Book Review: The Falconer’s Daughter by N. K. Ashworth

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.cv_the_falconers_daughter

Fourteen-year-old Maddie Prescott is beginning to suspect that the medallion her mother
left to her possesses magical powers. It’s easy to believe considering the other curiosities Maddie has recently discovered; there’s the injured falcon she takes under her wing (if you’ll excuse the pun) and the Tower her mother built before Maddie was born. Most mysterious of all is the unfinished book trilogy that Maddie’s mother had written before the accident that killed her many years ago. The main character, Skyla Hawke, seems to have a lot in common with Maddie — perhaps too much in common for it to be a coincidence.

Maddie begins to read the incomplete book manuscript; meanwhile, she and her best friend Jess begin to investigate both the mystery of the medallion and the death of Maddie’s mother. Maddie’s father seems to be keeping secrets from her, and as the truth becomes clearer, Maddie begins to wonder if she really knew her mother at all. Gradually the line between fantasy and reality is blurred as the Skyla Hawke books start to closely resemble elements of Maddie’s life.

When Maddie discovers that two mysterious visitors to the Tower are in fact two of her own separate personalities, Lexie and Alex, it’s revealed that she has Dissociative Identity Disorder. DID is a mental disorder that is rarely referenced in YA literature at all; this book raises awareness about the disorder while careful not to turn the story into a lecture.

The Falconer’s Daughter is an imaginative story about falcons, magic and the slow process of beginning to heal. It’s a short but powerful read, perfect for the remainder of the school holidays.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon, aged 16

The Falconer’s Daughter
by N. K. Ashworth
RSVP Publishing
ISBN 9780987658760

Book Review: Rich Man Road, by Ann Glamuzina

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.cv_rich_man_road

This is the story of two women from very different places whose paths cross in a brief but meaningful way in New Zealand, where the two migrants have made new lives for themselves.

The story is told primarily by Sister Mary Pualele, a novice nun, as she looks back – both over her own life and that of an older nun named Olga whom she has befriended, whose story unfolds in a diary which she has gifted to Pualele.

Olga escaped, with her mother and brother, from a small Dalmatian village overrun by Nazis in the latter part of World War II. She blames herself for a childish lie which led to a greater misunderstanding and family heartache. She carries the burden of the lie and its effect on her family til her dying days. Her fractured relationship with her estranged mother and resulting emotional abandonment is painful to read about. Olga concedes that it is to spite her communist mother, as much as it the comfort of familiar customs, that leads her to the Church.

Pualele arrives in Auckland, as a nine year old, to join an aunt and uncle for a chance at a “better life” in New Zealand. She longs to return to her village in Samoa, to her mother. Life in Auckland is loud and confusing. There is the constant whispered threat of being caught out as an “overstayer”. This is the era of dawn police raids, a shameful era of policing in New Zealand. Pualele is torn between her painful longing to return home to Samoa and guilt, knowing she is supposed to be grateful for the opportunity she is being given by her aunt and uncle. She prays that God will help her find the strength to face her new life and finds a sense of calmness in the Church that comforts her in a way no other place has done.

The author is of Croatian descent and Olga’s story was inspired by the experiences of her grandmother, aunts and uncle who were evacuated from Dalmatia to Egypt in the latter stages of World War II, and eventually made their home in Auckland.

The book is as much a recounting of immigrants’ experiences assimilating to New Zealand as it is a personal story of the two women. And it was this aspect that particularly held my interest. As a fourth-generation New Zealander, the challenges of trying to assimilate into a new country, whilst wanting to hold fast to one’s own culture, is not something I have experienced. And this after all is one of the reasons why reading is so important; the ability to try and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Even when it is our own very familiar part of the world.

“’Keep cool ‘til after school’, the man on the TV says every afternoon. She thought it very funny at first. Why would you want to be ‘cool’ when almost everyone she sees on the streets wears thick jumpers and coats? New Zealand isn’t hot at all. But it is a very strange country.”

This is not a long book, although slightly longer than a novella. It unfolds slowly but gracefully, with the intertwining of the two women’s stories. It is a story of love and loss, and of finding your identity. Rich Man Road is Ann Glamuzina’s first novel.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Rich Man Road
by Ann Glamuzina
Published by Eunoia Publishing
ISBN 9780994104731

Book Review: Death and Forgiveness, by Jindra Tichá

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_death_and_forgivenessA black swan floats on rippling water on the cover of Jindra Tichá’s novel, Death and Forgiveness. The image could not be a more apt symbol for the book. Serene, yet with the promise of troubled water and darkness at its heart, Death and Forgiveness is both a portrait of a difficult marriage and a chronicle of the grief and heartbreak of emigration.

Death and Forgiveness, Tichá’s nineteenth novel (but her first in English), revolves around the central character of Anna, formerly a Czech national but long since having moved to New Zealand. While on a visit back to Prague to bury her mother, Anna receives a phone call from her son back in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her estranged husband Jan has committed suicide in the Dunedin bush. Anna at once travels back to Dunedin, echoing the journey she made from communist Czechoslovakia to New Zealand decades earlier.

These two journeys—her initial emigration to New Zealand by boat with her husband, and the present-day journey back to New Zealand to bury that same man—are interwoven with each other through the book. These twin journeys build up a picture of Anna and Jan’s marriage, as together they weathered Communism, adultery, unwanted pregnancy, and exile. Neither are perfect, and Tichá refreshingly makes no attempt to make either character likeable, preferring instead to be transparently honest about Anna’s thoughts and feelings. Jan, however, was more of a question mark of a character, his true motivations hidden from both Anna and the reader by his eventual hatred and rejection of Anna. Despite her overwhelming feelings of hurt, Anna remains devoted towards him—a habit borne of a long marriage, and an allegiance she cannot break.

Anna’s ties back to Czechoslovakia are similarly unbreakable, despite everything she goes through. Anna (perhaps speaking as a mouthpiece for Tichá) says: “God was truly dead in the communist society, and human decency had died as well […] It was a society which, in the words of John Paul II, indulged in the culture of death. That society corrupted us as well, even if we were not fully aware of it”. And yet, it is still a terrible wrench for Anna to leave that society behind. Emigrating—in fact, fleeing—Czechoslovakia and the life she had known is clearly a kind of death for her, and Anna’s struggle to deal with this grief while being overwhelmed by the starkly new experiences of emigration makes for compelling reading.

Some of the differences between communist Czechoslovakia and New Zealand are fascinating, if sobering. When Anna, upon arriving in New Zealand, tells her doctor she is pregnant but has contracted German measles, she is nonplussed to find that her doctor believes her and reassures her that her baby is probably safe; in communist Czechoslovakia, telling your doctor this meant that you wanted an abortion, something your doctor would do for you, no questions asked, understanding that in such a society, another mouth to feed was a curse, not a blessing.

It’s details like this that speak to the stark truth of this novel. Although Tichá’s prose is unadorned, even Spartan, in style, the story and the honesty with which it’s portrayed more than makes up for its lack of stylistic flair. As such, Death and Forgiveness is by turns a depiction of a Communist society that is gone but not forgotten, a story of a journey from home to make a new home elsewhere, and a unflinching glimpse into a far-from-perfect marriage. It is also a fascinating page turner. A recommended read.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

Death and Forgiveness
by Jindra Tichá
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473306717

Book Review: Heart of the Tapu Stone, by Olivia Aroha Giles

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.

Heart of the Tapu Stone is an engaging and well-written tale, containing many interwoven cv_heart_of_the_tapu_stonethreads. It is the story of  family dynamics, following the lives of two women and those around them. The book explores how family can teach you more about yourself as you grow up and come of age.

Ana Kingi left her husband and daughter years ago, returning to the small township of her childhood to act as their local doctor. Here she fell back into easy friendship with her neighbour and childhood playmate, local farmer, Robert McGregor. Now, as her daughter is in her teenage years, she has brought her back to her side in the hope of getting to know her, and helping the young woman to understand herself.

Laurel, raised as a privileged city girl, doted on by her father and grandparents, is somewhat reluctant to go along with these plans. However, this soon gives way to a more positive frame of mind when she meets Robert’s nephew, Romeo, who has just become his uncle’s ward, and comes from a troubled home.

Both Laurel and Ana have strong personalities, and often clash with one another.  Ana is determined, stubborn and her daughter reflects these traits, with an added streak of recklessness and feist. She is not easily beaten down by her encounter with the local teenage-girl clique, who are resentful of her intrusion. Added into the mix of personalities are Ana’s spiteful mother; Romeo’s aggressive and vindictive father; Piripi, Robert’s hopeless flirt of a brother; Colin Maynard, Laurel’s father and Ana’s ex-husband and Margaret, Colin’s mother and Romeo’s care-worker.

With such a colourful cast of characters, Olivia Aroha Giles has skilfully woven an intricate and careful weave, creating personalities you will remember and a story that is easy to lose oneself in.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Heart of the Tapu Stone
by Olivia Aroha Giles
Published by Dusky Productions Ltd
ISBN 9780473230876