Book Review: Recon Team Angel – Vengeance, by Brian Falkner

Available in bookstores nationwide.

This is the best action writing that I have read.cv_recon_team_angel_vengeance

Structured in three parts, each part builds on the other and leads to a great ending. The action is brilliant, with outstanding dialogue and relationships details.

Falkner has a great sense of the absurd and the obvious in dealing with action talk. It made me laugh. His metaphors can be illuminating, as when he describes something as “standing out like skid marks on a wedding dress.”

The best part for me is that the Bzadians are not bad aliens. They have a crime-free society. They have a spiritual leader, Azoh, and they are neat and tidy. They have their faults and importantly, they have developed a bomb – the positronium bomb – that makes nuclear weapons look like firecrackers. The point is will they use it when chips are really down? More importantly, would humans use it in the same position?

An excellent novel for a wide range of age groups from intermediate to young adults. Its depth and its humour set this novel aside from most action books. I am sorry to see the end of the series; it would be great if it had been longer. I can imagine more twists that could lead to a whole new series.

Reviewed by Isaac Gilbert-Woodbury, Year 9, Scots College

Recon Team Angel: Vengeance
by Brian Falkner
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781921720574

Previous three books in the series, all published by Walker Books here, and Random House in the USA:
Recon Team Angel: Assault  9781921720543
Recon Team Angel: Task Force 
Recon Team Angel: Ice War 

Book Review: Keys, by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_keys

My four-year-old refers to this book as ‘Daddy’s Jokey Book’. She clearly understands the ‘special’ imagination all fathers to twist everyday objects, like a set of keys, into a clever narrative device – a prop on which to build a tall tale or two; spin a yarn as long as a Taranaki fence line.

In this charming picture book, Dad is tucking his daughter in for the night. But she’s distracted by his demanding job and the hours he must keep, away from her. So he tells her these fantastical little stories around each of the keys on his ring-set and, more importantly, what they unlock! There’s a “zippenburger” that takes him to work every day; an amazing rocket which he uses to harvest and collect space noodles; he uncovers an incredible treasure box buried in a dense a creepy jungle; he gains access to a chocolate biscuit factory and taste tests all the products; and he visits a paddock where he takes rides on a huge woolly mammoth that only eats yellow coloured food.

Masterton’s Josh Morgan is an illustrator with a modern but retro touch. His illustrations added levels of familiarity and a twist of quirkiness to the story, without distracting from the topic at hand. Fans of the band Urban Tramper might recognise his style from their album artwork. He’s branching out into children’s books with refreshing originality. The pictures are bright and colourful without giving too much away. His use of watercolours was a bold choice, but warranted here, as other illustrators could be tempted to go overboard on the detail and spoil the child’s right to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps.

I love Sacha Cotter’s vibrant and vivid imagination. Cotter works in libraries and she has a Graduate Diploma in Teaching and Learning, with experience teaching both here and in Spain. So she knows about the love of a good story, what it can do for children, to expand the mind whilst focusing on the everyday and mundane – like keys. She’s also done some film work, including the screenplay ‘Wasabi Peas’, which was a semi-finalist in the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival 2013.

This might be Sacha’s first book but it won’t be the last and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes next. And so is my four year old! (Incidentally, this one’s available in te Reo as well. Extra bonus!).

Reviewed by Tim Gruar and his daughter

by Sasha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775501619

Book Review: Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, by Jonathan Odell

Available in bookstores nationwide.

This book was first published in 2004 as The View from Delphi. It has since cv_miss_hazel_and_the_Rosa_Parks_leaguebeen updated and revised. Jonathan Odell is the author of one other book, The Healing. which was published in 2012. He was born and raised in Mississippi, and has written short stories, appearing in numerous collections. He is also a public speaker and leadership coach. Jonathan lives in Minnesota.

This story is set in the 1950’s during the Civil Rights Movement era. This is an important novel as it encapsulates the friendship between two women – one white, Hazel Graham and a black woman Vida Snow.

Hazel was raised, dirt poor, on a farm in Delphi with no way out but to marry another farmer. She skips school to hang out at the local drug store. The owner takes a shine to her and offers her a job, which she takes. Hazel leaves home and takes a room in town, the first she didn’t have to share with five siblings. Floyd, a young man with ambition, walks into the drug store. Hazel is convinced Floyd is the answer to her prayers for a better life – he makes her believe anything is possible. They buy a former slave house in Delphi, with their sights set on one of the grander homes on the hill. They eventually buy the grander mansion, and go on to have two children, Davy and Johnny. Davy dies in an unfortunate accident, with Hazel taking solace with a nip or two to help her get through the day, until her drinking becomes a real problem.

Meanwhile in the same town, Vida is the daughter of a black preacher Levi Snow. She is loved and revered by her father, dressing her in white and calling her his Snowflake Baby. She becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Vida is harassed by the town of Delphi’s racist Sherriff and as a result of one incident, loses her son.

Vida is hired by Floyd as Hazel’s maid, to help with household chores and to help Hazel and Floyd raise their remaining son, Johnny. Floyd is worried about his unpredictable wife, worried about her behaviour and worried that she might harm their son. Drawn together by grief Hazel and Vida become unlikely friends. They have more in common than both thought possible and together, they turn the town of Delphi on its head.

The civil rights movement comes right into the town of Delphi as The Rosa Parks league is formed, spearheaded by these friends. The story that unfolds is of one of courage and a total belief in the right to be treated as equals.

Those readers that are familiar with the book The Help, written by Kathryn Stockett
(2009), will enjoy this book.

Living in New Zealand we might not have had the need for a civil rights movement per se, but we as a nation have certainly had our moments with racial inequality.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League
by Jonathan Odell
Published by Bantam
ISBN: 9780857987846

Book Review: A Long Trail Rolling, by Lizzi Tremayne

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.
Enter here for a giveaway of this title.cv_a_long_trail_rolling

An impressive debut from a New Zealand (ex-American) author. A Long Trail Rolling takes the reader on a journey to the wild west, to the trials and conflict faced by the enterprising souls determined to tame it and make it their home.

This is a romance, a western, and an adventure story, all rolled up into a compelling read. Our heroine, Aleksandra, lived with her father, a fur trapper, in an isolated canyon in Utah. When she finds his body, murdered and discarded in a crevice, her life takes a sudden and dramatic turn. Her father had a secret, and someone else – somewhere deadly and dangerous – is after it, and will stop at nothing to seize it.

Aleksandra must leave her peaceful life behind her, retreating with little more than her sturdy pony, Dzien. She is not without skills, however, for her father has trained her in the arts of the cossack – and she is both a skilled rider and educated in the ways of healing.
Adventurous and impetuous, she seeks employment in the dangerous Pony Express, hiding her nature from all but those closest to her – like her Californio boss, Xavier.

What follows is adventure, excitement, romance and heartbreak.

Aleksandra is an engaging character, albeit a tad quick at jumping to (the wrong) conclusions and perhaps being a bit defiant of the social norms (an admirable trait in many heroines). Xavier is tall, dark and handsome, haunted by the ghost of his abusive father and rough childhood. The point-of-view narration hops between the two, giving insights to each other’s thoughts and, yes, desires for one another. The love relationship in here is not exactly unpredictable. There are, however, a number of other surprises. And if the girl-pretending-to-be-a-boy storyline is perhaps a shade overdone, this is still an entertaining take on it, without dwelling too much on embarrassing the heroine by putting her into socially awkward positions.

This is an independently published title, and as such lacks a little of the glossy flare that comes through the big established printing houses. It should not, however, be judged on the quality of the cover but on the quality of the writing – which is of high calibre. I don’t normally read romance, and I’ve never before read a western, but I devoured this one and am hungry for more.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

A Long Trail Rolling
by Lizzi Tremayne
Published by Blue Mist Publishing
ISBN 9780473309480

Book Review: The Well, by Catherine Chanter

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_well

This is a beautifully-written mystery told by a grieving woman caught in the throes of the inexplicable. I found it incredibly hard to read, because this grief is due to the death of a young child, her grandson.

Ruth is a 50-something year old teacher, who has recently been released into house arrest after an episode that culminated in a fire and a death. England has been in the grip of an unprecedented drought for three years when we join Ruth in her house arrest, and hear her back story in her own words. Her home, The Well, is the only place in England where it still rains.

‘Outside, around me The Well exhausts itself with growing, cells multiplying in the ivy grappling up the trees, the grass growing taller and taller until it can barely sustain the weight of each ambitions blade, flowers opening wider and wider until the petals can no longer hold on to the core and float to the ground.’

She and her husband Mark buy the Well to escape from the city – it was meant to be their rural retreat, where her husband, a lawyer, was able to do what he always wanted to do – become a farmer. Their reason for moving wholesale is that photos of naked children were found on Mark’s laptop – while he won the court case, his name and face are tainted in London, and he can no longer practise law. Around the time that they move to the Well, the country falls into drought, while it rains every night on their land – localised rain, which makes them no friends.

The worst thing people can possibly do during a drought is steal water, and it is no surprise that this what they are suspected of by the townspeople of the town in which they live. They eventually avoid going into the town for fear of being mobbed or attacked. However, their status is seen as miraculous by some, and their daughter Angie (Ruth’s daughter, but not Mark’s) moves in with some of her traveller friends, and her son, on one of the fields. Angie then lets in some ex-nuns called the ‘Followers of the Rose’.

Ruth becomes enamored with the ‘Way of the Rose’, and falls regularly into spiritual trances under the tutelage and guidance of Sister Amelia. Her spiritual change is deep, and she develops a Voice that tells her what to do (something she acknowledges has happened before at stressful times of her life). Their 5-year-old grandson, Lucien, had been travelling with Angie, but moves into Mark and Ruth’s home, just as Mark is getting tired of Ruth’s behaviour.

The part of the story told in the present is the story of Ruth trying to work everything out by herself, so she can heal herself. She needs to know whether it was she who killed her grandson. She has the help and friendship of one of her guards, whom she nicknames Boy, and an elderly priest, Hugh.

The descriptions of the Well, the wonder of nature, and the metaphors used in the book are magical. The tale could be shorter, but I don’t regret the time she spent crafting her perfect sentences, her wonderful scenes, and the masterful tension. I recommend this highly to anybody who enjoys beautiful writing, with a side order of extremist spiritualist ex-nuns, and a storyline about grief and love and what they do to our minds.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Well
by Catherine Chanter
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781922182685

Book Review: Blood, Wine & Chocolate, written by Julie Thomas

cv_blood_wine_and_chocolateAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Blood, Wine & Chocolate is a crime thriller set in London’s East End and Waiheke Island. It is often violent (but the violence is somewhat moderated with humerous twists) and is exceptionally descriptive of the wine and chocolate production that becomes a theme in the second half of the book.

Blood, Wine & Chocolate opens with the story of three boys growing up in London, all linked by their fathers’ involvement in a criminal enterprise. Each boy gets their own chapter, and we learn why Vinnie, Marcus and Tom get set on their respective life paths. At times, I found it hard to keep track of each boy as their stories interweave, but it all comes together to create a cohesive narrative. When the boys become adults, their interests collide and the setting changes from London to Waiheke Island.

The story mostly centres on Vinnie Whitney-Ross, who grows up to become a well-regarded wine merchant. He witnesses a brutal murder:

He stared down at the corpse and shook his head. “Killed by a bottle of Petrus…I could have bought half a house with the price of that bottle.”

His childhood friend Marcus is the murderer, and the story details his motivations for testifying against Marcus, and the impact on Vinnie’s family as they are required to enter a witness protection programme. The police involved with the prosecution are well-developed characters, and the motivations for a police officer to betray Vinnie’s family well-explained.

I really enjoyed this book. It combined the usual elements of good crime stories – thorough research with great detail coming through the story, characters that are believable and are consistent and vivid descriptions of crime scenes that I could picture easily. Sometimes when I read New Zealand fiction, I find the setting of New Zealand too distracting. My focus is drawn from the story to the setting. When Blood, Wine and Chocolate moves the setting to New Zealand it was no distraction from the story, which is pretty fast moving at that point. For this reason, I really appreciated this book.

I read this book in two quick gulps. The book would be perfection if it came with some of the lovingly described chocolates (say the tequila ganache in lime infused white chocolate with sea salt) and wines that the main characters create!

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Blood, Wine and Chocolate
by Julie Thomas
Published by HarperCollins

Book Review: Where is Pim? By Lena and Olof Landstrom

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Where is Pim? is the second book in the series cv_where_is_pimabout a boy and his soft toy – the first being Pom and Pim. They are written and illustrated by husband and wife Lena and Olof Landstrom.

This is a delightful story about a little boy Pom and his soft toy Pim. When I received this book, I thought it would be the perfect book to read to the newest member of our family – 6-month-old Quinn. She sat listening intently and looking with keen interest at the illustrations. We had a discussion about the soft toy Pim – is it a spider, or a crab? – a rather one sided conversation, I might add.

Her sister Abby (4) was floating by my knee at that point, looking over at the book and the illustration. “No Grandma, it’s not a spider, it’s definitely a crab.” So that was that – it’s a crab. Quinn turned her head as if to concur with her big sister, but pointing at the same time at the dog. Dog, it transpires takes Pim after Pom had thrown it in the air, and hides it. The story that unfolds is of Pom and Dog looking under seats, bushes and other likely hiding places until Pim is eventually found.

I initially thought that perhaps at 6 months old Quinn was a tad too young to appreciate and enjoy this book, but I was certainly wrong. It is written simply with clear illustrations that made reading this delightful story a moment that I will treasure for quite some time. Life is certainly full of surprises – I think we can say this is another member of our family caught by the reading bug!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Where is Pim?
by Lena and Olof Landstrom
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271742 (P) ISBN 9781927271735 (H)