Book Review: Super Rabbit, by Stephanie Blake

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_super_rabbitI am always impressed by books published for children by Gecko Press and this latest offering does not disappoint.

Super Rabbit is a hero – well in the world of make believe, he is. His mother keeps calling him her little rabbit which really upset our super hero. He is capable of great things but jumping out of bed and landing on the cat isn’t one of them. In fact the cat is most unimpressed. Chasing down villains is his next task, but again this didn’t meet with much success. He jumped into the hollow of a tree which was very cold and dark. This super hero is scared and wants his mummy. Being scared and in pain is not a nice feeling but with his Mummy right there to make everything right for our little super hero, he is soon off on another adventure.

This is such a gorgeous book with wonderful illustrations with bright colours, simply constructed giving the little person being read to no doubt as to what the story is about. Quinn (2) was totally absorbed in the story, giggling at Super Rabbit landing on the cat and nodding when Mummy was there to comfort him in his hour of need.

The world of pretend, dressing up, fighting villains with swords but having the comfort of loving arms of Mummy when things don’t go according to plan is an excellent way to fire up a child’s imagination.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Super Rabbit
by Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press
ISB 9781877579578

Book Review: Don’t Cross the Line, by Isabel Minho Martins, and Bernado P. Carvalho

Available in bookshops nationwide (and internationally).

cv_dont_cross_the_lineThis superb picture book encapsulates an entire collection of short stories, spurred on by the actions of one dictatorial General, who believes the book and all its pages belongs to him. The cast of characters is displayed in the front- and end-papers – which also tell the progression of the characters’ stories with their subtle differences.

Our dictator shouts at his guardsman on the title page, ‘This is how it’s going to be. I give the orders around here!’ The first character to enter the narrative is a dog, watched with a simple shift of the guardsman’s eyes. Then Nuno comes strolling along, obliviously heading for the edge of the page – “STOP! I’m very sorry, but no one’s allowed onto the right-hand page.” Nuno questions this, only to be told that the General requests that the page remain blank in case he wants to join the story.

Our cast of characters starts growing exponentially, and as each recognise the state of the story, they react in different ways, each with their own distinct personality – perhaps the best example (short of an entirely wordless book) that I have seen recent of showing, not telling, in a picture book. All we have is shouted, whinged and grimaced words. We have an irate granddad, an ET-esque Alien with a familiar narrative (he needs to make a phone call…), a happily dancing couple, a floating astronaut, a rock band, and a couple of escaped prisoners, among others.

As pages turn, our prisoners move urgently to get away from their guard, pregnant Clara gets irate, grunf grunfs and a ghost gets frustrated by his need to get to his frightening appointment. And our dancing couple carries on, oblivious.

The illustrations are so basic as to be child-like, and the eyes are huge, with irises the size of glasses and tiny pupils. But this adds to the joyful tumult of the page – if each detail was drawn with delicate penstrokes, you would lose the feel of the story, of the imperfect human characters and their reactions to another imperfect human, who just thinks he has to follow orders…until a couple of boys lose their red ball across the line. The entire cast follows the ball with their eyes, including our guard.

As he allows them across, the bank bursts and he allows everybody who has been waiting to go, for whatever reason they give, with a gracious smile on his face, and presumably to the disappointment of the ice cream seller who has only just arrived (but of course follows the crowd.) But of course this is not the end of it… the general returns. And the reactions of those who have been allowed through – even those who are nearly off the page, is genius.

This is a book for now, inspired by then. It is one for those kids that love to tell a piece of the story themselves – it reminded me a little of Mamoko in that sense – and those that just love to pore over a complex world of characters. And of course, it is one for adults who love curiously good picture books. And after a few tricky questions from my school-kid, I can definitely see it coming in useful the next time world events take us over. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Don’t Cross the Line!
by Isabel Minho Martins, illustrated by Bernado P. Carvalho
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570744


Book Review: A Moment’s Silence – Stalking the Stalker, by Christopher Abbey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_moments_silenceI love a good thriller and when this one landed on my doorstep I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

Martyn Percival is a New Zealander on holiday in the UK. He was travelling for 7 days on a British “Sampler Tour”. It is Sunday 7 May 1995 – a long weekend commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of VE day. His marriage of more than 30 years has broken up, he’s recently started up his own accounting practice after being made redundant, and he is now taking a well needed break.

A dusty Vauxhall Cavalier comes into view beneath Martyn’s window. Travelling on a bus has its advantages – you can look down on things and see things that perhaps you wouldn’t notice travelling in a car. The number plate of the Vauxhall J 842 MMP caught Martyn’s eye. As a child plate watching was his family’s travelling game. Families have their own games when travelling with children – it keeps everyone amused and entertained hopefully for hours. In Martyn’s case his fixation with numbers drove him to be an accountant. His coach creeps forward, grinding a few metres further up the hill. The car remains stationary.

Suddenly the Cavalier accelerates into view, squealing across the median line. Martyn cranes his head for a better view. The coach inches forward right alongside the grimy maroon Vaxhall. The car’s rear ledge has been removed and what appears to be a large metal-framed black box fills the boot space. On its top lies a grey flat moulded case, too large for a violin. The lid is sprung partly open, half-covered by a tartan travel rug. Two automatic weapons can now clearly be seen. One is a rifle with a folded metal butt embedded in foam in the case. The other – a smaller machine gun lies loose on the box top. Martyn points them out to a fellow passenger who confirms his suspicions. Definitely not AK-47’s, but some sort of assault weapons. Horrified at what he’s seen Martyn gets his camera out and clicks off a few frames.

After finishing the tour, Martyn hires a car to explore areas he visited on his recent bus trip. Sitting in a pub recommended to him by the B & B where he is staying in the Cotswolds, the television flashes up a bombing of Commando Memorial in Scotland, which he had visited on his bus trip. A memory of that day comes back to Martyn with sudden realisation that the Vauxhall Cavalier was parked in the vicinity – he can’t get the Vauxhall’s number plate out of his head – J 842 MMP. After some deliberation Martyn decides that he must report what he has seen, with the photos he took as further evidence.

What Martyn doesn’t know is a rogue IRA operative is on the loose – one Linus Calleson. Calleson 8 months earlier had put a plan to his superiors to blow up the Commando Memorial in Scotland on 11 November 1994 – Remembrance Day. His superiors put this plan on hold as peace talks had been held. Linus was bitterly disappointed but decided to go ahead without their support. To go against orders would be treason which carries only one penalty – death.

What follows is real a boys own annual story (well perhaps a grown up version) – the IRA, bombings, sex, murder, romance and of course not forgetting the villain Linus, with Martyn being in the thick of being stalked by Linus for being a “nosey bloody tourist”.
The characters and story flowed with actual events being slotted into make this even more believable and very realistic. The characters all have flaws making them even more human.

This was a gritty story that had me struggling between life commitments and finishing the book. This is the author Christopher Abbey’s first book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Moment’s Silence – Stalking the Stalker
by Christopher Abbey
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473361891

Book Review: Working Class Boy, by Jimmy Barnes

cv_working_class_boyAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Jimmy Barnes says of his writing this account of his early life: “the time I have spent writing this book has caused me a lot of pain.” He was born in Scotland, one of six children. His father was an alcoholic who drank away his wages, and the children learned to fear the violent rows that ensued when his mother confronted him each time she was faced with having to scratch to feed the family. The area of Glasgow where they lived was mired in poverty, and drunken fights and mindless violence, even amongst the children, were horrifyingly common. Jimmy, at four, survived a life threatening attack by boys not much older than he by running away as fast as he could. His friend wasn’t as lucky. The youngster was pelted with rocks and bottles and finally set on fire. He ended up in hospital for a long time and Jimmy still carries guilt for leaving him behind.

The family eventually became “ten pound tourists,” so called because that was what it cost for such ones to emigrate to Australia to become Australian citizens. Arriving in the “lucky country” in 1962 when Jimmy was five, things went from bad to worse. Dwindling money, fraying tempers and too much alcohol gave way to more violence and finally, despair. The mother who had sworn she would never leave them, left one night without a sound. The children woke to find that they were effectively on their own.

The loneliness of the young boy as he struggles to deal with the neglect and the chaos makes for hard reading, but Jimmy, the adult, tells the story with a candour and humour that imbues it with a sense of hope. Many times that hope would have been difficult for Jimmy and his siblings to imagine, especially as they grew into their teens in the hellish conditions of the Adelaide suburbs where drugs and alcohol-fuelled violence in the streets as well as in the home.

Jimmy left his home to join a band and that’s where his account ends. It’s not where his story ends though, as those of us who have listened to his songs over the years know.

Reading about his harrowing early life gives a greater understanding of both the belting lyrics and the softer, sometimes haunting, music he has produced. As Sam Neill writes in his own review of this book, “Remarkably, out of all this bedlam one of the best men I know emerges – a great artist, a terrific friend and – how does this happen- a devoted loving family man.”

This moving account of Jimmy Barnes’ early life is an example of how a terrible childhood doesn’t necessarily doom one to a life of misery. But it also shows in grim detail the enormous effort Jimmy had to put in to become the man he is.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Working Class Boy
by Jimmy Barnes
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460752135

Book Review: Hunters & Collectors, by Matt Suddain

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hunters_and_collectorsThis book has been described as experimental. I agree with that, but I could add a whole host of extra descriptors to go along with experimental.

Suddain has created a fantastical work of sci-fi, horror, black humour (and I mean REALLY black humour). I was caught up in the weirdness from the first few pages, and although I am not and have never been a sci-fi aficionado, I was enjoying myself; although struggling a bit with the complexity of the plot lines, and the other-worldliness of the whole story, I persevered. But there’s more….

There are many levels in this huge novel– there’s the narrator, Jonathan, who is a self-styled “forensic gastronomist” whose life’s work and passion is food and drink. He travels through the many cosmic worlds which make up the particular planetary system he inhabits, in search of the perfect meal. Because his work is apparently fraught with danger (he is a critic!) he has a minder (Beast) and a bodyguard (Gladys). Gladys is a wonderful character. She is apparently part Water Bear, and sleeps like a duck – never entirely asleep, which in this book is a useful trait.

There are rafts of more-than passing-strange characters, most of whom are integral to the story. There’s a writer/psychoanalyst/crossdresser/villain who gets into Jonathan’s head in very manipulative and clever ways and is to my mind quite evil. There are giants, nymphs, chefs, thugs, all with their own peculiarities. The characters in general are brilliantly drawn and in a very weird way entirely, unexpectedly, credible.

There’s the temporal aspect – where and when, and in which worlds, are we? Is any of this real? Could it ever be real? All questions which I cannot attempt to answer until I find someone who actually grasped all of the plot and storylines!

So back to the “wait, there’s more…” Following a series of unfortunate incidents, Jonathan and crew journey to find the perfect meal, for which Jonathan has booked. This is where the horror kicks in. The location is yet another world, where people are seemingly killed for alarmingly minor reasons.

But are they in fact killed? Are they real? How much of what we see is merely hologram? Does Jonathan ever get that meal?

No spoilers in this review, you have to see for yourself.

What is real, for the less bloodthirsty readers like me, is the horror and absolute gruesomeness of the killings. At least at first…but as it goes on, and the bloodbaths continue, the warped humour of it all comes through.

I kept picking this book up, and then, particularly before bed, putting it down rapidly! Finally I just powered through the last quarter of the book, determined to see what happened. It’s probably a flaw in my reading that I am still uncertain if any of Jonathan’s story is in fact true .

Recommended to readers with strong stomachs!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Hunters and Collectors
by M. Suddain
Published by The Bodley Head Ltd
ISBN 9780224097048


Book Review: Daylight Second, by Kelly Ana Morey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_daylight_secondThe Phar Lap story has become part of New Zealand racing legend. This extraordinary horse was born in Timaru in 1926 and rose to fame on the Australian racetrack. His unexplained death, in America, remains a mystery. Around this basic information, Morey has created a tale of passion and intrigue, poverty and desperation.

Harry Telford spotted the potential in this horse at an early age. Bobbie, as he was known in the stable, was a big, ugly chestnut. Telford had dreams for the horse, named Phar Lap which translates as Good Fortune. That his wife and son, Cappy, came second in his life after the horse, is evident in this tale. Harry’s training regime was unusual for the time and he was ably supported by his strapper, Tommy Woodcock. The title of the book, Daylight Second, refers to the calling of the races in which Phar Lap won by such a huge margin the Daylight Second became the standard place call.

Much of the story is recreated using information from previous biographers and from news reports of the day. The chapters begin with a list of the races Phar Lap entered at that time and the details of each race can become repetitive. Nonetheless, each race shows the progress towards the big one: The Melbourne Cup. This was always (and probably still is) the Holy Grail for horse racing. The other important character in the story, is the Depression. The 1930’s were a time of unemployment, dwindling incomes and desperation in Australia and around the world. Trying to train and race a winner at a time of limited resources had an impact on fields and income.

Morey has created a tale which brings together all these elements with a very human touch: the love that Tommy the strapper has for Bobbie, the struggle of Harry’s wife, Vi, to feed her family on a sporadic income and finally the public interest in the success of this unlikely champion. It is the padding out of the facts with a human interest touch which makes the book enjoyable. Of course we all know the outcome and the division of Phar Lap’s mortal remains adds a macabre end to the tale. The heart and hide to Australia and the skeleton to New Zealand. While Phar Lap was bred in New Zealand, it was Australia that gave him a home and success, and America which claimed him in death.

I have always been fascinated by the Phar Lap story and this book filled in many gaps but also opened up a number of questions, the answers to which we will never know.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Daylight Second
by Kelly Ana Morey
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781775540526

Recommended: This interview with Kelly Ana Morey in the Weekend insert of the Fairfax Papers.

Book Review: Scarlet & Magenta, by Lindsey Dawson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_scarlet_and_magentaFamily letters retained and passed down in a family, inspired this book set in Tauranga in the late 1800s. Author Lindsay Dawson has cleverly woven an interesting story around an idea in her great- grandfather’s correspondence and the resulting novel delves into early history of New Zealand, especially of the pioneering women and men who settled in this country.

It is January 1886 when Anna Hamilton wife of Bank Manager meets Violet Sutton who has recently arrived in Tauranga from London. She has a past, considered scandalous in Victorian times, which led to her marriage to an older man and her voyage to the other side of the world. She is able to confide in Anna and the pair enjoy a spirited friendship.

Violet’s liason with rival banker Rupert causes ripples in the town setting off a chain of events which have dire consequences for the strong, free-thinking woman.

I was half way through the book before I had an inkling of how the interesting title came about, but with his bright red hair it is an apt description for Rupert, while Violet describes herself as scarlet, “ not so much a school marm as a scarlet woman . We are a red pair you and I”

Over half of Scarlet & Magenta takes place in the first six months of the year in the Bay of Plenty town, with the author recording the tale like a diary, with each chapter dated. The inclusion of quotes at the beginning of each chapter is also an interesting touch. Dawson explains in notes at the rear of the book, “they are taken from newspapers and journals published in the era covered by the story.”

I found it an easy read which flowed along at a good pace. Life in early New Zealand was vastly different for women compared with today and Dawson has highlighted a number of these differences. The book combines interesting historical events, such as the Mount Tarawera eruption, with a touch of romance and mystery so will appeal to a wide number of readers.

Lindsey Dawson has written eight other books, but Scarlet and Magenta is her first historical novel .As well as writing her own stories she enjoys helping others write theirs, offering mentoring , workshops in person and online.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Scarlet & Magenta
by Lindsey Dawson
Published by Out Loud Press
ISBN 9780473341428