Sunday, December 16, 2012

The story of English in 100 words by David Crystal

I love words. I love history. Ergo… I love etymology (the history of words). I majored in English for my Bachelor degree, followed up with a Masters in English. For all those years, all those papers, I very rarely read anything that didn’t need translating into ‘good modern, idiomatic [English] prose’. I revelled in Icelandic sagas, coped with ‘Beowulf’, immersed myself in Chaucer, laughed at the Mystery/ Cycle plays...

I’m currently going through a phase of reading about words, and this book has stood out in my gleaning of the shelves.

Words have the power to convey more than their dictionary meaning. Hidden in seemingly innocuous letter combinations are tales of fashion, invasion, trade, class structure, politics, science, and medicine.

From ain’t to yogurt, roe to Twittersphere, Crystal delves into words and what they show about the history of the English language and, to quite a large extent, the greater history of the world. Crystal has done so with no little wit, wisdom and joy. His love of the subject, and of words themselves, is evident. Such overt delight invites the reader to join in the enjoyment.
I’m sure any word-smith would be glad to do so.

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Maphead by Ken Jennings

Why I picked this book up: It was in the wrong place!

Why I read it out: I like weird, quirky things and people. And, it sounded intriguing.

Why I finished it: Because it WAS weird, quirky and intriguing. The writing style is personable and relaxed. There’s a mix of topics within the larger theme, which spices it up. Everything from the dearth of geography education and knowledge within American colleges, to why people collect old maps, to the rise of geocaching, to why men might be better navigators* than women, and a lot more besides. And, I’m in a non-fiction reading binge at the moment.

*and, on that topic… check out this episode of Mythbusters

My final verdict: Just what I needed. If you like non-fiction that’s not the norm – give it a go.

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Dinosaur vs. Santa by Bob Shea

Big, bright and ROAR (really loudly) that is. Read this out loud to your kids, your friends kids and to your workmates. Delightful story with colourful illustrations, Dinosaurs red and white stripey outfit with a hint of green is so very cool. Not too many words (perfect to read out loud). We are getting ready for that special visit from Santa. Has Dinosaur been good? Will Santa visit? Let’s wait and see.

All the excitement leading up to Christmas can all be a bit overwhelming for anyone, let alone a little red roaring dinosaur. Will there be a happy ending?  What is that sound? Could it be Santa? Enjoy the story and ROAR out really loud.

~Reviewed by Thyme

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Between the duke and the deep blue sea by Sophia Nash

Regency Hangover with the Royal Entourage!

I was alerted to this new series via Facebook. I follow Julia Quinn, who is also published by Avon, and she mentioned the series receiving starred reviews – a very rare thing for a mass-market title, let alone a genre title, lest still for historical romance.

Welcome to Regency London, a popular time and setting for historical romance, with all its aristocratic excesses.

It comes to a head when six dukes, the Prince Regent, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, gather together to celebrate the Duke of Candover’s last night as a bachelor. Unfortunately, a surfeit of absinthe leads to scandal – and no wedding, as the groom and his party fail to turn up for the ceremony.

The news explodes through the broadsheets and the public clamour for redress and punishment. This reaction is entirely believable, as the Prince Regent was often attacked in the media due to his excessive spending. It was a period of increasing social unrest, and division between the social classes.
This is the first novel of the series – which earned a starred review from Booklist.

In order to appear to be doing something, the Prince Regent chooses Alex, the Duke of Kress, as his first scapegoat (well, it was his valet who supplied the absinthe from his cellars). Banished to Cornwall, Alex is tasked with refortifying St Michael’s Mount, and marrying from a list of potential brides, supplied by the Prince, within a month.

Upon arriving in Cornwall, Alex finds Roxanne, Countess of Paxton, clinging for life halfway down a cliff, left to die by her husband.

From such an unusual meeting, the course of love between the two would never by typical. Add in a house party of dukes, eligible ladies, eccentric family members and staff – and a murdering husband lurking around – and you get a witty, unpredictable, and entirely original read.

I, for one, am hanging out for the rest of the series – the second is The Art of Duke Hunting, featuring the missing Duke of Norwich (this novel earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly) – what did happen to Norwich? Will Isabelle win her duke? Will the Prince’s hair grow back?

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The crimson thread by Suzanne Weyn

Sometimes the best books are the ones that feel familiar, books that take a story you love and add a little flavour of their own - and that is exactly what you get with The crimson thread by Suzanne Weyn.  Bridget and her family come to the loud and crowded streets of New York from a small village in Ireland, a chance for a fresh start for all of them. 

Nothing is what they expected, everything is crowded and dirty, and even their apartment is cramped and dirty.  They make do and count their blessings, especially when they all find work quickly, but after a problem at their work forces her father and older brothers to leave the rest of the family behind while they find new jobs, it becomes a struggle. 

A new job with a wealthy family seems like a dream come true, especially when Bridget starts to learn new skills that make her a better seamstress - but all those skills count for nothing when her fathers boasting leads her to agree to the impossible.  But somehow it is not impossible, not when she has a guardian angel who seems intent on keeping her safe, although his attention is not without its own terrible price.

The crimson thread is an expert retelling of the classic Rumplestiltskin, and if you will excuse the pun, Suzanne Weyn has taken the threads of the original story and woven a tale that is all her own.  The echo of the original is there, but there is also so much more, and you can't help but cheer for Bertie (as Bridget is soon called) as she manages to make her way through the hazards life and her father put in her way.  A heart warming story that was over much too quickly.

If you enjoyed The crimson thread then you may also enjoy other books in the Once upon a time series by authors including Suzanne Weyn, Cameron Dokey, and Nancy Holder.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Monsieur Marceau by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Gerard Dubois

Marcel Marceau, one of those memorable characters like Charlie Chapman that we remember because of what they didn’t say. What is it that makes mime so appealing to us? This beautifully illustrated book will draw you in, you will learn something about Marcel Marceau’s earlier life and about the character Bip that was created back in 1947. How lucky we were to have had Monsieur Marceau in our world.

~ Reviewed by Thyme

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Simon's cat by Simon Tofield

If you have not discovered Simon's cat yet, then you are missing out on a real treat.  What began as an internet phenomenon has evolved into a world of mini-movies, comic books, and merchandise.

From watching the clips and reading the books it is obvious that Simon really does own cats, and that he has some truly funny moments with those cats.  This first collection of his stories is told without any words and without any real structure, but that just adds to the charm of watching how one cat makes his owners life very interesting. 

There are some really laugh out loud moments here, especially when the cat does things that my own cats do, and I know other cat owners who also adore Simon's cat and eagerly wait for each new mini-movie to appear on YouTube or the official website.

A fun read for all ages that always makes me chuckle.

If you like this first book then try the other books in the series including Simon's cat beyond the fence, Simon's cat feed me! and Simon's cat in kitten chaos.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

Monday, November 26, 2012

A witch in Winter by Ruth Warburton

The move from London to Winter is a culture shock for Anna in more ways than one - she has moved from a big bustling city to a small coastal town, and along the way she has discovered that she is a witch.  Not a fly on a broomstick, stir a big cauldron kind of witch, but rather a power from inside herself kind of witch.  It all come as something of a shock, especially when she finds out by casting a love spell with a group of friends that was a little too successful. 

Now Anna is caught between two factions of witches, and she has no idea which way to turn.  On one hand she has the people who have taken her in, tried to teach her about her powers and to be responsible and careful - and on the other hand there is the group that makes her feel as though there is something they want from her.  Anna will have to make a choice eventually, and there are some people who will do anything to make sure that she makes the "right" choice.

A witch in Winter is the first book in a trilogy, and if this first book is anything to go by it is going to be an explosive series with action, adventure, magic, and a thorough sprinkling of romance to top it off.  Warburton is a fantastic author who has taken a very ordinary little seaside village and turned it into the location of epic battles, ancient mythology, and secret societies bent on control.  A fantastic read that I wanted to finish in one sitting to see what happened next.

If you enjoyed A witch in Winter then you may also enjoy The pledge by Kimberly Derting, The selection by Kiera Cass, Pushing the limits by Katie McGarry, The treachery of beautiful things by Ruth Long, and Paranormalcy by Kiersten White.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

Friday, November 23, 2012

The blue sword by Robin McKinley

I've been a fan of this book - and the author - for many years.  

Harry is one of the earliest girl-with-sword, now so prevalent in fantasy literature, aimed at young adults.

She doesn't start out with said-sword, but does begin with an unconventional attitude and upbringing, one which makes her unexpected transition to girl-with-sword easier, for both her and the reader.

With nods to Kipling's The man who would be king, this combines aspects of the British Raj with fantasy.

Now, you can read plot summaries all over the place - so, I won't bother :D.

McKinley's Damar/Daria is entirely believable. Harry's character works within the social setting, as does her background of small rebellions against societal norms.

As always, McKinley's language is gloriously descriptive. You can feel the heat and the sand, and hear the battle cries.

The growing relationship between Harry and Corlath is beautifully understated, and real. The glimpses of Aerin are tantalising - and make reading her story, The hero and the crown, a must at the end of this.

I have a great deal of love and affection for this book, to the extent that I re-read it annually. (As I do, with a few other McKinley books.)

Now, having given that heart-felt endorsement, how could I do anything other than recommend other McKinley's... First up, of course, The hero and the crown. For a darker, sadder, tale, try Deerskin. On a different tangent, there's The outlaws of Sherwood (a Robin Hood tale). Her latest, Chalice and Pegasus, is also worth hunting down. Then, there's the fairy tale books... (which really does include Deerskin): Beauty and Rose daughter; Spindle's end (possibly my second-favourite of her fairy tale ones, behind Deerskin). Dragonhaven is a rarity, as it features a male main. For older readers, ie adults, her vampire tale is completely different to anything else... Sunshine.

And, you should totally visit her site.

Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A is for musk ox by Erina Cabatingan and Matthew Myers

I dare you to pick this one up and read it aloud... with a serious voice and poker face. Never gonna happen...

This is a read aloud with gusto and verve and panache. You will need a couple of voices - either yourself, or with a friend - to truly bring the energy required of this book.

You will need one to be an overwhelmingly pushy / try-hard musk ox (Joseph)... and one to be a put-upon and sarcastic zebra... Most of the text is carried by the musk ox - who manages to make almost every-single-letter fit with the theme of 'musk oxen'... (And, even with those he doesn't use a directly-related-to-musk-oxen-word for... has a link, tenuous, but a link, nonetheless.)

It is funny, and irreverent... it is a perfect read for word lovers. Older children will appreciate the wit and silliness of the whole thing...

So - next up, make up your alphabet about whatever you like, a la A is for musk ox.

Other great alphabet books are... Z is for moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinksy; G is for one gzonk by Tony DiTerlizzi; Alpha oops! by Alethea Kontis and Bob Kolar; The dangerous alphabet by Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly.

Check out this book trailer...

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Red Rocks by Rachael King

Jake is staying at his father's around the coast of Wellington, exploring alone. He runs into a strange old guy around the rocks. He tries to avoid the local bullies... What he does do, is take a seal-skin from a cave and therefore attracts the attention of the local selkies.

The modern world and the world of Celtic mythology combine in this low-key action novel - it's not action-packed like, say, James Patterson or Chris Ryan - but there is some action there.

There are also some interesting relationships. Watching Jake and his dad negotiate their time together is interesting, as Jake's dad is used to living alone and becomes totally focussed in his work (hence Jake's solo explorations).

The writing is wonderfully descriptive, giving a real and vivid sense of place and time.

Something to try out for 10+ year olds who like thinking a bit about what they're reading.

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A little book of language by David Crystal

I've become a bit of a David Crystal fangirl recently... He has a love of language, a sense of humour, and a personality that comes through his writing.

A little book of language explores the development of language - from babies through to exploring the languages around you now. So, everything from how babies learn to talk, to how languages die, and develop.

I've studied language, linguistics, sociolinguistics in the past, and this title reminded me of that time - and the joy I found with the subjects.

That said, Crystal's writing style is personable and approachable - you do not need to have an academic background to appreciate this one.

It is a true gem.

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The quiet place by Sarah Stewart and David Small

When you were a child, didn't you sometimes want somewhere to escape and be in your own world? Maybe you had somewhere - your own quiet place...

Have you ever moved and had to settle in a new community? What about a new country? A new language?

Did you grow up with a loving and supportive family? Those in your house, and some further away?

If any of these things sound familiar, then you will identify with Isabel, newly immigrated to America from Mexico. Isabel sends letters to her favourite aunt, Lupita, keeping her up-to-date with the family's new life.

This is a lovely story by a pair who work well together and create some heart-felt picture books for older children. Look for their other collaborations: The friend; The gardener; The journey; The library and The money tree. Most of them have a historical bent, and feature young girls growing and learning new things / new communities.

You could also track down: Tea with milk by Allen Say, about feeling displaced; The Arrival by Shaun Tan, a 'wordless' book about immigration; Dear Daddy by Philippe Dupasquier, in which a girl writes to her father, who is at sea.

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Private Oz by James Patterson and Michael White

Private Oz is one of the latest installments in the dynamic and multinational Private series from James Patterson and co-authors.  Set in Australia (hence the Oz part of the title), this is the first book that has been set relatively close to home for New Zealand readers, a little icing on the cake for an already interesting and addictive series.

The main storyline is high impact, and keeps up the tension throughout the novel, and while some of the subplots are a little distracting at times, it does make for a well rounded read and a firm introduction to the team working at Private - from the forensic expert through to the receptionist.  The cast are interesting and well developed, bringing their own skills and history to the cases they are working on - which makes for a better read than some of the other books in the series.  At times the stories seem a little jumbled, like they tried to fit too much into the book, but it evens out across the novel and comes to a rather satisfying conclusion.

There is one little bug bear however - this book was set in Australia, and the edition I read was published in Australia so it would have been nice if the measurements had been in "Australian".  At this end of the world we ....

Use kilograms as a measurement of weight (not pounds)
Use degrees Celsius as a temperament measurement (not degrees Fahrenheit)
Use kilometres an hour as a speed measurement (not miles per hour)
And we enter a building on the ground floor (not the first floor)

Apart from these little bug bears this was a thoroughly good read devoured in an afternoon.  James Patterson is a very (very) active author who produces copious amounts of books each year, usually with co-authors, but what a lot of people don't know is that he is also involved with literacy programmes and writes books for teenagers and children to encourage them to develop a love of reading from a young age.  A great author who will hopefully be writing for many years to come.

If you enjoyed Private Oz you may also enjoy the rest of the series and pretty much anything else by James Patterson including: Private by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, Kill me if you can by James Patterson and Marshall Karp, and Step on a crack by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner

A couple of years ago, there was an online poll on which literary character you'd dump your life for and run away with... Ok, there were a few Darcy fans, some Gilbert Blythe...

But, there was a groundswell of support for Eugenides, star of the Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner, beginning with the eponymous The Thief.

I'll be upfront here - I'm one of them. Well, actually, I am deeply in literary-love with Eugenides, but will also admit he would be an utter pain to live with!

It's so difficult to say why I love this series - and Eugenides - without giving the plot away.

What I can say is, each book has its own character. As you read through the series (in chronological order: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, The Conspiracy of Kings), the story is shown through different eyes.

Book three, in particular, is interesting in this regard. We, his loyal and loving fans, know what Eugenides is like... but the book's mouthpiece, doesn't. And, you spend a fair amount of the book just waiting for the real Eugenides to show up.

There is action, romance, politics, religion, intrigue... Oh, these books have everything!

A hint of the type of man Eugenides is... when his Gods talk to him, they say things like 'stop whining' and 'go to bed'.

And, I am not the only fan who has struggled to share how ABSO-BLOOMING-LUTELY marvellous these books are, without sharing spoilers. Check out this Booksmugglers review.

Check out the book trailer and see if this book sounds like you...

To recommend books like this is very nearly impossible. There's the fantasy and world-building that comes with great fantasy. And court-politics. And romance. And... just so many things! But, it's the characters that make this one.

So - giving it my best shot! Crown duel and Court duel by Sherwood Smith. Maria V. Snyder: Poison study, Magic study, Fire study and the related series Storm glass, Sea glass and Spy glass. The Elantra series by Michelle Sagara.

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Everything I know about love I learned from romance novels by Sarah Wendell

An odd read from me. Well, sort of...

I do read umpteen-dozen romance novels, however, I am not a fan of romance in my own life.

That said - reading this book, helped me realise that part of my decision to be romance/relationship-free is actually as a result of reading romance novels.

"Romance novels taught me it is never OK to let a man take advantage of you" quote from Caroline, A Reader.

For me, this is true - but I can translate it wider: value yourself and don't stay in a crap relationship.

But - enough about me! Onto the book...

If you've ever wondered about your own personal addiction to romance novels, this book will help explain it.

If you've ever wondered about someone else's addiction to romance novels, this book will help explain it.

Gathered together from interviews with romance novel authors and readers, this is a wonderful exploration of one of the most popular genres in fiction - ever.

And, no, romance novel readers do not - on the whole - live expecting Romancelandia values and occurences to happen in real life. So, we are not expecting a disguised duke to be hanging around as a Texan cowboy.

The author, Sarah Wendell, is one of the Smart Bitches - from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog - one of the best places EVER for romance readers.

By turns funny and heart-breaking, this is a wonderful read. It goes to prove that romance novel readers are the first to laugh at themselves - and their preferred genre. But, we're also prone to defensiveness. Seriously, who wouldn't be when your very intellect and ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality is questioned by almost everyone, based on the type of book you read... Oh yes, carry around a romance novel, and people feel free to comment on your reading choice. But, no one says things like 'oh, Kafka. How try-hard intellectual of you'...

Other interesting books about life lessons learned from pop culture, of one sort or another are: Everything I need to know I learned from  a children's book; Everything I needed to know about being a girl I learned from Judy Blume; All I really need to know I learned from watching Star Trek.

Don't forgot to check out Sarah's other great book about romance novels: Beyond heaving bosoms...

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Origin by Jessica Khoury

When you read as many books as I do in a year, it can be very difficult to find a book that is truly unique, a book that truly amazes you by speaking with a different voice, a book that you can't wait to recommend to someone else - a book like Origin. 

Pia is the end result of a science experiment that has been running in the rainforest for decades, an experiment that has created the perfect human - Pia.  But Pia is one of a kind, the result of the Immortis project, a project that she will lead one day as the scientists in Little Cam work towards the goal of a race of immortal beings just like Pia. 

Content with her life at Little Cam, Pia seldom thinks about the world outside the wires, she is too busy learning the science she needs to run the Immortis project from her Aunts and Uncles.  She has lived her life in a cage, and she doesn't even know it - until the night she turns 17 and finds a hole in the fence around the compound.  The rainforest is even more amazing than she imagined, and it is not as empty as she thought - something she finds out when she runs into Eio and finds out that there is a village of "natives" not far from the compound.  Suddenly the world is more exciting and engaging, but it is also full of secrets that Pia may wish she had never discovered.

Check out the book trailer for this debut novel that is impossible to put down. 

If you enjoyed Origin you may also enjoy Variant by Robison Wells, Article 5 by Kristen Simmons, Enclave by Ann Aguirre, The Hunt by Andrew Fakuda, Enchanted by Alethea Knotis, and The Selection by Kiera Cass.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dark currents by Jacqueline Carey

Dark currents by Jacqueline Carey. Welcome to Pemkowet where Hel, Norse goddess, oversees the eldritch races in town.
Meet Daisy Johanssen, Hel's liason with the mortal authorities. And Hel's enforcer.
She's also hell-spawn, well, half. And, yes, in this case the Judeo-Christian meaning of Hell... ie demon.

Usually things are pretty quiet for Daisy. Her part-time job as filing clerk in the police department keeps her vaguely occupied. And handy when the Chief needs her attendance. She has family and relationship issues to deal with, paying the rent, feeding the cat (when he deigns to turn up).
Then, a mortal frat boy is found dead. Under suspicious circumstances.
Add in some interesting males - some of whom are also interested in Daisy (there's also the one Daisy is interested in) - and you have an, on the face of it, reasonably standard urban fantasy.

However, Carey's skill and ability as an author makes this one of the best urban fantasies around.
Her world-building is sound and more varied than many urban fantasies / paranormal romances. Yes, there are vampires. Yes, there are werewolves. But there are also ogres, trolls, mermaids, fairies, ghouls... and a few other creatures you discover along the way.
The world is also populated by characters. There's Daisy, herself, who is a pretty-normal young woman. Except for a few things. One of them is trying not to lose her temper. If she gives in to her demon-half, she could bring about the end of the world. Armageddon - final battle and all that.

Anyway - the suspicious death of the frat boy is solved (surely that's not a spoiler). Daisy's relationships are up-in-the-air. And, there's more to come. (You'd hope so, what with the whole Agent of Hel, book 1 promise). Don't believe me? Check out the reviews on goodreads.

Bring it on.

Other urban fantasies that are a cut above include Halfway to the grave by Jeaniene Frost; Cry wolf by Patricia Briggs; Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway; Sunshine by Robin McKinleyUrban shaman by C.E. Murphy; Dragon bound by Thea Harrison.

~ Reviewed by Aud Selene.