Win! With the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards

This year, as part of our promotion of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, we’ve been working with keen bloggers.

They’re doing amazing work reviewing books, engaging their kids with the stories, baking cakes (from A Great Cake) and creating beautiful things inspired by our finalist books. They’re real gems.

In that spirit, here’s a couple of giveaways happening at the moment that we don’t want you to miss out on.

Win a copy of Maumahara ki tērā Nōema (Remember that November) by Jennifer Beck, illustrated by Lindy Fisher and translated by Kawata Teepa over on Miriam’s blog.

To enter, just leave a comment after Miriam’s book review – she’s also created a video of her reading the book out loud, which means it’s a great bedtime listen for kids.

Win a one-off child’s coat inspired by Mr Bear Branches.
Lisa was inspired by finalist book Mr. Bear Branches to sew a one-off child’s coat. This is a very special giveaway and you’ve got until Friday to enter to win.

Enter by leaving a comment on Lisa’s blog.

Good luck!

Written by Emma McCleary, web editor at Booksellers NZ

Book review: Blastosaurus by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones + giveaway

cv_blastosaurusAsk your local bookshop about this book today.

A six foot tall mutated triceratops from the year 69, 211, 821 BC roams both the present and future in order to find four other humanoid dinosaurs, the Raptors, and bring them to justice for their murders and crime. Of course his mission would come easier if he wasn’t a towering green skinned man with horns. Though even with this setback he manages to go forward and fight for his goal, which along the way involves three young human allies, monsters, robots, an interfering Police force and panicked civilians.

Blastosaurus takes place in three separate time periods, the past, the present and the future. All of which Blastorsaurus travels through in order to avenge his mother who was killed by a gang of four human-like raptors. Both the raptors and Blastosaurus lived natural dinosaur lives in prehistoric times until their genetics were mutated by humans from the future. Using a time travel pod the raptors and Blastosaurus go forward in time to a future city controlled by robots and living under fear of ‘monsters’. This is where Blastosaurus encounters three young adults; Richard, Emma and Alana. A group that goes by the name of ‘freedom fighters’. Angered by the Raptors and how they have managed to turn this city; Freakout City into a chaotic mess Blastosaurus decides to travel to the present day to stop them from causing destruction before they can.

The story is based around the perils of Blastosaurus and the lives of the three children. Richard Greene is the main child and a self proclaimed allie of Blastosaurus. He offers to partner up with Blastosaurus to defeat the Raptor gang. Richard is an imaginative child, who adores comics and the superhero genre. Richard’s other friend is Alana, a level headed if sometimes harsh girl. There’s also Emma and her younger brother Sam. Blastosaurus himself is a dinosaur driven by the goal to find and kill the raptors that killed his mother. He is a stoic character with mostly good intentions in mind.

The art of blastosaurus is great, it’s detailed and has a good colour scheme. Emotion and action is portrayed well on the characters. The settings are also a strong point giving the comic a strong and usually dark atmosphere. The style in both art, writing and story is reminiscent of the absurdities of comic books before the 21st century. The dialogue is straightforward and highlights each character’s emotions and thoughts with ease, it’s also witty and often finds some humour even in dark or upsetting situations.

The people involved in the creation of this text are Richard Fairgray (who is notably legally blind, with only 3 percent of his vision in one eye) – Co-writer and artist, Terry Jones – Co-writer, Tara Black – Colourist, Rob Levin – Editor and Darick Robertson drew the cover with Richard P. Clark colouring it.

New Picture (2)New Picture (3)

Images from Blastosaurus the online version, pages 92 and 159.

It’s always refreshing to see comics created by the hands of talented New Zealanders being published. Comics and Graphic Novels can be often overlooked or overshadowed by other forms of writing. Buying this book (or any other form of comic) will show support to both the authors and the comic industry as a whole and while this book does end unfinished the reader can continue reading the adventures of Blastosaurus online at this link :

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys thrilling action based, crime solving adventures (that of course span over a few different time periods).

Reviewed by Brittney Huxford

by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones
Published by Square Planet
ISBN 9780473220464

Thanks to the publishers we have a copy of Blastosaurus to give away. Leave a comment below and we’ll draw a random winner on Monday, 25 March 2013.

Book review: The Phoenix Song by John Sinclair

This book is in bookstores now. It is also the Listener Book Club book for December.

John Sinclair, with his first novel The Phoenix Song, has created something of a challenge for readers. The story is densely packed with the history of relations between Russia and China and at times this can be overwhelming. He also introduces just enough authentically named Chinese and Russian characters to make it difficult, but not impossible, to remember who they are. We are helped by his decision to include a contents page and chapter headings to signpost some of the shifts in time and place. I had the feeling that he could have made it even more complex, and that the novel he has given us is a judgement call. It already takes a dedicated reader to commit the concentration required; if he had gone any further he might have lost us all.

The commitment and concentration required to get to grips with The Phoenix Song, however, most certainly has its rewards.

Told through a first person narration by Xiao Magou, starting in 1950, a year after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China when she was eight years old, the story reveals remarkable aspects of life in the young nation. With a father who is a party official, the young Xiao’s musical talent is quickly recognised and cultivated, but ever present throughout her story is the all embracing power of the party and the extreme control it exercised over the population. Entangled in Xiao’s story is the complexity of Chinese-Russian relations, with secretive negotiations about treaties and personal relationships; the Russians feature heavily in Xiao’s early life, and her parents’, as well as at the Shanghai Conservatory where she studies violin.

The book is dense with history but it has its lighter moments, usually when the Russians are involved. Sinclair has great technical control of the words on the page, and effortlessly moves into dialogue and flashback when relating events that Xiao witnesses, as well as stories she hears from her mother, or imagines when looking at photographs. Some of the exchanges between the Russians at the Conservatory are, while not exactly laugh out loud, highly amusing.

There’s a darker side to the humour as well. Some of the decisions by the Party in relation to musical development in China would be, if they weren’t true, laughable. The demands on citizens to be productive, to labour, in culture as well as the fields and factories, seem absurd to our understanding of what creativity is. The very idea of quotas for symphonies and songs, as if they were tonnes of pig iron, is remarkable. The arbitrary decisions on which western composers are suddenly in favour, and those that are to be discarded, are equally astounding. When students at the Conservatory have to suspend their studies for days just to attack Debussy and his work, to burn his scores, we’d like to think it is purely fiction, but we know it isn’t; Sinclair has done his homework.

The story has an arc which is relatively predictable. Sinclair is a New Zealand writer, and the book is published by Victoria University Press. The promotional paragraph on the cover says it moves between China, Europe and New Zealand. It doesn’t take much thinking to work out what is going to happen, especially when Sinclair drops in the occasional paragraph to make sure we know Xiao is telling the story from a point a long way into the future. Nevertheless, the way he weaves together the events is skilful and accomplished, and creating a consistent and convincing voice on the page for a young Chinese girl in the 1950s is quite an achievement.

While I think what Sinclair has produced is certainly an interesting and technically accomplished novel, it didn’t engage me quite as much as I’d hoped. Using the first person to relate a mostly chronological story means sometimes the narrative drags. Xiao consistently relates details of what she sees in a colourful way, which certainly paints a detailed picture of her surroundings for the reader, but tends to slow things down. There are moments of excitement and tragedy, but Xiao is emotionally cold. There’s a reason for this, but I had hoped to see more of her feelings.

The Phoenix Song is a book about a world so different to ours it demands to be read.

Music and freedom (or its absence) are its themes, and it reveals frightening truths about the role these played in determining the future of twentieth century society. Xiao’s young life touches decisions and people – Mao Zedong, Deng Xiao Ping, Khrushchev – at the highest level of geopolitics. It might not be as emotionally engaging as I had hoped, but it is certainly a book worth reading. Whether John Sinclair is contemplating writing a second volume of Xiao’s story I don’t know – it will be obvious what this should cover once you’ve read The Phoenix Song – but I would certainly be near the front of the queue if he does.

Reviewed by C P Howe

The Phoenix Song 
by John Sinclair
Published by Victoria University Press, October 2012
ISBN 9780864738257

Read more about The Listener Book Club.

Winner of a copy of The Phoenix Song thanks to Victoria University Press. We asked people to comment below if they’d like to win a copy of this book – the lucky winner (chosen by random number generator) is Kerry Aluf.