Book Review: Queen of Shadows, by Sarah J Maas

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

‘Be prepared to lose yourself in the most dangerously captivating series ever.’cv_queen_of_shadows

Sarah J Maas’s writing has never let me down. Her books, filled with elaborate, twisting plotlines and the best-developed characters, seem to come with a guarantee of being unputdownable. Queen of Shadows was no exception.

Queen of Shadows  is the highly anticipated fourth book of the ‘Throne of Glass’ series. In this book, Aelin Galathynius returns to claim what is rightfully hers, embracing her destiny as the Queen of Terrasen. Gone is her past self: Celaena Sardothein, the enslaved assassin trying to hide from her past. This time round, it is Aelin who returns to Adarlan and she does so prepared to fight for her friends, her people and her country. Yet, her evil foes are not as weak as she would like them to be (Of course, since one of them is the King of Assassins and the other, the King on the Glass Throne). The only question is, will Aelin be able reap vengeance from her previous masters or will she be the one to pay? Read it to find out and once again, be drawn into our favourite badass heroine’s story as she battles for the greater good.

Although I preferred the intrigue and romance of the first and second books more, I nevertheless enjoyed Queen of Shadows with its brilliant characters, vivid fantasy universe and racing plotline. If you are looking for a book with a strong, sassy female protagonist, a heart-pumping narrative and a beautiful yet dangerous fantasy universe to lose yourself in, then look no further than Queen of Shadows.

Warning: I advise you to wait until the weekends to read this book because once I picked it up, I found myself unable to put it down.

Reviewed by Elinor Wang, as part of the Allen & Unwin Ambassador programme.

Queen of Shadows
by Sarah J Maas
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN 9781408858615

How not to freak out in front of celebrity authors

by Jenna Todd

An author can be a very important person to a reader, someone who, through their books, we have invested much time into. With a busy year of writer’s weeks ahead of us, now seems a good time to ask: How much of that enthusiasm should we display – or hold back – to make the author feel comfortable?

A majority of authors have the fortune of not being recognisable, their author photo and blurb our only tiny glimpse into their personal life. It’s difficult to decipher whether an author actually wants to be recognised, especially if they are just visiting the bookstore as a pedestrian. If they slide through a transaction unnoticed, have we as a bookseller failed at our job? If we do recognise them, should we say something to confirm our book industry insight? Are we required to give some positive feedback in terms of customer interest and sales?

Sometimes, the tides are turned on us. There’s a trick that some authors play on booksellers.
Customer: Do you have “xx xx” in stock?
Bookseller: We don’t have it at the moment, but can order it in for you?
Customer Author: I am the author of this book. Have you read it? Why is it not on the shelf?”

Of course there is the time when an author must step into the spotlight to promote their book. It must be quite strange to emerge from a writing cave to be thrust into spotlight of your readers. Author events must feel like continual birthday parties, where you’re not sure if your guests will turn up.

Kate_atkinson_time_out

Kate Atkinson promoting Life After Life at Time Out Bookstore in 2013

From experience (as a spectator), here are a few don’ts when speaking to an author:

  • If an author has written a book on a specific subject, it’s best to presume they know they know more about the subject than you do.
  • It’s not okay to bring up your own body of work when asking an author a question in a Q & A, or to hijack a Q & A in general.
  • Don’t lead with questions about the author’s divorce and/or love life.

And some Do’s:

  • Do your research, read up on what the author you’re about to meet has been asked before and try and ask something different.
  • Be respectful of their time, be aware of other fans waiting.
  • Engage with authors via social media – link them in tweets with your reviews and book love.

I’ve met a couple of my favourite authors and thankfully, they have exceeded my expectations. That said, I can’t help but turn pink, and as I speak to them the thought that I am actually speaking to them hazes my very ability to concentrate on our conversation. The most important thing I want to tell them is that I am a bookseller and how much I enjoy selling their books.

My friend Emily Adams is a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seattle, Washington which has hosted a multitude of incredible authors, from Paul McCartney to John Green.
“I treat authors like anyone else; they are people doing a job. Give them kind words and a smile. Thank them for visiting your local bookstore, and buy a book at the host store to show your appreciation.”

Jimmy_carter_at_third_place

The Third Place Team with former President Jimmy Carter, who visited to promote his book A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety. Emily is in the blue floral dress.

I searched even further afield to another bookseller friend, Josh Cook from Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s also a published author, so he can offer advice from both sides.

“Think of them like you would someone you met a party once who you thought was really cool. You’d probably go up to re-introduce yourself, but not if they’re clearly having dinner with their family or talking on their phone, or in a rush to get somewhere, and you probably wouldn’t try to talk to them for ten minutes right off the bat. I think the same rules apply for a celebrity you get a chance to meet. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself or anything like that, just be honest, respect their personhood, and have fun, and odds are they’ll be honest, respectful, and grateful that you’ve shared with them their impact on your life.”

So that’s it, just be nice. Keep it cool. And as I’m writing to a group of wonderful book people, I’m sure that won’t be difficult.

Many thanks to my American bookseller friends Emily and Josh for contributing to this piece.

by Jenna Todd, Manager, Time Out Bookstore, Mt Eden

Book Review: He’ll Be OK, by Celia Lashlie

cv_hell_be_okay_lashlieAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

As a mother of two boys, one of whom has only just gone to school, I have some time before their teenage years arrive and carry them away from childhood and onto the path into adulthood. This book, nonetheless, feels essential to me already.

The edition of this book I am reading is the 10th anniversary edition of this international bestseller, published very soon after Lashlie’s death of cancer last year. Celia Lashlie traveled throughout the world as a speaker about social justice issues, and the psychology of teenage boys. The core of her work with teenage boys was the NZ Good Man Project, a project involving 25 schools from all over New Zealand, of various socio-economic backgrounds. This served to give her a solid understanding of what makes teenage boys tick, and how parents can work together to keep them on the right track.

The book itself is direct, succinct and like I guess Celia herself, not afraid to tell things straight. Each chapter tells the background of how Celia has come to the conclusions she presents, then the key messages are summarised in bullet-points. This is a very easy manner of presentation, assuming its future use as a reference text.

When I realised somebody I knew was about to start work as an English teacher at a boys’ high school I immediately said ‘Have you read He’ll be OK?’ She hadn’t, so I am going to ensure there is an opportunity to give a copy of the book to her. Every teacher working with boys – especially female teachers – should have this book.

The simplistic view I was given of boys versus girls, when I had sons, is that girls are much more complicated – with boys, they are easier to read, and so to understand. What I learned from Celia is that your son may become a monosyllabic grunter, but this is simply because they are processing everything internally, unlike girls, who are more likely to talk things out. Boys will discuss acceptable ‘male’ things like anger with one another, but not the ‘feminine’ emotions.

The essential message Celia gives to mother is, ‘Step off the bridge’. At a certain stage, your boys need to grow up, and they need you not to be forcing them to hold your hand as they do so. Common sense, sure, but something most mums are guilty of forgetting once in awhile. It is over to the fathers, or a father-figure to help them figure out their way over the bridge.

I can’t overstate the importance of this book for any mother or teacher of boys. Get this book – no matter what stage your boy is at, it will be useful.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

He’ll Be OK
by Celia Lashlie
Published by Harper Collins
ISBN 9781775540809

There is a day of lectures coming up in Wellington celebrating Celia Lashlie’s legacy, on Thursday 25 February. More information here.

Book Review: Thicker than Water, by Brigid Kemmerer

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_thicker_than_waterThicker Than Water is a gripping psychological thriller with a supernatural twist. The narrative is shared between the two teenage protagonists: Thomas Bellweather and Charlotte Rooker.

Thomas is bad boy personified; not only is he devilishly good-looking, but he’s also the prime suspect in his mother’s murder. Charlotte finds herself drawn to him, despite the somewhat extreme measures her three brothers (all policemen) will go to keep the two of them apart. Thomas, adamant in his innocence and fighting through his grief, finds himself bullied, taunted and maligned. He has no support from anyone, except for his mother’s new husband, Stan, and Charlotte. And, as events unfold and darker truths begin to surface, it seems that support too will crumble.

It is a powerful and somewhat intense book, with events seeing Thomas spiral further and further from redemption and making the reader strongly question his innocence. Charlotte, in typical teenage-girl protagonist fashion continues to put herself at risk, ignoring the well-meaning (if somewhat overbearing) advice from her brothers, and seeking out this potentially dangerous newcomer. Meanwhile, Thomas battles a maelstrom of emotions ranging from grief to anger and to despair. Then, the two make a discovery and the tale takes a (somewhat, slightly) supernatural twist.

Things, it turns out, are not all they seem, and Charlotte’s instant, and naïve, infatuation may not be entirely natural. I am still not sure I feel entirely comfortable with the romantic overtones and the conclusion but that is, is it not, the mark of a good psychological thriller?

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Thicker than Water
by Brigid Kemmerer
Published by Allen & Unwin Children’s Books
ISBN 9781743318638

Book Review: Breaking Connections, by Albert Wendt

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 
cv_breaking_connections
I really enjoyed reading this new novel from Albert Wendt. It’s set mostly in New Zealand, and of course is steeped in Samoan and Maori references.

Daniel, the main character, is a university lecturer and poet. As a child, his Samoan parents moved to NZ so that Daniel could be successful – his mother was particular that he should be competent and comfortable in the palagi system, and she used every means she had including a remarkable acting ability, to make him do as she wished. She had largely turned her back on Samoa, although the family values remained strong.

At school, Daniel forms strong and lasting friendships with a disparate group of kids from other Maori and Pacific backgrounds. The Tribe are family, whanau, aiga to one another and remain loyal despite their differences

By university days, the Tribe is still together and the deliberate inclusion of Laura ( a pakeha) by Mere startles them for a time, but Mere is determined to have her friend be part of the Tribe and Laura is accepted. The connection which forms between Laura and Daniel is too strong for them to ignore – although they try! – and they marry. As things go, eventually they split up and Daniel ends up teaching in Hawaii, which is where the novel starts. Wendt then fills in the backstory.

The connections are many, varied and fascinating. They are made and broken inside and between families and family members, in relationships and marriages – but throughout the connections between members of the Tribe are maintained. Even though all of them are aware of Aaron’s criminal connections, they are never spoken about.

The novel deals powerfully with loyalty, love, and relationships. Wendt shows the great force of human emotion – damaging, dangerous, resilient, passionate, supportive – and just how difficult it can be to face up to unpleasant realities in ourselves and others. He is a superb storyteller and I found myself carried along with the characters, by turns truly irritated with Daniel, sorry for his father, angry with Aaron, in awe of Mere and Laura – in short, I was captivated and could not put this book down.

Read it!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Breaking Connections
by Albert Wendt
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502104

Book Review: Tamanui the Brave Kokako of Taranaki, by Rebecca Beyer & Linley Wellington

cv_tamanui_brave_kokakoAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

Rebecca Beyer and Linley Wellington are two New Plymouth authors helping to bring back the Kokako to Taranaki.

There was a time when Kokako had no predators and could fly freely, but then the rat and possum were introduced. Numbers were severely affected with this native bird species nearly being wiped out to the point of extinction.

This is a story of Tamanui, a Kokako who tries to fly to the top of the tallest tree and is always showing off. His brother Poutama defended him telling the others that Tamanui was clever and brave. The only time the young birds were still was when they were listening to Nanny Kokako. She would tell them stories of their heroic ancestors who came from far away to make their home in the Taranaki bush.

Rats and possums came to New Zealand on boats and as a result there were less and less birds. The Kokako numbers drastically declined because they couldn’t fly well and built their nests on low branches so they were easy prey. The rats ate the birds and possums ate the eggs. Both having sharp teeth and strong claws they made short work of the birds. The birdsong of the forest was quieted.

Further into the story, we learn of how man intervened to save this wonderful bird before it became lost forever.

Reading this to 4-year-old Abby I had lots of questions about why the rats and possums came to New Zealand and why they liked hunting and eating the Kokako. We had a long discussion on why we needed to protect native birds from predators. “What does predator mean Grandma?” My explanation seemed to satisfy her.

Royalties from this book will go towards the Tiaki Te Mauri o Parininihi Trust. This Trust was set up by Ngati Tama and aims to catch predators and re-establish the native bird in the White Cliffs area.

This is a great book to introduce young readers to the idea that as New Zealanders, we need to do everything in our power to protect our surviving native bird species. The illustrations by Andrew Burdan are wonderful and work well with the story.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Tamanui the Brave Kokako of Taranaki
by Rebecca Beyer & Linley Wellington
Illustrated by Andrew Burdan
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502067

Book review: The German War: A Nation Under Arms: 1939-45

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_german_warNicolas Stargardt’s The German War: A Nation Under Arms 1939-45, is a social history of an extraordinary kind, providing an English language account of what in effect was ordinary life in Germany during the second world war, within a shattering context of bombs, genocide, food shortages and mass moral turpitude.

Stargardt quotes a German soldier writing to his fiancée: “The life of this generation seems to me to be measured by catastrophes”. This note came toward the end of the war, and sums up how the attitudes of many Germans evolved during the period of the war. Originally, there was widespread disquiet at the start of another war with memories of the defeat and starvation of World War 1 still all too real. The national mood changed though, toward euphoria, when Hitler’s armies won stunning victories in Poland, France, Norway and the Low Countries.

But as the bombs started raining down on city after city from as many as 1,000 British and American bombers, morale slumped. In May 1942, even before bombing of civilian targets became widespread, the Swiss consul in Cologne, Franz-Rudolf Weiss noted that civilian morale was “well below zero”. However, as occurred in Britain in 1940-41, the bombing developed a strong resilience among the population, with local and national authorities and ordinary folk rushing in to help. In the March 5 raid on Essen, Carola Reisner was quoted as saying that it was “really amazing with what heroic resilience and lack of complaint everything is endured here”.

The fact that this 681-page book (inclusive of bibliography and notes) includes a mass of personal reflections taken from personal letters and diaries of soldiers from the rank and file to generals to ordinary folk, artists and poets is but one illustration of the deep shaft of research that has been undertaken by Stargardt. The book also includes the results of in-depth research of official documents, including some from the Security Service (SD) , a security section of the SS in charge of foreign and domestic intelligence and espionage which produced frequent commentaries on the social conditions within the country as the war was waged.

A profoundly important result of reading this book is the understanding that ordinary Germans “knew”. They knew of the deportation and massacres of Jews, undesirable citizens of their own country and thousands of others in occupied countries. They knew of the use of slave labour and the inhumane conditions forced upon these peoples, and they knew that the peoples of occupied countries were starving, in order to maintain food supplies for Germans. And at the end of the war, Stargardt clearly documents that many, if not most Germans, turned a blind eye – “we just followed orders” or “this was a war brought upon us – not our fault”.

This is an outstanding and important history written by one of the foremost historians of Nazi Germany.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

The German War: A National Under Arms, 1939-45
by Nicholas Stargardt
Published by The Bodley Head
ISBN: 9781847921000