Book Review: Wairaka Point – An African-New Zealand Journal, by Trevor Watkin

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_wairaka_pointThe first thing most people do when picking up a new book is to automatically go to the front flap of the dust cover to get an outline of the story, but in this case no information was on offer. The second thing I know I do, is to read the back flap of the dust cover to read the biography of the author, but again nothing was there, so I did what any good reader does – I just got on and read the book. And what a book!

The story starts in Pukerua Bay, in Wellington, New Zealand 1961 with Nick James going off with his gun (a present from his father on his fifteenth birthday) to shoot a few rabbits. It had been raining so the cliff face was muddy and loose. While walking along the coast, near Wairaka Point, he came across a massive slip which had pulled down boulders, soil, trees and sand. He decided to go around the debris and at that moment he saw a skeleton, with a military-type jacket made of leather now green with mould. He raced home to get his Father. His Father gets the local policeman involved who sends the body off to the mortuary for a post mortem. Nick learns that the coroner has determined that it was probably the remains of an old hunter from before the war who fell and cracked his head on a rock. Case closed, no more is thought of the incident.

In another part of the world, Stella Rees was home in Umtali, some hundred miles north of Melsetter where her grandparents Oom (Pieter) and Sissy Viljoen, tobacco and dairy farmers live. The Viljoens were descendants from one of the original Afrikaans families.

How Nick James and Stella Rees meet and their connection to each other evolves into one of the best stories I’ve read for a very long time. This is a story based around true events in world history – WWII, Afrikaans history all interwoven into a “can’t put it down book”. A love story, with adventure, criminal activity, and a mystery finally solved. Lots of footnotes with explanations of Kiwi slang, Māori words, Afrikaans and historical events make this a very enjoyable read.

Trevor Watkin was born in Cornwall, educated in Zimbabwe and graduated from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, so a well- travelled man with an obvious interest in New Zealand and African history. He has worked in agriculture as a trader, company director and publisher, and lives in Melbourne.

A great read and I would certainly read anything else Trevor Watkin wrote.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Wairaka Point: An African-New Zealand Journal
by Trevor Watkin
Published by Product Research Pty Ltd
ISBN 9780648214212

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Book Review: The Best of Adam Sharp, by Graeme Simsion

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_The_best_of_Adam_sharpThis book is really good chick lit – so good,  I would have assumed the book had a female author, had I not read the front cover.

The book starts with an email Adam Sharp receives from Angelina Brown, an Australian actress who was briefly the love of his life more than 20 years ago. He was a British IT contractor on an assignment in Melbourne and they met in a club where he occasionally played the piano and sang in exchange for a few beers. That night he was trying to impress a woman he was on a date with, but all thoughts of her were forgotten when Angelina walked up to his piano and asked if he knew a particular song.

Although Angelina was married to Richard, the pair had a short but intense fling before Adam had to leave to fulfil the next part of his contract. Despite their best intentions, life got in the way and they ended up going their separate ways. Adam had a long relationship with his partner Claire and never gave Angelina another thought – until he received an email from her, with just the word ‘hi’.

The pair start an online conversation that Adam keeps from Claire. She is stressed as it is, as she is in the process of selling her software company. If the sale goes ahead she will end up in the US, and Adam has made it clear he isn’t prepared to go with her. The emails lead to Angelina inviting Adam to join her and her second husband Charlie on holiday in France. Adam doesn’t know why she invited him, but he knows things aren’t going anywhere with Claire so he ends their relationship and heads to France.

As soon as they are reunited, it’s obvious there is still an attraction between them. But Angelina is married with three children… and Adam doesn’t know what he wants, other than to go back to the time they first met. I don’t want to give away anything by going into detail about what happens in France, but it will shock and surprise readers!

The ending had a few surprises in store as well, and just when you think you know what life has in store for Adam, Angelina, Charlie – and Claire – Simsion throws another curve ball into the mix.

It’s an easy and enjoyable read, made all the more interesting by the playlist of songs that accompanies it. I’d guess the author is about my age as I knew all but a few of the songs listed, and could summon the lyrics as I read the book.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Best of Adam Sharp
by Graeme Simsion
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925355376

Book Review: The Atomic Weight of Love, by Elizabeth J Church

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_atomic_weight_of_loveIn 1941, Meridian Wallace begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago, determined to prove worthy of the sacrifices her mother made for her to enable this to happen.

Although dating a student similar in age she falls in love with her physics professor Alden Whetstone who is twenty years older than her. “When I was with Alden –discussing listening, leaning across tables and fully animated –life was painted in more vibrant colours; birdsong was more elaborate, rococo.” But when Alden goes to Los Alamos in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb), Meri has to decide whether to continue with her studies or be with Alden in New Mexico.

“By morning I’d found a place of compromise. I agreed to a one year trial period. I’d still do what I could in terms of crow observation, and then I’d use that research as a foundation for my master’s degree.”

The reader feels Meri’s frustration as the storyline continues to map out her life attending a women’s discussion group in the town as well as exploring the area studying her crows. When in 1970 she meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, her life gains new meaning and she begins to question her life with the professor.

The Atomic Weight of Love examines the changing roles of women following the Second World War and the Vietnam conflict when it was still the expectation that women would fit in with a man’s plan, sometimes at the expense of their own dreams.

This is the first novel written by Elizabeth J Church, who has practised law for more than thirty years. She was born in Los Alamos and still lives there now and her writing reflects her intimate knowledge of a fascinating area. “Hardy adaptive plant life managed to wedge itself into dust-filled cracks in the lava, and there were bluffs where rainwater collected in shallow pools.”

Church has given each chapter a title which includes a different bird such as “A Deceit of Lapwings” and she has then cleverly included aspects in the chapter which is reflected in the title. I found it a slow read to begin with but was soon gripped with the story and its surprising ending. The cover of the book is stunning with birds beautifully displayed in a periodic table setting.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J Church
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008209308

Book Review: The Moment She Left, by Susan Lewis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_moment_she_leftThe Moment She Left is one of those books that pulls you in very quickly and keeps you turning the pages avidly until the end. I had not read any Susan Lewis novels before this one but I’ll be keeping an eye out for her from now on.

In the first chapter we’re introduced to Jessica Leonard, who was heading to meet her family, but changed plans at the last minute after getting a call as she entered the railway station. Jessica’s final thoughts are relayed from inside a garage, before the book jumps ahead two years and it’s quickly apparent she never made it home to her family that day.

What happened to Jessica that day? Who did she meet? Where is she and is she alive or dead? These questions have plagued her family – dad Blake, who blames himself for having to relocate the whole family after something happened that caused him to lose his job, severely depressed mother Jenny, and twin brother Matt.

Blake hires retired detective Andee Lawrence to go over the case again in case the police missed something. She’s in the middle of her own crisis, splitting from husband Martin and unwittingly renewing contact with former lover Graeme – who just happens to be Blake’s boss.

Graeme’s sister Rowzee has secrets of her own – a serious health issue that she doesn’t want to burden her family with. She lives with their sister Pamela, who also appears to be hiding something.

At first I thought The Moment She Left was a crime novel but it’s so much more than that. It’s a drama about ordinary people who get caught up in events that dramatically change their lives. The book has a number of twists and turns that had several characters doubting themselves. And one character is being blackmailed, handing over vast sums of cash to an unknown person who is threatening to expose their secret.

Are any of these people connected to Jessica’s disappearance? Rowzee is the one who stumbles on the truth in the end, although by then she is so affected by her illness she’s not sure what’s going on.

I really enjoyed The Moment She Left as Susan Lewis kept the pace going and her characters were likeable and believable. The ending had elements of a fairy tale to it for some of the characters, but who could begrudge that when you know what they had all been through?

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Moment She Left
by Susan Lewis
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780891859

Book Review: A French Wedding, by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_french_weddingTo celebrate his 40th birthday, rock star Max arranges a big weekend with his closest friends. Although they don’t see each other as much these days, they remain as close knit as they were when they met back at art college in the 90s.

They arrive at his fabulous house in France, eager to enjoy a weekend of reconnecting and reminiscing the glory days of their youth. Ever the rock star – cocky, wild and leader of the gang and struggling with addiction, Max may still have the girls swarming around him, but only one has ever had his heart. His kindred spirit, Helen. Troubled and wild like him, she arrives with her half-sister Soleil, who does not fall for Max’s rock n roll charm.

Nina and Lars, two of the gang who paired up, arrive with their teenage daughter Sophie. Tensions between mother and daughter are clear. Rosie arrives without her three sons, but with husband Hugo. A surgeon, he is conservative and safe, everything Rosie thought she wanted. Hugo most definitely does not fit in with this bohemian crowd. The final member of the gang is Eddie, who arrives with Beth, his latest, younger girlfriend. Also at the house for the weekend is local villager Juliette, employed by Max as his cook/housekeeper. Once a celebrated rising chef and owner of a popular restaurant in Paris, Juliette has returned to the village to heal.

Much of the story is told from Juliette’s view point as she observes the various interactions between the group. She notices the strained exchanges between husband and wife, the quiet angst of the teenager and the concern of friends for one another. As she serves up one glorious feast after another, along with some advice, she finds herself drawn into the dynamics of the group and becomes part of the team. Other pieces of the tale are delivered in flashbacks, both from Max and Juliette, and this worked well to reveal more about the characters current situations.

Throughout the weekend, events begin to escalate, leading them all towards truths some would have preferred kept hidden but which need to be acknowledged and faced. A sudden dash to Paris took both the characters and myself by surprise; leading to a refreshing scenario that I had not seen coming.

The tale ends with a wedding a year later, everyone again gathers at Max’s house. We revisit Juliette, now in her happy place as owner of the village bakery and doing well. As for who is getting married, again a nice turn that I didn’t see coming, although the clues were in place.

This is a tale of a weekend of change, of reflection and facing truths. An enjoyable read for the personalities and lives contained within and the fun moments of reminiscing (anyone who was a teen in the 90s will love the familiar music referenced).

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

A French Wedding
by Hannah Tunnicliffe
Published by Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743548103

 

Book Review: The Blackbird Sings at Dusk, by Linda Olsson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_blackbird_sings_at_duskThe cover of The Blackbird Sings at Dusk is soft and gentle, inviting the book to be opened for the reader to be enveloped into the lives of three lonely people. The blackbird drawings at the beginning of each chapter help in making the book inviting.

Elisabeth moves into an apartment block, and shuts herself from the world outside, with her only companion The Woman in Green who appears in her dreams during the night.

Across the hallway, Elias believes a package wrongly delivered to him may belong to the new tenant and tries to make contact with her, only to discover she has blocked up her doorbell. However he leaves the parcel at the door, which Elisabeth finds, and as a way of saying thanks, leaves a book outside Elias’ door. He reads the book with help from his friend Otto who lives upstairs, and after he reciprocates with a book of his, the nightly exchange continues between the pair.

Elias also shares some of his drawings with Elisabeth, and an image of a blackbird had a profound and lasting impression on her: ‘The bird was so delicately painted, just a few brush strokes, yet so alive it might fly off the paper at any moment’.

When Elias is badly beaten up outside the apartment, Elisabeth seeks the help of Otto after going to his aid, and this leads to a gentle friendship, their love of books slowly leading all three back out into the real world. The reader gradually discovers what has led the characters to the apartment building and as they unpeel their backgrounds they help each other to heal and move forward.

I enjoyed devouring this book slowly, it is a beautiful piece of writing and author Linda Olsson includes fascinating glimpses of her homeland Sweden. The ending was a surprise and leaves the reader wondering.

Linda Olsson moved to New Zealand from Sweden in 1990 and has written three other novels. The Blackbird Sings at Dusk will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a bit of intrigue, and romance.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Blackbird Sings at Dusk
by Linda Olsson
Published by Penguin Books (NZ)
ISBN  9780143573661

Book Review: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between, by Jennifer E. Smith

cv_hello_goodbye_and_everything_in_betweenAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

First conversation. First kiss. First time being sneezed on. No matter how much time passes, there’s always something about that first love that sticks with you. Reading Hello, Goodbye and Everything In Between felt a little like experiencing those firsts all over again – except with a much more heart-warming ending!

For Clare and Aidan, their last night together before moving to separate coasts for college is about one thing only: deciding if they should stay together, despite the miles that separate them; or resigning to the more logical option of parting as friends. Through the night they visit a number of places that marked their ‘firsts’ – from their first kiss, to their first dance, and later, the first place that Clare watched Aidan throw up. As they say goodbye to close friends (including a lake-bound robot named Rusty), and visit their old haunts one last time, they both struggle with coming to terms with the idea of their future apart.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between is a super-sweet contemporary romance that explores some of the difficult decisions ‘new adults’ struggle with without needless melodrama. The fresh, authentic tone of the story is coupled with prose that reads like a film, and characterisation that jumps off the very first page – though the editor in me does wonder if the tone would have been better suited to a first-person narrative point of view rather than third-person.

Although romance is the primary focus, the cast of secondary characters really make this book. Aidan and Clare’s friends and parents add an emotional depth to the story that intensifies the stakes and adds enough of an element of surprise to keep things interesting, while still keeping that light and fluffy romantic tone. As the night progresses, I couldn’t help but feel the heart-wrenching twists and turns of will-they, won’t-they. A quick, light read, this book isn’t much of a time investment, but still delivers on all of the feels.

Reviewed by Emma Bryson

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between
by Jennifer E. Smith
Published by Headline
ISBN  9781472235565