Book Review: Good Sons: A Novel of the Great War, by Greg Hall

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_good_sonsOver the past three years, a lot has been written about the Great War. The major events have been highlighted as 100 years was marked for each one. Families have unearthed letters which bring a more personal view of the war. Distance and time soften the horror of those stories.

Greg Hall has written Good Sons to highlight the impact of war on ordinary people. In this case, three friends from Oamaru. The story is told by Frank Wilson from his schooldays and adventures as a young boy, to the battlefields of Europe. The detail of his life is minutely drawn. My 90-year-old Father was quite taken by the descriptions of ordinary life: going camping, riding bikes, playing rugby and the importance of family life.

While Frank and his best mates, Tom Davis and Robert Sutherland eagerly await their birthdays so they can sign up, we read small press clippings at the start of each chapter detailing the progress of the war. These are at times shocking in their paternalistic and biased interpretation of events. It is a clever device to contrast the reported and the real.

The trust, the naïveté and the courage of these three is undeniable. I loved the details of the train ride through Timaru, the training camps and the night out from Trentham to Wellington. On arrival in France we are led to the battlefields and horror of war.

Greg Hall has taken on War commentary through his writing, poetry and research. He is the director of the Passchendaele Society. His superb knowledge lends credibility to the events and descriptions in the book. Even the cover photo communicates contrast of three fine boys, and three battle weary soldiers. This is a very readable account from a New Zealand perspective. While more academic tomes appeal to some, I loved the accessibility of his writing. This is a novel of war, both heroic and horrendous.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Good Sons: A Novel of the Great War
by Greg Hall
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473383787

Book Review: Humans, Bow Down, by James Patterson & Emily Raymond

cv_humans_bow_downI have been an avid James Patterson fan for years. I especially enjoy the Alex Cross series and eagerly await new titles. His collaboration with a number of authors allows a wider repertoire and probably a greater spread of the profit. Sometimes the collaborations work, sometimes they make uneasy bed-mates.

So when I picked up Humans, Bow Down I was taken by surprise. This is no detective novel. This is a completely new genre but written superbly and a thoroughly gripping tale.

Here we are introduced to an earth in the future where humans are the minority, living on the fringes and subservient to their HuBot masters. It sounds like a simplistic plot, but it actually works well. Can the human race survive in a world where they are emotive and illogical? The intelligent, controlled and skilled HuBots are the masters on this earth.

The story follows the life of Six and her family as they struggle to survive in the underworld of the Reserve. On the HuBot side we have a malfunctioning family who appear to express emotions which leads to the empathy formed between the two lead females.

I felt the story was incomplete and rushed towards a conclusion. The setting lends itself to a new series of books based on these characters, which may perhaps be the hidden agenda. I look forward to further titles from this combination of writers telling of the future of HuBots and Humans on this strange new earth

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Humans, Bow Down
by James Patterson & Emily Raymond
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780895505

Book Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_hearts_invisible_furiesI must be honest and admit that I spent four days handling this book before actually starting to read it. Why? Well I have really loved all John Boyne’s books. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas was a stunner and I have never forgotten the impact it had on me when I read it. When I heard he had finally written a story based on the Ireland he had grown up in, I was anxious lest it be a disappointment.

This book was something different. Fear not, you will love it.

The tale of Cyril Avery takes us through the Ireland of the 1940’s to the present day. It is the story of an unmarried mother, denounced from the pulpit, who travels to Dublin where she gives her child up for adoption. Cyril is taken in by an unconventional family. This provides much of the comic relief in the story as his writer Mother (adoptive) and businessman Father (adoptive) struggle to cope with a son they rarely see and a world which is a mystery to them.

Cyril’s childhood, adolescence and advance to old age take us through political, social and literary changes in Ireland and the world. The detail is fascinating and Boyne knows the Dublin landscape so well. In a natural way, the lives of Cyril, his parents, friends and birth Mother interweave across the 60 years. We revisit them in different times and locations but the storyline keeps us guessing. It is a truly funny book with descriptions of erratic behaviour and genuine prejudice from the times. I can remember hearing the bigoted comments he captures so well, in my own youth. It is also a deeply moving story and I will admit to a few tears. Such cruelty and such love in one story.

Some will enjoy the book as an engaging tale written with style and great literary talent. For others, it is a reflection on what it means to be alive. Is happiness due to us, do we have to earn a sense of belonging or do we grow to be part of a family? It is about acceptance and rejection, religion and sexuality, love and loss. This all sounds cliché but the book is not. My suspicion is that this will become a great Irish novel. It tells a story we all suspect, we all know, but we could not say it so well. Make sure it is on your 2017 booklist.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
By John Boyne
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780857523488

Book Review: Best of New Zealand, by Lonely Planet

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_best_of_new_zealand.jpgLonely Planet has captured the backpacks of so many travellers over the last 30 years. In spite of limited bag weight I managed to take my Europe and Great Britain tomes on my OE. So it is interesting to see what they offer for visitors to our own shores.

This guide is part of the Best Of series so does not claim to cover everything. It gives good general information, clear suggestions for short stay holidays and covers the better-known tourist spots for the busy tourist.

The book is a manageable size with 325 pages, basic maps and good information on cities, food, accommodation, transport and entertainment. There are suggestions for websites to find fuller and more recent information. This is essential as New Zealand is a small country with limited transport options. Recent events in the South Island mean the travel times differ while the Kaikoura coast road is out. Likewise, The Tranz Alpine is not running following major fire damage to the bridges. This is always going to be a problem with travel guides in print form and although the publication date is November 2016, some information is outdated.

I would like to have seen a little more information on driving conditions and times. In light of the tragic accidents on our narrow roads it would seem sensible to include better information for those self driving on their holiday.

This modest guide gives a basic overview for the short stay traveller. The photos are enticing, the maps clear and the information provides a good entry point for further research.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Best of New Zealand
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781786571250

Book Review: Doctors in Denial – The forgotten women in the “unfortunate experiment”, by Ronald W. Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_doctors_in_denialThere have been two phrases in New Zealand, which have become synonymous with tragic events. While “an orchestrated litany of lies”, reminds us of the Erebus inquiry, an ”unfortunate experiment,” takes us straight to the sad events which unfolded over 20 years at National Women’s Hospital, in Auckland.

Ron Jones is a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist who was part of the original team to bring the spotlight on the work of Professor Herbert Green. Here he tells his own story in meticulous detail. The book follows a chronological timeline but also inserts the stories of some of those involved and gives a human face to the unsuspecting women in this experiment. He also captures the behaviour and social conventions of the times, which had a part in these events. While today we are appalled at the thought of medical experiments on uninformed patients, it was still the era when the Doctor knows Best and who are we to question.

The account of events, people, places and the advances being made in medicine at the time give a robust substance to the book. Here are the details, which supported the experiment, the people who questioned but were ignored, the women who accepted the treatment offered, or not offered in some cases. Against a worldwide agreement among many experts that CIS was a precursor of cancer, Green decided to make a study of his group without their consent. This meant women were untreated, or over-treated in invasive ways without a choice or knowledge of their involvement.

While the book is a little heavy for a general read, it is essential reading for anyone concerned with the development of ethics committees in New Zealand. It is important for medical students to see the fallout from poor decisions and for administrators to understand how things can go so wrong if there are no careful checks on the behaviour of our experts. This book clearly reminds us of how wrong we can be and the pain such mistakes can cause. I am a much better informed teacher of ethics and a woman who will always ask questions, even of the experts.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Doctors in Denial: The forgotten women in the “unfortunate experiment”
by Ronald W. Jones
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9780947522438

Book Review: Hush -A Kiwi Lullaby By Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hush_a_kiwi_lullabyWe are so blessed in New Zealand to have writers such as Joy Cowley. She has continued over the years to provide appropriate, beautiful texts to share with our children. Hush is the latest addition and I think this book and song will quickly become a Kiwi classic.

The traditional lullaby by Brahms is given new words and a Maori translation. We have sheep and Mums, stars and tui, pāua and kauri in place of the traditional English images. The words fit the tune in a natural way and the illustrations use a soft palette to create an harmonious, restful scene.

I was delighted to see the book has an additional Māori text and even a glossary of Māori words. The next generation of Kiwis will be familiar with a bi-cultural approach at pre-school and school, so it is timely to see New Zealand publications acknowledging this.

This book would make a wonderful gift for a newborn, a toddler birthday or even to a Grandparent. It is a delight of word and image. As the final line states:
‘And when that silver fern’s no more….
You’re still the best baby in Aotearoa.’

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby
by Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433125

Book Review: Lewisville, by Alexandra Tidswell

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_lewisville.jpgOur stories are an important part of who we are. This is especially so in New Zealand, which really was the ends of the earth to our brave and intrepid forebears. Why would someone choose to travel in appalling conditions to a land of promise but little fact, far away from all their family, friends and culture?

Alexandra Tidswell has taken on the challenge presented by her own family to answer this question. As a seventh generation New Zealander, she had the initial stories, a 1960’s search and some 1980’s genealogical data as a starting point. From this, she has created a story which gripped me to the end.

Martha Grimm escapes to New Zealand with her daughter Mary Ann from Warwickshire in 1814. She left behind parents, other children and a husband, who had been transported to Australia. She leaves to follow her dream of escaping poverty and make a new life. While the novel is based on true events, the setting and characters are beautifully rounded and add real depth to the story. This is not a poetic foray into the beauties of the New Zealand landscape. At no time was I bogged down in treacle description. Rather, the storyline is strong and urgent. Martha has a determined and ambitious plan which she works hard to bring about. The tension in the story arises with the tale of her husband, as he too tries to escape the poverty and injustice of convict life in Australia. As his wife has remarried and become something of a society lady in Wellington, will her past catch up with her?

Tidswell has treated each part of the story with a genuine honesty and sympathy for the characters and their response to events. While we could view Martha as a selfish woman who cares little for her children left in the workhouse, we are drawn into the dream of a better future. The possibility that she might claim her children when she has succeeded, is always there. However, the stories of the children are also handled masterfully as they make their own way without the care of their parents. We cannot help but share the dream of Martha.

Likewise, the role played by the indigenous people, both in Australia and New Zealand, in supporting the naïve and unprepared immigrants in this new environment, is handled well. It is not overplayed but the information is there as part of the overall view.

Wellington residents will enjoy the description of early Wellington streets and suburbs as the settlement grows and the early homes are replaced by more substantial residences.
I see Lewisville as a coming-of-age book. The family story in integral but it is a really gripping story with real characters and identifiable places. This is a valuable contribution to the backstory of our country. It is well-told, excellently edited and researched and very readable. A great way for me to start my holidays.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Lewisville
By Alexandra Tidswell
Published by Submarine (Makaro Press)
ISBN 9780994137906