Machine Wars by Michael Pryor

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Machine warsMachine Wars by Michael Pryor. Pub. Random House, 2014.

An excellent easy to read futuristic fantasy for intermediate and junior high school students from a writer that I have just caught up with.

Can you imagine what it would be like if Artificial Intelligence machines took over the Internet and controlled the World. Not in the manner of The Terminator but by using any householod machine that has a chip to help it operate. Yes your fridge, your kettle your photocopier anything could become your enemy.

Teenager Bram’s mum is a brilliant scientist working with AI. A rogue AI called Ahriman escapes into the Internet and causes a computer and robot rebellion. Ahriman and whoever or whatever controls him/she/it has death squads operating and has control of many City Authorities.

Bram’s mum foresaw that this might happen and Bram and his family practiced emergency procedures to counter a rogue AI. Bram goes home to find his house explode in front him and learns that the police and a host of Killbots are after him. He goes to an emergency cache to find money and a highly developed robo AI hidden in a familiar childhood cuddly duck. He becomes RoboDuck.

While on the run Bram meets a school friend 14 year old Stella and with RoboDuck they go on the run and try to fight the evilf Ahriman and his robot army. Nothing is safe and they have to avoid anything connected to the Internet like cell phones and CCTV cameras.  They are doing well until drones take over. Read it and find out what happens.

Humerous and technically believable. You will have fun with this novel.

Magic and Makutu by David Hair

April 16, 2014 Comments off

magic and makutuMagic and Makutu by David Hair. Pub HarperCollins, 2014.

This is the 6th and final novel in the Aotearoa series and it ties all the loose ends up and finishes strongly after high powered action in the Past world of Aotearoa, the present world of New Zealand and in the heavens. It can also be seen as an action adventure novel where the heroes kill their enemies, find the girl and save the world.

Mat Douglas and his best friend Riki are on one side assisted by numerous friends and powerful ancestors like Mats girlfriend Evie and her birth mother Donna Kyle. On the other are ex league player and powerful warrior Byron Kikitoa and his friend Kiki plus a host of evil beings from the past world of Aotearoa. At the heart of the story is beautiful bewitching goddess Aroha who wants to bear a child with Mat to achieve her own immortality and save the world from chaos and possibl;e destruction.

Mat sees his role as being Aroha’s lover but reluctantly as according to Maori legend the lover of Aroha will be lucky to survive. To make things more desperate the original Treaty of Waitangi has been destroyed and to put things right Mat and his allies try to have the whole Treaty rewritten and signed by the original signatories in the past world of Aotearoa. Will it happen? Read it and find out.

I really enjoyed this novel where history and Maori myth and legend merge. It is splendid story telling. My favourite scene is a meeting in the past world of Aotearoa by ex prime Ministers Seddon, Savage, Ballance etc to discuss the destroyed Treaty. Great humour.

I am sorry to see the end of this series which began with the excellent Bone Tiki. Do yourself a favour and read them all. High school students and young adults.

Best Mates by Philippa Werry and Bob Kerr

April 10, 2014 Comments off

best matesBest Mates by Philippa Werry, illus.  Bob Kerr. Pub New Holland, 2014.

Philippa Werry knows about Gallipoli like few other writers and in this picture book portrays one of the drivers that sent men to war in 1914 and that was to be with your mates.

Harry, Joe and the narrator grew up together, rugby in the school playground and when the call to arms came they signed on together.

They saw foreign ports ate foreign foods and thought it would be a piece of cake. “those Turkish blokes won’t know what’s hit them”. History paints a different picture, Joe got sick, Harry copped one. Gallipoli was stormed, the slaughter took place then everybody left.

The old soldiers went home remembered every ANZAC day and in this book go back as old men to pay their respects to the fallen. Powerful ordinary stuff about 3 ordinary blokes.

Bob Kerr has outstanding illustrations. Simple yet detailed showing the carnage, the grief, the reality. The eyes tell it all. The joy in the play ground, the expectation as they leave on the train, the bewilderment as they pose on camels beside the Sphinx, the concern when they land on the Gallipoli Peninsula, the horror when Harry is shot and the gloom and despondency when they evacuate under a crescent moon.

Great book for children to show why we should never forget.

The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

April 9, 2014 Comments off

MinnowThe Minnow by Diana Sweeney. Pub.Text Publishing, 2014.

A book with a laid back gentleness about it even though it deals with the very human truth of grief and loss.

Tom is going on 15 years and she is pregnant to Bill, a shifty character who is old enough to be her father. He took advantage of her through their love of fishing when Tom was in shock and grieving for the loss of her mother, father and sister Sarah in a flood.

Tom calls the growing foetus The Minnow and she talks to it and it talks back to her in one of the strange relationships in this novel. Tom has other relationships that are strange. She talks to her Papa who has been dead for 30 years, Papa appears to her throughout the novel and their relationship is critical to Tom’s grieving process.

Tom is warned that Bill is wanted by the police but she does nothing. Bill is in her eyes half of The Minnow and they still fish together. She doesn’t know what she feels about Bill and the reader gets the feeling that it is abuse.

Tom moves in with a boy from school named Jonah, who also suffered a loss in the flood, and this relationship helps her on the road to recovery. I can tell you no more read it you will become as absorbed in Tom and Minnow’s story as I was.

A first novel for Diana Sweeney and it won the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. I think it deserved to. I particularly enjoyed the language told through Tom’s passion for interesting words that you need a thesaurus to understand.

A novel about letting go those precious moments you spent with your parents and siblings and now can be no more.



NZ Post Non-fiction finalists 2014

April 8, 2014 Comments off

All five finalists of the NZ Post Children’s and Young Adults Book Awards are in this entry. They are all outstanding and give information that no web page could compete with. I do indicate which title I think will win but you will have to read the whole entry to find out.

flight honey beeFlight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber, Illus. Brian Lovelock. Walker Books, 2013.

Honey bees are vital to our ecology and hugely vital to our economy because they pollinate the flowers and allow plants and trees to bear fruit. Bees navigate by smell and sunlight, they are furry all over even their eyeballs and they communicate through dance or waggle.

These are some of the facts to learn in this picture book about bees which is also a story of a bee called Scout who has an adventure searching for pollen. Raymond Huber knows about bees I think they are his friends and they are our friends too.

Brilliantly illustrated with water colour scenes by Brian Lovelock who uses acrylic paint to highlight the bees and other beasties encountered by Scout.

A great first look at bees in an inquiring way.


ANZAC DayANZAC Day The New Zealand Story. What is it and Why it Matters by Philippa Werry. Pub. New Holland, 2013.

This is the most accessible book for school students and the interested adult reader about ANZAC Day that I have read.

It starts with why ANZAC Day is important and what it means to New Zealanders, covers the Gallipoli Campaign, the origin of Poppy Day and how New Zealanders have reacted to ANZAC Day through history to the present day.

It has excellent photographs, illustrations, paintings, letters from both allied and Turkish soldiers even a recipe for ANZAC biscuits. The Turkish letter will bring tears to your eyes.

The statistics and primary sources used are stunning and the overall place of the Gallipoli Invasion in a war that really should never have happened. The legends, the stories, the comradeship, the poor decision making by those at the top, and most of all about the poor bastards that had to fight. If the men knew then what we know now no-body would have gone.

Philippa Werry does not conclude as I have done but the evidence she shows, points to a massive blunder that started New Zealand on the road to Nationhood. Lest we forget.

A marvelous book.

wearable wondersWearable Wonders by Fifi Colston. Pub. Scholastic, 2013.

New Zealand practically invented wearable arts and this excellent  book is to encourage young students to be innovative and inventive in the joy of making art from ordinary and extraordinary things.

It starts with a great piece of advice that applies to writing as well “search the world you know”. Then there are templates and how to make a model, the tools of the trade, the materials from dyes to foam and glitter.

Every page has big colourful illustrations. The chapter I liked best was that dealing with things that you find on a walk such as feathers, leaves, seeds, bones, shells and even pumice. You name it art can be made from it.

The book concludes with an interview with a WOW model, the WETA workshop and the place of wearable arts in the New Zealand fashion scene.

The best book I have read on this subject ever.


Extraordinary LandAn Extraordinary Land: Discoveries and Mysteries From Wild New Zealand by Peter Hayden, Photos by Rod Morris. Pub. HarperCollins, 2013.

This book is by far the most comprehensive  exploration of it’s subject than any other of the titles in the Awards. It views NZ as a wild laboratory where evolution led to weird and wonderful outcomes and it looks at new discoveries and where we go from here to protect our extraordinary flora and fauna.

Nothing is missed from the kauri and pohutakawa to the giant weta and whitebait. The native birds past and present and the fire and furry animals that nearly decimated the native species. There is also an appreciation of scientist Bob McDowall and his work in the freshwater environment.

As an example of recent discoveries it has been found that the kiwi has one of the largest brains of any bird in comparison to it’s body size and that it not only smells it’s food but has sensory cells at the end of it’s beak that detect movement. Not a lot of people know that.

It is a snapshot of what makes New Zealand wildlife and flora unique. All of it,even those horrible possums.

Photographs by wildlife film maker and photographer Rod Morris are superb. Great for research and for the coffee table.


hunting & fishingThe Beginner’s Guide to  Hunting & Fishing in New Zealand by Paul Adamson. Pub.Random House, 2013.

This book for me is the one I would pick to win because I consider it is the book that is most necessary and because it has superb information with an emphasis on responsible hunting and fishing and on safety.

Not only does it tell you where the best spots to hunt  hunt deer, thar, pig, possums and rabbits, it shows you the equipment and weapons to use, safe techniques and tips, and the cost and consequences of not wearing the right gear and acting unethically and irresponsibly. It does the same for fishing and offers target shooting in the wild for those that like the outdoors but don’t wish to kill.

Did you know a .303 bullet can travel 4.5 kilometers after firing?

At the end of each chapter there is a Did You Know? section and glossary and  which has a host of valuable information. It tells about GPS systems and Landsar  when hunters and fishermen get lost.

Too many hunters and fisherman are injured, killed or lost. This book is the answer to successful outdoor recreation in New Zealand. It is a superb presentation and will appeal to young and old equally especially if you love to hunt and fish.



Half Bad by Sally Green.

April 5, 2014 Comments off

Half badHalf Bad by Sally Green. Pub.Penguin Group, 2014.

Nathan has a White Witch mother and a Black Witch father and lives in a modern cell phone world which is dominated by White Witches who want to eliminate Black witches and the Half Codes as Nathan’s type are known.

The White witches are controlled by a Council that pass “notifications” that increase the pressure on Nathan. At school he is bullied and grows up illiterate. Within the family he is loved and loathed by his half brothers and sisters but his Gran is the one who keeps him accepted within the family.

At the age of 17 years all witches white and black attend a Giving in which they are given three gifts, drink the blood of a family ancestor and receive the gift or talent that will denote what they do with their lives.

Nathan has the power to heal himself from injury and boy does he need it. He is subjected to very cruel and barbaric treatment from the White Witch community and in the opening part 1 of this novel he is kept outside in a cage and regularly beaten.

Nathan does not realise that he has a path to walk of which he has no choice. He is his father’s son and his father is one of the most powerful and barbaric of  Black Witches. Is it nature or nurture that will guide Nathan’s fate?

A stunning first novel, well written, brilliant idea and compulsive reading. Not for the faint – hearted. High school students and young adults



The Golden Scarab’s Secret by Lindy Davis

March 30, 2014 Comments off

golden scarabThe Golden Scarab’s Secret by Lindy Davis. Pub. Pelican Press, 2013.

Sometimes I read a novel that is so intriguing that I don’t want to finish living in the world that it creates. This is one of those novels.

Set in modern Egypt it  deals with the reality of visiting a society where there are so many contrasts with Western life. At the same time it takes the characters on a trip around the magnificent ancient ruins including the Pyramids of Gisa, the Temples of Karnak and Luxor plus the Valley of the Kings and Queens and others.

An historical mystery about a golden scarab that was secreted on the body of Tutankhamun  as he lay in his sarcophagus and was prepared for his life in the next world. This scarab was believed to have powers to heal and protect and it’s value in the modern world is priceless.

In the previous book The Golden Scarab it was stolen and replaced by a replica in New Zealand by a ruthless antiquity thief – a Russian woman named Sister Galya. Teenager Oliver thwarted her attempt to take the Scarab out of New Zealand and in this novel he travels to Egypt with his friend Jake and Jake’s parents.

Oliver plans to return it but is it the real thing? Has Oliver been duped? and who among the contacts that he acquires in Egypt can he trust? What can the son of a member of Howard Carter’s party who opened Tutankhamun’s tomb have to say about things?

As Oliver and Jake tour around they are followed, photographed, robbed, shot at and suffer the realities of life for a tourist in modern Egypt. A society under pressure where going on the street is to run the gauntlet of shopkeepers, frauds and dealers proffering junk and unique goods at the same time. A society where the female body is a battleground between Islam and the influence of Western Culture.

A well written action/adventure/historical novel that will win you over quickly. Intermediate and high school students will get into it easily and anyone who likes Egyptology.

The novel is available from South Pacific Book Distributors, Albany, North Shore City.


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