Book Review: Trifecta, by Ian Wedde

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_trifecta

Family dysfunction and multiple life failures make great themes for a novel, especially when written by a writer such as Ian Wedde.

There is nothing dull or boring here, the writing is engaging, as are the characters: you may not like all of them, but you will find each one has emotional resonance. As a reader, I have often enjoyed books where all I wanted to do with the odd character was strangle them.

Martin and Agnes Klepka are raising a family of three until Martin, a refugee from Nazism who brought with him Modernist Architecture and real coffee suffers an early age heart attack. Our book begins many years down the track with his adult children, who between them are struggling to cope with a bundle of woes: divorce, disgrace, job dissatisfaction, a failing business venture, an alcoholic husband, gambling, even sex and meth addictions.

Martin, while a talented man, was overbearing and ruled the roost with a rather harsh hand. Never particularly warm to Agnes, he had strong opinions about each of his children and he stamped the imprint of these opinions on each with ultimately hellish consequences; Sandy was disliked by his father, Veronica bored her father and Mick –  who was given the poisoned chalice of being Daddy’s favourite – is the one with the multiple addictions.

There is a richness and depth to this book in its explorations of the Klepka children’s struggles, an understanding of how the actions of the adult can so affect a child and how intuitive children are with regards adults’ feelings about them. It explores the whole question of expectations that are placed on a child right from birth for his/her futures and how searingly wrong a life under a weight of expectation can turn out even when the protagonist parent is dead.

This was an engrossing read. I really enjoy this type of book: it would make a fantastic book club read. There is just so much to discuss and this book is more than equal to the American books that are such a book club staple. I will certainly have my book club read it, and I have the person who is leading at our next book club evening reading it first and coming up with two or three questions to kick things off.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Trifecta
by Ian Wedde
Published by VUP
ISBN 9780864739834

Book Review: The Mermaid Boy, by John Summers

cv_the_mermaid_boy

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.

A collection of non-fiction stories that paint a vivid, colourful and entertaining picture of those experiences that make up life in its many and varied forms.

The author has the gift of being able to take the ordinary and the not so ordinary and spin it into a tale that holds the readers interest and in a number of his stories introduce the reader to new life experiences, some you may like, others not so much. The Frog and the Bunny Rabbit will be a re-run of a time in the life of many readers, the stories reverberate with familiar places and experiences.

Strong writing, a compassionate and empathetic heart and an eye for the humorous side of our world make this collection well worth your reading time.

I thank Hue & Cry Press for this book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

The Mermaid Boy
by John Summers
Published by Hue & Cry Press
ISBN 9780473316457

Book Review: One of Us, by Åsne Seierstad

cv_one_of_usAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

This book was an excellent but very challenging read, the subject matter not being most people’s normal fare.

In 2011, Anders Breivik shot dead 67 teenagers who had gathered on  Utøya Island; young people with a social conscience and a desire to make their mark. Two hours prior, he had left behind 8 dead and 207 injured in a car bombing outside the Prime Minister’s office block in Oslo.

Like most people who watched this atrocity play out on TV footage, the biggest question for Seierstad was,”What would motivate anyone to commit such an act?”

In this brilliantly written, deftly paced book, Seierstad delves deeply into the lives of Breivik and two of his young victims. She attempts to give us answers, shining the light on the somewhat miserable life of Breivik: his rootlessness, his lack of social skills or empathy, his coldness and glacial pomposity; in comparison to the quite opposite lives of Simon Saebo and Bano Rashid up until the point that they were killed. Their future was most likely to be one of achievement, if their lives up until that point were any indication.

They didn’t get to live those lives but Seierstad honours them and their fellow victims by her writing and by her well researched efforts to unearth the paths they all followed, leading to their meeting under such horrid circumstances.

Like perpetrators and victims in most modern mass murders, the profiles are hauntingly similar and if anything, this book put me in my mind of the massacre at Columbine High School, simply for the terror that the victims faced, the closeness, the unexpectedness of their attacker, the planned randomness. Equally, the Oslo car bombing was reminiscent of the Oklahoma City Bombing, especially in the materials used. There is never much individuality in the actions of these perpetrators and it is chilling to think of the attention Breivik may have given to these prior events.

This is a book that draws you in, carries you along and leaves you in awe of the authors’ abilities, especially her ability to make the unbearable at least readable. While the events on  Utøya Island in particular are not easy reading this is a book well worth your reading time.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

One of Us
by Åsne Seierstad
Published by Virago Press
ISBN 9781844089208

Book Review: In the hands of strangers…a memoir by Beverly Wardle-Jackson

Available at bookstores nationwide.cv_in_the_hands_of_strangers

This is a powerful and disturbing book, the story of a child removed from her home and family and thrown into a Child Welfare system that should have protected and nurtured her, but in fact did the opposite.

For whatever reasons, her mother found herself unable/unwilling to cope with the demands of raising Beverly and her siblings, and in what was considered a good option in those days, handed them over to Child Welfare, perhaps imagining that the children were going to live a life that would be far better than the one on offer with her.

They were not. Beverly, a pretty, intelligent girl found herself being beaten, punished for the most trivial of childish behaviour, the smallest mistakes and the simple behaviour we would now call adolescence. Nothing was unworthy of a good beating at the hands of the adults that most rational outsiders would have thought were there to look out for the children. It is very hard to imagine the mindsets of these “caregivers”, how anything in their psyche could have lead them to believe that they were doing the right thing for the children. One might simply say that at one time in NZ, children were perceived as being in need of correction to the extent that it was decided that beating, abusing them, and locking them up was the best way to go.

This book was not an easy read, but it was a very good one. Beverly tells her story with a straight up honesty and a transparency that you can’t help but be moved by. In spite of all her trauma and suffering, despite the psychiatric treatment forced upon her, Beverly has moved forward, leading a very normal and satisfying life with children and grandchildren. She is active in seeking justice for her suffering, and in making society aware of what went on in those once highly-regarded Social Welfare Homes; and the damage caused to the many thousands who passed through them. On top of their ill treatment, these children also lost their families, their identities and are still relatively voiceless to this day.

A well-written book, it adds a voice to a time and place in New Zealand history that shouldn’t simply be brushed aside. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone wishing to work with children who have come into our still-flawed welfare system; it should also be read by those working with suffers of PTSD which can be traced back to their childhood and adolescence experiences in schools and homes linked to Social Welfare Care.

I thank Penguin Random House for this book.

Reivewed by Marion Dreadon

In the hands of strangers…a memoir
by Beverly Wardle-Jackson
Published by Penguin Books (NZ)
ISBN 9780143572329

Book Review: Teddy One-Eye, by Gavin Bishop

cv_teddy_one-eyeAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Telling the story of a boy’s life using his Teddy Bear as the narrator takes the reader on a rather unique and magical journey. This book is a warm and engaging tale that shows just how very special our childhood ‘friends’ are and the role they can play in our lives, especially when change and growth seem rather scary and frightening. Although he his rather battered and tatty and has only one eye, Teddy is a much-loved companion and this is reflected in the warmth of this story.

Life might not always be easy, but Teddy is brave and courageous. He might sometimes be forgotten and even left outside overnight, but in his special Teddy way he is always needed. Teddy, of course, is the heart of this story. He is the friend we all need when things are not quite right and who better to tell the story of this author’s life than Teddy: after all, there is nothing he doesn’t know about him.

This is one of those books that will become a favourite, one of those special books
that is recalled with love and passed down through generations. As usual, Gavin Bishop has done a fabulous job, and like his other books, this one will create precious memories and bring magic into its readers’ lives.

I thank Random House NZ for this lovely book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Teddy One-Eye
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775537274

Book Review: After Z-Hour, by Elizabeth Knox

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Icv_after_z_hour had never previously read Elizabeth Knox, despite her being one of New Zealand’s most admired writers, but this is about to change. This story drew me in and simply wouldn’t let me go.

There was nothing I didn’t like, the characters were strong, real and very well-developed, the plot line went in and out of the time frames seamlessly, and Knox had obviously put a lot of time into her research. I have read a lot of fiction and non-fiction related to the Great War, and Knox has got this period and the horror of the experience spot on.

Seventy years after a young returned serviceman dies, six young people stranded by nightmarish weather get to chatting and sharing bits of their own stories when a mysterious seventh voice joins the conversation. Here, the natural and the supernatural come together and really give this tale a bite, and the reader is taken on a most interesting journey, one that is filled with twists and turns of the mind kind, the kind that leave you thinking “God, what next?”

The writing is lush, vivid and powerful, gritty words where needed, pretty words where needed.

The characters draw you into the story and hold you, while the introduction of the seventh voice completes the process. Once both have got you, there is no backing out, you are captured by the story, and there is no putting this book down until the last page.

Love and compassion, empathy and understanding are on the pages of this book. The understanding Knox has of the power of war experiences is quite remarkable. Many of the experiences and emotional consequences of war are only now being acknowledged, as veterans return from the frontline, and occasionally, commit horrendous crimes.

I loved this book. Along with Anthony Doer’s All the Light we Cannot See, it will rank as one of my best reads this year, and the best part is, it was the last thing I expected. Thank you Elizabeth Knox.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

After Z-Hour
by Elizabeth Knox
Published by VUP
ISBN 9780864739230

Book Review: The Rabbit and the Shadow, by Melanie Rutten

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.

This was an immensely captivating book which deftlcv_the_rabbit_and_the_shadowy explored life issues through the eyes of an interesting cast of animals and took you on their journey, a journey that sees the characters grow up, conquer their fears and learn that all important lesson: how to live together. Personification can be tricky to pull off but not in the hands of Melanie Rutten. Her story is divided into 10 chapters, and the reader learns and shares with the characters as they explore and confront their world and its challenges.

The illustrations match the situation and enhance the telling of the story perfectly, they add just that little bit extra with the use of dark and light. The facial expression illustrations are some of the best I have ever seen.

This book would be ideal as a shared classroom experience and also as a parent/child read. As it has ten chapters it would be best spread out, and is probably best suited for those 8 years and older as some of the nuances would be above the understanding of younger children. It could also be used in a Social Skills teaching situation as the issues the book lends itself to are often seen in these groups.

I thank Book Island for this very thoughtful book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

The Rabbit and the Shadow
by Melanie Rutten
Published by Book Island
ISBN  9780994109804

Book Review: I don’t want to go to school! by Stephanie Blake

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_i_don't_want_to_go_to_school

The words above are those that most parents hear at one time or another and the feeling of dread they induce is not forgotten quickly. When Simon Rabbit’s mother cheerfully shares the news that tomorrow is Day One of the school experience, Simon isn’t the least bit keen and it seems that no amount of encouragement is going to change his mind.

Beautifully illustrated and with child friendly text, this colourful book is ideal as a shared read or as a read alone for the emergent reader, it’s size is ideal for holding and the bright, clear and funky illustrations will appeal immensely to both adults and children.

There is delightful humour in this book and the characters are a great example of personification well done, their responses and reactions are real and easily identifiable and the ending is delightful.

I thank Gecko Press and Booksellers NZ for this lovely book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

I don’t want to go to school!
by Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781877579080

Book Review: Line Up Please, by Tomoko Ohmura

cv_line_up_pleaseAvailable in bookstores nationwide. 

An ingenious little book with a delightful cast of animals, this book hooks you immediately with the question: What’s everyone waiting for?

A sign and a cute little frog numbered 50 start the journey. Now, counting backwards is far harder than frontwards, and this is where the genius of this book lies: to get to No 1 in the line you start with the frog and end with the elephant. Not only does this book cover the counting bases, it has all sorts of neat and nifty word usages. From Word Chain and querying the wait, to the normal expressions of frustration at having to wait usually seen on the faces of people, this is a book that uses personification well. There are twists and turns and the odd clue as to what our ending may be.

The illustrations are beautifully drawn and the language features allow for teaching moments. Meanthile, the different font usage and in particular the various expressions on the animals faces make this an easy read for a child. Equally, it would make a great shared story.

And why and for what are we waiting…well you’ll just have to wait and see, start at 50 and go all the way up to 1!

by Marion Dreadon

Line Up, Please
by Tomoko Ohmura
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781877579998

Book Review: How does the Giraffe get to Work?, by Christopher Llewelyn & Scott Tulloch

Available now in bookstores nationwide. cv_how_does_the_giraffe_get_to_work

This beautifully illustrated book is a fine example of how personification can be used to take an everyday situation, replace people with animals, and using word families and onomatopoeia weave a very entertaining tale with a nice simple twist at the end.

In our tale, the zoo animals do not stay overnight but return home, only to face having to return in the morning with all the trials that can come from having to share your morning ride with friends and foe, plus all those unexpected extras that can really ruffle the day’s start.

This book is very easy to read and is well suited to a variety of age groups, it would also be useful for ESOL children and as an accompaniment to a Word Work lesson. The illustrations alone would provide endless opportunities for discussion on a wide variety of topics.

An excellent example of what is available for young readers and their parents.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

How does the Giraffe get to Work?
by Christopher Llewelyn & Scott Tulloch
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432463