Book Review: Dragon Defenders #3 – An Unfamiliar Place, by James Russell

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

dragon_defenders_3.jpgThis was the first of the Dragon Defenders titles that I have read. It was perhaps not the best place to start, as I feel I have missed quite a bit of excitement, and some of the backstory, but I did feel that there were enough references to give me the gist of what had happened, although it would have been nice to get to know the boys, Flynn and Paddy, a bit better.

I did enjoy getting to know our third protagonist Briar whom, with her love of animals and kind, considerate nature, I felt an immediate connection with. Unluckily for poor Briar, The Pitbull, the wicked villain introduced in the first two novels, is her uncle. This story begins soon after the events in The Pitbull’s Return – with Briar’s compassionate betrayal of her Uncle’s dastardly schemes exposed. She is thrown into captivity, but she is not alone. No, The Pitbull has another plan to capture the dragons, and to enact it, he must lure the brothers away from the island, into his clutches.

Having previously foiled The Pitbull’s plans, Flynn and Paddy have returned to their relatively carefree life on the island – they race their dragon friends, help their parents, and plan for the arrival of their grandparents. But their grandparents never show; they’ve fallen into The Pitbull’s hands, and now it is up to Flynn and Paddy to rescue them. Their journey begins with a harrowing journey across a raging ocean, delivering them into a place bigger, dirtier, and stranger than they have ever imagined: the city. Here danger awaits them at every turn, and The Pitbull’s grip tightens around them. Can they escape? Or will they lose their freedom – and their dragons – forever?

The brothers’ simplistic way of life contrasts sharply with The Pitbull’s technological one. There was action and adventure a-plenty, with far more guns that I was expecting – but, unfortunately, fewer dragons. I enjoyed getting to know Briar, for not only is she compassionate, but she is also very resourceful, and not one to take being imprisoned in a tower lightly! The two boys were reckless and adventurous, throwing themselves willingly against any challenge. Their plot moved at a helter-skelter pace, giving me barely enough time to breath. The dragons did make an appearance: at both the beginning and the end, and were impressively awe-inspiring creatures.

The AR features are a novel addition;  it was fun to download the app and have a play. The addition of an AR element is something we are likely to see feature more-and-more in books, and it is nice to see it in physical books as well as in ebooks. There’s nothing like seeing a boat hovering over a page to help bring the story to life!

Overall,  lots of action and nail-biting excitement, which should be devoured by the intended audience (children 7+). I also imagine it would appeal to fans of the 39 Clues series. Despite the length of the book: 222 pages, the large print and the fast-paced plot should make it a quick and easy read, that will leave the reader hungry for more. I know that I am curious to see where the Dragon Defenders go next!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Dragon Defenders #3 – An Unfamiliar Place
by James Russell
Published by Dragon Brothers Books
ISBN 9780473435301

James Russell will be appearing at Nelson Writers Festival on Saturday 20 October at 11am.

Book Review: Not for ourselves alone: belonging in an age of loneliness, by Jenny Robin Jones

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_not_for_ourselves_aloneThis is a very comprehensive and detailed book which deals with how we can, may, and already do manage the modern world with its present emphasis on the individual, and our very particular needs to be part of society. ‘No man (or woman) is an island’ seems quite a pertinent thought when reading this work.

Jenny Robin Jones clearly did her research well. The book fires off in different directions via an almost bewildering number of avenues, thoughts and connections, from the entirely dissimilar – Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Age of Reason and Eleanor Catton – through stories of family members, references to early New Zealand settlers and the tangata whenua, immigrants to New Zealand – until she ends with positive thoughts about how we can best get on with living despite being torn in apparently different directions.

It’s an interesting and complex read. Some of the people interviewed turned out to be people I knew, which is hardly unusual in New Zealand, but it did pique my interest more, in what turned out to be a challenging read.

How to feel not alone – or how to cope with those feelings and acknowledge that they are normal for many of us – makes up the backbone of the book. To put this into some kind of perspective, Jones uses her researcht o develop her case for the need for compassion. In one of those odd coincidences of which life is made, I recently read and reviewed Gigi Fenster’s memoir, Feverish, which also deals with the importance of compassion – she sees it as the single most important attribute for human beings to aim for.

Jones’ book is divided into three major parts, with subsets in those – Getting Started, World Face to Face and World Big Wide. Getting Started is self-evident, face to face is about personal relationships and stories, and World is more on politics and philosophies.

As I said, it’s very wide-ranging and I did find it hard to follow the thread at times.
However I think it addresses several important issues, and it is definitely worth a read.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Not for ourselves alone: belonging in an age of loneliness
by Jenny Robin Jones
Published by Saddleback
ISBN 9780995102507

Book Review: Broken Play, by Nicholas Sheppard

Available at selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_broken_planAlec Haudepin is 23 years old and ever since he can remember he has dreamed of playing for the All Blacks. Alec has struggled with his sexuality for as long as he can remember, while growing up in rural New Zealand at a rugby-obsessed high school, but as he’s got older it’s been harder to deny. His life is complicated further by blame his parents have put on him when his brother Mark was killed in a farm bike accident, which led eventually to their separation.

When Alec is selected to play rugby for his province, his dream of being an All Black is so near. The one problem he has is his temper, which is fueled further by alcohol. He comes close to it blowing up in his face, so down on his drinking and managing his temper becomes a number one priority.

Alec lives in an apartment building at which a new arrival attracts his attention; Jackie and her troubled son Maxim.

In the era Alec participated in the sport, the male fraternity would not tolerate or contemplate that homosexuality could ever co-exist. Covering his frustration with alcohol just exacerbated the problem.

With the enlightenment that has come with time I am surprised to still not be aware of any openly gay rugby players playing for provincial or national rugby teams. I daresay – I hope – this is only a matter of time.

I found Broken Play a compelling read and wish to thank this first-time author Nicholas Sheppard for writing such a book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Broken Play
by Nicholas Sheppard
Published by RSVP Publishing
ISBN 9780994140814

Book Review: Fishing for Māui, by Isa Pearl Ritchie

Available at selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_fishing_for_maui.jpgThis novel, the second by Ritchie, is an episodic stroll through the lives of the characters, all of whom are either related, or in a relationship with one of the main characters.

There are two sections – the calm, and the storm. The calm of course sets the scene for what it to come. It’s quite a storm, but I won’t give spoilers – but the calm is not all that calm either, really!

There are four siblings – Elena, the pregnant conservationist; Michael the surfer/student who is keen to learn about his Māori heritage from his grandmother; John who hates school and is therefore quite angry most of the time, and Rosa who observes them all with more than the average understanding you’d expect from an eight-year-old. The other protagonists are their separated parents sports TV fan Caleb and doctor/mum Valerie, and their grandmother Gayle. Also Elena’s sidelined partner Malcolm, and Michael’s kind-of girlfriend, animal rights activist Evie. The narrative centres on the thoughts, concerns, and dilemmas of these characters.

Each character has a distinct voice, generally well-drawn, although I find one or two less credible than others – the stereotypical dysfunctional, separated father is one, and oddly the doctor mother is the other. I say oddly because the other female characters are all well-done and even if they appear marginally crazy from time to time, they still are more credible than the mother.

The driving forces for all these people, and their interactions, move the book along, but in the end I did not really enjoy it all that much. Everyone seems to be just a bit too driven.

The writing style is straightforward, but there are some obvious errors of style and language which should have been picked up in editing. So overall, for me it just misses the mark.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Fishing for Māui
by Isa Pearl Ritchie
Published by Te Ra Aroha Press
ISBN 9780473437541

Book Review: Death Actually – Death, Love and In Between, by Rosy Fenwicke

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_death_actually.jpgSet in Queenstown, New Zealand, Death Actually tells the story of Maggie, woman who has had to be both a mother and father to her two children, Kate and Nick, when her husband abandoned them.

The sudden death of both her parents leads to her returning home to New Zealand from Australia with her young children, to take over the family business of funeral direction when her brother took off overseas following his parents’ accident. With the support of her best friend Elka and her mentor Betty, Maggie has had to accept her role and has since become very much part of the Queenstown community.

The reader is taken into the lives of the people who are important to Maggie with the author’s clever characterisation of Lizzie, Elka and Betty making the writing realistic, and I really felt part of the Queenstown lifestyle. Nick and Kate lend a hand and support their mother and her friends, but there are some secrets in the background, which add complications and the new doctor in town is at times an irritation to Maggie.

Set in winter when the ski season is at its height in Queenstown, there is death (actually) in the book and I found the role and tasks undertaken by the funeral director was extensive and at times challenging, but the author has written these with sensitivity and grace.

And of course, a modern day story set in the resort would not be complete without a jet boat accident, a movie on location nearby and the dramas which accompany these activities.

The author has gently moulded the strands of the story together with humour and it moves along at a brisk pace with some very satisfactory outcomes from the twists and turns she created among the characters.

Like any good book there is sorrow as well as celebration, but friendship and love is an important thread entwined throughout the pages and anyone who likes an inspiring family drama of modern living will find this a good read and like me, they will find the vivid descriptions around Queenstown to be captivating. The underlining theme highlights strength, reliance and hope while looking to the future, ‘Alexander Benjamin Potter was born normally, at nine twenty-one on a dark and stormy night in early spring, in the back of his grandmother’s hearse, in a paddock in central Otago. He weighed 7 lbs 13ozs, and was full of fight and noise, much to everyone’s relief and joy.’

Rosy Fenwick is a doctor, writer and mother of three adult children living in Martinborough. In 2017 she released her first novel, Hot Flush, which received excellent reviews, and which I would be keen to read to see if I enjoyed it as much as Death Actually.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Death Actually: Death, Love, and In-Between
by Rosy Fenwicke
Published by Wonderful World
ISBN 9780473430986

Book Review: This is it! It’s your life. Live it, by Amanda Mortimer

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_this_is_it.jpegAs a great procrastinator, I thought Amanda Mortimer’s book This is it! It’s your life. Live it. may set me on the path to changing the things about my life that I’m not happy with. As bad habits don’t disappear overnight, I can’t report any amazing changes yet – although my treadmill did get used again and I have finally gone for a walk along the beach – two things I’ve been saying I’m too busy for.

Queenstown-based coach Amanda Mortimer is an internationally accredited and board approved Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) coach who wrote this book to help people reach their full potential by making serious lifestyle changes.

The book is split into 11 chapters and starts by asking if you’re living the life you want – if not, are you ready to change it for the better. Instead of a series of transformational stories about people changing their lives, Mortimer shares her story, which in many ways will be familiar to some readers. While her goal at first seemed impossible, she had a goal and knew how she was going to achieve it.

There are self-evaluation exercises to assess your current life satisfaction, including career, finances, fitness, health, relationships and more. Readers are encouraged to read and participate in the written exercises, and also go online to accompanying video and audio resources.

I watched some of the videos and tried listening to the audio resources but the one I had been most looking forward to, a 30-minute relaxation recording you’re advised to listen to three times a week, wouldn’t play. It was the final step in the process of making the changes stick, so to speak, so that was disappointing. It will be interesting to see if the changes I told myself I’d make and the first steps I set in motion are still with me in three months.

I did all but one of the exercises outlined in the book, and think I gave it my best shot. Towards the end Mortimer advises she isn’t including a full belief change exercise in the book because she feels that is best done in a session with an experienced coach – and I think NLP therapy may also need to be done in person for it to work effectively.

If you’re into self-help books, this is an interesting read, but it’s pretty much the old story of no pain, no gain. You have to want to make those changes and be prepared to put in the hard work to achieve your goal or it won’t happen.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

This is it! It’s your life. Live it.
by Amanda Mortimer
Published by Amanda Mortimer
ISBN 9780473246563

Book Review: Wairaka Point – An African-New Zealand Journal, by Trevor Watkin

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_wairaka_pointThe first thing most people do when picking up a new book is to automatically go to the front flap of the dust cover to get an outline of the story, but in this case no information was on offer. The second thing I know I do, is to read the back flap of the dust cover to read the biography of the author, but again nothing was there, so I did what any good reader does – I just got on and read the book. And what a book!

The story starts in Pukerua Bay, in Wellington, New Zealand 1961 with Nick James going off with his gun (a present from his father on his fifteenth birthday) to shoot a few rabbits. It had been raining so the cliff face was muddy and loose. While walking along the coast, near Wairaka Point, he came across a massive slip which had pulled down boulders, soil, trees and sand. He decided to go around the debris and at that moment he saw a skeleton, with a military-type jacket made of leather now green with mould. He raced home to get his Father. His Father gets the local policeman involved who sends the body off to the mortuary for a post mortem. Nick learns that the coroner has determined that it was probably the remains of an old hunter from before the war who fell and cracked his head on a rock. Case closed, no more is thought of the incident.

In another part of the world, Stella Rees was home in Umtali, some hundred miles north of Melsetter where her grandparents Oom (Pieter) and Sissy Viljoen, tobacco and dairy farmers live. The Viljoens were descendants from one of the original Afrikaans families.

How Nick James and Stella Rees meet and their connection to each other evolves into one of the best stories I’ve read for a very long time. This is a story based around true events in world history – WWII, Afrikaans history all interwoven into a “can’t put it down book”. A love story, with adventure, criminal activity, and a mystery finally solved. Lots of footnotes with explanations of Kiwi slang, Māori words, Afrikaans and historical events make this a very enjoyable read.

Trevor Watkin was born in Cornwall, educated in Zimbabwe and graduated from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, so a well- travelled man with an obvious interest in New Zealand and African history. He has worked in agriculture as a trader, company director and publisher, and lives in Melbourne.

A great read and I would certainly read anything else Trevor Watkin wrote.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Wairaka Point: An African-New Zealand Journal
by Trevor Watkin
Published by Product Research Pty Ltd
ISBN 9780648214212