Book Review: A Day with Dogs

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A Day with Dogs – Dorothée de Monfreid
Published by Gecko Press available October 2016

Nine funny dogs live their everyday lives in these pages where you can learn all about seasons, colours, food, town and country, night and day, school and work, and much more – including dog breeds, of course.

Dorothée de Monfreid is the author of one of Pickle’s favourite books, The Cake. He was pretty excited when he saw A Day with Dogs, and flicks through it almost daily at the moment.

He thinks the dogs are hilaaaaaaarious. He giggled like a maniac when they were getting ready for school, and then he pointed out all the things he has to do to get ready for kindy.

The illustrations are amusing, and the dogs possess a slap-stick humour that greatly appeals to both of my boys. This is the kind of book that is ideal for toddlers learning more about the world around them, but for slightly older children requires very little adult intervention as they can start to “read” it to themselves. They can go beyond the simple naming of things to the exploration of characters and relationships and the silly things these dogs get up to! Each page is full of fun things to discover, and the illustrations are very expressive.

This is a fun book that children of varying ages will get a lot from.

Thanks to Gecko Press for our review copy!

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Published by Hachette New Zealand

The much-anticipated special rehearsal edition of the script book has finally arrived, with fans flocking to bookstores across the world to be among the first to read it. The eighth story in the Harry Potter series, set nineteen years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.

Having finished the book whilst lying in the sun one day last week, here are my thoughts:

  • this edition is the script used by cast and crew during rehearsals for the stage show. As such, it provides an entirely different reading experience to the previous seven Harry Potter books. It’s a decent-sized book, but the format means it takes no time to read. The style of writing is quite different, and plays are always difficult to read as books (remember all those years of trying to read the plays of Shakespeare in English classes??) BUT – if you imagine how it would look on the stage…it would be brilliant.
  • the play is written by Thorne, and is based on a story written by Rowling, Tiffany and Thorne; when you have the author of the original series combining with two newbies, you have to expect that it is going to be different in a lot of ways.
  • our favourite young heroes are now grown-ups with families of their own, thus they are less exciting, less excitable, less endearing and less out-of-the-ordinary. The two main youngsters, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, are much more adventurous and fearless that their parents, but they are certainly not in the same league as young Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Draco.
  • the wonderful magical aspects were still there, which was great, and I loved that Moaning Myrtle featured.
  • adult Harry is a bit of a knob. He reminds me of a petulant four-year-old; he’s lost that adorable spark and faithfulness that made young HP a crowd favourite. He says some mean things to his son, and my feelings towards him were lukewarm for the remainder of the book.
  • at the end of The Deathly Hallows, good triumphed over evil, Voldemort was vanquished and all was right with the world (apart from the obvious tragic losses)…the story had an ending; Harry had won. Fans were gutted, but everything finally came together and made sense. I’m not really sure what the publication of this new installment actually achieves in terms of those original books, because it doesn’t really add or change anything; it almost feels like a reality TV show, “Harry Potter: Where Are They Now?”
  • [SPOILER ALERT] the play introduces the child of Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort, supposedly born before the Battle of Hogwarts. I struggled with this concept, but I do remember how much love Bellatrix had for the Dark Lord…so I decided to do some investigating, and came across this interesting piece that made me more open to the idea. Still…I found it weird.

I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but I didn’t love it the way I loved its seven predecessors. Read it, but be prepared for it to be very different to the HP books you know.

Thank you to Hachette New Zealand for this review copy.

Book Review: End of Watch

End of Watch

End of Watch – Stephen King
Published by Hachette New Zealand

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Stephen King novel that has consumed and terrified me as much as End of Watch did. This is the third and final installment in a trilogy that began with Mr Mercedes, but it isn’t just your run-of-the-mill tie-all-the-ends-together finale, oh no. I haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy (Mr Mercedes or Finders Keepers), but it doesn’t matter; End of Watch is a thrilling stand-alone novel, and the background the first two books will provide really isn’t missed. That in itself is a sign of a great book, in my opinion; it doesn’t rely on its predecessors to be a bloody good read. Plus the cover is lightly embossed with rain drops, which is just awesome.

End of Watch is clever and disturbing, and frightening in a very plausible, realistic way. Technology and medical trials are a fact of modern life, and this novel takes these ideas and transforms them into something sinister and terrifying.

I’ve already placed this book on my husband’s bedside table, and suggested he might like to read it. He’s not a big reader, but I think he will find the whole concept as intriguing as I did.

Stephen King isn’t just a master of horror, he’s also a great writer, and I think that’s why this novel works so well. The characters are believable and likeable (mostly!), and this makes the whole story seem possible. I did find the end of the bad guy a little bit of a let down (maybe I wanted greater punishment and suffering for him??!), but the way the novel itself ended was perfect. I like it when authors aren’t afraid to break the mold or kill off main characters.

At the end of the novel, in his Author’s Note, King touches briefly on the subject of suicide, one of the strongest threads in this story. He encourages readers to seek help when they are feeling low, and I have to say that my respect for the man skyrocketed at that point. To use his novel as a platform for talking about this is huge.

End of Watch is a book that you won’t want to put down; thank you to Hachette New Zealand for my review copy.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Revelations of Carey Ravine

The Revelations of Carey Ravine

The Revelations of Carey Ravine – Debra Daley
Published by Hachette New Zealand

I felt bereft when I realised I’d read the last page of The Revelations of Carey Ravine. For a few moments, I refused to believe that it was over; I flipped frantically through the remaining blank pages, desperate, desiring, wishing for more.

This is a novel that will pull you into the exciting and dangerously-heady world of 1770s London, and take you on a fascinating and opportunistic journey through the seedy opulence of new money, old money, and no money. Daley has a sumptuous talent for drawing you in to a time when money is the only language worth talking; entry into the social elite is solely dependent on wealth and connections, and it doesn’t matter whether that wealth is real or perceived.

Carey Ravine and her husband, Oliver Nash, are desperate to be a part of the highest echelons of London society, and will do nothing, it seems, to be left out. Nash believes that their participation in regular late, drunken and debauched nights are necessary for making their way in the city.

However, Carey begins to realise that their quest for “being someone” is taking its toll on her emotionally, morally and physically, and when confronted by some difficult but believable truths about her husband and his dealings, she begins to question the life they are living.

Daley has created an ebullient cast of characters, each vivid and enthralling in their own ways. Nash is a loveable and charming rogue (until he isn’t); his wife attractive and lively, yet more intelligent and perceptive than others believe. The characters that circle around them are cleverly written and easy to like or not; the villains are easy to spot, yet there are moments where you question the motives of each and every one.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Revelations of Carey Ravine, and while I was sad when I realise I’d finished, it ended beautifully, and that softened the blow.

Thank you to the team at Hachette New Zealand for my review copy; you can buy your own here!

Book Review: Katherine of Aragon

Katherine of Aragon

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen – Alison Weir
Published by Hachette New Zealand

History tells us how she died. This captivating novel shows us how she lived.

I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and have been fascinated by British royal history since my last year of high school. I can still hear my history teacher’s voice reciting, “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” to help us remember the fates of each of Henry VIII’s wives. I loved the historically inaccurate but wonderfully compelling The Tudors (starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII), and devoured books such as The Other Boleyn Girl. My husband laughed at me when I returned from a visit to Windsor Castle with a fridge magnet timeline of the Kings and Queens of England, but I love it, and it’s a bit of a talking point in my kitchen.

This meant I began reading Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen with a very good idea of what would happen…but even then I wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed this novel. Alison Weir has published numerous history books, and she knows more than most about British royal history. She describes various palaces and characters in such astonishing and evocative detail, and it’s obvious that this detail is all derived from fact. To be able to subtly write about a certain item of furniture or decoration or item of jewellery without it sounding like a recitation of facts is a talent of Weir’s.

She portrays Katherine as devout, but also devoted to her husband and to her daughter, Mary. She allows us to experience each and every miscarriage, stillbirth and death of her babies that Katherine experienced, as well as each illness and heartbreak. Where fans of Henry VIII would have us believe that Katherine was barren, grim and hard-hearted in her faith, Weir has created a much softer character; she reminds us that Katherine was shipped to a foreign country with no knowledge of the language or customs, and that she was a daughter, a mother, and a betrayed wife.

There are five more novels to come in the Six Tudor Queens series, and I’m simply bursting to read the next installment. The names of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr all pop up at various points during the novel, which gives the reader an idea of how all the queens are involved in the king’s court somehow. I thought it was very clever how Anne Boleyn is brought into the story, but the novel remains Katherine’s – it could easily have switched to become more about Henry’s second wife, but Weir keeps to her account of Katherine’s life.

Well-written, captivating and compelling, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen is a fascinating new look at a very old and well-documented subject, and I highly recommend it to fans of historical novels, or those who think they might like a wee taste of this genre.

Book Review: That’s (Not) Mine

That's (Not) Mine

That’s (Not) Mine – Christopher Weyant and Anna Kang
Published by Hachette New Zealand – July 2016

When I saw that super-talented husband-and-wife team Weyant and Kang had produced a new story featuring our favourite fuzzy creatures, I knew my boys would flip for their own copy.

That’s (Not) Mine had a lot to live up, following on from the hugely successful You Are (Not) Small, but fear not – it’s every bit as good as the first.

I can’t decide whether it’s the hilarious illustrations or the straight-to-the-point text that makes these books work so well…I think it’s the combination of the two, with each element lending humour to the other. Whatever it is, Weyant and Kang have developed their own winning formula, and my kids love it.

The illustrations are bold and bright, and Kang has the ability to put a great amount of emotion into her drawings. Oh, how we laugh at the facial expressions of the fuzzy creatures!

In That’s (Not) Mine, the two fuzzy creatures argue over a chair, using all sorts of tricks to claim ownership. Eventually, they realise that sharing is much nicer than fighting, and they are back to being buddies.

Currently in our household, our four-year-old loves to play with his big brother but it doesn’t always go his way; this book arrived at the perfect time, as we’ve been able to use it as a subtle reminder that sharing is cool, and that sometimes, you have to play by someone else’s rules before they will play by yours. This is a great tool for teaching kids the intricacies of sharing and compromise, all without them realising what you’re doing!

Thank you to Hachette NZ for providing our review copy.

Book Review: Smoke

Smoke

Smoke – Dan Vyleta
Published by Hachette New Zealand

If sin were visible and you could see people’s anger, their lust and cravings, what would the world be like?

Set in Victorian England, Smoke is the story of an alternative human history, in which one’s “sinful” actions and thoughts are manifested in wisps – or eruptions – of smoke. It’s a fascinating concept, with the potential to be rather thought-provoking.

Vyleta has created a very believable history and social commentary. The upper class never smoke, while the lower class smoke ceaselessly. The upper class have found a way to control and contain their sin, and in doing so, have found a way to control and contain the lower class. This class distinction and oppression is a thread woven throughout the story.

The reader is given various views on the substance of the smoke. The scientific view is that the smoke is disease, while the religious view is that smoke is sin. There’s also the view that smoke is purely a way for the elite to oppress the lower classes, or that smoke is passion, animal instinct.

With all that, you’d think I’d be shouting “Wow!” from the rooftops, but…Smoke was good, but not great. It’s a well-crafted story, written evocatively and oft poetically…but it just lacked a bit of substance for me. It felt like Vyleta compromised on the tangible in favour of the philosophical; some readers will relish that, but by the end, I was left feeling a bit…empty.

Smoke includes all the aspects you’d expect from YA fiction: it is up to the teenagers to save the day, not all the adults are as trustworthy as they seem, and there is a girl torn between two boys (one kind, sweet, caring, the other bold and abrupt, the “bad boy”). Perhaps with this in mind, Smoke is more suited to the younger audience than a wizened old lady* like myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy reading this book, but it just fell short of the mark for me and so I can’t wax lyrical about it as much as I’d like to. Vyleta is a very good writer, but he just couldn’t capture me with Smoke.

Thanks heaps to Hachette New Zealand for my review copy.

 *not quite, but some days it feels like it!

Book Review: Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

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Yours Sincerely, Giraffe – Megumi Iwasa
To be published by Gecko Press in August 2016

Giraffe is bored, as usual. He’d love a friend to share things with. So he writes a letter and sends it as far as possible across the other side of the horizon. There he finds a pen pal called Penguin.

Oh my. I don’t even know how to begin describing this brilliant book, so I’m going to use the words Gecko Press have used in their press release: Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is “absurd and endearing”. Perfect.

The day our review copy arrived, I sat down with my biggest and asked if he wanted me to read him a chapter. He was busy building something from Lego (surprise, surprise), and agreed to one chapter. One chapter only. As I read, he crept closer and closer, and soon he was reading with me, urging me to keep turning the pages.

He loved it. He loved the simple line drawings on each page, and the handwritten letters that the pen pals exchanged. He thought Pelican, the postman, was hilarious, and that Whale, the professor, wasn’t really as smart as he made out. He thought Giraffe and Penguin were appropriate pen pals, and we talked a lot about why Giraffe might not know what Penguin looked like. He was fascinated by this concept, and after we’d finished reading, spent a lot of time talking about how else Giraffe could have interpreted Penguin’s description of himself.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is so clever, and its humour is perfect for schoolkids. It’s a fun story, and the illustrations are great and very appealing.

Thank you to Gecko Press for our review copy – my six-year-old thinks it’s awesome!

Book Review & GIVEAWAY: Edmonds Best of Baking

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My nana was an atrocious cook but an utterly amazing baker. Her cream sponges and Neenish tarts were phenomenal, and she made the best griddle scones in the history of the world. I can remember her battered, tattered, splattered old copy of the Edmonds Cookbook, and the way she only used it to check that her memory of the recipes was right.

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When asked if I’d like to review the new Edmonds Best of Baking, it was a no-brainer: I’ve grown up baking with Edmonds, and I knew that it would contain a variety of simple yet delicious, decadent, beautiful recipes that would appeal to my children, and to me. Recipes that wouldn’t need fancy, expensive or hard-to-find ingredients; recipes that would contain copious amounts of those current evils, butter and sugar, and would therefore taste amazing.

Choosing a recipe to try was difficult, purely because I bookmarked at least eleven on my first flick through. Once I’d narrowed it down, I still couldn’t choose between the finalists, so I didn’t: I made them all.

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First up were the Hokey Pokey Biscuits, which I remember my mum making when I was little. There really can’t be an easier or faster biscuit recipe than this – these tasty cookies were ready for eatin’ within half an hour of the decision to bake. My boys (including the adult one) loved them, and they didn’t last long; we like a chewy cookie so I cooked them for the shortest recommended time, and they were perfect. These have now made it to top spot on my “Help! I’m out of baking for the lunchboxes” list, due to the speed with which they’re ready, and the fact that I will always have all the ingredients in my pantry.

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Next I decided to try the lemon version of the Basic Biscuits. Again, these were super-easy and I had everything I needed, and the addition of the lemon zest made these wee cookies something special. They were buttery and a little like shortbread, zingy with lemon but not overpoweringly so. I turned these babies into spider cookies for my babiest one’s fourth birthday party, and unsurprisingly, there were none left! I’m keen to give the spice version a go soon.

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Lastly, on a bit of a whim, I made Chocolate Eclairs (also for the party table). Except I made chocolate puffs (piping the mixture as Cream Puffs, as suggested), filled with a white chocolate custard. I don’t know why people are scared of making eclairs and puffs, as they are incredibly easy; the Edmonds recipe was very straightforward and these puppies turned out brilliantly, despite the fact that I accidentally turned the power to the oven off during the second stage of cooking.

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There are many, many appealing recipes in Edmonds Best of Baking, some of which will be very familiar to those of us who’ve grown up in New Zealand. Each recipe is accompanied by beautiful photography which will have you drooling from page to page. It is said that we feast with our eyes first, and for me, a winning recipe book is one that features pictures of each dish, on which Edmonds Best of Baking definitely delivers. Based on the photos alone, I want to try making the Warm Gingerbread Date Cake (I KNOW!! Sounds amaaaaaazing, right?!), and the Honey Tea Buns next!

And guess what? You might get the chance to try them too, because the kind folks at Hachette New Zealand have given me an extra copy of Edmonds Best of Baking to give away to one lucky reader!

Simply comment below with your favourite item to bake, and you’re in the draw!

Competition closes on Friday 24 June, at 8pm (NZ time). Open worldwide.

Books for Kids: Tickle My Ears

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Tickle My Ears – Jörg Mühle
Published by Gecko Press

When Tickle My Ears arrived in the post, I thought I’d save it for my littlest one’s bedtime story. I unwrapped it, set it on the coffee table and set about doing some housework…until the littlest one found the book and basically launched himself at me, yelling, “I neeeeeeed you to read me this book!!!”

I turned off the vacuum cleaner (willingly. Oh, so willingly) and we sat down together for a look…and half an hour later, we were still sitting on the couch, turning back to the start for the umpteenth time.

Tickle My Ears is one of the sweetest, most delightful books I’ve seen in a long time. The illustrations are divine; Little Rabbit is adorable and charming, and each page is simple yet so very appealing. It’s a clever concept, which will appeal to a child’s sense of willfulness and determination; there is something very exciting about a book that encourages reader participation.

There are many interactive books available for kids (Help! The Wolf is Coming! springs to mind), but Tickle My Ears is different: even the smallest children will get a huge amount of enjoyment out of “playing grown ups”, being the one to put Little Rabbit to bed. This is the ultimate joke for a kid: role reversal at its finest.

Pickle, nearly four, has asked for this book every night since it arrived. He takes his role as Putterer to Bed verrrrry seriously; he has stroked Little Rabbit’s ears gently and kissed his cheek countless times, and takes great joy in turning out the light and then snuggling down in to his own bed – Herr Mühle, you are a genius, making bedtime just that little bit more pleasant for parents (and children!) everywhere.

Even Tiny, aged six, couldn’t resist putting Little Rabbit to bed, and while he merely air-kissed our cotton-tailed friend, he did so with a cheeky smile and asked if he could read the book to himself.

Eight times.

Thank you, Gecko Press, for another already-much-loved gem of a children’s book! When Pickle saw I was writing about this book, he said, “Tell them it’s a really funny story.”