Bookwatch – New Zealand Herald on Sunday, 12 May 2013

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Shift

By Hugh Howey (Century, $29.99)

The sequel to last year’s best selling Wool, this is an intelligent and intriguing novel of a dystopian future. Howey has created a truly frightening story, one that asks big questions of our present selves. Shift approaches its subject matter from several different viewpoints: the politician who becomes embroiled in plans he has no control over; the worker who steps into a revolution he didn’t even know was coming; the young boy who grows up and lives utterly alone. A compelling read, as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

A Winter’s Day in 1939

By Melinda Szymanik (Scholastic, $18.50)

Melinda Szymanik is one of New Zealand’s most thoughtful young adult authors, and her latest book is based on the experiences of her father during World War II. The story takes us to eastern Poland in 1939, where Adam and his family are faced with the invading Soviet Army. In time they are forced to leave their home to travel to a labour camp in Soviet Russia and from there they endure a senseless journey that will eventually take them into modern day Iran.

Ghosts of Parihaka

By David Hair (Harper Collins, $24.99)

Book 5 in David Hair’s popular Aotearoa series for young adults, Ghosts of Parihaka’s central character is Matiu Douglas, an acolyte who can slip between two worlds – modern day New Zealand and the parallel country of Aotearoa, a ghost world that combines elements of our history and myth. When his best friend goes missing on a school trip to Parihaka, Matiu has to race to find and protect those he loves. The author does a great job of exploring how two separate cultural identities can be combined into one national identity through shared history and knowledge.

Published May 12 2013. Reproduced courtesy of Herald on Sunday.

My Book Watch for the NZ Herald on Sunday, 21 October 2012

Naked Truth coverNaked Truth: Lifting the lid on the New Zealand sex industry

By Rachel Francis (Penguin, $35)

An engaging and eye-opening social history of the New Zealand sex and adult entertainment industry, this is a fascinating read that tells the stories of several figures from the industry, from Flora MacKenzie of Famous Flora’s to Steve Crowe of Boobs on Bikes furores. Rachel Francis writes with an insider’s view, treating her subjects with honesty and admiration, letting them tell their own stories.

Greyhound

By Sid Marsh (Wooden Shed, $39.99)

As a reader I can tell when an author has gone above and beyond the call of duty for researching their books, and Greyhound is one of those. A compelling, strange war novel, written in thick Kiwi slang and focusing on a Kiwi tanker crew at the end of WWII, it is a difficult but ultimately rewarding read, filled with period detail of New Zealand and Italy.

Alex

By Tessa Duder (Whitcoulls, $19.99)

A fantastic new edition of one of New Zealand’s most beloved young adult books, Alex is still a great read after 25 years. It focuses on a wonderfully Kiwi heroine, Alex, who is trying to balance teenage life and love with trying to qualify for the swimming events at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. I loved reading Alex again, almost as much as I loved reading it in 1989! A piece of New Zealand literary history.

Catching Fish coverCatching Fish

My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher

By Tanya Batt (Clean Slate Press, $19.99)

Educational publishers Clean Slate Press have launched a new imprint with new titles, including these two fantastic picture books from Tanya Batt. Catching Fish (illustrated by Natalia Vasquez) is a great read-aloud romp with beautiful collage-like illustrations, while My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher is full of colourful cartoonish illustrations and has the cutest heart-warming story. Perfect bed time story books.

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Reprinted courtesy of the NZ Herald on Sunday.

Book Watch 12 August 2012

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The NZ Book

By Jess Lunnon, Sandi MacKechnie, Michael Fitzsimons and Nigel Beckford (FitzBeck, $40)

It’s a New Zealand themed Book Watch this week, starting with this quirky and gorgeous illustrated stroll around our country and culture. It’s the book Kiwis deserve – beautiful and “mildly entertaining” (as the publishers put it). Don’t let them fool you; The NZ Book is a fact-filled fun romp across the country, from town slogans (“You matter in Matamata”) to culture to sports to history. A book to buy all your overseas friends and, more importantly, yourself.

 

The New Zealand Woman: 80 Glorious Years of Fashion, Food and Friendship From the Pages of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly

By Bee Dawson (Whitcoulls, $24.99)

The New Zealand Women’s Weekly is a venerable 80 years old. First published in 1932, the New Zealand Women’s Weekly is a Kiwi-institution and The New Zealand Woman is the commemoration it deserves. Combining fantastic illustrations from the pages of NZWW with excerpts from issues past and gentle commentary, The New Zealand Woman is a well-produced and fun journey through some NZ social history. It’s also interesting to note the change in focus of the NZWW from the domestic to the celebrity sphere.

 

Mansfield with Monsters

By Katherine Mansfield with Debbie and Matt Cowens (Steam Press, $25, ebook $10)

Last but most definitely not least in this trio of outstanding New Zealand books, Mansfield with Monsters may owe a debt to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but it proves our writers and publishers hold their own when it comes to messing around with the classics. To put it simply, Mansfield with Monsters is quite brilliant. Funny, dark and seamless – Mansfield’s moody characters only seem enhanced by a bit of blood and gore. Steam Press is really the best new NZ publisher at the moment and I can’t wait to see what’s coming out next.

 

My Book Watch column for the NZ Herald on Sunday – 8 July 2012

Scan of printed Book Watch column

Wishy-Washy World

By Joy Cowley, Illustrated by Philip Webb (Clean Slate Press, $24.99)

Wishy-Washy World brings together Joy Cowley’s beloved Mr and Mrs Wishy-Washy stories (featuring their duck, cow and pig), previously only available in educational editions. A beautiful hardcover picture book with delightful illustrations by Philip Webb, Wishy-Washy World is only available at Whitcoulls stores and is the perfect read-along book for little kids.

 

Dragons Away!

By K.D. Berry (Bluewood Publishing, US$14.99, ebook US$2.99)

K.D. Berry is the pen name of Christchurch authors Kevin and Diane Berry, who recently won Best New Talent in the Sir Julius Vogel fan-voted awards for sci-fi, fantasy or horror. Dragons Away! is their first novel and it’s a rollicking adventure with a wry sense of humour. The influence of Terry Pratchett is unmistakable and while it could do with a stronger editing hand to keep the plot on-track it’s still a fun and funny read.

 

Talulla Rising

By Glen Duncan (Text Publishing, $37)

Talulla Rising is the follow-up to last year’s fantastic The Last Werewolf and, like its predecessor, combines a literary sensibility with an action-packed plotline. Picking up where The Last Werewolf left off, Talulla Rising follows Talulla in the continuing battle between werewolf, WOCOP and vampires. Not for the faint-of-heart or the weak-of-stomach, reading Talulla Rising is a visceral and compulsive experience.

 

Earth Dragon, Fire Hare

By Ken Catran (Harper Collins, $24.99)

A brilliant young adult novel, Earth Dragon, Fire Hare is set in 1948 during the first years of the Malayan “emergency” (rightly referred to in the blurb as “New Zealand’s forgotten war”). The reader sees the war from both sides: that of Ng, a Communist guerrilla fighter, and Peter, a Kiwi soldier who doesn’t really know why he’s fighting. Catran doesn’t shy away from the difficult ambivalent questions  or realities of war, and in doing so creates a deeply believable story with a spiritual streak.

Reprinted with permission of the NZ Herald on Sunday.

Book Watch, The Herald on Sunday, 3 June 2012

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Not Drowning, Reading

By Andrew Relph (Fremantle Press, $30)

A memoir for readers, Not Drowning, Reading is an affecting meditation on a life of reading (or not reading). Relph had a reading disability as a child so there’s a real intensity to this “literary conversation”. I was simultaneously moved and spirited by Relph’s reflections on what books can mean to a child, a teenager, and an adult, in fact what books can bring to a whole life.

The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse

By Fredrik Brouneus (Steam Press, $30 paperback, $12 ebook)

The first book from brand new New Zealand speculative fiction publisher, Steam Press, The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse bodes very well for the future of NZ publishing. A very clever, very funny and very enjoyable YA read which had me very envious of the talents of its author, Fredrik Brouneus. Brouneus may be Swedish but his book is definitely Kiwi, and should be on every Kiwi bookshelf. Packed with action, puns, science, philosophy and soul.

Mystery at Riddle Gully

By Jen Banyard (Fremantle Press, $18.99)

Pollo di Nozi – she’s a reporter in training and she’s out for a scoop!  Along with her sheepish sidekick, Shorn Connery (yes, I giggled every time I read it), Pollo’s going to find out what’s happening in Riddle Gully. A smart and funny chapter book for kids, Mystery at Riddle Gully will engage any reader. Banyard uses humour and a touch of the spooky to produce an entertaining read that still tackles some of the serious issues most kids have to deal with.

Love & Money

By Greg McGee (Penguin, $29.99)

McGee’s first novel under his own name (having published two crime novels under the pseudonym Alix Bosco), Love & Money is a true New Zealand satire set in 1987 – a time that seems disturbingly familiar. Our protagonist is Mike, an ex-hippy actor who is almost gratingly inept at modern life. Love & Money combines brittle commentary on our recent financial and political landscape with slapstick comedy and a playfully poignant celebration of family.

Book Watch for 25 March 2012

Originally published in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday, 25 March 2012. Reproduced here courtesy of the NZ Herald.

Book Watch 25 March 2012

Runelight
By Joanne Harris (Doubleday, $29.99)
Joanne Harris is far better known for her adult bestsellers like Chocolat but Runelight marks her second book in a Young Adult series that started with Runemarks. And what a series it is – fun, intelligent and innovative storytelling, using the legends of the Norse gods as a character base but building on that with action and a sense of humour. Runelight is a great read and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new twist on the YA fantasy genre.

A History of the World in 100 Objects
By Neil MacGregor (Penguin, $45)
Fans of the fantastic BBC radio series and podcast A History of the World in 100 Objects will equally love this accompanying book. A comprehensive immersion in world history, the book (like the podcast) explores history not through people or places but through things; objects created and used by humans. Lavishly illustrated and well produced, this is a feast for the eyes and the mind. MacGregor has an engaging style whilst tackling the big questions of our shared history.

The Half Life of Ryan Davis
By Melinda Szymanik (Pear Jam Books, $19.99 paperback, $8.49 ebook)
Ryan Davis is 15 – the same age his older sister Mallory was when she went missing. She’s still missing and presumed dead but her presence haunts Ryan and his family. An engaging combination of mystery, family drama and coming of age, The Half Life of Ryan Davis is definitely recommended teen reading with a story that twists and turns, and intriguing characters that keep you turning the page.

Tea with Miss Tilly
Written By Justine Payen, Illustrated by Philip Webb (Harper Collins, $19.99)
“Delightful” is an adjective often used when describing picture books – but Tea with Miss Tilly is just that! A wonderful book that little kids will just adore, Tea with Miss Tilly explores the wonder of stories, thanks to the very imaginative Miss Tilly. Every day afternoon tea with Miss Tilly turns into a journey to outer space or Egypt or Loch Ness. The illustrations are gorgeous and warm with lots of little details to point out.