Book Review: Hello, World!

Hello, World!Hello, World! – Paul Beavis
Published by Gecko Press, September 2015

I was beyond excited when I heard that Paul Beavis was writing and illustrating a second book featuring the loveable monster from Mrs. Mo’s Monster, and when our review copy of Hello, World! arrived, we couldn’t wait to dive straight in.

Everything about this book is perfect. The illustrations are cute, quirky, colourful and clever; I loved the moment that my boys realised the monster was being followed, adding a new element to the fun. Tiny especially enjoyed looking at all the things the monster decided to take on his journey, giggling at some of the more unusual items and guessing at the purpose of others.

The story itself is charming and funny; the monster reminds me of certain three- and five-year-olds who are often told they need to wait, when they are bursting to do something.

We are big monster fans, and this is another Gecko Press gem that is yet to be shelved!


Book Review: I Want Spaghetti

I Want SpaghettiI Want Spaghetti – Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press, September 2015

Simon, that cheeky little rabbit, is back in this latest gem from writer/illustrator, Stephanie Blake.

We’ve enjoyed A Deal’s a Deal and I don’t want to go to school, but I Want Spaghetti has taken first place as our favourite bunny book. On our first reading, both of my boys giggled hysterically as Simon got more and more vocal about his desire for spaghetti, and they walked around the house yelling, “I want spaghetti!!” for a good twenty minutes after we’d finished. When I dished up dinner that night, Tiny looked at me with a cheeky grin and said, “But mum…I want spaghetti.”

Parents of toddlers and young children will think that Stephanie Blake has been spying on them at meal times. Blake has captured the fussy, changeable habits of children perfectly, as well as the clever tricks most parents employ to get their children to eat.

A very clever, simple story sure to delight the fussiest of children.

Thanks to Gecko Press for our review copy.

Book Review: The Great White Man-Eating Shark

The Great White Man-Eating SharkThe Great White Man-Eating Shark – Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette NZ – July 2015

Norvin has small eyes, sharp teeth and a pointy head – just like a shark! If you were pretending to be a great white man-eating shark just imagine what you’d get up to.

When this Early Reader edition of Margaret Mahy’s brilliantly clever The Great White Man-Eating Shark arrived for us to review, Tiny’s eyes grew wide and he stared at me for a moment before asking, “Is this one really for me?” When I assured him that yep, it was, he was silent for a moment, before hugging the book to his chest and whispering, “I love this story.”

We’re read it previously, but this red* Early Reader edition is perfect. Tiny’s appetite for reading keeps on growing, and he’s now at a point where he can pick up a book and work out the vast majority of new words on each page. The great thing about this book is that it’s a story he is already familiar with, so he can practise his reading without losing the meaning of the words. However, as he is just a beginner reader, he also loves to be read to and we have sessions where he reads some, and I read some, which suits us both.

The print is large, well-spaced and easy to read. There are only a couple of sentences on each page, giving the book the feel of a chapter book, without being daunting.

Jonathan Allen’s illustrations are simple, expressive and really quite marvellous. They are a little quirky and suit the story of shark-like Norvin perfectly.

The Great White Man-Eating Shark is a classic, hilarious and clever story that will appeal in any form, but this Early Reader edition is perfect for encouraging your children to pick up a book and get lost in the amazing world of Margaret Mahy.

* Hachette NZ have published a series of blue Early readers – ‘perfect for sharing and reading together” – and red Early readers – “the next step on [the] reading journey”.

Book Review: Digby Law’s Vegetables

Digby Law's VegetablesDigby Law’s Vegetables
Published by Hachette NZ – 11 August 2015

If you asked me to choose between eating vegetables or fruit for the rest of my life, vegetables would win by a landslide. I love to grow them, cook them and eat them. My boys are less fond of veges but their tastes are slowly evolving as they get older, and we get more insistent that they at least try everything.

Digby Law’s Vegetables is a collection of over 400 recipes, arranged alphabetically, making it incredibly easy to flick through to find suggestions for using that huge head of cauliflower you picked up from the market. I’m not a huge cauliflower fan, but Law has inspired me to add a little finely grated orange rind to white serve:

“The suspicion of orange in the sauce is absolutely gorgeous with cauliflower.”

VegetablesThe recipes include fresh side dishes, hot mains and deliciously-sweet desserts. There are sauces and dips, and dressings and garnishes, and in keeping with Digby Law’s Soup, lovely introductions and quotes at the beginning of each chapter:

“Let the sky rain potatoes! Let it thunder to the tune of greensleeves!”

VegetablesIf you’re stuck in a bit of a vegetable rut (which seems to happen more over the winter, when we seem to eat our body weight in starchy root vegetables), this book will inspire and encourage you to try new flavours and cooking methods to makeover your favourite (or perhaps least favourite?) vegetable.

Me? I’m looking forward to trying Tomato Ice Cream (“…splendid if used with cooked prawns, crayfish or raw oysters.”), Radish, Cauliflower and Blue Cheese Salad (“…a dinner course all by itself.”) and Cucumber Pâté (“Excellent at elevenses or with the pre-lunch beer.”)

Thank you, Hachette New Zealand, for providing this review copy.

BBC Top 200: 2015 update

Yesterday I went to the local library and checked out copies of The Cruel Sea and Shogun, and put a hold on Papillon (which is ready for collection now).

BBC Big Read Top 200I’ve been reading an e-book version of Bleak House, and have given up trying to find a copy of They Used to Play on Grass (so I’ll be googling it and seeing if I can find a synopsis somewhere), which means that I am almost finished the BBC Big Read Top 200 list that I started in 2007.


Book Review: Digby Law’s Soup

Digby Law’s Soup – Digby Law
(published by Hachette – June 2015)Digby Law's Soup

As soon as the weather starts to get cooler, my thoughts turn to soup in all its warming glory. During the winter months, we eat a lot of soup for dinner; I find it’s a great way of getting different vegetables into my boys, and an easy meal to prepare early in the day, ready for reheating when it’s time for dinner. As long as I serve it with plenty of hot-from-the-oven bread, everyone is happy.

Problem is, my soup repertoire is severely limited. I tend to buy a whole lot of winter vegetables (pumpkin, kumara, carrots, parsnips…), chop ’em up, throw ’em in a pot with herbs and stock of some kind, and hope for the best. Usually, this method results in a tasty enough concoction, but it always tastes kinda the same.

Enter Digby Law’s Soup cookbook, first published in 1982. Chapters range from the standard Meat, Vegetable and Seafood soups, to the more interesting Chilled, Herb, Nut and Cheese soups. Just from looking at the contents page, I was intrigued. Each chapter begins with a quote about soup (who knew there were so many?!), and an introduction, full of history, explanation and suggestions.

There are also chapters on various garnishes (which should be “…compatible with the soup in colour, flavour and texture.”) and accompaniments (which should be “…the same style as the soup: for a light soup, a dainty accompaniment; for a heavy soup, a hearty accompaniment.”). Delicious.

Pumpkin Pumpkin Soup Pumpkin Soup Pumpkin Soup

So far, I’ve only made the “classic Chinese soup”, Long Soup – a delightful broth featuring pork, cabbage and egg noodles that my boys loved – and Kumara and Pumpkin Soup – a thick, hearty soup that again, my boys loved (despite neither of them liking pumpkin or kumara, tee hee), but I have bookmarked so many more.

Some of the recipes scream “RETRO” (bisques, various tripe, liver and veal options), but many of them are timeless in their appeal and ingredient lists. Law also provides suggestions of additions to various soups, allowing the cook to create their own masterpiece from one of his basic recipes. For example, under the recipe for Pumpkin Soup (which provides no quantities), there is a list of variations, including: add a can of shrimps, or finely grated lemon rind, or pureed peaches, sour cream, fried onions…

Digby Law’s Soup is a great resource if you are a soup-fiend like me, and I’m sure that by the end of the winter (who am I kidding? It’ll be spring), my copy will be dog-eared, splattered and well-used.

Thank you to the kind folk at Hachette NZ for providing me with this review copy.

Book Review: Girl at War

Girl at War – Sara Novic
(published by Hachette New Zealand, May 2015)

Girl at War

Girl at War is a phenomenal debut novel from Sara Novic. It was poignant and a compelling read, and I powered through it simply because I didn’t want to put it down.

Novic is a brilliant storyteller; she weaves such an evocative picture of war-torn Croatia and the surrounding Balkans area. I found it poignant and emotional, having been to Zagreb, and seen the evidence of a country once at war with its neighbours.

Her prose is beautiful and the imagery her words conjure is bleak, yet striking. Girl at War is a work of fiction, but is based on historical fact and the experiences of Novic’s family and friends. As such, she tells the story sensitively, but with brutal honesty, and the rawness of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war is confronting and moving.

I was moved to tears on a number of occasions; the stark reality of child soldiers was difficult to swallow, even though it is, heartbreakingly, a common element of modern warfare.

Girl at War is a novel I plan on recommending to a lot of people (all of YOU, for starters!), and I’ll eagerly await further works by Sara Novic.

Thank you, Hachette, for this review copy.

Book Review: Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster

Tales of an Extraordinary Hamster – Astrid Desbordes
(published by Gecko Press, June 2015)

Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster

Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster, a chapter book told entirely through speech bubbles, has been a big hit with both my boys; we’ve read it over and over again. We’ve come across Hamster and his friends before, having checked Reflections of a Solitary Hamster out of the library before.

Hamster is an incredibly selfish but very likeable character. Everything he does is driven by greed and self-purpose, but there’s still something endearing about him. His actions make us roll our eyes and shake our heads, yet we still love him. His friends put up with his self-obsession and they love him regardless. I’m a big fan of Hedgehog and Mole, and their burgeoning relationship, too.

The dialogue is great, and really funny. I can’t wait for the time when Tiny can read this himself, as the humour is right up his alley. Pauline Martin’s illustrations are colourful, simple and cute. Each animal is perfectly represented, and the backgrounds are kept to a minimum, meaning the characters and dialogue take centre stage.

Tales of an Extraordinary Hamster is going to be another favourite that will never make it onto the boys’ bookshelves, purely because it will be read every single day for a long time to come.

Thanks to Gecko Press for providing us with this review copy.

Book Review: When I am Happiest

When I am Happiest – Rose Lagercrantz
(Published by Gecko Press, July 2015)

When I am Happiest

When I am Happiest is a beautiful tale of joy, sadness and friendship; it deals with a difficult subject in a graceful and accessible way, making it a pleasure to read. To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether Tiny would like it, but we sat down to read a couple of chapters together, and suddenly, we’d finished the whole book. He didn’t want me to stop, and I didn’t want to stop either.

The chapters are short, the sentences snappy. The pace is fast and it is interesting to read. I loved that it was a simple tale, yet Lagercrantz wasn’t afraid to challenge young readers by throwing in a few more interesting words and ideas. I liked that the characters didn’t just “ask”, but asked “questioningly”; this appealed to my love of words and my desire to encourage my boys to be voracious readers.

Each chapter is accompanied by Eva Eriksson’s simple line drawings. The illustrations are perfect, and convey so much emotion. At moments where children might not understand the seriousness of the story, the illustrations help them to understand what it going on.

When we’d finished reading When I am Happiest, Tiny and I talked about the story, and how it made us feel. I was surprised at how perceptive and articulate he was as he explained how he felt, and surprised at how emotional I felt too.

This is a beautiful book, aimed at five- to seven-year-olds, although I think it would appeal to older children (and adults) too.

Thank you to Gecko Press for providing this beauty for review purposes.

Book Review: Forged From Silver Dollar

Forged From Silver Dollar – Li Feng
(published by Hachette, April 2015)

Forged From Silver Dollar

  • This was a history lesson interwoven with a personal account. At times I felt as though the historical information took away from the story of Feng’s family, but she always managed to bring the story back and for the most part, the history being told was very relevant to her tale.
  • I love the clever title. Love it. Silver Dollar is Feng’s great-grandmother, and the tale begins with her. Love it.
  • Feng’s style is poetic but plain. I’ve read many novels and historical accounts of life in China, and they all have a similar style which I find incredibly evocative and beautiful…Forged From Silver Dollar is nicely written, but lacks just a little of that beauty, which could simply be due to it being written in English, not translated.
  • I learnt things, and felt like Feng’s account of Mao Ze Dong’s communist China was more honest than many I’ve read before.
  • Feng’s relationship with her mother would strike a chord with many readers – her frustration mingled with respect and love was believably portrayed. She hasn’t made herself out to be the perfect daughter, which is endearing.
  • I liked the portrayal of the women of Feng’s family as strong and resilient, always with the best interests of their children at heart, regardless of how strict or strange their behaviours seemed.
  • I was hooked fairly quickly, and many nights stayed up past my bedtime to read just a little bit more. Forged From Silver Dollar was a good read, and I’ve already passed it on.

Thanks to Hachette New Zealand for my review copy