Book Review: The Nam Shadow, by Carole Brungar

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

The Nam Shadow is the second book in a series by Carole Brungar, following on from The Nam Legacy.  You don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy this book.

Terry Edwards was living at home with his mother and younger siblings. It didn’t feel like home any more since his mother had taken in a lodger to make ends meet;  the lodger moving into his mother’s bedroom. The lodger, Vernon, was a decent enough chap, being the local bank manager, but living in the sleepout, Terry felt restless. His job at the local garage as a mechanic was okay but he was wanting a bit of excitement in his life. He joins up the NZ Army and leaves for Waiouru and basic training. His best mate Jack Cole also decides to join up.

The Vietnam War has been going for a while now and news filtering through the media gives the boys an idea of joining up to do their bit. Not realising how brutal war can be, the boys soon find out. Losing mates that joined up at the same time, seeing woman and children killed is not for the faint-hearted.  It leaves a lasting impression on the two boys. Nightmares follow after they come home with settling down harder than either of them thought.

Frankie Proctor is a photojournalist with The Wellington Daily. Given the soft jobs at the paper, Frankie soon becomes totally disillusioned continually reporting on community events. She wants to be given stories with a bit of meat in them, but those go to more experienced people (usually men) at the paper. Frankie was reading an article about the Vietnam War in the latest issue of Time magazine. American soldiers were arriving in Vietnam at the rate of 1,000 a day. Inspired, Frankie approaches her boss William Booth asking if she could be sent to Vietnam to cover the war for the paper. The answer was a flat no, so Frankie chucks in her job and take her chances over in Vietnam, with a few contacts from her former boss.

This is a brilliant story. The two main characters in the book meet through a chance encounter. Terry meets up with Frankie every chance he can. They become close friends and lovers.

I became extremely aware of the Vietnam war as a teenager when in my first job I worked for a New Zealand cement company which happened to have its offices on the 9th floor of the then AMP Building on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets in Auckland’s CB, in the late 1960’s. The U.S consulate was on the 6th floor. Peace protesters were outside the AMP building, and we had to fight our way through them to go to work. We then got bomb threats, with the whole building having to be cleared out by the police and fire brigade. The most that was ever found was a petrol-soaked rag in a pot plant. As a teenager, it was quite exciting and certainly not like any other job any my peers had.

As an adult I happened to be in Wellington when the Government held the official welcome home to the Vietnam veterans recognising their service to the country. Ex-vets from other parts of the world came for the event.  It was extremely moving.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Nam Shadow
by Carole Brungar
Carole Brungar Publishing
ISBN 9780473450816

Book Review: Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_coming_rainYou enter this novel through the mind of a pregnant female dingo, and this sets the scene for a tale of hard yakka in a merciless country.

Lew has been travelling with Painter since his mum gave him to a shearing contractor, in the hope that he’d have a better life “off the sheep’s back”. Painter was the ringer, since then gone to drink and ruin, now only Lew keeps up with him. They find work where they can, shearing and labouring, prospecting in the slow times.

Coming Rain tells the coming-of-age of Lew, alongside that of our female dingo, who is smarter than she knows. The first time we see Lew, he is on a beach, saying hello to a woman who emerges dripping from the ocean. The life guards warn them off her, because of how they look – scruffy, poor – but she takes a liking to him and so he experiences his first time.

The dingo takes on a young wounded male as run mate. She takes pity on him as he puts himself at her mercy, and they run together, their respective packs gone to the gun. As Lew and Painter move together in a barren landscape, their stories echo each other, with street smarts being pitted against instinct. Daisley writes dingo so convincingly, he might find himself cast in the role of dingo behavioural expert one day soon.

The theme of social class becomes predominant as the novel moves on, with Lew’s infatuation with the daughter of the owner of the farm at which they are shearing forbidden, not only by the half-crazed landowner, who recently lost his wife, but by Painter. But the theme doesn’t override the story: the characters live as you read them, there is nothing that is contrived.

Coming Rain had, of course, already won the Acorn Foundation Literary Prize when I picked it up to read. I was intrigued by the appeal of the unknown writer – and one, as the publicist on the night of the Awards said, with ‘such a great back story.’ I expected something a bit like Tim Winton at his wildest – Dirt Music, perhaps – but Daisley isn’t that type of writer. He uses vernacular, he is more sparing with his words; he tells the story straight.

A fascinating story, well worth adding to your bookshelves.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Coming Rain
by Stephen Daisley
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781922182029

Book Review: Tu Meke Tūī! , by Malcolm Clarke, illustrated by Flox

cv_tu_meke_tuiAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Two native birds (one of which happens to be a favourite of mine) star in this delightful rhyming picture book about friendship, set in the New Zealand bush.

Tere the Tūī would love some company while she is ‘tumbling around in the sun’ and spies someone who might join her, but, alas, Taitu the Takahe’s wings aren’t strong enough to fly. Wanting to help her new friend, Tere comes up with an idea that has Taitu bravely scrambling up onto a rock.

Enter the villain of the story, Stan the Stoat, who does what these creatures do and grabs Tere in his sharp little claws. Not on Taitu’s watch; the brave takahe steps in and saves the day. Tere and Taitu may not be able to fly in the sky together, but they find another way to celebrate their friendship.

Illustrated by Flox, a New Zealand graffiti artist gaining national and international recognition, the pages are alive with vibrant and bold forest scenes. These birds are gorgeously illustrated and wouldn’t look out of place gracing a living room wall (hint, hint). I did find some lines to be ever so slightly off rhythm when reading aloud, however, the story is well paced with a good mix of fun and dramatic moments that will delight young readers.

Hardbound and printed on sturdy cardstock, the book will certainly be able to handle being loved by eager young hands. And as an added bonus, there is a ‘seek and find’ on the back cover page featuring other forest friends who hide within the story’s scenes.

Aimed at preschool and early primary children, it offers plenty of scope for talking about what friendship is and how differences can lead to finding a common ground and shared passions. It also introduces children to our beautiful native flora and fauna and the importance of looking after this treasure (sorry Stan the stoat, you don’t belong in the forest!). I am always a fan of New Zealand stories which celebrate our culture, unique landscapes and all things Kiwi, and I can see this one winging it’s way to families overseas and gracing the shelves of many a kindy here at home.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Tu Meke Tūī!
by Malcolm Clarke, illustrations by Flox
Published by Mary Egan Publishing, 2016
ISBN: 9780473343750

Book Review: Doodle Bug – written and illustrated by Bruce Potter

Available at selected bookstores nationwide.cv_doodle_bug

The author, Bruce Potter is a musician and composer of both adult and children’s songs. He also tours schools with his shows. He is also an illustrator and author.

This is a very unusual book. We’ve all doodled at some point in our lives, but I can honestly say I have never in my life managed to produce doodles that are in this book. The idea behind it is to foster children’s and adults imaginations, and it does this very cleverly.

Doodle Bug is a green frog dressed in orange overalls. The illustrations on the first few pages show a frog, a mug of tea/coffee and a biscuit and then a hand holding a ball point pen. The fun then starts with the pen and hand doodling – some incredible doodles. Doodle Bug dives into the swimming pool that Bruce has doodled. .

“Doodle Bug was walking through the doodles one day.
He saw a scary dragon and tried to hide away.
We’ve all got to find him.
Oh where can he be?
Where’s little Doodle Bug?

The small person I was reading this to spent a lot of minutes with me trying to find Doodle Bug. Abby’s Pa was a lot cleverer than Grandma or Abby – he found it in quick smart time. When Abby and I found him, we thought – oh yes, of course.

The illustrations are quite stunning. While I think Abby at 3 years of age is a tad young to really appreciate this book, I know of children in our family over 4 years of age that really would love it.

Well done Bruce Potter. To inspire and encourage children with their imagination is quite a tall order, but I think you have “cracked it”.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Doodle Bug
by Bruce Potter
Published by Draconis Books
ISBN 9780473281137