Tuesday, 16 May 2017


The Pretty Delicious Café, by Danielle Hawkins

           I have to say that I am not a big fan of Chick Lit.  Could it be for the very sound reason that I am no longer a chick?  In fact, Old Chook might be nearer the mark (but I’ll fight anyone who says that!).  Nevertheless, I thought I’d give Ms Hawkins’s Café story a whirl after reading some great reviews ( not the cover blurb, either),and am very happy to report that Chick Lit it may be, but it’s absolutely streets ahead of its romantic rivals.  Whoever they are.
            Now.  This is a Kiwi Chick Lit story, so the action takes place in a little Northland town not so far from the Big Smoke, Auckland – I have to admit that as I got deeper into the story I spent too much time trying to work out which real town the little seaside settlement of Ratai is imitating, but concluded finally that it could be any place north of Orewa.  
Lia (short for Aurelia, named so by her ex-hippy mum) and her best friend Anna run a very successful café just out of town.  They are mortgaged to the hilt and work like dogs to make money while the sun shines, for winter is famously a slack time for beach cafes.  Anna is planning her wedding (in the slack time) to Lia’s twin brother Rob, and wedding tension is adding its five cent’s worth to the usual stress. 
            Another irritant is Lia’s ex, Isaac, who stoutly refuses to believe that she has called off their relationship – not once but many times:  he just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  What a jerk!  Then we have ex-hippy mum, who wears lots of flowing scarves and draperies, and drinks horrible, unidentifiable juices in an effort to be physically and spiritually cleansed.  She is madly attractive in a middle-aged kind of way and always addresses Lia and Rob as ‘darling’.  Well, of course!  Oh, this little story is chock-full of stereotypes – but it’s FUNNY.  Ms Hawkins is a masterly exponent of the Kiwi sense of humour.  Every character, predictable though they may be, is sharply and wittily observed;  our very ‘kiwiness’ is portrayed affectionately and with a charm that perhaps some of us can only aspire to, but what fun it is to read about!
            OMG – I nearly forgot to mention Lia’s love interest.  What was I thinking?!  He is hunky mechanic Jed, a stranger in Ratai – with a past, naturally.  Will Lia and Jed walk off into the sunset with their buckets and spades?  Will Rob and Anna wed in spite of Anna’s flirtation with an eating disorder? (it’s the stress).  Will jerky Isaac get over Lia’s rejection or will he continue to be a stalker?  Will ex-hippy mum melt into her ex-stepson’s arms?  (Didn’t see THAT one coming, did you!)  This little book is serious fun.  FOUR STARS.

Leap of Faith, by Jenny Pattrick

         Jenny Pattrick reintroduces some of her lovely characters from ‘The Denniston Rose’ trilogy, that unforgettable saga of mining on the West Coast of the South Island in 19th century New Zealand:  now she transports them to the North Island in 1907, where there is new, well-paid work (hard labour) for good, honest men building the new railway line and its mighty viaducts across the Central Plateau,  in order to provide the first uninterrupted rail link from Wellington to Auckland. 
For Jock Cameron and his family, it will be a welcome break, a break for him from working permanently underground, and a change that his wife Sarah hopes will provide cleaner air for his faltering lungs.  Their grown family of three sons and a daughter welcome the change – Maggie does housework for a Temperance lady (a job she hates) in Ohakune;  the two oldest boys work with their father on the work gang he oversees, and youngest son Billy is thrilled to find work (at fourteen) at the Makatote Viaduct, still being constructed across a huge gorge, and considered by all who work there to be (along with the Raurimu Spiral) one of the wonders of the age, an edifice as visually beautiful as its use is practical:  a true combination of modern engineering genius and backbreaking labour.  Everyone, engineers, steel workers and navvies alike, is proud to be connected to such a masterpiece – including the Denniston Rose herself, now Rose Scobie, the mother of two small children and married to Brennan who is thrilled that she would leave the Denniston Plateau and with their family, follow him as he begins his engineering job at Makatote.
The scene is beautifully set for other characters to make their unforgettable presence felt, especially itinerant preacher Gabriel Locke, a silver-tongued devil who has more aliases than he can con hot dinners, and a fatal charm that Amelia Grice, Maggie’s employer and doughty warrior against the Demon Drink, is powerless to resist.  Their liaison, borne from guilt and blackmail, has tragic repercussions for all, including Maggie’s naïve and gullible brother Billy:  the corruption of his innocence is assured.
As always, Ms Pattrick draws her readers effortlessly into her lovely stories.  (See review below)  Her beautiful prose pays fitting homage to the men and women who laboured so hard and long more than a hundred years ago to bring New Zealand into the Twentieth Century. Each of Ms. Pattrick’s books is a reminder that, as a nation we owe these people everything.  Our present is enriched immeasurably by their past.  FIVE STARS

Heartland, by Jenny Pattrick

Donny Mac is on his way home to Manawa, a tiny village at the foot of Mt. Ruapehu on the central plateau of the North Island of New Zealand.  He has just served a six-month sentence for grievous bodily harm, charges brought by the overprotective mother of an old ‘schoolmate’, someone who has taunted and bullied him since he was a child – but Donny Mac doesn’t care now:  he has completed an anger management course;  still has his job as a shelf-packer at Manawa’s New World supermarket,  a little home his late grandfather left him and a place in the local rugby team, who could be  future winners of the regional championship. 
His life is on an even keel again and he is happy – childishly so, for Donny Mac is regarded as slow;  ‘ a few sandwiches short of a picnic’ and ‘not the sharpest knife in the drawer’, but he dearly loves Manawa and everyone in it  - except for all the townies, who turn up during the ski season on Ruapehu, having bought up all the old mill houses for use as their holiday accommodation.  No local likes the townies who disrupt their quiet way of life with speeding SUV’s and raucous parties, but they accept them as a necessary evil, for Manawa is dying.  The timber mills are closed, there are no jobs and all the young folk have left to look for work in the big cities, as has happened in countless other once-thriving communities.  At least the townies spend money when they come to ski on Ruapehu, enabling the village to stutter along for another year.
Yes, Donny Mac can’t wait to get home – until he finds that his house has been appropriated in his absence by Nightshade, the local slut, drunk most of the time, and hugely pregnant – ‘ and the baby’s yours, you ##@$!!’  Which in all fairness, is drawing a very long bow:  given her non-existent reputation, the hapless baby could belong to any one of the local youths, but after being rejected by them all, she has settled on poor slow Donny Mac as a last desperate resort.  She has been abandoned by everyone.  He is her only chance of support.
And support her he does, much against the wishes and counselling of his true friends, people who love him and worry about him and wish that his life could be better, and that is the crux of this charming story:  the fellowship of a tight-knit community;  their heartfelt affection for each other regardless of blood-ties, and their wildly disparate solutions to frightening problems.
Jenny Pattrick is a firm favourite with New Zealand readers.  Her ‘Denniston Rose’ trilogy has become a classic of Kiwi popular fiction, similarly the beautiful ‘Landings’ and while there are a couple of her titles that I thought weren’t up to her very high standard she has hit her mark once again with ‘Heartland’.  It is a heartwarmer of a tale in the very best sense of the word, and the only complaint I can make is that I finished it too quickly – I didn’t want to leave Donny Mac, Vera, Bull and the Misses Macaneny, finely drawn characters that will stay with the reader long after the story is finished.  FOUR STARS          

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