Book Review: Please Enjoy Your Happiness, by Paul Brinkley-Rogers

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_please_enjoy_your_happinessThis is a love story, a fine romance but there is nothing mushy about it. Mills & Boon it is not.

Instead, it is a beautifully written snapshot of the authors’ First Love, based on his time spent in Japan as a serviceman, which still resonates today with the author.

Just 19 years old when he is sent to serve in Japan, Paul and the older, more sophisticated Kaji Yukiko are an unlikely match. She is on the run from very unpleasant circumstances, and he is a very young serviceman. It is a shared love of poetry, music and the theatre that draws them together, unleashing a love that will continue to have an impact on the rest of Brinkley-Rogers’ life. This all happened during a time when there was no email or social media, and there was limited telephone access. People wrote letters – and it was a rediscovery and rereading of Kaji’s letters to him that enabled Brinkley-Rodgers to realise that after all he had been through, Kaji was still the love of his life, and that the love had never died.

This is really quite a special book, Brinkley-Rogers’ story is beautifully written and very engaging and without artifice. It is honest and warm, there is plenty of room for thought, especially with regards “lost” love – love that may in fact not have been lost, but has been forgotten, where only hindsight can remind us of the impact that these loves have had on us. Brinkley-Rogers invites us to look back, acknowledge and celebrate our loves and honour them, and he does so in a very readable book which keeps the reader turning the pages.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Please Enjoy Your Happiness
by Paul Brinkley-Rogers
Published by Macmillan
ISBN  9781509806089

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Book Review: All Involved, by Ryan Gattis

Available at bookstores nationwide.
cv_all_involved
Gattis presents, from the points of view of many residents of differing ethnic groups, the actions of gangs and individuals in the area which took advantage of the enraged riot in Los Angeles 1991, to battle as they fought to take revenge, or increase their territory. This new angle gives a gut-wrenching reveal of the gang mentality with its flimsy loyalty, arrogance, and intimidation of members and public alike.

The book comprises six sections – one for each day of the riots. Within each day, Gatttis lets us see the connections and interactions between seventeen individuals involved – gang members, their partners, wannabes, and fire fighters, nurses, law enforcers. Each section allows the reader to feel the social pressure the individual is under – whether gang or relationship pressure – to conform, to meet demands, to follow the rules and expectations. Horrific consequences face those who go against a gang or gang leader (their own or another). Drugs and pimping are commonplace (though the latter is only briefly included).

We hear their street language. We sweat with the nervous. We tremble with rage at the atrocities. We gulp at the helplessness of those ensnared in this lifestyle. We sympathise. We are in suspense awaiting foretold attacks. We feel hope for Freer, who makes his escape from the city to try to be “freer”, elsewhere.

For those of us who’s only knowledge of the Mexican/Hispanic LA community comes from TV shows, there is a helpful Glossary of terms appended to the book.

The factual background:
On 1991 Monday 29th April, four white officers were acquitted by an all-white jury of ten of all charges laid after they had (sixty-seven days earlier) been caught in an 89-second amateur video, beating the unarmed, intoxicated and uncooperative African-American Rodney King, following a car chase.

Within hours, South-Central Los Angeles exploded in riots, fighting, arson and looting, by folk enraged by the racially biased beating, trial and acquittals. Six days of murder and mayhem followed. (refer http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/riots-erupt-in-los-angeles for further details)

For an extensive examination of the novel’s back ground, visit http://www.lariotsallinvolved.com/

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

All Involved
by Ryan Gattis
Published by Picador
ISBN: 9781447283188 paperback

Review also published at
https://redpennreviews.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/all-involved-ryan-gattis/

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Book Review: One Life: My Mother’s Story, by Kate Grenville

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_one_lifeMy mother wasn’t the sort of person biographies are usually written about. She wasn’t famous, had no public life beyond one letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald, did nothing that would ever make the history books. Just the same, I think her story is worth telling.”

After her mother passed away in 2002, Kate Grenville discovered fragments of a memoir her mother had been determined to write – “Up til’ now I’ve never had the time or the right pencil, but now that I have one foot in the grave, it’s time to get on with it.” She never did finish, or properly start.

Any parent’s story is worthy of a biography, if we took the time to learn it. Most of us do not have the resources or indeed the skill to do what Grenville has for her mother in One Life: My Mother’s Story. Fortunately, Nance Russell’s story is one of 20th-century struggle and success that will resonate with many.

Born in 1912, Nance’s early life was one of a constant pattern – settle, upheaval, settle, repeat – until she was able to determine her own life path. Transient parents made for a tough upbringing, and this struggle to freedom is beautifully portrayed. The breaking of this cycle, a determination to be a woman with a career, is liberating to the reader, and made me admire Nance and the countless others like her who fought to be their own person.
There are many truths in One Life that would be hard for any child to know about their family. However, Grenville’s handling of Nance’s story is professional – there is no underlying beatification of her mother, nor is there any mention of Kate herself until near the end (this really is an entire life story). She has simply taken Nance’s fragments and created a memorial to her mother that will live on for many years.

An award-winning author writing a biography about her not-so-famous mother could have been a disaster. It’s easy to assume the book would need to rely on Grenville’s famous status to sell copies, but One Life doesn’t do this, and shouldn’t. Nance’s life is engaging without her being Grenville’s mother, and her love of her children and the life she made for herself will connect with any reader.

“What other people did was up to them. Your job was to live – as richly and honestly as you could – your one life.”

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

One Life: My Mother’s Story
by Kate Grenville
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781922182050

Book Review: In the hands of strangers…a memoir by Beverly Wardle-Jackson

Available at bookstores nationwide.cv_in_the_hands_of_strangers

This is a powerful and disturbing book, the story of a child removed from her home and family and thrown into a Child Welfare system that should have protected and nurtured her, but in fact did the opposite.

For whatever reasons, her mother found herself unable/unwilling to cope with the demands of raising Beverly and her siblings, and in what was considered a good option in those days, handed them over to Child Welfare, perhaps imagining that the children were going to live a life that would be far better than the one on offer with her.

They were not. Beverly, a pretty, intelligent girl found herself being beaten, punished for the most trivial of childish behaviour, the smallest mistakes and the simple behaviour we would now call adolescence. Nothing was unworthy of a good beating at the hands of the adults that most rational outsiders would have thought were there to look out for the children. It is very hard to imagine the mindsets of these “caregivers”, how anything in their psyche could have lead them to believe that they were doing the right thing for the children. One might simply say that at one time in NZ, children were perceived as being in need of correction to the extent that it was decided that beating, abusing them, and locking them up was the best way to go.

This book was not an easy read, but it was a very good one. Beverly tells her story with a straight up honesty and a transparency that you can’t help but be moved by. In spite of all her trauma and suffering, despite the psychiatric treatment forced upon her, Beverly has moved forward, leading a very normal and satisfying life with children and grandchildren. She is active in seeking justice for her suffering, and in making society aware of what went on in those once highly-regarded Social Welfare Homes; and the damage caused to the many thousands who passed through them. On top of their ill treatment, these children also lost their families, their identities and are still relatively voiceless to this day.

A well-written book, it adds a voice to a time and place in New Zealand history that shouldn’t simply be brushed aside. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone wishing to work with children who have come into our still-flawed welfare system; it should also be read by those working with suffers of PTSD which can be traced back to their childhood and adolescence experiences in schools and homes linked to Social Welfare Care.

I thank Penguin Random House for this book.

Reivewed by Marion Dreadon

In the hands of strangers…a memoir
by Beverly Wardle-Jackson
Published by Penguin Books (NZ)
ISBN 9780143572329

Book Review: Fives & Twenty Fives, by Michael Pitre

cv_fives_and_twenty_fivesAvailable now in bookstores nationwide.

Author Michael Pitre wanted to bring to life the stories of the manual work that goes into a war – a depiction beyond glossy Hollywoodised combat. Fives & Twenty-Fives achieves its aim brilliantly, telling an honest & compelling story of the realities of a heroic platoon through the grisliest period of the Iraq War.

Pitre’s experience as a Marine in Iraq lifts Fives & Twenty-Fives from a tale to an account as it follows a US Marine platoon carrying out ‘route clearance’ in Iraq in 2006. Routinely rolling out into the sandy roads around Fallujah, each time the road repair convoy halts, the Marines immediately secure the five metre radius around their vehicle. Once cleared, they secure a twenty-five metre radius. Check your five & twenty-fives: get safe. Their task is to repair potholes created in the road by exploded-IEDs to allow smooth mobility for the Coalition of the Willing. The catch: insurgents use the potholes to plant new bombs – 647 times from 647 holes. Lured out to repair, the platoon sit as targets, firstly to new bombs planted in curb-stones, and next to snipers & jihadists as they work against time pouring concrete into potholes under the scorching Iraqi sun.

Pitre’s writing style is skilfully economical & uniform in a way that matches the novel’s military setting. As Fives & Twenty-Fives executes the reality of the Iraq War, Pitre’s characters & character interaction is equally on the mark. While Iraq in 2006 is the focus of Five & Twenty-Fives, the novel is set in 2011, flickering between Lieutenant Donovan, Lester ‘Doc’ Pleasant & interpreter Dodge’s memories of Iraq & their present day lives. As Pitre threads us back and forth between Iraq (2006) & Louisiana (2011), the internal struggles of men coping with a world after Iraq are painted. Donovan is deemed a hero by a Google search on his name, yet the weight of responsibility for the harm his leadership has caused sits heavily on his shoulders. Doc Pleasant, sent home from Iraq with ‘general discharge,’ is scarred like a schizophrenic animal, struggling to find employment, move out of home & sustain relationships. Further afield, Dodge is living in Tunisia on the eve of the Arab Spring, once again being sought for his English ability to help a cause that is not his own.

Fives & Twenty-Fives is a gripping & important read, giving a crisp insight to the physical reality of today’s wars & the conflicts war haunts its participants with.

By Abbie Treloar

Fives & Twenty-Fives
by Michael Pitre
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781408854457

Book Review: City of Lies – Love, Sex, Death and the search for truth in Tehran, by Ramita Navai

“Let’s get one thing straight: in order to live in Tehran you have to lie. Morals don’t come cv_city_of_lies_love_sex_deathinto it: lying in Tehran is about survival.”

Searing words form a harrowing reality, giving the reader an excellent basis to start an exceptional book. British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai tells the real-life stories of eight protagonists in City of Lies – Love, Sex, Death and the search for truth in Tehran. The sycamore-lined Vali Asr Street is the central setting, while the stories span over years.
Navai has created a remarkable non-fiction book. Her choice of stories may make the reader think they’re reading a collection of fiction short stories. Every now and then I remembered that these were true stories, throwing me in to disbelief and I found myself researching the author and book to ensure that these weren’t made up.

The Tehran in City of Lies is one made of gangsters, housewives, terrorists, and schoolgirls. Following extensive research and interviews, Navai has been able to bring the reader in to the world of an Iranian-American terrorist who has been given an important task, a schoolgirl finding love in an unexpected place, and a basiji making a life-changing decision.

The stories reveal a Tehran riddled with political, religious, social, and sexual contradictions. In one story, following her first encounter as a prostitute “she did not feel dirty or degraded. Just scared of God”. Navai doesn’t shy away from any topic throughout the book, and an open-mind from the reader is required. The ending of at least one story left me shocked, a ringing in my ears. Just be prepared. “This was the new Tehran, where tradition and class are blended together and trumped by money.”

Navai provides a short autobiography at the end of the book, which sheds further light on her relationship with Tehran. A glossary appears also, and is accompanied by her sources divided by chapter. The sources provide excellent information for the reader, but I suggest waiting until you complete all the stories before reading them.

With an excellent mixture of stories, characters, and settings that Navai has managed to track down and document, City of Lies is a must-read for any person interested in astonishing stories of human survival.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

City of Lies – Love, Sex, Death and the search for truth in Tehran
Written by Ramita Navai
Published by Weidenfield & Nicholson
ISBN 9780297871316

Book Review: The Son, by Michel Rostain

cv_the_sonThis book is available in bookstores now.

This is a poignant and moving read that deals with the very difficult subject of grief, the grief of parents suddenly and tragically deprived of their only child. Yet this book is not heavy going, nor a hard and sorrow-filled slog – it is, in some ways, a celebration of life and a memoir of hope and remembrance: the narrator’s 21 year old son tragically contracts a virulent strain of meningitis. Within a few hours of hospitalization, he has died and his parents are left to deal with the hole he has left in their lives. This story is the personal journey of Michel and Martine through their initial shock and grief. Through painful bouts of regret – at not spending more time with him in that final week, and cherishing the moments that they did enjoy. Through the recollections of bittersweet memories at his very touching funeral. And the final step of their journey, as they fulfil their Lion’s final dream, and “let him go” in a very moving conclusion.

This book is part memoir, part fiction; heart-breaking and beautiful. The father’s grief and love shine through in every word. However, the story is enriched not by merely following Michel through his experiences, but in the fact that we follow Michel through the eyes of Lion, watching him from the other side of death. In this manner, we are shown the wretched grief – the clinging to the last vestiges of Lion’s life: his scent upon the bedclothes, the little box of ashes. It adds an additional layer of complexity and beauty.

There is also a dash of humour, a light sprinkling to the mood.

Overall, a beautifully written, deeply affective read that, at less than 200 pages, was devoured within a day of receiving it. It makes one think of mortality and loss and leaves you with the feeling that, although losing a child is terrible, it is something that you can live with, even if you never lose the hurt.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Son
Michel Rostain
Published by Hachette
ISBN: 9780755390809