Monday, March 16, 2015

The Kiss of the Wolf Spider

Kiss of the Wolf Spider
Sharianne Bailey
Regeneration Publishers Limited, New Zealand 2013
294 pp  $20
ISBN 0781 466365629

Challenging, confronting and scary though this book is, it is ultimately a story of redemption and recovery.

Sharianne lifts the lid on a world we would prefer not to know about. That a father could and would put his daughter through this nightmare time and time again is inconceivable. Unfortunately many in authority would rather close their eyes to what is going on, and the abused girls find it almost impossible to speak out. They fear the rejection of not being believed. They fear the threats of their abusers. They fear the future and see no way out of their particular hell.

In the first section, Unspoken, Jane tells her story of years of abuse at the hands of her father. Powerfully written in the first person, interspersed with diary entries, this novel makes heart-rending reading. We feel for Jane and understand her reasons for silence. Finally she finds a listening ear and begins the excruciating process of breaking free from the power of the past. She feels guilt at putting her father in prison, shame at what has happened and bewilderment at all that is happening around her.

In the second section, Redeemed, Jane’s story continues. Recovery and healing is not an instant fix and there are many issues to work through. Fortunately Jane is surrounded with supportive people but she has continuing grief that her close family are not among them. However she manages to reconnect with grandparents and a cousin who have an on-going role in her recovery.

For a first novel, Sharianne has excelled as she tells Jane’s story. Our eyes are opened and we are made more aware as she tackles this difficult subject. We are reminded to deal gently with those around us who may be hurting; we have no idea of their pain.

Written in an easy style this compelling story draws you on as you long for Jane to break free from her past. I urge you to read this book and be inspired.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project
Graeme Simsion                                                                     
Simon and Schuster 2013
295 pp

The dead-pan voice of middle-aged Don Tillman who narrates this story creates a deceptive simplicity to this tale. A socially challenged genetics professor, Don is sure he will never find romance. On the few occasions when he does get a date, it is sure to end in disaster.
However, after being told he would make a good husband, he embarks on the Wife Project with the same meticulous care with which he approaches all of life. When almost at the end of his tether, into his life bursts Rosie. She is looking for the father she has never known and has been told the professor should be able to help.
Now he applies his usual methodology to the Father Project, and the Wife Project is put aside. The hilarious search for the elusive father takes Don and Rosie on a wild ride. Because Rosie is everything that Don doesn’t want in a wife, he never sees her as a candidate for his own project.
Of course everyone else can see the obvious long before he does himself. Time and again Don jeopardises his own chance for love, and you want to shout at him to open his eyes to what is right before his eyes. The story eventually comes to a satisfying conclusion and we can breathe a sigh of relief.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rubble to Resurrection - Canterbury Earthquakes

Rubble to Resurrection (Churches Respond in the Canterbury Quakes)
Melissa Parsons
Daystar Books 2014
ISBN 978-0-9922552-9-9

In the midst of all the earthquake books recently published, Christchurch writer, Melissa Parsons, saw a gap. No one was telling the story of the experience of the churches or their involvement in the emergency response and community care. As she searched for someone to tell the story, the realisation dawned that she must do it herself.

With personal experience of the quakes as a resident and young mother, and her husband, Daryl’s position as a counsellor and Workplace Support manager, Parsons was well-placed for the task. She set about digging deep to find the story. She contacted 300 churches in the city, received responses from 95 of those, and interviewed 56 people. These included emergency responders, chaplains, ministers, church administrators and others able to talk about the experience of their own church.

This is not the story of any one denomination or church group. It is a combined story and is well organised in three sections: the Church Responds, the Church Grieves, and the Church Rebuilds. Told with sensitivity and compassion and written with skill the result is a readable account of a terrible time.

Some of the Canterbury earthquake stories are well known. For some of the hidden gems from people who do not seek publicity, I highly recommend this book.

Check out the website:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi
Jung Chang
Great Britain, Jonathan Cape, Random House.
2013 436 pp RRP $40
ISBN 9780224087445 (trade paperback edition)

As number six Concubine of Emperor Xianfeng of China, Cixi should have had no influence in the court. However, the first concubine, Empress Zhen, had no children. When Cixi (Si-Shee) gave birth to the Emperor’s son, her status was elevated to mother of the future Emperor. Throughout the following decades, she became a woman of enormous influence and has been credited with bringing China into the modern world.
The author, Jung Chang, is well known for her popular first book, Wild Swans, (1991), a sweeping tale of three generations of Chinese women, and her second book, Mao the Unknown Story, (2005).
Jung Chang knows the intrigues of the country of her birth. For Empress Dowager Cixi she was able to access ‘newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eye-witness accounts’ of the events recorded. From these she was able to construct a fast-paced and gripping drama and an intimate portrait of an extraordinary woman.
Empress Dowager Cixi managed to overcome her powerlessness as a woman by knowing how to manipulate the men and systems around her. At the time of Cixi’s story, 1835 to 1908, the throne was firmly in the grasp of the Manchu minority, known as the Qing dynasty. In 1852, the sixteen-year-old girl from a prominent family was among several chosen as concubines for Emperor Xianfeng and was brought into the court.
Her husband was about 30 when he died in 1861 while in exile from Beijing. His five-year-old son by Cixi was now named the new Emperor Tongzhi, with power in the hands of a Board of Regents. Cixi and the Empress staged a coup and seized the title from the Regents. Thus began Cixi’s long hold on power, conducted from behind her silk screen. Out of the forty-seven years of her Regency, from 1861 until her death in 1908, she effectively ruled for thirty-six years (her son for two and her adopted son for nine).
 When he reached the marriageable age of seventeen, Tongzhi became Emperor and Cixi had to retreat to the harem and keep out of politics.
He died two years later. Cixi quickly adopted her sister’s three-year-old son and named him the new Emperor, Guangxu, with his father, Prince Chun, (her brother-in-law) as guardian. Cixi regained control.
When the new Emperor reached late teens he married and took power, relegating Cixi once again to the harem.
The new Emperor allowed many of Cixi’s reforms to lapse.  He hated Westerners and would have nothing to do with them. He let the navy and army shrink so much that when Japan attacked they got an easy victory. After seeing his country almost overrun by foreign powers he reluctantly let Cixi share power and for many years they ruled together.
The court had to flee Beijing when it was besieged by the Japanese in 1898. She made disastrous decisions about the Boxers who brought incredible destruction on the population and countryside. Later, Cixi apologised profusely and brought in several measures in an effort to make amends.
Before her death great changes were coming over China and the Han Chinese were agitating to wrest control from the thousand-year-old Manchu dynasty. The weak Emperor was ready to hand the country over to the Japanese who were waiting to pounce. Forward-looking as always, Cixi put in place measures to ensure the survival of China as an independent country, and the survival of her Manchu people.
The Emperor died on 14 November 1908 and Cixi died the following day.
Cixi had been working towards changing the governance of China into a Constitutional Monarchy. On her death-bed she appointed her two-year-old great-nephew, Puyi, as the next Emperor. When Emperor Puyi was five years old, the people staged a coup and the country became a Republic. That story is told in the movie The Last Emperor.
Jung Chang’s lively writing gives extraordinary insight into this fascinating era. For those with an interest in China, or those wanting an exciting tale of a strong and remarkable woman who was ahead of her time, this book is highly recommended.

A Blonde in the Bazaar

A Blonde in the Bazaar
Jill Worrall
New Holland Publishers (NZ) Ltd. 2003

Jill Worrall loves Pakistan. In her four visits over the years as a travel writer and tour guide she has got to know the local people and landscape. Her enthusiasm shows as she shares the country with us.
Our perceptions of Pakistan are coloured by the way the country is portrayed in the media for all the wrong reasons. In this book we get a different view as we are introduced to the local people, fragrant bazaars, soaring mountain ranges and dangerous roads. We go with Jill on a camel ride through the dusty desert, a boat trip down the Indus River, and we visit temples and mosques, local homes, and ancient hotels.
Worrall is an accomplished writer who takes us confidently along on her travels. From her home in Timaru, New Zealand to the exotic vastness of Pakistan, and with years of travel writing behind her, Worrall makes the country come alive as if we are there with her.
I loved her recent book about Iran, Two Wings of a Nightingale, and this earlier book about Pakistan doesn’t disappoint.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

This is another wide-ranging, improbable tale from Jonas Jonasson, author of The 100-year-old Man Who climbed out of The Window and Disappeared.
From desperate conditions in Soweto, South Africa, to being imprisoned in a nuclear facility, and eventually to Sweden, the story follows the unlikely fortunes and misfortunes of heroine, Nombeko, and the people she meets along the way.
In true Jonasson tradition historical facts are mixed with fantasy in such a way that you are reaching for the history books to check out the true story.
Monarchies and Republics, atomic bombs and spies, the young, old and eccentric come together in a delightful mix that has you laughing out loud.
Jonasson brings the story alive with fun characters, fast-paced narrative, real historical leaders, and realistic descriptions of real and imaginary places.
I thought the 100-year-old man was more believable, but this is still a great yarn and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom

The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom
David Fisher
Paul Little Books Auckland, 2013
ISBN 9780-473-259-433
224 pp RRP $30

With the subtitle Spies, Lies and the War for the Internet you would expect intriguing revelations and David Fisher doesn’t disappoint. We are all mixed-up human beings, but none more so than Kim Dotcom. Here the many sides of this complex character are presented, with fascinating details of his fortunes and misfortunes.

Fisher is a senior reporter for the Auckland Herald, New Zealand, and he makes it clear that this is not an authorised biography. It is, however, based on many personal interviews with the subject, as well as extensive research.

The saga uncovers Kim’s early life (born Kim Schmitz) as a lonely child in Germany, his early forays into the internet, his extraordinary knowledge, his close friends and associates – all brilliant computer whizzes – the story of why he came to New Zealand and the police raids on his home on January 20 2012. It follows the subsequent court cases and fall out with politicians and people in high places.

Fisher has been accused of giving undue reverence to a criminal. Dotcom is a flawed character and he is shown here in many guises, both good and bad. I think Fisher has done a great job of trying to present the story as he sees it, and he has tried to depict all sides of the story.

It is a tale of much more than the life of one man. We have politicians, the New Zealand Government, the American FBI and more. It shows cracks in the systems, why the FBI were involved in the raids, and much, much more.

Our opinions are often shaped by the media and the outcome is a very shallow view of events. This book is trying to give a rounded story to fill in the gaps. If you are interested in knowing more about the workings of Governments and men in high places, reading this book might give you more than you bargained for.