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

Book Review: Nostalgia, Great Mums, and the Black Wolf

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

Nanna’s Button Tin, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Heather Potter

cv_nannas_button_tinWhen I was a child my mother had an old willow-pattern biscuit tin half-filled with buttons. I loved to plunge my hands into the tin and let the buttons run through my fingers.

Just by looking at the cover of this book made me smile because it brought back memories of hunting through that tin, looking for just the right button to replace one that was missing off a treasured item of clothing or toy.

The little girl in this book has a nanna with a button tin and the pair tip them out in the hope of finding a button to replace poor teddy’s missing eye. Of course not just any button will do; it has to be the right size, shape and colour.

The book’s first line reads: “I love Nanna’s button tin, it’s full of stories.”

This sets the scene for the search, as each button they pick up reminds nanna or the little girl of where that button came from. The accompanying illustrations are delightful and will no doubt bring back memories of similar occasions for readers. I instantly recalled buttons from my grandmother’s dressing gown, my mother’s evening gowns, father’s shirts, and some of my own creations. You could make this book interactive by starting a tin filled with buttons that represent your own memories.

Whether the child is old enough to read the book out loud or not, the illustrations alone make this a winner. There are so many things to look at in the background that adults and children alike will love this book. It’s like a printed hug!

The Best Mum in the World, by Pat Chapman, illustrated by Cat Chapman

cv_the_best_mum_in_the_worldFollowing on from the popular book The Best Dad in the World, The Best Mum in the World would make a great birthday, Mother’s Day or Christmas present for any mum.

Beautifully illustrated by Cat Chapman (no relation to the author), the book explores all the reasons why we love our mums.

The book has a similar theme to dad’s version, with the child starting out by saying their mum loves it when they wake her up. The illustration shows a chaotic bed with children and animals crowding out the parents – dad has given up and is sleeping on the floor!

Any mum who has had her hair ‘done’ by a child will smile, as will those who have been served a mud pie. And hide-and-seek may give mums an idea – pretend to hide behind the couch and snatch a quick nap instead!

All different kinds of mums are shown in the illustrations – mums doing the shopping, driving tractors, playing with the children, saving them from scary insects (even if she doesn’t look that thrilled by it), or just smiling on as her children ‘decorate’ the walls.

Blankeys are retrieved from dogs and owies are fixed with sticking plasters, helping to make each mum the best mum in the world.

This is a great read-along book and there are so many things in the background that can be used to entertain a child along the way. There is even space at the front to draw a portrait of your own mum.

Mother’s Day may have been and gone, but this book is a perfect gift for any mum in your life, to remind her of the things that make her so great.

Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

cv_virginia_wolfBased loosely on the close relationship between the writer Virginia Woolf and her artist sister, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolf is an unusual but imaginative children’s book that deals with depression.

Beautifully illustrated, the book starts with Vanessa’s sister, Virginia, feeling a little ‘wolfish’. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone, gets upset when Vanessa tries to paint her, and even tells the birds to stop making so much noise.

Vanessa says she was a very bossy wolf, and her mood started affecting everything else in the house, taking all the colour and enjoyment out of life. Nothing Vanessa could do would cheer her up and nothing pleased her – not even the cat or making faces at their brother. She just wanted to be left alone.

Vanessa lies on the bed with her, saying there must be something she could do that would make things better. Virginia says if she were flying she might feel better, but she rejects all the cities Vanessa suggests.

“No. No. No!” cries Virginia, saying she wants to be in a perfect place with iced cakes and beautiful flowers and trees and no doldrums – she wants to be in Bloomsberry.

Vanessa is confused as she has no idea where this magical place is and Virginia is no help. She decides to paint a garden and create a place called Bloomsberry that looks just the way it sounded.

When Virginia wakes, she is still acting like a wolf, but slowly notices the garden her sister has made. She becomes involved in making the magical Bloomsberry even more fantastic and all of a sudden down becomes up, dim becomes bright, and gloom becomes glad again.

The book ends on a lighter note, with the sisters heading out to play. It takes a sensitive look at depression and could be used to discuss the topic and the things that could change how a person feels and acts.

Reviews by Faye Lougher

Nanna’s Button Tin
by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Heather Potter
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922077677

The Best Mum in the World
by Pat Chapman, illustrated by Cat Chapman
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781927262801

Virginia Wolf
by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Published by Book Island
ISBN: 9781911496038

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