Book Review: Taming the M G Dragon, Journey Through a Myasthenic Crisis, by Mereti Taipana-Howe

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_taming_the_Mg_dragonMereti Taipana- Howe was a typical New Zealander, enjoyed tramping around the hills and walkways of the Northland coast, loved the beach and was a stay-at-home mum, while her husband worked. She kept fit by going to the gym and she studied extramurally, gaining qualifications before setting up her own counselling consultancy

Then late in 2011, Mereti was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease known as Ocular Myasthenia Gravis (MG) which affects 10 in every 100,000 people, so about 460 people have some form of MG in this country.

Taming the MG Dragon is vivid explanation of how the condition has ruled the author’s life with a number of admissions to hospital, including a thymectomy and six weeks of radiation treatment, which finished on April 1st 2016. But by April 4th she was very unwell and readmitted to Palmerston North Hospital where she battled the ‘MG Dragon’ to finally make a good recovery to be discharged on 9th September 2016.

A number of black and white photographs support the author’s journey with MG and in the epilogue she has shared ten things she has learnt from the experience and she also includes tips for living the best life possible.

In the foreword of the book Sir Mason Durie said ‘Taming the MG Dragon is testament to the power of recovery and to the strength of tenacity. Much of that strength came from Mereti herself and from the exemplary health care, but whanau and friends were also to become critical links in the world beyond the hospital.’

I was able to relate to Mereti’s story as my husband spent four weeks in ICU three years ago with life threatening pneumonia and infection, being on machines very similar to those described in the book, but with expert care and family support he slowly recovered, just as the author has. Taipana-Howe is to be congratulated for bravely recording her experiences and she believes this book would be useful not only for those with MG, but as a resource for whanau, Medical Professionals as well as counsellors and teachers.

Mereti Taipana-Howe has worked in the Disability sector as a NASC (Needs Assessor Service Coordinator) and in tertiary institutions as an adult tutor. She established her own counselling consultancy in 2008 and is currently based in Manawatu.

She writes with great honesty and clarity and at times her frustration shows through as she fights the MG Dragon. Her sense of humour keeps the author focussed as she relates her journey with the warmth and love of friends and family around her. It is a short, concise book but I found it a stimulating read and feel it will  add value to anyone wanting an uplifting story of courage and hope.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Taming the M G Dragon, Journey Through a Myasthenic Crisis
by Mereti Taipana-Howe
Published by Rangitawa Publishing
ISBN 9780994149008


Book Review: After Alexander: The Legacy of a Son, by Jan Pryor

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_after_alexander.jpgIn 1981, during a family year away from New Zealand, four-month-old Alexander died in a London hospital.

The prologue in Jan Pryor’s memoir begins exactly thirty-three years to the day since her son died from cot death, and she is again in London reflecting on the journey she has been on and also to meet her grandson Findlay.

Jan, her husband Jim and their children Emily and Simon swapped their life in Christchurch with that of another couple in Hertfordshire in November 1980. They exchanged homes, dogs, cats and medical practices for a year, and when Jan arrived in the village she was thirty-five weeks pregnant with Alexander.

On his arrival just before Christmas in 1980 he was declared healthy and in a letter home to her mother Jan wrote, ‘he really is a dear little boy , with Emily’s colouring but very much Simon’s features.’

On April 10, while her sister was visiting her from Buckinghamshire with her baby daughter Rebecca, Jan found Alexander unresponsive after a long afternoon nap. A trip to the local A&E department led to Alexander and Jan being loaded into an ambulance on route to London with the family following behind. After forty-eight hours with machines keeping their baby alive the heart-breaking decision was made to let him go.

The reader is drawn into the anguish of the family as they struggle to understand what has happened and arrange a funeral, and there are a number of pages where Pryor shares her thoughts on religion. She offers consolation and hope to parents who have lost a child, as they travel the long twisting road to acceptance. The diary entries share the author’s hopes and fears as she copes with over thirty years of change with courage, sadness and optimism.

The inclusion of the poem A Blackbird Singing by RR Thomas was very appropriate as Pryor says she ‘has always been enraptured by birds’ and this is evident in many chapters of the book, ‘Blackbirds are optimism, hopefulness and joy as they sing slightly off-key, and without guile.’

It is a powerful family memoir, not an easy read but I enjoyed it and it will certainly be helpful to anyone experiencing loss, as well as being helpful for grief counsellors to recommend.

Jan Pryor was born in Blenheim and has lived and worked in both New Zealand and the UK. She originally qualified as a biochemist but while raising her family Jan took up teaching and then became a researcher of children and families at Victoria University, Wellington. In 2003, she established the McKenzie Centre for the study of families and then in 2008, she became Chief Commissioner of the Families Commission in New Zealand.

Reviewed By Lesley McIntosh

After Alexander, The Legacy of a Son
by Jan Pryor
Published by Heddon Publishing
ISBN 9781999702748

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

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


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.


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