Book Review: Finding, by David Hill

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_findingDavid Hill has a remarkable output of fiction for young readers. This latest novel traces the history of several generations of two New Zealand families, one tangata whenua, the other Scottish immigrants.

There are eight sections to the novel, each written from the perspective of a family member of each generation. I found this a really interesting way to bring the history of this place and these people to life.

Hill builds an interesting, well-balanced and credible picture of life in New Zealand, in a country area, and is particularly effective in drawing the relationships between the families. There are shared stories which are retold and sometimes recreated in each succeeding generation.

The importance of the land on which the families live, and the river which runs through it, comes through strongly; the shared experiences – happy, sad, dangerous, amusing – help in developing a real sense of knowing the families and understanding the need for and importance of trusted friends and neighbours.

The voices in each section are authentic and the stories are full of interest, danger, excitement and a great understanding of how New Zealand has been shaped by our inhabitants.

There are things which I am sure readers will identify with – for example the axe which almost did for Duncan becomes a kind of taonga and helps to save Alan’s life; the reaction of Hahona’s family when they first hear the bagpipes, and how that reaction becomes part of the shared family histories; the interconnections of the families through marriage – all these and much more are woven into a lovely generational story.

I can see this being a great book to use as a teaching resource, but as well I think it will appeal to a wide readership.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Finding 
by David Hill
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143772392
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Book Review: Feverish, by Gigi Fenster

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_feverishFeverish is a fascinating memoir. Gigi says early in the book that while she wanted to write a memoir, she did not think anyone would be interested in reading about a middle-class, middle-aged white South African living in New Zealand. Furthermore, she seemed to be in some kind of creative slump. So she thought she needed some kind of inspiration to drive her to create something far more appealing – inducing a kind of fever such as that which often drives performance artists or other writers and poets.

That’s where it begins, but where it goes is far-reaching, wide-ranging and thought-provoking.

The breadth and depth of her internal exploration into what is significant is quite remarkable. But what to me is more remarkable is how she turns this into a fascinating, detailed and lively memoir of life as a young woman growing up in apartheid South Africa, with family who escaped the Holocaust – but not only the young woman, also the mature parent living with her husband and daughters in New Zealand. Her family – particularly her parents – spring off the page with their compassion and intellect and consideration for others. Her relationships with her siblings and her friends will probably ring bells of recognition in many. Her conversations with her teenage daughters are frequently hilarious. You do feel as though you know her family through the stories, throwaway comments and serious discussions which abound.

Her exploration of fever and how it might, or might not, work for her permeates the book with a sense of urgency (she was writing this for a PhD thesis, so I imagine there was time pressure!) but along with that, a sense of discovering what is really important to her.

I am not about to give away the results of her internal journey into the effects of fever on the creative mind, but I will say that I read this book once fast, and then a second time a great deal more slowly and I think it’s a brilliant piece of writing. It’s funny, clever, intellectually demanding, and it really makes the reader think  about what is important in life, and in our interactions with the people  in our lives – whether they are friends, relatives or colleagues does not matter. What does matter is how we see them and interact with them.

In all, I think it’s a great read, and the hoorey-goorey antennae will stay with me for a long time to come!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Feverish   
by Gigi Fenster
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561803

 

Book Review: The Beat of the Pendulum: A found novel, by Catherine Chidgey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_beat_of_the_pendulumThe latest from Catherine Chidgey is a very demanding book to get into. But it is certainly worth persevering.

She describes it as a found novel – I guess that as objets trouves can form pictorial art works, so this is a collection of found words which combine to form a picture of a year in the life of the novelist and her family and friends.

When you look at a picture composed in this way it’s often quite easy to see where the pieces connect, what drew the artist to them and how the composition developed.  I found it much harder to work out the connections, particularly in the first two or three months of the book.

Also it’s perhaps a bit of a writerly conceit to say the words were found, rather than collected or recorded – surely they must have been in some format which made them easy to retrieve, given the complexity of the conversations and how well they ring true. Or else Chidgey is just remarkable at recreating these moments. Or maybe, like Topsy in the old (and not PC) story it ‘just growed’.

Many of the people in her book spring to life through these snippets of conversation. Her mother, with increasing memory loss and confusion, springs to life – but so does the way in which memory, both present and lost, affects all of us. It’s particularly poignant as Chidgey pulls no punches in how difficult, frustrating, annoying and heart-breaking it can be to live with this as part of your life.

Of course it’s not just about memory, it’s about love, friendship, child development, relationships and all of the tiny or huge interactions we have with people every day.

It’s a compelling read, and even though at times I wanted to put it down because I really could not work out who was talking at the time, I persevered. Not because there’s a tidy conclusion, but because I wanted to hear all those stories and see where they went.

As a year in the life of Catherine Chidgey and her family and friends, I think it’s an absolutely fascinating book. Take the time you need to read it. If you want to whizz through it, resist the urge. Take it slowly and you’ll be rewarded.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Beat of the Pendulum : a found novel
by Catherine Chidgey
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561704

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

Tess
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
9781925381214