Book Review: The Cuckoo and the Warbler, by Kennedy Warne and Heather Hunt

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 

The Cuckoo and the Warbler is a finalist in this year’s Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

cv_the_cuckoo_and_the_warbler.jpgNew Zealand is home to many unique native birds, and The Cuckoo and the Warbler introduces readers to two of them that are probably not as well-known as their more famous cousins the kiwi, piwakawaka, pukeko and others. Riroriro, the Grey Warbler, flits about Aotearoa’s forests chasing insects and preparing for spring by building a nest ready for its eggs. Far away in the Pacific, Pipiwharauroa, the Shining Cuckoo, is also preparing for spring by setting off on a very long journey across the ocean, back to New Zealand.

When mother Pipiwharauroa arrives, she sets about finding somewhere safe to lay her egg in. Instead of building a nest, she hijacks a Grey Warbler nest, and sneakily replaces one of the Grey Warbler eggs with her own. The unsuspecting Grey Warbler cares for the imposter egg and when it hatches first, the new bird removes the other eggs and takes advantage of being the single mouth to feed. Again, the Grey Warbler does its duty to another’s chick and works hard to provide all the insects the hungry young Shining Cuckoo begs for. As autumn comes, all the Shining Cuckoos prepare once more to return to the warmer climes of their Pacific winter homes.

This beautiful non-fiction book is full of richly detailed illustrations of New Zealand’s forest and birds, full of luscious greens and familiar bush-scapes. The information about the two native birds is presented in an easy to read, almost storylike fashion which keeps it interesting, and is pitched at the right level for its young audience (although ‘older’ readers can also learn something from it too – I had no idea we have a native cuckoo).

The two birds share a unique bond, with the Shining Cuckoo relying on the Grey Warbler to raise its own chick; a concept that children may not have come across before. While it may seem to be one of those harsh realities of nature, the book handles it in a gentle, matter of fact manner. The two fact pages at the end of the book provide more detail on both birds and here I feel (as wonderful as the coloured illustrations are) it would have been good to include a real-life photo of each. The Grey Warbler is one of our most common natives and can be spotted not only in forest and scrub, but also in urban areas – I will certainly be on the lookout for it (bright red eyes, olive-grey on top, pale grey underneath).

Warne and Hunt have created a wonderful resource for exploring our country’s natural beauty; one with accessible text and engaging illustrations that will appeal to children. Both creators have much experience in their craft – Hunt is the creator of Backyard Kiwi and Warne the co-founder of National Geographic New Zealand and is a regular reporter on outdoors and environment on Radio New Zealand.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Cuckoo and the Warbler
by Kennedy Warne and illustrated by Heather Hunt
Potton & Burton, 2016
ISBN 9780947503048 (Paperback)
ISBN 9780947503055 (Hardback)

 

Book Review: Along for the Ride: A Political Memoir, by Tony Simpson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_along_for_the_ride.jpgTony Simpson is best known for his history and non-fiction writing. This book is a self-published autobiography, more than a memoir. There are many personal aspects and reflections which are interesting, but the personal is not always political.

I will nonetheless treat it as a political memoir, and concentrate on the central chapters. As with other memoirs of those active in politics in recent decades, the earlier years always seem more interesting. Simpson was certainly at, or near, the centre of things in the 1970s, and his lively writing style makes these chapters the most interesting. He certainly encountered some of the political heavyweights of the era, including a perhaps inevitable confrontation with Muldoon, during his time as the ‘man from the wireless’. There is also some reflection on the key figures in his historical works, Jack Lee, and Bill Sutch, of whom he was obviously an admirer.

Following an interesting interlude as a trade unionist in the United Kingdom, and witness to the idiosyncrasies of the royals, it was back to Wellington in time for the Springbok Tour. The chapter on the strange decade of ‘reforms’ in the 1980s is an excellent analysis for the most part, only marred by the reliance on ‘neo-liberalism’ as a description of policy, a term which was not used by contemporaries. In particular, some of the detail on the State Sector reforms and the fundamental change to the public service are well calibrated. Simpson finds his role in the P.S.A. union ever more difficult by the end of the decade, and with unions being unable to confront the 4th Labour Government effectively, given the compliant attitude of the leadership.

There is a certain irony in this view, especially when the boot is on the other foot, once Simpson begins work as a parliamentary strategist. It is rather obvious that he works for Jim Anderton, rather than the Alliance Party, and finds himself trying to control the party members within that want to stand up to the cautious leadership over matters of principle. Once the Alliance implodes he relies on the continuation of Jim’s career. These chapters tend to make for rather less interesting reading, particularly when trying to highlight the policy wins, such as Anderton’s triumphant Kiwibank.

Simpson engages in some historical context for a new State-owned bank which relies more on myth than fact. In particular, he seems to think that the Reserve Bank was set up in 1932, and a devaluation of the new currency was then imposed on an unwilling finance minister, Downie Stewart. In actual fact, the ‘raising of the exchange’ as it was known, took place in early 1933, before the Reserve bank was created in 1934 (the timing of which is significant since the trading banks were directly funding the government up until that time, and they opposed a central bank). Besides being an odd oversight for a historian, it indicates how he links policies to particular individuals. His adherence to the views of Lee and Sutch was not really shared by other historians.

The insider political role ended, Simpson continues on with advocacy, especially as President of the NZSA. Indeed, the chapter on ‘the politics of scribbling’ will be of interest to all those engaged in writing and publishing, if not those making a living from it. Overall, Tony Simpson emerges as a reluctant player, and keen observer, of the New Zealand political scene, and emphasises how it all went wrong in the 1980s.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Along for the Ride: A Political Memoir
by Tony Simpson
Published by Tony Simpson
ISBN  9780473392345

 

Book Review: Torty and the Soldier, by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Torty and the Soldier is a finalist in the Non-fiction category of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_torty_and_the_soldier.jpgThis beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a tortoise who was found in a rather forlorn condition by a young New Zealand Soldier in Salonika during WW1, the developing relationship is told delightfully. It is a gentle, caring and nurturing relationship with a well-depicted backstory.

The real twist is Torty coming home with Stewart and settling into life in New Zealand, a life of adventure that lasted 60 years, the illustrations combined with a wonderful array of rich and vibrant language tell a beguiling story that will keep children’s attention, no matter what the setting. To say that the illustrations  are realistic and evocative of a time and place is to understate it: they are first class!

This book is a wonderful addition to our national collection of war stories, ensuring that those who served this country will not be forgotten. Inspired by a true story, it is clear that a lot of research has gone into this book and this makes it even richer.

Readers aged 10 upwards will thoroughly enjoy this, as will any adult who shares it with a younger child.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Torty And The Soldier
by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433651

Book Review: Night Horse, by Elizabeth Smither

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_night_horseElizabeth Smither is a well-known figure in New Zealand poetry, and Night Horse proves again why this is so. In her eighteenth collection of poetry, Smither portrays an enchanting world by shining moonlight on the quirks of everyday life.

In this collection, Smither shows how skilfully she can render moments into soft and beautiful scenes. In the poem Wedding Car, she brings out the image of a 1926 Nash / in deep forest green’ driving down the road. Throughout the poem, Smither portrays a number of other blushed and brilliant images, as if the world were on pause: wheelspokes that ‘measured each revolution like time’, a bouquet, white ribbons in the wind. Finally, Smither states that ‘though, today, someone else will ride in it / you are both still there’. There are many layers to one moment, and the memory that Smither is recalling is just one of them.

Further on in the collection, Smither heightens this dreamy atmosphere into something eerie. In the poem Cat Night, she starts with a normal scene: cats walking through the street after the sun has set, ‘waiting to see how the night will shape itself’. There is something peculiar in this little description of suburbia. And at the end of the poem, Smither wonderfully declares ‘Let the street lights mark / the great promenade down which love will come / like black carriages on the Champs-Élysées’. Here, the everyday has been turned into something grand and enchanting.

Smither finds other peculiar moments in ordinary life. In the poem Oysters, she portrays a seemingly normal scene: a banquet table filled with food. But in this world, things morph and become strange. Standing out from the selection of food are six dozen oysters in a champagne bucket. After the oysters have been devoured, Smither draws out the uncomfortable image of ‘thin oyster lips’ and smiles, turning this moment into a scene that feels much more uneasy than a regular gathering.

My favourite poem in Night Horse is the final poem in the collection. From the title of the piece, Smither tells us that ‘The heart heals itself between beats’, and this anchoring phrase continues throughout the poem. She sets the scene in Middlesex Hospital, the bustle of doctors around her. It is in the chapel that Smither finds some quiet, watching as matrons and surgeons go about their duties. While she meanders, she also wonders about the heart and how it heals itself. She thinks, maybe each cell proposes a soliloquy to itself and speaks’. And then, in the final line, Smither beautifully concludes ‘The heart heals itself between beats / I heal myself between beats’.

Night Horse is a wonderful collection where each poem brings something new and unexpected. Smither perfectly captures an atmosphere that is dreamy and magical, yet also eerie. Her poems are the kind of pieces that will make you take a second glance at things in life that once seemed ordinary—statues in a park, a cat prowling through the streets—so you can stand for a moment and wonder what worlds they have seen.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Night Horse
by Elizabeth Smither
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408701

 

Book Review: My Dog Mouse, by Eva Lindstrom

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_my_dog_mouseIf you’ve ever owned a dog and watched it grow old, you will love My Dog Mouse. Lindstrom has captured the essence of a chubby, elderly dog perfectly in her illustrations and accompanying text.

The little girl in the book is allowed to take Mouse for a walk whenever she wants and it’s obvious how much both of them enjoy their time together.

There’s no rush, they walk slowly and take in the sights, Mouse gets to sniff lampposts and fences and they even stop in the park for a picnic.

Aimed at children aged about two to five years, My Dog Mouse is a charming book. The little girl is patient with the old dog, talking to him softly and feeding him meatballs. At the end, when she takes Mouse back to his owner, she stays looking back at him until she can’t see him any more and says, “I wish Mouse was mine”.

The watercolour/ink illustrations are simple and the focus is on Mouse and the little girl – other things are seen around the edges, but they don’t intrude on the pair and their walk.

This is a lovely book that will make you feel warm every time you read it.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

My Dog Mouse
by Eva Lindstrom
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571482

Book Review: The Nam Legacy, by Carole Brungar

Available from selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_nam_legacyThe Nam Legacy is the second novel by Foxton-born author Carole Brungar, but it’s very different from her first, A Tide Too High.

While both have a love story at their heart, this book explores relationships in greater depth, with much of it centred around the Vietnam War. If you were a fan of the television series Love Child, you should enjoy The Nam Legacy, as it explores similar themes.

Set in the 1960s and 1970s in small town New Zealand, the book introduces us to Jack Coles, a farmer’s son with a promising rugby career ahead of him, and his fiancée, Evelyn (Evie) Hallet, a talented singer whose parents own a hotel.

Jack wants nothing more than to settle down with Evie and start a family, but after a talent scout hears her singing, her music career takes off and soon she moves to Auckland to make the most of the opportunities available to her. Jack starts to feel lost and restless, and after hearing tales his brother, Brian, tells of his life in the army, Jack decides he wants a taste of the action.

Evie is devastated when he tells her he’s going away, and more so when he is sent to Vietnam. They write, and Evie gets the chance to see Jack when she is sent to the war zone with two other girls to sing for the troops.

As a lead scout, Jack puts himself in danger every time he heads out on patrol, but he seems to lead a charmed life, until one day he arrives in a village that the Viet Cong have attacked. He saves the life of a badly injured young woman (Mai Linh) and from that moment on, their lives start to intertwine. Despite his love for Evie, Jack embarks on a risky affair with Mai Linh, and is conflicted even further when she tells him she is pregnant, and he is the father.

I won’t go into detail about what happens from this point on as I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say that just months after his daughter is born, Jack is injured in a battle with the VC and ends up in hospital, where he is given the news he is being sent home.
Once home, Jack tries to return to normal life on the farm, and he and Evie marry. But the demons that plagued him in Vietnam have followed him home and Jack’s behaviour starts spiraling out of control. Evie is at her wit’s end and doesn’t know what’s going on or what she can do to help her husband.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending of the book: to find out whether there is a happy ending or not, you had better get it!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Nam Legacy
by Carole Brungar
Published by Carole Brungar
ISBN 9780473395209

Book Review: Flight Path, by David Hill

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_flight_pathAs years go by and the majority of present generations haven’t lived even close to when a significant event has happened in history, the more inventive ways are needed to present that information as something worthwhile to know. Facts can be just told which of course is informative, but not always as interesting or noteworthy as it could be for some.

New Zealand author David Hill has tackled this several times in different books from varying time periods, giving history a memorable and readable touch. His latest young adult’s novel is an engaging read based on real world events during World War Two, providing insight into the realities of that time from the perspective of a young man a world away from home.

Flight Path begins with the latest arrivals of new soldiers ready to join one of the many Air Force squadrons on British soil. The story focuses on 18-year-old New Zealander, Jack Sinclair. Wanting to escape boring little New Zealand, he views the war as a way to spread his wings, seeing a world he would never be able to explore otherwise. Like so many stories from the war, real or fiction, Jack soon realises that the war is not all it’s made out to be. Honour is assured, but no one ever tells them about how terrifying it is not knowing if you’ll make it back after a mission, feeling tired and cold from stressful situations and lack of nutritious food, or how it feels knowing you’ve caused another human being’s death.

Flight Path follows Jack and his friends relying on one another to cope with these trials, while carrying out their dangerous missions among many other young men just like themselves.

The novel was well-written with a lot of researched detail surrounding the raids the crews are sent out on, primarily focusing on the Lancaster bombers, and also the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquitos and many others. There is a lot of build up and thrill, providing tense reading while Jack and his fellow airmen carry out their harrowing orders flying over the English channel to Europe, narrowly avoiding flack and enemy gun fire.

The excitement and detail gave the book something extra because it easily captured interest but also was informative about important world history, with a lot of additional facts added. David Hill could easily develop the novel further into a sequel, either still in the past or in present day, which I’m sure would be an well-received read for many who enjoyed Flight Path.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

Flight Path
by David Hill
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770527