Book Review: The Wideawake Hat, By Amanda Giorgis

Available at The Twizel Bookshop

cv_the_wideawake_hatFrom the Scottish highlands to the South Island of New Zealand, life was harsh for early pioneers, but Sophia and George McKay had hopes for a better future when they stepped ashore on Boxing Day 1848. The reader takes the journey with them as they travel inland to begin a life farming sheep in the Mackenzie Basin.

In her preface, author Amanda Giorgis explains ‘the area takes its name from James MacKenzie, who with his black and white collie dog Friday, famously rustled a thousand sheep and took them into the basin in mid-1850’. Living in the area she has explored much of the area so has been able to portray vividly the landscape and conditions to which the early settlers would encounter. The story of James MacKenzie caught the imagination of Giorgis and a friend as they were discovering more and more places associated with his name, and so the seed of this story were sown. ‘Here is my interpretation of James’ story born from the other sets of footprints found when he was arrested with the sheep.’

I love this area of New Zealand and have enjoyed a number of trips and holidays there, but this book brought it to life for me again with the strong historical storyline which had me engrossed from the first page.

It is an interesting read as it is pure fiction with solid, resilient characters ideal for the pioneering adventure they set out on. The author has woven historical details cleverly into the book. The interaction of the new settlers with local Māori has also been skillfully incorporated and the use of the Māori language adds intensity at appropriate times.

Amanda Giorgis was born in Somerset, England, emigrating to New Zealand in 2008. She lives in the MacKenzie district. I look forward to further writing by this author as The Wideawake Hat is her first novel , and the first in the Applecross Saga. It will be of interest to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with some suspense as well as those with an interest in farming.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Wideawake Hat
by Amanda Giorgis

No ISBN recorded

Book Review: Ajax the Kea Dog, by Corey Mosen

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_ajax_the_kea_dogAjax is a working dog trained to sniff out the nests of endangered kea in remote parts of the South Island. His trainer, Corey Mosen, then places cameras in and around the nests to monitor the kea and any predators that might attack them.

Corey Mosen is a wildlife biologist working for the Department of Conservation and picked the Border Collie / Catahoula cross pup from a litter in Westport, after being advised the Catahoula were highly intelligent and had heaps of energy, making them suitable for the hard work in the high country. His book describes how he trained the pup to seek out the nests and the rigorous testing which took around 18 months before he was approved. Ajax is one of around 80 dogs in New Zealand who work to detect protected species or unwanted pests as part of the internationally recognised Conservation Dogs Programme.

The pair use a helicopter for many of the journeys and often camp out together in the remote terrain of the high country. It is a wonderful story of a man and his mate working together in unpredictable weather and harsh conditions and Mosen has included a great selection of photographs many snapped by him while they have been out on the job.

The author has also included chapters ‘Introducing the Kea’ and ‘Threats to the Kea’ which discuss the habits of the mountain parrot and I was unaware kea nest underground, making them particularly vulnerable to stoats, wild cats, possums – and even ‘rats have been seen hooking into kea eggs.’

The Appendix provides information about the Kea Conservation Trust supplied by Tamsin Orr- Walker, as well as information about ways to help kea and resolving conflict with kea.

Ajax the Kea Dog is an interesting read written with humour, and portrays the wonderful bond between a man and his dog carrying out important conservation work. Before reading this book I had not realised that kea were considered endangered in New Zealand as I have often encountered the cheeky parrot while visiting the high country. A wide age group will enjoy this publication and it could sit well in a library in a secondary school to promote a career in conservation.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Ajax the Kea Dog
by Corey Mosen
Allen & Unwin New Zealand
ISBN 9781760633615

Book Review: Scarfie Flats Of Dunedin, by Sarah Gallagher with Ian Chapman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_scarfie_flats_of_dunedinJust mention the words ‘Toad hall, ‘The Dog Box’, Footrot Flats’ or ‘Shrieking Shack’ to anyone who has studied at Otago University and these legendary flats will trigger a hilarious yarn or two of escapades during their scarfie days.

In 2000, while studying at the University, Sarah Gallagher was preparing a presentation on the theme of ephemera, and felt the signs on flats she walked among everyday were just what she was looking for. Scarfie Flats of Dunedin is a result of the eighteen year research project, ‘into the flats, their tenants and their tales’. Gallagher collected more than 600 names, the earliest dating back to the 1930’s , and these have been recorded in the rear of the book, as well as a map of the area noting the locality of all the featured flats.

Having been a student in Dunedin in the mid 1960’s I was intrigued by this title and keen to delve into the student sector of the city again. Many flats seem to be the same as when I left. Of course I have continued my connection with having two daughters study there and now my first granddaughter has recently graduated as a doctor, so we have seen some changes, but more likely just a coat of paint.

This hardback book has sat on my coffee table for a month and I have enjoyed the nostalgic journey with Sarah Gallagher as she learned how the flats got their names and who might have lived in them.

Interesting to see the TV Ones Seven Sharp programme visit one such flat recently, 660 Castle street, where the band Six60 had its beginnings in 2006. The boys had spent time jamming in their rooms at UniCol and ‘thought it would be good to flat together and get a band going’.

Other contributors have also added their point of view along with Dr Ian Chapman and the photographs brought it all together for me. Our family has pored over these with many a laugh and story.

Scarfie Flats will be enjoyed by many ages, as it is an engaging read, and well researched, a valuable record for Otago University but would sit well on everyone’s coffee table.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Scarfie Flats Of Dunedin
by Sarah Gallagher with Ian Chapman
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995110441

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