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Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

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

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.

Katipo Joe. Bk2. Spycraft by Brian Falkner. Pub Scholastic, 2021.

March 6, 2021 Comments off

This is masterful writing from Brian Falkner that will have you spellbound from beginning till end. Falkner grabs the reader on page one and never lets you go till the stunning ending when you will be screaming out for more.

After his experiences in London during the Blitz and the fateful mission in France, Katipo Joe the fifteen year old spy is airlifted into Germany during a bombing raid, with the aim of infiltrating an elite group of Hitler Youth. This will have him mixing with five other elite young Nazis and competing with them to become movie stars in a film by Leni Riefenstahl. But there is a bigger prize than that but you will have to read the novel to find out what it is. This will not be a hardship I can assure you of that.

In this journey he finds love and meets Hitler’s inner circle of Himmler, Goebbels and Goring and even the girl that stole Hitler’s heart Eva Braun, plus Hitler’s dog Blondi and that is a story in itself. He mixes with the Nazi elite in the town of Obersalzberg and ponders “how can you be in the presence of such evil and not feel even a prickle of discomfort?”. They appear so normal.

The highlight for me is the meeting of the top Nazis including Hitler, Eva Braun plus Goebbels etc at the Eagle’s Nest fortress in Berchtesgaden, a place I visited in 2004.

This is world class writing, well researched, historically accurate and poses a “what if “scenario regarding Hitler’s dilemma of whether to to invade England. The detail is fascinating from the descriptions of the Nazi leaders to the aircraft, the guns the motor vehicles that the SS and Hitlr drove around in and of course the landscape around Obersalzberg. In the back of the novel there are some very enlightening photographs in which the action was involved

The ending is stunning and sets up book three. I can’t wait. If this isn’t the best Children and Young Adults book of the year I will give up eating strudel.

A Doubtful Detour by Anya Forest. Pub. www.anyaforest.com

March 1, 2021 Comments off

This historical time travel novel took me a while to read because of the amazing detail it gives about life in the Fiordland National park during the 1920,s and 1960’s. Fiordland is the major character in this novel with it’s mountains, fiords, rivers, waterfalls, dense bush, rain and unique animal life.

This is a sequel to the novel Home from the Homer also reviewed on this blog, and features 13 year old twins Seth and Zoe and their parents who travel south of the Homer to Doubtful Sound and Deep Cove. As with the earlier novel they slip into different time zones and experience life in the raw in the early days.

Seth slips into the 1920’s when tourism was starting to develop in Fiordland as is hunting. He meets several famous characters particularly Leslie Murrell a hunter and tourist developer of the 1920’s and Vivian Donald who had a company that developed the first woolpress in NZ. Seth accompanies them on a hunting and sailing trip that takes him down Doubtful sound to the ocean and trips to Dusky sound and the Puysegur Point lighthouse which was built in 1879 and burnt to the ground in 1942. He travels on a famous boat the Constance and takes part on the first licensed hunting for wapiti trip in 1923. he also comes across a whale and the rareTawaki or Firodland crested penguin.

Zoe has a totally different trip in Doubtful Sound and West Arm where the Manapouri Power Station was being built. Her main companion there was Sister Josie a nurse on board the Wanganella passenger ship that was home to over 400 men who built the Manapouri complex. The Wanganella had a gymnasium and a cinema for over 400 men when spitting on the deck meant you were fired. She travels inside Machine Hall a huge place carved into the rock that house all the turbines that made the power from the Manapouri scheme.

There are many tales like this in this novel and all are accompanied by superb photographs and documents of the times. The characters, the transport, the wildlife and the landscape and seascape of the wonder that is fiordland.

I can say no more find out the rest for yourself you will not be disappointed. Of course there is the mystery of the time travel and whether or not the family will find each other again.

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr. Pub. Bloomsbury, 2021.

February 20, 2021 Comments off

This might possibly be the best novel dealing with the evacuation of children out into the countryside from London and other cities in WW2, that has been written. Comparisons can be made to Goodnight Mr Tom but that would be wrong because there is the added dimension of mystery and relations between Wales and England.

Twelve year old Jimmy and his younger 6 year old brother Ronnie are evacuated from their home in London to a small Welsh coal mining village. Jimmy is determined not to like it when him and Ronnie are billeted with the Thomas’s who not topic of the week in their community.

Ronnie while very emotional takes to the Thomas’s straight away and starts calling them uncle and Auntie which Jimmy finds difficult to accept. Jimmy has his own problems as his best mate in London Duffy is billeted with the vicar and his bad boy Jack and they cease to be friends. A girl of similar age Francis who was an object of fun and derision in London has found great confidence in the change to Wales.

On a walk up the hills Jimmy and Ronnie discover a skull hidden in the trunk of a tree and expose a decade old mystery that deeply involve the Thomas family.

Strong emotions are evoked and cultural differences are exposed as well as family secrets and community relations. This book was compelling reading and would make a good read aloud at middle school and intermediate level.

A stron part of the novel and a source of mystery are the tree illustrations that begin each chapter. You will have to find this out for yourself plus and additional mystery in the written text.

A superb novel about this era of the phoney war inWW2 and very good social values as well as historical perspective.

The King’s Nightingale by Sherryl Jordan. Pub. Scholastic 2021.

January 31, 2021 Comments off

This is one of the best adventure novels about slavery that you will read this year. Based in Europe and North Africa although those two regions are not mentioned in the novel. Instead it is the Penhallow Isles where the main character Elowen was born and raised, and Rabakesh where she is enslaved to king Shaistakhan.

Elowen is a 16 year old girl brought up in a christian religion called Followers of the Shepherd. It’s faults and credibility are revealed to her early in the novel over a illegitimate baby is denied death rights because of her illegitimacy. As this is happening pirates from the south sack Elown’s village and carry off those they can catch to be sold as slaves. Many do not make the journey alive after brutal treatment from the pirates.

Elowen survives along with her brother Fisher but they are sold separately. Elowen is bought for the king because of her beautiful singing voice and is treated very well indeed, in fact in luxury but she has a fatal flaw which is going to ruin this for her.

She is warned not to question the decisions of men or to speak ill of the king who belong to the Izarin religion much like Islam. Elowen is outspoken and makes it clear she wants to escape to find her brother fisher.

Her abilities as a singer earns her the name Shalimar or Kings nightingale and she evokes jealousy amongst the king’s harem. This results in Elowen being resold into desperately different conditions that she had with the King. She regrets this and when she learns of a war machine that is to attack The King she takes very dangerous actions. Read the rest and find out it is brilliant.

Beautifully told and described by Sherryl Jordan who is surely at the top of her game. It follows a similar book titled The Freedom Merchants also reviewed earlier on this blog. However the descriptions of the desert landscape of Rabakesh and the palace lifestyle of King Shaistakhan are delicious, as are the comparisons of the two religions and cultures.

Elowen is a good role model, loyal, brave, compassionate and generous but her outspokenness gets her into trouble. She learns the language and religion of her captives in order to quietly achieve her goals.

A novel in four parts. If you miss this one you will kick yourself.

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman.

June 13, 2020 Comments off

length stringThe Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman. Pub. Puffin Books, 2020.

This novel for middle and senior school students is one of the most moving, emotional and compelling novels I have ever read.

Anna is 12 years old when the Germans invaded Luxembourg in 1941 and started identifying all the Jews with the yellow star and stripping them of any human dignity. In August 1941 it was still possible for Jewish people to escape Luxembourg to Portugal and get a ship to America but it was dangerous and expensive.

Anna leaves her twin sister Belle, plus the the rest of the family, at the insistence of her parents and goes to live with Hannah and Max in Brooklyn New York. Anna keeps a diary of her feelings addressed to her twin sister Belle and writes letters to her family. She gets no reply but remains positive about life and seeing them again.

In today’s World, Imani is 12 years old and facing her Bat Mitzvah. She is a black girl who has been adopted by Nordic parents in New York and has been brought up Jewish along with her also adopted brother Jaime. Imani wants to know who her parents were but finds it difficult to bring this fact up with her adoptive parents who have been loving and caring all her life.

When Anna dies she leaves her books to her grandchildren and Imani finds the diary Anna wrote in 1941 and reads it as part of her presentation for her Bat Mitzvah. What she and her friend Madeleine read brings out all the emotion and reality of the Holocaust.

Beautifully written with Anna’s diary entries and Imani’s life in the modern World. It will have you in tears.  It is also current as Imani tries to find her own identity as a black girl living in today’s world.

If you miss this you will kick yourself. Wow! What an ending.

My NZ Story. The Wahine Disaster by Shirley Corlett.

April 6, 2020 Comments off

wahineMy NZ Story. The Wahine Disaster by Shirley Corlett. Pub. Scholastic, 2020.

This novel was originally part of the My Story Series titled Abandon Ship published in 2003 but it has been redesigned and I have just read it in the week that the Wahine went down 52 years ago.

It is powerfully written in diary form by 12 year old Debbie who was aboard the ship and saved the diary by wrapping it in plastic before going into the sea and being rescued at Seatoun.

The novel is skilfully linked to another sinking in Wellington harbour of the Birmin one hundred years before, on which one of Debbies relatives was doctor. This provides a spooky side to the story when Debbie was in the water, freezing cold and barely able to hang on, she feels she was assisted by her grandfather relative.

Lots of pictures in the back plus a portrait of life in 1968 the year that Martin Luther King was shot and the Beverley Hillbillies was the most popular TV show.

Easy to read and a great lockdown story of another tragedy in another time.

 

Oliver goes to Stephens Island Lighthouse by Grant Sheehan, illus. Rosalind Clark.

November 24, 2019 Comments off

oliver lighthouseOliver goes to Stephens Island Lighthouse by Grant Sheehan, illus. Rosalind Clark. Pub. Phantom House, 2019.

This is the third information picture book by this author and illustrator telling of New Zealand’s rich history of lighthouses and lighthouse keepers.

Oliver is a lucky boy. His father is a writer and his mother a photographer and they take him by helicopter to Stephens island off the coast of Marlborough in Cook Strait.

There he learns over a couple of days about the lighthouse that is now being mechanised like most lighthouses in New Zealand and around the World. He learns about the tuatara that inhabit the island and of a rare wren that was hunted to extinction by cats owned by various lighthouse keepers.

The illustrations show information as it is now and from the past and the story is quite an adventure. A classy piece of work for primary and intermediate readers.

Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams.

June 18, 2019 Comments off

cloud boyCloud Boy by Marcia Williams. Pub. Walker Books, 2019.

This very memorable novel for middle school readers is written in diary form by Angela Moon. She has an artistic bent, has a pet goldfish called Edith and is extremely fortunate to have a Great grandma called Gertie.

Angie’s best friend is a sickly boy called Harry Christmas. He is a very determined soul who watches and records clouds on a daily basis in his journals. Angie and Harry were born 2 days apart and are inseparable.

With their fathers’ help they build a tree house which they call Artcloud and they spend much of their spare time there looking at clouds and doing art work. Then Harry gets seriously ill. Read it and find out what happens.

Much of the drama of this book are letters written by great grandma Gertie to her cat when as a young girl she was imprisoned in Changi jail after the fall of Singapore in 1942. The letters tell of the cruelty of the Japanese captors to the women and children. It tells of a real life quilt made by the women and girls to pass time in the wretched conditions of Changi Jail.

A superb story of human endurance from the past and in the present as Angela deals with the illness of her best friend. Very easy to read with short diary entries.