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Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

The Other Sister by Philippa Werry. Pub. Pipi Press, 2021

September 23, 2021 Comments off

This is a sequel to The Telegram a novel also reviewed on this blog. That novel was about Beaty a strong willed girl who became a telegram girl in WW1 a role normally taken by boys. This novel concentrates on Tilly her younger sister who is now 13 years old and has won a scholarship to a prestigious girls school.

It is 1919/1920 in small town New Zealand. The soldiers have returned home many in a damaged condition mentally, others with lost limbs and scarred faces and bodies. Beaty’s friend Caleb is greatly damaged “its as if someone else came back in his place”. It is a time for healing and renewal and Tilly is a big part of it all.

Socially NZ has changed too with women having taken a major role in running society while the men were away now asked to go back to the kitchen and have babies. There are an anti German and anti Chinese sentiments around but loyalty to the British Empire is still solid. The prince of Wales tours the country in this book with Tilly being privileged to meet him.

Tilly the main character is a breath of fresh air. She goes to work in a rehabilitation home for returned soldiers and works in the house of a rich family who lost their only son in the action. Tilly wins a scholarship to Girls High where the wealthy girls go and experiences their snobbery and social aloofness. Fortunately she has two good friends in Molly and Ingrid who have their own crosses to bear. The girls are told at school not place too much importance on getting married as there were not enough men to go round, Gasps all round. Emphasis is on pursuing their careers and fulfilling lives.

An excellent study of life post WW1 in New Zealand with strong female characters and you can be assured of the accuracy of the historical context as the author is the best in the business when comes to history.

Short chapters make it easy to read, each chapter begins with an obituary to a fallen soldier in the war. At the back is the historical context and photographs of the era. You will love Tilly. Superb ending.

Kakapo Keeper by Gay Buckingham. Pub. OneTree House, 2021

September 17, 2021 Comments off

Most birds pong pretty bad. Penguins reek of rotting fish and poo but kakapo have a lovely fusty-warm smell. Not to mention an inviting face and eyes that suggest a sense of cheek and humour.

This is one of the many quotations mentioned in this superb novel based on fact about bird conservation in Fiordland particularly in Dusky Sound where Capt Cook once harboured on his voyage to New Zealand.

The story is of Conservationist Richard Henry who camped in Dusky Sound between 1894-1900, with several assistants, moving kiwi, Kakapo, Roa and other birds from the mainland to the islands in Dusky Sound particularly Resolution Island. He wanted to protect the birds from weasels stoats and ferrets which had decimated the bird population and the kakapo almost to extinction.

This story is told in diary form by Andrew a teenage boy who is a composite of the four assistants that helped Richard Henry. He heads each chapter with Date, Bird tally and injuries. The last is amusing but given the hostility of the Fiordland environment – the rain, the sandflies, the earthquakes the landscape, it was no short miracle that they survived. Sandfly bites headed the injury list and Andrew was covered in bites with the “oozy wetness of Dusky Sound making everything they did miserable”.

Throughout the easy to read large text are diagrams of all the birds, plus maps and drawings of buildings and boats they built and used. Adding to the beauty of the story are their dog companions Lassie and Foxy.

Beautifully told with a sobering episode towards the end of the story that you can find out for yourself. In the back is the true story plus photographs of important events and structures used and built plus bird and animal life particularly of the ferrets, stoats and weasels who slither in for the kill.

One of the best animal conservation stories about people who really cared for the birds that I have ever read. Highly recommended. The cover is delightful.

Three Scoops by David Hill. Pub. OneTree House, 2021.

August 14, 2021 Comments off

David Hill shows his versatility in these three different stories for readers 10 years and over that are like three scoops of ice cream on the one cone.

Coming Home is historical fiction about a young man, Harry, and his horse Blaze who are on their way to South Africa to take part in the second Boer War. Harry views the whole thing as a great adventure while Blaze just wants to be with the human that treats him well. Things do not go as planned with Harry and Blaze are separated and the war is nothing like Harry imagined. The war is told from Harry’s point of view and Blaze narrates his own adventure in italics at the end of each chapter.

I Wish is a fantasy story but also a case for getting kids to read. Trent has moved house with his mother and his computer has been left behind. He finds a box of books in a room of his new house and begins to reluctantly read one. Fantastically a very rude green elf emerges from one and tells Trent he has three wishes in order to set the elf free from his imprisonment in the book. Trent wants to be special in his new school, he wants to be noticed and not be the boring person he sees himself as. He wishes to be a guitarist and a runner to impress people but things go wrong. Then he decides he wants to be a writer but will his chances be any better? Read it and find out.

Strange Meeting is the best story in my opinion and is a futuristic science fiction story about an asteroid that is hurtling towards Earth and threatens to destroy all life as on asteroid did to the dinosaurs billions of years ago. Sophie’s parents work on a rocket site about to launch a rocket into space and her school colleague Pita is rude to her and says his Koro(grandfather) does not approve of the launching. Koro knows something that no-one else does and the countdown to launching becomes a countdown to potential disaster.

Common to all three stories is David Hill’s ability to create tension that keeps the reader in the stories. The values are good and there is a strong message of being kind. Three of the best stories kids will ever read and a good read-a-loud for school classes. Variety is the spice of life and reading makes it so.

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.