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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

HarperCollins

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

Sprigs

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

Century

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

Snow

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

HarperCollins

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

HarperCollins

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

Honeybee

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

HarperCollins

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

HarperCollins

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.