Archive for December, 2014

The Iron Trial

I began this novel with a distinct sense of déjà vu. It looks like a somewhat Americanised Harry Potter clone, and indeed it is, with a more coherent magic system, and a somewhat more plausible setting (just how do you hide a castle the size of Hogwarts?) The Magisterium is as you might expect, a wizard school, but it’s somewhere in the eastern US underground in a natural cave system (possibly based on the Luray Caverns in Virginia). Our lead characters are apprentice mages, in their first, or “iron” year. The protagonist is Call (short for Callum – I would have thought it should be Cal, but the authors chose otherwise) who is one of those irritating young teens that seem to populate a certain type of juvenile literature. With better reason than most, as it turns out. He finds himself sitting the entrance test for the Magisterium, and tries desperately to fail, only in his failure he manages to prove his not inconsiderable talent for magic. He must be trained, is apprenticed, and spends considerable time learning concentration and control. And then another student runs away, precipitating a series of events that leads to a spectacular climax with a fine twist on the “I am your father” moment.

The problem is that it is all very like Harry Potter and has been royally criticised for just that similarity. On the other hand, I’ve seen people carping at “magical school” stories which were actually published considerably earlier claiming that they were ripping off Potter. In fact, it was Harry Potter that “copied” earlier work, notably T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone (Rowling admits as much). So, should we make comparisons, or let each new story stand or fall on its own merit? The Iron Trial has its merits, it’s an enjoyable read, and well enough written. In many ways, it makes more sense than the Potter books, so if that’s the sort of thing you like, read and enjoy!

Doubleday

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

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Nightmares

I really am in two minds about this book. On the one hand it is a well-written clever story, with a very positive message for kids about overcoming their fears. On the other, it never really grabbed me, never succeeded in fully taking me into its world… perhaps it’s something to do with not having suffered greatly from nightmares myself. For me, unlike the authors, there is no clear dichotomy between nightmares and dreams, one can easily shift from one to the other, and a dream may have nightmarish elements without being a nightmare. And that might be one reason why I had trouble relating to this story. Another is that I’ve never liked horror stories, and I’m not sure that I’d have wanted to read this book when I was a kid.

It’s the story of a young boy named Charlie, his brother Jack and his friends. Charlie’s mother is dead, and his father has remarried to Charlotte, one of Charlie’s mother’s best friends. Charlie believes the stepmonster to be a witch and both hates and fears her. His fears lend him the ability to open the portal in the house of her ancestors and enter the world of nightmares in bodily form. His friends are drawn in through their own nightmares, and the authors pick up on typical childhood fears – of mockery, of authority figures and of the dark, and show how they might be defeated.

Now, I know that some people will buy this book simply because it has Jason Segel on the cover, but honestly read it yourself before giving it to the kids, because it really will be too scary for some more sensitive souls. It helps that there is a comic side to the novel, and that it doesn’t take itself absolutely seriously. There is mention of a sequel, although how they plan to make a series of this, I just don’t know.

Corgi

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

 everyday delicious

It is what it says on the tin, a book of recipes to be used on an everyday basis with (hopefully) delicious results. This is a relatively slim book, just over two hundred pages, which with each recipe illustrated on the opposite page makes for just over a hundred recipes. However, the percentage of useful recipes, for meals and treats that the average New Zealand family would create, eat, and enjoy is unusually high. There are recipes for muesli, macaroni cheese, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, spaghetti with meatballs, banana cake, two variations on ribs, and four versions of burgers (if you include the “Good Morning Muffins” which are essentially pork sausage burgers). Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t have a recipe for macaroni cheese – there is a macaroni cheese recipe in one of my very first cookbooks from the early 1970’s and I can easily find many others dating all the way back to the first recorded recipes for makerouns in the 14th century. But these thing evolve, and it’s interesting to see what Chelsea has done with some of our favourites. And there are some great new ideas to try, like the kumara cake – about which my son was a bit hesitant at first, but he tells me that it grew on him… and he doesn’t even like kumara! The spiced pumpkin muffins turned out perfectly and were delicious!

I was pleased to see the recipe for dumpling dough following the “Prawn, Chicken and Chive Dumplings”, but was surprised that there was wasn’t a similar recipe for flour tortillas to go with the fish tacos and chicken nachos. I also wondered where the recipe for the beautiful pie that Chelsea is gazing at on page 149 had disappeared to. But those are small complaints, and overall this is an excellent collection of real recipes for real food. Definitely recommended, especially for those people who are learning to cook for their family and would like to try out some new dishes.

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

essential nz poems

This collection explores the question of what is an essential New Zealand poem. The selected poems touch on New Zealand’s unique geography and its people’s connection to the land, as well as its society, culture, and values. The 150 poets featured include; Fleur Adcock, James K Baxter, Allen Curnow, Lauris Edmond, CK Stead, Denis Glover, Janet Frame, Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare, Sam Hunt, Vincent O’Sullivan, Brian Turner, James Brown, Kate Camp, Glenn Colquhoun and Paula Green.

Ordered alphabetically, each poet has only one poem featured and they start from the 1950’s onwards. The book itself is very attractive, with a cloth-bound cover and photographs scattered throughout the pages. A very enjoyable collection of some of New Zealand’s best poems, this is very diverse and has something for everyone.

Godwit

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Merry Christmas!!!

Posted: December 25, 2014 in greetings
Tags:

merry christmasHave a safe and happy holiday

(hopefully with many books)!

stories for 7 yr olds

This collection of 25 short stories is written by some of New Zealand’s most loved children’s writers. There is a great selection of stories that are specifically targeted at 7 year olds and are perfect to be read loud or independently. Lulu Bell and an injured penguin, a school play spectacular, holidays at Pop’s farm, scary fairies, a lost goblin princess, a shark for a best friend, a homework disaster, Draggle the bedraggled dragon, two queen dolls, ducks and dogs, a strawberry thief and Clementine Rose’s first day of school are some of the stories you’ll find inside.

The stories are a bit more adventurous than the 6 year olds collection and are about exploring and things – kapa haka, monsters, best friends, snorkelling, and wetas are covered! My tester enjoyed the stories immensely and looked forward to bedtime when she’d get to read one to her little sister! She also really liked the cute illustrations that had both of them in giggles.

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

stories for6 yr oldsa

This is a collection of 25 short stories that have been specifically chosen to appeal to 6 year olds. A very old ghost, an accident-prone cousin, a pirate in search of a ship, fish fingers for breakfast, a dog who loves football, hairy armadillos, aliens in pyjamas, a boy in trouble, a big brother who can fix anything, secret creatures in the playground and an unexpected escape for Gibblewort the Goblinare some of the stories you’ll find inside. The authors are a mix of well-known and unfamiliar names that include Margaret Mahy, Patricia Grace, and David Hill.

This will be enjoyed by those who like to be read to or can read themselves. My tester is a slow reader and not very confident but she enjoyed reading these out loud to her little sister every night. She liked the shortness of the stories and though ‘they were all cool’. The perfect gift for 6 year olds!

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan