From our reviewers: New Zealand fiction

A Bit Mental - One Man's Mission to Lilo the Waikato and Live More Awesome
By Jimi Hunt (Allen & Unwin $35)

Reviewed by Mark Hotton

These types of books are increasingly common on bookshelves. You know the type - man/woman has crazy idea, thinks about aforementioned idea then decides to do crazy idea and documents it before writing a book about it.

They often involve silly adventures or life-changing activities and almost always are designed to encourage you to live life more intensely. Which is a great mantra, unless you've got extremely young children. Then you just want sleep.

But Jimi Hunt's book, while tracking along that theme, is actually quite good. In fact, it's fair to say it's a fascinating read.

The premise follows the usual concept - Hunt decides to travel down the Waikato River, more than 350km (he starts near the Huka Falls), on an inflatable Lilo.

Crazy times ensue - he meets a bunch of people both while getting the venture under way - it's surprising how much support these activities require - and while on the river, he documents all these tales in his book.

But his story is deeper than that and it's his battle with depression, how it's eating him from the inside, how it costs him friends and his marriage, that make it much more interesting than the traditional crazy adventure book.

He's extremely frank and open about his illness - perhaps spending that time alone on an inflatable mattress leaves you quite philosophical - and it's a refreshing way to tell a story.

You might have read about his trip, seen him on television or heard about it on the radio, but the book captures his daily feelings - which change hour by hour - and gives you an insight into how his mind works, both with the depression raging and when it's under control.

He covers a visit to a doctor who explains the physiological root of his illness and outlines some simple steps to getting some of his issues under control naturally.

He's a bloke who loves doing ridiculous things - his next adventure was building a 650-metre long water slide north of Auckland (how much fun would that be?) - but it's the story behind those crazy things that make this an interesting read.

This Way of Life
By Sumner Burstyn with photography by Thomas Burstyn and Norbert Guenther (Harper Collins, RRP $35)

Reviewed by Rosemarie Smith

Prior viewing of the award-winning 2009 film documentary (of the same name) about the Ottley-Karena family and their horses would give the reader a leg-up to appreciating this follow-on book.

Despite the stunning photography, even viewing the film trailer online has a more powerful impact, but the book is accessible to a wide range of ages and may engage a new audience, or at least continue the discussion it should provoke about children's capacity to handle responsibility and physical challenge.

The free-range childhood as depicted was arguably once the norm, especially for rural families, though not necessarily guided with such gentle and loving parental hands - parents with a very clear philosophy on how to raise self-reliant, competent children, and trustworthy horses.

Horses have a central place in this story - Dad is a horse whisperer who breaks in wild horses, the family runs horse treks and the children grow up taking considerable responsibility for the family herd.

The book shows the family coping with the loss to a deliberately lit fire of their home and possessions, which underlines their core values.

As mother-of-seven Colleen Ottley- Karena says, being happy is not about having stuff. "It's about the quality of your relationship with your children."

An Indescribable Beauty: Letters Home to Germany from Wellington, NZ (1859-1862)
By Friedrich August Krull (Awa Press, RRP $38)

Reviewed by Jillian Allison-Aitken

A century and a half ago, a young German man set sail on a four-month journey on the Swedish ship the Equator to begin a new life in New Zealand.

Friedrich Krull arrived in New Zealand as the country was heading for the New Zealand wars.

Krull was keen to experience the traditional Maori way of life, so on his travels he spent time with the likes of Tamihana te Rauparaha and Matene Te Whiwhi and travelled with Honiana Te Puni-kokopu, Te Atiawa paramount chief.

Germans were the second-largest group of settlers in New Zealand during the 19th century and they settled throughout the country, from Houhara and Awanui in Northland to Gore and Germantown here in Southland.

This book - a compilation of Krull's letters home - offers a fascinating look at this time in the history of our young country.