Book Review: Andrew Down Under – The Story of an Immigrant Dog, by Anne Manchester

Available from selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_andrew_down_underThis is the second book about Andrew, but chronologically the first. It’s the story of Andrew the pampered Pekinese who used to live in Palm Springs. However his human decides to move home to Eastbourne, Wellington, and this is Andrew’s story of how that turned out!

Andrew had a fabulous life in Palm Springs, where it’s warm all year round, and virtually windless if his comments about Eastbourne are anything to go by.

He is reluctant to travel, particularly when he finds out that he has to go it alone. Not a happy camper, he manages to abscond at various points along the way, but ultimately does make it on to the plane and into quarantine in New Zealand.

The story is entirely written from the dog’s point of view, so anthropomorphic might be an understatement! However, I decided to get over that and just enjoy the story. Andrew is an engaging little dog, and Anne Manchester writes the story well. It romps along, with all of Andrew and Poppa’s tough decisions well-told, and with particularly good insight into the mind of a dog. Dog-owners will understand what I mean. Who cares where the food is, as long as it’s available?

Of course, coming to a new country is hard enough, but when you find that there are some members of your new extended family who not only don’t like dogs much, but also have a cat, then it’s a bit much for a small canine to deal with. So Andrew absconds again…

Mercifully all turns out well, and both Poppa and Andrew settle in to their new life.

I think it would be a great read-aloud to younger kids, and it’s a good solo read for independent readers.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Andrew down under: the story of an immigrant dog
by Anne Manchester
illustrated by Fifi Colston
Published by Submarine
ISBN 9780995109278

Book Review: Kōwhai Kids, by Marion Day and Anna Evans

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kowhai_kidsThe frosts are over and the warm, spring weather has finally arrived in New Zealand which means the native kōwhai trees are in full bloom. Amongst the branches, the kōwhai kids with their classy costumes sway in the breeze and show off their golden colours. Kōwhai girls love to chat, dance and cuddle while kōwhai boys love to tease, throw and tackle. They care for the birds that help with pollination, show kindness to the animals that seek protection and chase away the pesky critters that strip their branches. After their busy bloom seed pods begin to grow from the branches of the kōwhai and when the time comes the kōwhai kids say goodbye and let the seeds drop to the ground to grow new trees. But that’s not the last you will see of the kōwhai kids, because next spring, new kōwhai kids will bloom and start the cycle all over again.

Kōwhai Kids uses an imaginative world with adorable fairy-like characters to explain the reproductive process and secret life of New Zealand’s own kōwhai tree. Cleverly written, the kōwhai boys and girls represent the dioecious nature of the trees needing both a female and a male tree to reproduce while teaching young children about the important symbiotic relationship between the birds, particularly the tūī, and the kōwhai that are also needed in order for the tree to propagate.

The illustrations flood each page with the rich colours and the vibrant wildlife of spring time in New Zealand and capture the bright golden glow of the kōwhai. Kōwhai Kids is a wonderful introduction to one of the most beautiful trees in the world with factual information about the native beauty included on the first page as well as a ‘How to Grow a Kōwhai Tree’ guide in the back. This book is the perfect tool to start a growing project with your children if you are fortunate enough to have one of these beautiful trees growing near you!

While the kōwhai is spectacular on its own the thought of the tiny kōwhai kids playing amongst its branches makes the magnificent tree a little bit more magical. Giving appreciation to our native flora and fauna, Kōwhai Kids is imaginative and informative, making it a great addition to a child’s home or classroom library.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Kōwhai Kids
by Marion Day, illustrated by Anna Evans
Published by AM Publishing
ISBN 9780473459000

Book Review: The Julian Calendar, by William Henry

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_julian_calendarI must confess – when I picked up this book I did something I don’t normally do – I read the author’s note in the back first and I’m so glad that I did. The postscript written in September 2018 particularly struck me: ‘On Saturday 12 May, I placed in John’s unsteady 89-year-old hands an advance review copy of The Julian Calendar. I was overcome with immeasurable relief; John just beamed. He was content. He knew this book would again change my life. He knew it had already changed his. Eleven days later, on a chilly Wellington evening, and only minutes after I had kissed his forehead and whispered suggestions for the sweetest of dreams, John died. An angel heading home…’ It made me cry then in anticipation of a novel that might change my life, and makes me tearful now, knowing that it has.

‘To own a beautiful new book is a tactile treat. The smooth feel of the jacket, the firmness of the hard cover, the quality of the paper, all make the fingers move over the book and seek out more messages than the words themselves can provide. The next best thing is to give such a book to someone who you know will appreciate it in just these ways.’ (page 173). This certainly is one such book, one such reading experience that I am grateful to have received to review, and I cannot easily compare it with any other.

Set in a period of history before mobile phones were everywhere, and before social media sites came to both join us and also disconnect us from real life, The Julian Calendar commences at the official start of the English Summer, June 1992. Daniel Jamieson is a heart-broken kiwi twenty-something looking for distraction in London, while Julian Marriot is a sixty-something classical music loving ex-patriot looking for companionship (whether he’d admit to that or not). The world is a place still reeling from the discovery and deaths of the horrific AIDS epidemic that began to sweep the world in the 1980s. Julian has watched friends wither and disappear from his life. When Daniel turns up at his door, an old university friend of his nephew’s, he is both nervous and attracted by the young man. What ensues over the length of the book is the blossoming of a friendship that despite sexual persuasion and forty-year age gaps, ever deepens, aided by the sharing of books and music between them.

This work is beautiful, the journey of two men (Simon Hertnon and John Henry Garmonsway), with two viewpoints, released under one made-up authorial name, William Henry. It is a kind of fictional record of the writer’s own experiences, twenty-five years in the making. That’s right, this book took twenty-five years to put out, and it is clear that the twenty-five years it took to write, re-write and edit were not spent idly. The two voices entwine wonderfully, giving complexity to the characters and to their wonderings about the friendship between them. The question is posed, ‘what is love and who can share it?’ Can a loving friendship between two men exist and flourish when one of them is heterosexual and the other is not? There are no boring moments here, every scene had me wrapped up in their world as if it were my own, or rather, as if I were somehow a part of their experience. When Daniel was bogged down in longing for the wrong woman I was right there with him, and when Julian gave his advice full of wisdom, I felt like I learned with Daniel too.

Then of course, there was the music. The book literally dripped with it. So I was pleased to discover that a soundtrack has been put together to go with the novel. You can find the playlist on Spotify under the title William Henry: The Julian Calendar. I thoroughly recommend downloading and listening to it while you read. It certainly heightens the experience of prose that flows like the poetry of music.

I feel blessed to have read this book and shared this experience. If I could, I would buy the whole world this well-written novel. So help me out readers of good kiwi fiction – go out and get a copy yourself. You can find or request The Julian Calendar from any good bookstore.. As ‘love will be my ink’ too, I promise you will not be disappointed.

Review by Penny M Geddis

The Julian Calendar
by William Henry
Publisher: Marsilio Press
ISBN: 978-09582355-5-6

Book Review: The Fairies of Down Under and other Pākehā Fairy Tales, by Geoff Allen

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Have you ever seen a Pooka? Or a Welsh dragon in a taniwha’s cave? Or an enchanted girl made of books? Well, you could. If you look.

In this sizzling and unexpectedly clever collection, Geoff Allen contends that:

When European settlers sailed to the bottom of the world, to Down Under, they took with them: tools, seeds, livestock and their hope.

They did not take monsters.

Those crept aboard… all by themselves.

Welcome to a New Zealand where the fairies and monsters of the Old World meet those of the New… It was not only human settlers who arrived on Aotearoa’s shores with the first ships. To make things even more interesting, a trio of Dutch ghosts have been here since 1642.

Written in short, chapter-sized bites, these fairy tales would be great read aloud to a class of primary school children – or even older. There’s something ageless about fairy tales, and these fit the bill. Teachers whose classes enjoyed the rollicking of the likes of Harry Wakitipu (by Jack Lasenby) should sink their teeth into these. They’d make great bedtime stories for girls and boys alike.

The tales are well-researched, both in the origins of their mythical creatures (goblins, fairies and nymphs) and in how these are interwoven with New Zealand history. With this book comes a chance for kids to learn about the early colonial period and the type of characters who don’t usually appear in our children’s literature – think Dutch sailors, taiha-wielding kaumātua and even a cunning kea who was once a wizard. The lesson of the last is never refuse to marry a patupaiarehe.

We see the reaction of the magical creatures already resident in Aotearoa to their new neighbours. I loved the image of the two sea gods, Tangaroa and Poseidon, playing bowls with the Moeraki Boulders. And how refreshing to discover that ‘Dad Adventures’ are in fact real and you should definitely believe everything your dad has to say. My favourite tale was ‘King of the Fog Lands and the Book Daughter’ for its strong wāhine – the clever Book Daughter and the brave and smart princess Whakapono who successfully argues in court against the confiscation of her family’s land.

Overall? Incredibly funny and wonderfully inventive. Chances are you’ll like some of these tales more than others, but there’s something to appeal to everyone. I can see these becoming classics. Give them a try.

Reviewed by Susannah Whaley

The Fairies of Down Under and other Pākehā Fairy Tales
by Geoff Allen
Published by Submarine
ISBN 9780995109285

 

Book Review: Whaler by Providence: Patrick Norton in the Marlborough Sounds, by Don Wilson

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_whaler_by_providenceThis book is an example of the painstaking research of the family historian, and the frustration of having a lack of written records of a key ancestor. Patrick Norton was a petty thief in Ireland, who was convicted and transported to Australia in 1810. He eventually escaped and ended up in the small whaling settlement of Te Awaiti on Arapaoa (Arapawa) Island in the Marlborough Sounds, in 1831. Norton seems to have arrived there in the company of the legendary sailor/whaler Jacky Guard.

The author Don Wilson is a descendant of the Patrick Norton, and of the other key Te Awaiti pioneer William Keenan. Keenan was in fact born in Australia, and was thus a ‘currency lad’, one of the terms that the author helps to clarify in the book. Indeed, most of the text is based on archival research and contextual material provided by authors researching Jacky Guard and the other whalers in the area, Guard being based at Port Underwood, in proximity of Cloudy Bay. One of the main sources is the diary of whaler James Heberley, which is quoted frequently (in italics without referencing).

Wilson’s text is divided into three parts, or ‘books’. The first is based on the transportation to Sydney via Brazil, and life in the wild colonial days of Australia. The second book, ‘Sealers and Whalers’, takes up the story as Norton’s sentence expires and he rejects taking up land in Sydney, instead going to sea with Jacky Guard. Apparently Guard had promised James Heberley that there was already a settlement at Te Awaiti, but when he arrived a year after Norton there was still nothing there. The third book provides the detail on how Te Awaiti was built up.

In the third book there is probably less detail about whaling than one would expect. It is concerned in particular with how a small whaling station would fit in an area dominated by Māori tribes and the conflict between Te Rauparaha’s Te Atiawa and Ngāi Tahu. The key aspect to survival in this pre-colonisation period was integration by marriage with Māori women. Wilson provides a key chapter on the complexity of the inter-racial marriages, both because of the tribal links created, and the relative status of the Māori wives. Patrick Norton ‘married’ Makareta Tingitu, a woman of high position in Ngāi Tahu; whereas the other whalers co-habited with Te Atiawa women. Wilson can only speculate on how they met and managed potential conflicts.

The book doesn’t shy away from dealing with the more difficult aspects of the era, whether that be cannibalism, or the reports of orgies among the whalers and their Māori companions. Of course, once the official colonisation had come, and the clergy had arrived in the South Island, the whalers made sure they were officially married, often a number of times. Patrick Norton died in 1854, and so most of the third book is really about his descendants, and their relationships with the other whalers and settlers in Marlborough and Kaikoura. In fact, the Nortons end up whaling and shearing sheep as far away as Campbell Island, far off to the south, before whaling ended in 1964.

This is certainly a good read for those interested in the whaling stations and in the Marlborough region. Maybe a lot will be familiar for those that have read about the exploits of Jacky Guard and his wife Betty, who was held captive by Māori. It is certainly a very professional production, with extensive footnotes, and maps and other illustrations. In particular, the reproduction of the old photographs is excellent.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Whaler by Providence: Patrick Norton in the Marlborough Sounds
by Don Wilson
Published by River Press
ISBN 9780994123442

Book Review: Oh No! Look What the Cat Dragged In, by Joy H Davidson, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_oh_no_look_what_the_cat_dragged_inAnyone who has a cat knows they love to bring the wild life they catch to show you, and let it go for a run around if they have the chance!

Joy Davidson’s new picture book tells the story of Grandma’s big black cat as it explores its back yard and brings his loot back through the flap in the door. The grandchildren holidaying with Grandma experience first hand the chaos in the house and are almost too frightened to come down stairs as the week progress’s as there are ‘creepy crawlies everywhere, and rubbish piled up high.’

Wonderful descriptive sentences tell the story, familiar to many cat lovers, which will have children laughing out loud, and the repetitive phrases will encourage the children to join in.

It is a fun book and Jenny Cooper’s illustrations add an extra dimension, to involve the children to seek, find and identify the creepy crawlies the cat dragged in. The facial expressions on Grandma and the children convey vividly the tension in the house with each day. But I love how she has captured the cat’s expression sitting half asleep with almost a smirk on its face, I have seen it many times as I have chased a mouse around the kitchen with the cat wondering what the problem is.

What a fun way to learn the days of the week, identified in a larger font, and with the use of capitals Davidson ensures the reader will emphasize the more dramatic sentences. This book will be loved by children and adults as they turn the pages to find out if Grandma solves the dilemma of ‘what the cat dragged in.’

Winner of the 2015 Storylines Joy Cowley Award and the 2017 Notable book award for Witch’s Cat Wanted, Apply Within, Auckland based Joy Davidson, is also the author of The Tree Hut and Titan the truck.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Oh No! Look what the Cat dragged in
by Joy H Davidson, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by DHD Publishing
ISBN 9780473448318

Book Review: The Fire Keeper’s Girls, by L P Hansen

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_Fire_keepers_girls.jpgAs a teenager I loved reading and all my pocket money went on books. I had a few favourite authors, and if L P Hansen had been around back then, I’m pretty sure she would have been one of them.

The Fire Keeper’s Girls tells the story of cousins Gemma and Alice who are sent to spend summer with Samantha, an unusual woman that neither of them know very well.

The two girls resent being sent away and at first remain closed to everything Samantha suggests. Like a good role model or mentor, Samantha slowly draws the girls in, treating them as equals, and they reluctantly realise they’re enjoying themselves.

During their stay Samantha sets the girls a series of tasks that form part of something called The Game. Little by little the girls reveal more about what led to them being sent there for the summer, and are taught ways to overcome their rebellious pasts and create brighter futures.

The book features a number of pioneering women, including some New Zealanders. At the back there is a section with more information on these women, some of whom Gemma and Alice were inspired to research as part of The Game. Some I was familiar with, but I very much enjoyed reading about many others and marveling at what they achieved.

This exactly the kind of book I would want a young adult to read. Quite aside from the fact it’s well written and a damned good read (I started it in the morning and only had a few of the profiles at the back to finish off the following day), it’s a New Zealand book and its treatment of girls and women is inspiring and respectful. It illustrates the importance of finding your passion and following the path that is right for you and not necessarily the one others are pushing you towards.

I’m far from being a young adult, but I really enjoyed this book. L P Hansen was the winner of the Jack Lasenby Senior Award for Children’s Writing in 2012, and also wrote Bad Oil and the Animals, and An Unexpected Hero. If The Fire Keeper’s Girl is anything to go by, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she became one of New Zealand’s most popular authors.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Fire Keeper’s Girls
by L P Hansen
Published by Onepoto
ISBN 9780473444723