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Kiss Of Death | Regional News

Kiss Of Death

Written by: Stephen Tester

The Heritage Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Set in Wellington at the end of WWI against the backdrop of the Spanish flu, the fictional novel Kiss of Death follows Lorna Dragana McDougal, one of Wellington’s few female solicitors. Her life is not easy. Besides raising her little sister, she is constantly having to prove herself worthy in a society dominated by men.

I have to admit, as a man living a cushy life in 2024, I simply cannot relate to what a woman in 1918 must have had to go through. If you were a woman in a male-dominated industry, life was gonna be hard. Looked down on, disrespected, and underpaid… that’s the order of the day. But Lorna rises above the abuse she suffers, managing to come out on top more than just a few times.

One of the best parts of the book for me was Lorna herself. While sharp-witted and intelligent protagonists are nothing new, it is not often we find one who has the literal world rallying against her. I really enjoyed her story and found myself wanting to spend more time with her. My favourite part was when she is forced to team up with police detectives who see her as more of a hindrance than a help. Of course, she succeeds in proving her worth all the same.

The story also deserves praise, and while I found it a little slow to begin with, it was not long before I started warming up to the narrative and where it was taking me. While I understand that authors must set up their main characters and the worlds they inhabit, in this case I would have much preferred to just dive into the main plot. That may be more of a ‘me’ problem, but I thought I should at least mention it.

Apart from that, this is a great little historical legal thriller that will definitely scratch the itch anyone has for a good mystery with a likeable and fun heroine. If you see this at your local bookshop, I highly recommend it.

Smoko | Regional News


Written by: F.E. Beyer

Sandfly Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If you could describe just one novel as having a ‘fly-on-the-wall perspective’ Smoko by F.E. Beyer would have to be it.

Many years ago, I worked for Sky City first as a waiter, then as a bartender. The hours were long, the pay was bad, and the supervisors and managers were insufferable (from my perspective). But it was my first job, so what could I do but grin and bear it? Reading Smoko brought me back to those days when I was a fresh-faced kid who just needed a job.

The book follows a newly minted postal worker named Ed as he navigates the perilous world of mail couriers. From putting up with a power-mad supervisor to avoiding the perils of office politics, Ed encounters it all, and all I could do was nod my head and smile the whole way.

One of the reasons I loved Smoko so much is that Ed is someone we can all relate to. Essentially, he is us – all of us. We see ourselves in him and understand what he is going through. We have all had to suffer through that one boss who rules over us like a tyrant, or that one workmate who drones on and never stops. Beyer pulls no punches. There are no airs and graces here; he tells it like it is, and it is precisely that kind of writing that keeps the story grounded and relatable.

And while Beyer’s writing is great, for me, it is the characters who bring the book to life. From Mavis the aforementioned tyrant, to Ross the outspoken rebel, all the way to Johnno the company veteran, each character made an impression and I cared about all of them.

These elements all add up together to make Smoko a must-read title that I think everyone will relate to. A quick little read that took me back to my early working days, and a great start to 2024.

Ziggle! The Len Lye Art Activity Book | Regional News

Ziggle! The Len Lye Art Activity Book

Written by: Rebecca Fawkner

Massey University Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Many moons ago, I remember the impending installation of the Len Lye windwand in New Plymouth being met with a certain amount of mockery, derision, and a rolling discourse from the locals that it was not, in fact, a work of art. Nowadays, the bendy sculpture is hailed as an icon of the city, a must-see for tourists, and a familiar sight on the coastal walkway.

Art in all its glory makes everyone ripe to opine. Ultimately though, what is art is highly subjective in the end. In Ziggle, author Rebecca Fawkner, who has worked at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery| Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth for 20 years, has created a zany and comprehensive activity book with 65 Len Lye inspired ways to be an artist. Fawkner brings together synergised activities that follow Len throughout his life, each activity paying homage to the way Len expressed himself through art, and whose fascination with the melding of art and science, light and colour, and kinetic sculptures abounds throughout.

My son and I enjoyed the Exquisite Corpse activity (bizarre name, I know), based on a drawing game Surrealist artists played together to generate new art ideas. In a nutshell, you fold a piece of paper into three: one for the head, one for the body, and one for legs. You should only see the section you are drawing and then swap alternatively with your buddy. You have no concept of what each other has drawn and the ensuing creature is a whole new piece of art altogether.

Ziggle is cool, especially for those young creatives who might otherwise be tempted by a digital world. The activities are simple yet intelligent and experimental.

At the end, there’s a reminder that if you get stuck on creating, think like Len and trust the artist part of yourself and just start doing. To leave you with a quote from Len himself, “I encourage you to untie mental shoelaces so your thoughts can go barefoot and trip the light fantastic.”

Plastic | Regional News


Written by: Stacey Teague

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“Do you know your bones?” is the central question posed in this collection of poetry and prose. Knowing your bones is the Māori way of phrasing the question of identity – of knowing who you are. For Māori, that involves knowing your family whakapapa and, indeed, entire iwi history.

For author Stacey Teague, who has not grown up in te aō Maori, the question looms large now that she has returned to Aotearoa after a lengthy absence. The opening section Hoki (to go back, to retrace) sets us up for a poetic exploration of the writer’s way back.

The journey is fraught. To begin with, her mother is referred to as “plastic”, a clearly derogatory descriptor, meaning a Māori who does not know te reo, tikanga, or their whakapapa. “A fire inside the house that no one acknowledges.” As she turns to relatives to learn more, she struggles with her non-Maori appearance and what others tell her: “You’re not Māori enough”.

The pain and occasional ambivalence she feels are captured in statements such as “it’s always the end of the world / and I’m a character I don’t recognise”. Pounamu helps: “let it beat against your sternum as you walk”.

The section Paratiki, in which all poems have te reo titles, has me busy with my dictionary. I appreciate the multi-meaning of some of the words, a characteristic of the language that emerges frequently and adds to the richness and complexity of this work.

Teague’s near final section is the most satisfying. It is set in Waitomo, in the area of her iwi Ngāti Maniopoto. She is there with her family to visit her marae, and to meet “Aunty”, who will show them the graves of her ancestors. Our writer is close to the object of her personal journey, to her deepfelt desire to be like these ancestors, to embody their best characteristics. “I am still learning”, she declares. A mantra for us all.

Big Fat Brown Bitch | Regional News

Big Fat Brown Bitch

Written by: Tusiata Avia

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Tusiata Avia is big, fat, brown, and angry about the treatment of Pacific peoples in New Zealand. Big Fat Brown Bitch is the latest poetry collection by Avia, written after ACT party leader David Seymour’s criticism of her award-winning previous poetry collection The Savage Coloniser Book created news. In bold, direct language, it addresses racism and how the colonisation of Aotearoa still affects people today – from the personal, such as name-calling at school, to the national, as when Avia calls out specific government leaders who’ve made decisions she disagrees with.

The first section of the book, Werewolf, is the most political. It’s arresting and doesn’t shy away from swearing or discussing hate speech. It’s not one for all audiences, but Avia has an undeniable way of making you stop and take note of her words. “I am the girl who bites like this,” reads one poem, and the lines do feel like furious dog bites at the world.

The final section, Malu | Protection, is the most abstract and covers traditional tattooing practices. The narrator and her niece search family records for the best symbols to use, and she imagines being deep underwater with taniwha while the painful tattooing process takes place. The poems explore being half-Samoan, growing up separate from your ancestry and not speaking the language, exemplified in The opening lāuga, the ceremony where the Samoan orators speak from one side of the page and Avia’s narrator is aligned to the opposite side.

If I had to critique, a couple of the poems didn’t feel very distinct from each other. However, overall, it’s a cohesive collection which doesn’t falter in sharing the strengths and trials of Avia’s life. FCC Theatre Company will be performing an adaptation of Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book, directed by Anapela Polata’ivao, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts if you’re interested in seeing more of her work. And if you’re not – “Come for me babe, what else have I got to lose?”

Epic Adventures Across Aotearoa | Regional News

Epic Adventures Across Aotearoa

Written by: Ray Salisbury

Exisle Publishing

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Starting with Graeme Dingle and Jill Tremain in 1971 as they attempted to traverse the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, aka the Southern Alps, Epic Adventures Across Aotearoa takes readers on an adventure of a lifetime.

Each chapter is its only little story, where the new protagonist(s) dare to push themselves to the limit on adventures that will in some cases take your breath away. Despite all the obstacles, they found a way to keep pushing and overcame hurdles that some (myself included) would find insurmountable. For someone like me who is more of an ‘armchair adventurer’, this book inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and start exploring – although not quite to the extent of what is covered here!

Salisbury’s writing is fantastic and a real standout component of the book. I felt that I was there living each adventure alongside the heroes the author encapsulates. Illustrations and maps make them seem even more alive than they are and bring their journeys to life. Non-fiction writing can be boring, but not Salisbury’s. I was engaged on every page.

My favourite part was chapter four, where mountaineer Richard Ackerley set himself the goal of climbing to the top of Aoraki/Mount Cook before turning 20 – something he achieved. I also especially liked the summary at the end of each chapter as I got a little taste of what became of each adventurer afterwards.

There are no downsides that I can see to this book; it’s well written with great additional visual content that leaps off the page and sucks you in.

As previously mentioned, Epic Adventures Across Aotearoa gave me a little inspiration to see more of my country, and I hope it does the same for you. If you see this on a bookshelf and haven’t explored New Zealand but want to, I seriously encourage you to pick it up.

The Mystery Guest | Regional News

The Mystery Guest

Written by: Nita Prose


Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

The Mystery Guest follows head maid Molly Gray as she tries to keep the edges of sheets crisp and the memory of her nan alive, all while being a murder suspect. 

With a tainted past, the five-star Regency Grand Hotel desperately wants to improve their reputation. The staff are just able to reopen the renovated tearoom in time to host a special event for a bestselling mystery author. On the precipice of his exclusive announcement, the author dies suddenly and all hands point to the maid. After a previous false accusation, the police reluctantly work with Molly to solve the case due to her attention to detail.  

The Mystery Guest follows Molly both as an adult and as her 10-year-old self. The flashbacks provide insight into who Molly is today, and why her job as head maid means so much to her. She is an endearing protagonist who views the world as black and white, struggling to read social cues and always working towards making things right.

As a child, she calls on her imagination and uses her fairytale-like wonder to create a protective shield around her to get through tough experiences. She doesn’t understand that correcting the grammar of other kids won’t gain her any friends, nor why the teachers want to hold her back a grade. But with a close connection to her nan, her imagination, and her passion for cleaning, it doesn’t get her down and she carries on. 

As an adult, she is by the book and for the book, living and quoting the Maid’s Manual she’s working on as she works to solve the crime – whilst also trying to solve the mysteries of those around her and maintain the proper etiquette of a head maid.

The Mystery Guest exists in the realm of cosy crime and is an easy read as the past unfolds the mysteries of the present. Solving the crime is all part of the fun. It’s a great summer read.

Dolly Parton: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life  | Regional News

Dolly Parton: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life 

Written by: Tracey E. W. Laird

Epic Ink

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

“Writing is my first love… it’s my doctor, it’s my therapist… but it also gives a voice to a lot of folks who don’t know how to express it.” – Dolly Parton. 

Dolly Parton has always been a prolific writer. In her five-decade career, she has penned over 3000 songs, with the first written at age five. She easily steps into the shoes of other people and writes with her heart from a place of truth. However, this skill has led to the banning of some of her songs due to conservative views at radio stations. 

Known for a high head of blonde hair, acrylics, and an hourglass figure, Dolly’s look has remained the same as her character. Author Tracey E. W. Laird ensures Dolly’s personality shines through Dolly Parton: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life, making it clear that she has been a hard-working, kind, charismatic, smart businesswoman every step of the way.

Coming from nothing, Dolly grew up as the fourth child of 12 in the Smoky Mountains, a place she is always giving back to. She focuses on her faith and love for all without alienating or passing judgement. Over the years, she has donated generously and founded charities, including Imagination Library, which gives a child one free book a month from birth to kindergarten. 

Dolly will always be full of surprises, whether it’s making a rock album in her seventies, writing a thriller with James Patterson, or sealing an unheard song in a time capsule that can’t be opened until 2045. It is hard to sum up Dolly in snapshots of her career, but Laird does well. The author excels when she writes about the stories behind Dolly’s songs and the feelings they evoke, mixed with what she was wearing when performing, transporting you into the moment with her. This novel is a great introduction to Dolly and serves as an impressive collection of her accomplishments throughout her legendary career. 

The World I Found | Regional News

The World I Found

Written by: Latika Vasil

Black Giraffe Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

A few pages into The World I Found, I was ambivalent about whether I was going to enjoy it, but as it happens, I did.

In what is author Latika Vasil’s first foray into the young adult genre, The World I Found is narrated by 15-year-old Quinn. A seemingly innocuous sea-bound trip in the Spirit of Discovery to Campbell Island for a year, with her scientist mother, screams boredom – one personified by the distinct lack of the sweet trappings of youth: shops, junk food, fellow teens, the internet, and most importantly, her best friend Frankie.

The relative safety of the island soon dissipates when Quinn and Jeroen, the son of her mother’s peer Dr Waslander, are swept overboard as the team, hitching a ride on Greenpeace’s Artic Star, makes its way back to the homeland after communications are lost. Afar, something disturbing is afoot. Both Quinn and Jereon wash up, bruised, sea-beaten, and separated from the others on a remote beach on the mainland they came from, but no longer recognise.

They awake to the haloed face of an equally alone 12-year-old boy, Cal, peering down at them. They are soon confronted with the new normal brought about by the ravages of a deadly virus, one quickly spread with little recovery (sounds all too familiar) that has swept the mainland. Quinn, possessed with a fighting spirit yet calm demeanour, quickly realises she has more grit and tenacity than belies her youth to respond. The trio soon meet Jack and Robyn, kindly old folk living off the land, hunkered down and hoping for normality to return. But there’s something nefarious, cult-like, waiting round the bend...

The World I Found has a simple but steady premise. Of course, now that we are no strangers to pandemics and what they can bring, the novel makes you think about what you might do or become in the same scenario – only this time with a more apocalyptic vibe.

The Being Human Collection | Regional News

The Being Human Collection

Written by: Dr Carrie Hayward

Exisle Publishing

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Being Human might not be the most intriguing of titles for a series of books. However, I found it an enlightening read.

The collection is made up of four short stories in small hard-backed books. It’s written by Dr Carrie Hayward, a Melbourne-based clinical psychologist who specialises in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I had to look this up – it means acknowledging the full range of your thoughts and emotions rather than trying to avoid, deny, or change them.

Each story explores the roller coaster of emotions us humans commonly struggle with. My takeaway was that reading the collection creates the opportunity to sit with those complex feelings and reflect on them.

The four bite-sized books are an easy read about life’s ups and downs. When I first started reading them, I thought they were a little too simple and a bit trite. However, when I took the time to reflect, I realised I’d experienced many of the situations myself or observed them in others.

Flower in the Pocket, about a man struggling with his anger towards a noisy and untidy neighbour, particularly resonated with me because I’d seen it play out. The negative voice in our heads is illustrated in The Unwanted Friend. Our growing disconnect with the world and the people around us, as a consequence of spending time on social media or computer games, is explored in The Dragonfly in the Haze. The Lost Sun looks at the importance of living in line with our values. Some of these stories have stayed with me long after I finished reading them.

Each book concludes with a simple but effective reflection exercise at the end. I liked this practical exercise so much that I’ve used it several times since finishing The Being Human Collection. These books are packaged up in a way that would make a good gift and they would also make for a reflective holiday read.

Life Done Differently | Regional News

Life Done Differently

Written by: Lisa Jansen

High Tide

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

It takes a brave soul to throw in the towel on a predictably routine life and venture into the unknown.

In Life Done Differently: One Woman’s Journey on the Road Less Travelled, author Lisa Jansen shares her unique journey from the moment she chose the ‘vanlife’ to travel the open road as a single, adventure-loving, remote-working woman.

Life Done Differently is a telling memoir filled with curiosity and insight into how a life path, previously undiscovered, can change your view of the world and yourself. Jansen’s jaunt takes her across the breadth of New Zealand – from Ōtaki Beach to the northern side of the Taranaki Pennisula to the wonders of Lake Taupō and beyond – as she meets kindred spirits and connects with communities along the way.

Jansen offers an honest account of her five-year life on the road. It’s not all summer loving, beach bathing, and basking in the discoveries of geographically hidden gems that only a nomad lifestyle can afford. For one thing, travelling the road also means travelling the seasons.

Jansen broke the lulls of her first winter on the road by finding housesitting gigs to avoid some of the things she hadn’t necessarily considered, like sharing a confined space with smelly, damp wetsuits and the moisture that ensues.

Giving up her affectionately named campervan, Josie, when rust issues arose, Jansen returned to Auckland for a winter in 2019, where the threat of being pulled back into a life of normal was palpable. The potential of consumerism and the rat race to swallow her up again was all too real. And so, she returned to life on the road, but a couple of seasons later the world took a turn, which meant navigating a pandemic in her new home on wheels.

Jansen paints a picture of a life less burdened, and how as a virtual marketing freelancer and author, she made her unconventional life on the road work.

If you want to live life differently, then go for it, she says. Equally, if it is a traditional life you’re after, then do that – but always be true to yourself!

On the Record | Regional News

On the Record

Written by: Steven Joyce

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

The magic of the autobiography is that it gives us a peek behind the curtain into the lives of people we look up to or admire. It shows us that, like us, they struggled and had their fair share of troubles before finding success, and that they found a solution after persevering.

Sometimes this inspires us to find ways around our problems and gives us ideas we never thought of.

On the Record is one such book. It chronicles Joyce’s early years, from his beginnings at RadioWorks (now MediaWorks New Zealand) to entering politics and becoming finance minister for the National Party.

While he may not look like the wild type, Joyce’s ride certainly was. He had a hand in many of the rock stations that I grew up listening to. Stations like The Edge and Solid Gold FM (now The Sound), among others, were all his doing.

My favourite story Joyce recalls is when The Edge presenters Jay-Jay Feeney and Brian Reid pranked the late Paul Holmes as he was going live on air. Holmes was stewing for weeks, and all sorts of threats were made before cooler heads prevailed.

Anecdotes like this mean that even if you’re not interested in politics, you will find something in On the Record to get into. But if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Labourite, you might not even give this book a chance.

That would be a shame as it is an insightful look into someone who had an enormous influence in this country not too long ago and rubbed shoulders with some very powerful individuals.

While I did not agree with everything Joyce did while he was in power, I still admire the fact that he went into politics to help other people. Now, whether you voted for him or not, you have to admit there is no reason more noble than that.

Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life  | Regional News

Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life

Written by: Mason Ball


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Written from the unique perspective of his eldest son Mason, Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life is the story of not only how New Zealand got the award-winning cartoon Footrot Flats, but of a man who fought to follow his passions and won.

From his humble beginnings growing up in a small, rural town in Aotearoa, the book follows Ball’s adventures as a would-be All Black, father, and an aspiring cartoonist. Much like many of us, he set goals and had setbacks, but never gave up.

One of his greatest creations was undoubtedly the cartoon strip (and later movie) Footrot Flats. Centred on the adventures of small-town farmer Wal and his trusty dog in outback New Zealand, it showed us that there could be humour in the trivial, and not everything had to be zany to get a laugh.

In reading Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life, one of the biggest surprises – at least for me – was how closely Footrot Flats resembled Ball’s own life. Examples included the farms Ball lived around and his cousin Arthur – the real-life inspiration for Wal himself.

Like all artists, Ball took inspiration from his own life and put it onto a canvas to create something truly special. Sorry if that sounds a bit melodramatic, but that is exactly what he did.

Mason Ball’s writing should also be applauded. While his father’s life was of course non-fiction, I nonetheless found myself swept up in his dad’s adventures, and more than once caught myself chuckling and thinking, ‘I can relate to that’. That is the power of skillful writing, and hopefully, we will see more of that in 2024.

As I mentioned in my Year in Review just before Christmas last year, biographies like these are important because they make us understand that our problems are not unique to us, and that others have faced them before and come out on top.

This is worth looking out for. If you see it, get it.

Gangster’s Paradise | Regional News

Gangster’s Paradise

Written by: Jared Savage


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For decades, gangs have been a huge problem for New Zealand, one made even worse by the discovery of how much money illegal drugs could make them. With the arrival of newer and even more dangerous gangs from across the ditch, it was only a matter of time before the already-tense situation ignited and got out of control.

For many of us, Gangster’s Paradise talks about a problem that only existed when we turned on the six o’clock news. It shows us that far from being the happy-go-lucky country we would all like New Zealand to be, it has an underworld, one that goes toe to toe with the Sopranos any day of the week.

Jared Savage’s writing cuts right to the chase and tells us exactly how bad the gang problem in this country really is. I love how nothing is sugar-coated as readers are treated to the no-holds-barred truth of a reality that a lot of us are ignorant of. At the same time, Savage never casts the figures in the book in overly dark tones, instead writing them as people who have made mistakes – but who are still people nonetheless.

My favourite moments? Whenever the police triumphed and caught the bad guys (I love the classic hero arc). I have to say that while our boys in blue may take a bit of flak from time to time, I admit coming away with a newfound appreciation for them.

There really is nothing I can fault here. Despite the intense subject material, I found the book both easy to read and enjoyable. Those who enjoy nonfiction mixed with a good crime caper will find themselves warming to Gangster’s Paradise. If you see it in store, I can’t recommend it enough.

For those who think little New Zealand cannot have anywhere near the gang problem that larger countries like America have, this will be a major wake-up call, and a thrilling read at that.

The Air Raid Book Club | Regional News

The Air Raid Book Club

Written by: Annie Lyons

William Morrow & Company

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

This heart-warming novel was a surprise hit for me. Annie Lyons wasn’t an author I’d read before, although I’m enjoying the current crop of books about the Second World War told from female viewpoints. The Air Raid Book Club is the perfect novel for booklovers like me and you, particularly fans of the 19th-century classics with the odd nod to the golden age of detective fiction.

The book revolves around Bingham Books – a shop set up in London in the 1930s by our hero Gertie Bingham and her husband Harry. But Harry has died and Gertie is left bereft and grieving. Life no longer holds the joy and sense of purpose it did for Gertie. She is drifting and so considers selling up the bookshop and retiring.

That is until her friend Charles asks her to take in a child refugee from a desperate Jewish family living in Germany. Despite a tough start, headstrong teenager Hedy gives Gertie a reason to keep going. They bond over the Brontë sisters and start an air raid book club to keep their neighbours’ spirits up during the Blitz.

As the bombs fall, the neighbours huddle in the bookshop’s air raid shelter and connect over Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and A Christmas Carol. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite books of all time, so I think Gertie has great taste! These connections over much-loved novels lead to deepening friendships that help Gertie and her neighbours get through the war and the tough times ahead for them all. They support each other through the highs and lows, celebrate signs of romance, and are there for Hedy as she awaits news of her family back in Germany and desperately seeks to be reunited with them one day.

This book was charming and reminded me of all the classics I have loved. It has inspired me to reread some of my favourites again, including Little Women. I guarantee you’ll enjoy The Air Raid Book Club and it would make a good gift to give to a book-loving friend.

Root Leaf Flower Fruit | Regional News

Root Leaf Flower Fruit

Written by: Bill Nelson

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Subtitled A Verse Novel, this creative work suggests both forms. If you think ‘verse’ means rhyme, you’ll be disappointed. That said, there is rhythm and imagery aplenty. If you imagine ‘novel’ (a fictitious prose narrative of book length), you’ll be closer to the mark.

At over 100 pages and consisting of a story with a bit of a plot, albeit rambling, Root Leaf Flower Fruit relates a grandson’s experience of his grandmother’s physical and mental deterioration, a chilling parallel of his own. “Designed to look like an accident. / But no memory of what happened. / I might as well be someone else.” is how he describes a head injury due to a fall off his bike in the opening section Root. There are roots throughout, plus trees, mud, and paddocks: images that reflect and magnify the writer’s preoccupation with land as it used to be.

Inevitable change is foreshadowed. Our writer is studying how science can help predict climate change, but all is interrupted by his grandmother’s subsequent stroke and the decision to sell her farm. It must be tidied up first, however, and our man is landed with the job.

The second section Leaf recounts the discovery of his grandmother’s diaries – and that they are, intriguingly, written in the third person. From here, the narrative gathers pace, as efforts to clear the property, clean the house, and rid it of what can be judged rubbish alternate with accounts from the diaries – redolent with descriptions of farm life, experiences with WWOOFers, and some recalling scenes more troubling.

“The first viewing is a regional manager at Landcorp.” The penultimate section Flower sets the scene for what, inevitably, follows. “I pack everything into boxes and call the Salvation Army”. The language of auctions fills the air: bidding, reserve, last chance. The gavel falls – on a sale, and the end of an era.

Fruit, a lengthy interior monologue, recalling Grandmother’s life and her farewell to it, concludes a chronicle of joy, duty, necessity, and lament.

Secrets of the Land | Regional News

Secrets of the Land

Written by: Kate Mahony

Cloud Ink Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Kate Mahony’s Secrets of the Land is a classic Kiwi small town mystery novel. Cows are being kidnapped, hedges are being burnt, and a farmer is receiving threatening letters. Across the sea in Melbourne, our protagonist Imogen Maguire is approached by a stranger in an oversized jacket who claims that her grandfather is in trouble. The only problem? She thought her grandfather was dead.

Imogen visits Taranaki to investigate, setting off a chain of events that weave together past, present, and the supernatural to show that in New Zealand, we are never far away from the colonial past.

I loved the concept of this story but felt that some areas could have been improved as the pacing was inconsistent and several of the characters were unpleasant. One central plotline is that of the Irish lad Michael Flynn, who travels to Taranaki in 1864. I understand that in historical fiction characters will have period-accurate opinions, but it was still jarring to see Michael, who had been sympathetic for the first part of his story, talking about “dirty natives” and invading Māori pā. Michael realises the injustice of the New Zealand Wars but dies before he can act on this. As a ghost in the present, he tries to help but ultimately doesn’t solve much as the pā his troop invaded, and the subsequent Māori burial site, is discovered by accident by farm labourers. I believe if Michael had led the land’s current owners to this site, his redemption arc would have felt more satisfying.

However, I was impressed with the level of research Mahony put into the story. Several lines, including Michael’s “their potatoes, and fish, and children”, were taken directly from historical accounts. The past influenced and haunted the present in a way that deliberately drew attention to some more unpleasant parts of New Zealand’s history. While the novel was not for me, I appreciated its message and agree that we should all learn more about colonialism.

Stoic At Work | Regional News

Stoic At Work

Written by: Annie Lawson

Murdoch Books

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Being social is one of the reasons the human being has risen through the ranks to become (for better or worse) the number one animal on planet Earth. But it is also why there are so many jokes about why we hate Mondays. Because while we are very social and love each other’s company, we sometimes get on each other’s nerves as well.

Over 2000 years ago, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius knew this and wrote Meditations, a book centred around the philosophy of Stoicism: the idea that we cannot control someone else’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, so why bother.

What a wonderful idea, and what a wonderful book Stoic at Work: Ancient Wisdom to Make Your Job a Bit Less Annoying is. The clever writing, super short chapters, and little illustrations by Oslo Davis come together to really make this a wonderful read. Each chapter is just a few pages long, but still manages to impart little nuggets of wisdom from back then that are still relevant today.

One of its biggest strengths is that it’s so relatable. We have all had a hard day at work, suffered through that annoying colleague’s watercooler rant, worked under that overbearing boss. The book succeeds because it’s essentially everyone’s life – at least everyone who has ever worked.

One of my favourite chapters is Don’t Shag The Boss (definitely words to live by), followed by Win Lotto and Resign Well. While funny, there is a ring of truth to each of these rules.

The only downside is that the length of Stoic at Work might make some people think it’s a book for children. I assure you it is absolutely not. It’s well written, humorous, and the accompanying pictures make it a joy to read.

If you see this, pick it up and keep it in your back pocket in case you find yourself in a sticky situation with a pesky colleague or, God forbid, your supervisor. It might just save your job or make your life that little bit easier.

Hoof | Regional News


Written by: Kerrin P. Sharpe

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Hoof is my favourite book I have reviewed for Regional News so far, yet also the book I understood the least. Kerrin P. Sharpe’s latest poetry collection features an eclectic mix of horses, celebrities, and small villages, tied together by beautiful writing throughout. The poetry is evocative in its descriptions and careful in its word choice, full of sentence fragments blending into each other and attention paid to small details. The metaphors and references left me lost several times and I relied upon the Notes section at the end for further explanations, but I liked the writing style so much I didn’t mind. It is how I would like to write if I were a poet!

The book is divided into three sections, each one introduced by a poem about a train that sets the tone as we travel through the chapter that follows. The first features nature and family, the second weddings and famous people, and the third colder climes like Russia, Greenland, and Antarctica.

Several of the poems in the collection have won or been commended for awards, with the ways of rain and te hau o te atua | the breath of heaven being personal favourites. It is easy to see why Sharpe is as widely published as she is.

Voice is given to those usually voiceless: workhorses, trees, and even wind turbines watching over a cemetery. There is a tone of environmentalism in several poems, with still describing deforestation and from letters to Johanna referencing oil spills and global warming. Reverence and respect are demanded for the world and all its inhabitants. The reader also learns about New Zealand’s history of Antarctic exploration. The final poems drop names of explorers, their dogs, and the places they visited like Osman the Great drops off the Terra Nova – a reference you will get if you read the book.

My main takeaway, however, was Sharpe’s way of using brief and specific detail to paint a picture of her world.

End Times | Regional News

End Times

Written by: Rebecca Priestley

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

End Times explores the recurring dread of the end of the world. It flips between New Zealand in the 80s and the early 2020s (set post-COVID, but pre-Cyclone Gabrielle).

End Times follows teenage girls Rebecca and Maz as they try to cope with knowing that the future is uncertain. With an uproar of political unrest, the friends find themselves in the punk scene during the Springbok Tour, the nuclear age, and the Homosexual Law Reform Act. However, they leave their punk youth behind as they step through the church door, rebelling the only way they could against their feminist mothers. This time is reflective as they test out “lukewarm Christianity” and explore the need to anchor themselves in something.

Nowadays, Maz is an engineer and Rebecca a science historian. Rebecca is worried about global warming and it’s all she can think about. The book is interspersed with facts about climate change, which are interesting at first. They provide insight into what damage can be done even with renewable energy and the risks we currently face, especially in New Zealand. There’s huge value in knowing the history of the land, what can happen to Earth, and the current state of things. However, the facts quickly become heavy-handed. Imbuing a personal storyline with journalistic intent and switching between the two can be jarring and narratively confusing.

Rebecca tries to find ties to the land, to the country, to the future. She tracks down her maternal family history while she also interviews locals about COVID and climate change. She wonders, when was the best time for humans? Back then, we knew our children would have brighter futures even if our own lives were difficult. Now that we have access to more information, we have better lives but must face the uncomfortable fact that the next generation will not.

End Times is a great resource and Rebecca Priestley has incredible insight into climate change and how it can impact us, but it does build anxiety without providing much hope or many solutions.

Living Big in a Tiny House | Regional News

Living Big in a Tiny House

Written by: Bryce Langston

Potton & Burton

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Bryce Langston has travelled Aotearoa and the world to see just how big you can live when living tiny. He documents the many tiny houses he has explored, including those he has lived in with his partner. In Living Big in a Tiny House, each home is a unique expression of choosing to live differently, and it’s interesting to learn about them and their owners with Langston’s insights peppered in along the way.

Whether it is off grid, perched at the back of someone’s yard, nestled in a forest, or hidden from curious eyes, the tiny homes featured all look glorious.

Living Big in a Tiny House is eye-opening. Some of the houses are so intricate, featuring outstanding design elements and extraordinary ways of using space.

Langston describes a World War II-era carriage converted into a tiny house cabin in Colorado, USA as quirky and filled with recycled goodies. By recycled goodies, he means the gorgeous bottle wall, backlit by LED lighting and made up of antique airline mini-bar bottles from the 1950s and 60s. It’s stunning for its rustic charm alone, and more so considering its history and beginnings. With a high roof, glass ceilings, and scalloped mermaid tiles in the bathroom, it’s a beautiful montage of history blending with contemporary art. It’s a stark contrast to the tiny home Serenity, which is equally fabulous but on the larger side of tiny: light, airy, and spacious. Langston describes it as having a Hampton-style aesthetic.

One tiny house occupant has made a home away from home in shipping container bliss, nestled away in a forest high in the Coromandel Ranges. It’s a modern, industrial-looking, off-grid sanctuary.

There are certainly considerations to make when living tiny: the functionality of space, being intentional about the material possessions you need, and ultimately, whether tiny house living is actually for you.

I really enjoyed this book – and dreaming about my own tiny house should I ever become a minimalist, where I could live a little less ordinary with a lot less stuff.

The China Tightrope | Regional News

The China Tightrope

Written by: Sam Sachdeva

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

“Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” A quote originally attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte has now taken on greater meaning in 2023.

Starting in 1972 when the New Zealand Government and the China Communist Party (CCP) formally opened diplomatic ties, our country has had to increasingly step carefully between extracting the best possible outcomes from this relationship without incurring the wrath of an increasingly powerful entity.

A curious glance at some news stories might give you a rather jaded view of China and how it interacts with the world at large. However, nothing is ever that simple, and in fact, there are some historical reasons that help to explain what’s happening here.

For me, the most interesting part of Sam Sachdeva’s The China Tightrope was finding out about China’s ‘century of shame’, a period in their history where they felt they were at the mercy of much larger countries. That so-called shame may play a pivotal role in the country’s modern-day mindset – the idea that they will no longer take a back seat to anyone.

Sachdeva’s background in journalism shines through. He does not take sides, nor is he pointing fingers, and there are no villains. Instead, The China Tightrope gives readers the facts, letting them know there’s more to this relationship than what we are told.

As China gains more power and comes into more conflict with others as a result of that power, a better understanding of the country and its government is essential. Think of this book as a brief field guide on the relationship that China and New Zealand enjoy in the 21st century.

If you see it, I implore you to pick it up. While our relationship politics are anything but simple, The China Tightrope is a surprisingly quick and easy read that will give you a much better understanding of this new world we find ourselves in. Essential reading.

Middle Youth | Regional News

Middle Youth

Written by: Morgan Bach

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Reading Middle Youth by Morgan Bach has me wondering at the life experiences of a poet concerned with, yet bleakly cynical about, the fate of Earth and all upon it. My wondering is probably naïve: Bach’s views as expressed here are backed by sad facts we are being forced to face.

My reading, therefore, is accompanied by head shakes of reluctant agreement. As always, recognition of a personal kind strikes a chord. Moderate Fantasy Threat is an example. “Sifting my skin through the millions of men / afloat in the city” she writes in a poem referencing London. She is “prostrated at the altar of boredom” as “sex has become / an administrative task”. A movie of her life, she says, would receive the same rating as the title of this poem.

Date line also recalls London, and it’s a bleak recall. The city features Dreadnought Walk, sexual assaults in a Wapping alleyway and at Canary Wharf. World weariness has become a theme. “Another date, another line / You found yourself crossing / You walk through churches you don’t believe in / with your body / you don’t believe in.” I’m feeling for the writer, whether she intends it or not.

It’s no surprise then to read cosmos, a lengthy five-part poem, and find the writer has been reading theories about the universe’s end. “In Iceland, people have gathered / to watch fire pouring from a fissure”. Such stark imagery is all the more striking because it’s rooted in reality. And I cheer when the sometimes-obscure nature of the imagery that characterises this collection is relieved by this quote: “We know our luck / is borrowed / from our future selves”.

Yet more stark is the eponymous Middle Youth, in which our writer, almost 40, feels “I can never say to my friends with newborns / I am afraid”.

Morgan Bach does us a huge service with this frank expression of her vision. We need more of such unvarnished truth-telling.

Game On: Glitched  | Regional News

Game On: Glitched

Written by: Emily Snape

EK Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

On the back cover of Game On: Glitched, author Emily Snape says she finds lots of inspiration for her books from her three children. It certainly shows. Their influence is apparent in the absurdity of some of the storylines, like solving riddles while painstakingly dodging woolly mammoths and other fabulously out-there scenarios that will pique a child’s interest and appeal to their youthful humour. In Glitched, Snape continues her winning formula from the first book in the Game On series, Shrinkle.

Finding a discarded phone in the recycling bin might be a bonus to most kids, but for brothers Liam and Max, when it comes from the recycling bin of their blue-haired eccentric neighbour and suspected ex-CIA employee, Ms McBoob, then it has the potential to lead them into all sorts of trouble... as they soon find out.

The fun begins when they discover a mysterious app, appropriately named Glitched. Like a red rag to a bull, the time-travelling app – which will see the boys unceremoniously thrown into a world of different time periods where dangers are rife – is too hard to resist.

The app levels (chapters) get more and more adsurd as they are thrust into competing time periods of the Middle Ages, walking amongst the Romans, deciphering Latin, and hoping not to have to use latrinas or have their heads bitten off by a ravenous Neovenator (a genus of carcharodontosaurian theropod dinosaur, according to Wikipedia). Solving riddles will be the brothers’ only redemption and finding a way out will be fraught with all manner of icky things.

It’s the history lesson the boys never knew they needed, and a nail-biting race against the clock to get back home before their phone battery dies. Game On: Glitched is action-packed and not for the faint-hearted.

The 10-year-old critic of the house was most impressed, especially with two brothers going rogue, where landing in a Roman arena at the mercy of wild boars is just one of the many terrifying feats to escape.

Signs of Life | Regional News

Signs of Life

Written by: Amy Head

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Signs of Life is a short but impactful modern novel that dips into the lives of inhabitants of Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Our protagonist Flick leaves university for a job that seems to be going nowhere while her ‘mostly ex’ is thriving. Her mother Louise has been successful financially but struggles to connect with the rest of her family. Tony is declared dead and has to go through a complex administration process to prove he is standing right there in Work and Income. It is essentially a series of observant character portraits that are frank and realistic but steer clear of unnecessary trauma baiting in the face of disaster.

The book is summed up best by its final line from Amy Head’s acknowledgements. She recognises the people in Ōtautahi Christchurch “who overcame so much simply to continue with their lives”. For all the setbacks the characters experience, they come out exactly where they were before. Flick quits her studies at the beginning and in the final chapter is only starting to consider returning. This means there isn’t much of a traditional narrative arc or character development, so for fans of tightly plotted, exciting mystery novels, this may not be the story for you. But for the refreshing experience of seeing fictional people living not as parts of a plot but like you and those around you, through events that New Zealanders have been affected by, I highly recommend giving this a read.

Flick describes a poster that hangs on her wall at work of artist Yves Klein leaping from a building: “She liked the image because it arrested her. To avoid seeing a sprawl of fractured limbs on the concrete below, she had to remain suspended in that moment, in the air with him.” To read this book is to remain suspended in so many little moments, those that are life-changing and those that represent an average Tuesday, and understand that they are all part of what makes us human.

Rangikura | Regional News


Written by: Tayi Tibble

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Tayi Tibble’s strong narrative voice explodes from the page right from the beginning of Rangikura. This is Tibble’s second book of poetry, her first being the award-winning Poūkahangatus, and having read reviews of both I have yet to see anyone unimpressed by her poetic prowess. On the surface level, Rangikura covers topics like womanhood, mythology, relationships, and pop culture. Looking deeper, it is a window into a worldview.

Reading the poems, you see the world through the eyes of a girl pursuing “an endless summer” (according to the blurb), growing up deeply connected to her ancestors but navigating the social politics and temptations of the modern world. In Hine-nui-te-pō and Te Araroa, Tibble explores the unique relationships a girl has with her mother, with lines like “reconciling what it means to be her daughter” and “I’m air just like my mother”. Lil Mermaidz and Takakino cover close female friendships, girls who swim together as “Tangaroa’s daughters” and girls who make a blood pact together in a gutter. The 17-part Little explores the emotional complexity of a relationship with an older man.

Kehua / I used to want to be the bait that caught Te Ika was a standout poem for me, blending Māori mythology and the Chinese zodiac as the young narrator tries to have fun and find some agency for herself by pulling over men in the suburbs. “Full of confidence and concoctions”, she walks around the streets with friends, enjoying the chase yet ultimately learning “I don’t have to kill a rabbit to know it has a heart”.

The collection is not perfect – some of the early poems feel overly similar to each other, and I would have liked to have been more surprised by unusual turns of phrase or wordplay. For readers unfamiliar with Māori culture, it might require a bit of Googling. But ultimately, it is well worth the read. For a masterclass in strength, tone, and blending the ancient with the modern, you can look no further than Rangikura.

Wavewalker: Breaking Free   | Regional News

Wavewalker: Breaking Free  

Written by: Suzanne Heywood


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

While most people daydream about sailing off into the great unknown, few of us go out and actually do it. In 1976 at just seven years old, Suzanne Heywood along with her parents and younger brother did just that, living an existence few of us could imagine. Wavewalker: Breaking Free is the story of how a journey following one of Captain Cook’s routes to the other side of the world turned into a decade-long struggle – sometimes a life-threatening one.

As a child, Suzanne was wedged between her father’s “benevolent dictatorship”, as he called it, and what she wanted. More times than not, she found herself at the mercy of his whims and was forced to put aside her own growing ambitions. As time went on, Suzanne became lonelier and more isolated, yearning to be just like any other person her age. Finally, at 17, she broke free and began studying at Oxford University in England.

While life at sea had its hazards and pitfalls, there were lighthearted moments as well – like a supposed-marriage gift of a chicken from a would-be suiter, or her mother’s brief but rather cringey sex talk. Heywood’s writing captures her adventures perfectly and made me feel as if I was there, sailing along with her. 

After finishing the book, I was left with so many questions. Why did her father decide to undertake such a perilous journey with two small children in tow? Why did a trip that was meant to last three years go on for 10? For me that is the mark of a good book, because it left me wanting more and stayed with me long after I finished reading. Wavewalker: Breaking Free shows that even in the strangest conditions you might find yourself in, there is still a way to move forward and achieve your goals.  

I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who has ever daydreamed about having adventures on the high seas.

Liveability | Regional News


Written by: Claire Orchard

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The word ‘sustainability’, with its myriad connotations, was the mantra for the Helen Clark years. ‘Relatability’ has come into fashion recently. And now we have ‘liveability’ – as interpreted by poet Claire Orchard. I’m not a fan of one-word titles, but this one – Liveability – offers the writer an opportunity to exploit the term to the full in the interests of poetic recollection.

For a bunch of recollections it largely is. There are worse things recalls “Christmas day in a four berth caravan”, Uncle Jim and his record player, Grease and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Then we have Summers were longer then with “the warm, rough concrete / of the netball court / rising up to kiss me hard”. Nostalgia pervades other poems in the form of car aerials, skivvies, long drops, tree houses, and derelict one-room schoolhouses. I was particularly touched by Where duty lies with its celebration of a Sunday school award for “punctual attendance and good behaviour”. Ah, those were the days.

The physical aspects of liveability emerge in later poems. December describes a longing for Vancouver, despite or perhaps because of the cold. Railway hotel comfort and nostalgia is wistfully recollected in Heartland – there’s an original kauri staircase and double-hung windows. And the book’s cover is surely referenced in Room, where we are given cause to envy fine furnishings and careful lighting.

Results sorted by relevance is an exercise in the academic and the esoteric. It’s composed from selected titles held by Massey University’s library, confesses the poet. Is this what a writer resorts to when desperate for a subject to inspire? Orchard is certainly stretching her theme here.

All is forgiven by the two poems I liked best. After the wistfulness that characterises much of this collection, we get a welcome modern woman’s complaint about the man in her life. You could sell your lyrics will make some of us sigh with recognition at the final line: “You might get out of here alive. You can drive the getaway car.” And Chipping away since 1893 says it all.

The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle | Regional News

The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle

Written by: Jessica Jayne Webb

Pegasus Publishers

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle by Jessica Jayne Webb is a fantastical tale where nothing is quite what it seems.

Agatha Wilderfort’s world implodes with the sudden death of her aunt and subsequent inheritance of the looming, mysterious, and dilapidated Wilderfort Castle, where she instantly becomes lady of the house, master of the castle, and at first, most unwittingly, the knower of nothing.

Quite unprepared for the change – from being the hired help to the one responsible for hiring – Agatha hires several workmen and an assistant, all previous employees of her aunt. They soon become her allies in a world that gets more bizarre by the minute; one driven by immortals, daemons, and beings possessing special powers. She is immediately drawn to Charles, sensing a deep connection, and an all-encompassing desire to be together ensues.

Riled by the haughty arrival of Lord Caspian at her door, Agatha is at first repelled by his aura – he has seemingly (but quite impossibly) been a thorn in the side of many generations of Wilderforts before her. His mere presence alone threatens her inheritance, and soon her life, as Wilderfort Castle slowly but surely gives up its secrets of another world.

As I read The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle, I found myself wanting to re-write quite a few sentences in my head. Mostly because of the author’s tendency to describe what might have easily been understood by inference. For me this was a little distracting, as was the occasional jump in tense. Despite this, Jessica Jayne Webb developed her characters well, giving each one unique characteristics and special powers. They lend the entertainment and suspense crucial to bringing this hidden world and fight for survival to life.

Filled with gripping characters that are a little more interesting than your standard fare, often common in fantasy novels, The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle has enough mystery and suspense to be a wondrous read. Not to be a killjoy here, but the ending is not tied up in a neat bow, shall we say. I’m hoping there is a book two lined up.

Guy Wilson Creating Golf Excellence: The Genesis of Lydia Ko & More Stars | Regional News

Guy Wilson Creating Golf Excellence: The Genesis of Lydia Ko & More Stars

Written by: Bruce Miller

Bruce Miller and Team Golfwell

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Lydia Ko will go down in history as one of South Korea and New Zealand’s (let’s share her) greatest golfers. But as the saying goes, a person is only as great as the people behind them – the ones who believe in them and put in the hard work to see that belief turned into reality.

In the beginning, those ‘people’ had one name: Guy Wilson. For those unfamiliar with Guy, he was the man who took Lydia under his wing and coached her when, as a five-year-old, she accompanied her mother to the Pupuke Golf Club. While they got off to a shaky start (Lydia did not know much English or about golf), it was not long before Guy was building up her confidence and fostering her love of the sport.

With a foreword by former Prime Minister Sir John Key, an avid golfer himself (and one who scored a hole in one for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2022), Guy Wilson Creating Golf Excellence is essentially an analysis of what makes sportspeople like Lydia such a pro, and what steps she took earlier in her career. Bruce Miller interviews several greats in the golfing world and through them we find out that golf is more than just hitting a little white ball into a hole. Instead, we discover it is part-physical, part-mental, and requires a huge amount of commitment from the player and their coaching staff.

The author’s writing is clear, simple, and a pleasure to read. The only downside is that, unless you are familiar with the sport, some of the terminology may pass over your head. It’s not a big negative and I still enjoyed the read, but it might be something to consider. However, if you love golf, want to get into it, are after some tips to improve your game, or want to learn more about Lydia and Guy’s early process, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Saga | Regional News


Written by: Hannah Mettner

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

If the cover of this book is anything to go by, the poems therein will be puzzling and require more than a second look. So far, so mysterious.

Hannah Mettner introduces herself in her first poem, which is titled after the book and refers to “a long and winding story that neither starts at the beginning nor finishes at the end”. That neatly captures the definition of saga: a story of heroic achievement, especially in Old Norse or Icelandic. Indeed, Mettner’s Scandinavian roots predominate in a sometimes curious, sometimes quizzical, and often humorous fashion.

I don’t usually have much patience with long poems, but Birth Control had me from the start. Its preface references the so-called virgin birth of an anaconda, and here’s our writer visiting the Vatican and worrying about “the small T-shaped thing” inside her as she “walks through the metal detectors and bag check”. Chilling. The rest of the poem is hardly a celebration of women and their ability/duty to bear children, but it’s horrifyingly accurate. “If men can’t explain a thing, they call it witchcraft and destroy it.”

Breakup poem at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki is a delightfully wry reflection on ending a relationship. Backgrounded by Gretchen Albrecht’s and Frida Kahlo’s paintings, our poet can’t contemplate the Frida and Diego kind of love, and comments “This is a high stakes way to break up – being psycho- / analysed via text in a terracotta-red room / with a thousand painted old people looking down on me / from their gold frames.”

I find myself glorying in Butch era, in which Mettner describes herself thus: “One perfect pair of new trousers / and suddenly I’m in charge.” She flirts with the bartender, cats and women flock to her, and her phone autocorrects ‘butch’ to ‘b*tch’, but she don’t care.

Poem while watching the world burn demands my attention even though I wish it didn’t. It’s realistic, frank, and saddeningly prophetic.

This poet has important things to say, and she says them remarkably well – it’s a sagacious accomplishment.

Audition | Regional News


Written by: Pip Adam

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

“We have measured our days by the sun, and now there is no sun.” 

What does society do when people take up too much room? What do we do with their violence? How do we treat what we cannot explain? Pip Adam strives to figure out these questions in her latest novel Audition. Audition is part-science fiction and part-social realism, flipping between the past and the present. 

Alba, Stanley, and Drew became too big of a problem. Like everyone else who grew too big (literally) to control, they are sent to space. Audition begins with the three characters on the spaceship, unsure if they’re all one being as they try to think their own thoughts and remember anything. The lack of memory and individualism is gripping, but the author lingers too long in the grey areas and the introduction loses its impact. 

When we’re swung out of the spaceship and back into the past on Earth, new life is breathed into the work. Crashing back down to reality reveals shocking truths and evokes that familiar feeling of dread we get when science fiction hits a little too close to home. Is this how society could end up? We see Alba’s past and her connection with both Stanley and Drew, and how they came to be in space. We see the impacts of hate and violence. Fear turned to anger, submission, and the desire for invisibility. 

The dream-like, sedated states of the giants shows the impact of power in the wrong hands. I’m still not sure how the space exploration ties in or what it means, and the end of the novel does little to clarify things. But as the wool is pulled off over our eyes, as layers of time reveal why each character ended up in this position, it’s clear there aren’t obvious answers to the questions Adam is posing. Audition makes you think outside of the box. You’ll question how crimes are dealt with, and how we value the lives of others.

Nanny Jo and the Wild Mokopuna | Regional News

Nanny Jo and the Wild Mokopuna

Written by: Moira Wairama

Baggage Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Nanny Jo and the Wild Mokopuna | Nani Jo me Ngā Mokopuna Porohīanga is a poignant tale: one of sadness, celebration, and whānau. Local author Moira Wairama incorporates traditional oral storytelling into her children’s book, which sees Nanny Jo gently weave the significance of Matariki into her mokopuna’s lives by sharing the story of the great fisherman Taramainuku and Te Waka o Rangi.

“Each night Taramainuku sails his canoe Te Waka o Rangi across the sky”, Nanny Jo says. “It’s hard to see his waka in the darkness, however if you find the right stars you will know where it is. Look for the stars of Matariki as they are at the prow of the waka. Look for the stars of Tautoru, as they are at the stern of the waka.”

As Taramainuku sails Te Waka o Rangi across the sky, he drops a great net down to the Earth; the spirits of those who have recently died are invited to climb into his net. For a while, the stars of Matariki and Taramainuku’s waka disappear, but one winter morning the stars reappear, guiding Te Waka o Rangi back into the sky. Taramainuku flings his net high into the sky and the spirits who have travelled with him become free. Some become stars, some return to Hawaiki, and some journey towards the great unknown.

“This can be a sad time, but also a time to celebrate as the return of Matariki and Te Waka o Rangi marks the beginning of the Māori New Year,” Nanny Jo explains.

Nanny Jo tells the story to comfort her mokopuna when she dies. I am reminded of the village it takes to raise a child as Nanny Jo’s whānau cloak her and her mokopuna in their care – taking the children to the park, the river, the bush as she becomes more weary.

Margaret Tolland perfectly conveys a sense of connection and belonging through her illustrations. The ‘wild’ mokopuna seem just that: free, adventuresome, and spirited.

Nanny Jo and the Wild Mokopuna is a moving dedication to Joanna Huriwai and to all the women who battle breast cancer.

Second Chances | Regional News

Second Chances

Written by: Hayley Holt


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

From the outside looking in, Hayley Holt has it all: a beautiful woman with a successful career and a loving family behind her. But not everything was as it seemed. Growing up, she danced (eventually becoming a champion), took up snowboarding, acted (in Barbie commercials), and even had her own horse, which she paid for with her those aforementioned acting gigs.

While it all must have been great at the time, it was a strain that took its toll. She grew up thinking she had to be the perfect one, the one that her parents never had to worry about. Second Chances is a peek behind the curtain into the life of someone we read about, but don’t really know. Hayley’s book is a fascinating read, and one that hits hard.

I found her writing genuine and down to earth, and I related to some of what she went through. We all put on masks for other people in order to fit in, which I think is somewhat of a rite of passage growing up. My heart really went out to her, and there were times that I had to put the book down and take a breather before tackling it again because it was so sad. It’s not a big book by any means, but it packs an emotional punch all the same.

While Hayley’s been in the papers and the public have been privy to some of the goings-on in her life, up until now they have never known the full story. Second Chances gives us all the details as told in her own words in her own way.

While I have never considered myself ‘gossipy’, I have to admit to enjoying myself and would happily recommend this to anyone who wants to pick it up at the local bookstore. I guarantee it’s a book that will make you nod your head in agreement, while maybe making you appreciate your own life a bit more.

Game On: Shrinkle | Regional News

Game On: Shrinkle

Written by: Emily Snape

EK Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

“Sprinkle, snickle, shinkle, spinkle…” My son and I sure had fun with the name of this book, Shrinkle, when it escaped me while we were out travelling in the car.

I wondered what he had thought of Game On: Shrinkle, despite being witness to his obvious enjoyment when reading it both together and alone. Here’s what he had to say: “It was awesome, great, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen in Level 9.” Yes, there are no chapters, only levels in this gaming saga written and illustrated by Emily Snape.

It’s always a good sign when a child is ensconced on the couch reading the book that has just arrived in the post.

Game On: Shrinkle is just the kind of adventure that appeals to your average 10-year-old, with shrinking brothers, a maniac cat, a hungry spider, a babysitter named Ms McBoob no less, and the fail-proof addition of winning poo humour.

Shrunk by a mysterious app named Shrinkle on Ms McBoob’s phone, brothers Liam and Max are thrown into a world of tiny, where scaling rubbish bins and outsmarting a frenzied cat are no easy feats. The cat is a leering taskmaster delivering its riddles and rhymes: “Now my little players, I want you to find: What can’t be used until it’s broken.”

There’s some weird facts thrown in for good measure too, like insects on eyelashes and powdered Roman toothpaste made from mouse brains. Again, totally enthralling to a young audience.

The brothers – once adversaries, now turned collaborators – have leveled up, ready to tackle the heights of grubby rubbish bins, climbing frames within the fridge, and the unavoidable dangers of their baby sister Clio, an unwittingly wobbly threat to tiny people who is now more giant than baby, to solve the riddles and get through the levels.

Game On: Shrinkle is lots of fun, fast paced, simple, and chaotic. This zany adventure will not disappoint.

As the Trees Have Grown | Regional News

As the Trees Have Grown

Written by: Stephanie de Montalk

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Tastefulness, mystery, and a celebration of nature characterise this poetry collection and are aptly heralded by its cover: full grown blossoms amongst dark tree foliage, a bright-coloured bird nestling, and a mysterious figure just discernible in the background.

De Montalk is clearly captivated by trees and birds. Descriptions of both are deeply rooted in her poems and fly about in them as reassuring images. Indeed, the need for reassurance is a theme – our poet is seeking solace for her own critical life-changing condition. Fixed wing has as its central metaphor a medical evacuation flight during which the plane’s trajectory embodies and reflects the physical condition of the passengers.

As the Trees Have Grown suggests a simplicity of content perhaps, but the language and some of the references are another matter. Referring to the end notes will be essential for most readers. That said, I recognised with delight the title Amor Fati (the love or embrace of fate), which is the central tenet of the stoic philosophers. The poet recalls the story of a brown trout, said to be the pet of a train driver, and which travels – haplessly – towards a possibly unwelcome destination with its owner. You can’t get much more esoteric than that!

There’s a return to the creatures de Montalk loves and celebrates in In Passing, where we read about mountain hares, Siberian tigers, and frugivorous (you see what I mean about language) bats. Plus a kererū “Hefty, red-eyed, / shuffling along a branch, / stretching its rainbow neck”. And in After the rains broke there’s plenty of weather: “Creeks stalked the undergrowth” and “campers stowed / biddable awnings / and multi-roomed tents”.

The final poem, Sleave of care, is a lengthy hymn of celebration and thankfulness to trees. Esoteric again, the ‘sleave’ of the title originates in Shakespeare’s Macbeth with its reference to the balm of sleep. Amongst catkins and camelias, elms and spruces and oaks, the writer’s preoccupation with nature and its calm and reassurance prevails.

Meredith Alone | Regional News

Meredith Alone

Written by: Claire Alexander

Penguin Books

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

This a charming book with a sweet main character who you’ll want to triumph and be happy by conquering her fears. It’s also desperately sad in places.

Meredith hasn’t left her house in three years after having a panic attack one day as she got ready for work. There are deeper reasons though for Meredith staying within the safety of her four walls, and these are gradually revealed as the plot gently unfolds. We start to understand how Meredith became a recluse as we get glimpses of a tough childhood, a self-absorbed mother, and a strong older sister who was Meredith’s biggest supporter – until she wasn’t.

We are also welcomed into the life she shares with her beloved rescue cat Fred and old school friend Sadie. A life where time goes slowly and is dedicated to working remotely as a writer, baking, jigsaw puzzles, and exercising by running up and down the stairs.

While the plot takes its time, it definitely pulls the reader in and ratchets up the tension and Meredith’s inner conflict at times, as she experiences panic attacks and deep-seated anxiety triggered by a traumatic experience.

It’s the characters that ultimately make this a book you want to keep reading and remember long after you’ve read the final page. All of the key characters are well rounded, and all have their challenges – some aren’t even very likeable. Meredith is beautifully written, and as a result she is the one we really connect with as readers and have great empathy for. We cheer her on as she grows her connections with the outside world, including her new friend Thomas, and want her so badly to take that first courageous step beyond her front door. Thomas is also likeable, as is Sadie and Meredith’s sister Fi – although as a reader, I felt let down by a late plot twist involving Fi.

Overall, this is a moving and uplifting book that will fill you with compassion and understanding for people in Meredith’s situation. It was a bit of a departure from the type of book I would usually go for, but I recommend it.

Dream Girl  | Regional News

Dream Girl 

Written by: Joy Holley

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Dream Girl by Joy Holley is a collection of short stories about women who wear their hearts on their sleeves, who do a tarot spread to deal with life’s burdens, and who twirl under the moonlight with hearts full of desire. The protagonists are haunted by love that slips from their reach as they cling to the details of the moments they had and what those moments could have been. 

The author starts to find her footing a few stories in. When her stories stretch desire away from just the sexual kind is when her writing really shines. Fruit brings a charge of life to the collection. The details of fruit paralleled with something all-consuming alongside a relationship gives a unique depth of insight into the compelling nature of desire. Pets showcases a friendship group’s shared ambition to have the most interesting pet, adding another stroke to what desire can be. 

Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents is a beautiful, evocative piece about young love. It follows the loss of an all-consuming friendship as the news story of the young girls from Heavenly Creatures breaks out and has a knock-on effect on society. 

Blood Magic has an eerie undertone that introduces a haunting tone to Dream Girl. The sense that you’re not aware of everything that is happening adds an exciting twist of anticipation to the later end of the collection.

Music is a huge character throughout Holley’s work – the importance of the stories it can tell and the lives it can shape. As a reader, you can picture exactly what sort of parties are being thrown and get inspired to make your crush a playlist.

I would have loved to have seen further exploration of what desire is and can be. Some stories blur together as the repetition of a mysterious love interest who ghosted becomes monotonous. But overall, Dream Girl is a dreamy, hot, and haunting read.

Ruin and Other Stories | Regional News

Ruin and Other Stories

Written by: Emma Hislop

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Ruin and Other Stories is a series of short stories about women who are on the edge of ruin and how their lives have been completely rewritten by the actions of a man. Women who will always be looked at for what they did and didn’t do, what they did and didn’t know. “Sabine knew, they didn’t really think of her. They thought about him and the things he did.” 

Power imbalance bleeds through every story and not just in the behaviour of men. There’s the stickiness of friends and sisters, twisted dynamics that unravel and tighten. Love that doesn’t always go the distance. These are stories of women who lose their power again and again and struggle to see their way through. Hislop’s writing makes you feel like you’re slipping into the skin of her characters, that their lives could easily be yours, and the questions they face you may have to one day answer. 

Ruin and Other Stories hones in on the fear of what wasn’t done and asks big questions. What is consent when you’re trying to protect someone? When do you stop trying to help? How do you know that what you did was enough?

It is not a book that can be easily devoured in one sitting. There is rape and paedophilia in almost every story. There is no break. And although not described, the relentless repetition serves as a reminder. Assault doesn’t just sometimes happen to one person,
it is not just one person’s story – it happens a lot and we can’t ignore that.

Some of the stories blur together and some stand out more than others. But Ruin and Other Stories stands as an important reminder that we still have power imbalances and some of us may have forgotten that. These women have hands that are full of nails but no hammer. How do they rebuild from ruin and who will help them?

One Heart One Spade | Regional News

One Heart One Spade

Written by: Alistair Luke

Your Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

One Heart One Spade captures the mood of the 70s well, an era with distinctly different attitudes and a different vibe. But despite this, it’s still uniquely Wellington as the story plays out across the streets and suburbs of the capital. Its backdrop is critically local, lending gravitas to the gritty urban feel of the crime story and to the lead characters, who feel sublimely present.

One Heart One Spade centres around the disappearance of Felicity ‘Flick’ Daniels, the missing granddaughter of a retired judge, and Detective Lucas Cole and colleagues as they investigate her disappearance. Interwoven between is the investigation of one of their own when it appears he is connected to the murder of a local drug dealer.

Alistair Luke paints a vivid picture of each character. There’s Felicity’s grandfather McEwan, poised with all the airs and graces you would expect from someone used to having power over others. His disdain for Felicity’s boyfriend Miles Weston is palpable. McEwan derisively describes Miles as a “hippie”, a “bangle-wearer”, and a shoeless one at that. Yes, by McEwan’s accounts, Miles is a wasteful person, much like the “wasters” he has spent his whole life putting away. But McEwan’s fawning preoccupation for his homegrown roses – even after his supposedly beloved granddaughter is missing – and reluctance to open up Felicity’s room in his house makes him stand out in his own right as an oddball when detectives question him about Felicity’s disappearance.

One Heart One Spade sometimes feels a little stunted, with conversations between characters intersecting a little too briefly, too succinctly, running too closely into each other. I found I wanted just a bit more out of the narrative. Regardless, the mysterious, compelling tale of the missing 21-year-old Felicity, her conceited grandfather and ex-judge with secrets to hide, and a dogged detective in the form of Lucas Cole is inviting.

It’s where the detective’s professional and personal life begins and ends that draws you in, as too does his burgeoning relationship with his new colleague Erena Wilkinson.

The Artist | Regional News

The Artist

Written by: Ruby Solly

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

It’s not often I need a dictionary on hand when writing a review, but I did in the case of The Artist. The dictionary is a Māori-English one, and my knowledge of te reo has increased markedly due to a perusal of Ruby Solly’s verse novel.

It’s a work of fiction, explains the author, and it’s based on the history of the iwi who have shaped her being. Indeed, the word “being” is central to this work, occurring in evocative phrases like “A world is sung into being” at the outset.

The natural world is incorporated here, with rivers, sand, and wind as much characters in the story as humans. The artist of the title emerges as a kind of painter of dreams, somehow connected to “the ache of potential”, another recurring theme.

Predictably perhaps, the advent of Pākehā into the Māori world provokes such stark images as “There is talk of stolen stone / of moko slipping from the face” and “we possess a pile of kūmara / as well as a pile of bodies”.

The story really gets under way when Hana (a Southern woman) meets Matiu (a Southern man). Hana’s subsequent pregnancy and experience of childbirth are dramatically described, and twins are born. But the family, relegated to the back of the pa, fail to gain acceptance from their own people and must forge their own fates.

The second half of this verse novel continues the story with the natural world and that of the dreams, ambitions, and experiences of the characters firmly intertwined. In Carving, Matiu the father introduces stones to Reremai his son. “Reremai cradles the stone – a field of potential, with the form of a wāhine swirling towards them”. And the artist’s signature appears again in Discovery, in the form of a fresh moko on Kiki’s skin.

Reading The Artist resembles walking through a forest: dreaming, wondering, sometimes suffering, touching, and being touched. Its writing is a tribute to its author just as much as to the iwi she celebrates.

Calamities! | Regional News


Written by: Jane Arthur

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

What’s your idea of a calamity? “An event causing great damage or distress”, the dictionary says. For Jane Arthur, who has titled her poetry collection thus, a calamity might amount to anything from an anticipated apocalypse, to posing philosophical questions like “Do we live only to the limits of our comprehension?”, to a meditation on dead flies.

Such a range allows the sometimes startling, sometimes amusing observations, reflections, and imaginings that preoccupy the writer. How, All Right begins with “I want to get morbid I want to get morbid” and concludes with “Now, knowing the more one learns, the worse one feels!” That seems to me a self-fulfilling prophecy: how you begin is how you might end.

I’m much more at home with the concreteness and immediacy of Princes and Priests. “The celebrities are having mental / health breakdowns and people / are lining up for tickets.” Ring any bells?

The section titled The Bear – sandwiched between Risk Assessment and Highly Flammable – provides welcome relief from the writer’s existential anxieties. She has chosen the pronouns “they” and “them” to refer to the bear, and I find myself wondering if the animal kingdom is as much concerned about this matter as we humans. In the meantime, I’ll have to grin and bear it.

The lengthiest poem, and my favourite, is Choose Again, in which Arthur liberally employs the poet’s most useful literary device – metaphor – to make her point. The poem is a contemplation on shame – of its causes and effects. Likening shame to “an ulcer on the inside / of your cheek / that you nibble on sometimes” is uncomfortably effective, as is “I am a bird / sticking my beak between / the bars of my cage to see if the air / is purer on the outside.”

Her final poem Imaginary Den summarises the theme of this disturbingly prophetic collection with a plea: “Let me dig my little hole. Let me / settle down into it, feigning safety, let me.”

This is a story about your mother | Regional News

This is a story about your mother

Written by: Louise Wallace

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

I had a mother, but I’ve never been one. How does that place me to comment on a poetry collection of this nature? Writer Louise Wallace is asking a question too – about the real nature of pregnancy and motherhood. She’s knocking on a forbidden door perhaps, because we women are supposed to live our lives as if it’s our biological fate to reproduce ourselves.

Pregnancy is biological all right and this aspect of it gets full treatment. “You now contain ten / little-finger-like projections”, you’re “being beaten around the ears with the need for leafy greens”, and confronted by “what does the term ‘women’s clothing’ even mean?”

The psychological and social aspects of being pregnant also come under fire. What about baby names? Some couples do a video, and in sexy springtime feelings, “at twenty five you were special – born for a social calendar / but now you’ve got a face made for furniture.”

I’m not sure how delaying tactics fits into the pregnancy picture with its questions such as “how do you get a book deal?” and “what’s the ideal age to try stripping?” unless it’s a disguised longing for a life without a pregnancy in sight. Indeed, these poems are hardly a recommendation for it.

And we haven’t even got to childbirth! Wallace does not hesitate to expose us to the painful and at times grotesque experiences it may bring. Doctors, midwives, and other professionals become part of the scene with their discussions and instructions. But then there is a sign – finally – that all may be well, captured thus: “you’ll experience a new and phenomenal relationship / with your vagina”.

Does that make up for everything you had to undergo to achieve motherhood? I can only hope so. The search for baby names is referenced in one of the concluding poems, suggesting a resolution, as does the final metaphor.

This is a story about your mother makes for salutary reading. Those considering getting pregnant would be well advised to read it.

Secrets of the Sea | Regional News

Secrets of the Sea

Written by: Robert Vennell


Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Here’s a fish – this is what it looks like, this is what it eats, and this is who eats it. That’s how I thought Secrets of the Sea would go. Surprisingly I found something much more interesting: an almost mini encyclopaedia of the wondrous creatures of the sea, intricately entwined with the history of Aotearoa.

Author Robert Vennell unravels the hidden lives of a vast array of creatures that lie beneath our magnificent waters, from the depths of the ocean to our rivers and sandy shores, giving insight into their biology, etymology, unique characteristics, and cultural significance and importance to Māori. Steeped in history and tradition, Secrets of the Sea is a standout. It’s an evolutionary tale that speaks to the way these unique creatures have had a profound impact on our lives on land despite being largely hidden and sometimes forgotten.

Vennell’s fascinating glimpse into the history of the butterfish reveals they were often linked with nocturnal mischief, just as the whakataukī reads: Ka pō, ka pō, ka kai te rarī (When it is night, the butterfish feed). For Māori, there was a feeling that butterfish or rarī were troublemakers.

Eels or tuna on the other hand were considered by Māori to be one of the single most important food sources found in Aotearoa. On a recent camping trip, I found myself helping to navigate the feeding of eels. Swarming around all slippery, thick and serpent-like, the eels (what variety of, I do not know) took stock of the food, snaking around each other en masse. I was surprised to read that New Zealand longfin eels can grow to be the largest in the world, weighing more than a small child, and can live up to 100 years, effectively giving the humble turtle a run for its money in the longevity stakes.

Gorgeously illustrated, and with stunning photography, Secrets of the Sea is a resplendent unravelling of the mysteries surrounding some of the incredible inhabitants of Aotearoa waters.

Empire City | Regional News

Empire City

Written by: John E. Martin

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Empire City is the most impressive book I think I have ever experienced, and honestly I did not think that I’d be as blown away by it as I was. Everything about it screams pure class, from the handmade drawings to the fold-out maps that show you what Wellington looked like in the mid-19th century.

Every legend started somewhere, and in the case of Wellington, it was with Indigenous Māori and the New Zealand Company (an organisation to help settle the country) first meeting each other. It also tells us about Edward Gibbon Wakefield, whose vison helped settle what we now call Wellington – or Britannia as the then-new settlement was briefly called. Back then there were plenty of dangers to contend with: misunderstandings between Pākehā and local iwi could turn violent, earthquakes, and a lack of supplies made creating a permanent settlement difficult.

It was an amazing read that made me appreciate New Zealand all the more. In fact, I would dare anyone born here to not be impressed by the enormity of what our forefathers went through. It’s not hyperbolic to say that the people living today, including me, really are standing on the backs of giants. We talk about our Kiwi ingenuity all the time – well, now I know where it comes from.

Empire City is a very expansive book that goes into a huge amount of detail and unfortunately, I think that might be its downfall. It’s just so big. That may put some people off reading it, as it will be a bit of an investment of their time. It’s also a niche book, focusing on one specific area at one specific time, so unless you are mad crazy about New Zealand history, this may not appeal to you. 

I suspect that this book is geared toward a particular reader, one who will really get a kick out of reading about this country’s founding. If you are that person I can recommend this wholeheartedly.

The Axeman’s Carnival | Regional News

The Axeman’s Carnival

Written by: Catherine Chidgey

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

One author that I have had the pleasure of reading in recent memory is New Zealand novelist Catherine Chidgey. Her writing style captures the imagination like no one else and really gets the emotive juices flowing. One minute her stories make you cry, and the next you’ll find a little smile sneaking its way onto your face. I felt this way about her last novel Remote Sympathy, and while the story did break my heart, there were also moments of joy sprinkled in.

The Axeman’s Carnival is no exception. This time the protagonist is a young magpie named Tamagotchi (named after the toy from the 80s), or Tama for short. Saved by humans at a young age, Tama finds himself struggling to find his place in a human world.

While he’s undoubtably the star of the show, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his human parents: Marnie who initially rescued him, and her farmer husband Rob, the titular axeman whose farm is in a precarious situation. While Tama is the window through which readers see the world, and he is the source of much of the book’s humour, it’s Marnie and Rob who provide the tension and keep the plot moving forward.

Tama makes the most refreshing hero I have come across yet. He makes innocent observations about everyday human life – details that seem mundane to us but come across to him as unfamiliar and strange. This adds a real breath of fresh air to the classic fish-out-of-water plotline. His distant relationships with other magpies, especially his original father, create an interesting dynamic where it’s hammered home how alien he now appears to his birth family. I loved this complexity as well as the bird’s unique take on humanity.

There really are no downsides here. It all gels together, there’s no filler or fluff; everything works and comes together to create an incredible read. If you can get a hold of The Axeman’s Carnival,
get it.

Be Your Best Self | Regional News

Be Your Best Self

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

With a unique style that is somewhat quaint but spot on, and illustrations that are twee and childlike, yet charmingly endearing, Be Your Best Self covers 10 life-changing ideas to reach your full potential. Be Your Best Self – not your sticky self, your worrying self, or your mind-reading self, but your best self, author Rebekah Ballagh says.

If you’re wondering about the sticky self, I’m referring to sticky thinking. In Be Your Best Self, Ballagh describes the times our minds are most vulnerable to negative thinking. Think hormones, lack of sleep, or a body that’s coffee or alcohol addled.

The author gives limiting behaviours and habits an almost human-like quality of their own – like mind reading, which feels like the anti-hero of constructive thinking. Mind reading is where you decide what others are thinking and it’s the type of quasi-skill that gets us into all sorts of trouble. Ballagh says whenever you find yourself mind reading, “call it out” for what it is. “Oh, I’m mind reading here!” A way to test the validity of unhelpful thoughts instead is to perhaps ask someone if they are irritated by you, instead of deciding they are.

Ballagh talks about creating a life map to pinpoint the origins of our limiting core beliefs, and how negative thoughts about ourselves and our pasts can perpetuate a cycle of such beliefs. Drilling down to the very heart of a core belief can be confronting. Again, she says, call out the belief at play. Question its authority and veracity. “It is not true and it no longer serves me”.

Setting boundaries is actually a form of self-care, Ballagh says. A favourite from the chapter Protect Your Energy: a yes is also a no. Remember, when you say yes to someone else, you are likely saying no to yourself.

Each chapter concludes with a little summary, a succinct reinforcement of the ideas within, with extra little nuggets and reminders to help you Be Your Best Self.

Te Kaihau: The Windeater | Regional News

Te Kaihau: The Windeater

Written by: Keri Hulme

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

From stories that will shock you to ones that will make you smile and laugh, Te Kaihau: The Windeater from Keri Hulme covers it all. Originally released at the first New Zealand Arts Festival in 1986, it’s a collection of stories you’re sure to remember long after you have put the book down.

While the stories may be small in stature – one at only eight pages long – they more than make up for it with their wealth of suspense and their sometimes-macabre tone. One example that comes to mind is the story of a family that finds themselves staying in a seemingly uninhabited little town, with things going downhill from there. In others, Hulme takes the ordinary and weaves it into something somehow alluring. My favourite has to be One Whale, Singing, which is partly told from a whale’s point of view and asks if animals have genuine intelligence.

What makes this book so special is that from the title page, each story seems to have its own style and prose. I loved that and to me it felt like Hulme’s imaginative toolkit was inexhaustible. They really are amazing stories that kept me wholly invested, with full credit to the author for hooking me in and refusing to let go.

While each story may take a while to get going, the payoff is well worth it. Unfortunately, therein lies the problem: they are slow to start and anyone lacking patience may give up before giving them a chance to really get going. I would recommend that anyone interested in a good book with a wonderful ambience persevere.

If you are a fan of good writing and love your atmospheric books, then Te Kaihau: The Windeater is for you. While I cannot guarantee that all of the stories will be to your liking, I am willing to bet that there’s something in there for everyone, if only they would give it a go.

The Key to Unlocking Your Potential | Regional News

The Key to Unlocking Your Potential

Written by: Brett Ashley

Mary Egan Publishing

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

In The Key to Unlocking Your Potential, author Brett Ashley takes us on a journey from his somewhat dysfunctional early life to the life of being a successful businessman.

With a heartening conversational tone, there’s much to take from what Ashley has learned over his four decades with the Woolworths NZ Ltd Group. Namely, it’s the merits of thinking strategically, having a number 8 wire mentality, and possessing the tenacity to dive headfirst into something while simultaneously being prepared to pivot and swivel to other opportunities, when necessary, that shines through.

There’s a raw yarn-like sense to the narrative, almost like you can imagine sitting down with Ashley as he espouses his life story. There’s the successful career, the love of his life, and the leadership lessons in between: surviving in the corporate world, creating structures that harness job satisfaction for himself and those around him, and leading strategically to maximise potential. His is an eyes-wide-open approach to seeing opportunities and grabbing them. He talks about making the most of your time at work every day and creating structures and processes where everyone can thrive.

Ashley believes the biggest challenge you will ever encounter as a leader is establishing who the right people are to have around you. As a business leader, he says, it’s of utmost importance to consistently review who’s right for the team. To me, it all makes sense; when you create the right environment with the right people, there will be more opportunities for success.

What is a constant throughout The Key to Unlocking Your Potential is that anyone has the ability to be a leader, which in itself is encouraging. Ashley acknowledges that though the environments we are exposed to in our childhoods help shape who we are, we are ultimately the deciders of our own journey.

“Leaders are created, not born”, Ashley says.

For all those aspiring leaders out there, Ashley gives a great worldview from someone who has been there, done that, and certainly walked the talk.

Dick Seddon’s Great Dive and Other Stories | Regional News

Dick Seddon’s Great Dive and Other Stories

Written by: Ian Wedde

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The stories that compose this volume were written 50 years ago. Does writer Ian Wedde tell us this by way of apology or explanation? That maybe depends on what the reader makes of the characters and situations he depicts.

The ones in his lengthy, eponymously titled first story may be difficult to sympathise with, and their hazy, drug-induced states are reflected by the writer’s style.

And that may be why I infinitely preferred the nine far shorter tales that follow. They present everyday situations requiring immediacy of action; sentences are shorter and therefore have greater impact; consequences are easier to grasp.

In Clover features an endangered baby in a porch swing. The reactions of husband and wife, and the contrast between those reactions – he sternly practical but infuriatingly inattentive; she dreamy and philosophical – provide the interest, and a concluding wry observation on marriage will evoke sighs of recognition. “I love you,” she said, “God knows why, you’re such an idiot.”

Paradise – though I’m unsure why so titled given its content – gives us an old-fashioned postman dealing with rough weather, blurred envelope addresses, and troublesome corgis. There’s an intriguing reference to Oates of the Antarctic: “Gone out, and been some time, but not been missed.” A comment on the soon-to-disappear job of the postman?

Then our man needs a leak. He’s in his favourite spot for one when he is rudely interrupted. “The last lady hadn’t been Chinese, and she hadn’t come to the gate” captures the tone of this tale, and that, plus the postman’s imagined future as a poet, are enough to draw our sympathetic laughter.

The Gringos takes the cake for nostalgic indulgence. The Gringos are a rock and roll band of the 1950s – albeit fictional. Their outfits are preserved in tissue and polythene. But hey – Chuck Berry is coming to town! The Gringos are dazedly ecstatic. Their witnessing of old-style rock and roll is both moving and funny. Of course, you had to be there.

Anderton: His Life and Times | Regional News

Anderton: His Life and Times

Written by: David Grant

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For a lot of adult New Zealanders living and working in the 1980s, Jim Anderton might conjure up a number of different opinions. For some, he was a fighter who advocated for the less well-off, opposing Roger Douglas and his sale of state assets coined ‘Rogernomics’. Others felt he was a grandstander who used his natural charisma and boisterous nature to grab headlines while in parliament. Whatever your views, we can all agree that he was a particular breed of politician – one we may never see again.

Anderton: His Life and Times tells the story of both his triumphs and the roadblocks he faced while a member of the Labour, New Labour, Alliance, and lastly the Progressive Coalition parties. These include the formation of the locally owned Kiwibank, the friendships and enemies he made along the way, and his unshakeable faith that there had to be a better way forward for our small country.

I believe that you can tell a good memoir, biography, or autobiography by the lessons you learn from it. Well I can tell you that I learned a tonne from Anderton; his good-hearted stubbornness, unwavering loyalty, and determination to get things done for the electorate of what was then called Sydenham (now Wigram) showed that good things could be achieved through hard work.

I absolutely loved this book, and think that author David Grant has done an amazing job of capturing the man that Jim Anderton was. His refusal to quit on things he believed in, his love for the people he represented, and his aforementioned loyalty – that at times I felt was his own downfall (no spoilers here).

If I was pushed to find a negative, it would be that the nature of politics simply is not for everyone, and not everyone will pick up this book and appreciate like I have. It really was an amazing read, and after putting it down I found myself with a new appreciation for the man, and what he had done for me.

Step into the Spotlight | Regional News

Step into the Spotlight

Written by: Russell Pickering

TPG Publishing

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

All too often, being in the spotlight – whether it be a presentation, a Zoom meeting, or any other form of being on show – is an opportunity for the loudest, boldest, and most confident voice in the room to take centre stage; an arena for those whose very existence relies on getting ample airtime. Step into the Spotlight author Russell Pickering suggests that the quiet, competent, considered, and thoughtful among us also have great value, and should be encouraged and offered opportunities to show up and present too. “Don’t wait, we need you now, step out into the spotlight and shine,” he says.

In Step into the Spotlight, he shows you how. In his chapter on courage, Pickering shares a definition of anxiety from a psychologist friend. “Anxiety comes from an over-estimation of a problem or issue, coupled with an under-estimation of your ability to deal with it, or cope with it.” Don’t obsess over trying to be confident when you have to give a presentation; your job is to get your audience to have confidence in you and your ideas, Pickering says, and besides, “courage trumps confidence”.

Step into the Spotlight is a simple yet structured guide to presenting. Looking outwards is key; it’s not about you, it’s about your audience and what they may find engaging. Consider what your audience already knows about your topic, which will allow you to hone your presentation and visual aids accordingly. Gauge how your audience feels throughout your presentation. For instance, do they need a break? Pickering acknowledges the challenges of presenting, but offers practical advice to master these. He walks you through the characteristics of the three spotlight archetypes: The Analyser, The Storyteller, and The Inspirer.

In conclusion, if I ever have to give that all-important presentation to a bunch of people I do or don’t know, Pickering’s Step into the Spotlight will be the first thing I reach for.

The premise: trust your work, connect with your audience, and deliver.

A Lack of Good Sons | Regional News

A Lack of Good Sons

Written by: Jake Arthur

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Jake Arthur has dwelt in many universes, and in many guises. So says his poetry. A Lack of Good Sons transports us from the startling to the outwardly mundane, through the mythic and the biblical to the romantic. And he has a turn of phrase wondrously suited to his subjects.

Take the opening poem Jim Nevis. A vividly descriptive narrative about a neighbour’s behaviour from a young boy’s point of view captures curiosity, puzzlement, and eventual understanding in concrete everyday language. It’s impossible not to envisage the neighbour’s “sagging bottom, his hairy back” or “his chest hair that ran down like seaweed”.

Hair is about exactly that. It’s short – utterly unlike the unruly mane of the writer! I loved the metaphorical “My follicles had a condition / extra hard workers that don’t know when to quit”. The ending couplet comes as a wistful surprise.

Talking of wistfulness, Hand-eye coordination superbly captures an older woman’s longing for a young man’s body. “She wants him some time in the next now”. What economy of words to express such a sensation so perfectly! We fear for the young man’s virginity, but not to worry – a marvellous metaphor concludes with “and the boy over the road is safe again”.

Bare Choirs, though it may conjure up unintended visions, is a beautifully imagined nostalgic reflection on a ship mast’s former life as a tree. “But here it is, sawn and shorn, / grafted to these unnaturally arranged / woods from far-flung places”. We know that trees can’t feel – or can they?

I especially appreciate that Arthur provides an ending or a rounding off to most of his poems. I think a poem has to go somewhere, not just trail off inconclusively. An excellent example of this is Encounter. It’s a narrative, intriguing visually as well as verbally, and it ends with a philosophically wry reflection.

It’s a current fashion that poetry collections should centre on a particular theme. I am glad that this writer sees no reason to do so.

Booked | Regional News


Written by: Kwame Alexander

Andersen Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If there’s one thing that I think binds every human being together, it’s that we were all young at some point. We were all preteens taking our first steps into becoming independent adults and failing miserably at it.

The graphic novel Booked follows the story of 12-year-old Nick as he navigates the perils of preteen life, including bullies, a blossoming romance, and a personal life that’s seemingly falling apart. While the story might be aimed at younger audiences, older readers might still like to give it a chance, as it does touch on some adult themes.

The illustration at first glance could be interpreted as simple, but this simplicity is what makes Booked so appealing and such a great read. Its bold illustration, with its clean lines and sparing use of one colour (green), helps draw the eye and makes Nick and his friends really pop off the page and come to life. All of this is thanks to illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, whose style complements the book’s narrative and the characters within.

Speaking of the characters, I have to say I loved them and actually began caring for them like real people. It was the combination of Anyabwile’s illustrations and Alexander’s strong storytelling that evoked this emotional response in me.

As said in the introduction, Booked and Nick’s adventures will be something that everyone can relate to, and I found myself absentmindedly chuckling more than a few times at the situations he found himself in. I mean, who hasn’t had that one teacher they couldn’t stand, or found themselves nervously face to face with their first crush?

While I loved what was going on in Nick’s school, it’s his home life that will really hit home for many readers. This was the part of the story with the most emotional meat. It’s these layers that add to the story, making Booked, in my opinion, worth much more than just a casual glance.

The Stories We Tell | Regional News

The Stories We Tell

Written by: Joanna Gaines


Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

I needed to overcome a tad of scepticism when starting to read Joanna Gaines’ The Stories We Tell. ‘Story’ has become a bit of an overused word, due largely to social media. Even Facebook urges us to add to our story. What kind of stories was our writer referring to?

Gaines, a New York Times bestseller, is Korean American, raised near Wichita, Kansas. As a person of mixed race, she experienced teasing at school and even years later, continued to find it difficult to fit in.

A career in journalism, a successful construction and renovation business in partnership with her husband Chip, and a happy home life do not seem to have stilled persistent inner voices of self-doubt, fear, and unworthiness, feelings many readers can relate to. Nearing the age of 44, “things had gotten blurry” is how she describes it. She had one go at writing 20 years earlier, but here she is “a couple of decades later, longing once again to write everything down”.

And boy, does she! All 240 pages worth. They’re interspersed with pink backgrounded mantras such as “Looking up grounds me in gratitude” and “Growth is where my heart is”.

Self-help books offer special challenges to the author – chiefly how to keep reader interest while relating deeply personal feelings. Greater conciseness would better suit the author’s purpose here. We read at length about her guilt, regret and pain. Such confessions are no doubt useful to the writer, by helping to purge those feelings, but are they as useful to the reader?

Gaines has had a successful career and even a TV programme, both of which, she says, developed her understanding of story as a tool for growth, describing as it can the breadth and diversity of human experiences. Fair enough. That said, the declaration “Chip and I have become story-obsessed” is predictable so comes as no surprise!

Gaines’ experience of setting her personal journey down on paper has clearly been a salutary and positive one for her. She urges us all to tell our own.

The Wall | Regional News

The Wall

Written by: Ant Middleton


Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

I must be one of few people who’ve not heard of Ant Middleton because when I selected this book to review, I thought I’d picked a book by Ant McPartlin from light entertainment duo Ant and Dec. How wrong I was.

Instead, I received a book with an intimidating cover photo of a muscled man with piercing blue eyes staring out at me looking like an old-school personal trainer who yells and swears to motivate you.

For those of you who are new to this author, Ant Middleton is a former British SAS soldier who presents a TV series called SAS Australia and has published a series of books about mental toughness.

His latest book covers a series of themes that stand in the way of us reaching our potential with advice on how to smash through these limiting thoughts or behaviours. There’s nothing new here – it’s simply packaged up differently to align to the hard man, ex-soldier brand that Ant Middleton has become known for and references later in the book.

If you can get past the references to Australian celebrities (who I hadn’t heard of), the swearing, and the initially male-dominated narrative then the advice is pretty good. And if you stick with it, the author softens a little in the second half of the book.

There are stories of contestants from the TV series and readers to help illustrate his advice, and they can be easier to relate to than the author. One story that stayed with me was the contestant who had to overcome her fear of being in a car submerged in water. Amazingly she completed the challenge of escaping the submerged car without panicking by making one commitment at a time and breaking the challenge down into small, clear, but simple steps. This chapter alone was worth the price of the book.

I wouldn’t normally read a book like this and I’m probably not the author’s target audience. But despite that, I’ve taken away some of the advice and started to put it into practice.

Cracking the Happiness Code | Regional News

Cracking the Happiness Code

Written by: Dr Pamela Stoodley

Nationwide Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

What better way to start the new year than with a book that may just help you achieve the ultimate goal of happiness?

Cracking the Happiness Code was not, at first, a particularly alluring book. Something about the cover and the subject matter felt overworn, i.e. another book on happiness, that oft-elusive emotion. However, it turned out to be an impressive and meaningful delve into the mechanisms of achieving happiness.

In Cracking the Happiness Code, author Pamela Stoodley, a medically trained doctor, neuropsychologist, and counsellor, is well placed to offer insights into happiness and how and why it might elude you.

The first half of the book is the why, highlighting the thoughts, behaviours, and circumstances that may be contributing to unhappiness. The second half details the how; the strategies and practical changes that can ultimately lead to a happier life.

The chapter titles can sound a little harsh: Victimisation, Infestation, Retribution, and Elimination, to give you an idea. Elimination got me thinking. As a large consumer of news, both good and bad (possibly more bad), I wondered could I ‘unconsume’, go on a ‘news diet’? Stoodley suggests liaising with an equally minded friend who also partakes heavily in a media-saturated environment, to update you with news truly relevant to you each week, and to do this with no emails, no forwards, and no screenshots. You will find that the news that’s actually important to you will significantly diminish. Stoodley says to connect with real humans and learn about their real stories first-hand.

Cracking the Happiness Code contains real-world strategies. There’s even a chapter called Consumption, which takes a look at how nutrition can affect our moods. With vast skill and experience, the author outlines what keeps us from happiness and ways to help us achieve the deep-set emotion most of us strive for, but do not always obtain.

The first step, says Stoodley, is action – it’s not about what has caused you to be unhappy all this time, it’s about taking charge and doing something about it.

Gaylene’s Take | Regional News

Gaylene’s Take

Written by: Gaylene Preston

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

I thought I knew some stuff about Gaylene Preston but I knew nothing! This book is a great insight into the way the world has moved on since the early days of filmmaking in New Zealand, especially when directed by a sheila. Gaylene was pretty resilient to get through some of the tough shoots and situations unscathed. She’s tenacious as nothing came easy, and boy did she fight for it.

It sounds like she had a lot of fun along the way and ‘faked it till she made it’. She did time in the UK, as is the Kiwi way, and worked in psychiatric wards putting on shows. I thought that was very brave but when you are young and fearless, you can do anything. She has worked with the best in New Zealand including Alun Bollinger, who she fondly refers to as AlBol (I always think of champagne). In those days you had to fill the cinemas across New Zealand and so she bought the Paramount for two weeks for $6000 to accomplish this. The Paramount, now sadly closed, used to show soft porn in the afternoons back then, but not when there was a Preston movie to screen.

Her family is her strength and she shares fond memories of her parents, even providing a sausage roll recipe from Tui (her late mum). The recipe starts: “Go down to the dairy and get frozen puff pastry, taking care to have a yarn with the shopkeeper about more than just the weather.” My kind of recipe and I will try it out.

As a storyteller, she has a great turn of phrase: “With the financial jersey not unravelling any further, we were sailing again.” “Tui was named after that dark metallic rainbow bird that swaggers and coughs through the New Zealand bush.”

I learned a lot about filmmaking and Gaylene’s successes from Gaylene’s Take. It took me back to a simpler time before tech got in the way. Happy days.

Waxing On | Regional News

Waxing On

Written by: Ralph Macchio


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For someone who has never thrown a punch in their entire life, watching The Karate Kid for the first time in the 80s was pure wish fulfilment. And now with Ralph Macchio’s new book Waxing On, we get to see how all the stars aligned to create what many consider to be one of the best movies of 1984.

From his very first audition for the role of Daniel LaRusso, to meeting the late great Pat Morita for the first time, Waxing On goes in depth into what it was like making The Karate Kid trilogy and the impact it had on Macchio’s life and subsequent career.

His down-to-earth personality bleeds onto the page and is reflected in his writing style, which makes him a more relatable storyteller. There are no airs or graces that you might associate with a Hollywood celebrity here, nor are there the kind of outrageous stories about wrecking hotel suites or extramarital affairs that plague other memoirs. Instead, he’s humble about his achievements, honest about his mistakes, and thoroughly entertaining along the way.

Little anecdotes litter the entire book. I interpreted some as teachable moments, while others were fun little titbits that had me gasping for joy as a huge fan. One such story that caught and held my attention was the almost universal concern people had about Pat Morita’s match fitness for the role of Mr Miyagi. Even Macchio admitted to harbouring concerns about Arnold from Happy Days in one of the leading roles. Fortunately, Morita blew them all away with his audition and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s stories like these that make Waxing On such a pleasure to review.

And on that note, I always try to approach my reviews and give feedback in a balanced way, but I really can’t find any downsides to Waxing On. If you have the opportunity to pick this up, don’t hesitate – just do it. It is a must read for 2022.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar   | Regional News

The Rarkyn’s Familiar

Written by: Nikky Lee

Parliament House Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

The Rarkyn’s Familiar is the story of Lyss, a human bonded and inextricably entwined in a blood pact with Skaar, a creature, some say ‘monster’, from the Otherworld. Their unholy union borne from a fight-for-life encounter binds the Rarkyn to Terresmir, and to Lyss as her familiar.

In Nikky Lee’s fantasy novel lives a world where the horrors of creatures from the Otherworld threaten to breach the boundaries of Terresmir. Embroiled in a reluctant bond with a fearsome monster, Lyss experiences a symbiotic melding of powers and energies with Skaar, with the ever-present threat that “control will fall to whoever has the strongest magic”.

Each carries a secret burden as they travel to the Illredan Empire in a desperate quest to find a cure before the inevitable madness of their blood pact becomes all-consuming for Lyss. Otherworld beings, the elite soldiers of The Order, and wayward mancer Archer threaten to derail them along the way.

Skaar will fight for freedom in his bid to escape the clutches of Archer again, the cursed mancer who had once held him captive; driven to cruelty by guilt and despair, and a madness-filled quest to save someone long gone. Lyss will fight to avenge her father’s death.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar will have you questioning who is the monster – is it the one who fights for freedom? Or the one who fights for retribution?

In Skaar and Lyss, Lee has created impressive character arcs, fleshed out and splat out, where horror, fantasy, and magic collide.

Through their shared fight for survival, and as they hone their minds and magic across hugrokar (a telepathic sense) to share their thoughts, feelings, and attack plans with no need for spoken words, a reluctant regard for one another develops.

Though Lee says it took 16 painstaking years for this book to come to fruition, I got to the end of The Rarkyn’s Familiar feeling like the story and adventures of Lyss and Skaar are far from over.

No Less The Devil | Regional News

No Less The Devil

Written by: Stuart MacBride

Penguin Books

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

If you want a page-turner, then look no further than No Less The Devil. But be warned: once you get into this book, you’ll be seriously hooked. I read it on the bus home and nearly missed my stop. Then I sat in my car parked by the bus stop and read for another 10 minutes before driving home because I got to such a tense part in the plot that I couldn’t put the book down.

This murder-mystery about catching a deranged serial killer is very different to my usual favourite cosy mysteries. When I first picked it up, I read a chapter and put it down, because this tartan noir novel was a bit too dark and gritty for me. I picked it up again a week later and once I got that it was dark Scottish humour and rolled with it, I loved it.

The characters are intriguing and well developed. Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh Lucy is fantastic and likeable even though you find yourself shocked to be rooting for her at times. I hope we see this detective heroine again. The scenes with and descriptions of her unfit lumbering partner DC Duncan Fraser, also known as the Dunk, made me smile. The most memorable scenes though are when DS Lucy meets her match with the calculating students and teachers at a posh but unnerving private school.

The plot is fast paced and not always predictable. At first, I thought I was reading a pretty standard police procedural novel or classic serial killer mystery but then the plot started to take some unexpected turns. The writing is excellent and builds tension effectively. The detailed character descriptions draw you in, even when you know you shouldn’t be liking some of them!

This mystery is different. It’s dark and a bit discombobulating but it’s strangely fun. I recommend it.

Here For a Good Time | Regional News

Here For a Good Time

Written by: Chris Parker

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Chris Parker is charming, charismatic, and chaotic. Everything in Here For a Good Time is an absolute delight. Parker takes you on a journey through his life and current musings. He’s not afraid to make fun of himself and I hope that like humourist author David Sedaris, Parker can just keep publishing his thoughts and make our days a little brighter. One of my favourite sections is how, in meticulous detail, he describes how to eat different types of biscuits (all worthy of the page and absolutely the correct way to eat them), and introduced me to one of my new favourite things: ‘a lolly to go’.

When a comedian ventures off the stage and onto the page, there’s a thrilling sense of the unknown. Without an audience to bounce off and real-time delivery, how strong is their voice alone? Well, you don’t need to worry about that here. Parker hits it out of the park, down the road, and past the dairy, where he can charm two-day-old free pies from the owner. As someone familiar with his work, it’s easy to picture him performing each chapter with all long gangly limbs flailing about, an ever-cheeky glint in his eye executed with his infectious energy. The joy of Here For a Good Time is that when reading you can’t help but laugh out loud. It’s hard to picture what it would be like to read this book without seeing him perform or checking out his Instagram skits first, but his voice, pacing, and delivery take away the need to have any knowledge of Parker’s prior work. 

The summary reads, “Here For a Good Time allows you to take Chris home for a much-needed pick me up whenever you need”, and never has a book description so aptly described the experience of reading it. Every musing he includes is like discovering a really good meme. Somehow he is able to effortlessly describe the human experience and make you laugh at the same time. I absolutely recommend it.

Desperation in Death | Regional News

Desperation in Death

Written by: J. D. Robb aka Nora Roberts

St. Martin’s Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

What amazes me the most is that even over several entries, the In Death murder mystery series still has so much to give. Neither Nora Roberts nor her star character Detective Eve Dallas seem to have run out of steam yet, and in her latest title, Desperation in Death, they both seem to have more energy than ever before. I think that’s partly because of Roberts’ emotionally charged writing style, which sucks me into her world and makes me feel for the characters involved – even the villains made me feel something (albeit in a very negative way).

At the centre of the story is Dallas and her team of police officers, who Roberts manages to inject with some real heart; almost to the point where they seem genuinely alive. While that might come off as hyperbole, the truth is Roberts is just that darn good. Special mention has to go to Dallas and her millionaire boyfriend Roarke, who cement their status as the unofficial power couple of their futuristic New York city.

One negative for me is that this might be one of the more disturbing adventures that Roberts has tackled. While I won’t spoil anything for you here, I will say that some of the subject matter gets quite dark, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. There were times when I had to take a break from the story before coming back to it, simply because I found it so unsettling. However, I have to point out that this was more of a ‘me’ problem and you might not have any issue with the story at all.

Even if you are a bit on the sensitive side like me, if you stick with it, I think you will be rewarded with an amazing story that tugs on every emotion until the very end. Here’s hoping that Nora Roberts (aka J. D. Robb) and Eve Dallas return sometime soon in 2023.

Lost Possessions | Regional News

Lost Possessions

Written by: Keri Hulme

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Lost Possessions, a novella, is written in the style of a journal – a collection of pages of a notebook in which we learn about the writer, the character, via their self-expression. Author Keri Hulme captures the reader’s curiosity cleverly and instantly with an immediate mystery:
“They have left me.
The door is locked.
The room is entirely bare.”

Where the writer is, or why they have taken him, or indeed who they are, remains entirely a mystery for the rest of the journal. However, we are given hints. As the writer begins using the notepad to track the passage of time and the details of his experience as best he can, we learn that he is Harrod Wittie, a university lecturer. He only recalls a sack over his head and something like a belt around his neck before waking in a featureless room, alone, naked, with a bucket for company.

As days – or perhaps hours – pass and Harrod realises his state of mind depends entirely on whether he is given any food, he becomes a fabulous example of an unreliable narrator. We only see his surroundings through his description of them, and memories of his childhood, his family, his past relationships, swim to the surface while Harrod slowly starves.

A curious repeating theme of ‘rites of passage’ comes to the forefront of his musings. A bizarre obsession with race and skin colour is also impossible to ignore. As Harrod begins to focus on the fact that the people holding him hostage are Black, as far as he can tell, he reminisces about the last relationship he had, with a Black woman named Jaban, drawing tenuous connections between her and his current plight. They discussed differing cultures and their traditions around how and when one becomes a man. Is pain involved? Is there a real test? Just as he seems to be finally closing in on the possibility that he brought this situation upon himself, it ends in utter uncertainty.

A quick read, and a slow digest; Lost Possessions made me think for a long time.

In Memory of Travel | Regional News

In Memory of Travel

Written by: Grant Sheehan

Phantom House Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Photographer, publisher, and writer Grant Sheehan has lent his lens and penned a narrative to record his travels and adventures across the world in India, Moscow, and Antarctica to name just a few.

Perhaps my favourite chapter of In Memory of Travel is Café to Café. Here you will find images from his two previous books – Character Cafés of New Zealand and Cafés of the World. Collectively, they are a visual ode to café life in the 80s and 90s, a love of coffee, and some of the wondrous cafés he’s visited and photographed around the globe. Some looked sublime, others kitsch, most colourful, and one extraordinary: Caffé Florian in Venice looks like an exquisite art museum rather than, reportedly, the world’s oldest café. A black and white image of Espressoholic, once a favourite haunt of my youth, reminded me of the power an image has to take you back to a time gone by. In my case, it was a time filled with cappuccinos in an eclectic café in the wee hours of the morning in the heart of Courtenay Place in the 90s. Sheehan explores the power of our memories and in particular the nature of travel memory – how our brains process and recollect events and how this changes over time. For many of us, he says, it is our travels that form our most precious memories.

Whenever I look at an image, I can’t help but wonder of the photographer: were you a spectator or did you involve yourself in the happenstance or the moments you captured; either invited or uninvited? And what of the images you share with the world, are they raw in reality or manufactured through the manipulation of photographic artistry?

In a way, Sheehan answers these questions for me, explaining how he came to be somewhere, where he travelled to, and the stories behind the photographs.

In Memory of Travel invites you in, not only with its beautiful mix of imagery but with its narrative. Sheehan’s pragmatic and introspective take on photography and the circumstances surrounding his work gently projects you into his travels, the faraway places that exist beyond the landscape, and the life and people you are familiar with.

Miracle | Regional News


Written by: Jennifer Lane

Cloud Ink Press Ltd

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Year 9 is a tough time for everyone. There’s nothing like feeling like the world is against you and then finding out your town really is. 

Miracle brings you smack bang into the reality of a 14-year-old girl, who thought her biggest worries were figuring out when she could wear a jumper to school, how she could get her crush to notice her, and if her friends really liked her or not. Trying to prove that her family isn’t crazy, that she can take a joke even when fighting back tears as she tries to clear her family name, was a lot more than she bargained for. Miracle desperately fights against the veil of childhood as she is forced to battle with things she’s not quite old enough to fully understand.

There’s nothing that Miracle wants more than to fit in. She would rather cross her heart and hope to die than her dad get a job that draws more attention to her less than picture-perfect family. She tries to craft a plan towards his future employment as far away from her as possible, but doesn’t realise how catastrophic things will become. Meanwhile, the town is plagued by sudden deaths and a thick smoke cloud that tricks the residents into thinking there’s no such thing as clean air…

Miracle is a beautiful, fraught coming-of-age novel based in Australia. Come for the teen angst and the trip down memory lane and stay for the family dynamics and societal displays. The world is instantly relatable and vibrant, yet still captures the mundanity of the everyday. This is a book to savour. It is full of beautiful poetic language that is begging to be read out loud. Take your time to chew over every rich, juicy word that Lane has carefully crafted and enjoy the charm and the messiness of the relatable characters. Take your heart on the journey to the end of Miracle’s childhood.

Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide | Regional News

Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide

Written by: Geoffrey Palmer and Gwen Palmer Steeds

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For a lot of people, democracy is the simple process of voting for politicians who you think will have your best interests at heart and will look after you in the short and long term. Unsurprisingly there’s more to it than that, and for those wishing to learn the nitty-gritty of how it works in New Zealand, we have the latest book from Geoffrey Palmer and Gwen Palmer Steeds titled Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide.

Going back to the beginnings of the first Māori wars and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, it explains how the English style of democracy first implanted itself in our country and how it grew and adapted to serve two very different cultures.

For me one of the best aspects of the book is the inclusion of interviews that the authors carried out. These include ones with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, former opposition leader Judith Collins, and ambassador to Ireland in waiting Trevor Mallard. They give us a rare peak into the mindset of the people that have helped to literally shape our lives in New Zealand. Ardern’s interview in particular stood out for me, as it gave me a better idea of how she thinks and her problem-solving process.

Another plus is the easy-to-read format of the book; I understood everything and never felt like anything went over my head.

One problem is the fact that politics is not for everyone and for some the subject will simply be a turnoff, which is shame because I think we should all have an understanding of the way our country is governed. I would still wholly recommend this book to those people, as it gave even a layperson like myself a better understanding of democracy, and how important it is to remain a part of the democratic process. As it says on the back cover, it’s a survival guide to democracy in Aotearoa.

Mind Free  | Regional News

Mind Free

Written by: Mark Stephens

Murdoch Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Much like the words challenging and unprecedented are burned into our collective consciousness when we think of the last couple of years, so too is the word mindfulness and the act and art of being mindful when we think of wellness and wellbeing.

But what does being mindful actually involve? In Mind Free, Mark Stephens looks at the limiting patterns, actions, and behaviours that are holding you back and how, through the techniques of mindful meditation and self-hypnosis that he’s developed over the years, you can overcome these.

Stephens talks of mindful meditation, where if you become one with the task you have at hand or your present moment, then even the simple act of preparing a cup of tea can become a mindful experience. I tried this with a similarly mundane activity: shopping at the supermarket, marvelling over avocados, noticing all my fellow shoppers and the sights and sounds around me.

But so many times my mind wandered from the present to the past; my mind a hybrid landscape where everything but the present was competing for thought time – it was hard to stay in the moment. Stephens says it’s about bringing your attention back to the present.

Having a mantra of positive affirmations like ‘I can handle anything’ or ‘I am strong’ or ‘I’ve got this’ is a strategy suggested for overcoming anxiety to consciously change your internal story. When you feel better you start to act differently and feel happier and more content, Stephens says. Meditation mandalas can be found dotted throughout Stephens’ 21 positive states of being, which he has identified as the positive states we all need in our lives – things like appreciation, calm, love, laughter, and optimism.

There are certainly some positive techniques in Mind Free and empowering actions to take using thought regulation and breathing techniques.

But sometimes the art of creating a mind that is free by breathing, meditating, living in the now, self-affirming, thinking positively, and stressing less is as complicated as its promised reward.

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV | Regional News

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV

Edited by Emily Brill-Holland

Paper Road Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Men flicker out like photos burned. Folklore fuses with our everydays. Birds no longer sing in cities. Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume IV is a beautifully curated collection of our country’s best science fiction and fantasy short stories. These are stories that you can enjoy on their own, picking up whenever you feel like a little literary snack, or it can be a whole meal that you devour in one sitting.

The volume begins strong with I Will Teach You Magic by Andi C. Buchanan. Buchanan’s story tucks you in with a spell of love woven into the ink. It stretches out of the pages, onto your fingers, and flows into your heart. It’s the perfect beginning to the collection like sitting around a campfire, hearing stories retold that have been passed down by generations.

Plague Year by Anuja Mitra skilfully spins an ever-so-relevant social commentary by playing within the familiarity of a classic folklore. Data Migration by Melanie Harding-Shaw is a beautifully crafted tragic glimpse into a reality that just may fall upon us. A stark reminder that regardless of whatever challenges we face, teachers are forever the glue of civilisation, building hope and light within new generations. Interview with Sole Refugee from the A303 Incident by James Rowland is an incredibly gripping short story that you don’t want to end. The only survivor walks on past all the pain, fuelled by the pressure to meet deadlines at work.

Because this is a collection of stories, there isn’t enough space in this review to address each of them. I absolutely recommend this gem of a book. Standouts in the volume were stories that lingered on the precipice of our realities but held enough distance to gain perspective. Voices are taken, time is stolen, and worlds crumble as we watch frozen as witnesses. The volume holds the magic of many voices that all should be heard.

Better the Blood | Regional News

Better the Blood

Written by: Michael Bennett

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

When I picked Better the Blood out of a list of books to review a couple of weeks ago I had no idea it would end up being one of the biggest surprises of my year. Suspenseful, gripping, and exhilarating are just some of the words that come to mind when describing its story. It centres around Senior Detective Sergeant Hana Westerman, a policewoman whose profession sometimes puts her at odds with her Māori ancestry.

Better the Blood’s biggest draw is its rich, deep writing. The characters and the world they live in is beautiful, almost four dimensional at times. Despite living in Auckland all my life, I found the version that Bennett described as something different.

Unsurprisingly, Hana has the deepest character development and it was not long before I began forging a bond with her, and was anxious to see where the story would take her next. What did surprise me though was how I began relating to the story’s main antagonist. While what he was doing was completely abhorrent, I understood why he was doing it, and even saw things from his perspective. Getting into your audience’s head and making them feel for the bad guy, making them understand their motives, to me is the mark of good narrative storytelling – bravo.

While the book starts slowly, it’s not long before the action picks up, and when the other shoe finally drops it’s a race against time to stop a killer who isn’t just as smart as the ones trying to stop him, but who at times is one or two steps ahead of them. Spending time not with just Hana but with the story’s big bad made me so happy and makes a refreshing change from the usual formula of just following the hero’s plotline.

More movie than book, Better the Blood will keep fans of detective dramas engaged until the end. One of the best surprises of the year, and a great one to cap off 2022 with.

Lost & Found: A Treasure Trove of Folk Tales | Regional News

Lost & Found: A Treasure Trove of Folk Tales

Written by: Elizabeth Garner


Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Upon settling into Elizabeth Garner’s Lost & Found: A Treasure Trove of Folk Tales, you are transported to an ancient world, but a world not so far away, a world still ours. A world of our forefathers that has been gifted to us, travelling through many generations to finally settle down in our laps. Lost & Found is a celebration of our human history as storytellers, an homage to the oral history that belongs to all of us now bound tightly within a book jacket, immortalised.

Garner’s storytelling ability truly elevates Lost & Found to the highest standard. You can hear the words echoing in your head as if they were spoken aloud, the whispers in your ear as if they were beside you. Garner’s voice is steady and matter of fact, recounting things as they are, have been, and always will be. The folk tales come to life again, speaking their truths and their histories as if they had never silenced in the first place.

Each story in Lost & Found is extremely accessible, as all folktales should be. The tales themselves are a perfect balance of tried-and-true narratives such as Little Stupid and The Whits of the Whetstone and lesser known stories. Each chronicle is imbued with the magic of folklore, each tale tinges our own world with enchantment, each story blurs the definition between reality and make-believe, but each one speaks a truth and passes on our collective generational knowledge.

Full of lessons of old, Lost & Found is the kind of book you read in front of a campfire out loud with family and friends; the kind of book that recalls your early memories from childhood when a parent or grandparent would tell you tales of how the world came to be or life lessons. These are the tales that we all share, the stories that bind humanity, the histories that make sense of the world, the narratives that make us innately and uniquely human.

Tauhou | Regional News


Written by: Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The title Tauhou is te reo Māori for “stranger”, and it sets us up for content that is surprising in its reach and contrasts. Nuttall is painstaking in her insistence on the essential fictional nature of this collection of stories – it doesn’t represent any real iwi or culture – but purposely pushes together two sides of her whakapapa.

She envisions a shared past between two Indigenous cultures and in doing so exposes the effects of colonisation. That this is done with examples, situations, and language that evoke and disturb while remaining eminently readable is a tribute to the writer.

Set on reimagined versions of Vancouver Island and Aotearoa, the action evolves through various characters and their situations. Hinau lives in a concrete block and has a job in a tribal propaganda office, which she shares with her cousin Salal. Their closeness is a recurring theme. But so is concrete, contrasting as it does sharply with images of nature, rendered longingly by a writer who laments its abuse.

“The beat of a tattoo needle is like the steady pounding of a drum.” Such a sentence, the first in the story Moko, promises to satisfy any reader’s curiosity about the art of tattoo, plus the feelings and motivation of someone who’s receiving one. It’s predictably graphic and absolutely fascinating. If you don’t intend ever getting a tattoo, reading this chapter is the next best thing!

Family members and experiences have particular significance. I related to the father Pa in Stones – recognising the taciturnity that disguises the caring of many fathers. “When he returns for the day, I know to be quiet and reserved”, remarks our sensitive writer daughter.

As well as the use of te reo, several of the stories include words in SENĆOŦEN, the language of the W̱SÁNEĆ people, one part of the author’s whakapapa. “I use these words to bring myself closer to my tipuna and to spread the fire of our language further.”

Tauhou represents a recognition, acknowledgement, and sometimes salutary reminder of pasts and how we might
reconcile them.

Peninsula  | Regional News


Written by: Sharron Came

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Wellington-based author Sharron Came serves up a slice of true rural New Zealand in her captivating debut novel Peninsula. Every sentence is layered with small details that reveal more about the families and characters at the heart of the book and make the characters almost appear in front of the reader.

At first glance it appears to be an homage to a way of life in Northland that’s stayed the same for many decades, affected only by the changing seasons. Stoic Jim and Di Carlton have been running their farm forever and will be there until they die. But then the stories of new characters are interwoven – there’s their former daughter-in-law Kiri who moved back to Northland for family and seems trapped there, and her tree-loving school friend Ritchie who’s moved to Brisbane to run an ecology consultancy and has returned to connect with friends. Jim and Di’s daughter Rachel Carlton has been working as a lawyer in Europe and returns to the small community of Hereford instinctively, even though she feels the ties binding her may “slowly choke the life out of her”.

Small changes start to creep in like the new subdivisions encroaching on the edges of the village and farm bringing urban life, complete with electric vehicles, closer to their rural idyll. Then as you get further into the book the sheen starts to come off the perfect rural lifestyle, as we’re introduced to characters struggling with marriage breakdowns, meth addiction, and children who have disappeared or died.

The plot and the pace meander, so roll with it and enjoy the slow unfurling of the characters one by one.

I haven’t read a book that captures the people, conversations, and lives of rural New Zealanders as well as this. It transported me right back to the interactions and experiences I had when I lived in rural Canterbury. Peninsula is a beautifully written book rich in detail and full of complex, multidimensional characters that will stay with you.

Fono – The Contest for the Governance of Sāmoa | Regional News

Fono – The Contest for the Governance of Sāmoa

Written by: Peter Swain

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This book embarrassed me into awareness of how little I knew about the island nation of Sāmoa – a nation that has fought long and courageously for an ideal form of governance for its people to live their own way of life. If you think that would be a relatively straightforward process, Fono will disabuse you.

Author Peter Swain had earlier collaborated with then-Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi on his memoir Palemia. The two realised the importance of placing the latter’s story in the context of Sāmoa’s political development since independence – and the importance of relating the story, previously recorded in obscure academic texts, in factually plain language. Hence Fono.

‘Fono’, both noun and verb, refers to ‘village council’ or ‘committee’ and describes how Sāmoans governed themselves in small communities. The Polynesian universe, centred on Sāmoa and Tonga, stayed happily in its subsistent way of life until disruption came in the form of European explorers, adventurers, traders, missionaries, and settlers.

Chapter 4: New Zealand Administration held the greatest interest for me. Germany gave up control of Sāmoa to the New Zealand military at the start of World War I, and consequently Western Sāmoa had its desire for self-governance postponed. It wasn’t until 1935 that the NZ Labour Party, led by Michael Savage, took power – something that marked a dramatic change of attitude to Sāmoa and its aspirations.

The arrival of American forces in Apia in 1942 coincided with a spurt in Sāmoa’s economy. Then Peter Fraser, Savage’s successor, visited the country in 1944 and listened to its grievances. American President Harry Truman, often cited as favouring the close of an era of colonisation, added his voice.

Fono is enhanced by the inclusion of vivid and telling photographs. But its greatest enhancement is the language in which its remarkable content is expressed. As a plain English proponent, I fully appreciated the elements employed by the writer to make his narrative easy to read: short sentences, easily comprehensible vocabulary, and proper paragraphing.

Gone to Ground | Regional News

Gone to Ground

Written by: Bronwyn Hall


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Being dropped in the middle of a war zone would not be a picnic for most people, but for United Nations surgeon Rachel Forester it’s all part of the job. So when she’s asked to travel to a mobile hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she doesn’t hesitate.

While originally there to simply administer some vaccines, things take a turn for the worse when armed rebels risk finding them, and with no air support Rachel must ‘go to ground’ in the Congolese jungle to survive. Thankfully she’s not alone and is accompanied by a group of three soldiers, who we soon discover have another mission in mind besides escorting Rachel to safety.

What makes Gone to Ground such a compelling read is the story being told. Like all good authors, Bronwyn Hall transports her readers into her narrative and gives them a taste of what the characters are going through – in this case, armed conflict. I could actually feel the tension ramp up as things really hit the fan, and found myself eager to find out what would happen next.

Rachel herself is a great protagonist and while she seems like a fish out of water at first, it becomes clear that there is more to her than meets the eye. It would have been so easy to make her the classic clichéd damsel in distress like so many other novels, but instead she’s written as smart, resourceful, and stubborn, standing her ground when she sees something that she doesn’t like or agree with.

The book has a bit of everything: adventure, danger, intrigue, and even romance, which I thought was a bit odd given the circumstances. However, as a reader not into their romance novels, I get that this is a ‘me problem’ and I wouldn’t consider it a negative when it comes to this book.

Bottom line, if you want a bit of excitement with a fun and realistic heroine, then look no further than Gone to Ground.

One Weka Went Walking | Regional News

One Weka Went Walking

Written by: Kate Preece

Bateman Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

One Weka Went Walking is a good early introduction for kids to the birds of the Chatham Islands, where the inquisitive weka encounters all types of birds on his journey across the islands.

Pippa Ensor has created beautiful illustrations that appear to be exquisitely created with watercolours; these highlight the beauty of each bird, from the muted shades of the Chatham Island warbler to the mottled blues of the Chatham Island tūī.

Author Kate Preece offers a simple yet catchy flow of words in One Weka Went Walking, with some te reo Māori translations and very occasionally Moriori. There are neat facts about the different birds that inhabit the Chatham Islands, some of which are threatened – like the nationally endangered Chatham Island tomtit or the threatened, nationally vulnerable Chatham Island snipe, which Preece incidentally offers a delightful fact about: it is as long as a pencil and lighter than a bar of soap, making it the smallest snipe in the Southern Hemisphere.

With curious facts at the bottom of each page, there’s a little bit more on offer for kids to absorb, like the fact that 12 buff wekas were released on Chatham Island in 1905 and now there are tens of thousands living there. Or ones of a more sneaky variety, like the fact that shining cuckoos, although rare, are known for sneaking their eggs into the Chatham Island warbler nests, and once the cuckoo hatches, it kicks the other eggs or chicks out of the nest.

One Weka Went Walking is a quaint book that will appeal to young children, particularly those with an interest in birds and
the diversity of nature. The rhythmic flow and repetition of words in One Weka Went Walking creates a delightful story of a weka’s encounters with other birds that cleverly and simply tells: who is endangered, who is at risk, who eats what, who lives where, who’s plumper than fat, and who has a mohawk down the back of their back.

People Person | Regional News

People Person

Written by: Joanna Cho

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

People Person is Joanna Cho’s first collection. In poetry and prose, it is largely a tribute to her mother. A lengthy narrative piece relates the saga of emigration to New Zealand from South Korea, with wistful family memories alternating with unwelcome domestic dramas. Although every immigrant story must be unique, it is salutary to imagine Cho’s one may be typical.

“Each version of the family stories forms an overlapping polyphony. These are our heirlooms and we are the school choir” suggests an upbeat attitude though, come what may.

“Some people think I can’t do the dishes / Because I don’t do it their way” had me hooked from the start. I could almost guess where a poem titled The Right Way was headed, and I took special delight in the poet’s image of “a murder of bent backs circling and cawing ‘You’re doing it wrong!’” This poem – redolent of domesticity – captures well the theme of the collection: that of fitting in orcomplying with the habits, convictions, and culture of a country not your own.

Yet another poem I could relate to was Picking the Good One which facilitates the possibly wry observation “I’ve moved so often I don’t know where half my things are / All in op shops really” and concludes with a philosophical comment about choice.

80% of How Attractive You are is Determined by Your Haircut is a provocative title that didn’t quite fulfil its promise. I searched for a theme that held throughout five pages. Was it “At the salon they cut layers to mirror stages of trust”? I’m not sure, but there were curious references to beds of mussels, monogamous and polyamorous relationships – oh, and basketball players, another of Cho’s favoured subjects.

The sustained theme of They was more satisfying, with its metaphor of orange fish in an aquarium representing the “they” who are working on the building opposite. “The pulled lipless mouth” and “the familial gills” were riveting images, leading to a confronting conclusion.

Cho’s work promises further thoughtful delights of subject, theme, and expression.

Whiskey Lima Golf | Regional News

Whiskey Lima Golf

Written by: Darin Dance

The Bach Doctor Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Welcome to international spies in downtown Welly! Tom (Tamiti) Yelich is the lead character and has recently returned, badly injured, from his time fighting in Afghanistan. His ‘brother from another mother’, Devon, is by his side to help him rehabilitate and work out at the gym. Tom experiences reliving the horrors of war and was told he might not be able to walk unaided again, which makes him more determined. Tom returns to live with his moko (grandfather) in a small and run-down apartment situated in Wellington’s railway station. I’m thinking platform 9¾ as it seems ludicrous to me. Moko saved passengers’ lives once upon a time and the payback is he gets to live here, much to the annoyance of the Kiwirail employee, Mr Dunkell, who tries to evict them. To avoid being evicted they find a bylaw which means they have to set up a business in order to also live there. White Rabbit Investigations is born and has a staff of six no less.

This book includes te reo and Māori culture as the lead characters are Māori. There isn’t much descriptive language or lovely turns of phrase though, reflecting the lead characters’ ex-army background. However, I like stories set in Wellington as it brings them to life for me. But I would have thought Tom on crutches would be an in-plain-sight spy, but he and his crew follow international spies on a skateboard, crutches, and in cars. The spy team includes two youngsters who are good at tech, two older Māori men who know stuff, and Tom and Devon. Between them they form a tight team that also manages to reunite an old lady with her missing cat, in between all the spying high jinks going on around town. Epic!

At the end it says “To be continued…” so maybe White Rabbit Investigations is moving on to bigger and better operations?
Stay tuned…

The Women of Troy | Regional News

The Women of Troy

Written by: Pat Barker

Penguin Random House UK

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

A city sacked and burned. Families displaced and killed. The world of Troy’s women forever changed. As the Greeks celebrate their victory over a senseless war, the captured women of Troy wrestle with their fate, some perhaps preferring to have died alongside the men while others make the most of their new life working their way up the social ladder from servitude to concubine. The best fate a woman of Troy can hope for is attachment to a Greek soldier, serving his every whim until her dying day for his ‘mercy’. Or is it?

Pat Barker’s The Women of Troy examines the unwritten stories of the women in a world of men; how they survive when they are not wanted or hardly even considered human. Briseis is torn between standing up and keeping her head down like she always has, which elevated her from slave to Achilles’ lover. But how can she love his child she carries when the father massacred her village? Helen suffers the consequences of actions that were not hers by choice. Blamed for the war, the Greeks and Trojans alike hate her; no sympathy from either the men or women, no one to save her. Andromache withers away, dreading the moment in which Pyrrhus, murderer of her husband and child, beckons her to his bed as a prize of honour. Hecuba curses the heavens and attempts to rally the women to avenge Priam and Troy; after all, the women are all Troy has left. Helle, a Trojan slave, is eager to climb the ranks of the camp. Never having family of her own, she is used to fending for herself. Amina, courageous and fierce, refuses to acknowledge her new life and risks destruction.

The Women of Troy is bold, brave, and bewitching. Barker gives a voice to the unheard, unacknowledged, unrecognised narratives of the women of Troy. Every girl, woman, and man should hear their stories.

Home Theatre | Regional News

Home Theatre

Written by: Anthony Lapwood

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

All life’s a drama, and an even more telling one it seems if you live in an apartment. Home Theatre recounts the experiences of some of those who dwell – unwillingly or unwittingly – in Repertory Apartments, formerly the location of the Wellington Repertory Society Theatre. An intriguing article, purportedly reprinted from the Evening Post of 1922, describes a fire that destroyed the theatre, thus providing a macabre but provocative context for our characters.

The Difficult Art of Bargaining has a husband and wife reluctantly rehousing due to bankruptcy, something the wife cannot help referring to, despite her husband’s efforts to look on the bright side of things. The bargaining of the title refers to a sofa offered to the incoming residents by a friendly chap a few doors along. The ensuing dialogue about the state of the sofa is wince-producing, revealing the characters of all participants. The hint of a hopeful outcome is as welcome as it is surprising.

“Traipsing along the footpath, Emma gave the baguette a squeeze” is an appetising start to It’s Been a Long Time. Emma’s preparing a lunch for long-lost friend Paige and has dared to ask her to bring a bottle of wine. “It’s been a long time since I last touched a drop”. Those of us who note the “dared” realise exactly where she’s coming from! But the lift misbehaves, the baguette is wrecked, and Emma is felled. And Paige, who has bounded up the far safer stairs, eventually succumbs to the gift bottle of vodka she’d brought for the occasion.

Perhaps the most salutary tale is that of Melati, who is seeking the prize of the eponymous title: A Spare Room. The account of her interview by a housing bureaucrat is all too familiar. Myriad questions, seemingly irrelevant, are asked; they receive nervously reluctant answers. “Volumetric reporting was part of her reality” is the nearest we get to a judgment of the clock-watching bureaucrat.

Home Theatre is aptly described as genre-bending, bookended as it is by two lengthy, fittingly fantastical tales.

The Language of Food | Regional News

The Language of Food

Written by: Annabel Abbs

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

The Language of Food is where food and poetry intertwine. Ms Eliza Acton is 36 with secrets afoot. Mistress of a boarding house, poet at heart, rising cook, and in the year 1835, she’s considered a spinster at best. Ann Kirby is a scullery maid, soon to be 17. Green around the edges, young and free-spirited, and with secrets of her own, she has come to work for Eliza. Both are very different women bound by a life of service in their own inevitable ways.

Swept away by the nostalgia of a time gone by, Annabel Abbs expertly tells the shared story of the scullery maid who dreams of being a cook, and the other of her mistress, a self-proclaimed spinster from Suffolk who dreams of being a poet – but is told to write a cookery book instead.

Words meld together delectably with Abb’s decadent narration, where the lushness of food and its various states highlight the emotions of two very vivid characters. “My mind, which a few minutes ago was whisked to a foaming peak, goes very small and tight and still. Like a hazelnut.”

When Eliza first meets Ann she is like a breath of fresh air: “her presence has set me alight. She is such a slither of a girl. Like a thinly flaked almond. Her shoulder blades jutting like stunted wings. Her large luminous eyes lighting up from pockets of darkness, like church candles. Her boots peeling away from their soles... And yet she has a palate capable of distinguishing the subtlest of flavours.”

Through a work of fiction, Abbs has bought Eliza Acton, widely thought of as writing the first cookery book for general use, to life in a sumptuous feast of storytelling that may, in the hands of another author, have otherwise resulted in ordinary fare. I thoroughly enjoyed The Language of Food, a tale of an unlikely friendship that brews, bakes, and rests as the twists and turns of ambition get in the way.

The Bricktionary | Regional News

The Bricktionary

Written by: Ryan McNaught

Murdoch Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Ryan McNaught has perhaps one of the coolest jobs in the world. He is, as he says, a LEGO-certified professional – one of only a select few in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. His job is literally to make LEGO models for stores and events around the world.

Until I had the pleasure of reading McNaught’s The Bricktionary, I never knew LEGO made lightning elements in Powered Up or Power Function sets. These are designed to add a bit of drama or pizazz to your LEGO creations. Nor did I know about LEGO maths and pro techniques for creating a stunning illusion of water.

Putting things together is not my forte – transformers with missing arms and legs come to mind – except LEGO has always been different. There’s something quietly reassuring about sitting ensconced, head down in LEGO instructions (mostly with my child) knowing each coloured brick will bring us closer to the end product, whether it’s a Ninjago scene, a Minecraft something, or a Batman-inspired car. LEGO is cool, though never ever underfoot.

LEGO is serious business for McNaught, although there is a strange juxtaposition throughout this book of so much potential fun and interesting facts to be found alongside the serious business of LEGO creation. In the first few pages there’s a photo of McNaught holding a pretty impressive LEGO-comprised hamburger, while the carefully stacked containers behind him are telltale signs of someone further down the LEGO rabbit hole than first anticipated. Neatly stacked LEGO beams from within, colour coded, brick sorted, and size categorised.

Under ‘F’ I was able to expand my increasing LEGO vocabulary. FLU stands for a fundamental LEGO unit, which equates to the width and length of a one-by-one Lego plate or brick. Under ‘T’ I found the most impressive treehouse I’ve seen, LEGO or otherwise.

The Bricktionary will appeal to the LEGO-lover in you. Oh, and of course, your children.

You Probably Think This Song is About You | Regional News

You Probably Think This Song is About You

Written by: Kate Camp

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

In case you didn’t know it, the difference between an autobiography and a memoir is that whereas an autobiography delivers the reader a chronological, strictly factual, and detailed account of your life (yawn?), a memoir is much more selective. It rearranges content, and it can become reflectively fanciful.

Poet Kate Camp’s You Probably Think This Song is About You decidedly falls into the second category. Camp, in writing as in life, has taken on her mother’s mantra: “Never apologise, never explain”. Does that attitude demonstrate courage or defiance? One or the other, or maybe a bit of both, accounts for this warts-and-all story of a life.

From years of wetting herself, to smoking cigarettes and dope, to binge drinking, to attaching herself to drug dealing, sometimes violent boyfriends – Camp paints an unedifying picture. And sure enough, there’s no accompanying explanation for why a girl from Khandallah would for so many years – and for half a book – indulge in such heedless hedonism.

If there’s a price though, she’s paid it. A couple of bizarre accidents, plus grisly sounding, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to get pregnant through IVF, lead her to reflect. Though I’m at a loss to understand her dismay at her inability to conceive – is this liberated thinking? At about this time, too, Camp meets future partner Paul, whose treatment of her is exemplary. “Paul comes out of this story very well” is an understatement – the man is a modern saint.

Camp’s analysis of Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life is thought provoking. It examines the conundrum of a book on self-healing that contains questionable suggestions about self-responsibility – an apt comment on Camp’s own life?

But some of Hay’s affirmations worked! Chiefly: “I always find time for my own creative work” has surely been useful, ultimately giving rise to her life as a poet. I’m glad there is an acknowledgements section – we get Camp’s gratitude to those who have contributed to make her life what it was – and is.

Night Meditations | Regional News

Night Meditations

Allen & Unwin

By editors of Rock Point

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Night Meditations is a calming and restorative journal that traverses the seasons: winter, fall, summer, and spring. Helping to encourage a quiet mindfulness, it encourages restful and meditative sleep by creating the opportunity to identify what is holding you back or impeding your access to good sleep and rest.

Night Meditations poses many questions to consider and there are journal pages for you to document your thoughts. This helps prompt you to stop, pause, and consider your life holistically to identify what your creative outlets are and what you view as restorative. It helps you consider your environment, your faith, and awareness of self-care while encouraging you to find peace in stressful times.

Muted colours and sweeping illustrations only serve to further entice you to reflect on your life and how time and happenstance can either create great wonder or stressful burdens that can compete with your ability to sleep well.

Journaling is peaceful and contemplative and is a great way to delve into a quiet introspection that comes from stopping, resting, and taking the time to consider your frame of mind; it’s almost like your own hypnotic guide. A slower pace and uncluttered mind is all conducive to a better sleep. Night Meditations encourages you to disconnect, put pen to paper, and take the time to slow down.

I’ve read that the importance of sleep is often underrated, and I think it’s true. What can be done to get more of it? How can it be more restful, restorative, and beneficial to our physical and mental wellbeing? These are all questions I’ve considered.

If you are looking for a simple yet very intentional way to pause and break down everything that may be hindering restful sleep, then Night Meditations is a good place to start.

“Identify the ‘weeds’ in your garden. Write about ways that take up space in your life, and how you can make room for new growth.”

Give Unto Others | Regional News

Give Unto Others

Written by: Donna Leon

Penguin Books New Zealand

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

I had to put pen to paper as soon as I’d finished Donna Leon’s latest novel Give Unto Others so no other fans of detective novels made the same mistake as me. My error was not reading this author sooner. 

Donna Leon’s writing is beautiful. Her character descriptions, particularly of her older characters, are exquisite in the little details of behaviour and interplay that reveal so much about the person. Her treatment of a scene where a former vice admiral with Alzheimer’s disease – a proud man with status – pockets the silver cutlery at a dinner and a conversation between the detective and a former upper-class neighbour are so gentle in capturing the unsaid that it would be easy to underestimate the quality of the writing.

A bit about the plot before I go on. This is the latest in a series of crime novels set in Venice, featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. Brunetti is twiddling his thumbs in between COVID lockdowns and so agrees to look into the seemingly innocent concerns of a former neighbour and family friend about her son-in-law’s business. This sends him on a twisting path to get to the truth. He and the reader begin to wonder who is pulling the strings and whether Brunetti’s sense of obligation to an old family friend will get him into trouble.

Usually when I read a crime novel, I race through it to find out the killer. Donna Leon’s descriptions are so gentle yet so captivating that it forced me to slow down and enjoy every sentence. The pace of the novel though is spot on.

Occasionally – not often – as a reader I get a glimpse of a writer at the top of their game. Donna Leon, at 80 years old, is definitely a writer at the top of her game. I hope she has many more novels yet to come to share with this newfound fan.

Arms & Legs | Regional News

Arms & Legs

Written by: Chloe Lane

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

‘Arms and legs’ are a recurring theme in this book about Georgie, her husband Dan, and their son Finn, New Zealanders who end up living in America. It’s set in humid Florida which adds to the friction. It’s about the unravelling of their relationship, her infidelity, and the hurt that it causes them both.

Georgie is the storyteller and realises that her marriage may be more fragile than she thought, and there is a lot on the line
once Dan learns about the infidelity. Arms & Legs is well written and captures the awkwardness of a marriage going bad. It made me feel anxious and sick in places, as it’s so close to the reality of how a solid relationship can unfold very quickly and then
there’s no pulling it back. The little details about irritating conversations and misunderstandings are so easy to relate to. I wished she’d be brave and leave him but she couldn’t even apologise for her lousy behaviour.

There is some lovely imagery, including: “Dan responded by quietly folding and sealing himself up like an envelope.” Haven’t we all been that envelope? “It was as if something was loosened, a ribbon pulled free of itself.” “Cleared a space for him in my heart” and “But it tapped on a nearby wall in my brain.”

Aside from the marriage and affair, there is the wildlife to contend with including snakes, raccoons, bats, and the planned burn-offs in the countryside. One burn-off leads Georgie to the unfortunate discovery of the body of a student from the university she works at, who had been missing for a month. She retells those images to friends, which I thought was brutal, graphic, and unnecessary. But we all say things we shouldn’t, right?

I don’t know how things are going to end up for them but it was a good read. Maybe relationships should be as basic as being about arms and legs and which ones you choose to entangle yourself with. Be careful what you wish for!

The Echo of a Thousand Voices | Regional News

The Echo of a Thousand Voices

Written by: Jillian Webster

Jillian Webster

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

In this thrilling new novel, Maia and her friends face off against new threats after reaching the fabled city of Leucothea. After surviving in the wilds of a broken Earth for so long, it finally looks like Maia has found a safe harbour. But it soon becomes clear that the city is not the saviour so many people think it is.

Jillian Webster’s third entry into The Forgotten Ones saga really does a great job of pulling together all the groundwork that the first two books laid down, giving readers an exhilarating final ride as Maia struggles against seemingly insurmountable odds to protect the ones she loves. The action is more intense, and the stakes higher.

I have always believed that it’s the characters that make stories compelling, and the character development here is grade-A perfect. While I love them all, and each one is memorable in their own right, Maia remains my all-time favourite. She journeys from a naive young woman living in the wilds of New Zealand to a heroine finally in control of her destiny, with strange powers that have only grown stronger throughout the series.

Of course, great characters and their stories come from equally great writing and Webster has done a stellar job of taking the world she first created in The Weight of a Thousand Oceans and expanding on it, adding to its richness. The city of Leucothea is particularly well written and while I won’t give too much away, I feel that it mirrors some of the problems faced by its real-world counterparts.

The Echo of a Thousand Voices reminds me a lot of Game of Thrones (the novels) in that it’s a huge open living world with a meaty story where everything and everyone is there for a reason, and nothing is filler. My advice? Buy all three books in Maia’s saga, lock the doors, take the phone off the hook, hunker down, and enjoy.

Olive Kitteridge | Regional News

Olive Kitteridge

Written by: Elizabeth Strout

Simon & Schuster UK

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Olive Kitteridge is a heavy yet deeply touching portrait of a life and the lives surrounding it in the small town of Crosby, Maine.

Olive, or Mrs Kitteridge, is a matter-of-fact woman. She taught maths in the local school, took her husband for granted in life yet was deeply devoted in illness, and her son seems to grow more emotionally distant by the day. Though perhaps not the most personable character, Olive is deeply human. Always sure of herself throughout life, she has never been one for sentimentality, yet in her old age she finds herself lonely and afraid, reflecting on life, love, and loss.

The residents of Crosby, all inextricably connected in their triumphs and tragedies, trudge through life and more often than not, move forward together. Despite the ups and downs, the whispers and the grudges, the deaths and the disappointments, the people of Crosby carry on, for better or for worse, cherishing the good and the moments in which the community bands together.

A highly sensitive and perceptive author, Elizabeth Strout writes people from their essence, from the most distilled part of themselves. Deeply psychological, each character is fully complex, often expressing troubling moral dilemmas and thoughts we may not even admit to having ourselves. The balance between what one thinks and what one does is executed seamlessly. Olive Kitteridge seems almost more a study than a story, each character’s portrait painted in all its colours, each mind whittled down to its deepest darkest thoughts and fears, each soul so innately human.

Strout’s Olive Kitteridge is not for the faint of heart. Fatalistic and at times unnecessarily depressing, very little good seems to happen, only stories of woe and misfortune. Yet life is both ups and downs. A series of events that go from bad to worse, none of the characters actually seem happy; rather slogging through a life with no light at the end of any tunnel. Olive Kitteridge is pragmatic, candid, and unapologetically human.

The Stupefying | Regional News

The Stupefying

Written by: Nick Ascroft

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This poet enjoys luxuriating in a linguistic lake, and with his collection The Stupefying he invites us to take a dip.

I dog paddled a bit, but truly caught up with him when I reached Why I Changed My Surname. Although a check with the end notes was necessary to learn the answer to the question posed in the title, this ballad was delightful for two reasons: it deals with teenage agonies most of us can relate to, and Ascroft uses rhyme to enhance his wry observations. “For co-ed summer camps I’m good to go. / I have no friends in French class though.” And “The taunts of others’ loathing / are internalised and worn as clothing”.

I thought I was coasting along, but not a hope. Next came Great-Grandad Rants over Current Affairs in which our poet’s luxuriating turns to lunging. What a marvellous poetic excoriation of our digitally dominated world! “If some goon lobs a Frisbee, or a cherub swats a golf tee, SLAP? / Where do you find that crap? / That app.”

Therefore We Commit This Body to the Ground takes on board another contemporary theme – our plastic waste. No amount of rhyming can, or should, save this subject from such bald statements as “Production will assault a giddy new high / of 100 million tonnes in 2022.” Or indeed “Paper to paper. Recycled paper to ash. / Ashes to en dashes.” (Our poet couldn’t resist such an esoteric punctuational allusion.)

The Third and most Stupefying Bike Spill references the title, but more effective stupefying is to be found in Knock Knock. Who’s there? Nietzsche. This is Ascroft at his best – most personal and most devastating. The poem ostensibly deals with comedians and their ploys for laughs. But nevertheless “Comedy is the last line of defence against dogma and puritanism. / The other lines of defence had best be / better suited to the job or we’re all f**ked.” I’d say Ascroft the serious comedian is doing his bit to keep us all afloat.

Tough Outback | Regional News

Tough Outback

Written by: Mike Bellamy


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If writing has taught me one thing, it is that everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do, has a story to tell. This is the story of Mike Bellamy, a New Zealander who spent 30 years mining in the Australian Outback.

Some of his stories are laugh-out-loud funny, and clearly happened before any real trade regulations or political correctness came into force. I say this because I am fairly certain none of these adventures would have been allowed to happen in today’s workforce.

And while I loved all his stories, it was the characters he met along the way that kept me the most engaged. As Bellamy himself put it, those that came to the mining industry were a mixed bag – or as the saying goes, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some even ended up calling him their friend and helping him out with his career. For me, the characters were the real stars of the show. This isn’t meant as a negative, but the work he did took a back seat and didn’t quite capture my interest as much as the people and the small Outback towns he encountered.

Bellamy’s writing style is very personable; it felt as if he was standing in the room next to me as I read. One real nit-pick is that the book never really gives you much of a time reference. When the author decides to move on, a date isn’t specified so I was forced to ‘guesstimate’ every time he left and started a new job. Again a small issue, but one that was noticeable, especially when other memoirs give you a timestamp of when events occur.

Mining made Australia a powerhouse almost 20 years ago, and if you want to see that from the perspective of one of the people who helped make that happen, Tough Outback may be just up your alley. It’s a genuinely funny, honest story told from a unique perspective.

Big Feelings  | Regional News

Big Feelings

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Big Feelings by Rebekah Ballagh explores the world of feelings and the raft of emotions children can feel. Big Feelings is immediately appealing with warm and charming illustrations; bright, encouraging, and inviting. Placing importance on expressing and normalising feelings rather than minimising them, Balllagh gives children insight into having their own agency to display their emotions, whatever they may be.

To me Big Feelings is a great introduction to emotional resilience. Who knows what future resilience will follow if children can let out all their big feelings from when they are little, knowing that everything will still be okay? One of my favourite quotes by Catherine M. Wallace is “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” As a mother of primary and teenaged children, I can certainly attest to the merits of having kids who have learned to express their feelings as they grow and develop. Big Feelings includes a section for parents and teachers to support children to do this.

I asked my son a question from this section: “How do you act when you feel…” He chose happy and responded, “I feel joyous, like a happy virus is running through my body.” I certainly liked the sound of a happy virus instead of the one of late. On the subject of mad and angry feelings, he was quick to mention his ‘frenemy’ who is sometimes nice and sometimes mad.

Big Feelings helps to teach kids that it’s ok to be mad, sad, excited, afraid, or ashamed – the world will carry on, just like they will, and if they can do so with the support of those who love them, they’ll be all the better for it.

“Feeling silly now and then releases stress and strife. It helps to have a little fun to weather storms in life,” Ballagh says.

The Stasi Poetry Circle | Regional News

The Stasi Poetry Circle

Written by: Philip Oltermann

Faber & Faber

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

No, the title of this book is not a joke! But can you think of a greater incongruity than that between members of the Stasi – East Germany’s secret police of the 1980s – and an interest in lyric poetry? Or does that question expose my ignorance of the cultural climate of the times and the German fanatical attachment to all such things?

To say that this book was a revelation – albeit an uncomfortable one – is an understatement. Author Philip Oltermann spent five years rifling through Stasi files, digging up lost volumes of poetry, and tracking down surviving members of this Red poet’s society to uncover the little-known story of the famously ruthless intelligence agency’s obsession with literature.

Why had the Stasi set up such a thing as “the working circle of writing Chekists”? Oltermann’s interviewees provide a range of answers, all of which make for fascinating reading. The group’s leader, “the thin man with the thick glasses”, was Uwe Berger, a man of reputedly “monkish asceticism” who had somehow avoided becoming a political tool, and instead used his role as poetry tutor to carry out a “personal mission as a living link to Germany’s darkest hour”.

One of the poems that made it into the Red booklet was called Come. It consisted of an appeal for honesty and comradeship, yet contained the lines “Come…but not just to complain / because then / You had better not come at all”.

Germany’s descent into a paranoid culture war is well charted. Were writers indeed embedding subversive ideas in their work? Annegret Gollin, a young woman who could be described as non-conformist, was ultimately arrested, and her poems seized. During interrogation, she was asked to explain and interpret her own poems!

Oltermann has employed literary terms as chapter headings. Some, such as sonnet, metaphor, and persona would be familiar to readers. Less familiar though would be consonance, bathos, and dissonance. Each title introduces content bearing on the author’s remarkable account.

Weaponising poetry – who would have thought it? Only the Stasi surely – or am I being naïve?

Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4 | Regional News

Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4

Written by: Anh Do

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

It probably would have been good to read the first three of Anh Do’s Skydragon series instead of diving headfirst into book four. Nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised despite having to play catchup on the premise.

First we meet Amber, so used to her innate ability to turn into a skydragon that after a concussion she is left worried her powers, which once saw her connect with insects and turn into a skydragon at the first sign of imminent danger, may never return.

Anh Do has a great ability to create adventures that are easy to read and not too daunting for the child listening or the parent reading, with chapters that are not too long yet entertaining nevertheless. With a healthy dose of cartoon-like images by illustrator James Hart, characters are brought to life in the ultimate adventure.

My son was not initially keen to read Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4. It was in his mind, presumably decided by first glance, a “girl’s book”. When I heard this I tried to discern whether it was the colourful cover, the female heroine on said cover, or something that seemed to scream there are girls lurking on the inside. It was, he admitted, the cover and its female protagonist Amber. Not to worry, we moved past this ideation pretty quickly with a “really, there’s no such thing as a girl’s or boy’s book”. Rather, in this book, there’s a promise of adventure, a quest to regain lost powers, and to boot, a strong female lead on a journey of self-discovery. Will she escape the clutches of nemesis Agent Ferris, despite not having her usual powers?

In Brave the Storm, adventure takes Amber and neighbour Irene deep into the jungle of Sennam where brief encounters as tourists quickly dissipate after they become embroiled in jungle warfare in a death-defying bid to help an ancient tribe. Spoiler, the end will certainly have you excited for book five.

The Social Lives of Animals | Regional News

The Social Lives of Animals

Written by: Ashley Ward

Profile Books Ltd

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“Sociability”, states author Ashley Ward, is “the ability to live and work alongside one another in groups, to co-operate”. Sociability forms the bedrock of our human existence and success, and in this remarkable tome he sets out to demonstrate such a thesis.

Ward wastes little time lamenting the march of technology and its destructive effect upon our lives. Instead, we get fascinating examples of communication and co-operation from the technology-free world of insects and animals.

Most of us would probably think at once of bees and cite their industrious nectar collecting and their egg-laying queen. You think you know all about bees? Buzz off! The chapter titled Honey, I fed the kids offers a hive of information: a bee in its lifetime produces only a fraction of a teaspoon of honey, the queen, laying thousands of eggs a day, works herself to death for the good of her colony, and bees employ a fearless kamikaze to defend their nests.

Ants and termites belong to the same category of super organisms and are equally fascinating – and cooperative.

Moving to a watery element, Ward’s expedition to the Azores to study the social behaviour of whales and dolphins nets some extraordinary observations. From his vantage point, safe in a vessel, he finds himself in the middle of a mammalian family frolic, smaller whales circling a huge matriarch. A small one would swim into the matriarch’s oar-like lower jaw and rest there, apparently receiving a very gentle nibble from Mum, before being released. Sociable? Not everyone’s idea of a whale of a time!

“Primates are the new kids on the animal block, having appeared around sixty five million years ago”, Ward reminds us. As you might expect, his chapter on our nearest relatives (there’s a huge overlap in our DNA) contains hilarious tales of monkey business in all its guises. One of my favourites was reading that vervet monkeys enjoy alcohol and get drunk! Who are we humans to point fingers? It’s all in the interests of sociability of course!

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief | Regional News

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Written by: A.F. Steadman

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Cade Manava (10)

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is a book about a boy named Skandar who loves to watch unicorns race and goes on a quest to try and find the right unicorn to match his spirit. He gets swept up in a lie when he tells his sister Kenna that he is training to be a unicorn rider, something only the best of the best get to do. Kenna then tells his whole school so he has no choice but to set out to make his little white lie a reality. On his travels he sees different unicorns. His favourite is New-Age Frost, whose rider Aspen McGrath had qualified for the Chaos Cup, the ultimate race every unicorn and rider dreams to participate in. The main characters are Skandar, his sister Kenna, and his dad. 

My favourite part of the book was the beginning because it was interesting to read about Skandar’s background and where he’s from. I also liked the end because there was much more action when the book started to wrap up. Even though at first I wasn’t that keen on reading about unicorns… mostly because it makes me think of pink and rainbows (which isn’t my usual thing), there was so much action and excitement that it changed my view on how I feel about all things unicorn.

There wasn’t much that I didn’t like apart from a few boring bits at the start. The only thing that didn’t interest me as much was that the book was about unicorns… which isn’t something that would usually catch my interest, but otherwise there wasn’t really anything that I didn’t enjoy.

Overall I enjoyed Skandar and the Unicorn Thief. It’s great to read before bed. For boys I think the age should be nine to 14 and for girls I reckon from eight to 15 would be a good age range, only because the majority of girls seem to be more interested in unicorns. Out of five stars I give it a 4.5.

Matariki | Regional News


Written and illustrated by Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

My nine-year-old enjoyed Matariki, a children’s book written to celebrate and explore Matariki. “It reminds you of the Māori ways of the world; about protecting nature and the earth,” he says.

Authors Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson, two cousins from Ōtepoti, Dunedin, delve into the meaning of Matariki. They ask, how can we celebrate Matariki? Let’s look to the stars. With rich bilingual text, we learn about each of the stars that form the Matariki star cluster.

With its earthy and uniquely Kiwi illustrations, Matariki offered an opportunity for my son and I to learn more about everything we didn’t know, which I discovered was a lot! Were there seven stars or nine? In the book there are nine but a little a visit to Te Papa’s website explained that it could be both. Different iwi share different kōrero regarding Matariki, they say. Next we visited Te Ara, The Encyclopeadia of New Zealand, which says iwi across New Zealand understand and celebrate Matariki in different ways and at different times. Te Aka Māori Dictionary came to our rescue a few times to help us pronounce words such as hiwaiterangi and waipunarangi correctly.

When my son and I were halfway through reading Matariki, he randomly asked me if I knew about Kupe and his stone and he proceeded to tell me what he knew when I told him that I didn’t. I thought this was really cool – it really hit home how we are all on a learning journey together and not only can we learn from each other, but the simple act of reading can educate, create connections, and encourage us to seek out more information to become more informed and more aware.

Matariki is a lovely simple book that encourages us to look deeper, stay connected, and celebrate Matariki by remembering our past, caring for our environment, and connecting with our people.

You’ll be the Death of Me | Regional News

You’ll be the Death of Me

Written by: Karen M. McManus

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Saashika (15)

You’ll be the Death of Me was honestly one of the most intriguing books I’ve ever read. The story follows a group of ex-friends, who are brought together once more by a horrible scene they witnessed together, and in which they look terribly guilty…

One thing I liked about this book is the plot twists and how cleverly crafted they are. Karen M. McManus is well renowned for her mystery novels, so I entered this book wondering if she would manage to uphold the high standard she has already set. And my goodness she did. I adored the fact that the plot twists weren’t just thrown in there for the sake of it, but actually made you smack your head and wonder why you didn’t realise before. All throughout, McManus teases us with little bits of information that reveal a new way the story can go, or another possible suspect. These bits connect beautifully at the end, and that is one of the things I love most about this book.

Another thing is the fact that there are many, many characters but it is never difficult to recall who they are. I have noticed that in other books where there are several different characters, sometimes they all seem to blend in together. But it is never hard to tell who is who in this book. The characters are all wonderfully diverse and distinct from one another. 

Another thing is that McManus beautifully portrays the fact that these kids are children put into a very adult situation. The characters don’t suddenly become adult-like detectives but still retain the fact that they are, in fact, children chucked into a murder situation and are struggling to find their footing. They handle teenager crushes whilst hunting a suspect down, and navigate petty grudges whilst figuring out how to prove themselves innocent of a crime they didn’t commit.

All in all, You’ll be the Death of Me is an amazing read if you are looking for that book to keep you turning the page, to keep you on your toes. It’s amazingly written, with great characters and an even better storyline.

The Bookseller at the End of the World  | Regional News

The Bookseller at the End of the World

Written by: Ruth Shaw

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

The Bookseller at the End of the World is such an evocative title, I had to read it after I read articles about the author Ruth Shaw. What a wonderful book! It had everything – great characters both animal and human, interesting travel adventures, heartbreak (several times over), but mostly joy.

Ruth has lived more in one year than some people do in their whole lives. She leaves men behind and has a restless soul due to various things that happened in her past. Ruth learns how to sail and spends time living on boats. She adopts pets along the way too and even nurses a baby bird back to health who she aptly names Katherine Mansfield (Katie for short). Katie is quite a feature in the shop. Her work stories in King’s Cross in the 1980s are eye-opening. Never a dull day in Ruth’s life. Her open manner means she can talk to sex workers and gain their respect without telling them how to live their lives. She gets a hug from a staunch regular and even she was surprised.

Ruth’s life story is interspersed with excerpts from her bookshop encounters. I loved it. It made me cry and laugh. The opening chapter, Two Wee Bookshops, is fantastic. I was hooked. The interaction with the American woman who asks if the shop is open and sells books is priceless. But even better is the gentle way she encourages young children to read and the story about young Toby made me weep. I want to read it again but will have to wait a while to get over it. I would love to visit my namesake Ruth and see her wonderful empire and meet Lance, who quite rightly gets his own chapter The Adventures of Lance.

Ruth Shaw has certainly made her mark on this world and has helped countless people. This book is lovingly and thoughtfully crafted, and beautifully descriptive. A joy to read. Five stars.

The Good Partner | Regional News

The Good Partner

Written by: Karen Nimmo


Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Most of us bumble into relationships, without a manual, as the author states early on in this book, and then wonder why we have challenges. For example, the last time I read a relationship book it was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray several decades ago while I was single. Now I’m married and far from the perfect partner, as very few of us are, and that’s the point of this book.

Karen Nimmo is a Wellington-based registered clinical psychologist so, unlike many self-help books, this one is based on New Zealand culture and lived experiences and importantly has some efficacy behind it.

Best of all, it’s chock-full of practical, no-nonsense advice and strategies delivered in plain English.

This isn’t a book you work on with your partner, nor is it about changing your partner. It’s about becoming at ease with yourself and ultimately at ease in your relationship. The author does this by getting the reader to take a look at their ‘love bucket’ of all the things they bring to a relationship, which she then themes up into the seven pillars of relationships. I’ve read reviews that described this as a transformational book, which sounds a bit dramatic. In contrast I found it supported very gentle shifts that felt more realistic and sustainable to me.

In terms of structure and readability, The Good Partner is full of clear sub-headings so you can dip in and out of it. It also has well signposted chapters so you can flick straight to the topics you want to explore further, like conflict resolution.

I found it invaluable in supporting me and my attitude during a period of self-isolation when otherwise tempers might have frayed. Instead, I came out thanking my partner for the time we’d had together, and I meant it.

I was so impressed I signed up to the author’s regular emails and continue to learn and upskill myself on this important topic.

Another Beautiful Day Indoors | Regional News

Another Beautiful Day Indoors

Written by: Erik Kennedy

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

What a breath of fresh air is this collection! With its theme of climate change, expressed in mostly accessible language, it was bound to win my approval. In Another Beautiful Day Indoors, writer Erik Kennedy thankfully doesn’t feel the need to indulge in any of the current fashionable poets’ practices – abuse of punctuation, inexplicable gaps in text, and lengthy obscure prose passages! I like to think his undecorated style is informed by his sense of urgency.

The contents page sets up a list of titles as intriguing as the cover photo of a formally dressed man seated at a desk with his jacket draped over his head. He’s enjoying another beautiful day indoors?

Microplastics in Antarctica is a striking example of the poet’s main preoccupation. “The snow contains a finer snow” is a telling description of microplastics, as is the uncomfortably graphic “Scratch the scalp of civilisation / And bits of it go all over the place”. Our writer even manages to lighten the seriousness of his message by concluding the poem with a whimsical rhyme.

And who wouldn’t be captivated by a poem titled To a Couple Who Had Their Rings Brought to the Altar by Drone at Their Garden Wedding? Is the couple concerned typical? They “are unafraid of the wind, which bucked the drone almost to ringlessness”. “It was just an everyday wind really”, observes the poet, thus pointing up the lack of awareness most of us are still suffering from.

In Shin-deep in Flood Waters, Already Afraid, our poet lets images replace the temptation to hit us over the head with blame or dire warning – which is why his work is eminently readable and palatable. “I’m just in my wellies / gawping at river spillover / out of curiosity”, suggests an onlooker – albeit a concerned one.

Kennedy has chosen a subject of world-changing import for his poetic attention. Not all the poems comment on climate change and the need for action, but I’m not apologising for including here only ones that do.

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a rebel | Regional News

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a rebel

Written by: Jo Morgan with John McCrystal

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

While you may have heard of Gareth Morgan, the famed New Zealand economist and erstwhile politician, and his son Sam the creator of TradeMe, you may not have heard of their family’s matriarch, Jo.

While she may not have the same celebrity as her husband and son, Jo Morgan’s life has been no less impressive. From traveling around the world (including into some pretty hairy hotspots) to climbing the highest mountains, it’s safe to say she’s had a pretty full life.

Dancing with the Machine is an honest, exciting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that seems more a work of fiction written by Tom Clancy than a down-to-earth New Zealander narrating their past. It is an exciting read, and her honesty and uniquely Kiwi sense of humour make her instantly relatable. Her get-up-and-go attitude made me think about what goals I would like to cross off my bucket list, and I’m sure others will feel the same way after reading this book.

Her stories are unique, and her experiences unforgettable. In North Korea, she wrote about her time with a humanity that news broadcasts and television documentaries have never been able to convey to viewers. A faceless regime suddenly becomes human and instantly relatable as people.

My favourite passages were the ones where she and her husband Gareth worked as a team, and were always there for each other.

I’m afraid that after reading the book, I cannot find a single thing wrong. Although, in my defence, it’s difficult to find fault with anyone who takes life by the horns and goes with it. My only gripe is that now that I’m finished with the book, I want more.

Dancing with the Machine might sound like a funny title, but it’s also a very apt one, not just to describe her love of motorcycles but life itself. We are all dancing with our own machines, and Jo Morgan shows us how to do it.

The Winter Dress | Regional News

The Winter Dress

Written by: Lauren Chater

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Lauren Chater travelled to the Netherlands to research this book, inspired by a real 17th century dress found underwater off the coast of the Netherlands, and it shows. She writes elegantly and concisely, with clear deference to the importance of the history of this dress and how the find impacted those involved. I enjoyed the glimpse into life upon the coastal Dutch island where The Winter Dress is partially set, through the lens of Jo Baaker, our indomitable heroine who is drawn to the discovery of a silk dress that has somehow survived centuries underwater, insulated by mud. Jo is determined to ensure conservation of the precious find while allowing the people of the island to view the gown and be part of its history.

Chater takes several notable women’s names from Dutch history and combines them to make the story a clear imagining, a mere suggestion of what could have been without committing to a historical statement. Chater introduces us to Anna, a young woman left alone in a vulnerable position in 17th century Holland due to the death of her family. Anna is swept up in an opportunity that takes her to live with Catharina van Shurman – based, I assume, on Anna Maria van Schurman, a real-life Dutch artist and intellectual, and Catharina van Hemessen, a Flemish renaissance artist.

Instrumental in advancing women’s education and social rights, Catharina brings a strong theme of feminism as a thread that runs through this book. I found the subtle noting of the power imbalance interesting – Catharina boldly studying, writing, and influencing men of her time while also using Anna as a handmaid, kept silent and in her place, merely hoping to survive.

This thread continues in Jo’s side of the story. As she researches the dress and the potential owners of it, she finds herself casually betrayed by a male colleague, viewing the opportunity to advance his own career as more important than anything else.

The Winter Dress was an enjoyable, if romanticised, read.

The Jane Austen Remedy | Regional News

The Jane Austen Remedy

Written by: Ruth Wilson

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book can change a life” runs the subtitle of The Jane Austen Remedy. Readers familiar with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will recognise this re-imagined quote from that book’s opening paragraph.

That a book can indeed change a life is the substance and theme of Ruth Wilson’s unique and highly personal homage to one of our best-loved writers. Into her seventh decade, Wilson became aware of overwhelming feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction, despite a life of academic success and personal happiness.

Her response? To abandon home and husband for a cottage in the Southern Highlands of her native Australia, and there to undertake a re-reading of all of Austen’s novels, viewing them as essentially an antidote for her unhappiness. What could she learn? An extraordinary amount it seems.

Wilson describes Pride and Prejudice as the sunniest of Austen’s novels, enlivened as it is by the personality of Elizabeth Bennett’s gaiety, coupled with her initial refusal to be impressed by Darcy. That this heroine’s journey to wisdom is accompanied – and rewarded? – by a happy romantic conclusion is something Wilson takes to heart.

Emma offers the author the opportunity to be grateful for living in more enlightened times where gender equality is concerned. She admires the way Austen manages, chiefly through irony and dialogue, to cleverly poke fun at ideas about women’s deferential role in relationship with men.

With Sense and Sensibility, Wilson is confronted with yet another chance to reflect and learn. Following her son’s decision to spend time in Israel, she and her family packed up and went to join him. Just as the Dashwood family, following the death of their father, are forced to contemplate resettlement. A forced move, as opposed to a free choice one – yet another cause for reflection and gratitude.

Wilson’s farewell to her cottage and solitary life meant a return to Sydney and a LAT (living apart together) relationship with her husband – an arrangement based on friendship that suited both. I think Jane Austen would have cheered.

Young Mungo  | Regional News

Young Mungo

Written by: Douglas Stuart

Pan Macmillan

Reviewed by: Ralph McAllister

Every so often a book comes along which you know will remain with you, embedded, for the rest of your life.

Such is Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart, a follow-up to 2020 Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain by the same Scottish author. It will be no surprise if Stuart wins again this year.

Shuggie spent most of his oh-so young life looking after his alcoholic mother and surviving in the poverty-torn Glasgow of the 80s. Now adolescent Mungo faces similar problems with his Mo-Maw Maureen, who loves him dearly – but not as much as the fags, the booze, and the men.

Jodie, the elder sister hopefully university-bound, tries her best but she has her own school and relationship problems. While Hamish the eldest has a career of disasters with drugs, underage girls, and violence, which leaves little time for caring for Mungo.

Then amidst all this chaos Mungo falls in love with James, a 16-year-old Catholic from across the street.  

Now to be labelled queer is similar to receiving a death sentence so the relationship between the boys is hidden yet tender, tentative but delicate and shot through with the beauty of first love.

Their first kiss? It was “like hot buttered toast when you were starving. It was that good”. Think Romeo and Juliet.

Two stories merge and diverge in terrifying and shimmering climaxes where a camping weekend and a pitched playground battle made me scared to turn the pages.

“Be wary of sittin’ among the refuse of other people’s lives”, Mungo is advised.

Mungo and his refusal to succumb to mediocrity moved me to tears, time and time again. The final tears because I did not want this wonderful novel to finish.

Politics in a Pandemic | Regional News

Politics in a Pandemic

Victoria University Press

Edited by Stephen Levine

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

The 19th of March 2020 will go down in history as one of the most important dates of the early 21st century. Everyone old enough will be able to look back and remember where they were the day New Zealand closed its borders. I certainly do since I ended up celebrating my 44th birthday in Level 4 lockdown.

Politics in a Pandemic goes through what happened in New Zealand with a fine-tooth comb. Not only do we get a rare behind-the-scenes view of why our Prime Minister and other elected officials did what they did, we also get to see their thought processes throughout that period.

I found the writing very well done, mixed with humor and a great deal of insight. What I liked most was the input from the politicians involved and their brute honestly when it came to what they did, why they did it, and any regrets they had along the way. We get to see them not just as politicians but as people who, whether we agree with them or not, honestly did the best they could with the facts they had access to at the time.

Politics is sometimes viewed as a fairly dry subject, and having the politicians chime in and contribute to the book gave it a personal touch, which helped to lighten the tone.

Facts of the matter are written very clearly and I was able to understand everything without any of it going over my head. I know from personal experience that there was a lot of confusion about how it was all going to work, especially in the early days, so this should help answer any lingering questions you might still have. If you know someone who ever had a grumble about the lockdowns, I think you should pick this up to let them see the other side of the coin, as it were. Definitely worth it.

The Smallest Man | Regional News

The Smallest Man

Written by: Frances Quinn

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Part fact, part fiction, The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn tells the story of an unusual man and his perspective on the 17th century reign of King Charles I of England. This is not the story of Charles I or the parliamentarians. It is told through the perspective of Nat Davy, who was called the Queen’s dwarf, and was by her side through two decades that were pivotal for the country and changed England forever. Nat starts as a pet to the young Queen but eventually becomes someone she confides in and whose advice she seeks. He is a fictional character inspired by a real person called Jeffrey Hudson.

There is a romantic plot interwoven into The Smallest Man and a strong theme of friendship and loyalty. But at its heart it’s a historic novel. It’s a good read, an easy read, and a feel-good read. It’s not taxing even though it is about a complex and fascinating piece of history. I also liked that it was history told through the eyes of someone who was different, which made me stop and think.

Nat’s story is an interesting one and he’s undoubtedly the character the reader sides with. However, I also enjoyed reading about these moments in history as the Queen, or a close confidant of the Queen, might have experienced them and particularly through the eyes of Queen Henrietta Maria of France, whom we don’t otherwise read very much about.

However, to borrow a football analogy, this did feel like a book of two halves to me. I was fascinated by the first part of the book where Nat works for the Queen and witnesses history unfurling from close quarters to one of the major players. But the latter part of the book, where he leaves the Queen in France and returns to England, wasn’t as compelling or pacey for me. 

This is an excellent debut novel with a good message about being accepted and accepting yourself.

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces | Regional News

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces

Written by: Laurie Winkless

Bloomsbury Sigma

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces contains myriad interesting facts that explore the intricate nuances of surface science around friction and adhesion and their interactions with the world around us, even on a molecular level. Irish physicist and author Laurie Winkless explores the world of sticky – from Ancient Egypt to the structures on a gecko’s amazing feet – and covers adhesion through surface energy and how some plants are extraordinarily water repellent.

Did you know that oil paint doesn’t dry by losing water, or that Post-it Notes have glue for their glue?

Laurie Winkless takes us on a journey from the Australian Outback and the Resene paint factory in Naenae, through supersonic flight and NASA engineering, to our own households and everyday environment, covering the balance of downforce and friction that helps keep our cars on the road and the (accidentally discovered) Teflon that coats our pots and pans.

While Sticky was interesting, my lack of love for science certainly (and excuse the pun) led to a lack of stickability in reading this book wholeheartedly. I just found it hard to read. So much so, that I roped an unsuspecting household member and lover of science into doing the hard yards with me. This is what he had to say after reading Sticky. “I suspect I was already aware of some of the so-called ‘hard sciences’ written about here. This is possibly why I found the chapter about touch, its features, and how it works so illuminating and full of surprises.”

“If you’ve ever wanted to know how golf balls fly so far, how sharks swim quite so fast, or why superglue was initially considered a nuisance, then this is a book for you.”

He concludes that Sticky is a very rewarding read for the non-scientist in smaller bites, and I tend to agree. Winkless certainly has the expertise and skill to make an otherwise innocuous occurrence entertaining, but it was just not for me.

Museum | Regional News


Written by: Frances Samuel

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This collection (if you’ll excuse the pun) relates to author Frances Samuel’s experience as a writer of texts for museum pieces. Perhaps it’s not surprising that an unusual occupation like that should give rise to such smart, witty, nuanced poems.

I smiled with delight at her signature Exhibition, which describes museum objects as “those red herrings of history” and refers to “my employee’s tag a cheap necklace with an outdated cameo”. It took me more than one reading to discover the poem’s meaning – artfully obscured behind a heap of such images – but I’m glad I persevered.

Climate Change posits an unlikely and novel pairing of the ornithological and the mammalian. “You be a bird and I’ll be a buffalo” is the premise, and the poet goes on to suggest why the combination of six legs and four eyes is a useful and workable one. Behind the words sits the concept of cooperation, surely so indispensable for combatting climate change, captured movingly in the last three lines: “Over and again, agreement can only come when the bird in me bleats to the buffalo in you.”

Samuel goes on to capture the world of the supernatural, most effectively with her narrative-style How to Catch and Manufacture Ghosts. The writer is good at this job: “Bed sheets with elasticated corners are the best tools for the job”, she advises, and “most ghosts don’t struggle. I think they’re happy to be caught” turns out to be an ironic comment on the nature of marriage.

My favourite poem would have to be Pottery – yes, you read that right – and our writer here uses the likeness of pottery to poetry to comment on the nature of the latter. “Pots are approachable, democratic, familiar to everyone. They don’t require special knowledge to interpret and neither do poems”.

And surely that’s true, or should be, of poetry. Although Samuel’s work is erudite and clever, it isn’t self-indulgently so. She’s down to earth enough to include motherhood and exercise amongst her poetic targets. And, of course, museums.

The Magpie Society: Two For Joy | Regional News

The Magpie Society: Two For Joy

Written by: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Picking up directly from the first book One For SorrowTwo For Joy continues the adventures of the title’s main protagonists, Audrey and Ivy, as they try to solve the mysteries surrounding their school Illumen Hall and the titular Magpie Society. 

This time the actions ramped up to level 10, with the stakes getting higher and much deadlier for everyone involved. In my review for One For Sorrow a couple of years ago, I compared it with Harry Potter; now, it feels as if both Sugg and McCulloch have taken the series and moved it in an entirely new direction. A darker one filled with personalities and locations just as memorable as anything JK Rowling could ever come up with. If this were a movie, I would say that it was a cinematic experience, made with a bigger budget than the first.

The characters are the deepest and most complex I’ve seen. Each one is alive with their own motivations. We see behind-the-scenes glimpses into Ivy and Audrey, who are more developed this time around. By dividing the book into chapters that focus on each girl, we see what makes them tick as people and learn more about their motivations. 

Usually, I take the time to discuss the negatives found in the book, but there isn’t anything for me to complain about here. Everything from the first title has been beefed up and made better, and what didn’t work has been ditched. My only real grumble is that I suspect this might be the last book in the series, and I’ll have to say goodbye to The Magpie Society for good.

Bottom line, if you have read One For Sorrow, then you need to pick this up. To sum it up in just a few words: satisfying, clever, wonderful, fun.

Words of Comfort | Regional News

Words of Comfort

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Rebekah Ballagh’s Words of Comfort offers a grounding and simplistic response to grief. Navigating grief, whether it’s sideways, through it, or crawling under it, Words of Comfort offers a sense of stillness through grief’s noise.

Like a journey that has no set place or time, Words of Comfort has no prescriptive actions or ‘must dos’. Instead Ballagh encourages living in a moment, whatever that moment may be, whether it is navigating guilt and anxiety, loss and despair, or trying to tread water in the face of sadness and longing for what once was. The chapters hit you where grief hits you, right in the place where it lives on any given day: the past, the present, or the every day. Ballagh talks about being grounded, being safe, and being okay when nothing feels okay.

Ballagh suggests creating a memory box to remind you of all the moments you’ve shared with someone. She reminds us that in the process of loss we learn we were never promised a perfect life, and that it’s okay to go on living even when you are lost and have lost something or someone.

Words of Comfort is a heartwarming and gentle book that neither preaches about how someone should grieve nor assumes where grief ends or begins. Despite its gentle nature and soft calming illustrations, a small part of me wonders if these messages would seem trite to someone facing overwhelming grief, a grief that untethers you and is palpable in every breath you take. Or would it instead offer small comfort on the days when the mundane act of reading a book has only just become manageable?

I lean towards the latter. If only one quote resonates and makes someone feel a little bit better, for that moment in time, I think it’s a good thing.

“It’s okay to go on living, to have a life that carries on in a future you hadn’t imagined. It’s okay to laugh again. And it’s always okay to cry again,” Ballagh says.

The Fair Botanists  | Regional News

The Fair Botanists

Written by: Sara Sheridan

Hodder & Stoughton

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

The Fair Botanists by Scottish writer Sara Sheridan has been my surprise read of 2022 so far. It’s charming, beautifully written, and draws the reader in slowly through its rich character development supported by an excellent plot with just the right amount of tension.

The book is set in summer 1822 when all of Edinburgh is excited about King George IV’s impending visit. Elsewhere though, our characters are more fascinated by the growth of an exotic Agave Americana plant in the Botanic Gardens, which only flowers every 30 years. The plant brings together newly widowed Elizabeth and entrepreneurial Belle, as well as a cast of characters who grow on the reader as the plant grows. The female characters are by far the strongest and most captivating. But there’s a sprinkling of likeable male characters too, including William McNab, the hard-working head gardener at the Botanic Gardens who has some secrets of his own and is wrestling with his conscience.

The flowering of the plant brings tension to the plot as many characters have an interest in it and the promise and possibilities its seeds could bring. Elizabeth finds a sense of purpose through her botanical illustrations and wants to contribute by capturing the plant when it flowers, while courtesan Belle is exploring a new niche in the creation of a perfume that she hopes will make her fortune and provide her with a more secure future.

This is a historical novel and its descriptions of Georgian Edinburgh bring the setting to life. Gardeners will enjoy reading about the exotic plants and the history of the gardens. At the heart of the book though is female friendship and two women striving to find their place and their independence in a man’s world.

I loved this book from the first few chapters and couldn’t put it down. I know you’ll love it too as you follow the ups and downs of Belle and Elizabeth’s unlikely friendship.

Mary’s Boys, Jean-Jacques, and other stories | Regional News

Mary’s Boys, Jean-Jacques, and other stories

Written by: Vincent O’Sullivan

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Poignant, fun, and touching, Mary’s Boys, Jean-Jacques, and other stories is a collection of short stories from one of New Zealand’s most accomplished authors and poets, Sir Vincent O’Sullivan.

From an elderly grandmother dredging up her old memories to a man from the past purchasing the unthinkable, each story evoked a different emotion and kept me hooked and engaged until I reached the last page.

I loved them all and found myself reading and re-reading some of the stories simply because they were that good. But for me the real meat, the pièce de resistance of the book was Mary’s Boys, Jean-Jacques. An unofficial sequel of sorts based on Mary Shelley’s
1818 novel Frankenstein, which picks up some time where the original story left off with the titular creature floating away, his fate left uncertain.

As a rule of thumb, I have always believed that classic literature should never be touched, but O’Sullivan treats Frankenstein’s monster with the respect and dignity it deserves. I especially enjoyed the little Aotearoa-esque twist that I think many readers will appreciate.

While each story is unique they all share a few similarities. The character development is top-notch. They aren’t just a bunch of words on a page but instead well-defined people that I related to and even liked. One standout is of course the marvellous job O’Sullivan’s done at recreating Mary Shelley’s creation. Its description genuinely terrified me. Likewise, I loved the worlds of each story, and almost imagined myself being in them alongside the characters.

My one complaint is that I wanted more. Seven stories just weren’t enough, and by the end of the book, I was hungry for more. It’s a minor complaint though, and I’m sure everyone who picks this up will thoroughly enjoy it. 

O’Sullivan has done admirably, and I think Mary Shelley would be proud of the care that he has taken with her work if she were alive today.

exile on tombleson road | Regional News

exile on tombleson road

Written by: Brian Potiki

Blurry Line Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

exile on tombleson road is the perfect pocket-sized book and unconventional compilation of poetry.

For want of a better word, there’s something ‘cool’ about it. It’s rugged and folksy and the images by Riley Claxton are old-school yet fitting.

It’s a nod to the Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main St., and in a similar vein to an album has track listings and two sides.

It’s a winning collaboration between Claxton’s images taken around author Brian Potiki’s house and surroundings in Lake Rotoehu with some of his bohemian poetry. Potiki seems to have captured the ultimate leanings of a Kiwi life with the images speaking of a musician’s backdrop.

Having worked for someone where pedantry over capital letter use reigned supreme, I couldn’t help but give a small smile at the almost entire lack of them in Potiki’s words in favour of lowercase letters. This only added to the charm and I found myself enjoying the irregular nature of the poems; what they looked like and how they read. Claxton’s images emphasised the eclectic nature of the bite-sized book.

I read exile on tombleson road quickly. In a pleasant interlude in a small moment in time, I found myself enjoying Potiki’s reflections of exactly that: snippets of time. The cover didn’t quite sell me but in between the pages were poems like octopus arms. See a short snippet bellow.

“one arm the jazz-pop

crowd called swing,

another arm called

rock and roll...”

exile on tombleson road is like a favourite notebook where environment meets words, meets music, meets life.

I Laugh Me Broken | Regional News

I Laugh Me Broken

Written by: Bridget van der Zijpp

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

I Laugh Me Broken is an exploration of choice versus genetic destiny. Ginny is a young author living in New Zealand. When she is contacted by relatives from her mother’s side of the family whom she has never met, she is given the unexpected news of a genetic condition, for which she has a 50 percent chance of carrying the gene. Huntington’s Disease. Left motherless from a young age, Ginny finally has a glimpse of why her mother chose to end her own life rather than wait for the symptoms of such a condition to show themselves.

With calm and natural prose, author Bridget van der Zijpp explores, through Ginny’s sudden flight from everything familiar to her, the inner turmoil of decision when faced with knowledge of your own demise. Ginny could take the test to determine whether she carries the offending gene, but then what? What does one do with that knowledge? Appropriately contextualised in the setting of Berlin’s rich history, van der Zijpp discusses the past fate of those once deemed to be “useless eaters”; how their freedoms and ultimately their lives were taken from them. Ginny feels the hopelessness of a potentially inescapable fate, as Huntington’s has no cure, and the success of treatment is varied.

Ginny carries this heavy uncertainty silently inside her, avoiding sharing her news with anyone, even her fiancé Jay. The poignant question posed is if perhaps it is kinder not to burden him with the knowledge of what the future may hold. “If I told him, I wouldn’t be able to escape his concerned gaze. Did I really want to do this to him?... To be trapped in the sticky mud of his watchfulness... To turn love into solicitude?... I believed I was really thinking about self-sacrifice. Wasn’t the most noble act, the greater love, not to tell him, not to force his obligation?”

I Laugh Me Broken is, ultimately, a story of vulnerability, of love in the face of uncertainty.

The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine | Regional News

The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine

Written by: Tilly Bagshawe


Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

An epic novel perfect for your isolation blues, The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine will have you yearning for a time when France was just a plane flight away. But if you can’t travel physically you may as well travel to a different world through a book, and there’s no better book in which to lose yourself than The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine.

Spanning five decades from the early 20s through WWII and up to the 70s, The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine follows the trials and tribulations, the celebrations and the tragedies, the lives and the memories of the Salignac family. Owners of beautiful château Sainte Madeleine, the family have been wine growers of Burgundy and members of the French aristocracy for centuries, but nothing has prepared the Salignacs for the years that will come to pass. Their connection to the chateâu will be tested through the turbulence of both the world around them and of life itself.

Though each of the three children born to Louis and Therese Salignac have very different temperaments and lives, each one develops an essential bond to their home at Sainte Madeleine. Elise longs to inherit the chateâu and vineyard but loses herself in societal expectations; Alexandre, frustrated with his father’s difficult temperament, escapes to Napa to start his own vineyard; Didier, always sensitive, must find his own way to reconcile the love and pain caused by Sainte Madeleine. Meanwhile distant cousin Laurent Senard must find a way through war and politics back to Elise and Sainte Madeleine.

In this sweeping historical romance, Tilly Bagshawe crafts a world of perfectly balanced escapism and historical reality. Though she confronts serious topics of war, sexism, classism, racism, and generational strife, she also weaves in romance and beauty. Just as in life the bad moments always have their counterpart; each low will also have its highs and vice versa. The Secrets of Sainte Madeleine is a dream, a saga, an escape, and everything in between.

Olga Dies Dreaming | Regional News

Olga Dies Dreaming

Written by: Xochitl Gonzalez

Fleet Publishing

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel Olga Dies Dreaming is not so much a look at the American Dream as it is an autopsy of it and the toll it can take on those chasing it.

The story focuses on Olga Acevedo and her brother Prieto, two siblings trying to navigate modern-day corporate America while finding their place in it. Years earlier, they were abandoned by their mother, Blanca, who ran off to become a revolutionary and save the world. Now she’s back, and her arrival shakes up what some might consider the siblings’ perfect lives.

I found the characters fascinating; they’re just wonderful to be around. Each one is so alive, and I was surprised by the depth of humanity that they all have. They have their triumphs and failures, and like all people, they make mistakes. This made them more relatable, and it was not long before I saw them as real human beings rather than characters on a page. 

I loved them all, but my favourite has to be Blanca. While she does not appear until much later on, she looms omnipresent over her children throughout the book. She is cold, cruel, and calculating to onlookers, but I loved her ambition and her tenacity to succeed whatever the cost (including being there for her kids). The prose is likewise a joy to read, and when I was finished I found myself wanting more, surely a great sign.

While it is true that nothing is perfect, I honestly could not find a single thing to critique about Olga Dies Dreaming. I suspect that many people will agree with me and love this book.

Put this on your list of must-haves. Gonzalez weaves a compelling story about the dangers of chasing that seemingly golden ideal: the American Dream. It is an exciting and thrilling read that I just could not put down. After this, Xochitl Gonzalez is an author I will be looking out for in the future.

The Heretic | Regional News

The Heretic

Written by: Liam McIlvanney


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

What a cracking book! I really enjoyed The Heretic by Liam McIlvanney, who has written seven books and lives in New Zealand. McIlvanney is originally from Scotland and sets his books there. This one is set in Glasgow so there is some Scottish lingo to get to grips with. I lived in Edinburgh for two years so learned what this all meant:

Ned = hooligan/petty crim/lout/young boy
Didnae = didn’t, wasnae = wasn’t etc.
Deid = dead
Schemes = council housing
Hoor = sex worker
Weans = children
Hen = term of affection for a young woman/girl
Breeks = breeches

Warning: the C word is used a lot, as it would be. Google other expressions you don’t understand.

Set over 16 days in 1975, this story is the follow-up to The Quaker, with Detective Inspector Duncan McCormack leading the investigation. McCormack is gay, which is something that the local Police aren’t ready for so his partner lives separately to him and is referred to as his cousin. It was 1975 and boy times have changed. McCormack is also not a team player but in charge of the investigation, natch (= naturally). There are egos, bent coppers, dead coppers, racist and sexist coppers – it’s all go.

The prologue is distressing and the narrative unfolds from there with lots of different storylines and characters to keep on top of. The Heretic is gritty, believable, well-written, and kept me wanting more.

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy III | Regional News

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy III

Paper Road Press

Edited by Marie Hodgkinson

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I was thoroughly impressed, entertained, and engaged by this collection. These authors are not only thought-provoking and self-reflective, but entertaining and wildly talented storytellers. Each piece is as intelligent and self-aware as it is poignant and cogitative. Both the fantasy and science fiction short stories push the boundaries of reality in order to create empathetic and compassionate literature that not only amuses but also forces the reader to evaluate their own choices, self, and reality.

Whether two pages or 10, direct or allegorical, each writing pushes the reader as part of a collective human race to think beyond ourselves and re-evaluate our position in the world at large, the world’s future, and our relation to other humans, other beings, and most urgently our relation to our planet. No matter the context each story is, in effect, both urgent and earnest in its appeal. The Waterfall by Renee Liang tackles politics, corruption, and bureaucracy during a near future environmental disaster where preserving political image through gaslighting is still prioritised over medical emergency. Both topical and demanding political accountability. Octavia Cade’s Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead questions morality and the morality of violence versus self-violence during WWII. Florentina by Paul Veart comments on how clinically, animalistically, and uncompassionately humanity treats difference, while simultaneously reflecting on how this fear of difference forces often barbaric reactions to something like the AIDS epidemic or even our current COVID-19 pandemic. By painting pictures of post-apocalyptic futures, The Double-Cab Club by Tim Jones and The Turbine at the End of The World by James Rowland urge all of us to seriously acknowledge our imminent and impending environmental disaster.

Since reading this collection there are many stories that have crossed my mind daily but none as much as Casey Lucas’ For Want of Human Parts, which dissects, reconstructs, and assesses our own humanness and humaneness in the face of humanity itself.

The collection is pointed social commentary that forces us to look not only at ourselves as a society and human race, but also introspectively as individuals.

Beats of the Pa 'u | Regional News

Beats of the Pa 'u

Written by: Maria Samuela

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection of stories that pulse with the experiences of a myriad of characters living through the 50s to modern day New Zealand.

First and second generation Cook Island New Zealanders faced particular challenges on coming here – and not only in their quest for work. In The Promotion, Kura, a long-lost son, journeys to New Zealand to start a new life with an estranged father. His poignant attempts to find employment are punctuated by a forced attendance at church, his first taste of a good ol’ NZ pie, awkward encounters with family members, and clandestine visits to pubs. Similar situations were faced by the formerly estranged father, and these experiences alternate with, and enrich, the narrative. They also provide a moving explanation of the story’s title.

Especially delightful is Love Rules for Island Boys, a wry poke at how to get and keep the love interest of a girl. “If she’s an island girl, find out who her brothers are,” is telling. As is the order in which to feed her the chicken you’ve cooked. “If she’s a white girl, find out who her father is,” signals a whole other ball game. The observations here are justifiably sharper, and act as salutary pointers for the astute reader.

The last story, eponymously titled Beats of the Pa‘u, centres on a mother’s concern for her daughter – a theme that incidentally pervades the whole collection. It opens with another pervading theme – religion – or at least churchgoing. We can picture Father O’Shea leading Raro Mass. Stand, sit, kneel, pray is the mantra here – contrasting sometimes amusingly, sometimes startlingly, with the behaviour of the congregation once freed from Father O’Shea’s strictures! Katerina and Luana are young women with typical urges and preoccupations – and these must be experienced in a cultural and social context different from their own.

Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection richly dipped in nostalgic reflection – served with a sprinkling of irony, warmed coconut cream, and taro.

Impossible | Regional News


Written by: Sarah Lotz


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Well that was fun! I loved the title: Impossible – this isn’t a love story, this is f***king impossible. If the F bomb is dropped in the title, I know I’m going to read something written by a like-minded human being. I loved this line: “I know I’m getting old because I’ve started appreciating plants. And not just the type you smoke.”

The first chapter is great with a case of mistaken identity in an email trail between a man and woman that grows into something else. I’ve been there, intercepted texts meant for someone else. A nice guy trying to buy his girl a Kirks voucher that he thought she didn’t want. I said I’ll have it. I miss Kirks… The internet does bring out the crazy in everyone, let’s face it. There are two main characters and the chapters are split evenly between his and her stories. Between those chapters are their exchanges of email banter that are fun to read and usually humorous.

Part three gets a bit weird and I get lost. But then I get it. Alternative universes and all that. The two main characters live in different countries and eras. Stick with it. There are weirdos who belong to a society, a nasty boarding house, mad drunk husbands, affairs, smelly dogs, and attempted suicides that feature throughout the storyline. The ending was kind of predictable but not a lot is predictable in this book.

The author, Sarah Lotz, has written 18 books, several under non de plumes. A Girl Walks into a Bar is another fab book title that I’d be keen to read. I enjoyed Impossible and might read more from Sarah Lotz. It is chick-lit but has something for everyone I reckon. I read it over the long weekend and it was a nice distraction from the reality of going to the Omicron red traffic light system. We all need good books to read during COVID and this one provides light relief and the ‘what if it was real?’ factor.

A Game Of Two Halves | Regional News

A Game Of Two Halves

Victoria University Press

Edited by Fergus Barrowman

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Co-founded and published by Fergus Barrowman, Sport magazine ran from 1988 to 2019. It was a literary magazine that included a mix of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, and much more.

While it may not be around anymore, A Game of Two Halves was put together as a celebration of the best it had to offer – a highlight reel, if you will. Like the back of the book says, it looks back on 15 issues and presents us with some of its best work, starting in 2005 through to 2019.

If you are a writing buff, you will recognise some of the names in this book. For me, one of the standouts was the poet and short story writer Bill Manhire. While I’m not always a fan of the poetic verse, his words almost always had me smiling and, in a lot of cases re-reading them to make sure I understood the ideas he was trying to convey. Starting with The Eye of the Blackbird and The School Bus.

In many ways, this title has a lot in common with the latest book I reviewed, a short story collection called Middle Distance. You might remember that I said some readers might be put off by finding stories they didn’t like before finding ones they did. But in the case of A Game of Two Halves, that shouldn’t be a problem, especially with the content of 100 writers here. It’s almost ironic that the sheer volume available could be seen as a negative.

Its size might put off younger readers or those just getting into reading, but each story is reasonably easy to read, so once they start, it should be easy enough to keep going until the end.

This is the perfect addition to anyone’s library, and Fergus Barrowman should be proud to have this as a legacy to Sport magazine. It shows us just how much literary talent has been on display in this country.

Before You Knew My Name | Regional News

Before You Knew My Name

Written by: Jacqueline Bublitz

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Before You Knew My Name is a one-sitting read – as I turned the pages, time became irrelevant and it was hard to disengage from the voice of murdered teen Alice Lee who slowly and magnificently draws you in. Author Jacqueline Bublitz has created something unusual and intriguing, and it’s hard to not picture a fresh-faced Alice escaping to a new life in New York City as her retrospective words capture you. Alongside Alice is the parallel story of Ruby – a girl just like Alice, destined to escape life’s similar disappointments, only she’s older and still alive.

“In the beginning, I disappeared on purpose. Extricated myself from a life I didn’t want, just like Ruby did. But unlike Ruby, I didn’t tell anyone where I went.”

As the story unfolds I found myself inextricably aware of Alice standing strong and pragmatic in death, as the person she always was, but never knew it. The power she had once given to men, who had no right to it, propelling her forward. For a while, Alice is happy. She meets a kindly old man, Noah, who restores her faith in men.

Through Alice’s untimely death, hers and Ruby’s lives intertwine. There’s Alice’s murder and the devastation it brings, and there’s the deep connection Ruby feels to the body she has just discovered.

It’s as if you can feel what Alice feels and reminisce with her about her stolen youth and innocence. But there’s never a sense she is bitter or overly longing for what was.

Before You Knew My Name is a novel that keeps you questioning till the end. It made me think of all the young people who have left in search of a new adventure, or left to escape an unwanted life in search of a new one; and all the lives taken that were sadly not a work of fiction.

It’s the heartbreaking story of a girl whose life once seemingly irrelevant, post tragedy, becomes extraordinary.

The Surgeon’s Brain | Regional News

The Surgeon’s Brain

Written by: Oscar Upperton

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“Mama won’t look at me in my new clothes,” observes Oscar Upperton, writing in his assumed persona of Dr James Barry, the subject of The Surgeon’s Brain. “Tubes of cloth around my legs, tight, and a tight coat across my chest.” Thus attired, a transgender man living in the Victorian era ventures upon his career as a military surgeon.

The term transgender was non-existent at the time – did that make our man’s life any easier? “My landlady asks if I’ll give her trouble and I say I will not.” And later, in the same poem, “I observe my landlady’s gait and track the progression of her rheumatism”.

Such a juxtaposition of the behavioural and the anatomical typifies many of the poems in this collection, describing as they do imagined incidents, situations, and encounters in a life startling in its conception and courageous in its carrying out. “The rules are different now. I travel unchaperoned; I enter public houses; I attend a university.”

Barry’s work as a surgeon puts him in touch with female patients – repressed, underestimated, confined in airless rooms – a salutary reminder of Victorian times and values. Later, travelling beyond England’s shores, he encounters pressures from many quarters – not the least medical – in his attempts to heal, as well as promote public health reform.

One of the most striking poems amongst many is the eponymous The Surgeon’s Brain. “A man’s brain is, to some, the man himself. Forget this soul nonsense. He has cut into a thousand bodies and never seen a soul.” This quote prefaces a poetic meditation on the nature of the brain – sometimes grisly, determinedly objective, always sternly practical.

Dr Barry’s outward travels encompassed lands as far as the Windward and Leeward Islands, but they are surpassed by his inward travels, the true extent of which we shall never know. He requested burial without any post-mortem examination; such secrecy was surely justified.

We can only speculate and admire – something Upperton achieves with rare artistry.

The Wild Twins | Regional News

The Wild Twins

Written by: Amber and Serena Shine


Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The cover photo of this book depicts two stunning young blonde women. “Wild” is not the adjective you’d think of. But identical twins Amber and Serena Shine defy all conventional notions of stunning blondes. Their lives are dedicated to ‘unfeminine’, daring, and often dangerous exploits.

Growing up in rural Aotearoa meant hunting was par for the course. Townie that I am, I especially savoured an early chapter detailing a deer hunt – albeit with a man in tow – complete with hauling the unfortunate dead animal out of a tree halfway down a cliff and shouldering its carcass to the quad bike.

After a couple of years in the army, Amber astutely observed that they “weren’t cut out for being told what to do all the time.” No surprise then that the twins’ next move was to gate crash their way into the world’s highest marathon on Mount Everest.

As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve subsequently taken part in extreme dog sledding in Michigan (Amber), found a positive side to sustaining a serious back injury (Serena), been driven by squalls and high seas sailing from Hawai’i to San Francisco, and walked with jaguars in the Amazon.

Not to leave their native land out of their adventure calendar, in 2017 the pair attempted an ascent of Aoraki/Mount Cook, though were ultimately deterred by bad weather. As ever, theirs is a cheerful, even philosophical, response.

Although they shared some adventures, both women seemed equally willing to go it alone. They alternate in a chapter-by-chapter account of their exploits. Individual accounts are interspersed with motivational comment for us far more timid readers. We get headings such as Taking on Challenges, Don’t Hold Back, and Give Everything a Go.

“There’s no point tip toeing through life only to arrive safely at death,” observes Serena. Experiencing something vicariously by reading about it is all very well, but for the likes of Amber and Serena Shine, it would come a long way second.

Power Play: Elon Musk, Tesla and the Bet of the Century | Regional News

Power Play: Elon Musk, Tesla and the Bet of the Century

Written by: Tim Higgins

WH Allen

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

Elon Musk is considered a polarising character – you either love him or hate him. It is fair to say, by choosing to review Powerplay: Elon Musk, Tesla and the Bet of the Century amongst a sea of fabulous options, that I was (and maybe surprisingly for some, still am) firmly in the ‘love’ camp.

Leading any new business can be a tumultuous endeavor. However, leading a business with a concept that has never been achieved due to its complexities, along with the pressure of hundreds of millions of dollars of investor cash (as is the case with Tesla), is another type of beast entirely. Before diving into the beginnings of Tesla, Tim Higgins starts by describing Musk’s early success with PayPal and other lucrative ventures. This lays the foundation of Musk’s unique character and capacity to foresee opportunities, no matter how crazy they appear to be.

The quirky entrepreneur is described juggling the demands of running SpaceX and Tesla with anecdotes of firing staff on the spot and the kind of general impulsive behavior we have come to expect from someone like Musk. As much as I admire him, I certainly never wish to work for him. Higgins does a fine job of illustrating the frustrations and high-risk scenarios of the automotive industry. Supplier issues, new markets, logistics of customer repairs, charging stations, and maintaining control of direct sales were just a few of the challenges that the Tesla team were forced to navigate. Add to that the scrutiny of the world’s media and it’s no wonder Musk has been through numerous divorces.

Despite this, Musk’s ambitions never wavered. In fact, to the horror of his employees, Musk would routinely push the goalposts further away and demand that they hold their “feet to the fire” if success was to be achieved. Higgins describes one such example when Musk decided to increase Tesla’s annual sales target in 2015 to 55,000 cars, an alarming 74 percent jump from the year before.

Musk’s goal was simple really. Through the introduction of the world’s first pure electric car, the automotive industry would be changed forever. What could possibly go wrong?

Bonded | Regional News


Written by: Ian Austin

I.A. Books

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Bonded is the fourth novel in a series from Ian Austin. It’s another escapade of Dan Calder who has returned from the UK with his family to reside in sunny Auckland. The storyline is loosely based on the author’s past life as a police officer and detective. Dan has a wife in a coma and a son with health issues. He can’t cope with either so buries himself in his work and luckily has a long-suffering nanny to look after his son and visit his wife.

Another reviewer said if you like John Grisham then you’ll like this. I’ve read one John Grisham and that was enough. I think Bonded is a man’s book – not that I’m into ‘chick lit’ – but I found its level of detail about a red alert event at the airport too in-depth and I skipped over it. And quite frankly it was boring. I needed more cat and mouse, not details of how airports work during emergency situations. I did learn this: flights are in five-minute increments – for example, there’s never an 11:34am flight, it’s 11:35am and it’s the same at airports around the world. Something you never think about but it makes sense.

Anyhoo, at the front of the book there’s a page with 10 definitions of the word bond, which I found interesting as who knew the word could have so many meanings? ‘Policeofficer’ is written as one word throughout the book which is weird and my proof-reader brain didn’t like it.

After far too long a wait at the boarding gate, this book suddenly picked up and we were off flying like a robber’s dog! And now I’m engaged and want to know the ending. There was a good twist that mixed things up towards the end but the last sentence I found implausible. Bonded has a happy ending of course, a bit American for me. I’m a tough nut to crack it seems.

My Inner Sky: On Embracing Day, Night and All the Times In Between | Regional News

My Inner Sky: On Embracing Day, Night and All the Times In Between

Written and illustrated by Mari Andrew

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

“You can’t heal with just anyone. There are people who haven’t yet been to the same life forest as you and don’t carry the familiar scent with them.”

In My Inner Sky there are many quotes like this that will resonate with you simply for being poignant.

Its illustrations are a little whimsical, but the beauty of them is that they soften some of the serious issues author and illustrator Mari Andrew processes and shares. Through her adventures travelling alone, becoming sick when abroad, falling in love, and the life lessons and self-awareness she gathers along the way, it feels as if you are along for the journey too as she recounts her experiences on many a different soil: France, Australia, Greece, and New York City.

Andrew writes of a life configured in such a way that it’s possible to deconstruct each moment, at any given time, effortlessly. Despite the challenge and diversions around her, there exists a solace and beauty in both the everyday occurrences and the ones that immerse her in sorrow and grief. In My Inner Sky there is a sharp sense of living and losing, battling and winning. All are worthy and discernible experiences and markers of time, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Most of all, Andrew comes out of them stronger and salved.

Andrew has the ability to see each experience at its source and accept its flaws, the uncertainties that might come with it. Her words resonate because they speak of feelings and experiences common to us all: sorrow, heartbreak, searching for the unattainable. Ultimately she shares the healing that happens when the imperfect and the things out of our control are embraced and valued as they are.

My Inner Sky is the kind of book that makes you feel happy just for owning it – it’s a book you give to someone when you want to give them rainbows, or make them feel just a little bit better.

The Narrator | Regional News

The Narrator

Written by: Jeanne Bernhardt

The Night Press

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Though Jeanne Bernhardt’s short story The Narrator is based in real life, I can’t help but notice the subtle undertones of magical realism that imbue the story with a sense of both disquiet and mystery. The short story is told from the perspective of a writer living in the Southwest of the United States (perhaps Bernhardt herself), but the narrative focuses entirely on a man named Ogden: “a pale gnome-like presence, slightly hunched, soft in his manner and expression, unimposing”. Though hardly the hero one would imagine as the protagonist of any story, Ogden is a vital character to the narrator and her own development.

Though we only see Ogden through the eyes of the narrator and in reference to her, we see both Ogden and the narrator herself morph and shift as their relationship changes. The two start off as polite friends who enjoy reading each other’s writings, becoming hostile and uncomfortable as the narrator finds Ogden’s work disappointing and critiques her friend’s “profound inability to write about women”. As Ogden distances himself and leaves for a trip to Prague, the narrator becomes increasingly introspective thinking about both Ogden and herself; angry at first, then doubtful, and finally empathetic. Upon his return, something within Ogden has changed. He returns with a male friend, the narrator reads another one of his writings, and albeit awkwardly and stiltedly, the pair patch their relationship as the narrator becomes more sensitive towards Ogden.

The Narrator in my opinion is not so much about plot as it is about the relationship between the two characters and how it changes from disdain and pity, to condemnatory as the narrator dubs Ogden a coward, to finally a very tender moment in which the narrator finds respect for him and his writings despite their differences. Though The Narrator focuses on Ogden’s transformation, the narrator also undergoes a transformation of her own in parallel and in response to Ogden’s.

Witty, intriguing, and sincere, The Narrator is a character study, a gem, and a page-turner.

Beautifully Brave | Regional News

Beautifully Brave

Written by: Sarah Pendrick

Quarto US

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

I was really trying to like this book, because fundamentally the message in Beautifully Brave is arguably one of the most important: show love and care for yourself, build your self-worth so you can stand in your own power, and don’t spend energy on things that do not serve or empower you – but it just felt a little
too much.

Author Sarah Pendrick has really put a lot of herself into this book, breaking down the act of caring for yourself into so many different facets. There’s knowing your values and living in them, which is the chapter that resonated the most. “If something is costing you your happiness, it’s too expensive. Invest in something else”, Pendrick says. There’s even a ‘homework’ section towards the end to complete so you too can become a self-care goddess. Beautifully Brave reads a little overindulgent in parts. There is so much encouragement to find and nurture self-love that it seems repetitive and more than simply just cultivating the ideal that it is okay to live in your own skin.

A dear friend once told me you need to be your own best friend, and in that moment many years ago she perfectly and unequivocally summed it up. I feel that’s all you need to know about how you should treat yourself.

Braveness comes from knowing who you are, being kind to yourself, and spending time and energy on the things that sustain you and bring some joy into your life.

Beautifully Brave is a great book if you really want to apply a hyperfocus to all that self-love means. Its underlying message is to simply show up for yourself, remember yourself in the equation, and that there is ‘self’ in everything we do, whether this is intentional or not.

Pendrick implores you to “remember that ‘just fine’ is not what you are on this planet for, you are here for the ultimate level of love and joy.”

We Run the Tides | Regional News

We Run the Tides

Written by: Vendela Vida

Atlantic Books

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Vendela Vida has developed a relatable and fallible character in Eulabee, a young girl stepping out of childhood and into adolescence with her best friend Maria Fabiola.

Eulabee feels a sense of belonging and ownership over her neighbourhood of Sea Cliff. “We are thirteen, almost fourteen, and these streets of Sea Cliff are ours.” She has always belonged there, roaming the hills between her home, her school, and the beach. Eulabee and Maria Fabiola count the waves as they crash on the rocks and at just the right moment, they sprint through the sand past the point to the next beach. It is dangerous but exhilarating and in these moments, they run the tides.

Vida delves into the themes of friendship and how it intertwines with personal growth. I had the impression of a cushioned, insular world expanding before these girls who stand on the brink of their lives, deciding who they will be. A minor disagreement about what the girls see on the way to school one morning turns into an enormous betrayal, and Eulabee finds herself ostracised for speaking the truth. Suddenly an outsider, she sees her closest and oldest friend in a new light.

Maria Fabiola is admired from every angle by everyone, it seems. Yet she craves more attention, manipulates, fabricates. Being cast out from Maria Fabiola’s inner circle gives Eulabee unexpected freedom – through her loneliness she befriends new people, discovers new things about herself. Eulabee connects with a boy, Keith, and they bond in a dreamy night of crashing music and synced heartbeats. Driving home from her first concert, “as we cruise smoothly and steadily through the night, it feels like we’re on a boulevard built only for us”.

Misunderstanding leads Eulabee to believe she has caused something terrible to happen, and in a strange twist of fate, Eulabee finds herself with Maria Fabiola as her only confidant, struggling to keep up with the web Maria Fabiola is weaving around them.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys astute fiction with a tender crux.

The Big Bike Trip  | Regional News

The Big Bike Trip

Written by: Freddie Gillies

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

The Big Bike Trip is based on the true story of four kiwis who cycled from New Zealand to London: author Freddie Gillies, Arthur, Sean, and Timmy. My hatred for bikes has always been a topic of amusement amongst my friends. However, I love adventure and travel, so I was very excited to read this book!

Freddie starts off by setting the scene for the extensive mental and physical preparation that was needed and quicky delves into the adventure. For the first few chapters I found myself commenting my thoughts out loud to my husband; “It’s so frustrating they are not enjoying themselves, they are missing their partners!” Arthur and Sean leave behind their girlfriends and are devastated. Why did they not plan to meet their girlfriends somewhere on the trip? Or why didn’t their girlfriends go with them? I didn’t understand what the drama was and none of this was made clear. However, this gave the reader a deep understanding of Freddie. He showed incredible resilience and empathy. Clearly something I would lack in that situation!

By the time the boys arrive in Malaysia they are well in their stride and begin to enjoy themselves. The theme of friendship takes heart and centre as they support each other through every challenge imaginable. The most relatable of all being falling ill from something they ate. The boys seemed to be playing Russian roulette with their guts every day, dropping like flies with regular trips to the hospital. Despite their sickness and exhaustion, they managed to keep trucking along and their determination just blew my mind!

Our home lives are often automated and predictable. Travelling is one of those rare moments in life where you are forced to abandon hygiene protocols, try different foods, and put your trust in total strangers. I have been longing for that sense of freedom and adventure again, so it was incredibly satisfying to read Freddie’s beautifully written personal experience, the kind that changed something within him forever.

Sex Cult Nun | Regional News

Sex Cult Nun

Written by: Faith Jones


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Well what a journey! I felt exhausted but also slightly exhilarated when I finished this book. Faith Jones, the author of Sex Cult Nun, is quite a woman. At two, she was performing on stage with her siblings, at three washing the dishes for 50 people, at four being shown a sex act by her parents, and then at the tender age of seven simulating sex with a friend. Faith says you can skip the history of the Children of God cult at the start and just read her story but I found the history fascinating and wondered throughout the book where all the money came from? And how these cults begin? And who believes someone’s grandfather is a prophet?

Faithy, as she’s known in the book, tells the story of her life as a missionary tripping around the world with her large family. At its peak, The Family as it’s known, reaches 10,000 members in over 100 countries. Grandpa, who is The Prophet, doesn’t believe in birth control so the families are large and therefore there are more people like them in the world to spread the word – and not ‘Sheep’ or ‘System’ people (non-believers) like me.

Sex (they call it sharing) is prominent and the women are supposed to keep their figures trim, be attractive and submissive and available for sex from any men, married or not. Faithy endures multiple rapes, even from men she thought she trusted. So she stops trusting anyone. It’s quite hard to read. I gave up on Chapter Two: Watch Out For Snakes as the title gives the game away and this is the chapter where she gets sex education lessons from her parents. I felt sick and distressed reading it and was going to stop reading the book, but instead skipped the rest of the chapter. It got better.

I won’t give the game away so read this book to find out what she becomes after a huge amount of effort and sacrifice.

Cat World | Regional News

Cat World

Written by: Margaret Jeune

The Night Press Wellington

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Cat World is an ode, a love letter to the companions that enter and accompany our lives briefly but with such joy and love. There are few that cannot relate to the poems in Margaret Jeune’s collection detailing the lives of cats alongside our own.

The free-form poems, 14 in total, are all told from Jeune’s perspective. They are simple and concise. Their simplicity however is what makes them so tender. Jeune often talks to a particular cat, recounting both the antics of the little beast (such as dropping presents in the form of dead animals on the doorstep in Murderous Hobby and Gifts), or describing her cat acquaintance’s various moods and humorous attitudes as in Storm Clouds Brewing and Sheba.

Though cats are the subject of Jeune’s poems, she also critiques people’s consumeristic attitudes towards a living creature as well as their lack of compassion. In for Gus, Gus is treated more like an object than an animal: “Consoling a rejected cat / returned after eight months in a new home / because he wasn’t smoochy enough… Here Gus is back on the shelf… Is there an owner out there / who won’t count smooches?” Similarly in Skid Row at the SPCA, Jeune depicts the cats as inmates or orphans and muses at the best characteristics to have to escape the SPCA. “Be a kitten”, she says, or “if you are a black cat / for heaven’s sake / try for a white paw or nose”. Finally, Juene adds that since “prospective owners are very particular / they come along with exact / specifications in mind”, the best way to escape Skid Row is to “ooze on the charm”. Jeune simply yet powerfully comments on humans’ often inhumane behavior.

Charming and heartwarming, Jeune pays tribute to the furry friends that have brought her comfort and company. Cat World is a wonderful read for anyone who has ever shared a part of their life with a cat.

Middle Distance | Regional News

Middle Distance

Edited by Craig Gamble

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Middle Distance takes works from a total of 14 New Zealand writers and puts together a collection of short stories that are as diverse as the people writing them. Each story grabbed my attention and hooked me until the end, something not a lot of authors can do. The fact that this book does it not once but several times over is a testament to the depth of literacy skill on display here.

Each story is small, but they all pack a sizeable punch, and a few even had me thinking about them hours after I was finished reading. Despite the brevity of short stories, characters are well developed and come across as fully functioning people living in good old Aotearoa. The world they inhabit is equally as fleshed out and there were times I could almost recognise some of the places in the book.

One story in particular caught my attention the most, titled The Promotion by Maria Samuela. It’s the tale of a young man trying to reconnect with his absentee father and his family. Like all good stories, it has its fair share of ups and downs and then ends on a sweet, sombre note leaving me wanting more. For me, that is the mark of a good story: one that leaves you on the edge of your seat and has you asking the question, what happens next?

My only real concern is the book may come off as something of a mixed bag to some readers. While this is understandable considering the variety of literacy talent involved, it also means readers might be turned off by one story before finding another they really like. It’s a risk but in my humble opinion one worth taking. 

For those who are willing to plunge in and stick it out, Middle Distance delivers a real treat, as I am sure the amount of content here will impress the majority of people who give it a go.

Bright Burning Things | Regional News

Bright Burning Things

Written by: Lisa Harding

Bloomsbury Publishing

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

In her second novel, Bright Burning Things, Lisa Harding enthralls us in the chaotic spiral of Sonya Moriarty.

Once a lauded stage performer, Sonya is now careening through motherhood and filled with overwhelming love for her four-year-old son, Tommy. Together, they can conquer the world, as long as no one interferes or looks at her funny. Unfortunately, Sonya is haunted by an imp that won’t leave her alone; an evil fairy who drives her to soothe the only way she knows. “Every part of me is jangling. Feel myself crashing, falling into the pit. Should’ve known when I first saw her there on the beach, shimmering, irresistible, that this was the way it would go. Grab the bottle, turn my back, undo the screw top with my teeth. Tell myself that what Tommy doesn’t see can’t hurt him.”

Harding does not hold her punches in this novel. With raw honesty, we journey with Sonya through her denial of her addiction, juxtaposed against her loss of self-control, sense of self, and steadily growing chunks of memory. Inevitably, in what feels like an enormous betrayal, Sonya is torn from her son and forced into a rehab stint. Harding explores the reality of the stages of sobriety and the immense loss of power over one’s life one must face when put into such a position. Being involuntarily away from her closest loved one with no means of contact causes her to resist the programme intended to help her.

Once ‘out the other side’ and faced with maintaining her sobriety alone, we see the desperate need for a caring support system. As family and friends are pushed away, one may become isolated and vulnerable. Sonya struggles to regain the trust of her son, whose mother disappeared unexpectedly for three months. “A whole-body lovesickness burrows inside me, biting and scraping... This is it, the moment of unconscious surrender, but there is some other part of me watching: angels, good and evil, battling it out.”

Ultimately a profound tale of fear, love, and redemption, Bright Burning Things held me in its grasp to the last page.

The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions | Regional News

The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions

Written by: Kerry Greenwood

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

When I found out that Kerry Greenwood’s latest book The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions was a series of short stories rather than a full-length novel, I have to admit I was sceptical that she could pack in the same atmosphere and the sharp wit that I normally associate with her titles. 

Thankfully I was wrong because each story has the same smart, tight writing that I have come to expect from an author of her pedigree. The stories revolve around heroine Phryne Fisher as she solves a series of mysteries with her usual aplomb. 

Despite only being bite-sized in length, I was blown away by how well written each one is. The world she’s created, while small, is still rich in detail, and the characters, despite the brevity of the book, are well fleshed out and come across as ‘real’. But standing above all of them is unsurprisingly the star of the show herself.

Like many of Greenwood’s other books, Phryne comes across as an extremely polished individual. Poised and refined with a razor-sharp mind, it isn’t long before she inevitably finds herself in hot water. I just love how she’s written; not only does she give readers a glimpse into life in the Roaring 20s, she shows us how things ought to have been. Rather than being the typical damsel in distress that you might see in other books, Phryne instead takes charge of many of the situations she finds herself in and is equal to the majority of her male contemporaries.

The stories themselves also deserve a shout out. Sometimes funny and light-hearted and other times dark and serious, but always entertaining, The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions is something I think everyone can enjoy. If you are new to reading or are looking for your next whodunnit, then I cannot recommend this enough. With Christmas on the way, this might be something to look out for as your next stocking stuffer.

The Discomfort of Evening | Regional News

The Discomfort of Evening

Written by: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Faber & Faber

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

The Discomfort of Evening is a disconcerting read.

Marieke Rijneveld sets the tone in her opening chapter with a blunt discussion of death, which continues to be a running theme throughout the book, captured through the chaotic train-of-thought style of a child. Jas, our young narrator, offers us the briefest of glimpses of Matthies, her eldest brother, before Jas casually offers a bargain to God: take Matthies instead of her pet rabbit, who she suspects her father is planning to kill for their Christmas dinner. Later that same day, Jas overhears her mother receiving the terrible news of Matthies’ accidental death. The idea of guilt and accountability, or payment for sin, in the eyes of a child is a complex one, which Rijneveld explores in the context of a deeply religious family and community, where open grief and conversations about mental health are not encouraged.

Through the lens of Jas’ perspective, we see a family unravelling after tragedy. While the grieving parents struggle to maintain structure for their remaining children, the siblings left behind begin their own explorations into the subject of death and how to avoid it or meet it on their own terms. The sudden and accidental nature of Matthies’ death leads Jas, Hanna, and Obbe to attempt to exert control over their surroundings and the course of their own lives.

Trauma manifests in strange ways, such as Jas constantly wearing her red coat and obsessively holding in her poo, as she struggles to gain power over her own body and life. Some of the rules that Jas implements seem to be a sort of bargaining with God; Jas becomes fixed on the idea that a sacrifice of some kind must be made to save her parents, who she feels slipping away from her. Meanwhile, natural childish curiosity about sexuality becomes tangled with disturbing acts of violence and abuse.

The Discomfort of Evening is a dark exploration of the creative superstitions of children as they fight to make sense of the world around them, with a slow aura of dread building to an unforgettable finality.

Selected Poems by Margaret Jeune | Regional News

Selected Poems by Margaret Jeune

Written by: Margaret Jeune

HeadworX Publishers

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Margaret Jeune’s Selected Poems is written memory of a life; this compilation is particularly poignant and intriguing as it follows Jeune from her earliest poems as a naive starry-eyed youth to a girl in love with life and lovers, heartbroken and bitter at times, angry at the world’s injustice, but also her hopefulness and admiration of simple beauty and pleasures as she transitions into the later stages of life. Her life is laid out bare, vulnerable and exposed.

Jeune is fiercely political and socially conscious. Lawn Cemetery criticises bureaucracy: “such a tidy, circumspect piece of dirt … souls confined rows of unwilling neighbors all duly labelled and processed.” Sexism, consumerism, and climate change are similarly critiqued in other poems. Jeune recognises and embodies a sense of responsibility and duty each of us should have for our own world, but also for the future generations. In her poem Legacy, she writes: “your legacy is meaningful and in the course of time will be seen to be hugely significant.”

In her own words, Jeune’s poetry is “about waking up to yet another day… about dashed hopes and unmet expectations… it’s a reality check and it’s about being human” (The Suburban Bubble 175).

Her poetry is humble, sometimes playful, often abrupt, incredibly self-aware, and most importantly, mundane. But mundane in the most positive sense of the word. Her poems are the poems of the everyday; they capture little moments in time. Selected Poems is a diary of a life, with chapters and footnotes, regrets and celebrations; and though the diary is specifically Jeune’s, with each poem you feel as though you are reading from a page of your own life.

Whether she writes of heartbreak or McDonald’s, death or waitressing, broad social commentary or the loneliness and surreality of our 2020 lockdown, Jeune simply and succinctly captures life. Her own of course, but also yours, or mine, or theirs, rendering all lives ours; uniting us all through the beautiful, mundane, extraordinary, human condition.

After the Tampa | Regional News

After the Tampa

Written by: Abbas Nazari

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“Everyone has heard about refugees, but hardly anyone has ever met or got to know one personally. It’s time they did.” Thus writes Abbas Nazari in the prologue of his story After the Tampa.

You won’t be able to claim ignorance after you’ve read this extraordinary account of a young boy’s escape from Afghanistan and the Taliban, and his journey to Aotearoa.

The tale unfolds like a drama. Settings range from Sungjoy, a tiny rural spot in Afghanistan, to the unseaworthy Palapa, then the giant rescue container ship the Tampa, to a new home in Aotearoa. Characters in the drama include Nazari’s family, chiefly his magnificent dad, defiant Tampa sea captain Rinnan, Australian pre-election PM John Howard (regrettably), and just halfway through the narrative our own Helen Clark, with her offer to take 150 of the refugees stranded offshore of a country that refuses responsibility for them.

But the script of this drama is the most astonishing thing. By script I mean the tone and voice of the narrative. Nazari’s writing is powerful, and its power derives from its simplicity. I do not mean that as criticism. It is the absence of any overlay of bitterness, negativity, or complaint that makes this narrative so compelling.

Facts speak for themselves, and if we are aghast at the acts of the Taliban, the unsanitary conditions endured by seven-year-old Nazari and his siblings, and the appalling attitude and behaviour of the Australian government of the time, our reactions are mitigated by Nazari’s practicality and sense of reality.

Once settled in Christchurch, Nazari’s aptitude for learning recalls an early incident in Afghanistan, when, following his elder brother to school, he corrects the teacher’s pronunciation. Should it come as a surprise then, that this boy should go on to university honours and a Fulbright scholarship, spend time in Washington DC, and write this book.

“Opportunity is a charging bull,” he wrote, while still at school, “and it was up to us to wrestle it by the horns”.

Well wrestled, Abbas Nazari!

She’s a Killer | Regional News

She’s a Killer

Written by: Kirsten McDougall

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

I’m not familiar with other books by Kirsten McDougall, so I don’t know if she specialises in main characters who are generally unadmirable. Alice, the female protagonist of McDougall’s newest book She’s a Killer, is among other things sexually aggressive, a liar, rude, and has never volunteered in her life. Then why is she so compelling?

Despite being identified as near genius, this 30-something woman uses Morse code to communicate with her mother, can’t cook, is a poor housekeeper, and makes do with a job as administrative assistant to enrolments at a university. That’s how she meets an unlikely new friend in the form of Pablo. He’s Asian, a fan of Russian literature, well dressed, and sexy. He also happens to be one of the “wealthugees” pouring into New Zealand to escape the ravages of climate change, and incidentally to help pay off debt incurred by a pandemic.

A compelling main character merits a compelling story. This gets well under way when Pablo wangles a stay for his teenage daughter, “a rich Chinese girl with a nice English accent”, for which he is prepared to pay host Alice the sort of money that will cover a few Botox shots. So she agrees to the arrangement.

A true nemesis, Erika’s youthful confidence and self-assertiveness send Alice’s head into a spin. Their relationship – combative to say the least – provides the rest of the story with an irresistible momentum, the outcome of which is impossible to guess. Well, it’s a thriller, isn’t it?

She’s a Killer is much more than a thriller. It’s a vehicle for social commentary on our New Zealand ways – from our eating preferences to our laconic attitudes. Iwi, hīkoi, and stolen land are in the mix as well. And even more importantly, the book is a protracted and confrontative moral trajectory. Alice is faced with a dilemma – but it’s also ours.

At this book’s outset, Pablo declares of the Russians that “he likes their big novels”. She’s a Killer isn’t just a big novel: it’s huge.

Note to Self Journal: Tools to Transform Your World | Regional News

Note to Self Journal: Tools to Transform Your World

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

There comes a time in your day, in your week, in your year, or in your life in which everything gets a bit harder, a bit less manageable, a bit tougher to face. These moments are inevitable, and they serve a purpose, especially if dealt with knowledgeably and productively. Rebekah Ballagh’s Note to Self Journal: Tools to Transform Your World is for those more difficult moments and can help you turn negative or unproductive habits and thoughts into positive ones by retraining your mindset and providing useful tools to overcome the rough patches.

Through various exercises, affirmations, and prompts, Ballagh creates an engaging, dynamic, and interactive system in Note to Self Journal that shifts your perspective towards balance and acceptance. The journal contains the building blocks to overcome stress, anxiety, insecurity, and self-doubt by offering concrete solutions such as breathing exercises, writing prompts, wellbeing trackers, and scientific explanations for our emotional reactions. The journal guides you down a path of self-acceptance by reinterpreting concrete ways to approach an often-abstract problem. Ballagh confronts the problem head on to find a way to fix it; as long as you’re willing to put in some time, dedication, and mindfulness.

Note to Self Journal is framed by tender and colourful illustrations and characters, adding a layer of exceptional aestheticism. With these guides and companions along for your journey, just flipping through the pages brightens your day and motivates you to become your best self.

Ballagh proposes ways in which to “respond rather than react,” encouraging us to be gentle, understanding, and forgiving with ourselves. The journal prompts us to practice the same compassion we would with others towards ourselves, and reminds us that we not only “deserve to be here and take up space”, but also that “[our] voice and [our] needs matter.” Note to Self Journal is calming, it is forgiving, and it provides a safe space for anyone who needs a moment of self-care or encouragement, because as Ballagh reminds us: “[we are] worthy of a beautiful life.”

Karachi Vice | Regional News

Karachi Vice

Written by: Samira Shackle


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Karachi Vice is not some cops and robbers jaunt. It’s a really interesting collection of stories about real people (some names are changed) who live in Karachi, and the different roles they play in their communities and struggles they encounter in doing their jobs. Plus the fragility of life that is a given. 

First-time author Samira Shackle is a journalist who was born in Pakistan but lives in London. She goes back at various times to report on events and see her family. At the start of the book is a very handy guide of the nine political groups, including five political parties. There’s a timeline of events spanning from 1992-2018 that includes terrorism, flooding, and political party activity. This was very useful as all I know about Pakistan is that the Black Cap cricket games to be held in Pakistan are constantly cancelled due to terrorist threats. And Imran Khan is their current Prime Minister and he was the captain of the Pakistan national cricket team in the 1980s, when I was lucky enough to get his autograph at the Basin Reserve. 

The central character is Safdar, an ambulance driver who was working during the 2009 bomb blast that killed 30 people. He earns his weight in gold during that upsetting event. His wedding is funny and I guess typical of that culture? There are huge cultural differences that may never sadly change – a 10-year-old girl marrying a man 25 years older.

The local newspaper has columns called Shootings and raids and Mishaps and bodies. Safdar’s father said “Getting a Pashtun [local] to follow instructions is like getting a camel to sit in a rickshaw.” This and “Grief enveloped Parveen’s mother like a shroud” are some examples of the colourful text I loved. The description of the places, people, culture, and food made me eager to visit one day if we can in a more peaceful time and post-COVID. Karachi Vice is a cracking read, and I highly recommend it.

All Tito’s Children | Regional News

All Tito’s Children

Written by: Tim Grgec

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

During an interview about his debut poetry book All Tito’s Children, which is about Yugoslav Marshal, then Prime Minister, then President Josip Broz Tito, Tim Grgec was asked, “Would you have a drink with him?” Grgec’s response was intriguingly equivocal – which can only mean that his research of Marshal Tito, whose shadow looms large over the book, must have revealed more than most of us know.

Grgec’s paternal grandparents arrived here in the 1950s having fled communist Yugoslavia. He has woven some of their memories of two siblings in similar circumstances into a verse biography of Tito. Despite, or perhaps because of, the poet’s research, his poetic creation is only loosely based on fact.

That said, the verbatim quote from Tito to Stalin is startlingly actual. “Stop sending people to kill me!” is a command more audacious than most of the Russian leader’s contemporaries would have essayed. Other sides of the former president are displayed in both historical quotes and poetic imagery. For example, we get him “offering spare cigarettes from my military jacket to Belgraders walking leisurely in the parliamentary gardens”.

The idea of Tito being or having a body double offers a dialogue – involving a cosmetic surgeon, Prime Minister Tito, and Marshal Tito body double – that’s redolent with intrigue and possibility. No wonder his people were entranced, an emotion, though, that was eventually to turn to disillusionment.

Whether Grgec is relating the strangeness and savagery of this peculiar leader, or relating some domestic detail, his imagery is evocative. He describes his mother thus: “Majka pinched her fingers to thread the eye of a needle, patching and repatching her hopes over our trousers”.

The Company we Keep was a section that resonated especially with me, beginning as it does with a historical sequence of Tito’s life – useful to the woefully ignorant reader such as myself. Also useful are the scrupulously added notes and references that backend the book.

This is a scholarly work albeit with exquisitely expressed whimsy and nostalgia that lift it into the poetic realm.

The Beauty of Living Twice | Regional News

The Beauty of Living Twice

Written by: Sharon Stone

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Who knew there was so much more to Sharon Stone than her acting career? She had acted in 18 movies before Basic Instinct shot her to fame. All I remember about Basic Instinct is that scene. I forgot she was a psychopathic killer so I must watch it again. I learned a lot about Ms Stone. The first page captured me – a handsome doctor stroking her hair who said, “You’re bleeding into your brain.” On the next page she tells her best friend, “There is a very good-looking doctor here, and sadly I might not be able to flirt with him.” I thought this was funny and apt. Good for her in those horrible circumstances trying to cheer herself up.

She was expected to do chores from a young age – paint the barn annually, and at 10 years mow the two-acre lawn on a ride-on mower. Kids these days won’t empty the dishwasher! Her mother brought her up to stand on her own two feet. And she did and then some.

Stone’s done a lot of charity work, under the radar, including personally handing out sleeping bags to the homeless in the worst parts of town. She tells me this statistic: 10,000 children live on the streets in Los Angeles. Staggering. Stone helps them by giving the children a camp to go to and then getting their mothers off the streets too. She fundraises and gets her family involved in her charity work and is quite a remarkable woman who is extremely positive and grateful about everything she has.

The Beauty of Living Twice has given me a newfound respect for Stone and the way she lives her life by helping others. She gets more spiritual and becomes a mother at a late age, and that is the best thing that happens to her. There are men and marriages, but her giving back seems to be the best thing she can do to make herself feel good. That and loving her three boys.

The Meat-Free Kitchen | Regional News

The Meat-Free Kitchen

Written by: Jenn Sebestyen, Kelli Foster, and Joni Marie Newman

Quarto US

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

I had at first thought the Meat-Free Kitchen looked and felt like one of the many cookbooks I have at home, and in some ways it certainly is. What stood out though was that each of the recipes within are relatively easy, most ingredients are already staples in my pantry, and for the odd anomaly, i.e. farro, a quick Google search was the only thing between me and a new untried and unheard of grain. Apparently farro is an ancient and complicated wholegrain wheat.

My hands-down favourite fare was the Spinach and Mushroom Pesto Breakfast Bowls. The delectable veggies and move away from my bog standard cereals that shall remain unnamed reminded me of our long-gone Japanese student and how he used to regale us with tales of his fish and vegetable breakfasts. From a healthy perspective and a ‘try something’ new perspective, I certainly can’t argue. Getting up and eating veggies was something new, but I liked it!

As I worked my way through the book, by no means cooking everything I must add, the goalpost for ‘favourite’ deftly moved. The Nut Burger was to me the holy grail. Simple, delicious, and full of nuts, it was in no way lacking from an absence of meat. Many of the Meat-Free Kitchen recipes feature nutritional yeast, another thing I found appealing. The Pepperoni Pizza Burgers were a winner with the youngest family member who thought it a hoot that a pizza was masquerading as a burger – not only that, they tasted great too. It forced me to rethink my definition of a pizza and a burger all at once.

The Meat-Free Kitchen has a whole section on sauces and there’s even The Better Mac, which I’m yet to try. What I love about cooking is that it challenges you to try different things, there’s always a bit of artistic licence, and if something doesn’t work, substituting ingredients and experimenting only adds to the creative process.

The Burn of a Thousand Suns | Regional News

The Burn of a Thousand Suns

Written by: Jillian Webster

Jillian Webster

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

After escaping New Zealand via questionable means and surviving a harrowing experience in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Maia and her new companion Lucas find themselves in the soaking ruins of what used to be called California. While they’re a few steps closer to reaching their goal of the Old Arctic Circle, it isn’t long before they find new dangers trying to stop them.

In her latest entry of The Forgotten Ones saga, The Burn of a Thousand Suns, Webster has managed to ratchet up the tension by introducing newer and far deadlier threats than Maia ever faced in Aotearoa. Everything from the harsh deserts of California to marauding gangs in Los Angeles bring a new intensity that I didn’t feel in the first book. Everything in this broken new setting seems to want to harm or kill them by design.

Just like the first book, The Weight of a Thousand Oceans, the world is extraordinary and comes alive off the page. With the dangers ramped up this time, it’s nail-biting stuff. Every time Maia and Lucas found themselves in hot water, I was literally on the edge of my seat eager to see how they would find a way out. 

Maia herself has grown since the first book, and far from being the wide-eyed innocent she was in Webster’s first entry, she has evolved into a confident, strong character who takes on everything thrown at her. Her bond with Lucas (whom she met in the first book) continues to grow. They make something of a dynamic duo who complement each other nicely. I cannot wait to find out if their relationship develops even further than it already has in (hopefully) the next book. 

Reading The Burn of a Thousand Suns was a real treat and once again I find myself in that strange position of not having anything to complain about. All I can do now is sit back and patiently wait for the next instalment of The Forgotten Ones saga.

Cloud Cuckoo Land  | Regional News

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Written by: Anthony Doerr

Fourth Estate London

Reviewed by: Ralph McAllister

Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his desperately moving wartime story All the Light We Cannot See. The novel remains one of my favourites of the last decade. And now, we have Cloud Cuckoo Land, an epic of 600 pages, beginning and ending with a Greek myth and, in between, five stories which cover wonderful journeys of fantasy and reality. All are linked quite simply by books, ancient and modern.

We meet Konstance, with her parents in a spaceship Argos already having travelled 65 years from a ravished Earth, much of her time spent in the ship’s library exploring legends and what may or may not be truth. Anna lives in Constantinople in the 15th century awaiting the Muslim Sultan’s attack while secretly learning to read. Omeir has been living in a farm with his family and his oxen but has now been dragooned to help the Sultan, as this young boy is a master at controlling Moonlight and Tree, his adorable oxen. Zeno is introduced first in his eighties at the local library in modern day Lakeport Ohio, where he is rehearsing with a group of young children a play called Cloud Cuckoo Land. Seymour, a young ecoterrorist, has a bomb on the premises and is preparing to target local estate developments.

Each of these characters may survive and relate, but what is certain is their common belief in humanity. All the stories are brought together in a triumph of textual brilliance by an author at the top of his achievements. Doerr uses the Greek and English languages with challenges to the reader that will, by turns, exhilarate and demand absolute attention. But books and their survival are central to this extraordinary accomplishment.

“For the librarians then, now, and in the years to come”, is Doerr’s dedication.

And, of course, the last acknowledgment is to his dear readers.

“Without you I’d be all alone, adrift atop a dark sea, with no home to return to.”

Get aboard.

Party Legend | Regional News

Party Legend

Written by: Sam Duckor-Jones

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

There are times when my background in plain English gets in the way of my task as a poetry reviewer. Plain English – you know, words we all understand, some kind of discernible narrative line, conventional use of punctuation – that sort of thing. But when reviewing poetry, such a constricted approach has got to go out the window. This is decidedly the case with Sam Duckor-Jones’ new collection Party Legend.

What’s he on? I wondered as I blundered into his seven-pages-long first poem Party Legend. A few verses in, I wondered what’s he on about? And the answer is a blast of admiration for a piece of satire as amusing as it is devastating. Does its title give it away? Only if you’ve got an eye for puns.

Otherwise, do these lines help? “Vote for me. I’m from a very distinguished flame...I have a very relatable familiar regular story”. Party Legend is a sustained rant of contemporary relevance decorated with unlikely metaphors, tall stories, and shameless exaggerations – all of which enhance its satirical intent.

I’m not so full of praise for another long piece. The Embryo Repeats contains all the latest cleverness. Its featured character is a God scorned: “God is one of these creatives who gets bored quickly”. It also features invented words, esoteric abbreviations such as pbu (peace be upon), ampersands, slashes, and mystifying spaces in the text. It gallops along with a great deal of quirkiness and energy – and it’s unintelligible. That’s fashionable too though – and it’s the sort of thing publishers love.

There are explanatory notes to this collection – and it’s just as well. How else would I have known that Allemande in G by J.S. Bach uses “the lettered notes of the western octatonic scale in the order found in Bach’s Cello Suites”?

I’m tempted to accuse Duckor-Jones of showing off. But then I’m just a good old-fashioned fan of plain English and consideration for the general reader.

The Weight of a Thousand Oceans | Regional News

The Weight of a Thousand Oceans

Written by: Jillian Webster

Jillian Webster

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

It’s been a long time since I was able to settle into a rich juicy novel, and Jillian Webster’s The Weight of a Thousand Oceans has helped scratch that itch. The story focuses on a young woman named Maia growing up in a dystopian New Zealand.

Having been raised solely by her grandfather in isolation, Maia grows up restless and eagerly wants to see the world and live her own life. When she hears something about the Old Arctic Circle, she decides to set off and see it for herself.

This book really impressed me. In a richly detailed world that has been knocked back to the literal stone age, everyone is just trying their best to survive. They all have their own motivations that make sense, and not all will have Maia’s best interests at heart. 

Webster has managed to capture the humanity of each character – their desperation, their pain, and their joy – wonderfully. Her writing makes them literally spring to life. They feel real and relatable, which added to my overall immersion when reading the book. The story is a real treat that had me on the edge of my seat, with Maia’s escape being one of my favourite moments (don’t worry, no spoilers here).

The standout is Maia herself. During the course of The Weight of a Thousand Oceans she goes from naïve and starry-eyed to a genuinely tough heroine. I liked her transformation, and in my opinion, it was natural and organic. 

Normally at this point I would list some of the things I didn’t like about the book, but here I got nothing. The entire story is so amazing, the characters are so deep, and the world they live in is well put together. With luck Webster can use the momentum she’s generated in this book and carry it over to the sequel The Burn of a Thousand Suns. Fingers crossed she can pull it off.

Tōku Pāpā  | Regional News

Tōku Pāpā 

Written by: Ruby Solly

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

The striking cover of Tōku Pāpā, featuring author Ruby Solly and (one may only guess) her father in full traditional dress, lends itself to the depth and drama you will find beneath. Strong and powerful, Solly writes of her journey and her connection to her whakapapa then, now, and forever. Her poetry collection is loosly connected by themes, firstly awe (the strength and power of the soul) and secondly, kura (feathers; a glow; the colour red).

Tōku Pāpā is Solly’s first book – a multi-talented creative, musician, and writer, she is also the composer of the album Pōneke, featuring the soundscapes of Wellington. I could easily imagine this as a backdrop to her orated poems. Her words, beautifully crafted yet hauntingly stark, harness the fragility yet strength of parenting, and the relationships that hold for a lifetime. Woven effortlessly throughout is the presence of Solly’s father.

Through her poems I considered the elements of nature and nurture and what it means to grow up outside your culture and feel alienated or disconnected from it; or instead, to grow up surrounded by your culture, embedded in all that you are and all that you will be.

There’s a sense of the latter throughout Solly’s poems where her connection to her whakapapa and knowledge of where she came from was ever-present, despite growing up away from her marae. There is pain and sorrow around this. Enveloped in her voice is a longing, at times heartbreaking.

The beauty of her poetry is that the inane and the ordinary becomes startling, unique and imbued with wisdom and the passing of time. Solly’s lyrics immerse you, as if crossing generations.

“You buried my whenua at a motel”.

“When my brother is born you bury his on someone else’s mountains”.

Tōku Pāpā is a sweeping collection of poems that convey a sense of the ties that bind us, and of Solly’s connection and identity, nurtured by her father who showed up for her past, present, and future.

Judas Horse | Regional News

Judas Horse

Written by: Lynda La Plante


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Lynda La Plante (CBE no less), aka ‘The Queen of Crime Drama’, has written her 45th book – Judas Horse. It’s about a gang of professional burglars in the scenic Cotswolds countryside who haven’t been caught in their very successful three years on the job. Enter Detective Sergeant Jack Warr to right the wrongs. Maybe I missed the description of Jack but I have no idea what he looks like. You know when you have a really strong image of how a character looks and then you watch the film and your vision is shattered? Won’t be happening here… but I digress. 

Judas Horse has the usual English PC plods trying to keep up with the big boys from the big smoke. The burglars’ crimes are set in the equestrian world with horse floats making excellent getaway vehicles full of stolen items. Hiding in plain sight as it were. There are wacky locals to work with and lots of egos in the police force that Jack has to deal with, including his own.

Some aspects of the storyline were implausible – like the burglars getting a horse to trample its owner. As an experienced equestrian, this would be difficult to achieve without a lot of training. Other examples are unarmed police taking on a professional and armed gang of burglars in the big sting. The police leaving the door open to make it easier for the burglars… thoughtful! The gang made mistakes by using another form of horsepower, driving expensive, go-faster red Ducati Streetfighter V4 motorbikes that should have stood out to locals and police alike. There is a James Bond-style helicopter chase which sounded fun, if not hair-raising.

I could put this book down easily, and felt deflated as I was looking forward to a gripping page-turner. La Plante’s Prime Suspect books, which became a highly watched BBC TV series, were great. But maybe because Helen Mirren was the star? Perhaps after writing 44 books the author is jaded? Or I am? The jury’s out.

Sista, Stanap Strong! A Vanuatu Women’s Anthology | Regional News

Sista, Stanap Strong! A Vanuatu Women’s Anthology

Victoria University Press

Edited by Mikaela Nyman & Rebecca Tobo Olul-Hossen

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

A celebration of womanhood, Sista, Stanap Strong! explores ni-Vanuatu women’s struggle against sexism and misogyny in conjunction with Oceanian colonialism, slavery, racism, and independence.

Sista, Stanap Strong! is important for its reclamation of language, recounting, remembering, and rising above the horrors of colonialism and slavery. Stories and poems such as The bitterness of sugar cane by Losana Natuman recount the incipience of colonialism and blackbirding, whereas Dirty white by Jane Kanas portrays the lasting effect of 19th century colonialism in the 70s and 80s. Kanas’ story directly outlines the role language plays in colonisation, placing English in direct opposition to Bislama and native languages. Though not a direct act of physical violence, cultural, emotional, and psychological damage persist through modern day.

This anthology spans multiple generations of Vanuatu women’s perspectives, with writings ranging from teenagers to octogenarians. Despite the variation in age and experiences however, the perspective remains relatively unchanged. These women are nurturing and strong, trailblazers and keepers of tradition, culture, and history, and yet almost all of them encounter and are defiant in the face of sexism and misogyny. Whether it be domestic violence as in Is this real love by Roselyn Qwenako Tor or men’s insistence upon female inferiority in Mildred Sope’s recollection of the independence movement. “I was targeted and victimised cruelly... the priority was the boys... no more should my girls feel unequal, their rights and voices drowned by some people”, Telstar Jimmy’s voice proclaims in Their lives matter more. Every piece of writing in this anthology is about perseverance and endurance in the face of oppression.

Aside from its focus on universal feminism and female oppression, Sista, Stanap Stong! also presents the intersectional struggle of Vanuatu women in particular. Most of these voices have not been heard until now; they are empowering, they are strong, they are female, and they call for not only Vanuatu women but women everywhere to endure, overcome, and Stanap Strong!

Things OK with you? | Regional News

Things OK with you?

Written by: Vincent O’Sullivan

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The title of Vincent O’Sullivan’s latest poetry collection signals a virtual handshake to readers. They probably know each other, so the greeting is in order.

I get the impression that O’Sullivan is philosophically at ease – both with himself and with the world. If he has axes to grind, I’m not hearing them. Instead, we get 80 poems ranging widely in subject matter, and readers may surprise themselves by the number of references they recognise. We get mentions of the Treaty and Te Rauparaha, Toto the dog, Hitchcock’s birds, the Garden of Eden, and pin the tail on the donkey. And that’s not to omit Marie Antoinette’s head and the dignity of Chinese women meticulously preparing to die.

There are poetic treats for linguists, who will nod sympathetically at In defence of the adjectival, those who have committed autobiography may wince at The spook at life writing, and everyone will enjoy Fieldwork with its final line, “No one has ever sprained an ankle in a rabbit hole on a map”.

Things are extra OK with me when O’Sullivan ventures upon a few narrative poems long enough to hold some bold social commentary. The story of Born Again Brightly, being the name I chose describes a millionaire in a doctor’s waiting room, a doctor who operates on “the smaller lesions of wealth, on investment melanoma, on impacted properties, ingrown shares, devalued tumour”. How surgically incisive!

Things aren’t OK with everyone. Epistemology, Standard Five takes a wry look at life’s unfairness: some of us get brains and beauty and others defects and disabilities. “God wants you to be”, insists Sister Gabriel. Our poet is not convinced. The resignation of the final two lines gains extra effect because they rhyme: “Being clangs its door. No second queue. Get a load of this, Being says, ‘Make do, make do’.”

Life’s been more than fair to O’Sullivan: those who get gifted with talent are the luckiest. But, as this collection demonstrates, he does a lot more than “make do”.

Prison Break | Regional News

Prison Break

Written by: Arthur Taylor

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

If you haven’t heard of Arthur Taylor you’re either young or have been living under a rock. Mind you, he did have 10 aliases, essential kit when you’re a career criminal. 

Arthur tells his life story which is a revolving door in and out of prisons throughout New Zealand. He blames his downward spiral on the Epuni Boys’ Home, where he was sent for wagging at age 11. After that, he spent 38 years in total in jail. He has a lovely, supportive family by all accounts and a big brain (if he does say so himself). 

His language is blunt and of course there is a lot of swearing, so beware if you don’t like foul language. A description of Arthur from a fellow crim: “he’s lower than a sewer, a dirtbag, lard-arse, motor-mouth, mother-...”

Arthur spent a lot of his time on the inside fighting for prisoners’ rights and he studied the law in order to represent himself in court multiple times. One incident he complained about was a detective repeatedly hitting him over the head with a telephone book. He does play the victim a bit which sticks in my craw. After all, he committed a lot of crimes, some serious. He is proud of the fact that during his crimes he never physically hurt anyone but does acknowledge his victims might have suffered PTSD. Really Arthur – you think?

I find his life continuously boring, running from cops then fighting the latest charge from jail. He seemed to revel in annoying people. However, his work on improving conditions for his “brothers and sisters in jail” is admirable. I found his stories about famous inmates, including Graeme Burton and Liam Reid, so interesting that I Googled those criminals to revisit their ghastly crimes.

Arthur Taylor is out (at the time of this review) living the quiet life, and still fighting the good fight for other prisoners. Prison Break is an interesting read on a life that thankfully I’ve never had to participate in. Yet.

Unleash Your Superpowers | Regional News

Unleash Your Superpowers

Written by: Rosemary Killip & Jen Tyson

Switched on Learning Group Ltd.

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Co-author of Unleash Your Superpowers, Rosemary Killip acknowledges those in her professional life who have allowed her to grow, learn, and challenge herself. Every interaction was an opportunity to step up, to shine, or to shrink. In a sense, this sums up the heart of Unleash Your Superpowers.

Exploring the stories of a group of diverse women, authors Killip and Jen Tyson delve into the strategies each of these professional women have navigated, to literally unleash their own unique superpowers. Everyone has them they say, and the more I read, the more I agree. What makes their stories relatable is that I could imagine sitting with each one of them. These are women I work with, we all work with, and I could see elements of their stories that mirrored my own.

A question I found most interesting was, ‘Who are you at work?’ Killip and Tyson challenge you to consider your ‘personal brand’. Do you recognise this person? What are you known for? Does it align with your non-work self? Spotting and navigating opportunities to ‘rebrand’ yourself all contribute to making positive changes. If how you are seen at work is not who you are elsewhere, you can make positive changes to realign yourself. You owe it to yourself to have a fulfilling, happy career. If you don’t invest in your own personal growth, it’s not likely anyone else will either.

This means having an awareness of your surroundings, your body language, how you communicate, and how you respond to others.

Look for an organisation or project that aligns with your interests – discover why you do what you do. If the going gets tough: “Never let a barrier be a barrier, stop if you fall over, pick yourself up and keep going. Sometimes learning hurts,” says Jo Miller, chief executive of Hutt City Council.

Unleash Your Superpowers is a superb book, incredibly easy to read, and filled with some really inspiring takeaways from some pretty insightful women.

21 Hacks to Rock your Midlife | Regional News

21 Hacks to Rock your Midlife

Written by: Cat Coluccio

Cat Coluccio

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Two things strike me about the cover of 21 Hacks to Rock your Midlife. A title like that clearly signals that this is a book for women. Men don’t need to “Release the Past, Dare to Dream and Create [their] Legacy”, do they?

And then there’s the word “hacks”. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t have to check Wikipedia for the new and improved meaning of a word that’s got a history of negative connotations. For the uninitiated, a hack can now mean “any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life”. Hmmm.

“Midlife isn’t an age. It’s an experience”, midlife success coach Cat Coluccio assures us. And we get to find how that plays out in seven sections. Awakening and Releasing sound too New Age for me, so I start with Creating Space and its theme of decluttering.

That’s something I could sound as earnest about as Coluccio. “Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living.” Now that’s a grand statement. If the reader makes it through a series of confronting questions about the state of their desk, wardrobe, or benchtop, they are rewarded with a list of step-by-step actions to take.

Decluttering is hard work – whether we’re talking physical, digital, or mental. Coluccio makes no bones about it, which makes this section alone worth the price of the book.

Ditch the Perfectionism! is also a useful section. It contains well-aimed advice at a philosophy that sounds admirable but is actually a disguise for something less so. Such are the delusions of midlife.

Being 70+, I approached Coluccio’s midlife hacks with scepticism. Would her suggestions come too late to save me from my lifelong accumulation of letters, photos, and diaries?

A hack is supposed to be a shortcut, but there are no shortcuts here. Not Coluccio’s problem – she’s written the book – it’s up to us to take the action.

Better For You | Regional News

Better For You

Written by: Lisa A. Lewis

Nationwide Book Distributors

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

While its subtitle may read Entrepreneurs Who Broke Big Soda’s Stranglehold on the USA and New Zealand, the book centres around just one protagonist: Kiwi businessman Glenn Elliott. He is the founder of King of Kiwi, a company that created a line of drinks made with all-natural Kiwifruit pulp.  Described as a ‘daily health hit in a bottle’, Elliott’s goal was to give the consumer a healthy alternative to the sugary offerings that are more well known, such as Coke or Pepsi.

Better For You documents Elliott’s journey as he takes his products (Kiwi-Shot and Kiwi Revivor) and dips his toes into the sometimes-choppy waters of the American drinks market. We get to see his highs and lows as he experiences what it is like doing business in a foreign country. Along the way author Lisa A. Lewis details his progress, offering a shoulder to cry on and a sounding board when things go wrong.

It’s an exhilarating adventure, made even more exciting because of how high the stakes potentially are. Every setback could have easily stopped him in his tracks, ending the entire endeavour.

Elliott makes the perfect David to America’s Goliath, and I found myself cheering him on throughout his adventure. Lewis herself becomes something of Elliott’s sidekick, and I could tell that they had great chemistry and worked well together.

My only gripe is with the photos that Lewis includes halfway through the story. None of them have the usual descriptors at the bottom that let people know what’s happening. As a journalist (sometimes photographer) this is a big no-no as it risks confusing the reader.

Apart from this one little foible, the book is fantastic and I couldn’t put it down until I got to the final chapter. It’s clear, it’s fun, and it’s an easy read. I would recommend Better For You for anyone thinking about starting up their own business who wants to know what they might be in for.

National Identity | Regional News

National Identity

Written by: Simon Bridges


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

As the front cover of his latest biography says, this is not a political memoir. Instead, it’s a reflection on who Simon Bridges is as a person, about his life as a father, husband, and politician. His new book National Identity covers a wide range of topics, delving into the minutiae of what makes him tick and why he is the way he is.

For those that don’t know who I am talking about, let me give you the abridged version. Simon Bridges was born in 1976 in Auckland and started out as a lawyer before deciding to turn to politics. He eventually became head of the National Party in 2018 before losing the leadership two years later.

National Identity is essentially a warts and all look at his views on things like the ‘haves and have nots’, the role of social media in politics, the growing class system developing in our society, and more.   

One of my favourite parts of the book is when he’s describing his nationality and how he views his bi-racial ethnicity (Ngāti Maniapoto iwi and English descent), calling himself a Māori, English Kiwi. Even though he loves the UK, in his own words, his ‘Vogel’s is buttered here’ (in New Zealand).

While there’s no way to judge a person based on one title, his writing gives me a ‘good bloke’ kind of vibe. The language is simple and down-to-earth. It’s not dumbed down at all but easy enough to read that anyone can just pick it up and go.

While you might peg a former National leader as wholly conservative, Bridges’ views seem to be more progressive than I first thought. In fact, in my opinion, it would be a huge mistake to give National Identity a miss based on political leanings alone. While it won’t convert you to the other side of the political spectrum if you’re not there already, it may surprise you and at least provide an insight into how political leaders think.

Cold Wallet | Regional News

Cold Wallet

Written by: Rosy Fenwicke

Wonderful World Limited

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Rosy Fenwicke is a full-time author who wrote the Euphemia Sage Chronicles, Death Actually, and the fast-paced Cold Wallet. This novel taught me things about Bitcoin I didn’t know or think I needed to. It was interesting to learn more, as it may be the currency of the future. There are hot wallets too in this thriller about a young woman’s life that’s thrown into chaos when she inherits a cryptocurrency company. Fun fact about Bitcoin from the book: “The electricity to run the programmes costs a fortune. Did you know computers and the energy needed to run them contributes more to CO2 emissions than all the air travel in the world?” Wow. 

The story is told by the central character Jess, and Henry, her nemesis. Jess is a doctor and Henry is her husband’s business partner who is jealous of her and the hold she has over her husband Andrew. They share chapters to tell the tale of greed and trying to out-fox each other. I loved this sentence: “He was suffering from an advanced case of destitution.” No wallet for him then.

Set in Auckland, it’s easy to imagine the Viaduct apartment and glamorous lifestyle they enjoy. The Fiji honeymoon sounded even more exotic as I read this book in lockdown. It was also a coincidence while I was reading it that some cryptocurrency folk violated lockdown in Auckland!

There are anti-heroes, erotica, baddies, death, and a great pace and rhythm that kept me wondering, what next? Who should Jess trust – the police, her lawyer, the Uber driver who mysteriously turns up whenever required? There were instances of gruesome violence and bad things happening to people, including amputations (just a warning).

I did not expect Cold Wallet to end the way it did, which was great. It was full of twists and I needed to know what was going to happen, which kept me on edge. And there are unanswered questions too, so a good tale told.

Slips: Cricket Poems | Regional News

Slips: Cricket Poems

Written by: Mark Pirie


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Hands up how many people think of cricket and instantly start thinking of poetry. I imagine not that many, since they’re not things that someone would normally associate with each other, but surprisingly the two subjects have had a loving relationship since the 18th century. 

While I have never been a fan of poetry or the sport, I have to admit to finding myself smiling more than once at some of Mark Pirie’s work. Light-hearted, funny, and sometimes thought-provoking, Slips gives people a glimpse into the funny side of cricket, which I always felt took itself a little too seriously.

This collection of poems has obviously been a labour of love for the writer, and his passion shines through with each verse. What could have been just poetry is instead turned into a sort of deep dive into the game’s rich history and shows us why it has the legion of fans that it does.

From toasts to players of yesteryear to the sometimes ridiculous ways that people have been dismissed from games, nothing is out of bounds (so to speak), and Pirie happily pokes fun while being respectful. As a result, Slips: Cricket Poems comes off as both charming and genuinely entertaining.

However, as wonderful as it is, a major downside is that unless you absolutely love cricket, a lot of that charm and humour will be lost on you. The book is clearly aimed at the cricket-mad fans and poets out there, and I’m afraid that anyone else will feel left out in the cold.

Apart from this one quibble, at the end of the day, if you love cricket and love poetry, this is definitely the book for you. While it won’t be for everyone, Slips: Cricket Poems is a wonderful read that I think would tickle many people’s funny bones if they gave it a chance.

Six by Six – Short Stories by New Zealand’s Best Writers | Regional News

Six by Six – Short Stories by New Zealand’s Best Writers

Edited by Bill Manhire

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

The title of this hefty volume is a metaphor for construction – literary construction. These 36 stories – half a dozen each by our most celebrated writers – are chosen to illustrate individual range and depth.

Perhaps Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson could be considered parents of the New Zealand short story. Not that they’d have got on. There was Mansfield living on the other side of the world, mixing with the likes of Virginia Woolf (who admitted to envying her rival’s work) and initiating a love affair with her publisher – and Sargeson, hanging out in a disreputable none-too-clean bach on Auckland’s North Shore keeping company with down-and-outs and sheltering Janet Frame.

What they had in common is that both were sharp observers of the New Zealand society of their times, albeit from different sides of the world. We readers get to sample their rich and varied progeny.

I was brought up to admire Mansfield’s Her First Ball, but a rereading of Daughters of the Late Colonel had me delighting even more in the black comedy dripping from such a sophisticated pen. Spinsters Josephine and Constantia are mourning the recent death of their fierce father, and their post-funeral actions and reactions, a mixture of trepidation and inadvertent giggles, are hilarious. It’s Mansfield at her brilliant best.

At 50 pages, is her Prelude too long to be a short story? Sargeson composed his seminal 500-word Conversations with my Uncle in one sitting, and its subtle social commentary typifies future tales. My other favourite, The Hole that Jack Dug, is a likeable portrait of the – sometimes unfathomable – indefatigability of the New Zealand male when working on a practical task. Sargeson’s appeal is irresistible, originating from his preoccupation with, and protection of, the underdog.

I pay tribute also to the other four writers represented: Maurice Duggan, Janet Frame, Patricia Grace, and Owen Marshall, whose stories contribute equally to the range and quality of the New Zealand short story.

Heart of the Sea  | Regional News

Heart of the Sea

Written by: Nora Roberts


Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

“It was always best, in Darcy’s opinion, to leave a man not only wanting more, but wondering.” Heart of the Sea is the third and final book in The Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy by Nora Roberts. I absolutely adore Roberts’ writing style and her consistency with the characters’ personalities. Throughout the trilogy, each character plays a vital role and without each personality, the novel would have probably been very boring.

This novel differs from the other two books in the trilogy though, and it took me a little while longer to read. That does not mean that the book was less interesting, it just wasn’t what I expected. Roberts’ other two books in the series, Jewels of the Sun and Tears of the Moon, were quite romantic and magical, whereas Heart of the Sea is a little more focused on the family business, success, and the potential of blossoming love.

Heart of the Sea continues with the curse of Carrick, Prince of Faeries and his beloved Lady Gwen, and the third part of the spell that must be broken for them to be reunited in love once again. Their fate is in Darcy Gallagher’s hands, but she is not looking for love and certainly not looking to get married anytime soon. Travis McGee, Gallagher’s Pub’s new business partner, is not only handsome, but rich and successful too. He offers the Gallaghers a great business venture and offers Darcy the lifestyle and money that she so desires – but is he willing to offer her his heart?

Heart of the Sea was rather interesting and gave me a more in-depth feel of the community of Ardmore, the bonds between the locals, the excitement of all the business possibilities, and the dramatic changes in two people’s lives. I struggled a bit to relate to Darcy as a character, as she aspires to live a lavish life of luxury. However, her confident and arrogant personality woke up the ‘vixen’ in my own and that was just what I needed.

2020 | Regional News


Written by: Ben Spies

Spies Publishing

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Ben Spies, a seasoned author at 13, delivers an entertaining and action-packed read with his science fiction novel 2020.

2020 is full of surprises and I can’t help but think it’s all the more on-point and enjoyable for pre-teen readers, having been written by one of their peers. Spies wrote his first book at nine-years-old, and on hearing this particular piece of trivia, I could
see the possibilities unfold before my eight-year-old’s eyes. Impressed he was.

In 2020 the Earth’s orbit is moving precariously close to the sun, with the planet heating up to unsurvivable levels. A spacecraft aptly named Salvos, a nod to salvation, is NASA’s hope for saving the human race. It’s a vessel for transporting them to another more habitable planet, but sadly, Salvos is not meant to be.

All is not what it seems in 2020. There’s espionage, shapeshifting extraterrestrials, and top-secret bunkers, and the plot thickens trying to decipher everyone’s intentions... are they malicious or misunderstood?

Spies sets an exciting pace with alternating chapters between the perspectives of Susan Dawes and her son Jacob as they fight to survive amidst the chaos.

I was remiss not reading the age recommendation of 11+ before reading 2020 to my son, but nevertheless it was very much enjoyed and it was too late to turn back when I realised he was already hooked. “It was awesome cause it was gruesome,” was the general consensus from him, and it is fair to say this sentiment, though a little exaggerated, is spot-on. Some bits are best suited for a slightly older audience. Who would have thought the whole fight for survival in an apocalyptic world would be so entertaining? And it was the bits perhaps not suited to an eight-year-old that seemed to be all the more appealing!

2020 offers lots of suspense for pre-teen readers, and its rapidly moving pace only adds to the urgency. The race is on to save humanity. The only question is, will Susan and Jacob survive?

Instructions for Dancing | Regional News

Instructions for Dancing

Written by: Nicola Yoon

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Saashika Satish Chander (age 14)

Instructions for Dancing is an awesome contemporary romance written by Nicola Yoon. It’s told from the point of view of our main character, Yvone ‘Evie’ Thomas, who witnessed her father do something awful, resulting in the divorce of her parents. And with it, her willingness to believe the world isn’t awful and loving someone is fine deteriorates. However, her newfound love of dance and the handsome X she meets soon may change that.

The two things I love most about this book are these: the relatable and complex characters, and the fact that romance isn’t the only subject here. Don’t get me wrong – I love love just as much as the next person. But I also like variety, and Instructions for Dancing has plenty of that. It deals with infidelity, and not just what it does to the partner but also the family. We see Evie’s mum break. We see the toll it takes on her father for his own child to hate and mistrust him. It’s heartbreaking, yes, but also an interesting view. I’d never actually seen the other side of infidelity – it was surprising how much sympathy I felt.

And now onto the second reason why I love this book: the in-depth characters. X (yes, that’s his real name) is not just in the story because it needs a love interest, he’s an actual three-dimensional character. One great thing is being able to watch Evie get over her aversion to love and allow herself to be vulnerable. There’s Cassidy, your typical ‘mean friend’. Behind this, she just wants the approval of her often-absent parents. There’s Fifi, who’s a very scary dance instructor, but one with a heart of gold who just wants her students to succeed. I also adore that there’s plenty of representation. Plenty of the people, including Evie and X themselves, are African American. Cassidy and her girlfriend are LGBTQIA+.

Instructions for Dancing is an amazing book with an important message: love is about the journey and the moments you share, rather than the potential heartbreak you might feel.

Between Two Worlds | Regional News

Between Two Worlds

Written by: Emma Outteridge

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

This book could be anyone’s story if they followed their passion as Emma Outteridge did. After seeing the harrowing movie Hotel Rwanda, Outteridge’s eyes were well and truly opened and that movie, in effect, changed her life for good. When she told her late Gramps that she wanted to do good works, he said get on with it. So she did.

In her early 20s, Outteridge left New Zealand with a fellow Kiwi as volunteers for St Paul KAASO Primary School in Uganda. Not your usual OE choice, but the author did have a unique childhood growing up on sailing boats.

Seeing the need of orphaned children with no future, they fundraised to build a bunkroom that would be named Kiwi House. The project grew to sponsor many children to attend secondary school. Some secured scholarships!

The six-month trip of a lifetime for Outteridge became a life-long commitment. The juxtaposition of her glamorous life organising Louis Vuitton America’s Cup events versus living in a mud house, bathing with a flannel and muddy water, was not lost on the author. She suffered volunteer guilt; that she wasn’t doing enough. Rose, the woman who set up the school, reminded her, “You can’t do everything, but you can do something.” That became her mantra. The village, community, and ambience sounded magical: “As the sky slowly filled with the streaky red of sunset, we sang and played until night stole the light away.”

Some of the descriptions of the scenes, and certainly the photos, made me cry. It’s a wonderful tale of someone who had conviction and was prepared to work hard and act with integrity to make something happen. Nelson Mandela is quoted: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Between Two Worlds sums up the author’s spirit and generosity in life. A joyous read.

Jewels of the Sun  | Regional News

Jewels of the Sun

Written by: Nora Roberts


Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

In the first of three books about the Gallaghers of Ardmore, Nora Roberts awakens our imaginations with Jewels of the Sun.

Jude F. Murray was a level-headed, stable, and predictable psychology college professor who was stuck in routine life until she abruptly quit her job and decided to take a trip to Ireland, where her roots are. Jude’s husband – oh, correction – ex-husband, had asked for a divorce just eight months after getting married. When she made the life-changing decision to quit her job and travel to a country she’d never been, she felt like she had finally lost her mind.

Jude decided to work on a paper that combined her work and her roots, while taking the time to clear her mind and maybe even find herself.

“You didn’t tell me the cottage was haunted.” Gran had told Jude about Lady Gwen and her Faerie lover Garrick over a set of tapes and letters and shared more Irish folklore that had been passed down from generation to generation. Being logical, Jude brushed it off as just another old story, but thought it might be interesting to follow up on some of the stories from the locals.

One local, Aidan Gallagher, had offered to tell her as many stories as she wanted. Aidan was the owner of Gallagher’s pub, passed down to him from his parents. Little did she know what fate had in store for her and how truly magical the Faerie Hill was.

Jude thought she had it all and had a good life – until she really started living.

Roberts’ book is full of magic, passion, love, friendship, culture, and courage. I fell in love with the magical folklore and the power that it held amongst the locals, as well as the courage of one woman who gave it all up and found herself and true happiness for the very first time. Prepare to be enchanted!

Tears of the Moon  | Regional News

Tears of the Moon

Written by: Nora Roberts


Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

Tears of the Moon is the second book in Nora Roberts’ Gallaghers of Ardmore trilogy. The magic continues when the first of three spells has been broken for Carrick and Lady Gwen to finally be together. Is this an opportunity for the second part of the spell to be broken? “His heart’s in his song.”

I felt like I had been placed under a spell myself when I read this book and instantly got transported to the wonderful countryside of Ireland. Nora’s writing style is easy on the eyes and flows as if she is telling you the story herself. Her descriptions of scenes in the story are so vivid that you can see the vision of Lady Gwen, smell the delicious mulligan stew that Shawn is cooking in the pub, and feel the burning desire of two souls that want to be together. She had me lapping up every word that I read, and I didn’t feel the need to skim a page in case I missed something.

Compared to the first book Jewels of the Sun, Tears of the Moon is a little less dreamy romance and more battle of the wits between Brenna and Shawn, neither of whom want to admit their romantic feelings for the other. The stubbornness of these two characters makes you want to jump into the book and slap some sense into them, however, it is quite amusing to read how they quarrel with each other when jealousy creeps up. There are family matters that also come into play and personally I was rooting for their success in their potential business venture. Having everyone in town involved and keeping family close really got me deeper into the story as it felt close to home for me.

I could not put the book down and found myself smiling and laughing out loud. Magic, wit, and romance next to a warm fire on a cold rainy day was just what the doctor ordered.

Fancy Dancing: New and Selected Poems 2004-2020 | Regional News

Fancy Dancing: New and Selected Poems 2004-2020

Written by: Bernadette Hall

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Lyrical, eloquent, and impressionistic, Fancy Dancing is a word collage of memories and moments. Bernadette Hall’s life, and the many lives she seems to have lived, find a voice in her poems, this collection acting as a sort of memoir.

At times abstract and labyrinthine, Hall’s poems are very intimate. More than once I felt as though I was looking in on a private moment of remembrance, not unwelcome but certainly an outsider to the personal memory unfolding behind the curtain of allegory, metaphor, and simile. Poetic imagery intentionally lures the reader into the poem, but also renders it more intricate and impenetrable.

The poems in Fancy Dancing walk a narrow line between withholding and exposing moments of Hall’s life. Incongruous images lay side by side, juxtaposed in such a manner that their association is often startling and unpredictable, just like the inner workings of the mind, the fabric of dreams, or the twists and turns of life. In The Holy Ground, a monk’s sandals “flap flap flap,” until they unexpectedly and seamlessly transfigure into a salmon hauled onto dry land, gasping for air. Hall continuously plays with the margins, boundaries, and confines of poetic language and imagery. Perhaps through the incongruity of her images, Hall is able to make sense of the natural disorder of life.

Despite the highly complex imagery however, Hall’s poems are not weighty. In fact they seem lighthearted, sprightly, and even playful. Ironic and rather level-headed, Hall doesn’t seem to take life too seriously. She captures a moment frozen in time. The poems accept what life gives them, no matter how disjointed or unexpected, and make a memory worth remembering, whether good, bad, or somewhere in between. Nothing seems inherently good or bad in the realms of Hall’s poems. Fancy Dancing as a whole is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. The poems are realistic tableaus of life that though complex and perhaps a little convoluted, are also evocative, transient, and inherently beautiful.

How Do You Live | Regional News

How Do You Live

Written by: Genzaburo Yoshino

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

In How Do You Live, author Genzaburo Yoshino captures the human spirit and it is both beautiful and confronting. How Do You Live is the poignant story of a 15-year-old boy growing up in 1930s Japan, a boy whose father’s last wish was for him to be a great example of a human being.

Copper is a boy intrigued by the world around him and begins to wonder increasingly about all the human intricacies and life’s unknowns that surround him, all while navigating the friendships and adventures of youth. How Do You Live offers an insight into Copper’s world and the heart-warming relationship he has with his uncle, who stives to mentor him after his father dies.

His uncle writes to Copper in a notebook with words that gently speak to what he knows and feels about life. He wants to explain the complexities of the human condition and what it means to truly live. He speaks as if to Copper’s soul, to encourage him to see all possibilities.

His words are pragmatic and philosophical and implore Copper to view humanity and all it entails with a great sense of pride and connection. Copper begins to consider everyone and everything, from the people who make his clothes, to the farmer who provides his milk. Copper in his wonder learns to see the bigger picture.

His uncle sees the promise in Copper, his greatness and his failings. “It’s hard to admit our mistakes. But in the pain of our mistakes there is also human greatness,” he writes.

Copper takes his uncle’s guidance to heart. When he fails his friends Kitami and Uragawa, he realises he can rise above his mistakes: “still I can become a good person. I can become a good person and create one good person for the world.”

In How Do You Live, the human spirit prevails. There’s a great lesson here: how we treat people will ultimately prove our character.

The Better Brain | Regional News

The Better Brain

Written by: Julia Rucklidge and Bonnie Kaplan

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Hands up, who had no idea that micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are just as important to the overall health of our brains as macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats)? In their new book The Better Brain, Julia Rucklidge PhD and Bonnie Kaplan PhD explain how these tiny nutrients help the brain function properly and can treat anxiety, ADHD, and a host of other mental illnesses.

Much like the last book I reviewed titled Mental Fitness, I found The Better Brain quite an easy read. Nothing went over
my head, and I felt both Rucklidge and Kaplan cared about the subject matter they were talking about, as well as the people reading the book.

Their writing is simple to understand and down to Earth, with no technobabble or complicated jargon that gets in the way of the ideas explained in the book. Because of that, I came away with a greater understanding of my brain and how micronutrients play a key role in its wellbeing.

What I most loved about The Better Brain was that it helps to empower readers to take charge of their mental and physical health. Think of it as a guidebook giving you helpful advice on what you need to keep on top. Imagine your brain as an engine, and nutrients act as the fuel that keeps it running properly. What kind of fuel we choose can dramatically change our lives for the better.

While I was surprised that these nutrients could have such an effect on us mentally, what shocked me the most was that a lot of psychiatrists seem to have no idea about the positive contribution they play. Even more shocking was that a majority of medical schools glaze over them in favour of powerful pharmaceuticals. For that reason, I think people owe it to themselves to give this a read. Seriously a must have in any home.

Dearly | Regional News


Written by: Margaret Atwood

Chatto and Windus

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Margaret Atwood’s collection of poems Dearly is unsurprisingly a work of art. Every word is elegant, significant, and intentional, all working together to craft the ethereal world of memory, age, and finality, but also new beginnings. Each poem confronts inevitable finality, whether in death or heartbreak or even just a moment, yet in some way each poem is seeped with the beauty of memory and the life that once belonged to the ineluctable end.

Atwood juxtaposes reality against illusion, playing with both abstractions. In some poems dreams and fantasy are more real than reality. Blizzard for example is a heavy-hearted poem about the unwillingness to let go of a mother, more alive in dream-world than in the material one. In other instances, illusion is ridiculed in its attempts to ward off inevitable and unpleasant reality. In Princess Clothing humans, like silkworms, adorn themselves in decorative things, hoping to become metaphorical butterflies. Atwood wafts away our delusions however, for much like the silkworms we destroy to turn into adornments, our fate is not to become butterflies.

Oh Children mourns the decay and death of nature, the world, and life if human carelessness and destruction continues, but it does so by inquiring as to whether future generations will be forced to grow up (if they grow up) without all the things we take for granted. The poem ends with a final question: “oh children will you grow up?” Foreboding, final, fatal, but beautiful in its glimmer of hope.

Though each poem verges on hopelessness and often cynicism, it is crafted in such a way as to underscore loveliness that shall be lost, in this way imbuing Dearly with a sense of melancholic nostalgia. These endings are often cathartic, and in each one there is the potential for a new beginning. Though inevitable and fatal, beauty in Dearly is in fact found in finality; everything is beautiful precisely because it is doomed, to be reborn some other way.

Selected Poems | Regional News

Selected Poems

Written by: Harry Ricketts

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

What I like best about Harry Ricketts’ Selected Poems is the picture they present of the man. The collection is comprehensive, spanning 40 years of experiences and observations garnered from a life of travel, cultural reaction, and scholarship – not to mention personal life. “The unexamined life is not worth living”, noted James Baldwin. Ricketts is a fine example of how such an attitude might demonstrate itself in writing.

He’s warm, he’s generous, he’s able to admit faults, and he thankfully lacks the tendency towards cold intellectualism and obscure referencing that plagues some contemporary poetry writing.

A Peking History Lesson and Tales of Old Hong Kong will satisfy the student of the East, redolent with such images as “Mao’s portrait synthetically benign” and the subalterns who “giggled at the size of their hostess’s feet”. And do look out for The Elephant’s Nest Shuffle!

I could easily have missed the author’s note in which Ricketts confesses to the inclusion in his early poet’s training of limericks composition. Such verses are often sneered at for being lowbrow, so I was delighted that our erudite poet found an exploration of that as well as other literary forms “enormously liberating”. His collection includes several examples, and they provide the added pleasure of having fellow poets as targets. Elsewhere, references to writers Lauris Edmond and Frank Sargeson will be recognised by the general reader.

In more serious vein, we get a metaphor for marriage in Nothing to Declare, a salutary dissertation in The Necessity of Failure, and are invited to share the wistfulness of The unmade bed.

Amongst his new poems, I was especially struck by the starkness of Last day, evoking as it does a sad reality. And Arguments for religion, which aligns old religion with the new, aptly listing “social media, imperial nostalgia, dark money and fake news” as responsible for the questionable morality of the day.

Read Selected Poems and be reminded, admonished, touched, and entertained by this most human of poets.

Fair Weather Hitchhiker | Regional News

Fair Weather Hitchhiker

Written by: Julia Millen

The Cuba Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Julia Millen’s favourite childhood song was On the Road to Anywhere. It was a ditty that became the theme for a lifetime. Beginning with New Zealand and venturing later to Europe and South America, Millen clearly revels in her many and varied hitchhiking experiences.

There is much to be learned from this lengthy saga of her travels: not least survival tips for the tricky and challenging situations faced by those who choose to stick their thumbs out. I was relieved that Millen usually opted to hitchhike with two female companions – free spiritedness even of the 60s variety has risks attached.

There are tips of other kinds too and I found these entertaining. We learn where the Impressionists are hidden away in Paris, that the Swedes don’t go in for garden taps, and that in Greece you may get your hands rinsed with retsina. And I felt amusement mixed with memory-driven horror at our writer’s discovery that the Greek word for ‘yes’ is ‘nai’, pronounced confusingly like the English word ‘no’. Leads to all kinds of trouble.

Millen’s narrative is peppered with literary and classical references, due perhaps to her background in library work, though I suspect that many of them would be missed by millennials. The Hound of the Baskervilles? An Enid Blyton Mr. Plod?

Readers are also treated to the personal journey to, through, and eventually out of a first marriage – though quite why it was entered into in the first place is a bit of a mystery. Or is that the 60s again? And being married doesn’t seem to preclude hitchhiking adventures.

It’s only when back in New Zealand, after 20 years of thumbing her way around the world and a historic trip to Antarctica, that Millen finds her man – on the beach at Pukerua Bay. Should we be surprised that after following myriad “roads to anywhere”, her early inspiration to a heady, hedonistic life morphs into an acknowledgement that “There’s no place like home”?

Shackleton’s Endurance | Regional News

Shackleton’s Endurance

Written by: Joanna Grochowicz

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Joanna Grochowicz has made quite a name for herself as a writer of what is sometimes called the golden age of Antarctic exploration. Her books give us a closer look into that time, when men risked it all to explore what is still one of the most desolate continents on Earth.

Shackleton’s Endurance tells the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage to the Antarctic in 1914. When disaster strikes, though, and his ship becomes stuck in the ice, his journey soon becomes a matter of life and death with the odds stacked against him and his crew.

It’s a harrowing tale, and one made even more compelling by the fact that it all actually happened. Grochowicz, who has made the genre of ‘fictional history’ her forte, has really outdone herself and her skills are on full display here.

I say fictional history because while Shackleton’s adventures were completely factual, his and his men’s interactions would have to be based on second-hand accounts from various sources, such as crew journal entries that survived their adventures.

I loved the characters and how well fleshed out they were; thus, they felt real to me, and I found myself feeling for them as they struggled to find their way out of what must have seemed like hell on Earth.

One of the best parts of the book is Shackleton himself. Unlike Roald Amundsen (the star of her previous book, Amundsen’s Way), who seemed stern and domineering, Sir Ernest comes off as a kind and compassionate man who always put the welfare of his crew first. This makes him a more relatable protagonist than Amundsen ever was.

History can sometimes feel boring, and because it happened some 107 years ago, many people find themselves disassociated from it. Grochowicz makes it all come alive on the page, and the results are spectacular. Shackleton’s Endurance is a thrilling ride and one I highly recommend picking up.

The Runaway Girls | Regional News

The Runaway Girls

Written by: Jacqueline Wilson

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Saashika Satish Chander

The Runaway Girls is a heart-warming story about the warmth of friendship and the lengths two girls go through to protect theirs. It is set in Victorian England and written by Jacqueline Wilson. In this story, Lucy Locket, the protagonist, runs away from home for multiple reasons relating to her home life. Lucy meets Kitty on her escape, and the two instantly become best friends. 

My favourite part of this book is the natural and normal friendship Kitty and Lucy share. They argue and make up, tease and joke like any best friends you might find now. The only disparity is the fact that they lived a hundred years ago, which does tend to make a difference. For example, when Lucy loses Kitty in the park, she has no way of communicating with her and is understandably distraught. Whereas nowadays we can just send our friends a text or call them. Also, the poor are better cared for today, which is a contrast in Lucy’s world where they are ignored if they are lucky, or beaten and shooed away.

Additionally, I love how compatible Lucy and Kitty are. They make a fantastic team when facing foes. Kitty is generally more knowledgeable and fierce, but Lucy makes excellent use of her sweet demeanour and discovers some hidden talents, like lying on the spot well and melting adult’s hearts. Her parents would have a heart attack if they ever saw her, smiling like an angel while spinning devilish lies, but it serves them well on the streets!

I also enjoyed the ending in which Jacqueline subtly brought in an easter egg from another book, though it doesn't hinder your understanding if you haven’t read it yet. Still, for someone who does understand, it was nice to see. I liked the fact that it was a happy ending, perfectly suited for the characters.

All in all, The Runaway Girls is an excellent book that has everything a good read requires: wonderful characters, an awesome story, and an interesting setting. I definitely recommend this book.

Tikanga: Living with the traditions of te ao Māori   | Regional News

Tikanga: Living with the traditions of te ao Māori 

Written by: Kaiora and Francis Tipene


Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Tikanga, the book, belongs to Francis and Kaiora Tipene. It is written from their perspective, their knowledge, their traditions; but it belongs too, to their whakapapa and those who have come before them.

Driving past the opening of the brand-new branch of Tipene Funerals in Porirua, curiosity got the better of me. Many had gathered, eating, conversing, and listening to music. I could see Francis and Kaiora speaking with visitors. I made the hasty decision to pull over with my son. Perhaps it would be a great conversation starter about life and death and everything in between.

I was also curious to see if Kaiora and Francis, the humble narrators of such a powerful book, whose words, so genuine, are like I imagined. I felt welcomed and got to witness manaakitanga (hospitality, kindness, generosity, support), which “must be ingrained and extended everywhere you go”, Francis says.

In Tikanga, Francis and Kaiora express the traditional Māori values that ground and guide them in their funeral work and everyday lives. The regard, respect, and agency they give to those that will one day pass through their doors, living or otherwise, Māori and non-Māori, illustrates how they live the concepts of te ao Māori.

“Everyone with a business thinks their business is different from other businesses, but I think ours is ‘more different’ than most. It is especially different because it is so dependant on its culture and being able to live Tikanga every day, no matter what is going on,” Francis says

Tikanga is about what is important and valuable to Māori, but it translates to all. In Tikanga there is a candid nod to all cultures; both Francis and Kaiora are pragmatic and able to incorporate values and traditions different to their own.

Both are keen to convey that they don’t know everything. They are not a mouthpiece for all Māori, but acknowledge the platform they now have to champion Māori culture everywhere, every time with the aim to do better, be better, and encourage those around them to do the same.

The Little Ache – a German notebook | Regional News

The Little Ache – a German notebook

Written by: Ian Wedde

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Appreciation of poetry closely resembles appreciation of painting – it’s highly subjective. So in commenting on Ian Wedde’s latest collection, I find I must put aside my preference for poems that rhyme and ones that address contemporary themes.

A dictionary definition of poetry runs: “a literary composition that is given intensity by attention to diction (choice and use of words), sometimes involving rhyme, rhythm and imagery.”

Note that this definition makes no mention of content. And it’s content, for my two cents’ worth, where Wedde scores most points. For his exhaustive collection (76 poems) largely charts his family history back to the 1700s: “stalking the family ghosts of German ancestors and obscure relatives and associates”, as he puts it.

A Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency 2013-14 provided the opportunity for keeping a diary, and it’s from that diary Wedde draws his material.

His forebears merit such a poetic celebration. Some of them witnessed a great deal of what they probably didn’t want to witness, giving rise to serious themes. And a relative-of-a-relative of some kind published a mostly unread panegyric to the Paris Commune martyrs – now you can’t get more esoteric than that.

The chief enjoyment for me was on the linguistic side – the words and imagery Wedde uses. I loved the pigeon named Werther “fastidiously poking feathers into an improbable nest”, enjoyed the extended metaphor of the bowl of pea soup, and accurately pictured “the narcissist of small differences” encountered at the library when Wedde is enquiring after a relative’s book. On a grimmer note, there’s the watering can in the Stasi Museum, and “the implacable conduit where Arendt disciplined her bafflement into thought”. The little ache of the title merits a poem of its own.

It’s a scholarly read, but there’s much deserving of reflectiveness for the general reader – and a bonus for those who are familiar with German in the form of a generous smattering of words and phrases in the original tongue.

Mental Fitness | Regional News

Mental Fitness

Written by: Paul Wood


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

At the age of 18, Paul Wood was convicted of murder and served 11 years behind bars. While there, he managed to turn his life around by becoming the first person in New Zealand history to complete an undergraduate and master’s degree while in prison.

In his latest book, Dr Wood explains the term ‘mental fitness’ and why it is so important to strengthen it to help deal with the challenges we face every day. At the heart of the matter is the idea that mental fitness can be strengthened, just as a bodybuilder lifts weights to enhance physical fitness.   

One of the biggest problems I have with most self-help books is that I’m always sceptical about the author’s motives and how much they really know about the topic they are writing about. But not this time; I mean, here is a man that was sent to prison, served time with some of the worst offenders in the country, and came out the other side a better, wiser person. In the case of Mental Fitness, there was no doubt in my mind that what I was reading was 100 percent genuine and that Wood was the real deal.

His writing too impressed me with what is sometimes called the ‘common touch’, that ability to connect with just about everyone and to make them understand the message you are trying to send. Mental Fitness is incredibly simple to understand and, as a result, an easy read. Nothing is too difficult to grasp, and nothing feels undoable for those who pick this up to improve themselves. There are really no downsides that I could find here, and I think this is something everyone should read at least once.

I really loved this book and will definitely be putting some of Dr Wood’s ideas into practise to increase my own mental fitness.

138 Dates  | Regional News

138 Dates

Written by: Rebekah Campbell

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

First of all I have to say wow! Some more describing words would be powerful, brutally honest, motivational, heart-wrenching, gosh, I could go on!

Here you find entrepreneur Rebekah Campbell focusing on her career and accomplishing what seems to be the impossible. She’s a powerhouse of a woman successfully creating and selling three profitable companies and making her mark in a man’s world. But in between all the successes, failures, hard work, and planning, she unveils her vulnerable self. As much as Rebekah is hungry for success, she yearns for love. But how is she going to find love while growing her business?

In 138 Dates, Rebekah explores the modern world of dating with the help of online dating apps. Juggling work and play seems effortless as she schedules dates like business meetings. One after the other she goes on 138 dates with some nice guys and some awful guys, gets rejected a couple of times and does some rejecting herself, all while meeting with investors around the world, widening her business network, and growing her business steadily.

I loved Rebekah’s writing style and felt like she was talking to me directly, telling me her story. I felt her discomfort, her stress, her excitement, her pain, her disappointment, and her ambition. This woman is a force to be reckoned with!

I was rooting for her all the way and wished that I could be there to help her put herself back together on days when she felt that she just couldn’t deal with being lonely anymore. I have personally gone through a lot of what she went through, especially the online dating scenario, and didn’t realise how many similarities we had in our criteria, expectations, and desires.

I would recommend this book to any woman who feels like she isn’t enough. It was an honour to read Rebekah’s story and I hope that she reaches more women like me that need to hear that she is perfect in this imperfect world.

Unsheltered | Regional News


Written by: Clare Moleta


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

How would I describe Unsheltered? Not for the faint-hearted. Extremely tough subject matter. Of its time. Depressing and heart-breaking. With glimpses of joy and humanity. The author Clare Moleta says the book is Australian but not set in Australia. It’s about a mother’s (Li) relentless search for her missing young daughter Matti, after they end up at Makecamp (a refugee-type camp).

Li’s description of killing and eating a rabbit to survive made me feel ill. I guess that’s a good sign if an author makes you feel strong emotions? It put me off reading Unsheltered for a while but then I was hooked again. Would Li find Matti? Was the search worth it for Li? For me? I find these stories stressful, but you need an outcome, good or bad. The harrowing descriptions of what Li went through to find Matti were rough to read. And just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did right towards the end. This novel could be based on a real story which is the saddest bit about it. One of the camps is called Transit and Li’s saviour Rich says, “I know they call it Transit but have you noticed no one f***ing goes anywhere?”

I guess the genre is Sci Fi-esque as there were words and expressions I didn’t understand, like XB Force – I still have no idea what this means. “She was good at spotting spoor, too.” Spoor but not used in the usual context, again no idea. It’s a book you must pay attention to but some bits I really wanted to skip. On the other hand, descriptions I really enjoyed include: “Didn’t see the sky fatten like a bruise” and “The children in these stories emerged out of some collective dust and faded back into it again, untouched and untouchable”.

If you watch the news and can handle more reality in your life, then you’ll enjoy Unsheltered. It is a book about human perseverance above everything, and that is admirable.

Loop Tracks | Regional News

Loop Tracks

Written by: Sue Orr

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Loop Tracks had me hooked from the first sentence: “The first time I got on an aeroplane, I was sixteen years old and pregnant. I was on my way to Sydney to have my situation sorted out.” Not the OE most young women dream about.

There are twists and dysfunctional family members in this tale centred around Charlie, the 16-year-old, and her bid to abort her unwanted child. The abortion clinic in Auckland had closed down the year before, hence the flight to Sydney. Fate intervened and she produced Jim, a child who was adopted without his mother being allowed to see him. The good old days, huh?

Jim has a son, Tommy, who is on the spectrum and was dropped off by his errant, drug-taking father at the age of four, for Charlie to take care of. A whole lot of unpleasant family history unravels as Tommy’s girlfriend gets involved. Tommy becomes involved in an anti-abortion group, researching everything madly. It got me thinking about the nature versus nurture argument and if being adopted played a large part in Jim going off the rails.

In some parts of the story, Charlie refers to herself as ‘the girl/she’. I think this technique is used to show Charlie trying to disassociate from herself.

There is some gorgeous imagery – “the necklace of ruby tail lights across the city”, “the steam off my tea rises, twists like DNA helix”, and, “we’re all tigers on gold leashes.”

COVID-19 happens and among all the family drama, Charlie has a furtive flirtation through the fence with neighbour David Briscoe, who’s back from New York indefinitely. His presence prompts her to have a makeover and to focus on herself instead of her grandson. Adele, Charlie’s great friend, approves of the love interest and provides wise council throughout. She seems to be Charlie’s conscious.

The end leaves the future open to all sorts of possibilities, as it should. I loved Loop Tracks and look forward to Sue Orr’s
next novel.

The Mirror Book | Regional News

The Mirror Book

Written by: Charlotte Grimshaw

Penguin Random House NZ

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

I wanted to enjoy The Mirror Book more than I did but given the subject matter, perhaps I was being ambitious? Charlotte Grimshaw finally writes the story of her turbulent childhood and the impact it has on her adult years. Grimshaw is the daughter of famous New Zealand author CK Stead (Karl) and Kay, mother, housewife, and Karl’s first reader. Telling journalists for years of her “lovely childhood, house full of books”, Grimshaw decides to tell her truth. And where does that get her? She says further on in the memoir, “I hadn’t realised the way to save your life is to tell the story that’s true.”

Grimshaw uses stunningly descriptive language: “The elaborate warbling and chuckling of tūī, the cicadas whose sawing grew louder as summer went on, rising to such a pitch in the hot afternoons that my mind transformed the buzz into a visible force in the air, a shimmering wall of sound.” And “native pigeons, creaked by on slow wings, and kingfishers were a quick flash of blue against the green.”

I found Grimshaw repetitive, mentioning Karl’s character at least three times – charming, intellectually fearless, witty, and controlling. She did the same with her mother Kay, which makes me wonder, is she just reaffirming how she felt about them? But she did have some insight: “The insult Kay hurled at me most often was you’re just like him. Like Karl, she meant. I can’t specifically remember the insults I threw at her, but I know they would have been terrible.”

Despite her ill-disciplined childhood, minor criminal activity ending in court cases, and the death of a close male friend when she was at a difficult age, Grimshaw turned her life around, gaining a law degree and becoming a successful writer. I’d like to read some of Grimshaw’s other novels so I can enjoy the subject matter and her talent more. Given both her parents are alive at the time of writing this review, it’ll be a fun family Christmas.

Where We Swim | Regional News

Where We Swim

Written by: Ingrid Horrocks

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

This book is a mix of a mother’s life, her family’s travels, and tribulations, interwoven around swimming holes, the sea, and people and creatures that live and depend on the sea. Thrown in the mix is global warming, COVID, and questionable animal tourism.

Ingrid Horrocks is married to Tim and is the mother of twin girls. Early on, we are introduced to the family unit, their lifestyle, and learn about the fragility of life both in and out of the water. Swimming has always been a strong part of Horrocks’ life as she feels she isn’t very good at it, so she perseveres. Her best memories seem to be water related.

Swimming is the thread of this travel book that takes the family to Colombia, the Amazon, America, and Australia. The author is concerned about all forms of water including that in New Zealand and the way humans are treating a valuable resource. Horrocks loves swimming and shows the joy and peace it brings through her writing. She incorporates a Māori perception of water – ‘awa as a living being.’

Their travels are interesting to read, especially in a COVID travel void. Imagine taking twin nine-year-old daughters to the Amazon – what could possibly go wrong? Amazingly not much did. They just got the experience of a lifetime and lived a little, outside of a health and safety-mad New Zealand. Horrocks brings us back to reality with talk of tsunamis, Indigenous Australian peoples’ struggles, and Extinction Rebellion protests.

Horrocks follows other writers that are interested in water – Charlotte Smith, Frances Burney, and Mary Wollstonecraft – even driving around parts of Great Britain to see where Smith lived her life.

Suddenly we’re back in New Zealand and it feels unexpected. The ending is a bit underwhelming, and I think Horrocks didn’t quite know how to finish it.

I enjoyed Where We Swim but was looking for a bit more drama. I felt parts were disjointed and it was trying to cover too many subjects in one go.

The Commercial Hotel | Regional News

The Commercial Hotel

Written by: John Summers

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Judging by the tone of the language and topics of this book, I pictured the author in his 60s, but the fly leaf photo is of a much younger man. John Summers’ novel is an eclectic mix of family history and stories from his past. The chapter about the birth of his son is focused on the history and impressive sales figures of Arcoroc glass cups (used in hospitals). Go figure!

Summers writes in very simple language and without a lot of expressive flourishes to draw you in. I enjoyed the Elvis chapter as it was an event I could immediately picture. When talking about a group of Elvis impersonators in an Upper Hutt club, Summers made me laugh with his plural of Elvis (Elvi). It sounded like a fun night with all Elvi born equal on the stage (despite age, ethnicity, or appearance). One impersonator said, “The more you drink the more I look like Elvis.” Priceless. The best line of the book for me was: “I left the building before Elvis. The better ending.”

Not so enjoyable for me was the chapter At the Dump. It’s admirable that Summers wants to do his bit for the planet, but I think saying he’s given up buying plastic food wrap is a bit prosaic for a novel and is better suited to a blog. There’s a chapter about freezing works, and while that is a very New Zealand image, I found it grim (and I eat meat). However, there were some great expressions from co-workers: “All hair-cream and no socks”, and “He’d done a stretch in the chokey”, are very real.

Summers talks lovingly about the nice times he had with his grandfather, and this is a delightful sentiment: “In truth, it was his presence I was seeking. In that shed crowded with oiled tools and old things, the anxieties of School Certificate maths, schoolyard hierarchies and my looming, uncertain future all shrank and went still.” I could relate to that.

North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres | Regional News

North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres

Written by: Sandra Morris

Walker Books

Illustrated by Sandra Morris

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

North & South for me was a refreshing step away from a nightly reading selection heavily featuring robots, treehouses, a hybrid Dogman and flying furballs, and the never-ending speech bubbles that comics afford.

Author and illustrator Sandra Morris has written a delightful and picturesque introduction to the world we live in, the changing seasons, and the animals that coexist with us around the world.

It’s easy to use the book as a talking point about seasons and migration with some of the world’s most wondrous animals, who by their very existence adapt and adjust to the climate and inhabitants around them. The illustrations elevate the words beautifully and are evidence of the author’s many talents.

Most interesting to my eight-year-old was the hoatzin, otherwise known as a stinkbird, as it emits a smell like manure and regurgitates fermented plants to feed its hatchlings. From the pungent aroma of the hoatzin we quickly digressed to conversations about the lifecycle and how prey and predator are ever-changing depending on where you are in the food chain. The awful pungency of the hoatzin means the young chicks are at the mercy of capuchin monkeys, snakes, and birds who are attracted to the smell.

Morris has categorised the animals giving them each a conservation status. The polar bear, for instance, is deemed vulnerable, at high risk of extinction, whereas the green tree python is of low concern with a relatively low risk of extinction. There is a glossary and an index too that will help the most curious of minds to extend their knowledge and vocabulary.

Despite this, my son did become disengaged with the length of North & South and suggested that measurements to show how big the animals are in relation to humans would have been cool. Of course, I hadn’t thought of this, and was reminded how different the world is through a child’s lens and how reading North & South a little and often may just be the way to go.

Two Besides: A Pair of Talking Heads | Regional News

Two Besides: A Pair of Talking Heads

Written by: Alan Bennett

Faber and Faber

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

What makes Alan Bennett’s Two Besides: A Pair of Talking Heads important is the context in which it came to life. The monologues are undoubtedly beautifully written and decidedly iconic, but that they were borne of the pandemic makes them utterly human and essential. Nicholas Hytner’s preface is as much a part of the book as the monologues, for it revisits the process of re-making Talking Heads into a BBC show during the pandemic. He discusses the artistic process and the vital importance art plays, especially theatre with its reliance on physicality, in connecting humanity despite the forced distance of quarantine. His preface is a reflection on how making art is inherently human, and that despite compulsory isolation we remain connected.

The monologues belong to a larger collection of 14, all uncomfortably candid. These two vignettes portray ordinary women, lost and confounded. An Ordinary Woman is a monologue of contrasts. The speaker wrestles with her wants versus what she knows to be acceptable, ordinary. Lust becomes disgust, love devolves into hate, the beautiful mutates into the grotesque, and the abnormal is normalised as she falls in love with the wrong person. The Shrine is a portrait of bereavement. Bennett captures the numbness, emptiness, blandness, and rawness of death. How in overcoming grief your loved one dies twice over. Both monologues are powerful sketches of what it inherently means to be human.

These monologues, already portraits of humanness, were brought to life when our own lives seemed so uncertain, bleak, and detached from one another, making them even more powerful, even more real, even more human. Reading just two made me crave the others. In the context of our larger global story, when we were barred from some of our basic human needs and in which many of us felt less human than ever before, Two Besides: A Pair of Talking Heads becomes a naked portrayal of ourselves, a reminder of our connectedness, our solidarity, and our humanness.

Magic Lessons | Regional News

Magic Lessons

Written by: Alice Hoffman

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Magic and witches are not normally my bag, but I found this book quite captivating initially. Maria, the lead character, is found as a baby left in the snow by another witch and her story takes flight from there. I got reeled in slowly, despite the magic potions provided in most chapters. Hannah, Maria’s saviour, is the witch all women go to for men troubles, health problems etc. Hannah dishes out potions and probably more importantly, advice. Love potion number nine features in the book, with measures of nine of multiple items including red wine, to be stirred nine times. Some of the potions (old wives’ tales in today’s parlance) are still used today.

There are some gruesome descriptions of both animal and human abuse that I found distressing. But they were witches, and they were different times. Maria’s constant companion is a black crow, a dead giveaway that she’s a witch apparently. Her parents sell her as a maid for a better life and when she’s served her five years, she is free to leave Curaçao to follow her man to Massachusetts via boat. She falls in love age 15 (he’s at least twice her age) and how’s this for speed dating? On their second night together, he vowed he loved her, the third night she was his, on the fourth night he gave her a sapphire, on the fifth a small packet of diamonds and, on the sixth…

Like Hannah, Maria has inherited the gift of helping others and this charming imagery shows how she gains new clients: “The referrals were knots in a rope, buds on a tree, birds that sang to summon others who might need a tonic or a cure.” Alice Hoffman uses old-fashioned language as the novel begins in 1664 and I had to Google ‘scrying’ – foretelling the future.

I found Magic Lessons long and I struggled to stay engaged but wanted to finish it. Obviously, I’m in the minority as the author has 36 published books.

Chosen | Regional News


Written by: Geoff Cochrane

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

Chosen has been an amazing book to read and brings to light a poetic perspective of Geoff Cochrane’s life. Cochrane writes passionately, expressing the beauty in the ordinary everyday movement of things and coming to terms with ageing and the events leading up to it. In his poems, I felt his joy, sorrow, physical pain, and inner battles with himself.

Starting with his youth, he recollects fond memories of his childhood, the neighbourhood and street that he grew up in, and Wellington in its heyday.

As a young adult, Cochrane recalls his late nights out on the town, his personal habits, and people that have had an impact on his life, whether it be through films, their books, or personal encounters.

Cochrane battles with the realisation of ageing and the fact that his body is starting to let him down, while his mind is still youthful and eager to experience and create more memories.

Knowing that he needs some medical attention but procrastinating a trip to the doctors, he eventually caves and receives both bad and not-so-bad news. This sends him into emotional turmoil regarding his health and he finds it quite ironic that some changes must be made to preserve his mortality.

“Morning drenched grasses. Morning’s grasses, drenched.” Beauty best described through the eyes of Cochrane. His young self observes, appreciates, and absorbs the simplest of surroundings, the natural art on our planet.

While enjoying a cup of coffee at a café, a gentle “soulful pooch” chooses Cochrane out of a crowd to introduce himself to. “He wants to say hello”. Being the one that usually observes his surroundings, he was politely interrupted with a beautiful and uncomplicated meeting of two souls.

The reality of having to acknowledge the inevitable (his life versus death) reveals a battle between fear of death, and coming to terms with accepting the reality of what is to be.

Chosen has been a very easy, yet emotional read. I could relate to Cochrane’s poetry more often than not and reading his point of view was quite intriguing.

Women & Money: Mastering the Struggle | Regional News

Women & Money: Mastering the Struggle

Written by: Janet Xuccoa

Cheshire Publishing Limited

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Women & Money: Mastering the Struggle can be overly convoluted in parts and with each turn of phrase I’m reminded of reading university textbooks. Though dense and heavy, it is a solid and uncompromising take on all matters financial, the creation of wealth, and the considerations wealth-building requires. Xuccoa knows her subject matter extremely well and uses case studies to help educate. The successes and pitfalls experienced by other women help to personalise circumstances that are relatable.

There’s her simple recommendations and then there’s the complex, but a favourite quick win is her advice to use cash instead of EFTPOS. It’s all too easy to imagine dollars and cents exist in a seemingly endless flow of readily available finance at the sound of plastic being swiped mercilessly through a machine.

Though the title may suggest otherwise, Women & Money is not heavily accented with the woes of women, distinctly disadvantaged by default of their gender. I was able to appreciate where gender may make a difference because of this. Xuccoa’s chapter on Building Today for Tomorrow highlights two of the biggest fears women have: they won’t have enough money to take care of their immediate needs and they’ll be stony broke in their retirement. A sobering thought indeed.

Xuccoa recognises the part emotions play in guiding financial decisions and is encouraging when she speaks to gender differences in investing. Women, she says, are more security-oriented and likely to seek steady returns rather than exceptionally high ones. This leads to them making sound investment choices over time.

Women & Money is about adopting a ‘whole-life’ approach to money and wealth. Taking control and not leaving it to chance or another individual to determine your financial goals and ultimately your financial wellbeing. Whether it’s knowledge or steps to start your own business that you desire, Women & Money transverses it all. By recognising your own habits, educating yourself, and getting on top of cash flow management, anything is possible.

The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change | Regional News

The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change

Written by: Dave Lowe

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

In the early 1970s, no one really thought much about greenhouse gases or the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the planet’s atmosphere. Now we’re at a critical juncture where we can’t ignore it.

In his new book, Dave Lowe, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, tells the story of how he and a small group of scientists spent years trying to answer the question of why the Earth’s climate was changing at such a staggering rate. It would be a journey that would take him halfway around the world and would consume almost his entire working life, but knowing what we know now, it was one definitely worth taking.

This is quite a tale, and Lowe does an impressive job telling it. A big reason for that is because he’s so honest, he never shies away from how it really is. The gist is, we got ourselves into this huge, dangerous mess, and now we have to take steps to fix it. Otherwise, things will get worse for us and the generations that follow.

While I have to admit to not being able to follow all of the science, I understood the scale of the issues facing us. Lowe explains everything in an easy-to-follow way that didn’t bog me down with complicated jargon or scientific terminology. 

I think he has what some people call the ‘common touch’ (an ability to get on with or appeal to ordinary people), which comes out in the way he writes. I appreciated that quality, and I think his style will really appeal to an audience that may not have considered reading up on climate change before, or wanted to but were just intimidated by the subject matter.

Global warming is one of (if not the) biggest threats facing our world today and will be as we keep moving into the 21st century. If you are serious about learning more, and only choose one book to buy, I highly recommend this one.

The Mermaid’s Purse | Regional News

The Mermaid’s Purse

Written by: Fleur Adcock

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Fleur Adcock’s poetry left me simply wanting more. The Mermaid’s Purse is imbued with a sense of magical realism. As the reader winds their way through the twists and turns of Adcock’s mind we encounter her memories; meet old friends, attend shows, dinner parties, travel to distant lands while bats and birds fly overhead. The Mermaid’s Purse focuses on memory, tinged with a hint of nostalgia as death, and the predestiny of ageing, dance along the fringes of her poems.

Adcock’s poetry feels like a moment in time, as if she has pulled back the veil shrouding a distant remembrance, and captures the impression of a bygone moment. The Little Theatre Club and In the Cupboard address how a moment is in fact remembered. The latter uses items to evoke a story, the former directly inquires: “how will you remember, my young dears?” Adcock in this particular instance remembers the moment simply through a pair of apple-green tights. Her poems are transient, each one feels like a memory in and of itself.

Many of Adcock’s poems seem to be more about the feeling they evoke rather than the actual subject. Giza for example is not truly about her dress, rather about the memory the dress conjures. Similarly, Porridge tackles grief at the loss of our poet’s friend, using his Pyrex dish as a metonymy for his memory. Perhaps my favourite poem in The Mermaid’s Purse is House, which paints a home through memory, sunsets, kauri flooring, a pōhutukawa planted over the daughter’s umbilical cord, only to conclusively “melt” the house into mere money as the children sell it. Endings seem both a choice and inevitable.

This kind of worldbuilding is almost always reduced to an anticlimax in many of Adcock’s poems, making her collection transformative, circular, and self-aware. Perhaps this tactic is intended to mimic the burden of ageing, something Adcock seems to be reckoning with in her poetry as her words gracefully and rawly wrestle with the inevitable expiration date that is death.

This Has Been Absolutely Lovely | Regional News

This Has Been Absolutely Lovely

Written by: Jessica Dettmann


Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

Families are complicated and that is exactly what Jessica Dettmann exposes in her latest novel, This Has Been Absolutely Lovely. The story centres around a large extended family and their struggles surrounding the death of the grandfather. The family events and celebrations that follow are the perfect set-up for serious themes that include heartache, motherhood, unfulfilled dreams, and mental health. It’s not all doom and gloom, as Dettmann does an incredible job of pulling these serious themes together with some witty humour.

The protagonist, Annie, battles endlessly to balance her desire for music stardom with her never-ending duties as a mother. Despite not being a mother, I found the concept of turmoil between one’s pursuit of their dreams and the obligations that come with relationships extremely relatable. Dettmann writes in a poetic way that pulls you tightly into her characters’ psyches.

“She would close her eyes and step off the cliff. Her body hummed with the thrill of the decision. How it would affect her kids, she still didn’t know, but they’d survive. She felt the force of her mother’s unlived dreams behind her, and her daughters’ and her grandparents’ unrealised futures.”

Having said this – and apologies in advance – the characters were absolutely not that lovely for me. With the exception of one or two, I found most of them incredibly irritating and unlikeable. I believe this is what held me back from truly enjoying this book. Selfishness and self-centredness are repeated attributes and felt so turned up at times that they even came off a little unrealistic.

Overall, this book has achieved what it set out to: exposing the complexities and seriousness of family life in an easy-to-read and engaging way. Although I was not fully charmed by the plot, I am certain that this book will tickle many who love dramas and are looking for an easy book to finish and discuss later with friends.

Man Alone | Regional News

Man Alone

Written by: John Mulgan

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Man Alone tells the story of the main protagonist Johnson who, in the aftermath of World War I, tries to make a new life for himself in New Zealand. We see him drifting from place to place, never staying put for too long and as he calls it, only living for the good times. Unfortunately, the good times soon come to an end, and it isn’t long before Johnson’s way of life is under threat. 

Before you even open the book, your mind is going to be flooded with images of the late, great Barry Crump and the clichéd picture of the southern mountain man: stoic, silent, and individualistic. Johnson exemplifies all of these qualities, minus Crump’s charm and old-fashioned good manners. While I definitely admire him as a character, I just couldn’t get behind him. 

Early on, Johnson is involved in a scuffle during a workers’ protest where he winds up assaulting a policeman, and while making his escape, he steals a hat and scarf from a sleeping vagrant. It is examples like these that made it hard to like him and kept me from seeing him as anything more than a one-dimensional character. Whether that was by design or not, we’ll never know, since Mulgan took his own life in 1945.

Still, I have to acknowledge that Johnson is a product of his time, living in a New Zealand far removed from the one you and I would recognise. Life was harder back then – no internet, no lattes, and if you wanted to fly, you had to have wings! (Domestic travel didn’t become common until the 1950s.)

Ironically, Man Alone’s biggest downfall isn’t in the book itself but its back cover. It essentially gives away the story’s major plot points and unforgivably spoils what could have been a shock ending. 

However, if you can overlook this, then Man Alone is a good example of the literature of its time (1939) and is definitely worth
a look.

Monsters in the Garden: An Anthology of Aotearoa | Regional News

Monsters in the Garden: An Anthology of Aotearoa

Edited by Elizabeth Knox & David Larsen

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

For someone who has always been diametrically opposed to science fiction, fantasy, and anything remotely masquerading as such, Monsters in the Garden, with its eclectic mix of short stories and excerpts, was an excellent way to dive right in.

I love that there are names I recognised of well-established New Zealand authors who I have read on occasion, the likes of Margaret Mahy and Witi Ihimaera included. Mahy’s Misrule in Diamond from her unpublished manuscript was everything I never knew I needed: fantasy, princes, court jesters, treacherous siblings, and what could have been a hint of romance that unfortunately may never be explored. I long for what is left of Mahy’s unpublished manuscript and the hidden possibilities within.

Maurice Gee, Keri Hulme, the list goes on. You will find previously unpublished authors sharing their wares here as well. I love the feel of these stories. Phillip Mann flips the lid on iconic characters in The Gospel According to Mickey Mouse, where Mickey Mouse turns dictator and Sherlock Holmes is not as we know him. Editors David Larsen and Elizabeth Knox seem to have no particular rhyme or rhythm to their selection. There’s the weird, the wonderful, and the unsettling in between, all vying for your attention. There’s knitted dolls, and worried sheep. The stories all seem miscellaneous, and perhaps this is what science fiction is all about – strange, weird, assorted, and a challenge to the impossible.

Emma Martin’s In the Forest with Ludmila, about two sisters raised by a disturbed mother and grandmother, felt disconcerting in its violence and unsettling.

I wouldn’t say I am now a convert to all things sci-fi but rather, I’m open to a world where speculative fiction not only lives but thrives; all the better with a uniquely Kiwi feel too. Knox accepts this anthology doesn’t represent all genres, writing “It’s an anthology among anthologies and a good place to start.” For the uninitiated like me, it has been just that.

Dancing with the Octopus | Regional News

Dancing with the Octopus

Written by: Debora Harding

Profile Books

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

In a quite extraordinary book about regained fragments of childhood memories, Debora Harding has composed a simply beautiful book about a horrific crime committed against her when she was 14 years old. Her salad days destroyed.

Told in diary form, Harding takes us on a trip of remembered events. This tool is a clever methodology of drawing the reader in. I won’t spoil the reason behind the title of the book other than to say it’s pivotal in Harding’s grasp of who, at the time of the crisis, became her rock.

As horrific as the crime was, and this aspect should never be understated, Harding suffers from self-inflicted victim persecution when told years later that the event never happened. It is Harding’s mother who planted the seeds of doubt in her daughter’s mind as regards the abduction and rape. This might come as a shock as the reader is drawn into a long dark tunnel of her mother’s deteriorating mental health battles. Her father, a man who seems never to lose his temper and has a unique approach to sorting out life’s problems, is quite the opposite. Though later in life he also is diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.

Eventually, this manifests itself in Harding’s mind as she battles melancholy, depression, seizures, and episodes of collapsing. Harding has to question herself, is she following in her mother’s footsteps with this debilitating anxiety?

Years later, a newly married Harding confronts her past. In piecing together the known facts, Harding and her husband Tom delve into old FBI records and eventually, she plucks up the courage to visit her abductor and rapist who is about to be released after serving a jail sentence of 25 years.

She looks at Charles Goodwin and practises what she is going to say to him. In facts she reveals, and I quote, “They say with severe crimes there’s no avoiding the aftermath. What they don’t say is how post-traumatic stress can become a disorder because of your childhood family, the one you’re trying to survive”. A wonderful cathartic book.

How to Take off Your Clothes | Regional News

How to Take off Your Clothes

Written by: Hadassah Grace

Dead Bird Books

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

“throw your words on the floor, you don’t need them
forget your real name
forget how old you are
your name is denatured, unfit to drink
your words are poison, unfit to eat
assume everyone is watching”.

In the afterword to her first book, How to Take off Your Clothes, Hadassah Grace writes, “I don’t really like a lot of poetry but here I am writing a book of it.” A contradiction characteristic of her debut poetry collection, Grace’s poems juxtapose a diverse range of her experiences. Darting from being raised by Christian folk-singing celebrities to working as a sex worker, these works illustrate that many things, in simultaneity, can be true for one person.

“I don’t do forever
why keep feeding a campfire when you’re not cold anymore
even emails with attachments make me nervous”.

Although contemporary poetry is synonymous with the autobiographical, the heights Grace’s introspection reaches in her poems separates them from anything I have ever read. The result? A peculiar and bold lucidity.

“we are ruined women, and we are here to ruin you

we’ve always been here
the witches you burned because you knew we were magic
swapping our vacuum cleaner for broomsticks
and cackling about castration under the light of the full moon
we’re the girls you said were begging for it, too horny to be forced”.

Grace’s poems remind me of the clarity that strikes while mulling over an argument; here are the words you wish you had thought and dared to say. No ums or aahs.

Bluffworld | Regional News


Written by: Patrick Evans

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

His name is Thomas Flannery and he’s 42 years old. Or is he? As a master bluffer, perhaps even the most rudimentary facts about him may just be another bunch of bull. Reading Bluffworld means delving into a particularly clever book. Author Patrick Evans, who has taught New Zealand literature and creative writing, is in a class of his own.

Flannery has a PhD in bluff, moseying down the university halls spouting fluffed-up knowlege from goodness knows where. Certainly not the books he hasn’t read, the thesis he hasn’t written, or the references unknown that he regularly alludes to, quotes, and regales others with. Flannery starts his university life with garden-variety bluff or bull, quite unsure of where his bluff begins and ends himself.

Evans’ footnotes really make this book, even more so if you posses a university lens to view it through. I’m sure there are those readers who will recognise the sensibilities, language, and comedy only a university frame of reference can afford. Each footnote is an exposé of his own protagonist’s dire attempts at seeming erudite. Evans cuts through Flannery’s extended hyperbole, consistent bluffing, and ever-apparent bulls**t with dry and comedic wit. Each footnote is a clarification, commentary, or straightout nod to dismiss the withering bunkum you have just read and move on. Quickly.

The more brazen and audacious Flannery becomes, the more he relies on the inner workings of the university environment and the special variety of inhabitants that walk the halls there, seemingly lapping up the pontificating addictive bluff he espouses. Perhaps it just intertwines with their own.

Bluffworld is a robust read and particularly clever, yet one I had to perserve with. Thomas Flannery, or is it “foolery”, learns bluff can only get you so far.

Crediting a sage professor who encouraged him to the see the comedy of campus life, Evans has done a fabulous job of bringing this to life in Bluffworld. If you can see through the smoke and mirrors, even more so.

The Book of Angst | Regional News

The Book of Angst

Written by: Gwendoline Smith

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

From clinical psychologist, speaker, blogger, and best-selling author Gwendoline Smith comes The Book of Angst, written to help people recognise their anxieties and cope with them.

According to statistics, one in four New Zealanders will experience anxiety at some point in their lives.  A frightening thought when you consider it can lead to more dangerous conditions – both physical and mental. Irritability, palpitations, and restlessness can be all caused by anxiety, and without help, they could cause bigger problems down the road. It’s something that has to be tackled sooner rather than later, and Smith’s latest work is definitely a step in the right direction.

Like her previous books, The Book of Knowing and The Book of Overthinking, The Book of Angst is something that anyone can pick up and read without needing a degree in psychology to understand it. I especially liked her down-to-earth sense of humour, how she explained things without all the psychological jargon, and the illustrations that helped get her ideas across. A favourite of mine was the chapter on social anxiety – also known as the fear of judgment – and the idea that it’s actually linked to our instinctive need to be included. As someone who’s had this particular phobia, it’s one that I was interested in.  

As primates, the theory goes that as social animals, we all have an innate need to be liked, to be loved, and to feel included. Social anxiety comes from the fear of not being accepted or included by others. A person suffering from it may have been bullied or excluded from groups in the past, so they avoid groups or strangers to protect themselves, or as Smith puts it, to “avoid the anticipated pain of rejection, criticism, and exclusion.”

I cannot stress enough how important this book is. There really is no downside, and with everything that’s been going on with COVID-19 lately, this book is a literal must in anyone’s collection.

A Richer You: How to Make the Most of Your Money | Regional News

A Richer You: How to Make the Most of Your Money

Written by: Mary Holm


Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Author and personal finance journalist Mary Holm brings 184 relatable reader stories to the fore in A Richer You, giving advice in response. It’s all the more relatable in a New Zealand context and Holm is a stalwart of the genre, having written about financial matters for many years. The scenarios that you will find tell of the successes and failures, reflections and plans of many a letter writer, laying bare their personal journeys with money including their intrinsic fears, hopes, and aspirations.

There’s a familiarity with many of the letters, and their authors often sound as if they are writing to a dear and trusted friend. It’s great to have this level of insight into the lives of others and be able to recognise yourself and your own circumstances in some of them. There’s single mums striving for home ownership, retirees sitting pretty after making wise financial decisions, separated couples navigating the ins and outs of relationship property. Separations, investing, home ownership, saving for retirement, it’s all here. I learned a lot about KiwiSaver as well. As for what I didn’t learn, I now have some idea of the knowledge I need to seek in the future. With every circumstance, Holm provides sound and practical advice. Her readers are engaging and there is humour to be found in their words too. Holm certainly takes it on the chin when people strongly disagree with her advice or have pressing opinions to express, like being told she is a financial expert, not an agricultural one.

When it comes to the subject of money, there is so much to talk about. It can be deeply personal, come with emotional baggage, create a life less ordinary, bring joy or sadness, or make life a struggle.

A Richer You is a great place to start if you really want to know how safe your bank is, who else out there is investing, and whether you can put your ‘trust’ in family trusts.

Devil’s Trumpet   | Regional News

Devil’s Trumpet  

Written by: Tracey Slaughter

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

From famed poet and author Tracey Slaughter comes Devil’s Trumpet, a triumphant collection of short stories that harmoniously mixes poetry and narrative writing to create something that I think is unique.

Each story is wonderfully imaginative, engaging the reader and keeping them hooked until the very end. Some will break your heart, others will intrigue you, but all of them command your attention.

Slaughter has done an amazing job here; I felt that each tale had a deeper meaning to it, and there were times when I found myself doubling back to find it. She has this ability to subvert your expectations completely and make you think about what she is trying to say rather than focus on the plot. These are not straightforward stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. I had no idea how they would conclude until the very last page.

Be warned though, her works are not going to be for everyone. She goes into some pretty dark places that can hit fairly close to home. From a wife’s cancer to cheating spouses and marriages falling apart, Devil’s Trumpet takes these stories and somehow finds a certain type of beauty lurking beneath them. 

For those unfamiliar with Slaughter’s work, her writing style can come off as a bit of a mystery. If I had to describe it in just one word, I would call it lyrical, but the truth is that ‘lyrical’ doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s on offer here.

Devil’s Trumpet leans heavily into the realms of poetry, so if you’re not a big fan of the form, I have a bad feeling you’ll lose interest before you really get started without giving Slaughter and the book a chance to work their magic on you. That would be a huge mistake in my opinion because, with a bit of perseverance, there really is a huge amount to enjoy here.

How to Live With Mammals | Regional News

How to Live With Mammals

Written by: Ash Davida Jane

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

A compelling and melancholic protest in the face of the climate crisis, Ash Davida Jane’s How to Live With Mammals is a must-read for our generation. Through extended metaphors, dramatic irony, and very intentional perspective, Jane clears the smoke, showing us our burning, yet still beautiful world.

Jane’s voice is tinged with urgency, anxiety, and fear, but her words also paint images of hope and inspiration. Where her poems confront the inevitable decay in the face of an unsustainable lifestyle, they also present a hopeful alternative. Each poem sets a scene in which the world blossoms in all its splendor and hope, only to decay into false dreams, destroyed by human greed and the empty promises of consumerist ideals.

Jane’s writings often pit opposites against one another. The abnormal and grotesque become normalised, as in the poem 2050 where a post-apocalyptic world soaked in air pollution and acid rain provides a home for playing children. In all the other animals are in their prime, Jane juxtaposes the natural against the artificial, placing animals within cities where they are dependent on human innovation, pondering the possibility that our human impact is so great we may not be able to reverse the damage we have done.

The collection recognises a disconnect between society’s God-complex and the delusion that notion is. pool party poignantly captures humanity’s unsustainability, sending humans into space in search of new homes just to destroy them and “[draw] up plans for a new planet without the design flaws of the last”. location, location turns Venus into suburbia, where we slowly watch our Earth fall apart and find “new ways to ruin our lives”.

How to Live With Mammals desperately asks us to recognise humanity’s dependency and vulnerability. It paints the beauty of our current world but with nostalgia, exposing humanity’s greed, denial, and delusion in an attempt to wake us before our world becomes the distant memory of Jane’s poems.

Reality, and Other Stories | Regional News

Reality, and Other Stories

Written by: John Lanchester

Faber & Faber

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

More The Twilight Zone than The Pit and the Pendulum, many of these eight short stories have been written for The New Yorker and collected here for the first time.

In a book that is designed to scare all who believe in the malevolence of social media, we are taken down paths of a haunted house (Signal) with a ghost that takes pleasure (or is it) in watching children absorbed by social media – be it the internet, PlayStation, or any gizmos that drive people who grew up with hula hoops, conkers, and hopscotch insane. You can hear these people inwardly scream, “In my day we all played outside!” But this is the now, a time when the hosts of a wedding at a posh mansion provide a special room for the children to indulge in their fantasies whilst the ceremony is going on.

In a society that finds itself increasingly unable to switch off the machine, these skeletal missives are the finger-pointing messages to be wary about what is real and what is not.

Most of the characters embedded between the lines are academics, scholars, professors – in short, those who you’d think would know better. They are better able to focus and analyse, yet still remain on the lower rungs when it comes to figuring out how to rage against the machine.

The same night that I read the story Coffin Liquor I was plagued by a horrendous dream in which myself and staff were working 24-hour shifts at a record store whilst surrounded by ‘suits’ babbling on in pseudo-speech about blamestorming, gig economy, clickbait, and offshoring. What the linguists call lexical innovation. This haunts the most dislikeable smarty-pants Professor Watkins
who is delivering a lecture in Romania. Using his translation earphones, he taps into audiobooks only to find that the storylines from both Charles Dickens and Richard Dawkins have been hacked (or were they?) to intrinsically sound the same. The point being made, once again, is about technology going AWOL. That is a fear untoward itself.

Eight tales of technophobia then.

Cook Eat Repeat | Regional News

Cook Eat Repeat

Written by: Nigella Lawson

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

I’m not quite sure where Cook, Eat, Repeat stops being a cookbook and starts being a novel; it’s like a melting pot of literary and culinary offerings.

A little bit of Lawson’s heart and soul seems to accompany her recipes. Inside you will find ingredients, recipes, and stories with her memories entwined. There’s the wistful fondness she feels for her spiced bulgur wheat with roast vegetables, as it was the last meal she cooked for friends before lockdown. There’s the soupy rice with celeriac and chestnuts, which Lawson says is a favourite in her home and I know why. It was rich, warm, and nutty. Satisfying pre-winter fare.

Cook, Eat, Repeat is not a quit sugar, ditch the cheese, and lose the dessert type cookbook. Instead there’s a whole chapter dedicated to pleasures and in classic Nigella fashion a whole narrative on the joy she celebrates in food. It’s just pleasures, no guilty involved. Food like pasta with clams and bottarga is to be enjoyed. There’s something here for all palates. There’s the black pudding meatballs, which for all intents and purposes look delicious but not enough to ever consume. For the brave and unsqueamish, they may just be a culinary delight. Oxtail bourguignon makes an appearance too, though again not on my table.

There’s pairings like pappardelle with cavolo nero and ‘Nduja. Lawson eloquently describes it as a “gorgeous and wintry, rib-sticker of a dish just right to bolster and brighten, where skies are dark and the air is chill”. There’s a little bit of poetry here and even a vegan lemon polenta cake that will not disappoint.

Cook, Eat, Repeat is exactly what you would expect from an author invested in food and the joy that comes with it. It seems on occasion Lawson’s voice leaps from the page as she shares her thoughts, inspirations, and kitchen temptations – like eating flapjacks before they are cold, unabashedly without a care for them falling apart.

Tranquility and Ruin | Regional News

Tranquility and Ruin

Written by: Danyl McLauchlan

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

At some point, many of us are confronted with questions that seek to define the nature of our existence. Questions that ask – what is our consciousness? How do we find our purpose? What is purpose? In the novel Tranquility and Ruin, Danyl McLauchlan is on a quest to beat his long-term mental health problems. His journey takes him on a path of self-discovery where he explores the answers to life’s tough questions in a bid to relieve himself of his troubles. He writes first of his experience meditating in Buddhist monasteries and follows with his time at a retreat by the New Zealand branch of Effective Altruism.

Effective altruism is a movement that I had never heard of. Their objective is to challenge human morality and the outcome is endless interesting discussions. One such discussion involved the infamous question posed by the philosophical teacher Peter Singer, who asks, “if you could save a child that was drowning right in front of you, would you?” People’s first reaction is to be shocked and say “of course”, but as Singer points out, there are children dying all over the world, so why are we not trying to save them?

I have visited many of the kinds of places described in the book. You experience crazy things when you are in a meditative state and whilst many choose to decide that there are angels, spirits, or a higher self involved, I am (and it seems McLauchlan is too) far more cynical. I do not have enough word count to explain the crazy events that happen during these retreats, but things get pretty wild and it’s easy to lose perspective.

I love books about spirituality, but I am also a social science student who is obsessed with facts and research. McLauchlan’s journey is not simply a personal experience, but one supported with studies and evidence. This was one of those rare times I read a book that discusses topics and themes in a way that I do in my personal life. I loved it and have already recommended it to so many of my friends!

Wow | Regional News


Written by: Bill Manhire

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

“I wanted life to be useful
like a piece of furniture that accurately
describes itself. I had this thought, you see,
and I wanted to write it down.”

Writing a short book review can become a procedural exercise if you let it. First, introducing the author – their name, accomplishments, previous works. Then, reducing the work to its qualities that interest you most, pasting some quotes in there to say, “see what I mean?”

Bill Manhire poses a significant threat to this order of things. Impossible to summarise in 350 words, Wow is not merely an infantile exclamation, but an appropriate reaction to the words that follow.

“They fell in love between the end of footie season
and the start of shearing. Sheep gazed, bewildered.
The paddocks stretched up into the hills,
mostly scrub and a few old stands of bush.
‘Now listen here,’ he said, and that was it really.”

Among other things, these poems are about the native bird, God, and the peculiar acts that define a regular existence. Manhire’s love for repetition and rhyme persists, and his treatment of the ordinary in Wow lends itself to the surreal. The pull of Manhire’s verse is forceful, as is the ensuing feeling that you too might be living in one of his poems. Bill Manhire is to New Zealand poetry what John Prine is to Chicago folk music.

“I like the cloud at the top of Shingle Road,
the way it makes my feelings settle.
Sheep can still find grass there,
grazing among a thousand stones.
Each stone was once the shadow of a bird.”

See what I mean?

The Passenger: Brazil  | Regional News

The Passenger: Brazil

Europa Editions

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Brazil was a country that cropped up for me when I first started digging deeper into blues music. Part of my research was about slavery after coming across an article that mentioned, in part, that Brazil had imported some four million slaves – or 40 percent of all slaves from Africa compared to America’s 600,000. What struck me, apart from the sheer numbers, was that Brazil has never developed a comparable blues music style. This can also be said of other slave territories in the Caribbean such as Cuba or Haiti.

Quite different from the Lonely Planet books about countries, which tend to look for the positives, this series, which has Japan and Greece in its catalogues, covers the scope of the subject with hard-hitting journalism within the pages.

Of interest to all is the despotic tyrant Jair Bolsonaro, who rules the country with much of the same intolerance that former President Trump displayed. Racist, misogynist, anti-gay, anti-environmentalists, the list goes on. Perhaps his most offensive remark was made to a female MP whom he described as being 'too ugly to rape'.  

The Passenger series’ stance is about exploding myths. An example is the rise of the feminist rap movement funkeiras, the objectivity of which seems to be body slamming anybody shaming overweight women. Their videos are shamelessly sexually provocative. It’s a long way from the Ipanema beach sound of samba and bossa nova.

This is not pretty reading, yet it is essential to understanding deforestation, gang wars, prison, drugs, armed conflict, and the killing or removal of Indigenous tribes. Even the building of the so-called fabled city of Brasilia is an example of city planning gone wrong. I checked out Brasilia on YouTube and was amazed by the brutalist architecture, monstrous concrete piazzas, and lack of trees. The promise of work in Brasilia caused a migration of the poor, leading to more slums.

The Passenger: Brazil should be read by every politician and anyone who cares about the planet.

The Disinvent Movement  | Regional News

The Disinvent Movement

Written by: Susanna Gendall

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

The Disinvent Movement is a captivating novel following a disillusioned Kiwi woman anxiously navigating her way through life. Susanna Gendall explores a woman’s struggle with identity following the end of a violent relationship, the one thing she says she shares with her mother. This unique debut is segmented into 81 short stories, most only a couple of paragraphs long.

Each story follows the protagonist as she questions identity, societal norms, and expectations. It made perfect sense that the protagonist would start to question herself and her surroundings after surviving such a life-altering ordeal. Gendall writes: “Each morning I knew I was closer to leaving. This was not so much about walking out the door as it was about dismantling a whole system of belief.” Later she writes: “How had we all just gone along with this whole thing anyway? Why were we trying so hard to play by the rules?”

The book is riddled with deliberate, short sentences, crafted perfectly for my attention span. These stunted sentences made for easy reading and more importantly offered opportunities for the reader to pause and reflect on the writer’s meanings and intentions.

Initially, I was surprised when the protagonist painted the cars on her street as a form of climate activism. As I read on, I realised this was a fitting action from a woman grappling with how to execute her beliefs in a purposeful way. Life or relationships are not linear, and as we evolve, we naturally disconnect from certain people. Gendall describes this transience concisely when she writes: “Once I was out, I wanted to get in, and once I was in, I wanted out.”

The Dinsinvent Movement emphasises that life is not always a series of choices and we often face problems that call for strength and determination. Although I didn’t necessarily relate to all of the protagonist’s struggles, I am sure there will be women out there who will be comforted and inspired by her stories.

Mayflies | Regional News


Written by: Andrew O’Hagan

Faber and Faber

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

It’s interesting that this book starts in 1986, just four years after the release of the CD. Why is this important? Well, for some it was the start of the decline of music per se. This is nonsense of course – technology, as good as it is, never stifled creativity. The decline of vinyl over the next few years is crucial. Though never mentioned here, it was a pivotal moment when the album was described as having sides A and B. We no longer think in those terms, but for the author, O’Hagan, splitting the book into two halves means a wander down nostalgic paths before confronting the stark realities of growing up, changing music habits, losing friends, taking jobs that you never thought you would, and the inevitability of death.

Each generation thinks the protests he makes will impact the future. For these close-knit friends from Glasgow, the enemy is Thatcher, the decentralising of government, and the closing of the mines. More importantly to them, it’s the music of the times that keeps them going. The chance to get down to Manchester to see The Smiths, New Order, Happy Mondays, and The Stone Roses is not passed up. Needless to say, it’s a weekend lost in the fog of booze and drugs and fleeting memories of one-night stands and half-remembered acts.

Cut to the second half of the book. The year is 2017. Tully, best friend of the narrator Jimmy, also known as Noodles, declares he’s dying. The caveat is that Jimmy must help with an assisted dying pact which opens a Pandora’s box of ethical questions.

Openly opposed to this is Tully’s girlfriend, soon to be wife. But a pact is a pact.

As the months pass, the reflection between laughter and tears grows closer. It’s maudlin and funny in turns. Mayflies is about the baggage you take with you through life. We see Tully’s mask slip as he thinks back to the father he hated whilst seeing something of his father in himself. You will laugh, you will cry. An important book.

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops | Regional News

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops

Written by: Shaun Bythell

Profile Books

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

As a reader and bookshop-goer, you will most likely fall under one (or multiple) of Shaun Bythell’s many categories in his taxonomy. And it’s a fun game trying to place yourself into one of the many Genus and Species within Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops.

Though extremely caustic, satirical, and undoubtedly wry, Bythell’s book is not for the easily offended bookshop visitor, as he certainly does not hesitate to expose every habit or attribute of even the most benign customer. Nevertheless Blythell somehow manages to endear both himself and his fraught characters to the reader. Perhaps because though detestable and despite some truly laughable behavior, each and every one (well most of them) still shares a love for books.

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops is very fun and frankly quite an easy read. It’s not difficult to pick the book up and after many fits of laughter and just as many internal cringes as you see yourself reflected in the pages, you’ll realise you’ve already reached the end of the book. I for one found myself wanting more. His classification system (though Blythell vocally regrets his decision) lends itself well to the flow, making each character clearly defined and distinct from the others. The prose is very witty, imbued with sarcasm and even a sense of pretention, yet you can’t help but empathise with Blythell as he recounts various anecdotes of his experience as a bookshop owner.

Though at times he loses himself in his own digressions, Blythell always seems to find his way back to the character, by which time you so enjoyed the journey getting there you don’t even mind the detour of biting commentary. “Loath as [he is] to quote the creator of Game of Thrones”, Blythell agrees that “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one”; and our sardonic author can’t help but love every booklover that enters his store.

With the Wind Behind Us | Regional News

With the Wind Behind Us

Written by: Matt Elliott


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For as long as anyone can remember, sailing has been synonymous with the New Zealand lifestyle. The fact that we have a city (Auckland) unofficially named after the sport is a testament to that. With the Wind Behind Us is a collection of small anecdotes that tell the story of our country’s love of the ocean and the strides we’ve made ever since getting that first taste for sailing in the early 19th century.

While I have to admit to never being much of a seadog or having sea legs in general, I really enjoyed reading about our boating culture and the stories behind New Zealand’s maritime history. There have been people in the past who’ve called yachting a so-called ‘rich man’s game’. Such a generalisation is a bit of an insult since our connection with the water and boating goes way deeper than that. It’s a rich tapestry that is something to be very proud of, even if you’re not into sailing.

It’s clear that writing this book has been a labour of love for Matt Elliott, and it shows with the amount of information and detail that he’s poured into it. His style’s extremely down to earth, and his stories – sometimes funny, sometimes informative – are always well put together.  One of my favourites would have to be the one titled Snow White and the Seven Sailors, where a group of seamen survives being shipwrecked at sea for several days before eventually being rescued. 

The only real problem is that we’re not all born sailors, so I can definitely see With the Wind Behind Us not being everyone’s cup of tea. That’s an incredible shame since With the Wind Behind Us represents a slice of history that we should really try to learn more about. But for those of you willing to give it a go, Elliott’s book is an excellent place to start.

The Fire of Joy | Regional News

The Fire of Joy

Written by: Clive James


Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Late last year I reviewed my first poetry book, Magnetic Field by Simon Armitage, and like the great cliché “you wait for one bus, then two come along”, another must-read poetry book arrives. The Fire of Joy is Clive James’ last book before passing away in 2019. It’s a wonderful tribute to a word scholar who prized language above anything else.

This final chapter celebrates the poets and poems that had guided him through life. It also comes with the instructions to speak these poems out loud, something I attempted. Twirling spectacles in one hand and the book at arm’s length I strode manfully up and down the living room, five paces up, turn, repeat.

Not unlike the idea of Alan Bennett’s Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin (2014), James introduces us to over 80 poems with the neat trick of dissecting each of them in his own unique way. It might have been prescient to see the forthcoming suicide of Sylvia Plath in Cut, James muses.

Philip Larkin’s An Arundel Tomb is essentially about an earl and his countess. I’ve always felt it’s about death. The ossuary where the couple lie is adorned by a carving. James notices, in the poem, one hand from the earl has slipped from his gauntlet and holds tight the hand of his beloved. Suddenly, Larkin’s last line, “What will survive us is love” is at once prophetic as well as succinct.

James is not above caustic remarks. He notes that E. E. Cummings had nothing but scorn for capitalism but lived on a trust fund. Dorothy Parker’s One Perfect Rose displayed her famous wit before James informs us that Parker became a hopeless drunk. Likewise, Wallace Stevens was spoiled by bourgeois dependability. I’m sure James wanted them all starving in a garret somewhere.

The short pithy essays explain the structure, and the story behind such seminal works from so many poets is a welcome tool for beginners and scholars alike. Simply put, this is a book that should be in every school library and home.

Rat King Landlord | Regional News

Rat King Landlord

Written by: Murdoch Stephens

Lawrence & Gibson

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

Until recently, we were the unfortunate harbourers of a rat in our shed – a detail our professional property manager failed to mention before we moved into the flat just one week earlier. Set in a Wellington not dissimilar to ours, Murdoch Stephens’ first novel is about a housing crisis. It is also about your landlord, your rat, and the rat that is your landlord.

The disposition of Murdoch Stephens’ unnamed narrator strikes a subtle balance; too concerned with classism to be self-effacing – a sad fact in itself – yet wholly uninteresting enough to allow the author’s satire to be the focal point of the book. Like many of us, the narrator feels like the kind of young man that listens to podcasts about Das Kapital without ever having read its opening paragraph.

“Landlords I can understand, bastards that they are. Bricks and mortar seem a safe investment. But people who manage houses professionally without owning them? How could I feel anything but disdain for professional enforcers of our new feudal class? Nah, bro, back into the sea with them.”

This novel is about class and gender as targets; it’s about how land ownership and the enforcement of property laws is responsible for substandard housing and the ensuing revolution; it’s about how an individual’s revolutionary ideals can be quelled by comfortability within the very strictures they detest.

“The mobs became organised and the city came to know itself as existing under a state of siege. Armed groups marauder through neighbourhoods painting different coloured crosses on different houses: renters, owner-occupiers or landlords. The first people caught painting over their designation had their kneecaps shattered with a blast of a shotgun. A splash of red paint indicated a landlord. Blue meant owner occupier. Yellow meant renter. And on top of it all, a lurid daub of black meant rat infested. Our house had one of these daubings.”

This is a marvellous debut, one that is simultaneously surreal and all too real.

A Private Cathedral | Regional News

A Private Cathedral

Written by: James Lee Burke

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

It seems that I always finish a James Lee Burke book in bed in the wee small hours, unable to let that last chapter go unread. When finished, I feel grubby. Yes, grubby will do. But, at that time of the morning I’m not getting up for a shower. Alas, once again I’ve let Burke’s characters get under my skin. There is the dark alluvial soil of the Deep South under my fingernails, the New Orleans night means it’s too hot to sleep, yet the eyelids droop with fatigue, the mind races with the horrors of what men can do. I’m sure it’s not unlike what Burke’s hero Dave Robicheaux feels. This alcoholic sees the evil of what the men can do in his hometown of the Big Sleazy and, in the ever-present storms that lie just off the gulf are the manifestations and portents of what darkness is to come.

Robicheaux is a good, but deeply flawed man. His only sanctity is in the church, yet he has difficulty separating the devil from god, seeing man as having the right to choose between good and evil.

Robicheaux is a man one step behind the perps, the low lives that revel in child porn, prostitution, slave trafficking, drugs, and murder. He fights the demons that saw him lose two wives, one to the mob and another to cancer and his dependency on booze. And nobody writes better than Burke when it comes to the night shakes and
the nightmares of lying in a gutter and trying to fight a wave of righteous anger.

Then we have to contend with Clete Purcel, Dave’s best friend but also a man out of control. The fact that he puts four people in hospital in the first 60 pages gives you an idea of what tours of Vietnam can do to a man’s soul. As Burke describes Purcell, “He recognises virtue in others but does not see it in himself”.

Every Burke book is better than the rest. Trust me, I’ve read them all.

A Vase and a Vast Sea | Regional News

A Vase and a Vast Sea

Edited by Jenny Nimon

Escalator Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

A Vase and a Vast Sea is a selection of work from some of New Zealand’s most accomplished poets. They all bring something different to the table, a unique experience or perspective.

You can tell that this collection is a labour of love from everyone involved; every poem seems to focus on small personal, intimate moments that the writers are allowing us a glimpse into.

Good poetry is meant to make you stop and think about what the poets are trying to say, and A Vase and a Vast Sea does that without any pretension. There were more than a few times when I had to stop, go back, and re-read a part of the book to figure out 100 percent what the author was saying.

What separates this book from its competition is its prose; each poem has a strong narrative that allows people who might not be familiar with poetry the chance to understand and appreciate it more. Not everyone ‘gets’ poetry, and some of us need that narrative to get into the author’s perspective. I think it has something to do with the concept of left-brained versus right-brained people; the idea that a person has certain characteristics based on which side of the brain is more dominant. A right-brained person is more creative, emotional, and spontaneous, while those who are left-brained are more ordered and logical.

While I’m not sure how much stock to put into that theory, I would say I definitely fall into the latter, so really appreciated A Vase and a Vast Sea’s narrative. I would have been lost without it, and while I could have muddled through, it probably wouldn’t have made the same impact on me that it did.

While poetry’s not my go-to genre, A Vase and a Vast Sea made me sit up and take notice, thinking and re-thinking about what was in front of me.

Sex, With Animals | Regional News

Sex, With Animals

Written by: Laura Borrowdale

Dead Bird Books

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

Laura Borrowdale is most well-known as the creator of Aotearotica, New Zealand’s preeminent erotic literary journal exploring sex, sexuality, and gender expression. Her latest work, Sex, With Animals, is an exceptional collection of prose coupled with original art by Michael Bergt, an artist who has had solo exhibitions in Santa Fe, New York, and San Francisco.

The title of this book has already caused a stir; a complaint claiming a breach of public decency was made to the Department of Internal Affairs and Borrowdale has not been allowed to advertise Sex, With Animals on Facebook. Aside from the fact that Sex, With Animals is a self-aware play on punctuation, it has an entirely different meaning than what those who have been offended by it have inferred.

The representation of sex is a common thread that links these stories, but so too is Borrowdale’s exploration of human beings as members of the animal kingdom through metaphor. So, while sex is certainly at the centre of these stories, that’s not what these
stories are about. They are about sexuality, exploring the mythological and our own personal histories. They deal with sensuality, humans, men. These stories are about the experience of inhabiting a female body.

“Julia is here because there was a moment when she was thinking of one lover, of the way his dark hair is blue under the skin when he shaves it away, of how he stands in a dancer’s pose, of how he holds her body as though it is both robust and breakable, while the lover she had just left contorted and twisted himself into something demonic on the sidewalk in front of her house. Julia never thought this would be possible for her. And yet, here she is.”

Borrowdale writes with a direct power. No matter their length, her sentences are sharp, her vocabulary and use of grammar both precise and nuanced. Borrowdale is one of the most exciting writers of prose in New Zealand today.

New Zealanders: The Field Guide  | Regional News

New Zealanders: The Field Guide

Written by: Tom Sainsbury


Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

Tom Sainsbury’s new book, New Zealanders: The Field Guide is inspired by people and their stereotypes. It’s a fitting theme for Sainsbury, who rose to fame through his character impersonations on social media. Although the book is coined as a ‘New Zealanders’ field guide, the characters described are typical of people found almost anywhere in the world. Disappointingly, there was nothing specifically Kiwi about many of the stereotypes, which include The Shy Girl and The Gamer.

Having said that, The Bad Conversationalist made me laugh out loud as it was the first observation I had made (sorry Kiwis!) when my husband and I moved over from the UK. Coming from a large, chatty family it was a real culture shock when I realised that whilst very friendly, Kiwis prefer to keep the chat to a minimum! Sainsbury describes this character type by recounting the painfully awkward road trip he endured with his friend’s brother. Following a succession of abrupt responses to his questions, Sainsbury finally asks, “what are your thoughts on Syria?” to which he responds, “who’s she?” Stories of The Know-It-All Dad and The Flat Mate were also firm favourites. Sainsbury has a genuine, easy manner of telling stories and I really enjoyed these moments. However, I wished there had been more focus on the funny anecdotes. Instead, there was a lot of unnecessary jargon, with phrases like “you feel me?” filling the pages. I was not sure if Sainsbury was trying to build a conversational tone or if he was simply out of content?

We are shaped as individual characters through a web of social and cultural factors.

Stereotypes can reveal so much about our lives and communities, and whilst Sainsbury attempts to mention this in the conclusion, it is too little too late. There is a sea of depth and hilarity that could have been explored. As a Brit who loves New Zealand, I was disappointed in the missed opportunities for some authentic but smart, Kiwi-inspired comedy.

Sprigs | Regional News


Written by: Brannavan Gnanalingam

Lawrence & Gibson

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

A content warning before we begin: Sprigs deals with heavy themes of sexual violence and rape. 

The novel tells the story of a group of students who attend St Luke’s, an all-boys high school in a wealthy suburb of Wellington. While at an end-of-year bash, things take a turn for the worse when they sexually assault another partygoer. What follows is a tale about recriminations, cover-ups, and a critical look at New Zealand’s lingering rape culture.

What makes Sprigs stand out from other books that cover this sort of material is the way it’s handled. While a lot of stories are told from the victim’s perspective, Sprigs focuses on the perpetrators, attempting to humanise them as not just monsters, but as young men who are left dealing with the emotional and social fallout of their disgusting crime.

It’s a unique take on quite a dark subject. The character development is solid, and everyone’s given a moment to shine. The author tries to show them for who they really are, giving readers the feeling that they’re very real people desperately trying to cope with the nightmare they’ve created. I felt that some of the students fell into the smarmy prep-school stereotype, a little too much for my liking, but overall they’re very convincing.

The only real problem was that it took too long to get into the main storyline; in fact, it isn’t until page 89 that the plot really begins unfolding. Until then it’s just rugby, rugby, rugby, which if you’re not that sporty may put you off. This is a real shame, since I felt that underneath it all, the book has a real message about the issue of sexual assault in New Zealand.

Sprigs deals with some pretty heavy issues and doesn’t attempt to shield you from the darker, nitty-gritty details. While it’s a good story, it’s not something that I’d say is for everyone.

Infinite Splendours | Regional News

Infinite Splendours

Written by: Sofie Laguna

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

I cannot decide if I hate the main character of Infinite Splendours, or if I simply hate the author’s talent in making me love him.

Sofie Laguna writes in the same way the protagonist, Lawrence, draws and paints: poetically and eloquently, as though magic happens every time a new word is formed or a new landscape painted.

This devastatingly beautiful story allows readers to grow with Lawrence, from the age of 10 all the way through until he is an old man, feeling his every thought and emotion as he loves, learns, and suffers. As a child with a bright future ahead of him, and every talent under the sun, Lawrence experiences an unimaginable trauma. Readers are confronted with every dark detail as Lawrence is groomed and raped by the uncle he once admired. From then, Lawrence changes, suffering an anxiety that prevents him from speaking, socialising, and even growing in the ways the other kids do.

Laguna’s words convey powerful themes through their symbolism, repetition, and artistry. She has a way of presenting her readers with a struggle that Lawrence himself faces regularly: being stuck between two extremes. Lawrence, rocking back and forth for comfort, often finds himself comparing dreams and reality, and trapped between his lost ‘boyhood’ and being a ‘man’. I, a reader, find myself questioning morality; good and love versus evil and hate. As Lawrence’s mother thought he was just like his uncle, as he grows, Lawrence’s scattered thoughts take him to dark and questionable places. I’m forced to think he might be just like his uncle after all. We learn to love Lawrence, wanting to comfort him, feeling heart-broken when he is hurt, but we are also aware of his troublesome and distressing desires; do they make him a bad person, or just a broken one?

The beauty of Infinite Splendours is in its nuance: its ability to have me feeling one way while also feeling the complete opposite. From the first page, Laguna’s exquisite words draw me in, and though distressed, I can’t stop reading.

The Magpie Society: One For Sorrow | Regional News

The Magpie Society: One For Sorrow

Written by: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

It was about the same time this year that I opined that despite popular opinion, the humble paperback wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thankfully, The Magpie Society: One For Sorrow has proven that there’s still a place for them as a viable medium.

Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch’s latest book is a great first step into what I hope will become a popular new series. It sets up its premise nicely while introducing us to the array of different characters that populate this new world – including the school itself, Illumen Hall.

The story focuses on newcomer Audrey Wagner and long-time student Ivy Moore-Zhang as they team up to solve the mysterious death of Dolores Radcliffe, a popular and well-loved pupil who may or may not have been murdered.

It’s a very deep and satisfying story, and while I suspect it’s aimed more at the teenage demographic, it’s adult enough to warrant a closer look from older readers. At its core, The Magpie Society is a classic whodunnit, complete with enough twists and turns to keep even the most diehard murder mystery fan engaged until the very end. Characters are well fleshed out, but still have enough surprises up their sleeves to keep readers on their toes.

My only gripe, and it’s a small one, is that it seems to lean too much into J.K. Rowling’s territory. A student enrols in a new school that doubles as a creepy medieval castle, check. Gets sorted into one of several houses, check. The student ends up having strange adventures with friends they meet, check.

While the whole thing does sound a bit too ‘Harry Potterish’, at least in the beginning, it soon begins opening up and blossoming into its own thing. 

This was a surprise hit for me, and a pleasant, fun end to 2020. If you’re looking for the perfect gift for the bookworm in your life who loves their classic murder mysteries, this is the one.

A Del of a Life | Regional News

A Del of a Life

Written by: David Jason


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

When you think about it, autobiographies are some of the best books around. They take a person’s entire life, their triumphs, failures, and cram it all into three to four hundred pages.

They’re such great learning tools, and I wholly recommend them for anyone wanting to learn from and connect with the person they’re reading about. It’s deeply reassuring to find out that people you idolise have made the same mistakes you have and that you’re not alone in the department of screwing up. What’s more important is finding out how they fixed those mistakes and moved on to greater success. They’re like blueprints or plans that give us that kick in the pants that we all need sometimes.

A Del of a Life is exactly that, a shot in the arm from someone who’s been there and done that and lived to tell his story. 

Born into poverty in England, David Jason recalls his first memories of German air raids taking place during the last few years of World War II. When he got older, he tried his hand as an electrician but slowly gravitated towards acting – first on stage before transitioning over to the small screen.

Sprinkled throughout A Del of a Life are little nuggets of advice, not just about acting, but about life in general. I was a major fan of Jason’s work growing up, as he always came off as down-to-earth and amiable. That personality bleeds out onto the page. Motivating and very funny, his story will inspire everyone who picks it up – not just hopeful actors, but anyone who’s ever dreamed of making it big.

Despite doing my best to find something to complain about, I honestly didn’t come across a single thing. Jason’s really outdone himself, and I can’t wait to read about the next chapter of his life (PS this is number five).

A Del of a Life is worthy of a place in anyone’s collection. Funny. Insightful. Inspiring.

This Is Not a Pipe | Regional News

This Is Not a Pipe

Written by: Tara Black

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

The metal pipe piercing through Beth’s arms is not a pipe. This is the first thing Tara Black wants you to know – it’s right there in the title. Each page of this graphic novel, though, depicts the pipe constraining Beth’s arms together. As a result, it becomes harder and harder to explain the pipe merely as a metaphor and instead forces the reader to entertain the idea that this pipe is in fact that: a pipe. But, just like René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, Black’s assertion is of course correct; Beth’s metal pipe can only ever be an image of one, it can only ever be a drawing. This is the central tension at the core of this text.

This Is Not a Pipe, Black’s first book, takes the form of a long-form autobiographical comic. Black’s narrator, however, is a fictional one. This work’s title, form, and subject matter create and explore the dynamic that exists between the real and the metaphoric. Is there really a pole there? Are these real experiences? What does real even mean?

Beth’s life is an experience of limitations; there isn’t much you can do freely with a pole joining your arms together. The one thing she can do freely, though, is draw. This pole and her drawings isolate Beth from her life somewhat. Beth is both observer and drawer of the events that happen in her life – an isolated fictional character recreating her fictional life through her drawings.

Kenneth is Beth’s sanctimonious, self-conscious, solipsistic, and sometimes sweet partner who is creating a religion grounded within the rules of narrative structure via blog posts. The irony here is that Ken sees himself as the protagonist of his relationship with the narrator through whom we are experiencing this story. Black’s comics consist of blank space and panels falling off the page.

Tara Black’s This Is Not a Pipe is a graphic novel that works to loosen the complex knot of narrative structure.

Take Your Space | Regional News

Take Your Space

Written by: Jo Cribb and Rachel Petero

OneTree House Ltd

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

What better way to sink into the New Year than to learn to take your space?

Take Your Space reads like a conversation with friends, and the collective narrative of unique experiences, advice, and observations of a cross-section of successful women are shared eloquently and fiercely. These are women who are all well versed in the ‘how-tos’ of taking their own space. It’s evident that their journeys have not been easy, linear, nor without sacrifice. All have involved some serious personal growth, self-awareness, and self-care.

Authors Jo Cribb and Rachel Petero encourage you to take your seat at the table, whatever that table may look like to you. Perhaps it is a seat at the head of the table, or maybe it is just being seen and heard in a room full of people. They encourage you to champion other women; to be the kind of woman that honours the desires and aspirations of other women. ‘Find your people’, they say – these are your tribe who can mentor, support, and embolden you to get to where you want to be.

Find your voice, learn that ‘no’ is a complete sentence, and own your own unique brand of confidence, not just to get a promotion or to negotiate a higher pay, but fundamentally to walk in your own space with your culture, your family, your past, and your present. I know personally that a licence to be yourself in the workplace is instrumental to happily getting out of bed each morning.

Take Your Space is a bold book and within, you will find the sentiments that I did. Do not accept the status quo in work and in life if the status quo leaves you wanting, stuck in a rut, or unfairly disadvantaged by power dynamics and discrimination. Make work work for you by deciding what you want and how work fits into all your other roles.

Literally take your space as a woman and as a person, implicitly, unreservedly, and without explanation.

Love America: On the Trail of Writers & Artists in New Mexico | Regional News

Love America: On the Trail of Writers & Artists in New Mexico

Written by: Jenny Robin Jones

Calico Publishing

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

Love America, written by Jenny Robin Jones, is a masterful blend of exploration, art, and cultural identity. Jones sets off travelling to New Mexico with a companion known only as the “O-M”, or “the old man.” The book centres around the memories of familiar writers and artists, such as D.H. Lawrence and Dorothy Brett, who made the same journey that inspired her trip.

Jones does an incredible job of describing the fascinating stories that are woven into the history of the local land and landmarks. Every anecdote is relevant and holds a power that helps to reinforce the significance and beauty of the route the companions take. Jones successfully inspires the reader to want to know more and make the journey first-hand. Seriously, if it were not for current travel restrictions, I would be on the next flight over to New Mexico!

The small gestures and often silent companionship between Jones and the O-M shaped a faint but touching emotional element. There is a deeply personal and genuine manner in the way Jones describes the exchanges between the two. These are likely real stories pulled out from within her cherished memories.

As someone who has travelled extensively, I related strongly to the many feelings expressed in the book associated with exploration. The initial motivation to step outside of your own culture is usually triggered by the desire to seek a depth that transcends the monotonous machinery of everyday life. With reference to Lawrence, Jones describes this longing for answers perfectly. “Desperate for somewhere in the world that cherished human dignity and psychic health, he put his faith in America, and in Native Americans in particular.” Jones then goes on to quote Lawrence himself. “I must see America. I believe one can feel hope there.” Overall, I related less to Jones but more so to the characters that came long before her.

To travel is to explore culture, identity, and humankind itself. Jones does a profound job of showcasing these meaningful connections and I could not have loved this book more!

Death in Daylesford | Regional News

Death in Daylesford

Written by: Kerry Greenwood

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Set near the end of the roaring 20s, Death in Daylesford sees the return of Phryne Fisher (pronounced fry-nee) and her ever-faithful assistant Dot as they’re plunged into a new adventure involving murdered suitors and several missing women. Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, her family of adopted children, Jane, Ruth, and Tinker, attempt to solve a mystery of their own when one of their friends from school dies in suspicious circumstances.

I really have to tip my hat to author Kerry Greenwood. The way she’s able to weave such a seamless narrative is simply outstanding. I was never left scratching my head and wondering “who was that”, or “what’s happening now?”

Phryne Fisher has been Greenwood’s baby since she wrote her first book in the series (Cocaine Blues) in 1989, so it’s no surprise that Death in Daylesford is as good as it is.

From the beginning, the world she’s created drips with atmosphere and crackles to life.

Characters are more than just words on the page; they’re fully functioning individuals, and almost all of them have a part to play in the story. The standouts would have to be the stars of the show, Dot and Phryne herself. Both women couldn’t be more different in terms of outlook, social status, and religious views, but somehow Greenwood has juxtaposed these personalities and made them work. Phryne is portrayed as modern, open-minded, and fully embraces new experiences with her ‘come what may’ attitude. Dot, on the other hand, is far more conservative and behaves more in line with what’s expected from a woman in 1929.

The only problem I could find was that I didn’t like the story involving the dead schoolmate. It felt unnecessary and only served to take me away from the adventure that the two main characters were having. However, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book.

If you’re into your old-fashioned murder mysteries, Death in Daylesford will be right up your alley.

The Law of Innocence | Regional News

The Law of Innocence

Written by: Michael Connelly

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Mickey Haller is the Lincoln Lawyer, so called because his office is in the back of a chauffeur-driven car rather than a brick and mortar building. He is also the subject of several books by one of the greatest crime writers today, Michael Connelly.

Within a page or two, Haller is picked up by a police patrol car on the flimsy excuse of a missing licence plate. But when the cop asks to see what is in the boot, you just know Haller is being set up.

Cut to his arrest and incarceration for murder and we know we are in for the long haul of an innocent victim having to conduct his defence whilst in the holding cells. We’re led to believe that this will be a claustrophobic read and a drawn-out courtroom drama. And, to an extent it is. But then Haller has friends on the outside who do much of the legwork, and this is where Connelly’s writing shines.

It takes a clever writer like Connelly to discuss court proceedings or strategies without miring the reader in boring minutia. Connelly achieves this by turning the story into a game of chess. Even the art of jury selection comes under the scrupulous eye of a masterful storyteller. His behind-the-scenes team spends time observing the people most likely to be anti-Haller. These include someone with a Trump sticker on his bumper. In a sleight of hand, Trump’s appalling presidential record is woven in as well as the COVID-19 scare, which was just coming to the fore as the book was being written.

Being a first-person narrative though excludes other perspectives – what is the prosecution thinking, and who, if anyone, committed the crime in the first place? Given that Harry Bosch (half-brother to Haller) has been the central character in a couple of dozen Connelly books, Bosch seems underwritten here.

Still, at the end of the day, there are few better writers around who consistently produce stories as good as this.

I Thought We’d Be Famous | Regional News

I Thought We’d Be Famous

Written by: Dominic Hoey

Dead Bird Books

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

“no piece of paper
to certify my dreams
I just kept turning up
until I learnt the words
cos I never wanted to confuse anyone
just make you feel the same as me
for a few minutes
a complicated party trick
like backflips
or beatboxing
something free
that makes you exist”.

I Thought We’d Be Famous is a halfway house for poems that rail against this country’s laissez-faire approach to life and land ownership. Now in its second printing with Dead Bird Books, Dominic Hoey lines this collection with a derision for the debts, the conventions, and the landlords that we all must endure.

The true brilliance of Hoey is his ability to fashion an amalgam of softness and contempt through his poetry. In all his works – this collection, his novel Iceland, his previous poetry book Party Tricks and Boring Secrets, his Instagram posts – exists an inimitable, gentle representation of our smallest moments and feelings.

I Thought We’d Be Famous is unpretentious and authentic precisely in the way that people who often use the word ‘authentic’ are not; each line of this book can be read as an abstraction yet, at the same time, is intrinsic to the whole and to the world – like a toe and the foot it has been severed from.

“you searched the gutter
for money to feed the landlord
and you thought
in America they dream of being president
in this country we long to own rental properties”.

Remote Sympathy | Regional News

Remote Sympathy

Written by: Catherine Chidgey

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany during World War II, Remote Sympathy is about three people trying to survive in a world that’s seemingly gone mad.

We first meet the happy couple of Dr Lenard Weber and his young wife Anne, who have a daughter, Lotte. Lenard’s a dreamer and invents the machine he dubs the ‘Sympathetic vitalizer’, something he hopes will someday change the world.

We’re then introduced to SS Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Dietrich Hahn, the new administrator of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and his wife, Greta.

When tragedy strikes and Greta develops cancer, Dietrich, desperate to save her, has Weber transferred to Buchenwald as a political prisoner so that he can begin treating her with what later becomes known as his ‘miracle machine’.

Chidgey’s writing is top-notch stuff, and the characters are extraordinarily well written. None of them are truly what I’d label a classical hero or villain; instead, they’re what I’d like to call ‘realistically nuanced’. Each one occupies a grey area, not truly good nor evil. No one’s 100 percent innocent, but I think that’s the point Chidgey’s trying to make. Even the best of us can bend our moral compasses when it comes to protecting the people we love.

The only sticking point was when the perspective switched to the people of a nearby town and how they were able to justify a concentration camp essentially in their backyards. I understand what Chidgey was going for, but I wasn’t as emotionally invested in them as I was in the three main characters, and they only served to distract me from the book’s main story. For me, it came across as filler, and while I’m no expert, I really feel like the narrative could have benefited from their exclusion altogether.

However, it’s only a minor sticking point and shouldn’t prevent anyone from picking this up the next time they find themselves browsing for their next great read. Lest we forget.

Snow | Regional News


Written by: John Banville

Faber & Faber

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Snow is not an average murder mystery.

Though its opening chapters certainly present with all the classic trimmings of a crime thriller – a gory death scene to be picked apart by an intrepid young detective looking to make his mark – Snow seems to tilt slightly to veer away from traditional suspense and into a surreal world where nothing makes sense.

With a backdrop of rural Ireland, 1957, John Banville creates an eerie, unsettling scene. When a local Catholic priest is found dead under strange circumstances in the country manor of Ballyglass House, everyone seems to know something that they are unwilling to share with Inspector Strafford; a shared secret hidden behind innocent veneers of endearing cluelessness. Everyone is suspicious. Everyone seems to be playing a role, a caricature of a suspect.

The victim appears to be a popular, friendly man; a favourite among local Catholics and Protestants alike. Indeed, in Father Tom’s own words, “I’m a priest for Christ’s sake – how can this be happening to me?” Priests are simply not murdered: it’s unheard of. They are an untouchable class existing outside of regular social rankings. Banville’s gentle commentary on the political and religious climate of Ireland at the time seems initially to be a narrative device, brought up constantly but with little consequence.

Like a slow rollercoaster cart being dragged torturously up a slope, this story is a very slow burn. It finally peaks almost at the last chapter and teeters there as the fog of speculation finally clears and the ugly truth that has been simmering beneath the surface is revealed.

Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but the twist took me by surprise, and I feel like it shouldn’t have. Perhaps I was successfully distracted by the frustratingly circular conversations and sluggish investigation enacted by Inspector Strafford, who we follow as he stumbles through awkward interactions with a litany of evasive characters.

When the twist comes, it is sharp and painful. In retrospect, the truth was there all along, hinted at but unacknowledged, a dark secret but not a sin.

The Captain’s Run | Regional News

The Captain’s Run

Written by: Gregor Paul


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

If I had to describe The Captain’s Run in just a few words, they’d have to be ‘heavy lies the head that wears the crown.’ 

Winning rugby matches might be a team effort, but it all starts with just one man: the captain. The man who’s charged with leading his men onto the field and inspiring them through his actions, whether on the field or off it. It’s often been said that the scrutiny he’s under is almost level to that of the prime minister regarding public opinion, profile, and accountability.

While the book might be called The Captain’s Run, it’s actually a bit of a misleading title since it delves into issues of leadership; specifically the different ways a captain can lead and how the dynamic of captain, coach, and the rest of the team has shifted to what it is today.

It touches on the importance of teamwork and how there’s never just one way to do something. 

We get to see New Zealand Rugby’s interesting evolution, starting in 1966 with Ian Kirkpatrick, when our national sport was still considered an amateur one, to arguably its greatest heights in the 21st century under the captaincy of Richie McCaw.

It’s a fascinating insight into what made each of the captains tick and how they approached their job. It describes the trepidation they felt about the role of captain and how they went about making it their own. They talk about their greatest triumphs and what they might have done differently had they been given a choice.

Gregor Paul, whose name you might recognise from his sports column in the New Zealand Herald, has done an amazing job of giving fans a look behind the curtain at a world that not everyone gets a chance to see firsthand.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more, not just about rugby, but about leadership and achieving goals that we set for ourselves in our daily lives.

The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir | Regional News

The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir

Written by: André Leon Talley

Ballantine Books

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

There’s a very telling episode late in this book when this 6’6 gay, black, French-speaking American is sent by his employer, Vogue magazine, to a health spa to lose weight. He never mentions a clinician or masseuse or any other staff.  To him, they are just little people. The snobbishness continues when Talley reveals it was Jackie Kennedy’s dress sense and decorum at the funeral of President Kennedy that made him realise the fashion industry is made for him.

It soon becomes evident that Talley is a snob of the worst kind. A quill dipped in poison ink drips on every page with the name dropping of fashion designers and models. Yet, it is his repudiation of those who accuse him of sleeping with everybody from Steve McQueen to Karl Lagerfeld that hurts the most. Talley takes pride in being gay, and the women around him love him for that, feeling safe from sexual predators.

After failing to lose weight, he takes to wearing caftans. Talley even finds time to give us the name of his caftan maker in a souk in Morocco. Yes, the name dropping continues.

Never a greasy spoon diner for Talley, it’s always Maxim’s or Chez Georges in Paris. With a sycophantic woman on his arm, they drool over food and fashion.

I was reminded of Armistead Maupin’s books, Tales of the City, throughout. Characters were always described as wearing Ralph Lauren shirts, Gucci loafers, or Gap jackets. Here, every dress is named and described. Fashionistas will be delighted with the in-crowd names: Loulou de la Falaise, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, and we are privy to Naomi Campbell carrying 10 mobile phones while Lee Radziwill washes her hair in egg yolks!

Talley’s vitriol is reserved for Anna Wintour, scion of Vogue for the last 30 years. Accordingly, Wintour is portrayed as cold, lacking empathy, and dismissive, but also brilliant.

By turn this book is catty, funny, tart, backstabbing, gushing, gossipy, cruel, bitter, self-pontificating, and immensely readable.

Escape Path Lighting | Regional News

Escape Path Lighting

Written by: John Newton

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

Escape Path Lighting is written by John Newton, author of numerous poetry collections. Newton emptied his entire bag of tricks into this latest piece of work, a novel with a challenging combination of poetic verse and satire. On reflection, having only just dipped my toe into the world of poetry, picking up this book was a rather obnoxious decision.

Set on Rock Oyster Island, Newton introduces you to a large group of eclectic characters. Luckily, Newton offers some respite and there is a character list at the start of the book. The personalities are key in this story of fugitive poets and talking parrots. I was sure I would love them all by the end. However, I did not feel there was a strong enough foundation set at the beginning. So, despite Newton’s fabulously creative imagination, the characters fell short of capturing my heart.

I started the book giggling when the character Arthur Bardruin washes up on the shore: “He hauls himself upright, a turkey-necked Venus, some two metres tall and stark bollocky nude!” The descriptions are vibrant and when the verses flowed it was fun to read. Verse formats set the tone, directing the reader to feel a certain perspective or purpose. However, I do not believe that the sentence breaks created the desired impact. The book is described on the cover as a “novel”, yet appears to lack the key components needed for an enjoyable, flowing story.

I really wanted to love Escape Path Lighting. At the end, in a bid to spark some kind of affection, I revisited a few of the pages that had caused me confusion. I discovered that I understood things better the second time round, but by then the damage was already done. This was my first poetic novel and I wonder if I should make it my last? Newton is clearly a gifted writer, but unfortunately missed the mark for me with this one.

Impossible: My Story | Regional News

Impossible: My Story

Written by: Stan Walker with Margie Thomson


Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

When I first picked up this book, I had no prior knowledge of Stan Walker. Based on the cover (I know right, rookie mistake), Walker’s appeal alluded me. What could a 20-something popstar offer me with his “impossible” life story? Fast forward to the moment I peer up at my husband mid-read, crying, “oh my god Stan Walker achieved the impossible!” Walker pours his heart into this saddening and at times deeply disturbing autobiography. At its core is an uncomfortably relatable paradox – that where there is great love there is often deep pain.

Walker grew up in a large Māori family with poverty, addiction, and abuse a firm part of his daily reality. There are few social issues untouched. The troubling moment when Walker describes his great sadness and longing to take his own life provides an emotionally compelling and personal element missing behind the horrifying statistics of male suicide in New Zealand. The vivid accounts of physical and sexual abuse suffered by Walker at the hands of family members are naturally disturbing and yield a feeling of anxiety that persists sorely throughout the book.

A memory or experience, no matter how traumatic, is usually followed by mature and compassionate insight. These insights create profound moments as Walker finds peace for himself as the innocent abused child, his current recovering self, and even his abusers, for whom he has forgiveness. There is finally a beacon of light when Walker’s entire world, along with his family’s, changes through his willingness to accept his faith. Whilst I cannot relate to his religious awakening, I certainly can relate to pivotal moments that have changed the way I think and have helped positively shape my life.

Unlike most celebrity autobiographies, Walker does not strive for the hero narrative. The raw, spine-tingling honesty has purpose – to inspire change. Walker is proud of his heritage and uses his life story to powerfully express to other families that generational trauma can indeed end.

Honeybee | Regional News


Written by: Craig Silvey

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Heart-warming, jaw-dropping, and utterly breathtaking, Craig Silvey’s Honeybee is an emotional rollercoaster.

This coming-of-age, coming-of-gender story follows Sam on their journey to safety, security, and self-acceptance. The novel, without hesitation, commences with Sam clinging to the edge of an overpass preparing to end their life. When they’re saved by Vic, an elderly man in the same position on the railing, the two form an immediate connection. Throughout the novel, and with the help of drag queens, new friends, and chosen family, we learn alongside them what led Sam and Vic to the bridge that night.

From the subtle, yet chilling Harry Potter references (Sam’s aunt only spoke to them to be mean about their mum or to tell them they needed a haircut), to the extravagant, yet unrealistic drag show experience, Silvey creates a world in which readers are immediately encapsulated. Silvey’s rhetoric powerfully and uncomfortably conveys Sam’s depressive numbness while creating an incredibly cathartic reading experience. As the story moves between past and present, Sam suffers emotional loss, physical pain, and inexplicable joy, until finally the numbness subsides and they’re ready to face the things that hurt them.

I cannot help but love this book and its profound delicacy, but neither can I help feeling the doubt that follows. Honeybee tells a deeply intimate story about gender identity, which leads me to question the morality of this story being told by a cisgender author. In a society where the stories of transgender and gender-diverse individuals are still so scarce, I’m inclined to feel that those stories should be told by those who experience them first-hand. Furthermore, I can’t help but question Silvey’s motives in his decision not to explicitly establish new pronouns or use the term ‘transgender’ once. While Silvey writes beautifully and primarily handles the tender themes with care, I’m overwhelmed with the discomfort of questioning the righteousness of his perspective.

Overall, Honeybee is a compelling novel which consumes the reader from the very first page, and conveys powerful messages of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Baghdad or Bust | Regional News

Baghdad or Bust

Written by: Kevin Clark

Waxeye Press

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Disclaimer: I’ve known Kevin Clark for about 40 years. I’ve served him in my record stores, been to his concerts, reviewed his albums, and I thought I knew pretty much everything about him. But, this book about his travels to Baghdad floored me.

So, in the words of the rock band Steppenwolf, “Get your motor runnin’ / Head out on the highway”, except imagine it’s 1964 and Clark is on a 1958 British motorbike with a sidecar storage box and fellow traveller Jurgen Erni. The aim, to leave South Africa where Clark was born and take an informal OE soaking up the architectural sites, as both men had just obtained their architectural degrees.

There is a sense of naive chutzpah that I loved. The thought of “Oh, let’s get up and go” will appeal to many. This is a boy’s own adventure venture and I won’t tell you what happened to the bike.

Once one gets over the tedious border crossings with the fractious passport checks, it’s gratifying that Clark recognises the generosity of the people along the way, many of whom offer free meals, accommodation, and help with the numerous problems with the bike. Clark juxtaposes the memories of 1964 with what has gone on over the years, countries that are even more out of bounds today with war, religion (more than once Clark asks the question of religion and the tyrants who enforce the rules), animosity, distrust, and the wanton destruction of architectural sites. To the intrepid traveller’s dismay, many of the sites are now just rubble. Yet even abandoned cities have their charms.

Among a wealth of data are some beautiful descriptions of places such as a gate in a Byzantine wall in Istanbul, the magnificent Hagia Sophia, the Al-Hamidiyah Souq market in Damascus, and Beehive houses in Northern Syria, a simple structure making a comeback to house displaced persons. In between, it’s camel rides, a belly dancing joint, kebabs, and sleeping in ditches.

The book is the perfect size to thumb through with great visuals, maps, and running commentary for all armchair travellers. An early Christmas present, perhaps?

Think Like a Monk | Regional News

Think Like a Monk

Written by: Jay Shetty


Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Think Like a Monk is so much more than the title suggests. Author Jay Shetty’s words feel authentic and spoken by someone who is walking the talk. He’s lived the regular nine-to-five lifestyle and found it wanting. Think Like a Monk made me sit up and pause, reflect and reimagine life; so much so, I had to read this book chapter by chapter with ample breaks in between, days even, to wholeheartedly digest and ruminate on all the profound things he was saying.

Shetty regales us with tales of becoming a monk, a process where he became gracefully and mindfully aware of anything and everything in his life and the lives of others. I never once felt like this was a clichéd, fanciful, or indulgent plunge into self-help book territory.

He talks of existing in career quadrants where ideally passion and skill collide; the other quadrants are a mixture of when the two don’t collide. I am suddenly acutely aware I have one foot firmly planted in one career quadrant while holding on for dear life to another. Shetty makes you feel as if anyone can live a life less ordinary, simply by being you and tapping into infinite wisdom in a purposeful and achievable way.

“Monks understand that routine frees your mind but the biggest threat to freedom is monotony,” says Shetty. He encourages you to change your lens, to find new things in old routines.

“Plant trees under whose shade you do not plan to sit” – live your life with intent and service.
Shetty concludes his final chapter with a hope that his book will have inspired and perhaps encouraged a fresh start. He has certainly done that.

Think Like a Monk challenged all I thought I knew about the life and purpose of a monk. I had only ever seen what I wanted to see – the robes, the shaven heads, the seemingly purposeless chants, and the celibate solitary lifestyle. Changing your lens to think more like a monk is just the start.

This Farming Life: Five Generations on a New Zealand Farm  | Regional News

This Farming Life: Five Generations on a New Zealand Farm

Written by: Tim Saunders

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

This Farming Life speaks the warm truth about family, connection, and heritage on a New Zealand farm. Tim Saunders begins by describing his early years where he resisted farm life, preferring instead to pursue adventures throughout NZ and abroad. His explorations fail to keep him away as he returns home, finally accepting his commitment to the land.

Whilst the work described on the farm is tough and relentless, Saunders’ words feel effortless. The stories of Saunders’ mother and father are beautiful. I felt like I could see Saunders smiling as he relives his fondest memories. More importantly (as someone obsessed with comedy), the book is bound together by humour. As I progressed through the chapters, I realised that Saunders’ manner of describing events is likely a product of his charming and quirky father. A slight shift in font and you are suddenly transported to a childhood memory; one being a hilarious account of Saunders at his first sheep auction. I cracked up loudly – lucky I was reading at home!

Interestingly, the book addresses well-known farming issues, and the chapters are lightly laced with politics. Many of these situations leave you frustrated and are necessary for an authentic understanding of agriculture. Somehow, Saunders avoids a deep dive into his feelings, which I believe could have further enhanced the emotive dimensions of the book. There are deliberate mentions of climate change throughout that are accompanied with his desire, along with his vegetarian wife’s desire, to do what is best for the planet. Despite these ‘soft’ offerings, he does not skirt the gory realities of farm life.

The chapters are divided conveniently into seasons. As someone who picked up the book knowing zero about farming, it made the read even more educational. You do not need to be a farming nut to enjoy this book. This Farming Life is an honest, loving, and easy read that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy by the end!

Scorpions in Stilettos | Regional News

Scorpions in Stilettos

Written by: Hinemura Ellison & Ted Hughes

Bach Doctor Press

Reviewed by: Anne Taylor

This is the third book in a trilogy by Waikanae-based publishing duo Darin Dance and Virginia Innes-Jones, writing here under pseudonyms. It follows Clara James, an impulsive go-getter piecing together how past traumatic events have derailed her life and escaping corporate life in Wellington – a life she’s just exploded by having an affair with a married judge.

I was looking forward to some light relief at this point in the year but my read got off to a bad start with a missing comma in the dedication – the serious kind that messes with meaning. Unfortunately, glaring typos and grammar glitches are frequent, and this was a major barrier for me. The dialogue is at times stilted as it tells the reader key information. I only have a sketchy mental picture of Clara and none of her friends (strange in the romance genre?), but I know she carries a “hobo bag” because the authors told me multiple times. Clara’s mother and boss are simplistic villains, paper cut outs for Clara to sling off at. There were some funny moments but probably not in the way the authors hoped, as with the poems lifted straight out of Clara’s journal or when she hears the news of the possibly fatal (for her friends) earthquake, then a few pages later is shooting the breeze over bubbles with a dishy flight attendant. At one point it looks as if Clara is going to bust open a shady property deal and/or solve a murder, but these subplots trail off into oblivion.

On the positive side, the Wellington setting, complete with Astoria Café, Ministry offices, and train commutes to the coast is refreshing, and Clara’s challenges are relatable and passionately portrayed. On balance, the raw, ‘heart-on-sleeve’ style is one of the strengths. Like its main character, this book has pace and chutzpah, and the authors have storytelling talent, zipping us from Wellington to Kathmandu and Sweden, but the standards of crafting I’d hope to find in any genre, including romance, are not there.

The Girl From Revolution Road | Regional News

The Girl From Revolution Road

Written by: Ghazaleh Golbakhsh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Every artist needs their muse, that certain something that helps them ignite their passions. For Ghazaleh Golbakhsh, hers came from the hardships she faced as an Iranian-born immigrant trying to grow up as a New Zealander.

Her latest work, The Girl From Revolution Road, is a series of essays about her journey from Iran to New Zealand in 1987 and the personal odyssey she had to take to find her place in a country that didn’t always seem to know what to make of her.

Like a lot of immigrant children, she found herself torn between two very different worlds. She desperately wanted to fit into her adoptive homeland, yet I felt as if she didn’t know how to go about it.

Eventually, she realised that she had to find a way to integrate both her Iranian and Kiwi self into a duel identity rather than assimilate and risk losing them both.

Through her unique perspective, we see a darker side of New Zealand, proof that despite the incredible strides we’ve made as a nation in our race relations, we’re still not perfect, and we have a long way to go before we are.

She also takes aim at Hollywood and deconstructs some of the damaging stereotypes surrounding Middle Eastern cultures and its people.

In doing so, she breaks down perhaps the worst one of all, which is the classic ‘us against them’ argument where you’re told to either completely assimilate or you’re out.

Her writing style’s personable, honest, and there were times that I felt that I was reading through someone’s private journal rather than a book or a novel. I found it utterly engrossing and made the time to finish it in one sitting.

Despite only being 240 pages long, it packs a serious punch, and it’s worth looking into the next time you want to scratch that book itch.

Three Poets – Marion Rego, Alex Jeune and Margaret Jeune | Regional News

Three Poets – Marion Rego, Alex Jeune and Margaret Jeune

A HeadworX Anthology

HeadworX Publishers

Reviewed by: Anne Taylor

There are many writers groups located in rural towns and regions throughout New Zealand, and they are often the catalyst for aspiring writers to develop their work. Support and encouragement generally flows freely and people gain the confidence to take their work to the next level. A pitfall can be that work is rushed into the world that might benefit from further crafting.

The poets here met via the Horowhenua Writers Group and have been published in that group’s anthologies. Marion Rego is an established children’s writer and has performed at poetry readings where I imagine her wry, relateable observations about life as an older person, from banalities at the supermarket to gripes about her insurance company, would resonate with audiences. Her reflections sometimes go deeper, as when she seeringly captures the emotional pain of ageing in I Love You: “Sometimes I feel / that nobody needs me now / Nobody loves me best or puts me first...” But her focus stays mainly on the surface of everyday events.

In contrast, Alex Jeune leaps readily from the mundane to the metaphysical, as in Petone, where a red pōhutukawa becomes a springboard for thoughts on eternity. Rhyme and other stylised language is harnessed as he wrestles with the uncertainty, mutability, and setbacks of life. 70 The Terrace opens with “Blue sky, mining / On an hourly wage”, capturing the quiet hell shared by office workers the world over. Credulity and Untitled speak of thwarted desire in a concise and heartfelt way.

Much of Margaret Jeune’s work is about orientating herself within the stream of previous generations and the sensory bombardment of social media and the news cycle. Writing is a way to do this and she offers several poems about language and this process (My Poem, Editing Lives, Street Speak). A number of poems capture the far from picture-perfect experience of New Zealand summers and Christmas Time 2019 now reads like a document from a distant past: “Cruise ships disgorge passengers onto Wellington streets”. HeadworX is to be commended for championing emerging NZ writers since 1998.

Mallory, Mallory: The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy | Regional News

Mallory, Mallory: The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy

Written by: James Norcliffe

Penguin Random House New Zealand

Illustrated by Emily Walker

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Take one selfish little girl aka Mallory, one meek and mild accomplice aka Arthur, and a cunning plot to kidnap the ever-elusive Tooth Fairy for ransom and you have a recipe for a tooth-defying tale.

The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy begins with a half-hatched plan to trap the Tooth Fairy in a makeshift budgie cage and turns into a delightful fantasy adventure where the best-laid plans become more and more complicated.

It’s hard to find Mallory endearing as she goes about trying to extort money from the Tooth Fairy in the most extreme and horrid ways. But a little bit of magic goes a long way in making her more dastardly villain than unlikable wretch.

The dry musings of a sly ‘shape-shifting’ mouse lead Mallory and Arthur to the realm of fantasy land Oralia; a place where teeth reign in all their glory, good and bad. Here Mallory becomes the incarcerated as she gets a taste of her own medicine and the indignities she has thrust upon the Tooth Fairy.

Author James Norcliffe’s knack for making teeth scary, humanlike, and hilarious is ripe for engaging young children and Emily Walker’s illustrations bring them to life ever so well. My seven-year-old got more than he bargained for here and despite protests of swapping this book for the umpteenth Marvel comic, he was soon inextricably engrossed in a fantasy world. One where canines, molars, and incisors govern, hex checkers keep order and balance the books, and the threat of the ‘penidentiary’, where Major Rat holds court, is never far away.

Reading The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy, I couldn’t help but hope that self-centred and scheming Mallory would turn a corner and display some remorse, but alas, one so calculated was never going to change her ways. Similarly I hoped that young Arthur would step up and out from under Mallory’s shadow and find his voice along the way. Does he come into his own? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

In the Time of the Manaroans | Regional News

In the Time of the Manaroans

Written by: Miro Bilbrough

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

You don’t love me, do you?

My mother’s refusal to answer burned, guttering like a small house-fire that spread inside me. And spread it did. For much of my adult life this question, and all that it contained, would become a contaminant that I worked around as best I could.”

Sydney-based writer and filmmaker Miro Bilbrough’s In the Time of the Manaroans is a memoir about her time as a teenager living in a commune in Manaroa in the 1970s.

Penning a memoir is an act of self-creation. Usually, autobiographical works of this nature fixate on a particular event or set of events in the author’s life, grounding the narrative in the role and feelings of the storyteller-protagonist figure. In Bilbrough’s In the Time of the Manaroans, though, the author manages to construct herself through careful portraiture of surrounding characters.

Bilbrough’s writing is both aesthetically and narratologically sharp; her story is pieced together tangentially, subtly familiarising readers with its inhabitants in a way that creates the distinct impression that our relationships with these characters somehow precede this book.

“In this stultification my facility with words is an aggravation. Margaret accuses me of being pretentious, of deliberately going after the biggest words around. It is true–I do […] Years later, my mother will write a poem in which she credits my word facility with the fact that she got stuck in a lavatory with Roget’s Thesaurus when she was pregnant. This family tale pleases us both. Lavatory is a word gleaned from my grandmother. Class affectation or just a word with more aural charisma than toilet? Both, I think.”

In the Time of the Manaroans stands not merely as a chronicle, revisiting the experience of growing up in a small hippie community living an alternative life at the edge of the Marlborough Sounds; it is an article of self-determination, evidence of a love-starved teenager carefully observing, listening, and ultimately asserting herself against the characters through which she is created.

Egg & Spoon | Regional News

Egg & Spoon

Written by: Alexandra Tylee

Gecko Press 

Illustrated by Giselle Clarkson

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Egg & Spoon is a beautifully illustrated cookbook that has a similar effect on children as a colourful storybook read to them at night. Both involve an investment of quality time. And quality time my seven-year-old helper and I had indulging in its splendid recipes.

Joyous illustrations from Giselle Clarkson really bring this book to life. What child could resist a delightful-looking alligator eating avocado and corn tacos, or a delectable layered cake with a random banana sprouting from the top? Mine certainly couldn’t.

Alexandra Tylee offers handy tips throughout that will make sense to young minds; simple and practical tips like when to use an electric beater. The irresistible idea of the breakfast iceblock was to be our first recipe to try, but indeed turned out to be too good to be true when our cupboards would not yield the necessary ingredients. Instead we threw tradition to the wind and made French toast for dessert.

Egg & Spoon unleashed my seven-year-old’s inner food critic. I now know Marmite would not be an acceptable accompaniment to noodles as one recipe suggests. Not surprisingly though, Nutella certainly would, and Tylee agrees.

From beginning to end there are useful lessons to be learned and I found myself asking my son the same question that my mother always asked me after we had made a discernible mess in the kitchen. What do good cooks do? Good cooks clean up after themselves!

Egg & Spoon is an uncomplicated introduction to cooking, simple yet sophisticated enough to appeal to young and old. I’m heartened to see Tylee’s comments, like the suggestion of using free range eggs and the truthful reasons why, too.

Egg & Spoon is not only a gloriously illustrated book that speaks to the hearts and tummies of young children and those first learning to cook. It is in itself a recipe for spending time together, creating shared memories, teaching the art of cooking, and cultivating a love of food that will hopefully last a lifetime.

The Savage Coloniser Book | Regional News

The Savage Coloniser Book

Written by: Tusiata Avia

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

From the colonisation of our country to the Black Lives Matter movement, Tusiata Avia’s new title, The Savage Coloniser Book, seems to take a chainsaw to some of those issues and sheds light on the brutal reality of what humanity is sometimes capable of.

Avia’s poetry is razor-sharp; it cuts deep, getting straight to the heart of whatever topic she’s chosen to tackle. Nothing’s off-limits or taboo; everything from Jacinda Ardern to the White Power movement in New Zealand gets put under her proverbial microscope and dissected.

At first, her writing struck me as a little dark, but as I kept reading, it dawned on me that it was less poetic prose and more of a running commentary on how she sees the world from her own unique perspective.

Avia’s a talented writer, and those talents are on full display here. Her poetry has several layers to it, and there were times that I found myself having to read and re-read some of the book’s passages so that I could fully comprehend everything she was trying to convey.

Rather than being based solely on emotion or any inner turmoil that a lot of poetry comes from, The Savage Coloniser takes its cues from genuine societal issues. 

Even though Avia’s work clearly comes from the heart, it also deals with real-world problems that many people can relate to. I think it’s something that will appeal to readers who aren’t normally attracted to this type of writing. As one of those people, that’s something that I can attest to, and while I admit that poetry’s not my usual go-to genre, I still loved how she’s able to write about such heavy topics while entertaining at the same time.

For anyone who’s a fan of poetry or of Tusiata Avia, this will be another gem to add to their collection, and even if you’re not, I’d still recommend giving it a whirl.

The Silent Wife | Regional News

The Silent Wife

Written by: Karin Slaughter


Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Both gruesome and thrilling, Karin Slaughter’s latest crime novel The Silent Wife takes place over two sets of investigations, eight years apart.

Setting the scene in small-town Georgia, USA, a college student is attacked. A seemingly solitary incident at first, local police soon find themselves outmanoeuvred as they struggle to get ahead of a fast-moving predator unlike anything seen before in their county. Readers watch events unfold both in real time, and through the lens of Georgia Bureau detectives, urged to reopen the case eight years later as fresh evidence comes to light.

My praise for this novel comes with a caution; this may be the first book I have read that I consider worthy of a content warning. Depictions of the violent sexual crimes committed by the killer were graphic, and at times felt gratuitous. Upon finishing the story I read the author’s note, wherein Slaughter acknowledges and addresses her deliberate approach. In her own words, Slaughter says “I decided to write frankly about violence against women. I felt it was important to openly describe what that violence actually looks like, and to explore the long-lasting effects of trauma in as realistic a way as possible.”

I realised the writing was confronting because I was used to reading and hearing about crimes through a soft veil of euphemisms and ‘decency’. With this new perspective, I came to appreciate Slaughter’s decidedly unadorned storytelling.

Slaughter writes succinctly, crafting complex, flawed, and believably human lead characters in a clear and unromantic way. There is just enough personal detail and backstory to the characters to complement the key storyline without lurid expositions. My impression is that this book would appeal to a wide audience. Slaughter has a keen sense of pacing and balance of suspense versus payoff.

The Silent Wife stands alone successfully; I did not suspect during reading that I was missing any details or context, despite this novel being the latest in a series involving repeat characters. While this is my first foray into Karin Slaughter’s writing, I can say with certainty that I am a new fan, and I look forward to discovering more of her work.

Magnetic Field: The Marsden Poems | Regional News

Magnetic Field: The Marsden Poems

Written by: Simon Armitage

Faber & Faber

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

My bookshelves sag with the weight of Neruda, Milligan, McGough, Betjeman, Rexroth, and Larkin but I have never reviewed a poetry book. Until now.

Not for me the dry analytic dissection of enjambment, onomatopoeia, or iambic pentameter, whatever they may be.

Poetry is probably the most private of reading. I came across Armitage not via his poetry but via his wildly crafted, dry-humoured book All Points North about his time in Manchester with social services. Armitage was born in Yorkshire, but I forgive him for that.

Now, Poet Laureate Armitage has published another book of country poems that evoke farmyards, birds on the wire, sleet on the face when crossing Mam Tor (Mother Hill in Derbyshire), and the smell of hollyhocks on the wind. They are so resplendent with imagery that I recall weekend rambles in Derbyshire as a 14-year-old with such clarity and dislike being woken from my reverie. I learned the names of the birds on the wing – starlings, robins, blue tits, and magpies, and now, so far from the motherland, I retreat into Armitage’s images so the memories will never fade.

Evening is one example. “One day you’ll learn the names of the trees. You fork left under the ridge, pick up the bridleway between two streams. Here is Wool Clough. Here is Royal Edge”.

And, in October, “All day trimming branches and leaves, the homeowner sweeping the summer into a green heap; all evening minding the flames, inhaling the incense of smouldering laurel and pine”.

In the chapter titled Bringing it all Back Home, the author’s humour comes to the fore when he discovers that there is a Simon Armitage Trail in his village. Buying a false wig and beard, he joins the guided tour only to find, disappointingly, that it’s only two elderly ladies and three day-trippers. Keen to catch the ferret juggling at midday in Malham Cove, one of the day-trippers asks, “how long does this take?” as they don’t want to miss the bus. Argh! Fame, such a fickle mistress.