Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

Lyla by Fleur Beale

March 20, 2018 Comments off

LylaLyla by Fleur Beale. Pub. Allen&Unwin, 2018.

I read this novel about the Christchurch earthquake in one sitting and at the end I was grinding my teeth like I did during the real event waiting for the next aftershock, because this is the way it was.

Lyla is a thirteen year old Avonside Girls high student who was with her friends in Cashel Mall when the big one struck. She describes the horror and pandemonium of the event, loses touch with her friends and parents and walks through the wreckage and carnage of a destroyed city to her home in Dallington.

Her home is a wreck, her elderly and young neighbours are dazed and confused but she organises food and bedding for them and her home becomes a refuge in the liquifaction horror all around her.

She has to contend with young children and a boy her age who has proved difficult in the past. She toils through it all as the 14,000 or so aftershocks rip the heart out of the morale of the citizens of Christchurch.

You will not read a better book about the earthquake than this.

For everybody.

Kiwis at War: 1918, Broken Poppies by Des Hunt.

March 18, 2018 Comments off

broken poppiesKiwis at War: 1918, Broken Poppies by Des Hunt. Pub. Scholastic, 2018.

The final part of the Kiwis at War series is as good as all the others with an emphasis on the final battles of the war including Passchendaele, the German push after the deal with the Russians and the Armistice.

Des Hunt has focused on some of the more humane aspects of the conflict that were so easily overshadowed by the horrors of battle, the incompetent decision making and lack of compassion shown by the masters and officers who directed the war. The ordinary soldier was treated like truck loads of sheep going to the slaughter house.

There is war horror in this novel too, the rain, the mud, the trench rot, the fear, the shell shock, the noise, the bombs, the mangled bodies and minds and the killing.

It is the fate of a little fox terrier named Poppy who was lost by a little French girl called Zoe as she and her family were retreating from a German advance that is at the crux of the novel. Found by Henry Hunt a relative of the author, Poppy’s adventures will send chills up your backbone and bring you to tears of happiness.

Narrated in chronological countdown till the end of the war from August 1917 to November 1918, there is also a few photographs in the back plus a timeline and glossary.

Don’t miss this one and read the whole series also reviewed on this blog. For readers from intermediate age through to young adults. Des hunt knows how to tell a story.

Dawn Raid by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith.

March 13, 2018 Comments off

dawn raidDawn Raid by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith. Pub. Scholastic, 2018

This most impressive novel is part of the My New Zealand Story series and concerns the Dawn Raids on Pacific Islanders during 1976 on the orders of the Muldoon Government. never has new Zealand got closer to being a police state than during these years of the seventies.

Thirteen year old Sofia Christina Savea keeps a diary from June till November 1976 and documents family life of the time plus the slow politicising of the Pacific Island community brought about by the racist acts of the police in chasing up overstayers in New Zealand.

The best part of the novel is Sofia’s home life, her life at school and her quest to earn money on a milk round to pay for some impressive go go, leather, knee high boots. The role of her mother father and siblings is superb.

Sofia has a talent at public speaking and has entered a competition. She is struggling for a topic until on a visit to Auckland for a family reunion they are dobbed in by a neighbour and the police dawn raid their property at 4.00am in the morning.

Lots of great writing and memories in this novel, in fact one of the best in this series.

How To Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather.

January 18, 2018 Comments off

hang witchHow To Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather. Pub. Walker books, 2018.

The Salem witch trials of 1691 make some of the most sordid reading in American history. Cotton Mather was a leading instigator in these trials, this novel is written by a descendant Adriana Mather and the main character in the novel is teenage girl Samantha Mather. It’s a family affair.

Samantha and her step mother Vivian sell their New York apartment to pay the medical expenses of Samantha’s father who has mysteriously gone into a coma. They move to Salem and stay in a house once owned by Samantha’s grandma that she didn’t know about.

Samantha is a difficult girl she has an affinity for sarcasm and doesn’t have any friends. Why is this? Her first day in the old house results in mysterious happenings, secret rooms, things that go bump in the night.

Her first day at Salem high school is no better, she makes enemies of a group of black clad girls called the Descendants who are related to the witches of 1691. They threaten her and say she is cursed. Then Samantha meets handsome boy Elijah who is a ghost and only she can see and hear him. He tells her to leave or else, but Samantha is built of sterner stuff and is not intimidated by the threats. She should be. Elijah tells her that when one of each of the main families involved in the original trials is in Salem a curse is invoked and the death rate mounts. Can the curse be broken?

A fascinating read that sheds light on the Salem trials and likens them to modern day bullying. Not a lot of laughs in this novel that has the power to scare the s**t out of you but fortunately there is a touch of romance to lighten the mood.

Superbly written and structured in 47 short sharp chapters so that you can read it in short bursts like I did. Senior secondary but I suspect younger readers will clamber to read it as well. It will do them no harm.

Lucky Button by Michael Morpurgo. Illus. Michael Foreman.

December 4, 2017 Comments off

lucky buttonLucky Button by Michael Morpurgo. Illus. Michael Foreman. pub. walker books, 2017.

There is always something gentle yet powerful about a Michael Morpurgo novel and so it is with this one. Similarly he often uses a story within a story to link a past event with a present day situation and he does it again in this novel.

Jonah looks after his mother who is house bound and has stopped playing music that Jonah loved so much. Jonah gives up much of his school life to look after his mother and is bullied at school.

After an attack he retreats to the school chapel where he finds a brass button that brought the original owner a lot of luck. The owner called Nathaniel Hogarth was a foundling at an orphanage with connections to the composer Handel.  Nathaniel appears before Jonah as a ghost and tells him an amazing story about becoming friends with Mozart and his sister.

Will the lucky button give some badly needed luck to Jonah and his mum? Read it and find out. It is fascinating and based on true events although this is not a true story.

Superbly illustrated by Michael Foreman’s colour illustrations as always.

Primary and middle school readers will devour it.

Lucy goes to the lighthouse by Grant Sheehan, Illus. Rosalind Clark.

October 31, 2017 Comments off

lucy lighthouseLucy goes to the lighthouse by Grant Sheehan, Illus. Rosalind Clark. Pub. Phantom Tree House Books, 2017.

This picture book sized publication is the story of Mary Jane Bennett the first and only woman in New Zealand to become a lighthouse keeper.

She did so in the days when there was no electricity and at a time when women were supposed to look after their children and houses and leave the so called important jobs to me. The fact that she did both is astonishing.

It is also the story of the first official New Zealand lighthouse at Pencarrow head at the entrance to Wellington Harbour.

Well illustrated in mediums of pencil, collage pixel and ink, this would make a useful addition to any school library and a good read-a-loud about early Eew Zealand history.

The Thunderbolt Pony by Stacy Gregg.

September 21, 2017 Comments off

thunderbolt ponyThe Thunderbolt Pony by Stacy Gregg. Pub. HarperCollins, 2017.

If you are a fan of Stacy Gregg’s horse and girl stories then I don’t need to tell you how good this latest novel is. If not read and learn.

Evie has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD as a result of severe trauma caused by the Canterbury and Kaikoura Earthquakes. She takes responsibility on board and feels responsible for the aftershocks unless she goes through a number of routines. Of course this is nonsense but the sense of anxiety for Evie is real.

When Evie’s house is destroyed by the Kaikoura earthquake and her mother is airlifted out with a broken leg and pelvis, Evie travels through the earthquake ravaged land between Parnassus and Kaikoura to meet the naval ship HMS Canterbury.

Her companions on this journey are her Arab pony Gus, her border collie Jock and her Cornish red cat Moxy. They are a tight group with the animals just as traumatised by the earthquakes and aftershocks as Evie is.

The journey is riveting, dramatic and accurately described by Stacy Gregg. I lived through the Canterbury earthquakes and aftershocks and remember the roar they gave and the shaking which will stay with me forever.

It is said that 4 out of every 5 children who experienced the quakes still have anxiety disorders and Stacy Gregg analyses this traumatic effect on children through Evie’s OCD. Evie has to understand that it is not her fault and with the help of a therapist and her animals she comes to terms with it.

References to the heroes of the Greek legends make for an interesting link up.

Stacy Gregg’s other titles are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.