Book Review: The Cage, by Lloyd Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_cageYou can always rely on Lloyd Jones to come up with something new. He never writes about the same thing and he rarely, in my opinion, writes in the same way (although he might argue with that).

The idea for this latest novel was brought together during a visit to Germany where his daughter was working with refugees, while he was a resident in the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin programme in 2016-2017.

The Cage is a horrific work. Two strangers arrive in a small NZ town, unable or unwilling to provide information on how they got there. The hotel owner takes them in initially, but a series of events culminates in their living outdoors in a cage. The prototype for the cage was the strangers’ own creation but the reality of its growth was brought about by the actions of the hotelier, his family, his staff and the townspeople.

The strangers effectively become prisoners. The narrator is responsible for recording their activities and reporting to the Trust which has been set up to keep them contained until they are told the whole story. The cage has a key, but it’s apparently missing so the strangers can’t be released. And then, no-one wants to release them until they know their history. Paranoia about the unknown is ever-present, and horribly well drawn by Lloyd Jones – so much so that it’s almost possible to think that you, the reader, can understand why the locals behave as they do. I say almost, deliberately, as I found myself ranting at the narrator to do the right thing – get a pair of tinsnips and cut the damn cage open just for starters.

At one point, quite far along in the story and I won’t give any spoilers about why, the narrator asks ‘What is the question? The question is this. At what point did I know what was going to happen?The second question. Why did I not do anything to prevent it?’

From very early in this novel, I was reminded of the work by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. Though possibly that’s because the hotel cook is called Viktor, so maybe this is not coincidental at all, nor as insightful as I first thought it might be.

But that’s what comes through: how easy it is to ignore the bad or evil things around us; how easy to pretend that something essentially bad can be construed as being “for their own good”; how hard it is to stand up against what we know, deep inside us, is wrong.

This novel is a modern fable, allegory, call it what you will. It’s certainly a hard read, but it throws up age-old questions about trust, responsibility, speaking up, justice and injustice, and above all taking action when you can.

Steel yourself, and read it.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Cage 
by Lloyd Jones
Published by  Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143772323

Sarah Forster reviewed an event featuring Lloyd Jones at the NZ Festival Writers & Readers Festival – check it out here. 

 

Book Review: I am Jellyfish, by Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_am_jellyfish.jpgWhen you buy this book, make sure to take it into a darkened room to admire – the cover is wreathed with glow in the dark jellyfish and a fearsome swordfish’s eye.

Poor Jelly is being teased by Swordfish for not having a reason for existing, as she lives her peaceful existence: ‘Jellyfish shrugged, jellyfish sighed. “I go with the flow,” she softly replied.’ When Swordfish tries to eat her, she drops, into the deep, dark ocean; and swordfish follows, well beyond his comfort zone. Where other predators of the sea await.

Ruth Paul has been writing and illustrating books (and having them published!) since 2005, and this particular book reminds me of one of my favourites of hers, Superpotamus! The rhyme scheme is similar, with a phrase that repeats with mild variations, and the storyline is similarly delightful. This may be the first picture book I’ve ever read with a Giant Squid as the big baddie.

Swordfish learns a little more about himself, and a lot more about jellyfish, when he is saved from the predator (spoiler alert) by the very fish he was aiming to have for dinner. Jellyfish, in turn, and after teaching Swordfish a lesson, is reminded of her own usefulness and becomes more certain of herself as the book concludes, saying “I am what I am.”

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, using dappled tones and bright colours to pop the fish against the background, which heads to absolute black as we dive many fathoms deep. The expressions of the fish are hilarious, particularly the lanternfish, who has the expression of a country yokel in every B-grade Western ever made!

I recommend this for those with curious children, who ask a million why’s and have an interest in what exactly goes on, under the surface of our great oceans. Age 2+.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I am Jellyfish
by Ruth Paul
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771159

 

 

Book Review: Tui Street Tales, by Anne Kayes

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tui_street_tales.jpgWinner of the Tom Fitzgibbon award in 2016, Tui Street Tales is a fun and slightly fantastical collection of interconnecting stories, starring the children of Tui Street and taking a modern and quirky twist on traditional fairy tales. With short chapters and quirky stories, this collection should readily engage the junior reader (ages 8-10). I also enjoyed the New Zealand flavour, which incorporated wildlife, and the occasional phrase in Te Reo.

The collection opens with Jack and the Morepork, introducing us to the first two children, Jack and Tim. The boys begin by discussing their teacher, Mr Tamati’s latest assignment, the fairy tale project, in which they have been challenged to find fairy tale themes in their own lives. Scientific research is the key, and the two boys begin seeking evidence to prove some extraordinary theories – including the possible existence of a giant living in the enormous tree at the end of Jack’s drive. In not-too-subtle terms, the nature of using fairy tales to solve difficult situations is explored, and the traditional outcomes challenged.

Ella’s mother died, and she has difficult relating to her new stepmother and sisters. Instead, she spends her time alone, sorting out the recycling from the rubbish (and the dead river rats from the rest), whilst clinging tight to her grief. Her fairy godmother comes from an unlikely source, but can she help bring Ella out from herself, and teach her better how to relate with her new family and friends?

Harry and Gemma live a life divided between their mother, and their father and his new partner, Lula. When they are forced to change schools, into the very upmarket and prestigious “Visions”, the children struggle to adapt. Harry is pushed just a bit too far, and the two children begin a dangerous journey – making their way back to their “true” home of Tui Street. However, Lula has her wicked eye on them…

As a school project, Ella, Tim and Jack, vow to rejuvenate Waimoe, the dried-out creek behind their house, and appease the angry Maero that haunts the neighbourhood. Before they can plant the trees to bring Waimoe back, however, they must face Mr Thompson, the grumpy old man whose family were responsible for the creek’s disappearance.

Louie is lonely, all but trapped inside his neat and tidy house by a mother wrought with worry for his well-being. His only friend, Cloudbird, the tui who sings to him from the tree outside his window. When issued with Mr Tamati’s challenge: for every kid in the class to walk to school for an entire month (thus cutting down the traffic congestion and danger of accidents around the school), he is faced with a terrible dilemma: to disobey his mother, or to let his entire class down.

A story-teller and a dreamer, Lucy learns about topiary, and helps her father by trimming their hedge into a shaggy dog. But topiary is for royalty, and soon the children of the street find themselves visited by an unruly princess in a madcap, wild and weird ride that does, indeed, contain some elements of a shaggy dog tale.

Soccer-playing Terri is the star of the final story. Her aspirations at her sport make her the envy of another player, who takes her jealousy to social media and gossip. Will the support of her new friends, the wheelchair-bound soccer team she is coaching, give her the confidence she needs to beat the bully and succeed?

Tui Street Tales is cleverly executed, allowing children to experience the familiar and adding in a touch of magic, whilst also offering them solutions for their own fairy tale-esque dilemmas. An enjoyable read, that I would also recommend as an easy collection for tales for both parents and teachers to read aloud.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Tui Street Tales
by Anne Kayes
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434726

Book Review: Like Nobody’s Watching, by L J Ritchie

cv_like_nobodys_watching
LJ Ritchie is a graduate of the Whitireia Polytechnic Creative Writing Course and this is his first novel, about surveillance and how easy it is, even when seeking to do good, to become seduced by the power that comes from access to unauthorised information.

The novel is set in a not-so- thinly-disguised Wellington secondary school and revolves around a group of good friends who find that there is a great deal of bullying going on which is caught on camera. However, it seems also that no-one is bothering to check the camera footage regularly, so some fairly unpleasant acts do not get their come-uppance.(Side note – having worked in a school with surveillance cameras, I know just how time-consuming it is to check footage, so its unsurprising to me that bad behaviour goes unnoticed…).

But back to the novel. Of the group, naturally one is an expert hacker and is able to get into the school system undetected by using the password of a former teacher. (Next side note – many teachers have typed their password into a screen visible by students at one time or another. Mostly they report that and change the password. Not in this case, which helps the story!)

The plan is to let the bullies know that they are observed, and thereby potentially end the bullying behaviours , but eventually – and inevitably – the plan goes wrong the roles are reversed.

The story is quite well put together, although I must say I don’t particularly enjoy the present-tense writing style. However it does give a sense of urgency and drives the book along. The characters are pretty well-drawn, if a little stereotypical. We have our geek, with a conscience; pretty and talented girl who turns out to be not as pretty in her behaviour; one of the group with an unspoken crush on the geek…. However, there is enough variety to keep you interested.

Overall, I think it’s an okay, if undemanding,  first novel and should appeal to younger teenaged readers.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Like Nobody’s Watching
by L J Ritchie
Escalator Press
ISBN 9780994137203

Book Review: The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter, by Deborah Challinor

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_cloud_leopards_daughterSet in 1863, the story begins on the Otago Goldfields where the daughter of a Chinese Tong master is kidnapped and whisked off to China and a forced marriage.

We meet up with Kitty and Rian Farrell sailing into Dunedin harbour in their schooner Katipo 111 to meet with their friend Wong Fu who is based at Lawrence, very unwell, and concerned for the wellbeing of his daughter Bao.

The couple agree to sail to China to find the girl and the reader is taken on a fascinating journey which includes pirates, another kidnapping and the opium trade into China.
When their daughter Amber is taken from a hotel in Cebu, Phillipines, Kitty is devastated as this is the fourth time in her life that Amber has been kidnapped. She wonders if she “were being made to pay for plucking Amber from the streets of Auckland when she had been tiny”.

This is the fourth book in the The Smuggler’s Wife Series which are all based on the high seas in the Pacific. This title is easily a stand alone book as I had not read any of the previous books and was soon absorbed into the adventures of the very real, colourful characters brought to life by the descriptive writing.

The author has done a great deal of research into the opium trade into China which has given an interesting depth to the story of an era which has almost been forgotten. In the author notes at the rear of the book Challinor says, “The British reluctantly paid for their pekoe, teacups and bolts of silk in bullion, but, concerned at the amount of silver in particular leaving England, soon realised there was a ready market for opium in china”.

The peaceful but rugged coastline on the front cover of The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter enticed me into this book, I learned a lot about the opium trade, and I believe anyone who likes a family saga with some adventure in it will enjoy it as much as I did.

Deborah Challinor lives in New Zealand with her husband. While at University she did a PhD in military history and when her thesis was described by one of her university supervisors as readable she sent it to a publisher, and came away with a book deal. She has now published fourteen novels in fifteen years. She has also written one young adult novel and two non fiction books.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter
by Deborah Challinor
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460751572

Book Review: No Place to Hide, by Jim Flynn

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_no_place_to_hidJim Flynn encourages the reader of his book to “critically examine” what he has written about the climate debate, not elevating it to “the status of scripture, but assess[ing] everything I say”. He, himself, set out to discover the true facts after, as he puts it, “being assailed by contradictory opinions that ranged from nightmare scenarios to reassurance”.

In his extensively researched book, Flynn comes to the sobering conclusion that at a certain date, likely as early as 2050, global warming may become a self-sustaining process – a state of no return. The greatest illusion, he states, is that the nations will agree to cut their carbon emissions in time to avoid this point of no return.

He sums his findings up with two propositions that were put forward by climate change observers in past studies. The first is that even if current emissions were cut immediately by 20, 50 or 80 percent, 2050 would still be the point of no return where the melting of the polar glaciers, the acidity of the oceans and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere will mean new higher temperatures that will persist for thousands of years.

Secondly, there is no way of de-carbonising the world’s economy that is viable within the next fifty years. For various reasons, all thoroughly explored, conversion of dirty technologies to cleaner ones will initially raise emissions, as the infrastructures of the latter are created and put into place.

The staggering amount of research Flynn has done in producing this book, gives the reader an idea of the complexities of the situation we find ourselves in. There are many factors involved, all interrelated in ways that add to the effects of the damage our planet is sustaining.

Writing before the results of the election in the US were known, Flynn comments – “If the Republicans win the election in 2016 you can kiss American carbon targets goodbye”. He further states that “even if a sane president is elected…” the pressure from the coal, gas and oil lobbies will make it extremely unlikely that the phasing out of the use of fossil fuels will be on the political agenda.

In the last chapter, Flynn puts forward suggestions founded on various studies, of possible solutions, which, in light of his preceding conclusions, seem almost like wishful thinking, a clutching at straws with little hope of seeing a fulfilment. He concludes by asserting that global planning is needed. Clean energy and climate engineering are fundamental to any effective long term strategy. 2050 need not be the point of no return if governments stop making gestures and face reality.

As a reader I feel his earlier words are more likely, that the greatest illusion is that all nations will agree to cut carbon emissions. But one thing this book does is inform those who take the time to read it, of the immensity of the problems facing us as we head into the future.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

No Place to Hide
by James Flynn
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503246

Book Review: Snark, by David Elliot after Lewis Carroll

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_snarkThe creativity of authors and illustrators has always been a marvel to me, but Snark is a masterpiece that outdoes them all. How does a writer come up with such an amazing idea – to complete the backstory of Lewis Carroll’s best known Jabberwock and Hunting of the Snark poems?

David Elliott is based in Port Chalmers and has written and illustrated many award-winning books. He has also illustrated for others including Joy Cowley, Brian Jacques, Margaret Mahy and Australian John Flanaghan. This experience is evident in Snark which shows both his artistic, creative and linguistic skills.

David Elliot took as his starting point those mysterious poems which use ideas and language in ways new and exciting to the original readers, but still enticing to us today. I grew up reciting, “Twas brillig and the slithy toves..” Here we have the story of the individuals who set out to hunt the Snark. David Elliot has given a wonderful portrait in paint and in words of each of the participants in this ill-fated journey. He takes the information from Carroll’s work and builds it into a fuller portrait. The art work in this book is a joy on every page. By using pencil and wash with a limited palette, he creates images of energy and excitement. The expression on faces, the details of plants and maps, the towering cliffs and the valiant ship are all drawn superbly.

Within the story we are also given the two poems around which the story is based. This allows us to remember the details so important to understanding the tale. The Boots reveals the true story for the first time. What actually happened in the tulgey Wood, who got into trouble with the Jabberwock and what was the Snark? All these will be revealed when you delve between the pages.

Not only do we have the original poems beautifully illustrated anew, the tale of the actual voyage and its conclusion, we also get wonderful explanatory notes at the end. Here we are given the detail that those of a more scientific bent will be seeking. There are actual photos and diagrams, original items and historical facts to support the story. This lends a more serious gravitas to the book which some may be misguided enough to describe as fanciful.

I loved it. It is such a surprise to discover I was not the only reader who was dissatisfied with the abrupt ending to Carroll’s original poems. I am so grateful that the very creative and determined Mr Elliott has provided me with this beautiful book. I will not be sharing it with anyone else over the holiday season. Everyone ought to buy their own copy.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Snark
by David Elliot after Lewis Carroll
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781877578946