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Archive for June, 2017

A Death in Paradise

Book Review
Don’t Let Go, by Michel Bussi (Hachette, $37.99)
Reviewed by Wendy Montrose

dontletgo_coverThere are endless reasons for picking up a book by an author we don’t know and it can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. But it can also lead to disappointment. This book was unfortunately, disappointing. I chose it because I have a particular interest in the setting. Reunion Island, a tropical French outpost in the Indian Ocean is the home of my ancestors. Michel Bussi writes as though he knows Reunion, and he doesn’t seem to like it.

Bussi is a Professor of Geography at the University of Rouen. After overcoming numerous early rejections he has gone on to publish ten detective novels and two non fiction books on political and electoral geography. Don’t Let Go was originally published in French as Don’t Let Go of my Hand and the translation to English is a little clumsy in places as though the translator’s grasp of English was wanting. The odd phrase jars. “Everything goes blurred.” “Laroche is walking around the carpark in his boots…”

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Life Turned Upside-Down

Book Review | Children’s Books
Wave Me Goodbye, by Jacqueline Wilson (Penguin Random House/Doubleday, $30)
Reviewed by Sophie Robinson

cover“‘Would you like to go on a little holiday?’ asked Mum, the moment she’d shaken me awake.”

Main character Shirley, aged 10, was shocked at the question, because her family never went out of London on holiday. But things were different now due to the approaching war. Children of all ages, including Shirley, were being sent out to the countryside for safety.

The story follows Shirley through the beginning of her new life as an evacuee. She is shy and has no friends, and people sense this. When host families are choosing evacuees, Shirley is one of the last 3 children to be rehomed. Everything in her life is turned upside down – first she has to cope with her father leaving for war, then she has to leave her mother behind in London when she is evacuated to the country, and she has to cope with living with strangers.

This story made me feel like I was there with Shirley, as she left her old life in London, and then had to start a new life in the country with no friends or family. Jacqueline Wilson’s character development is thorough so the reader feels like they have a personal connection with the main character. Read more »

Boys at War

Book Review
Good Sons: A Novel of the Great War, by Greg Hall (Mary Egan Publishing, $32)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

good_sons_cover“She’s a wonderful woman, she gave three sons to the war.” So I recall an elderly relative saying about her neighbour when I was a child. Anzac Day was “to remember the glorious dead”. The gory-ish dead, more like it. We all know WW1 was not a pretty place. Other writers have told stories, and now Greg Hall has told it from a local viewpoint. The first half  of the book is set in New Zealand, showing how we were experiencing the world situation at that time.

The three good sons of this historical novel’s title are those who have volunteered, one by one, each in their own time, for their own reasons; Tom, Robert and Frank step up to the mark to save us from “the hun”. And to save themselves from public censure, stressful home life or to see the world. It’s made clear that you would be labelled a shirker if you didn’t enlist. And conscientious objectors were mostly shunned – or worse. It must have been curious for boys raised in a church-going society with “thou shalt not kill” to learn that they were expected to do so.

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Set in Stone

Book Review
To the Memory: New Zealand’s war memorials, by Jock Phillips (Potton & Burton, $60)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

tothememory-cover-001It is hard to believe that there are over a thousand public war memorials scattered around the country, commemorating over 30,000 New Zealanders who have died in wartime, and most of whom are buried overseas. This fascinating book gives an overview of the war memorials, showing how the commemoration of the casualties of war has changed over 150 years.

The author, Jock Phillips has been documenting war memorials for over 30 years, and the book is based on his detailed research, including the compilation of a database of all known war memorials. Because this is a topic that has been largely overlooked by past researchers, new information constantly comes to hand. In the opening paragraph, Phillips details his delight at finding a previously unidentified memorial obelisk in the Symonds Street cemetery as recently as September 2015.

An earlier version of this book was published in 1990 as The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials by Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean. At that time there was little interest in military commemoration, and the book appeared an oddity. But in recent years there has been an awakening of interest in the commemoration of Anzac Day, and the centenary of World War 1 has inspired enormous interest in understanding New Zealand’s part in military conflict. This book is a completely new edition, incorporating the large amount of new information and interpretation that has become available over 25 years.

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Last Words on Three Lives

Book Review
Breaking Ranks: Three Interrupted Lives, by James McNeish (Harper Collins, $35)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

breakingranks-001James McNeish, well known author of novels, non-fiction and drama, sent his publishers the final manuscript of this book a few weeks before he died in 2016.  In it, he tells the stories of psychiatrist John Saxby, soldier Reginald Miles and Judge Peter Mahon, described by McNeish as “three men who defied authority and paid for it”.  He says the chapters are not biographies: “at most they are sketches”.

While Mahon is well known for his damning report on the Erebus air disaster, in which he claimed he was presented with an “Orchestrated litany of lies”, Brigadier Miles, and especially John Saxby, are less well known.  They both apparently committed suicide, though what drove them to it is not entirely clear. Whether Mahon’s premature death was hastened by the reaction to his criticism of Air New Zealand and of his subsequent release of a book to justify his conduct, is a matter of conjecture.

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