Book Review: The Cat from Muzzle, by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Scott Tulloch

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_cat_from_muzzleDwayne is a cat who made a 5-week trip from Kaikoura back to his original home of Muzzle Station in Southern Marlborough. While this story is based on a true story, what and who he encountered can only be imagined, in this case by Sally Sutton and Scott Tulloch.

Dwayne is a tough tabby cat with sharp claws.  He loves living at Muzzle Station. The bleating sheep, the gentle cows and the clucking chooks. Moving day comes around. They leave the farm, flying to their new home. Dwayne does not cope. He howled and howled as he doesn’t want to move to Kaikoura. The new house is big and bright but all he wantsis to be back at the Station, so off he goes, one determined cat to start his journey back to Muzzle.

Off Dwayne leaves walking and walking until his paws were sore. He walked for hours and days, eating what he could along the way. A friendly hunter shared his fire, inviting Dwayne to come and live with him but this Muzzle cat had somewhere else to be.

This is a wonderful story of tenacity and courage. I read this to my 4 ½ year old granddaughter Quinn who is the proud co-owner along with her older sister Abby, to two cats. One is called Gus, who is a tabby and a big fluffy puss called Rocky (so named to give him mana among other cats!). Quinn wanted to know why Dwayne wanted to go back to Muzzle Station and not stay with his owners. She can’t imagine Gus or Rocky ever leaving her. She told me she loves them this much………………………………..!

The Illustrations by the wonderful artist Scott Tulloch are simply beautiful. This is a great book. This would make a wonderful present.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Cat from Muzzle
by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Scott Tulloch
Published by Puffin NZ
ISBN 9780143773085

Book Review: Close to the Wind, by David B. Hill

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_close_to_the_windThis is an unassuming book about the wartime escape of a New Zealand reserve sailor, Len Hill. Told by his son David, it is part family history, and part creative non-fiction, with the dialogue between the servicemen being re-created by the author. But it’s a good read, based on an extraordinary maritime escape from Singapore in 1942.

For an appreciation of the story and the perspective of the author it is necessary to actually read the Afterword first. One needs to realise that it is the son who is writing the story of his father and his comrades. The other two main comrades became the author’s godfathers, so this is quite an intimate portrayal. Also, by reading the Acknowledgements it becomes clear that this is an alternate version of the escape from Singapore in 1942, that provides something of a different view to that of a book published by an English survivor who was not part of the successful final voyage.

What we get therefore is very much a New Zealand version, with Kiwi heroes who are hounded by the advancing Japanese forces all the way along the coast of Sumatra. After fleeing in their Fairmile craft ML310 with senior British officers, the New Zealand sailors come aground on the small island of Tjibia. The survivors decide to take a small craft they have found, which only holds five men, through the Java Sea to Batavia, before the Japanese can capture it. They eventually reach the Java mainland with some Dutch sailors, only to have to find another vessel to flee to Australia.

The interaction with the Dutch servicemen, who are also part indigenous, adds an interesting sub-text to the adventure. The author identifies the ethnic tensions underlying the war effort in New Zealand, and the whakapapa element in his own family history, including the loss of Māori great-uncles in the First World War. This theme is explored through his father Len’s dialogue with a Māori soldier on the initial trip of the navy reservists to England in 1941. The soldier, Haami Parata, does not appear again in the story, but his knowledge of tikanga is portrayed as a key influence on the young Len Hill, even though he had really been brought up a Pākehā.

Perhaps it was the author’s choice to enhance this association, which may have otherwise been seen as fleeting, compared with the close bonds forged on the tiny yacht which brought the sailors to eventual safety. There is also the problem that most of the dialogue must be filled in, which is perhaps easier in the combat situation, than in the parts of the book that include visiting the bars and nightspots of Singapore.

Overall, I found this a riveting story and a pleasure to read, and it was obviously a labour of love. Even for those not necessarily interested in war stories this would be of interest, without the cover hinting of the very dramatic adventures inside the book. The book does lack a detailed map of the South Asian area, and perhaps could have placed the archival photographs as a centrepiece rather than as an appendix, with higher quality paper. But otherwise this very personal project was fully realised.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Close to the Wind
by David B. Hill
Published by Huia Publishers
9781775503491

 

 

 

Book Review: River of Salt, by Dave Warner

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_river_of_salt.jpgI had never come across this Australian writer and I was pleasantly surprised. I learned that he is a musician (Bob Dylan’s favourite Aussie muso, apparently) and a ‘living treasure’. He’s also a pretty good writer!

Murder mysteries are often written to a formula, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,as you know what you are in for. While I haven’t read previous books by Warner, I am inclined to think that River of Salt is unusual in that it’s not in the least formulaic, and I cannot imagine the main character, hitman Blake Saunders, easily transferring to other situations.

This well-written and exciting mystery is set during the 1960s in a small Australian coastal town, where Blake Saunders has ended up after leaving Philadelphia and his Mob connections.

He sets up a bar/music venue in this small place, and soon learns that the local cop is a bit like a sheriff – knows all, manages most of it in his own way, is a bit dodgy himself.

Because this is a murder mystery, there’s a body early on, with a connection to Blake’s venue. He sets out to protect his patch by finding the killer. There are twists and turns, and a couple of things which stretch credibility, but that’s all part of the game.

The characters are well-drawn, and the 60s setting is also well done. I can’t tell you much more without giving away spoilers, but there’s a lot going on, and I found it an enjoyable read. In a bit of a change from many American murder-mystery writers, Dave Warner writes in proper sentences, which are well-constructed. It’s quite a lot more complex than, say, a Robert B Parker novel, and I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy a well-told, exciting story.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

River of Salt  
by Dave Warner
Published by Fremantle Press
ISBN 9781925591569

Book Review: Granny McFlitter: A country yarn, by Heather Haylock, illustrated by Lael Chisholm

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cv_Granny_mcflitter_a_country_yarnThe A & P show was finally here. We find Granny McFlitter at the best Vegetable Knitter display. Woolly tomatoes, onions and leeks, courgettes and carrots, broccoli, beans, radishes, rhubarb and watercress greens, Granny had knitted them all. Trophies, sashes and ribbons awaited the winners for sheepdogs and show jumpers, scarecrows and more. There were rosettes for the fanciest and fluffiest of lambs and a tent full of prize-winning cakes and jams.

Granny sat down under a tree to drink a nice pot of tea. Then the great excitement started – THE BULL HAD ESCAPED! He smashed through the show-ring and the gate, shattered the show jumps, scattered the hens and piglets. He toppled a stand and then rushed to the tent full of sponges and cakes. Pavlovas and lamingtons flew all around, jam tarts, cupcakes, pikelets and fudges rained down on the terrified judges.

Granny McFlitter knew what to do. She got her knitting needles and some wool and knitted a cape with some wool from a lamb, dying it bright red with strawberry jam, knitting a long, braided woolly Lasso.

Granny is the hero of this fabulous story, which I read to 4 ½ year old Quinn. She looked at me in a strange way, wondering what I could do to save the day if something like that happened while around he – perhaps a marauding dog snarling behind a fence, or a naughty cat eating a bird, or a diving magpie. I think I would run for the hills taking her with me at great speed!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Granny McFlitter: A Country Yarn
by Heather Haylock, illustrated by Lael Chisholm
Published by Puffin NZ
ISBN 9780143773238

Book Review: With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in WW1, by Anna Rogers

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cv_with_them_through_hellAlongside the New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I, there was a large team of dedicated medical (and veterinary – New Zealand also sent about 10,000 horses) personnel who did everything they could to save lives and treat the injured. Anna Rogers has painstakingly researched the history of the medical services and tells their story in all its gory detail, right from the early days when female doctors, nurses and volunteers had a battle on their hands just to be allowed to serve overseas.

With Them Through Hell is an extremely comprehensive book on the medical services, more of a history textbook than a book you would sit down and read in one sitting. It certainly isn’t a jolly hockey-sticks tale of what went on – it’s a far more sobering and factual account, and anyone reading it will be shocked at the challenges they dealt with on a daily basis, both in the lead-up to their dispatch to the war zones and also during the conflicts.

Divided into four sections – Feeling the Heat; From Chaos to Care; Unexpected and Unsung; and Maimed and Mended, which are then further divided into a total of 16 chapters – the book goes into great detail about the part these medical personnel played in the war. There are numerous photographs (predominantly black and white, apart from reproductions of oil paintings) and also copies of letters and cartoons. The photographs illustrate the conditions they worked under, but the text carries far more detail about the hardships they endured during the war.

It must be hard to tell the story of so many people over many years without using quotes from both published and unpublished sources, but I found the quoted material tended to slow my reading of much of the book. This was particularly noticeable in some sentences that contained more than one partial quote, as there was no attribution alongside. The book is substantial, so flicking to the footnotes at the back was not something I wanted to keep doing, and often the source would just be given as a newspaper article.

I read the introduction and then dipped in and out of the book, reading chapters that particularly interested me rather than reading from start to finish in sequence. As each chapter is comprehensive in itself, this is a reasonable way to proceed.

It is great that the medical services’ dedication to duty has been recognised and given its own tribute in With Them Through Hell. For historians and those who work in the medical services today, this book will be a fascinating history of the work carried out by medical personnel and the pioneering advances in treatment they made under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.

With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in the First World War
by Anna Rogers
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995100190

 

Book Review: One Single Thing, by Tina Clough

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_one_single_thingJournalist Hope Barber disappears two weeks after returning to New Zealand from an assignment in Pakistan, leaving her front door open and her bag and phone in the house.

Hope’s brother Noah contacts Hunter Grant and his partner Dao, to investigate her disappearance as the New Zealand police are reluctant to become involved. The reader is soon drawn into the mystery with the author cleverly incorporating details about Hope’s time in Pakistan which seems to raise more questions.

When I received One Single Thing, I was intrigued by the cover, a plain black background with a white wheelie bin on the front cover, but it was soon revealed within Hope’s blog why this simple design was used by Tara Cooney Design.

This is the first book by this New Zealand-based author I have read and I found it a thoroughly absorbing read. Hunter had appeared in a previous book by Clough, The Chinese Proverb, when he used his front-line Army experience to save Dao.
I soon picked up the background to the earlier book as Clough recaps key facts at intervals in the early chapters of One Single Thing, so I did not feel at a disadvantage picking up the story at this stage.

The novel highlights a number of modern global issues, such as ‘honour killings’ which Hope Barber had been investigating in Pakistan; and Clough skillfully incorporates how surveillance can affect someone’s life without them being are of what is going on.

The story moves along at a steady pace, the chapters are short and I enjoyed Clough’s descriptive style: ‘The rain starts as we drive on to the Harbour Bridge; within minutes it is a downpour of tropical proportions. The windscreen is a blur of running water, cleared for only a fraction of a second by each sweep of the wiper blades.’

Anyone who enjoys crime/ mystery novels will find this an engrossing read and I am wondering if Tina Clough will find another assignment for Hunter Grant, Dao and their dog Scruff, as she has established solid characters which will appeal to not just New Zealanders but a worldwide readership.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

One Single Thing
by Tina Clough
Published by Lightpool Publishing
ISBN 9780473469139

Book Review: the moon in a bowl of water, by Michael Harlow

Available at selected bookshops nationwide.cv_the_moon_in_a_bowl_of_water

the moon in a bowl of water is a collection of prose poems, most of which are small journeys, tiny stories or precise portraits. But reading the collection sent me down a Michael Harlow rabbit hole, I even burrowed out a book he wrote over 20 years ago on teaching the writing of poetry (Take A Risk, Trust Your Language, published in 1985). I realised in the end that I was searching for his motivation – the drive behind this new collection of exclusively prose poems. I got as close as I’ll get with a quote from an essay Harlow published on ‘The Prose Poem’ in takahe – the prose poem celebrates ‘the strangeness that is in the familiar,’ he wrote.

To Harlow the prose poem is a place where ‘the reality of the imagination and the imagination of reality flourish.’ And you see this in the moon in a bowl of water where the poems prove that the author can maintain the musicality and even mystery of poetry within the prose sentences. For example, in the poem ‘A small magnificence, just buzz me Miss Blue’ there is the sentence ‘If you hear anything I haven’t heard, just Buzz me Miss Blue, and that dear hearts will do.’ With its internal rhyme and sound patterns, the poem clearly has all the signs of poetry. But with most poems having a tight narrative prose form I can’t help but think of another genre – flash fiction.

Indeed, reading the acknowledgements it is clear that some of the poems first appeared in the flash fiction collection Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (eds Frankie McMillan, James Norcliffe, Michelle Elvy, 2018). The difference between flash fiction and prose poetry currently rests (says Tim Jones in an essay in Bonsai) on where they’ve been published first and how the author defines them.

the moon in a bowl of water contains beautiful lines; one example – ‘I saw the conducting hand of the wind in the bodies of trees, all that leaf green music’ (from the poem For once, then, something.)  However, if you are wanting new interpretations of sonnets, to count syllables and see the mastery behind each line break this won’t be the poetry collection for you.  But, with 22 June bringing New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day,many readers may be curious of the origins and value of the growing form, may want to understand how it can be used and the stories it can create.

In an interesting way, this poetry collection is a great place to start.

reviewed by Elizabeth Kirby-McLeod

the moon in a bowl of water
by Michael Harlow
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531540