Have you ever wondered why New Zealand’s plants and animals are so different from those in other countries? Why kakapo is the only parrot in the world that cannot fly, or why the kiwi lives here and nowhere else? New Zealand is an extraordinary place, unique on earth, and the remarkable story of how and why life evolved here is the subject of Ghosts of Gondwana.

The challenge of explaining New Zealand’s natural origins is picked up in this fully revised edition of the popular award-winning book. It presents the latest scientific research in highly readable form, highlighting studies that reveal the deep historical background of our landscapes, fauna and flora – from ancient frogs and moa to delicate insects and the magnificent southern beech forests. It introduces the latest discoveries and resolves past issues like the ‘Oligocene drowning’ hypothesis. Exciting fossil discoveries are revealed and new scientific technologies and approaches to the discipline of historical biogeography are discussed – approaches that range from undersea geology to molecular clocks – and it inevitably draws attention to the debates and conflicts that distinguish different schools of opinion in this holistic branch of theoretical science.

This revision incorporates the results of 10 years of intensive scientific research and includes four entirely new chapters to: focus on ‘yesterday’s maps’ to draw attention to the ephemeral islands in our history that have possibly acted as stepping stones for terrestrial animals and plants but today have sunk into the sea; incorporate the author’s own special interest in an ancient group of ‘jaw-moths’, unknown and unnoticed by most people but with a strong message that New Zealand is part of the world when it comes to explaining where our fauna have come from; present recent research findings on our huge flightless birds, the ratites; and include New Zealand’s terrestrial molluscs into the story.

Ghosts of Gondwana identifies New Zealand as one of the most challenging places on earth to explain, but it’s readable, engaging style and revised illustrations render this often-controversial discipline of science into a format that is accessible to any reader with an interest in natural history and the unique environment of New Zealand.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve

Ever wondered where the native flora and fauna of New Zealand came from? Were they here from time out of mind, or did they migrate from somewhere else? And where was that somewhere? George Gibbs, a former lecturer in Biology at Victoria University, tries to answer these questions. He also explains why it is so difficult to provide decent answers: a rather poor fossil record. However, there have been some new and exciting developments in Central Otago that Gibbs dips into.

Gibbs has divided the book into four sections: unique Aotearoa, seeking explanations, explanations for New Zealand life, and made in New Zealand. The section titles are obvious: New Zealand has a decidedly unique bioscape, from a scientific point of view this needs to be explained, some theories work better than others for different plants or animals, and there are the biota that that define New Zealand and nowhere else.

Thus Gibbs takes us on a journey through plate tectonics, the disintegration of Gondwana, the slow drowning of the mini-continent of Zealandia and the ridge islands that extended as far as New Caledonia, as well as the competing theories as to what happened here geographically speaking. Throughout the telling, it becomes obvious that New Zealand shares a considerable amount of its biological ancestry with Australia, southern South America, and the currently under-inhabited Antarctica.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Gibbs’s style is easy for the curious layman to follow, and key concepts are explained both verbally and with the aid of diagrams. By the end of it not only did I feel an almost instant expert, but was filled with a desire to contribute to the discussion. Buy it.

 

Before they became the most famous Ranger in the land and the hard-working Ranger Commandant, Halt and Crowley were young friends determined to change the world.

The scheming Baron Morgarath is drawing other power-hungry knights and barons to his banner. King Oswald is wasting away and, if gossip can be believed, Prince Duncan is causing havoc in the north.

Halt and Crowley set out to find the prince, uncover the truth, and re-form the weakened Ranger Corps. Once-loyal Rangers are scattered across the country, and it will take determination, skill, and leadership if they’re to come together as one. Can the Rangers regain the trust of the Kingdom, or will the cunning Morgarath outwit them at every turn?

the-tournament-at-gorlan

Random House

supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Flanagan continues to mine his “Rangers” world; only now he’s digging into prequel territory.

The flaws in his world-building are still evident – coffee ought to be a rare luxury in any pseudo-medieval world unless the setting is very close to its point of origin (or there are improbable amounts of magic messing around with transport and economics).

I keep wishing he’d chuck out this background and start again doing a proper job of it, because he’s otherwise not a bad writer.

The Tournament at Gorlan fairly rollicks along, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. The story is that the young Prince has be taken captive, and an imposter is stirring up trouble in his name, while the old King is being slowly poisoned in mind as well as body. Our rangers make it their business to get together and put things to rights.

Which they do, culminating in the events of the titular tournament (which I must admit felt more like a modern re-enactment than the real thing, but that’s Flanagan).

The reality is that the majority of his young readers will not even notice the mistakes that annoy me, and this is probably the best of his work that I’ve read so far. Which is as close to a recommendation that you’re going to get.

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When of hundreds of Japanese captives arrive at Featherston POW camp, the tiny town is divided. Tensions run high and then, on 25 February 1943, disaster strikes. Three boys are there at the moment the storm breaks – and terrible, unforgettable events unfold before their eyes.

enemy-camp

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

It’s 1942, and the tiny farming town of Featherston has a prisoner-of-war camp that can house hundreds of Japanese soldiers in it. Ewen, whose dad is a guard there, can’t stop wondering about the enemy just down the road. Some say the captives are evil and cruel and should be treated harshly – or shot. But when Ewen and his friends ride out to the camp to peep through the barbed wire, the POWs just seem like . . . well, people.

Written as a journal Ewen keeps, this tells the events of the NZ POW camp through the eyes of a typical kiwi kid. Ewen and his best friend Barry ride out to the camp to see what the Japanese are like.   They take along Barry’s little brother Clarry in a carrier attached to one of their bikes, as he had polio and his legs are weak.

The boys are given Japanese lessons from an English speaking Japanese officer called Ito. From him they learn that for the Japanese in the camp “for us to be prisoner is to be dead person”.

They realise people aren’t all good or bad and everyone is a fellow human being, regardless of race or religion.  An important message to learn, especially in this turbulent time.

I was really interested in this story as my Poppa was one of the guards – I found out after he died as he was ashamed of the Featherston massacre.

Aimed at 9-14 yr olds, this is an addictive read for all ages.  David Hill has written another enjoyable, fascinating book based on true events in NZ’s history.

the-severed-land

Puffin

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Fliss, an escaped slave, pulls Kirt, whom she thinks is a drummer boy, though the Wall. But he is not as she thinks, and Fliss is sent back through the Wall with Kirt by the Old One on a mission. They must rely on Fliss’s street smarts to survive the journey south deep into enemy territory to rescue Kirt’s sister Lorna and return with her to the Old One. This will not be easy as not only is Lorna hunchbacked and blind, but she is the prisoner of an enemy faction.

This is Gee’s first children’s book for almost ten years, but his skills haven’t faded. The story rattles along quickly with no unnecessary padding. The characters are believable, and the situation, an oligarchic plantation society bent on dominating an entire continent, is credible. Gee is not afraid to present the ugly fact of challenging such authority and failing: execution.

I enjoyed this book. The story was a page turner, it was neither too long, nor too short – the multifarious side plots in adult fiction had been omitted and the barebones of the story told. A good read.

 

 the-lubetkin-legacy

Bertie and Violet live in adjoining flats at Madeley Court, a council medium rise in north London. Bertie has inherited his flat from his mother, who claimed to know the designer, Berthold Lubotkin, and who also insisted the design included a special feature lost when the council decided to rationalise the buildings during construction.

Bertie is named for Lubotkin and prefers the surname of Sidebottom, his mother’s first husband and Bertie’s ostensible father, to Lukashenko, his mother’s second husband and his adoptive father. He is an actor suffering a lull in his career.

Violet is a recent arrival from Kenya, and is the way of emigres, forever tripping over similar emigres, many in debt to a Kenyan businessman of dubious repute.

Bertie’s story revolves around an attempt to retain possession of his flat in the face of council rules he vaguely understands. This involves adopting an aged Ukrainian lady to stand in for his late mother in the face of council inquiries. He also hits a personal low in pursuit of paid employment to cover the cost of rent.

Violet’s story concerns the dubious businessman, and takes her back to Kenya. But not before she and Bertie become entwined in a defence of the tower block. She is also unwittingly the object of Bertie’s affections.

Our third key player is Inna, the aged Ukrainian, who is a handful for Bertie and not the least interested in retiring from men’s affections.

The denouement of these three stories do not quite intersect, as Violet is now in Africa, but for Bertie and his tower block, the future looks good, both personally and professionally.

While the jacket claims Marina Lewycka is a great humourist, for me the book was not laugh-out-loud funny. It certainly had its moment of observational humour, but perhaps I’m too removed from modern British society to fully understand the concerns. Nevertheless, the writing was good, the story a page-turner and I did care for the fates of the main characters.

For those who like contemporary fiction, this is a good example and Marina Lewycka and The Lubetkin Legacy is not to be ignored.

Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

To Right, Boy is a classic New Zealand road trip story. Old Harry hasn’t enjoyed the best of reputations; a former foreign correspondent with a love of whisky and gambling, he sets out to redeem himself by taking his grandson, Brad, on a road trip while Brad’s parents are on an enforced leave of absence. He attempts to take good care of the boy, while imparting some much needed character training. Despite Harry’s best intentions, the road trip only confirms the parents’ worst fears. But in the end, a lesson lived is a lesson learned, and the road trip goes a long way to exorcising familiar demons.

too-right-boy

SHIH Village Books

Supplied by SHIH Village Books

Reviewed by Lee

Who doesn’t love a road trip?  From New Zealand’s iconic 1981 film Goodbye Pork Pie (with its remake due out next month), to this summer’s Air New Zealand safety video, road trips are all about fun, discovery, and that unexpected edge of danger. So, when Too Right, Boy, a book about a man and his grandson taking a road trip through New Zealand came across my desk, I was eager to read it. On that score, Too Right, Boy doesn’t disappoint with Chamberlain capturing the essence of the New Zealand’s landscape, with sharp too-real imagery that every Kiwi can identify: the “woof woof” of the bellbird’s wings as it explodes from high up in a tree, “the mile-long queue of cars” backed up in the Karangahake Gorge, and “plastic bales of hay stacked in the paddocks like lime-green Oddfellows”.

Where else but New Zealand can you see a pig snorting and fuming in the car boot (trunk), while being carried to the butcher on the motorway? Where else can you ride brumbies on the beach, and put up your tent above the dunes?

It’s not all fun and good humour, though. On Harry and Brad’s journey there are corrugated iron projectiles to avoid, flooded rivers to ford, and some tense altercations with roadsters. I loved that the road trip takes the pair to coastal towns like Waihi, Katikati, Tauranga…places I’m familiar with and can readily visualise. Not only that, the book is chock-full of delicious road trip ‘food porn’ with oysters shucked from their shells, fish filets rubbed in butter and flour and sizzled over a fire, fish and chips eaten on the beach, roast dinners enjoyed in roadside pubs, and scones reheated and smeared with cream and jam in a Waihi carpark.

But there is a deeper story to this road trip. Twelve-year-old Brad, molly-coddled to the nth degree by his understandably overprotective mother, is desperate to break out and find a bit of independence, so he stows away on his grandfather’s campervan, strapping his surfboard to the undercarriage of the vehicle. Brad’s mother, Sheryl, will never allow it, but a timely accident means she can’t protest, so Brad and Harry get the go-ahead to carry on with their character-building trip. Author, MO Chamberlain, has nailed the voice of the adolescent, imbuing Brad with all the anxiety and exuberance you would expect in a boy of his age. Brad is smart too, smart enough to know to keep quiet when a question might get him into trouble, and how to secretly download porn to his iPad.

However, the story’s key protagonist, Brad’s grandfather Harry, is somewhat of a paradox and for most of the book, I really had to struggle to like him. At 84, former journalist Harry, is both irreverent and religious. While I loved his Kiwi can-do approach to life, his raw appreciation for New Zealand’s wild places, and his need to right certain wrongs, some of Harry’s attitudes are not only out-dated, they’re strongly bigoted. “What happens if we run into some wild Maori along the coast? How are we gunna make a run for it?” he says, before they pair set out on one excursion, as if the local people are to be feared. His views about women are not any better. Every female Harry encounters is either an aggressive sexual fatale to be avoided ‒ this includes free-spirited 14-year-olds right up to well-meaning 80-year-old Vera, who bakes them cookies and drives all night to rescue them ‒ or, if they’re “good girls” they’re probably nagging and oppressive, like Brad’s mother Sheryl. Even Harry’s beloved wife Mary, three years dead, doesn’t escape his criticism:

“Mary would never have allowed that.”

“Harry could feel Mary was there, sitting across from him, and he knew she didn’t approve.”

“…the woman was still here goading him”.

Ultimately though, where his grandson is concerned, Harry’s heart is in the right place, and the pair establish a deep bond, the quintessential element of any good road trip story. With comradery, hairy moments and some deeper reflection, Chamberlain’s Too Right, Boy is exactly what readers expect from a road trip story. An engaging Kiwi read.

lee-cover-1

Lee Murray is an award-winning writer and editor. A six time-winner of the Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror, she holds an Australian Shadows Award (with Dan Rabarts) for Best Edited Work for the charity flash fiction horror collection, Baby Teeth.

united-as-one

It’s always difficult starting a serial with the latest book. It’s even harder if there is no potted outline of what has gone before. Consequently, I had great trouble getting into this science fiction novel, which is seventh in the Lorean Legacies.

The story is presented in a series of chapters offering past occurrences, present, and alternative point of view characters. Mercifully, different typefaces were chosen to distinguish past and present, else I could have been well and truly confused.

The story, so far as I could tell, was of a small group of resistance fighters battling to end the domination of the Earth by an alien menace. It appears both aliens and humans have turncoats within them, and the resistance is dominated by a select few who have acquired some form of supernatural powers. From what I could gather, the aliens seem capable of passing themselves off as human.

This conclusion may be wrong, as I confess to being unable to finish Volume Seven – it was just too much hard work to reconstruct the backstory. Another quibble was the author had inserted himself (or a character of the same name) into the plot.

My recommendation would be to find Volume One, I am Number Four, and go forward from there. I, however, have been side tracked by some history books.

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve