Archive for August, 2014

My Gentle Barn

The Gentle Barn is a refuge for animals that need healing and a safe sanctuary. The book follows the story of Ellie Laks, the founder; from her childhood where she survived abuse and didn’t fit in, to the troubled years that followed where animals were her salvation. Open to at-risk youth and children with special needs, the barn taught them lessons in forgivness and how to treat others, imparting self esteem and understanding of themselves and others. This is a memoir of heartbreaki g stories of hope and healing.

The stories were pretty wonderful and some caused me to cry, such as the passing of the Barn’s inspiration – a goat named Mary. The telling of Ellie’s life and how the Gentle Barn grew was well-done and engaging, holding your interest with vivid depictions of events. A few of Ellie’s methods raised my eyebrows but they work so well done her. I hadn’t heard of this charity before so   appreciated how huge it now is when I checked online. A very engaging book with an important focus, this is well worth reading.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan


mastering the  art of soviet cooking

This is part cookbook, part memoir, part history, and part biography. Because tasting food evokes memories, and memories need to be explained. Anya von Bremzen and her mother are émigrés living in New York. Home was Moscow, which they left in 1974 when Anya was five. Living in the United States, the two eventually thrive, and are drawn into the Russian émigré community. Anya, having grown up in the home of shortages, becomes a cook and food writer. And with her mother, concocts the idea of throwing a series of themed dinner parties that reflect the development of Russian/Soviet cuisine from 1910 until the 21st century. Herein starts the journey.

The first dinner is inspired by literature: Chekhov describing the delicacies of a pre-revolution dinner. Anya and her mother are inspired to recreate it. Thus the book moves forward, a chapter per decade, with the main meal described and developed. But New York is not Moscow, and American ingredients are not Russian ingredients. Mayonnaise is decidedly sweeter in the US than Russia. Then there is the personal history of Anya’s family, her mother’s family from Odessa and her father’s from Moscow. Mother grew up the daughter of a nomenklatura but longed for the freedoms outside the Soviet system. Anya rebelled against her mother’s rebellion and longed for Soviet conformity.

The biography is mostly of Larissa Frumkin, Anya’s maternal grandmother and the history is the changes of Soviet life as it related to the Frumkin and von Bremzen families. Woven in is the story of a dish that signifies the key elements of that decade, how it relates to the family and the USSR.

Obviously, this is not your traditional cookbook, with only nine recipes for the ten decades (the omission is explained). For those who think Russian cooking is simply potatoes and cabbage soup, be disabused. Von Bremzen does a masterful job of weaving her story, her mother’s story, the food and socio-political nuances into a delightful read. Think Chocolat but with a stricter range of ingredients: Шоколад perhaps. She made me want to go to a Russian restaurant and pig out on more than just blini.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

The Separation

A diplomat’s wife in 1955 Malaya, Lydia returns home after a month of nursing a sick friend to find her husband and daughters missing. Told her husband had been posted up-country she sets out to join him, making an arduous trek through a jungle teeming with rebels. Faced with devastating news she seeks refuge with Jack Harding, the man she’d given up for the sake of her family.

Emma returned to England with her father and little sister, her mother taking care of business in Malay before joining them. After learning her mother has died she is enrolled in a strict girl’s boarding school, while dealing with the news her father is to marry again to Veronica. Finding a letter in her school file that a mystery benefactor is paying her fees, Emma vows   to find out who it is and tracks them down with Veronica’s help, exposing the dreadful truth about her mother’s disappearance.

Told from the two different perspectives of Lydia and Emma, this is a gripping tale of love, betrayal, survival, and hope. It also teaches you a lot about post-war Colonial attitudes and the struggle by Malay to become the independent country of Malaysia. I was shocked at the callousness of the father and became invested in Lydia’s journey, hoping it would end well. This was an absorbing book that drew me in and I couldn’t put it down.


Supplied by Penguin Group (NZ)

Reviewed by Jan

Legends In Black

Rugby greats from across the country give honest, warts-and-all interviews revealing the secrets of why we win. Every aspect of what it means to be an All Black is covered; provincial and international rugby, professionalism, selection, the haka, team culture, camaraderie, technical advances, coaching, and leadership.   Divided into four sections; A Winning Legacy, Winning the World Cup, Winning the World Cup twice, and A Study of Winning, each has four chapters of insights by players, coaches, and crew.

The interviews are in-depth and give an insight into how and why New Zealand rugby and the All Blacks are so successful. Each chapter begins with a photo of the interviewee and there are various others littered through the book illustrating points made or the people mentioned. Written in an easy-to-understand style for those of us with a mild interest in rugby, it’s full of really interesting stories.

This is a must-read for any rugby enthusiast and is a fascinating history of the game.


Supplied by Penguin Group (NZ)

Reviewed by Jan


Emmy Dockery’s sister died in a house fire eight months ago that was ruled accidental but she’s not convinced. She has uncovered a string of other fires that killed a person living alone and were ruled accidental. A research analyst with the FBI who is on unpaid leave after her boss accused her of sexual harassment, Emmy can’t get anyone to take her findings of a serial killer arsonist seriously and investigate.

After turning to her former fiancé, former special agent Richard Bookman, for help, Emmy meets with the Director of the FBI who assembles a preliminary investigation. Emmy and Books must find proof that the deaths were murders in order for a full investigation to occur, an almost impossible task as all the evidence looks to be normal fire damage. Is Emmy right and a clever monster on the loose or is she just a grieving sister unwilling to accept it was an accident?

A very clever plot that proceeded at a breathtaking pace and was full of misdirection and twists I did not see coming. The story itself was chilling; the arsonist was diabolically smart, planned things well and was horrifyingly sadistic. I thought I guessed the ending but then a new twist was thrown in and I as unsure. I eventfully was proven right but the new twist was never explained, leaving me confused as to why it occurred.

A must read for any fans of mysteries and thrillers, with a tiny splash of romance thrown in.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

i am rebecca

Rebecca Pilgrim is a devout Christian who devotes her life to living by The Rule, which is taught according to the Elders of her church. When she turns 14 she will find out who she is to marry, as all girls must be married by the time they turn 16. He twin sister Rachel has her heart set on marrying the boy she loves while Rebecca just wants a husband who is kind.

The choice is not theirs to make though, as the Elders decide who their husbands will be. Then God makes a surprising decision that is shown to Elder Stephen, the leader the Children of God. Rebecca then has t make a terrible choice between her immortal soul and freedom.

The sequel to I am not Esther this story takes us back to the Children of God sect and the power they have over members. The psychological control the Elders have over members is immense and scary and I was disgusted with Elder Stephen’s behaviour.   The whole thought control and messages sent were appalling to me, though I could see the attraction of the community spirit.

I was happy to catch up with the family’s ad characters met before and see what their lives are like now. Fleur Beale is a great writer and always produces fascinating stories. I hope more will be written about the younger Pilgrims later.

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Homeroom Diaries

After her mother disappears, Cuckoo Clarke suffers from deep depression and is briefly hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital. High school can be brutal and her clique of friends calls themselves the Freakshow and gave themselves insulting nicknames   in a premtive strike against the lame teenage minds in North Plains High. They’re not happy with the divide between various cliques though, and plan to change it with a plan called Operation Happiness. Cuckoo documents their brain storming in her diary, as well as their ordinary life events. These include her foster mom being very sick, date rape, cyber bullying, suicide, plus dating and friendship.

Despite dealing with some tough issues, this is an easy book to read and holds your attention throughout. Cuckoo is a likeable narrator and her group of friends are a bunch of underdogs that you can’t help but want to win. Little cartoon figures of what’s happening are scattered throughout and this helps to make it a fun book to read. Pre to early teens should be attracted to this book.

Young Arrow

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

the martian

So, in trying to avoid the inevitable “Robinson Crusoe in Space” line… I have to say that I haven’t read a book quite like “The Martian” for a long time, if ever. Nobody writes this kind of hard realistic solar system based science fiction any more. Partly because a book about an astronaut stuck on Mars and full of maths and physics should be really awfully boring, but it’s not.

There’s constant suspense of the “what’s-going-to-go-wrong-next?” variety, and “how-is-he-going-to-fix-this?” There’s a great deal of irreverent humour, quite a lot of it directed at NASA. And a surprisingly light touch with the writing style that works very well for most readers.

Perhaps the weakest part of the story is the set-up, the how of getting a lone astronaut left behind on Mars, but the scenario seems reasonable enough for me. The fact that it’s the crew member with just the right combination of skills and personality to survive is authorial serendipity.

The rest of it? Well, you have to assume that Weir has done the math right, or that at least somebody has… Because to go and check would take you away from the story, and you want to keep reading. Mind you, I expect some people will.

This is a truly exceptional novel, and especially coming right after the success of “Gravity”, I anticipate we’ll be reviewing the movie in a year or so… only as long as they stick to the book, the science won’t be nearly as broken as it was in “Gravity”. We can only hope that “The Martian” gets read by the masses, because it deserves to be, and more importantly, this is the kind of novel that can get people interested in real space. And put you off potatoes for life…

Del Ray

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

this house is haunted

I get the distinct impression that in some kind of reaction to much of the anachronism found in modern Victorian fantasy, Boyne has decided to give us a proper Dickensian ghost story. The problem with that is that it has been done before, many times over. I am told that “This House is Haunted” shares many plot elements with Henry James’ classic 1898 ghost story “The Turn of the Screw” and given the number of adaptations of said story, it’s no wonder that “This House is Haunted” seemed strangely familiar and all too predictable. That said, I must admit that it is very well written, capturing the Victorian turn of phrase much better than many works set in the period.

The central character’s behaviour does seem a little odd… why doesn’t she simply gather up the children and the other inhabitants of Gaudlin Manor and leave? The manor’s state of disrepair gives her a plausible reason. Get the place condemned and get out! And why does it take her so long to figure out the identity of the second ghost? I found the novel a tad boring, and the ending unsatisfying, which is a pity because it started so well and had so much potential.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui


Why does it not surprise me to learn that Frost helped create Twin Peaks and the Fantastic Four movies? There is certainly something cinematic about his writing, and he has something of a talent for vivid description… but I am getting ahead of myself. First, let’s admit that I hadn’t read book one of the Paladin Prophecy, and that even with a massive data dump near the start, the thing is so damn complex that I had difficulty figuring out what was going on.

This introduction certainly grabbed my attention: “Lyle Ogilvy had trouble staying dead” is a great first line, but then the tension and the interest drop rapidly into a confusion of conspiracies. We have the Center, a Hogwarts for genetically enhanced teens, we have a castle with a vast ancient city in a cavern below, we have demonic critters trying to break through and take over the Earth, Native American weirdness, adults with dubious morality and Nazi philosophies… it’s all just a bit too much for one story. And some of it really strains the boundaries of credibility.

Sometimes more is less, and perhaps that is a lesson for writers too. If you are intrigued by this series, I suggest you go read the first book, The Paladin Prophecy, first, it might make more sense.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui