Book Review: The Best of Adam Sharp, by Graeme Simsion

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_The_best_of_Adam_sharpThis book is really good chick lit – so good,  I would have assumed the book had a female author, had I not read the front cover.

The book starts with an email Adam Sharp receives from Angelina Brown, an Australian actress who was briefly the love of his life more than 20 years ago. He was a British IT contractor on an assignment in Melbourne and they met in a club where he occasionally played the piano and sang in exchange for a few beers. That night he was trying to impress a woman he was on a date with, but all thoughts of her were forgotten when Angelina walked up to his piano and asked if he knew a particular song.

Although Angelina was married to Richard, the pair had a short but intense fling before Adam had to leave to fulfil the next part of his contract. Despite their best intentions, life got in the way and they ended up going their separate ways. Adam had a long relationship with his partner Claire and never gave Angelina another thought – until he received an email from her, with just the word ‘hi’.

The pair start an online conversation that Adam keeps from Claire. She is stressed as it is, as she is in the process of selling her software company. If the sale goes ahead she will end up in the US, and Adam has made it clear he isn’t prepared to go with her. The emails lead to Angelina inviting Adam to join her and her second husband Charlie on holiday in France. Adam doesn’t know why she invited him, but he knows things aren’t going anywhere with Claire so he ends their relationship and heads to France.

As soon as they are reunited, it’s obvious there is still an attraction between them. But Angelina is married with three children… and Adam doesn’t know what he wants, other than to go back to the time they first met. I don’t want to give away anything by going into detail about what happens in France, but it will shock and surprise readers!

The ending had a few surprises in store as well, and just when you think you know what life has in store for Adam, Angelina, Charlie – and Claire – Simsion throws another curve ball into the mix.

It’s an easy and enjoyable read, made all the more interesting by the playlist of songs that accompanies it. I’d guess the author is about my age as I knew all but a few of the songs listed, and could summon the lyrics as I read the book.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Best of Adam Sharp
by Graeme Simsion
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925355376

Book Review: Cold Earth, by Ann Cleeves

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_cold_earthSeveral people had told me that I’d enjoy Ann Cleeves’ books and I wish now I’d sought her out earlier. Cold Earth is Cleeves’ thirtieth novel and the seventh in her Shetland series, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

Set in the Shetland Islands, the book begins with a landslide at a funeral. Local detective inspector Jimmy Perez is at the graveside of his old friend Magnus when the landslide hits, and he watches it sweep away part of an old croft further down the hill. Unsure if anyone had been renting the croft, Perez goes to check. He spots a flash of red amongst the debris and finds the body of an exotic woman in a flowing red evening dress – not your usual Shetland winter apparel.

When investigations reveal the landslide didn’t kill her, that she had been murdered, Perez becomes obsessed with uncovering who she is and who killed her. Due to the damage inflicted by the landslide, finding clues in the croft isn’t easy. Two photos and a letter addressed ‘Dear Alis’ are all he has to go on. He invites Willow Reeves, a senior detective from the mainland, to join him and his sidekick Sandy Wilson. When Reeves arrives, it soon becomes clear there is unfinished business between her and Perez, but neither will let it get in the way of the investigation.

There are many inhabitants with many secrets, meaning there are also many suspects. The team uncovers evidence the dead woman had links to a number of locals, but does this mean one of them killed her? We learn a bit about most of the characters and once the dead woman’s identity is revealed, it seems almost every one of them could have had a motive for wanting her dead.

Just when you think you think you’ve got it sussed, a snippet about another suspect casts doubt in your mind.

I found the book really readable, and once I started I found it hard to put down. Having said that, I did feel the conclusion was a little rushed and a little melodramatic. It hasn’t put me off wanting to read more of Ann Cleeves’ books though, even if just to find out what happens between Perez and Reeves!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Cold Earth
by Ann Cleeves
Published by Pan Macmillan
ISBN 9781447278214

Book Review: Little Deaths, by Emma Flint

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_deaths.jpgBeing someone with a love of the USA as it was in the fifties and sixties, I had high hopes for Emma Flint’s book, Little Deaths. Set in the summer of 1965 in New York, it featured the disappearance of two young children from their home and focused on their non-conventional mother.

The book begins in prison and in a series of flashbacks we learn of the life Ruth Malone had on the outside. The freedom, the men, the stresses of caring for two children on her own, and the resentment for how her life has turned out.

Next Ruth is now being questioned by the police, and we soon learn that she woke up one morning to find her two children, five-year-old Frankie and four-year-old Cindy, missing from their apartment. She is separated from the children’s father, Frank, and the couple are embroiled in a custody battle. Ruth assumes he’s taken the kids; he denies it.

The police focus on her as their chief suspect, mainly because of the way she looks and acts. Ruth is a bright, vivacious woman who works in a bar and wears too much makeup and too-short skirts. She also has a number of male friends, something USA in the 1960’s was not always ready to accept.

In the hands of someone who knows their location well, a book set in this era in the USA is a magical thing. Emma Flint is a UK writer who lives in London. I don’t know if she’s spent much time in the USA but the scenes lack colour and atmosphere and seem forced. The parts with the journalist who takes on Ruth’s story are a bit more believable, but even then, there are some moments when you’re reminded it’s definitely a work of fiction.

I didn’t find out until after I’d finished the book that Little Deaths was based on the true story of Alice Crimmins. Out of curiosity I looked for more information on the real case and found Flint had followed the facts – very closely. I also discovered hers was the 10th fictional account of the case.

As an avid reader of true crime magazines as a teenager and with the book being based on a true story, I should have loved Flint’s book, but I didn’t. I found the book not quite satisfying and the ending disappointing, and I also felt cheated that the book was not really the work of a talented and imaginative author, but one who reworked an old story.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Little Deaths
by Emma Flint
Published by Pan Macmillan
ISBN 9781509826599

Book Review: The Flying Doctor by Dave Baldwin

9781775538929Available in bookshops nationwide.

Dave Baldwin is a medical doctor, and he’s also very good at telling stories in the style of the late Barry Crump.

Like Crump before him, Baldwin is a keen hunter and his tales of ‘glassing’ and then shooting deer and goats make you feel you’re there with him. Despite not being at all interested in hunting, this book was so entertaining and written in such an easy to read style, I finished it in days.

I’ve not read Healthy Bastards, Baldwin’s earlier book aimed at improving men’s health, but The Flying Doctor is what I’d describe as a bloody good read.

Baldwin tells of his life from the early days, struggling at school with dyslexia, and the bliss he felt going hunting with his beloved Granny Olive. The story of his life features some great lessons, particularly about not giving up, and working hard to achieve your dreams. It’s very much one of those ‘if I can do it, what’s your excuse for not trying?’ books, and it’s inspiring for those who don’t find things easy.

Baldwin talks about his medical training, and the sacrifices he and his wife, Sandi, made to forge a better life for their growing family. Early in his career, meeting a GP who seemed to have it all steered Baldwin down the path to his dream job – one that gave him time and space to follow his twin passions of hunting and flying. His descriptions of life as the base medical officer at Ohakea are worth the price of the book alone!

After buying a medical practice in Bulls, Baldwin established the Not-So-Royal Bulls Flying Doctor Service and began setting up satellite surgical rooms around the country at airstrips so he could perform aviation medicals for pilots. This also allowed him to hunt as often as possible, together with his son Marc, to whom this book is a touching tribute. He also wants it to be a reminder for people to keep an eye on their mental as well as physical health.

Baldwin knows the importance of building good relationships in his personal and working life and there are numerous mentions of the people whose help he has appreciated in his life.

I initially thought this book would appeal more to men than women, but now I’ve finished it, I honestly think it would appeal to anyone who enjoys a good read written by a ‘good bastard’, which is what Baldwin undoubtedly is.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Flying Doctor
by Dave Baldwin
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775538929

Book Review: A Road Tour of American Song Titles, by Karl du Fresne

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_road_Tour_of_American_song_titles.jpgBeing of a similar vintage to Karl du Fresne meant this book really resonated with me. The journalist and music lover and his wife visited the United States of America three times, covering thousands of miles and taking in 24 towns and cities mentioned in song titles.

There were the familiar, like Galveston, Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa, Viva Las Vegas and Little Old Lady From Pasadena, but there were also songs I’d never heard of, like Bowling Green, Streets of Bakersfield, and Saginaw, Michigan. Whenever I came across a song I wasn’t familiar with, I sought out the YouTube version and listened to it before reading that chapter, often listening to it more than once to pick up things du Fresne mentioned.

There were also songs that I was familiar with but never knew what they were called, like Mendocino, Lodi, and Nashville Cats – so it was an education for me learning their names as well as reading where the inspiration for the songs came from.

The book meanders across the country, part-history lesson, part-education, part-geography, part-music and part-restaurant review. It’s a good yarn and one that will appeal to many. The writer’s travels take him across states and into backwaters most people aren’t even aware of. He tells of racial tension, heartbreak and misfortune as well as success, and gives us a glimpse into the lives of those who wrote and performed the songs many of us grew up listening to.

I found myself hunting through my own collection to hear a number of the songs featured in the book and it gave me a whole new appreciation of them. I had been guilty of listening to them over the years without really taking in the lyrics, and now when Galveston or Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa are played on classic hits stations, I remember the stories behind the songs.

A Road Tour of American Song Titles is much more than a road trip, it’s like the best of campfire stories told by someone who has an easy way of writing that carries you along on the journey.

Unfortunately royalty fees and difficulties tracking down the owners meant du Fresne was unable to reproduce the lyrics to the songs, but they are available online for anyone who wants to hunt them down.

The only thing I wasn’t so fond of was the footnotes, as I felt they interrupted the narrative flow. Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope – as there are plenty more song titles he could cover – there is a sequel.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

A Road Tour of American Song Titles
by Karl du Fresne
Published by Bateman
ISBN 9781869539382


Book Review: Kuwi’s Very Shiny Bum, by Kat Merewether

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kuwis_very_shiny_bumForget Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – here in New Zealand we have Kuwi the Kiwi and her shiny red bum instead!

The book starts off in Kuwi the Kiwi’s burrow, with her reading a festive story about a round red ball falling from the sky to young Huwi. In the tale, Kuwi is thrilled at the gift and promptly attaches it to her bum before setting off to make presents for her friends in the forest.

She bakes and paints and builds until she has something for everyone, then sets off to deliver her gifts, with her tail-light twinkling. We travel with Kuwi as she visits Florence the fantail, Sharon the snail, Bruce the bat, Herb the hoiho, Tash the tui, and a host of other friends who are all so excited about their gifts that they forget to say thank you.

This makes Kuwi a little sad as she doesn’t know if her friends liked her gifts… until they arrive to say thanks in their own way. The book ends with Huwi waking up and opening a very special present – a familiar shiny, red bum!

This is a delightful book, beautifully and colorfully illustrated by the author. It would make a great Christmas book and is likely to become a favourite read-along Kiwi classic.

This is the latest of Kat Merewether’s Kuwi books. Money from each purchase is donated to Kiwis for Kiwi, so there’s an added incentive to pop this book under the tree this year.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Kuwi’s Very Shiny Bum
by Kat Merewether
Published by Illustrated Publishing
ISBN 9780994136404

Book Review: A is for Aotearoa, by Diane Newcombe and Melissa Anderson Scott

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_is_for_aotearoaThis lift-the-flap treasure hunt book is sure to appeal to children, as it is incredibly interactive.

The story starts with a message in a bottle washed up on a beach. This leads Girl and Bird on an alphabet treasure hunt around New Zealand. There is a trail of clues that lead them from place to place, from city to shore, north to south and east to west.

Some of the locations will be familiar but for those that aren’t, there is a glossary at the back with facts about each location.

The book starts with A for Auckland and Girl jumps on Bird’s back to fly to the next location. The pages open to feature lift-up flaps on a background that is jam-packed with illustrations, ranging from a tuatara to a steam train.

While the book is filled with detailed illustrations,  I found the colour on some pages to be a little muted. Perhaps a little more colour next time!

For those too young to pick up on the place name clues, the book could be used to help them recognise and name other items. Subsequent readings will increase older children’s recall of the place names and I imagine they would soon be able to name many of the places the book takes them to.

A great adventure for parents and children to take together.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

A is for Aotearoa
by Diane Newcombe and Melissa Anderson Scott
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143507307