Originally published in 1963, Mona Anderson’s unique perspective of a woman’s experience on a South Island farm brings to life the High Country of days gone by.
Deep in the Rolleston Ranges, in the Main Divide of the Southern Alps, Mount Algidus Station is isolated between the mighty and dangerous Wilberforce and Rakaia rivers.
Mona crosses the Wilberforce as a new bride in the 1930s to start her life in this harsh environment. To get to her new home she must ride a dray cart for hours in a freezing wind – perched on top of all her worldly possessions – including a piano!
Mona’s observations of everything from errant cooks to brave horses are quite matter of fact and entertaining, while sad events are accepted as a part of life.
When World War II takes away many farmhands never to return, Mona and her husband Ron are stretched to do many jobs, and Mona has to muck in – feeding the men, and working alongside them – often on horseback.
Poetry and “back country” ditties pepper the tale, including one written by the author. Most notable are these lines written by a young hand leaving to join the Army:
Oh land of river, rock and spur / Of sunkissed hills and sky so blue / I, a humble musterer, Will ever leave my heart with you. / Tho I dwell beneath some distant sky / My memory will ever turn / To mates I knew in days gone by / And evenings when the camp fires burn. / For I am leaving you this day / To return again. But who can tell, / For good or bad. I cannot say. Mount Algidus, I wish you well.
The charm of this book includes quaint “station names” for many local features; such as Bustmegall (Bust my gall) Creek, More-rain Hut and Boulderstone Creek (the Rolleston). Mistake ‘Hill’, at 7000 feet illustrates the Southern capacity for understatement.
Filled with thrills and spills (no-one is spared a dip in the Wilberforce), this book is a cornerstone of New Zealand back country life and a must for your holiday reading list.
Looking for holiday reading? There are some wonderful books in our New Titles list.
Limit (part two) – This great science fiction novel by Frank Schatzing is the second part of the story, begun in Limit. The Chinese and Americans are competing for helium-3, an element to solve the World’s energy crisis…
The Rest of Their Lives – This is touted as an unlikely love story. Unlikely because the lovers are in their eighties! Brought together by the necessity of a road-trip to Switzerland, (I love road trip stories), the pair find there is still “life in their eyes”…
The Stolen Bicycle – This beautiful book is by Wu Ming-Yi , a Taiwanese author and environmental activist famous for his books on butterflies. The Stolen Bicycle revolves around a writer, convinced that if he finds his errant father’s bicycle, he will find him. Entwined in this story are stories from the ‘oldest elephant that ever lived,’ and from soldiers who fought in the jungles of South-East Asia during World War II. And yes, there are butterflies!
Sleeping Beauties – This new offering by Stephen King and his son Owen might keep you awake at night. Affected by a strange virus, all the women in Dooling have fallen asleep. All except one. Meanwhile, the men have gone feral… My favourite author, always a go-to for the festive season.
And while we are waiting with bated breath for the new Ms Dr Who, how about this gem?
Dr. Tenth – Part of a series of Dr Who Mr Men books, this is a real charmer. Also featuring my favourite Dr Who (David Tennant!). Our catalogue calls this ‘the greatest mashup in the Whoniverse. Woo!
Volunteering is a rewarding way to make connections in your community.
It’s a great way to make friends, professional relationships, to do something interesting and challenging with your spare time.
Often volunteering leads to employment.
After finishing uni at Massey University, I worked as a volunteer. At Te Manawa, (The Manawatu Museum) I worked as a Visitor Host. Speaking to groups of children and guiding their experience in the Fantastic (live!) Fish display was challenging and fun.
Te Manawa also offered schools a ‘culture of the past’ experience where children could churn the butter, use a printing press, and do the washing the way it was done in the 1900s.
While looking for work in education, I chanced upon ARLA (The Adult Reading Association). This group provided very good training for its tutors, and work with a variety of clients – I worked with three ESOL students from Northern China, and a really nice Māori kuia who had had a stroke and needed to re-establish her reading pathways.
In Christchurch, Literacy Christchurch (formerly ARAS Adult Reading Assistance Scheme) perform this function in the community.
I’ve heard of WWoofing, and now I’ve found their website. Wwoofers are welcome all over New Zealand. I know of a group in Rangiwahia in the North Island that uses them. REACT (The Rangiwahia Environmental Arts Trust) farm organically and grow wicker – being responsible for the Chinese Lantern Festival in Palmerston North. They also run groups in Wellington, making ethnic sculptures with delighted new artists.
Two babies are born at Cross Roads Farm – one mulatto, one white.
People come from miles around to view the babies – a miracle of nature. Born to a white woman, Elma, the children are said to have two fathers – one white; her fiancée, Freddie Wilson, – one black, believed to have been forced on her by Genus Jackson.
Genus Jackson is lynched without trial at the beginning of the book. Will those responsible get away with it?
Juke Jessup is hiding a still. His intentions towards Nan, the house girl, are less than fatherly. His own daughter Elma, is “fixin” to be wed to Freddie Wilson, the local cotton mill owner’s son. But when the twins are born, all hell breaks loose.
Like Light in August and To Kill a Mockingbird, this is a story of injustice for all. Racial segregation was still prevalent in 1930s Georgia, where African-American people were barely removed from slavery.
To say that women in this story get a raw deal is an understatement. Even the man pulling the strings in town, George Wilson, is not spared from the sufferings he hands down the pecking order.
Each character has a tale to tell in this riveting book. And they all have secrets. Dreams too – sometimes their dreams are all they have.
Nan has grown up on Crossroads Farm after the death of her mother, the housekeeper Ketty. She dreams of the return of her father, Sterling, but never loses sight of stark reality even while she fantasizes about the future:
She had long had a picture in her mind of his homecoming: he would come up the driveway in an automobile, a Pontiac or Chevrolet, with a licence plate that said MARYLAND. The dogs would go out to greet him first and she’d step out onto the porch. He’d be wearing a Sunday suit and a wide-brimmed hat, which he’d tip up to get a better look at her, and then he’d take off the hat and hold it over his heart, and his eyes would see and see her. And then she would know. She would recognize him. She would recognize her own face in his.
But she knew nothing happened the way you imagined it. That was how she knew it was real.
It’s not a question of whether the truth will out, it’s when – it slowly but surely leaks through the holes in the characters’ stories, gathering together to a flow as large as the local creek.
Eleanor Henderson writes with feeling, strong historical influence and an eye for a poetic phrase. Despite most reviewers’ perception of this as a tragic story, I was pleased with its conclusion.
I got lost on The Twelve Mile Straight. You will too.
Twelve Mile Straight
by Eleanor Henderson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
“I am the eye with which the universe / Beholds itself and knows itself divine.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Hymn of Apollo
David Zindell you have filled my heart to overflowing. This book Idiot Gods is different – a lyrical story on climate change from the point of view of a whale. An Orca, to be exact, named Arjuna. With Conservation Week just behind us, this is the perfect summer read.
Neverness author David Zindell immerses the reader in the complex and deeply spiritual currents of thought from the mind of his unlikely hero. Deeply disturbed by a chain of tragic events in the ocean, Arjuna realises that humans are responsible for the breakdown and destruction of Earth. Or Ocean, as Orca call it.
Guided by the songs of the ocean and his ancestors that link him to all creation, Arjuna tries to communicate this to the human race. His attempts to raise the alarm land him in the ‘poisoned pools’ of captivity. Could this experience be part of his life’s song? Or the final bars?
“You want to be closer to our people – you even want our love! How, though, should you think that trapping us in the pools of the Sea Circuses of the world and feeding us dead, drugged food will result in feelings of amity and accord?” (p.276)
“Why can you not find such satisfaction through communing with other humans? Instead, you seek validation through swimming with us and slathering upon us effusive affections. If we respond in kind, or indeed in any way, you take that as affirmation of your own specialness and worthiness to be loved.” (p.276)
With a solid knowledge of oceanography – and a great imagination – Zindell raises the issue of human hubris, assumed superiority, cruelty to each other and the creatures they share the planet with.
“I see an entire species that lives off itself. Like sharks devouring each other, you eat each other’s labour, money, time, sweat, tears, hopes and dreams.” (p.260)
The trials of life in a polluted sea are painted in stark detail: an ocean empty of fish, filled instead with ships waging war on each other and whales.
“And the bull-whales gather their women and whale-claves in a ring / When danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood / And range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat / Encircling their huddled monsters of love”.
D.H. Lawrence, Whales Weep Not.
The Orcas’ experience of madness and depression in captivity is told with a poignancy that I found incredibly moving. Can Arjuna communicate the things he desperately wants to tell us? Or could war with humans be the only solution?
My first love was the Scholastic Book Club. Remember Lucky Books? Making my choices carefully from the brochure, I paid for them with my pocket money. I was so excited to see that pile of new books on my desk! I drove my family nuts with this one: Boo!
When I was a kid, Carthew’s Bookshop in Feilding was my door into the imagined world. They had the Beano… Carthew’s is no longer there, but the building remains.
Teen angst took me to Bennett’s bookshop in Palmerston North. The city store in Broadway, now Whitcoulls, had an impressive staircase. You could hide away in the quiet of the loft floor, which always had sale tables. Sale tables! Woo!
Unity Books at the end of Lambton Quay was my Dad’s favourite bookshop. A treasure trove. Dad ordered a lot of books from there. I shared his love of David Attenborough, Jacques Cousteau and studied religion; making a beeline from the Beehive to visit whenever in Welly.
Moving back to the Manawatu for a bit I flirted with Poppies Bookshop in Feilding and had a co-dependent relationship with Bruce McKenzie Booksellers in Palmerston North. Nestled under Palmerston North City Library in George Street, Bruce McKenzie’s stock popular, classic authors, art and wonderful children’s books. Bruce supports local authors too, and hosts events! Glass of wine, anyone?
Book Depository sell both new and used books online. And they don’t charge postage! A match made in heaven for a book addict.
Last but not least is the thing I have for second hand books. I like nothing better than a good rummage for a bargain. What if I found someone I could treasure?! Whether its the Cat’s Protection League, the Hospice Shop, the Salvation Army or St Vincent de Paul, you’ll find me in the book section looking for Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, or that Mary Poppins I just can’t find for my collection.
Defender is set in a dystopian future where most humans have succumbed to a disease that makes people crazy – hearing voices that tell them to kill others and then themselves.
In the first book of a four-part Voices series, Defender sets the scene as protagonists Lacey – young, cheeky but calculating and Pilgrim – tough on the outside but with a seriously soft heart – meet for the first time.
In Defender, Todd sets up the relationship of Lacey and Pilgrim, who she only knows as “Boy Scout.” Pilgrim’s character is world weary. He reminds me of Bruce Willis. Perhaps this is because he was The Last Boy Scout but I’m already imagining the movie.
Lacey is desperate to find people. But not so desperate that she doesn’t use her wits. Or the shotgun she’s very competent with.
Not at all stupid, Lacey is a young woman to be reckoned with. Pilgrim would do well to listen to her instincts. She soon finds that the escape and community she had hoped for will not be easily won: not all survivors want community; many want power.
Pilgrim dispatches these human predators with expertise. Pilgrim just keeps moving. Wary, he keeps to himself. He relies on his wits, avoiding others who could slow him down or worse. He hasn’t counted on picking up two women and a cat in the first few chapters.
He keeps the Voice in his head to himself as well.
Over a glass of lemonade Lacey cleverly tricks Pilgrim into taking her away from the home town she’s been stuck in for seven years.
Some of the content in this book is brutal: it’s a brutal world – yet Todd conveys characters’ suffering with sympathy; the brutality is integral to the plot. Yet there is a layer of female self-awareness in the text. GX Todd writes with feeling without being sentimental. She writes with a mastery of language: her physical, descriptive passages are so well written that they aren’t flowery or wordy, but give the reader a clear perception of events:
(Pilgrim) eased lower into the seat, his eyes heavy-lidded. “Get off the highway at the next off-ramp…and don’t stop for anybody.” He sank down, down into the seat’s foamy embrace, until he was encased on all sides, as if lying in a plush, slumberous coffin.” (p. 130)
Chapters alternate between the points of view of the two main characters, often replaying a scene from each character’s point of view. Until the lines become crossed…
This book brings to mind Stephen King’s The Stand ; a classic post apocalyptic battle of good vs evil. In this story there is also a man collecting people he deems special to master plan…
It Defender also makes me think of Bird Box – another great dystopian story in which most of the world have not only been driven murderously crazy, but also blind…
Dystopia : a community or society that is undesirable or frightening …
by G. X. Todd
Published by Hachette New Zealand
It’s that time of year again – when we celebrate Women in Science! Today (Tuesday 10 October 2017 ) is Ada Lovelace Day. Its aim is to celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.
This year I’m featuring pioneers of science in New Zealand. From the nation’s very beginnings, these women classified and preserved our unique flora and fauna, made incredible discoveries, and improved the health and wellbeing of future New Zealanders.
“…it is to be regretted that, despite the fact that Man cannot replace them, the appalling destruction of our unique native birds and forest continues to this day.”
(from New Zealand Scientists : Pioneer Women: Ellen Blackwell (1864-1952) : Pérrine Moncrieff (1893-1979) : Muriel Bell (1898-1974) : Betty Batham (1917-1974) : Trends in their life and science. 1989: Women Into Science Education. Perrine Moncreiff, p.2.)
Moncrieff wrote articles on bird migration, protection, the endangered South Island Robin, and reaction of animals to the Murchison Earthquake (1929).
In 1974 Pérrine was awarded the Order of Oranje-Nassau by the Netherlands. Abel Tasman, who first discovered New Zealand, was from Holland, and the Dutch had sponsored the park. In 1975 she was honoured as Commander of the British Empire, but sadly she wasn’t recognised by the scientific community.
Ellen Blackwell lived in New Zealand long enough to collaborate with Robert Laing on the book; Plants of New Zealand. She travelled the country with Robert and her brother Frank, researching and photographing native plants, later writing a large part of the text for their book.
As well as describing the pine, palm and lily families of New Zealand flora, Blackwell’s readable style included snippets of local culture and legend:
“The reader was given advice on the preparation of the bracken rhizome for eating, the suitability of matai wood for ballroom floors, how to use nikau palm in the construction of huts and supplejack for ropes and baskets.” (Ibid. Ellen Blackwell p.3.)
Plants of New Zealand refuted some previously held ideas on the Lancewood species as well as the nature of mangroves. She identified that their ‘shoots’ were actually aerial roots.
Ellen’s large part in the creation of the book was largely ignored and although some went in to bat for her, she was uncomfortable with publicity and distanced herself from the controversy.
Muriel Bell, born in Murchison, is known for starting the programme for Free Milk in Schools in 1937.
Muriel studied medicine at Otago University and stayed on to research human metabolism, gaining a doctorate in 1928. She became a lecturer there in 1935. In 1940 she was appointed Director of the Medical Research Council’s Nutrition Research Department, and Nutritionist to the Department of Health.
During World War Two, when there were food shortages, Muriel consulted on diet and low cost meals. She found a source of Vitamin D in fish oil, and devised a rosehip syrup to supplement Vitamin C for children.
Muriel also discovered, when implementing the free milk in schools programme, that exposure to the sun destroyed vitamin C and riboflavin (vitamin B2) in milk. Covered trucks were then used to deliver it. She discovered that iodine is linked to healthy thyroid function, and that it isn’t present in New Zealand soil. So she introduced iodised salt.
She found a link between fluorine and healthy teeth, campaigning for it to be added to tap water, and researched links between cholesterol and heart disease.
Elizabeth Batham was born in Dunedin. Interested in the sea and its biology from childhood, she was an accomplished artist and photographer at school. She studied plankton and sea life in Otago Harbour for a Bachelor of Science in botany and zoology at Otago University.
After gaining a Ph.D on sea anemones at Cambridge in England, Batham took up the first role of Director at the Portobello Marine Biological Station in Otago, turning it into the highly respected research facility it is today; offering international study and courses for school students.
In 1962 Elizabeth was made one of only five female Fellows of The Royal Society of New Zealand. She was so dedicated that she would row to work when the ferry wasn’t working, and would dive for so long she often ran out of air.
Politics, administration and a male team of scientists, threatened by a female boss, made it difficult for Batham to manage the growing facility at Portobello. In 1974 she left to study at Victoria University of Wellington.
Joan Wiffen is my hero. In 1975 she found New Zealand’s first ever dinosaur bone.
Like many of us, Joan fossicked for shells and ammonites in sea cliffs as a child. After taking geology night classes Joan learned that the geology of north west Hawke’s Bay made it possible to find reptile bones, although no one had found any. Yet.
Joan concentrated her searches around the Mangahoua Stream northwest of Napier. Her first major find was a vertebra from a theropod – a carnivorous dinosaur that walked on its hind legs 65 million years ago.
Buried in sandstone rocks in treacherous cold water, were dinosaur fossils from both carnivores and herbivores.
Joan found more theropods, a sauropod (a titanosaur : a huge, herbivorous long necked dinosaur), a hypsilophodont (a small bi-ped), an ankylosaur (like an armadillo), an aquatic, air breathing mosasaur, plesiosaurs (like the loch ness monster) and a flying pterosaur.
Joan Wiffen was awarded a Commander of the British Empire, the Science and Technology Bronze Medal and and Honorary DSc from Massey University in 1994. In 1995 she was honoured with Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2004, she was awarded the Morris Skinner Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
She continued dinosaur hunting until her death at the age of 87.
The Astronomy Book caught my interest as I’ve been doing sciencey stuff – researching women in science for Ada Lovelace Day (10 October). This is an adult book in excellent format that answers the questions that keep us awake at night.
Two Steps Forward by husband and wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist is a fictional story of two very different people journeying to Cluny, France, to walk the El Camino – a well known place of pilgrimage. Each must come to terms with their past. Funny and romantic.
Cats in Art by well known anthropologist and zoologist Desmond Morris traces cats through the history of art, noting classic images in a way not unlike sharing pets on the internet. Charming, different and wonderful.
Highly recommended by Gillian Flynn, The Doll Master is a riveting collection of thrillingly sinister stories from the dark side of life.
All is not as it appears. Each protagonist has a secret. Each story has a twist.
In the title story, a boy collects dolls after the death of his cousin. But as he collects more, it becomes apparent that his obsession is unhealthy. What does it have to do with a series of child abductions? And who is the ‘friend’ that urges him on?
Oates uses the medium of mystery to cleverly and eloquently reflect very current social issues, from very different walks of life.
‘Soldier’ plays with our sympathies while looking at the sides taken after a mixed race (accidental?) shooting. Receiving death threats from some, yet heralded for bravery by others, Brendan Shrank maintains his innocence. But why did he pick up his Uncle’s gun that day?
‘Gun Accident’ takes a fine-toothed comb to a shocking home invasion, in which a young man is shot. But what secret does Hanna hold? Why has she never spoken about what really happened that night? Why is she paralysed with anxiety when she revisits the scene, twenty years later?
‘Equatorial’ had me thinking of Vonnegut‘s Galapagos. I just couldn’t get him out of my head. But it fits, in this whacky story of a woman convinced that her husband is trying to kill her. Is it all in her (pounding) head? Oates draws parallels between the lengths will they be driven to and the fight for ultimate survival. Only the fittest will prevail…
‘Big Momma’ addresses the problems of working single parents, poverty, runaways, body image and abduction (but boy with a twist!). Where is the Clovis’ mother? And who or what is Big Momma?
I love the fluent and easy way Joyce Carol Oates writes, the (conspiratorial) asides she whispers in brackets to the voyeuristic reader. Oates wields a lovely turn of phrase;
A single high window overlooks, at a little distance, the rough waters of the Atlantic that appear in the moonlight like shaken foil.
She avoids bad language, (barring ‘Gun Accident’) and is not wordy, except in the more literary Edgar Allen Poe influenced ‘Mystery Inc.’ In this Who’s Who of mystery writers, invoking The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Oates narrationbecomes more classically sinister; her protagonist a predatory bookseller, intent on adding to his empire by foul means.But again, a twist: “Charles” entertains the idea of being partners with his mark, Aaron Neuhaus. Will he change his murderous mind? Or has Neuhaus become suspicious?
The six stories in The Doll Master are a good length, almost novellas. Although I’m not a mystery reader, I was riveted to each twisted little tale, and couldn’t put this book down.
I had to find out what would happen… Did he, or didn’t he? Will she or won’t she? Is it HIM?