Book Review: Leap of Faith, by Jenny Pattrick

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cv_leap_of_faith_bigPattrick, an experienced New Zealand historic novelist, brings the Volcanic Plateau to life in her latest book Leap of Faith.

Set in 1907, Pattrick takes the reader on a journey on what life may have been like for those drawn to the area by the railroad work, to construct the Makatote viaduct. This pioneering work made it possible to travel the whole length of the North Island, from Wellington to Auckland, by train.

Working on the railroad is somber and tough, with co-op gangs incentivised by targets to ensure the railroad is completed on time. It’s also a harsh and, at times, perilous environment. Despite these conditions, the railroad attracts a variety of characters.

At the heart of the novel is young and impressionable Billy, only 14 years old when he goes to join the camps at Makatote. He’s later joined by his siblings Maggie and Freeman, and quickly becomes good friends with Ruri, one of a few Māori working on the railroad.

It’s not long till Billy is swept up by the gospel and charm of Gabriel Locke, a preacher with a dodgy past, who passes through the town hoping to build a community of dedicated followers. Gabriel also quickly charms Amelia Grice, a prohibitionist who is determined to figure out who’s supplying sly grog to the workers.

This novel develops over two years switching between perspectives of the different characters. It also switches between past and present, which I found a little confusing at times. The pace of the book is fairly slow but finally picks up a quarter of the way into the book when an unfortunate event ties several of the characters together. This helps to move the plot along and adds some suspense to the novel – in such a small community, secrets don’t last long.

Historical novels aren’t a genre I read often and with this book I longed for more of a connection with the characters. That being said, I admired the amount of research Pattrick has clearly done. Pattrick shows a deep knowledge of not only the area but also in the construction of the railroad and the time period. She expertly weaves New Zealand’s native bush and unique rural landscapes throughout the novel:

‘The mountain appeared for the first time in months, while majestic at the head of the valley. Woodpigeons erupted from what was left of the bush, flying from ridge to ridge flashing their blue-green wings’.

Anyone interested by the New Zealand railroad or with connections to the area will find this an intriguing and enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Sarah Young

Leap of Faith
by Jenny Pattrick
Published by Black Swan – PRH
ISBN 9780143770916

Book Review: The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front, by Matthew Wright

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cv_nz_experience_at_galliopiMatthew Wright is a prolific writer on many subjects not just military history. Many of this highly qualified historian’s works interpret various aspects of New Zealand’s social history. And it is this interpretative skill which underpins the author’s latest work The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front.

This book looks behind the actual events and discusses the why of not only the military and political actions and decisions related to the New Zealand’s soldiers’ involvement in World War 1, but also the social, political and economic of these decisions on New Zealand.

The work is not strictly a new book. As the author notes, it is an ‘updated and expanded second edition of Shattered Glory: The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front’.

Among the important The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front updates are new numbers of the New Zealand strength at Gallipoli, which were finally reported on in 2016.

Wright views the New Zealand casualties at Gallipoli, showing the impact of these casualties on New Zealand’s then small, conservative country which was still highly motivated by the jingoism of the time – for the Glory of King and Empire. He sees the idealism of the time ‘however naïve it may seem from a twenty-first century viewpoint’ as being a device with which the country coped with the ‘shattering losses’ of the Gallipoli campaign.

However, the impact on New Zealand while known by households throughout the country having empty chairs around the dinner table, were never properly recognised in official figures. This was apparently because of bad record keeping by an inexperienced and probably under-resourced New Zealand army administration. The New Zealand government did not establish a post World War 1 war history branch, as the Australian Government did – they did after the World War 2. A semi-official history of the Gallipoli Campaign by Fred Waite was put together in haste in 1919 before many of the documents were available. In a preface, equally written in haste by Gallipoli commander, General Sir Ian Hamilton, quoted a number of “total strength landed” as being 8,556 New Zealanders with total casualties of 7,447.

Wright comments that where Hamilton got his numbers from is not really known but they stuck as being official for decades. The impact that these figures had in establishing myth and legend around New Zealand’s sacrifice is discussed in length by Wright. Apparently it was in the 1980’s that historians began to question the Hamilton figures, but it was a long search before any acceptable level of accuracy was established.

In 2016, an interim report by New Zealand Defence Force Historian, John Crawford, suggested that many more kiwis had been involved in Gallipoli than the Hamilton figures had indicated. It was now thought that “probably” more than 17,000 New Zealanders fought at Gallipoli. While not claimed as a final figure, it is apparently changing the way historians are considering the New Zealand’s role. Wright does not seem to suggest that the casualty rate of 7,447 is in doubt. Proportionally, this is in line with the casualty rate of other nations involved. Thus, New Zealand had not, it seems, made an exceptional sacrifice after all, although obviously the social impact within New Zealand, is now seen as touching many more families than the Hamilton figures suggested.

The scale of the New Zealand effort on the Western Front was much greater than at Gallipoli. More than 90,000 kiwis were involved producing more than half of the casualties in all of New Zealand’s military history. And Wright notes that there was a greater toll if the death of wounded solders after the war and the lingering effects of gas were taken into account. The battles, the victories (Messines and Les Quesnoy) and the tragedies (Somme and Passchendaele) are detailed both in terms of the political and military preparations and the actual battles, but also from the personal level with excellent references to letters and diaries of officers and soldiers. Letters from home are also well used by Wright to allow an understanding of the impact of the hostilities back in New Zealand.

Following the penultimate chapter discussing whether New Zealand was in indeed a land fit for heroes to return, Wright finishes this book with a chapter entitled ‘Myth and Memory’. In it, he explores how ANZAC day, always regarded as the first expression of a New Zealand identity, has been ‘re-framed’ around 21st Century notions of the country’s self-identity with the battles of Gallipoli and on the Western Front: viewed in a different context from when they were fought.

We are now in the year of remembrance of the 1914-18 tragedy: the centenary anniversaries of Gallipoli, Messines and Passchendaele will be held in June and September with commemorative ceremonies throughout the country. Scores of kiwis will visit the commemorations at the battlefields in Europe. The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front explains why.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front
by Matthew Wright
Published by Oratia Publishing
ISBN: 9780947506193

Book Review: East, by Peri Hoskins

Available at selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_eastThis is the second book by Peri Hoskins featuring the character Vince Osborne, a suburban lawyer who has the feeling life is leaving him behind. Disillusioned with representing petty criminals, he chucks in his job and decides to go on a road trip.  A journey to reconnect with who he is and what he should be doing with his life.

Vince drives back to the city, visiting old friends and haunts from his university days, before setting off.  He bunks down with a friend of a friend to make a plan.  He sorts out supplies, getting his car fitted with an LPG tank but leaving the petrol tank in place, realising that not every small town will have an LPG supply.  There is an easy familiarity, as he slots back into old friendships before heading east to begin his journey, writing a journal along the way.

He starts off picking up hitchhikers, to break the monotony of the barren countryside. Each town/city changes, as does the accommodation available, but somehow, they all seem to merge. The only changing detail is the people he meets along the way as he makes small talk with staff and fellow travelers at the various places he stays. Some just drifting from one place to another.  He starts to wind down and get into the zone.

Old mining towns with hardened characters that seem to always go with hard places: this is a journey of self-discovery for Vince.  He applies for a job in one of the gold mines – hard, hard, physical work but one where he finds satisfaction.

At first I thought – oh hell, another one of “those books” where it just goes nowhere, but how wrong I was.  This is a book that ended up even questioning my own life and where I was heading – how I could change the mundane into something a lot more exciting. As Vince discovers, dreams aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

East
by Peri Hoskins
Tane Kaha Publications
ISBN 9780473251284

Book Review: The Earth Cries Out, by Bonnie Etherington

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_earth_cries_out.jpgI’m getting harder to please in my old age but The Earth Cries Out has done it. It’s a surprising and quite wonderful novel.

Eight-year-old Ruth moves from Nelson to West Guinea with her parents after her younger sister’s tragic death. Her parents had been drifting apart even before all this happened, and the way we see their pain through Ruth’s eyes is so well done: they’re closed off and hurting, and now even more isolated, literally.

Ruth, though, carries on her childhood. This is the aspect of the book I loved the most: despite the obvious difference between 1990s Nelson, NZ and jungle-surrounded, mountain-top West Guinea, Ruth keeps being eight. Things are as odd and normal as ever: she gets on with learning a new language so she can get on with play and understanding; she sees a dead newborn baby, and comes face-to-face with disease; she invents her own superstitions, and listens to or discards the superstitions of the village.

Life thrums around Ruth – the incredible flora (wonderfully described), the people, the mosquitos – but there’s a stillness to her. She describes scenes so immaculately that, often, it’s almost as if the story isn’t moving forward. It’s compelling, but not because of its action, necessarily; it’s compelling because of how spot-on the author captures childhood’s tiny cruelties and guilts that we never let go of. It’s rounded out by grief and growing up, and a background of politics and history.

This is an impressive, moving, often unflinching debut.

Reviewed by Jane Arthur

The Earth Cries Out
by Bonnie Etherington
Vintage/Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780143770657

 

Book Review: A Southern Tale, by Joanne McDougall

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cv_a_southern_taleSammy is a Sea Lion, a very rare and endangered species. He lives on an island deep in the Southern Ocean.

As light filled the sky bringing warmth with the dawn,
Sammy woke up with a stretch and a yawn.  
Her tummy then rumbled, expressing a wish
that she leaps into the sea and go and find a fish.
Into the waves, she dove as they crashed against rocks,
causing foam and spray to be splashed.

Sammy swam far in search of food, arriving at her favourite place teeming with fish. Fish eating the plankton, penguins and dolphins and sea birds galore gather for dinner, trying to ignore the sea leopards lurking, waiting for their chance to grab a quick bite. Meanwhile, the sharks with glistening white teeth, sharp as a razor lie in wait, fancying a meal of sea lion.

I read this book to 2 ½ year old Quinn. She’s been to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea World so knows all about seals and penguins – telling me in no uncertain terms just what she thinks about the seals in this story being chased and perhaps eaten. It can be quite hard explaining to a small child about the food chain in the animal kingdom – suburban Auckland doesn’t quite cut it.

This is a great story with wonderful illustrations, to introduce children to endangered species and to try and make them a little more aware of what goes on in the great ocean surrounding our country.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Southern Tale
by Joanne McDougall
Published by Pegasus Art
9780473373696

Book Review: Brushstrokes of Memory, by Karen McMillan

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cv_brushstrokes_of_memory.jpgCombined with the perfect timing for Mother’s Day, the pretty and colourful cover, the by-line ‘a novel of love, lost memories & rediscovering dreams’, this really looks like a great piece of enjoyable reading, in rare and craved for moments of solitude, cat or dog curled up next to you, glass of wine, cup of tea, piece of cake! Bliss.

Karen McMillan is a North Shore, Auckland based writer. She has previously written, to popular acclaim, two novels themed around WWII in Poland and America – The Paris of the East and The Paris of the West. This novel is quite, quite different in every possible way from her two previous novels.

The writer has tapped into the now (getting a little worn) theme of ‘woman losing memory’, focusing on Rebecca, who loses the memory of ten years of her life, from her 32nd birthday to present day. She is now 42, when she wakes up in hospital, concussed from a fall down some stairs. She is still married to Daniel – a once successful NZ rock star-now music tutor, lives in Browns Bay on Auckland’s North Shore, and works in the city in some sort of graphic designer capacity.

In the ten year period that she can’t remember, many things happen to her and Daniel –illness, death, loss, good times and bad times. None of this of course is known to Rebecca when she wakes up, seeing her adorable and adoring husband by her bed and her best friend Julie. Life is peachy, other than a bit of a headache. Not so.

The novel, of course, then sets about revealing what has really gone on in those ten years, working towards a well managed climax, and subsequent resolution. Well crafted then, with plenty of tension, some curve balls, a mysterious stalker, the horrible boss, ageing parents, health issues, and at the core of the novel, the state of Daniel and Rebecca’s marriage.

So much of this novel is good, with a straightforward story, some very insightful writing on grief, the nature of memory, the brain recovering its memories, the complications of every day life and relationships, and especially the sections on Rebecca’s serious brush with breast cancer, which I understand are strongly based on the author’s own experience of breast cancer. I learnt a lot, not just about the physical experience of the disease but also the emotional experience. Very, very good.

But, for me, and I stress most strongly that this is my own personal reaction to this book, it is just average. There are a number of unfinished threads, and I just could not relate to Rebecca or Daniel. I couldn’t understand, and there is no explanation in the book, why such a talented and successful artist as Rebecca was ten years ago, is now working in some horrible unpleasant design firm doing reworks of work she has already done; we never find out how the accident happened even though decent sized chunks of Rebecca’s thoughts are taken up with this mystery; how serious is this head injury, how long had she been in hospital for, concussion can take months to recover from – she is back at work seemingly full time two weeks after she becomes conscious again with nothing but the odd headache.

I honestly thought Daniel was pathetic, a wimp of a man. He can’t bring himself to tell his wife of one terribly tragic event, or that they were on the verge of separating, because suddenly, what-ho, his newly conscious wife is a sex-goddess! What man in his right mind would want to lose that!

Best friend Julie is by far the best character. Forever berating Daniel for his inability to talk to his wife, she spends most of her time protecting Rebecca from herself, looking after Rebecca’s elderly mother in the rest home she works in, and generally trying to keep one step ahead of all those around her.

This is a very Auckland-city novel, depicting the city’s love affair with real estate – big modern homes and quaint Devonport villas, cafes, the hideousness of the transport infrastructure, the whole glossy magazine feel about the place, the people, the lives they lead. Even though I live in Auckland, I found all this quite cliched and cringing. We get this in the papers, on TV and media every single day, surely there are other aspects of the city that the author could also have found to illustrate her novel.

It reflects what I feel overall about this novel – that despite the serious and important themes, much of it lacks depth and insight, too glib, things are just brushed over instead of going just a little deeper. There will be people who love this, I appreciate that, and for an easy, lazy Sunday afternoon read, it will definitely fill the gap.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Brushstrokes of Memory
by Karen McMillan
Published by McKenzie Publishing
ISBN 9780473374358

Book Review: I Don’t Have Time, by Audrey Thomas and Emma Grey

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cv_I_don't_have_time.jpgIt took quite a long time to read this book, rather ironically, because it contains material that needs to be well thought over. It is written, according to Audrey and Emma, the authors, for ‘women of a certain age, splashing dramatically in a sea of self-inflicted over-commitment’ who need to realise that they do have time to do the things that will add satisfaction to their lives. The sub title of the book is “15 -minute ways to Shape A Life You Love”.

A quick flick through it offers some quick-flick ideas common to self-help literature, and this book fits into that genre. But a deeper reading reveals that Audrey and Emma have lived much of what they write about. It has an honesty about it which appeals and which prevents the material from being slick or glib. As some other reviewers noted, this is ‘a time management book for real people by real people.’

It’s a book that not only encourages us to look for ways to engage in activities that we enjoy, but gives us the motivation and energy to do so by recounting the success of others, detailing their efforts and their thoughts. It covers areas of life that matter most to us, exploring the excuses we make to keep us from achieving happiness and satisfaction. I enjoyed it even though I felt older than the intended readers (it is primarily, but not exclusively, written for the younger woman overwhelmed by the pressures and self-inflicted commitments of career building, child-rearing and home-making), because it enabled me to see how I’d managed my life through that time, and feel a little smug that I’d come through it reasonably well-adjusted.

Having said that, I enjoyed it also because of its approach. It appeals to the person we are, to the humanity we share and to the burdens and problems we suffer under, and it offers solutions that we can see will work.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

I Don’t Have Time
by Audrey Thomas and Emma Grey
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593218