Book Review: A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley, by Elspeth Sandys

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_communist_in_the_family.jpgRewi Alley was thirty-two years old when he decided ‘to go and have a look at China’, leaving family in New Zealand. It was 1927, he had always dreamed of a life in the army, but after returning from World War 1 he found little for him in New Zealand and after a stint at farming in the North Island left to check out the Chinese revolution.

Arriving in Shanghai, Rewi was soon employed as a fire inspector for the Municipal Council in the British International Settlement, before being promoted to a factory inspector. But he found this to be a ‘miserable experience’ with many of the workers ‘not more than eight or nine years old’ being beaten by the foreman ‘with a piece Of Number Eight gauge wire as a whip’. Ultimately it is the plight of the children as factory slaves as well as orphans of war and famine which give him the courage to leave his job and follow the dream of Gung Ho.

In 2017 Elspeth Sandys, a cousin of Rewi Alley, travelled to China with other family members to mark the ninetieth anniversary of Rewi’s arrival in Shanghai. In her book A Communist in the Family she follows that journey as well as including much of Rewi Alley’s life. A great deal of this comes from Alley’s own writing, letters home, poems, memoirs and other books he has written .

A Communist in the family: Searching for Rewi Alley is written with a great deal of detail and the reader feels part of the journey as the family travels from Beijing to the remote Shandan province on the border of Inner Mongolia, visiting many sites which were significant in Rewi’s life .There was also time for temples and marvelling at 18metre high gold Buddha before their guide would be calling them ‘Alley whanau! Attention please. Follow my flag. This way’…

Sandys has included photographs of Rewi and many of the people who were important in his life, as well as some wonderful photographs captured during the family trip in 2017. The page of Māori words and New Zealand slang at the rear of the book will be helpful for readers from other countries, and the End Notes provide excellent information for people wanting to do more research.

I found this a fascinating read, as Sandys’ beautiful descriptive writing had me feeling part of the journey through modern China, while Alley’s poems reminded me of the harsh history China has endured. It is a solid read but I found it particularly interesting. As New Zealand now has close links with China for trade, it will be of interest to many people.

Elspeth Sandys has published nine novels, two collections of short stories and two memoirs. She has written extensively for the BBC and for RNZ as well as for TV and film. Elspeth lived for many years in the UK but has been back in her home country of New Zealand since 1990.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley
by Elspeth Sandys
Published by OUP
ISBN 9781988531601

 

Book Review: How to Escape from Prison, by Dr Paul Wood

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_how_to_escape_from_prisonPaul Wood was convicted of murder and imprisoned at age eighteen spending the next eleven years in Mt Crawford, Paremoremo, and Rimutaka prisons.

He has recorded these years in a recently released book How to Escape From Prison, a harrowing read of a young man’s journey with drug addiction and violence before his escape from his “mental prison’ enabled him to complete a degree while still in prison.

A mental prison Wood explains is a ‘set of distorted or misguided beliefs that condition our view of ourselves and the choices available to us, that prevent us from seeing clearly what we might achieve if we chose to live freely.’

Growing up in Wellington, Wood progressed from fighting with his brothers and dropping out of school, as well as becoming caught up in the drug scene before killing his drug dealer with a baseball bat, three days after the death of his mother.

How to Escape from Prison records Paul’s life behind bars and the people he meet inside who encouraged his road to redemption and the completion of a masters degree in psychology. He commenced further study for a doctorate while in prison completing this on his release and graduating on 2011.

The writing style is simple and easy to follow although the graphic detailing of the drug taking and prison life is at times overwhelming and I felt enormous relief as Paul Woods found his pathway to freedom through study. He said, “Once I discovered reading, I began to read voraciously”, and throughout the book he has included many quotations from books which assisted in his rehabilitation. His Five Steps to Freedom outlined in part two of the book include good advice and strategies to help people escape their mental prisons, and he has also shared “a list of things that assist in the development and exercise of self-control” which he calls “Willpower 101”.

Paul Wood lives in Wellington and is a motivational speaker and leadership and personal development specialist. He contributes regularly to the media and works with charities that focus on helping young men avoid prison or reintegrate on release. How to Escape from Prison is an inspiring read and valuable resource for anyone needing help to fulfil their potential and turn their dreams into reality.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

How To Escape from Prison
by Dr Paul Wood
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN‎: ‎9781775541196

Book Review: I Love Tomato Sauce, by Nicky Sievert

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_love_tomato_sauceMost children love tomato sauce, and will enjoy this fun story of how this family enjoys their tomato sauce. The boy in the story likes his sauce on most of the food he eats, even on party food. But there are issues in the family as his parents can’t decide which bottle is the best to use, his dad prefers the upside down bottle, while Mum likes the old squeeze bottle shaped like a tomato. The small pots in the fish and chip shop are preferred by big sister Ariana, but Aunty Kirsty makes her own tomato sauce, as does Nan’s neighbour Cyril.

When the family go on a picnic they have to pack everyone’s preferred tomato sauce, but they are so busy organizing the sauce they forget the food to go with it.

The day is not ruined as Nan has brought a loaf of bread to feed the ducks, and the family enjoy their sauce on the bread.

The simple story will appeal to most children, the script has words highlighted in bold which emphasize key points, and there will be lots of talking points in the colourful illustrations.

Supplying Aunt Kirsty’s recipe is a nice addition, which could lead to a fun activity for a family to do if they have surplus tomatoes growing.

A page at the back discussing some of the sign language used in the illustrations is quite unique and should generate discussion with children and adults reading the book. I liked this inclusion as it would enable children with hearing impairments to be more included in the New Zealand classroom.

Nicky Sievert grew up in Hawkes Bay, studied art in Wellington and lives in Lower Hutt. I Love Tomato Sauce is the first book she has written and illustrated, although in 2018 she illustrated Our Dad, written by David Ling.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

I Love Tomato Sauce
by Nicky Sievert
Published by Duck Creek Press
ISBN 9781927305560

Book Review: Song of the River, by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_song_of_the_river.jpg‘I wish I could see the sea’, Cam said to his Grandfather, who promptly replies ‘One day we will go there’.

But curiosity gets the better of the young boy and when he sees a trickle of water on the hillside among the trees he sets off to follow it down the mountain to see where it leads.

Cam takes us on a journey through the forest, farms, into towns, and past factories until he reaches the sea which ‘was wild and blue and beautiful.. and it went on forever.’

Song of the River is beautifully illustrated by Kimberly Andrews, who grew up in the mountains of Canada, and this is clearly reflected in the muted colours as well as the details among the pages. We see owls and squirrels hidden in trees, a sleeping bear, as well as beautiful forest flowers.

The story was originally published 25 years ago but this exquisite hard cover edition will bring joy to another generation of children as they learn how a trickle of water becomes a creek, a rushing stream, growing into a river which flows into the sea. Andrews’ art shows the reader where frogs and fish live among the rocks in the water, and the variety of boats included increases the children’s understanding of the importance of water transport.

Kimberley Andrews lives in a converted shipping container tiny house in Wellington. She illustrated Explore Aotearoa, and the first book she wrote and illustrated Puffin the Architect published in 2018, won the inaugural NZ Booklovers Best Children’s Book 2019.

Joy Cowley’s story is a wonderful tale which children can relate, and Andrews’ illustrations have breathed new life into all the pages, and I can imagine children and adults spending time exploring the details. The graphic map showing the river flowing from the mountains to the sea is also a nice inclusion on the inside front and back cover.

My grandchildren and I have loved this book, being drawn into the adventure as the voice of the waterfall sang, ‘Yes, yes. Come with me. I will take you to the sea.’

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Song of the River
by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572533

Book Review: Bambi the Blind Alpaca, by Jan Lummis, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Bambi the Blind Alpaca HR.jpgBambi the alpaca loves his brother Charisma and they enjoy each other company as they eat together, play together and sleep together. But Charisma is also Bambi’s support, as Bambi is blind and relies on his brother to guide him around the paddock so he avoids banging into fences and gates.

When Charisma is shifted out of the paddock Bambi finds it difficult to fend for himself, becoming sad and stops eating. Even the sheep which are put in the paddock for company don’t bring Bambi out of his misery. But when Renaldo another alpaca arrives, Bambi is thrilled and before long, ‘Everywhere Renaldo went, Bambi went too.’

This is a heart -warming book all the more so, as it is based on a true story which author Jan Lummis was encouraged to write after the report of the two alpacas on her property made headlines in the media.

The illustrations by Jenny Cooper are an absolute delight, the facial expressions on the animals will be loved by children and adults alike, and each time I have read the book I have chuckled at a different animal’s face.

Having two alpacas in a neighbouring paddock has seen my interest in these animals develop, but I still found the two pages at the rear of the book fascinating, and I am sure the facts about alpacas will provide valuable discussion points for children at school or at home.

This simple tale of friendship and love, as well as supporting someone with a disability, so will be of value to a wide age group, and with the repetition of words throughout, will soon have children repeating, “Munch, Munch, Munch, Cuddle, Cuddle, Cuddle”.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Bambi the Blind Alpaca
by Jan Lummis, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435877

Book Review: Frensham, a New Zealand Garden, by Margaret Long and Juliet Nicholas

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_frensham_a_new_zealand_garden.jpgFrensham is a large garden just over a hectare, on the southern edge of Christchurch city. It was developed by Margaret Long and her husband Ron when they moved to the property twenty-seven years ago, the seven-year old-house having little garden around it at that stage. It has been a labour of love for Margaret which she shares in a stunning book as she takes the reader on a tour of the garden through the seasons.

In the prologue Long says ‘I embarked enthusiastically on my gardening journey, creating spaces and purchasing the many and varied plants then available from nurseries.’

Her husband Ron assisted with making structures to enhance the plantings and the name evolved from the rose Frensham, as it had been her father’s favourite rose.

‘The bush fires of 2017 … were the catalyst for Margaret’s wish to have a photographic record of the garden. The idea of writing the book about the creation of the garden…. was reconsidered now, and she realized that it would be the photographs alongside her words which would best tell the story,’ says Marilyn McRae in her introduction.

Frensham is an eye-catching hard cover book, with the author focusing on the four seasons and highlighting trees and plants which are a real feature during a particular month. Complimenting the text are numerous quality photographs by Christchurch photographer Juliet Nicholas. She has ‘lived’ with Frensham for an entire year, photographing its changes through the months and the seasons, and providing a unique insight into the growth and development of the garden.

The Long’s have shared their garden to visitors for twenty five years, being a wonderful venue for fundraising events at any time of the year. I was fortunate to visit Frensham earlier this year with a school fundraising tour of a number of neighbouring gardens, and as I look through the pages of the book I can relive my visit. It is a glorious book which can be picked up time and time again, and will be a handy reference to new gardeners as Margaret’s advice on planting and pruning is invaluable. She has accumulated a wealth of knowledge of plants and gardens over the years both here and overseas which is evident throughout the pages of this informative book with the inclusion of botanical plant names.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Frensham, A New Zealand Garden
by Margaret Long and Juliet Nicholas
Published by Quentin Wilson Publishing
ISBN 9780995105324

 

 

 

Book Review: One Single Thing, by Tina Clough

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_one_single_thingJournalist Hope Barber disappears two weeks after returning to New Zealand from an assignment in Pakistan, leaving her front door open and her bag and phone in the house.

Hope’s brother Noah contacts Hunter Grant and his partner Dao, to investigate her disappearance as the New Zealand police are reluctant to become involved. The reader is soon drawn into the mystery with the author cleverly incorporating details about Hope’s time in Pakistan which seems to raise more questions.

When I received One Single Thing, I was intrigued by the cover, a plain black background with a white wheelie bin on the front cover, but it was soon revealed within Hope’s blog why this simple design was used by Tara Cooney Design.

This is the first book by this New Zealand-based author I have read and I found it a thoroughly absorbing read. Hunter had appeared in a previous book by Clough, The Chinese Proverb, when he used his front-line Army experience to save Dao.
I soon picked up the background to the earlier book as Clough recaps key facts at intervals in the early chapters of One Single Thing, so I did not feel at a disadvantage picking up the story at this stage.

The novel highlights a number of modern global issues, such as ‘honour killings’ which Hope Barber had been investigating in Pakistan; and Clough skillfully incorporates how surveillance can affect someone’s life without them being are of what is going on.

The story moves along at a steady pace, the chapters are short and I enjoyed Clough’s descriptive style: ‘The rain starts as we drive on to the Harbour Bridge; within minutes it is a downpour of tropical proportions. The windscreen is a blur of running water, cleared for only a fraction of a second by each sweep of the wiper blades.’

Anyone who enjoys crime/ mystery novels will find this an engrossing read and I am wondering if Tina Clough will find another assignment for Hunter Grant, Dao and their dog Scruff, as she has established solid characters which will appeal to not just New Zealanders but a worldwide readership.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

One Single Thing
by Tina Clough
Published by Lightpool Publishing
ISBN 9780473469139