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

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Book Review: Awatea’s Treasure, by Fraser Smith

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_awateas_treasure.jpgThis book is a great delight to read.

Awatea, the main character, has been sent to stay with his grandparents and uncles in the country because his dad is not well. The story is set in the far north of New Zealand, and the atmosphere created by Fraser Smith’s writing is very credible and evocative of life in a reasonably remote area.

I was drawn in to this book from the outset. The uncles, prone to fairly rough practical joking, were scarily good and set the scene well for the development of the book.
It has everything – the already mentioned scary uncles, relaxed but firm grandparents, an empty – possibly haunted – house next door, and beaches and forests to explore, neighbours (a long way away) with a nutty parrot and an unseen son. Magic, adventure, what’s not to like?

It’s an excellent story and I don’t want to give away too much detail, but Awatea finds a tree house with some things which surely belonged to the boy who built it – but who is he? Where is he? Is the treasure really valuable? And where does the guy with the horse fit in?
Just read it! I am sure that like you won’t put it down till you have finished.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Awatea’s Treasure
by Fraser Smith
Huia Publishers 2016
ISBN 9781775502944

Book Review: A is for Aotearoa, by Diane Newcombe and Melissa Anderson Scott

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_is_for_aotearoaThis lift-the-flap treasure hunt book is sure to appeal to children, as it is incredibly interactive.

The story starts with a message in a bottle washed up on a beach. This leads Girl and Bird on an alphabet treasure hunt around New Zealand. There is a trail of clues that lead them from place to place, from city to shore, north to south and east to west.

Some of the locations will be familiar but for those that aren’t, there is a glossary at the back with facts about each location.

The book starts with A for Auckland and Girl jumps on Bird’s back to fly to the next location. The pages open to feature lift-up flaps on a background that is jam-packed with illustrations, ranging from a tuatara to a steam train.

While the book is filled with detailed illustrations,  I found the colour on some pages to be a little muted. Perhaps a little more colour next time!

For those too young to pick up on the place name clues, the book could be used to help them recognise and name other items. Subsequent readings will increase older children’s recall of the place names and I imagine they would soon be able to name many of the places the book takes them to.

A great adventure for parents and children to take together.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

A is for Aotearoa
by Diane Newcombe and Melissa Anderson Scott
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143507307

Book Review: Bad Apple, by Matt Whyman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bad_appleBad Apple is a fun book. That is the whole of it in a sentence. It is a fun book with a jail-break and a road trip and a showdown, all delightfully interspersed with a little bit of humor for everyone. Matt Whyman has written a book that is fast-paced without feeling rushed and fun without losing track of his plot and characters that while bad, are bad in such a good way. This is a book full of unacceptable behavior that will have you laughing like an idiot in the middle of class. Just as a side note, I would not recommend reading this in a Maths class under a desk. You will get in trouble for it and may end up shipped off to a Troll settlement with all the other bad apples.

That’s the idea behind the book, Trolls are real, 99% genetically identical to humans and living underground, swapping out human kids for trolls at birth. Unfortunately, this is only revealed in those teenage years, when bad behavior comes out in full force. One DNA test later and if the Troll DNA has revealed itself, those kids are disowned and sent to a Troll settlement. I know, a pretty rough and disheartening start to a comedy, but the way Matt Whyman manages to diffuse the tension of it and introduce humor and layers to the story is what makes it such an entertaining read. Following the delightful mishaps and gloriously awful behavior from Maurice and Wretch is awesome, and with a plot so full of action and humor, it’s hard to not read all in one go.

Not only this but Bad Apple is in my mind the sort of book that anyone could read and take something away from, weather that is an entertaining story and plenty of laughs or a deeper look at the judgement found in our society. There are huge amounts of layers to this book, hiding in plain sight everywhere you turn and all of it is intellectually stimulating and deserves to be ticking over in the minds of everyone who can see it. I love this book because its one that rewards you for thinking a little harder with a serious message and a societal commentary. The great thing is though is that if you don’t take that message away it doesn’t matter! You’ve still enjoyed a shockingly good and thrilling adventure story so who cares! This book appeals to everyone in this way and that in itself is brilliant.

This is a book I think everyone could, should and would read and enjoy and if it sparks the bookish Maurice or the Bad-apple Wretch inside of you to burst forward, that’s definitely a win.

Reviewed by Michaela-Rose Tripp
As part of the Allen & Unwin YA Ambassador review team 

Bad Apple
by Matt Whyman
Published by Hot Key Books
ISBN 9781471404207

Book Review: Ashley Bell, by Dean Koontz

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ashley_bellDean Koontz is one of the world’s most prolific authors, and unlike many of the other prolific writers, he does not make use of other authors to continue his manuscripts. It is somewhat understandable, therefore, that one might discover something of a formula to his tales.

When reading Dean Koontz, one can normally expect a fast-paced, thrilling adventure, generally with the main character (and occasionally the main character’s potential love interest) having to run for their life from some dangerous monster/cult/person with an almost uncanny way of tracking them down wherever they go. Generally there is a golden retriever, or canine of another sort, involved. He also has the trademark cast of quirky, sometimes downright oddball, characters.

Ashley Bell contains many of these standard Koontz-tropes. It has the bold female lead, Bibi Blair, who won’t let anything get her down and who will take on any challenge life has to offer her – including a rare and fatal rare brain tumour. It has a golden retriever, Olaf, although in this case, he has been dead for 6 years. It has a dangerous cult leader in the form of a Neo-Nazi, Hitler-wannabe and murderer. And, yes, there is the love interest – in this case, Paxton, who is doing his military duty out in the field. To save herself, Bibi must find, and rescue, a girl by the name of Ashley Bell. But who is Ashley Bell?

Bibi undergoes a whirlwind, madcap journey, filled with strange coincidences and violent murders. She is hunted at every corner, and there seems nowhere will provide refuge. As tensions increase and events – and acquaintances – conspire around her, a harrowing truth will be revealed – something extraordinary and forgotten.

Ashley Bell is longer than the standard Koontz tale, more of a tome than a quick weekend read. The prose is eloquent and flowery – perhaps reflecting Bibi Blair’s career as an author. It has about it something of the familiar, and a little of the fresh and new.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Ashley Bell
by Dean Koontz
Published by Harper Collins NZ
ISBN 9780732298654

NB: The paperback of Ashley Bell is due out in June 2016.

Book Review: Alone on the Wall, by Alex Honnold with David Roberts

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_alone_on_the_wallYou might have heard of Alex Honnold, he is an incredible athlete who has gained worldwide notoriety not only for his physical abilities, but also for his attitude to life. He is a free solo climber, climbing rocks hundreds of metres high, alone, without ropes and harnesses or any of the usual protective gear usually seen on climbers. And he does this because he says it is fun.

The world’s fascination with Alex Honnold centres on a frank disbelief that someone could do something so inherently dangerous, and that he’s still alive, and still doing it. We’re also fascinated with his lifestyle choices – he lives in a kitted-out van and climbs mountains. He climbs using nothing more than tight climbing shoes and chalk to assist his ascent. Sponsorship makes his lifestyle feasible. He is admired and respected by climbers around the world.

Alex’s fame began within the local climbing community in his home in the USA, then word got out about how he was free soloing routes normally ascended with ropes and in teams. He was climbing them ‘free’ and he was climbing them fast. For him, free soloing is purism. His philosophy of life is his emphasis on simplicity, on paring away extraneous stuff. He likes the speed records because they give a baseline for improvement, and beating times is gratifying.

nat_geographic_YosemiteYou might have seen the feature about Alex’s climbing on 60 Minutes, or the famous front cover photo on National Geographic with Alex standing on a thin sliver of a ledge half way up an almost vertical rock overlooking a vast valley. After a local adventure film company made a few films about his ‘crazy’ ascents, he became famous on a wider scale – he reckons being Facebook-friended by thousands of people he didn’t know was one of the first signs of his burgeoning fame.

You get the feeling with Alex Honnold, though, that climbing rocks for challenge and satisfaction is something he was born to do and as you read his book, it is crystal clear that he is driven to keep at it. Climbing has made him extremely fit, and you need to be extremely fit to hang from a ledge with a finger and thumb wedged in if that’s all that is holding your weight.

He’ll say he hasn’t had many close calls that he can remember. He insists that his climbing is low-risk – he is not likely to fall off. He recognises that the consequences are high if he did, but he wants to be clear about distinguishing between consequence and risk. The rest of us just feel that it’s a chance we would rather not take, which is why we aren’t several hundred metres up in the air on a rockface in Yosemite National Park.

The book is a collection of some of his most challenging climbs, and it’s a chance to get inside his head as you wonder what he is thinking up there. Alex says the ‘camping lifestyle’ he lives day in day out does wear thin – camping likely holds a special appeal if you don’t do it routinely. He admits to liking showering, eating out, being able to call his friends, checking email. He also tires of the lonely life in the van sometimes, but it’s a trade-off and he says on the whole he is pretty content.

Alone on the Wall is a great read for the climber in your family and still very interesting if climbing is your worst nightmare. Life is precious, but just because something is precious it doesn’t mean you have to baby it. As Alex says, “What’s the point in having an amazing vehicle if you’re afraid to drive it?”

Review by Amie Lightbourne

Alone on the Wall
by Alex Honnold with David Roberts
Published by Macmillan Publishers
ISBN 9781447282693

Book Review: Close to the Wind, by Zana Bell

“It doesn’t seem fair that New Zealand should have quite so many beautiful corners tucked away…” (Close to the Wind, by Zana Bell)
cv_close_to_the_wind
I love a great historical romance, so when I was offered Close to the Wind for review I jumped at the chance; I can’t say I’ve ever read a historical that is partially set in little old New Zealand!

The story starts off in 1860’s England with our heroine blissfully unaware of the turmoil and danger that is about to turn her already far from perfect world upside down.

In her haste to escape the grip of an overbearing aunt and a deceitful and dangerous fiancée, Georgiana disguises herself as ‘George’ and secures a position aboard a ship sailing to New Zealand in the hopes of finding and saving her sick brother. And so under the watchful, albeit blind-to-the-ruse eye of Captain Harry Trent, ‘George’, for the most part fits in to life at sea. But it’s not long before trouble finds our hapless hero(ine) and things are again thrown awry.

Becoming ‘Georgiana’ again, our heroine tries to fend for herself and, while thinking herself a master of disguise and cunning, takes on yet another persona (Sarah) in the hopes of throwing off the fiends on her trail.

Not knowing who to trust, yet falling victim at every turn, ‘Sarah’ finally makes her way to New Zealand to again find herself in the middle of another misunderstanding, another scuffle, and another change back to ‘Georgiana’ (are you keeping up, it’s confusing I know!) and finally sharing some tender moments with Captain Harry. And then it’s all tied up into a tidy little bow with happily-ever-afters for everybody.

Close to the Wind is well written as far as grammar and punctuation etc go, but I found it hard to get into because I felt I was being told what to see rather than sinking into the story and feeling the journey.I enjoy heroines with lots of spunk and quick wit, but I didn’t feel that from Georgiana, I found her to be rather dull; her loyalty to her brother proving to be her one redeeming quality.

I also felt let down by the lack of New Zealand in the story. If you’re going to use the tag line “Love, Passion and Adventure in 1860s New Zealand” on the cover, then you might want to make more use of its beauty and its people because other than a few phrases mentioning the mountains, the lack of decent roads, and the lightweight wooden buildings, there really isn’t much more detail. There’s no mention of the Chinese population that worked the mines or the Maori that would have also been living in and around the surrounding countryside in which Harry and Georgiana traveled.

Overall, for me the book was a slow paced, thinly veiled historical read with a touch of light romance.

A good read if you’re not going to get hung up on the lack of depth or details, but Close to the Wind was not the swashbuckling adventure I was hoping for.

3.5 Stars

Reviewed by Cath Cowley

Close to the Wind
by Zana Bell
Published by Choc Lit
ISBN 9781781890264