Book Review: The Magic Pencil, by Ben Spies

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_magic_pencilWhat an extraordinary accomplishment for a ten-year-old. To write a story is hard, to write a long, novel length story is even harder. And yet that is exactly what Ben has done. As it says on the cover, his story is an action-packed adventure where the hero and his friends blitz from one dangerous situation to the next on a quest to save the world from destruction.

It all starts when Bob finds an innocent-looking pencil (innocent but for the piece of tin foil attached) which turns out to be magic – anything it draws becomes real. Which in turn means a gang of bad people want it for their own dastardly plans. Bob is soon on the run to keep the pencil safe, aided by his friends and a strange but helpful Old Man.

Their adventure is full of rockets, explosions, time travel, dinosaurs, rescues and space travel, and along the way the adventurers meet the Queen, a pharaoh and Einstein.  Eventually they return home just in the nick of time to prevent the baddies from destroying the planet. Whew!

Full of imaginative scenarios, this is a children’s story written by a child and as such features much of the things they love – action, narrow escapes, good guys and bad guys, and lots of high energy.  When it comes to writing, a lot of new writers tend to forget that they need a plot with a beginning, middle and most importantly, an end, however this is not a trap that Ben has fallen into – his plot follows a good thread with mounting action and a nicely closed loop at the end. He has also done a fine job of dealing with multiple characters and keeping them all in the right place at the right time.

The book is self-published with illustrations by Ben’s father, Robert Spies. The cover is well designed, brightly coloured and eye-catching, and overall the design and finished product are great, showing that a lot of effort has gone into creating this project. Kudos to Ben’s parents for encouraging and supporting his writing passion by turning his work into a real, live book.

As an author, Ben has made a very good start. It takes a massive amount of commitment to see a story to the end and to have done it twice is fantastic. It is wonderful to see a young boy who loves writing and this enjoyment shone through his work. My advice to him is to keep reading, keep learning and please, please keep writing.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Magic Pencil
by Ben Spies
Published by Spies Publishing
ISBN: 9780473377779

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Book Review: Nothing Bad Happens Here, by Nikki Crutchley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_nothing_bad_happens_here.jpgSet in the small Coromandel town of Castle Bay, life for everyone is disrupted when the body of a tourist who went missing several months earlier is found in a shallow grave.

Journalist Miller Hatcher is sent to cover the murder, but is she up to the task? As with most journalists in crime novels, Miller is troubled; she’s trying to get over a broken relationship and the death of her mother, she drinks too much, and she pulls her hair out when stressed.

An out of town detective is brought in to run the investigation, which doesn’t impress the local police sergeant, Kahu Parata. He feels pushed out, and upset at the ghoulish interest the murder has attracted to his town.

The plot of this book feels like a script for one of those crime shows that crosses over into another show’s territory – in this case a mix of Brokenwood Mysteries, 800 Words and Criminal Minds. I found some of it way too far-fetched to believe in a New Zealand setting.

There are several red herrings and Miller – who is staying in a healing retreat run by an aging hippy as the town’s accommodation is booked out – is given an anonymous tip that leads to another death. When one of the fellow retreat guests goes missing, Miller realises the murderer could be still in town.

As an awful lot gets conveniently tied up in the final few chapters, it’s hard to say much about this book without giving the ending away. It was a fast read, but ultimately not a satisfying one. A word of advice too, be careful where you read this book. When a drop of water from my cold drink landed on the page, the ink ran.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Nothing Bad Happens Here
by Nikki Crutchley
Published by Oak House Press
ISBN 9780473404505

Book Review: Find Miranda in New Zealand, by Gabby Suhl

Available at selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_find_miranda.jpgFind Miranda in New Zealand
is one of a series of books by Gabby Suhl following the different Golly characters on hide and seek adventures.

Miranda is a sheep travelling around New Zealand to various locations. Along the same lines as “Find Wally” this charming book with stunning photos is a treasure of a book.

Trying to find Miranda is at times fairly challenging. I did have some help in the form of my two granddaughters Abby aged 6 years and Quinn 2 ½ years. They often found Miranda long before I did. It was a case of “of course”.

Miranda travels around the North Island including Cape Reinga, Mangonui, Whangaroa Harbour. Waitangi, Kerikeri, Kawakawa, Hokianga Harbour and a number of other places. South Island locations include Riwaka, Nelson, Kaikoura and again a number of other places.

This is a great book, introducing children to spatial awareness and visual perception.
Gabby Suhl has produced a number of toys all handmade in New Zealand to accompany the Golly series of books and can be ordered on-line. A rather unique addition to a lovely book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Find Miranda in New Zealand
by Gabby Suhl
Published by the Golly Family
ISBN 9780473359843

Book Reviews: The Yoga of Sailing and Buddha and a Boat, by Dyana Wells

The Yoga of Sailing, by Dyana Wells

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The Yoga of Sailing is the first book of the Anchors in an Open Sea trilogy.

Alice, her eldest daughter Emily and her elderly father Roger embark on sailing adventure from New Zealand to Fiji and beyond.  It doesn’t go according to plan with Alice often wondering out loud whether her father is up to it physically and mentally.  She also has doubts about the sea worthiness of her father’s boat Dream-Maker.

Alice has always had an adventurous streak often taking her not very willing children, as they were growing up on tramping trips. While not particularly willing at the time these trips remain in their memories as adults.

Alice is one of these people that just can’t sit still exploring alternative lifestyles going on retreats, learning yoga.  Her adventures have taken her cycling, tramping and sailing.

Living in close quarters on board Dream-Maker, family relationships become taunt with friction.  Alice’s solution when moored at some safe haven near port is to go camping or catch a bus to get away.

Romance takes place in the form with an infatuation with an American Cornelius – a man with complex issues of his own. Alice’s search for fulfilment often makes the reader wonder why she came on this sailing adventure in the first place.  To live in close confines with family is hard enough at the best of times without friction continually bubbling under the surface.

I have no sailing background but having lived in a city surrounded by water I’ve often been on boats – mainly ferries going to the different islands in the Hauraki Gulf. The review for the second book is below.

Buddha and a Boat, by Dyana Wells

Buddha and a Boat is book two in the trilogy Anchors in an Open Sea.

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We continue the story of Alice and her romance and often stormy relationship with Cornelius. There are many facets to his character but he seems to have deep seated anger issues related to his mother.  He often takes his frustration out on Alice.  She finds him frustrating along with dealing with her father Roger and his on again, off again sailing schedule.  Roger seems to almost daily change his mind as to what his plans are. Throw into the mix his jealously of Cornelius and you have a very complex set of relationships: perhaps they might catch the next flight out of paradise?

Alice’s children later on in life are starting to have real life issues.  They have to cope with the death of their father while dealing with issues from their past that seem to filter through their life as adults.

Alice’s twin sister Marion traveled with her children to join them on part of the sailing adventure with their father, but the story gets mixed up with the past and the present.

I’m not sure how I feel about books like this – flicking between what is the here and now and the past. On the other hand, I did enjoy this book, almost crying when Alice’s father died while she accompanied him back to New Zealand on his much loved Dream-Maker and his consequential burial at sea.  Anybody who has lost a parent can empathise with Alice and the grief she must have felt.

Books reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Yoga of Sailing
by Dyana Wells
Published by Fiery Scribes
ISBN 9780473373863

Buddha and a Boat
by Dyana Wells
Published by Fiery Scribes
ISBN 9780473373917

 

 

Book Review: The Nam Legacy, by Carole Brungar

Available from selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_nam_legacyThe Nam Legacy is the second novel by Foxton-born author Carole Brungar, but it’s very different from her first, A Tide Too High.

While both have a love story at their heart, this book explores relationships in greater depth, with much of it centred around the Vietnam War. If you were a fan of the television series Love Child, you should enjoy The Nam Legacy, as it explores similar themes.

Set in the 1960s and 1970s in small town New Zealand, the book introduces us to Jack Coles, a farmer’s son with a promising rugby career ahead of him, and his fiancée, Evelyn (Evie) Hallet, a talented singer whose parents own a hotel.

Jack wants nothing more than to settle down with Evie and start a family, but after a talent scout hears her singing, her music career takes off and soon she moves to Auckland to make the most of the opportunities available to her. Jack starts to feel lost and restless, and after hearing tales his brother, Brian, tells of his life in the army, Jack decides he wants a taste of the action.

Evie is devastated when he tells her he’s going away, and more so when he is sent to Vietnam. They write, and Evie gets the chance to see Jack when she is sent to the war zone with two other girls to sing for the troops.

As a lead scout, Jack puts himself in danger every time he heads out on patrol, but he seems to lead a charmed life, until one day he arrives in a village that the Viet Cong have attacked. He saves the life of a badly injured young woman (Mai Linh) and from that moment on, their lives start to intertwine. Despite his love for Evie, Jack embarks on a risky affair with Mai Linh, and is conflicted even further when she tells him she is pregnant, and he is the father.

I won’t go into detail about what happens from this point on as I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say that just months after his daughter is born, Jack is injured in a battle with the VC and ends up in hospital, where he is given the news he is being sent home.
Once home, Jack tries to return to normal life on the farm, and he and Evie marry. But the demons that plagued him in Vietnam have followed him home and Jack’s behaviour starts spiraling out of control. Evie is at her wit’s end and doesn’t know what’s going on or what she can do to help her husband.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending of the book: to find out whether there is a happy ending or not, you had better get it!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Nam Legacy
by Carole Brungar
Published by Carole Brungar
ISBN 9780473395209

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: A Southern Tale, by Joanne McDougall

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

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