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No Ordinary Island

Book Review
The Rift by Rachael Craw (Walker Books, $22.99)
Reviewed by Rachel Stedman

rift_coverRachael Craw is one of those writers you KNOW you want to read, as she has a gift for creating action-packed young adult adventures. Her first series, Spark has been extremely well received by the YA community in both Australia and New Zealand (it has a hashtag, #SparkArmy), and The Rift looks like it’s going to be just as popular.

The Rift is the tale of Meg and Cal of Black Water Island, where Cal is an apprentice Ranger. Meg’s always wanted to be a Ranger too, so upon her return to Black Water she’s jealous of her one-time friend. But on Black Water Island, hostility can get you killed. Because on the island strange things happen: cell phones don’t work, nor do any electrical devices, and there’s a herd of deer who can communicate telepathically. Oh, and there’s an interdimensional rift that, when it opens, admits the dreaded Hounds. And just as Meg arrives, the Rift is about to open. Can Meg and Cal overcome their guilt over the past to protect the herd and save the island?

The Rift is a fast-paced and exciting read. Meg and Cal are well-described, engaging characters, and because the story’s written from both their points of view, it’s likely to appeal to both sexes. I enjoyed the naturalness of the dialogue and the physical competence of both characters.

I did have a few quibbles. There were plenty of tropes: the evil drug company, ridiculously snarky teens and way too many Proper Nouns. But the biggest challenge was the Rift itself. I kept wondering – where did this thing come from? Where does it go? And why aren’t there any government scientists on the island checking it out?

That being said, as the narrative tension began to build, the action sparked, and it was impossible to stop reading. I refused to get out of bed one morning as I just needed to find out what was going to happen next! So, if you’re a fan of action-packed fantasy, The Rift is a great read.

The Rift is certain to appeal to fans of Maggie Stiefvater, V.E. Schwab or Suzanne Collins, and is highly recommended for older teen readers. Personally, I hope there will be a sequel, as I want to know more about Meg, Cal and Black Water Island.

War 3.0

Book Review
The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age by David E. Sanger (Scribe, $35)
Reviewed by Valerie Morse

perfect-weapon-cover-webIn October, the New Zealand government called out Russia for its “malicious cyber activity” with Government Communications Security Bureau director general Andrew Hampton telling Radio NZ’s Checkpoint programme that the government was “very concerned” about malicious internet activity. Reports of China’s intrusions into Australian companies have raised alarms in recent days, and now Chinese company Huawei has been banned from a role in building the new 5G network because its network systems are viewed as having back doors for the Chinese government. Two years ago, the NZDF said said that it wanted to acquire offensive cyber weapons, among a raft of other purchases and upgrades. Unlike warships, firearms and aircraft, however, there has been little public discussion and debate about the acquisition of this wholly new class of weapon and if the offensive, eg. proactive, use of cyber weapons is a good idea in terms of New Zealand’s foreign policy. The cyber war, it seems, has already begun.

In his new book, The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age, author David Sanger, the national security correspondent for the New York Times, aims to provide some much needed, and highly readable, background to the issues and pose some challenging questions for an informed debate.

Sanger’s opening is dedicated to providing some context into why cyber weapons are so useful; they are, he says, the “tools available between diplomacy and military power.” He explains that they represent a more credible threat than much more powerful weapons because they can be used without, “demonstrations of open military might that invited retaliation, escalation and international condemnation.”

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Guarding Our Health

Book Review
The Unconventional Career of Dr Muriel Bell by Diana Brown (Otago Universith Press, $35)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

murielbell-web2This is an authoritative biography of a significant New Zealand scientist.  Even though I heard of Muriel Bell in my childhood in Dunedin, I had no idea of the range of her work until I read this book. Her career was unconventional for her day in that few women in the 1920s studied medicine, and very few indeed carried on to a doctorate in medicine and a career in research.  Furthermore, when she married, her husband managed their domestic life and she mostly retained her maiden name and continued to advance her career.  Her second husband lived most of the time in Wellington while she remained in Dunedin. She had no children.  From a 21st-century perspective, none of this seems unconventional: I must admit I was expecting a more Bohemian story.

This book is careful to mention the various specialties and research links of the many worldwide scholars that Dr Bell interacted with and learned from.   Footnotes abound, but surprisingly there is no bibliography so if, for example, you want to find out what “Preston Lady Doctor” refers to, you have to scroll back through the footnotes to find the first mention of it.  The book is full of names that mean nothing to a general reader today, important though they would be to a scholarly reader to establish just what Dr Bell’s own contribution was.  Amongst the unknown international names are well known New Zealanders such as Sir Charles Hercus, Sir John Walsh and her friend Dr Elizabeth (Bess) Gregory, respectively deans of the Otago Medical, Dental and Home Science schools.  She was also friends with Peter Fraser and Millicent Baxter, but the author was unable to find out much about her personal life.

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Q&A: Historian Vincent O’Malley

Interview
Q&A: Vincent O’Malley
Interviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Kia ora Vincent.

Tēnā koe mō tāu pukapuka. Ka nui te pai tēnei mahi.

Vincent O'Malley (source: BWB Books)

Vincent O’Malley (source: BWB Books)

VR: Let’s start at the top. The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800 -2000 is a massive book and a mighty indictment of the ways in which Pākehā grabbed the land off and of Māori; a systematic snatching that of course has had and continues to have serious ramifications for many Māori today. What are the positive flow-on effects stemming from this important book, that you are experiencing yourself?

Vincent: The response to the book has been phenomenal right from the day we launched it back in October 2016. That was at the Waahi Pā poukai in Huntly. I handed over the first official copy to Kīngi Tuheitia and wandered around the back of the whare where a big crowd was gathering. I wondered what was happening. It turned out they were already queuing to get their own copies of the book and so I spent the next three or four hours signing hundreds of books. It was a huge privilege to be invited to launch the book on such an important date in the Kīngitanga calendar and to see the way in which it has been embraced by Tainui has been amazing. I also really hoped the book would speak to Pākehā about the need to own their history and again the reception has been remarkable. At times it has felt less like a book and more like I’m part of some kind of social movement.

bwb8358_tgw_cover_01At a personal level, I guess my profile as a writer and a historian has increased and I’ve done dozens of public talks over the past couple of years in all kinds of different places and forums. And my message is always that the New Zealand Wars were defining conflicts in our history. They are part of our story and we need to know this history, and ensure our rangatahi learn it at school. I have done lots of school visits myself in this time and I know young people really get why this history matters to them and their communities. In some respects they are leading the way for their elders.    

VR: As a corollary, what are the bad effects – if any – arising from both the ongoing publicity surrounding this book, as well as from those who may have read it? Do you still sight ignorant comments, encounter any racist epithets? If so, how to handle suchlike?

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Q&A: True Crime writer Scott Bainbridge

Interview
Q&A: Scott Bainbridge
Interviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

VR: Why does your latest book, The Missing Files, have only some new cases, i.e. why is there rather a lot of repetition of cases from your previous two books on missing Kiwis, namely Without Trace (2005) and Still Missing (2008)?

Scott Bainbridge is one of New Zealand’s foremost investigative and True Crime authors. His first two books; Without Trace and Still Missing about missing persons, led to several cold-cases being re-opened, and inspired the acclaimed TVNZ series, The Missing. In his third book; Shot in the Dark, Bainbridge accessed old murder files to examine unsolved NZ murders of the 1920s and 30s, dispelling decades-old myths and uncovering hidden truths. His latest book is The Missing Files.

Scott Bainbridge is one of New Zealand’s foremost investigative and True Crime authors. His first two books; Without Trace and Still Missing about missing persons, led to several cold-cases being re-opened, and inspired the acclaimed TVNZ series, The Missing. In his third book; Shot in the Dark, Bainbridge accessed old murder files to examine unsolved NZ murders of the 1920s and 30s, dispelling decades-old myths and uncovering hidden truths. His latest book is The Missing Files.

Scott: When I re-visited those two earlier books and the television series, The Missing, which followed on from them, I realised that there had been progress since then, across several of the cases. For example, in the Marion Granville case, her own Mum had no idea that Marion was on heroin, and was dealing in it too…

I also now have less of a closed shop reaction from the NZ Police. I obtained far more details.

So, my new book is an update from these earlier books.

More, I feel that I have now moved on from these cases.

VR: ‘Realistically’, for which cases from The Missing Files do you see any resolution? For example, the cases of Heidi Charles? Sydney Patrick Fisk? Craig Hampton, all of which I found rather intriguing.

Scott: I had a meeting with Missing Persons Bureau last month and we had what is termed ‘anniversary reviews’ of certain cases, yet – unlike previously – there was no new information forthcoming from any source as a result of this new book.

However, in some cases there has been some progress. For example, a whānau desire to resolve the case. The Wharton whānau want to find Betty. The belief is that indeed she is buried on a Tatuanui farm property.

About Heidi Charles, I have no idea. There is still a strong lead in the tale of her husband attending a boy scout camp and supposedly threatening his son there that he would do to him (the son) what he did to his mother, although the son has no such recollection about this comment. Heidi may well have left Rotorua willingly – after all she did have NZ$400, which would be worth several thousand dollars back then (1977)…

VR: Was there perhaps a serial killer in Rotorua? For example, what about the case of Olive Walker?

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