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.


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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Ghosts of Parihaka by David Hair

Ghosts of Parihaka cover imageGhosts of Parihaka by David Hair, Harper Collins, $24.99, ISBN 9781869509323, 4 April 2013

Ghosts of Parihaka is book 5 in David Hair’s popular Aotearoa series, and it’s the penultimate instalment. It’s nice to have some NZ YA fantastical fiction kicking around. Our hero, Matiu Douglas, is able to slip between two worlds – our modern day world of New Zealand and the parallel country of Aotearoa, a ghost world that combines elements of NZ history and myth. In Ghosts of Parihaka Matiu’s best friend Riki goes missing on a school trip to Parihaka – caught up in the Aotearoa-en version of events.

It’s a perfectly enjoyable read with a few points of detraction but I’d still be recommending this to most Kiwi kids and teens. Leaving aside questions of cultural appropriation, there’s still a bit of a thrill in seeing Maori and Pakeha myths and legends combined in a skilful way.

Detractions first: it suffers a bit from penultimate curse, in that there are interesting storylines that are started or advanced in Ghosts of Parihaka but not wrapped up, and that makes it not quite as satisfying a read as it could be. There’s a fine line between teasing and irritating and Hair doesn’t always get it right.

But my biggest gripe would have to be the female characters. I think this is a book designed to attract boys but I do wish it had a female character who stands on her own, rather than solely in relation to the males.

Ultimately though I think Hair is doing a great job of exploring how two separate cultural identities can be combined into one national identity through shared history and knowledge.

Plus the kids will like it.

2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards nominees announced

Earth Dragon, Fire Hare cover image

This year’s nominees for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards have been announced and I’m happy about two in particular.

A hearty congratulations to all the nominees!


Book Review: Jade’s Summer of Horses by Amy Brown

Jade's Summer of HorsesJade’s Summer of Horses by Amy Brown, Harper Collins,  RRP $19.99, ISBN 9781869509224, Available now.

The pony books I read as an impressionable youth starred rich girls in a parallel universe of jodhpurs and gymkhanas. Jade’s Summer of Horses is still a fantasy, but a much more relatable one. (The exception to the problem of unrelatable pony stories is The Pony Problem, a classic I must have read ten times.)

Both the setting of Jade’s Summer of Horses – small-town New Zealand – and the characters – Jade’s single-parent dad, a very prickly aunt, and a pretty-much homeless neighbour – are different to what I remember in horse books. The plot’s a little different too: Jade has to sell her lovely old horse, Pip. Luckily, she finds the perfect buyer in her friend’s very prickly aunt, who happens to own a riding school, and would love to have Jade and her friend stay for a Summer of Horses. Jade makes friends with the aunt, the horses, and the next door neighbour who lives in a shipping crate and brings about the book’s – spoiler – happy ending.

There’s an awful lot about horses in this book. Jade goes riding around the paddock, in the sea, along the beach, and in the forest. It sounds rather exhausting, but she seems to enjoy it, as presumably, does our young reader. There’s instructions in the back of the book on How to Mount and Hold the Reins, which rather suggests that the audience isn’t the type of child who takes riding lessons, but the type of child who would very much like to.

It’s easy to dismiss horse books as nonsense written for girls, but Jade’s Summer of Horses takes care to introduce a variety of characters, in between loving descriptions of horse riding. Brown doesn’t speak down to the reader: there are lovely long words scattered about, and the more interesting characters are described perfectly matter-of-factly.

I especially enjoyed the loving descriptions of the food. In true Famous Five fashion, the characters eat regularly, and with great gusto. There’s pipis, fish pie, pancakes, toasted marshmellows, and “steaming hot, aromatic bread, on which the butter melted deliciously.” It’s great that the book is set locally – it’s always nice to see the place we live reflected, and especially as the beach is far more accessible than Platform 9 and 3/4s.

The only thing better than a good horse book is a series of good horse books. This is the 4th book in the Pony Tales series, all of which star Jade.

All in all, Jade’s Summer of Horses is a very solid pony book. Highly recommended for the pony-crazed young reader in your life.

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.