Greta & Valdin – book review

Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly

This is so refreshing for a New Zealand book—hooray for getting away from the cliché that all kiwis are boring monoglot parochials. Here’s a great new cast of characters, a whole blended extended Vladisavljevic whanau of Russian, Māori, Catalans, some other eastern Europeans I think – Romanian? There’s a complicated relationship with this lot, academics and students at Auckland Uni woven around the main unit of Greta and her brother Valdin, who are our storytellers. I’ve never met people like them but wish I had. The dinner time conversations are epic. ‘The first time I brought you round to my parents’ house I told everyone to act like regular people and V threw the remote out the window so no one could change the channel from Eurovision and a squid had exploded on my dad at work.’ There’s a confusing series of relationships across the group, bi, straight and gay—an uncle’s husband’s brother is the boyfriend of Valdin and a brother-in-law’s husband a straight ex-lover (ex?). I had to draw a curly family tree to get it straight. Like life. It’s complicated.

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Sorrow and Bliss—book review

Sorrow and Bliss is a lively and intelligent book. The author uses her vocabulary well and can summon up a hundred ways to describe ‘awkward’. A lesser author might tell you that a couple sat on sofa and she felt awkward. Mason says: ‘He was sitting at one end of the sofa. I sat down and folded my legs underneath me. Facing him, the posture felt beseeching and I put one foot back on the floor.’ How wonderful is that complicated word–beseeching, and how perfectly it describes this character. There are words and descriptions to admire all thorough this book. ‘The Germans have a word for heartbreak, Martha. Liebeskummer. Isn’t it awful?’

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Slow Down, You’re Here–book review

Slow Down, You’re Here, by Brannavan Gnanalingam

Well, there’s a lesson in this narrative. Mothers, stay home with your children. If you stray from the natural order a ghastly comeuppance will be visited upon you.

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Catching the Current–book review

Catching the Current, by Jenny Pattrick

If you have read and enjoyed Jenny Pattrick’s latest, Harbouring, do go for a romp around her backlist. They’re consistently good. I’ve just reread Catching the Current and enjoyed it the second time around even more than in 2005 when it was first published.

This is a prequel to Denniston Rose, but reads as a stand-alone story based on the early life of Faroe Islander, Conrad Rasmussen—known to Denniston fans as Con the Brake. He’s tall, fair and handsome, playful, talkative, a renowned singer and teller of tales, and pretty full of himself. He excels at everything he turns his hand to, a man not to be ignored. He’s quick to temper and loyal to his friends—a lover, a hero.

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Down from Upland–book review

Down from Upland, by Murdoch Stephens

This is one of those books that is so close to home it hits the cringe spot and makes me judder all over. I don’t mean the bit about the open marriage, but geographically. Kelburn.  This is my childhood and these are my people and not much has changed over the years. Stephens nails it. There were families like this back in the 70s, where the parents thought they were cool and liberal and who massively over-shared with their kids in a way that was hideously embarrassing. Poor teenage Axle is trying to be accepted at Wellington High, (he left College because of bullying, so no change there, either) while at the same time accepting mum’s boyfriend sleeping over while dad’s male lover gate-crashes. And his father, who can down five passive aggressive bottles with his wife’s young squeeze, ‘helps’ Axle negotiate parties and sex and alcohol by lecturing him, grounding him or buying him a shopping trolley of low alcohol beer, so the lad can ‘fit in’ at parties without getting smashed. There are some great scenes where the lads, naturally, run experiments on getting drunk on low alcohol beer.

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Worse things happen at sea–book review

Worse things happen at sea, by John McCrystal

Worse things happen at sea is probably the most appropriate book title ever. Whatever catastrophe happens on land you can crank up the Richter scale of disaster if it happens out on the briny. Flood, fire, psychopath, injury, grandstanding, storm, starvation, getting lost – put a ship in the background of any of these and they become so, so much worse.

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Violet Black–book review

Violet Black, by Eileen Merriman

This is Merriman doing what she does so well, pacy adventure writing for young adults. Violet Black is a story that begins in the near future of Auckland with two late teens – Violet and Ethan – hospitalised with M-fever, a measles derivative that makes Covid seem like a runny nose. This virus targets teenagers. Ten percent of those infected with M-fever will develop encephalitis. Ninety five percent of those with encephalitis will die. Wow. Kids, this is fiction, OK? Ignore the fact that it is written by a doctor who we generally trust to tell us the truth about medical matters and that the whole scenario sounds pretty convincing at the beginning. If you feel your stress levels going up while reading, take several deep breaths. This nightmarish stuff–pandemics, sinister government organisations, anti-vax terrorism–is all imaginary.

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Harbouring–book review

Harbouring, by Jenny Pattrick

I’ll admit to being nervous in approaching this book. I love Jenny Pattrick’s rousing stories of colonial New Zealand communities and I’ve walked through the mud with her characters. Like many others I was introduced to her books through Denniston Rose and Heart of Coal and Denniston became part of my mental map. The same thing happened with Landings, and Catching the Current. Pattrick offers lively characters as guides to explore our colonial history.

Her new book, Harbouring, is set amid the NZ Company’s arrival in Wellington and the establishment of the colony there. Hence the nerves. Two years ago I published Jerningham. It’s the same story, wrought from the same material. What would an expert storyteller like Pattrick make of it?

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Remember Me – book review

Remember Me, by Charity Norman

Ah! Charity Norman. I wanted a book to be hooked on and I knew her latest, Remember Me, would deliver. I’ve read dozens of books over summer and only a few of them have made it to review. The rest, ho hum, won’t hit these pages because they simply didn’t grip me. This blog is meant to be a collection of books I’ve enjoyed! So, thanks Charity, for getting me back on track.

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small bodies of water –book review

small bodies of water by nina mingya powles

Straight away this book indicates poetry, from the lack of capitalisation on the cover to the beautiful title. Small bodies of water. That’s us. I thought about this when I was swimming recently and think I have never been described so beautifully.

“I never told you anything important about myself but if you had asked, if you had paused to listen, I would have said: my dreams take place in the rainy season.

Poetry or very poetic prose. Every sentence carries a lyricism, a hint of a wider, more exotic world, and hits a feeling that builds on this central emotion of being awash.

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