Book Review: Bruce Finds a Home, by Katherine van Beek

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_bruce_finds_a_home.jpgThe tiny grey kitten on the front of this colourfully illustrated book elicited an immediate cooing “awwww” from my school-age children. I thought they would be much too old for picture books by now but Bruce Finds A Home was snatched up immediately upon sight, the combination of cute cat plus delicate artwork proving a winning combination.

Bruce the Cat was found as a day-old kitten, lying helpless by the side of a road in central Auckland. Now two years old and living in Dunedin, he is an internet star with thousands of followers worldwide. This is his first foray into books, with the help of writer Kathryn van Beek.

This beautiful hardcover book was the result of a Kickstarter campaign backed by over 300 keen Bruce fans, eager to see his story in print. The result is a lovely rhyming tale about how a tiny newborn found his forever home – and his name. This would make a great read-aloud for kindergarten-aged children and a handy conversation starter for a gentle discussion about caring for animals.

I am sure this won’t be the last we see of the gorgeous Bruce or his clever “mum” Kathryn.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

Bruce Finds A Home
by Katherine van Beek
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473391737


Book Review: Through My Eyes – Lyla, by Fleur Beale

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_lyla_through_my_eyesThirteen-year-old Lyla, her family and friends are trying to get back to normal life in Christchurch after the terrifying September 2010 earthquake that shook their beautiful city in the middle of the night. Buildings were damaged but importantly, everyone is ok. Life is starting to return to some semblance of normality, despite the repeated aftershocks. Then, 22 February 2011, the big one hits.

Through My Eyes: Natural Disaster Zone is a powerful fiction series from Allen & Unwin about children living in contemporary natural disaster zones. Their stories range from war-torn Kashmir to the cyclone-ravaged Philippines. And now we have our very own New Zealand addition, written by the wonderfully talented Fleur Beale (of the I am Not Esther and the Juno series). Lyla is the story of a young girl, her family, and friends coping with life after the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Although this is fiction, it is most definitely a New Zealand story. From the slang to the touches of Māoritanga, to the Student Army and the broken spires of the Christchurch Cathedral, the story is rooted firmly in reality. I am not from Christchurch myself and only experienced the terrible 6.3 quake from afar, but my experience of living in Wellington through the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake gave me a true appreciation for Beale’s realistic depiction of the terror such an event creates. She also accurately captures the ongoing exhaustion of living with aftershocks: ‘But I was sick of being resilient. In my opinion, the resilient-sayers should try living here in Christchurch, City of Shaky Ground.  … It’s February now and you’ve been shaking us for five months. Enough already!’ The book deals compassionately with the issue of post-traumatic stress and the ongoing mental health challenges this brings. Lyla puts up a very brave front but the constant state of hypervigilance takes its toll.

For some readers, this book may be all too real and not something they want to delve into. But for those who did not live the experience, Lyla is a fantastic and moving insight into the life of an extremely resilient (yes, I said it), albeit fictional, young woman. This is another compassionate, engrossing read from one of New Zealand’s best young people’s writers.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Through My Eyes – Lyla
by Fleur Beale
Published by Allen & Unwin Australia
ISBN 9781760113780

Book Review: It’s My Egg (and you can’t have it!), by Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_its_my_egg.jpgFrom the very first picture on the cover of this lovely new picture book, you are left in no doubt as to the hero of our story. It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!) is the tale of one brave kiwi’s fight to protect his unborn chick from all manner of two and four-legged predators in the bush.

I had the perfect audience to test out this new New Zealand picture book: my visiting 5-year-old Australian niece who knew little about the threats facing our native bird. The book led to a lot of questions and a very educational discussion with other visiting relatives whose dog had recently graduated from kiwi-aversion training.

It is clear that a great deal of thought and care has gone into the design of this book. Kennedy Warne’s bright white prose stands out beautifully on the moodily dark pages. Heather Hunt’s bright colourful (“neon” piped up my nine year old) illustrations of the dangerous predators contrast starkly with the dark background and the softer colours of our protective kiwi dad. The scratchy sketchy style of the drawings gives extra menace and edge to the stoat with his viciously sharp teeth. The five year old squealed with glee as the stoat met his sudden demise. (More sensitively-minded children might require some extra explanation about trapping and its benefits.)

This book will be a fantastic resource for early childhood education centres and families wishing to educate their young ones about the risks to and resilience of our wonderful kiwi.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

it’s my egg (and you can’t have it!)
by Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503567

Book Review: The Suicide Club, by Sarah Quigley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_suicide_clubFor very different reasons, Bright, Gibby and Lace are all troubled: worn down by life, tired, depressed, and in need of intervention. Bright is the author of a surprise bestseller but feels immense pressured from the sudden fame and his dysfunctional relationship with his reverend father. Mysterious orphan Lace is beautiful, fragile and attracts men like moths to a proverbial flame. But she is unsettled. “[I]n spite of her unblemished skin and starry eyes, she’s old. From the age of eight, she’s felt as old as eh hills and it isn’t at all comfortable.” Lace’s best friend Gibby, loyal, protective and desperately in love with Lace, fears for her stability. Gibby has his own challenges that make life a burden; not least among them, witnessing Bright’s attempt to end it all by leaping from a building.

The three twenty year olds leave England in search of solace and treatment at The Palace, an experimental institution in Bavaria under the guidance of Dr Geoffrey. In their attempts to find some semblance of peace, they find love, but is love enough to save someone?

This is a beautifully, almost lyrically, written novel by New Zealand author Sarah Quigley. It is a story of love and friendship, tragedy and loss. The book dares to discuss one of society’s last taboos – the desire to end it all when life becomes too much. Quigley treats the topic with sensitivity and compassion but doesn’t flinch from confronting its harsh and haunting reality.

Although there are undoubtedly dark moments, as is probably inevitable given the title of the book, there are many wonderfully lighter moments. There is humour amongst the pain. The other characters at The Palace are quirky and funny, with some of the group therapy sessions bordering on the absurd. There is a particularly comical fight scene as Bright and Gibby compete for Lace’s affections.

Quigley also has a delightful ability to conjure up a scene with sparse but poetic description: ‘The dawn is bruised orange, the colour of over-ripe apricots.’ The Bavarian scene is almost otherworldly and dreamlike.

This is a haunting and thoughtful story, a very clever novel.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Suicide Club
by Sarah Quigley
Published by Vintage New Zealand
ISBN 9780143771012

Book Review: The Hypnotist, by Laurence Anholt

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_hypnotist.jpgIt is not often that a book so terrifies me with its building tension that I need to put it down at night and return to read it in the light of day. The Hypnotist was such a book. In the south of the United States, against the background of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, fourteen year old Pip is sold by his orphanage to a white farmer.

The bewildered Pip is taken to the ominously named Dead River to act as a carer to the farmer’s invalid wife. There Pip meets Irishman Jack, a hypnotist and neurology professor, who offers to home-school Pip and Hannah, a mute Native American girl who also works on the farm. Through their shared love of stories, notably Dicken’s Great Expectations, Pip and the farmer’s wife develop a relationship of mutual respect and tenderness. But outside of these growing friendships and the budding romance between Pip and Hannah, racial conflicts are intensifying. The presence of the farmer’s son, Erwin, an angry Vietnam veteran and white supremacist, looms large over the farm. The tension grows with the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan and its special breed of hatred. (It was at this point that I needed to stop reading before bedtime!)

The book’s narration switches between Pip, Jack, and Hannah, giving their unique perspectives on a troubled time in American history. The characters are very well-developed and bring their own individual insights and voice to the story. Farmer Zachery’s southern dialect is delightful to read:

… Way it works at Dead River – if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Most ‘f all you gotta read t’ her, y’ hear? Tha’s why ah picked you outta all the kids ah coulda chose.

This is a remarkable and extremely moving story of friendship, respect, and courage, made all the more timely by recent events in the United States and Europe. I would highly recommend this book for readers aged 12 and over, due to some of the themes.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Hypnotist
by Laurence Anholt
Published by Corgi Children’s
ISBN 9780552573450

Book Review: The Revelations of Carey Ravine, by Debra Daley

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_revelations_of_carey_ravineCarey Ravine appears to have it all. She’s living a happily decadent life in 1770s London with her husband, the charming Oliver Nash. Life is all about parties in stately homes, gorgeous dresses, and sleeping till noon.

Appearances, of course, can be deceiving. Carey’s past is not as innocent as she likes to pretend. She has secrets, not least a father who disappeared into the depths of the Indian jungle. In her efforts to keep her own skeletons firmly in the closet, she has been wilfully blind to her husband’s own secrets, too eager to take at face value all the lies that he has told her. And the Nashes are quickly running short of funds, with creditors lurking at the door.

Carey is a most frustrating young woman. She’s like that naively sweet friend who you suspect is being led on a merry dance by a rotten boyfriend but who is stubbornly incapable of hearing the truth. The reader begins to harbour suspicions about Nash’s true character long before Carey begins to question his shady past. Ultimately a visit from a mysterious stranger leads Carey to commence unraveling the web of lies, leading to a series of revelations about the men in her past and her present.

If you’re among the many lamenting the recent findings that New Zealanders don’t read much local fiction, then this is a great book for you to add to your To Read list. Although the novel is set in London’s high society and the jungles of India, Daley is herself a Kiwi writer, living in the Bay of Plenty.

The Revelations of Carey Ravine is a most entertaining and surprisingly dark glimpse into 18th century London’s secret societies, with a party scene to rival any soiree that Jay Gatsby ever hosted.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Revelations of Carey Ravine
by Debra Daley
Published by Quercus
ISBN 9781782069942


Book Review: The Fireman, by Joe Hill

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_firemanThe world is in the grip of a deadly pandemic. A highly contagious bacteria is spreading across the planet, infecting millions of people in its wake. Draco Incendia Trychophyton, or “Dragonscale” as people have taken to calling it, marks out its victims with beautiful decorative black and gold markings across their skin – and a propensity to burst into flame. And America is burning. Cities have been destroyed, millions have died. The sick are being hunted and executed by the healthy, led by The Marlboro Man and his Cremation Crew.

Harper is a nurse. Or at least, she was a nurse until her hospital burned down, killing hundreds of infected patients. Now she is herself infected with the disease – and pregnant. On the run for her life, and that of her unborn baby, Harper seeks refuge at a secret commune with fellow Dragonscale sufferers. They think they have found a way to live in harmony with their deadly disease – provided they are able to remain hidden from the quarantine squads. Among the group is the Fireman, an enigmatic madman who has taught himself how to wield his internal fire as a weapon.

I confess I am not a fan of horror or science fiction. This book was well out of my usual comfort zone. However, I was intrigued by the premise – and made all the more curious when I discovered that the author Joe Hill is actually Joe Hillstrom King, son of the legendary Stephen King. I suspected, rightly, that I was in for a good read. Joe has inherited his father’s gift for storytelling.

This is a tense and action-packed book. “How are we supposed to live our lives when every day is September eleventh?” Even when I wasn’t reading it, I felt an ominous sense of dread and anxiety. This is a book that follows you. Even in its bleak moments though, there is levity. I really enjoyed the many pop culture references and subtle jokes: the mentions of voting for Donald Trump, the frequent references to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter, the mentions in passing about the fate of various celebrities infected with Dragonscale (RIP George Clooney). This is a book that spans many genres without fitting neatly into any. It is part science fiction, part horror, part dystopian drama, part romance. In short, something for everyone.

It was no surprise to read in the author’s acknowledgements at the conclusion of the book that he has sold the film rights to the book. This is a story crying out to be on the big screen. The beautiful horror of the Dragonscale etching its victims in a pulsing gold pattern of swirls and curls will be incredible on a movie screen. Read the book before you see the movie.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

The Fireman
by Joe Hill
Published by Gollancz
ISBN 9780575130722