Book Review: The World of Greek Mythology, by Ben Spies

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_world_of_greek_mythology.jpgThis is an excellent introduction for anyone curious about Greek mythology. Here on the other side of the world, and eons away from their place of origin, many of the legends are still part of our collective cultural narrative. The stories of the Trojan war will be familiar to many in a sketchy, delivered-by-Hollywood way.

The difference between Spies’ book and other recent books on Greek mythology, such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller’s Circe, is that Spies is writing specifically for children and young adults. This makes his retelling engaging and easy to understand (it’s a very complicated pantheon) without being dumbed-down, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The World of Greek Mythology to adults either.

Spies writes in a lively, fast-paced style, with lots of jokes and asides to his readers. He know his audience well, having written the book aged 11. He covers the Titans, some of the Olympians, the Trojan War, and the Odyssey in 228 action-packed pages. I enjoyed Spies’ frankness – he tells his readers in places how complicated some of the myths are, and that he doesn’t always understand the myths either. I wish I’d had this book as an intro when I studies Classics at high school, I might have found it a bit easier to follow!

There is the promise of another book on the subject to come, covering the other Olympians who couldn’t fit in this first volume. I’m really looking forward to it and am hoping that maybe Spies could put in a pronunciations guide for some of the trickier names and places. A map would also be great for readers who like to visualise where things are happening.

This book will appeal to readers from about 8 years up who enjoy action, fantasy and don’t mind a bit of blood and gore. It would be a great read-to book from about 8, depending on the reader’s own capabilities. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The World of Greek Mythology
by Ben Spies
Published by Spies Publishing
ISBN 9780473455866

Book Review: Beyond the Stethoscope, by Lucy Mayes

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_beyond_the_stethoscope.jpgBeyond the Stethoscope features 25 doctors’ stories, including one by author Lucy Mayes’ husband. It is an unusual book, quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and it’s hard to know how to describe it.

The stories are from both male and female doctors predominantly from New Zealand and Australia (there are two overseas doctors also), and the stories are in some instances extremely personal. Some are beautifully written and a joy to read, but others are quite hard to follow and their narrative is not clear.

The book reads like a series of academic papers – each written by a doctor with a different viewpoint on an issue, even if there are some overarching themes that attempt to tie them all together. As each voice is different, it’s hard to get a cohesive whole and this is evident as you move from one story – and one style of care – to the next.

Several names are familiar (in fact one doctor was at my local practice a year or so back) and many stories are incredibly moving and enlightening. Medicine has changed so much in the past 50 years and it’s obvious it’s not just patients getting frustrated with waiting weeks for appointments and then having their concerns packaged into 10-minute slots. It’s quite confronting reading that the doctors don’t enjoy this style of care either, that they want to know more about their patients and assist their journey to wellness, not just treat the illnesses they present with.

As someone who has had great doctors and not so great doctors (and who is currently changing practices after being assigned her fifth doctor in seven months), it is heartening to hear that some doctors are fighting back and embracing other ways of treating patients. I hope their efforts catch on and the idea of wellness over illness becomes the norm – although sadly I don’t think the Chinese system where a doctor is paid to keep a patient well and not paid when they are ill will ever catch on here!

One of the most moving stories is actually by Mayes’ husband, Dr Richard Mayes. His caring nature is evident, and the demands placed on doctors quite horrifying. He’s very open about the pressures he faced and how he dealt with them and I hope his story inspires others to say ‘enough is enough, something must change’. I want to see a doctor who cares about my wellness and who tells me what I need to be doing to keep well. I don’t want to be dosed with pills when a recommendation to get more exercise and eat and drink healthily may be all that’s required to ‘cure’ my ills.

I finished this book after being discharged from a couple of days in hospital that resulted from being overprescribed antibiotics, so I’m keen to hear stories from doctors who care and want the system to be changed for the better. I hope if nothing else, this book will mean other voices will join them in calling out for change.

The fact some stories are very well written and others are not makes me wonder if Mayes interviewed each doctor and then typed up their notes or whether the stories were supplied ready to go. Either way, some judicious editing would have avoided instances where homophones mean the wrong words have been used and where words are missing from sentences.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Beyond the Stethoscope – Doctors’ stories of reclaiming hope, heart and healing in medicine
by Lucy Mayes
Published by Heart Works Press
ISBN 9780648182726

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