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

Book Review: The Veggie Tree – Spring & Summer Cookbook, by Anna Valentine

9780473438951 Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_spring_and_summer_cookbookThe Veggie Tree Spring & Summer Cookbook is a visual feast that had my mouth watering as I turned the pages, due mostly to the full colour photos by author Anna Valentine and Aerial Vision. I’m not a vegetarian but I could happily eat most of these recipes this summer, with or without meat to accompany them.

The book is the second cookbook in The Veggie Tree series, following the Autumn & Winter Cookbook.

Spring & Summer is divided into four sections – salads, soups and sides; savoury; breads; and sweets, with the first section having the most recipes. Whatever fruits and vegetables are your favourites, you’ll find a recipe using them. Everything from a maple walnut and spring greens salad to humble iceberg lettuce wedges is here – and just in time for what we can only hope will be a long, hot summer. Salads may be simple to make, but knowing what seasonings and dressings to use makes a huge difference. I love the sound of watermelon and feta salad, and also summer slaw, which instead of the usual cabbage, combines corn off the cob and fennel or celery with fresh beans, capsicum, zucchini and cucumber. I’m hanging out for fresh sweetcorn to be available locally to try that recipe!

The savoury section has the usual soufflés and fritters, as well as dolmades and an exotic sounding Okonomiyaki with Bok Choy Slaw & Homemade Wasabi Mayo. Instead of fish and chips, there is a much healthier ‘Fry Day’ Night Chip Night that pairs the chips with beer battered tofu, mushrooms and aubergine.

Just in time for the big day is a Christmas Brioche Pinwheel with maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, cranberries, apple and soft fruit, topped with nuts. The instructions say to serve with custard or chocolate sauce (recipes included) – wouldn’t that be a perfect start to Christmas Day!

I usually make shortbread as gifts and this year I’m going to try Brown Sugar Shortbread for a change. The shortbread is also used in a Strawberry & Rhubarb Shortcake that I am drooling imagining how heavenly it would taste.

shortbread

It worked! 

Being a bit of a chocoholic, I’ll definitely be trying the Mexican Choc Pots. There is a recipe for Spiced Almond Biscotti underneath so you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do with the leftover egg whites.

A vegetarian since she was 12, Valentine says she is a fan of summer fruits and vegetables and the Spring & Summer Cookbook certainly demonstrates this. The instructions are clear (apart from a few typos) and there is also some nutritional information at the back about vegetarian nutrition.

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to get excited by this cookbook and it would be a great addition to any collection. If you have any vegetarians to buy for this Christmas, this would be the perfect present.

 

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Veggie Tree Spring & Summer Cookbook
by Anna Valentine
Published by The Veggie Tree
ISBN 9780473438951

 

Book Review: Dragon Defenders #3 – An Unfamiliar Place, by James Russell

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

dragon_defenders_3.jpgThis was the first of the Dragon Defenders titles that I have read. It was perhaps not the best place to start, as I feel I have missed quite a bit of excitement, and some of the backstory, but I did feel that there were enough references to give me the gist of what had happened, although it would have been nice to get to know the boys, Flynn and Paddy, a bit better.

I did enjoy getting to know our third protagonist Briar whom, with her love of animals and kind, considerate nature, I felt an immediate connection with. Unluckily for poor Briar, The Pitbull, the wicked villain introduced in the first two novels, is her uncle. This story begins soon after the events in The Pitbull’s Return – with Briar’s compassionate betrayal of her Uncle’s dastardly schemes exposed. She is thrown into captivity, but she is not alone. No, The Pitbull has another plan to capture the dragons, and to enact it, he must lure the brothers away from the island, into his clutches.

Having previously foiled The Pitbull’s plans, Flynn and Paddy have returned to their relatively carefree life on the island – they race their dragon friends, help their parents, and plan for the arrival of their grandparents. But their grandparents never show; they’ve fallen into The Pitbull’s hands, and now it is up to Flynn and Paddy to rescue them. Their journey begins with a harrowing journey across a raging ocean, delivering them into a place bigger, dirtier, and stranger than they have ever imagined: the city. Here danger awaits them at every turn, and The Pitbull’s grip tightens around them. Can they escape? Or will they lose their freedom – and their dragons – forever?

The brothers’ simplistic way of life contrasts sharply with The Pitbull’s technological one. There was action and adventure a-plenty, with far more guns that I was expecting – but, unfortunately, fewer dragons. I enjoyed getting to know Briar, for not only is she compassionate, but she is also very resourceful, and not one to take being imprisoned in a tower lightly! The two boys were reckless and adventurous, throwing themselves willingly against any challenge. Their plot moved at a helter-skelter pace, giving me barely enough time to breath. The dragons did make an appearance: at both the beginning and the end, and were impressively awe-inspiring creatures.

The AR features are a novel addition;  it was fun to download the app and have a play. The addition of an AR element is something we are likely to see feature more-and-more in books, and it is nice to see it in physical books as well as in ebooks. There’s nothing like seeing a boat hovering over a page to help bring the story to life!

Overall,  lots of action and nail-biting excitement, which should be devoured by the intended audience (children 7+). I also imagine it would appeal to fans of the 39 Clues series. Despite the length of the book: 222 pages, the large print and the fast-paced plot should make it a quick and easy read, that will leave the reader hungry for more. I know that I am curious to see where the Dragon Defenders go next!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Dragon Defenders #3 – An Unfamiliar Place
by James Russell
Published by Dragon Brothers Books
ISBN 9780473435301

James Russell will be appearing at Nelson Writers Festival on Saturday 20 October at 11am.

Book Review: Not for ourselves alone: belonging in an age of loneliness, by Jenny Robin Jones

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_not_for_ourselves_aloneThis is a very comprehensive and detailed book which deals with how we can, may, and already do manage the modern world with its present emphasis on the individual, and our very particular needs to be part of society. ‘No man (or woman) is an island’ seems quite a pertinent thought when reading this work.

Jenny Robin Jones clearly did her research well. The book fires off in different directions via an almost bewildering number of avenues, thoughts and connections, from the entirely dissimilar – Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Age of Reason and Eleanor Catton – through stories of family members, references to early New Zealand settlers and the tangata whenua, immigrants to New Zealand – until she ends with positive thoughts about how we can best get on with living despite being torn in apparently different directions.

It’s an interesting and complex read. Some of the people interviewed turned out to be people I knew, which is hardly unusual in New Zealand, but it did pique my interest more, in what turned out to be a challenging read.

How to feel not alone – or how to cope with those feelings and acknowledge that they are normal for many of us – makes up the backbone of the book. To put this into some kind of perspective, Jones uses her researcht o develop her case for the need for compassion. In one of those odd coincidences of which life is made, I recently read and reviewed Gigi Fenster’s memoir, Feverish, which also deals with the importance of compassion – she sees it as the single most important attribute for human beings to aim for.

Jones’ book is divided into three major parts, with subsets in those – Getting Started, World Face to Face and World Big Wide. Getting Started is self-evident, face to face is about personal relationships and stories, and World is more on politics and philosophies.

As I said, it’s very wide-ranging and I did find it hard to follow the thread at times.
However I think it addresses several important issues, and it is definitely worth a read.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Not for ourselves alone: belonging in an age of loneliness
by Jenny Robin Jones
Published by Saddleback
ISBN 9780995102507