Book Review: Historic Sheep Stations of New Zealand, by Colin Wheeler

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_historic_sheep_stations_of_new_zealandSheep, mountains, rugged people and painting. All these are important parts of the New Zealand psyche. They help to define us and the original publication of this book drew them together in a wonderful way.

It is now 50 years since Colin Wheeler and his wife, Phyllis, took to the road and travelled North and South Islands meeting with the owners, talking, sketching and painting the sheep stations of New Zealand. The three original books are now combined into one and in this limited edition; we can once again enjoy the stories and images captured between 1967 and 1972.

Colin Wheeler retired from teaching art at Waitaki Boys High School to paint, sometimes spending 70 hours a week at his easel. His artworks capture both the huge magnificence of mountain and sky, but also the oft-missed details in the woolshed or cookhouse. Each book included a detailed map showing location, a summary of the people and the history of the station, a large coloured painting and finally a number of smaller sketches. In the original publication, the plates were on glossy paper and separate to the text, but in this edition, they are part of the book. Changes in printing techniques ensure the quality of the original plates is maintained.

I was the proud owner of the first edition of Historic Sheep Stations of the South Island. Aged 11, I copied the flyer for the book in a painting and my teacher, Sister Winifred, arranged a local man to frame it. I gave it to my parents and they were astounded. I still have that painting and for my next birthday, they bought me the book. It was an expensive publication and I treasure it still, 50 years on. So this book set me on an artistic path for the rest of my life. Thank you, Colin Wheeler.

Over the years, I have looked for copies to complete the set of three books by Colin Wheeler, but unsuccessfully. This new edition is a joy to own. It still holds the magic of mountain and farm. These were the years when sheep farming was the most important agricultural industry in New Zealand. It was also at this time that Mona Anderson wrote her record of station life in A River Rules my Life. The country was in awe of the people who chose to live and work on sheep stations, often in remote parts of New Zealand.

My sister worked at Grasmere station for one season and my brother now runs one of the stations. This book captures for them the stories and the landscape. It is a great gift for anyone who has grown up in the 60’s and 70’s with the stories of the backcountry as their heritage. I cannot think of a better present for a 60th or 70th birthday.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Historic Sheep Stations of New Zealand
by Colin Wheeler
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775541325

Book Review: From the Ashes, by Deborah Challinor

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_from_the_ashesThe newest historical saga from renowned New Zealand author Deborah Challinor, From the Ashes tells a tale set in the 1950s – and of three families caught in a simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating decade of change.

From the Ashes is a standalone novel, but it is also a sequel-of-sorts to Challinor’s 2006 novel Fire, which depicted the Dunbar and Jones disaster (based on the 1947 Ballantynes’ Department Store fire in Christchurch – a disaster which killed 41 people).

Reappearing in From the Ashes, Allie and Sonny Manaia are now living in the metropolis of Auckland. Only two years on from the Dunbar and Jones fire, Allie is working on the Elizabeth Arden counter at the fashionable Smith and Caughey’s Department Store. As she tries to navigate a workplace that constantly reminds her of her friends who perished, Allie is left to struggle with her vivid nightmares and day-long ‘battle exhaustion’ (what we would now consider to be post-traumatic stress disorder) without help. As well as suffering their own personal tragedy in the recent loss of their baby daughter, Allie and Sonny are forced to face daily societal criticism for their mixed-race marriage.

One of the characters expressing disapproval is Kathleen Lawson, a woman with the wealth to shop at Smith and Caughey’s. A regular customer of Allie’s, it becomes clear that Kathleen is desperately lonely and bored. Trapped in an unhappy marriage with equally unhappy children – no matter how much she tries to present her ideal of a ‘perfect family’ – Kathleen is also trapped within her old-fashioned societal ideals and obsession with class, which are both quickly becoming redundant.

Spanning multiple generations and a myriad of characters, From the Ashes is an ambitious novel. It glimpses into the life of Allie’s elderly nan Rose, her hard-working mother Colleen Roberts, and her two younger sisters, Donna, who is training as a nurse, and Pauline, who is feeling lost as she tries to figure out what she wants from life. Sonny also has a younger sister – vibrant Polly who is leading a life on the lucrative underside of Auckland’s social scene.

From the Ashes tells of an age of social intolerance – especially in the city of Auckland, where signs stating ‘No Dogs, No Māoris’ were common.

From the Hawkes’ Bay, Kura Apanui and her friend Wiki Irwin know first-hand the trouble of discrimination. Living in squalid rental houses, not only do the families have trouble finding work that will accept them, but their large families are forced into cramped conditions – so different to the wide spaces and pleasant houses of the country. Kura’s cousin Ana has also been forced to moved from Hawkes’ Bay, and has challenges of her own – not only does she have to look after her own children, but she also has to look after her father-in-law, Jack, who suffers from a debilitating form of dementia. Focussing on the personal cost that caring can take, Challinor’s novel also explores the inhumane conditions of some 1950s hospitals.

In a decade that was especially difficult for women, From the Ashes is told solely through their eyes. Highlighting the importance of family and friendship, the novel also explores the serious discriminations of the time; the stigma attached to working women and unmarried mothers; the prejudices that led to people falling through the cracks created by society; and the burgeoning age of consumerism. With Smith and Caughey’s Department Store at the heart of the novel, there is a clear gap between those characters choosing to buy refrigerators and telephones, and those characters who can barely afford to buy food.

An easy read, From the Ashes is impeccable in its historical detail. Never over-explaining, historian and celebrated author Deborah Challinor creates a believable replica of 1950s Auckland and the people who may have inhabited it. While there are possibly too many characters – as some appear and then seemingly are lost to the story – the compelling readability makes up for the novel’s seemingly disparate nature. A long read, From the Ashes is a good holiday novel for those who enjoy historical sagas depicting a vibrant period of change.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

From the Ashes
by Deborah Challinor
HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781460754122

Book Review: The Quaker, by Liam McIlvanney

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_quakerThree women are murdered some weeks and months apart. DI Duncan McCormack is put in charge of why the murders haven’t been solved and why the murder squad haven’t managed to find the killer, getting him off the streets. There is fear amongst women as to where and who the killer will strike next.

McCormack is bought down from the Highlands in Scotland to Glasgow to join the investigation. He finds shoddy police work with nothing linking to anybody or where the murderer could have come from. The killer is nicknamed ‘The Quaker’ because of third hand memories of a man dressed in a suit, with a regimental tie and a religious pin on the lapel of his suit.

Who is The Quaker? Is he part of an organised crime syndicate or is he part of a network with a member of that syndicate inside the police force?

This is a ripper of a story with hardly a page where some new information isn’t imparted to the reader building up the profile of the killer. I found it difficult to put down the book at times but sleep is one of the necessary parts of life, so I was often waiting for another “spare” moment to pick up where I had left the off. The ending is superb.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Quaker
by Liam McIlvanney
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9780008259921

Book Review: Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore, by Sally Carson & Rod Morris

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_collins_field_guide_to_the_nz_seashoreNew Zealand is experiencing a long hot summer with people flocking to the beaches found along the 14,000 kilometres of coastline, to cool off. Children love to potter in rock pools to discover the creatures of the ocean but how many of us can give them a name?

The Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore is designed to be taken to the beach ‘encouraging a closer look at the community living between the tides’.

‘The seashore, or intertidal zone, is the area of the shore covered by seawater at the high tide and exposed air at low tide.’

In the guide Sally Carson and Rod Morris have dedicated a page for each plant or animal with text and excellent photographs to capture the reader’s interest, and assist with the identification of species.

I found the section on seaweeds particularly interesting as I often bring seaweed home for the garden and it will be fun giving some of the plants a name. I remember my mother being very excited if she found Carrageenan seaweed on the beach, gathering it up to take home to make the milk pudding as discussed in the book.

The guide also includes a section on coastal plants which have extended their distribution into the intertidal zone, adapting to cope with the salty environment. These play an important role in stabilising the sand and mud, helping to slow down the erosion of the coastline which is under constant barrage from the weather and the waves.

Rodd Morris is a former zoo-keeper and conservation officer, documentary –maker, author and award winning photographer who has contributed to thirty books over the course of his career.

Sally Carson is the Director for the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre at the University of Otago and an expert in identification guides for the plants and animals found on New Zealand’s seashore.

They have included some pages at the end of the guide on the changing ocean and coastal concerns with climate change, as well as a comprehensive list of books, articles and websites for those who want further information.

This is a great resource for families who enjoy wandering around the coastline, as well being a great tool for teachers when they take their class to visit the rocky shore.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore
by Sally Carson & Rod Morris
Published by HarperCollins NZ
9781775540106

Book Review: Breaking Ranks, by Sir James McNeish

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_breaking_RanksbigLast year New Zealand lost one of our finest writers, Sir James McNeish. Luckily for us, he had just delivered the final pages for Breaking Ranks to his publisher.

The book concludes with an Epilogue, written by ‘a friend’ Bernard Brown. He details how Sir James had the idea for this book for years, knowing the first two stories and waiting for the third. Of these men, Dr Saxby, Brigadier Miles and Judge Mahon, Sir James knew only Saxby personally, but his meticulous research and the power of his writing make Breaking Ranks feel as if you knew them all while you read through what is, at its heart, a tragic biography of three interrupted lives.

Significance is a word I use a lot in my everyday life now – what makes anything significant and who decides on those parameters? The three men in this book – a doctor, a soldier and a judge – are not necessarily household names in New Zealand, but Breaking Ranks shows that you do not need to be the most famous person to be significant.

Dr John Saxby’s work in psychiatric care no doubt helped countless patients, and continued following his death. Saxby’s story is the longest of the three, and was the only one Sir James knew personally – this works to a great advantage. The details of their interactions, when Saxby would visit the house and help with the family’s DIY, gives you a greater connection, and following his death you feel the pain the McNeishs would have felt upon losing such a close friend in such a tragic way. There is a great and terrible irony in the doctor who ‘has the gift of saving others but not himself.’

Brigadier Reginald Miles survived World War I, headed back to the other side of the world for the Second World War, but did not return. Abandoning his command post to fight to the death with his men did not go as planned and there goes the second life interrupted, and tragic. There is a question mark around this death – I am still getting my own head around it and deciding on the truth. His final letter is published for the first time in Breaking Ranks, and offers some insight into those final days.

In New Zealand, Erebus means the worst air disaster this country has ever seen first, and the mountain second. Judge Peter Mahon fought for truth and justice for the 257 victims, and Sir James details wonderfully the processes Mahon went through to uncover it all – the inquiry, the review, the Privy Council appeal, and Verdict on Erebus. His son, Sam says: ‘If I have learned anything from my father at all, it is an obstinate refusal to back down in the face of adversity.’ Not the worst trait to pick up.

Sir James’ style of writing is personal and colloquial in nature, which I enjoy. The casual ‘I’ve been trying to get my head around it’ during a complicated battle formation makes me smile and feel glad that I’m not alone in my confusion. The failure to conform and fight for what these men believed in caused these lives of become prematurely interrupted. Sir James McNeish was one of our finest writers, and in his final act as a storyteller, he remarkably and skillfully gives the world an insight into the lives of three significant lives we should not forget.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

Breaking Ranks: Three Lives Interrupted
by Sir James McNeish
Published by HarperCollins Publishers NZ
ISBN 9781775540908

Book Review: Gwendolyn!, by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_gwendolynHow many penguins do you think there are in the jungle? You’d probably say none, because we all know penguins live in cold climates, but you haven’t met Gwendolyn! She is the only penguin in the jungle and she’s there because she loves the heat, the gorgeous flowers and the other jungle animals.

We get to meet a jaguar, monkeys and a parrot, and she points out all the good things about the jungle. Gwendolyn is always upbeat and she makes all her jungle friends realise how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful place.

But then her friend Parrot asks a simple question – has Gwendolyn ever been to Antarctica, where all the other penguins live?

A tear rolls down Gwendolyn’s cheek and she admits she hasn’t, and that starts to make her pine for the place she really belongs, where she can be a real penguin. Nothing her friends say can cheer her up, and she sets off on a really long journey to Antarctica.
She meets other penguins there and has the time of her life, but after a while she starts to notice the cold, and the fact she’s very hungry… and decides there is no reason why a penguin can’t live in Antarctica AND the jungle!

This book made me smile, as the illustrations are simply beautiful. There is so much to look at on every page that younger children will enjoy this book even if they can’t read the words. I think it will delight children and adults alike and become a treasured favourite. It’s a great tale about friendship and how we don’t have to be the same to get along.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Gwendolyn
by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton
Published by ABC Books (HarperCollins NZ)
ISBN 9780733335174

 

Book Review: The Black Widow, by Daniel Silva

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_black_widowHaving never read a Daniel Silva novel before, let alone one from the Gabriel Allon series, I was deeply impressed with The Black Widow. It was a great representation of what seems to be Daniel Silva’s incredible skill in crafting a bestselling thriller. The Black Widow contains an intricate plot about a legendary spy, a terrorist organisation, and a young woman who has the right skills at the right time.

The novel starts off appearing to be completely unrelated to the intriguing blurb covering the back of the book, but then it gathers momentum and mystery, becoming clearer where a character such as described in the blurb fits in. An attack from ISIS initiates an introduction to a secret Parisian counter-terrorism group, and from there the story works it’s way towards Gabriel Allon. Wanting the best to be involved in finding the perpetrators and stopping further attacks, Gabriel is enlisted by the French government to eliminate the threats. A plan is set into motion, infiltrate the ISIS caliphate by means of a Black Widow operation. A candidate for the role is then selected, and so begins the dangerously sensitive mission.

Daniel Silva writes with seemingly great insight into intelligence agencies from around the world and their counterparts of criminal and terrorist organisations. As stated in the forward and the author’s note, the events, incidents, characters, and places are of course fictitious, but still it is entirely believable in the sense that Silva manages to be realistic and rational.

The book itself could quite easily have been a stand-alone book; a new reader such as myself has no trouble in picking up the plot and the characters. It is not as though all the background information is thrust upon the reader so that the current story can be understood and get underway, but rather Silva reveals the previous stories and details almost with caution, letting them be explained when appropriate. As the reader, there are times when you desperately want to know more about how the past has affected the present situations and relationships, and it is then that more is provided. However, for the many people that have read the series and do know Gabriel’s history, in my opinion these explanations and flashbacks would not feel slow or repetitious. It is easy to tell that these features only scratch the surface of previous events that make up the 15 books before The Black Widow, serving as a reminder to those who have read them and for those who haven’t, making them eager to delve deeper into Gabriel’s story.

There seems to be a lot of fascination for characters like Gabriel Allon; an individual that possesses a skill set that is nothing short of extraordinary which contributes to making him mostly a misunderstood hero, if that; yet always in some respect unknown which seems to provide most of the allure surrounding such characters. Those such as James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, and many others have proved that there is a definite market in the entertainment industry for these brilliant and complex characters. While similar in the basic undertones, they continue to thrill those who read the books in which their lives are contained or watch the movies where their heroisms are portrayed in 90 minutes or so. Daniel Silva has created an individual that, in my opinion, stands out among these. The Black Widow is the latest instalment of the 16 book series that features Gabriel Allon, and in one book he has been able to spark my interest enough to read more of Gabriel’s story, and this to me shows incredible skill.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

The Black Widow
by Daniel Silva
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
9780732298951