Book Review: Tui Street Tales, by Anne Kayes

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tui_street_tales.jpgWinner of the Tom Fitzgibbon award in 2016, Tui Street Tales is a fun and slightly fantastical collection of interconnecting stories, starring the children of Tui Street and taking a modern and quirky twist on traditional fairy tales. With short chapters and quirky stories, this collection should readily engage the junior reader (ages 8-10). I also enjoyed the New Zealand flavour, which incorporated wildlife, and the occasional phrase in Te Reo.

The collection opens with Jack and the Morepork, introducing us to the first two children, Jack and Tim. The boys begin by discussing their teacher, Mr Tamati’s latest assignment, the fairy tale project, in which they have been challenged to find fairy tale themes in their own lives. Scientific research is the key, and the two boys begin seeking evidence to prove some extraordinary theories – including the possible existence of a giant living in the enormous tree at the end of Jack’s drive. In not-too-subtle terms, the nature of using fairy tales to solve difficult situations is explored, and the traditional outcomes challenged.

Ella’s mother died, and she has difficult relating to her new stepmother and sisters. Instead, she spends her time alone, sorting out the recycling from the rubbish (and the dead river rats from the rest), whilst clinging tight to her grief. Her fairy godmother comes from an unlikely source, but can she help bring Ella out from herself, and teach her better how to relate with her new family and friends?

Harry and Gemma live a life divided between their mother, and their father and his new partner, Lula. When they are forced to change schools, into the very upmarket and prestigious “Visions”, the children struggle to adapt. Harry is pushed just a bit too far, and the two children begin a dangerous journey – making their way back to their “true” home of Tui Street. However, Lula has her wicked eye on them…

As a school project, Ella, Tim and Jack, vow to rejuvenate Waimoe, the dried-out creek behind their house, and appease the angry Maero that haunts the neighbourhood. Before they can plant the trees to bring Waimoe back, however, they must face Mr Thompson, the grumpy old man whose family were responsible for the creek’s disappearance.

Louie is lonely, all but trapped inside his neat and tidy house by a mother wrought with worry for his well-being. His only friend, Cloudbird, the tui who sings to him from the tree outside his window. When issued with Mr Tamati’s challenge: for every kid in the class to walk to school for an entire month (thus cutting down the traffic congestion and danger of accidents around the school), he is faced with a terrible dilemma: to disobey his mother, or to let his entire class down.

A story-teller and a dreamer, Lucy learns about topiary, and helps her father by trimming their hedge into a shaggy dog. But topiary is for royalty, and soon the children of the street find themselves visited by an unruly princess in a madcap, wild and weird ride that does, indeed, contain some elements of a shaggy dog tale.

Soccer-playing Terri is the star of the final story. Her aspirations at her sport make her the envy of another player, who takes her jealousy to social media and gossip. Will the support of her new friends, the wheelchair-bound soccer team she is coaching, give her the confidence she needs to beat the bully and succeed?

Tui Street Tales is cleverly executed, allowing children to experience the familiar and adding in a touch of magic, whilst also offering them solutions for their own fairy tale-esque dilemmas. An enjoyable read, that I would also recommend as an easy collection for tales for both parents and teachers to read aloud.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Tui Street Tales
by Anne Kayes
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434726

Book Review: An Almond for a Parrot, by Wray Delaney

cv_an_almond_for_a_parrotAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

I loved this wonderfully sensual, erotic and sumptuous fairy-tale novel about a young woman who, against all the odds, is a survivor. The gorgeous cover illustrates perfectly the colour, imagination, distortion, magic, luxury and decadence of the world of the courtesan in the mid-1700s, when, apparently, one in five women in London worked as a prostitute.

Tully Truegood is the narrator of her own story. It opens with her in Newgate Prison, awaiting trial and probably the death penalty for murder. She is writing her story in the form of a letter to an ex-lover, knowing that it is unlikely to ever be read, detailing how her life brought her to such a catastrophic end. And what a tale it is.

After her mother’s death in childbirth, Tully is left in the hands of her father, a no-good drunk gambler, and cared for by the family cook. For reasons not disclosed till later in the book, Tully is married off at the age of twelve to a young man whom she does not know. This is the defining event in her life, and is what ultimately leads to her arrival in Newgate. But her path is diverted when her father marries Queenie Biggs. Queenie brings into the house not only order, clean clothing, good food and education, but also love, care and companionship for Tully in the form of two young women, Hope and Mercy.

Queenie, in fact, owns the Fairy House: a high-class, popular brothel in London. She has a number of courtesans under her care and control, of which Hope and Mercy are part, and in due course Tully also. Tully is not only gifted in the art of lovemaking: she also has the gift of magic, expressed in many and various ways, and recognised by the magician Mr Crease. Over the course of the next few years, Tully rises through the courtesan ranks, falling in  out of love, her supernatural powers beguiling and terrifying those around her, her notoriety following her far and wide.

Tully never gives up. This is a society and time where if you were female, it didn’t matter a jot if you were born into wealth or poverty: you were simply a commodity to be traded, used and discarded at will by men. Tully always believes in love and in her self-worth. She knows she is clever; she knows her beauty and desirability  is not just in her looks; she uses her magic gift carefully; she is loyal and determined to break out of the courtesan life becoming self sufficient and independent in her own right.

As in any good fairy tale, wickedness and malevolence are never far away, and Tully has to use all her powers to outwit and destroy the evil that continually threatens to destroy her and those she loves. This is all told in the most wonderful writing: sensuous, descriptive and so vivid. Some of the writing is graphic, erotic, but it is never inappropriate. The sexual awakening of a young woman is delightfully, deliciously and outrageously told. You will never look at a maypole the same way again.

This is the first adult novel for this writer, who has written it under a pseudonym. She is actually Sally Gardner, a children’s writer and illustrator who has won many awards for her books. A quick bit of Google research reveals that many of her children’s books also have magic and fantasy in them. Here she has brought this magic realism to an adult novel, managing to make it believable and entertaining: a joy to read.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

An Almond for a Parrot
by Wary Delaney
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008182571

Book Review: The Book of Pearl, by Timothee De Fombelle

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_book_of_pearlThe Book of Pearl is an enchanting tale, strange and beautiful, with echoes of Cornelia Funke. Delightfully written, it is the interwoven stories of four people, connected by various threads, both direct and indirect.

It is the story of a boy from a world we have ceased to believe in. Snatched away from his haunted, spectral life, he is deposited into our world, France, sometime in the 1930s. Here, he makes a new life for himself, joining the Pearls in their quaint marshmallow shop. But war changes everyone, and it transforms the boy into Joshua Pearl, opening his eyes to our harsh reality. Joshua clings to the memories of his past, and as those begin to fade, he sets upon a quest to collect strange objects, fragments from tales that had already been told. Fragments that he hopes, one day, will see him home.

Entwined with Joshua’s tale is that of Oliå, once a fairy, now just an ordinary, albeit beautiful, girl. Love led her through into our world, but along with it came a curse. If he ever sees her, she will cease to exist. And so she must remain in the shadows, a ghost, observer and sometime saviour, never able to touch, or even see the recognition or love in his eyes. Never aging, never changing, and never able to truly settle.

Lovingly interspersed amongst these tales is the true fairy tale that begun it all: A boy, all but alone in his island sanctuary, who falls in love with a fairy. The prince, a cruel ruler with a cold heart and a desire for revenge on the sister deemed responsible for the death of their mother; a hunter who will never cease the hunt until his quarry is found.

And, shrouding them all, the final narrative, that of the unnamed author, whose chance encounter, as a teenager, with a beautiful girl, followed by rescue from a mysterious man, will have echoes on, into his future.

The Book of Pearl is a book of many layers, like those that form around the pearl’s core. It is rich in language, exquisite in imagery, and truly a modern fairy-tale. It is a book to savour, like an artisanal marshmallow, or a pearl.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Book of Pearl
by Timothee De Fombelle
Published by Walker Books Ltd
ISBN 9781406364620

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_darkest_part_of_the_forestThere are no words to describe how brilliant this book is. Holly Black is an amazing author with a very broad imagination, and has had many books published previously. This is the only book of hers that I have read, but I can’t wait to read and review more now.

The Darkest Part Of The Forest is about a teenage girl called Hazel and her older brother Ben. They live in the little town of Fairfold, near the darkest part of the forest, and in the forest is a glass casket. Inside lies a sleeping faerie prince, that none can rouse. But after years trapped inside his casket, someone (or something) wakens him. This may seem like your average fairytale full of faeries, knights, princes and true love, but it certainly is not.

I really enjoyed the drama and mystery of the storyline. The Darkest Part Of The Forest is a good book for any teen interested in romance, adventure, or who loves a great fairytale. I am inspired to read more of Holly Black’s novels.

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston

The Darkest Part of the Forest
by Holly Black
Published by Indigo
ISBN 9781780621746

Book review: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

This book is in bookstores now.

If there is a child in your life aged between six and 10, you need to get them this beautifully published version of the classic Grimm Brothers fairy tales. Penguin has done a great job with this edition – a cloth cover with heavy gold and silver detailing, beautiful silver end papers, and a mix of original black and white illustrations and a small number of modern day colour plates by wonderful children’s illustrators such as Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs and Helen Oxenbury.

This is the sort of book I think of as an heirloom, something to keep for the next generation and beyond.

The stories are in the original form (first published in 1823), so the language is slightly dated, but still very readable. The content is as good as ever, and it’s refreshing to reread the stories without the influence of Disney – The Lady and the Lion (aka Beauty and the Beast) is almost unrecognisable.

There is no sugary-sweetness in these stories, and not a lot of happily-ever-afters. The morals are still as relevant today as they would have been at the time the Brothers Grimm collected from their native Germany: work hard, don’t be greedy, be kind and generous, cleverness will usually be rewarded, listen to good advice, keep your promises.

Buy this for someone who loves being read aloud to, but doesn’t mind if there’s not a picture on every page, or who is a confident reader and likes reading to themselves. The stories are a perfect length for bedtime reading, and will be wonderfully familiar to many adult readers.

This is a book to keep and treasure for a long time. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore, a primary school teacher who loves sharing books with her students and revisiting the classics.

Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm
Iintroduced by Cornelia Funke
Published by Puffin Books
ISBN 9780141343075