Book Review: The Doll Factory, by Elizabeth Macneal

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_doll_factoryIris and her twin sister Rose Whittle work for Mrs Salter’s Dolls Emporium. They make the costumes for china dolls. Often the dolls are ordered by clients to celebrate the death of an infant or some significant event in their lives. Iris was born with a twisted shoulder as a result of her shoulder being stuck in the birth canal when she was born and her sister Rose was disfigured as a result of  smallpox. The girls paint the features on the dolls, but Iris dreams of becoming a painter. A fantasy that can never be achieved through lack of money for lessons, paints and canvases.

Iris catches the eye of a pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost who wants her to be his full-time model. Iris, after some persuasion, agrees, but only on the condition Louis gives her art lessons. Rose and their parents think she is nothing more than a whore and they cut off any further contact. Louis also finds accommodation for Iris which also is a matter of contention with her family, further fuelling the fire of her being a “kept woman”.

Iris also has another admirer, the rather odd and creepy character Silas Reed. Silas catches vermin then with the art of taxidermy presents them on stands, dressing them in clothes. People have a morbid fascination with them, with many displayed in drawing rooms. Silas is also a butt of jokes as he is an odd- looking character often found in public houses muttering into his tankard. Silas, over time, becomes more and more obsessed with Iris, imagining her returning his infatuation.

The author has put together some fascinating characters together in this engrossing book, and it is a rather intriguing and at times spin- chilling read. I had to put it down at times and catch my breath before continuing. A great novel.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Doll Factory
by Elizabeth Macneal
Published by Picador
9781529002416

Book Review: The Cat from Muzzle, by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Scott Tulloch

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_cat_from_muzzleDwayne is a cat who made a 5-week trip from Kaikoura back to his original home of Muzzle Station in Southern Marlborough. While this story is based on a true story, what and who he encountered can only be imagined, in this case by Sally Sutton and Scott Tulloch.

Dwayne is a tough tabby cat with sharp claws.  He loves living at Muzzle Station. The bleating sheep, the gentle cows and the clucking chooks. Moving day comes around. They leave the farm, flying to their new home. Dwayne does not cope. He howled and howled as he doesn’t want to move to Kaikoura. The new house is big and bright but all he wantsis to be back at the Station, so off he goes, one determined cat to start his journey back to Muzzle.

Off Dwayne leaves walking and walking until his paws were sore. He walked for hours and days, eating what he could along the way. A friendly hunter shared his fire, inviting Dwayne to come and live with him but this Muzzle cat had somewhere else to be.

This is a wonderful story of tenacity and courage. I read this to my 4 ½ year old granddaughter Quinn who is the proud co-owner along with her older sister Abby, to two cats. One is called Gus, who is a tabby and a big fluffy puss called Rocky (so named to give him mana among other cats!). Quinn wanted to know why Dwayne wanted to go back to Muzzle Station and not stay with his owners. She can’t imagine Gus or Rocky ever leaving her. She told me she loves them this much………………………………..!

The Illustrations by the wonderful artist Scott Tulloch are simply beautiful. This is a great book. This would make a wonderful present.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Cat from Muzzle
by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Scott Tulloch
Published by Puffin NZ
ISBN 9780143773085

Book Review: Heartland Strong, ed Margaret Brown, Bill Kaye-Blake and Penny Payne

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_heartland_strong.jpgWhile I am a dyed-in-the-wool ‘townie’, it would be hard to travel around New Zealand over the last 20 or 30 years as I have, and not notice how farming has changed. I also think television and the media in general have had huge influence on what a lot of New Zealanders now think of farming in New Zealand. Once upon a time, the countryside was littered with family farms which were in those days handed down to the eldest son. This has been one of the biggest changes in farming. Increasingly, farms are not owned by families but by a corporate and syndicate form of ownership.

From Wairoa to Southland, the book’s team of 14 writers found great examples of resilience and ways in which it was built by different communities. ‘It came up repeatedly that relationships, connectedness and support networks were what made each town,’ the book editors say.

20 years ago, the landscape in rural communities would there would have been farming of sheep and beef but now farms with hard to farm hill country have sheep. Dairy expansion has bought increased total numbers of herds, as well as increasing the size of the herds.

Land management has changed, with storage ponds and a higher number of irrigators which enables farmers to intensify their production systems to grow crops that 20 years ago couldn’t have been grown. All of these changes have affected rural communities. A lot of the farms now need more people to work on them, and to retain good people is increasingly difficult. Less New Zealanders want to work on forms with possible ownership of farms becoming less achievable, so farmers are having to use transient labour. Some rural communities are struggling as a result.

The effect of these changes is not all negative. Some towns are flourishing through the expansion and diversification of agriculture in the area.

The increase in regulation compliance has led to attention grabbing signs on farm gates alerting visitors to all kinds of hazards. There is also an increased monitoring of health and safety regulations, animal welfare regulations; chemical and prescription medicine handling regulations, water quality requirements- fencing and planting of riparian strips on some streams. They are now recording animal movements so they can trace their movements, allowing them to create strategies to lowering the environment impact.

There are also case studies located in a range of New Zealand settings. Only around 20 percent of the population lives in the countryside and while decisions are being made by people that live mainly in urban areas, many do not fully understand or have empathy with their rural neighbours.

While I found this book fascinating, I confess to finding myself out of my depth. This book, in my opinion, has been written for people in the farming industry or on the fringes of it.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Heartland Strong – How rural New Zealand can change and thrive
Edited by Margaret Brown, Bill Kaye-Blake and Penny Payne
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995109599

 

Book Review: Harsu & The Werestoat, by Barbara Else

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_harsu_and_the_werestoatThis book is not the usual genre I am attracted to but I have to say this book fascinated me. I am also always on the look-out for books to inspire and interest my 12-year-old granddaughter Eden.

Harsu is a 12-year-old boy whose mother is Daama, the daughter of the Wind God. On the outside she looks like a woman but Daama is capable of changing into a stoat – hence the term werestoat.

When Harsu was 6 years old his father tried to teach Harsu about the world – also trying to teach him how to read.  Harsu developed a terrible fever-dream breaking out in a rash, and remembers his parents fighting.  By the time he recovered, his father was gone from the Palace.

Harsu’s mother started stealing babies as she wanted a perfect child, as thanks to the fever dream, Harsu wasn’t perfect anymore.  Daama’s behaviour continues to be of concern to Harsu as she constantly wants praise for her job as a mother and often doesn’t get it. Staff in the Palace walk out as her temper tantrums become worse.

Harsu is torn as while he loves his mother, he does not condone her behaviour. As he is part human and totally devoted to her, he can’t stand by and let her behaviour continue as she contrives to steal older children.  Moving via a mysterious portal, through history, finally settling in current-day New Zealand doesn’t seem to make any difference or contain her behaviour. It becomes even more bizarre.

The more I got into this book I realised that  this was a modern-day fairy tale. Not all fairy stories I grew up with necessarily had happy beginnings or endings. This has a great ending that most would be happy with.

Eden you are going to be the recipient of a new book! Enjoy, my darling girl!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Harsu & The Werestoat
by Barbara Else
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572199

Book Review: Simon Said and Other Cautionary Tales, by Pamela Allen

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_simon_said_and_other_cautionary_talesMost children know the game Simon Says, but this book puts a different spin on the game.

‘Simon said,
I am taller than you.’

And he was.

He can pull harder than you, jump higher than you, run faster than you, climb higher than you, throw a ball further than you, finally finishing with ’I can eat more than you.’  It does not end well!

The second story in this wonderfully funny book is ‘Simon Did’. This story also does not end well for Simon.

The third and fourth stories; Watch me, and Watch me Now have slightly better endings.

This is a fun book with wonderful illustrations and sitting down with 4- year–old granddaughter Quinn made this a great experience for both of us.  We were laughing our socks off at Simon’s antics and what we really shouldn’t do in life.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Simon Said and Other Cautionary Tales
by Pamela Allen
Published by OneTree House
ISBN 9780995106499

Book Review: Grandzilla, by Lisa Williams

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Grandzilla.JPGGrandmothers are on the whole these days neither old or little. Most of us are a lot younger than perhaps our own grandmothers might have been. Tessa hates hers and has therefore dubbed her Grandzilla. It is 2015 and her beloved grandfather Ed has just died, making her grandmother even more of a monster. Tessa had a close relationship with her late grandfather and during her grieving, she hits out continually with mean-spirited comments.

Her grandmother Tillie, though, has her own secrets. Tessa is of the generation that thinks nobody old can possibly have been an activist. The next thing we know, Tillie’s cousin Dawn turns up on her doorstep. ‘Notorious Terrorist sent home to die’ screams the news headlines. Dawn is dying of cancer.

Dawn had been serving a life sentence in a German prison. She was part of the committed terrorist attacks by the UF, a far-left militant group active 1967 – 1984 in what was then West Germany. Dawn was supposedly the mastermind of the 1968 kidnap of banker Dietmar Kriegbaum. She eluded capture after a shoot-out with police when one of their officers was killed. She managed to stay off the radar for three decades after fleeing Germany in 1970 to Edinburgh in Scotland where she worked as a pharmacist’s assistant. Dawn was captured in 2002 when her neighbor attended a performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and saw a reproduction of an old wanted poster with Dawn’s picture on it, as part of the play Revolutionary Disorder. She called her in, and Dawn went to jail.

Turning up on Tillie’s doorstep, Dawn wants to make peace with her cousin. Meanwhile Tessa works briefly at Betta-Mart, where she meets Todd and Cal who are part of a protest movement. Tension is high around the streets with police, and protesters clashing. Tessa gets involved, thanks to her friendship with Todd and Cal. Riots and violence become a shared experience between she and her grandmother,  bringing the two very different generations together.

This is a story that will resonate with most of us as we have seen many times on television protesters clashing in the USA and other countries around the world. Most protests involving violence are around race or religion, and this was fertile ground to explore the relationship between two generations.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Grandzilla
by Lisa Williams
Nationwide
ISBN 9780473448486

Book Review: The Nam Shadow, by Carole Brungar

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

The Nam Shadow is the second book in a series by Carole Brungar, following on from The Nam Legacy.  You don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy this book.

Terry Edwards was living at home with his mother and younger siblings. It didn’t feel like home any more since his mother had taken in a lodger to make ends meet;  the lodger moving into his mother’s bedroom. The lodger, Vernon, was a decent enough chap, being the local bank manager, but living in the sleepout, Terry felt restless. His job at the local garage as a mechanic was okay but he was wanting a bit of excitement in his life. He joins up the NZ Army and leaves for Waiouru and basic training. His best mate Jack Cole also decides to join up.

The Vietnam War has been going for a while now and news filtering through the media gives the boys an idea of joining up to do their bit. Not realising how brutal war can be, the boys soon find out. Losing mates that joined up at the same time, seeing woman and children killed is not for the faint-hearted.  It leaves a lasting impression on the two boys. Nightmares follow after they come home with settling down harder than either of them thought.

Frankie Proctor is a photojournalist with The Wellington Daily. Given the soft jobs at the paper, Frankie soon becomes totally disillusioned continually reporting on community events. She wants to be given stories with a bit of meat in them, but those go to more experienced people (usually men) at the paper. Frankie was reading an article about the Vietnam War in the latest issue of Time magazine. American soldiers were arriving in Vietnam at the rate of 1,000 a day. Inspired, Frankie approaches her boss William Booth asking if she could be sent to Vietnam to cover the war for the paper. The answer was a flat no, so Frankie chucks in her job and take her chances over in Vietnam, with a few contacts from her former boss.

This is a brilliant story. The two main characters in the book meet through a chance encounter. Terry meets up with Frankie every chance he can. They become close friends and lovers.

I became extremely aware of the Vietnam war as a teenager when in my first job I worked for a New Zealand cement company which happened to have its offices on the 9th floor of the then AMP Building on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets in Auckland’s CB, in the late 1960’s. The U.S consulate was on the 6th floor. Peace protesters were outside the AMP building, and we had to fight our way through them to go to work. We then got bomb threats, with the whole building having to be cleared out by the police and fire brigade. The most that was ever found was a petrol-soaked rag in a pot plant. As a teenager, it was quite exciting and certainly not like any other job any my peers had.

As an adult I happened to be in Wellington when the Government held the official welcome home to the Vietnam veterans recognising their service to the country. Ex-vets from other parts of the world came for the event.  It was extremely moving.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Nam Shadow
by Carole Brungar
Carole Brungar Publishing
ISBN 9780473450816