Posts Tagged ‘survival’

The Sparrow by Tessa Duder. Pub. Penguin Books, 2023

May 11, 2023 Comments off

This historical fiction novel is the best I have read about the European settlement of New Zealand aimed at any level.

It is well researched and stresses a fact that is often overlooked by historians – that without the Maori early New Zealand settlement would have been impossible. The Maori provided the settlers with food and shelter without which they would surely have starved.

This novel concentrates on the Auckland settlement in the 1840’s with many of the characters who are associated with Auckland’s and New Zealand’s history such as Governor Willian Hobson, John Logan Campbell, and interpreter Edward Williams featuring.

It also shows that the early settlers brought with them the prejudices of the English class system that is to be a feature of the relationships between the Maori and the settlers and indeed be a feature of the chances of lower status settlers to get a fair chance especially when it came to buying land. Then as now the price of land in Auckland is outrageous.

The central character in the story is Harriet/Harry who is 10 years old when she is wrongly convicted of stealing an apple and transported to Australia in horrific circumstances that would have killed many. Harriet is a survivor and an admirable role model for any you human being. She is strong, resourceful, caring and inciteful and the reader is with her all the way.

Harriet decides that it would be easier to survive as a boy than it would be as a girl because of the male attitudes at the time and this helps her escape the cruel and barbaric conditions at the Cascades prison in Tasmania. She escapes on the immigrant ship Platina to New Zealand and ends up in Waitemata Harbour in a pristine New Zealand.

From the beginning the settlement follows class lines. The poor are at Mechanics Bay next door to the Maori Pa at Orakei. Government is at Official Bay and business at Commercial Bay. Nothing is done for the settlers at Mechanics Bay but the Maori are commandeered to build raupo huts and bring vegetables and food to Commercial bay.

The lot of Harriet and her friend Tillie and family is miserable indeed. The funeral of a young child is moving because the Maori come to pay their respects and are rejected as natives. Even at this early stage all classes treat the Maori as savages but Harriet is different and pays the price. She decides after being a girl that it is safer to be a boy and resumes as Harry until the end of the book which is nerve wracking and exciting.

Harriet’s early days from age 10 to 14 are covered in a segment at the end of each chapter from 1836 to the settlement in 1840 and it shows the reasons why people chose to immigrate rather than live in England but you will have to find these things out by reading this superb novel.

Harriet at one stage looks back to when she landed and observes “those three pretty bays, three unspoiled beaches” and “over the spring we’ve turned them into dirty squabbling villages of too many frightened, suspicious and greedy people with something to hide and nowhere to go”. Is it any better now I asked myself.

The best book I have read this year and Tessa Duder’s first novel in 20 years. Keep writing Tessa.

Iris and Me by Philippa Werry. Pub. Cuba Press 2023

March 14, 2023 Comments off

After reading this brilliant biography, in poetic verse, of Iris Wilkinson aka Robin Hyde I read that it finished runner up in the Laura Solomon Book Award and I thought gee the winner must have been outstanding. It was and it was Between the Flags by Rachel Fenton and is also reviewed on this blog.

Iris Wilkinson was a very resilient young woman who died in London just before WW2 while seeking to earn money so she could support her secretly born son who was being fostered in New Zealand. It was tragic that women in NZ at that time received no benefit from the state even though they paid tax just like a man. It is fair to say that had Iris been a man she would have survived, and she knew that.

Secrecy was a big part of Iris’s life. She had secret lovers, a secret child that no-one important in her life knew about. She was a writer and poet par excellence and made her life as a journalist but it gave her scant reward for her efforts.

The best part of this biography is Iris’s reporting of the Sino Japanese War in the 1930’s which Philippa Werry describes as “It was brave and adventurous, and slightly mad, but that was Iris”. Iris wrote when she reached the front of the war “Dead Bodies lay strewn under the tracks, unburied, some chewed by dogs”. Nobody writes like this these days.

The novel is written completely in verse as a tribute to Robin Hyde the poet and the impact is powerful. Novels of this kind are special. In spite of my eyesight problems I couldn’t put the book down..

The biggest mystery is who is Me in the title. It is unusual but very appropriate.

This novel is for everyone really but high school and Young adults are the target audience. If you miss this you will kick yourself.

It should be read in consultation with The Uppish Hen and other poems by Robin Hyde whish is just below this review.

Daring Duck by heather Hunt. Pub. Duck Creek Press, Imprint ling Publishing Ltd, 2022.

August 1, 2022 Comments off

Dee is a young paradise duck with beautiful coloured plumage who lives with a colony of ducks in a protected wetland pond.

She watches the other ducks fight and squabble over territory and yearns for adventure away from everything and to find her own space. The older ducks warn her of duck shooters but Dee is courageous and leaves anyway.

She encounters the hard world very early with an encounter with an angry pukeko who kicks and scratches. She then imposes on a bittern who gives her a tip on how to avoid duck shooters “You are safe in the water but not in the sky, they can only shoot ducks who are flying up in the sky”.

Then she encounters a decoy duck and the danger begins. Check and see how Dee gets on.

Easy rhyming text and unique illustrations make for a very good picture book. The author clearly knows her ducks

The Snow Laundry by Mette Jakobsen. Pub Angus & Robertson, Imprint HarperCollins, 2022

July 17, 2022 Comments off

This is the best dystopian fiction novel I have read for some time and it is part one of a series, part 2 will be out in April 2023.

Dystopian fiction always scares the poop out of me because it is so real one thinks can it ever happen here? Certainly there have been civilisations that have occurred already with Nazi Germany being a prime example.

Seventeen year old Ally and her boyfriend Bon were street kids, probably Black, living under the city in the tunnels which have now been locked up. They were persecuted by people and called rats. Then there was a revolution in which a sweet talking woman called Elenor Maslin campaigned with weasel words promising a bright future for everyone including the tunnel rats. Once in power all that changed and the tunnel kids were rounded up crammed into confined lodgings and forced to work serving the rich folk in a complex that once was the Hilton hotel.

Ally works in the laundry along with Bon and her friends Berger, Ollie, Fi and others. They are regularly beaten and starved and treated inhumanely. Most of the book describes their lives and how they got there. Ally who cannot read laments that no-one talks about anything important, they are terrified of the brutal guards and it is very much “us against the world”

Then Bon disappears after being brutally beaten and Ally wants to find him. The leader of the complex in which the kids live is known as ONE. He is genial, well dressed and a sweet talker of weasel words. It is nearing his birthday and celebrations are planned. Ally is drawn into serving the party for ONE but there is an underground resistance movement that hopes to destroy the celebrations.

The last 50 pages are thrilling and set up the next in the series.

A very tense novel because you like and relate to Ally. You will kick yourself if you miss this book. As good as the Hunger games.

Elephant Island by Leo Timmers. Pub. Gecko Press, 2022.

February 22, 2022 Comments off

Once again Leo Timmers has come up with a picture book about transport, this time ships and boats and there are a host of them, but ultimately it is a book about making do with what you have and never giving up.

Arnold is a seafaring elephant who comes a cropper when a boisterous wave sinks his boat. After many hours in the water he bumps into the smallest of possible islands and waits. Firstly a mouse boat comes, then an old sea dog and a fishing boat at full steam. All are sunk but Arnold uses his nous and builds on the smallest of islands from all the sunken boats so that all survive and have a place to stay.

It’s a work of genius. nearly every type of ship and boat eventually arrives and the fun has expanded across the world. Check it and see what happens.

The illustrations are also a work of genius, they are sort of collage with a bit extra. Follow the creatures and see how they fare, the dog and his guitar are impressive.

As always with Timmer’s books there is always hope and nobody gets left behind. If only the world was like this. Other books by this author are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Night Race to Kawau by Tessa Duder. Pub. Penguin Random House 2022

February 2, 2022 Comments off

First published 40 years ago this gripping novel about a yachting race at night from Auckland to Kawau Island is as relevant today as it was back then.

The Starr family including Dad, Mum, teenager Sam and younger siblings Jane and Jeremy set sail in an old but sound wooden yacht in a race with more than 100 other vessels of different sizes and crews.

As we meet all the characters it is a tense and hectic day in which time is limited to prepare for the race, Jeremy gets a bang on the head and the Auckland traffic even then plays havoc with getting everybody at the wharf on time. The trip up the harbour with all the other yachts and without an expected adult crew member is tense.

The start is like an America’s Cup race and they sail into a clear sky with light winds and the expectation that it will be an easy race. Not the case. As they enter the Tiri channel with spinnaker pushing the old yacht forward there is a sudden and unexpected change in wind direction and chaos on board as dad tries to get the spinnaker down and is yelling orders left right and centre. Then silence. What has happened? has dad gone overboard? How will the young family cope if he has.

Read the rest yourself it is gripping reading.

Lots of sailing talk, family squabbles at a time when there were no cell phones or computers with all the characters challeged out of their comfort zones.

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.

Shackletons Endurance. An Antarctic Survival story by Joanna Grochowicz. Pub. Allen & Unwin, 2012.

May 3, 2021 Comments off

I knew and had read about this famous explorer and his heroic voyage in an open boat and trek across South Georgia to save his men, after their ship the Endurance was trapped and ultimately crushed in sea ice in the Weddell Sea. So how is this story different from those that went before? Ultimately it is because the emphasis that she puts on the nature of Shackleton and his men. Joanna Grochowicz makes it personal and boy is it good. You will not read a better account of this story than this one.

I can’t for the life of me understand why Shackleton and his men were obsessed with the polar region. Freezing cold and an environment which makes it man verse nature and you know nature is always going to win. Robert Falcon Scott was obsessed as was Roald Amundsen and Shackleton was in this league but what made him greater than the other two was his superior leadership and people skills.

Shackleton and his family moved from Dublin in 1888 and his parents went to great lengths to get rid of his Irish lilt. Not a lot of people know that and his wife found it baffling that somebody so bruised by Antarctica could go back for more of a thrashing after the 1902 and 1907 failures.

Shackleton’s attitude in the hardships that he and his men endured was that “no man must think that their situation is anything other than a temporary inconvenience”. Every man, even the stowaway Perce Blackborow, who lost several toes to frostbite, was treated equally and got the same rations as the captain and Shackleton himself. His men had faith in him and times got pretty grim. You can read the details of the journey yourself.

Not only is it a portrait of Shackleton but of all who were on this journey. At the beginning of the book are portraits of everybody by ships artist George “Putty’ Marston with every member including the cat Mr Chippy, is mentioned and profiled to the context of the action that takes place. Not everybody is likeable.

The story is gritty and well told and contains stunning photographs by Frank Hurley, two with a view over a long distance at The Endurance being crushed by ice. Grochowicz descriptions of the Antarctic environment and the men’s struggle for survival are superb.

If you miss this one you will kick yourself. Suitable for readers intermediate and above.


Locked Down by Jesse O. Illus. Toby Morris. Pub. Penguin Random House, 2021.

February 5, 2021 Comments off

This is a remarkable story because it was first written in 2011 when Bird flu was around and the author prophetically extrapolated what might happen if things got worse. Well things did get worse and it was called Covid 19 and the nation was in lockdown.

The title has been changed from Staying Home to Locked Down to reflect the modern situation. The interesting thing of course is to compare how the author saw things going in 2011 compared what actually happened in New Zealand under lockdown.

The story concentrates on the Flint family who live in the town of Hansen which is somewhere in the South Island. A virus XB276 has struck the North Island down and people have been told to stay home. The South Island has been relatively untouched but is radically effected by the situation in the North.

There are major differences and solutions to the problems created by lockdown and i will let you find out by reading the book. There is a complete shutdown of shops and supermarkets and there is a shutdown of power sources too which create different problems than in the current situation.

The strongest messages relate to families under stress and trying to survive. It hasn’t got that bad in todays crisis, see how the children and their neighbours get on in this crisis..

Toby Morris’s illustrations enhance the story and provide images to hang your thought s on. Well worth a read.

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.