Archive for the ‘nonfiction’ Category

Nga Haerenga – the New Zealand Cycle Trails – began as a vision to inspire people to experience New Zealand’s great outdoors by bike.

This book is stuffed full of useful information on the different trails – how to get there, what you will see, level of difficulty, things to take, places to eat and places to stay. There is fascinating background information on each area – its history and the local flora and fauna – as well as on the ride itself. This new edition covers several new sections of the trails, and provides updates on any on-going construction work.

There is also a highly practical section full of advice on choosing the right bike, gear to take, cell phone coverage in the different areas, weather and the best times of year for each trail, environmental care and useful websites.

Written by New Zealand’s top cycling writer, the book is aimed at family groups and first-time cyclists as well as more experienced groups. It’s accompanied by colour photos, elevation profiles and maps of each trail.

This new fully revised edition also provides an introduction to Tour Aotearoa which goes from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It’s a 3000-km length of New Zealand ride, taking in many of the Great Rides, and connecting them together with the safest and most enjoyable roads and tracks available. The route is fully open to the public. It can be done in one highly adventurous hit, or divided up into shorter lengths and completed over a period of time.

Don’t put your bike on the bike rack without this book!

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

The New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga, now includes over 2500 kilometres (over 1500 miles) of cycle paths and trails. This guide has 22 custom-built Great Rides and the Tour Aotearoa cycle route from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

I suggest you keep this book in a waterproof bag as you ride. Not only does the text explain clearly where to go (you would have to work REALLY hard to get lost) but each route has suggestions for food, accommodation, shortcuts and detours. What is most fascinating just by itself, never mind as a cycle trail handbook, are the “Trail tales“ that relate the history and natural and cultural stories of your route. They explain the heritage of what you are seeing as well as the rare flora and fauna along the way.

Using this book you can plan your whole trip and most importantly, it tells a cyclist what they need to know to plan safely. Not just start and end points but riding distance, time (averages) and grading, as trails vary from flat and smooth to rough and steep in the middle of nowhere. Included are 3D maps and elevation profiles.

The guide advises on fitness level required, skill level and how likely you are to meet other riders, their speed and how much room you will have to manoeuvre. The surface is discussed, you may be fine riding on concrete but how are you on volcanic ash? Also included are advice about the best type of bike for the trail and where to hire some.

Food and accommodation advice is given. Some places have lent their names to be listed along with phone numbers and websites where applicable. You should still book ahead in most cases and be mindful of closing times for food outlets but if you call or email, you should manage. This is the 2017 edition but always call ahead.  Where appropriate the guide lists cell phone coverage.

Occasionally you will come across the “Off Yer Bike” section under Shortcuts and Detours, which mentions walking trails or walks around the more picturesque towns.

A useful thing to have is the ‘How to get there’ sections where the Guide recommends weekend escapes and gives transport options and ideas on how to reach the start points of the routes.

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It’s all down to who you trust. Aiden O’Hara has been head of the family since he was kid, and he’s going to keep it that way. Jade Dixon is the one who watches his back. Mother of his son. The one who makes him invincible. But Jade’s been in the game a lot longer than Aiden. She knows no one’s indestructible. And when you’re at the top, that’s when you’ve got to watch the hardest. Especially the ones closest to you…

Headine

Supplied by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Reeva O’Hara is a fighter, pregnant at 14, she went on to have 4 more, all with different dads.  While she’s had a tough life, she loves her kids and they adore her.

Aiden O’Hara is the eldest and knows Reeva is a naive mess who attracts the wrong sort of men.   He steps up to look after the family and rises quickly in the London criminal underworld.

Jade Dixon is his lover, mother of his son, the only person he listens to.  In the underworld for much longer than Aiden, she knows no one is untouchable.

Aiden is a psychopath with no conscience though, and those closest to him know it.

This book is part of the successful formula of Martina Cole and enjoyable, though not her best work.  It kept me turning pages and the end was shocking to me as I didn’t see it coming.

A fun read.

The legendary biologist and bestselling author mounts a timely and passionate defense of science and clear thinking with this career-spanning collection of essays, including twenty pieces published in the United States for the first time.

For decades, Richard Dawkins has been a brilliant scientific communicator, consistently illuminating the wonders of nature and attacking faulty logic. Science in the Soul brings together forty-two essays, polemics, and paeans—all written with Dawkins’s characteristic erudition, remorseless wit, and unjaded awe of the natural world.

Though it spans three decades, this book couldn’t be more timely or more urgent. Elected officials have opened the floodgates to prejudices that have for half a century been unacceptable or at least undercover. In a passionate introduction, Dawkins calls on us to insist that reason take center stage and that gut feelings, even when they don’t represent the stirred dark waters of xenophobia, misogyny, or other blind prejudice, should stay out of the voting booth. And in the essays themselves, newly annotated by the author, he investigates a number of issues, including the importance of empirical evidence, and decries bad science, religion in the schools, and climate-change deniers.

Dawkins has equal ardor for “the sacred truth of nature” and renders here with typical virtuosity the glories and complexities of the natural world. Woven into an exploration of the vastness of geological time, for instance, is the peculiar history of the giant tortoises and the sea turtles—whose journeys between water and land tell us a deeper story about evolution. At this moment, when so many highly placed people still question the fact of evolution, Dawkins asks what Darwin would make of his own legacy—“a mixture of exhilaration and exasperation”—and celebrates science as possessing many of religion’s virtues—“explanation, consolation, and uplift”—without its detriments of superstition and prejudice.

In a world grown irrational and hostile to facts, Science in the Soul is an essential collection by an indispensable author.

Bantam

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Richard Dawkins latest offering is a collection of essays subtitled Selected Writings by a Passionate Rationalist. The approximately 50 essays are divided into eight themed sections and cover subjects dear to Dawkins heart. Most had been published before, many in the press, and Dawkins and his editor Gillian Somerscales have added explanatory footnotes where time has erased topicality. Somerscales introduces each section and Dawkins each essay. Occasionally he also provides an epilogue.

Dawkins is a vocal rationalist, and nothing provokes his ire more than public displays of stupidity. While religion is often the perceived target of his barbs, he considers Brexit to have the cake. But more often he is defending the theory of evolution. Few challenge Newton’s theory of gravitation or Einstein’s theory of relativity, but for some reason the doubters pounce on the “theory” part of evolution as though it were still a hypothesis under test. There goes one section, and another is devoted to misunderstanding concerning the mechanics of evolution.

The politics of faith is explored, while perhaps the most thoughtful section is titled “Living in the Real World”. Here Dawkins explores ethical questions, courtroom procedure and the scientific method, film dubbing, and several other issues. While brief, these are perhaps the best essays of the book and show a side of Dawkins few would glean from the popular press image. Lower down there are a couple of PG Wodehouse homages that are both amusing and thought provoking. Well done, Dawkins.

Finally there are the memorials, where Dawkins pays tribute to four of the people who shaped his life. Again, these are beautiful pieces and Dawkins’ humanity shines through. Oddly, I’ll finish with the introduction, where Dawkins discusses why he chose the word soul to go in the title. A smart reader never ignores the intro.

This is an excellent collection of very good essays, or vice versa. I’m glad to have this in my collection and I thank Penguin Random House New Zealand for the opportunity to review it.

 

irector Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick examine the dark side of American history, from the beginning of the twentieth century right up to the Obama administration. They ask whether America’s involvement in countries around the globe really reflects its much-vaunted democratic ideals, or self-interested action for poliitcal and economic gain. The Untold History is a meticulously researched and shocking picture of the American Empire, and its influence on the century’s defining events.

Ebury Press

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Every country has a myth that its citizens usually subscribe to. In the United States’ case this is that they are the champions of liberal democracy and democratic freedoms. In this political history, Stone and Kuznick offer a view at odds with this myth by examining the behaviour of several administrations during key events of the twentieth and twenty first century. It is safe to say that the myth does not survive unscathed.

Oliver Stone is well known as a movie director, and is known for his views on the American involvement and conduct in the Vietnam War. Peter Kuznick is a history professor at American University, Washington D.C. with a speciality in Nuclear Studies, often taking a position critical of the American myth. They also assert that the United States is an imperial power, de facto if not de jure.

After the introduction, which lays bare their thesis, the book delves into Wilson’s presidency which they see as being a starting point of US imperialism. It then follows Roosevelt and The New Deal, Truman and successive presidents to Obama. Stone and Kuznick examine the degree various presidents were at the sway of their advisors and whether they had their own agenda regarding foreign and domestic policy. They also point out that US politics is frequently dominated by powerful lobby groups, whose ends and means are often in conflict with the American myth.

This book does a good job of presenting its case; that the American myth is just that and the United States administrations frequently pays lip service to these core ideals. It also explains why North Korea is dogmatically opposed to caving to US pressure. It is a welcome antidote to the Whiggish interpretation of US history that is often paraded before us.

Read this book. Alternatively watch the TV series it engendered.

 

What if the princess didn’t marry Prince Charming but instead went on to be an astronaut? What if the jealous step sisters were supportive and kind? And what if the queen was the one really in charge of the kingdom? Illustrated by sixty female artists from every corner of the globe, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls introduces us to one hundred remarkable women and their extraordinary lives, from Ada Lovelace to Malala, Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. Empowering, moving and inspirational, these are true fairy tales for heroines who definitely don’t need rescuing.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls reinvents fairy tales, inspiring children with the stories of 100 heroic women from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams

Particular Books

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

A diverse grouping of one hundred women – from different backgrounds, religions, disabilities, ethnicities, sexualities – is featured in this collection of one page bios.  Each story is illustrated by a female artist from all over the world and all show how brave and determined these women were/are.

There are a few famous names – Michelle Obama, Malala, Venus Williams – but most are women I’d never heard of – a 19th century Colombian spy, the first female doctor in Mexico, an African woman who pretended to be a man to work in the mines, the first taqtooed lady in US carnivals.

This is a must read, not just for girls but boys too, my 60+ aunt couldn’t put it down.  It tells stories of strong women who had the courage to be a bit different and follow their dreams.  Each story being one page also encourages slow readers.

How this book was born is so cool.  The two authors are entreprenurers who understand how important it is for girls to grow up surrounded by female role models. It helps them to be more confident and set bigger goals.  They realized that 95% of the books and TV shows they grew up with lacked girls in prominent positions, so decided to do something about it.  They started a crowd-funding campaign, called for tales of inspirational women, and created Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.  Now Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2 is being crafted and I can’t wait to read it.

This is the guidebook of Te Araroa: New Zealand’s Trail, a continuous trail running from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Thirty-five years in the making, the trail officially opened in late 2011. The book maps the 3000-kilometre trail in 40-kilometre sections, with maps by leading map maker Roger Smith of Geographx.

Author Geoff Chapple is a modern-day visionary who took the concept of a continuous trail running the length of New Zealand and turned it into a reality. Chapple, the founder of the trail, complements the maps with a running commentary describing the landscape, the flora and fauna encountered along the way, as well as the special features of particular parts of the trail. Photographs of the trail illustrate each section.

Each of the nine regional sections opens with a stunning 2-page 3D map. A short introduction describes the history of the trail as well as the variety of New Zealand’s landscape along the way: forest, farmland, volcanoes and mountain passes, river valleys, green pathways and the urban areas of seven cities. This book is an accessible guide both for those who only want to walk parts of the trail and dedicated trampers who intend to walk its entire length.

Random House

Supplied by Random House  New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

113 walks from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Does what it says on the box, er, cover. A great resource for all trampers and walkers in general, this book lists walks that you can do through urban and park landscapes to proper tramping walks on bush and coast, where you would need to gear up. Gives you a bit of the history about the track as well. It’s all part of a notional trail that goes from Cape Reinga to Bluff. You can walk it, this book shows you how.

 

Have you ever wondered why New Zealand’s plants and animals are so different from those in other countries? Why kakapo is the only parrot in the world that cannot fly, or why the kiwi lives here and nowhere else? New Zealand is an extraordinary place, unique on earth, and the remarkable story of how and why life evolved here is the subject of Ghosts of Gondwana.

The challenge of explaining New Zealand’s natural origins is picked up in this fully revised edition of the popular award-winning book. It presents the latest scientific research in highly readable form, highlighting studies that reveal the deep historical background of our landscapes, fauna and flora – from ancient frogs and moa to delicate insects and the magnificent southern beech forests. It introduces the latest discoveries and resolves past issues like the ‘Oligocene drowning’ hypothesis. Exciting fossil discoveries are revealed and new scientific technologies and approaches to the discipline of historical biogeography are discussed – approaches that range from undersea geology to molecular clocks – and it inevitably draws attention to the debates and conflicts that distinguish different schools of opinion in this holistic branch of theoretical science.

This revision incorporates the results of 10 years of intensive scientific research and includes four entirely new chapters to: focus on ‘yesterday’s maps’ to draw attention to the ephemeral islands in our history that have possibly acted as stepping stones for terrestrial animals and plants but today have sunk into the sea; incorporate the author’s own special interest in an ancient group of ‘jaw-moths’, unknown and unnoticed by most people but with a strong message that New Zealand is part of the world when it comes to explaining where our fauna have come from; present recent research findings on our huge flightless birds, the ratites; and include New Zealand’s terrestrial molluscs into the story.

Ghosts of Gondwana identifies New Zealand as one of the most challenging places on earth to explain, but it’s readable, engaging style and revised illustrations render this often-controversial discipline of science into a format that is accessible to any reader with an interest in natural history and the unique environment of New Zealand.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve

Ever wondered where the native flora and fauna of New Zealand came from? Were they here from time out of mind, or did they migrate from somewhere else? And where was that somewhere? George Gibbs, a former lecturer in Biology at Victoria University, tries to answer these questions. He also explains why it is so difficult to provide decent answers: a rather poor fossil record. However, there have been some new and exciting developments in Central Otago that Gibbs dips into.

Gibbs has divided the book into four sections: unique Aotearoa, seeking explanations, explanations for New Zealand life, and made in New Zealand. The section titles are obvious: New Zealand has a decidedly unique bioscape, from a scientific point of view this needs to be explained, some theories work better than others for different plants or animals, and there are the biota that that define New Zealand and nowhere else.

Thus Gibbs takes us on a journey through plate tectonics, the disintegration of Gondwana, the slow drowning of the mini-continent of Zealandia and the ridge islands that extended as far as New Caledonia, as well as the competing theories as to what happened here geographically speaking. Throughout the telling, it becomes obvious that New Zealand shares a considerable amount of its biological ancestry with Australia, southern South America, and the currently under-inhabited Antarctica.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Gibbs’s style is easy for the curious layman to follow, and key concepts are explained both verbally and with the aid of diagrams. By the end of it not only did I feel an almost instant expert, but was filled with a desire to contribute to the discussion. Buy it.