Archive for the ‘general fiction’ Category

They’re a glamorous family, the Caseys.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together – birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re a happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jessie – who has the most money – insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?

Grown Ups

Marian Keyes

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

The story starts with a party to mark Johnny Casey’s birthday.  His sister-in-law Cara had a head injury earlier that day and is unable to lie.  Questions get asked and secrets are about to be revealed……..

The events of six months ago are then described – the Easter trip to Kerry.    We learn about the various Casey’s and other family members and friends, and   get an idea of what is happening in their lies.  Then the events of five months ago, four months ago, three months, two months, one month, and then we come to the dinner party again.  And see things go nuclear.

Along the way we’re introduced to a Syrian refugee to Ireland and the realities of life for asylum seekers in Ireland is explained.  This is done as part of the story and feels natural, not preachy at all.    This also brings up ‘period poverty’, something that’s an issue in NZ that had been hidden as it was embarrassing to talk about.  The story highlighted this cause as an organic part of the story and not virtue signalling.

I really enjoyed getting to know the Casey’s and getting a glimpse into their lives.  My only moan about this book is it ended too soon.  I want to know how lives turned out!

Buy it; read it; you won’t regret it.

 When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

John Boyne

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Pierrot lives with his French mother in Paris after his German father died.  He has a dog, D’Artagnen, and a best friend, Anshel, and life is good.    In 1936 his mother dies and the seven year old is sent to an orphanage in the French countryside as he can’t stay with Anshel.  He eventually is told that his paternal aunt has heard about his mothers death and wants him to live with her.

Riding a train to Austria and his aunt, he is collected by a brusque stranger and delivered to a grand house nestled in the hills, miles from town. After a brisk bath given by a maid, he meets his aunt and finds out she is the housekeeper for an important man.  Pierrot is renamed Pieter by his aunt – to sound more German – and told not to mention he is French and never ever to mention his best friend or his name.  Then the home’s owner arrives and Pieter greets him with how he was coached by his aunt, a Nazi salute.  The next nine years of his life at the Berghof is then told.

After the war Pieter learns the full extent of the war he has been complicit in and can no longer pretend Hitler and the Nazi’s weren’t monsters.  Years later he returns to Paris to find out Anshel’s fate.

I was sympathetic towards Pierrot at first – a little boy who has lost everything and thrust into a new life where he has to lie about himself – but that changed to dislike as he falls under the influence of Hitler and, in betraying his aunt, becomes Pieter.  He’s blind to what’s happening around him and innocently passes on conversations with his school friends that cause them and their families to disappear.

There are plenty of little hints about the horrors to come but I can see them because of hindsight. If I was living back then I doubt I would  have realised what was going on – being in my own happy little world most of the time – I would only notice when it affected me.  Maybe this explains a little about the acceptance of the German and European people to the Third Reich’s rise to power.

Written by the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this is a well written story that is well-plotted and powerful.  I highly recommend this thought-provoking story though it might be too much for younger readers.

1814: Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of radical socialist and feminist writers, runs away with a dangerously charming young poet – Percy Bysshe Shelley. From there, the two young lovers travel a Europe in the throes of revolutionary change, through high and low society, tragedy and passion, where they will be drawn into the orbit of the mad and bad Lord Byron.
But Mary and Percy are not alone: they bring Jane, Mary’s young step-sister. And she knows the biggest secrets of them all . . .

Told from Mary and Jane’s perspectives, Monsters is a novel about radical ideas, rule-breaking love, dangerous Romantics, and the creation of the greatest Gothic novel of them all: Frankenstein.

Monsters

Sharon Dogar

Andersen

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Piper Mejia

Despite analysis by PhD students of Literature it is impossible to say why a novel becomes a classic. Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley when she was just a teenager, has remained a constant ‘must read’ since its publication on New Year’s Day 1818. Since then, one reader after another has picked up Frankenstein to see ourselves in Mary’s characters, both the creator and the created; the one who harms and the one who is harmed. As we read, we question how its author was able to convey our own struggle through life through an impossible metaphor of monster. In Monsters, Sharon Dogar attempts to give us a peek into the events in Mary’s own life that allowed her to write the novel of a lifetime.

Monsters follow the life of Mary Shelley from 14 until the publication of her novel, Frankenstein at 19 years old.  Throughout the novel, her obsession for understanding her dead mother becomes an obsession for a married man and his ideas of modern society, and finally an obsession for her own novel. As she writes, Mary becomes convinced that the terrible events she brings alive on the page cause them spill over into the real world with deadly consequences.

Sharon Dogar’s historical novel allows the reader into the world in which Frankenstein was created. We not only get to understand Mary’s life, her family and her friends, but we also get a greater understanding of the societal shifts around the western world as equality for workers and women were becoming centre stage. At its core, it is a novel about an unhappy little girl finding love and a sense of self-worth; and around the edges are a study of people and places we have read about but never experienced.

Tracy Beaker is back, and she’s a mum now…

The Dumping Ground is far behind her, and Tracy Beaker has grown up, living on a tough housing estate with her daughter, Jess.

This time, it’s Jess telling the story.

Jess looks like a mini version of her mum- but she’s not quite as fiery. Well, not often. Jess and Tracy are living a hand-to-mouth existence on their estate, until Tracy meets up with someone from her past and their whole lives are turned upside down…

My Mum Tracy Beaker is a fantastic new story, reuniting readers with a much-loved old friend. Just like old times, it’s packed full of illustrations from Nick Sharratt throughout.

My Mum Tracy Beaker

Jacqueline Wilson

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

Even the redoubtable Tracy Beaker can get stuck in a relationship that is not all it should be. We meet Tracy and her daughter Jessica when Tracy has just started a new relationship with the wealthy and handsome ex-footballer Sean. But Jessica isn’t convinced that Sean is fond of Tracy’s famously independent ways and no-filter mouth. Tracy has to battle through finding and losing, then finding, love, finding and losing jobs and looking after her daughter with every fibre of her being. A heart-warming story of what really matters in life.

Here’s the thing about being Inside. Ain’t no one believes that they are.
Ele is kept captive in a small room by a man known as ‘Him’. She has never been Outside but she knows it’s there and she’s determined to prove it.

When Ele eventually escapes, she is forced to question everything she has ever known.

An extraordinary and powerful debut in the style of ROOM by Emma Donoghue.

Outside

Sarah Ann Juckes

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Piper Mejia

The saying ‘write your own story’ makes the assumption that an individual can change, or overcome, the terrible experiences in their life. It is a metaphor for hope; that we can survive what is beyond our control. In that same vein, escaping a locked room is a classic motif – Agatha Christie did it, and so did Authur Conan Doyal, to show that nothing is impossible. In her novel, Outside, Sarah Ann Juckes uses these two ideas to explore the human condition: are we more intuitive, instinctual, than we think? or is every moment of our life a key tucked away until we understand what it unlocks?

Outside is written from the point of view of a young girl, Ele. Locked away in a windowless room Ele uses her imagination, fuelled by the few books in her possession, to plan an escape into a world only she believes exist. What she discovers is that freedom is not just a place and that the truth does not always set you free.

Jack Reacher plans to follow the autumn sun on an epic road trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been – the town where his father was born. He thinks, what’s one extra day? He takes the detour.

At the very same moment, close by, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians are trying to get to New York City to sell a treasure. They’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. It’s a strange place … but it’s all there is.

The next morning in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in that town. He knows his father never went back. Now he wonders, was he ever there in the first place?

So begins another nailbiting, adrenaline-fuelled adventure for Reacher. The present can be tense, but the past can be worse. That’s for damn sure.

Past Tense: Jack Reacher #23

Lee Child

Bantam Press

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

More Jack Reacher!

Reacher is once again travelling the backroads of America on his way to California.  He finds himself in New Hampshire and sees a roadsign for the towjn of Laconia, his father’s hometown.  Curious, he decides to investigate and begins piecing together some of his family history, at least until his father fled to join the Marines at the age of seventeen.  Scanning through records at town hall and researching census from long ago makes boring reading but it brings him in contact with a lot of different characters – some nice and some not-so-nice.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, two Canadians arrive in their beat-up vehicle, hoping to only pass through on their way to Florida.  Shorty and Patty have a fool-proof plan where they’ll drive from Canada straight through to New York to make a quick sale for some easy money. Unfortunately they break down and are stranded at a creepy motel.  The motel is being run by the most depraved and money hungry bunch of goons, headed by a man with the last name of Reacher.  It’s not clear what they are up to until the 3/4s into the book but it’s chilling.

The two story lines converge near the end of the book, with Jack Reacher coming across those in trouble just when he is most needed.

I really liked the duel storyline.  Shorty and his smarter girlfriend, Patty, break down at an isolated, creepy motel not far off from Laconia. Unbeknownst to them, they are about to enter hell. They are in desperate need of Reacher’s help. The two stories converge with a lot of action and excitement. This was a fun read and I’d would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about good guys and bad guys and series fans who want to see yet another unique angle to this ever-evolving collection.

Charlotte Goodman is living the dream.  Surrounded by family, friends and a stunning vineyard overlooking the ocean, it would be difficult for anyone to believe that she has a troubled past.

However, haunted by the theft of a young girl, Charlotte begins to realise the enormity of something she did many years ago, and soon finds herself having to make the most harrowing decision any woman would ever have to face.

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

The third in a series, the prequels being “No Child of Mine” and “Don’t Let Me Go”,  this is a great story and each one can be read as a stand-alone book.  They deal with child abuse and paedophilia, as well as how Social Services handle these cases and each book focuses on just one aspect in Chloe’s development.

Charlotte Goodman was a social worker in England and removed a three year old girl from an abusive home.  She and her husband Anthony then adopted her and renamed her Chloe.

Five years later the Goodmans have started a new life running a vineyard in New Zealand.  They have two more children and the traumas of Chloe’s early life begin to cause major problems, leading to her being a danger to her younger siblings.  The family are faced with making some heartbreaking serious decisions.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this emotional story and parts of it are told from Chloe’s view. The story deals with a harrowing aspect of child abuse that is horrific to read and heartbreaking for such a young girl. It’s beautifully written and I really liked the Goodman family and became invested in them.

 

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-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.