We would all be better off if everyone saw mathematics as a practical ally. Sadly, most of us fear maths and seek to avoid it. This is because mathematics doesn’t have good ‘people skills’ – it never hesitates to bluntly point out when we are wrong. But it is only trying to help! Mathematics is a friend which can fill the gaps in what our brains can do naturally.

Luckily, even though we don’t like sharing our own mistakes, we love to read about what happens when maths errors make the everyday go horribly wrong. Matt Parker explores and explains near misses and mishaps with planes, bridges, the internet and big data as a way of showing us not only how important maths is, but how we can use it to our advantage. This comedy of errors is a brilliantly told series of disaster stories with a happy ending.

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors

Matt Parker

Allen Lane

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Mathematics underpins many disciplines, but one that affects us most is engineering. Matt Parker investigates the mathematical failures of engineering in Humble Pi. There are a surprisingly large number of ways mistakes can be made, and Parker throws light and elucidation on these.

Humble Pi is arranged in the normal manner, excepting the reverse page numbering and an inserted chapter 9.49 between chapters 9 and 10. The failures generally fall into four categories: unexpected consequences, more precision needed, poor planning, and the limitations of computer systems. And in writing that sentence I made a mistake by assuming only three and remembering a fourth. Parker tends to avoid fatal disasters: there’s no comedy in death (unless it’s the Darwin Awards).

Computers do get special mention, as there are numerous ways computers are not the best tool for what they are doing.: random number generation, timing, data storage using the wrong programme. The misuse of computers is impressive. Bridges seemed to feature highly, with harmonic vibrations featuring with two of my favourites; the Millennium Footbridge and “Galloping Gertie” aka the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

I enjoyed this book; Parker writes with humour and style while dissecting the nature of the mathematical failures. I recommend this to anyone with an interest in mathematics, or engineering, or failures. I thank Penguin Random House for the review copy.


Witness the epic battle of the cyclops!

Visit the endangered dragon preserve! Please, no slaying.

Solve the mystery of The Mystery Cottage, if you dare!

Buy some knick knacks from The Fates! They might come in handy later.

On a road trip across an enchanted America, Helen and Troy will discover all this and more. If the curse placed upon them by an ancient god doesn’t kill them or the pack of reluctant orc assassins don’t catch up to them, Helen and Troy might reach the end their journey in one piece, where they might just end up destroying the world. Or at least a state or two.

A minotaur girl, an all-American boy, a three-legged dog, and a classic car are on the road to adventure, where every exit leads to adventure. Whether they like it or not.

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest

A Lee Martinez


Purchased from Auckland City Libraries Withdrawn

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

If Odysseus had had an electric-blue Ford Chimera, and a minotaur for a girl-friend, this might have been his odyssey. Well, not exactly. But it is a quest, there are gods, witches, a cyclops, and orcs involved… in an alternate America where dragons are at once an endangered species and “an ecological disaster just waiting to happen.” Oh, and the orcs ride motorcycles.
This is both the funniest and the most fun book I’ve read in a while. High literature it isn’t, and if there is a message it’s a simple one about perseverance and self-acceptance. But light entertainment it certainly is, and if that’s what you need, then I can certainly recommend this book.

Help your tamariki to korero Maori with this brilliant first words book by Stacey Morrison, gorgeously illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly.
My First Words in Maori equips your whanau with the first words you need to speak te reo at home together.

With lively pictures labelled in Maori and English, each page introduces the concepts and words children use as they first begin to talk, get to know people and explore the world around them.

Designed by Maori language champion and broadcaster Stacey Morrison for parents and tamariki to read together, with plenty of details in the illustrations to point out and name, scenes include: Taku Tinana/My Body, Taku Whanau/My Family, Taku Whare/My House, Wahi Takaro/At the Park, Tatahi/At the Beach, Te Marae / The Marae – and much more!

This is the perfect book to bring the Maori language into your home and have fun with the kids on their language journey.

My First Words in Maori

Stacey Morrison, illustrated by Ali Teo & John O’Reilly


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

This book features words that will be useful to any child learning to talk, as well as phrases that will help in conversing in Maori.

Each double page features a subject – Pets/Mokai, Clothes/Kakahu, Emotions/Kare a-roto, or House/Whare – and is attractively illustrated with a colourful array of items that relate to it – Cat/Ngeru, Dress/Panekoti, Lonely/Mokemoke, or Ipad/Ipapa.  It was good to see the
Food/Kai page featured Marmite/Ihipani – a Kiwi staple!

The phrases are basic little sentences to encourage talking – The rabbit is jumping!/Kei te pekepeke te rapeti!, Where are your clothes?/Kei te makariri koe?, How are you?/Kei te pehea koe?, or Our house!/To tatou whare!  There’s a great map of New Zealand listing place names so you can say where you’re from.  The back has a basic list of numbers, colours, and shapes.  Stacey Morrison explains in the prologue that some English words have more than one translation in te reo so she used the most common Maori word.

This is an awesome resource that will be invaluable to families learning to speak te reo.

We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.

But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?
Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

The Widow

Fiona Barton


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Jean Taylor has had two years in the spotlight after her husband Glen had been accused of being involved in the disappearance of three year old Bella Elliot. Her mother Dawn had been inside doing household chores when Bella ran outside, following her cat into the small front garden. When Dawn went to call her a few minutes later, there was no trace.  Now Glen is dead after being hit by a bus and public interest in the case has returned.

When Dawn rang 999 to report Bella’s disappearance to the police, Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes headed up the investigation. The Police rapidly came to the conclusion that this is no simple abduction.  Glen Taylor became a Person of Interest to the investigation when a neighbour of Dawn’s remembered down a blue van similar to Taylor’s van in the area at about the time of Bella’s disappearance.  As the investigation continues into Glen and Jean Taylor’s background, discrepancies appear. Their computer is seized by the Police so that forensics can do a search of the hard drive.

Kate Waters, a reporter for the Daily Post, wants to tell Jean’s side of the story.  Jean finds herself targeted by reporters who want to know everything she’s been holding back all these years.  She eventually gives in to the pressure of the press and sells her story to Kate.

Told from the perspective of these three characters, the story shifts back and forth in time – from the crime in 2006 to glen’s death in 2010.  I found it easy to keep track of whose point of view it was, even with the time shift, as each chapter was labelled by perspective: The Detective, The Reporter, The Husband, and The Widow, and what date it was.

I found this a well written page turner that was hard to put down as I had to find out the whom and why regarding Bella Elliot’s disappearance and possible death. The book had a good plot and flowed along at a steady pace, holding my interest right up until the ending which was a bit of a surprise ut very clever and it wrapped the story up neatly.

I recommend this book to any fan of psychological suspense novels.

If this were the ancient Egypt of our time line, the year that this story begins would be around 1365 BCE.

It isn’t.

If this were the ancient Egypt of our time line it would be only a nation.

It’s an Empire.

If this were the ancient Egypt of our time line it would be known by that name.

It’s Napata.

And if this were the ancient Egypt of our time line then the Gods wouldn’t be real. It isn’t and—

They are!

Bastet’s Daughters

Lyn McConchie

Wildside Press

Gift from the author

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

I have to say I was seriously impressed by the amount of research Lyn put into this novel set in an alternate ancient Egypt. Unlike some other authors’ attempts to write in ancient societies this story manages to feel at least somewhat authentic, avoiding the fatal error of imposing modern mores on an earlier time, while making it quite clear that this is not exactly our world. The time period is around 1350 BC, Akhenaton is Pharaoh, but in this world the gods of what we call ancient Egypt are real, and so is magic. And so are cats.

Akhenaton and his priests are the villains in this tale, attempting to impose the worship of Ra alone everywhere, including in Hanish where Bastet is preeminent. Fortunately, the people of Hanish have knowledge of a possible way out, and the story is all about how they make it work, and how they make their escape. It’s a little predictable, but a good story nevertheless. And there are cats.

Once there was a clever girl who liked searching for interesting things on the ground. She wanted to know why shells could be found in rocks so far away from the sea. But her father thought education was no use to a girl, so Joan had to leave school.

Many years later, she bought an old map. To her amazement, she saw that it marked a treasure hoard. Not of gold and jewels, but of dinosaur bones.

Nobody had ever found dinosaur fossils in New Zealand before – in fact, top scientists had said it was impossible. But Joan was intrigued. She decided to learn everything she could about palaeontology and hunt for these dinosaur fossils.

This is the fifth picture book in an acclaimed series of true stories about the lives of famous Kiwis written by David Hill and magnificently illustrated by Phoebe Morris.

Dinosaur Hunter: Joan Wiffen’s Awesome Fossil Discoveries

David Hill & Phoebe Morris

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

“I can dream.  That’s one of the big things in life.”  Joan Wiffen

Until the late 1960s scientists believed dinosaurs never lived in New Zealand.  Then a dinosaur skull was found in Australia in 1968 and the thinking changed.  Now scientists thought they could have lived in New Zealand but needed proof.

This book tells the story of how a farm wife from the Hawke’s Bay proved New Zealand once had its own dinosaurs and became an international expert in dinosaur fossils.

The clever drawings tell the story of how she became interested in geology and fossils, then how she discovered a map showing the remote Mangahouanga Stream as a possible location of bones  and decided to go digging.  After sending a plaster cast of her findings to an Australian museum, they confirmed it was the vertebrae of a 70 million year old theropod – a dinosaur the size of a truck with sharp, saw-edged teeth.

Joan Wiffen had made a ground-breaking discovery and re-wrote history.

The Wiffen’s and their helpers continued exploring the remote stream for the next thirty years and made more fossil discoveries.  Some of those dinosaurs are cleverly illustrated in the final pages, along with a handy timeline of Joan Wiffen’s life.

This book was interesting as I hadn’t really paid attention to prehistoric New Zealand.  I vaguely knew that fossils of giant penguins and sharks the length of cricket pitches had been found but not actual dinosaurs.  Joan Wiffen also seems an inspiring woman more attention should be paid to.

Any dinosaur fan will love this book.  As well as those who aren’t dinosaur fans but like interesting women.

Julia is terrified by her daughter’s aggressive behaviour. Lily has changed from an angelic little girl into someone she is afraid to be alone with.

What scares Julia most, though, is that she knows why Lily is acting this way, but no-one will believe her. If she is going to help Lily, she will have to find the answers alone, embarking on a search that will take her to the shadowy back streets of Venice.

There Julia finds far more than just answers, and uncovers a heartbreaking, long-buried tale of tragedy and devastation. And this discovery has put her in serious danger . . .

Playing With Fire

Tess Gerritsen

Bantam Press

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Julia, a talented violinist, is scared of her 3 year old daughter after incidents when Lily turned extremely violent, killing the family cat and stabbing her mother repeatedly.  Julia realises Lily’s behaviourr changes from angelic to psychotic when she plays an original piece of music she found tucked inside a book of Romany tunes she bought in an antique store in Venice. The story starts to intertwine with that of Lorenzo, a young Italian-Jewish violinist in the 1930’s.

Julia enlists a friend to help her find out more about the music and they contact the antique store owner, who is murdered before they get answers.  Meanwhile Lorenzo’s story is slowly played out with the gradual erosion of freedoms for Jewish people.  Julia and her friend fly to Venice in search of answers, where they find out what happened to the composer of the piece of music.  The mystery deepens and soon Julia is in fear for her life…..

This is such a well-written book.   I really enjoyed the two different stories and how they weaved together at the end.  It was hard to read of the Italian family’s refusal to leave – “Mussolini’s a good man and won’t turn on us” – particularly as you know how it will end.  I was screaming in my head for them to run but it gives an insight into why many stayed.

The chapters are prefaced by a page with the name of the person who’s POV it is, so it’s easy to follow whose story you’re reading.  The plot is well thought out, with many twist and turns and the answers to a mystery revealed at the end.  Fans of thrillers will love this book.

READ IT!!!!!