Coast Watcher by David Hill. Pub. Puffin, 2021

July 21, 2021 Comments off

Terrific war story this set in Bougainville in 1942/3 when the Japanese were a real threat to the security of NZ. The Japanese were in retreat but it was island by island stuff as USA, Australian and New Zealand troops and navy fought for dominance.

Frank is a young soldier who suffered from TB and is not regarded as frontline material. He is a radio operator and desperately wants to prove himself. He feels that his father let the side down and he is determined not to do the same but worries that his lungs will prevent him from achieving his goal.

Frank is given the chance to prove himself as radio operator on a coast watch mission on a small island off the coast of Bougainville where along with Maori soldier Wally and Australian soldier Les they are left behind to hide and report ship, air or troop movements.

The island is covered in jungle with animals from monkeys, snakes, lizards and poisonous insects and mosquitoes to make life treacherous along with the humid temperatures and heavy rainfall. The three settle in but are disturbed by a Solomon Islander, A’ata, who they like and mistrust at the same time. He takes them to Bougainville by canoe where the Japanese are still active and they discover something that will make HQ think that all their birthdays have come at once.

There is action aplenty and David Hill builds tension superbly throughout. At any moment you expect a crazed Japanese soldier left behind to do damage, come screaming out of the jungle with machete yelling Banzai!

A superbly told story that will keep you rivetted and one of my top novels of the year. I first read See Ya Simon 30 years ago and David Hill has lost none of his capacity to tell a good yarn. If you are not impressed by this you are very hard to please.

AVAILABLE 10 August

The Memory Thief by Leonie Agnew. Pub Puffin, 2021

July 18, 2021 Comments off

Seth is a troll who lives in the gardens with an older troll Celeste. In the day he turns into a stone statue and at night he reverts to a human persona and feeds off the memories of those who pass by. His own memory is not so hot and he is confused by the mixing of others memories with his own. he wants to leave the park but is locked in by iron gates and we all know trolls are allergic to iron.

Next door lives a girl called Stella who has a younger brother. Stella spots Seth in his dirty condition and thinks he needs help but all he really wants is her memories. As Seth gets to know Stella he wants to get to know her as a person and avoids stealing her memories.

Stella however is onto him, she has researched google and knows Seth is a troll and that trolls eat humans. Seth is upset with this and has no intention of eating Stella or stealing her memories but Stella wants him to steal her memories.. Stella has a disturbing past that she would rather forget.

What will Celeste do? Can Seth break out of the park? What role will the little brother play?

Check this excellent fantasy and see what happens. Very imaginative and well written in a flowing style. Once you start reading you will not want to stop.

Under the Radar by Des O’Leary. Pub. Cuba Press, 2021.

July 16, 2021 Comments off

One of the most entertaining novels for high school and intermediate students I have read this year. It is the sequel to the excellent Slice of Heaven novel which was about a rough and ready racially diverse high school group who are forced to form a softball team as punishment for misdemeanors. This novel is about the same group of students plus a couple of new ones and how their lives and relationships develop in the following year.

Sione and TJ are the central characters again with Sione after parental pressure deciding that this year he is going to stay under the radar. Fat chance of that but he resists. A new big girl comes to school and he is assigned the task of showing her the ropes which he does reluctantly. Her name is Teresa and she has a shit attitude “I don’t want to make an effort. I don’t want friends. I don’t care if they don’t like me”.

This is not the only problem Sione faces. His younger brother Ronnie is seduced by the gangsta culture and wants to join a gang as a wannabe. Three of Sione’s softball buddies form a crew called FBK and want Sione to join. get respect, have your back covered, the gang is better support than your family, you will be safe on the streets. When Sione resists violence results but there is a guardian angel afoot called Turtle a big connected gang leader who drives a Mercedes and has an offsider called Ponytail. Why is Turtle looking after his back?

Lots of street action but the star of the writing is the banter between the characters. It is fast and witty with verses of rap lyrics in between. When big boy Jordan takes part in the shotput at the school sports day “he took it slow, he let it go, in that last throw. he felt the flow?

Sports Day and a after school Mathematics class are highlights and help bring Teresa out of her attitude. The discussion amongst the school mates over how the school Houses got their names is hilarious.

A great portrait of the community of South Auckland and of a school culture. The gangsta wannabe culture is exposed for what it is and the novel stresses family and community values. It you miss this one you will kick yourself. Very entertaining and easy to read in short chapters.

I am sure there will be another novel about this community. Bring it on.

The NZ Series: The New Zealand Wars by Matthew Wright. Pub. Oratia 2021

July 12, 2021 Comments off

This is the latest edition to the NZ Series of historical facts that are a very valuable resource for New Zealand schools. This is a concise short version of a larger work by the same author but it doesn’t scrimp on fact and is a powerful work in it’s own right for primary, intermediate and high school students.

The book makes some very strong points about all the battles and skirmishes that took place between 1845 and 1872 when the last shots were fired and it continues into the the 1880’s with the Parihaka protests.

The book delves into who took part in the wars on both sides and makes the point that at times the wars were like a civil war as some Maori fought against their own if tribal aspirations were to their advantage.

The consequences of the wars were overwhelming for Maori who were not fought into submission but made Maori engage in the NZ economy which was to overwhelm them.

The wars never ended the battlefield just shifted to parliament and the courts and they are still being fought today.

Great descriptions , diagrams, maps, art works and photos of all the battles. The photos of Parihaka are astonishing and some i have never seen before. This series is absolutely essential in NZ schools and concise enough for students to read a whole work.

Categories: Non Fiction Tags: ,

Mrs Chippy the Cat by Susan Brocker, Illus. Raymond McGrath. Pub. Scholastic, 2021.

June 29, 2021 Comments off

This true story is part of the legendary Ernst Shackleton and his ship the Endurance which was crushed by sea ice and led to a great journey of survival in 1914.

Mrs Chippy got on board the Endurance because he was a good ratter. He was in fact a male cat but was better than a wife to the carpenter on board Chippy McNeish who gave him his name. The cat earned his passage by being company to the men on board Endurance. He even found a stowaway.

When the ship was caught in pack ice and eventually was crushed and sank, Mrs Chippy was with the men. But did he survive the journey? Read it and find out.

Excellent illustrations by Raymond McGrath who captures the Antarctic environment and the stormy southern seas. Fishing Mrs Chippy out of the stormy cold seas was a highlight for me and creeping out on the bowsprit.

An outline of the details of the journey are in the back plus some real photographs. Don’t miss this it is very good.

Stop the Tour by Bill Nagelkerke. Pub Scholastic, 2021

June 29, 2021 Comments off

Martin Daly is thirteen years old, sensitive, caring and keeps a diary. This novel lifts extracts out of his diary about one of the most divisive episodes in New Zealand history, the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of new Zealand.

Before the tour commenced there was a simmering resentment over Maori land and racism in NZ and this tour brought it to the surface in the most violent fashion. It divided friends, families, communities, work places and ruined many relationships.

Martin tells all this from the point of view of his family, his school and his friends with short simple easy to read diary entries that give power to this social and historic catastrophe. Looking back, rugby has not suffered, South Africa has rid itself of apartheid but still racism persists as evidenced by the George Floyd incident in USA and the Ihumatao occupation in Auckland.

Martin’s sister was against the tour from the start and urges Martin to take sides and stop sitting on the fence. It takes a while as NZ disintegrates in conflict and division. A change of school and a friendship with captain of the first XIV helps him decide. It is not an easy decision as Martin’s father is a staunch rugby man and tour supporter.

The historical perspective and photographs are at the end of the novel and it begs an answer to the question “have we learnt anything from the tour?”

This book was first published in 2007 under the title Sitting on the Fence.

LIT. Stories from Home. Edited by Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod. Pub. Onetree House, 2021.

June 26, 2021 Comments off

I was very happy to read this anthology of 15 short stories by New Zealand writers because it reacquainted me with Katherine Mansfield’s The Dolls House which I had read nearly 60 years ago in my 4th Form English class taught by Gordon Ogilvie who was to become a writer in his own right. He described the story as the most important piece of literature written by a new Zealander and at the time that meant nothing to me but now it does. I remember sympathising with the Kelvey sisters because I was from a family of eight and we were poor like them.

This story is important to the theme of this anthology which explores society in New Zealand from the closed class ridden structure of The Dolls House through the various stages in our development till todays society which is varied, ethnically diverse and severely challenged.

The anthology begins with Baby Doll by Gina Cole narrated by a 10 year old Uyghur working in a slave factory sewing garments and stressing because she will be docked pay for not meeting targets and who has subsequently fled China and now resides in New Zealand but looking back.

In between times we have gems from Witi Ihimaera, Owen Marshall, David Hill, Frank Sargeson and another favourite Elsie Locke. There are other gems each adding another development of New Zealand’s society to where it is today.

The last story in the anthology is Chinese New Zealander Ting. J. Yiu titled Gutting which will stun you as it did me. It features a middle aged Chinese woman called Kim who lives as a hunter in the bush of West Coast new Zealand and actually hunts, kills and guts a deer during the story. This is surprising in itself but she arrives at doing this after she has discovered a pod of pilot whales who have beached themselves on a remote West Coast beach. The meaning of all this is one for you to decide for yourself but are we all like beached whales looking for our own place in this new society we call New Zealand /Aotearoa.

If you miss this you will kick yourself. One of the best short story anthologies I have read.

Inside Bubble Earth. Climate Change by Des Hunt. Pub. OneTree House for Creative NZ, 2021.

June 22, 2021 Comments off

This non fiction work for Intermediate and high school students clearly explains the science behind the causes of climate change, global warming and what can be done to avoid the major crisis that will effect all life on Earth.

It looks at our planet as a bubble using the Covid pandemic term that children are familiar with. Des Hunt shows how the resources that are on Earth especially those involved with Carbon, and that is all of life, are finite. They are neither lost or gained unless something from outer space interferes. He shows that all life is dependent on each other. Plants use carbon compounds by combining them with sun light and chlorophyll to produce sugars and return oxygen to the atmosphere. They also store carbon that becomes oil, gas and coal and have done so over the millions of years that Earth has existed.

Human beings have severely upset the balance particularly over the last 200 years by using up all the stored carbon and released it to the atmosphere. In 2020 humans inside Bubble earth used up 9 years of carbon storage in two minutes. The only energy we have coming into our bubble is that from the sun.

This excellent book also looks at the signs of global warming and climate change and the warming of the oceans and melting of the icecaps. The rise in sea levels, the once in 100 years climate events and the importance of the icecaps in reflecting a lot of energy from the sun back into space.

Carbon footprints of us all as individuals is discussed, what we can do about it and energy sources that we can use that is better for our bubble.

Well illustrated, simply explained, the details of the science and the chemical reactions, it is all there and anybody who doesn’t after reading this book is just plum ignorant. We have the next 40 years to sort it and for future generations it must be fixed. Don’t miss this excellent work.

Elastic Island Adventures Bk5. Kingdom of Blong. Pub. Duckling, 2021. Lighthouse PR.

June 20, 2021 Comments off

An easy to read adventure series for primary and intermediate aged children. This is the latest and it is about the kingdom of blong whose king has gone missing.

Yes it is a cat and if you have a cat you will know that cats have staff, they are owned by no-one.

The four children from the first four books Kiri, Jed and twins Emma and Ethan are all in this adventure but it is Emma’s cat Blong that takes the headlines. Blong is the missing king of Blong an island on which inhabit cats and bilbies. If you don’t know what a bilby is look it up, but they are delightful little animal like a small kangaroo and cats love to hunt them.

The four children take the elastic Island route to Blong and Emma’s cat is lauded as the missing king. His sister Bella has held the fort while he has been gone but Blong himself is not keen in assuming the role of king.

When they arrive on the island Emma’s cat Blong and his sister Bella and an imposter usurps the throne and tears up the treaty that kept peace between cats and bilbies. Cats are now allowed to hunt bilbies and a slaughter is threatened.

What will the children do? Is there a way out? Check it and see and look at the others in the series too.

This series is a lot of fun, easy to read and brings up problems that we humans have in our own society. Reluctant readers will have no problem with these stories..

Mirror Man by Fiona McIntosh. Pub Penguin Random House, 2021

June 15, 2021 Comments off

I do not read many adult novels but this one is very good. It is about a serial killer, Colin, who wants to ensure that criminals pay their dues while answering the need to empty prisons. He is a vigilante, or is he? and when a prisoner who has committed a dastardly crime is released too early, he plans and commits a murder. He has done it on at least four occasions but are there more and will there be others?

I admit than when I read about the crimes and the death of the perpetrators, I felt a sense of justice being done and indeed Colin feels that he is administering justice to the victims of crime. But there is more to this story than that but that is for you the reader to find out.

The hero of this story is DCI Jack Hawksworth a debonair James Bond like character who has a weakness for beautiful vulnerable women, and there are many of those in this novel. Jack is chivalrous, charming, awfully good looking, with long legs and a smile that melts the hearts of women who cross his path. He plays it cool as he has been hurt badly in the past, especially from a serial killer, Anne who is now inside Holloway prison and whom he consults on this case.

Jack is instructed to look at connections between several murders and to keep a low profile so as not to unsettle the public but he is undone by a canny journalist Lauren, who has been worked over by a cad of a man but has an instinct for a story like no other. Jack is attracted to her and she to him, and he realises that a nosey journalist can fly under the radar in a way no member of the police can. But can he ignore his weakness for this vulnerable, clever and beautiful woman?

A clever intelligent story that I was thrilled to bits to read. Fiona McIntosh writes a well crafted plot with endearing characters, grim murders and ties up all the loose ends. A particular strength is her portrayal of women. Most are in their 30’s have been worked over by a man, and are reluctant to try again. Until they meet Jack of course.

This is the third book about Jack Hawksworth and I for one an going to read the first two. Fiona McIntosh is not well known in NZ and she should be. I savoured this novel over a week and I don’t know where to go after reading it. I bet you feel the same.