Jacqueline Fahey is a New Zealand artist. She was one of the first women artists in this country to work entirely from a woman's perspective - domestic life from a suburban neurosis viewpoint, the ill/dying/dead, homeless and street people. A most unconventional woman for her time, she continually challenges our preconceptions of these subjects. And, being a vastly talented woman, she is also a writer. This book is the first of two memoirs she has written in recent years, and is as entertaining and diverse as her art work and her life.

Now in her mid-80s, I expect she is just as feisty as ever, if the interview in the link above is anything to go by! By all accounts she has made outstanding contributions to the NZ art scene, to the women's and mental health movements over the years, not to mention nuclear disarmament, bigotry and discrimination. Her marriage to psychiatrist Fraser McDonald brought her into close contact with those institutionalised in places such as Porirua, Carrington and Kingseat Hospitals. Her compassion and determination to highlight those hidden from mainstream society are evident in much of her art work and in her writings. Her art work is bold, colourful, and about life. This year she received a NZ Arts Foundation Icon Award for her contributions and legacy to NZ culture and to her particular art form.

In this first memoir she writes about her Irish Catholic ancestry and childhood growing up in the South Island town of Timaru, her move to Christchurch to study art and the bohemian lifestyle she follows, her meeting and marriage to Fraser including the most lovely letters she wrote to Fraser before they married and which she now reflects on. The last section covers their early married life living on site at Porirua Hospital.

The inner cover blurb describes this book as a 'tapestry of very personal and family stories' and that her 'commentary on the social and cultural trappings of NZ life is shrewd, witty and perceptive'. I really can't put it any better than that. In many ways reading this book is like having her sitting in the room with you telling her story. There is a fair amount of wandering around a subject or anecdote, and sometimes you wonder, well how did we get to this point, and have I missed a bit! But I can only think, not knowing the woman, that this is how she really is and it just adds to the charm and pleasure of reading.  I am very much looking forward to reading her second memoir which I hope will be just as entertaining and insightful as this one.



I really liked this book. A woman crime solver, in the vein of a private investigator rather than a police officer, feisty, smart, damaged, Diane Rowe is as straight up as a spade, not afraid to take on those bigger and brawnier than her, chock full of empathy and compassion, she is one great character. And above all believable, which despite her various failings makes her immediately attractive to the reader.

The author, Donna Malane, is a New Zealand producer and script writer who has written extensively for the TV crime solving/police genre. Her first foray into novel writing was with 'Surrender', where she introduced Diane Rowe, a missing persons expert, dealing with the aftermath of her sister's murder. Although not a sequel, this second novel follows nicely from the first with some of the same characters.

Diane has been contacted by Karen who has just finished a prison term of seven years for driving her car into a lake with her two children in it, resulting in the death of one of the children. The surviving child, Sunny, is now 14 and has had nothing to do with her mother in the intervening years. Karen has asked Diane to find Sunny, 'to make sure she's safe'. Taking the case reluctantly, Diane thinks it will just be a straightforward process of reuniting mother and daughter, whether that is a good thing or not is not the issue. Quite quickly though, she senses there is more to this investigation than immediately apparent, and she soon finds herself drawn into Sunny's family and life.

Like all good TV whodunnits, the action takes place over a very short period of time - 13 days to be precise; there are a number of twists and turns, as well as the odd red herring; the only people who spend more time than Diane in an aeroplane over the 13 days are airline crew; we get a great sense of place with vivid descriptions of the cities of Wellington and Auckland; there is Diane's complicated personal life as well as the requisite rivalries between herself and other law enforcement people/agencies.

Diane is not the only great character in this book. Sunny herself is beautifully drawn as the damaged, motherless, tough but still childlike and resilient 14 year old; you want to steal Diane's boyfriend away for yourself; you ache for Karen and the terrible burden she has had to bear over the years.  But it is the character of Diane herself who shines through, what a woman! This is a great book, neither too long or too short, and very hard to put down which is why it can be read in two days, and you too will read it in two days, trust me! 



A bit of internet research shows up that Joseph Stalin, dictator leader of the Soviet Union from mind-1920s till his death in 1953, was responsible during this time for the deaths of 20 million Soviet people - his own people. Most died from starvation either due to state induced famine or in the infamous Gulags. By the way, this is in addition to what may be another 20 million who died as a direct result of WWII. His purges were so extensive and ruthless that come the German invasion of Russia in 1941, it is claimed that he did not have enough man power to prevent the invasion. Such was Stalin's paranoia and insecurity during all the years of his terror filled reign, that literally no one was safe. Including children. Even children of his own advisers and high ranking defence personnel.

This novel is based on the episode that became known as the Children's Case of 1943 when two children of high ranking Soviet officials died during a shooting. Amongst their papers, plans for a joke government were found which resulted in the friends of the two dead teenagers being imprisoned, interrogated, forced to sign a confession and then sent to central Asia for six months. The author spoke to survivors of the case as part of his research.  This case forms the backbone to the novel, using both real people, for example Stalin and some of his generals, and fictionalising the children and their families. The novel is as much about Soviet Russia during this time as it is about the private lives of families, and how betrayal at this most private of levels was actively encouraged.

Stalin didn't believe in love of any kind except to himself and the glory of Russia. The one fly in this ointment was the poet and writer Alexander Pushkin whose works were reluctantly permitted as he simply couldn't get this man out of Russian mindset. In this novel, the author uses Pushkin as the base around which the teenagers build their Fatal Romantics' Club which Stalin felt so threatened by. The web of fear that was caused by the shooting of the two teenagers, is huge and complicated, with the reader fearing for the lives of most of the characters in the novel. This includes the children themselves, one as young as six, the parents, some of whom have to continue looking Stalin in the eye, knowing that Stalin hs personally directed the arrest and interrogation of their children.The school teachers at the prestigious state school the children attend are also under threat, surveillance and interrogation.

At the same time as all this is going on, one of the school girls is having an affair with someone she shouldn't be. This too is based on a true story of the period, whereby a translator at the British Embassy became engaged to a Russian girl. When she attempted to legitimately leave Russia and join him, she was poisoned, brought back to Moscow and tried for treason. The fictionalised version is slightly different, but no less terrifying than the original.

The tension and fear throughout this story is palpable from the opening sentence: "Just moments after the shots, as Serafima looks at the bodies of her school friends, a feathery whiteness is already frosting their blasted flesh".  This very highly regarded author has written two non fiction books about Stalin, and another about Catherine the Great, as well as one other fiction book set during the time of Stalin's rule. He knows this period in history intimately, his knowledge and research shining through. We get a real taste for what daily life was like in communal living situations, the need for husbands and wives to have private whispered conversations in the bathroom with the taps running, the queues for food, the constant being on guard, the sudden disappearances of neighbours and then years later the random appearance of long lost friends and loved ones. We simply can't comprehend living under such fear and intimidation. And yet it is important that we know about what has gone on in our recent past.This is a compelling and frightening read, Stalin's use of children making you realise what an absolute monster this man was, and yet the power of love still managing to shine on through.



Best known for his first novel,  'The Kite Runner', this author certainly has, in spades, the wonderful gift of telling a story. A very powerful book that when published in 2003 introduced most of us, in a post 9/11 world, to Afghanistan, its people and cultures, and its recent conflicts. Since then two more books have been written by this author, of which this is one. There are many similarities with 'The Kite Runner' - after all why change a winning formula. All three books span at least one generation, Kabul is a major setting, the Taliban feature, the oppression of women, the divisions that exist between the rich and the poor, the weak and the powerful. And yet, for me, neither of the these later two books capture the brilliance, the richness, the raw emotion, the power of that first novel. There is no doubt they are terrific stories, with great characters, suspense, unexpected twists and surprises, but something is missing. I felt vaguely dissatisfied after reading 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' a few years ago, and it was the same with this book. 

Covering 60 years or so from 1952 to the present day, this is the story of family loyalty and love, beginning with an impoverished father coming to the inevitable conclusion that 'A finger had to be cut, to save the hand'. Abdullah and his younger sister, Pari, are the main focus of the early stages of the story, and then it moves to other characters whose lives are also affected by this decision. Staying mainly in Afghanistan, the story also goes to Paris, Greece, and San Francisco, as the years pass. 
There are a lot of minor characters who make a big impression at the time, that you think are going to be important to the overall story, but then just as suddenly  they disappear.  I spent a lot of time wondering what had happened to them, why they were even in the story in the first place, and will they appear some time before the end, to which the answer was no. I would love to have known what eventually happened to the young girl with the badly smashed face, or the two brothers who in one chapter were young boys living in a street in Kabul, then a chapter or two later were fully grown men living in San Francisco - how did that happen! Or a whole section of 40 odd pages back in rural Afghanistan, the central character a young boy, son of the local drug lord, who meets a homeless boy. You can see this could go somewhere, and just when it is getting interesting, whoosh, we are on some other tangent - a Greek Island in 1967. 

But despite the disjointedness, and the hopping around the decades, it is a great story, and very readable. From the very beginning, it is easy to care about the characters, to understand the motives behind the way they behave and to be happy with the eventual outcome. I did really enjoy it, my reservation being that maybe nothing this author writes will be as good as 'The Kite Runner'.



Life looks different through the eyes of a child than it does for us adults! Grown-up challenges, disappointments, responsibilities gradually dilute that magic view of our childhood lives and the things that were so important to us at the time. Isn't it strange how the street you grew up in looks so much smaller and narrower when you revisit it years later. Just imagine how much stranger it would be if you found the map of your neighbourhood that you so scrupulously and carefully crafted when you were eleven, showing above ground and below ground, and looked at it with your now adult eyes!

Not that this happens in this novel, but I imagine our young hero treasuring for a very long time, the intricate and detailed map that he put together over a few months when he was eleven, struggling to find himself, dealing with the sudden and tragic death of his twin brother, Tom, a year earlier, and his parents' collapsing marriage.

It is Melbourne, 1959. Our nameless hero, simply Tom's twin, is a sad, lonely, confused and unhappy little boy. But he is also stoic, highly imaginative, very observant, independent, insanely curious and thanks to his special survival bag very self-sufficient. His exploring starts when his father finally leaves the family home, giving our hero his mission of finding out exactly where he has gone to live. His curiosity leads him up and down alley ways and path ways, front yards and back yards, and an absolute magnet for any curious, adventurous child - a ladder leaning against a house. Up he scoots and promptly witnesses a murder. Now a man on the run, he spends large chunks of the unfolding story avoiding the murderer, and various other miscreants/crooks/scary people he encounters along the way. His flight path(s) eventually takes him into the drainage system of the suburb of Richmond, which he explores very methodically, opening up a whole new world. So what does one do with all this knowledge - he maps it! Hence the name he gives himself 'The Cartographer' along with 'The Outlaw', 'The Railwayman', in addition to his all-round superhero capabilities. There are references galore to the fictional heroes of the time - the Phantom, Wonder Woman, Mandrake, Biggles, Kim from Rudyard Kipling, the Wizard of Oz.  An extra ordinary child really!

And so over the course of his adventures and exploits, our young hero gradually comes to terms with the death of his brother, his family situation, and develops stronger bonds with the 'good' grown ups in his life - his grandfather, the Sandersons who live nearby, and one or two others. Narrated in the first person, he is a fabulous little guy, trying to make sense of all that is going on around him, trusting his instincts in these new situations he finds himself in and the variety of people he is meeting. 

It is not a perfectly well told story however. I did lose track a bit of who some of the characters were, their relationships with other characters, and what they were sort of all there for! I thought maybe this might be a reflection of the unbelievable activity going on in the boy's brain, but thinking again, if he is so meticulous in his map making skills, then he would be just as diligent in keeping track of those he meets and how they inter relate with each other. But he doesn't. As a result the book is too long, and there are probably a few too many deviations from the main thread. But it is still a most entertaining read, with a most lovable young lad at its centre.


Be warned: this is an entirely different book from the author's previous novel, 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry'. No comparison whatsoever. Not much in the way of warm fuzzies, lightness of touch, or happy endings. I say this because so many reviews I have read of 'Perfect' compare this to the wonderful, uplifting and quirky story of Harold and his long walk. And you can't  as they are so totally different. 'Perfect' is much darker and bleaker. It probes deeper into the walls and facades we build around ourselves, our families, so as to ensure the perception of living is different from the reality. In terms of a good read, a good story well told, I prefer 'Harold', but 'Perfect' has given me much more to think about, and is far more unsettling than the former.

It is 1972. Byron Hemming is an 11 year old boy, living with his mother, absent-during-the-week father, and younger sister in a town within commuting distance of London.  They live in a beautiful house on a piece of land complete with a pond. Byron and his best friend James Lowe go to an expensive school, and by all accounts lead a privileged sort of existence. One day James tells Byron that two seconds is going to be added to time in order to balance the time of the clock with the movement of the earth, making things perfect and in harmony. Byron becomes increasingly anxious about this event, reaching its peak during a non-routine drive to school with his mother driving that results in a young girl being knocked over.

Using James as his wing man, Byron, who feels that the whole incident is his fault, tries his utmost, to the capacity that an 11 year old boy can, to rectify the situation and make everything right again - back to his perception of perfect. Which of course, is never going to happen, as 11 year old boys, simply have no grasp of the intricacies of adult life and relationships, specifically marriage and friendships. A child's world view is different from an adult's world view.

Parallel to this story, and in alternate chapters, the narrative moves to the present, to the story of Jim. Jim is a loner, a drifter, with OCD, has been in and out of hospital since a youngster, was subject to ECT therapy, a very damaged man with very little grasp of how to look after himself or manage his life. He lives in a caravan on the edge of an estate, works in a shopping center cafe, has low self esteem. But fairly early on in the story we catch on that he is not stupid, he yearns to be 'normal', but just has no idea how to go about it.

Over the course of the book bad things happen to one of the main characters and good things happen to the other. Perfection, of course, is never reached, but there is a gradual resolution as the events of 1972 come full circle to the present day.  This book is about relationships, about the need to get below the surface of a person to find the true essence, and much as Harold found during his pilgrimage, the kindness of strangers. It has at its core however, the murkiness between perception and reality, and how enormously difficult it is to be able to wade through the murk to find the reality.

Now that I have read two quite different books by this author, I am intrigued to see what she will come up with next.