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• The English Roses
By Madonna. Publisher: Puffin Books. RRP: $29.95

• Roivan
By Glynner Maclean. Publisher: Penguin. RRP: $16.95

• Remember Me
By Lesley Pearse. Publisher: Penguin. RRP: $23.95

• Double Vision
By Pat Barker. Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin). RRP: $34.95

Reviewed by Barbara Weil November 5, 2003
The English Roses

The English Roses by MadonnaIf the Duchess of York can do it with Budgie the Helicopter and a host of other celebrities are doing it, it was only a matter of time before Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone Ritchie turned her hand to writing a children’s book.

She has sold more than 200 million records and reinvented herself so many times, why not?

The English Roses is a 48-page hardcover with sumptuous illustrations by Jeffrey Fulvimari.

The ‘roses’ are four girls, Nicole, Amy, Charlotte and Grace, who bear more than a passing resemblance to the Spice Girls. They go to the same school, live near each other and like the same things.

They particularly like to dance and we’re treated to pictures of the girls doing the hullabaloo, monkey, techno fox-trot, tickety boo and more, looking more than ever like Posh and co.

The story is simple enough — the girls are jealous of another in the neighbourhood.

Binah is beautiful, an excellent student, good at sport and kind to people. A page shows the girls going green with envy.

Binah has no friends and Nicole and company aren’t about to make any overtures — she’s too perfect. They have a pyjama party and Nicole’s mother asks why Binah isn’t invited. They say Binah is probably too stuck-up. Mother gives a little sermon about not judging people.

The upshot is a fairy godmother shows them the error of their ways and about Binah’s life with no mother and many chores at home. It all ends happily with them becoming friends.

There’s a punch line at the end when neighbours say: “Those English Roses are really special. What beautiful girls!

“They’ll grow up to be incredible women one day.”

Yeah right, and they’ll all marry metrosexual guys like Becks.

Oh well, I guess it’s harmless enough stuff that does try to take a moral stand.

Roivan by Glynne MacleanRoivan

This is described as teenage science fiction.

It is Book One of the A’nzarian Chronicle and follows the life of Roivan, a humanoid of uncertain age, sent to teleport the void between the arms of the galaxy to find human space.

She is instructed to travel to human space and stay there.

“Do not return. Speak only your name.

“Do not take the Test. Do not speak of your world, you life, or your species until you meet someone who tells you first. If they are right, you then may speak. Until that time, speak only your name. Protect your mind.

Roivan is discovered stowed away on the Balliage, a space survey ship. She is befriended by Constellation Prime Joshua Carter and his charge engineer Stenway. The stowaway is a telepath, is telekinetic and is amphibian.

She has eyes like a kaleidoscope, a photographic memory and is a whiz at maths and engineering. But who is Roivan?

She is trapped aboard the spaceship — she can find no others in the void and is in the centre of a web of political instructions that give her the power to make a difference in the adult world.

However before that happens there are many adventures and much intrigue.

This book is quite riveting. Even adult readers will be caught up this compelling story. For those with a less scientific bent the author included a glossary of the terms.

The characters are well drawn and Glynne Maclean paints a picture of a future world that is quite unlike ours, but has many similarities.

For instance, some species are suspicious of others, not simply in racial ways but because of their mental capacities.

The Wellington writer worked in the travel industry for many years before enrolling in Fiona Kidman’s creative writing course.

Roivan is her first published novel.

Maclean supports her writing by building commercial websites and writing a computer column for a Wellington magazine.

Buy this book for a science-keen teenager, but read it yourself first.

Remember Me by Lesley PearseRemember Me

After reading Lesley Pearse’s book about English orphans in Australia, Trust Me, I wanted more of this best selling author.

Mary Broad is only 18 when one day in 1786 she foolishly steals a hat from a woman on the street. It’s highway robbery and carries the death sentence.

However her execution is stayed and Mary joins several hundred convicts to sail to Australia.

But this is preceded by prison and then time on a rusting hulk in the harbour (there were too many prisoners in Britain to be housed in jails.)

The conditions are horrifying. Remember Me is based on a true story, but it is sometimes hard to accept people treated their fellow human beings so brutally.

For a girl from Cornwall who has never ventured further than Plymouth, the plight of Mary is almost as bad as the death sentence. The one thing Mary has going for her is courage and determination and she makes a promise that she will survive whatever it takes.

Sometimes this means compromises that may appear strange, but Mary is audacious and strong. “As long as I’m still breathing, then I’ll still hope,” she says.

Life in Sydney is hard, but Mary takes it in her stride. She then escapes in a cutter with her husband and two children and a band of convicts. They nearly perish on their journey to the Dutch East Indies. More privations follow, along with the death of her children and husband and Mary is recaptured and taken to England.

What happens next is extraordinary. Mary is sentenced to death again, but her case is taken up by James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson. She is saved, but that’s almost the end of the story.

Lesley Pearse says in a footnote she would like to have written a happy ending with Mary reunited with her family and perhaps remarrying.

However in the true account Mary disappeared without trace.

She may, says the writer, have returned to Australia, but the last we see of this tragic but heroic woman is on the deck of a ship going to Cornwall.

Remember Me is an absorbing, if somewhat harrowing read.

Double Vision by Pat BarkerDouble Vision

This is a rather bleak novel, with a ray of hope at the end.

Stephen Sharkey is a war correspondent whose career has taken him to most of the world’s trouble spots and brought him close to a breakdown. His marriage has failed and his best friend, a war photographer was killed in Afghanistan.

In search of peace, Stephen leaves his newspaper job with the aim of writing a book.

His brother lives in the same village as his friend’s widow, a renowned sculptor. Stephen lives in a cottage at the bottom of his brother’s garden and starts to write and find a sort of solace. He is attracted to a woman 20 years his junior and starts a relationship.

Sculptor Kate is working on a statue of Christ when she is injured in a car crash. Unable to do hard physical work, she hires a local gardener to help.

Peter causes uneasiness to may people, but that is another story.

Double Vision is about the darker side of human nature. Pat Barker makes a parallel with the violence of war with the violence hidden in ‘peaceful’ society.

Although the story ends well enough, there were several side issues that were not really satisfactorily concluded.

It was as if the writer created some characters and incidents that she could not deal with effectively. Nevertheless a good read from a prolific author who won the 1995 Booker Prize and many other awards.

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