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

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

100 Best Native Plants for New Zealand Gardens

I’m no expert on gardening, but like most New Zealander home-owners we do have a garden, and like many, we’re keen to introduce more native plants to our patch. So, is this the book to tell us which plants will to choose, which will do well on our plot? It certainly looks like it might be. There is an extensive and informative introduction. Then there are detailed articles on the one hundred selected plants. Thankfully, they’re not ranked from very best to least best, but grouped sensibly into broad types – trees, shrubs, vines, herbaceous plants, ferns and groundcovers. This allows the prospective gardener to choose among the plants that serve in a particular role. Each of the individual species is given a thorough description, including what it likes and dislikes, pests, care, landscaping, similar species and a list of cultivars. So, this is helpful not just in choosing a native plant for your garden, but in looking after it thereafter, so it doesn’t up and die on you! Mind you, one advantage of choosing a native is that they evolved here, belong here, and are therefore harder to kill, even for amateurs like me. I was particularly interested in the section about the totara because of the mature specimen that graces our front verge – apparently there isn’t much even I could do to hurt it. The book itself is gloriously illustrated, with close-ups of foliage and pictures of whole plants, which is useful if you’ve inherited a garden and are trying to identify the flora. I’m sure this book will help us make the right choices of plants for our garden, and I’d recommend a look for anyone interested in growing New Zealand native plants.

Godwit

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

the glass projector

It is a bit of a departure for Steam Press to publish a work which is not only by a writer they have previously published, but also one which is the first of a series. Aimed at young adults, “The Witches of Autumn” is what one could define as an alternative universe steampunk fantasy. You can tell that it’s steampunk because there are zeppelins, mad scientists, wondrous gadgets and a hearty dose of derring-do. There is even a proper old-fashioned villain with a twirling moustache! It qualifies as fantasy because it has that magical element, unusually inventive in that the magic is a product of the bond between magician and familiar, the familiar being a ghost who takes the form of an animal. So you already know that this novel is definitely going to be different. The story is set in the city of Autumn which is engaged in an apparently interminable war with nation called Rumland, giving the novel something of a First World War background. But it’s not a war story… It’s more of a treasure hunt, a quest for a lost library of forgotten magic. It’s the story of how a young magician named Thistle together with her familiar Mappo the bat, and her friends Mr Pepper the gargoyle, and Epona the snark become embroiled in the search for an ancient library once discovered by the mysterious Witches of Autumn. And naturally in the process they find the eponymous Glass Projector. But I’m not going to tell you what it does…

This novel has interesting and distinctive characters, a strong plot, and a unique background. It ends (appropriately for its genre) on something of a cliff-hanger, and I have to say that I am genuinely looking forward to the next one. What’s more I’m quite certain I would have enjoyed this book as a child, and I suspect that it will appeal to many an imaginative young reader – and to older readers too.

Steam Press

Supplied by Steam Press

Reviewed by Jacqui

curry easy vegetarian

It’s a weird thing, maybe something about the sentence structure or vocabulary, but I can almost hear Madhur Jaffrey speaking to me in the distinctive accent of the subcontinent as I read her book of recipes and thoughts about Indian vegetarian cooking. You don’t normally get that in a recipe book, but this is a lot more than just recipes, it’s an insight into a lifestyle. I know you’re thinking, how can there be a whole book, almost 350 pages, about how to make a vegetable curry? Well, to begin with there are many vegetables used in Indian cooking, which can be combined in different ways, and many more permutations and variations of spices. There are, for example, more than twenty potato recipes in this book. There are also recipes for snacks, for flatbreads, an extensive collection of chutneys, together with drinks and desserts. In other words, all you need to put on an excellent vegetarian feast. Or accompany, dare I admit it, a spiced meat dish for the more omnivorous of us. For example, having picked up some nice tandoori chicken skewers at the supermarket, I was inspired to try a simple curry of spiced potatoes and peas, and home-made paratha flatbreads, to go alongside. There are little surprises too, like the Bombay toasties which are basically Indian toasted sandwiches – this sharing of food ideas goes both ways, it seems.

There’s no doubt, however, that if you’re going to get far with Curry Easy Vegetarian, you will need to find a good Indian supermarket. There are a lot of unusual ingredients, not just among the spice list either, but among the lentils and grains as well. Madhur has done an excellent job of including explanatory notes not just at the header for most of the recipes, but in longer articles interspersed between them. There’s a lot to learn here, and many ideas to try, even if you’re not vegetarian. And if you are, this may well be just the book you are looking for!

Random House

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui