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Aug 13 2020

TRUEL1F3 by Jay Kristoff

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Lifelike book 3. Allen & Unwin Australia, 2020. ISBN: 9781760295707.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Right from the start I was wondering just how Kristoff was going to bring all the threads of this brilliant trilogy together. Would the characters Evie and Lemon from the adrenaline pumping LIFEL1K3 and DEV1AT3 resolve their differences and once again become besties? Would the Yousay be devastated by nuclear war in a fight between the tech corporation Daedelus or the hive-like BioMass? Would Ezekiel be reunited with his brothers and sisters, or would Gabriel bring everyone down in his attempt to rid the world of humans? And could the fast-paced action of the first two books be maintained? I did not need to worry, Kristoff has done an outstanding job of resolving dilemmas and bringing characters back together, with adroitness, skill and wonderful imagination.
It is essential to read the three books in the trilogy in order as each book builds on the actions and character growth in the one before. TRUEL1F3 starts immediately after DEV1AT3, with Lemon Fresh captured with devastating consequences by BioMass. Meanwhile Gabriel's grip on sanity deteriorates as he accesses the means to replicate his beloved Grace and the struggle to take over the world by Daedelus and BioMass continues.
Fast paced action pushes the story on with some almost unbelievable alliances being made to save humanity. However, the moral dilemmas will make the reader pause and think. Kristoff questions what constitutes true life - can it be humans, genetic mutations with super powers like Lemon Fresh and Abe, super intelligent clones like Evie and Gabriel, or the many wonderful robots like Cricket, who have to obey the Three Laws of Robots? There are many heart-breaking choices to be made and grief to be faced as this trilogy comes to its ultimately hopeful conclusion.
Science fiction fans and readers who enjoy the thrill of a fast ride will be sure to want to read this series, and then may go on to the award-winning Illuminae Files, co-authored by Kristoff and Amie Kaufman.
Pat Pledger


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Aug 13 2020

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K Rowling

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Illus. by Levi Pinfold. Gryffindor House Edition. Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781526618153.
(Age: 9+) Recommended. Collectors of the Harry Potter books will rejoice in this latest offering featuring the courage, bravery and determination of Gryffindor House. The book is handsomely produced, from its bold red cover and sprayed red edges to the gorgeous gold foils around the rising phoenix in the centre of the cover and striking illustrations surrounding it. Inside the book, Levi Pinfold, winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, has done an outstanding job of portraying Godric Gryffindor, surrounded by twining leaves, a rampant lion and slithering snake. Also, at the front of the book is a beautiful map of Hogwarts School and an introduction to the story. Right at the end there is a portrait of Sirius Black and an outline of his life and achievements.
This is one in a series of highly collectable Harry Potter books and fans will find it difficult to resist this edition. Readers new to the series will be happy to have such a splendid book, telling the tale of Harry finding that he has the Order of the Phoenix at his back to fight Voldemort.
Pat Pledger


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Aug 13 2020

The blue giant by Katie Cottle

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Pavilion, 2020. ISBN: 9781843654513. 32pp., pbk.
Meera and her mother are planning on a day at the seaside, something they've done before often. But this time they are greeted by a large blue giant who beckons them to follow him beneath the waves and see the problems of the ocean creatures that have been caused by human laziness and degradation. Both learn valuable lessons and although they do their best, it is a job too big for one, so it's time to call on family and friends for help.
As warmer days approach and the lure of the beach becomes stronger, this is a poignant and timely picture book that introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help the world become a better, cleaner place. As the worldwide lockdown because of the pandemic has provided the planet with a brief breathing space and shown that it can heal given help and time, perhaps this story will help students start to see their favourite place through a new lens as they consider what they can do (or not) to contribute to the health of this vital resource.
Barbara Braxton


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Aug 12 2020

The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein

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Code Name Verity. Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781526601650.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Elizabeth Wein delivers another stunning, engrossing story of war-time pilots and dogfights, espionage and friendship which will thrill her many fans, but can also be read as a stand-alone. Louisa Adair has been left an orphan, her mother killed in the Blitz and her father at sea. Desperate for a job, she hides her age and Jamaican background, and finds work caring for Johanna von Arnim, a retired German opera singer, whose niece lives near Windyedge Airfield in Scotland. There she meets Jamie, the 19-year-old pilot who flies Blenheim bombers and Ellen a driver for the RAF and becomes involved in a conspiracy to find a codebreaking machine known as the Enigma.
Told in three voices, that of Louisa, Jamie and Ellen, the reader is immersed in their lives and the stirring events that occur around them. Louisa is the daughter of an English music teacher and Jamaican sailor and must fit in, while Ellen hides her Traveller background to avoid prejudice. Jamie's arguments with his commanding officer mean that he is willing to hide the Enigma machine so that he can get an advantage over the superior German aircraft.
Descriptions of the bombing raids, the intense pressure that the pilots were under and the grief when friends are killed will keep readers glued to the page as they follow the exploits of Jamie and his comrades. They will also find it easy to identify with Louisa and the growing bond she has with the old woman who has taken the English name of Jane Warner, to fit in at the pub that her niece owns.
This is an exciting and emotional story that I could not put down. It was mesmerising to read about the youth of the bomber pilots, their heart-breaking losses, the work of young women in World War 2 and the importance of breaking the German codes. The Enigma Game follows The pearl thief, and comes before the heart-breaking Code Name Verity and Rose under fire and readers who haven't yet read them can expect the same compelling and outstanding stories of courage and strong young people.
Pat Pledger


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Aug 12 2020

My Dad is . . . by Ed Allen

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Illus. by James Hart. Scholastic, 2020. ISBN: 9781743836699. 24pp.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. With the approach of Father's Day, comes a few books with Dad as the main theme. In this tactile presentation from Scholastic comes a hands on book, one with a cover which incorporates a barometer of the things Dads are known for. With a spinner that can be swung around onto points describing the Dad in question, 'the loudest farter', 'the BBQ master', 'a bad joke maker', kids will love swinging the needle around to point out what their Dad is good at.
The plastic cover over the barometer will keep the needle and the pointers safe from small hands, and the strong fold out front page will further enhance its longevity.
Opening the book comes the introductory line, 'My dad is a man of many talents', and each page shows him in a different guise, be it a story teller, a master chef, a man with the strongest grip ever, a Dad who takes the children on adventures but also makes the loudest farts which can clear the room, snores louder than a hippo with a blocked nose and one who tells the most awful jokes. But this mix of the good and the bad adds up to only one thing, Dad is his best friend.
A charming look at what makes up a dad, this will get laughs of recognition and sympathy as kids share what their fathers do.
Hart's bold colourful illustrations support the story well, giving readers the opportunity to compare their family with the one illustrated.
Fran Knight


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Aug 12 2020

Baby Touch : Night-Night by Ladybird

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Penguin, 2020. ISBN: 9780241422366. Board book.
(Age: 0+) Recommended. What a lovely book to read at bedtime. Little children are sure to love this touch and feel book, right from the vibrant purple cover that has star cut-outs and a little touch and feel circle. Opening the book up, the rhyming words will make for an enjoyable read aloud, with the refrain 'Baby, say' repeated as the child says 'Night-night' to flowers, tree, bird and bee. Then there is a final line on the double page spread, "Time for bed, sleepy baby."
The large star cut-out appears on each page, gradually getting smaller as the story progresses and all coloured in different pastel shades. The pages are made of strong board and the star cut-out is sturdy enough for fingers to trace around it.
Each double page spread has not only the rhyme but pictures of little creatures and objects with words and sounds underneath, which will enhance the reading experience for a toddler. The final double page spread is done in a deep blue with a gorgeous rocket ship blasting off to the moon, its tail a pink soft fabric.:
Baby, say.
Night-night stars,
And night-night moon.
Night-night, baby . . .
It's dream time soon.
A gorgeous bed-time story, perfect to read aloud, Night-Night will have happy fans and make bed-time a restful and happy time.
Pat Pledger


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Aug 12 2020

Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

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Simon & Schuster, 2020. ISBN: 9781471194900.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Published in 2020, Sarah Vaughan's novel matches the unsettling situation of this year, in which the world became almost universally tense, with an abiding concern about the disasters of the outbreak of the coronavirus, where we have begun to ask questions about our competency to face the reality of a new and changing world. Placing the narrative in the apparently comfortable social group of young families, with parents who want to be 'the best' in this role, and to do everything they can do to ensure that their children thrive, Sarah Vaughan raises questions that are so much a part of coping for many people in today's world.
Plunging us immediately into a home, a crying baby and a parent who is tense with anxiety, questioning her capacity to be a good and loving mother, we are alert to the possibility of her losing control. Sarah Vaughan challenges us to make sense of the different situations, as well as the central issue of a baby's well-being, by moving us in and out of different times, and also focusing on different characters and places. Through this device, the writer enables us to seek to understand just why the situation that dominates the narrative has occurred. As we are drawn into this particularly difficult and tense time, we are challenged to see how the expectations of parenthood in the modern world pose such a challenge to families. We are led to question how, with their drive to be involved in the education, social life and well-being of children, they can cope. With their own well-being, their questioning of their competency, and sometimes bearing the added responsibility of ensuring the well-being of the older generation, that is the grandparents, the parents must find the strength to make a happy family while coping with every aspect of the fast-paced modern world.
This is a vibrant, thought-provoking, and somewhat unsettling novel, set very much in the reality of the modern world. It is not appropriate for younger readers but it is a challenging, and sometimes disturbing, read for older adolescents and adults.
Elizabeth Bondar


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Aug 11 2020

Dry to dry: the seasons of Kakadu by Pamela Freeman

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Illus. by Liz Anelli. Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760650285. 32pp.
(Age: 5+) Recommended. Another in the series of Nature Storybooks published by Walker Books invites readers to 'delve into the natural world'. This series of books promises that 'every wonderful word is true' as a story develops in one font while the facts are given in a more formal style in a different font, usually placed at the bottom of the page. With a substantial index, and extra information at the back of each book, they support environmental work in any classroom while encouraging younger readers to be dazzled by the world in which they live.
Dry to dry shows us the two main seasons of Kakadu in Australia's north. This huge wetland, now a national park of world heritage status, supports at least 280 bird species, while many animals known to environmentalists across the world live there.
The book opens and finishes with the dry, and we see and read of the animals that survive during the two seasons and how they live in such conditions. Packed within a couple of paragraphs on each page is an enormous amount of information, told in tight, sparse prose. Several pages along, the lightning strikes begin with the cockatoos headed for their roost before the rain. These rains only start the creeks flowing again, it is later that the wet comes, filling them to the brim, overflowing into the land beyond, until Kakadu becomes a wetland. A range of animals is mentioned, frogs that provide food for predators, crocodiles looking for frogs and crustaceans, a myriad of birds, some flying in from the Arctic, some from closer realms, jabiru with its nest high in the banyan tree, while during the downpour, snakes and goannas seek higher ground in the same tree.
But then the rains cease and the heat bears down, drying up the wetlands, creeks recede to waterholes, the waterholes sink beneath the ground, the turtles bury themselves waiting for the wet to come agin.
At the end, alongside a page of information about Kakadu, a page is devoted to the Aboriginal way of dividing Kakadu's seasons. They distinguish six seasons and these are explained with their Kakadu word and given a reference to the book's pages.
This lovely book, full of information accessible to younger readers fits alongside other Kakadu books such as Walking with the seasons at Kakadu (Allen & Unwin, 2003) Kakadu calling (Magabala, 2013) and My home in Kakadu (Magabala, 2006).
The mixed media illustrations are stylish and impressionistic, colours muted and understated, and children will enjoy looking for the many animals, birds and plant life shown. Some are given with flair, an impression rather than a detailed examination, while others are more carefully drawn, giving children a more precise picture of the animal shown. I can imagine children getting out other books about Australian flora and fauna to identify some of the animals and plants shown. I love the glimpses of human life, the tour bus, the kids playing around the termite mounds, the bird hide, road signs, campervan and river cruise.
And I was overjoyed to see a pair of maps indicating where Kakadu is on the continent of Australia and a closer map of Kakadu National Park. Teacher's notes are also available.
Themes: Aboriginal life, Kakadu, Northern Territory, Environment, Animals, Birds.
Fran Knight


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Aug 11 2020

The Curator by M.W. Craven

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Washington Poe book 3. Constable, 2020. ISBN: 9781472131959.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Recommended for readers who enjoy the mystery genre. Another engrossing mystery featuring Poe and Tilly is sure to grab fans of this pair. In another unique plot, following The puppet show and Black Summer, the pair are faced with a strange case. Why are some women anaesthetised before they are killed and others not? What is the mean of the message #BSC6 left behind and how is the killer managing to leave his macabre messages behind with no one seeing him? The intervention of the disgraced FBI agent who gets in touch, brings even more information. She believes that Poe is dealing with a man known as The Curator, more deadly than a serial killer.
Craven is an amazing writer who comes up with quite different plots in his novels. This one is bizarre and engrossing and kept me glued to the page right until the unexpected end. It left me thinking back to the clue left early on for astute readers but which can easily be overlooked.
After reading a couple of stories in a series, I am often a bit fatigued by the sameness of the characters but this is not true of Poe and Tilly. Their working relationship, trust and friendship grows in The Curator, and DI Flynn, now heavily pregnant, is a sympathetic character too. And the writing, full of suspense and some humour, the bleakness of the Cumbrian landscape, flows along smoothly and makes for a book that begs to be read in one or two sittings.
Books by Craven are not to be missed by anyone who enjoys a good mystery.
Pat Pledger


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Aug 11 2020

Tiger and Cat by Allira Tee

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Berbay Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9780648529156.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Allira Tee is an illustrator and author based in Melbourne. She loves animals and people watching and discovering the uncanny behavioural similarities between the two. Inspired by nature, Tiger and Cat is her debut picture book.
And we can see her observations of friendship, of being true to yourself and similarities between animals and people reflected in this book as Tiger goes off to boot camp to learn how to be a proper tiger.
He and Cat are the best of friends: they do everything together: play, eat, explore and dance. But Tiger is sent off to camp where he is expected to do different things. While Cat stays home, trying to do the things they have always done together. Everywhere Cat goes he sees Tiger, but the people he sees are not Tiger, until he comes across a young girl in a tiger onesie. Cat tells Susie all about Tiger, and being six years old, Susie knows exactly what to do. And a letter is sent, and Tiger comes home to his friends.
Allira creates her highly original illustrations by hand using ink or graphite and finished with coloured markers, pencils, watercolour or digital techniques.
This neatly evolved story of friendship and being yourself will be appealing to younger readers beset by instructions of how to act and suppressing your own behaviour to fit in. Themes: Cats, Tigers, Friendship, Belonging.
Fran Knight


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Aug 10 2020

A clue for Clara by Lian Tanner

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Allen & Unwin, 2020 ISBN: 9781760877699.
(Age: 9+) Highly recommended. Bullied and despised chook Clara, retreats to the farmhouse where she sits all say watching television. Her favourite shows are detective series, Death in the city and Amelia X Girl detective. She develops skills similar to the sleuths she admires, determining to become a detective herself, and solves the egg stealing episode at the chook house, although Rufus the rooster takes all the glory for himself. She wants to share her abilities so when a police car comes to the farm, investigating the latest round of sheep thefts, she tries in vain to communicate with them, but when she inadvertently finds herself in the police car, she works out a way to communicate with the young girl in the back seat, Olive, the policeman's daughter.
Humour abounds in this merry tale, as the reader sees a slightly worse for wear chook, the lowest in the pecking order in the farmyard, using her television inspired skills to solve a crime. The contrast between what the reader knows and what Clara thinks she knows will have readers laughing out loud. Her attempts at using morse code to talk to the girl for example, is seen by the girl as just an annoying peck from the strange chook on the floor of the car. Eventually Clara works out that she can peck out messages on Olive's mobile phone, and they communicate. Olive is being bullied by a new girl in the school, Jubilee, and her father Mr Simpson is the talk of the town, Little Dismal, as he has saved the pub from being closed and has offered to install CCTV cameras to catch the thief.
But Clara suspects his girl of being a master criminal so her surveillance of the family leads to the solving of the crime, but not in the way Clara thinks. The witty text is wonderfully supportive with equally funny illustrations by Cheryl Orsini.
This smart, clever and very funny story of standing up to bullies, of friendship in the most unlikely of places, of coping with grief, all wrapped up in a story about a girl and her pet chook is one of the most endearing tales I have read for a long time.
Tanner quietly introduces the fact that Olive's mother has died, and the grief that surrounds Olive and her father is pervasive. The efforts of those around them makes the bullying by the 'Merrycan' girl even more despicable, and it is with a loud cheer that she becomes undone. Life in rural Australia with the problems of stock theft, of towns closing down, of people moving away, of a lone police officer trying to cope with angry farmers, saddled with drought, dwindling prices and fewer staff to help work the properties forms a most credible background to the story.
It is a book that begs to be read and enjoyed. Teacher's notes are available.
Fran Knight


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Aug 10 2020

Ten sleepy sheep by Renee Treml

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Penguin Random House Australia, 2020. ISBN: 9781760896768.
(Age: 0-3) Highly recommended. In a gentle rhythmic narrative that reads aloud beautifully, the young child is invited to count backwards from ten, looking at the animals that could be found on a farm.
Ten sleepy sheep walk back to the shed.
9 sleepy pups settle in bed.
Right from the beginning when 5 sheep and 5 little lambs can be seen walking back to the shed on an Australian farm, the young child will enjoy counting sleepy puppies, foals,  chicks, calves, ducklings, parrots, lizards, foals, koalas and a joey.
The pastel backgrounds fit beautifully into each of the pictures - a soft brown to show the background of the Australian farm with white sheep walking across it, pale green grass for foals to lie on, a gorgeous blue for baby ducklings and pretty lilac for parrots. Each of the animals or birds is outlined in black and filled in with soft whites and browns, with detailing bringing the fur of the kangaroo and koalas alive.
This is a lovely, gentle board book that will be appreciated at bedtime as the young child is soothed to sleep.
Pat Pledger


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Aug 10 2020

We're going on a treasure hunt by Martha Mumford

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Illus. by Laura Hughes. Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781408893395.
(Age: 1+) Recommended. Lots of fun can be had as four bunnies go off on an exciting quest to find ten gold coins and a treasure chest. Children will enjoy following the cute rabbits, all dressed as pirates, as they prance along avoiding obstacles and uncovering gold coins one by one.
The repetition of the refrain on every second double page spread ensures that children will be able to join in as they hear it again and again:
We're going on a treasure hunt.
Yo! Ho! Ho!
Help us find the golden coins . .
ARRRRR!
Off we go!
Even very small children will enjoy the rhythm and repetition and will love to see the cute little animals and birds on the way. Older children will find the repetition of every second double page will be a great help when they are just beginning to read and the story is sure to be one that children who want to start to read aloud will pick up. Sounds made as the cute little rabbits chase the coins add to enjoyment of the narrative: Watch out for the Crabs . . . Snip, snap, snip! and the parrots, squawk, squawk, screech.
The lift the flaps are quite sturdy and reveal a gold coin with the number written on it. This will enable older children to enjoy counting from one to ten. Other lift the flaps reveal animals and even a very hungry shark to delight all and bring smiles to faces.
Laura Hughes illustrations are very engaging. The rabbits are so cute, dressed in pirate hats, bandanas and eye patches and the bright colours of the beach, sea and vegetation are gorgeous.
This is perfect to read aloud for younger children and one that older children can use to practise their reading as was the previous book, We're going on an elf chase, which followed a similar format. It is sure to be a keeper.
Pat Pledger


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Aug 10 2020

Jacinda Adern: A new kind of leader by Madeline Chapman

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Nero, 2020. ISBN: 9781760641818.
(Age: Senior secondary/adult) Highly recommended. There are few women in powerful positions around the world, and this story of Adern's rise makes for an amazing read, one which may excite other young women to strive to follow their passion.
Adern came from an unusual background, a small farm in Muruparo the daughter of Mormon parents. The book details her early foray into human rights issues at school, then attending Waikato University and volunteering at the New Plymouth by-election. From there she worked for a grass roots MP in Wellington when she became attracted to the Young Labour Movement, eventually becoming world president of the International Union of Socialist Youth in 2008. A spectacular rise for one so young, but as the book points out, she did not become president through being naive. She was clearly cunning, astute and clever, using her opportunities to perfection.
On leaving home her views of the world changed and she espoused Maori rights and climate change action as well as championing gay rights, bringing her into conflict with her family and her religion. The Labour Party at this time was trying to bring more women into leadership roles. She was in the right place at the right time. And she is a worker. Through a series of quick leadership changes in 2017, she became leader of the party just a couple of months before election day with Labour polling 23%. Tirelessly promoting a positive position, using social media to perfection, her boundless enthusiasm saw her party neck and neck with the National Party which had ruled for the past nine years. The NZ First party backed Labour and which led to Ardern becoming Prime Minister in a minority government. Here she promoted climate change policy, gender equity and Maori rights. She attended the UN world summit in 2018, the first world leader to bring a baby into the proceedings. Her speech promoted the need for gender equality around the world, trade and climate change and was universally applauded. But, it was her response to the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch in 2018 that has defined her. She received the news at 1:50 pm about a situation in Christchurch on her way to speak at New Plymouth. She went to the police station, by 4.20 pm held a press conference, and by 7 pm gave an address to the nation. This speech, quoted in the book named the killer as a terrorist, and called not for revenge, but love and kindness. She flagged the changes to gun laws and within the week this was being formulated. She attended the Muslim Centre wearing a headscarf as a sign of respect, calling for peace. Radio stations broadcast the Muslim call for prayer, and Adern's names was broadcast around the world, showing a compassionate leader putting herself on the line. Her speech is well worth reading.
The book gives hints to what makes her such a fine leader, that fearless determination to do what she sees as right for New Zealand and all of its population. Sometimes she appears naive and sometimes it is hard to separate that from a born politician, but people do not call her the 'smiling assassin' for nothing. Details about election wins, take up many pages, but then it is a biography of a politician.
This is an eminently readable, sometimes frustrating, book which gives a broad look at a woman who has made a difference.
Speeches are quoted at the end of the text, with pages of sources and a useful index. Themes: Jacinda Adern, Biography, Christchurch NZ, New Zealand, Politics, Terrorism.
Fran Knight


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