From our reviewers: September 7

01:07, Sep 07 2012

From The Southland Times book reviewers.

Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat
By Anna Branford (Walker Books, RRP $25)

Reviewed by Myah Kortbaoui (age 8)

In this book, the third in the series, Violet Mackerel has a new theory - the idea that if you help small things, then they might help you too. Violet makes friends with a ladybird and names her Small Gloria. She wants to help but when her new friend dies in the home that she made for her, Violet realises that it is sometimes hard to know the best way to help a small thing - especially when they're not in their natural habitat.

It is Small Gloria who helps Violet get on better with her sister, Nicola, who is grumpy at everyone. This is a great story with gorgeous pictures about a little girl who is working out where she fits into the world around her - where her "natural habitat" is.

I love these books and this is the best one yet. I can't wait for Violet's next adventure!


Steel Pelicans
By Des Hunt (HarperCollins, RRP $20)

Reviewed by Naida Mulligan

Another great novel by New Zealand's own Des Hunt. Hunt is a retired educator, now a fulltime writer. He began writing fiction for young people in 2002 and his interests in technology and the environment are evident in his exciting plots. Hunt lives on the Coromandel Peninsula.

This tale is told in the first person by 13-year-old Pete Kelly, whose world is turned upside-down when his family moves back to New Zealand from Australia and Pete has to leave behind a school he is comfortable at and his best friend, Dean Steele. Pete's parents, however, are happy to be able to separate the two boys as Dean's a bit of a dare-devil, prone to causing explosions.

Pete settles into his new school, encountering prefect bullying for the first time, but is lucky to make a new friend, Afi. The boys stumble on a smuggling operation and, not taken seriously by the police, endeavour to gather evidence. When Dean arrives for the holidays, Pete has to cope with rivalry between his two friends and keep Dean out of trouble.

A superb read. Highly recommended.

The Enchanted Flute
By James Norcliffe (Longacre, RRP $20)

Reviewed by Maree Field

Strange things start happening when Becky gets a new flute for the school orchestra.

Her mum buys it for her at a pawn shop and from the very beginning, Becky finds herself drawn into something very odd, possibly supernatural, and almost certainly dangerous.

The flute only plays one tune: Syrinx by Debussy. Soon, it leads Becky and classmate Johnny to a very strange old man at a very strange old house.

From there, things get really weird for Becky and Johnny.

It's hard to work out what I want to say about The Enchanted Flute. It's written well, and it paces out nicely, weaving together the modern world with ancient Greek mythology but I can't help feeling there's something missing - a core plot point, or something. I'm not entirely sure what it is.

Becky is a great character - she's feisty, clever and resourceful even when things are going south very quickly, but it feels like if you look at the characters or story a bit too hard, everything's just going to fade away.

It's an odd feeling to get from a book, and for me, it didn't quite work on all the levels that I wanted it to.

Magical Chaos at Beechhorn Cove
By Julie Folkers (National Pacific Press)

Reviewed by Naida Mulligan

I found this a difficult book to get into. My first reading ended at page 14 when I was trying to imagine what the "racquet" being made in Muriel's lounge looked like. This followed two run-on sentences, a question without a question mark and parentheses used four times on one page. (Parentheses are OK). (But not all the time). What next, I wondered, neighbor and color?

Fears were allayed a little at my next reading, when I discovered there was indeed a good, or not so good, neighbour.

All errors aside, I really had to wonder what appeal this book could possibly have to children, or anyone for that matter.

There was far too much discussion about morals and small-town politics. It was almost like the author had an axe to grind.

This book has too much dialogue, is repetitive, digressive and includes questionable content for children such as abusive drunks harassing women and the protagonist mentioning that the townsfolk "think I'm gay". It actually got worse but I stopped taking notes.

One analogy to "a sleeping baby with a tiddle full of milk" did amuse me, but still I would not pass this book to any 8 to 13-year-old to read.

This novel is the third in a series. The others must have been popular enough to warrant a third being published.

What's it about? Muriel guards a gate into a magical realm. She has been really busy lately and left someone else in charge. She returns to the human world to find murder and mayhem. She has to use all the resources and powers available to her to discover who is at the centre of this chaos and to put everything right again.

I did become involved in the last quarter of the story. Folkers certainly does not lack talent. What she lacks is a competent editor to polish the work.