The incredible true story of William ‘Bully’ Hayes, the so-called ‘Pirate of the Pacific’: a story that separates the myth from the man.

Famous throughout the Pacific, from the US to Australia and all points in between, Captain Bully Hayes has been the inspiration for writers ranging from Robert Louis Stevenson to James A. Michener and Frank Clune. Rousing films have been based on his life, and his name adorns bars and hotels all over the Pacific.

But the truth is both less noble and more intriguing than the myth. The Hayes of legend was a product of the popular press at the time, the construction of editors who were determined to create a romantic figure to feed their readers’ appetites. This, the first proper biography of this legendary nineteenth-century figure, simultaneously sorts the facts from the fantasy and recounts an amazing true story of a genuine rogue and adventurer, against the backdrop of the Pacific during the great age of sail and trade.

HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

William Henry Hayes, better known as Bully Hayes. A name famous, or infamous, across the Pacific. It’s hard to go far out there without tripping over some reference or other to him, sly asides of piracy, shonky deals, and the whiff of romance and swashbuckling. Every ocean has its ne plus ultra bounder, and the Pacific’s is Bully Hayes.

 The problem with any detailed account of Hayes is that there is a paucity of detail surrounding much of his life. Druett does the best she can with material, cross-checking gossip with known facts, weaving a tale that is both greater and less than the romantic melodrama attached to the name. It is likely he was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1828 or 1829 and served for a period in the US Navy. He is first reported regarding the capture of a notorious American pirate Eli Boggs near Hong Kong. The two salient features that remain are his charm, which many commented on, and his ability to escape creditors and have his shipping business arise like the phoenix when all seemed lost. Even his death was barely attested.

This is not to say that he always operated as a rogue, nor a seafarer. Hayes spent a considerable period in the New Zealand colonies, engaged in inn-keeping and entertainment before the fickleness of fortune drove him back to merchant shipping. He also had a number of wives. However, as divorce was a simple affair in the mid-nineteenth century, several of these relationships were probably bigamous. That said, he was no different to many in the colonies.

Druett writes with style and tries to keep the known facts foremost. Where this is not possible, she presents the accounts, discounts obvious contradictions before offering the most probable explanation. By keeping to this formula, Druett’s methodology is transparent, and we are informed of the hazards of biography where solid data is deficient.

I found this an enjoyable read and hope to see more of Druett’s work in future.


Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…
Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.
He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.
When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.
Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make chocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

Random House Children’s Publisher UK

 Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

This is the backstory of Lyra Belacqua, also known as Lyra Silvertongue, the heroine of Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy. This is the first volume of her story. As a baby she is introduced as being left with the nuns near Oxford. When a major flood threatens the south of England, she is rescued by the book’s protagonist, eleven-year old, Malcolm Polstead and his friend Alice. They have to make their way to safety pursued by the villainous Bonneville and Consistorial Court of Discipline, who want Lyra. This is all to do with the Dust, which Lord Asriel studies and which seems to be a significant component of matter in the idea of entwinned matter and spirit. Spirit being represented by the daemons animal spirit creatures everyone has.  What do you do with a baby who is destined to be the 0catalyst to change the way the world works? With no one they can trust they have to find Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father, so they can take Lyra to Jordan College Oxford and Lord Asriel can ask for Scholastic Sanctuary for the child.

A must-read for fantasy fans both young and old.

In this provocative, startling book, Robert D. Kaplan, the bestselling author of Monsoon and Balkan Ghosts, offers a revelatory new prism through which to view global upheavals and to understand what lies ahead for continents and countries around the world.

In The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries, and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers of the near and distant past to look back at critical pivots in history and then to look forward at the evolving global scene. Kaplan traces the history of the world’s hot spots by examining their climates, topographies, and proximities to other embattled lands. The Russian steppe’s pitiless climate and limited vegetation bred hard and cruel men bent on destruction, for example, while Nazi geopoliticians distorted geopolitics entirely, calculating that space on the globe used by the British Empire and the Soviet Union could be swallowed by a greater German homeland.

Kaplan then applies the lessons learned to the present crises in Europe, Russia, China, the Indian subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, and the Arab Middle East. The result is a holistic interpretation of the next cycle of conflict throughout Eurasia. Remarkably, the future can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties: China, able to feed only 23 percent of its people from land that is only 7 percent arable, has sought energy, minerals, and metals from such brutal regimes as Burma, Iran, and Zimbabwe, putting it in moral conflict with the United States. Afghanistan’s porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India’s main enemy. Iran will exploit the advantage of being the only country that straddles both energy-producing areas of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Finally, Kaplan posits that the United States might rue engaging in far-flung conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan rather than tending to its direct neighbor Mexico, which is on the verge of becoming a semifailed state due to drug cartel carnage.

A brilliant rebuttal to thinkers who suggest that globalism will trump geography, this indispensable work shows how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.

Random House

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Ever looked at the map and wondered why so many wars occur in certain places? Why empires, ancient and modern, craved control of certain geographic spots, or tried to deny them to their enemies? Robert D. Kaplan claims he has the answer: geography. Which actually isn’t a silly idea: geographic features, such as rivers and mountains, funnel movements and route planning. It is better explained by the subtitle – What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate.

The book is divided into three parts: Visionaries, The Early Twenty-First Century Map, and America’s Destiny. Visionaries deals with how historians and commentators have constructed maps to explain geopolitics. The Early Twenty-First Century Map extrapolates various geopolitical situations and examines them as they may play out in the future. The interpretation, however, is through the lens of American interest. America’s Destiny examines the United States’ backyard, the Caribbean littoral and North America, and posits several scenarios to shock a more active governance of the region from Washington.

Make no mistake, this book is aimed at a US audience. My impression was this audience was not Joe Blow, but the decision makers. Due to the US-bias in the interpretive chapters, I found the earlier chapters on historical geopolitical concerns to be more interesting. This is not to say the interpretations were dull, just the seemingly relentless drive to explain what the US should do in territories well beyond its borders got tedious after a while. But that’s only my opinion.

On the whole, this is a good book, and I can recommend reading it.

“Out of the secret world I once knew, I have tried to make a theatre for the larger worlds we inhabit. First comes the imagining, then the search for reality. Then back to the imagining, and to the desk where I’m sitting now.”

From his years serving in British Intelligence during the Cold War, to a career as a writer that took him from war-torn Cambodia to Beirut on the cusp of the 1982 Israeli invasion to Russia before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, le Carré has always written from the heart of modern times. In this, his first memoir, le Carré is as funny as he is incisive, reading into the events he witnesses the same moral ambiguity with which he imbues his novels.

Whether he’s writing about the parrot at a Beirut hotel that could perfectly mimic machine gun fire or the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, visiting Rwanda’s museums of the unburied dead in the aftermath of the genocide, celebrating New Year’s Eve 1982 with Yasser Arafat and his high command, interviewing a German woman terrorist in her desert prison in the Negev, listening to the wisdoms of the great physicist, dissident, and Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, meeting with two former heads of the KGB, watching Alec Guinness prepare for his role as George Smiley in the legendary BBC TV adaptations, or describing the female aid worker who inspired the main character in The Constant Gardener, le Carré endows each happening with vividness and humor, now making us laugh out loud, now inviting us to think anew about events and people we believed we understood.

Best of all, le Carré gives us a glimpse of a writer’s journey over more than six decades, and his own hunt for the human spark that has given so much life and heart to his fictional characters


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

The Pigeon Tunnel has been, by his own admission, the working title for all of John Le Carré’s books. Fittingly, it is the title for his first memoir (if the back cover blurb is to be believed). This is not a grand autobiography whereby the author tries to illuminate every minute of his or her life. Rather it is a collection of anecdotes, just under forty, that cover the length and breadth of the author’s experience.

John Le Carré is the penname of David Cornwell, son of a conman. He sort of fell into the world of espionage while working for the British Diplomatic Service in Germany, and became a novelist despite the Official Secrets Act. He has written more than 20 novels, mostly psychological spy-fi rather than action thrillers. The Cold War served as the backdrop to much of his pre-1990 work. Many of his books have been made into films or adapted to television, or both in the case of The Night Manager.

Being both an ex-spy and a novelist has allowed Le Carré the opportunity to meet a large number of extraordinary people in less than usual circumstances, such as Yasser Arafat in Beirut and a German terrorist held by the Israelis in the Negev Desert. He recounts quite a few of these in his usual sparse yet descriptive style. Being a former spy, many of his subjects assume he is still in active contact with his erstwhile employers. Le Carré lives with the forlorn hope this will cease, but it does make for more interesting anecdotes. The period covered is from his childhood/adolescence until quite recently.

Always entertaining and rarely deprecating of his subjects, Le Carré kept me interested throughout this memoir. I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone.

Image  —  Posted: December 25, 2017 in nonfiction

In The Good Dirt, landscape designer Xanthe White goes beneath the surface to reveal the secrets to successful gardening. As the title suggests, this book is all about the soil we find in our garden and more particularly how we can maximize its growing potential.

If you’ve ever wondered why some plants thrive in one location but struggle in your own backyard you’ll be likely to find explanations in the soil below. Xanthe White examines the five main soil types found in New Zealand and offers advice on how to get the best from each one by working in harmony with nature.

Complete with ingredients guides for each soil type and ideas and design features to enhance its fertility, this is an essential companion for anyone looking to establish a new garden or improve their existing one.

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Okay, now this is something different. It’s a gardening book, and I have a few of those; but it’s also intended to be a science book. It is a book about the science of soil, specifically about New Zealand soils, which are notoriously deficient in a whole bunch of nutrients.

Now, I’m hardly an expert in the field, but I do have a background in both science and education, and I have to say that this work is somewhat inadequate in both departments. The author is a landscape gardener, and clearly very experienced in her field, but I can sense a certain lack of depth to her understanding of the geology and chemistry that underlie soil science.

The book is organised by the types of soils; but what is missing is the section at the beginning that describes soil types, how they come about, and how to tell them apart so you know what you’re dealing with. I have misgivings as a science educator when terms like pH are used without explanation, because I know that many people have forgotten what chemistry they learned in high school, and some won’t even got far enough to have come across that concept.

There’s a lot of wordage given over to anecdotal material, which might be interesting, but isn’t always relevant. It all seems a bit superficial.

If you’re looking for the good dirt on New Zealand dirt, this book might entertain you for a while, but I think you’d soon be looking elsewhere for something more solid.

After a daring chase across the globe, Tim Barnabas and Clara Calland have brought Clara’s scientist father’s secret formula to Westralia. Here, much of Australia is simply too hot to be habitable by day. Duke Malcolm, of the Imperial Security Service, transports Claras rebel-father to a prison in Eastern Australia, hoping to bait her into attempting a rescue. Clara looks to Tim for help, only to find he has fled a racist incident into the desert. She takes a burrowing machine know as a “steam mole” in search of him. The two head to Eastern Australia, where they discover an invading force with plans to take Westralia.


Published by Pyr

Purchased from Bookwyrms (some time ago)

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

This is the sequel to Dave’s young adult novel Cuttlefish which I reviewed recently, and features the continuing adventures of Tim Barnabas and Clara Calland. Tim, along with the crew of the Cuttlefish, is stuck in Westralia, while the submarine is repaired. He takes a job working on the steam moles, digging tunnels to the mines north of the Tropic of Capricorn where it has become so hot that the trains must go underground. Only it all goes wrong, and he escapes into the desert… Meanwhile, Clara’s mother is poisoned by an Imperial agent and is sick in hospital. Clara learns that her father is incarcerated in Imperial territory in Queensland, and sets about attempting a rescue. When she finds Tim is missing, she steals a scout steam mole and follows him out into the desert.

I think you can see where this is going. You get a rollicking steampunk adventure, with a touch of romance, set in the Australian desert. It’s a lot of fun. The star of the show, however, is not the characters, but the steam mole itself. Dave does a masterwork job of creating this wonderful steampunk device, making it thoroughly believable.

The story ends happily for all concerned, save the villains, who get what they deserve. Perhaps it’s a bit simplistic for some, but I found it a good read, and one I can happily recommend to young and old, especially if they are fascinated by unusual mechanical devices.