovering Aotearoa’s North Island is now a bilingual Maori-English edition, featuring Merimeri Penfold’s translation.

Kahore nga tuakana o Maui i hiahia kia haere ia i to ratou taha ki te hi, he hae no ratou. Heoi ano, ka mau i a Maui atamai te ika whakamiharo katoa.

He putanga reo Maori–reo Pakeha o tenei tino pakiwaitara o Aotearoa.

Maui’s jealous brothers don’t want him to come fishing with them. But clever Maui catches the best fish of all.

Te Ika a Maui / the Fish of Maui

Peter Gossage, translated by Merimeri Penfold

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

This is the re-telling of a Maori myth about how Maui discovered the North Island of New

Maui’s foster brothers were jealous of him as he had magical powers and they didn’t, so when they planned a fishing trip they left him out.  After learning of this, Maui hid in the bottom of the canoe and emerging when they found a place to fish.

The illustrations are lifelike and well-drawn, very detailed and comprehensive in explaining the story.  The English and Maori language paragraphs are clearly defined and the text is mostly easy to read.  The white lettering on a light green background was a bit difficult to see, but the colours suited the story.

This is a bilingual Maori-English story.

In The Deep End, book 15 of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series from #1 international bestselling author Jeff Kinney, Greg Heffley and his family hit the road for a cross-country camping trip, ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

But things take an unexpected turn, and they find themselves stranded at an RV park that’s not exactly a summertime paradise. When the skies open up and the water starts to rise, the Heffleys wonder if they can save their vacation – or if they’re already in too deep.

The Deep End: Diary of a Wimpy Kid #15

Jeff Kinney


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Dylan Howell

The book series that won’t give up, Diary of a Wimpy Kid remains one of the most consistent and entertaining names in children’s literature, I’ve praised Kinney before for unbelievably hitting the reader with a fresh concept each time. Even now, upon the release of his 15th instalment. However, while “The Deep End” is incredibly derivative of an early entry in the franchise “the long haul”, it adds a new spin and raises the stakes higher than ever before.

This novel features the familiar Heffley family embarking on an outdoor camping trip following the events of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball” when the family borrows a fixer upper RV from their shady Uncle Gary. As is expected of our titular Wimpy Kid, hijinks ensue. Floods, storms, wild animals, bullies, and overflowing sewage tanks are the least of Greg’s concerns in this solid entry in the franchise. It may be less relatable than other instalments, but at this point in the series, Greg is as sympathetic as any anti-hero can get.

“The Deep End” is suitable for children aged 9 and over. There are brief mentions of nudity, drinking, and violence but they aren’t intrusive or influential. The rest of the content may be pitched towards Americans, as some humour is specific to the flora and fauna of the United States. The subject matter however, of camping and road tripping could be of interest to anyone.

I can easily give this my seal of approval, I began reading these books when I was 8, a great age to enjoy them, and I still find them endearing page-turners at age 18. There’s something undeniable about the simple brilliance of these books, and the domino-stacking dance Kinney plays with his audience, which can be finished in a gut-busting afternoon.  I simply can’t recommend them enough. It would be tough to find a funnier children’s series.