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The Abundant Garden : A Practical Guide To Growing A Regenerative Home Garden

by Niva & Yotam Kay, Jane Usher (photographer)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Saying I know Yotam & Niva is pushing it, as where I know them from is the Saturday markets in our town, when I was often served by a smiling, curly haired young man or a serene dark haired young woman.. But my husband has done one of Yotam’s workshops about basic vegetable gardening. Marty came home really inspired- & I soon became sick of the words “Yotam says…” Marty had already developed a strong interest in vegetable & fruit tree gardening (he isn’t keen on plants he can’t eat!) in part due to the ever rising price of all food in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Other than my herbs (& Marty has now muscled in on those too!) I’m not a keen gardener, but I am enjoying reaping the benefits!

How did the Kays get a book deal? I’ve been told someone employed at Allen & Unwin (NZ) did one of Yotam’s workshops, was impressed & said he should write a book. Yotam & Niva did just that, one of Aotearoa’s best photographers ([author:Jane Ussher|7136545]) took some amazing photos & the book became a runaway best seller. Unfortunately the publisher seriously underestimated demand & what with COVID & the book being printed overseas, we had to wait quite some time for our second edition copy.

The book is very well laid out, with lots of photos, b/w drawings & graphs. The Kays think about gardening in a different way from anyone else I’ve seen. For example, Yotam doesn’t turn (dig) the garden over, as you lose the top 4 inches of nutrients. Instead he just forks it.

Quite a different way for us Kiwis to think about gardening. But the proof is in the pudding (so to speak)

From the back cover;

Other than the tomatoes & flowers (we grow our own tomatoes & you won’t catch Marty eating flowers!) I’ve eaten all of these from Yotam’s stall. I particularly recommend the baby turnips. The products are always fresh & tasty.

I know this book is available in Australia – I hope it is available throughout the Southern Hemisphere. & Yotam is supposedly working on a cookbook now.

Great New Zealand Robbery: The Extraordinary True Story of How Gangsters Pulled Off Our Most Audacious Heist

by Scott Bainbridge

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Reasons I decided to read this book.

I found it in the local equivalent of a Little Free Library.

And the iconic Northern Steamship Building is featured – a building I used to know well! My father worked for Northern Steam (who occupied the bottom floor) for just over twenty years. I believe he was their last paid employee when Ron Brierley gutted the company. (Dad then went to work for Brierley at another company)

It was a gorgeous building – very Dickensian inside. Dad used to take one or two of us kids in with him when he did a spot of Saturday overtime, & the manager quite often had his granddaughter & we would have a great time playing hide & seek, hiding in the cubby holes.

By Auckland War Memorial Museum –…, CC0,…

This picture is from the 1920’s, but more recent pictures all seem to have scaffolding on it.

I went for a meal when it was the Northern Steamship restaurant & the interior was pretty much gutted. This was done well before the restaurant was in place. Last I heard it was a bar.

My dad never mentioned that a huge heist had taken place at the Waterfront Industry Commission’s offices (on the first floor – we were never allowed to go up there) around 10 years prior – there was no real reason he should. I wasn’t born at the time of the heist, & Mum & Dad were still living in Canada.

I’m a bit of true crime ghoul, but it turns out that doesn’t include burglaries & cracking safes. Or discussions on bank note numbering. Who knew? Plus Bainbridge without warning starts to treat this book as fiction with chunks of dialogue inserted. Very jarring.

I was interested in reading about NZ politician John Banks. Whatever you think about this controversial figure, his parents were a career criminal & a backstreet abortionist who both spent a good bit of Bank’s childhood in jail.

I think I would be more interested in a book about the Banks’ family.

DNF @ 37%.


by Witi Ihimaera

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Nowadays Whanau is usually translated as family, but it’s meaning is a bit more complex than that. For this book Ihimaera is meaning the extended family and/or community in a very gentle way he covered some very serious issues of the time – the drinking culture, race relations, the gradual erosion of Māori land rights. These are some very imperfect beings, but I came to love them and I was rooting for them all – especially Nanny.

This is a book where it appears that not much happens, but actually quite a bit does.



by Michelle Holman

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I read another one of Ms Holman’s titles Hand Me Down a couple of years ago – & for me it was a very flawed read. I was told that this book, Bonkers, was Ms Holman’s best work.


It was an interesting premise -an angel swaps the souls of two woman at the point of death- and nice Lisa ends up in the body of bad Linda – whose husband hates her. (and bad Linda ends up dead in Lisa’s body) Sounds awful doesn’t it, but for the first third watching Lisa navigate her new life was very entertaining. Unfortunately, lots of the book was exactly like Hand Me Down – dragged on way too long! Maybe Ms Holman had to reach a minimum book length and instead of creating a second book for secondary characters she had become fond of, went to absurd lengths to give even minor characters a happy ending. This was as painful as I have made it sound.

I gave Hand Me Down 3★, but even though I prefer this book, I just can’t go higher than three.

A RomaJuliette Christmas Special

by Chloe Gong

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I have a few Christmas quickies!

The author does suggest on her website reading her debut novel These Violent Delights first, but I followed readers suggestions to reread Jane Eyre before I read Wide Sargasso Sea

 and I didn’t find it helped much with that chaotic book. &, when possible, I like to read things in chronological order.

I found this short prequel oddly flat & it didn’t make me want to know more about either character. The title made me think I would get a lot more Christmas than I did.

Check to Your King

by Robin Hyde

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m trying to decide how I feel about this book – it certainly slowed down my reading pace (that & having the house reroofed – the sound of concrete tiles being removed & crashing to the ground made it hard to concentrate on anything!)

Robin Hyde is considered one of the greats in NZ literature. Born Iris Guiver Wilkinson, she was a free spirit, beautiful, bright & independent, sadly for her, she was born ahead of her time. Her bio on Goodreads is a c&p. It finishes abruptly (mid word!) in 1929 and she didn’t commit suicide (aged only 33) until 1939. So much to try to fit in. Not to elf: I really should fix the Goodreads bio up.

Here is her Wikipedia bio;

In the beginning, I was surprised and charmed by the light, whimsical tone in the tale of the self styled Baron de Thierry, probably the most bat shit crazy err…eccentric of all of NZ’s pioneers. Part English, part French, believed to be born in the Dutch republic, de Thierry tried to establish his own sovereign state in early 19th century New Zealand. Missionary Bruce Kendall and two Maori Chiefs did the equivalent of selling de Thierry the Brooklyn Bridge when they sold him 40,000 acres of land.

This picture of de Thierry when young and idealistic. I like the way he is shown surrounded by clouds. It does seem very appropriate. Later pictures show him as looking old and disillusioned. He ended his days as a piano teacher in Auckland.

This is a very short summary of de Thierry’s life. Believe me, there is a lot more to it than that.

Like I said, I was charmed in the beginning. The style reminded me of Nancy Mitford’s Madame de Pompadour which was written around twenty years later. Unlike Mitford’s book (which really draws the reader in) in parts I really struggled with this book, which veered between being a history and historical fiction. It is only 288 pages long, but it took me a month to complete.

I want to read more Hyde, but I may continue with her most famous novel, The Godwits Fly just to make sure her style is for me.

Common Ground: Garden Histories Of Aotearoa

by Matt Morris

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If this hadn’t been a NZ book I wouldn’t have finished it.

Which is a bit of a oxymoron because if it wasn’t a New Zealand book, I wouldn’t have picked it up!

I discovered this book because I entered an award it won into the Goodreads database and the subject sounded interesting and brought back memories of my childhood. My NZ grandparents and my parents were very keen gardeners. This made part of my childhood hideous, not just because of the weeding but because my parents and grandmother loved looking at other gardens and when they espied a plant they liked they would ask for cuttings. This would drag out the experience further when the garden owner would go find their garden tools and give lengthy instructions whilst wrapping the precious cuttings in dampened newspaper. My worst memory was being dragged around the largest citrus orchard in NZ (at the time) on a stinking hot day.

Ahhh, memories.

My husband has turned into a keen gardener, but he doesn’t need or want any input from me and has edged me out of the area I was interested in which was the herbs. I thought he might be interested in this book, but no, a gardening history not his thing! I’ll add, I’m very grateful that my husband loves vegetable gardening with the ever increasing hikes in food costs here and for a while, the quality of the produce in our local supermarket wasn’t great.

I don’t know – maybe small gardens are too personal, or more likely, I am the wrong reader. Matt Morris is a South Islander, so that is mostly what he writes about. There was just enough about Māori and Chinese gardens in our past to have me wanting more.

Some of the pictures were very endearing and a few more anecdotes like this one (by Cicely Wylie) may have helped. Ms Wylie had a few battles with her odd-job man.

Unfortunately he loves digging. The deeper the better. So I stand helplessly by, while he makes a trench big enough to bury his past. But it is my precious compost he is burying…

In my opinion, this book is for NZ historians and gardeners only. But it is nice to see the little guy/gal celebrated though instead of just the big, formal gardens.

Mophead Tu

by Selina Tusitala Marsh

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved Mophead and I love it’s sequel as well!

Selina (NZ’s Poet Laureate at the time) is invited to read a poem to the Queen at Westminster Abbey.

Being called a

doesn’t phase her, but having to work from a word that the Queen has chosen calls for a bit of thinking and reflection.

The book that has resulted is hilarious!

The illustrations aren’t quite the same quality as the first Mophead book (but I love this one of the late Prince Philip!)

This book has some important and thought provoking messages.

Rock on, Selina!

The Infinite Air

by Fiona Kidman

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I read Fiona Kidman’s This Mortal Boy last year and it was one of my favourite reads of 2020. I thought Kidman did a marvellous job of recreating a life of a nearly forgotten figure from New Zealand history, Albert Black.

With famed Kiwi aviator the enigmatic Jean Batten, not so much although I do value Kidman’s more sympathetic than usual interpretation of Miss Batten’s life.

Jean came from a seriously dysfunctional background. Her mother Nelly was obsessed with Jean and neglected her sons, her father was a notorious philanderer. Not too surprisingly, the marriage didn’t work out! Her brothers in Kidman’s interpretation were left to make their own way in the world – in a twist I didn’t know, the younger brother John became a Hollywood actor who did very well for a time.

Jean meanwhile grew into an astonishingly beautiful young girl.

Jean at 15

Highly intelligent, she was also a gifted dancer and pianist. Her father was happy to encourage Jean in her dreams to become a concert pianist. But Jean, even though she was living in near poverty with her mother was determined to fly.

Where Kidman’s account differs from many others, both in newspaper accounts and biographies, is that she doesn’t see Jean as a heartless gold digger who ruthlessly obtained money from men to follow her flying dream. Some of them were infatuated with her beauty but who want to control her- and certainly didn’t understand her. This is indeed the strongest part of the book. I loved being gently lead to a different interpretation of Jean’s character.

Kidman even portrays Jean’s great love Beverley Shepherd as someone who would want to control her.

But the most controlling person in Jeans life was her mother, Nelly. Does Jean ever realise this?

For me, the book quality tails off quite a bit in Jean’s post fame years. It is almost like Jean & Nelly are cardboard cut-outs pasted into different scenes. Jean may have been happy to keep her mystique, but I was a little disappointed.

The Food Truck: Volume 2

by Michael Van de Elzen

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I picked this book up at a garage sale.

I really loved this NZ TV show – so much so that I even ate at the Food Truck Restaurant (I believe it is still in business, but no longer owned by Michael) & the Food Truck

would be parked outside.

Michael is passionate about quality, healthy foods & both the TV show & the Food Truck were devoted to trying to create healthier versions of old favourites. This didn’t always work (the failure I remember was croissants) but more often then not they did. Michael’s
enthusiasm is absolutely contagious.

Researching Michael for this review, I found he had an absolutely horrible year in 2019, but has bounced back and is back where he belongs – everywhere you turn in Aotearoa (I even ran into him once at Nelson Airport!) He no longer wants the grind of a restaurant, so he runs a Cooking School at Muriwai, appears on various ads & is one of the hosts on the NZ version of Eat Well For Less. I swear his co-host Ganesh Raj could fix me with those beautiful eyes, tell me to drink a bottle of cod liver oil & I would! I’ve made quite a few recipes from the show (in my opinion the food on the NZ show is far better, but I prefer that the British show isn’t tied to a particular supermarket chain)

Soooo I think with Eat Well for Less Michael has learned something about Kiwi home cooks.

I have already made three of these recipes with the Shaksuka being especially good!

I was initially a bit disappointed when I first skimmed through this book, as a lot of the recipes seemed too fiddly (how he created them in the food truck I’ll never know!) or had ingredients like tomatillos that when you can get them in my little town are
very expensive. Most surprising of all for me was the Thai Tea Bag – served in plastic bags. That may be the way they do it in Thailand but it is not exactly environmentally friendly!

I don’t think Michael would present the dish this way now! And this is one of the recipes I’m intending to try.

So far I have made the Curry Sauce. It was meant to be served with homemade bratwursts, but I cheated & I used store bought sausages. The sauce was so delicious that next time I will make the bratwursts – the chopped apples & kiwifruit gave the sauce a really nice tang.

& last night we had the Almond-Crusted Pork Schnitzel and this was to die for. Most of the recipes I like the sound of are near the end of the book.

This book is a keeper!