Archive for September, 2019

 When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

John Boyne


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Pierrot lives with his French mother in Paris after his German father died.  He has a dog, D’Artagnen, and a best friend, Anshel, and life is good.    In 1936 his mother dies and the seven year old is sent to an orphanage in the French countryside as he can’t stay with Anshel.  He eventually is told that his paternal aunt has heard about his mothers death and wants him to live with her.

Riding a train to Austria and his aunt, he is collected by a brusque stranger and delivered to a grand house nestled in the hills, miles from town. After a brisk bath given by a maid, he meets his aunt and finds out she is the housekeeper for an important man.  Pierrot is renamed Pieter by his aunt – to sound more German – and told not to mention he is French and never ever to mention his best friend or his name.  Then the home’s owner arrives and Pieter greets him with how he was coached by his aunt, a Nazi salute.  The next nine years of his life at the Berghof is then told.

After the war Pieter learns the full extent of the war he has been complicit in and can no longer pretend Hitler and the Nazi’s weren’t monsters.  Years later he returns to Paris to find out Anshel’s fate.

I was sympathetic towards Pierrot at first – a little boy who has lost everything and thrust into a new life where he has to lie about himself – but that changed to dislike as he falls under the influence of Hitler and, in betraying his aunt, becomes Pieter.  He’s blind to what’s happening around him and innocently passes on conversations with his school friends that cause them and their families to disappear.

There are plenty of little hints about the horrors to come but I can see them because of hindsight. If I was living back then I doubt I would  have realised what was going on – being in my own happy little world most of the time – I would only notice when it affected me.  Maybe this explains a little about the acceptance of the German and European people to the Third Reich’s rise to power.

Written by the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this is a well written story that is well-plotted and powerful.  I highly recommend this thought-provoking story though it might be too much for younger readers.

We would all be better off if everyone saw mathematics as a practical ally. Sadly, most of us fear maths and seek to avoid it. This is because mathematics doesn’t have good ‘people skills’ – it never hesitates to bluntly point out when we are wrong. But it is only trying to help! Mathematics is a friend which can fill the gaps in what our brains can do naturally.

Luckily, even though we don’t like sharing our own mistakes, we love to read about what happens when maths errors make the everyday go horribly wrong. Matt Parker explores and explains near misses and mishaps with planes, bridges, the internet and big data as a way of showing us not only how important maths is, but how we can use it to our advantage. This comedy of errors is a brilliantly told series of disaster stories with a happy ending.

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors

Matt Parker

Allen Lane

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Mathematics underpins many disciplines, but one that affects us most is engineering. Matt Parker investigates the mathematical failures of engineering in Humble Pi. There are a surprisingly large number of ways mistakes can be made, and Parker throws light and elucidation on these.

Humble Pi is arranged in the normal manner, excepting the reverse page numbering and an inserted chapter 9.49 between chapters 9 and 10. The failures generally fall into four categories: unexpected consequences, more precision needed, poor planning, and the limitations of computer systems. And in writing that sentence I made a mistake by assuming only three and remembering a fourth. Parker tends to avoid fatal disasters: there’s no comedy in death (unless it’s the Darwin Awards).

Computers do get special mention, as there are numerous ways computers are not the best tool for what they are doing.: random number generation, timing, data storage using the wrong programme. The misuse of computers is impressive. Bridges seemed to feature highly, with harmonic vibrations featuring with two of my favourites; the Millennium Footbridge and “Galloping Gertie” aka the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

I enjoyed this book; Parker writes with humour and style while dissecting the nature of the mathematical failures. I recommend this to anyone with an interest in mathematics, or engineering, or failures. I thank Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Witness the epic battle of the cyclops!

Visit the endangered dragon preserve! Please, no slaying.

Solve the mystery of The Mystery Cottage, if you dare!

Buy some knick knacks from The Fates! They might come in handy later.

On a road trip across an enchanted America, Helen and Troy will discover all this and more. If the curse placed upon them by an ancient god doesn’t kill them or the pack of reluctant orc assassins don’t catch up to them, Helen and Troy might reach the end their journey in one piece, where they might just end up destroying the world. Or at least a state or two.

A minotaur girl, an all-American boy, a three-legged dog, and a classic car are on the road to adventure, where every exit leads to adventure. Whether they like it or not.

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest

A Lee Martinez


Purchased from Auckland City Libraries Withdrawn

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

If Odysseus had had an electric-blue Ford Chimera, and a minotaur for a girl-friend, this might have been his odyssey. Well, not exactly. But it is a quest, there are gods, witches, a cyclops, and orcs involved… in an alternate America where dragons are at once an endangered species and “an ecological disaster just waiting to happen.” Oh, and the orcs ride motorcycles.
This is both the funniest and the most fun book I’ve read in a while. High literature it isn’t, and if there is a message it’s a simple one about perseverance and self-acceptance. But light entertainment it certainly is, and if that’s what you need, then I can certainly recommend this book.

Help your tamariki to korero Maori with this brilliant first words book by Stacey Morrison, gorgeously illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly.
My First Words in Maori equips your whanau with the first words you need to speak te reo at home together.

With lively pictures labelled in Maori and English, each page introduces the concepts and words children use as they first begin to talk, get to know people and explore the world around them.

Designed by Maori language champion and broadcaster Stacey Morrison for parents and tamariki to read together, with plenty of details in the illustrations to point out and name, scenes include: Taku Tinana/My Body, Taku Whanau/My Family, Taku Whare/My House, Wahi Takaro/At the Park, Tatahi/At the Beach, Te Marae / The Marae – and much more!

This is the perfect book to bring the Maori language into your home and have fun with the kids on their language journey.

My First Words in Maori

Stacey Morrison, illustrated by Ali Teo & John O’Reilly


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

This book features words that will be useful to any child learning to talk, as well as phrases that will help in conversing in Maori.

Each double page features a subject – Pets/Mokai, Clothes/Kakahu, Emotions/Kare a-roto, or House/Whare – and is attractively illustrated with a colourful array of items that relate to it – Cat/Ngeru, Dress/Panekoti, Lonely/Mokemoke, or Ipad/Ipapa.  It was good to see the
Food/Kai page featured Marmite/Ihipani – a Kiwi staple!

The phrases are basic little sentences to encourage talking – The rabbit is jumping!/Kei te pekepeke te rapeti!, Where are your clothes?/Kei te makariri koe?, How are you?/Kei te pehea koe?, or Our house!/To tatou whare!  There’s a great map of New Zealand listing place names so you can say where you’re from.  The back has a basic list of numbers, colours, and shapes.  Stacey Morrison explains in the prologue that some English words have more than one translation in te reo so she used the most common Maori word.

This is an awesome resource that will be invaluable to families learning to speak te reo.