Book Review: Inside the Villains, by Clotilde Perrin

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_inside_the_villains.jpgWe know all about the backgrounds, skills, and cleverness of the “good guys” in our beloved fairytales. Inside the Villains provides a behind the scenes look at the top three ‘bad guys’ from well-known stories in this uniquely crafted and awesomely oversized book.

Children (and adults!) will delight in lifting the flaps to reveal the surprises hiding inside the villains. Peeling back the fur of The Wolf will reveal Grandma’s nightgown and his brilliant ideas. You can find an assortment of fairytale characters by pulling open his ‘misery guts’ and see that Fresh meat is always in his heart. Be careful when loosening the buckles on The Giant’s coat as he keeps sharp knives in his pockets alongside his magic harp and sack of coins. A heavily tattooed chest tells us that this Giant is HANGRY for meat and lots of it! When you push aside The Witch’s feathery cloak you will be met with a surprisingly sweet frock and an adorable black cat but don’t be fooled because when taking a peek under the frilly layers you’ll soon uncover her terrified captive and terrible trophy case as well as her knickers!

This book is truly amazing and needs to be read and played with in order to be fully appreciated. The dark but vibrant cover illustrations drew me in immediately but what I found inside was a real treat. After the amusement of lifting all the flaps I was happy to discover a fold out spread accompanies each villain which includes strengths, weaknesses, top foods, favourite pastimes, prized possessions and physical attributes. As well as a library of other stories that you can find The Wolf, The Giant and The Witch in, each villain character spread includes one full and uncensored story — The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats, Jack and the Beanstalk and Alyoshka and Baba Yaga — that are sure to capture the attention and stimulate the imagination of young audiences and readers. These tales are not for the faint of heart though, as our villains meet their untimely demise at the hands of their cunning victims in some truly gruesome ways. Which may leave you thinking who are the real victims of these stories?

The villains truly are the stars of these dark fairytales and Clotilde Perrin has made them come alive with this remarkable interactive book.  Children will be enchanted (and just a little horrified) by the three stories told in this book but the real magic and pleasure will come from lifting the flaps to reveal the villains’ darkest secrets. A perfect gift for for any child who loves fairytales!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Inside the Villains
by Clotilde Perrin
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571987

A Briefcase, Two Pies, and a Penthouse, by Brannavan Gnanalingam

Available at selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_briefcase_two_pies_and_a_penthouseIt’s Rachel’s first day at her new job at the central security agency, the New Zealand Alarm and Response Ministry; a job she seems to have landed almost by accident, there being few other long-term contracts in the public sector. Her first task is to investigate the daily activities of a suspected terrorist, whose main “crime” seems to be having a foreign name and visiting the Middle East.

This is the GCSB meets Yes Minister or Gliding On (for those of a certain age who remember those TV shows). Rachel spends much of her time carefully navigating office politics and acronyms, sidestepping lascivious colleagues, and fake-laughing at racist, sexist, homophobic boys’ club banter.

Anyone who has worked in an office environment will find some cringingly familiar and humorous moments in Gnanalingam’s portrayal of bureaucracy gone mad. I laughed out loud at a work lunch scene in which an aggressive meat-eater thoughtlessly and carelessly ate the quiche intended for the office vegetarians, while another took two chicken drumsticks claiming to be eating the vegetarian’s share. There are many such comical scenes which elicit a wry smile and a knowing grimace.

Gnanalingam writes on a strictly “need to know” basis. His prose is sparse with little in the way of description. I’m not a writer myself but I’m aware of a writing maxim that the words should “show, not tell” so as to allow the reader to experience the scene through senses and emotions rather than through the author’s explicit description. Gnanalingam neither shows, nor tells. He leaves his reader to fill in the blanks with his or her own imagination. For example, we never learn much about Rachel’s physical appearance beyond her having hair long enough to be tied into a ponytail. (Something of a dangerous hairstyle in Kiwi political circles, of course.) But this brevity keeps the book rattling along at a decent pace with a focus on the plot.

I desperately hope that A Briefcase is pure fiction and that Gnanalingam is a writer with a fantastic sense of humour, otherwise I despair for the state of our country’s spy agencies. This is a wickedly clever and very contemporary read from a promising Kiwi author. My only complaint is that it was over too quickly.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

A Briefcase, Two Pies, and a Penthouse
by Brannavan Gnanalingam
Published by Lawrence & Gibson

Book Review: A photo album, a scrapbook and World War 1

A review of two books published to commemorate the upcoming centenary of WW1:

New Zealand and the First World War 1914-19 by Damien Fenton (Penguin)
Images of War by Glyn Harper and the National Army Museum (HarperCollins)

These two books represent impressive and important illustrated histories ensuring New Zealanders have the opportunity to gain a visual understanding of the history of the First World War  as fought by our soldiers and experienced by our country and our people.  They are both compelling books, although each for its own reasons.

Highly experienced cv_images_of_warand noted military historian Glyn Harper has not only done an excellent job in sifting through many official archives but, following a public appeal,  has also caused many private citizens to  release photographs often taken on front lines or general operational areas by soldiers who were actually forbidden to do so.  By the time of the First World War, photography had left the purview of the professional photographer with expensive glass plates and long processing times, and had become a hobby for the people.  Kodak, with the box Brownie and advanced processing techniques had democratised photography as had Henry Ford popularised cars with the Model  T.  Thus many New Zealanders serving in the theatres of war had a “soldiers Kodak” tucked away – illegally –  in their kitbag creating the opportunity for the WW1 to be the most comprehensively photographed of any previous conflict.

From all sources, 20,000 photographs were searched, a “long list” of 1240 chosen with 700 photographs eventually included in the book.  Harper has laid out his selection to cover all the major theatres where New Zealanders served as well as their training and preparation in New Zealand. By doing so he has also woven the chronology of the war from start to finish and even something of the aftermath, into 400 pages of a compelling memorial to those who served. There are a lot of tragic scenes, but also many scenes that lift the spirit.

Harper also places the illustrative content into context with well written introductions to each  section and insightful captions  to the photographs.  Just as this book was made possible by advances in petrographic technology early last century, it is clear that modern digital image enhancement, printing and publishing technology have all been used to ensure a quality production.

The photographs of the aftermath of the war are also demonstrate technological advance – medical and surgical advances to heal the wounds especially related to plastic surgery and the work of Sir Harold Gillies.

cv_new_zealand_and_the_first_world_warLatest printing and production techniques combined with old fashioned manual labour lie behind the launch this month at Government House of the official WW100 New Zealand and the First World War by Damien Fenton.  Again, like Images of War, it covers the history of New Zealand at war, but with many intriguing differences. Firstly, colour is used in this book and it is very, very colourful.

Of course most of the photographs are black and white but often with sepia finish and  bordering on the one hand or bleeding into a marbled like treatment across each page which appears to be achieved by a progressive fading of a photograph. The effect is a sense of age. But then comes the reproduction of colourful paintings such as Ion G Brown’s 1990 image of the last moments of New Zealand heroism at Chanuk Bair and portraits of war leaders such as Haig and Joffre.  But most colour comes from the ephemera of the war. There is an abundance of tickets to fundraising queen carnivals in kiwi towns and cities, programmes to concerts, occupation currency to be used by New Zealand occupation forces in Germany in 1919, programmes to victory marches and victory balls.

Then comes the manual labour associated with this remarkable scrapbook-like publication. Scattered throughout are pasted-in envelopes containing for instance, enlistment posters for the young lions of the empire, Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand to support the Old Lion as he “defies his foes” . Another of these opaque envelopes contains the list of New Zealanders missing or wounded as published by the Red Cross enquiry Bureau for May 1917 while another has inside reproduction of trench map of one of the Flanders battlefields featuring the village of Messines where the New Zealanders fought and won an historic battle.

There are other maps set on to pages as small fold-outs which provide clear and precise information on various battles.  And of course there are envelopes containing facsimiles of heart-wrenching letters home to parents from sons about to go into battle and not to return.

It is understood from Penguin, publishers of this book in Association with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, that the collection of the images paraphernalia and ephemera for this book began in 2009.  Once author Damien Fenton with Gavin McLean and Tim Shoebridge had written and prepared all the material, all the bits and pieces were assembled in a production line at Leo Paper Products in China with each of the envelopes and fold out maps and cards inserted by hand – each book taking 40 minutes to finish.

There will be many more books to come recounting the New Zealand experience of the First World War but for any family with a connection back to forebears who served either or both of these books will help to understand, maybe not why, but certainly how a young New Zealand stood up to the greatest challenge it had ever faced.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould, CEO, Booksellers NZ

New Zealand and the First World War 1914 – 1919
by Damien Fenton
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143569756

Images of War: New Zealand and the First World War in Photographs
by Glyn Harper and the National Army Museum
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775540342