Mellencamp by Paul Rees. Pub. ATRIA Books, 2021.

December 31, 2021 Comments off

I love rock music and this compelling biography is one of the best I have read about a rock’n roll star. It tells you the background to the man, how he wrote his songs, the albums he recorded, the personnel that he worked with, the concerts and how everybody reacted to him.

John Mellencamp is one of the most complex characters I have ever read about and he is quoted as saying “I’ve been right to the top and there ain’t nothing up there worth having”.

Born in Seymour Indiana, a farming community that is now referred to as “heartland America”, John was a troublemaker as a child and youth. The men in his family were all angry and John was angry too. What he managed to do was channel this anger into what he wanted to do and he produced some of the great songs of American rock’n roll. His first song that rated on the charts was I Need a lover ( who won’t drive me crazy) and it had that driving beat. He charted with many other songs including Small Town, Pink Houses, Jack and Diane, Cherry Bomb and my favourite Hurt So Good. Musically he was a perfectionist. If the song in his head was not replicated in the studio or by the band he could be fierce in his criticisms and sack everybody or do it again.

One of the great things about reading this book is that I could go on YouTube and play all the songs and know how they were written and who played them.

John was not an easy guy to deal with. He was intense, difficult, competitive and at times violent. He said “happy is not a normal way to be, if you see some guy who is happy all the time, there’s something fucking wrong with him”.

In spite of being from redneck Indiana he did not hold redneck views. Reaganomics unsettled farmers and cost many farmers their farms as Reagan introduced free market economics to America in the 80’s. John is quoted as saying “I am for the total overthrow of the capitalist system”. His songs are not patriotic songs they portray the poor and down trodden and black people. He was not racist and often portrayed poor blacks in his videos. Jack and Diane one of his break through songs was about the relationship between a black boy and white girl but he was forced to tone this down. Later in Cherry Bomb he was able to portray this situation.

The book is written in four parts from his birth until 2020. It is fascinating. Like all rockers he burnt out. Around 1989 he quit music and took up painting- “I like painting better than girls, better than motorcycles, better than music” but he came back. You can read the rest for yourself.

One of the best biographies of a man who ranks with Dylan, Springsteen and John Prine who he was very good buddies with, in writing songs about ordinary people living ordinary lives and growing up.

Fire’s Caress by Lani Wendt Young. Pub. OneTree House, 2021

December 19, 2021 Comments off

A very readable novel for young adults that will have you compelled to read from beginning to end.

Set in Samoa with the backdrop of a post covid world and heavily involved in Samoan myth and legend and the protection of Samoan cultural life.

Billionaire Marc Gold, confident, not used to being denied, womaniser and a total smartarse, comes to Samoa to build a luxury resort for the super wealthy without giving any thought to the cultural and habitat damage he will cause. While walking in the forest where he will build the resort he is contacted by a beautiful woman who is of the Aitu, a Samoan demon who protect the forests and lakes. He goes missing for 3 days without recollection and when he returns he has a disease that causes him to have a hunger and it slowly covers his body.

Into the story comes Teuila a beautiful Samoan woman who has a strong gift of sculpture and has achieved World wide fame. She has a past of abuse and has been brought up in an orphanage on Samoa. She returns to Samoa to auction her works to support the home in which she was protected and brought up in. She meets Marc Gold who is strongly attracted to her, as she eases the effects of the body disease that he has contracted.

Gold wants to own her and while Teuila is attracted to his wealth she is supicious. These suspicions are confirmed by a now rich childhood friend and martial arts expert Keahi who conflicts with Marc Gold. Enter Bree, Teuila’s agent and the long lost mother and things begin to boil as Marc Gold tries to control Teuila and his behaviour becomes psychopathic.

What nobody knows is that Teuila is controlled by the Aitu and that a major battle is to be fought.

Don’t miss this, it is superb storytelling and although part of the Telesa World series it is a stand alone Novel in it’s own right. There is reference to characters from the Telesa world and the origins of the gifts that Teuila and Keahi have are explained by the connection to Telesa and their common past.

You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus. Pub. Penguin Books, 2021.

December 10, 2021 Comments off

This is the fifth Karen McManus novel and is every bit as good as the others which are reviewed elsewhere on this blog. It is a whodunnit in a high school setting and is a page turner. Once you start this you won’t want to put it down.

Ivy, Cal and Mateo have been friend since they were 12 years old. One day they bunked school and they all regarded it as one of the best days of their lives but the three have secrets from each other and 6 years later after some dramatic school events they do the same thing again. This day is one of the worst.

The novel opens with a profile of the lives and families of Ivy Cal and Mateo with each narrating a chapter as they do throughout the novel as the action changes after they decide to bunk school leave Carlton and go downtown to Boston. They stumble across a murder of a known school acquaintance and the rest of the action takes place in one day when secrets will out, and you will be kept guessing as to who is behind the murder and the reasons for it.

Caught in the action is a beautiful young art teacher called Lara, a mystery man called D, and someone called “the weasel who is running the drug business around town. There are other family members of each of the main characters involved and action that will keep you guessing.

A beautifully crafted plot where apart from the opening chapters and the clean up at the end, the action takes place in less than 12 hours and there are plenty of high points.

See if you can work out who the villain is, I thought I had but I was wrong. If you want a change of scenery over the holidays you will not regret reading this.

There is also a quirky ending which ties all the strings together.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. Pub. Usborne Publishing 2021.

November 29, 2021 Comments off

A young adult novel that will shock with its women hating violence and racism.

Deka is a 16 year old black girl living in a cold environment and largely scorned by the villagers around her. Her mother was also black but has died and her father raises her with an aloof manner. She does have friends and like her fellow 16 year olds awaits the ceremony, The Ritual of Purity, to see if she has purity. Purity means red blood in her veins not gold and all the girls are cut to reveal their status.

Deka fails and for that she goes through an ordeal in which she is killed and drained of blood 9 times but survives. She has extreme powers which she doesn’t know about.

The society she lives in have a god called Oyomo and their holy book is Infinite Wisdoms by which the people live. It is a book that keeps women down and makes them the playthings of men who lust after gold. Not pleasant but not unlike many religious groups on Earth.

Deka is saved by the Emperor of the land of Otera who wishes to put together an army of demon women to fight the Deathshrieks who are vicious monsters that threaten humans and dispose of them in most horrible fashion.

Deka is taken to the capital city Hemaira to a training site to develop her considerable talents and be groomed to fight the deathshrieks with other girls who are her sisterhood. You wonder while you are reading this novel ” why is Deka and her sisterhood fighting for such and evil society?” Well the answer is in the true nature of Deka and this you will discover as you read the book.

Deka is a good role model and the writing is expansive and catchy.

Read it and check out what happens but expect some gore and very cruel treatment. There will be a sequel in 2022.

There’s a Moa in the Moonlight. He Moa kei ro Atarau by Dawn McMillan, illus. Nikki Slade Robinson, Translated Ngaere Roberts. Pub. Oratia, 2021.

November 23, 2021 Comments off

I have often imagined what it would be like to see a moa. What if all the extinct creatures of NZ or indeed the World could all come back? Well the little girl in this story has found a way to do it. Check out the ending to this story and see how she has done this.

There’s a moa in the moonlight, He’s in our garden plot. He’s munching all our melons, he likes the seeds a lot” So begins this rhyming text story that brings back many of NZ’s extinct creatures including the Haast Eagle, the Huia, the kawekaweau or lizard and others.

They all come into the garden and it reminds us of what we have lost and how easily we could lose other precious creatures. But the little girl has found a way to keep them. Superb.

Nikki Slade Robinson illustrates with accurate pictures and gives each animal a personality.

After dawn McMillan’s rhyming text is Ngaere Roberts’ Maori translation which makes this picture book more valuable as it can be used to teach the Maori language.

Why is that Spider Dancing? The Amazing Arachnids of Aotearoa by Simon Pollard and Phil Sirvid. Pub. Te Papa Press, 2021

November 21, 2021 Comments off

This excellent non fiction work on spiders and other Arachnids begins with a photograph from the point of view of a fly that is about to be eaten and announces how important photographs are going to be in this book. And they are. Every type of spider is photographed as are their body parts and habitat.

Spiders have been around for about 400 million years and in Aotearoa 1200 species of spider have been identified and there are at least a further 800 others. This book concentrates on NZ spiders and the Avondale spider has become a film star after appearing in the film Arachnophobia. Spiders have also appeared in children’s literature eg Robyn Kahukiwa’s Kuia and the Spider and Charlotte’s Web.

The spiders NZers are most familiar with are the poisonous Katipo and the white tail which lives around and in our homes. Although many people have a fear of spiders they are extremely important in the environment because they eat nearly 800 tons of insects per year.

You will meet many different spiders in this publication but the weirdest is the Bird-dropping spider which looks like a bird dropping on a leaf but smells like a perfume from a female moth. Male moths are attracted and devoured.

A very classy publication for spider freaks and others. Primary, Intermediate and senior students have much to learn and enjoy from this book.

Categories: Uncategorized

Rosie the Rhinoceros by Jimmy Barnes, Illus. Matt Shanks. Pub. Angus & Robertson, 2021

November 20, 2021 Comments off

When Rosie looks at her reflection in the mirror or in the water she sees a unicorn not a rhinoceros. Whats wrong with being a rhinoceros?

She believes her Pretty horn and dainty hooves are like those of a unicorn. She lives with a rhinoceros family who she finds “impressive but not magical like her’

Nonetheless in spite of her efforts all the other animals know she is a rhinoceros.

Rosie is very sociable and enjoys her day and especially loves the morning. After Mrs Lion and the elephants call her a rhinoceros Rosie gets her friends together to tell them she is a unicorn and shows them her pretty horn and delicate feet to prove it.

The animals all smile but will they accept her as a unicorn? read it and find out.

Great African scenes in the illustrations and a happy story about identity, difference and acceptance.

The author is none other than the rock singer Jimmy Barnes.

I’ve Broken my Bum and other stories by Dawn McMillan, Illust. Ross Kinnaird. Pub. Oratia, 2021

November 19, 2021 Comments off

Just in time for Xmas so that reluctant readers can have a longer picture book to read while on holiday.

This is an addictive form of reading for those that like the poo bum wees books and there are plenty of them. All three stories in this compendium have been published before but not together like this.

I’ve broken My Bum is every boys nightmare especially when you glue it all together, stick it back on only to have a tray stick with it. But there are advantages.

Mister Spears and His hairy Ears is every man’s nightmare. Who wants hairy ears? can the be prevented? Check it and find out.

Charlie and his Amazing tales features a dog who does parachuting. I wouldn’t go near a parachute but this is a dog with imagination who just doesn’t bark and poo.

Dawn McMillan’s rhyming text enhances the humour and Ross Kinnaird gets the visual humour just right.

An ideal present for Xmas

Kia Kaha. A Storybook of Maori who Changed the World by Stacey Morrison & Jeremy Sherlock. Pub. Puffin 2021.

November 19, 2021 Comments off

At long last an accessible, hard cover book, detailing in short biographies, a hundred Maori individuals and groups who have changed the world we live in.

It starts with the 28th Maori Battalion who distinguished themselves in battle in WW2 and finishes with modern day storyteller Witi Ihimaera. In between there are groups such as Nga Kaiwhakapumau I Te Reo who worked to make Maori language an official language of NZ and rap group Upper Hutt Posse.

Sportsmen and women Buck Shelford, Michael Campbell, Farah Palmer plus others, musicians Delvanius prime who gave us the icon anthem Poi E and Stan Walker whose cancer battle inspired all of us

Film maker Taika Waititi, entertainer Howard Morrison and transgender artists Carmen Rupe and Georgina Beyer plus many others from history. Even Maui and Kupe get a mention.

Each biography is two pages long concentrating on their contribution and their tribal background, with each biography accompanied by an artistic portrait.

The language is easy and is accessible to students in primary and intermediate classes plus senior high school and adults.

The fact that there are so many is impressive, Billy T James my favourite comedian plus Mike King are there. So many.

At the start there is a timeline of all those in the book and at the end a profile of the artists who do the portraits and of the authors.

I imagine that another book could easily be written of those who missed out such as Kiri Te Kanawa.

A superbly presented hard back publication that would honour any book collection.

Categories: Biographies, Non Fiction

The 13-Storey Treehouse (Full Colour Edition) by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton. Pub. MacMillan Publishers NZ, 2021

November 18, 2021 Comments off

This is the novel that started the crazy treehouse stories, the most recent one is reviewed elsewhere on this blog. This is a copy worth getting and keeping because of the colour and hardback cover and in 50 years time it will probably be worth big dollars.

It introduces Andy and Terry ( the writer and illustrator of course) and their living quarters in a 13-storey treehouse with a theatre and library, a bowling alley, a man-eating shark tank and a giant catapult amongst other things.

Andy & Terry are under pressure from Big Nose to finish a book and this is the series of preposterous stories that make up this book.

It starts with Terry painting a cat yellow and it turning into a canary and flying away then it graduates into Barky the barking dog show. Don’t barking dogs drive you Mad? Then comes the best story in the book when Terry gets a packet of sea-monkey eggs, germinates them in a bowl of water and one of them turns into a mermaid and eats all the other eggs.

Terry falls in love with the mermaid but there is danger ahead. Read it and find out what happens. All the story threads join up at the end to make a satisfying read.

The stories are designed to attract reluctant readers and their craziness will certainly bring them to the reading table. This is an 8 out of ten book for enjoyability and I am going to keep my copy.

As always Terry Denton provides the illustrations to Andy Griffiths’ crazy text. Don’t miss it.