Book Review: My Grandmother Sends her Regards & Apologises, by Fredrik Backman

cv_my_grandmother_sends_her_regardsAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

This book has been translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch. Fredrick Backman is a Swedish blogger, columnist and author. His debut novel A Man called Ove was a number one bestseller worldwide. This is his second novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Elsa has a Granny who unlike any other Granny has made up a secret language that only the two of them use. She has also created this magical world of make-believe just for Elsa. When Elsa is born, Granny stops travelling the world to work with children in war torn countries – she spends all her spare time nurturing and developing Elsa’s intellect and sense of humour, which is not unlike her own.

Granny’s rather unusual sense of humour is one that not everybody, including Elsa’s own mother understands. It gets Granny into all sorts of trouble. When Granny gets ill and then dies, she leaves Elsa a task – to follow clues, retrieve envelopes and deliver them to whomever they are addressed to.

This is a fabulous book, escapism at its best. We would all love to have had a Granny in their lives who was like this – well I would!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises
By Fredrick Backman
Translated by Henning Koch
Published by Sceptre
ISBN 9781444775846

Book Review: Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster, by Astrid Desbordes & Pauline Martin

Available now from bookstores nationwide.cv_travels_of_an_extraordinary_hamster

I must admit, my husband doesn’t quite understand what it is about this hamster that makes me so happy. Perhaps it is that Hamster says what we all think sometimes – or maybe it is that Hamster is teaching us that we all need to keep the myth of our greatness alive to some extent, to enjoy life to its full. Hamster often makes a fool of himself, but never lets that get in the way of a good story, which he records in his diary every night. The other characters – especially Snail and Hedgehog, oh and Mole, are so beautifully endearing that they make you smile widely every time you read this book.

This, as the title suggests, is a book about the travels of Hamster, and his group of friends. Hamster is keen to visit his relatives, the hamsters on the moon. He decides that to achieve this, he must make a spaceship; well, he must get somebody to do it for him, at any rate. This provides one of the many gasps and laughs as you read the little stories scattered in chapters through this book.

Meanwhile, Bear is invited by his cousins, the Polar Bears, to visit him on an ice floe. He invites all his friends to accompany him on the long journey to the North Pole. Hamster is not keen, preferring to visit the moon, but each of the animals makes their preparation, nervously anticipating the differences of this new world. Mole is writing a letter to his loved one, with the help of Snail and his heart-shaped glasses. Hamster is writing in his diary all about his trip to the moon, and Hedgehog is deciding how to dress.

The image of them setting off on their adventure is priceless, with Mole striding out front with Snail on his head, Hedgehog, then Squirrel, then Bear with his travelling bag, Rabbit with her Knapsack, Ant with her bags, then, way at the back with a grumpy expression, comes Hamster with a huge suitcase. Because even though he wanted to be Mr Cool, travelling in space instead (he managed to fit in a quick trip first), he still needs his friends. And he is still struck by the beauty of snow – and its potential as a snack.

The animals meet cousin Polar Bear, Emperor Penguins, and Snail is invited to meet Whale, in the ocean. The exchange between Snail and Whale, when they meet, is wonderful – a brilliant example of how home means different things to different creatures:

Snail: ‘Oh, there you are, Whale! I received your invitation but I wasn’t exactly sure how to find your house.’
Whale: ‘Well it’s right here, and down below, and further afield. The whole ocean is my home.’
Snail: ‘Oh, it’s vast!!
Whale: True, true – and you’ve only seen the outside. And you , Snail? What’s your house like?
Snail: ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s right here on my back! I never leave it!’

Snail is probably the most insightful of all of the animals in the group of friends; you get the sense that it is he who is greasing the wheels for everybody else to have a good time. Rabbit is the overlooked one, while you get the sense that Squirrel gets fed up more easily than the others with Hamster’s selfish antics. The way they interact as a friend group is brilliant.

Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster is a lovely wee package, with perfectly-pitched allegory, featuring some beautiful friendships. It would suit children aged 6 and over, who are old enough not to take the tales in the book too literally.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster
by Astrid Desbordes & Pauline Martin
Translated by Linda Burgess
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271834

Book Review: The Invisible Mile, by David Coventry

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

cv_the_invisible_mile45-year-old Wellington writer David Coventry hadn’t really seriously written before. He had one book in his desk drawer – his ‘learning to write’ exercise from his Uni days – so writing a novel was probably not on the cards. But then an email arrived that set the wheels spinning: The Invisible Mile is the result.

Coventry was a researcher at the Film Archive. He received a request for footage on Harry Watson* and like you and I, he was scratching his head. Sorry, who? A quick Wiki trace revealed something that caught his imagination. Watson was a Kiwi rider who competed in the first English-speaking Tour de France team in 1928 – which also included legendary Aussie cyclists Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborne and Ernie Bainbridge. The French press called him “The Priest”. Back in the ‘20’s bikes were crude machines; no lights, brakes “like glass”.

Recently, Coventry was on the radio, talking of his fascination with the link between religion and sport, and that’s one theme that peeks through in the book, almost inevitably. Kiwis can’t help their religious fanaticism to particular codes. While he chose not to get caught up in the technical, he could certainly call family, for many tales of endurance (his sister is currently solo-cycling across the USA) and pain, for literary embellishments. And he loves sport. Still, at writing, Coventry felt he knew very little of the Tour, as did most Kiwis in the 1920’s -there was no ESPN to call on back then. But as he researched, the fragments were becoming more and more compelling: sport, religion, memory.

So The Invisible Mile became a re-imagining of that gruelling 1928 race. The men raced on 5476 kilometres of rough roads – that was one and a half times the length of today’s race. The story is told through the eyes of an imaginary fifth rider, allowing Coventry the freedom to write in the style of a memoir, as reportage of a fictitious experience. Of course, without any remaining documentation, many details will be impossible to correlate. But it’s the atmosphere and ‘soul’ of the experience which is the point that he is drawing out. Literal and metaphorical are inextricably plaited together.

A common theme of the novel is the battle with fatigue that mentally and physically taxes each rider to their most extreme limits. That fatigue was not imagined. About two months near the end of his completed manuscript, Coventry himself contracted chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME. Even reading was out of the question. It was all he could do to snatch 10 minutes of lucidity to eke out a few lines.

That protracted experience found its way onto the page. There’s definitely some dazed moments of blind endurance and there are parallels between the endless exhaustion of rider and writer. The rider’s extreme physical stress is clearly elucidated as, fuelled by cocaine and opium, Coventry’s hero endures the appalling pain of non-stop pedaling. His only relief is in his relationship with a female supporter he picks up en route. The rider’s fight against the elements and other teams become the quest. And with a former WWI pilot-brother and a deceased sister, the personal journey of the rider through the battlefields of post-war France is a true, and universal, mission in understanding.The journey to defeat individual demons becomes the race.

Coventry’s work is as compelling as a good documentary, with enough cinematics to really put you in the saddle. His own mind games provide some layers and do well to provide the inner challenges of the long arduous toil those pioneers must have faced. It’s often a grim read, a dry outer body experience, but extremely satisfying.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Invisible Mile
by David Coventry
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560431

* If you are further interested in Harry Watson, there is a non-fiction book about him, published in 2006 by the Kennet Brothers – Harry Watson: The Mile Eater.

Book Review: Julie & Kishore, by Carol Jackson

Available in selected bookstores nationwide. 
cv_julie_and_kishore
Carol Jackson is a New Zealander married to an Indian man. They have been together over twenty years. This books is fiction but is loosely based on her own life.

Julie, like all young Kiwi girls dreams of meeting Mr Right and living the dream, but finding this man seems elusive. Working firstly as a veterinary nurse then changing careers to work at OSW (Office Supply Warehouse), Julie’s job entailed visiting companies to discuss their office supply needs. One of these companies’ was an accountant’s – McAllister and Co. There she caught the attention of a young Indian man, Kishore who had been in New Zealand for two years. The two of them became friends and then of course, like in all good love stories, this love developed, with Kishore eventually asking Julie to marry him. Julie’s friends and family at first were worried for her, but after meeting Kishore they all realised he was perfect for her. Julie’s parents gave them their blessing.

Kishore’s family in India wanted to meet Julie, so it was duly arranged for them both to travel to India. On arriving there, Julie was welcomed into the family. Kishore’s mother and father put the suggestion to them both that perhaps they marry in India.

This is a great read. Many of us don’t know a lot about Indian culture but with the growing cosmopolitan population of New Zealand, inter-marriage between races isn’t that unusual. In the 1980’s, of course, this was very unusual.

Carol Jackson has written another book in this series Julie & Kishore – Take Two. This will be released shortly. She is currently writing a third book, Nina’s Art, which involves many of the same characters, but is a different story.

I look forward to reading more of Julie & Kishore’s life.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Julie & Kishore
by Carol Jackson
Published by Libertine Press
ISBN  9780692262313

Author Interview: Ella West, author of Night Vision

AandU_night_visionElla West has been voted for by hundreds of teenagers all over New Zealand as a finalist in the Children’s Choice Young Adult Fiction category, for her fourth YA fiction book, Night Vision. Night Vision is one of the seven books selected not only by children, but also by judges to be a finalist. This is the first stand-alone book she has published, since completing the Thieves trilogy. According to our reviewer, Angela Oliver, “A quick-paced read, Night Vision is perfect for young teens.”

So how did this idea come to fruition? And how did it get published? Ella has generously answered all of our questions, below:

1. As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book in particular?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Two things made me write this book, no maybe three things. Firstly, I try to go as often as I can to the University of Otago Marama Hall lunchtime concerts on Wednesdays. If you’re in Dunedin I thoroughly recommend them. It’s really cheap and the music is incredible. I know very little about classical music but I just sit there and wow – it’s so great. It was there that I thought of the first line of the book (which is now at the start of chapter two): My name is Viola, not like the flower, the poor cousin of the showy pansy, but like the musical instrument.

Secondly, I was channel surfing one night and came across a short 60 Minutes documentary on Moon Children – kids with XP (Xeroderma Pigmentosum). And it got me thinking. Kids who only go out at night – now, what would they see? On NBC in the States there has just been another documentary on Moon Children but this time it was two hours long. Here’s the link to part of it. My agent in New York told me about it. He said he kept yelling at the TV, “That’s Viola, that’s exactly Viola,” which is kind of cool.

Thirdly, people just don’t get farming. We have sheep and cattle and when I talk to people (non-farmers) they don’t get it. Farmers do everything they can to keep their animals well fed and healthy – a dead or sick animal doesn’t make you any money so it’s really important. I wanted Viola to tell people how it is.

cv_real_life2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
Getting this book published was really difficult, and several times in the two years it took I thought about giving up writing, everything. My last book Real Life came out in 2009 so it was a big gap, a huge gap. My agent kept me going and, after pretty well every New Zealand publisher turning us down, we found Allen & Unwin in Australia. They have been amazing. It is the best home for this book.

3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
This was difficult, because Viola had to be young enough to be naïve about the danger she brings upon herself, but old enough to be allowed outside at night. She swayed between twelve and sixteen for a while until I finally settled on fourteen. Kids tend to read up to the age of the main character so it’s really for ten to fifteen-year-olds, which is why it’s so short. I like short books – they’re so much easier to write!

4. Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?cv_larto_ingannevole_del_gufo
Night Vision is dedicated to Trish Brooking who is the person at the University of Otago College of Education who “looks after” the children’s writer in residence. Not only did she make my residency in 2010 (which is when I wrote the book) an amazing experience but she is also a great advocate for children’s writers and for getting kids into reading. And she still takes me out for lunch! In the Italian version of Night Vision – L’Arte Ingannevole del Gufo it’s “Per Trish”!

5. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?
Hmmm. How about we do favourite reads of the year so far for me (they’re all YA) – How I live Now by Meg Rosoff (I’m still to watch the movie), Trash by Andy Mulligan which is amazing but the best has got to be We Were Liars by E Lockhart – just incredible. Now why can’t I write such great stories? Sigh.

Anchorage_chickens6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
What’s keeping me busy at the moment is chasing chickens! We’ve just bought some new hens so we’re getting lots of eggs but they keep getting out into the garden and we don’t know how. They’ve shredded the silver beet (which isn’t so bad because I hate eating silver beet) and have now started going walk-about down the road! So why did the chicken cross the road when it has a perfectly lovely orchard paddock to live in and a cosy chicken house?

Night Vision
by Ella West
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781743317662

A Rafflecopter giveaway – click through to enter & be in to win a copy of Night Vision.

This is the second entry in our blog tour for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Our review, posted earlier today, can be found here. The next entry, accompanied by a giveaway, will be at NZ Booklovers for the book Awakening, by Natalie King.

Book Review: Night Vision, by Ella West – plus giveaway

Night Vision, by Ella West is a Young Adult Fiction finalist in both the judge-chosen, and cv_night_visionChildren’s Choice, sections of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. We are giving away a copy of this, below the review. 

Viola is not like other teenage girls. For her, sunlight can be deadly. Living on a sheep farm in a remote part of south Canterbury, she leads a nocturnal existence, roaming the pine plantation at night or practicing her viola in the woodshed.

Her life changes when she witnesses a murder and car fire, before subsequently claiming the hidden cash as her own. It isn’t stealing if the money was ill-gotten, is it? As the secrets and lies increase so does the danger, for the murderer wants his money back and after he learns who took it, he will stop at nothing to reclaim it.

AandU_night_visionA quick-paced read, Night Vision is perfect for young teens. Viola is courageous, if a little bit stubborn and secretive, despitet adversity. Nothing can stop her, whether this is the external threat of the murderer, or the betrayal of her own DNA. Night Vision also offers an insight into a different sort of life: not only that of a teen with a fatal condition, but also of life on a remote sheep station.

Night Vision starts with a crime and builds to a dramatic conclusion. It may not be an adrenaline ride all the way through – some passages are quite slow – but it maintained my interest throughout and was easily devoured in one sitting. It recently won the LIANZA best young adult award, and this, along with its naming as a judge- and children’s-choice finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, guarantees it is worth going along for the ride.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Night Vision
by Ella West
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781743317662

A Rafflecopter giveaway – click through to enter & be in to win a copy of Night Vision. The competition opens at 3pm.

This is the first in a series of reviews, interviews and giveaways for our Children’s Choice Finalist books. Later today on this blog, you will find a Q & A with Ella West about Night Vision. Tomorrow, you will find Awakening, by Natalie King promoted and given away on the NZ Booklovers’ blog – this link will go live at 7am tomorrow.

Book Review: The Girls, by Lisa Jewell

Available nationwide from 2 July.cv_the_girls

A closed London suburban community, centred around a developed common garden is the least place to expect anything out of the ordinary. Some families are of three generations of residency around its border. Children use the garden and its planned areas for play and exploration. All seems peaceful.

Until a disturbing incident reveals their dubious background and events from the past are dragged into the here and now.

The most recently arrived residents – Grace and her daughters Grace and Pip – have brought with them their own story and trauma. As the two girls are gradually accepted by the Garden’s children, their mother is drawn into socialising with other parents. Over months we become more and more uneasy about the manner of each resident’s stories.

We follow Clare’s experiences among the community as she learns more about them and their past interaction: a man with a reputation, an elderly woman who has observed it all, a child neglected by her mother, the family whose three daughters are home-schooled, a young boy who cares for his adult brother’s welfare. Both Clare and Adele (the home-schooling mother) are drawn into following the trail of the children’s play, and in doing so learn of events more and more disturbing.

At first, in spite of the crime occurring in the first chapter, the domesticity of each family seemed of little interest. But as the back story worked its way through the lead up to the crime, I was drawn into the same feelings of worry felt by any protective mother, as Clare discovers more and more detail about her neighbours and their children. On reading through to the end, I have to adjudge the writer’s ability to entangle a reader in the mesh of the community as being superbly deceptive and enthralling. I am glad I had the opportunity to read Lisa Jewell’s thirteenth novel – and have a lot of catch up reading to do now.

Reviewed by Lynn McAnulty-Street

The Girls
Lisa Jewell
Published by Century, for Penguin Random House
ISBN: 9781780893594