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

Book Review: Brushstrokes of Memory, by Karen McMillan

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_brushstrokes_of_memory.jpgCombined with the perfect timing for Mother’s Day, the pretty and colourful cover, the by-line ‘a novel of love, lost memories & rediscovering dreams’, this really looks like a great piece of enjoyable reading, in rare and craved for moments of solitude, cat or dog curled up next to you, glass of wine, cup of tea, piece of cake! Bliss.

Karen McMillan is a North Shore, Auckland based writer. She has previously written, to popular acclaim, two novels themed around WWII in Poland and America – The Paris of the East and The Paris of the West. This novel is quite, quite different in every possible way from her two previous novels.

The writer has tapped into the now (getting a little worn) theme of ‘woman losing memory’, focusing on Rebecca, who loses the memory of ten years of her life, from her 32nd birthday to present day. She is now 42, when she wakes up in hospital, concussed from a fall down some stairs. She is still married to Daniel – a once successful NZ rock star-now music tutor, lives in Browns Bay on Auckland’s North Shore, and works in the city in some sort of graphic designer capacity.

In the ten year period that she can’t remember, many things happen to her and Daniel –illness, death, loss, good times and bad times. None of this of course is known to Rebecca when she wakes up, seeing her adorable and adoring husband by her bed and her best friend Julie. Life is peachy, other than a bit of a headache. Not so.

The novel, of course, then sets about revealing what has really gone on in those ten years, working towards a well managed climax, and subsequent resolution. Well crafted then, with plenty of tension, some curve balls, a mysterious stalker, the horrible boss, ageing parents, health issues, and at the core of the novel, the state of Daniel and Rebecca’s marriage.

So much of this novel is good, with a straightforward story, some very insightful writing on grief, the nature of memory, the brain recovering its memories, the complications of every day life and relationships, and especially the sections on Rebecca’s serious brush with breast cancer, which I understand are strongly based on the author’s own experience of breast cancer. I learnt a lot, not just about the physical experience of the disease but also the emotional experience. Very, very good.

But, for me, and I stress most strongly that this is my own personal reaction to this book, it is just average. There are a number of unfinished threads, and I just could not relate to Rebecca or Daniel. I couldn’t understand, and there is no explanation in the book, why such a talented and successful artist as Rebecca was ten years ago, is now working in some horrible unpleasant design firm doing reworks of work she has already done; we never find out how the accident happened even though decent sized chunks of Rebecca’s thoughts are taken up with this mystery; how serious is this head injury, how long had she been in hospital for, concussion can take months to recover from – she is back at work seemingly full time two weeks after she becomes conscious again with nothing but the odd headache.

I honestly thought Daniel was pathetic, a wimp of a man. He can’t bring himself to tell his wife of one terribly tragic event, or that they were on the verge of separating, because suddenly, what-ho, his newly conscious wife is a sex-goddess! What man in his right mind would want to lose that!

Best friend Julie is by far the best character. Forever berating Daniel for his inability to talk to his wife, she spends most of her time protecting Rebecca from herself, looking after Rebecca’s elderly mother in the rest home she works in, and generally trying to keep one step ahead of all those around her.

This is a very Auckland-city novel, depicting the city’s love affair with real estate – big modern homes and quaint Devonport villas, cafes, the hideousness of the transport infrastructure, the whole glossy magazine feel about the place, the people, the lives they lead. Even though I live in Auckland, I found all this quite cliched and cringing. We get this in the papers, on TV and media every single day, surely there are other aspects of the city that the author could also have found to illustrate her novel.

It reflects what I feel overall about this novel – that despite the serious and important themes, much of it lacks depth and insight, too glib, things are just brushed over instead of going just a little deeper. There will be people who love this, I appreciate that, and for an easy, lazy Sunday afternoon read, it will definitely fill the gap.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Brushstrokes of Memory
by Karen McMillan
Published by McKenzie Publishing
ISBN 9780473374358

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
9780473352578