Scoop Review of Books

Southern Fantasy

Book Review
The Kingfisher’s Debt by Kura Carpenter (IFWG Publishing Australia, Amazon Kindle $6.88; paper $35.95)
Reviewed by Rachel Stedman

kingfisher-debut-coverIt’s been a long time since I’ve read such an engrossing urban fantasy. This wonderfully written story is sure to appeal to fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Brandon Sanderson or Maggie Stiefvater.

Okay, so the plot summary: It’s midwinter in Dunedin. Solstice, when the nights are long and magic powers ebb. Tamsin Fairchild, part-time Power worker, part-time occult expert (and full-time criminal) is hired to help find a missing baby by the Dunedin Police.

As the story unfolds, the reader gradually learns about the Fair Folk of the Dunedin, their Elemental rivals, and their darkly exciting, half-hidden world. Initially, the story comes across as a who-dunnit starring snarky Tamsin, but as the plot unfolds a deeper tale emerges, of plotting and betrayal and forbidden Bloodmagic.

The story moves skilfully from present day to past, without losing the reader in the narrative. Time-hopping is a difficult technique to pull off, as there’s a good chance you’ll risk slowing the plot or confusing the reader – so kudos to Carpenter for managing it in a debut novel.

The Kingfisher’s Debt is a gritty read in places, with an abused and damaged heroine, but the heart of the story is redemption and some fine, fine writing.

There’s so much to discover in this story – did you know there are hidden floors beneath the Dunedin Library, full of arcane knowledge. And to get in, you need to lick a piece of paper!? But beware, because if you try to tell others about this secret library, your tongue is forever tied?

The Kingfisher’s Debt needs re-reading, and I’ve just purchased the hard copy so I can read it again. The Dunedin setting is fabulous, okay so I live in Dunedin so I’m biased – but the evocativeness of the Victoriana, the midwinter darkness and the 80s kitsch of St Clair really work. And the Mustangs and the muscle cars are great too. I also found it a huge pleasure to read an urban fantasy told from a female perspective.

Don’t know what else to say really, except this book is perfect for goth-loving teens, all librarians ever and anyone who loves urban fantasy. I really hope there’s another book coming, as I want to know more about this world.

Six Feet Under — Maybe Less

Book Review
Death and Dying in New Zealand edited by Emma Johnson (Freerange Press, $30)
Reviewed by Alison McCulloch

death-and-dying-coverI’ve been to one funeral and two tangihanga this year: two former teachers and someone I didn’t really know. It’s true that we don’t give much thought to death until it’s right in front of us, and also that we probably should, both points Emma Johnson raises in her introduction to this collection of essays on the topic.

We’re a bit like that about lots of things: illness, old age, taxes. But especially about death. It comes to us all, but in many ways we have to live life as if it won’t, because if we thought too much about being dead for all eternity (as an atheist, that’s how I see it anyway), it would be that much harder to spend so much of our time at our meaningless jobs, doing our meaningless chores and indulging in our meaningless squabbles. And I’m with Ernest Becker in believing a whole lot of what we do is, consciously or not, a futile attempt to deny our mortality. 

The focus of Death and Dying in New Zealand is less on the philosophical than on the practical, though when it comes to death, they certainly overlap: it’s impossible to think about the latter without falling into pondering the former. And I did a fair amount of that reading this book, while discovering there’s a lot of interesting practical stuff I had no idea about: that more than 90 percent of of our dead are embalmed; that conservation and natural burial parks are here, but they’re land hungry and can be expensive; that there’s a newer (possibly better) way of disposing of bodies called aquamation (or bio-cremation or resomation or alkaline hydrolysis); that there are people who call themselves ‘deathwalkers’ who help “facilitate a loving, dignified and peaceful death”. Read more »

Rogues at Sea

Book Review
Scoundrels and Eccentrics of the Pacific by John Dunmore (Upstart Press, $39.99)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

dunmore-002John Dunmore CNZM is a distinguished New Zealand academic, historian and author, born in France in 1923.  He founded Dunmore Press and was Professor of French at Massey University till he retired in 1985. Dunmore has written more than 30 books, including a series of thrillers under the pseudonym Jason Calder as well as several plays.  At 94, he has declared this is his final book.  His main scholarly contribution has been about the French exploration of the Pacific.

Scoundrels & Eccentrics of the Pacific is a readable book comprising a series of short chapters describing a wide variety of adventurers in the Pacific, beginning with Hsu Fu, an ancient Chinese voyager. This is followed by a chapter on pirates and buccaneers from the sixteenth century onwards, ending with Von Luckner in World War I and a few German raiders in World War II.  Most of the rest of the book is about late eighteenth or nineteenth century Europeans and Americans.  Only Captain Bligh and the mutineers of the Bounty are well known today unlike Captain Edwards and the Pandora, sent to find the mutineers.  Edwards found some of them in Tahiti, but not those who had settled on Pitcairn. His ship was wrecked but, like Bligh, he eventually managed to get back to Britain in another one.

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Parenting, Warts and All

Book Review
Is it bedtime yet?  by Emily Writes (Penguin Random House, $35)
Reviewed by Justine McLeary

emily_writes_webIf you’re looking for a parenting book that spouts generic pearls about parenting and classifies every part of it into sections as if raising children is a clear-cut job, this is not it.

No, this book is honest. It exposes parenting in all its glory, despair and guilt. It gives you the good, the bad and the ugly, and that’s refreshing since, with parenting – as anyone doing the job will know – there’s a lot of all three.

Author Emily Writes shares in brutal, honest detail how tired raising two young boys makes her, and about how sometimes she really doesn’t like her children. Her musings are interspersed with stories from other Kiwi parents. These touch on various topics including passing on culture to fatherhood, throwing a successful birthday party and how to handle a screaming toddler in a supermarket when everyone is staring at you. It’s real.

Books don’t often make me laugh out loud, but this one did because, being a mother of two myself and having survived the baby, toddler and pre-school years, I can relate to every tale. Ever had a baby poo, wee and vomit at the same time? Tick. Been so tired you forgot you hadn’t started the car and wondered why you couldn’t reverse? Yep, been there. Cried with pride and overwhelming love when your firstborn took his first steps into your arms, or danced on stage in his first production, or won his first award? I’ve done that too.

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Immortal Love

Book Review
Warrior’s Touch by Deb E. Howell (Kristell Ink Press, paper, $14.99)
Reviewed by Rachel Stedman

warriors-touch-front-cover50webWarrior’s Touch is the second book in the Touch Series by New Zealand writer Deb E. Howell. Set in an alternative world, the Touch Series follows Llew and Jonas as they struggle to survive and to love, despite the many barriers they encounter.

The series has a wild-west tone with a steampunk vibe, so if you’re a fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly or Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea, then chances are you’ll enjoy this book.

Llew is a rare creature – a Syaenuk,  able to heal herself by touching living creatures. Only problem is that she drains energy from those she touches. Her touch can kill crops, animals – even humans.  Unsurprisingly, this power isn’t much appreciated by others, but Llew’s a tough individual, and throughout the first book in the series (Healer’s Touch) she proves hard to kill. 

And then there’s Jonas. Blessed with superhuman strength and speed, he’s a Syakaran – the last male of his kind and the nemesis of Llew’s race. But by the conclusion of Healer’s Touch, Jonas and Llew have fallen in love.

As Warrior’s Touch opens, Llew is recovering from her encounter with Jonas’ brother, Braph, and is pregnant with Jonas’ child. Unfortunately, they don’t have long to celebrate domestic bliss. Jonas is expected to play stud and sire more Syakarans. And Llew, an unwelcome immigrant in a strange land, must hide her pregnancy. She’s unsure of Jonas too – although she carries his child, surely he’d prefer his own kind?

All too soon, tragedy strikes. To make matters worse, psychopathic Braph reappears, just as Aris, Jonas’ general, plays an unexpected role.
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