Book Review: Oh No! Look What the Cat Dragged In, by Joy H Davidson, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_oh_no_look_what_the_cat_dragged_inAnyone who has a cat knows they love to bring the wild life they catch to show you, and let it go for a run around if they have the chance!

Joy Davidson’s new picture book tells the story of Grandma’s big black cat as it explores its back yard and brings his loot back through the flap in the door. The grandchildren holidaying with Grandma experience first hand the chaos in the house and are almost too frightened to come down stairs as the week progress’s as there are ‘creepy crawlies everywhere, and rubbish piled up high.’

Wonderful descriptive sentences tell the story, familiar to many cat lovers, which will have children laughing out loud, and the repetitive phrases will encourage the children to join in.

It is a fun book and Jenny Cooper’s illustrations add an extra dimension, to involve the children to seek, find and identify the creepy crawlies the cat dragged in. The facial expressions on Grandma and the children convey vividly the tension in the house with each day. But I love how she has captured the cat’s expression sitting half asleep with almost a smirk on its face, I have seen it many times as I have chased a mouse around the kitchen with the cat wondering what the problem is.

What a fun way to learn the days of the week, identified in a larger font, and with the use of capitals Davidson ensures the reader will emphasize the more dramatic sentences. This book will be loved by children and adults as they turn the pages to find out if Grandma solves the dilemma of ‘what the cat dragged in.’

Winner of the 2015 Storylines Joy Cowley Award and the 2017 Notable book award for Witch’s Cat Wanted, Apply Within, Auckland based Joy Davidson, is also the author of The Tree Hut and Titan the truck.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Oh No! Look what the Cat dragged in
by Joy H Davidson, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by DHD Publishing
ISBN 9780473448318

Book Review: Hello Darkness, by Peter Wells

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_hello_darkness.jpgPeter Wells felt unwell while on a trip overseas and on his return to New Zealand made an appointment with a doctor who ordered a PSA test. When it came back he was told he had prostate cancer and it had spread into his bones, giving him the symptoms he had experienced while on holiday.

He soon found himself in Auckland hospital to undergo intensive treatment in an attempt to arrest the cancer. He began writing of his experience on daily posts on Facebook, which were also reprinted on The Spinoff, and later published into this book, Hello Darkness.

In his Foreword, Wells explains ‘This book, then, is the story of six months in my life, told in diary segments… not merely the sum of the original FB posts and the Spinoff version… I have added in private diary musings I did not put up on FB.’

The November 15, 2017, post is accompanied with a view from Wells’ hospital room and the photographs throughout the book include many from his youth, as well as friends and family and special places which have helped shape the man, and add to the story.

Six months later Wells records on his FB post ‘I had lost most of my hair; my eyebrows had gone fugitive; I was the weight I was when I was in my twenties…but the fact was I was alive, I could walk, my cancer had been challenged, called to a halt – be it momentary or permanent, nobody knows.’

Peter Wells is an award winning author and filmmaker, and most recently Hello Darkness won the 2018 Media Voyager Award for best personal essay,  the work being described as ‘Wry, acute and confessional but, most of all wise.’

I found this an interesting but at times an agonising read, having brothers as well as my husband requiring treatment for prostate issues. It is however a beautifully written, honest account of a man who at times was in great pain but still clinging desperately to life. In his final chapter entitled Down to Daybreak, Wells said ‘I began to see daily life itself was a form of a gift- just to be alive was a prescient thing…I also had this constant almost shrill sense of astonishment at just being alive.’

So it’s a book about taking stock, looking back to what matters in life, but also forwards, towards coming to terms with the remainder of life.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Hello Darkness
by Peter Wells
Published by Mighty Ajax Press
ISBN 9780473451622

We publish this review of Peter’s last book a few days after his death, in Auckland, of cancer. A service for Peter will be held at St Matthew-in-the-City Anglican Church, Corner of Hobson and Wellesley Streets, Auckland City on Monday 25 February at 10.30 am. Vale Peter Wells, who did so much for so many. 



Book Review: Ocean of Milk, by Belinda Acyrigg

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_ocean_of_milk.jpgWaking up in hospital, all memory erased like a computer restored to factory settings, Amalia enters a bizarre world where nothing is normal, and everything is experienced as if for the first time.

Assured by doctors her memory will return she goes home with her husband and two children, Sammie and Mattie, and with support from her parents tries to get on with her life.

But she struggles to find her way back into their lives, causing stress and chaos for everyone. A world of fantasy and magic enables Amalia to cope with daily living and of course her children find living in a fantasy world more exciting.

‘Sammie jumps off my lap purposefully and trots off to get some books, just like on that first day so many moons ago. “This is how we do it,” he tells me, getting on my knee and pretending it’s a horse, while we read the books. He opens the first page. Where does the horse live? We always used to do this apparently, before school, kindy and all those interferences came along. I wish I could remember.’

Ocean of Milk is the first novel written by Auckland based Belinda Aycrigg where she is involved at the Auckland Hare Krishna school at a leadership level, having lived in a Hare Krishna temple and subscribed to the Vaisnava philosophy since then.

Aycrigg says ‘People often associate Hare Krishnas with tambourines and robes and struggle to get past that image to the deeper philosophy behind it, which is so totally opposed to the current prevailing paradigm of materialistic acquisition’.

She says she has tried to portray that in the novel but believes Amalia spends most of her time in search of herself and being pressured to conform by different worldviews she encounters.

I found it an interesting but challenging read as the fantasy takes the characters to a very high intense level far away from modern living. There are some fascinating aspects to the story with Amalia and her husband unconventionally parenting two boys with quirky personalities.

The cover design is absolutely fitting to the spellbinding journey the reader is about to encounter and Aycrigg’s crisp writing style and use of short sentences keeps up the intensity of the plot. ‘I hesitate. I’m not sure what she means. Is this about getting back some semblance of normality? Might running out of the room be a false move?’

A great summer read it will appeal to anyone who is searching to find a fulfilling pathway in today’s world and I hope we see more writing from Belinda Aycrigg.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Ocean of Milk
by Belinda Aycrigg
Published by 99% Press
ISBN 9780473404192


Book Review: The Taniwha in Our Backyard, by Malcolm Paterson, illustrated by Martin Bailey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_taniwha_in_our_backyard.jpgMost New Zealand children are familiar with going on a road trip to visit family and friends so they will enjoy the adventures of Tui and Jennifer and their families when they visit their Uncle and Aunt in south Kaipara.

Exploring the area down to Muriwai, they learn about moa, kauri dieback, Maui dolphins, kaitiakitanga (stewardship), geology as well as the history of the area.

The children also experienced freshly cooked seafood and heard some local tales about the taniwha.

Malcolm Paterson has included te reo Māori throughout the text with translations at the bottom of each page while a few Malay words are highlighted in a different colour.

This new work in the Sharing Our Stories series includes a map of the area as well as information about kauri dieback, a disease which is causing great concern in New Zealand with the death of many large trees.

Most suitable for the 7-9 age group this beautifully illustrated picture book will be a wonderful teaching tool in the classroom as well as being a great book to send overseas. I loved the book and feel very envious of today’s children who can learn history and environmental issues with such a colourful publication.

Malcolm Paterson belongs to Ngati Whatua of Auckland and the Kaipara, and represents his iwi in heritage and environmental issues. He is author of the previous Sharing our Stories books The Castle in our Backyard (2010) and The Tunnel in our Backyard (2016)

Martin Bailey is a well-known illustrator living in Muriwai, who has created numerous children’s books over a long career.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Taniwha in Our Backyard
by Malcolm Paterson, illustrated by Martin Bailey
Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506469

Book Review: The Fire Keeper’s Girls, by L P Hansen

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_Fire_keepers_girls.jpgAs a teenager I loved reading and all my pocket money went on books. I had a few favourite authors, and if L P Hansen had been around back then, I’m pretty sure she would have been one of them.

The Fire Keeper’s Girls tells the story of cousins Gemma and Alice who are sent to spend summer with Samantha, an unusual woman that neither of them know very well.

The two girls resent being sent away and at first remain closed to everything Samantha suggests. Like a good role model or mentor, Samantha slowly draws the girls in, treating them as equals, and they reluctantly realise they’re enjoying themselves.

During their stay Samantha sets the girls a series of tasks that form part of something called The Game. Little by little the girls reveal more about what led to them being sent there for the summer, and are taught ways to overcome their rebellious pasts and create brighter futures.

The book features a number of pioneering women, including some New Zealanders. At the back there is a section with more information on these women, some of whom Gemma and Alice were inspired to research as part of The Game. Some I was familiar with, but I very much enjoyed reading about many others and marveling at what they achieved.

This exactly the kind of book I would want a young adult to read. Quite aside from the fact it’s well written and a damned good read (I started it in the morning and only had a few of the profiles at the back to finish off the following day), it’s a New Zealand book and its treatment of girls and women is inspiring and respectful. It illustrates the importance of finding your passion and following the path that is right for you and not necessarily the one others are pushing you towards.

I’m far from being a young adult, but I really enjoyed this book. L P Hansen was the winner of the Jack Lasenby Senior Award for Children’s Writing in 2012, and also wrote Bad Oil and the Animals, and An Unexpected Hero. If The Fire Keeper’s Girl is anything to go by, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she became one of New Zealand’s most popular authors.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Fire Keeper’s Girls
by L P Hansen
Published by Onepoto
ISBN 9780473444723

Book Review: Why is that Lake so Blue? by Simon Pollard

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_whay_is_that_lake_so_blue.jpgIt is fascinating to read that it is rock flour which gives some of the South Island lakes such as Pukaki and Tekapo their brilliant aquamarine colour in a new book by Simon Pollard. He explains, ‘as glaciers move down the mountains they grind the rocks beneath them. This grinding can turn the rock into a fine dust -rock or glacier flour….. Because it reflects light, the rock flour in the water makes the lake look extremely blue.’

The 130 page volume Why is That Lake So Blue?, published by Te Papa Press is divided into eight chapters all beginning with a question which the author sets out to answer, with a variety of methods such a text, photographs and maps, as well as small pop ups which will be sure to capture children’s interest.

Pollard has succeeded in producing an entertaining and informative children’s guide to New Zealand’s natural world and his passion for the topic shows through in his discussions which are written for 9 to 12-year-olds. However younger children would find lots to interest them as well, with an adult alongside them to assist with the text.

At the rear of the book the question is asked, ‘What can you do to help keep Aotearoa New Zealand magic? Children are directed to check out the Kiwi Conservation Club Hakuturi Toa and conservation activities on the Department of Conservation website, to see how they can ‘keep the magic alive.’

There is also a couple of pages of trickier words which the author has provided excellent explanations, titled ‘what does that word mean?’, to help the children  understand the meaning where it is included in the book. The map of New Zealand is an ideal reference for children to find where a particular topic is located in the country.

Simon Pollard has written a number of children’s books in New Zealand and the United States and he has twice won the Elsie Locke non –fiction book of the year, while it was within the LIANZA awards.

I love this book and have picked it up a number of times over the last month to browse the colourful pages. I wish I had had access to this publication when I was at school, and I am sure it will be a valuable asset to any school or home library.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Why is That Lake so Blue?
by Simon Pollard
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994146014

Book review: The Kingfisher’s Debt, by Kura Carpenter

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_kingfishers_debtTamsin Fairchild, thought to be a physic by local police, is called in to assist when the body of a baby is found at the Forsyth Bar Stadium in Dunedin. She teams up with Officer Scott Gale to examine the bizarre crime scene and they wonder is it a satanic ritual or hoax?

‘There wasn’t a spell painted on the body …..And there was no sacrifice. The baby was already dead, a preserved medical specimen.’

Kura Carpenter’s novel The Kingfisher’s Debt, unravels two storylines as it moves from the present day crime and another mystery disappearance during the summer twelve years ago.

The story weaves through layers, starting with alternating chapters of past and present running in parallel, with the reader learning about the Fair Folk of Dunedin, their Elemental rivals and their darkly exciting half  hidden world.

Reading The Kingfisher’s Debt took me on a wild romp around Dunedin to many places I have been to, but after reading this Urban Fantasy I will look and think differently about these familiar places.

Carpenter’s crisp descriptive writing is delightful and I could mentally picture many places she includes in the novel. ‘Their vivid dark blooms a tangle of untrimmed canes. The state of the roses, like the cars filling every space along Pitt Street, indicated this neighbourhood was primarily rental properties.’ The cover of the book is stunning and inviting, with appropriate photos cleverly aligned in the kingfisher photo.

I enjoy a good thriller / mystery but this book is unlike what I normally read, with fantasy elements skillfully interwoven throughout, adding more intrigue and mystery to the plot, and keeping me guessing to the end. The ending was strong but I am hoping the Dunedin based author will write a sequel to The Kingfisher’s Debt, so we can get a chance to learn more about these characters and the Power of the Solstice.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Kingfisher’s Debt
by Kura Carpenter
Published by IFWG Publishing
ISBN 9780994522924