Book Review: Glorious South Island Steam Power, by Robert John

Available now in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_glorious_south_island_steampowerThe word “glorious” in the title of this photographic essay on steam trains in the Sth Island of New Zealand is not a misplaced use of hyperbole. Growing up as a child of the railways in the 50s and 60s in Timaru and North Canterbury, I loved everything about the huge black monsters as they puffed their way up and down the country.

Robert John has captured the feel of the era with his photographs which document the passing of steam power in the South Island. Quoting his words as he watched two locomotives power past his vantage point in Oamaru – ‘Onwards and upwards these two examples of Hillside shop’s finest blasted their way around the right inside curve, past this railfan’s camera waiting trackside. Puzzled faces peered out of their carriage windows, no doubt oblivious as to why on earth anyone would want to photograph their steam express. How could they have known that in 1965, steam was living on borrowed time?’

Sadly time ran out so quickly for the steam locomotives, but this book goes some way to assuage the pangs of yearning for past glories.

The photographs stir the memories, their black and white starkness somehow more impressive than a colour shot. My memories of the locomotives that hissed into the station across from our house, are always of the dense blackness of the engine and the varied whiteness of the steam that poured from every orifice. Mr John captures this effect well.

Along with the photographs there are accounts of various classes of locomotives, where they served and when they went out of service. For me, these accounts were less interesting than the photographs, but for many who were as fascinated by all things to do with steam power as the author of this book, this information will be a treasure trove of facts, eagerly pored over.

I’m so glad that people like Robert John exist. His love of his subject and his willingness to share the information he has painstakingly accumulated over time adds not only to the enjoyment of others of like mind, but leaves a well documented legacy of a piece of our history.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Glorious South Island Steam Power
by Robert John
Published by Robert John
ISBN 9780473359454

Book Review: What does the sea sound like?, by Evie Mahoney

Available now in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_what_does_the_sea_sound_likeEvie Mahoney is a CODA, a child of Deaf Adults, born in 1945 the oldest in a family of six children, and one day her father asked her “What does the sea sound like?”

Although he had swum regularly in the sea he had never heard any sound as he was born without hearing , so Evie used her lips and hand movements to explain the small sound of “Swish ,swish, swish on the sand”.

This book is her story of growing up in Auckland in a mainly deaf environment as her mother also had limited hearing. Evie took on a lot of responsibility at a young age, making phone calls on a public coin-operated phone to the doctor, insurance company, dentist and other businesses. “Once the call was over she often had more questioLesley McIntosns than I could answer. Negotiating with strangers about something a child doesn’t fully understand was overwhelming and did not generate self –assurance in me”.

Sensitive to how hearing people outside that environment reacted to her family, Mahoney lived on the edge between two cultures and slipped naturally into the role of interpreter from a young age. Her way of communicating with the deaf was by lip-reading and improvised signs as she did not know formal sign language. The book is divided into three parts, the middle section is just seven pages outlining Mahoney’s early married life in Australia with two young children.

An autobiography is not complete without the family photos and the author has a included a wonderful selection from early black and white to a modern coloured photo of her family in 2014.

Having worked with people with disabilities for many years, I found this an interesting read. It is not a large book, just 150 pages and many of the chapters read almost as stand alone stories. It is somewhat repetitive at times, but that is not a bad thing, as it re-enforces the many issues the family had to face in a largely hearing world.

The inclusion of the italicized positives throughout the book serve as “a reminder that when feeling vulnerable, lacking confidence or feeling inadequate in some way, there is always an opportunity to make it better”. What does the sea sound like? will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys an autobiography or who works in the disability fields.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

What does the sea sound like?
by Evie Mahoney
Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473367718

Book Review: To the Ends of the Earth and back again, by Maxwell C. Hill

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_to_the_ends_of_the_earthAs a teacher, I always challenge my students to ask questions, not to blindly accept what they are told, to read, to refute, to question and even to suppose. I found that reading To the Ends of the Earth did all of these things and presented a very challenging alternative view of the settlement of Aotearoa, New Zealand. I did not read the original version of this book, so in taking up the second edition, I had a bit of catching up to do.

The original book makes the suggestion that there were earlier settlers from Greek culture and later from the Americas. This new edition responds to further questions from readers linking designs and spirals of the Celtic peoples to the spiral motifs found in Maori tattoos. This allowed Hill to investigate these designs and draw further support for his earlier settlement suggestions.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs and maps, drawings and diagrams. I always enjoy seeing text fully supported with illustrations. The chapter headings follow a logical sequence of ideas from Pre-Maori Artifacts, to Different People, Maps, Voyages and Charts. Other research is added at the end as well as extensive supporting information.

I am not an historian and therefore do not feel it is my place to comment on the veracity of the book. It is an interesting work of supposition with supporting research and extensive use of other people’s ideas. Drawing these together in such a way goes a little beyond my academic ability, but appeals to my fictional fantasy. I have visited Malaspurna Strait in Fiordland. An isolated spot, said to have been visited by a Spanish navigator before the time of Cook. It was a great story and the truth seemed somewhat secondary as we sailed toward the open sea.

So too with this book. I have a number of family members keen to be next on the reading list. They all picked it up and were enchanted by the ideas and the visuals. I found it an engaging read.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

To The Ends of the Earth and Back Again
 by Maxwell C. Hill
Ancient History Publications

Book Review: Currents of Change, by Darian Smith

cv_currents_of_changeAvailable now in selected bookshops.

Well-written and deliciously addictive. This spine-chilling ghost story kept me up until midnight, until just past the point where it stopped being a ghost story and became something else…

Sara is a troubled heroine, fleeing from her past, but burdened with self-doubts and shattered esteem. It is hard for her to trust, to open herself, and thus she protects herself with a wall of angry, sharp retorts. Her family home, in the isolated township of Kowhiowhio, Northland, provides the sanctuary she needs, but it brings with it darkness too. And not just because of the lack of electricity.

Sara’s sharp but endearing personality, her fragility edged with razors, make her an engaging heroine, and her friendship with general-all-round-good-guy neighbour, Nate, with his frank and generally cheerful nature, a good counterpoint. His sister-in-law, sharp, almost vicious, Moana adds a welcome dose of conflict and thrown into the whole weave is Great Aunt Bridget (long dead, but not at rest), a dark family secret, an adorable kitten, an almost-as-adorable little girl and an extremely unpleasant estranged husband.

This is an engaging read, although the sudden twist from ghost story to something else entirely derailed me for a heartbeat or three. Despite this, I would consider it a damn fine read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Currents of Change
by Darian Smith
Published by Wooden Tiger Press
ISBN 9780473318109

Book Review: The Grass was always Browner, by Sacha Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_grass_was_always_brownerThe Grass Was Always Browner by Sacha Jones has been described as a ‘memoir of ordinary events and aspirations’ but I’d describe it more as perfect blog fodder, and I wasn’t surprised to read the author does in fact have a blog, OWW: One Woman’s World.

Growing up in an ordinary suburban Australian family, Sally Jones isn’t all that happy with her lot. There’s her boring name for a start – Sally, a name shared with a neighbour’s dog. A mouthful of cramped teeth, a flat chest and a battle with asthma were added burdens.

For some bizarre reason a doctor prescribed suppositories to cure her asthma. After they made her vomit, ballet was deemed a better alternative. That made the name Sally even less attractive, because whoever heard of a ballerina called Sally? [Despite yearning to be called Sacha, and obviously achieving this at some point in her life, there isn’t actually any mention of when or how this happened.]

The Grass Was Always Browner is a simple story, made up of all the minutiae of family life, school, friends and ballet.

The story involves some moving accounts of Jones’ ballet career, both the highs and the lows, including her father being strongly against her indulging in what he sees as a frivolous pursuit. After reading about the sacrifices she made, you can’t help but cheer for her when she enters competitions and gets the chance to dance the lead role in a major ballet. The book ends with her heading off to London to enter two ballet competitions.

I’m not sure if there will be a sequel, but I was left feeling a bit flat, as I don’t know if she stayed in London and enjoyed a brilliant ballet career, or if the insecurities that plagued her early years overwhelmed her and she quietly returned to her ordinary life in Australia.

While The Grass Was Always Browner is an entertaining read, there are several sections, especially in the first half of the book, where I had the urge to shout, “Come on! Get to the point, woman!” Jones is probably great fun at parties, regaling everyone with tales of her youth. I’m just not sure it’s the kind of material that translates well into a book; it reads like the diary I imagine it started life as.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Grass Was Always Browner
by Sacha Jones
Published by Finch Publishing
ISBN 9781925048643

Book Review: The Agency, by Ian Austin

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_agencyDan Calder moves to New Zealand from the UK to put ghosts to bed. His father worked in the Police, rising through the ranks to become a senior officer. His father’s dirty secret was that he abused Dan’s mother. His mother died when he was a teenager, with Dan training to become a Police Officer himself, giving him an excuse to finally leave home. Dan has a successful career in the Police force in the UK but butts heads with those in authority, so leaves to live in New Zealand.

Dan lives next door to Paul and Shelley who try and make him welcome and include him in their social life, wanting to set him up with somebody they know. Dan has been burned a number of times in relationships, but he likes Tara, and they soon form a close relationship. Tara has a brother Neil who suffers from depression. Dan and Tara’s lives are soon linked forever through events far-reaching and beyond their control.

‘The Agency’ is formed by a woman with various identities. No job is too small or too difficult. She preys on the vulnerable – people suffering from terminal or severe mental illness. Dan, trolling the internet stumbles across ‘The Agency’. With his considerable computer skills he starts to wonder who is behind it. The name V. Stenning pops us again and again. He tracks the person behind the mysterious Agency down and manages to link them to an unsolved case in the UK…

This is a fantastic book and one of the best crime novels I’ve read for some time. Ian Austin worked as a Police Officer in the UK, and during a New Zealand Police recruitment drive he took the opportunity and transferred to the New Zealand Police. The thoroughness and detail that has gone into writing this book is outstanding. I look forward to reading more of Ian Austin’s books in the future.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Agency
by Ian Austin
Published by Ian Austin
ISBN 9780473355371

Book Review: Devolve – The Wolf, by Mike Hooper

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_devolve_the_wolfDevolve is the first in a series by a Christchurch author and is independently published.

The design is competent and professional, and the story matches. It is a dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting, where the people have been forced, by war, to live underground. Here they are ruled over by the amicable King Brown, who desires, above all, to be liked and admired by his subjects. Our main character is 4N, or Foren, and all of the characters follow a similar naming system. We have KC (Casey), an intelligent and caring girl; GO (Geo), belligerent and thorny; VC (Vici), kind, secretive and naive and many others, all students in Professor Will’s class. All students who are hoping to be chosen as part of the team that will venture upon to the surface in search of relics.

Foren is an orphan, and his greatest desire is to be a Cat – a surface explorer that seeks relics – like his mother. Although he is chosen for the team, it is instead as a Wolf, a protector and guardian. Together with five of his class-mates, he must breach the hostile surface, where the earth is poisoned and the water polluted, where merely breathing the air can kill.

Or can it?

Foren and his friends uncover not only a dangerous conspiracy, but enter into a deadly and violent game of survival. This is not a light read – there is a bloody body count and a few moments where I feared Hooper was channeling his inner George RR Martin. Filled with twists, turns and some rather unexpected surprises. A competent, and relatively easy read, with barely a dull moment. I look forward to reading more.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Devolve – The Wolf
by Mike Hooper
ISBN 9780473342814