Book Watch – NZ Herald on Sunday, 9 February 2014

Maia and What Matters

By Tine Mortier, Illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire, Book Island

A stunning and deeply moving picture book, Maia and What Matters is the story of Maia and her beloved grandma. Dealing compassionately and appropriately with issues of loss and grieving, as well as old age, this is a wonderful book to share with children and to treasure for years to come.

Raising Steam

By Terry Pratchett, Doubleday

Amazingly, Raising Steam is the 40th Discworld novel and Terry Pratchett remains as fresh as ever. The book takes us back to Ankh Morpork and raconteur Moist von Lipwig, now in charge of bringing the steam train to the varied population of Discworld. With his characteristic dry wit and a plot that races along, Pratchett delivers another highly enjoyable read.

Blue

By Brandy Wehinger, Random House

Zombies may be so last year but fun and romantic stories are timeless. Blue is the debut teen novel from New Zealand author Brandy Wehinger and it’s an enjoyable, fun read, and the perfect antidote for teens hung up on Twilight or Stephen King. Summer may be over for kids but they can still enjoy a beach read.

The Kept

By James Scott, Random House

Another debut novel, this one has an authentic horror voice. The Kept takes us to rural New York State in the late 19th century, examining long-held family secrets and the deep desire for revenge. Genuinely literary prose combined with a darkly haunting story make The Kept a satisfying and troubling read.

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Book Review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam coverRaising Steam by Terry Pratchett, Doubleday, ISBN9780857522276, RRP $49.99

It is by turns amazing and fortunate (for us readers) that Discworld is now 40; Raising Steam is the 40th novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Look, you all know how I feel about Pratchett, and if this is your first time visiting (Aloha!) then look around! It won’t take long for you to find out. :)

But back to Raising Steam. We’re back in Ankh-Morpork and back with Moist von Lipwig, raconteur extraordinaire and puppet on a string to Lord Vetinari (aren’t we all, in a way?). After saving the Ankh-Morpork postal service, the Ankh-Morpork bank and the Ankh-Morpork mint, Moist is now charged with taking control of the new steam train service. We’ve got goblins again (they are great characters, incidentally), we’ve got Harry King, we’ve got Moist and Spike, we’ve got dwarves… all the elements are there for a great book.

And it is a great book. I’m damning with strong praise but that’s the Pratchett’s problem: his best books are AMAZING. His not-best books are great.

For new and well-read Pratchett fans Raising Steam will be a good read. The one quibble is it needs a firmer editorial hand, the story is slower than Pratchett’s usual and would have benefited from the odd slash through the longer deflections.

But the good news is Pratchett’s deflections cover the best and most thoughtful parts of the whole Discworld series. He considers racism, how technology changes social interactions, politics, terrorism, religion, gender and identity politics.

Discworld is a mirror to our world, a mirror that shows us as we truly are, shows us our history, and doesn’t let us turn away from the worst and the best parts of ourselves. I should learn not to quibble.

That’s the trouble, you see. When you’ve had hatred on your tongue for such a long time, you don’t know how to spit it out.

The Whitcoulls Top 100 2012-13

Whitcoulls Top 100

Media release                                                                                                  

July 16, 2012

Murder, lust and revenge top the list

From murderous thrillers to scandalous love affairs, New Zealanders have revealed their favourite reads in the Whitcoulls Top 100 of 2012-13.

The Whitcoulls Top 100 has been the go-to guide for reading enthusiasts for more than a decade and with 20,000 votes this year, it’s proof Kiwis still love to have their say on their favourite books.

The number one spot this year remains the award-winning crime series the Millennium Trilogy, with popular teen trilogy The Hunger Gamestaking the silver medal and classic series The Lord of The Rings coming in at number three.

The timeless love tale of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice was voted in at number four.

New to the Top 100 at number 5 is the controversial heated passion saga of Anastasia and Christian in the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy.

While the undiminished popularity of the top three comes as no surprise, Whitcoulls book manager Joan Mackenzie says the rest of this year’s list showcases the variety of New Zealand readers’ tastes.

“We are seeing a real diversity coming through in the books New Zealand adults are reading which is fantastic,” Joan says.

“There are classics that appear on the list year in, year out. But with hundreds of thousands of new books published every year, it’s exciting to see some new titles winning over New Zealand readers.”

“The Fifty Shades trilogy has taken the international reading world by storm and it appears New Zealanders are just as caught up in the hype.  28 books have made it onto the list for the first time so it’s good to see Kiwis like to mix it up a bit!” Joan says.

For the first time readers were also asked to vote for their favourite author.  The top three further showed a range of reading tastes with drama queen Jodi Picoult taking out the top spot, children’s fiction guru JK Rowling coming in at second and the master of thrillers Lee Child being voted to third place.

Other interesting facts about the Top 100:

  • General fiction is by far the most popular genre in 2012-13 with well over half the books coming from this category
  • Adults are reading some of the same things their children read – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and the Twilight series
  • The most popular book since the Top 100 started in 1996 is The Lord of The Rings

The Top 100 books are available now at Whitcoulls stores nationwide and the full list is available online at www.whitcoulls.co.nz.

Dear New Zealand

All in all, you have pretty good taste in books. I’m not saying you don’t make some mistakes. I mean sure we loved the LOTR movies but Tolkein did not write the books about us, so can we let that go? And, ok, we like new and exciting things but lord above, the internet has been around for a while now and we’re only JUST discovering “women’s erotica”? Fifty Shades of Grey is not the fifth most enjoyable book in the world. It’s not even the fifth most enjoyable porn book (let’s just call it like it is) in the world. And Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series at 3-fricken-3? 33?? 33???

 Aaanyway, at least you got it right with Pride and Prejudice. And The Book Thief. And The Time Traveller’s Wife. And Shantaram and The Great Gatsby and Dune and The Poisonwood Bible and 1984 and The Catcher in the Rye and the Edmonds Cookbook. 

And at least you gave me a giggle by rating The Secret above Ian McEwan. Good one.

But I guess I just have to accept that this is your Top 100, not mine alone. So I’m okay with the things you got wrong and happy with the things you got right. And glad to see such a great mix of books being read by happy readers.

Cheers and see you next year,
BookieMonster

P.S. Speaking of next year, would you care to place a wager on how quickly Fifty Shades of Grey drops off the list? :)

some-ecards-50-shades-of-grey

My first Book Watch column for 2012

Originally published in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday, 15 January 2012. Reproduced here courtesy of the NZ Herald.

Book Watch 15 January 2012

Snuff
By Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, $55)
Long time readers of my blog know well my fondness for Sir Terry Pratchett, so it will come as no surprise that I loved Snuff. Pratchett returns us to the City Watch of Ankh Morpork, and more specifically to Commander Sam Vimes who is about to go on holiday. Vimes isn’t much good at holidays, however, so it’s just as well that crime seems to follow him, wherever he goes. Sam Vimes has become a complex, admirable and likeable character, and I’d venture to say one of the best in modern writing. Pratchett never disappoints.

The Glass Harmonica – a sensualist’s tale
By Dorothee E. Kocks (Rosa Mira, $11, ebook)
Music, love, virtue, sex, desire – it all comes together in The Glass Harmonica, a knock-out historical novel. Our heroine for this tale is Chjara Vallé and we follow her from Corsica to Paris to America, as she falls in love, marries, has children, and plays the glass harmonica.  I loved all the strands that were embedded in this story and found it quite reminiscent of Louis de Bernières. Well-written with a perfectly balanced sense of drama and tension, The Glass Harmonica is a very enjoyable read.

Gangsta Granny
By David Walliams (Harper Collins, $24.99)
As well as being a big fan of David Walliams’ comedy (he’s one half of the Little Britain team), I’m now also a huge fan of David Walliams’ books for kids. The Boy in the Dress was poignant, The Billionaire Boy was fun and now he’s combined the best of those two previous books in Gangsta Granny. Ben thinks his Granny is a bit boring. Well, she does cook nothing but cabbage and blow off without knowing it. Then he finds out she’s got a secret… A wonderful story for young and old.

Janet Frame, In Her Own Words (Penguin, $42)
Janet Frame is surely the dominant figure in New Zealand literature but, as Denis Harold points out in the Introduction to Janet Frame In Her Own Words, she’s almost become a character rather than an actual person, thanks to her three volume autobiography and the subsequent film adaptation. So reading the pieces of non-fiction, interviews, letters, speeches and other fragments collected in this work is like discovering new sides to a beloved friend. This is a great volume to have on hand and a very welcome addition to the Frame oeuvre.

Reviewed by Ngaire Atmore who blogs about books at www.bookiemonster.co.nz

Book Review: Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Snuff by Terry Pratchett, Doubleday, RRP $55, ISBN 9780385619264, Available now. 

Every new Discworld book is a cause for rejoicing. When I am old and infirm I will read nothing but Discworld, or possibly listen to them depending on the state of my health.

Snuff is the 39th Discworld novel (yes, you read that right, 39th) and it returns us once again to Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh Morpork City Watch. Sam is out of his element in Snuff, however, because he’s on holiday. But this is Sam Vimes, people. And Sam Vimes does not do holidays.

Strange things are afoot in the countryside, and I’m not just talking about the locals or the turkeys. And if there’s one thing that Vimes does well, it’s chase crime and bring criminals to justice.

Unseen Academicals introduced us to the Discworld version of orcs and Pratchett continues that in Snuff, featuring goblins with the typical Discworld slant. He also touches on genocide, slavery, and slaughter, and really has no business making them into a story as touching and funny and compelling as Snuff, except of course this is Pratchett, so he does.

Snuff follows a fairly typical Vimes story arc and it’s a plot line that remains as satisfying as it was in the very first Vimes book (Guards, Guards in case you were wondering). There’s plenty of action, there’s the reappearance of the Summoning Dark which Sam first acquired in Thud!, and there is the lovely lady Sybil who is the icing on the cake of every Vimes story. There’s also excellent references to crime fiction and Jane Austen.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday will barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

39 Discworld books and Pratchett hasn’t faltered once, he hasn’t repeated the same story over and over nor has he turned into a parody of himself. Sam Vimes has become (in my oh so humble BookieMonster opinion) one of the greatest characters in modern literature, he has depth, conflict, certainty, softness and a very human hard edge. He is so very admirable and likeable. Vimes is now Pratchett’s greatest creation and I would guess that with every book he has a little bit more Pratchett in him.

I’m rambling sentimentally now but I can’t help it – every Pratchett book is a joy to read and every book may be the last. If you haven’t done so already, discover him now, collect every book, read them all again and again, and then pass them on to your children.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Book Watch – Herald on Sunday July 3, 2011

Here is the full text of the Book Watch column I contributed to the Herald on Sunday “Sunday Books” page, July 3, 2011. Reproduced courtesy of the Herald on Sunday.

La Rochelle's Road La Rochelle’s Road

By Tanya Moir (Black Swan, $39.99)

Fantastic New Zealand historical fiction. Set in 1866 on Banks Peninsula, La Rochelle’s Road tells the story of the Peterson family, new inhabitants of Banks Peninsula, and the reality of their imagined “colonial” life, interweaving it with the journal of Etienne La Rochelle – the former inhabitant of their land. Moir enhances the bewitching plot with small details that perfectly capture a feeling of time and place, making La Rochelle’s Road one of my favourite reads so far this year – and the turning point in the plot literally had me gasping.

 

The Last Werewolf The Last Werewolf

By Glen Duncan (Text Publishing, $40.00)

Another favourite read of the year so far, The Last Werewolf is the perfect antidote if you’re suffering from mythical-creature overload! Jake Marlowe is a 200-year old werewolf and now it seems he’s the last werewolf alive. The plot hinges on some serious surprise moments, so I won’t reveal more than that but needless to say The Last Werewolf is funny, visceral and so well written it deserves every one of the plaudits it’s (hopefully) going to get.

 

I Shall Wear Midnight I Shall Wear Midnight

By Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, $54.99)

The latest in the phenomenal long-running Discworld series by my most favourite author, and a welcome return to the world of Tiffany Aching, a teenage witch (or “big wee hag” to the Nac Mac Feegles). Tiffany is growing up, working hard to help her people on the Chalk but an evil has been unleashed which threatens all witches and especially Tiffany. Pratchett’s timing and characterisation are, as usual, spot on and his balance of dramatic plot moments with truly laugh out loud humour meant I loved I Shall Wear Midnight.

Reviewed by Ngaire Atmore who blogs about books at www.bookiemonster.co.nz