Book Review: The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser, by David McGill

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_plot_to_kill_peter_FraserThe Plot to Kill Peter Fraser is a novel set in immediate post World War Two Wellington.  As such, it provides a fascinating insight into daily life as New Zealand starts to recover from war.  The protagonist is former detective Dav Delany (a character continuing from the book The Death Ray Debacle) who is back home after a long war with his refugee wife, Rina.

The book opens with a German political detainee swimming from Matiu Somes Island to the mainland to deliver mail and collect contraband. One letter is to warn Peter Fraser that an attack on his life is planned. On his return to the island the detainee is drowned by other prisoners. The scene then switches to a political rally with Peter Fraser in Auckland. It is Dan’s first day back in New Zealand and his focus is to start a new life. At the conclusion of the rally, he intervenes to stop a knife attack and quickly finds himself reemployed and transferred to Wellington to investigate a threat on Peter Fraser.

The author, David McGill, is a prolific author and the research he undertook is evident throughout the book. I was fascinated to learn more about Peter Fraser, and his role in the set-up of the United Nations. Peter undertook to get protections for smaller nations, which put him at odds with the previous war allies. He also protested the ‘great nations’ having veto powers. Therefore, the idea that someone might wish to remove his influence by harming him is plausible. David McGill includes notes at the end of the novel, directing the reader to further learn about Peter Fraser.

The book then proceeds in a more typical ‘whodunnit’ fashion with numerous likely suspects. I really valued much of the detail in the book – the world building was clear and a real strength. Unfortunately, I think the author gives too big a clue to the identity of the assassin – the ending would have been a little more shocking for the revelation without the foreshadowing. However, I was left with a real desire to know what happened after the story ended, and if there was a further book in the series I’d be keen to read it.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser
by David McGill
Published by Silver Owl Press
ISBN 9780992262259

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Book Review: House of Robots – Robot Revolution, by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_robot_revolutionJames Patterson is one of the most prolific authors today. He co-authors a number of series with up and coming authors. Most feature his trademark of short, attention grabbing chapters. While famous for his adult series of Alex Cross novels, James has a significant range of young adult books, including the Middle School series and this edition from the House of Robots series. In his spare time, Patterson is involved in a lot of charitable work supporting youth literacy, independent bookstores and education scholarships. It makes it very easy to support a best-selling author who is passionate about engaging children in reading!

House of Robots: Robot Revolution may seem lengthy at 316 pages, but the story is broken into short chapters with many illustrations throughout. At the heart of the story is Sammy, who lives with his sister and parents in a robot-filled house. His mother is an inventor, who has designed a number of household robots. One robot, E, has a special purpose: he attends school for Sammy’s sister, Maddie. Maddie has an auto-immune illness that prevents her from leaving the house. As the story starts Sammy’s parents are distracted,and the robots are not working properly. This causes trouble for Sammy at home and school.

In many ways this is quite a sweet story. While it is clear that the parents are very busy, and that Maddy’s illness is a serious household concern, the story’s focus is on Sammy and school. The characters are well defined, and stop short of being cliched – I was left with a very sympathetic view of a busy family who look out for each other. The story includes a number of amusing robot-related disasters, and my ten-year-old daughter was often heard laughing out loud while reading this book. We have since sought out the other books in this series.

It is a very entertaining read, and one that is suitable for children aged 9-12.

A review from Hannah (10)

Robots! You would think that they help the house run better, right? Right!? Well, not really. These robots are sick of their job but support a little girl (Maddie). They adore her but rebel because they think E, a robot who goes to school for Maddie, gets all the best care.

A science fair must be won, however a snobby, rich and intelligent boy is crushing hopes and dreams by using perfection as a base for all his work. Can Sammy beat the new kid and save his sister from her prison in her room because of a disease? Can his best friend stay loyal all the way? Can they see the new kid make his biggest mistake yet in front of public, or will Sammy be forever humiliated by his whole school? Find out the answers in the book!

I love this book and I have read it over and over again.

I give this book 8/10 bunny power!

Book review by Emma Rutherford and Hannah Wong-Ming

House of Robots: Robot Revolution
Written by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
Published by Arrow
ISBN 9781784754242

 

 

Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, by Lily Collins

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_unfilteredLily Collins is a popular actress and Instagram star who has just released her autobiography. Her book, Unfiltered, is a series of essays about her life. There is a particular emphasis on relationships, being true to yourself and her early years.

As I was unfamiliar with her work this was a completely fresh introduction to Lily Collins and I found her writing very easy to read. Lily has written one essay about her father (the musician Phil Collins) and her relationship with her mother, who mostly raised her, flows through the other essays. Most interesting is her determination – she decided teen magazines needed actual teen input and through a lot of work talked her way into a regular column in ELLE Girl magazine. This lead to other freelance work (while still in her teens) for Teen Vogue and other publications. This lead to TV journalism work – and from there to acting. It is a really interesting story.

Like many essay collections, it suffers from a lack of cohesion. It felt like many subjects were not discussed in depth, or conflicted with information previously discussed. One chapter discussed an abusive relationship – but the vagueness of detail lessened the impact – it was mentioned obliquely, then she moved on.

As a structure for an autobiography it made for somewhat disjointed reading. It is a shame, as there were some interesting events and experiences that might have made more sense in a more traditional chronological format.

Her main point in the book is to be yourself. This fits with her main charity focus – peer support and bullying prevention. Lily was involved in peer support programmes as a student and has been involved in youth advocacy for counselling centres. It is always nice to hear people’s accounts of what they remembered (and used) from High School days. She is also involved in ‘We day’ – a children’s advocacy charity.

At the end of the book there are links to resources to deal with issues raised in the book. I note this because the book deals with eating disorders and relationship violence. For this reason I would recommend the book for older teenagers.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me
by Lily Collins
Published by Ebury Press
ISBN 9781785034107

Book review: The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_mothers_promise.jpgThe Mother’s Promise opens with Alice learning she has cancer. Like any mother, her first thought is for her child. Alice is too busy to have cancer, let alone surgery. Alice’s daughter Zoe suffers from social anxiety, and going to school is painful for her. They are a tight unit, with no suitable family or friends to support them. Alice finds the idea of a week in the hospital impossible. Kate, her pregnant cancer care nurse is worried about the lack of support and calls Sonja, a social worker who has some concerns about her own relationship.

Together, the women in this story are brought together by Alice’s treatment. As the story progresses the women become more and more involved until finally a previously unknown connection is revealed. It was clear from the very beginning that Alice and Zoe are a very tight unit who, while experiencing difficulties, feel like they are doing well by themselves. The forced and unwelcome involvement of Kate and Sonja leads to small opportunities to change their lives.

A Mother’s Promise is cleverly written. Different chapters take each woman’s voice and while the story opens with Alice, each of the women are dealing with their own issues. I enjoyed the depth of the characters and particularly enjoyed reading about Zoe and her experience of social anxiety. I liked the themes of belonging and creating your own family, and I really enjoyed the development of the characters. Zoe in particularly goes through a lot of changes – perhaps reflecting her young age and her potential for change. The adult characters are forced to reflect on their past decisions throughout the book, to ensue that Zoe is safe and happy.

I really enjoyed this book. I liked the tight focus on the main characters and developing tension. Sally Hepworth writes with honesty and dark humour on topics that are serious. The topic of a mother and child facing a cancer diagnosis could be maudlin. But Sally Hepworth negotiates the story with sincerity and even joy. I look forward to reading her other books.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Mother’s Promise
by Sally Hepworth
Published by Macmillan Australia
ISBN 9781925479959

Book review: Lifting, by Damien Wilkins

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.cv_lifting.jpg

Lifting follows Amy, a store detective working at a famous historic department store in the last few weeks that it is open before closing for good.  The store is called ‘Cutty’s, but it is difficult not to replace that with ‘Kirkcaldie and Stains’ in your head.  The setting is so unabashedly Wellington, and as a person suddenly surprised to discover she has lived quarter of her life there, I enjoyed the very present Wellington setting.

Lifting is a character study of Amy, with a plot that moves you towards an ominously shadowed ending.  Amy is introduced as a busy working parent  balancing a baby, finances and work with her husband, a supportive but not robust mother and a new challenge  looming unemployment as the store is about to close.  Amy is a store detective, and is very good at her job  how did she get the skill set to do this?  Why is she being interviewed by the police?

Past and present are all mixed together as Lifting is told from Amy’s perspective  uncensored and with her whole life narrative available at any one time to inform the story.  I found Amy a very honest character, without the superficial heightened self-perspective given to many characters in books.  Amy is Amy, she makes no great discoveries about herself  but she is very interesting and approachable.  Definitely one of the best written characters I’ve read in quite a while.

The slow deconstruction of Cutty’s is mirrored with the deconstruction of Amy  so much time is given to her description, and thoughts.  While there is a sense of foreboding as the book draws to a close, the plot is not allowed to take over the exploration of Amy.  It was a very compelling read.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Lifting
by Damien Wilkins
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561025

Book Review: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, written by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_good_night_stories_for_rebel_girls“Again, again!” demanded the six year old.

“Again, again!” agreed the ten year old.

On a particularly fractious evening we sat down to dinner and to redirect the overtired children I decided to start ‘Stories with dinner.’ Stories with dinner (much like ‘Stories at bath time’) has become an instant hit. This is was rather helped by the book that I read: the stories of 100 extraordinary women through history and across cultures in fairy tale form. The stories are accompanied by a quote and a modern comic-graphic images, with dozens of woman artists across the world contributing images.

The authors conceived the idea for the book and it was supported by a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The aim was to present a book that inspires girls to dream big.

There is a real range of women through time and across cultures. I was taken aback at how unfamiliar I was with nearly two thirds of the people featured – sobering when you read their contributions to society. How have I not heard of them? Including young girls I think is particularly clever – my girls were very, very interested in the achievements of children. There is some competition between them to add their own story in the allocated ‘my story’ section at the back!

The stories are a brief overview of these women’s stories – as such they tend to skim over some details – however, they provide an introduction and opportunity to learn more. The fairy tale structure makes it very readable – but the pictures and content are interesting to a wide age range. As the book is so beautifully presented, it is an ideal gift. This is already treasured in my household and I’m looking to learn more about the women profiled.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Written by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli
Published by Particular Books / Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780141986005

Book Review: The Spy, by Paulo Coelho

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_spyThe Spy is written by prolific author Paulo Coelho. It is in some ways a re-imagining of the life of Mata Hari, using news reports and letters between Mata and her lawyer. Voiced as though Mata is narrating her own life, we are privy to her thoughts as the events of her life play out.

The story is mostly told from the perspective of Mata – and as such I think it may have partially lost its way. Paulo Coelho presents her life and thoughts using the fiction of her being ‘out of her time.’ The tag line for the book is “Her only crime was to be an independent woman.” It is in some ways a challenging read, as the reader is required to use that basis as the motivations of the character. Mata is presented as a sexually liberated dancer and prostitute, who is somewhat ahead of her time. This leads to her later conviction for spying. It seems to overlook some of the realities of her life – a young, abusive marriage, being forced to abandon her children and then having to support herself in Europe as it moved towards war. I couldn’t decide if this was an intriguing example of the ‘unreliable narrator’ – the character trying to portray herself in the best possible way. Is this genuinely how the author saw her story? Quite an intrigue.

Like similar books in this genre, it is a very easy to read overview of a particular period in history. Mata’s interactions made me quite reflective about what people do in difficult situations. What would you do to survive during wartime? What wouldn’t you do?

Mata’s internal voice is very flowery and somewhat poetic – there are some beautifully written passages such as “I was an exotic bird traversing an earth ravage by humanity’s poverty of spirit” and it concludes, sadly with “I am the nightingale who gave everything and died while doing so.”

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Spy
Paulo Coelho
Published by Penguin
ISBN: 9780143783404