Book Review: A Place of Stone and Darkness, by Chris Mousdale

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_place_of_stone_and_darknessLong ago, meteors crashed into Earth and caused a climatic disaster, with great swathes of land scoured by fire and flood. But somehow, deep underground, a few pockets of Striggs managed to survive…

In Chris Mousdale’s first full-length novel, A Place of Stone and Darkness is a dystopian story which follows two young Striggs: adventurous Ellee and her inventor brother Sidfred. Striggs are bird-like creatures with plumes of downy feathers, but they became flightless when they were forced to seek a new home. On every brow, each Strigg has a diamond-bright lapyriss headlight called a ‘spangle’ which help to guide the Strigg through their labyrinth maze of tunnels. The Striggs live by the harmonious mantra: ‘be one, be all, be everything’. Community is everything in their world.

The Strigg leaders insist upon only one rule: They must never be seen by a Toppa.

The novel opens with Ellee Meddo preparing for her Spangletime, a formal ceremony that ushers a young Strigg into adulthood. But Ellee would much rather go exploring than receive her spangle. On a journey into the unexplored regions, she discovers a young Toppa boy trapped in a well. Enlisting eccentric Sidfred’s help to hide the boy, the pair try to avoid ‘Blue’s’ discovery at all costs. Blue is the first human to have seen a Strigg in centuries.

When Blue’s existence is uncovered by the Strigg leaders, it is decided that he should be returned Uptop in order to protect the community.

While the first half of the novel progresses slowly, the pace picks up with the adventure to the Uptop. The discovery of what lies Uptop is just as much a shock to the reader as it is to Ellee, Sidfred and Strigg leader Kass. Set far in the future, Toppas are almost extinct and the world is vastly different to the one we know today. Mousdale’s artistic eye shows in his descriptions of landscapes: ‘There were broken columns and wide ribbons of concrete, pancaked flat where they had fallen. Once roads had soared up and over, in elaborate suspended superstructures. Now it was all ruins … It was a terrible vision’.

When the mission to return Blue goes terribly wrong, Ellee, Sidfred and Kass find themselves in mortal danger. Their entire community is at risk unless they can pull off a dangerous move that could have disastrous consequences.

A Place of Stone and Darkness is beautifully produced. An award-winning illustrator, Mousdale has crafted several stunning illustrations to accompany the hardbacked novel. The illustrated maps and diagrams of the Striggs’ underground land add an extra layer of realism to the world. Every character has a portrait, and readers will enjoy spotting their favourite characters in the coloured plates dispersed throughout the 400-page book. A helpful glossary of Strigg terms show how much work has gone into building the impressive land of the Striggs.

A Place of Stone and Darkness is an engaging story, has brilliant characters, and shares messages about the environment, human kindness and trusting your friends. With similarities to The Hobbit, this novel is perfect for young readers (10+) who enjoy fantasy and steampunk adventures. The surprise ending takes the tale in an unexpected and exciting direction, and while the formal vocabulary of the Striggs does take some time to get used to, the world-building is incredible. I can guarantee that once you are wrapped up in Ellee and Sidfred’s adventure, you won’t be able to put this book down.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

A Place of Stone and Darkness
By Chris Mousdale
Published by Penguin Random House New Zealand
ISBN 9780143773122

 

Book Review: Reflections, by Kelvin Cruickshank

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_reflections_cruikshank.jpgKelvin Cruickshank is better known to most of us from the television series Sensing Murder in which he features, along with others as a physic medium. This programme recreates events leading up to death through misadventure or suspicious circumstances.

Reflections is a collection of 365 inspirational and positive thoughts – one for each day of the year. Life has its challenges and with a positive outlook anything is possible.

There have been a number of similar books published over the years. One in my bookcase is Somebody Loves You by Helen Steiner Rice. They certainly have their place in life. I know I have referred to my copy of Helen’s book a number of times over the years.

Reflections is a lovely book to refer to in times of difficulty and for daily inspiration and would make a great gift for those difficult to buy for people.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Reflections
by Kelvin Cruickshank
Published by Penguin
9780143772309

 

 

Book Review: Showtym Adventures: Dandy, the Mountain Pony, by Kelly Wilson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dandy_the_mountain_ponyThe Wilson Sisters, Vicki, Kelly and Amanda are well known in equestrian circles having also appeared on a television programme about capturing and training the wild Kaimanawas horses.

Dandy, The Mountain Pony is Vicki Wilson’s story. Vicki was nine years old when the owner of her lease pony Cardiff, decided to sell him. She was broken hearted but was realistic that her parents didn’t have the money to buy him.

A month after Cardiff had been sold Vicki was still without a pony. All the pony’s advertised for sale were far too expensive – her parents had managed to scrape together a couple of hundred dollars which was just not enough. Her parents surprised her one day with a visit to some wild ponies. There had been an advertisement in the local paper for a herd that runs wild on a mountain just fifteen minutes from where the Wilsons live. Vicki had always dreamed of taming wild horses. It appeared that perhaps her dream was about to come true.

The Welsh ponies had been bred on the mountain for generations but of recent years the lady and her family had been unable to keep up with training them so the herd was running wild with some of them never having been touched.

The Wilsons ended up buying three of the ponies. They had budgeted for $200 so at $50 each they could afford to buy all three, but with proviso that one be trained and then sold to offset the costs of feed and training.

Vicki starts training her pony Dandy. Gaining Dandy’s trust is the first hurdle she has to overcome. This proved to be a difficult and challenging project. After many months she is able to enter into competitions with him but not without a lot of challenges along the way.

I came to the conclusion after reading this book aloud to 6-year-old Abby that you don’t necessarily have to be a horsy person to enjoy it. Abby loved it asking lots of questions as I read it to her. There are lots of training tips at the back of this book for the serious owner.

The Wilson sisters also run Showtym Camps for young riders, which is hugely popular, helping them get the most from their ponies while having a lot of fun and adventures along the way.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Showtym Adventures: Dandy, the Mountain Pony
by Kelly Wilson
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771494

Book Review: One of us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus  

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_one_of_us_is_lying.jpgAs a teenager I was an avid reader of anything I could get my hands on. It may have been a few years since I picked up any young adult fiction, but if One of us is Lying is an example of what’s available today, I’m tempted to read more.

Set in Bayview High, the book centres on five – soon to be four – students who all end up in detention after cellphones they didn’t own were found in their bags. Bronwyn, the top student who never puts a foot wrong and is headed for Yale; Cooper, the baseball star being looked at for the major league; prom queen and everyone’s favourite, Addy; Nate, the bad boy drug dealer on probation; and Simon, the creator of hated gossip app About That.

Suddenly there is a commotion outside the classroom and the students see the aftermath of a minor car accident in the car park. While their teacher goes to investigate, Simon has a drink of water, collapsing soon after. Nate is aware Simon is suffering a severe allergic reaction but his EpiPen can’t be found. Cooper is sent to the nurse’s office to get one but finds the box is empty. Simon is rushed to hospital in a bad way, and everyone is stunned when they hear later that he has died.

The four remaining students are in the frame for Simon’s death when police discover his cup of water contained peanut oil. All four are shown to have a motive when an unpublished About That post shows Simon was about to reveal damning secrets about each of them. The kinds of secrets that can ruin lives…

The book is split into short sections narrated by the four main characters, and this took a bit of getting used to, but it’s an effective way for each to tell their story.

I won’t spoil the ending by revealing who was responsible for Simon’s death, but every one of them had a good reason for wanting him dead. However, so did a number of other students he had crossed swords with. And who is behind the Tumblr posts written by someone who says they are the killer? The posts that keep revealing more secrets the four want to keep quiet?

Did one of them kill Simon, or are they all in on it? Was it someone else? The last part of the book reads like a good murder mystery, with lots of red herrings, dead ends and a sudden realisation people are not always what they seem. The questions are all answered and tied up neatly, and there is even a happy ending or two thrown in for good measure.

This book deals with some sensitive issues, so maybe a little parental guidance and support would be a good idea.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

One of us is Lying
by Karen M. McManus
Published by Penguin
ISBN 9780141375632

 

Book Review: Gwendolyn!, by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_gwendolynHow many penguins do you think there are in the jungle? You’d probably say none, because we all know penguins live in cold climates, but you haven’t met Gwendolyn! She is the only penguin in the jungle and she’s there because she loves the heat, the gorgeous flowers and the other jungle animals.

We get to meet a jaguar, monkeys and a parrot, and she points out all the good things about the jungle. Gwendolyn is always upbeat and she makes all her jungle friends realise how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful place.

But then her friend Parrot asks a simple question – has Gwendolyn ever been to Antarctica, where all the other penguins live?

A tear rolls down Gwendolyn’s cheek and she admits she hasn’t, and that starts to make her pine for the place she really belongs, where she can be a real penguin. Nothing her friends say can cheer her up, and she sets off on a really long journey to Antarctica.
She meets other penguins there and has the time of her life, but after a while she starts to notice the cold, and the fact she’s very hungry… and decides there is no reason why a penguin can’t live in Antarctica AND the jungle!

This book made me smile, as the illustrations are simply beautiful. There is so much to look at on every page that younger children will enjoy this book even if they can’t read the words. I think it will delight children and adults alike and become a treasured favourite. It’s a great tale about friendship and how we don’t have to be the same to get along.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Gwendolyn
by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton
Published by ABC Books (HarperCollins NZ)
ISBN 9780733335174

 

Book Review: The Pale North, by Hamish Clayton

cv_the_pale_northAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

What an amazing piece of writing this book is. At times I found myself wondering if it was autobiography, memoir, history or pure invention. Which author is writing which part? Are they all Hamish Clayton or is he inventing everything, including his own persona?

Certainly this is a brilliant, complex and cleverly interwoven work. Ghosts and imagined events – or are they real people and real events? – abound. Each section of the novel makes reference to the other parts. Characters appear and reappear – or is this a clever conceit of the author to make us think we know what’s happening when truthfully, it’s all quite mysterious?

The first part of the book is a work of fiction, ‘The City of Lost Things’, set in a post-earthquake-devasted Wellington. The central character, Gabriel North, explores what is left, and weaves his memories into it.

The second part, ‘In Dark Arches’, begins thus:

Something happens in a forgotten corner of the world and then, years later in another corner, something else which seems random and unconnected. And yet a chain is made between them by chance; a pattern emerges and meaning is inferred.

This, to me, is the essence of the book’s creativity. The connections made in the various aspects of the story, apparently by chance, but really by the author’s design, make you stop to think, to re-read, to check that what you have just read really is what appeared earlier in the text. It’s simply fascinating.

I don’t like repeating myself, but this is a wonderful creation; inventive, twisted, mysterious but ultimately all linked together.

I am off to find Wulf and see if the first book by Hamish Clayton is as good as this one.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Pale North
by Hamish Clayton
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143569268

Book Review: Woman of the Dead, by Bernard Aichner

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_woman_of_the_dead

If you, at age six, had to begin work in preparing bodies for funeral directors–your parents– what effect would that have on you?

For Brum, it taught her to shut down her emotions, right up to the day she allowed her parents to drown. She took over the family business, reinvented and remarketed it, built it up as a successful business, but always dedicating herself to giving dignity to the deceased.

Her life is gently comfortable, until she sees her husband–police officer and father to their two daughters killed by a black car slamming into him on his motor bike. Her life is upturned, as she grieves, listens to her late husband’s phone calls on his cell phone, and discovers he was spending time interviewing and calming an aggrieved young woman.

Emotionally bereft, Brum finds comfort in the companionship of her husband’s best friend, police officer Massimo. She is driven to find the woman her husband had been consoling, and when she does, is horrified to learn of her tormented life as a captive. Gradually she draws more and more information about the woman’s torturous life, whom she invites to stay with the family. One morning, the girl goes shopping for the family, and never comes home.

Massimo tells her of the discovery of a drowned homeless woman, whose body is in the police morgue. Brum is driven to track and remove each of the young woman’s tormentors, aided by her mortuary assistant, Reza – a man with his own criminal past. He is detached from emotion after years of creating trauma and serving time, but warms to the welcome Brum’s family have given him.

Her tracking of each of the sadists and what she does when she succeeds makes gut-churning reading, which in turn makes it impossible to put down the book – in case what you imagine is worse than what is written next.

The resolution is a reveal of a shuddering discovery, and handled in the same way as with the first three sadists. I’d have read this in one session, but starting in the late evening made it impossible. Guess what I was reading over breakfast next morning. I hope to be reading more from Aichner, and soon.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty

Woman of the Dead 
by Bernard Aichner
Published by Weidenfield & Nicholson
Paperback ISBN: 9780297608486
Case bound ISBN: 9780297608479

Also published on Lynne’s own blog, Red Penn Reviews