Archive for the ‘history’ Category

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.

changing-times

The story of the newspaper The New Zealand Times and the town it was printed in is told by Matt McPherson.  A delivery boy for the newspaper his family founded, Matt gives us an oversight of easily colonial life and the challenges it posed.  He then outlines the gold rushes, World War 1, the Depression, World War 2, and the effects on the town and its people.

Matt’s narrative continues to the changes in society, up to the digital world of online news and the current time.  This a fascinating look at NZ’s history and easy to read with a graphic novel layout. The illustrations are attractively detailed and the language is simple to understand.

This book was written by the creator of Terry Teo, the popular NZ series, and will delight any child.  He created an interactive blog for this story which features many links to NZ history and is well worth checking out.

Potter & Burton

Supplied by Potter & Burton

Reviewed by Jan

a tattooed heart

Life is looking good for Friday, Sarah, and Harrie, convict girls in 1830s Sydney. Friday is now a dominatrix, running Mrs H’s whipping room; Sarah runs the best jewellery shop in Sydney; Harrie is married to the dashing Dr Downey and the loving mother of Charlotte while providing Leo with unique flash (tattoo designs).

Then Charlotte is kidnapped and taken to Newcastle. As bonded convicts they can’t leave Sydney so how will they find her? I am reluctant to say too much and give the story away but we meet Aria again (yay!) and Jonah Leary (boo hiss!) and of course the despicable Bella Shand.

The plot moved swiftly and there were heart-warming moments, a worrying cliff-hanger (until the next chapter), a well-I-didn’t-see-THAT-coming revelation, and an of-course! moment. The can be read as a stand-alone book but all previous three books really should be read.

I loved   the final in the fascinating and addictive quartet. It wraps everything up nicely and the final pages have an answer to a question raised in the first book Behind The Sun. I love these characters and the author has said they may appear in future stories she writes. I hope so!

HarperCollins Publishing

Supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Ardennes 1944 Hitlers Last Gamble

For most English speakers with an interest in World War Two, the German offensive through the Ardennes, or Battle of the Bulge as it is sometimes called, in December 1944 is well known and has given rise to a number of myths. The first is encapsulated in the title. Several myths are busted in this volume – those familiar with the film Hart’s War will spot one or two – which is good (both the volume and the myth-busting), but the titular myth, of offensive being Hitler’s last gamble is not examined.

Through a history that examines the course of the campaign from both sides and the top and bottom of the military hierarchy and some of the political factors, Beevor follows the Ardennes offensive over a broad timeline, explaining the general tactical situation on both sides and how it had developed since the Battle of the Falaise Pocket in August 1944 and the Liberation of Paris directly after. Thus the Allies were getting set to develop offensives both north and south of the Ardennes when the Germans struck. Beevor explains why the route which had been so successful in the 1940 invasion of France was decidedly not in 1944.

From the start there are three major players, the Germans, the Americans and the weather. The latter favoured nobody. The Americans were anticipating a spoiling attack somewhere along the front to disrupt their own offensives but the scope of the German thrust caught them off guard. The Germans failed Map Reading 101 at the planning stage. This is all explained well in the book. And while this was mostly an American-German battle, the British and Commonwealth forces were involved on the northern periphery.

Once the action starts, Beevor devotes a chapter to each day until the end of Boxing Day, 1944. Movements on both sides of the lines are examined, along with the constraints each army, commander or unit faced. In some cases these were considerable. Beevor also shows why Bernard “Monty” Montgomery is such a divisive figure when discussing the prosecution of the war in Europe. Some American generals do not escape unfavourable judgments, and likewise with the Germans.

In sum I would recommend this book to all who have an interest in the Allied liberation of NW Europe and the shock the only major German counteroffensive caused.

Penguin-Viking, London 2015

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Fields of Blood

Wars have often been blamed on religion, and critical thought frequently goes out the door the moment religion is brought into the discussion. Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun and prominent religious commentator, takes a long hard look at the various religions dominant over long periods of human history, and examines the relationship between that faith and the violent and pacifist streams within it. And religions cop flak because they provide a method of shared community as well as differentiating between us and the others.

Armstrong reminds us that every major religion, from Zoroastrianism to Judaism, Sikhism to Christianity and many more beside, have displayed both a pacifist and a violent face depending on the underlying social conditions. These aspects of a faith are brought about by a dissatisfaction with either the current power dynamics within a single faith society, or by challenges presented by rival faiths. These aspects are achieved by either re-interpreting key tracts of the religions canon or even a complete re-write of the basic canon.

Armstrong points out that are used to legitimate the basic cultural behaviour of a group, be it the aggressive expansion of the early Aryans into India, to the communal and anti-aristocratic Hebrews. She also stresses the point that the religion of a group is adjusted to explain its violence to others and itself, otherwise faith would collapse in the face of the logical dichotomy between the message and the behaviour.

Armstrong has written an entertaining and informative book that partly explains why religion is blamed for mass violence. I say partly because stupidity, greed and prejudice exist outside of religions. Read this book if you want an answer beyond the facile and banal.

Bodley Head

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

A Treacherous Paradise

Hanna Lundmark escapes the terrible poverty of her life in rural Sweden by marrying a sailor and joining the crew of his Australia-bound steamship as a cook. Unfortunately he dies soon after and is buried at sea, leaving Hanna with the freedom to start her life afresh. When the steamer docks at the African port of Lourenco Marques she jumps ship.

Hanna reserves a room in a run-down hotel and settles back to observe the intrigues of a small African town and the dynamics between the white settler and the native population. Embroiled in a series of events which lead to her inheriting the most successful brothel in town, Hanna is determined to befriend the prostitutes working for her and change life in the town for the better but the distrust between blacks and whites, and the shadow of colonialism, lead to tragedy and murder.

Based on the true story of a Swedish woman who ran the most famous brothel in Mozambique, this is an interesting historical fiction that has a crime angle to it. It didn’t grip me, though the true story it’s based on sounds interesting. Try it for yourself.

Harvill Secker

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Time and Time Again

TV comedy scriptwriter is what springs to mind when someone mentions Ben Elton to me. After that is: stand up comic and then writer of satirical novels. So when I sat down to read Time and Time Again I was anticipating either more biting satire or a gently droll piece not what I actually got, which is a serious science fiction work i.e. little or no humour. Reassuringly, Mr Elton has delivered a novel that does credit to him and the genre.

In the late seventeenth century Sir Isaac Newton, through his studies of gravity, determined that the for a brief interval of one or two seconds that time in 2025 would overlap time in 1914, thus making time travel possible. He entrusted these calculations to the Masters of Trinity College, Cambridge. Viewed from 2025, the twentieth century was a disaster and the opportunity to avert World War I is a golden opportunity and Hugh Stanton is the man chosen to make the journey. But after he starts his mission Hugh begins to question whether the mission was such a good idea – and then his life gets complicated.

Hugh Stanton is the appropriate choice for time travelling adventurer: a loner, with no attachments to the twenty first century, adaptive and able to blend into the crowd; and willing to go.

I enjoyed this story. The characters were well drawn, the culture shocks of moving from twenty first century Britain to early twentieth century Europe were nicely shaded and the reveal later in the book suitably handled. Mr Elton has a future outside of comedy.

Bantam Press

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Simon

Another review of Time And Time Again