This nice little tale mixes a little pre-European history of Auckland with Maori mythology and then modern-day with the Harbour Bridge. It reminds me...moreThis nice little tale mixes a little pre-European history of Auckland with Maori mythology and then modern-day with the Harbour Bridge. It reminds me of a project I did with my son long ago on the volcanoes of Auckland, and of looking at "then-and-now" illustrations. I also find the Harbour Bridge always a pleasure to look at and drive across - it's not one of the world's famous bridges, but I find it elegant with its sweeping approaches and clean lines.
The grandchildren rather enjoyed this story, too.(less)
I've had the good fortune recently of having read three 5-star books all very closely together. Either that, or I'm currently in some unusual state of...moreI've had the good fortune recently of having read three 5-star books all very closely together. Either that, or I'm currently in some unusual state of euphoria and am seeing everything through rose-tinted glasses. But no, because later today I'm going to do a 2-star and a 1-star review. They, however, have nothing to do with this book.
This book had me caught in it right from the beginning. Fantasy is my favourite genre, and I love the pace of good fantasy novels written for the younger generations. I also really enjoy reading books set in my own country and, in this case, with the mythology that belongs here and to here alone:
Like a stupendous snake, an enormous serpent had risen from the river. It defied belief - eel-like with slickly glistening skin and a thick-lipped, long narrow head. Its eyes blazed with a cold shimmer, and its mouth opened over rows of thin, jagged teeth, each as long as a man's leg. [- the taniwha of Lake Taupo, which answered Wiri's call to assist them.]
Mat, a boy of 15, is the (unwitting) hero of this story. He's living with his Maori father and wishing he could be with his Irish mother instead. The story begins with Mat thinking about the two-part pendant he'd made for them, now separated - his mother proudly wearing her half, his father's half tossed in a drawer. This pendant plays an important role in the story, but it's the tiki made of human bone that draws Mat into an adventure he'd never have been able to imagine.
David Hair weaves some history, mythology, and magic together with the modern day, and takes the reader across 800 kilometres (500 miles) from Napier to Cape Reinga with Mat and his new and loyal friends. I finish with an exciting quote:
(Mat has just worked the magic he's learning to control) The RAV4 roared from the garage, and Kelly spun the wheel to follow the driveway right, realising too late she was accelerating straight into the two BMWs strung across the driveway. She opened her mouth to scream, even as Mat opened his eyes and sagged backward, completely drained, and incredibly peaceful. Men with guns leapt aside, and trained their weapons, when they suddenly froze, and stared . . . and then they were gone, and Kelly cried in shock as the two BMWs vanished, replaced by a small row of constabulary with muskets and sabres, who dived aside as the RAV4 roared through them and out onto the dirt road.
If I was writing this review for a professional publication I would give it 4 stars, not 2. This is an excellent historical novel - the political and...moreIf I was writing this review for a professional publication I would give it 4 stars, not 2. This is an excellent historical novel - the political and economic situation around the turn of the 20th century is drawn skillfully into the plot, and the social conventions of the time are brought to life in the narration.
But, I almost didn't finish this because I so disliked both Conny and Dougie. I guess that's the mark of well-defined characters, that the reader has her/his emotions activated, but I just didn't want to know them. Their justification throughout for a dishonourable affair made me angry.
"I have never had any intention to do him harm, only exercised the right to happiness myself. And surely William's state of mind is not entirely on my account. His financial affairs continue precarious; his health is failing, as is his political ambition." (Conny)
Four stars, five stars, four stars, five stars..... Wait! I read in bed last night till my eyes wouldn't stay open; I happily volunteered to sit waiti...moreFour stars, five stars, four stars, five stars..... Wait! I read in bed last night till my eyes wouldn't stay open; I happily volunteered to sit waiting while my daughter had a (regular) appointment for the two granddaughters at a hospital clinic, and knitted and read this; I just as happily volunteered to knit and read in the waiting room while my father saw his dentist. FIVE stars.
This excellent sci-fi novel starts off brilliantly, setting the whole world-building into immediate relief - and I mean 'relief' as in a 'relief map', not "Whew! Thank Goodness for that!" or should I say "thank Stefan for that." Which brings me to my next point, or rather my next two points:
1) The descriptions of fashion in a world full of blind people, and of social propriety, are .. I want to use the word 'brilliant' again, but this review would get horribly boring .... excellent (oh no, I've used that word before too, but if I use too many different superlatives then this review will get unreadable).
[sister and mother planning a Twelve-Month (i.e. baptism) gown] "I wish you had brought Tineke ... It would be much better if we could feel them [the fabrics] when they are against her skin. ... This twilling seventy-six texture might not go with her hair but I need to feel the two together."
Kalaisa greeted Ayshe in the long fashion, running her fingers over the mbroidery on Ayshe's skirt, exploring at length the cut and patterning of her cardigan and especially lingering over a new arrangement of Ayshe's hair. It would have been quite acceptable to use a short greeting with Bean, a few touches at his fair and clothing, but she did a long gretting with him too ...
2) Zanetti makes pithy comment (no, I'm not talking about citrus fruit) about how religions develop out of wise, strong leadership, and about the manipulative use of religious zealotry.
This book has a great pace throughout, does an excellent star-crossed lovers story, and has a thoroughly convincing world and its characters. Sci-fi at its best.(less)
I like this book for a number of reasons: 1) The two children have red hair (as did I before it started fading) 2) It's set in my place - I haven't spen...moreI like this book for a number of reasons: 1) The two children have red hair (as did I before it started fading) 2) It's set in my place - I haven't spent much time around Lake Pupuke, but I know it just fine; we went to the beach at Takapuna for a picnic at least once a year through my childhood; I've sailed around Rangitoto and walked (up the path) to the summit many times; and Mt Eden was almost in my backyard when I was a teenager. 3) I love the idea of telepathy 4) The aliens are gruesomely revolting (yes, that's a good thing) 5) There's a great build-up of suspense at the beginning, and then a nicely full-on climax.(less)
My original plan was to give this 4 stars - I was thinking to myself (now that's a strange phrase, isn't it? After all, who else would I be thinking t...moreMy original plan was to give this 4 stars - I was thinking to myself (now that's a strange phrase, isn't it? After all, who else would I be thinking to???) that I really, really liked it, probably 4 1/2 stars worth, but that I couldn't say "it's amazing" because I don't think it's a book that's going to "stay with me a long time / forever". However, once I started writing this review (and this part is a prequel) I had to look for phrases that I wanted to quote and that took me forever because there are so many, and because I got caught up reading large segments all over again, and I was getting emotionally involved again and so angry with some of the people in this book and so wrapped up in Tizzie's appreciation of the world .... and when this gets made into a movie (hey, p.d.r., have you sent it to a scriptwriter yet?) I'm going to be its biggest fan. So it gets 5 stars!
Here's the review that I just put up on Amazon:
Tizzie is 29 and an old maid. It's 1887 and it's the duty of any last girls in families to stay at home and do the milking and the cheese-making and the gardening and the cleaning and the cooking and the ...... It's hard work for everybody, actually. But Tizzie is worked like a slave for her brother (and his wife) who took over the farm when their father died.
The story is told in a 19th century voice
Agnes were shivering..., They were larking with the littlies ...
which gives a lovely authenticity and some delightful vocabulary that is thoroughly underused nowadays. The characters and the scenery are drawn so well that my mind's eye could see the people and places most clearly - not so much explicit detail on physical characteristics, but descriptions that give the feelings and the attitudes of people
Maggie's voice was her Sunday-in-church voice, clipped and proper. She did not raise it or spit the words with venom, but Tizzie heard undertones that set hairs at the nape of her neck prickling in warning.
This book had me reading late into the night, and crying. Wonderful!(less)
There's no doubt about it - Stephanie Johnson crafts an excellent novel. And though I never got to like the main character, Norm, I felt deeply sorry...moreThere's no doubt about it - Stephanie Johnson crafts an excellent novel. And though I never got to like the main character, Norm, I felt deeply sorry for him with his emotionally distant father, his desire to be part of the big family next door, his hero worship of his best friend Lyn (also part of the next door family), his confusion between the rugged and the cultured, and his own illicit sexuality.
Norm was born in 1898, though the earliest we get in this novel is a short scene with Lyn in 1905. With only a few small forays into other years the majority of the story moves from 1972 to 1920 and back again. In 1972, at the beginning of the book, Norman has just received a letter and he feels "There's forgiveness in the air, tolerance, compassion." In 1920 we have a slow build-up to the something that happened that needs forgiveness.
I was so caught up in the story that I didn't notice how vivid the descriptions were - and they are! The reader is taken into the different times and different scenes without an excess of description but so that they are very visible. From the houses of the cliff-top to the rooms in the city to the winding road to Piha and its beach and the bush inland, these places stimulate our imagination. I really enjoyed this trip down memory lane and beyond.(less)
Sarah Laing has been publishing web comics on her blog (sarahelaing.wordpress.com) for some time now, and a collection has been made available in grap...moreSarah Laing has been publishing web comics on her blog (sarahelaing.wordpress.com) for some time now, and a collection has been made available in graphic novel form. They're entertaining, very true to the lives so many of us lead, and give good food for thought. I'm now following her blog.(less)
I read this book in a hurry because the author is coming to our bookshop next Thursday for a promotion of her latest novel "Fall of Light", and, of co...moreI read this book in a hurry because the author is coming to our bookshop next Thursday for a promotion of her latest novel "Fall of Light", and, of course, for a general look at her work. It seemed a good idea not to be ignorant for the occasion so I borrowed this book of short stories (and Dead People's Music, and a couple of graphic novels/comic collections). But I would have enjoyed these more if I had spaced the stories out over a month or so.
Sarah Laing has a distinctive writing style. This is an asset - I enjoy it. Unfortunately, I found that caused these 19 stories to blur into each other in my reading of the whole book over just 4 days. As I flick through the pages now to write this review, I see I'm quite wrong about blurring. They don't blur at all - the stories are delightfully different - there's quite an age range of characters, there's a good range of different settings and the subjects of the stories are diverse.
What Laing does really well is take things that cause us discomfort and elaborate on them. The reader can see herself in so many of these scenarios - not knowing what to say, feeling awkward, being slow at a new job, reacting badly to something we've eaten/drunk/inhaled ... While I haven't experienced everything that is covered in this book, I have experienced almost all of the feelings. Empathy was strong throughout my reading.
And perhaps that's why I also had the feeling of blurring - they were all about me!(less)
I've just finished reading this advance copy - I went with my boss to a Random House Road Show a few weeks ago, and each person attending got to selec...moreI've just finished reading this advance copy - I went with my boss to a Random House Road Show a few weeks ago, and each person attending got to select a book to advance-read. I can't remember what the advertising for this was like as there were so many books featured at the event, but it must have appealed to me. And the title is great!
I'm absolutely delighted that I chose this book - it's a real gem. And it's told in such an engaging manner. The author is talking directly to the reader and so the reader doesn't just join in the unfolding story, but joins in the author's thought-processes - the decision-making about how to begin the novel, the meanderings, the explanations - as if we're present with the author while he tells us the story.
Now I'm going to disagree with the blurb-writer for this book. The blurb-writer has said it's
a touching clever, novel about stories, about using them to create your own identity, and about the way they can forge bonds of love.
Well, I agree that it's touching and clever, but I would say that it's a book that uses stories (and whose main character use stories) to help make sense of life and of our relationships to others. More wordy, I know, but if I leave out my bracketed clause then it's just as succinct.
I also disagree with the blurb on the book jacket in its description of the man - one imagines some Neanderthal-type ugh-speaking thing - and the manner in which the heroine reaches him - one imagines her sitting down and telling him stories in the same way that she tells them to her son. It's just not like that. What it is about is entering into a person's world, rather than imposing one's own on him or her. And the book does that through a story about the aftermath of war.
I've read in the newspapers about some dreadful cases of parents who neglect their children; I've seen snotty-nosed kids walking to school with no han...moreI've read in the newspapers about some dreadful cases of parents who neglect their children; I've seen snotty-nosed kids walking to school with no handkerchief and no raincoats; I've seen young things hanging around on street corners or wandering along in the night. And I've wondered what's wrong with the parents! But then, the worse thing about my childhood was that I happened to be introverted, and was flanked by two extroverted sisters. 'Sheltered', I think you'd have to say about my upbringing.
'Sheltered' couldn't be further from the truth about the narrator of this story. We don't learn much about Bea's childhood, but it's rather summed up in the comment her then-future husband makes:
'Weird they must've been, your father and mother, to have daughters like you and Lou.'
At that time, Lou was an artist, cultivating eccentricity, and Bea was tall, large, red-headed, and, in her own words, ugly. There were also the sisters Cushla (the oldest), Helen (the youngest), and Ghita, who stopped speaking when she was three. We meet the sisters when Bea returns to New Zealand after their father dies, and they are integral to the story, but it's Bea and her children, and their extremely non-sheltered life, that draw the reader into a state of really wanting to know what's going to happen next. This is despite the many very unpleasant things that occur, and despite Bea being so far from the sort of person I would choose to know.
They do say that truth is stranger than fiction, so I have no doubt that any of these things could (and do) happen. This first novel by Stephanie Johnson (and I've read 2 others by her already) has confirmed that I don't have to like any of the characters in order to enjoy a book, and I want to continue reading more of her work.(less)
Rudy is a workaholic architect who didn't heed his wife's complaints about the time he spent at work - she has left him. He also isn't heeding his bus...moreRudy is a workaholic architect who didn't heed his wife's complaints about the time he spent at work - she has left him. He also isn't heeding his business partner's requests that he tone down his designs - the customers invariably are finding them way over the top. Then a brush with death brings ongoing dreams and disturbances, and he has the time to think about his life. Of course, no change comes easily.
I'm wasn't entirely convinced by the (female) author writing in a male voice - at times it didn't ring true for me, and I found some of the dialogue dissatisfying. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the descriptive passages - I could envision what I was reading, and it did seem to be coming from the eye of an architect. I also enjoyed the characters, despite not liking Rudy much at all.
The author has a regular comic strip based on her own life as a mother of small children, and I suppose it was based on the success of that that the publisher was happy to have the art throughout this novel. I heard the author speak about the book, and if I recall correctly she said that the art (3 pages at the end of each chapter) was telling the story of Rudy's dream sequences. I didn't enjoy it. I found myself getting irritated because I had to stop reading and instead had to try and figure out what the pictures were about. And I kept thinking that it must be important that I "read" the pictures carefully because they had to be key to the plot. But I think I could have gone with my instinct and skipped over them. I'm a words-person.
Apart from that I was eager to turn each page and find out how everything developed, so it was a good read.(less)
I don't like moths. I had a nasty experience when I was in my late teens - I was walking up the road, heading homewards, when I felt something ticklin...moreI don't like moths. I had a nasty experience when I was in my late teens - I was walking up the road, heading homewards, when I felt something tickling my ear. I put my finger in to scratch, felt myself touch something soft and not-me, drew my finger out like it was burnt ... and there remained in my ear a nasty fluttering, going on and on and on. I probably screamed. I remember crying when it stopped and started and stopped and started, and feeling afraid of things getting inside my head (I'd read a nasty science fiction story about insects hatching in someone's brain). Somebody, I don't remember who, eventually got the bits of the moth out by pouring warm oil into my ear. And ever since then I have got quite panicky whenever there are moths flying near me.
You'd think I wouldn't even want to look at a book about moths! But books don't fly so I'm unconcerned. And the cover is beautiful, so I flicked through the pages and thought it's such a lovely book for children that I must have it. The illustrations show a human child growing from birth to five years, but these portions are in black-and-white so the focus is on the wildlife that fills the pages while pepetuna sleeps. The text is simple but not childish (unlike some books for children that tend towards baby-speak, a language I've never liked), while this non-fiction account is told like a story.
James (aged nearly 6 now) was deeply engrossed when I read it to him, so full marks from both of us.(less)
I have to say (for the umpteenth time) how pleased I am to be in the Book-Loving Kiwis group on Goodreads. It has a monthly read devoted to books writ...moreI have to say (for the umpteenth time) how pleased I am to be in the Book-Loving Kiwis group on Goodreads. It has a monthly read devoted to books written by Kiwi authors, and because of that I have read so many books that I might never have heard of (as well as a number that I'd heard of but might never have got around to reading). You know, if I didn't just work part-time in a bookshop but owned my own, I'd stock it to the brim with every book ever written by a Kiwi - yes, even the badly written ones and the terribly tedious ones and the ones that I'd never actually recommend anyone ever buy (yes, the worse-than-badly-written ones).
You'll have noticed - that is, if you're a language teacher or if you remember when we learnt grammar at school - that I used the Second Conditional there, i.e. IF ... I owned (= past tense) ... I'd stock (= would + infinitive), which means, of course, that I don't imagine it's possible / I'm dreaming. Ah well, dreams are free!
Which brings me in a very round-about way to this book and its two heroines. Meg has dreams of being on the stage and living a life of excitement, Addie has dreams of being something other than a farmer's wife. They're both trained nurses, and so they sign up to go to the action of the Great War (First World War, Europe 1914-1918) where they both get what they're looking for.
Nothing comes quite how you think it will, though, does it?
I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction but I enjoyed this very much. It was thoroughly researched and I found the thoughts and actions of the characters fitted well with what I know of the time period. The balance between description, dialogue and action is excellent, and I was totally drawn into the story. I really wanted to know what was going to happen next.
I do have a couple of small criticisms. With two key characters the book changed perspective frequently. That worked fine when there was dialogue, as the girls' voices were distinct, but there were a lot of times where I had to skip back a couple of paragraphs to check whose perspective was current. I guess the author didn't want to do what others have done with having chapter headings to show who was 'speaking', or other such means of making it clear, but it needed a little something. Perhaps the girl's name could have been repeated a few more times at the beginning of the change of voice ...
The other small thing is - - - - - - - how interesting! I can't remember. It must have been quite insignificant.
Once again there is a range of reviews from 5-stars down to 1, and by readers who are also writers (and teachers of writing) and readers who sound qui...moreOnce again there is a range of reviews from 5-stars down to 1, and by readers who are also writers (and teachers of writing) and readers who sound quite sophisticated in their literary approach and readers who claim not to be at all literary. AND the star-range crosses all those categories. Which goes to show - when deciding to read a book it's a good idea to read reviews by people whose opinion you respect, but still be prepared to disagree with them.
So, you can see that I've given this 4 stars.
If you're reading this without knowing anything about the book itself, very briefly ... it's a mystery set in Hokitika (small-town New Zealand) in the time of the goldrush, and there's a large cast of characters. AND it won the Man Booker Prize this year. The Man Booker is voted on by a panel and is given for the best novel of the year written by an author from the UK, Rep of Ireland, or a Commonwealth country.
What did I particularly like about this novel? 1) I liked the long-winded writing style. I usually get quite impatient with too much descriptive prose, but I very much enjoy writers who can put words together beautifully - Catton does that. 2) I liked the way we didn't get really close to any of the participants - that fitted my idea of the over-riding formality of the times. 3) I liked the characterisation. Not so long ago I spent a couple of intense years getting to know a congregation of about 50 elderly people extremely well, and their mannerisms and manners and ways of getting involved in each others' small town lives (or not getting involved) were not dissimilar to the folk in Hokitika. They were more similar to them than to people of my own generation and younger who I know in Auckland (and in cities overseas). So, I found the characters very realistic and it made me quite nostalgic for that brief but wonderful time.
What didn't I like so much? 1) The 'cleverness' about the chapter lengths - something to do with the Victorian novel - - - maybe - - - or maybe I've read too many reviews and I'm getting confused - but each chapter is half the length of the preceding one, which means that the first is nearly half the total length of the book, and the last one is about one page (or is it less? - I haven't got the book in front of me right now). Which all seems rather pointless to me. 2) The astrological charts at the beginning of each chapter. Now, if there'd been constant reference to them, if they'd played a key part in the unfolding of the story, then maybe I'd have appreciated them. I mean, I've done all the "into astrology" stuff - I've got nothing against it as a belief system or as a plot contrivance. But it seemed particularly contrived. Again, rather pointless to me.
But that's about it. I ignored the chapter lengths and I ignored the astrological charts - and I loved the book!(less)