Book Review: Leap of Faith, by Jenny Pattrick

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_leap_of_faith_bigPattrick, an experienced New Zealand historic novelist, brings the Volcanic Plateau to life in her latest book Leap of Faith.

Set in 1907, Pattrick takes the reader on a journey on what life may have been like for those drawn to the area by the railroad work, to construct the Makatote viaduct. This pioneering work made it possible to travel the whole length of the North Island, from Wellington to Auckland, by train.

Working on the railroad is somber and tough, with co-op gangs incentivised by targets to ensure the railroad is completed on time. It’s also a harsh and, at times, perilous environment. Despite these conditions, the railroad attracts a variety of characters.

At the heart of the novel is young and impressionable Billy, only 14 years old when he goes to join the camps at Makatote. He’s later joined by his siblings Maggie and Freeman, and quickly becomes good friends with Ruri, one of a few Māori working on the railroad.

It’s not long till Billy is swept up by the gospel and charm of Gabriel Locke, a preacher with a dodgy past, who passes through the town hoping to build a community of dedicated followers. Gabriel also quickly charms Amelia Grice, a prohibitionist who is determined to figure out who’s supplying sly grog to the workers.

This novel develops over two years switching between perspectives of the different characters. It also switches between past and present, which I found a little confusing at times. The pace of the book is fairly slow but finally picks up a quarter of the way into the book when an unfortunate event ties several of the characters together. This helps to move the plot along and adds some suspense to the novel – in such a small community, secrets don’t last long.

Historical novels aren’t a genre I read often and with this book I longed for more of a connection with the characters. That being said, I admired the amount of research Pattrick has clearly done. Pattrick shows a deep knowledge of not only the area but also in the construction of the railroad and the time period. She expertly weaves New Zealand’s native bush and unique rural landscapes throughout the novel:

‘The mountain appeared for the first time in months, while majestic at the head of the valley. Woodpigeons erupted from what was left of the bush, flying from ridge to ridge flashing their blue-green wings’.

Anyone interested by the New Zealand railroad or with connections to the area will find this an intriguing and enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Sarah Young

Leap of Faith
by Jenny Pattrick
Published by Black Swan – PRH
ISBN 9780143770916

Book Review: Passing Through, by Coral Atkinson

cv_passing_throughAvailable in selected bookstores nationwide.

Authors and publishers are approaching the centennial of World War One from every conceivable angle, from military histories to children’s activity books to poetry. Passing Through, by Coral Atkinson, is a work of romantic historical fiction set in the 1920s, self-published, and very much in the vein of the work of Jenny Pattrick OBE.

The first thing that struck me about Passing Through was the gorgeousness of its production. It has been beautifully designed by Keely O’Shannessy, whose work often crops up at the PANZ Book Design Awards, and produced and typeset by students of the Whitireia Publishing programme, of which I am proud to be a graduate. Passing Through is a paperback with a striking dust jacket, and I love that the front of the dust jacket and the front cover of the book have different, complementary designs. The heading font beautifully evokes the 1920s, and I particularly liked the elegant placement of the page numbers.

Passing Through is an enjoyable light read. Set in Christchurch in the 1920s, it follows the fortunes of Nan, a young woman who can talk to the dead; Ro, an ex-soldier turned con man who seeks to profit from Nan’s talent; Louisa, a war widow; and Harry, a returned serviceman suffering from shellshock. The characters are all likeable and interesting, and the narrative arc is satisfying in its comfortable predictability: the good end happily, the bad get their comeuppance, the lovers get together.

This is not to say that Passing Through is without weight: Atkinson is an assured storyteller and her accessible prose has pleasing touches of the lyrical. An experienced novelist, she is often praised for her sense of place − and this does feel very ye olde New Zealand, albeit in a heavily Pakeha-centric manner. It was interesting too to see a portrayal of Kiwi spirituality (Nan is a genuine medium) that is based neither in formal religion nor in Te Ao Maori, as is often the case in NZ fiction.

Within the context of our national reexamination of World War One and its devastating, ongoing effects, Passing Through does feel very rose-tinted. There is no mention of venereal disease or domestic violence, both of which were rife in the aftermath of the war. And although both of the returned servicemen characters carry scars (Ro has lost fingers and Harry has shell shock), the psychological implications of amputation are never explored, and post-traumatic stress disorder seems to almost be something you can get over if you just put your mind to it. But this is a function of the genre: Passing Through was never going to be a work of gritty realism.

Passing Through is notable for being at the upper, professional end of the self-publishing market. It can take its place with pride amongst its traditionally published peers in the historical fiction shelves of the bookshop: I am surprised that Random House, who have published Atkinson’s previous novels, didn’t pick this one up. And congratulations again to the students of the Whitireia Publishing programme, whose sterling editorial and production work has placed Passing Through at a clear professional standard.

Overall, I would recommend Passing Through to lovers of romance, light fiction and historical fiction, and to those who have enjoyed Atkinson’s previous work. Guaranteed to lend a touch of 1920s elegance to your bookshelf!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher

Passing Through
by Coral Atkinson
Published by Dancing Tuatara
ISBN 9780473262693

Book Review: Heartland, by Jenny Pattrick

‘Donny Mac was released at Easter timecv_heartland_JP, about a month before Pansy Holloway, also known as Nightshade, disappeared for good.’

After a short stint in prison on trumped-up charges, Donny Mac returns to the house left to him by his grandfather in the small settlement of Manawa, in the shadow of Mt Ruapehu. Now inhabited by a handful of colourful locals, the once prosperous milling town is only bustling in the ski season when the out-of-towners arrive.

Awaiting his return is the drunken and pregnant Nightshade, who claims Donny is the father. Donny’s friends keep watch anxiously: the lace-making Bull Howie; Vera who can be seen every evening wheeling Bull’s dinner in a pram down to his house in her own version of meals on wheels; farmer George Kingi and his fey four-year-old daughter Lovey; and the strange elderly sisters who have moved in next door. Also watching is the Virgin Tracey, a sixteen-year-old hiding out in one of the abandoned houses, with her own tiny baby.

When an accident threatens to put Donny back into prison, he and the Virgin Tracey come up with a solution to cover it up. But can the secret remain hidden?

My Thoughts

Heartland is the story of a sleepy little town.

A town of old stalwarts set in their ways; of busybodies, bullies, no-hopers and townies.
A town full of secrets and lies.

Heartland is the story of a lost and broken teenager, saving a slow and misunderstood ex-con from himself, and in doing so they reunite a forgotten family, forge lifelong friendships, and find the strength to face their own demons and truly be themselves.

Author Jenny Pattrick has created a completely believable small town in New Zealand and filled it with lovingly quirky and original characters. I was quickly engrossed by this motley crue of townsfolk, their individual stories were carefully and beautifully woven together in a thoroughly engrossing tale that captivated me from the start.

An easy to read, eloquently written story, Heartland turned out to be a real gem of a read. Full to brimming characters that reminded me of a number of my old rural neighbours, mixed in with the almost Chinese-whisper-like tales that only a small town can conjure up made for an entertaining read and a small trip down memory lane for me.

I would have no hesitation recommending this book to many of my friends as I feel it crosses several genres and does so well enough to keep mystery, romance, literature – in fact, all book fans happy!

A slow paced sleepy town, but by no means a sleepy story – 4 stars.

Reviewed by Cath Cowley

Heartland
by Jenny Pattrick
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775535850