Book Review: Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau 1843, by M H McKinley

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

This book is a finalist in the category of Best First Book in the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

warsNew Zealand history should be an important part of the education of our children but sometimes it is difficult to package the information in an easily read way. I think this might be the answer. A graphic novel takes the best of illustrations with the bare bones of text. Creatively combined, they tell a story in an engaging and informative way.

The story of the Pakeha Māori conflict at Wairau in 1843, marked the first major conflict between European and Māori. I grew up knowing it as the Wairau massacre, then the Wairau affray. Certainly, it was a sad story of greed, poor communication and mistakes on both sides. This version is based on the experiences of two boys, William and Arana. We hear of the confusion regarding land ownership and the injustice of the European law when a Maori mother and her child are attacked and killed. The devastating effects of English diseases also get a mention, especially on mental ability following syphilis. The narrative follows the events involving settlers, the NZ Company and the local Ngati-Toa.

The style of the illustrations fits the story. The colours are dark and threatening showing the harshness of conflict and the anger of the people. Expressions are vivid, details abound.

The book also includes excellent historical notes. These give an account of the actual events and biographies of each of the main characters. Photographs of the original sites and people add another layer of interest as do the newspaper pages on the back cover.

This book marks a new chapter in history for our children. It presents a clear, balanced version packaged in an easily read, well-illustrated book. I look forward to further titles in this series that will follow other events in the history of New Zealand.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau 1843
By M H McKinley
Published by Kin Publishing
ISBN 9780473356514

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 Grass was always Browner, by Sacha Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_grass_was_always_brownerThe Grass Was Always Browner by Sacha Jones has been described as a ‘memoir of ordinary events and aspirations’ but I’d describe it more as perfect blog fodder, and I wasn’t surprised to read the author does in fact have a blog, OWW: One Woman’s World.

Growing up in an ordinary suburban Australian family, Sally Jones isn’t all that happy with her lot. There’s her boring name for a start – Sally, a name shared with a neighbour’s dog. A mouthful of cramped teeth, a flat chest and a battle with asthma were added burdens.

For some bizarre reason a doctor prescribed suppositories to cure her asthma. After they made her vomit, ballet was deemed a better alternative. That made the name Sally even less attractive, because whoever heard of a ballerina called Sally? [Despite yearning to be called Sacha, and obviously achieving this at some point in her life, there isn’t actually any mention of when or how this happened.]

The Grass Was Always Browner is a simple story, made up of all the minutiae of family life, school, friends and ballet.

The story involves some moving accounts of Jones’ ballet career, both the highs and the lows, including her father being strongly against her indulging in what he sees as a frivolous pursuit. After reading about the sacrifices she made, you can’t help but cheer for her when she enters competitions and gets the chance to dance the lead role in a major ballet. The book ends with her heading off to London to enter two ballet competitions.

I’m not sure if there will be a sequel, but I was left feeling a bit flat, as I don’t know if she stayed in London and enjoyed a brilliant ballet career, or if the insecurities that plagued her early years overwhelmed her and she quietly returned to her ordinary life in Australia.

While The Grass Was Always Browner is an entertaining read, there are several sections, especially in the first half of the book, where I had the urge to shout, “Come on! Get to the point, woman!” Jones is probably great fun at parties, regaling everyone with tales of her youth. I’m just not sure it’s the kind of material that translates well into a book; it reads like the diary I imagine it started life as.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Grass Was Always Browner
by Sacha Jones
Published by Finch Publishing
ISBN 9781925048643

Book Review: The Agency, by Ian Austin

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_agencyDan Calder moves to New Zealand from the UK to put ghosts to bed. His father worked in the Police, rising through the ranks to become a senior officer. His father’s dirty secret was that he abused Dan’s mother. His mother died when he was a teenager, with Dan training to become a Police Officer himself, giving him an excuse to finally leave home. Dan has a successful career in the Police force in the UK but butts heads with those in authority, so leaves to live in New Zealand.

Dan lives next door to Paul and Shelley who try and make him welcome and include him in their social life, wanting to set him up with somebody they know. Dan has been burned a number of times in relationships, but he likes Tara, and they soon form a close relationship. Tara has a brother Neil who suffers from depression. Dan and Tara’s lives are soon linked forever through events far-reaching and beyond their control.

‘The Agency’ is formed by a woman with various identities. No job is too small or too difficult. She preys on the vulnerable – people suffering from terminal or severe mental illness. Dan, trolling the internet stumbles across ‘The Agency’. With his considerable computer skills he starts to wonder who is behind it. The name V. Stenning pops us again and again. He tracks the person behind the mysterious Agency down and manages to link them to an unsolved case in the UK…

This is a fantastic book and one of the best crime novels I’ve read for some time. Ian Austin worked as a Police Officer in the UK, and during a New Zealand Police recruitment drive he took the opportunity and transferred to the New Zealand Police. The thoroughness and detail that has gone into writing this book is outstanding. I look forward to reading more of Ian Austin’s books in the future.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Agency
by Ian Austin
Published by Ian Austin
ISBN 9780473355371

Book Review: Exits and Entrances, by Barry Southam

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_exits_and_entrancesExits and Entrances is a collection of both prose and poetry that describes characters at different points of their lives. Some of these figures are closer to the edge of certain exits and entrances, while others watch these borders being crossed in front of them.

Southam’s poetry is short and sweet, describing images that hint at lives beyond what can be seen. The poem Footpath Conundrum describes a torn photo as a ‘quartet of colour’. Lost without an owner, the photo is a fracture that ‘remains unanswered’; even the smallest things like a photo on the footpath carry their own resonances. His poetry also hints at change that is yet to occur; the poem Artist’s Studio is a piece that works in this way. It describes paint as’lifeblood’ for an unnamed character that works in the studio. These splashes of colour will soon become part of another canvas that is yet to be mounted, and therefore another piece of art. Without even describing the artist himself, a rich landscape is instead formed through the setting.

Southam’s pieces of prose also broke up the poetry nicely. Made In Heaven describes a rushed marriage through a cheeky main character who suggests, ‘If war breaks out, I’m going to maintain the Switzerland position,’ when drama seems imminent. Playing upon the setting of a wedding gone wrong, Southam brings just the right amount of absurdity to explore the complexity of human emotions that lead to such decisions. Sunday Crossroads is another piece of prose that looks at human nature, this time in the setting of a bush walk; it explores the tugs between pride and fear, the unknown and the safety of home. It is only the good sense of one of the figures that gets the characters out of the bush before it gets too dark. Needing to be reassured but unable to find it in the people around him, another character repeats “We’re okay now… We’re okay now” to himself like a mantra.

However, many of these prose characters fell flat, especially against the richness of the poetic language that surrounded it. A few of the stories were told through the perspective of characters who were passive figures that observed others undergoing change, rather than actively changing themselves. For this reason, I found myself wanting to know more about characters that weren’t focalised through the narrative, causing the actual main characters pale in comparison.

Nevertheless, Southam ends the collection sweetly with a section titled Two Memoirs. The poem Walking With Jim is a casual conversation that portrays the easiness between two characters while they mull over their history. Meanwhile, the poem Another Town, Another Time focuses on change in relation to place, describing the small town of Kawhia, before inevitably moving on to bigger cities.

The final poem, On Daffodil Day, is a pensive piece that describes a man in a hospital cancer department, surrounded by “terminal decisions”. In this way, the collection ends on an exit, but the former poems reflecting on change makes it clear that there were many entrances and exits along the way that lead to this final departure.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Exits and Entrances
by Barry Southam
Published by Copy Press
ISBN 9780994129598

Book Review: Julie & Kishore, by Carol Jackson

Available in selected bookstores nationwide. 
cv_julie_and_kishore
Carol Jackson is a New Zealander married to an Indian man. They have been together over twenty years. This books is fiction but is loosely based on her own life.

Julie, like all young Kiwi girls dreams of meeting Mr Right and living the dream, but finding this man seems elusive. Working firstly as a veterinary nurse then changing careers to work at OSW (Office Supply Warehouse), Julie’s job entailed visiting companies to discuss their office supply needs. One of these companies’ was an accountant’s – McAllister and Co. There she caught the attention of a young Indian man, Kishore who had been in New Zealand for two years. The two of them became friends and then of course, like in all good love stories, this love developed, with Kishore eventually asking Julie to marry him. Julie’s friends and family at first were worried for her, but after meeting Kishore they all realised he was perfect for her. Julie’s parents gave them their blessing.

Kishore’s family in India wanted to meet Julie, so it was duly arranged for them both to travel to India. On arriving there, Julie was welcomed into the family. Kishore’s mother and father put the suggestion to them both that perhaps they marry in India.

This is a great read. Many of us don’t know a lot about Indian culture but with the growing cosmopolitan population of New Zealand, inter-marriage between races isn’t that unusual. In the 1980’s, of course, this was very unusual.

Carol Jackson has written another book in this series Julie & Kishore – Take Two. This will be released shortly. She is currently writing a third book, Nina’s Art, which involves many of the same characters, but is a different story.

I look forward to reading more of Julie & Kishore’s life.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Julie & Kishore
by Carol Jackson
Published by Libertine Press
ISBN  9780692262313

Book Review: Maungawhau – A Short History of Volunteer Action, by Friends of Maungawhau

Available in local bookshops within the Maungawhau area.cv_friends_of_maungawhau 

Friends of Maungawhau (FoM) has been in existence since the 1980’s as an informal group of local residents. It began as a sub-committee of the Mt Eden planning group. Under Sue Bulmer’s leadership, the FoM was formed. She built a close relationship with various people including Ngati Whatua heritage advisor Ngarimu Blain and historian Pita Turei. FoM was incorporated in 2002. This book is a history of the work of this group, and more broadly, a history of the industrial background of the region.

FoM’s objectives are to preserve and protect the natural and cultural character of Maungawhau and to defend it against harm and unsustainable use. FoM’s focus is on practical volunteer action and care for the natural environment and advocacy for co-ordinated management.

Maungawhau was once the site of a large terraced Pa, one of the three largest in Tamaki
Makaurau. From the 1840’s onwards, Maungawhau  was used by settlers for grazing of cattle, horses, goats, pigs and geese. In 1930 this ceased, following grass fires during the long hot summers, but it was to resume in the 1940’s. This was seen as a way to control vegetation. From the 1960’s Bob Linton leased land on Maungawhau; with his son taking over the leases in 1995. They grazed Hereford-Friesian crossbred calves for a year, removing them at eighteen months of age. Concerns were beginning to surface over the impact of the cattle on archaeological features. Also weed control was becoming a major problem with erosion after spraying.

In earlier years at least five pits were quarried on the flanks of Maungawhau – something I am familiar with from my own family history. Erosion is now a huge problem in all areas.

Invasive plants have also been a major issue, because early plantings of areas of Maungawhau included plants that are now considered noxious weeds. Native planting was done intermittently. Of more recent times, public planting days were held.

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s a few keen people largely working independently began to take practical steps to show what could be done with sustained effort. Experiments were carried out with different species with some successes with canopy and understory planting. 2000 – 2006 Kit Howden supervised public planting days and regular volunteer weeding sessions.

Throughout New Zealand, groups such as the FoM, are maintaining areas such as this, in a state that all can enjoy. The amount of work that groups such as the FoM do is phenomenal.

This is a very detailed book which also outlines FoM working closely with Council and Iwi to define strategies and solutions to the problems of the area. This has resulted in some successes, but it is evident that considerable work needs to be completed to achieve the FoM’s objectives.

This book was a real eye opener to me – the dedication by this particular group is astounding and because of this and other similar groups archaeological and historic sites all over New Zealand are being preserved.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Maungawhau – A Short History of Volunteer Action
Written and published by the Friends of Maungawhau (Mt Eden)
ISBN 9780473298470