Archive for August, 2014

the martian

So, in trying to avoid the inevitable “Robinson Crusoe in Space” line… I have to say that I haven’t read a book quite like “The Martian” for a long time, if ever. Nobody writes this kind of hard realistic solar system based science fiction any more. Partly because a book about an astronaut stuck on Mars and full of maths and physics should be really awfully boring, but it’s not.

There’s constant suspense of the “what’s-going-to-go-wrong-next?” variety, and “how-is-he-going-to-fix-this?” There’s a great deal of irreverent humour, quite a lot of it directed at NASA. And a surprisingly light touch with the writing style that works very well for most readers.

Perhaps the weakest part of the story is the set-up, the how of getting a lone astronaut left behind on Mars, but the scenario seems reasonable enough for me. The fact that it’s the crew member with just the right combination of skills and personality to survive is authorial serendipity.

The rest of it? Well, you have to assume that Weir has done the math right, or that at least somebody has… Because to go and check would take you away from the story, and you want to keep reading. Mind you, I expect some people will.

This is a truly exceptional novel, and especially coming right after the success of “Gravity”, I anticipate we’ll be reviewing the movie in a year or so… only as long as they stick to the book, the science won’t be nearly as broken as it was in “Gravity”. We can only hope that “The Martian” gets read by the masses, because it deserves to be, and more importantly, this is the kind of novel that can get people interested in real space. And put you off potatoes for life…

Del Ray

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

this house is haunted

I get the distinct impression that in some kind of reaction to much of the anachronism found in modern Victorian fantasy, Boyne has decided to give us a proper Dickensian ghost story. The problem with that is that it has been done before, many times over. I am told that “This House is Haunted” shares many plot elements with Henry James’ classic 1898 ghost story “The Turn of the Screw” and given the number of adaptations of said story, it’s no wonder that “This House is Haunted” seemed strangely familiar and all too predictable. That said, I must admit that it is very well written, capturing the Victorian turn of phrase much better than many works set in the period.

The central character’s behaviour does seem a little odd… why doesn’t she simply gather up the children and the other inhabitants of Gaudlin Manor and leave? The manor’s state of disrepair gives her a plausible reason. Get the place condemned and get out! And why does it take her so long to figure out the identity of the second ghost? I found the novel a tad boring, and the ending unsatisfying, which is a pity because it started so well and had so much potential.

Doubleday

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Alliance

Why does it not surprise me to learn that Frost helped create Twin Peaks and the Fantastic Four movies? There is certainly something cinematic about his writing, and he has something of a talent for vivid description… but I am getting ahead of myself. First, let’s admit that I hadn’t read book one of the Paladin Prophecy, and that even with a massive data dump near the start, the thing is so damn complex that I had difficulty figuring out what was going on.

This introduction certainly grabbed my attention: “Lyle Ogilvy had trouble staying dead” is a great first line, but then the tension and the interest drop rapidly into a confusion of conspiracies. We have the Center, a Hogwarts for genetically enhanced teens, we have a castle with a vast ancient city in a cavern below, we have demonic critters trying to break through and take over the Earth, Native American weirdness, adults with dubious morality and Nazi philosophies… it’s all just a bit too much for one story. And some of it really strains the boundaries of credibility.

Sometimes more is less, and perhaps that is a lesson for writers too. If you are intrigued by this series, I suggest you go read the first book, The Paladin Prophecy, first, it might make more sense.

Corgi

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

bot1

A thief on the streets of Floran, Caspan picked the wrong pocket and was forced to run for his life, the punishment for theft being death. Captured by members of a secret military order, The Brotherhood, Caspan is invited to join other prospective members in passing a test in order to be trained for the order. The Brotherhood is a covert group of professional treasurer hunters that search for magical objects in the burial mounds of the Dray, an ancient race that had long     left The Four Kingdoms.

Candidates for military service came from academies and they didn’t accept street urchins like Caspan. The Brotherhood would consider those with a recommendation letter from a current or former member of the order though, and he set off to a strange city for the test. After making friends during the test as well as gaining an enemy, Caspan arrives at The Brotherhood headquarters for training and soon the adventures begin.

Wow! Such a great story with the classic plot of a penniless orphan becoming one of an elite secret order and has many thrilling adventures. This book set the scene with the training required and comradeship forged and showed the alliances made. An intense adventure gives a lot of intriguing mysteries to solve and I’m eagerly waiting for the next in the series.

Random House Australia

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

blossom street

Lydia has been worrying about her adoptive daughter’s mental state and her struggling business A Good Yarn; a store that sells everything a knitter desires. Random baskets of wool from her store are appearing throughout town, with instructions to knit then pass it on.   Business improves for the store as a result but who is leaving the baskets?

Bethanne runs a successful party planning business she started after her husband of 20 years left her for another woman. Now happily married to Max, they live on opposite sides of the country; Max co-owns a successful winery in California and they are trying to figure out who will move to the others home. Bethanne’s ex-husband wants her back though and has enlisted their daughter’s help to win her over.

Lauren has just received some devastating news – her little sister is pregnant. With no ring on her finger yet, she is still single and childless and getting older. Lauren drops in at A Good Yarn to purchase some wool to create a shawl for her niece or nephew.   Then she meets the business partner of Bethanne’s husband and sparks fly.

Three separate stories that follow the lives of women connected by A Good Yarn in the Blossom Street series are woven together in this book, providing updates for favourite characters. You know the ending will be happy and this will be a feel-good read for rainy days. You don’t need to have read previous books in the series as it is easy to follow and a sweet story. Fans of Danielle Steel will enjoy this story by Debbie Macomber.

Bantam

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

another mother

Karen Scott and Mark Finlay wanted to offer their love to another child and decided to adopt through Child, Youth. Family Services (CYF), the New Zealand children’s social service. After two years of waiting they were asked to foster a five year old boy for a few days. Within a few hours, James was delivered to their home with nothing but the clothes he wore. They lavished love and attention on him but were not permitted to know details about his background; due to privacy laws CYF cannot reveal information about foster children or their backgrounds.

Two years of hell followed as he battled with his behaviour and to get him the professional help he desperately needed. James was gentle, charming, and loving, though he also displayed a variety of troubling behaviours.   When the family’s cherished pets started being harmed or going missing, Karen and Mark were confronted with a terrible truth – and had to make the agonizing decision that James could no longer stay with their family.

This was a powerful story and heartbreaking to read; I can’t imagine the strength it took to write it. The way CYF seems to work is frustrating – the fuss about a haircut was unbelievable. I know in some cultures children’s hair isn’t cut till a certain age but when a child isn’t of the culture that has that belief it is ridiculous to refuse a haircut if needed. Common sense is needed! It must be so demoralizing to work in that system, trying to protect children while facing a wall of stupid bureaucracy.

The love the family gave was impressive and the decision they had to make is gut-wrenching. I’m so sad it had to be made but it was the only option without endangering the rest of the family.

Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Group (NZ)

Reviewed by Jan