The story of Troy speaks to all of us – the kidnapping of Helen, a queen celebrated for her beauty, sees the Greeks launch a thousand ships against the city of Troy, to which they will lay siege for ten whole years. It is a terrible war with casualties on all sides as well as strained relations between allies, whose consequences become tragedies.

In Troy you will find heroism and hatred, love and loss, revenge and regret, desire and despair. It is these human passions, written bloodily in the sands of a distant shore, that still speak to us today.

Troy: Our Greatest Story Retold

Stephen Fry

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Yes, it is that Troy, and the story starts like most Greek myths, with Zeus not keeping it in his pants. From there on, there’s a few more Olympian extramarital affairs, royal murders, marriages, prophecies, and a divine beauty contest. From this point on, the gods seem to fall over each other trying to get their preferred prophecy over the line. And once war starts, they can’t resist meddling in Greek and Trojan affairs. Even after Zeus puts his foot down and orders a stop to it.

For those familiar with Homer’s Iliad¸ which covers but four days and three nights during the tenth year of the war, there is a wealth of background detail Homer assumes his listeners know. Such as how Menelaus came to married to Helen, why Paris risked it all to abduct her (and Menelaus’ treasury), and why the Greeks united to get her back. All told in the pared down, modern idiom Fry has used in the preceding Mythos and Heroes.

Once more. Stephen Fry has crafted another great book out of the dusty stanzas of Greek epic poetry. He has drawn on various sources to create a coherent narrative. And then tells the reader not to look too closely at the timelines as it’s all been bodged together. The one grumble I have is Stephen hasn’t really shown his calculations. Part of the problem is that many works, such as the Epic Cycle (which details various events during the Trojan War). Apart from the usual Intros and acknowledgements, Fry has included two short essays on Myth and Reality. Read them.

This is a book that should inhabit your collection. It’s certainly staying in mine. Hopefully there is a retelling of the Odyssey (and other tales following the fall of Troy). My thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

A convicted killer. A gifted thief. A vicious crime boss. A disillusioned cop. Together they’re a missing girl’s only hope.

Blair Harbour, once a wealthy, respected surgeon in Los Angeles, is now an ex-con down on her luck. She’s determined to keep her nose clean to win back custody of her son.

But when her former cellmate, Sneak Lawlor, begs for help to find her missing daughter, Blair is compelled to put her new-found freedom on the line. Joined by LA’s most feared underworld figure, Ada Maverick, the crew of criminals bring outlaw tactics to the search for Dayly.

Detective Jessica Sanchez has always had a difficult relationship with the LAPD. And her inheritance of a $7 million mansion as a reward for catching a killer has just made her police enemy number one.

It’s been ten years since Jessica arrested Blair for the cold-blooded murder of her neighbour. So when Jessica opens the door to the disgraced doctor and her friends early one morning she expects abuse, maybe even violence.

What comes instead is a plea for help.

Gathering Darkness

Candice Fox

Bantam Australia

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Held up at gunpoint at her overnight shift in a convenience store, Blair Harbour feels for the terrified young woman and doesn’t  tell the store owners – who happen to be a drug cartel – figuring she doesn’t need to be on the run from them too.  Blair was a respected surgeon before being convicted of the murder of her neighbour and her one goal is to keep her head down to win back custody of her son.

Then she learns the robber is her former cellmate’s missing daughter – Dayly – and her mother begs for help to find her.   Against her better judgement, Blair starts investigating and is forced to ask for help from Ada Maverick, a former inmate who owes Blair a debt and happens to be a scary criminal boss in L.A.  They enlist the help of Jessica Sanchez, the LAPD detective who arrested Blair, whom other cops hate due to an inheritance of a $7 million mansion.

The story is told from two POVs, Blair’s and Jessica’s, and is fast-paced with lots of things happening very quickly.  The different threads are all very tightly wound and as the story unfolds, it all comes together.  I loved some of the ending, other bits haqd me asking ‘did that HAVE to happen?’ and made me sad.

If you enjoy creepily compulsive crime thrillers tis is a MUST READ!

There are 60+ awesome games, puzzles and activities in this fun, creative and high-quality activity book based on Gavin Bishop’s bestselling Aotearoa.

You’ll have lots of creative fun with this book full of puzzles, quizzes and activities that explore Aotearoa New Zealand and its people.

Based on Gavin Bishop’s bestselling Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story and Wildlife of Aotearoa, this activity book is a place for you to tell your own story in words and pictures.

You’ll . . .

– learn to introduce yourself in Maori

– solve puzzles and crack codes

– play games

– invent a superhero

– draw your future home

– make maps

– curate your heroes in a wall of fame

– design a flag

– create a menu

and much more!

Packed with quizzes, mazes, colouring pages and activities designed to stimulate bright minds, this is the ideal activity book for creative children aged 5-12.

Amazing Aotearoa Activity Book

Gavin Bishop

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

“To complete this book you will need a pen or pencil for writing and drawing, lots of felt tips or pencils for colouring, a dollop of creativity and a BIG imagination.”

This fantastic book is jam-packed with fun, creative activities to keep a kid occupied for hours on end.  From writing about themselves and drawing their whanau, to learning about prehistoric Aotearoa and the Maori gods – nga atua – or writing down their thoughts on voting, the activities help them figure out who they are and their feeling on issues.

There are mazes, logic puzzles, word searches, and math problems to solve, along with a cryptic crossword with New Zealand sport clues.  The illustrations are charming And relate well to the topic on that page.  The book is well laid out and extremely attractive, with great use of colour.  The answers to puzzles are in the back pages, a relief as I got stuck on some!

I’d recommend this for any 8-12 yr olds who enjoy puzzles and being creative and don’t need to be stuck to a screen all the time.

Slinky Malinki has stolen the Christmas tree decorations! Let’s find them and learn the numbers from 1 to 10.

Oh, that cheeky cat Slinky Malinki has got up to his usual tricks and meddled with the Christmas tree decorations.

Can you find and count them all from 1 to 10?

With a durable hardback case and thick board pages, the bright and delightful pictures of Lynley Dodd’s famous cat Slinky Malinki, and his stolen goods, will make learning to count from 1–10 a repeated pleasure for adult and child.

Slinky Malinki’s Christmas 123

Lynley Dodd

Puffin MR

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Slinky Malinki stalks through the pages trailing his ill-gotten gains from some poor Christmas tree.

Every number from 1-10 is used and each page features a number of stolen items, enjoyable drawings, and has its own colour.

The illustrations that are depicted are fun and so lifelike. The body language and the look on Slinky Malinki’s face as he’s hunting the defenceless ornaments will be so familiar to anyone who has defended a Christmas tree from a cat.

The book itself is a hardcover with sturdy pages that will wipe clean and not tear. It is the perfect size to hold as you and a little person find and count them all. This festive board book is the perfect present for every young number learner.

A vivid, fast-paced novel about artificial emotional intelligence.Since the death of their mother, Hunter, Milly and Coel have come unstuck. Their father isn’t coping either, even though he’s the successful head of BIOlogic and is developing a humanoid to enhance human lives.

He brings home Josie, the latest prototype, hoping she might restore the family’s happiness. But Josie took a blast during an epic electrical storm and her system is unstable.

Meanwhile, Professor Bishop and his mysterious student Gwin Tang have their own ominous plans for Josie….

Hello Strange

Pamela Morrow

Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Dylan Howell

‘Hello Strange’, written by Pamela Morrow, was released in 2020 and is also her very first publication. Morrow is a well educated person with a background in a range of subjects that is somewhat applied in a number of elements throughout this text, part poetic romance, part science fiction set in the not so distant future, part commentary on immortality, the logical perception of emotions and a grand philosophic ramble, ‘Hello Strange’ is a tonally confusing, and off paced, albeit enjoyable read.

The novel follows the ‘life’ of a humanoid robot named Josie, who gains extraordinary levels of artificial intelligence during a Frankenstein-esque electrical storm. Her creator, Miles McClure is a widower father of three troubled children who are suffering mental anguish after the death of their mother. Milly, the youngest, is a ball of positivity and worry, Coel the middle child is an egomaniac thrill seeker, and the oldest, Hunter, is battling anxieties and worry. When Josie forms a positive relationship with Miles, he offers to bring her home and assist in counseling his children, leading to romantic sparks flying between Hunter and the android, which is as uncomfortable to think about as it sounds. Meanwhile, a villainous professor from the past aims to use his mysterious student’s virus code to destroy both Josie and his arch nemesis, Miles’s business. In essence it’s a sci-fi romance sprinkled in with business subterfuge and a lot of time spent talking and thinking between characters.

Unfortunately for the reader, the relationships between this large cast and wide range of personas don’t quite mesh into 375 pages, there are several characters that don’t receive proper conclusions or ever share a conversation with their counterparts. I would like to see a sequel that expands on the antagonists and makes them a credible threat, rather than spending 5 chapters following them simply to make their exploits a chekhov’s gun for the book’s conclusion. At the other end of this, some characters in chapters overstay their welcome and ramble and reminisce to the audience so much that important plot points like the antagonist’s evil plan are only revealed more than 200 pages into the book. This slow start put me off the book at first, and made some of the chapters an absolute slog to get through, as characters just think and think and think out loud, barraging the reader with cliches and melodrama occasionally, as if written by a very intelligent person vomiting a stream of thought onto a page. Many of these thoughts are easily inferrable, and make for some characters falling flat on their face as their motivations are described in excruciating detail. Which, when written in the present tense, can be a little jarring even when thematically appropriate.

On the plus side, there is a lot that ‘Hello Strange’ does very well. It’s written in a very competent, stylistic way, with a lot of sequences being detailed as if processed through a computer. Which is a certainly unique element that alone made reading Hello Strange unique and more pleasant to explore. In particular, even though romance isn’t my cup-of-tea-genre, I thought the romance between Hunter and Josie was handled in a dynamic way that made their interactions genuinely fun to read. Especially through the lens of essentially a newborn who is just discovering social cues while also being a literally perfect being. Although the book being slow to act at times, the witty conversation that goes on in between is a lot of fun, notably between the children Milly, Coel and Hunter, and especially whenever Bek is on the page, despite being oddly queer coded yet not expressly queer, her humor shines in any interaction she has making for several delightful chapters breaking up some of the morose introspection. When the plot does begin to move and the dominos begin to fall, the action set pieces are always set up and delivered in interesting ways, towards the end of the novel the action snowballs and becomes much more enjoyable in the last quarter. With excitingly vivid wording and unpredictability.

Overall, ‘Hello Strange’ was like vacuuming, it was an enjoyable chore that sometimes felt like work to get through, but often was just a satisfying experience. It’s a certainly unique novel with strong emphasis on explaining the universe with Pamela Morrow’s background in physics and science, and trying to understand the basic questions of our humanity that have been brought up in countless books and films about androids before it. However it delivers a host of unique characters that provide pretty compelling relationships that stack throughout the novel to topple quite suddenly at the end. I can easily recommend this book because of its strong premise and powerfully realised themes, but I do advise that this book is tackled by children aged 14 and up for it’s more mature way of exploring character and emotions.

Little Hector is off on a holiday to meet his rare and special cousin, Mini Maui. For the first time in his life, Hector is the BIGGER dolphin. But Mini thinks he’s BOSSY. Will they ever be friends?

The third story in award-winning author Ruth Paul’s Little Hector series introduces readers to the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species – and shows that friendship isn’t about size, it’s about sharing.

Little Hector meets Mini Maui

Ruth Paul

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Little Hector’s family is going on holiday and he finally gets to meet his cousins.  Hector’s mother explains they’re the last in that line of the family so he must be nice to them.  He is thrilled to discover his cousin – Mini Maui – is smaller than him and gets a bit bossy when playing games with her.  Upset when Mini won’t play with him anymore, Hector has to figure out what went wrong and how he can fix it so they can play together again.

The illustrations are so vivid and colourful, they illustrate the story perfectly and are joyful and stunning.  The text is broken up into easy to read sentences and have relevant illustrations by them.

The back cover has lots of useful facts about the Maui dolphin and explains why they’re so special.  It tells you where they’re found and what to do if you spot one.  Handy information to have for a summer break!

The hilarious and heartfelt new autobiography from the national treasure Sir David Jason In celebration of Sir David Jason’s 80th year, A Del of a Life: Lessons I’ve Learned relives Jason’s extraordinary life and career from over 50 years in entertainment. From a trainee electrician to one of Britain’s most revered and loved actors, Jason shares heartfelt and hilarious wisdom with readers on subjects ranging from family to work, resilience to ebullience. Told with his characteristic warmth and wit, Jason shines a wonderful new light on the characters and shows that fans have come to love him for, from Del Boy to Granville, Larkin to Frost.

A Del of A Life; Lessons I’ve Learned

David Jason

Century

Supplied by Penguin Random House

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

David Jason turned eighty this year, along with Raquel Welch, Ringo Starr and the Battle of Britain. In 2019 he was judged the fourth most hard-working actor in Britain. But stuck at home due to a certain virus, our Jason found an amount of time on his hands, hence this third book of memoirs (the other two also published by Century or Random House) .

The subtitle, Lessons I’ve Learned, is the theme of the book. David Jason is a qualified electrician, started in repertory, and was forty when his most iconic role, Del Boy Trotter, arrived. He also refused to be typecast, so pursued characters as far from Del Boy as possible – Inspector Frost, Danger Mouse, Skulliion, and Pa Larkin. Give yourself a pat on the back if you can name all the shows WITHOUT using the internet (and that includes asking Alexa or Siri). On the way, David reckons he learned a few lessons and thinks it impolite to at least not offer them up.

Reading it, I was struck by two things; David Jason is eighty, and he still has a helicopter pilot’s licence. This is a quick read, as Jason’s style is personable. He made me want to read. And to go back and re-watch all of Jason’s output, which is considerable. There are a few anecdotes which I found to be laugh out loud because I did, proving Jason’s comic skills are not just the product of the scriptwriters. If this doesn’t sell it, he’s also played the twelfth most loved screen detective and gives a glimpse of his routine during the UK lockdown.

A good read checking in at over 300 pages along with index and 16 pages of plates. Buy a copy, read it, absorb the lessons, laugh at the funny bits, then tell a friend. A big thank you to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

In this Maori-language edition of Bob Darroch’s bestselling lift-the-flap bedtime story, it’s time for Little Kiwi to go to bed – but where is he?

Kua tae ki te wa e moe ai a Kiwi Pakupaku, engari kei hea ia? Whaia tana Kokara, ka kimi haere i a ia i te ngahere o Aotearoa.

A favourite lift-the-flap adventure in the eternally popular Little Kiwi series of storybooks, now available in te reo Maori.

He wa moe, Kiwi Pakupaku

Bob Darroch, translated by Stacey Morrison

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

This is the well known bedtime story of Little Kiwi having to go to bed and his Kokara/Mum is searching for him in the New Zealand forest.  She finds lots of other little forest creatures during her search, cleverly hidden under flaps you lift up.

The artwork is beautifully drawn, with realistic forest dwellers coming to life.  The New Zealand forest is strikingly depicted in restful green, yellow, and brown tones and the lift-the-flaps blend in so well it’s hard to pick them out!   As with every Little Kiwi book hidden ladybirds are on every page.

I originally thought the book was in English as well as Maori, and was happy to see it wasn’t.  Hopefully this helps te reo become more mainstream and common to find books in.

The lft up flaps make this an interactive book for you and your child to enjoy and I really recommend it for te reo learners.

Beth, Portia and Eddie are siblings. Like all siblings, sometimes they don’t get along. They just have better reasons than most.

But when their grandfather dies, he leaves a troublingly specific condition in his will. For them to inherit his wealth, they’re required to retake a road trip they took with him when they were children, and scatter his ashes at the end of it. Of course, reuniting after all this time brings back memories of that ill-fated trip. Memories of what went wrong. But it’s not only memories they have to worry about. Someone is following them. Each of them is keeping secrets. And all of them are all too aware of what happened last time.

Because you can’t inherit the money if someone kills you first.

He Started It

Samantha Downing

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Eddie, Beth, and Portia have to to retake a road trip they took with their grandfather when they were children in order to inherit his wealth.  Eddie and Beth are married and their spouses, Krista and Felix, join them on the road trip.

The rules of the trip are; they can’t go to jail, or murder anyone on the trip, and have to scatter their grandfather’s ashes at the end of it. Sounds simple.

The story is told from Beth’s POV and information is drip fed to you bit by bit, until you have enough to piece the puzzle together.  Maybe.  I definitely did not see that end coming.  The last few paragraphs were awesome while the last sentence was brilliant.

This book is very clever psychological thriller and a real page turner.  I highly recommend it for those who love a good story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and unputdownable.

Meet Hound, a brilliant detective who ALWAYS solves his case. But this latest trail of clues has him perplexed – could it be that he’s missed something important?

Search for clues hidden in the pictures and help Hound to solve the riddle in this delightful return to the world of Puffin the Architect.

I’m Hound! And I’m a sleuth. I solve all types of cases. I sniff and snuff until my nose detects the clues and traces. Missing jewels, stolen cars —I always solve the crime. My latest case arrived by post. Ha ha — detecting time!

This gorgeous, multi-layered and engaging whodunnit by an award-winning writer has a delightful surprise at the end. Readers will love studying each action-packed illustration, poring over the details of Hound’s secret passages and map, spotting the adorable animals lurking in the pictures, and finding the caterpillar hidden on every page.

Hound the Detective

Kimberly Andrews

Picture Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Hound is a clever detective who solves cases by detecting clues with his nose.  His latest case has arrived by post;

To find your first clue

Follow your nose

In winter it freezes

In summer it flows

Hound instantly has the scent and races off to find the clue.

The story is cleverly laid out ands explains the Hound’s movements in catchy rhymes.  The text is fun to read and has a little drawing of something related to the clue.  The illustrations are very detailed and showcase the story very well.

I managed to find one hidden caterpillar in the whole book, and needed help from a friend’s son to find the rest.

Parents will enjoy reading this story to their little one and searching for the clues hidden in the pictures and the caterpillar.  I highly recommend this book for a special little one.