Book Review: This Mortal Coil, by Emily Suvada

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_this_mortal_coil.jpgWell, this book has everything that you could ask for in a dystopian novel, and more. There is some romance, there are a whole lot of horrible dystopian goings-on, including a particularly unpleasant virus which makes people explode (might need to check the science on that), and a marvellous array of geek-speak which is wonderful.

Our fearless heroine Catarina – known as Cat – is the daughter of a famous geneticist who, it was hoped, had the fix for the virus which is devastating what’s left of the known world.

When Cat hears of her father’s death from a soldier who has been gene-hacked – this is quite common in this story – she also discovers that there’s a code which she, and quite likely only she, can possibly crack, to save the world.

Yes, I know, you have heard this all before.

But what makes it different is the complexity and interweaving of all the various strands in this novel. Emily Suvada has degrees in math and astrophysics, and her expertise is well-utilised. While I did have to suspend disbelief several times, I still wanted to keep reading and see how it all turns out.

There are a zillion twists and turns, and those whom you think are evil may not be. And vica versa.

I would recommend it to any dystopia-lover, but if you have never read a YA dystopian fiction novel, this might not be the one to begin with.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

This Mortal Coil 
by Emily Suvada
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 9780141379272


Book Review – Follow Finn: a search-and-find maze book, by Peter Goes

Available in bookshops nationwide from today.

FollowFinn_Cover-450x600Finn wakes up one morning to find that the goblins are on the loose and the house is in chaos. When the goblins run off, Finn’s dog Sep gives chase, so Finn of course has to follow to see what’s happening. By the time Finn (and the reader) finds his clothes, Sep is long gone to the middle of the next page.

The clues on each page for what to find are in tiny writing, black on dark background, so some adult help may well be necessary in deciphering the clues – but I found that was part of the charm, and two heads were certainly better than one for searching. Sep of course is a great addition, and if you are hunting goblins it’s probably wise to take your dog so that he can scent home just when it’s all getting a bit much!

This is a lovely book. The use of one colour and black and white on each double-page spread is unusual, and makes it more challenging to find the clues, but my 7-year-old niece hung in there and we found 99.9% of what we should have found.

Peter Goes has a great imagination, and I think it is great to have a book about goblins, which is my personal favourite kind of magic creature.

It’s a big step up from Where’s Wally! Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Follow Finn: A search-and-find book
by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571857

Book Review: Tess, by Kirsten McDougall

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tessThis novel, the first by McDougall, who has previously published a collection of short stories, is a gripping read from the first words: ‘at first she was a blur of light and movement on the steaming road’.

The subject is Tess, a young woman on the run from a fairly disastrous relationship. She’s the product of similarly disastrous parenting, saved only by her grandmother. She has the gift of sight – not in the usual sense, but an ability to see what’s going on in the heads of others – which is either a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective.

It sounds a bit Gothic, and indeed it is, but so cleverly written and with such empathy for the characters that even if gothic literature is not your first choice, I think you’ll still be engaged by this novel.

Tess is rescued by a middle-aged father who has his own raft of issues, none of which Tess wants to hear about: she has enough problems of her own to deal with – a broken relationship with a violent partner just for starters. She is trying to find a way to heal herself, and how this comes about is sensitively done. Family and relationship tensions and difficulties not only in Tess’ life but in the lives of most of the characters ring true.

She is drawn, despite herself, to stay on in the Masterton home where she puts her gardening skills to effective use and where the relationship with the father – which in the beginning feels as if it’s going to be really dodgy – turns out to be something far deeper. The complicated relationships between the characters are well-drawn and credible, and the tensions are effectively maintained. The twist at the end is good, not totally predictable, and there’s a satisfying conclusion to the whole story.

I think it’s a good read and recommend it.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

by Kirsten McDougall
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561001

Editor’s Note: I bought and read this too, and I agree: It’s brilliant, well worth a read! – Sarah Forster

Book Review: Ten Pound Pom, by Carole Wilkinson and Liz Anelli

Available from 1 October in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ten_pound_pomCarole Wilkinson and her family emigrated from the UK to Australia under a scheme known officially as The United Kingdom-Australia Free and Assisted Passage Agreement. Post World War II, Australian industry was thriving and the Australian Government decided to encourage immigration, particularly from the UK. Ex-servicemen came free, others paid ten pounds, with children under 18 coming in free. These immigrants became known as Ten Pound Poms. The scheme continued until 1982.

The book is written in the present tense, from Carole’s perspective (of course!) and illustrated brilliantly by Liz Anelli. All of the experiences of long-distance ship travel are captured delightfully and will resonate with many older readers. For the younger readers, and I hope there will be many, it’s a great personal story, and the child’s voice comes through clearly. It has great appeal – there are lots of points of interest, and because of the episodic nature, it can be taken in small doses and thus enjoyed over a longer time.

It would be a great addition to school libraries and could be used successfully in social studies classes, I think.  It would suit able readers in the middle school years, or it would be a happy addition to home libraries.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Ten Pound Pom
by Carole Wilkinson and Liz Anelli
Published by Walker Books

Book Review: The Fuse Box – Essays on Writing, edited by Emily Perkins and Chris Price

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_fuse_boxWhat a fascinating collection this is. Poets, novelists, playwrights, tutors all write about their experience of writing. Their stories are remarkably different – Elizabeth Knox says she learned stories first as spoken narrative (her old sister Sara told her stories all the time) and later to read independently. That’s not so unusual, most kids hear narrative first – but few have the same talented sister to spin the tales, and even fewer find their creative voice as successfully as Elizabeth Knox has.

James Brown discovered at some point that reading could make him laugh and cry, and that it is not necessarily so for everyone. His piece is an alphabetic framework of his experience of writing and what the intending / aspirational writer should keep in mind. It’s well done and ranges from discovery through flarf (look it up!), intervention and shit detection to zing. It’s a clever idea and it works really well.

Lloyd Jones writes ‘to unlock something I don’t know exists. It’s in me somewhere and I’m in search of it’.

Damien Wilkins sheds light on Dennis McEldowney, among others. Stella Duffy views writing from a mid-point in life, with ideas to assist new writers. As she says, you can ignore all her points except this one: do the work. You have to do the work.

She also says that writing is not hard work. ‘Being a miner is hard work. Working twelve hours a day in a textile sweatshop is hard work………Writing…is not hard work…. but you have to work hard at it’

Patricia Grace is interviewed by her playwright daughter-in-law Briar Grace-Smith in a wonderfully interesting set of questions and answers. Much to be learned here.

For Victor Rodger writing is a political act, and for Nina Nawalowalo, necessity is the mother of her invention – there are stories which need to be told. As Tina Makereti quotes at the beginning of her essay, ‘Beautiful writing alone is not enough. Not now – look around you.’

There is a wealth more in this small book – it’s a really excellent insight into how many of our best writers write, teach, learn and create. If you want to write and don’t know how to begin, most of the experience in this book seems to say “just do it” and then see where it goes. That is really great advice. I think this is a great addition to our New Zealand literary canon, and I just have to end with the most wonderful quote from the last piece in this book, a poem by Hera Lindsay Bird where she says:

‘You start to wonder about the future and the great untitled project of your life

It keeps you up at night, like a big fluorescent sadness’

Maybe the solution to that is simply to start writing.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Fuse Box: essays on writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters
Edited by Emily Perkins and Chris Price
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561650


Book Review: Bastion Point: 507 days on Takaparawha, by Tania Roxborogh

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bastion_pointErica Tito thinks she’s going to spend the summer training her new horse (and also working to pay for it) but her parents suddenly have quite a different plan.

In 1977, the Muldoon government announced a housing development on Ngāti Whātua reserve land. This land had been reduced in size over time, by compulsory acquisition, despite having once been declared absolutely inalienable.

Many of the Ngāti Whātua iwi quickly returned to Auckland, and set up camp on Takaparawha, in what turned out to be a very long protest which ultimately saw more than 200 people arrested, and the buildings destroyed. However a subsequent Waitangi Tribunal determined that the land was indeed owned by Ngāti Whātua and much of it was returned. (source:

So, to return to Erica’s story – her parents decide that it’s most important that they join Joe Hawke and the other Ngāti Whātua leaders, and despite Erica’s protests, that’s what happens. However what is intended a summer break turns into almost 18 months of living in leaky tents, on Bastion Point as the family become immersed in the struggle to retain their land.

Tania Roxborogh has created a compelling and entirely credible story, told through the diaries which Erica (who loves reading and writing) keeps throughout this time. The difficulties of living in such conditions are occasionally startling in their description; one which sticks with me is Erica’s note about her clothes smelling of smoke and damp, and trying to get rid of that before going to school so that she would not be embarrassed. But there are also the high points – an understanding and challenging teacher, Erica’s eventual ability as a top debater being drawn out, friendships made and kept despite enormous differences.

The importance of whānau is well-defined, and will resonate with young readers, as will the strength of character of the Tito family, determined to fight for what they know to be right.

The occupation of Bastion Point was not an easy time for Ngāti Whātua, and Roxborogh alludes in a very gentle way to the difficulties between the occupiers and the tribal elders and their advisors on the marae. She has more to say (through Erica) about the politics and the government of the day, and that is a good reminder to those of us who are old enough to remember Bastion Point and the challenges which were thrown out to all New Zealanders.

In all this is a very accessible, engaging and thought-provoking book. I’d recommend it to anyone, but particularly to teachers as a terrific resource either as a read-aloud or a text for study.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Bastion Point: 507 days on Takaparawha
by Tania Roxborogh
Part of the My New Zealand Story series
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434795

Book Review: The Discombobulated life of Summer Rain, by Julie Lamb

Available in bookshops nationwide.

The Discombobulated life of Summer Rain is shortlisted for the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction, and the Best First Book Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_the_discombobulated_life_of_summer_rain.jpgIt’s hard not to want to read a book which has “discombobulated” in its title, and thanks to Margaret Mahy it’s a word that many kids will be familiar with.

From the first paragraphs, I was hooked. Summer Rain is a feisty, funny character who has a particularly weird family. Her mother departed the family early in the piece, and with her dad not able to cope, Summer spends much of her school week with her grandfather, Pop – shrewd as a ferret and cunning as a weasel, but also a good mate to Summer, most of the time. His lifelong stinginess means he’s loaded, but you would not know this from the dilapidated farmhouse and the state of Dock’n’Thistle, his rundown farm.

Summer feels that she does not fit in well with her peers, is a bit embarrassed by her living conditions, and makes up for it by being a bit of a clown, which makes her popular with the boys, and viewed more cautiously by many of the girls.

The story is well-developed – a romance between Pop and a local serial marrier (I made that up, I can’t find the right word!) brings Summer tremendous angst and she works to bring this to an end.

How she does that would be a spoiler, but along the way the ideas of real friendship, family loyalty and individuality are well-explored. It’s a bit wacky – quite a bit, actually – but that adds to the charm. I did find my credibility a little bit stretched once or twice but I didn’t really find that mattered in the end.

Julie Lamb writes in an easy, flowing manner and there’s heaps of humour along with the magic. Oh, I did not mention magic before? Well, there is quite a lot, as it happens. But you’ll need to read this book to find out just what that magic does.

Highly recommended, likely to appeal to girls more than boys I think, and definitely worthy of its place in the Book Awards finalists.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Discombobulated life of Summer Rain
by Julie Lamb
Published by Submarine (Makaro Press)
ISBN 9780994123701