Book Review: Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, by Lynne Cox

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

A number of years ago Lynne Cox travelled to Newcv_elizabeth_queen_of_the_seas Zealand to swim across three lakes near Mount Cook. During a walk along the Avon River, in Christchurch, she happened upon a couple of children standing on the bank; Michael and his sister Maggie. They were waiting for Elizabeth and thought perhaps she was as well. On inquiring further about who Elizabeth was, Lynne decided some time later to write a story about this rather amazing elephant seal.

The Avon River in Christchurch travels through the heart of the city. Elephant seals live in the sea, but for some reason this seal decided to travel up the Avon River, making herself at home on the banks of the river. Of course this attracted a lot of attention and people lined the banks of the river to see her. The people of Christchurch thought there was something rather special about her. She was strong and powerful and regal like the Queen of England. So she was named Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas.

We had just come home from a trip to the zoo with small and larger members of our family, and so on opening the courier package, one rather delighted little girl wanted this book read to her – NOW! Abby is at the age where everything is “why”, and so reading this book to her, was no exception.

Eliabeth_the_seal

Elizabeth the sea elephant lived in the Avon and Heathcote rivers from the late 1970s until her death in 1985.

Michael used to look for the elephant seal every day on his way to school and then again on the way home. Even though she was a wild animal, Michael would call her name “Elizabeth, hello Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, are you there?”

Unfortunately Elizabeth decided to explore her surrounds causing numerous problems with cars. To avoid hitting her they ended up crashing into rocks and having other near accidents. A small group of volunteers in a small motorboat waited until Elizabeth was in the river. They approached her slowly and gently looped a rope around her large body. Elizabeth is not happy with this turn of events and continues to go back to the banks of the Avon River.

This book was read to our little person twice with the same questions each time, “Why is Elizabeth swimming back, why is she lying on the road, why is putting her head out of the water.” When I first opened this book and flicked through it, I wasn’t sure what Abby’s reaction would be to it. I thought perhaps she was a bit young to enjoy, but I was proved totally wrong on that score. We had just come home from the zoo – one of Abby’s favourite places at Auckland zoo is the Seal enclosure – laughing at their antics. Abby wanted to pack this book into her overnight bag to take home.

The illustrations by Brian Floca are fabulous. I always take note of how illustrations marry in with the text. I give this author full marks for the simplicity of the story. A lovely book to add to a small person’s collection.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas
by Lynne Cox
Published by Schwartz & Wade
ISBN 9780375858888

Book Review: Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, by Tina Makereti

Did you love this book too? You can vote for it for the People’s Choice Award in the New Zealand Post Book Awards here

This is a powerful historic novel, spanning two cv_where_the_rekohu_bone_singsgenerations separated by over a century but connected by the threads of the ancestors that flow through their veins. It is a story of identity and of mixed heritage. It is immersive, and lyrically written, with an eloquence to the prose that keeps the reader truly engaged.

The first thread follows Mere, a young Maori woman of reasonable wealth in the 1880s. She follows her heart into making a somewhat reckless decision and falls in love with Iraia, her best friend and the descendent of a slave. Life is harsh for this young man, whose ancestry can be traced back to the last of the Moriori on Rekohu, the Chatham Islands. Together the two seek freedom beyond the confines of the Marlborough Sounds and find difficult times as they must face up against poverty and prejudice. Their tale is simply told and bittersweet.

Then in the modern day, we have two siblings − Bigsy and Lula − fraternal twins who could not be any more different, a one-in-a-million occurance: Lula takes after her father’s Irish heritage, whereas Bigsy follows closer to his mother’s Maori. We follow them through life, watching them grow from inseperable friends to drifting apart and while Bigsy makes his own place in the world, Lula is still drifting, unsettled. Eventually, a heart-breaking event will draw them both home and lead Lula on a quest to seek her family’s past, to question her identity, and ultimately find her roots.

Weaving throughout the stories, written in a rather more colloquial tongue, is a third narrator, the anchor for the characters, drifting and darting, offering tantalising, but brutal, glimpses into a tragic past.

This was a finely crafted read, a book that truly does sing.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings
by Tina Makereti
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775535188

Start a trend and snowball votes for the People’s Choice Award

Voting opens today for the People’s Choice award in the New Zealand Post Book Awards, and closes 15 August, 8pm.

Vote in the 2014 People's Choice Award We want to see as many people as possible pick their favourite books for the 2014 People’s Choice award for New Zealand authored books. We’re distributing voting slips in bookstores and libraries around New Zealand and you can also vote online, but we’re thinking big this year.

We want to see ideas grow large in the online community, so we’ve put together some cool tools to help people get behind the People’s Choice award online. We would love to see you get behind your favourite!

Resources for running the campaign for your favourite book
• Use the Book trailer tributes we’ve created to promote one of the finalist books for People’s Choice on your Facebook page or website.
• Use the poetry readings and fiction finalists video reviews – share them on your Facebook page, or embed them on your website. The video reviews are presented by some of New Zealand’s most enthusiastic bookstore staff, and the poetry readings are all by our multi-talented Poetry Day coordinator, Miriam Barr.
• Use our Facebook cover images - we’re highlighting categories with these this year. Post them on your Facebook page to show support and encourage voting for the category you choose. Or make your own – we would love to see it if you do!
• Post a copy of our finalist posters on your site, and link to our Booksellers_choice_posterPeople’s Choice vote online app. The Posters are downloadable from the resources page of our website.
• Write a blog post about a book that particularly impressed you and add a ‘Vote for People’s Choice’ widget alongside it. You’ll find the widgets on our website too. Widgets are great for bloggers or people with reading and book-related websites like bookstores, publishers, schools and libraries. Post one on your website homepage to encourage your customers to vote for their favourite book, or even the book you’re punting for – I know publishers will love that one!
• We’re talking about what’s happening in the awards on Twitter using #nzpba, we hope you’ll add comments about the books you’re enjoying.

Voting is open from 23 July – 15 August and the winners will be announced at the New Zealand Post Book Awards ceremony on Wednesday, 27 August 2014.

by Amie Lightbourne, Awards Manager at Booksellers NZ

Book Review: What happens next? by Tull Suwannakit

Available in bookstores nationwide. 

cv_what_happens_nextWhen I picked up this book we had recently announced that the People’s choice award at the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults went to The Three Bears…sort of. So my mind was in this ‘sensible version of fairy tales’ type space, and at first I thought this was along the same vein. I was, joyfully, mistaken.

This book is rather beautiful from beginning to end. The first indicator of the story can be found on the front end-papers, where the baby bear and little girl notice each other across the bus stop. The story begins with Ellie asking her Gran to tell her a story. Gran begins, ‘Deep in the woods, not far from here, lives Grandma Bear. Whenever Little Bear visits her, they go on a fun trip together.’ You think you know what is going to happen, right? The story does follow Gran and Ellie’s day closely, with the bears mirroring their story, until the tables are turned halfway through the book, when suddenly the bears become real.

This story is a little bit about facing fears both real and imaginary, and a little bit about accepting diversity, but mostly it is just a bit of fun, with Ellie’s imagination providing some beautiful illustrations. The bears are rendered less ferocious (Granny’s reaction when they become real is ‘Bears, ferocious bears!”, while Ellie is more pragmatic, saying ‘These are no ordinary bears, but ones who put on hats and red gumboots, remember?’) The story moves on into more fanciful territory with an ogre, a frog, a catfish, and all sorts of friendly creatures coming home for icecream and cakes!

As I have a 3-year-old who is afraid of a lot of things at the moment, I only wish the lesson was well-learned. I asked him what he thought of the story, and he said he didn’t like the way it changed halfway (when the child took over the narrative) – I kind of expected that, but that doesn’t mean most children his age won’t enjoy it.

The illustrations and typeface in What Happens Next? are really special, and Walker Books has done a wonderful job in editing and of course publication, with all of the page turns ideally placed to make you wonder what does happen next.

Overall, this is a very well executed picture book. While the author has previously published in his native Thailand, and is a known artist, this is his first, hopefully of many, with an Australian publisher.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

What Happens Next?
Written and illustrated by Tull Suwannakit
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922077561

 

Book Review: Heart absolutely I can, by Michael Harlow

cv_heart_absolutely_i_canThis book is available in selected bookstores nationwide.

Heart absolutely I can is one of three books in the 2014 Hoopla series. The other two are Cinema by Helen Rickerby and Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash. All three collections follow a certain theme. For Heart it is love, for the others film and crime respectively. Heart is comprised of poems published in earlier collections as well as new material.

Harlow’s background is in Jungian psychology and in this vein he dissects the tangled undergrowth of human relationships. The vanities, longing, and secret desires of the subjects are exposed with a surprising frankness.

The harrowing disembodiment of a married couple in ‘The Identikit’ has something of an experimental horror movie, while the brevity of the lines in ‘In which’ suggests a hunted breathlessness of a conflicted mind.

In ‘Today is the piano’s birthday’ a family’s interconnectedness centers around said instrument. The piano has life, has feelings. A counterpoint to this sense of flow, of movement, is ‘Nothing but Switzerland and lemonade’ which appears like a still life, a scene frozen in time, a Cézanne painting.

Heart explores love in the abstract as well as in the physical sense; emotional turmoil alternates with eroticism.

The woman in the poem of the title wills ‘the music of the heart to sing us alive’. Harlow
manages to pull people as well as concrete objects into the abstract realm that is love.

Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer

Heart absolutely I can
by Michael Harlow
Published by Mākaro Press
ISBN 9780473276478

Book Review: The Red Queen, by Gemma Bowker-Wright

This book is available now in bookstores nationwide. 

This collection of short stories is the first book for Gemma Bowker-Wright.cv_the_red_queen

She’s a good writer; the stories are well crafted, with a quirky humour apparent in even some of the bleaker works. I read the book almost at one sitting, and some of the stories stayed with me for quite some time. That’s unusual for me. I found myself going back to make sure I was remembering correctly.

There is a great depth to some of the stories – and a feeling of immense generosity of spirit, but then again of sadness in some of them also. This may be what I took from them, rather than an intention on the part of the writer. Two which typify these feelings are ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Katherine’.

‘Cowboy’ is in essence a story about a father and son, long separated. Father from time to time remembers he actually has a son, and arranges something which generally suits his purpose rather than that of his child. But despite this, the story ends on a positive note and I found that a huge surprise, not at all what I expected.

‘Katherine’, in the story which ends the book, has Alzheimers. The picture drawn in this story is very well-done – the apparent normality of many days, and the total irrationality of others points out the awfulness of the illness and the difficulty inherent in managing anyone who is a sufferer. Gemma Bowker-Wright manages to bring the characters of Katherine and her husband to life most effectively and with poignancy.

I found this, overall, to be a really good collection of stories, with a very New Zealand flavour. I look forward to more work from this young author.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Red Queen
by Gemma Bowker-Wright
VUP 2014
ISBN 9780864739209

 

Book Review: Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page, edited by Harry Ricketts, Siobhan Harvey and James Norcliffe

Available in bookstores nationwide. There is also a nationwide tour accompanying this publication, details can be found here. 

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (2014) weighed heavily in my cv_essential_nz_poemshands. It had some major shoes to fill. Its predecessor and titular sibling of thirteen years earlier, edited by Edmond and Sewell, was my first guide to New Zealand poetry. A veritable treasure trove − I found New Zealand poetry pioneers Bethell, Fairburn, Mason within the pages, as well as shiny new gems from the likes of Emma Neale and Vivienne Plumb. With time, I wondered at the title. The word ‘essential’ troubled me. Could New Zealand’s rich body of poetic works really be sieved through to reveal its ‘essence’?

In this latest anthology, Harvey, Norcliffe and Ricketts approach this issue head on and, with admirable candidness, describe the collection as ‘Some Rather Good New Zealand Poems the Three of Us Rather Like’. Moreover, the new collection has an adjunct title, ‘Facing the Empty Page’, taken from a poem authored by Elizabeth Nannestad. The problem of ‘essence’, though scarcely resolved, seems to be shrunk.

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page is a literary slumber party, where old-hands and newcomers coalesce. Baxter is bedfellow with Hinemoana Baker, Kiri Piahana-Wong is bunked down with Alistair Paterson. The assemblage is egalitarian, insofar as each author is represented by one poem. Poets are arranged, not chronologically, but in alphabetical sequence. Such an arrangement lends itself to surprises. A page turned can occasion a completely new mood and style. Bub Bridger’s comedic ‘A Christmas Wish’ jolts the reader out of Diana Bridge’s meditational and exquisite ‘Jars, Bubble Bowls and Bottle Vases’. Approaching the book from cover to cover, the reader is sent on an affective rollercoaster. And though giddiness may ensue, the buzz is something addictive.

This anthology, unlike its predecessor, kicks off in the 1950s. So while Curnow is included, Bethell and Mason are not. This is a shortcoming, perhaps, but it does serve to open up the field to a greater number of lesser known contemporary poets. Helen Heath, Courtney Sina Meredith and Ashleigh Young are new kids on the block but, in each case, their poems hold their own.

The book itself is testament to the survival of books as pulp and ink. It is a handsome production − cloth bound, and peppered with haunting greyscale images of New Zealand landscapes. These images serve as reminders that this poetry is ‘earthed’, that the works within were born into the New Zealand context.

Yet many of the pieces featured extend beyond their geographical location. Fleur Adcock’s ‘Having Sex with the Dead’ introduces Greek mythology, Koenraad Kuiper’s ‘Tales’ hauls in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Then there are poems that take us on trips through our very own streets. We are in Titirangi with David Eggleton, the Maniototo with Kevin Ireland, Banks Peninsular with Denis Glover. And James K Baxter enlightens us about Auckland, that ‘great arsehole’ of a city.

This is a beautiful and considered collection. Essential or not, this book is worth getting your hands on.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page
edited by Harry Ricketts, Siobhan Harvey and James Norcliffe
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775534594

Book Review: Remember me like this, by Bret Anthony Johnston

cv_remember_me_like_thisAvailable in bookstores nationwide. 

Bret Anthony Johnston’s debut novel Remember Me like This is blended from a Harlan Coben-esque thriller style of writing with a theme of family-coping that demands profundity, and meets somewhere in an awkward middle. After eleven year-old Justin, son to Laura & Eric & older brother to Griff, goes missing in Southport, Texas, he is presumed dead by most for four years. Johnston skilfully drops the reader into each of the family member’s distractions during Justin’s absence, hitting on the realities of sex, anonymity, and infatuation as tools for escape. When Justin is found, alive & healthy in Corpus Christi, only a bay away from Southport, Laura, Eric & Griff are pulled from their sovereign orbits back into a family.Johnston’s grasp on human truisms makes for sublime character depiction throughout; from a fourteen boy who, despite the revelations of a found lost-brother, is consumed by youthful passion for a girl, to a family that falling away from each other rather than into each other in times of need.

When Justin is returned to the Campbell family in an early climax, Johnston attempts to emulate heart-wrenching drama in illustrating a family, yet four individuals, being struck different blows from the same event. Mirrored by the Campbell’s realisation that their home has become a run-down house in Justin’s absence, their reunion sees them regain their awareness of each other: as they begin to re-build walls and re-sow grass, they also shed their distractions and begin to re-build as a family once more. As we begin to root for the family’s successful rebirth, Johnston cracks the Campbell’s happy-family façade with a twist that instantly sends the family recoiling to their coping mechanisms like frightened animals. The plot builds to literature-loaded storm finale, echoing the highly-charged emotions and anxieties facing the Campbell’s, both individually & collectively. Johnston weaves various threads as though in hope of a startling finish, but the final stroke is instead a predictable & neat bow-tie.

While the concept of Remember Me like This is one of surgical delicacy, I’m undecided whether Johnston has accomplished a seamless wonder or whether he has avoided a too-hard task. Johnston’s choice to leave Justin’s voice out of the novel is a stroke of brilliance, using his family member’s different perspectives to instead tell the story. After all, this is a story about the Campbell family, not about Justin’s ordeal. Yet simultaneously, the unwillingness of the Campbell’s to talk about Justin’s ordeal or their emotion is stretched to its limit and begs the edges of reality. Once Justin is returned, the family tiptoe around the elephant in the room for the rest of the novel, making the reader eager, but for resolution that never delivers. In such a ghoulish plot, Johnston’s writing seems to miss the weight of the substance.

If you enjoy Harlan Coben or T. Jefferson Parker you will appreciate Remember Me like This. As Johnston’s debut novel, it is certainly a worthwhile effort & (hopefully) preludes more refined novels to come.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

Remember Me like This
by Bret Anthony Johnston
Published by Two Roads (Hachette)
ISBN 9781444788068

Book Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

cv_the_first_fifteen_lives_of_harry_augustThe first thing that struck me about this book is its fantastic, attention grabbing title: I bet Kate Atkinson’s publishers are kicking themselves they didn’t think of it first for Ursula Todd’s many lives and deaths in Life After Life.

The second thing that caught my eye was the author’s name, which we are told from the book’s blurb is a pseudonym. Nothing piques my curiosity like reading a great novel (and this one is great – I’ll get to that in a moment) but not actually knowing who the person behind it is. Fortunately for me, a quick Google and the answer was revealed: Claire North is prodigiously talented fantasy novelist Catherine Webb who, at just 28 years of age, already has a slew of books to her name – the first written at just age 14. She’s also no stranger to writing under an assumed name, having done so as Kate Griffin for her adult book series.

So we’ve got a jump-out-and-grab-you title and a talented and a prolific and talented author: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August can’t go wrong, right?

Right!

Harry August is a kalachakra: when he dies, he is always reborn to the exact same time and place – England in 1918, as the illegitimate son (the product of rape) of a British nobleman who is raised by the aristocrat’s gardener. While kalachakra retain the knowledge and understanding acquired in previous lives, Harry is also a mnemonic – meaning he retains with perfect recall everything he learns, sees and hears.

Rose_garden_1918_Gret_foster

The Rose Garden at Great Fosters, designed in 1918

These are rare and sometimes troubling, even dangerous, gifts. No more so when, at the end of his eleventh life as he lies dying in hospital, a message from the future, relayed through time by other kalachakra, is delivered to him. Someone is altering the events of history, the world is ending and Harry needs to stop it.

It’s a total cliché to say I was hooked from the first page, but I really was. How could you not be with a premise like that? And it’s a set up the novel delivers on fully. It starts with a fantastic protagonist in Harry – he’s real but conflicted, eminently likable but also fallible. His story of essentially saving the world unfolds in a non linear fashion through the novel, jumping through time and his other lives but somehow never once becoming confusing, overblown or messy. The unique plot device of Harry’s many lives and his faultless memory adds a unique depth to his character. He’s supported by a cast of well formed, intriguing characters and a villain I didn’t see coming.

As for the story itself, there’s murder (quite a bit actually!), historical drama, war, love, espionage, criminal underworlds, mind games, gambling and wealth, staggering technological advancements, ravishing greed, betrayal, and a secret, shadowy organisation of kalachakra called the Chronus Club. All of this is tautly delivered in a pacy, often wryly humorous and meticulously researched novel that is also thought provoking too.

I think everyone who reads this book will at some point ponder what they would do, for good or for evil, if reborn over and over with all memories intact. Maybe Claire North’s time travelling, suspenseful and compelling novel might change your mind on that.

Reviewed by Kelly Bold

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780356502564

Book Review: I am not a Worm, by Scott Tulloch

cv_I_am_not_a_wormScott Tulloch is a New Zealand illustrator and author living in Queenstown.

“Hello, little worm” “I am not a worm” are the two opening lines to this wonderful story. A Chameleon and a caterpillar have a rather funny conversation whether or not the caterpillar is a worm. Backwards and forwards it goes until the Chameleon is convinced otherwise.

I’ve read this book to two small people in our family. Logan at just over 2 years of age via Skype (not the easiest thing to do) and Abby who is over 3 years of age. Both loved the story and agreed a caterpillar didn’t look much like a worm. Abby thought the ending was hilarious, but Logan being that much younger wasn’t so sure.

I think this book is well written with great illustrations. I loved the humour and think it will make a great addition to any small child’s collection.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

I am not a Worm
by Scott Tulloch
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432517

Ed’s note: While I didn’t take this one home to test it, I would just like to say that the palette used by Tulloch in this book is brilliant, and I enjoyed the dialogue between the two characters immensely. I feel like the Chameleon perfectly encapsulated the stubbornness of toddlerhood, with his refusal to believe the true identity of the worm until there can be no argument. Wonderful stuff from Scott Tulloch.