The Music Shop – book review

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

I’ve included Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop because a dear friend says it’s her favourite book ever, and I am pretty sure she’s not alone in that.

It’s set in a fading record shop in a bypassed street where the owner, our Frank, magically recommends exactly the music that people need to make them feel fine. Nice idea. Bit of a fantasy.

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Before we were yours – book review

Before we were yours, by Lisa Wingate

This novel contains two stories that we know will connect. We can guess, but don’t know the full details until the end. It is based on shameful historical fact that makes us keep reading through the slightly klutzy text in the hope that, bloody hell, if this is true let’s make sure it never happens again. It goes on my “good holiday read” shelf. Probably wouldn’t take it to book club.

The interesting story is the one of a twelve-year-old river kid in Tennassee in 1939. Her mother is birthing twins on the houseboat and the black midwife walks out because she doesn’t want a dead white woman on her hands. When her father leaves for hospital in the skiff, the girl and her 4 siblings are kidnapped. This is a retelling of a bogey story as old as the hills (stabs me in the heart every time), with an orphanage, cellars, beatings, gruel, death and starvation until the cute blond kids get sold off to wealthy but infertile couples. The kids’ past disappears like the river and there is no psychological help for them ever apart from what they can cobble together themselves. It’s horrible.

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The Adventures of Tupaia – book review

The Adventures of Tupaia, by Courtney Sina Meredith and Mat Tait

Tupaia has shot to fame these last months as the pin-up boy of our history. Neither Māori nor Pakeha, the Tahitian ‘ariori (priest) and navigator who travelled with Cook bridged two very different cultures in 1769. If we approach the study of Aotearoa/New Zealand history through his eyes we develop a fresh understanding of our first encounters.

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Call Me Evie – book review

Call Me Evie, by J P Pomare

Generally speaking I avoid books with red and black covers and an image of a traumatised girl. So much crime/horror treats murder, rape, kidnapping of young women as entertainment.

But I met the intelligent and likeable J P Pomare at the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival and realised all the fuss about his book might suggest I have my genres confused. “A top-rate psychological thriller,” said a friend in the know. “Literary suspense” said another. I decided to overcome my prejudice. I picked up red-and-black Evie.

I realised at once I had opened an unusual book.

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Boy Swallows Universe – book review

Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton

Oh my God. It’s true. This extraordinary story of Eli Bell growing up in suburban Brisbane amid drug addicts and gangs and criminals and the poignancy of children making sense of the mess…this is based on his life. Trent Dalton’s. The mother he loves so much he breaks into prison to be with her at Christmas. The best friend, Slim, who shares his stories of Boggo Road prison and may (or may not) have murdered a cabbie. The Vietnamese Golden Triangle heroin dealers and their hit men. Might be easier to read not knowing these things were based on a real life.

I SO love this book. It has that rare bit of genius that I search for in fiction: a mixture of quirky but believable characters, a story that grows, an unusual setting (actually, I hated the setting), and writing so sharp it makes you bleed.

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Cook’s Cook – book review

Cook’s Cook, by Gavin Bishop

Cook’s Cook is a picture book story of James Cook’s journey on the Endeavour, told through the eyes of his one-handed cook.

I’ve just come off a voyage on the replica Endeavour, sleeping in a hammock next to the stove where much of the action in this book takes place, so it all seems very real to me. We heard the stories of the salted meat being dragged behind the boat to wash off the salt and soften the meat, and we checked the barrels for remnants of rum. There was none. It had been licked clean by sailors long ago. Cook’s men subsisted on a diet of poorly packed supplies from home—by today’s standards—and things they scavenged on the way. Gavin Bishop has uncovered recipes that filled bellies. Along with the inevitable pease pudding hot or cold, treats included:

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Taking the Long Road to Cairo – book review

Taking the Long Road to Cairo, by Ann Balcombe

Ann Balcombe’s story is of a fearless young woman who gets on a boat in Auckland and ends up, a couple of years later, in Cairo, via lots of big seas and a whole lot of road. It’s the 1970s.

There is a special place in history for intrepid women who sail across the world into the unknown and go exploring with open minds and courage. I’m in their boots in spirit.

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