Book Review: A Little ABC Book, by Jenny Palmer

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Jcv_a_little_ABC_bookenny Palmer is an Auckland poet and illustrator. She has written A Little ABC Book using
crowd-sourcing in an interesting way – the animal for each letter of the alphabet was voted on by children, and the winner has made their way into the book. I think it’s this concept that lifts the books above others in the genre – the animals aren’t your all your usual dogs, rabbits, tigers and whales.

Including kakapo and wombats, the book covers an international pantheon of animals, including some that are more magical than others (unicorns, yeti!). Other interesting variations include tadpoles, flying squirrels and crustaceans. I’m surprised that Palmer chose to illustrate craneflies rather than spiders for Daddy Long Legs – both animals can be called Daddy Long Legs, but spiders are more commonly associated with the term.

The poems are clever, and each follows the same format of ABCB quatrains, which will make them easy to read aloud as the rhythm is generally consistent. Palmer is able to squeeze in both a sense of humour (the poems are often quite punny – a unicorn has a unique horn) as well as some interesting facts about the animals. She also makes full use of poetic devices like alliteration, which children love. For example:

“Side-stepping scatter crabs,
shrimp swiftly flee,
spikes scuttle smugly past
stuck anemone!”

As someone who teaches new entrants, the only quibble I have with the book – and this is true of so many ABC books and friezes – is that it only focuses on capital letters. It’s really important for children to be able to recognise both forms of each letter of the alphabet, and I wish more authors, illustrators and book designers would accommodate this in their work.

Don’t let that stop you from purchasing the book though. With charming line drawings and fun rhymes, I think many children from 2 – 5 would enjoy receiving A Little ABC Book for Christmas.

A Little ABC Book
by Jenny Palmer
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780992264802

Book Review: Run Thomas Run, by Kate Carty

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.

cv_run_thomas_ruRun Thomas Run is a tale of heartbreak and sorrow, of the shadows of the past stretching forward to eclipse the future. It is a tale of another world, but one that is only too real. A family is living in Iraq, under the reign of Saddam Hussein. The parents are Thomas, and his wife Esther who, like many in Iraq at the time, put on every appearance of supporting Saddam − to the point where their young teenage daughter, Ramina, all but worships him. Their life takes a sudden turn for the worse at a wedding, where a poem and an ill-timed confrontation sets the family on a dark path − a path from which there can be no turning back, only escape.

But even leaving the country and emigrating to the UK, cannot provide true escape, because the shadows will always follow you, having taken seed in the heart. Thomas, his life irrevocably changed within a few long weeks, is a man broken in both body and spirit, and his daughter must suffer the consequences.

Despite the heavy content and the general dark undertones, this is neither a depressing book, nor a difficult read. Certainly, the characters can be frustrating at times but it is engaging, and interspersed with brief moments of light and humour. Ultimately, it opens a door into a life that many of us living in New Zealand cannot comprehend − a life where to speak your thoughts aloud could have fatal consequences, where freedom is a dream. It makes you appreciate the life that they live, and have a greater understanding of the struggles of others.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Run Thomas Run
by Kate Carty
Published by Escalator Press
ISBN 9780473295240

Book Review: Fallout, by Paul Thomas

Available in bookstores nationwide. cv_fallout _paulthomas

I was a bit peeved that dark gore-author Ian Rankin got to review this, the second of Thomas’ Ihaka stories, before I did. However, I got over it. After all – it’s Rankin! And I’d have to agree with him: “Violent, funny, profane”, he said “Ihaka is a terrific maverick cop.” And indeed he is.

If you think Jake the Muss, with a conscious and an inquiring mind, then perhaps you might be halfway there. Sports writer Paul Thomas has been dabbling vicariously in a life of crime for a while now, and this time around you really get the feel that he’s been sleeping on a few police station doormats. The accuracy and genuine presence is really there. This could easily be Victoria St Station (in Wellington, that is).

His plot follows several characters as they intersect, depart and reconnect around an unsolved murder, linked to anti-nuclear politics. Over-layered are the tidbits fed to Ihaka about the suspicious circumstances that led to his unionist father’s death. Add to that an unsolved crime of a 17-year-old society girl, which preys on the mind of Ihaka’s boss immigrant cop Superintendent Finbar McGrail, who miraculously ‘chances’ new evidence at a posh club event and finds the wounds of 25 years hence opened like a festering sore.

The final component to interlace this little web is Ihaka’s disgraced former colleague Johan Van Roen who somehow finds himself hired up by a PR man to look for a political power broker who went AWOL back in ’87, paid for by a shadowy millionaire. No, his name’s not Kim but you do wonder, don’t you? In fact if you look carefully virtually every character is somehow related to recent and past headlines and the character that feature within. And I like that. I also like that Ihaka, early in the piece finds himself in the middle of domestics with his jealous girlfriend, and political shenanigans with his boss. It’s all kin of real. No surprise, Thomas is a journalist by daylight. I also love the wee references to Wellington locations, streets I’ve walked and houses I’ve probably visited or flatted in or even bus routes I’ve travelled.

There are a few clunky moments in the prose, where Thomas tries to capture the Kiwi vernacular, best left to oral interpretation, but the voice is genuine and easy to identify. It’s a strong house that rests on the foundation that his first, Death on Demand, built with Ihaka, who’s slowly growing into a two dimensional character – perhaps with a slight shadow. I look forward to further fleshing of the character in book three.

As crime stories go, I’ve often wondered why we as Kiwis soak up so much overseas drama – English, Norwegian, Swedish, American –  but haven’t paid enough attention to the delights of the genre down home. Here’s your chance to support a local writer and investigate our recent historical underbelly at the same time – don’t pass it up.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

by Paul Thomas
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781927262016

Book Review: Millennium – A memoir, by Peri Hoskins

cv_millenniumAvailable online and via selected bookstores. 

Peri Hoskins is a NZ author who lives in Northland, where he works as a barrister-at-law.

In 1999 with the new millennium nearly upon us, Tonga is to be the first in the world to see the new age in by putting its clock forwards an hour or maybe two − a clever ploy to pull in the tourists. Vince Osborne (the narrator of this story), barrister, living in Adelaide travels by Royal Tongan Airlines to Tonga to spend time with his primary school mate Sykes. They had last seen each other in 1994 in their old home town. Sykes has since left to move to Tonga and has bought an old run-down backpackers lodge, catering to young travellers. Beyond the backpackers, Sykes other interest is seeing how many birds he can “pull”. He has plenty of choice, with cruise ships visiting, young bored Tongan girls, and young tourists breaking their OE’s with a break in Tonga.

This is Vince’s first journey since breaking up with his long-time girlfriend Angelina, leaving his job at a big law firm, and starting out on his own. He steps off the plane with a generous supply of alcohol and cigars from duty free – champagne, brandy, whiskey, red wine and, of course, cigars.

Millennium is a journey though many human exchanges – quirky, funny and sad –accompanied by quotes from Hindu scripture.

According to the author’s notes, this is a work of creative non-fiction. In essence it is true, but contains fictional elements. The characters are of his own creation, often containing elements of several people. Also locations and names of people or businesses have been changed. I almost expected to see in writing “nobody was hurt or killed in the making or writing of this story”. I daresay friends of the author will recognise themselves in these characterisations.

I was really surprised how much I enjoyed reading this rather thin book – one of the smallest I’ve read for a while. The descriptions of some of the characters are rather brutal at times and I sometimes wondered how Peri managed to keep a straight face and fingers (typing) while writing this story. I loved the quotes from Hindu scripture – they seemed rather appropriate and pertained to the particular subject of the chapter they headed.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Millennium – A Memoir
by Peri Hoskins
Published by Tane Kaha Publications
ISBN 9780473251314