Book Review: Word of Mouse, by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_word_of_mouseYou might think that the intended readers for this book, ie: intermediate school kids, would be too old for a story about a mouse, indeed the heft of it alone implies they would have outgrown little animal stories. However even though there are illustrations scattered throughout, this is no cutesie chapterbook for littlies. True, the protagonist is a mouse but he is no ordinary mouse; for one thing Isaiah is blue. And he can read. And in his own words, is “… very smart, with a very advanced (dare I say urbane?) vocabulary…”. He is also a very timid and scared mouse. The youngest in his family of 96 siblings, he is separated from them as they all run for their lives from The Horrible Place and for the first time ever has to rely on his own instinct and smarts for survival.

From finding food and shelter, to joining up with a new family (did you know a group of mice is called a mischief?), Isaiah discovers he is more capable than he thought, and he determines to find and rescue his brothers and sisters with the help of his new friends. Along the way, we find out more about the mouse world, Isaiah and just why he is so different.

Call me a big kid, but I really enjoyed this tale. Isaiah is a cool little guy with a heart of gold; clever, kind and courageous, and with a charming way with words:

So, for now, I will simply tarry here in the shrubbery, sniff my dandelion and listen to her sing to herself and the bees buzzing around the rosebuds. Bees always like to hum along whenever mice sing their songs. My, what a sweet, dare I say dulcet, voice she has.

(I mean, how could you not love a mouse who uses a word like ‘tarry’?) His wisdom is shared is inspiring chapter heading quotes – gem such as: ‘Given a challenge, be like the sun: Rise to the occasion.’ And ‘A mouse wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.’ It is this wisdom, bravery and genuine kindness which sees him taking a risk and making friends with a human girl, who is also different to her peers.

A desperate escape, finding oneself, making new friends, celebrating differences, animal rights and a daring rescue – it’s all here in an entertaining, well thought out story filled with fun for kids “After a few minutes of rumbling down the road, I smell something foul. Like rotten eggs. No, it’s not Mr Brophy or what he had for breakfast.”

A prolific and bestselling international author, Word of Mouse is the latest middle grade by James Patterson, who is a regular feature in both adult and children’s bestseller lists (yes, THAT James Patterson). A passionate advocate of reading and education, he has won awards not only for his work but for his philanthropy and support of literacy. His skill at story-telling is very evident in this great read.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Word of Mouse
by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Joe Sutphin
Penguin Random House, 2016
ISBN: 9781784754211

Book Review: Sunken Forest, by Des Hunt

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sunken_forestMatt Smith’s life is turned upside down when his petrol-head father is sent to prison for illegal car racing. With the family’s main income earner behind bars, Matt is sent to live with his Nana, relocating from Hastings to Gisborne. The move brings with it a new school, a new teacher (the excellently named Mrs Snodgrass), new friendships, and a whole bunch of unexpected challenges.

Unfortunately for Matt, his Nana’s warning that “early friends aren’t always the good ones” couldn’t be more true of his two fast-friends at Oneroa Intermediate School, Jay and Cameron. The duo use Matt to help smuggle stolen goods out of school, and when Matt performs a random act of kindness, he’s later blamed for what seems to be a related crime.

Consequently, Matt is told he can’t go on school camp with his class to Auckland, and instead he attends a military-style wilderness camp with Cameron and Jay’s class at Lake Waikaremoana. As Matt negotiates making new friends – including a monstrous eel named Elsa – accusations continue to fly. Mr Klink believes the worst and Matt soon finds himself in deep water. Together with his new friends, he must use all his eco-science, detective and adventure skills not only to prove himself innocent, but to save the camp from potential disaster.

Another fabulous read by acclaimed New Zealand writer Des Hunt. I would strongly recommend this as a regular on every Intermediate school teacher’s read aloud list. I love how real and complicated Matt’s social background is, how his self-esteem plays into the relationships he forms, and how Matt’s story is woven into a rich, real-life setting in a way that champions eco-science and wilderness knowledge without becoming overbearing.

While I wasn’t so taken with a few of the secondary characters (namely Maddy, and her one-track-minded desire for revenge regardless of consequence), most in this eclectic cast of characters jump off the page, and the descriptions of Lake Waikaremoana and the surrounding area are stunning. I did wonder if perhaps Matt was a little too innocent – too much in the wrong place at the wrong time – though his shoplifting backstory and his father’s prison sentence do explain why he now has such a strong moral compass.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Sunken Forest is its ending. It’s an ending that wraps-up not just Matt’s story, but many of the secondary character’s arcs as well in a satisfying, logical way – very much a credit to an experienced writer well in his stride.

Reviewed by Emma Bryson

Sunken Forest
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434030

Book Review: Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake, by Rob Lloyd Jones

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_jake_atlas_and_the_tomb_of_the_Emerald_Snake.jpgAny review of this book is bound to make mention of Indiana Jones, so let me get it out of the way. This book is Indiana Jones for modern kids – and that’s a great thing! Tombs, treasure and villains are all very Jones-ish, however this tomb-robbing adventure is very much a 21st century one, with high-tech spy gadgets galore.

Jake Atlas and his family embark somewhat gloomily on a trip to Egypt. His mother and father are their usual quiet and dull selves – which is a little strange considering they are Egyptology professors headed for their place of expertise. His Goth twin sister Pan is disdainfully silent, and Jake… well Jake just can’t seem to help causing trouble. This time though, the trouble immerses his whole family in an extraordinary adventure and turns their lives upside down.

Things begin to look up once they arrive in Cairo; mum seems to come alive, there is a spark in her eyes and even Pan can’t quite hide her interest in the ancient city. It may just be that this trip will help bring the family closer which is what Jake is hoping for. And it certainly does, but not in the way he thinks.

With their parents kidnapped, Jake and Pan are pulled into a new world of treasure hunting and tomb-raiding. Each brings their own unique skills to unravel clues and try to stay one step ahead of their dangerous rivals in order to save their parents. As they escape one tricky situation after another they edge closer to uncovering a huge secret. Pan’s clever brain and knowledge combined with Jake’s skill at on the spot problem solving sees them bonding and working as a team and embracing their special talents.

The plot moves along at a great pace, filled with action, fast-thinking get-aways, narrow escapes and surprises at every turn; the characters are kept on their toes and the readers are kept entertained and wondering what will happen next.

The author notes reveal that Rob Lloyd Jones studied Egyptology and archaeology, and this interest shines through his writing, with just the right amount of interesting and relevant facts about ancient Egyptian customs and culture blending into the story subtly and without an information overload. The book remains an adventure story without turning into a wordy textbook, and is done so well, that I found myself wanting to climb the pyramids and sail down the Nile. I hope there are more Jake Atlas adventures in tomb-raiding to come – Dr Jones would definitely approve.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake
by Rob Lloyd Jones
Walker Books UK, 2017

Book Review: Everything is Here, by Rob Hack

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_everything_is_here.jpgRob Hack’s poems have itchy feet. They are the product of transience, a ‘driftwood life’. Hack moves from Cannons Creek, Porirua, to Niue, to Rarotonga, Australia, and even Paris and Verona. Understated, yet evocative, these poems are cinematic postcards to all the homes where the heart might find itself. Hack is a citizen of the global village. One feels ‘everything is here’ and then here, and here too. There is a feeling that Hack is Outsider, though, that he is never realised as a person of one place.

Hack’s poetry is visual and sensual. It evokes a technicolour nostalgia, by proxy, for a time and locality which the reader may never have experienced. The ‘green cordial’, the ‘apple box wicket’, the Four Square with its lolly bags that hang in rows. There is a dark undercurrent to some of these quaint, and quintessentially Pacific, scenes, however. In the Four Square, Hack encounters racism in the guise of an accusatory shop keeper. There is a hurricane in Niue, which can be read as both literal and symbolic. There are regrets, final passages, earthmovers scraping a ‘government mistake’, there’s the isolation of work on a station in Kimberley, and the twin towers – broadcast ‘falling again and again’.

Hack has some gorgeous lines, often with a wry sense of fun. His poem ‘When you get to Aucklan’ (yes Aunty)’, is reminiscent of Tusiata Avia’s ‘Wild Dogs under my Skirt’. It is written in a Cook Island vernacular, and is insistent and funny:

Fine a Cook Islands man, tall, who works the
factory too, remember listen to him, he know.
Then you can be the happy girl ay?
Are you listen to me?

There are poems that transport their reader to the heat of the Cook Islands, as in the poem ‘All day on Mauke’. The imagery is bold and accessible:

All day the reef argues with the sea and no dogs bark.
Palm fronds fall across the road where
goats tied with rope bleat
and pigs scatter through tall grasses

Rob Hack writes with a rare sincerity. His poetry doesn’t toy with, or manipulate its reader. It doesn’t do party tricks, or hoodwink, or hoax. Like the collection’s title, Everything is Here, this poetry shows its full hand – and it is delightful hand, at that.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

Everything is Here
by Rob Hack
Published by Escalator Press
ISBN 9780994118677     

Book Review: Susan Holmes, Fabric Artist, by Cerys Dallaway-Davidson, with Objectspace

Available now from bookshops nationwide.

cv_susan_holmes_fabric_artistFrom the outset, Susan Holmes emerges in this book as a woman of multiple and ever-evolving talents – a fabric painter, fashion designer, landscape and portrait artist, textile artist, crafter, tutor, teacher, improviser, art therapist, mentor, and wearable art designer. A mother, too.

From a young age, Susan explored and experimented with creative techniques, working with both new and recycled fabrics. She recalls making tiny dolls at age 6 or 7, using leaves and scraps of fabric and paper. Susan’s story is recounted in part in her own words, with verbatim accounts of key milestones and achievements.

Where other students may have used their Home Science degree to teach or follow a more traditional path, Susan took her new skills and knowledge in other directions. Her first partner, a poet, introduced her to the Dunedin art scene – to artists and painters, collectors, and exhibitors. Further study was followed by an OE, during which she developed a lifelong attraction to easily transportable textiles while travelling through Europe and Asia. Her luggage was crammed with richly woven, embroidered, dyed and printed fabrics.

Many of Susan’s first clothing sales were at craft markets alongside artisans who made and sold pottery, hand-crafted toys and furniture, weaving, jewellery and leatherwork. Feedback from early customers was a strong influence. Friendships and connections made between craftspeople and customers, and within the crafting community, provided encouragement and new opportunities. Susan’s subsequent move to a home within the Centrepoint community meant that she had a supportive environment to both live and work in. (The controversial history of Centrepoint is not addressed in this book, readers curious to learn more are steered towards other publications.) As the Centrepoint community assisted with childcare and household tasks, this allowed Susan time to both extend her own creative talents and share skills with other community members. She ran classes in dyeing and stencilling, as well as art therapy workshops.

Susan has received many awards – among them the Mohair Awards, Craft Dyers Awards, Wool Board Awards, and recognition as a finalist in the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards every year for over a decade. (Before New Zealand banned sponsorship by cigarette companies, Benson & Hedges funded a major fashion design event – with highly sought-after awards – for over 30 years.) Later, Susan’s success within the World of WearableArt® (WOW®) design competition provided excellent publicity and exposure, leading to significant commissions. Her first patron is described as a regular buyer and supporter: a ‘good bossy friend’ excited by Susan’s designs who continued to buy and order clothes.

With qualifications in design, fashion and museum studies, as well as experience gained working in the museum and arts sectors, author Cerys Dallaway-Davidson is well-placed to tell Susan’s story. The book not only covers many aspects of Susan’s personal and professional lives (which frequently overlapped), it also describes the social, cultural and political influences upon the New Zealand fashion industry over the past six decades or so. These include the impact of the 1987 stock market crash and deregulation of New Zealand’s financial markets.

This is a visually rich volume with numerous photos (some from Susan’s personal archives), as well as sketches from Susan’s notebooks – including working drawings of winning WOW® entries, sketches of birds and a charcoal sketch of a pensive James K. Baxter. In one photo, a radiant (former) Prime Minister Helen Clark models Susan’s Crest of the Wave WOW® entry in the South Pacific section, complete with a magnificent multi-textured blue turban. Many of Susan’s other WOW® entries also feature. A recent photo provides a glimpse of the interior of Susan’s home, walls adorned with artworks and carvings, her ongoing passion for interesting textiles also evident.

I always start with the fabric. I feel it and look at it and drape it about to see how it behaves. (p.111)

Photos can only hint at the way many of Susan’s garments move when worn, I suspect many of her creations would need to be seen in person to truly appreciate what she describes as the ‘complexity of the garment’. The book lists public collections where Susan’s work is on show. The images demonstrate how fashions have changed over the decades. Bat wing tops and a hand-knitted patchwork jacket feature alongside garments of hand-painted silk crepe de chine and tiered polyester chiffon, cocktail dresses, and cloaks. Hems go up, hems go down, colours burst and fade. Table mats, woven chairs, recycled baskets and parachute silk are all repurposed: Susan’s ‘experiments in colour, shape and movement’ are well-documented. Not all are successful and she is open about the technical difficulties she has sometimes faced.

A detailed bibliography references not only books and newspaper articles, but also blogs and websites, as well as clippings from Susan’s own collection. An index will help to direct readers searching for a particular garment, designer, or technique.

As noted in the foreword to the book, Susan Holmes continues to enrich and inspire makers, artists and designers. Ever adaptable, ever resourceful, she will undoubtedly carry on surprising us all.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake-Hendricks

Susan Holmes, Fabric Artist
by Cerys Dallaway-Davidson, with Objectspace
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869539351

Book Review: 101 Ways to Live Well, by Victoria Joy and Karla Zimmerman

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_101_ways_to_live_wellDoes the world need another little self-care book? I’m not entirely convinced, although if you’d like something positive to dip into during somewhat turbulent times (Quakes! Deadlines! Trump!) this book might appeal.

The authors suggest that these bite-size tips are perfect for commute time, a lunch break, or even the checkout queue. There’s a tiny wee clock on each page indicating how long each activity is likely to take. Times range from 30 seconds – to take a deep mindful breath and refocus – to 2 hours to ‘watch a mindful movie’. Mix it up a bit: take 1 minute (to wash your hands and ‘win the germ war’!), 20 minutes, for a Sun Salutation yoga practice to ‘get the blood flowing…and awaken the whole body’, or a leisurely 30 minutes to listen to music to ‘improve your mood and confidence’. Most activities take around 5 minutes: realistic and manageable. My favourite tip? How to ease a headache by a gentle hair-pulling technique that reduces tension.

The page layout takes you straight to the point – a snappy title at the top of each page, followed by a summary of the activity or tip, within a circle. Below, a single paragraph telling you everything else you need to know. If you’d like to learn more about a particular topic, some pages have web links. Simple line drawings provide additional information about activities such as the yoga poses. (I wasn’t quite supple enough to master the Camel…)

There are several simple recipes (eg for smoothies, fruit and herb infusions, and ‘low-cal’ hot chocolate), as well as affirmations, encouragement, and acupressure advice. There are suggestions for improving posture, easing neck pain and even feigning self-confidence – and many other topics too.

However, although the pages are numbered, there is no index. This may frustrate readers looking for a particular exercise or activity. And the Table of Contents is sparse – offering only a choice of Home, Work, Play, Relationships and Travel.

My impression is that the book is primarily aimed at office-based women in paid work. But not all readers will sit at desks all day, or need alternatives to ‘weekly office cupcake runs’. (Nor will everyone need tips claiming to ease menstrual pain and reduce PMS symptoms – or want to engage in a tickle battle.)

The cover is a tranquil aqua colour. It has folds at either side that could be used for bookmarking favourite pages.

The book would, perhaps, be a useful gift for a colleague, a recuperating friend, or a new parent – someone who’s time-poor but motivated to make small incremental changes to set them on a path to improved wellbeing.

Reviewed  by Anne Kerslake-Hendricks

101 Ways to Live Well: Mindfulness, Yoga and nutrition tips for busy people
by Victoria Joy and Karla Zimmerman
Published by Lonely Planet, 2016
ISBN 9781786572127

Book Reviews: My First Board Book – Colours, and Animals, by Donovan Bixley

Both are available now in bookshops nationwide.

My First Board Book – Colours

cv_colours_bixley.jpgThis is a brightly illustrated board book perfect for a small child getting to grips with Te Reo. Colours are illustrated with clear pictures of a swan, a digger, a caravan and other objects and things that are all associated with being a small fascinated child. The swan is white (ma), the digger is red (whero) – going along the familiar words of the colour song many of those who grew up in the 1980s sang at school.

This is a fabulous book and Sarah our daughter-in-law with her perfect pronunciation reading it to little Quinn, saw Quinn firmly clutch it in her hand, “mine”!

This is a wonderful book to introduce young children to Te Reo, as is Animals, for which my review is below.

cv_animals_bixley.jpgOn the surface, Animals looks like a standard board book for small children but on opening and going through it you realise it is much more.

Starting with the cow, then the horse, sheep, goat, pig and a range of other farm animals all with their Maori names under them.

The pictures are clear and easy for a small child to follow – the trick is in the pronunciation.

It’s really good to see books celebrating the Māori language.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

My First Board Book – Colours
by Donovan Bixley,
Published by Hachette NZ

My First Board Book – Animals
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Hachette NZ