Archive for January, 2017

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.

 

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 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

the-moment-she-left

A former detective, Andee now works as a private investigator in Kesterly-on-Sea.  She is asked to help with the stalled search for a missing young woman, Jessica.  Andee is also dealing with her children blaming her for the break-up of her marriage and avoiding her husband, who wants her back.

Blake is Jessica’s father, who had just moved his family to Kesterly-on-Sea for a fresh start after being accused of a crime he didn’t commit.  After Jessica’s disappearance his wife leaves and he finds solace working in Graeme’s antique shop.

Rowzee is a 65 yr old former teacher beloved by the town, who has just discovered that she is terminally ill, and doesn’t want to burden her family and friends with the news.

There are so many different threads to this story; it gets hard to keep them straight sometimes.  All the sub-plots are neatly woven together by the end though, and familiar characters return from previous Susan Lewis books.

I found this book so hard to read as my mum was diagnosed with brain tumours- just after I started reading, and she     then got a terminal diagnosis like Rowzee.  Mum was very similar to her in not wanting a fuss and the similarities make it hard to be objective in a review.  It is a good story though.

Century

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

hand-coloured-new-zealand

In 1945, Leo White, medically discharged from the RNZAF, spotted a niche for a company that could provide not only air travel services and aviation news, but also aerial photography for both corporate and public New Zealanders. White had been involved in photography and aviation for most of his adult life, and he built a team that could handle the firm’s diverse interests. Odd though one may think, though colour photography was available, all the photographs were black and white.

Peter Alsop has done a grand job of charting the rise and gradual decline, of Whites Aviation. He explains why it was Whites and not White’s or even Whites’.  He also explains why hand colouring was preferred over colour photography, with lack of colour fastness being a big issue with early colour film. Hand-colouring, almost invariably done by women, was a cheap and, in skilled hands, reliable method of bringing a black and white print to life. But beyond that, Leo and his team had a great eye for framing their shots, especially the landscapes.

Whites Aviation photos were the quintessential New Zealand landscapes – urban, industrial, rural, and natural. Not only were they sold in picture books, but also as postcards, civic and commercial adornments, and frequently displayed in living rooms. One even made it as a postage stamp. Alsop not only gives the history of the company, but also explores the undervalued art that is hand-colouring. He puts faces to the women, and hand colourists were almost exclusively women, and he follows the art and the influence of Whites photography forward to beyond 2010.

The book is divided into three main sections: the company and key personalities, the photography, and finally a gallery, which comprises approximately 250 photographs from a selection of over 70,000. The colouring of these phots is almost invariably great, though one of early 1950’s Wellington looked a little off.

This is not only a great coffee table book but a great book, and I thank Peter Alsop and Potton & Burton for bring this remarkable chapter in New Zealand art to my attention. If you can’t buy a copy, at least get it from the library and be prepared to be amazed.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve

Happy New Year!!!

Posted: January 1, 2017 in greetings
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