From our reviewers: NZ books

From The Southland Times book reviewers.

The Forrests
By Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury, RRP $37)

Reviewed by Lesley Soper

Beautifully written by a New Zealand writer, and actually touted as a winner of the 2012 Booker Prize (but didn't make it to the shortlist), The Forrests tells the lifelong story of the Forrest family, largely through the eyes of daughter Dorothy (or "Dot" or "Dottie") from the age of 7 when the family arrive in Auckland from New York.

Dot mishears her father Frank, a failed actor and general hopeless case, say: "At last we live in a cloudless society." That misheard comment somehow sums up the whole story for me.

This largely dysfunctional family spend the rest of their lives pretty much misunderstanding and talking past each other, hiding secrets, never having a conversation that goes much below the surface, leading sad and constrained lives, largely swept along by circumstances and other people's decisions.

Between Dorothy at 7 and confused Dorothy at the end of the book there is a spell in a commune, implications of child abuse, drugs, births, deaths, relationships, mostly unsuccessful marriages, missed telephone calls, missed opportunities, the return of some of the family to the US, suburban life, the story of the lifelong love of "adopted" brother Daniel by two of the Forrest sisters.

This may sound like a lot, but actually it is episodic and bitsy, and, despite much minute detail, little really happens. Therefore, frustratingly, one of my sharpest memories of the book is wondering whether Dot really did become an obese housewife or whether this was only an image in her own mind.

I did not care about these characters or their sad lives. Which raises the question why do we enjoy fiction? Is beautiful prose enough? If you like to find some point in fictional lives that helps make sense of our own, I'm not sure this book cuts the mustard.

Justice and Utu
By David Hair (HarperCollins, RRP $25)

Reviewed by F Mulligan

Matiu Douglas has magical powers. They stem from the shadowland of Aotearoa, a spirit complement of present day New Zealand.

Maori myths and legends and early European settlement history merge to create this imaginative magic world.

Asher Grieve and his daughter, Donna Kyle, are evil doers but they have been caught and are to be tried in Aotearoa. Matiu's father - a solicitor - is asked to work for the defence and Matiu is also asked to testify on behalf of Donna, who had helped to thwart Asher's last plan to take control of Aotearoa.

Back in Aotearoa once more, Matiu and his friends Wiri and Damien find themselves given the cold shoulder for helping her. However, the danger from Grieve is far from over. He escapes with his minions to the north.

Matiu and his friends must track them down before they have a chance to enthral either Aotearoa or the real world.

This is one of a series but can be read as a one off. An engaging, very New Zealand fantasy for teens.

Plenty of action, magic, history and teenage angst.

The Word Witch
By Margaret Mahy, edited by Tessa Duder, illustrated by David Elliot (HarperCollins, RRP $40)

Reviewed by Maree Field

It was a sad day for Kiwi kids everywhere when Margaret Mahy died. Kiwi kids of all ages, I might add, myself being one of them.

The writer is, sadly, gone, but her words remain to delight, enchant and occasionally scare future generations.

The Word Witch - a collection of Mahy's stories and poems - has been reissued in paperback, with a bonus CD of some of said stories and poems being read by the great lady herself.

Dipping into The Word Witch is like plunging your hand into a particularly magic lucky dip - you never know what you're going to get but you know it's going to be good. Dipping in brings a smile - from Bubble Trouble - to a slight shiver from Alone in the House - The Word Witch is a great way to introduce your very own wee Kiwi kid to the magic of Margaret Mahy's world and words.

My French Affair
By Amanda Taylor-Ace (Random House, RRP $40

Reviewed by Naida Mulligan

Amanda Taylor-Ace is a vivacious, buxom, blonde Kiwi who, 10 years ago, gave up successful businesses in Auckland for a year in Provence. Her son was beginning to run with the wrong crowd and she wanted to explore her French roots.

The decision to stay in France "forever" was easy and after returning home to liquidise some assets, Taylor-Ace set about finding a home that could also be a business.

And so began the Maison de Maitresse guest house in Saint Maximin, in the south of France.

Ghost written by Australian journalist Ann Rickard, Taylor-Ace's story is a fluent and fun read for all us armchair travellers and food enthusiasts. It's also great for those wanting to "start over". Here's someone who did it and came out on top!

One of Taylor-Ace's passions is food and there are a couple of recipes at the end of each chapter. They look doable with a minimum of fuss.

And so it was that at least one member of our family looked rather excited when I announced that we were having a French tart for dinner. Excitement abated a little when he realised he had to prepare onion, anchovies and black olives! I hope to try some of the other recipes and they do ensure that this book is a keeper.

Highly recommended.

You can find out more about Amanda's cooking school and guest houses at As well, I will be looking out for Ann Rickard's previous books, two of which also feature Taylor-Ace. You can find out more about her at