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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.

The Tempest | Regional News

The Tempest

Presented by: Wellington Summer Shakespeare

Directed by: Megan Evans

Wellington Botanic Garden, 11th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Summer Shakespeare is an institution in the city and an annual highlight of our arts calendar. The Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington Season of The Tempest sees many a happy camper sprawled on The Dell lawn to enjoy an eco-ethical production of William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy that asks what maketh man a monster, and what maketh monster man.

The Tempest is set on an unnamed island, where the usurped Duke of Milan Prospero (James Bayliss) and his daughter Miranda (Tori Kelland) have taken refuge. Prospero has enslaved the island’s only other inhabitants: the half-fish, half-man Caliban (Rachel McLean) and a host of otherworldly beings commanded by the spirit Ariel (Maea Shepherd). When a storm sees Prospero’s brother Antonio (Tom Vassar) and other members of the Naples royal family shipwrecked on the island, Prospero seeks his revenge. 

Shakespearean language can be hard to wrap your head around – even for someone who studied it! For me, the key to understanding the dialogue is in the vocal delivery of it, and it’s clear here that each cast member has a good grasp of their character’s intent. I want to give a particular shoutout to the imperial Bayliss; Shepherd, who has the most stunning singing voice; and the impassioned McLean for helping me to follow the action with the exceptional delivery of their lines. Another special mention to the hilarious Philip Nordt as the drunken butler Stephano and Anna Kate Sutherland as the jester Trinculo for the comedy gold they sprinkle into an already-sparkling sea of talent.

Megan Gladding’s production design makes for a magical viewing experience and works in harmony with Neal Barber’s lighting design, a treat to watch come to life and light as the sun goes down. Sarah Bell’s costume and wardrobe design is outstanding, particularly when it comes to Caliban’s floating fish head, which has a huge bearing on the way the audience relates to the character.

I did find the background spirit dancers a little distracting, but overall this was a totally absorbing production that gave me a much-needed break from reality – to an island far far away, where magic and mayhem reign supreme! 

Guy Williams Presents: Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy | Regional News

Guy Williams Presents: Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy

Te Auaha, 8th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

After introducing himself in the mic from the wings, Guy Williams comes charging out on stage to Dark Horse by Katy Perry, energy and enthusiasm up the wazoo. When our lacklustre response is not to his satisfaction (in our defence, it’s Wednesday and we’re not tiddly), we’re barraged by a relentless stream of insults and expletives. Wellington sucks, we’re told, as we’re called f-wits and the like.

I bloody love it.

I’m a big fan of Guy from 7 Days, Jono and Ben, and New Zealand Today, but had only seen his stand-up in small bursts as part of gala nights. I was interested in seeing how he might structure an hour-long set and fare in a long-form comedy setting. He nailed it.

Comedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy has Guy take “a break from arguing with people on the internet to try and make the world a better place”. Conversations billed are racism, colonisation, and misogyny, but we’re treated to much more taboo topics too. While some comedians broach these subjects just to shock and provoke their audience, and I’m personally someone who’s very easily offended (nothing wrong with that), Guy’s comedy is somehow… charming? It’s random and clever, padded with layers, context, and bizarre segues that make very little sense but wind up being my favourite parts of the show. His loud, somewhat erratic delivery keeps the momentum going and the laughter flowing well after the curtain call. In this case, the curtain call is WAP by Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion.  

My only feedback is that I’d love to see Guy get a little more personal. I’m thoroughly entertained but want to feel something a bit deeper too – as if comedy isn’t hard enough, right? Although it’s oddly timed (about a quarter of the way in), Guy’s support act and sister Maria Williams’ set resonates with many of us. The heartfelt interlude means that by the end of the show, all my boxes have been ticked.

I snorted, bark-laughed, and had a brilliant evening with a comedian at the top of his game. Cheers, Guy.

Caburlesque: Rock & Rhinestones  | Regional News

Caburlesque: Rock & Rhinestones

Presented by: LadyTramp Designs Ltd

The Fringe Bar, 4th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

For those of you who haven’t been to a Caburlesque show, think of it like cabaret meets burlesque… then pour a pound of glitter over it and amp it up to a thousand. For Rock & Rhinestones, we have SpongeBob SquarePants meeting Billy Idol, pole dancers meeting shotgun weddings, Tina Turner meeting rhinestone cowboys, and oh so much more. The theme is rock music, and the dress code? Sparkles, sparkles, and more sparkles.

The night opens with a warm welcome from our shiny-silver-suited MC Sadie Von Scrumptious, who has a good sense of timing and a knack for reading the room. Between acts, she engages us with terrible jokes (excellent) and witty banter but never for too long, keeping the momentum flowing at all times. Sadie also hosts air-guitar and best-dressed competitions straight after half time, a tried-and-true Caburlesque format that gets us involved and helps us release some of the energy and over-excitement we’ve built up over the past hour. The energy in the room is electric from start to end.

Some absolutely stunning acts take the stage over the course of the evening. Pandora Cherie mesmerises the crowd with a sensual, silky burlesque dance to Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence, while Pip E-Lysaah & The Red Queens: Gold Edition sizzle with an incredible showcase of strength and agility on chairs. Also showing a chair who’s boss is Velma Cherry, who puts on one of the most charismatic, infectious performances I’ve ever seen to Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah) by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Fun and fab Felicity Frockaccino finds the naughtiness in Tina Turner’s Simply The Best, and a moustached Maree & Giada set my jaw a-tumblin’ to the floor with remarkable pole feats as hilariously aloof cowboys.

There’s a reason these are the longest-running regular burlesque variety shows in Wellington. Get your bling on and go see for yourself.

Babylon | Regional News



189 minutes

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

If you loved Singing in the Rain but wished it had been a bit more debauched, decadent, and depraved, then Babylon is the film for you.

Written and directed by Academy Award-nominee Damien Chazelle, Babylon tells the story of three Hollywood dreamers during the rise and fall of the silent film era, from the 1920s through to the 50s. Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is the king of silent films, but his talkies prove less popular. Nellie La Roy (Margot Robbie) knows she’s a star before she even steps foot in Hollywood; she gets a lucky break when she sneaks into a party but falls hard when cinema adds sound. Manuel Torres (Diego Calva) slowly climbs the ranks through his determination and commitment, but will his devotion to Nellie be too much to endure?

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren and editor Tom Cross are truly a match made in heaven. Sandgren has a way with light and colour as demonstrated in Chazelle’s La La Land, and his influence on Babylon is evident. Sandgren’s visuals combined with Cross’s fast-paced editing creates a thrilling rollercoaster ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Perhaps the biggest praise however should go to production designer Florencia Martin, who creates a world as fantastical, complex, diverse, grotesque, and saturated as a Fellini film.

Though beautiful, exciting, and undeniably entertaining, I think the film is decidedly unoriginal. The story seems more like a rip-off than a tribute to Singing in the Rain and The Great Gatsby. The underlying theme of Hollywood’s brutality, in which fame is delusional, and cinema is a business that uses creatives in its machine, is not only tired and over-used, but executed in a way that leaves no room for redemption or sympathy.

Don’t get me wrong, the actors and crew all did a phenomenal job on the technical side of this film. The first two-thirds are engaging and decadently beautiful. However, I feel as though the final segment of the story somehow lost its way. Nevertheless, Babylon absolutely deserves a watch and some Oscar buzz.

Avatar: The Way of Water | Regional News

Avatar: The Way of Water


192 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Director James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water continues the saga upon the moon Pandora. Ex-human, ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has established a family with Na’vi partner Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and they live in prosperous happiness. However, when the humans return to Pandora to extract its resources, Jake and his family are hunted. They escape to the safety of the island nations of the Metkayina people… or so they thought.

Centered heavily on the importance of family, Avatar also highlights themes of bravery and loyalty, underscoring the importance of doing the right thing and staying strong in the face of adversity. Avatar continues its commentary on environmental destruction, paralleling the ruination of Pandora through resource extraction to the devastation of our own planet by a common enemy: humans.

Avatar: The Way of Water is a visual tour de force and, unsurprisingly, a milestone in the world of CGI and VFX. Featuring new technologies from Wellington’s own Weta Workshop, the film is exceedingly beautiful. With an immersive seascape as the setting for this episode of the Avatar series, every new creature, every element of flora, every tiny detail is saturated with vitality and vibrancy; every being breathes with the eager effervescence of new creation. Russell Carpenter’s cinematography paired with a 3D experience, well balanced to be immersive but not overwhelming, ensures the viewer experiences the story from within Pandora herself, dripping and oozing with life.

Though Avatar is visually arresting and undeniably groundbreaking, the exceedingly lengthy runtime – of which a substantial amount is taken up by a repetitive unending final battle – leaves much to be desired. The dialogue’s informality feels incongruous and distracting. Though the story itself has some poignant and interesting moments, it essentially mimics the first movie with the classic trope of human vs Na’vi, good vs evil. 

Nevertheless, Avatar: The Way of Water is an incredible and unparalleled visual experience that is definitely worth a watch.