Book Review: The Nam Legacy, by Carole Brungar

Available from selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_nam_legacyThe Nam Legacy is the second novel by Foxton-born author Carole Brungar, but it’s very different from her first, A Tide Too High.

While both have a love story at their heart, this book explores relationships in greater depth, with much of it centred around the Vietnam War. If you were a fan of the television series Love Child, you should enjoy The Nam Legacy, as it explores similar themes.

Set in the 1960s and 1970s in small town New Zealand, the book introduces us to Jack Coles, a farmer’s son with a promising rugby career ahead of him, and his fiancée, Evelyn (Evie) Hallet, a talented singer whose parents own a hotel.

Jack wants nothing more than to settle down with Evie and start a family, but after a talent scout hears her singing, her music career takes off and soon she moves to Auckland to make the most of the opportunities available to her. Jack starts to feel lost and restless, and after hearing tales his brother, Brian, tells of his life in the army, Jack decides he wants a taste of the action.

Evie is devastated when he tells her he’s going away, and more so when he is sent to Vietnam. They write, and Evie gets the chance to see Jack when she is sent to the war zone with two other girls to sing for the troops.

As a lead scout, Jack puts himself in danger every time he heads out on patrol, but he seems to lead a charmed life, until one day he arrives in a village that the Viet Cong have attacked. He saves the life of a badly injured young woman (Mai Linh) and from that moment on, their lives start to intertwine. Despite his love for Evie, Jack embarks on a risky affair with Mai Linh, and is conflicted even further when she tells him she is pregnant, and he is the father.

I won’t go into detail about what happens from this point on as I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say that just months after his daughter is born, Jack is injured in a battle with the VC and ends up in hospital, where he is given the news he is being sent home.
Once home, Jack tries to return to normal life on the farm, and he and Evie marry. But the demons that plagued him in Vietnam have followed him home and Jack’s behaviour starts spiraling out of control. Evie is at her wit’s end and doesn’t know what’s going on or what she can do to help her husband.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending of the book: to find out whether there is a happy ending or not, you had better get it!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Nam Legacy
by Carole Brungar
Published by Carole Brungar
ISBN 9780473395209

Book Review: A Southern Tale, by Joanne McDougall

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_southern_taleSammy is a Sea Lion, a very rare and endangered species. He lives on an island deep in the Southern Ocean.

As light filled the sky bringing warmth with the dawn,
Sammy woke up with a stretch and a yawn.  
Her tummy then rumbled, expressing a wish
that she leaps into the sea and go and find a fish.
Into the waves, she dove as they crashed against rocks,
causing foam and spray to be splashed.

Sammy swam far in search of food, arriving at her favourite place teeming with fish. Fish eating the plankton, penguins and dolphins and sea birds galore gather for dinner, trying to ignore the sea leopards lurking, waiting for their chance to grab a quick bite. Meanwhile, the sharks with glistening white teeth, sharp as a razor lie in wait, fancying a meal of sea lion.

I read this book to 2 ½ year old Quinn. She’s been to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea World so knows all about seals and penguins – telling me in no uncertain terms just what she thinks about the seals in this story being chased and perhaps eaten. It can be quite hard explaining to a small child about the food chain in the animal kingdom – suburban Auckland doesn’t quite cut it.

This is a great story with wonderful illustrations, to introduce children to endangered species and to try and make them a little more aware of what goes on in the great ocean surrounding our country.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Southern Tale
by Joanne McDougall
Published by Pegasus Art

Book Review: Real food, less fuss, by Lauren Parsons

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_real_food_less_fussThis is a bit of a one-size-fits-all volume for well-being, healthy eating, sensible meal planning and preparation, and kitchen and pantry stocking!!! So it aims to cover a lot of ground.

Lauren Parsons is a nutrition coach which means that she has a great deal of interest in getting people to eat healthy, nutritious food which does not take hours to prepare, and which generally does not come from a can or a packet. Those are good general principles for any home cook, and there are lots of useful tips throughout the densely-packed pages which will help in avoiding wasted food, simplify your shopping trips, planning your meals and more.

So far, so good.

The recipe section is small, consisting of less than 30 recipes in total, so it’s not really what I regard as a cookbook. In addition, one or two of the recipes are misleading: particularly the recipe for Harissa. Harissa is a Moroccan and North African spice paste which has chilli as its main ingredient. That’s the one essential ingredient for a good harissa, and it’s the one ingredient not listed in Lauren’s recipe. She does say you can add a bit if you need extra kick…kind of misses the point.

However, that aside, the recipes seem to be easy to make, and some offer variations for a few dietary requirements.

For people starting out and aiming to find out more about nutrition in general I would say it may be useful.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Real food, less fuss
by Lauren Parsons
Published by Live Well Publishing
ISBN 9780473361129

Book Review: To the Ends of the Earth and back again, by Maxwell C. Hill

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_to_the_ends_of_the_earthAs a teacher, I always challenge my students to ask questions, not to blindly accept what they are told, to read, to refute, to question and even to suppose. I found that reading To the Ends of the Earth did all of these things and presented a very challenging alternative view of the settlement of Aotearoa, New Zealand. I did not read the original version of this book, so in taking up the second edition, I had a bit of catching up to do.

The original book makes the suggestion that there were earlier settlers from Greek culture and later from the Americas. This new edition responds to further questions from readers linking designs and spirals of the Celtic peoples to the spiral motifs found in Maori tattoos. This allowed Hill to investigate these designs and draw further support for his earlier settlement suggestions.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs and maps, drawings and diagrams. I always enjoy seeing text fully supported with illustrations. The chapter headings follow a logical sequence of ideas from Pre-Maori Artifacts, to Different People, Maps, Voyages and Charts. Other research is added at the end as well as extensive supporting information.

I am not an historian and therefore do not feel it is my place to comment on the veracity of the book. It is an interesting work of supposition with supporting research and extensive use of other people’s ideas. Drawing these together in such a way goes a little beyond my academic ability, but appeals to my fictional fantasy. I have visited Malaspurna Strait in Fiordland. An isolated spot, said to have been visited by a Spanish navigator before the time of Cook. It was a great story and the truth seemed somewhat secondary as we sailed toward the open sea.

So too with this book. I have a number of family members keen to be next on the reading list. They all picked it up and were enchanted by the ideas and the visuals. I found it an engaging read.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

To The Ends of the Earth and Back Again
 by Maxwell C. Hill
Ancient History Publications

Book Review: Currents of Change, by Darian Smith

cv_currents_of_changeAvailable now in selected bookshops.

Well-written and deliciously addictive. This spine-chilling ghost story kept me up until midnight, until just past the point where it stopped being a ghost story and became something else…

Sara is a troubled heroine, fleeing from her past, but burdened with self-doubts and shattered esteem. It is hard for her to trust, to open herself, and thus she protects herself with a wall of angry, sharp retorts. Her family home, in the isolated township of Kowhiowhio, Northland, provides the sanctuary she needs, but it brings with it darkness too. And not just because of the lack of electricity.

Sara’s sharp but endearing personality, her fragility edged with razors, make her an engaging heroine, and her friendship with general-all-round-good-guy neighbour, Nate, with his frank and generally cheerful nature, a good counterpoint. His sister-in-law, sharp, almost vicious, Moana adds a welcome dose of conflict and thrown into the whole weave is Great Aunt Bridget (long dead, but not at rest), a dark family secret, an adorable kitten, an almost-as-adorable little girl and an extremely unpleasant estranged husband.

This is an engaging read, although the sudden twist from ghost story to something else entirely derailed me for a heartbeat or three. Despite this, I would consider it a damn fine read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Currents of Change
by Darian Smith
Published by Wooden Tiger Press
ISBN 9780473318109

Book Review: The Ghosts Of Moonlight Creek, by Sue Copsey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_ghosts_of_moonlight_creekSue Copsey brings us the third installment of the ‘Spooky Adventures’ series which follows the adventures of Joe and Eddie, the ghost hunters. Although I have not read the two previous books in the series, The Ghosts Of Young Nick’s Head and The Ghosts Of Tarawera,  I would love to!

When Joe, Eddie, Beckie and Anastasia are called to a location near Queenstown by Anastasia’s father ,the famous movie director Roberto Johnson. They think it’s just for a summer vacation on a movie set, but someone or something is terrorising the set and delaying the filming. It’s up to Joe and his ghost-hunting team, to find out who is destroying the film, and stop them. Only it’s not like a mystery they’ve solved before.

I enjoyed this book not just because it is based in Otago, but because of the spine-chilling storyline, and well-described characters. I would recommend it to any Kiwi child who loves a good ghost story. WARNING: DO NOT READ AT NIGHT!!

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston (14)

The Ghosts Of Moonlight Creek
by Sue Copsey
Published by Treehouse Books
ISBN 9780473359461


Book Review: Ruby and the Blue Sky, by Katherine Dewar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ruby_and_the_blue_skyWell, this is an interesting thing. A self-published, cause-driven novel by a first-time author. Clearly Katherine Dewar has a message she wants to get out. She does that quite effectively but as with a lot of self-published books, there could have been a good deal of copy-editing which would have improved matters.

Ruby, of the title, is a punk-rock singer/songwriter who is conscious of the effects our consumerism, amongst other things, is having on our planet. Fired by a spur of the moment and seemingly throwaway line, she finds herself the spokesperson for serious counter-political action. Throw in her band, the group who come together to help in the activism, her mother who is on her own counter-cultural path and a die-hard weird religious cult with a desire to clean up the world, and you have quite a lot of potential. However in my opinion it misses the mark.

Ruby is fairly credible, as is her mum. But many of the other characters are sketchy. Salvador does not work for me as a character – too confused, too easily manipulated. The anonymous organisation backing him is doubtless based on various religious cults, and seems to buy in to the preconceptions and misconceptions surrounding such organisations.

I am not sure what readership was in mind, and really that does not matter, except that I am not sure to whom this will appeal. The writing style is a bit clunky, with moments where it’s actually quite good. But those moments are not enough to rescue the book.

It is one of those books which, as a professional librarian, I would hesitate to recommend to readers\, because it’s not well-enough constructed and it is so clearly pushing a point of view.

If the writing were better crafted, I think it might have worked. As it stands, I think it lacks the wow factor.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Ruby and the Blue Sky
by Katherine Dewar
Published by Ruru Press
ISBN 9780473345501 (UK)

Book Review: Devolve – The Wolf, by Mike Hooper

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_devolve_the_wolfDevolve is the first in a series by a Christchurch author and is independently published.

The design is competent and professional, and the story matches. It is a dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting, where the people have been forced, by war, to live underground. Here they are ruled over by the amicable King Brown, who desires, above all, to be liked and admired by his subjects. Our main character is 4N, or Foren, and all of the characters follow a similar naming system. We have KC (Casey), an intelligent and caring girl; GO (Geo), belligerent and thorny; VC (Vici), kind, secretive and naive and many others, all students in Professor Will’s class. All students who are hoping to be chosen as part of the team that will venture upon to the surface in search of relics.

Foren is an orphan, and his greatest desire is to be a Cat – a surface explorer that seeks relics – like his mother. Although he is chosen for the team, it is instead as a Wolf, a protector and guardian. Together with five of his class-mates, he must breach the hostile surface, where the earth is poisoned and the water polluted, where merely breathing the air can kill.

Or can it?

Foren and his friends uncover not only a dangerous conspiracy, but enter into a deadly and violent game of survival. This is not a light read – there is a bloody body count and a few moments where I feared Hooper was channeling his inner George RR Martin. Filled with twists, turns and some rather unexpected surprises. A competent, and relatively easy read, with barely a dull moment. I look forward to reading more.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Devolve – The Wolf
by Mike Hooper
ISBN 9780473342814

Book Review: First Names Only, by Elaine Blick

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

Elaine Blick was born in England, moving to New Zealand as a small child with her parents. She has spent most of her life moving between the two countries. Elaine has worked as a teacher and holds an MA degree from Auckland University. First Names Only is her fourth novel, following Where the Bellbird Sings, No White Flowers Please and When this War is Over. Elaine now lives at Clark’s Beach on the Manukau Harbour – a Kiwi bach by the water.

Elaine Blick’s mother, Freda Blick (1912-2000) was Secretary of Childhaven, a home for unmarried mothers for 26 years. Freda’s time working at Childhaven made an impression on the young Elaine, and she struck up friendships with a number of the young women, some who were the same age as herself.

This is a book of fiction, but some of the stories of the young women Elaine met, are interwoven into this book. Most of them found the experience of giving up their unborn babies for adoption very hard, often finding it left a permanent mark on their lives.

Janice is 18 years old and a university student with her whole life mapped out in front of her. She goes and stays with an old school friend for the weekend and then goes to a party on the Saturday night. Janice meets Ian McViegh, spending all of the evening talking to him. She is smitten and by the time Ian has asked to see her again, she is floating on air.

What follows is a whirlwind romance, but Ian is leaving for England where he is intending to stay for at least 2 years. Janice hopes against all odds that he will change his mind and stay. She joins his friends and family at the wharves to give Ian a send-off. He whispers in her ear “I love you and I’ll come back and marry you darling”. Of course he doesn’t. The letters as time goes by get less frequent with Ian mentioning in one letter about a girl he has met.

Over the next week weeks and months Janice begins to suspect she might be pregnant, but no surely not, they only did it that once; the one time when Ian pressed her to be intimate with him. His attitude was that he had hardly been near her, so how could she possibly get pregnant. Janice goes and sees her family’s GP Dr Watts. He is a kindly man treating her with utmost compassion, telling her that there are homes for unmarried mothers. He would put Janice in touch with a home in the Auckland area. Telling her mother wasn’t quite the ordeal that she thought it would be. Her mother had already suspected and so was prepared for the news.

Janice decides not to write and tell Ian, a decision her mother isn’t all together happy with, but accepts that it is Janice’s decision to make. She doesn’t want Ian marrying her because he “had to” but because “he wanted to”. She travels to Sunnyvale, a home for unmarried mothers in a quiet suburb in Auckland. Janice is surprised by the lack of rules and the kindness of Mrs Knight, the Matron and Mrs Blake the Secretary. Janice meets Linda who she is sharing a room with and chatters constantly. Her story continues through her pregnancy, the birth of her child and her life afterwards. Janice’s attitudes to life had changed drastically with her university studies suddenly not being as important as she once thought.

This was the 1960’s, an era where there was no DPB payments, and the status of the unmarried mother wasn’t one that society found acceptable. Janice had no choice but to sign the adoption papers that would ensure her baby was given to a good home. This was a choice that most unmarried woman struggled with, but society gave women little choices. There was no shortage of couples who for various reasons were unable to have children of their own wanting to adopt. Their backgrounds were meticulously checked for suitability. If they met the criteria they were deemed suitable and would be matched up with a baby from an unmarried mother. In those days, contact was not an option for the birth mother. It wasn’t until later years that these rules were relaxed with many women tracing the children they gave birth to.

I’m not sure who this book would appeal to as there are a lot of religious quotes and biblical references throughout. I enjoyed the stories of the individual women, but I personally was not enamoured with the religious aspect of this book. Religion is a personal matter but those who do believe would find this an uplifting and enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

First Names Only
by Elaine Blick
Published by Elaine Blick
ISBN 9780473333348
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