Book Review: The Falconer’s Daughter by N. K. Ashworth

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.cv_the_falconers_daughter

Fourteen-year-old Maddie Prescott is beginning to suspect that the medallion her mother
left to her possesses magical powers. It’s easy to believe considering the other curiosities Maddie has recently discovered; there’s the injured falcon she takes under her wing (if you’ll excuse the pun) and the Tower her mother built before Maddie was born. Most mysterious of all is the unfinished book trilogy that Maddie’s mother had written before the accident that killed her many years ago. The main character, Skyla Hawke, seems to have a lot in common with Maddie — perhaps too much in common for it to be a coincidence.

Maddie begins to read the incomplete book manuscript; meanwhile, she and her best friend Jess begin to investigate both the mystery of the medallion and the death of Maddie’s mother. Maddie’s father seems to be keeping secrets from her, and as the truth becomes clearer, Maddie begins to wonder if she really knew her mother at all. Gradually the line between fantasy and reality is blurred as the Skyla Hawke books start to closely resemble elements of Maddie’s life.

When Maddie discovers that two mysterious visitors to the Tower are in fact two of her own separate personalities, Lexie and Alex, it’s revealed that she has Dissociative Identity Disorder. DID is a mental disorder that is rarely referenced in YA literature at all; this book raises awareness about the disorder while careful not to turn the story into a lecture.

The Falconer’s Daughter is an imaginative story about falcons, magic and the slow process of beginning to heal. It’s a short but powerful read, perfect for the remainder of the school holidays.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon, aged 16

The Falconer’s Daughter
by N. K. Ashworth
RSVP Publishing
ISBN 9780987658760

Book Review: The Wolf Border, by Sarah Hall

cv_the_wolf_borderThe Wolf Border by Sarah Hall is a work of realist fiction, a contemporary novel that tells the story of zoologist, conservationist and wolf specialist Rachel Caine. After having worked with wolves in North America for many years, estranged from her family, Rachel moves back home to the Lake District to supervise the reintroduction of a pair of wolves to England under the aegis of the Earl of Annerdale, and against the backdrop of the Scottish independence referendum.

The Wolf Border is an intriguing title, and a well chosen one. The epigraph says that the word susiraja in Finnish means wolf border, “the boundary between the capital region and the rest of the country. The name suggests everything outside the border is wilderness.” Ideas of borders, and wildness/tameness, abound – especially the idea of borders being crossed; of people, animals and even institutions moving between states of wilderness and civilisation.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this book is Hall’s treatment of the wolves themselves. The Wolf Border opens with Rachel dreaming about wolves, and remembering a time in her childhood when she wandered off at a zoo and encountered her first wolf. I initially wondered whether Hall was setting Rachel up to have a mystical, even psychic connection with wolves; to have a spirit animal. But no: the wolves remain believably wild animals, wary and elusive. They’re still fascinating, of course – they are the focus of Rachel’s professional life – but they remain resolutely un-anthropomorphised, un-tame.

It is the wolves – the animals, their place in Britain’s ecosystem, and people’s envisioning of them – that drive the plot. The catalyst is the Earl of Annerdale’s decision to transform part of his vast Lake District estates into a wolf sanctuary, and to reintroduce to England one pair of wolves to live there. He headhunts Rachel – who grew up in the Lake District – to manage the project, including managing the public outcry as the ancient fear of the wild predator is aroused. Rachel is initially reluctant to live so close to her sick, elderly mother but, when she becomes accidentally pregnant, decides to take the job in order to be able to get an abortion – illegal in the States – on the NHS.

The Earl of Annerdale is an intriguing character. He is enormously wealthy and powerful (at one point the Prime Minister stops by in his helicopter for dessert) and has an extraordinarily vast sense of entitlement; the extent of which we do not grasp until nearly the end of the book. His passion to reintroduce wolves to Britain seems to be driven as much arrogance as by a commitment to environmentalism. One of the most interesting subplots of The Wolf Border concerns his true motivations and mysterious family circumstances: where is his son, and how did his wife really die?

One of the main reasons The Wolf Border succeeds is because of its protagonist, Rachel. She is fascinating: competent, prickly, solitary. The Wolf Border is told in the third person, in the present tense, and without quote marks. We are always with Rachel, looking over her shoulder; she is present in every scene.

“She would like to believe there will be a place, again, where the streetlights end and wilderness begins. The wolf border. And if this is where it has to begin in England, she thinks, this rich, disqualifying plot, with its private sponsorship and antiquated hierarchy, so be it. The ends justify the means.”

As the book progresses, though, we begin to realise that, even though Rachel’s working life is focused on wilderness, and bringing a sense of wilderness back to densely populated Britain, we are actually witnessing Rachel’s journey in the opposite direction. At the beginning of The Wolf Border Rachel is a lone ranger; determinedly single, limiting herself to casual sexual encounters only, and deliberating keeping only the loosest of ties with her mother and brother. But, gradually, she begins to cross the wolf border back into, as it were, the capital region. She visits her mother; and, following her mother’s death, decides to keep her baby. She starts getting involved in the life of her brother, Lawrence: his unhappy marriage, his terrible secret, and his psychological struggle with the emotional legacy of an unstable mother and an unidentified father.

She also allows herself to drift into a relationship with the local vet, Alexander. I found it refreshing that the romance, instead of being all-consuming, and the author’s chief concern, is entirely ordinary, and largely unexamined.

“She does not love him. That is, she does not feel love as described by others, the high and low arts, not in relation to the person here in her room. But all that is misnomer, poetry, an unproved chemical; he has survived her tendencies; he releases something in her, if only a feeling of wanting another day, a feeling that the day with him is better than ordinary.”

I recommend The Wolf Border highly. Hall has crafted a novel that is engagingly plotted, and enhanced rather than encumbered by its big ideas. One for environmentalists and lovers of family drama and political thrillers alike.

Review by Elizabeth Heritage, @e_heritage

The Wolf Border
by Sarah Hall
Published by Faber & Faber
ISBN 9780571299553

Book Review: Stan the Van Man, by Emma Vere-Jones, illustrated by Philip Webb

cv_stan_the_van_manEmma Vere-Jones received the Joy Cowley Award for this, her first book. She lives in Auckland and holds a BA from Victoria University in Theatre and Film and a Certificate in Journalism from Whitireia.

Philip Webb has received Honour Awards at the NZ Post Book Awards with two of the books he illustrated for Scholastic NZ – Dragor and Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity Jig. He lives in Wellington and works full-time as an illustrator.

Stan enters the story when Miss Mickle, the boss of the Post Office is in a pickle. Bob her van driver has walked off the job. Stan, who doesn’t like to turn people down, intercepts and agrees to take the job. He does try to tell Miss Mickle that he has a secret, but Miss Mickle ignores him and implores him to please go and deliver all the parcels and letters that have piled up.

Stan sets off but soon becomes distracted by a little boy stuck up in a tree. Stan stopped the van and helps the boy down. As Stan continues on, he continues to help people out. With his secret still intact he makes his deliveries, but he makes some interesting mistakes along the way, making this a rather lovely story. I read this story to 4-year-old Miss Abby. She wanted to know what Stan was doing delivering a skate board, knee pads and helmet to old Mrs Vine at 79 and what was she going to do with them? Abby got even more perplexed at the lady’s pants delivered to Professor John Moore. We then got onto a discussion about why Stan the Van Man was making such terrible mistakes with the deliveries. What was very interesting about the story was the fact all the recipients of Stan’s deliveries wanted to help him learn to read.

Abby starts school March next year and knows the importance of reading. She can write her Christian name and with help write her surname (double barrelled to complicate things!) so the idea of perhaps an adult not being able to read isn’t something that she would have even thought about. This book opened up an interesting discussion with her reasoning quite interesting for a 4-year-old. “Grandma, maybe Stan couldn’t go to school because he lived a long way from a school”. We also discussed why we should help people and when this is appropriate. Abby thought everybody was very kind to Stan, but he had been kind and helped others in need.

The illustrations and text in this book work well together. It’s a bright colourful book with rhyming text which keeps a child’s interest. Grandma (me), plus Pa and then Mummy had to read the book to Abby before she was satisfied.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Stan the Van Man
by Emma Vere-Jones, illustrated by Philip Webb
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433071

Book Review: Face to Face: Conversations with Remarkable New Zealanders, by Paul Moon and Jane Ussher

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_face_to_facePaul Moon is a Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology. He is also a prolific writer of non-fiction, with twenty five published New Zealand histories and biographies to his name. This background meant that he was well placed to undertake a “rare survey of the diversity of talent that contributes to the character of our country.” Following Moon once he had interviewed each of twelve remarkable New Zealanders in situ was Jane Ussher, long regarded as one of this country’s foremost portrait photographers. With this publication, the stars of both Ussher and Moon have risen even higher.

If a thousand New Zealanders were chosen at random and asked to compile a list of twelve remarkable living New Zealanders, they would possibly come up with a hundred names in common. It would be curious to see if the twelve in this book would feature consistently. Here is a quick list of the surnames, which is itself an experiment: do readers recognise the subject just from a surname? Jones, Hadlee, Grace, Gluckman, Harawira, Chen, Houston, Warren, Holst, Geering, Finn, Pardington. How did you get on? And who would you turn to first?

There are a dozen interviews and the publication runs to 270 pages. These are deep and lengthy conversations. Paul Moon’s historical bent ensures that each conversation is contextualised by the personal, social, cultural and sometimes political history that has shaped the world of each subject. The reader is able to orientate herself quite swiftly to the thoughts, words and deeds of the speaker. Moon’s contextual knowledge is evidently coupled with a human warmth that has encouraged his subjects to open up. The interviews are (as the back cover publicity suggests) “stimulating, humorous, sometimes controversial and always revealing.”

Revelations are also called forth by the seeing and photographic process of Jane Ussher. Faces and other relevant features emerge with startling clarity out of blurred or inky black backdrops. Hadlee’s moustache, Houston’s fingers, Jones’s eyelids, Gluckman’s lips, Grace’s irises, Holst’s cheekbones, Pardington’s tattoes: they leap out at you and speak of personality and tendency. Blotches! Pates! Liverspots! Eye pouches and nose lumps! The images speak of life and time, and how the individual human form responds to these twin imperatives.

The main contributors to these interviews are of course the interviewees themselves. Through their words, it is possible to gain an impression of their thinking, their methods, their aspirations and their perceptions of their own achievements. Some of these New Zealanders are remarkable for their deeds rather than their words — Hadlee’s ‘genius’ lay in the performance of his ‘art’, and there is not too much to be freshly learnt from his utterances here. On the other hand, someone like Bob Jones gets your attention with such pronouncements as “the best way to get rich is to lie in bed and think,” and with an account of his infamous assault case, where he was fined $1000 for hitting a journalist, which had him asking the judge if he could pay another $1000 and hit the journalist again.

There is a steady flow of wonderful quotes and insights throughout Face to Face.


Lloyd Geering: “If you worship an idol, the likelihood is that it’s going to be broken.”

Michael Houston: “I think I have a bent to living in the present.”


Tim Finn: “You’re looking for beauty, but not always in beautiful places.”

And Fiona Pardington: “Nature’s all about death. If you go down there [the ocean] it’s the hugest graveyard in the universe. Everything is beautiful for a while, then it dies.”

With its blend of historical context, personal anecdote and pictorial revelation, Face to Face succeeds wildly in its intention to convey the essence of each of the individuals. Inevitably perhaps, a wider objective is also approached. These thoughtful portraits of twelve remarkable New Zealanders work together to illuminate what it may mean to be a human, here, there and everywhere. And if you handed Face to Face to a migrant stepping off a boat, she might think, New Zealand — I wouldn’t mind living here.

Review by Aaron Blaker

Face to Face: Conversations with Remarkable New Zealanders
By Paul Moon, photographed by Jane Ussher
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9780143571445

Book Review: First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure, by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_first_to_the_topThen Ed looked up. There was more sky above them than before. The ridge ended in a round dome a few metres away. They took deep breaths, cut the last steps, and…’

First to the Top follows the life of Sir Edmund Hillary from when he was ‘a small, shy boy’ growing up in the town of Tuakau, to his world famous mountaineering feat: at 11.30am on Friday 29 May 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first two people to stand on the top of Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain.

While, I would guess, all New Zealand adults know this story, young children may not. The book – a handsome hardcover – is written by award winning author, David Hill who, among his many achievements, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004. The illustrations are done by newcomer Phoebe Morris, and it’s a startling and exceptionally beautiful debut. Morris’s style reminded me of both Donovan Bixley and Shaun Tan, and she’s managed to capture the grandeur of the Himalayas, and the ‘everyday hero’ aspect of Hillary’s character. Hill’s retelling of the famous story made sure to emphasise the friendship between Norgay and Hillary, including when Norgay saved Hillary’s life after he fell into a crevasse: ‘They always worked together after that.’ Hill was also careful to note that it was both men – not just Hillary – who were first to the top: ‘They were on the summit.’

What I noticed while reading the book to my four-year-old son was a swelling of pride at, and there’s no other way to put it, the New Zealandness of the story. It led my son and I to talk about how to be in the world, which all of the best children’s stories do (and adult stories, for that matter). First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure highlights a certain New Zealand identity: a desire to be in the outdoors, a curiosity that when combined with hard work drives us overseas and to greatness; our deep streak of sensibleness and humility. It is also quite funny in places; when Ed is knighted by the queen the book states, ‘He told friends, “Now I’ll have to buy some new bee-keeping overalls.”’

First to the Top was also a difficult story to tell without it becoming cluttered or boring – alongside the many facts, the story moves through countries, touches on different cultures, and spans decades. It’s also one of our most iconic stories. It is made relevant and enjoyable for most children by the perfect marriage between Hill’s words and Morris’s illustrations, and the depth of information they’ve included in these pages. It is easily the best children’s book I’ve read this year.

Review by Sarah-Jane Barnett

First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure
by David Hill
Illustrations by Phoebe Morris
Hardback, 32 pages
Puffin New Zealand
ISBN 9780143506874

Book Review: Anatomy, by Jamie Trower

‘this is my disability.
there are thousands like it,
but this one is mine’

cv_anatomyAnatomy is about falling – and getting back up again. But this is no slight stumble. Trower was nine years old when he sustained a severe brain injury, falling onto ‘that BLOODY rock’ when skiing. The fall is literal and mythical. Trower is angel and superhero, ‘Boy Wonder’, shaken from his ‘cloud nine’ and emerging in a world of darkness, speechlessness and foreign anatomy. The trajectory we ride out with him is excruciating and alienating, with struggles both physical and internal. There is retrospection, and an agonised rehashing of trauma. There is escapism – ‘Just wanted to fly away from / everything’, and full frontal confrontation. We are often forced to sit in a state of dissonance. It is uncomfortable but real. It is Jamie Trower’s disability, not ours, but we have front row seats.

Trower’s poetry is pared down and vital. Spaces between words, indeed even between letters, speak to us as loud as the poetry itself. Ampersands lend to a feeling that this poetry has pace, a sort of frenzied notation. Parentheses offer us asides, and add context to the immediate poem. It is Jamie Trower’s disability – not ours. As such, we are the outsiders peering in, and Trower is the gatekeeper, providing clues and captions to bridge the experiential divide.

Anatomy is sometimes ‘a love letter to disability’, sometimes a lamentation to a youth derailed. Sometimes, from our front row seats, we can feel the spittle of Trower’s rage – ‘big BLOODY broken skulls’, the ‘BLOODY awful wheelchair’. But Trower’s work is also a recognition of the tenderness of injury, the rediscovered beauty in the world. And it is a eulogy for the ‘unknown soldiers’, the other children at the Wilson Centre, where he lived out a rehabilitation.

This is a collection with a hopeful end. Trower flips disability on its head. ‘You will see disability / as a strength, / disability as spirited’. Trower comes to a junction, a critical point ‘when I realised that I wasn’t alone in the / world’, a time when he transcends his ‘coma anatomy’, and will fly back to his ‘cloud nine’.

Jamie Trower’s debut collection is fierce and untamed. It is inspirational without adjunct soppiness. It is not self-help. It is not glorification. But it may just startle its reader into fresh self-assessment.

‘once there was a boy
& he called himself bird,
& he had christmas tree lights
on the tips of his fingers
so he could find his
light through the darkness’

Review by Elizabeth Morton

by Jamie Trower
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994106988

Book Review: Maia and the Worry Bug, by Julie Burgess-Manning

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_maia_and_the_worry_bugMaia and the Worry Bug was thought up by a Christchurch psychologist, Julie Burgess-Manning, and teacher Sarina Dickson. This book is part of a programme which assists families in managing anxiety. Children and families affected by the Christchurch earthquakes are the target market (and in fact, junior and middle school children in Christchurch have been provided with a copy). Anxiety is not, however, just related to natural disasters, and as such, this is a really useful family resource. It has been reviewed by other psychologists and is recommended by the Children’s Commissioner, Russel Wills (a pediatrician).

Maia’s family has a worry bug come to stay. It is quite small, and gets to work on Maia’s Mum, getting her to start compulsively checking on the soundness of the house and the wellbeing of the family. The bug feeds on the worry and the worries spread to Maia’s Dad, and then to Maia. The now rather large worry bug enjoys the family spending all their time worrying, and eventually the family feels better just staying at home together and cross-checking all the safety checks that they each make. Nell the neighbour points out that all the checking and staying at home is not making them feel any better and the family addresses the worry bug.

The story is concluded with a family toolkit – good questions to ask each other to check on anxiety levels and to explore how each family member reacts to anxiety. Children are encouraged to draw their own worry bugs and to explore the anxieties that might feed them. There are a list of resource organisations at the end of the book and a link. This website has a tool to measure anxiety, and further suggestions for people and organisations to contact if you need some help managing anxiety.

Having experienced the odd family crisis myself, I really value the idea of resources being available in the home for parents to use with their children during difficult times. I have sought out such resources previously and have a couple of books hidden away in the wardrobe in case of crisis! This though is a book useful to keep close by, as it is quite easy for anxiety to get out of hand. Using the tool at the back of the book I learnt (one) of the reasons why my daughter had trouble going to sleep – she didn’t believe that we would hear the smoke alarms while we were asleep. She had jumbled up some information learnt in her school based fire safety programme! We were able to provide her with the correct information and help make her worry bug a little smaller!

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

Maia and the Worry Bug
by Julie Burgess-Manning, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Kotuku Creative
ISBN  9780473319250

The school part of this resource is called Wishes and Worries, here is our review of it.