Book Review: Anzac Heroes, by Maria Gill

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Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_anzac_heroesIt is books like this one that will keep the spirit of the Anzacs alive for the generations to come.

30 Anzacs who served during WW1 and WW2 are featured, their stories told and illustrated in a manner that brings them alive before the readers eyes. The stories told are accompanied by detailed maps, timelines and photographs that all enhance the reader’s experience and help to show exactly where something took place.

The heroes’ stories are told in a very relatable manner, ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the most extraordinary places and in a timeframe that simply doesn’t leave time to ponder ones actions. Each branch of the services is represented, male and female.

If there is a particular standout in this book, it is the layout and illustrations, they are so well done and a lot of thought has gone into it. The book flows well from page to page, making it very easy for any young person using the book for a classroom inquiry to find exactly what they need.

This is the type of book that lends itself to being picked up and read from cover to cover, equally as an inquiry resource. Finding the information you need is quite easy, it’s all there waiting.

This book should be available in every children’s section of the library and every school library both here and in Australia, it is a very valuable slice of our history.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Anzac Heroes
by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN  9781775433637

Book Review: A Dying Breed, by Peter Hanington

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cv_a_dying_breedAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

A Dying Breed is the first book by Peter Hanington; I hope it won’t be his last. His work on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme during the time of the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts has given the book a sense of realism. When his characters move through the landscape of Kabul you are there with them, watching your back and being ever alert for danger.

William Carver is an old-school BBC journalist who likes to keep what he knows to himself, much to the irritation of his employer. He’s filing few stories, and no one knows exactly what he’s up to.

When a local official is killed in a bombing at a tailor’s shop in Kabul, it doesn’t excite Carver much. Until he learns the official was opposed to a UK company being awarded a telecoms licence. Warned to leave the story alone, Carver does the opposite, roping in his translator, Karim Mumtaz, to help him dig deeper. He discovers that the bomb was the kind favoured by foreign forces and the official died from a gunshot to the head, not the bomb blast.

Back in the UK Carver’s immediate boss, Rob Mariscal, is told to rein him in and kill the story until the contract is awarded. Carver hates working with a producer and has already been responsible for one resignation, but Mariscal sends young producer Patrick Reid to Kabul, in the hope that he will find out exactly what Carver knows. So he can get on with his research, Carver sends Reid and Mumtaz on a job that had been set up just for him. When they get kidnapped and Mariscal arrives in Kabul, Carver mistakenly confides in him, which could put his colleagues’ lives in danger.

A Dying Breed has a number of characters who play an integral part in the story – British Ambassador David Lever, private military contractor Richard Roydon, and a warlord known as the General. Everyone has something to hide and lives will be lost trying to suppress the truth. Will Carver be able to publish his story in time or will his efforts be in vain?

This book is fast-paced and extremely well-written. As a journalist myself, the characters in A Dying Breed are believable and the trials and pitfalls of chasing a major story only too familiar.

A note claiming the book was set in a shadowy le Carré-esque world worried me a little as I had never read any of le Carré’s books. Having finished A Dying Breed, I’m keen to remedy that. It just shows the difference having extensive knowledge of your subject matter makes to a novel – this book is hard to put down and leaves no questions unasked. Just like a good news story really.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

A Dying Breed
by Peter Hanington
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781473625426

Book Review: The City of Mirrors, by Justin Cronin

cv_the_city_of_mirrorsAvailable from today in bookshops nationwide.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been counting the days to the release of the final book in The Passage Trilogy (well, not until the last 3 months) but I have certainly been eagerly awaiting it.

The book that started it all – The Passage – was a sprawling tale that inevitably drew comparisons to Stephen King’s The Stand in both scale and skill. The Passage introduced us to Amy, a little girl somehow connected to a strange viral outbreak that is in turn linked to mysterious experiments and twelve very frightening men. Spanning nearly a century, The Passage sets out a dystopian world so real you feel you like you could reach out and touch the characters. More importantly, you want to.

Book 2, The Twelve, jumps both backwards and forwards from the timeline of The Passage introducing us to new characters, filling in backstory and updating us on old; as well as developing what can only be described as the mythos of Amy and the Twelve. It’s obvious that Cronin was in this for the long game from the start with carefully laid threads slowly pulling together into the most intricately woven plans and plotlines. With an explosive ending, I’d recommend you have Book 3 on standby.

The City of Mirrors is the book that was either going to prove that Justin Cronin was a true maestro of the written word or a hack spinning webs like a dizzy spider with no master design. To say this book is a triumph is an understatement.

Every thread, every plotline, every character pulls together and creates the most amazing final chapter of the trilogy. It’s like magic.

This is not a small book. (None of the three are.) I read it in one sitting – I couldn’t put it down, I didn’t want to. I had tears running down my face on more than one occasion: genuine tears of joy for some of the characters who after three books feel like old friends.

So too their losses feel sharp as glass beneath bare feet. That is perhaps Cronin’s greatest skill – to write so many characters so well that you care about all of them, you remember all of them. They are all significant even if it appears to be only for a small period of time.
And the ending? So intricate yet so simple it seems almost obvious.

And while Cronin’s world is set in a plague-ravaged universe, the wisdom throughout holds true today. Human nature and the reasoning of man, God, science and nature are eternal no matter the locale or the time frame. A city of mirrors – reflecting your true self, is not so hard to imagine.

I dare you to open the cover and look inside.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

The City of Mirrors (The Passage Trilogy: Book 3)
by Justin Cronin
Published by Orion
ISBN 9780752897899 / TPB 9780752897912

If you want to refresh your memory of the first two books, here’s the place to go. 

Book Reviews: Kākahu – Getting Dressed; Kararehe – Animals; and Kanohi – My Face, by Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson

Available now from selected bookshops nationwide.

I have reviewed lots of books for Booksellers NZ now, and I know that it’s a good one when I go and talk to our school librarian Sam about them. We both love reading good novels and share recommendations; we also enjoy great children’s books, and Sam, bless her, will often take my recommendation from a review and order a copy for school.

 


I took these three books straight to Sam to ask her to order a set. I’d just read them to three 5 year-olds in our Te Reo Māori immersion class to test out an age level for them. Being board books, even though they were really engaging to me as a reader and language learner, I wondered if our youngest learners would think they were babyish. They most definitely did not.

My three young friends – all learning to read and speak Te Reo Māori – really loved the books. They enjoyed using their own knowledge of reading to work out the phrases by looking at the pictures and matching the words. They spontaneously acted out some of the phrases. They were excited to be able to actually be able to read new books.

Because these books are bilingual – Te Reo Māori and English – they will be accessible to most readers in New Zealand. It’s a great idea to make some simple vocabulary and phrases available to readers who only have a smattering of Te Reo Māori with the English translation underneath, and there’s a really helpful pronunciation guide with phonetic spelling at the back to help.

The illustrations are just gorgeous. The children look like real Kiwi kids, cheeky and mischievous and full of spirit; you feel like you could stroke the animals. And being board books, they are robust enough to grow with a baby or toddler into a child’s first year of school; although I think the books are too lovely to be chewed on!

I will be buying these books as gifts for newborns, and for early birthday presents – I think they’d be great for children who are up to 5 and a half. I think these are such a valuable addition to the wonderful pantheon of homegrown books that speak of New Zealand; every early learning centre should have the set. I really hope that Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson will produce more!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore (New Entrance teacher)

Kanohi: My Face
by Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson
Published by Reo Pepi Tapui Ltd
ISBN 9780473331504

Kararehe: Animals
by Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson
Published by Reo Pepi Tapui Ltd
ISBN 9780473331511

Kākahu: Getting Dressed
by Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson
Published by Reo Pepi Tapui Ltd
ISBN 9780473331528

 

 

Book Review: Main Trunk Lines: Collected Railway Poems, by Michael O’Leary

Available now in selected bookshops.

cv_main_trunk_linesFor prolific poet, author and jack-of-all poetry trades, Michael O’Leary, this latest thematic collection represents an impressive array of his railway-related poems. Railways and all their quirks have long occupied O’Leary and have formed a backdrop to his life in various guises. Spanning 30 years of his writing, Main Trunk Lines travels with him across the width and breadth of Aotearoa, via its railways. It is a bumpy ride showcasing the picturesque vistas on offer through train windows, both past and present. Historical asides peppered throughout add context and enlightening detail to the poems.

On working on the S9 track gang north of Dunedin (To the S9 Track Gang), O’Leary doesn’t pull any punches: ‘And the rails on which it ran, cut my young life in two.’ We learn that one fellow worker, Maia, ‘lost his fight for survival’ during the works (Waiata – a chant: te manga aho o te rerewe ki Seacliff). From the introductory poem, Self Deception, the reader is immediately reminded of this life’s journey on the ‘death express’, taking us to an eventual demise. O’Leary draws parallels between his younger self (an evaporating vision) and the children boarding the kinder transport to the death camps during the second world war. It is a sobering, if not morbid note with which to preface the wide-ranging selection. Overall, the book has enough light relief thanks to O’Leary’s signature cheekiness, to keep us buoyant.

As you would expect from a subject so rich in rhythmic material to draw from, we are treated to many lines deserving of performance or musical accompaniment. A fine example is the rap-like lines from the poem Make Love and War:
From the stations of My Lai and Lidice and Fallujah
It doesn’t matter who’s killing ya
If you’re being killed –

There is a lyrical lilt throughout, with a special treat in the middle section which features six Waiata chants – the perfect marriage of onomatopoeia and waiata form. They are of course a nod to the railway gang songs of days past, combined with O’Leary’s Maori heritage. One can only imagine the fun to be had from a public performance of this set of poems, with their humour, for example:

Clickety clack, Karakiti karakati – HUROA

It’s not a slinky cat nor a winged bat – it’s a rat.
From poem Te manga aho o te rerewe ki Taumaranui

These are an absolute delight to read, rich with delicious idiosyncratic images: ‘Rotorua projectionist, swaying loin-mat, the fat of the land handed down the valley on a saucer.’ At times absurdist, the reader is reminded of the work of fellow New Zealand poet, David Eggleton, employing rapid fire and sometimes surreal imagery.

Any reader living in New Zealand will find a familiar scene to relate to. For those of us less well travelled in our own nation, the book is a virtual tour that sparks a desire to explore more of New Zealand’s hidden pockets and quaint small towns. Overall, it’s a sublime collection, capturing the tracks and trajectories of a nation and a poet.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

Main Trunk Lines: Collected Railway Poems
by Michael O’Leary
Published by HeadworX
ISBN 9780473329174

Book Review: Gary, by Leila Rudge

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_garyGary is Australian illustrator Leila Rudge’s first solo project, after having illustrated 6 books previously, including the brilliant Mum Goes to Work, for writer Libby Gleeson. Her illustrations look to be completed using mainly coloured pencils, with blocks of colour for emphasis of details, some textural photography, and a clever use of symbols.

I picked this book up and brought it home not because I thought instantly that my children would love it, but because my husband’s name is Gary. It’s not every day you see a book called Gary – you mostly see the name on the ‘going out’ baby name lists each year.

Gary lives in a loft with the other racing pigeons, but he stays home when they go on their races – because he can’t fly. Instead of flying, he does his scrapbook, keeping mementos that the other pigeons bring to him from their adventures. The illustrations show the other pigeons in sports uniforms, while Gary just wears a little blue hat.

Gary is every odd-bod, everybody who sees the world a little differently – whether through attitude or physical disability. I wished that there was a succinct note about why he couldn’t fly and why he was still in a RACING PIGEON loft despite this fact, which would have been fairly obvious to the (invisible) humans that deliberately kept racing pigeons. His journey, however, is one that children can relate to.

Because when Gary finds himself in a tight spot, he uses his brain to puzzle out his way home. The illustrations on these pages are brilliant, using signs and symbols to explain how he returned to his loft, using public transport, thanks to his handy scrapbook. There are plenty of traffic lights and familiar road signs that the roadworks and transport afficianados will love identifying. It is just the sort of book that my 3-year-old gets attached to.

Recommended for kids ages 3 – 6, and for anybody who needs a little inspiration to break their daily routine.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Gary
by Leila Rudge
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781925081695

Book Review: Katherine Howard, by Josephine Wilkinson

cv_katherine_howardAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

The life and wives of Henry the Eighth are an endless source of material for novelists. Fact and fiction become blurred in the enjoyment of a good story, but sometimes it is good to be able to distinguish what is real and what is imagined.

Josephine Wilkinson has a superb grasp of the complexities of Tudor English history. Her excellent research is presented in a very readable text. Katherine Howard was the fifth wife of Henry and was beheaded for sexual misbehaviour. This book follows the chronological unfolding of her life. We see a young girl who is a pawn in her father’s games, an abandoned child farmed out to family, and a young woman in love, in a situation where love was not important.

While Katherine Howard’s inexperience and naïveté are evident, so is her grasp of how this world operates. Katherine was, by all accounts, a beautiful young girl and once Henry laid eyes on her, her tragic future was assured. The trusted friends who had a part in her upbringing, now become witnesses who contributed to her downfall. The truth, as always, can be twisted to suit the needs of the accusers.

I gained a much deeper insight into the family Howard through this book. That Katherine was a cousin to the executed Anne Boleyn, meant her family already knew the dangers of trusting a King. This is a readable account of a tragic life. Josephine Wilkinson has already given us four books based on English history. Katherine Howard allows me to hope there may yet be more.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Katherine Howard
by Josephine Wilkinson
Published by John Murray Publishers Ltd
ISBN 9781444796278