Book Review: Flight Path, by David Hill

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_flight_pathAs years go by and the majority of present generations haven’t lived even close to when a significant event has happened in history, the more inventive ways are needed to present that information as something worthwhile to know. Facts can be just told which of course is informative, but not always as interesting or noteworthy as it could be for some.

New Zealand author David Hill has tackled this several times in different books from varying time periods, giving history a memorable and readable touch. His latest young adult’s novel is an engaging read based on real world events during World War Two, providing insight into the realities of that time from the perspective of a young man a world away from home.

Flight Path begins with the latest arrivals of new soldiers ready to join one of the many Air Force squadrons on British soil. The story focuses on 18-year-old New Zealander, Jack Sinclair. Wanting to escape boring little New Zealand, he views the war as a way to spread his wings, seeing a world he would never be able to explore otherwise. Like so many stories from the war, real or fiction, Jack soon realises that the war is not all it’s made out to be. Honour is assured, but no one ever tells them about how terrifying it is not knowing if you’ll make it back after a mission, feeling tired and cold from stressful situations and lack of nutritious food, or how it feels knowing you’ve caused another human being’s death.

Flight Path follows Jack and his friends relying on one another to cope with these trials, while carrying out their dangerous missions among many other young men just like themselves.

The novel was well-written with a lot of researched detail surrounding the raids the crews are sent out on, primarily focusing on the Lancaster bombers, and also the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquitos and many others. There is a lot of build up and thrill, providing tense reading while Jack and his fellow airmen carry out their harrowing orders flying over the English channel to Europe, narrowly avoiding flack and enemy gun fire.

The excitement and detail gave the book something extra because it easily captured interest but also was informative about important world history, with a lot of additional facts added. David Hill could easily develop the novel further into a sequel, either still in the past or in present day, which I’m sure would be an well-received read for many who enjoyed Flight Path.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

Flight Path
by David Hill
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770527

 

Book Review: The Pacific Affair by Gary Paul Stephenson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_pacific_affairCharming yet flawed, The Pacific Affair by Gary Paul Stephenson is an entertaining read that tackles a dramatic and ever-pertinent concept, yet is let down by editorial errors and attention to the wrong kind of detail. If you are a patient reader sympathetic to encouraging new authors, read this book: if you are not, give it a skip.

The Pacific Affair introduces resourceful hero Charles Langham whose personal mission is to force stagnant politicians and international organisations to act over climate change, poverty, and (somewhat out of sync) the South American drug trade. After issuing the United Nations with an ultimatum of consequences for failure to change course, Langham garners the ready support of the vast majority of nations but makes an enemy of the President of the United States of America. Pitted against the arguably most powerful man on the planet, Langham and his team must uncover the President’s adversary motivations whilst also outrunning and outsmarting the US Navy and the President’s Special Ops team. The more Langham’s team discover, the murkier the waters become. Based on board Langham’s super yacht, the journey follows the Sundancer from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, spanning from Panama to the Amazon to Tonga and beyond. While Langham’s unlimited cash, expertise, and good fortune felt incredible at times, the relevance of the theme negated these simplicities, leaving a framework for a thrilling story.

While Stephenson has a flair for imagination, the devil is not in the detail in The Pacific Affair. Stephenson haphazardly introduces a rambling cast of characters and has a tendency for lengthy descriptions of the interior design of insignificant rooms. The narrative could do without the clutter. The novel is also littered with editorial errors and formatting inconsistencies that could kill the enjoyment for grammar-sticklers. If Stephenson were able to tighten up these issues in the next novel in the Charles Langham series, the reader could fully let go and fall into the promising narrative.

Adding a bittersweet charm to The Pacific Affair is the knowledge that Stephenson suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, which he shares with the novel’s hero, Charles Langham. MS affects people in different ways, but can have physical effects such as poor balance, slurred speech, spasms, and fatigue, as well effects on a person’s memory, thinking, and emotions. Langham’s MS affliction gives the character a realness that is rare in hero figures, although the effects of the disease could have been amplified. Both Stephenson and Langham’s efforts are enormous feats for MS-suffers, which may help as encouragement for those living with the disease and also serves to help raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis.

In a political climate that is questioning the establishment repeatedly, demanding a new breed of politicians to act in the interests of the common people, the concept shaping The Pacific Affair is important and absorbing. While a dose of patience may be required, Stephenson’s well-intended The Pacific Affair is compelling.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

The Pacific Affair
by Gary Paul Stephenson
Published by Lang Book Publishing
ISBN 9780994129062

Book Review: Breaking Ranks, by Sir James McNeish

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_breaking_RanksbigLast year New Zealand lost one of our finest writers, Sir James McNeish. Luckily for us, he had just delivered the final pages for Breaking Ranks to his publisher.

The book concludes with an Epilogue, written by ‘a friend’ Bernard Brown. He details how Sir James had the idea for this book for years, knowing the first two stories and waiting for the third. Of these men, Dr Saxby, Brigadier Miles and Judge Mahon, Sir James knew only Saxby personally, but his meticulous research and the power of his writing make Breaking Ranks feel as if you knew them all while you read through what is, at its heart, a tragic biography of three interrupted lives.

Significance is a word I use a lot in my everyday life now – what makes anything significant and who decides on those parameters? The three men in this book – a doctor, a soldier and a judge – are not necessarily household names in New Zealand, but Breaking Ranks shows that you do not need to be the most famous person to be significant.

Dr John Saxby’s work in psychiatric care no doubt helped countless patients, and continued following his death. Saxby’s story is the longest of the three, and was the only one Sir James knew personally – this works to a great advantage. The details of their interactions, when Saxby would visit the house and help with the family’s DIY, gives you a greater connection, and following his death you feel the pain the McNeishs would have felt upon losing such a close friend in such a tragic way. There is a great and terrible irony in the doctor who ‘has the gift of saving others but not himself.’

Brigadier Reginald Miles survived World War I, headed back to the other side of the world for the Second World War, but did not return. Abandoning his command post to fight to the death with his men did not go as planned and there goes the second life interrupted, and tragic. There is a question mark around this death – I am still getting my own head around it and deciding on the truth. His final letter is published for the first time in Breaking Ranks, and offers some insight into those final days.

In New Zealand, Erebus means the worst air disaster this country has ever seen first, and the mountain second. Judge Peter Mahon fought for truth and justice for the 257 victims, and Sir James details wonderfully the processes Mahon went through to uncover it all – the inquiry, the review, the Privy Council appeal, and Verdict on Erebus. His son, Sam says: ‘If I have learned anything from my father at all, it is an obstinate refusal to back down in the face of adversity.’ Not the worst trait to pick up.

Sir James’ style of writing is personal and colloquial in nature, which I enjoy. The casual ‘I’ve been trying to get my head around it’ during a complicated battle formation makes me smile and feel glad that I’m not alone in my confusion. The failure to conform and fight for what these men believed in caused these lives of become prematurely interrupted. Sir James McNeish was one of our finest writers, and in his final act as a storyteller, he remarkably and skillfully gives the world an insight into the lives of three significant lives we should not forget.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

Breaking Ranks: Three Lives Interrupted
by Sir James McNeish
Published by HarperCollins Publishers NZ
ISBN 9781775540908

Book Review: Capsicum, Capsi Go, by Toby Morris

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_capsicum_capsi_goToby Morris is a cartoonist living in Auckland, New Zealand, whose insightful Pencilsword cartoons are a regular feature on TheWireless website. Capsicum, Capsi Go takes a more lighthearted approach, and is a fun rhyming book introducing the concept of opposites to youngsters aged 0-3.

The illustrations are simple and absolutely charming, rendered in bold colours appropriate for catching the eye of the child. The pages are colourful and sturdy; they should handle the frequent attention they will no doubt be subjected to. Take your child on a journey with Capsi (a super-cool, super-cute fruit*!), as he travels to the tropics. There is an extra level of cleverness to the illustrations, adding a collage-style appearance: a taxi is rendered using the M-section of the yellow pages, whereas bubble-wrap adds an intriguing effect as Capsi goes swimming (inadvisable, as it turns out capsicum are not strong swimmers! but don’t worry: “Capsi’s sweet, Capsi’s fine”).

Simple and sweet, Capsicum, Capsi Go should be a lot of fun to read aloud – again and again!

[* more frequently considered a vegetable, but officially a fruit]

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Capsicum, Capsi Go
by Toby Morris
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994120557

Book Review: Nostalgia, Great Mums, and the Black Wolf

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

Nanna’s Button Tin, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Heather Potter

cv_nannas_button_tinWhen I was a child my mother had an old willow-pattern biscuit tin half-filled with buttons. I loved to plunge my hands into the tin and let the buttons run through my fingers.

Just by looking at the cover of this book made me smile because it brought back memories of hunting through that tin, looking for just the right button to replace one that was missing off a treasured item of clothing or toy.

The little girl in this book has a nanna with a button tin and the pair tip them out in the hope of finding a button to replace poor teddy’s missing eye. Of course not just any button will do; it has to be the right size, shape and colour.

The book’s first line reads: “I love Nanna’s button tin, it’s full of stories.”

This sets the scene for the search, as each button they pick up reminds nanna or the little girl of where that button came from. The accompanying illustrations are delightful and will no doubt bring back memories of similar occasions for readers. I instantly recalled buttons from my grandmother’s dressing gown, my mother’s evening gowns, father’s shirts, and some of my own creations. You could make this book interactive by starting a tin filled with buttons that represent your own memories.

Whether the child is old enough to read the book out loud or not, the illustrations alone make this a winner. There are so many things to look at in the background that adults and children alike will love this book. It’s like a printed hug!

The Best Mum in the World, by Pat Chapman, illustrated by Cat Chapman

cv_the_best_mum_in_the_worldFollowing on from the popular book The Best Dad in the World, The Best Mum in the World would make a great birthday, Mother’s Day or Christmas present for any mum.

Beautifully illustrated by Cat Chapman (no relation to the author), the book explores all the reasons why we love our mums.

The book has a similar theme to dad’s version, with the child starting out by saying their mum loves it when they wake her up. The illustration shows a chaotic bed with children and animals crowding out the parents – dad has given up and is sleeping on the floor!

Any mum who has had her hair ‘done’ by a child will smile, as will those who have been served a mud pie. And hide-and-seek may give mums an idea – pretend to hide behind the couch and snatch a quick nap instead!

All different kinds of mums are shown in the illustrations – mums doing the shopping, driving tractors, playing with the children, saving them from scary insects (even if she doesn’t look that thrilled by it), or just smiling on as her children ‘decorate’ the walls.

Blankeys are retrieved from dogs and owies are fixed with sticking plasters, helping to make each mum the best mum in the world.

This is a great read-along book and there are so many things in the background that can be used to entertain a child along the way. There is even space at the front to draw a portrait of your own mum.

Mother’s Day may have been and gone, but this book is a perfect gift for any mum in your life, to remind her of the things that make her so great.

Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

cv_virginia_wolfBased loosely on the close relationship between the writer Virginia Woolf and her artist sister, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolf is an unusual but imaginative children’s book that deals with depression.

Beautifully illustrated, the book starts with Vanessa’s sister, Virginia, feeling a little ‘wolfish’. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone, gets upset when Vanessa tries to paint her, and even tells the birds to stop making so much noise.

Vanessa says she was a very bossy wolf, and her mood started affecting everything else in the house, taking all the colour and enjoyment out of life. Nothing Vanessa could do would cheer her up and nothing pleased her – not even the cat or making faces at their brother. She just wanted to be left alone.

Vanessa lies on the bed with her, saying there must be something she could do that would make things better. Virginia says if she were flying she might feel better, but she rejects all the cities Vanessa suggests.

“No. No. No!” cries Virginia, saying she wants to be in a perfect place with iced cakes and beautiful flowers and trees and no doldrums – she wants to be in Bloomsberry.

Vanessa is confused as she has no idea where this magical place is and Virginia is no help. She decides to paint a garden and create a place called Bloomsberry that looks just the way it sounded.

When Virginia wakes, she is still acting like a wolf, but slowly notices the garden her sister has made. She becomes involved in making the magical Bloomsberry even more fantastic and all of a sudden down becomes up, dim becomes bright, and gloom becomes glad again.

The book ends on a lighter note, with the sisters heading out to play. It takes a sensitive look at depression and could be used to discuss the topic and the things that could change how a person feels and acts.

Reviews by Faye Lougher

Nanna’s Button Tin
by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Heather Potter
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922077677

The Best Mum in the World
by Pat Chapman, illustrated by Cat Chapman
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781927262801

Virginia Wolf
by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Published by Book Island
ISBN: 9781911496038

Book Reviews: Brachio, by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoit; Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

Brachio, by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoitcv_brachio

Jill Eggleton will be familiar to many New Zealand teachers and parents for her literacy programmes and her huge catalogue of poems. Brachio is a picture book for up to 7 year olds which showcases Eggleton’s rich writing style.

Brachio is much bigger than the other dinosaurs and mouse lizards, so there’s bound to be a few problems when he heads out to join in a dance party. Being a kind and thoughtful kind of dinosaur, Brachio has a few solutions in mind.

Eggleton’s language is full of poetic language, with onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhythm and rhyme, and simile dripping off the page. This is helped by clever text design, which gives the reader lots of clues about where the emphasis should be, and adds visual interest for young readers. Not that visual interest is lacking – Hoit’s illustrations are vivid and colourful, full of the joy of dancing with your friends, and the problems that occur when dancers get a little too enthusiastic!

My class of 5 and 6 year olds love listening to the language as I read to them, and the book was in high demand afterwards, because, dinosaurs! This book also comes with a CD, read by Eggleton, with loads of expression and a fun backing track of dinosaur noises.

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jonescv_dont_think_about_purple_elephants

Sophie is a busy, happy girl. She likes school, enjoys her loving family, and has good friends. The problem starts when she’s not busy. At bedtime, as she tries to go to sleep, worries crowd in on her, keeping her awake. All of the suggestions to help her sleep – a special book or teddy, or a drink of warm milk – just give her new things to worry about.
Children’s worries are often dismissed by adults; adults often don’t consider the things children worry about as important when compared to adult concerns. Most children do have worries, however, and to them they feel very real. A quick survey of my class of 5 and 6 year olds showed up common themes: not having someone to play with, someone being mean to them, something bad happening to a loved one, forgetting a book bag or lunch for school, not making it to the toilet on time, not being picked up at the end of the school day.

Whelan and Jones have put some thought into Don’t Think About Purple Elephants; they clearly know children, and they don’t dismiss Sophie’s worries, but try to resolve them. The illustrations are lovely – brightly coloured and happy when Sophie is busy, and grey and ominous with oversized objects when she is worried. The resolution to Sophie’s worries is relatively simple and one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments that parents and teachers have.

This is an enjoyable picture book to read together for children up to 8 or 9 years old, regardless of whether or not the child worries – but it would be a particularly good book to read with a child who is suffering from anxiety, it might just do the trick.

Reviews by Rachel Moore

Brachio
by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoit
Published by JillE Books
ISBN 9781927307809

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants
by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones
Published by EK Books
ISBN 9781921966699

AWF17: Three Empires – Miranda Carter

Miranda Carter’s event was from 1.00 – 2.00pm, on Friday 19 May 2017

Here is another wonderful sounding writer to explore further, and I did buy the book after the session. Miranda Carter is an English historian and biographer, who has published two biographies, and in the last few years two books of fiction under the name MJ Carter. She has received a number of prestigious awards and prizes for firstly, her biography of British spy Anthony Blunt, and secondly that of the royal cousins Kaiser Wilhelm, King George V and Tsar Nicholas III, grandsons of Queen Victoria. This book was first published in 2009, under the title The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One. It is this book that was the subject of her session, just going to show that good books stand the test of time and are well worth reviving for a new audience.

Miranda CarterThe session opened with the author flanked either side by photos of Donald Trump, latest crazy that the world has to deal with. Carter drew regular comparisons between Trump and the three men, in particular Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. She states she is not a royalist, but became interested in the three cousins as symbolic of a very dysfunctional family, attempting to keep their place as rulers in a world they were very ill-equipped to live in, let alone rule in. It is in the years since this book was published that she sees increasing similarities between the pre-WWI climate and what is going on in the US at present.

She was also interested in looking at the power individuals have over the path history takes. She cited the example of George W Bush who won his second term as president against Al Gore under a large cloak of murkiness. If Al Gore had become president, there may not have been the war with Iraq, and climate change would be high up on the agenda. We have yet to see what the murky election of Trump will do to the world we live in over the next few years, a point Carter came back to several times during her session.

cv_the_three_emperorsCarter traces much of the turbulence of these times back to Queen Victoria, and her grand plan to unite Europe through the marriages of her children into the various royal families of Europe. This started of course with her own marriage to Prince Albert. Even though she was an appalling matchmaker, her idea of a pan-European royal family was probably not a bad one, but it did happen at a bad time, with rising nationalism within Europe, industrialisation, an educated middle class challenging traditional ways of thinking and doing. The royal families did their utmost best to keep out the threat of the modern world by simply not changing, reinforcing further those long-standing traditions and etiquettes, digging their heels in further, but in the end going down.

She spoke about each of the three in turn beginning with probably the most boring of the three – King George V. The British royal family was pretty powerless, Parliament having the ruling control, so there really wasn’t much damage that George could do. George was a traditionalist, and worked hard at upholding that, as well as doing his best to maintain good relationships with his cousins, as his grandmother had worked so hard at.

Tsar Nicholas III was a total autocrat, had no interest or desire to modernise Russia or improve the lives of the millions of peasants he ruled. He truly believed that the day the crown was put on his head, magic rays from above entered his brain and turned him into an emperor. His father and Queen Victoria hated each other, but George and Nicholas from childhood had always got on well. Victoria changed her mind about the Russians when her favourite grandchild married Nicholas, becoming charming and embracing of Russia. Not that it did any of them any good.

Kaiser Wilhelm was a completely different kettle of fish, and I would say clearly the author’s favourite, because boy, was he bad. Carter likens him in every possible way to Trump, and you can’t help but wonder if Trump actually modelled himself on Wilhelm. He was an awful child, prone to tantrums, indulged, glorified. He was born with a wizened arm which despite all sorts of treatments over the years never improved and blighted his near perfect image of himself. Carter discussed whether Wilhelm was a true narcissist or if he was a product of his abnormal upbringing. He went through stages of hating everything English, incredibly jealous of Edward VII, writing inflammatory letters to Nicholas that England was starting a war with Russia, then once George became king doing the same to him about Russia invading England. He was determined to make Germany great again, greater than Britain, and to this end focused all his efforts on building a mighty army and navy. Quite simply he was all over the place, unpredictable, volatile, unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.

pp_KAISER_WILHELM.jpgNone of these men caused WWI per se, but through their inaction, inability to modernise, work together, or see what was going on around them, they did contribute to the events that unfolded. Wilhelm was clearly a nut job, his speeches the equivalent of Trump’s tweets, all of this adding fuel to the fire that led to war.

We are so lucky that every form of contact between people of these times was recorded in some way, either in journals or by letter. And what a trove of material Carter had to draw upon in her research. She read out some of the letter exchanges between Wilhelm and Nicholas, and Wilhelm and George – she could go on the stage, and even though she made apologies for her German accent, she was still very good! A most enjoyable, stimulating session, covering a topic that is scarily relevant to the world we live in today.

Attended and reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One
by Miranda Carter
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 9780141019987