Archive for March, 2019

An all-new collection of short stories from the world of Magnus Chase!

How well do you know the nine Norse realms? Do you get all those heims mixed up?

Well, this collection of rollicking short stories – each set in a different world and told by a different character from the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series – will help straighten you out.

And even if it doesn’t, you’ll enjoy reading about how Alex saves Amir’s pants, Samirah plucks a giant’s harp, Mallory teaches a dragon how to throw down insults, and much more.

Just watch out for Thor, who is running through the whole thing and raising quite a stink . . .

Magnus Chase: 9 From the Nine Worlds

Rick Riordan


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

I get the feeling that Rick Riordan had these spare chapters that didn’t make the cut….But they are entertaining and have plenty of trademark snark.

Niflheim, Muspelheim, Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, Helheim. Are you ready for mad shopping skillz, dragon insulting and seven other adventures from our favourite characters from the Magnus Chase series? Be nice to think that Hearthstone, Blitzen, Samirah, Alex, Jack, T.J., Mallory and Halfborn could stave off Ragnarok until Magnus gets back from holiday but maybe not…

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone . . .

Inspired by the original Hogwart’s textbook by Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original screenplay marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. A feat of imagination and featuring a cast of remarkable characters and magical creatures, this is epic adventure-packed storytelling at its very best. Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition for any film lover or reader’s bookshelf.

Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

J. K. Rowling

Little & Brown

Supplied by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

This is not a novelisation of the movie, nor does it bear much relation to Rowling’s earlier work by that name (which was an in-universe work; essentially a bestiary for the wizarding world). No, it is what it says on the cover, the screenplay for the movie. Which made the eternal question of whether to read the book or view the movie first even more difficult. So, I came up with the bright idea of waiting for the DVD and them attempting to read the screenplay and watch the movie simultaneously. And no, that just does not work. But I did discover one thing – this screenplay really is the movie, line for line, direction by direction. It’s all here, except the special effects, and those really must be left to the imagination. Or memory, because I really would recommend watching the movie first in this case.

I found the book to be an interesting supplement to the movie. It added to it in unexpected ways – giving names to many characters that I missed in passing, and adding lots of small details. There is a helpful glossary of film terms at the back and I suspect that, given how rarely the screenplay of a popular movie is published in book form, film and media studies teachers will find the book quite useful. It’s quite a short read, and I have to admit that it did will take a while to get used to the format. It’s certainly a physically attractive book, with a nice 1920’s style about it, including clever drawings that hide creatures in scrollwork.  It’s not a novel… but if you enjoyed the movie, I think you will probably appreciate the screenplay, but if you didn’t like it, then this is not the book for you.

A wanderer and a cursed child.
Spells and magic.
And dragons, of course.
Welcome back to the world of Alagaësia.
It’s been a year since Eragon departed Alagaësia in search of the perfect home to train a new generation of Dragon Riders. Now he is struggling with an endless sea of tasks: constructing a vast dragonhold, wrangling with suppliers, guarding dragon eggs and dealing with belligerent Urgals and haughty elves. Then a vision from the Eldunarí, unexpected visitors and an exciting Urgal legend offer a much-needed distraction and a new perspective.
This volume features three original stories set in Alagaësia, interspersed with scenes from Eragon’s own unfolding adventure. Included is an excerpt from the memoir of the unforgettable witch and fortune-teller Angela the herbalist, penned by Angela Paolini, the inspiration for the character, herself!
Relish the incomparable imagination of Christopher Paolini in this thrilling new collection of stories based in the world of the Inheritance Cycle.

The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alegaësia

Christopher Paolini


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Christopher Paolini broke onto the literary scene a few years ago with his debut novel Eragon. Which soon expanded to a trilogy. Of four books (don’t ask). His latest offering continues, in an oblique manner, the story of Eragon and the dragon Saphira. The book comprises three sections: The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm, each a separate tale not directly connected to Eragon, but linked by a theme given in the introduction to the section. While Christopher’s name adorns the cover, the second tale is penned by his sister Angela.

The premise of the book is that Eragon is facing a variety of challenges, mostly managerial, establishing his new dragon rider academy. The first story is a distraction from the mundanity of administration courtesy of the collective minds of the dragons past and future. The title of the vignette comes from the weapon wielded by a mysterious stranger befriended by a young girl. It was an okay read but seemed a little formulaic.

The next details a visit and the diary of Angela, a witch with an interesting ward, Elva the girl Eragon improperly blessed back in one of the previous volumes. Certainly there is a different voice here though it is similar to Christopher’s. This one works well even if the sub-chapters are a bit short.

The last section, Worm, is a great story, but Christopher needs to read more heroic epics, like Beowolf, or Gilgamesh, as his voice here was totally wrong. There was none of the pulsating passion, or oratorical balance epics have. I felt I was reading the Reader’s Digest Version. Too much tell, not enough show, and because the voice was wrong this was the weakest story in the book.

The book closes with an excerpt from Eragon, perhaps prompting a re-read of the series to fill in the mental blanks time has left.

I’d recommend this volume for the fans of Paolini’s work. But discriminating fans of heroic fantasy will be disappointed. Let’s just hope he has a follow up in the pipeline. I thank Penguin for supplying the review copy.s

The waters rose, submerging New York City.

But the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been. Though changed forever.

Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island.

Through the eyes of the varied inhabitants of one building Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how one of our great cities will change with the rising tides.

And how we too will change.

New York 2140

Kim Stanley Robinson


Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

After “Aurora” which I had found a difficult and somewhat depressing read, I wasn’t looking forward to “New York 2140”, but I should not have worried; this is an altogether lighter and very timely novel. Extremely well-timed in my case… Just as I was reading the chapters where Hurricane Fyodor was battering the Venice-like New York of 2140, the news was full of Hurricane Harvey hammering into Houston. The parallels were astonishingly accurate.

Which might lead you to assume that this novel is all about climate change and its consequences, and so it is. But it’s also about the economic causes of climate change, and what might be done to reclaim the world for democracy. It’s also about a group of people connected simply by where they live; by the Met, aka the Met Life Tower on Madison Square. Which is a point – a map would have been extremely useful, along with drawings of buildings, for those of us who are unfamiliar with New York.

Those characters are disparate enough to be interesting – the big black woman cop was one of my favourites, along with the “assisted migration” cloud star, the hackers, and the orphan boys. Each has their part in the story – that of the orphan boys and their elderly friend is more important than it might seem, and adds an important sense of adventure and levity to what might otherwise be a damp and dismal scenario. Relationships evolve and develop as stuff most definitely happens in the world around them.

For me, the climax was a little too soon, and the denouement a little too long, but overall I rather enjoyed this novel. I suspect that it helps that I share some of the views on matters economic and political that are being propounded here. There is no doubt that there is a message here; more than one, in fact. I confess that I really have little understanding of economics on this level, but Robinson blocks most of the lecturing into separate chapters headed “the citizen” which the reader can easily skim without losing the plot. It may be about New York of 2140, but it’s also very much about 2019.

Can we do something about these issues now? Or will the human race continue to stick its collective head in the sand as the waters rise around us? Unfortunately, it’s probable that the people who really need to read this book are unlikely to do so. And that is a pity.

Here’s the thing about being Inside. Ain’t no one believes that they are.
Ele is kept captive in a small room by a man known as ‘Him’. She has never been Outside but she knows it’s there and she’s determined to prove it.

When Ele eventually escapes, she is forced to question everything she has ever known.

An extraordinary and powerful debut in the style of ROOM by Emma Donoghue.


Sarah Ann Juckes


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Piper Mejia

The saying ‘write your own story’ makes the assumption that an individual can change, or overcome, the terrible experiences in their life. It is a metaphor for hope; that we can survive what is beyond our control. In that same vein, escaping a locked room is a classic motif – Agatha Christie did it, and so did Authur Conan Doyal, to show that nothing is impossible. In her novel, Outside, Sarah Ann Juckes uses these two ideas to explore the human condition: are we more intuitive, instinctual, than we think? or is every moment of our life a key tucked away until we understand what it unlocks?

Outside is written from the point of view of a young girl, Ele. Locked away in a windowless room Ele uses her imagination, fuelled by the few books in her possession, to plan an escape into a world only she believes exist. What she discovers is that freedom is not just a place and that the truth does not always set you free.

Seven-year-old Amanda Wilson dreams of training her own wild pony, just as her sisters have done.

Then comes the chance she has been waiting for — a muster of beautiful Welsh ponies that have run wild in the hills.

Among them is Chessy, a striking stallion, and just the right size for Amanda. But small doesn’t equal easy, and first Amanda must prove she has what it takes by training a stroppy mare from Pony Club. Will Chessy ever be safe enough to join Amanda on her crazy adventures?

Vicki and Kelly must help Amanda to win her pony’s trust in this engaging story of perseverance and reward inspired by the Wilson Sisters’ early years.

Chessy, The Welsh Pony: Showtym Adventures #4

Kelly Wilson


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

Another in the series by Kelly Wilson of the Wilson sisters who starred in Keeping up with The Kaimanawas. A family who have devoted their life to horses, show jumping and advocating for wild horses around the world, taming and raising awareness about the plight of the American Mustangs and Australian Brumbies and specifically the beautiful wild Kaimanawa horses near their home. They also run Showtym Camps, riding camps for young riders.

The sisters rescue and tame wild horses and this book, written at a young adult level is loosely based around a story from Amanda Wilson’s childhood.

It’s not the size of the pony in the fight but the size of the fight in the pony. Chessy is a beautiful stallion just the right size for the seven year old Amanda to train, but he has been running wild most of his life. If Amanda is to save Chessy and train him for a forever home with a kind family,  first her parents want her to prove herself by training Magic a very difficult mare from the Pony Club. It’s a big ask.

Jack Reacher plans to follow the autumn sun on an epic road trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been – the town where his father was born. He thinks, what’s one extra day? He takes the detour.

At the very same moment, close by, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians are trying to get to New York City to sell a treasure. They’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. It’s a strange place … but it’s all there is.

The next morning in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in that town. He knows his father never went back. Now he wonders, was he ever there in the first place?

So begins another nailbiting, adrenaline-fuelled adventure for Reacher. The present can be tense, but the past can be worse. That’s for damn sure.

Past Tense: Jack Reacher #23

Lee Child

Bantam Press

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

More Jack Reacher!

Reacher is once again travelling the backroads of America on his way to California.  He finds himself in New Hampshire and sees a roadsign for the towjn of Laconia, his father’s hometown.  Curious, he decides to investigate and begins piecing together some of his family history, at least until his father fled to join the Marines at the age of seventeen.  Scanning through records at town hall and researching census from long ago makes boring reading but it brings him in contact with a lot of different characters – some nice and some not-so-nice.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, two Canadians arrive in their beat-up vehicle, hoping to only pass through on their way to Florida.  Shorty and Patty have a fool-proof plan where they’ll drive from Canada straight through to New York to make a quick sale for some easy money. Unfortunately they break down and are stranded at a creepy motel.  The motel is being run by the most depraved and money hungry bunch of goons, headed by a man with the last name of Reacher.  It’s not clear what they are up to until the 3/4s into the book but it’s chilling.

The two story lines converge near the end of the book, with Jack Reacher coming across those in trouble just when he is most needed.

I really liked the duel storyline.  Shorty and his smarter girlfriend, Patty, break down at an isolated, creepy motel not far off from Laconia. Unbeknownst to them, they are about to enter hell. They are in desperate need of Reacher’s help. The two stories converge with a lot of action and excitement. This was a fun read and I’d would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about good guys and bad guys and series fans who want to see yet another unique angle to this ever-evolving collection.

STRANGE THE DREAMER is the story of: – the aftermath of a war between gods and men – a mysterious city stripped of its name – a mythic hero with blood on his hands – a young librarian with a singular dream – a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled – alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Strange the Dreamer

Laini Taylor

Hodder & Stoughton

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

Oh, but this was a strange book indeed, on so many levels. You think you’re reading fantasy, but not quite. There’s an explosionist among the characters; and a distinct psience fiction feel to the magic.  Central to the story are star-crossed lovers. But it carried me away on the wings of dream, so I shall call it a lyric fantasy…

We begin with Lazlo, called “Strange” because he is an orphan of unknown heritage. Brought to a monastery as a nameless baby, he was not expected to survive, but he lives and becomes a scribe and then a librarian, obsessed with the lost city with the stolen name, known only as Weep. Then, in part two, we meet the handful of blue-skinned godschildren surviving in the citadel above Weep, among them Sarai, whose power is to enter dreams. And things get stranger, but that way lie too many spoilers.

I did enjoy this story. It was refreshingly original, and very well written, its prose almost poetic, and quite elegant, the words chosen so very carefully. I doubt that it’s for everybody; some readers will hate it. Especially if they have a problem with moths.

(Oh, and one small peculiarity – the review copy I was sent, the Australasian edition, appears to be the US edition with US spelling and leading, but with the more attractive UK cover. Odd.)