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

Book Review: Roar, by Cecelia Ahern

Available in bookshops nationwide.

roar.jpgWe have probably all had moments of feeling overwhelmed and just wanting to stand and roar, frustrated with a task in hand or a more complex issue affecting many women in the world.

Cecelia Ahern has recognized this and written a stimulating collection of short stories which focus on many of the issues the modern woman lives with today.

The quotation by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton at the beginning of the book ‘I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers to big to ignore’, sets the theme for the book.

Each of the thirty stories in Roar concentrates on a woman at a different stage of her life, and facing a situation challenging to them at that particular time.

The author has chosen not to give these women names instead she refers to them as ‘the woman’. Each chapter is given a title such as ‘The woman who was kept on the shelf’, or ‘The Woman who forgot her Name’ which gives you an idea about the storyline. There is an element of fantasy in many of the cleverly written tales some of which I could relate to. By exaggerating the situations ‘the woman’ finds herself in, Ahern highlights and celebrates the strength and resilience of women and all their differences. Her punchy writing style accentuates the ideas she is trying to convey, ‘She starts by slowing down, taking timeout so she can read a book…

She goes away for a night with Paul.

She has a weekend away with friends.

She starts jogging….

She blows the feather off until everything is clear again, and she emerges from her fog.’

I enjoy a book of short stories, but I was quite overwhelmed with some of the messages in this collection so did not read more than one at a time, to give me time to absorb and reflect on the writing. It is a very worthwhile read and will appeal to a wide age group especially those who enjoy a quirky fairytale, which is sometimes sad but at times is also a witty exploration of what it is to be a woman in today’s world.

Cecelia Ahern is an Irish novelist whose first work was published in 2004, and since then she has won a number of book awards. Her books are now published in over forty countries and two of her books have been adapted as films.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

by Cecelia Ahern
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008283537

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