Book Review: Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father, by Diana Wichtel

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_driving_to_treblinkaImagine saying goodbye to your father in Canada, expecting him to soon follow your family to New Zealand, and never seeing him again. That is what happened to Diana Wichtel and it’s something that had a profound effect on her life.

Wichtel grew up in Vancouver, Canada, with her brother and sister. Her mother was a Catholic New Zealander, her father a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. When Wichtel is 13, her mother returns to New Zealand and she is told her father will follow them later.

Her father never arrives and the family eventually moves on without him, but Wichtel often thinks of him. The years pass and finally she decides she has to know what happened to him.

Driving to Treblinka is the story of her search for her father, but it is so much more than that. It is a story of courage, hope and survival in the face of cruelty and terror. It is the story of a family torn apart by war and the actions of the Nazis, and what survivors had to do to stay alive.

Part historical memoir, part search for anything that could shed light on her much-loved father, Driving to Treblinka is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. Most of us take life for granted, but those who lived through the Holocaust had to fight for everything, expecting it to be snatched from them at any moment.

This book will make you smile as you read the stories about family life that are so familiar and heart-warming, but it will also make you cry – and possibly make you angry – reading about the millions who needlessly lost their lives during the Holocaust.

Wichtel’s father may have been seen as lucky because he survived, but often surviving is harder because it means living with the past every day of your life.

The search for her father is all consuming for Wichtel, but with the support of her extended family she learns more about his life and what happened to him after the family moved away from Canada.

I have always enjoyed Wichtel’s writing and this book is all the better for her sensitive handling of it. It is funny and sad, and it’s hard to accept what Benjamin Wichtel had to endure and what his daughter went through in order to find him and tell the story of his life.

Driving to Treblinka is an excellent book that deserves to be read and talked about.  In the weeks since I finished it, I have often found myself stopping and thinking about Benjamin and his family and the love that bound them all together.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father
by Diana Wichtel
Published by Awa Press
ISBN 9781927249406

 

Advertisements

Book Review: Dragons Under My Bed, by Kath Bee, illustrated by Lisa Allen

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dragons_under_my_bedWhen I was a child, I was sure once the light went out in my room that strange creatures lurked under the bed and in my wardrobe. If I’d been given a copy of Kath Bee’s book, Dragons Under My Bed, I’m sure I would have slept better!

Illustrated beautifully by Lisa Allen, this book tells of the adventures of a family of dragons who come out to play under a young boy’s bed once his mother turns out the light.

First of all he hears giggling, then sees glowing red eyes… followed by puffs of smoke and deep breathing. He hasn’t got just one dragon under his bed, oh no, he’s got a whole family!

He’s quick to say they don’t hurt him, but they do seem to be responsible for making one heck of a mess on his bedroom floor. Strangely enough, they seem to do all the sorts of things little boys do in their rooms, like throwing clothes, books and toys on the floor.

When his mother comes along the hall to see what’s making all the noise, wouldn’t you know it, the family of dragons disappears back under the bed and you can imagine who gets the blame for the mess!

This book is great as a read-along as well as a picture book for younger children. There are lots of things to spot on each page – especially the one with all the books, as it features a book titled How to Build a Dragon-fired Pizza Oven!

The simple, colourful illustrations will delight children and can be used to help them identify different objects. The book has a downloadable link to an accompanying song, providing even more fun and value.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Dragons Under My Bed
by Kath Bee, illustrated by Lisa Allen
Published by David Ling Publishing
ISBN 9781927305355

Book Review: Nothing Bad Happens Here, by Nikki Crutchley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_nothing_bad_happens_here.jpgSet in the small Coromandel town of Castle Bay, life for everyone is disrupted when the body of a tourist who went missing several months earlier is found in a shallow grave.

Journalist Miller Hatcher is sent to cover the murder, but is she up to the task? As with most journalists in crime novels, Miller is troubled; she’s trying to get over a broken relationship and the death of her mother, she drinks too much, and she pulls her hair out when stressed.

An out of town detective is brought in to run the investigation, which doesn’t impress the local police sergeant, Kahu Parata. He feels pushed out, and upset at the ghoulish interest the murder has attracted to his town.

The plot of this book feels like a script for one of those crime shows that crosses over into another show’s territory – in this case a mix of Brokenwood Mysteries, 800 Words and Criminal Minds. I found some of it way too far-fetched to believe in a New Zealand setting.

There are several red herrings and Miller – who is staying in a healing retreat run by an aging hippy as the town’s accommodation is booked out – is given an anonymous tip that leads to another death. When one of the fellow retreat guests goes missing, Miller realises the murderer could be still in town.

As an awful lot gets conveniently tied up in the final few chapters, it’s hard to say much about this book without giving the ending away. It was a fast read, but ultimately not a satisfying one. A word of advice too, be careful where you read this book. When a drop of water from my cold drink landed on the page, the ink ran.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Nothing Bad Happens Here
by Nikki Crutchley
Published by Oak House Press
ISBN 9780473404505

Book Review: One of us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus  

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_one_of_us_is_lying.jpgAs a teenager I was an avid reader of anything I could get my hands on. It may have been a few years since I picked up any young adult fiction, but if One of us is Lying is an example of what’s available today, I’m tempted to read more.

Set in Bayview High, the book centres on five – soon to be four – students who all end up in detention after cellphones they didn’t own were found in their bags. Bronwyn, the top student who never puts a foot wrong and is headed for Yale; Cooper, the baseball star being looked at for the major league; prom queen and everyone’s favourite, Addy; Nate, the bad boy drug dealer on probation; and Simon, the creator of hated gossip app About That.

Suddenly there is a commotion outside the classroom and the students see the aftermath of a minor car accident in the car park. While their teacher goes to investigate, Simon has a drink of water, collapsing soon after. Nate is aware Simon is suffering a severe allergic reaction but his EpiPen can’t be found. Cooper is sent to the nurse’s office to get one but finds the box is empty. Simon is rushed to hospital in a bad way, and everyone is stunned when they hear later that he has died.

The four remaining students are in the frame for Simon’s death when police discover his cup of water contained peanut oil. All four are shown to have a motive when an unpublished About That post shows Simon was about to reveal damning secrets about each of them. The kinds of secrets that can ruin lives…

The book is split into short sections narrated by the four main characters, and this took a bit of getting used to, but it’s an effective way for each to tell their story.

I won’t spoil the ending by revealing who was responsible for Simon’s death, but every one of them had a good reason for wanting him dead. However, so did a number of other students he had crossed swords with. And who is behind the Tumblr posts written by someone who says they are the killer? The posts that keep revealing more secrets the four want to keep quiet?

Did one of them kill Simon, or are they all in on it? Was it someone else? The last part of the book reads like a good murder mystery, with lots of red herrings, dead ends and a sudden realisation people are not always what they seem. The questions are all answered and tied up neatly, and there is even a happy ending or two thrown in for good measure.

This book deals with some sensitive issues, so maybe a little parental guidance and support would be a good idea.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

One of us is Lying
by Karen M. McManus
Published by Penguin
ISBN 9780141375632

 

Book Review: The Little Cloud, by Beverley Burch and Elspeth Nicol

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_little_cloud.jpgWritten and illustrated in 1959 by two kindergarten teachers but not published until recently, this adorable book takes the reader on a trip around New Zealand with a little cloud who just wants to learn how to rain.

Tucked away in the corner of a large grey storm cloud, the little white cloud yearns to be alone. After a storm rages over Wellington for three days and two nights, the little cloud gets his wish.

He was fluffy.
He was white.
He was free.

Now the little cloud has to learn how to be a cloud, like coping with the wind, and noticing his colour changing as the sun goes down. When he wakes the next morning he knows it’s time to learn how to rain, but first the wind picks him up and takes him all over the country.

He ends up floating over Taupo where he notices the dried up grass around the lake and the empty water tanks. He is tired of playing and wants to learn how to rain, but he doesn’t know how. This makes the little cloud sad, and when tears start running down his fluffy cheeks he begins to rain – and rain and rain. When the land is no longer dry he becomes happy again and he stops raining and begins to play.

Not watching where he’s going sees him land on top of Mount Taranaki, where stays for a rest, smiling because at last he knew how to rain.

This book may have been written almost 60 years ago but the story is delightful and the illustrations are not showing any signs of age. It would be a great read-aloud book for younger children, and older children will enjoy the story and the thought of a cloud learning how to rain.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Little Cloud
by Beverley Burch and Elspeth Nicol
Published by Makaro Press (Submarine)
ISBN 9780994137920

Book Review: My Dog Mouse, by Eva Lindstrom

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_my_dog_mouseIf you’ve ever owned a dog and watched it grow old, you will love My Dog Mouse. Lindstrom has captured the essence of a chubby, elderly dog perfectly in her illustrations and accompanying text.

The little girl in the book is allowed to take Mouse for a walk whenever she wants and it’s obvious how much both of them enjoy their time together.

There’s no rush, they walk slowly and take in the sights, Mouse gets to sniff lampposts and fences and they even stop in the park for a picnic.

Aimed at children aged about two to five years, My Dog Mouse is a charming book. The little girl is patient with the old dog, talking to him softly and feeding him meatballs. At the end, when she takes Mouse back to his owner, she stays looking back at him until she can’t see him any more and says, “I wish Mouse was mine”.

The watercolour/ink illustrations are simple and the focus is on Mouse and the little girl – other things are seen around the edges, but they don’t intrude on the pair and their walk.

This is a lovely book that will make you feel warm every time you read it.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

My Dog Mouse
by Eva Lindstrom
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571482

Book Review: The Nam Legacy, by Carole Brungar

Available from selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_nam_legacyThe Nam Legacy is the second novel by Foxton-born author Carole Brungar, but it’s very different from her first, A Tide Too High.

While both have a love story at their heart, this book explores relationships in greater depth, with much of it centred around the Vietnam War. If you were a fan of the television series Love Child, you should enjoy The Nam Legacy, as it explores similar themes.

Set in the 1960s and 1970s in small town New Zealand, the book introduces us to Jack Coles, a farmer’s son with a promising rugby career ahead of him, and his fiancée, Evelyn (Evie) Hallet, a talented singer whose parents own a hotel.

Jack wants nothing more than to settle down with Evie and start a family, but after a talent scout hears her singing, her music career takes off and soon she moves to Auckland to make the most of the opportunities available to her. Jack starts to feel lost and restless, and after hearing tales his brother, Brian, tells of his life in the army, Jack decides he wants a taste of the action.

Evie is devastated when he tells her he’s going away, and more so when he is sent to Vietnam. They write, and Evie gets the chance to see Jack when she is sent to the war zone with two other girls to sing for the troops.

As a lead scout, Jack puts himself in danger every time he heads out on patrol, but he seems to lead a charmed life, until one day he arrives in a village that the Viet Cong have attacked. He saves the life of a badly injured young woman (Mai Linh) and from that moment on, their lives start to intertwine. Despite his love for Evie, Jack embarks on a risky affair with Mai Linh, and is conflicted even further when she tells him she is pregnant, and he is the father.

I won’t go into detail about what happens from this point on as I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say that just months after his daughter is born, Jack is injured in a battle with the VC and ends up in hospital, where he is given the news he is being sent home.
Once home, Jack tries to return to normal life on the farm, and he and Evie marry. But the demons that plagued him in Vietnam have followed him home and Jack’s behaviour starts spiraling out of control. Evie is at her wit’s end and doesn’t know what’s going on or what she can do to help her husband.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending of the book: to find out whether there is a happy ending or not, you had better get it!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Nam Legacy
by Carole Brungar
Published by Carole Brungar
ISBN 9780473395209