Book Review: Mazarine, by Charlotte Grimshaw

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_mazarine.jpgWhen Frances Sinclair loses contact with her daughter Maya, travelling in Europe with her boyfriend Joe, the Auckland writer begins to feel alarmed as, ‘It was unusual. My girl had always kept in touch’.

But when she came home to find her ex-partner Nick inside her townhouse and an assault takes place, she borrows her neighbour’s car and drives away. ‘The only idea I had was to get out of town, to go south and find a nice motel where I could decide what to do next.’

Award winning author Charlotte Grimshaw is a wonderful descriptive writer and her use of short and long sentences intensifies her writing. ‘For half an hour, the downpour slowed and there was a last showing of watery evening light, then the squalls intensified, and huge rain roared on the corrugated iron roof. Still I lay on the sofa, not moving.’

Grimshaw takes the reader on a road trip to the Waikato where Frances meets Joe’s Mum Mazarine and they share their family concerns and Frances makes a decision to fly to London. ‘I’m going to tell everyone I’m doing research for a book. And when I find the kids, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll make a start on a novel set in London and Paris.’

Following the narrative thread left by her daughter, Frances travels through cities touched by terrorism and surveillance, joined at times by Mazarine, and was it just in her imagination that she sighted Nick around London?

This is a complex read in which the author touches on many modern issues, bringing them together in a gripping novel which has enough mystery to keep the reader guessing until the end.

I enjoyed this book and anyone who enjoys reading about modern family life, and taking a deeper look inside oneself will find this a rewarding read. ‘Two selves. One understood: the situation had changed and Mazarine’s reaction was rational, there was no reason for us to stick together, after all we had just as much chance of finding our children if we separated. This self processed : words, reasons, solutions. The other self didn’t understand and wouldn’t be calmed or soothed, this other self cried out and smashed its own face and beat its hands against-.’

Even the cover of this book is a joy, the beautiful design by Kate Barraclough is fresh and original. Mazarine explains in the book, ‘A Mazarine Blue is a kind of butterfly….. …..Actually, Frances, the male of the species is deep blue, but the female Mazarine is brown, which is kind of confusing’.

Charlotte Grimshaw is based in Auckland where she writes a monthly column in Metro magazine which won her a Qantas Media Award. She has written a number of novels and short stories which are featured in the back of this book alongside three pages of reviews.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Mazarine
by Charlotte Grimshaw
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9780143771821

 

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Book Review: Grandma Z, by Daniel Gray-Barnett

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_grandma_zOn an ordinary day, in an even more ordinary town, it was Albert’s birthday. But his Dad did not like mess so there would be no cake or piñata, and there wouldn’t even be musical chairs because his mother didn’t like noise.

‘Albert closed his eyes and imagined himself at a birthday party, holding a piece of chocolate-cherry-ripple cake. Then he made a wish.’

Answering a knock on the door to his Grandma Z, Albert soon finds himself on an adventure on the back of her motor bike as they have a fun filled ‘very un-ordinary’ day, celebrating his birthday.

Author /illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett has created his debut book for three- to six-year-olds and my four-year-old grandson was just enthralled as we turned the pages. Using just three bold colours and strong brush strokes in the illustrations, Gray-Barnett has produced a magical visual treat, but his choice of words is also appealing to the young. Our grandchildren particularly liked the exquisite drawings of Monarch butterflies as they are regularly checking our Swan plants to monitor the progress of the butterflies and chrysalises. And the sentence, ‘Albert got a fluttery feeling in his stomach like one hundred Monarch butterflies coming out of their cocoons’ is a wonderful way for children to understand the feeling of excitement building in their body.

Daniel Gray-Barnett is a self -taught illustrator based in Sydney, Australia. The illustrations from Grandma Z were chosen from thousands of international entries for the prestigious Society of illustrators Book exhibition held in New York in February 2018. The hard cover book is a quality publication which will be loved by young children, who have a vivid imagination and especially enjoy magical adventures with their grandparents.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Grandma Z
by Daniel Gray-Barnett
Published by Scribe Publications
ISBN 9781925322156

 

Book Review: All This By Chance, by Vincent O’Sullivan

cv_all_this_by_chanceAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

In 1947 Stephen leaves New Zealand, ‘A farm, Cows and mud and half a day by bus from anywhere,’ to train as a pharmacist in in post war London. It was there he met Eva, ‘Tall and quiet and calm, the words first occurring to him as he walked beside her’.

‘All this by chance ,as they kept saying to each other in those first months together… the sheer chance of a church social both had felt so awkward at as to run away from.’

Growing up with an English family Eva has suppressed much of her early life and Jewish background, but as the couple are about to return to New Zealand her Aunt Babcia (Ruth) is reunited with her, and stirs memories of their life in Europe and Hitler’s Germany.

There are a number of characters in the book and the author has listed the key people in the front of the book with the year of their birth, which helps the reader keep the storyline in context, as it progresses through the chapters from 1947 to 2004, and then back to 1038 for the finale. Stephen and Eva’s son and daughter deal with their family history completely differently, with David keen to delve into a Jewish way of life, while Lisa is content to ignore her mother’s background.

Born in Auckland in 1937 Vincent O’Sullivan is the author of two previous novels Let the River Stand which won the 1994 Montana NZ Book Award, and Believers to the Bright Coast which was shortlisted for the 2001 Tasmania Pacific Region prize. He has also written a number of plays, short stories and poems and worked as an editor and critic.

Now living in Dunedin, O’Sullivan was made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2000 Queens Birthday Honours and was the New Zealand poet laureate 2013-2015.

All This By Chance is a beautifully written book which requires concentration to capture the moving family story told by three generations, of the horrors of the holocaust and the burden of secrets never shared. Keely O’Shannessy has designed a very fitting cover which invites the reader down the path through the trees into a family who has tried to forget the atrocities of war, but finds the following generations becoming fascinated with their background history, and wanting to learn more.

I enjoyed this book, especially the author’s choice of words and phrases such as ‘Against the wall a gas heater she fed with shillings and florins purred when the weather turned’, and anyone who enjoys family history will find it a great read.

Reviewed By Lesley McIntosh

All This By Chance
by Vincent O’Sullivan
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561797

 

Book Review: Taming the M G Dragon, Journey Through a Myasthenic Crisis, by Mereti Taipana-Howe

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_taming_the_Mg_dragonMereti Taipana- Howe was a typical New Zealander, enjoyed tramping around the hills and walkways of the Northland coast, loved the beach and was a stay-at-home mum, while her husband worked. She kept fit by going to the gym and she studied extramurally, gaining qualifications before setting up her own counselling consultancy

Then late in 2011, Mereti was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease known as Ocular Myasthenia Gravis (MG) which affects 10 in every 100,000 people, so about 460 people have some form of MG in this country.

Taming the MG Dragon is vivid explanation of how the condition has ruled the author’s life with a number of admissions to hospital, including a thymectomy and six weeks of radiation treatment, which finished on April 1st 2016. But by April 4th she was very unwell and readmitted to Palmerston North Hospital where she battled the ‘MG Dragon’ to finally make a good recovery to be discharged on 9th September 2016.

A number of black and white photographs support the author’s journey with MG and in the epilogue she has shared ten things she has learnt from the experience and she also includes tips for living the best life possible.

In the foreword of the book Sir Mason Durie said ‘Taming the MG Dragon is testament to the power of recovery and to the strength of tenacity. Much of that strength came from Mereti herself and from the exemplary health care, but whanau and friends were also to become critical links in the world beyond the hospital.’

I was able to relate to Mereti’s story as my husband spent four weeks in ICU three years ago with life threatening pneumonia and infection, being on machines very similar to those described in the book, but with expert care and family support he slowly recovered, just as the author has. Taipana-Howe is to be congratulated for bravely recording her experiences and she believes this book would be useful not only for those with MG, but as a resource for whanau, Medical Professionals as well as counsellors and teachers.

Mereti Taipana-Howe has worked in the Disability sector as a NASC (Needs Assessor Service Coordinator) and in tertiary institutions as an adult tutor. She established her own counselling consultancy in 2008 and is currently based in Manawatu.

She writes with great honesty and clarity and at times her frustration shows through as she fights the MG Dragon. Her sense of humour keeps the author focussed as she relates her journey with the warmth and love of friends and family around her. It is a short, concise book but I found it a stimulating read and feel it will  add value to anyone wanting an uplifting story of courage and hope.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Taming the M G Dragon, Journey Through a Myasthenic Crisis
by Mereti Taipana-Howe
Published by Rangitawa Publishing
ISBN 9780994149008

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: Casting Off – A Memoir, by Elspeth Sandys

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_casting_off_a_memoirCasting Off begins on the eve of Elspeth Sandys’ first marriage in Dunedin in the 1960s where she says, ‘Presbyterianism is in the air you breathe in this town. It is also, and always will be, in my bloodstream’.

This is the second volume of her memoir, the first What Lies Beneath, explained her interesting and challenging background and childhood.

I checked the the difference between an autobiography and memoir before I could write the review, and I learned the autobiography is a chronological recording of the person’s experience while the memoir relies more on the author’s memory, feelings and emotions
Sandys herself says, ‘I will try to stick to the facts, avoiding invention but guided, as I cannot help be, as I have always been, by imagination’.

I have not read the first volume but found this an interesting read and was able to pick up the facts of Sandys early life as the book progressed.

After her marriage the couple left New Zealand to live in England where they enjoy the arts and theatre scene. However, work is intermittent, and by 1968 she is divorced and back in New Zealand with a daughter.

The book is supported with photographs supporting many of the significant events in the author’s life. Many of the earlier photos are black and white but there are also a number of more recent coloured snaps, including The Long House, a home she lived in London during her next marriage.

I enjoyed the inclusion of poems appropriately slotted throughout the book which shows the versatility of Sandys writing.

She has published nine novels, and two collections of short stories as well as numerous original plays and adaptions for the BBC and RNZ, as well as scripts for film and television. She now lives in Wellington, has two children and six grandchildren.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Casting Off – A Memoir
by Elspeth Sandys
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9780947522551

 

 

 

Book Review: The Scariest Thing in the Garden, by Craig Smith, illustrated by Scott Tulloch

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_scariest_thing_in_the_gardenBig scary eyes stare out of the cover of the latest book created by Craig Smith and Scott Tulloch as the pair take children on a journey around the garden to find The Scariest Thing in the Garden.

The opening pages show a very scared Brussels sprout! What scared the Brussels sprout?
The simple repetitive lyrics build up the suspense in the read aloud book as the children meet an aphid, a spider, a ladybird, a bird, a cat, a dog, and a child.
Nothing has scared the child. Or has it?

Kids will love the surprise twist in the tale at the end of the book.

The author of the number one best seller The Wonkey Donkey, Craig Smith lives in Queenstown and performs around New Zealand and Australia, and says ‘There’s something about eating food that you have grown or made yourself that is very special.’

The book includes a CD which children will love as Craig sings his way through the book accompanied by his guitar, and children screaming in the appropriate places.

Scott Tulloch is based in Wanaka and has illustrated numerous Scholastic titles creating wacky cartoons, but also enjoys illustrating realistic wildlife. ‘I was too scared to paint a real-looking spider at first. but the publishing team at Scholastic told me I had to.’

The drawings are delightful, with big eyes staring out from all the animals, and children will love hearing this book over and over.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Scariest Thing in the Garden
by Craig Smith, illustrated by Scott Tulloch
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435051