Book Review: False River, by Paula Morris

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_false_riverThis is a very sophisticated collection of short stories, which sit comfortably together. While many have been previously published in magazines, or read on radio, bringing them together allows the reader to appreciate the true depth of Morris’s writing. The title story, False River was a finalist in the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award in the UK, and Morris is no stranger to awards for her writing.

I am not a regular reader of short stories as once I have sorted out characters and setting, I prefer to settle in for a long read. But this collection allowed me to enter each world quickly and with minimal fuss as I became engrossed by the stories. It was a revelation.

Morris knows her settings. Be it New Orleans, Mexico or Latvia, we are quickly immersed in a familiar world where small details add depth. Some stories deal with relationships such as the delightful story Isn’t It. Here we have the Auckland housing crisis meeting family mourning. The meeting of these two worlds is beautifully portrayed.

A well-chosen black and white photo follows some stories. I like the inclusion of visual art within the written text as it adds another layer for the reader. However, I was a little disappointed at the cover of the collection. The dark blue, understated cover did not live up to the quality of the stories and artwork within the  book. Even the endpapers were more creative.

I really enjoyed this collection: it seems, after a thirty-year standoff with short stories, Paula Morris has lured me back. I would pick the book up to read one story, and then sneak another too. Of course, this meant I was running late!

This is the perfect summer read. A sleep, a swim or even a small wine could follow each story.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

False River
by Paula Morris
Published by Vintage
ISBN 9780143771630

 

 

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Book Review: Big Pacific, by Rebecca Tansley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_big_pacificThe Pacific Ocean contains half the world’s water and covers a third of the world’s surface. This alone makes it one of the most fascinating places on our planet. Add to that a diversity of lifeforms, landscapes and peoples, and you have the formula for a great book.

Big Pacific has been produced to accompany the Natural History New Zealand four-part series to screen on Prime Television. The images used come from the documentary but there is an added bonus. Interspersed between the stories of plant and animal life, are little vignettes about the actual making of the documentary. These added an in-depth look at the difficulties and joys of shooting a series over an extended period. It gives the human stories behind the images. I loved this Kiwi down-to-earth touch.

The chapters are creatively designed to avoid the usual land, sea and people classification. Here we have a chapter on population growth, one on hunger, a section about secrets and finally one about mayhem, which defies the title of Pacific (peaceful). Such a creative way to organise material means that you can pick up the book and dip in to any part. The images are superb and the text is enough to inform and engage, but not to bore. Each section includes a map showing where in the Pacific this creature or life form is located.

An introduction gives a little background to the discovery and naming of the Pacific, but the main focus is on the diversity of this ocean. The start includes maps of the Pacific that makes for easy reference when reading. Along with the expected inhabitants, such as sharks, seals, whales, Tuatara, Iguana and turtles, you will also meet Wolf Eels, Jellyfish, Red sea urchin, squid and palolo worms. The final section includes some geology and archaeology associated with this vast area.

This book tackles a huge and diverse area of our world. While it cannot cover every aspect of the Pacific, I think it makes a wonderful introduction. I can see this book on the coffee tables of countless burees around the Pacific Islands. It will inform the travelers from the Northern climes, about our large slice of paradise. For New Zealand readers, it will encourage you to search a little harder for your Pacific island getaway. While a gentle beach is appealing, a trip to view some of these amazing creatures would be a special holiday.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Big Pacific
by Rebecca Tansley
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869539634

Book Review: A Wise Adventure II: New Zealand and Antarctica after 1960, by Malcolm Templeton

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_wise_adventure_2New Zealand has always had a close association with Antarctica from the very first. Early exploration often set out from New Zealand and continuing contact was based in Christchurch, in particular with the American Deep Freeze base.

In A Wise Adventure (VUP 2000) Templeton covered the period of 1920-1960.This included the establishment of the Antarctic Treaty system. In this companion volume, he looks more closely at the developments and negotiations since then. The Antarctic Treaty was set up to ensure access to scientific research and the peaceful management of the area and resources. While this seems a relatively simple premise, the actual process of establishing legal documentation, of getting the agreement of all interested parties and finally of enforcing these rules, is more complex.

Templeton is a former New Zealand Foreign Service Officer and has served at the United Nations and as Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Using archival materials and his own meticulous research, he has collated the information into this excellent record of the negotiations and decisions behind the treaties.

To the outsider, it appears a straightforward task to gather the interested parties and sign an agreement. In the case of Antarctica, where many diverse nations wished to have a say, it was complex. Both the fishing and more recently, the mineral resources of this area, are an important focus for countries far removed by geography. The treaties included environmental protection and management of living resources in a sustainable way while also ensuring that those countries, who claimed sovereignty and those who opposed such claims, were acknowledged.

In A Wise Adventure II we see the important role played by New Zealand since 1960. With the 60th Anniversary of the Ross Dependency at Scott Base, in December this year, it is timely to have this publication.

While this book is not light bedtime reading, it is an essential read for those interested and concerned about the future of Antarctica. It is by reading about the journey traveled, that we can be better prepared for the challenges ahead.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

A Wise Adventure II: New Zealand and Antarctica after 1960
by Malcolm Templeton
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561681

Book Review: Grace and Katie, by Suzanne Merritt and Liz Anelli

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_grace_and_katieGreat picture books have either a wonderful story and illustrations, or a profound message. The very best picture books manage to do both and Grace and Katie falls easily into this category.

Grace and Katie are sisters with totally different perspectives on art. While Grace enjoys using straight lines and order, Katie prefers colour and creativity. When they both decide to draw a picture of their home and the local park, the results are very different. The final results are not quite as satisfying as they would like. By sharing their skills and working together they create an artwork which combines accuracy with creativity.

Susanne Merritt is a passionate advocate for children’s literacy and as a Mum of 3 she has plenty of experience with the differences between siblings. Combined with the bright illustrations and detail of Liz Anelli, this book is a treasure.

I teach tolerance and difference to a Year 11 class, and asked if they would like me to read to them. They willingly sat on the mat as I shared Grace and Katie. The following discussion was wonderful as they picked up on the visual clues in the pictures. We talked about stereotyping and working with others. One girl explained that it could have been about her own experience as she was the creative one with a very orderly sister. This led to a sharing about gender stereotypes and the importance of being ourselves.

As a teacher, I see this as a great resource for starting discussions from pre-school level up. It is also a really lovely book to read and enjoy for the satisfying story, the wonderful pictures and the happy ending.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Grace and Katie
by Suzanne Merritt and Liz Anelli
Published by EK Books
ISBN 9781925335545

Book Review: Old MacDonald Had a Farm, sung by the Topp Twins, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_old_macdonald_had_a_farm_topp_twinsHow do you make an old favourite in to a new favourite? You invite the Topp Twins to record it with their yahooing enthusiasm, and you invite Jenny Cooper to provide expressive and explosive illustrations. I will admit that my previous Topp Twins story and song combination has been so well used that I would willingly have used the CDs as targets. There is something infectious about the enthusiasm they bring to what could be a tired old song. A little bit of creativity in changing the end of the song, allows for even more chaos in illustrations and sound.

It is appropriate that the American twang is clearly part of this song and the Country and Western style is well-suited to the farmyard antics in the book. I have to admit that the Alpaca was a new one for me. Hmmmmmmm? Not an easy sound to sing but they do it in style.

Jenny Cooper is not just a gifted artist, she is a superb children’s book illustrator. She has such energy in the pictures with action in the smallest details. The Swanndri and Skellerup Redbands, the vintage tractor and the banana skin. These are the extras which keep the audience coming back, over and over again.

I think Grandparents would do well to get a copy of this wonderful book and CD and get it gift-wrapped and ready to roll. After Christmas dinner, this is exactly what you need to get the whole family singing and dancing. No wonder my kids were always terrified about what I had planned for Christmas afternoon. Watch this space!

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Old MacDonald Had a Farm
sung by the Topp Twins, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434986

Book Review: He Wāhi i te Puruma, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, and translated by Karena Kelly

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_he_wahi_i_te_purumaThis is a delightful story about the exploits of a witch, her broom and how friends help each other. However, it is a version with a difference. While I have been the proud owner of this story in English, it took my daughter to encourage me to get the te reo Māori version. Why? Because she is raising her daughter (my Granddaughter) to be fluent in te reo. Her pre-school, like most educational places, makes use of bilingual labels, conversation and waiata. Having books to support this is the next step.

Unlike some of the earlier books in te reo, this one does not include an English version or a glossary of words. This indicates a coming-of-age for bilingual books. I know the beautiful rhyming tale of the Witch on her broom and the helpers who want to join her. Like all good stories, there is a little lesson to be learned. When misfortune befalls her, the friends step in to save the day.

Julia Donaldson has a natural way with rhyme and the story hums along in Māori as in English. It reminded me of the Snail on the Whale and What the Ladybird Heard. She has a great ear for sounds and I know my audience loved joining in with, “Ka eke ra te kuri, whuuu! Ka rere runga hau.”

Axel Scheffler provides entertaining illustrations that add visual details to the melody of the story. I love his eyes, which have that surprised expression, “What? Me?” The colours are bright and clear and by placing the smaller illustrations beside each block of text, there are visual clues to help the reader. I noticed one student found the English copy and was turning the pages with a friend as they looked at the translation. What a great way to explore language.

I was hoping to keep this title in my Nanna bookshelf, but a visiting niece asked politely if she might take it back with her daughter to Australia. How could I resist a bit of Trans-Tasman re-education. I am now looking forward to seeing other titles by Donaldson translated and available to all.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

He Wāhi i te Puruma
by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, and translated by Karena Kelly
Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775503293

Book Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, by Lauren James

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_loneliest_girl_in_the_universeRomy Silvers finds herself alone in space on a journey to populate Earth II with a cargo of frozen embryos. When transmissions from Earth are interrupted with overtones of war, she becomes afraid for her own future. Just when things seem dire, help arrives in the form of another ship from Earth under the control of “J”.

This is an exciting tale of hope and despair. Romy fills in the background, but also the questions which begin to puzzle her about her mysterious rescuer. Is everything as simple as it seems?

Dystopia books are very popular at my school. This generation feels the danger of climate change, racial dischord and terrorism acutely. Creating fiction from this very real setting, captures the imagination of many young adults.

Lauren James is a 25-year-old British YA writer. Her science background is evident in the detail included in this title. It is a gripping read, with a twist: but my lips are sealed.

I already have takers for my copy of the Loneliest Girl in the Universe.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe
by Lauren James
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406375473