Archive for April, 2019

Is vocabulary destiny? Why do clocks ‘talk’ to the Nahua people of Mexico? Will A.I. researchers ever produce true human-machine dialogue? In this mesmerizing collection of essays, Daniel Tammet answers these and many other questions about the intricacy and profound power of language.

In EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING, Tammet goes back in time to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; in Iceland, he learns why the name Bl r became a court case; in Canada, he meets one of the world’s most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots; contrives an ‘e’-less essay on lipograms; studies the grammar of the telephone; contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects; and corresponds with native Esperanto speakers – in their mother tongue.

A joyous romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings, EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING explores the way communication shapes reality. From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, these essays display the stunning range of Tammet’s literary and polyglot talents.

Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing: Encounters with the Mysteries & Meanings of Language

Daniel Tammet

Hachette Australia

Supplied by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve Litten

Daniel Tammet suffered from autism as a child, and saw the world in numbers, rather than words. Not surprisingly, this different view of the world, and language, made him a troubled user of English, his native tongue. At least, as a child. After moving to France and learning the joys of literature in French, he was re-introduced to English. Which he saw in another light. For apart from the whole number thing – words evoking numbers – he also has a certain degree of synaesthesia: words evoke other sensations.

It is this complex array of foibles, both bane and boon, that inspired this collection of essays. Daniel recounts an adventure language teaching in Lithuania, attempts at reviving a mostly dead language, chasing down a fellow autistic poet, a childhood vocabulary test and so forth. But instead of coming across as a whiney, life was hard sort, he buzzes with excitement. Yes, the difficulties of childhood were sad, but he recognises that these were his problems. The reader doesn’t suffer for Daniel’s limitations. Rather, he carries them along with his love of language and human communication.

I enjoyed this book. It gave me an insight into another mind, another method of approaching languages, for Daniel doesn’t confine himself to exploring just English. His essays, some of which are deeply personal, are not about him; they’re about language. For writers, language is almost all they have. For people who use words, and that is almost all of use, the title sums up what we strive for with our use of words: every word is a bird we teach to sing.

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1814: Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of radical socialist and feminist writers, runs away with a dangerously charming young poet – Percy Bysshe Shelley. From there, the two young lovers travel a Europe in the throes of revolutionary change, through high and low society, tragedy and passion, where they will be drawn into the orbit of the mad and bad Lord Byron.
But Mary and Percy are not alone: they bring Jane, Mary’s young step-sister. And she knows the biggest secrets of them all . . .

Told from Mary and Jane’s perspectives, Monsters is a novel about radical ideas, rule-breaking love, dangerous Romantics, and the creation of the greatest Gothic novel of them all: Frankenstein.

Monsters

Sharon Dogar

Andersen

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Piper Mejia

Despite analysis by PhD students of Literature it is impossible to say why a novel becomes a classic. Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley when she was just a teenager, has remained a constant ‘must read’ since its publication on New Year’s Day 1818. Since then, one reader after another has picked up Frankenstein to see ourselves in Mary’s characters, both the creator and the created; the one who harms and the one who is harmed. As we read, we question how its author was able to convey our own struggle through life through an impossible metaphor of monster. In Monsters, Sharon Dogar attempts to give us a peek into the events in Mary’s own life that allowed her to write the novel of a lifetime.

Monsters follow the life of Mary Shelley from 14 until the publication of her novel, Frankenstein at 19 years old.  Throughout the novel, her obsession for understanding her dead mother becomes an obsession for a married man and his ideas of modern society, and finally an obsession for her own novel. As she writes, Mary becomes convinced that the terrible events she brings alive on the page cause them spill over into the real world with deadly consequences.

Sharon Dogar’s historical novel allows the reader into the world in which Frankenstein was created. We not only get to understand Mary’s life, her family and her friends, but we also get a greater understanding of the societal shifts around the western world as equality for workers and women were becoming centre stage. At its core, it is a novel about an unhappy little girl finding love and a sense of self-worth; and around the edges are a study of people and places we have read about but never experienced.

Tracy Beaker is back, and she’s a mum now…

The Dumping Ground is far behind her, and Tracy Beaker has grown up, living on a tough housing estate with her daughter, Jess.

This time, it’s Jess telling the story.

Jess looks like a mini version of her mum- but she’s not quite as fiery. Well, not often. Jess and Tracy are living a hand-to-mouth existence on their estate, until Tracy meets up with someone from her past and their whole lives are turned upside down…

My Mum Tracy Beaker is a fantastic new story, reuniting readers with a much-loved old friend. Just like old times, it’s packed full of illustrations from Nick Sharratt throughout.

My Mum Tracy Beaker

Jacqueline Wilson

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

Even the redoubtable Tracy Beaker can get stuck in a relationship that is not all it should be. We meet Tracy and her daughter Jessica when Tracy has just started a new relationship with the wealthy and handsome ex-footballer Sean. But Jessica isn’t convinced that Sean is fond of Tracy’s famously independent ways and no-filter mouth. Tracy has to battle through finding and losing, then finding, love, finding and losing jobs and looking after her daughter with every fibre of her being. A heart-warming story of what really matters in life.

New Zealand: Untouched Landscapes is a fresh and strikingly beautiful collection of landscape photographs that have been captured throughout the country by professional photographer, Petr Hlavacek. From our most iconic locations to harder-to-access and protected areas, New Zealand: Untouched Landscapes presents the pristine and diverse landscapes of this country, often from a new perspective.

Petr’s photography is motivated by the opportunity to promote greater public awareness of our fragile landscapes, a landscape he is passionate about protecting. Petr Hlavacek is an important new talent among New Zealand landscape photographers.

New Zealand: Untouched Landscapes

Petr Hlavacek

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Keith and Jacqui Smith

I think we’ve all seen those coffee table books full of pretty pictures of places in New Zealand; souvenir shops and airport bookstores specialise in them. At first glance this might seem to be more of the same, but although it does fill that niche, it is much, much more. Our first reaction on opening the book was “Wow!” And there was more “wow” on page after page. You may take it that we were impressed.

This is a book of New Zealand landscapes; some relatively familiar, some more remote, all pristine, magnificent, and full of untouched beauty. Some are positively primeval – the Lake Wahapo kahikatea forest at sunrise struck me as practically Jurassic, only somewhat lacking in dinosaurs. All are photographed with consummate skill – believe you me, we can only wonder at the effort it took to get just the right shot at the right moment. You may think that landscape photography is easy – and it’s true that getting a good landscape with a decent camera isn’t that hard – but getting shots of this quality is not at all simple. We had to admire the skill and patience involved.

I have only a couple of small quibbles. It was only when I came to write this review that I realised that the book has no page numbers, which is understandable on double-page spreads, but when the photos do not extend to the edges, page numbers could be useful to help find that kahikatea forest I was talking about! And I would have liked just a little more text in places, explaining the landscapes to those of us who like our geology. But otherwise, this is a beautiful work of art, far from just another souvenir picture book.

Little Kiwi doesn’t like doing chores. Why should kids do all the work, while parents take it easy?

But when a big storm blows through the forest, Little Kiwi finds himself in charge of some lost eggs. He is about to discover that a parent’s work is much harder than he thought . . .

And what’s this funny little bird with a shield instead of feathers?

Little Kiwi The Cool Mama

Bob Darroch

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Little Kiwi complains how being a parent is easy as they get the kids to do all the work.   Then he looks after eggs after a storm, keeping them warm till they hatch.  Suddenly he’s responsible for a whole heap of baby birds – and a Whatsit.  With Kakapo’s help he feeds them, teaches them to build nests and swim and fly (Kakapo) and realises it’s actually a lot of work being a parent.  But the rewards are worth it.

A fun new story in the Little Kiwi series, the illustrations are well-drawn and amusing, giving life to the story.  Lots of NZ native chicks are showcased and look very cute.

I didn’t realise a ladybird was in every illustration – this is the author’s signature.   Once it was pointed out I went back over each illustration.  Some were hard to find, some easy, but all were humorous and fit in so well with the story.

I wish I wasn’t the weirdest sixteen-year-old guy in the universe.’

Felix would love to have been a number. Numbers have superpowers and they’re safe – any problem they might throw up can be solved.

‘If I were a five, I’d be shaped like a pentagon … there’d be magic in my walls, safety in my angles.’

People are so much harder to cope with. At least that’s how it seems until Bailey Hunter arrives at school. Bailey has a stutter, but he can make friends and he’s good at judo. And Bailey seems to have noticed Felix:

‘Felix keeps to himself mostly, but there’s something about him that keeps drawing me in.’

Both boys find they’re living in a world where they can’t trust anyone, but might they be able to trust each other, with their secrets, their differences, themselves?

Invisibly Breathing

Eileen Merriman

Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Piper Mejia

Each generation grows up in a world that has changed since their parents were their age. When we are children we make a promise that we will be better parents than our own, a promise we forget as easily as we forget what it was like to be young. In this ‘coming of age’ novel, Eileen Merriman explores how much things have changed (what we will accept) and yet how much has stayed the same (people can be so cruel).

Invisibly Breathing is written from the point of view of a young boy, Felix, at a moment in time when figuring himself out includes figuring out love. For Felix, school and family mean dealing with the ripple effect of bullying and dangerous secrets before someone gets hurt.

Eileen Merriman has a whimsical style of writing, her characters are both quirky and familiar individuals; a snapshot of the youth of today’s society. This is a novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy the realism that a good ending doesn’t have to be happily ever after.