Book Review: All Day at the Movies, by Fiona Kidman

cv_all_day_at_the_moviesAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I have ever read.  I began to read it on a Sunday morning around 11:30 and finished it at 7:48 the same evening. I couldn’t put it down.

Dame Fiona Kidman has captured the New Zealand I grew up in, her words drawing pictures of the way we lived, the issues we faced and the people who accompanied us on our journeys as we grew. She does this so thoroughly, it was as though I was looking at a box of photographs dug out from the back of a closet. Dealing as it does with the members of one family, it never becomes mired in sentimentality, nor does it veer off into pathos.

Many readers of an age to remember the issues the characters face will find feelings being stirred that were perhaps long buried or forgotten, such is the reality evoked by Kidman’s writing. Life could be harsh for those who were vulnerable, (it still is of course) and society pretended to live by a stricter moral code than is followed today. All members of the family portrayed in the book live within the constraints of the same society, yet all are affected in different ways. The roads they travel are as random and arbitrary as most of ours turn out to be and we can identify with them because of this, our interest held by the very uncertainty of their destinations.

At the same time, the familiarity, the beautiful familiarity, of their lives holds us in thrall. Introduced to the mother at the beginning of the book we follow her children as they deal with the circumstances they encounter. The siblings take different paths, growing apart due not only to distance but also to life experiences. Their reactions to what happens to them are entirely believable, and I found myself identifying with them often, so skilfully are they drawn.

The book is 320 pages in total and so perfectly written, the reader comes to the end of them satisfied with the final glimpses we are given of the characters and their fortunes, while still carrying a lingering sense of loss.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

 All Day at the Movies
by Fiona Kidman
Published by Vintage NZ (PRH)
ISBN 9781775538905


Book Review: A French Wedding, by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_french_weddingTo celebrate his 40th birthday, rock star Max arranges a big weekend with his closest friends. Although they don’t see each other as much these days, they remain as close knit as they were when they met back at art college in the 90s.

They arrive at his fabulous house in France, eager to enjoy a weekend of reconnecting and reminiscing the glory days of their youth. Ever the rock star – cocky, wild and leader of the gang and struggling with addiction, Max may still have the girls swarming around him, but only one has ever had his heart. His kindred spirit, Helen. Troubled and wild like him, she arrives with her half-sister Soleil, who does not fall for Max’s rock n roll charm.

Nina and Lars, two of the gang who paired up, arrive with their teenage daughter Sophie. Tensions between mother and daughter are clear. Rosie arrives without her three sons, but with husband Hugo. A surgeon, he is conservative and safe, everything Rosie thought she wanted. Hugo most definitely does not fit in with this bohemian crowd. The final member of the gang is Eddie, who arrives with Beth, his latest, younger girlfriend. Also at the house for the weekend is local villager Juliette, employed by Max as his cook/housekeeper. Once a celebrated rising chef and owner of a popular restaurant in Paris, Juliette has returned to the village to heal.

Much of the story is told from Juliette’s view point as she observes the various interactions between the group. She notices the strained exchanges between husband and wife, the quiet angst of the teenager and the concern of friends for one another. As she serves up one glorious feast after another, along with some advice, she finds herself drawn into the dynamics of the group and becomes part of the team. Other pieces of the tale are delivered in flashbacks, both from Max and Juliette, and this worked well to reveal more about the characters current situations.

Throughout the weekend, events begin to escalate, leading them all towards truths some would have preferred kept hidden but which need to be acknowledged and faced. A sudden dash to Paris took both the characters and myself by surprise; leading to a refreshing scenario that I had not seen coming.

The tale ends with a wedding a year later, everyone again gathers at Max’s house. We revisit Juliette, now in her happy place as owner of the village bakery and doing well. As for who is getting married, again a nice turn that I didn’t see coming, although the clues were in place.

This is a tale of a weekend of change, of reflection and facing truths. An enjoyable read for the personalities and lives contained within and the fun moments of reminiscing (anyone who was a teen in the 90s will love the familiar music referenced).

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

A French Wedding
by Hannah Tunnicliffe
Published by Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743548103


Book Review: Early Warning, by Jane Smiley

Available in bookstores nationwide.
Early Warning is the second after Some Luck, in the Last Hundred Years trilogy, and what Smiley has pulled off is no mean feat. The years this novel spans are 1953-1986 – 33 years in the history of the United States that are a path well-trodden by many novelists. Our original couple, Walter and Rosanna’s children have had their own children, and during the course of this novel, many of the grandchildren also grow up to the age where they have children of their own.

This is one of those novels that reels you in, showing you the points of view of 13 members of the ever-expanding Langdon family, showing the lives of most of the family. The five siblings that survived childhood are now all over the US, scattered from the family farm in Iowa where Joe remains, to New York where Frank and Andy live, to Washington DC where Lillian, Arthur and their family live, and further afield at times, as kids went to college, joined peace marches and joined the war in Vietnam.

Each of the characters is so well-formed that I can only imagine Jane Smiley creating each and every one of them from clay, manipulating them as the story demanded. Each character seemingly has their own will given by the writer, moving themselves towards their destinies. It is true that occasionally I could pick a plot twist a mile ahead, by reading into the family tree – but this didn’t detract from the enjoyment of this dense and wonderful story.

Smiley has truly used her depth of writing experience to bring in the full range of possible fates for her characters. There are happy and unhappy marriages, there are warring twin siblings who are forever at odds with one another, a confused teenager who is nearly lost to a cult and of course, cruel ironies in the clash of reality with idealism. We learn about the ups and downs of farming in Iowa and what causes them, we understand our characters before they understand themselves, we see relationships with parents and lovers carelessly destroyed. When a significant event occurs, like the peace march in 1967 in New York, Smiley tells it from multiple perspectives, from different members of the family who don’t quite meet.

This book is for anybody who enjoys family saga and watching people live history. I am looking forward to Golden Age, the book of the most recent 34 years – interestingly enough, if the book is due next year as the publisher says, Smiley will have to invent the future. I can’t wait to see what she thinks we are going to come to.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Early Warning
by Jane Smiley
Published by Pan Macmillan. Mantle imprint
ISBN 9781447275633

Book Review: Us, by David Nicholls

cv_usUs arrived with the fanciest packaging I have yet encountered as a blog editor. The box was a corrugated cardboard suitcase, covered in stickers for each city visited by our main character. It included a travel pillow, and a packet of English barley sugars. The review proof copy of the book has a slipcase and a great, understated cover design that I didn’t look at closely until I realised at the end that it may have given me a clue as to what would happen over the course of the book. No expense has been spared for this expected bestseller by David Nicholls, the follow up to One Day. And at the time I received it, it was still in the running for the 2014 Man Booker Prize.

This book absolutely deserves to be a bestseller, and I would expect it to be a hit for the Southern Hemisphere summer sales. But I will say it wasn’t a huge surprise to see it knocked off the Man Booker list when it came to the shortlist time, if only because it is too straightforward, less experimental and certainly less grand in scale than most Man Booker prize-winners of the past few years have been (including The Luminaries).

Nicholls proves in this book that he is an expert observer of family life. Our narrator for this book is a 50-something year old scientist, who has had his ups and downs career-wise, regarding as the greatest period of his life as the moment he realised his now-wife was his perfect match. Unfortunately, the book starts with his wife shaking him awake in the middle of the night to inform him that it is time they went their own separate ways. This news comes as their only child, Albie, prepares to go away to Art School to study photography, and as they are about to embark on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe as a family.

The depiction of Douglas is so detailed you feel as though he is a great friend, somebody you know everything about and love despite his occasionally despicable actions, generally involving his son, who he has never understood, nor felt understood by. This relationship hits home as a parent as well as as a child. There is so much as a child that you cannot possibly ‘get’ about your parents, no matter how much you know of them. And as a teenager, so often you are so wrapped up in your own concerns, how can you possibly be expected to care what your parents are going through?

The book is as much about the interaction between chaos and order as it is about human relationships, and this is where the subtext lies. He says, of Connie’s superior parenting ability: “…she never seemed resentful – or only occasionally – of the hours and days and weeks that he consumed, the attention he demanded, the irrational tears, the trail of destruction and spilt pain and mashed carrot that he left behind, never repulsed or angered by the vomit that stained our new sofa, the poo that found its way into the cracks between the floorboards…”

Douglas’s own reaction to this chaos of childhood was to try and force it to be ordered, through gluing together lego sets (I recently watched The Lego Movie, there are echoes of the dad in this with Douglas’ actions), through trying to encourage his way of thinking in his child. As an only child, I can understand this imbalance of parenting between two parents, and I felt I understood a little more about my own father’s reactions to my own life choices from this.

This is a wonderful trip through Europe and a family’s relationships, which is funny, truthful, and very well written. I recommend it to anybody as a great read this coming summer.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

by David Nicholls
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9780340896990

Book Review: Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, by Tina Makereti

Did you love this book too? You can vote for it for the People’s Choice Award in the New Zealand Post Book Awards here

This is a powerful historic novel, spanning two cv_where_the_rekohu_bone_singsgenerations separated by over a century but connected by the threads of the ancestors that flow through their veins. It is a story of identity and of mixed heritage. It is immersive, and lyrically written, with an eloquence to the prose that keeps the reader truly engaged.

The first thread follows Mere, a young Maori woman of reasonable wealth in the 1880s. She follows her heart into making a somewhat reckless decision and falls in love with Iraia, her best friend and the descendent of a slave. Life is harsh for this young man, whose ancestry can be traced back to the last of the Moriori on Rekohu, the Chatham Islands. Together the two seek freedom beyond the confines of the Marlborough Sounds and find difficult times as they must face up against poverty and prejudice. Their tale is simply told and bittersweet.

Then in the modern day, we have two siblings − Bigsy and Lula − fraternal twins who could not be any more different, a one-in-a-million occurance: Lula takes after her father’s Irish heritage, whereas Bigsy follows closer to his mother’s Maori. We follow them through life, watching them grow from inseperable friends to drifting apart and while Bigsy makes his own place in the world, Lula is still drifting, unsettled. Eventually, a heart-breaking event will draw them both home and lead Lula on a quest to seek her family’s past, to question her identity, and ultimately find her roots.

Weaving throughout the stories, written in a rather more colloquial tongue, is a third narrator, the anchor for the characters, drifting and darting, offering tantalising, but brutal, glimpses into a tragic past.

This was a finely crafted read, a book that truly does sing.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings
by Tina Makereti
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775535188

Book Review: Remember me like this, by Bret Anthony Johnston

cv_remember_me_like_thisAvailable in bookstores nationwide. 

Bret Anthony Johnston’s debut novel Remember Me like This is blended from a Harlan Coben-esque thriller style of writing with a theme of family-coping that demands profundity, and meets somewhere in an awkward middle. After eleven year-old Justin, son to Laura & Eric & older brother to Griff, goes missing in Southport, Texas, he is presumed dead by most for four years. Johnston skilfully drops the reader into each of the family member’s distractions during Justin’s absence, hitting on the realities of sex, anonymity, and infatuation as tools for escape. When Justin is found, alive & healthy in Corpus Christi, only a bay away from Southport, Laura, Eric & Griff are pulled from their sovereign orbits back into a family.Johnston’s grasp on human truisms makes for sublime character depiction throughout; from a fourteen boy who, despite the revelations of a found lost-brother, is consumed by youthful passion for a girl, to a family that falling away from each other rather than into each other in times of need.

When Justin is returned to the Campbell family in an early climax, Johnston attempts to emulate heart-wrenching drama in illustrating a family, yet four individuals, being struck different blows from the same event. Mirrored by the Campbell’s realisation that their home has become a run-down house in Justin’s absence, their reunion sees them regain their awareness of each other: as they begin to re-build walls and re-sow grass, they also shed their distractions and begin to re-build as a family once more. As we begin to root for the family’s successful rebirth, Johnston cracks the Campbell’s happy-family façade with a twist that instantly sends the family recoiling to their coping mechanisms like frightened animals. The plot builds to literature-loaded storm finale, echoing the highly-charged emotions and anxieties facing the Campbell’s, both individually & collectively. Johnston weaves various threads as though in hope of a startling finish, but the final stroke is instead a predictable & neat bow-tie.

While the concept of Remember Me like This is one of surgical delicacy, I’m undecided whether Johnston has accomplished a seamless wonder or whether he has avoided a too-hard task. Johnston’s choice to leave Justin’s voice out of the novel is a stroke of brilliance, using his family member’s different perspectives to instead tell the story. After all, this is a story about the Campbell family, not about Justin’s ordeal. Yet simultaneously, the unwillingness of the Campbell’s to talk about Justin’s ordeal or their emotion is stretched to its limit and begs the edges of reality. Once Justin is returned, the family tiptoe around the elephant in the room for the rest of the novel, making the reader eager, but for resolution that never delivers. In such a ghoulish plot, Johnston’s writing seems to miss the weight of the substance.

If you enjoy Harlan Coben or T. Jefferson Parker you will appreciate Remember Me like This. As Johnston’s debut novel, it is certainly a worthwhile effort & (hopefully) preludes more refined novels to come.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

Remember Me like This
by Bret Anthony Johnston
Published by Two Roads (Hachette)
ISBN 9781444788068

Book Review: Tropic of Guile, by Sue McCauley

This book is available in all formats, from selected bookstores and online.
We have a hardback copy of this book to give away – check our Facebook page for details.

Sue McCauley is a cv_tropic_of_guilerespected New Zealand writer. I have read a number of her books over the years and always enjoyed them. Tropic of Guile was no exception.

I found it very hard to put down – the story enthralled me. When I find a book like this, no matter how many pages or how small the print is, I just mow through the pages.

The story starts in New Zealand: Christchurch to be precise. Hannah arrived in New Zealand for her OE from Portland, USA, working as a barmaid. She then met Alexander Louis Mason, who is close to Hannah’s father’s age. They have two small children, Liam and then Amy. Alex, a businessman of some wealth, decides to move the family to Fiji to start a new business venture. After being granted a 7-year-residency, they rent out their house in Christchurch to start a new life in Fiji. Fiji has been in some turmoil because of unrest and the government being over thrown by Brigadier Rabuka.

Alex loves the South Sea Islands and as a result they have, as a family, holidayed in most of them: Samoa, Rarotonga, Tahiti and Fiji, on a number of occasions. Alex has promised the Fijian government he is going to bring much needed jobs and tourism back to Fiji by building an underwater aquarium. Tourists fled Fiji after the coup and even with cut-price flights and packages they are slow to come back to the holiday paradise.

The family arrives in Nadi just 5 months after the coup. The airport is lined with armed soldiers. Kaikoso Island, where they are headed to set up their base, has been under European ownership since whaling days, and is largely undeveloped. Their home for the next 7 years was to be a house on four hectares of beach front land.

The story that unfolds is in one sense fascinating and in another shocking. We discover that Alex is planning to separate Hannah through whatever means he can from their children. The political turmoil in Fiji helps his cause because of a corrupt and archaic legal system. Mental and physical cruelty are part of his ploy to rid himself of his wife and gain complete control of their children. My heart pounded at times for Hannah, willing her to either shoot Alex or somehow find a way to win and get out of this tawdry ugly marriage, fighting for her own life and fighting for the life of her children.

The friendships that Hannah makes as a result of what unfolds are what help hold her up during the roughest times. These friends are Fijian and Fijian Indian, as well as ex-pats like herself.

Sue McCauley in my opinion is a genius – I just love the way she uses words to paint a very realistic picture. The pain and outrage I felt on Hannah’s behalf felt very real at times.

Highly Recommended.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Tropic of Guile
by Sue McCauley
Published by Xlibris
ISBN Hardback: 9781483683195
ISBN Paperback: 9781483683188
ISBN13 eBook: 9781483683201

Book Review: The Forrests, by Emily Perkins

This book is in bookstores now, and is aImage finalist in the Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Reading this book some time after its release and well after the first reviews, I feel privileged to not be influenced by other comments. I have few expectations. Seeing comments like ‘sad, pointless lives’ and ‘nothing happens’ made me wonder, did they really read THIS book? Of course others (more like me it seems) said it was ‘exquisite, carefully crafted and entrancing’. And it was all of that and more.

The Forrests are an almost normal family that move their family halfway across the world from an affluent New York lifestyle to what ends up being a challenging lifestyle in New Zealand. Emily Perkins is a master of observation and detail. The snippets of the family’s life that are revealed are believable and delicious. My book is dog-eared from all of the times I read a sentence that I wanted to treasure. For example, when describing the first view of the decrepit house where their estranged father was living,
The no-colour paint on the windowsills and door frame was crackled…
and, ‘Evelyn unpeeled her sandwich and tweezed out the alfalfa sprouts with her fingertips and dropped them into the sea.
and, when making a cake,
In the bowl they created a separated viscous swirl with the creamed-butter mixture, the yolk trailing through the pale butter, the transparent whites floating jellyfishy around the surface.

Emily Perkins is observant beyond belief, and her descriptions based on these observations, are absorbing. Utterly so. I loved this book that led me through this family’s seemingly ordinary life in a subtle and engrossing way. The reader is drawn into family and invited to fill in the blank between the episodic narrative.  This family is neither boring, nor ordinary, but it could be yours or mine. The ending is sad, but so is the ending of most lives. Dot, the mainly main character leaves these pages in a slightly confused way, but I suspect that, too, is the way in which many lives come to the final end.

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

The Forrests
by Emily Perkins
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781408831496