In Praise of Picture Books

The other month, while on the way to rugby training, RNZ said something almost unforgiveable. The Great Eric Carle was now the Late, Great, Eric Carle. From the back seat came a howl.

I am unabashedly a book worm. I’ll read (need!) almost anything printed, and always have. I’ve tried to bring up all four of our kids as readers, and like to think I’ve succeeded with three of them. We have solid collections of favourites, from Winnie the Pooh to last year’s The Inkberg Enigma (buy it from Unity!) and cover a wide range of genres, especially when you add on their dad’s favs, and books are part of day-to-day life.

The howl had come from Mr 11 and his mate, Kobe the First. They reminisced about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and made their own list of what they could or would eat should they have the sudden urge to hibernate (rather less fruit and veges than the original). We then moved onto some other favourites and here’s some we think you can’t go wrong with.

  1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Buy this in a board format. Buy it as soon as you know you’re pregnant, or on the way to the baby shower. Stash a few at home for Welcome Baby presents. You can’t go wrong with this one.
  2. The Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy. Perfect for the child whose imagination blurs with reality, this Kiwi classic is on its second generation in our household. The extra beauty of the writing is that the main character (AKA the Boy) is never named, so you can very simply personalise this with your favourite person (hint: your child. That’s supposed to be your child). Another great Mahy is the Man Who’s Mother Was a Pirate.
  3. The Kiss That Missed by David Melling. This picture book is the start of a trilogy, all cleverly illustrated with plenty of subtle detail. It starts off with the King being in an awful hurry, and not stopping by to kiss his Prince good night…very relatable! Melling has plenty of other picture and hard books to choose from too.
  4. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd – another Kiwi classic that is just about on the second generation! Hairy and his mates are now in board book, paperback, video, live action plays etc and littlies love the rhythm and rhyme of these titles.
  5. The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathon King– a Kiwi graphic novel that is aimed at 8+ readers or anyone that still loves Tintin.

Book Review: the Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osmon

Synopsis: In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

My thoughts: I only picked this one up because I really like Osman’s sense of humour – or at least how it comes across on the TV. However I was quickly hooked into the quirky, charming and off beat characters. This is well written, not your usual debut fiction, and I’ve already purchased book two, which isn’t expected until September 2021! I gave this 5 stars and recommend if you like thoughtful, multi-layered mysteries with not a lot of gore, it’s for you. I can see it as a TV remake, somewhere between Midsomer Murders and Doc Martin…

American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson

Subtitle:  Murder, forensics, and the birth of crime scene investigation

Synopsis:  ‘Heinrich changed criminal investigations forever, and anyone fascinated by the myriad detective series and TV shows about forensics will want to read [this].’ The Washington Post

‘An entertaining, absorbing combination of biography and true crime.’ Kirkus

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities – beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners and hundreds of books – sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least 2,000 cases in his 40-year career.

Known as the ‘American Sherlock Holmes’, Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of the greatest – and first – forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock is a true-crime account capturing the life of the man who spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools, including blood-spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence.

My thoughts: This book could have been oh-so-good if it wasn’t for a couple of things (note these might be corrected in a future edition) – the timeline becomes quite disjointed a few chapters in and there isn’t enough focus on Heinrich himself. A good editor would fix this quickly. The amount of information saved by the Heinrich family and given over to the university is amazing and I’d love to see a collection of his letters in chronological order. Heinrich’s influence on modern policing and the mundane but methodical crime investigations would be immeasurable as many of his techniques and ideas are still in use today – however I don’t believe he is the pioneer or spearhead of lie-detection tests!

Thank you to #NetGalley for this uncorrected proof.

Book Review – The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman

From the bestselling author of The Land Girls comes a beautifully realised novel that speaks to the true history and real experiences of post-war Australian women.

Sydney 1945 The war is over, the fight begins.

The war is over and so are the jobs (and freedoms) of tens of thousands of Australian women. The armaments factories are making washing machines instead of bullets and war correspondent Tilly Galloway has hung up her uniform and been forced to work on the women’s pages of her newspaper – the only job available to her – where she struggles to write advice on fashion and make up.

As Sydney swells with returning servicemen and the city bustles back to post-war life, Tilly finds her world is anything but normal. As she desperately waits for word of her prisoner-of-war husband, she begins to research stories about the lives of the underpaid and overworked women who live in her own city. Those whose war service has been overlooked; the freedom and independence of their war lives lost to them.

Meanwhile Tilly’s waterside worker father is on strike, and her best friend Mary is struggling to cope with the stranger her own husband has become since liberated from Changi, a broken man. As strikes rip the country apart and the news from abroad causes despair, matters build to a heart-rending crescendo. Tilly realises that for her the war may have ended, but the fight is just beginning…

My thoughts: This book is both quite deep and superficial. Sydney’s last few weeks of the War in the Pacific and the months of anticipation and recovery after form the background, and the lives and thoughts of a few central characters form the main focus. The struggle that women had against the resurgence of the pre-war chauvinistic ideals echoes still now in 2020 as does the difficulty the men have with coming back to the idealistic views of Home that has moved on without them.

I really liked the fact that I’ve spent hours walking around the Sydney that Tilly inhabits and could view her world as I read. The passage about Tilly’s thoughts and feelings when in the ANZAC memorial was amazing.

I haven’t read anything by this author before but she’s one I’ll look for in future.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It’s available on most platforms and in stores from September third.

Nothing Bad Happens Here by Nikki Crutchley

Synopsis: She looked away from his face and took in the clear spring night, full of stars. Her last thoughts were of her mother. Would she finally care, when one day they found her body, and a policeman came knocking at her door?

The body of missing tourist Bethany Haliwell is found in the small Coromandel town of Castle Bay, where nothing bad ever happens. News crews and journalists from all over the country descend on the small seaside town as old secrets are dragged up and gossip is taken as gospel.

Among them is Miller Hatcher, a journalist battling her own demons, who arrives intent on gaining a promotion by covering the grisly murder.

Following an anonymous tip, Miller begins to unravel the mystery of the small town. And when another woman goes missing, Miller finds herself getting closer to the truth. But at what cost?

My thoughts: It’s easy to see that this is a first novel (it’s not as well polished as it might be) but for all that, it kept me reading well into the night. I really enjoyed how this played out; from the descriptions of the cast to the woods around Coromandel and the typical sleepy town. I can also see why this won the Ngaio Marsh award for the best first novel in 2018 and I think it will make a great movie (it’s been optioned already). Disclaimer: I purchased this book via Amazon. 3 stars, am going to read more from this author.

Life Update: Here in Auckland we are back in Level Three restrictions. No-one is currently working outside of the home (Bran is sick, and both he & I seem to have succumbed to the seasonal flu, but are waiting on the Covid swab results). I’m working remotely, which is great for me (peace, quiet and a garden view) and supervising both the younger boys at school. And hallelujah, I am starting to read more than the most superficial books and finding that I can concentrate on them!

Book Review The Fire Blossom (The Fire Blossom Saga Book 1) by Sarah Lark (Author), Kate Northrop (Translator)

fireblossomBLURB: The bestselling author of the Sea of Freedom Trilogy returns with a sweeping family saga of two women in nineteenth-century New Zealand and their epic journey to survive in a world of their own making.

It’s 1837, and immigrating to a small New Zealand fishing village is an opportunity for Ida Lange’s family to build a better future. Yet for Ida, raised in a strict, religious, tight-knit German community, so much is still forbidden to a woman. Yearning for the poor day laborer she shared books with as a child, Ida is now trapped in a dire marriage to a man of her father’s choosing.

For Cat, who came of age in New Zealand under brutal conditions, life in the colonies hasn’t been easy. Through a strange turn of events, she is adopted by a native Maori tribe, and she begins to thrive. But when she challenges the traditions of her tribe, she’s banished, and left once again to rely on the only person she can trust with her future: herself.

When fate brings Ida and Cat together, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit. Out of common ground grows an enduring friendship that will not be broken by the hardships of the plains, threats from the past, or the trials of family and heartache. What they’ll discover is the depth of their own strength and resilience as they get nearer to the freedom they desire and demand. And their journey is just beginning.

MY THOUGHTS: This is the first Sarah Lark I’ve read – it came up on Bookbub one day and I liked the cover (shallow, much?) and the topic, not that I’ve done much reading or research on the founding of my country. However during the course of reading I’d flick over into Google and meander down the rabbit warren that is history and the author was really accurate for the times.

I enjoyed the character growth in the main group; and altho the language was a bit heavy at times it was probably more realistic for that. I am very glad that I don’t have the same day-to-day hassles as Ida, Cat and the other 19th century women!

I can see myself reading more from Lark in the future.

Book Review The Star Giver by Ginger Nielson

BLURB: Deep in the forest where the wind never blows, in a far away cave where the sun never shines, lives a man made of stars and the branches of pines. So begins the legend that answers Little Bear’s question: “Where did the stars come from?”

MASE’S THOUGHTS: I loved this story because it was a story of determination. There was a mother bear and a baby bear and the mother bear went on a quest. Mother went and saw all of the animals and went in some bad conditions like windy rainy and snowy. Eventually when mother finished she tucked baby into sleep.

MUM’S NOTES: we haven’t read a picture book for quite a while but we’ve been looking at myths & legends of different cultures lately. This title popped up in my Kindle Unlimited list (.com.au, so I’m not sure if it’s available in your county); check it out with your little. Or really, just for the gorgeous illustrations. Mase gave it 5 stars.

Book Review: Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

I meant to post this yesterday, but best laid plans and all that. We’re currently down the country, living the dream… sea, sand & finally some rain! BLURB: A magnificent epic set against a history of seven thousand years of the struggles of Gods and Kings and men – of strange lands and events – of fate and a prophecy that must be fulfilled! THE BELGARIAD

Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

But that was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the dark man without a shadow had haunted him for years. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved – but did not know? For a while his dreams of innocence were safe, untroubled by knowledge of his strange heritage. For a little while… THUS BEGINS BOOK ONE OF THE BELGARIAD’

MY THOUGHTS: I love this book. Totally adore it. It was the first title I brought with my own money, earned from a paper round (which I hated, BTW). It’s classic high fantasy, good vs evil, with a few twists & turns along the way. Recently I listened to it on Audible, with the gorgeous tones of Cameron B (think Sean Connery *sigh*). Yes, it has gaps and there is a bit of patriarchal character development, but that reflects the period of writing. After all, not many people complain about Tolkien’s writing!

Book Review Wild by Cheryl Strayed

WildBLURB: At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

MY THOUGHTS: If I met Strayed in real life, I’m not sure I’d stop and share time with her. I very nearly abandoned this title three chapters in, altho I’m glad now that I did persevere, I’m not likely to pick up another of her titles or go to her TED talk. She struck me as self-obsessed, willfully ignorant and frankly, annoying (naming herself “strayed”? really?).

However, even I with my distinctly non-rose tinted glasses could see her personal progression thru the book, and I did enjoy her descriptions of her fellow walkers and most especially the scenery. Oh my, that scenery. Three stars, and I’m not watching the movie.

If, however, I didn’t put you off or you also hadn’t read one of 2012’s Books of the Year (Boston Globe, EW, NPR etc) there is an extract and reading guide HERE

Book Review The Empty Nesters by Carolyn Brown

empty nest

BLURB: Dear friends and army wives Diana, Carmen, and Joanie have been through war, rumors of war, marital problems, motherhood, fears, joy, and heartache. But none of the women are prepared when their daughters decide to enlist in the army together. Facing an empty nest won’t be easy. Especially for Carmen. With emotions already high, she suffers an even greater blow: divorce papers. Diana understands the fury and tears. She’s been there.

With nothing to lose and no one at home, the girlfriends impulsively accept an unexpected offer from their elderly neighbor. The recently widowed Tootsie has an RV, a handsome nephew at the wheel, and an aim for tiny Scrap, Texas, to embrace memories of her late husband. Still grieving, she can use the company as a balm for her broken heart. So can the empty nesters.

Embarking on a journey of hope, romance, and healing, Diana, Carmen, and Joanie are at a turning point in their lives. And with the open road ahead of them, it’s just the beginning.

MY THOUGHTS: I do remember reading Carolyn Brown a few years ago – particularly taken with her title genius – My Give a Damn’s Busted resonated with me at the time – but I thought then that the romance was ok, funny in parts, but it was something l sped read thru. This one was something that I slowed down on in parts, as it runs a vast range of emotions and circumstances. The scenarios are fairly realistic and you can see the characters grow and change. They aren’t in general one-dimensional and there isn’t anything surplus either. I can see myself reading more of Brown’s later standalones. Three & a half stars.

If you’re on Prime, or Kindle Unlimited, this title is free to borrow.