Book Review: Man of Iron, by Jock Vennell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_man_of_ironI wasn’t expecting this to be such an engaging read, to be honest. My history reading more often takes the fictional or factional route but the Gallipoli tragedy has always caught my imagination, and more so since I recently found out that some (reasonably close ) family members fought and died there, and at least one of those was part of the Wellington regiment.

However my actual knowledge of the battles fought, and generally lost, on that peninsula was remarkably sketchy.

Jock Vennell has produced a comprehensive, compassionate and fascinating biography of the man who became Colonel Malone.

William Malone was born in Kent, and educated in England and France. He was keen to go into the army, but family circumstances meant that was unaffordable, and instead he did clerical work in London, but joined volunteer groups and eventually decided to join his brother Austin in New Zealand. He arrived in Taranaki and soon joined the Armed Constabulary. I was interested to note that he was part of the force which dealt so ignominiously with Parihaka, but I tried not to let this colour my judgment and continued reading!

He was of course young, enthusiastic and a settler in a “new” country, and also doubtless following orders as he does seem to have been a man who did things by the book, at least early in his career. A different person emerges during the nightmare times on Gallipoli.

He bought land and built a home for himself and his wife and children, and studied to become a lawyer – work at which he was competent and successful but which he did not enjoy. He stood – unsuccessfully – for government as a liberal, but it may be that his Catholicism was not in his favour.

As well as being a successful dairy farmer and lawyer, he seems to have had a penchant for study, and immersed himself in military strategy and tactics. At the time of the Boer war (he chose not to go) he was approached to lead the Stratford branch of the Volunteer force (which was effectively to become the New Zealand Expeditionary Force). Initially he was reluctant, but agreed and launched himself into training his company to become the best in the battalion. By the time war was declared in 1914, he had effectively achieved that, and it was a logical step for him to volunteer and to be given command of a battalion.

He was clearly a man who enjoyed war – in his diary he notes, ‘I leave a lucrative practice, a happy home, a brave wife and children without any hestitation. I feel I am just beginning to live.’

This kind of sentiment is harder to take these days, when the dangers of fervent nationalism are apparent all around us. However it was common then, and although I absolutely don’t agree with much of his opinion and motivation, it’s hard to fault his integrity, wisdom and commitment – particularly to his troops. He contradicted and disobeyed orders when he believed that they were wrong (quite often!) and earned the respect and love of his men.

Vennell deals thoroughly with the Gallipoli battles, and of course in particular with the travesty of Chunuk Bair. This is a book which – no matter your opinion of war – brings William Malone to life, and gives us some understanding of what drove our men to fight, and so often ultimately to die.

Pro patria mori (roughly, It is sweet and proper to die for the fatherland) is a sentiment I struggle with always, and when the country in question was not New Zealand but England, I struggle even more. However I do recommend this book. It’s fascinating and insightful.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Man of Iron: The extraordinary story of New Zealand WW1 hero Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone
by Jock Vennell
Published by Allen and Unwin
ISBN 9781877505713


Book Review: The Lake House, by Kate Morton

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_lake_houseThe present meets the past in an unlikely coincidence of events in this recent novel by the latest most successful Australian author you may, like me, not have heard of. Looking at her profile, that her books have sold more than 10 million world wide, and that she has been on the New York Times bestseller lists, I have definitely missed something. So I was very much looking forward to getting myself lost in this novel, set like her previous novels, somewhere in Cornwall.

Cornwall would appear to be not the only common factor – in her past novels, there is a mystery of some sort surrounding people who live/have lived in Cornwall, often something/someone abandoned, a family link from the present to the past, and a modern day character, usually female, going through some sort of crisis who ends up reconciling or solving whatever the mystery may be. A winning formula, and fully embraced in this latest novel.

Ms Morton is a master at weaving her plot, the many strands, threads and tenuous links that keep the reader involved and constantly wondering what the next reveal will be. The opening pages, in August 1933, have an unnamed female traipsing through mud and rain in the early dawn, digging a hole with a spade, burying a box in it, and covering the evidence. The perfect setting for a mystery.

The multi-faceted plot essentially focuses on two people. Alice Edevane, now very elderly and living in London, is a prolific and successful writer of whodunnits. Alice has never got over the disappearance of her 11-month-old brother Theo at a Midsummer’s Eve party in June 1933. The party was at her family’s historical country house in Cornwall. She harbours suspicions about people who were involved in the disappearance, but with no body or evidence of foul play ever turning up, this is actually the biggest mystery of her life.

Seventy years after said disappearance, Sadie Sparrow, a young woman detective, is going through a particularly difficult time in her work. On leave visiting her grandfather in Cornwall, she stumbles upon the old house, now derelict and deserted. She immediately senses that something happened here, and she takes it upon herself to solve the long-standing mystery of the missing child.

The plot development, with its red herrings, taking the reader up the garden path and back down again, is superbly done – it really and truly is a mystery, and many many pages are read as each twist and turn is fully explored, then either discarded or put into the memory bank for later use. And so you keep turning the pages, to find out what happened to this family, way back in June 1933.

Alice, a young girl of enormous intellect and imagination, passionately in love with Ben the gardener, was sixteen at the time. She had an elder sister Deborah, a free-spirited younger sister Clemmie, and a baby brother Theo.  Their parents are Eleanor and Anthony who are doing their utmost to deal with the fallout of Anthony’s WWI experiences in France – clearly post traumatic stress, but of course undiagnosed and not fully understood at that time.

As well as the post-war trauma, the loss of a child is a recurring theme. Not only with the disappearance of young Theo, but also still birth, adoption, child abandonment, what a mother will do to protect her child, and what happens to a mother in the protection of her child. These themes are sensitively and honestly handled, and all lend credence to the storyline.

I was disappointed, however, with a couple of elements of the story. The cover, as beautiful and enticing as it is, doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the story. It is also a tad too long: at 591 pages, I had trouble holding it up in bed – but more than that, I thing an editor could have trimmed 150 pages off it without losing anything of the storytelling or mystery solution. The major problem for me, given the twists and turns in the narrative, is how neatly and tidily everything is resolved at the end. And so I shut this book with a frustrating big bang and thought well, after 591 pages of tension and expectation, this was just too happily ever after for words.

For all that, if you are looking for a great holiday read by the pool/beach/lake, this will do very nicely.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Lake House
by Kate Morton
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781742376516

The blog to end our 20-day blog tour!

BookAwards_CC_900x320_v3_bannerWe have just finished a fabulous four-week tour around our authors inspirations, aims and achievements with their Children’s Choice finalist books. Now it is time for you to help your kids to vote their favourite book and author to win: they will be in to win a selection of finalists for themselves and their school if they do! Kids can select a winner in each category; the winning book of each category will win a prize at the Book Awards ceremony on Thursday 13 August. Thank you to all of the other blogs who have hosted these interviews!

Children's_choice_ya_fic_V2jpgDuring the first week of our tour, we heard from the Young Adult fiction finalists. We heard from Ella West (who, like any good super author, writes under a pseudonym) who dedicated Night Vision to Trish Brooking, because she still takes her out for lunch, after looking after her as Otago Education College Writer in Residence in 2010. We learned that Natalie King has not one but three pseudonyms, and was inspired by a dream of a lake to write the book Awakening, which begins with a mysterious necklace drawn from a lake. While Jill Harris sadly passed away in December, Makaro Press publisher Mary McCallum told us that she published her book The Red Suitcase because the opening chapter inside a Lancaster bomber had her riveted. I Am Rebecca was a return to a character that author Fleur Beale had written about before, in I am not Esther. She told us that the secret to her amazing characters is simply to “walk in the shoes of the character so that what happens to the character informs the story.” Our final YA author was Nelson-based Rachael Craw, who had two interviews in two different places! Spark was also inspired by a dream, which took 5 and a half years to come to fruition: she had to learn to write first! She was inspired by the power of DNA when she met her birth mother.

Children's_choice_picbook_v4Week two saw us jump back a few reading years to the Picture Book finalists. Scott Tulloch ran I am Not a Worm past fellow Children’s Choice finalist Juliette MacIver and her kids, and her oldest son Louis suggested what became the final line in the book: “I like butterflies.” Yvonne Morrison, author of Little Red Riding Hood…Not Quite, told us she was about to leave NZ for a new job in Vietnam, living on a jungle island and managing a centre for endangered primates! Donovan Bixley covered two finalist books in one interview, Little Red and Junior Fiction book Dragon Knight: Fire! and he said that working with the same authors again and again means he can just do a messy scribble at the early stage of illustrating, and they will trust him to flesh it out!  Jo van Dam wrote doggy rhymes for her own children when they were young, and this became Doggy Ditties from A to Z. This is illustrated by Myles Lawford, who had to do a lot of research to make sure he illustrated each breed accurately. Peter Millet answered his own question about pets in the army with The Anzac Puppy, illustrated by Trish Bowles, who used to get in trouble at school for drawing: she now gets rewarded for it! Juliette MacIver likes to feature things in her books that children see in their everyday lives – “monkeys, old wooden galleons, pirates, for example, things that children encounter most days on their way to kindy or school.” Marmaduke Duck and the Wide Blue Seas was the third in the series by her and Sarah Davis, who reckons Juliette sometimes writes things in just to annoy her: ”52 marmosets leaped on board”?!? Seriously!!? Do you know how long it takes to draw 52 marmosets? Much longer than it takes to write the words “52 marmosets”, that’s for sure.”

Children's_choice_JUNIOR_V4We began the Junior Fiction category with an interview with Kyle Mewburn, author of Dragon Knight: Fire!, the first in a new series for the younger Junior Fiction age-group, and a finalist in both the children’s choice and the judges’ lists. Kyle doesn’t let his ideas float around “in case they escape, or some sneaky author steals one.”  The lead character in 1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, was inspired by her grandfather, Thomas McGee, who served as a mounted rifleman in WW1. Desna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Quake, and the character of Maddy popped into her head on the way home from work as a school librarian one day. “It was a bit crowded in there, so I sat down and wrote it out,” she said. Stacy Gregg‘s story The Island of Lost Horses began when she fell in love, with a picture of an Abaco Barb horse, the breed featured in this story; which is inspired by real events. Suzanne Main won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon award for the manuscript for How I Alienated My Grandma. This came with an offer of publication from Scholastic NZ, which enabled her to keep backing herself and her work to succeed.Children's_choice_NON_FIC_V3

The Non-fiction category tour began with the double-nominee (in judge’s and children’s choice lists) Māori Art for Kids, written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke. Their aim was “to create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.” Poet Sarah Jane Barnett featured poetry title The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green and Myles Lawford on her blog The Red Room. Paula says, “When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried!” Maria Gill followed up her New Zealand Hall of Fame of 2011 with New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions – she says the toughest task was to decide who to leave out. Gorgeous illustration guide book A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris, was featured next on NZ Green Buttons. Sandra’s favourite thing to do when not drawing or managing her illustration agency, is tramping, unsurprisingly!  Philippa Werry was in last year’s awards with her great Anzac Day book, and this year she was a children’s choice finalist for Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story, featured on Barbara Murison’s blog. Philippa focused this book on the day itself, as opposed to the treaty, and she enjoys doing cryptic crosswords while contemplating writing.

While this tour is ending, we will be carrying on our celebration of the book awards, promoting the judges’ list in the Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the run-up to the awards announcement at Government House on 13 August 2015. There will be giveaways and reviews, and fun besides, so watch this space!


For the full links list for the Book Awards, please head here.

Other blogs involved were: NZ Booklovers blog, Booknotes Unbound, Around the BookshopsThrifty Gifty, My Best Friends are Books, NZ Green Buttons Blog and The Red Room.