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Reviews

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!

The Look of Love | Regional News

The Look of Love

Written by: Ali Harper

Performed by Ali Harper

Circa Theatre until 20th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Burt Bacharach: a name synonymous with musical genius. And yet, I know his name, I know so many of his hits, but I had no idea he wrote them! The Look of Love, Ali Harper’s latest show, sees the award-winning singer honour the songwriter responsible for I Say a Little Prayer, What the World Needs Now, and Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head. My friend and I had more than one ‘aha moment’. “Wait, he wrote that one too?”

With twinkling fairy lights, a sleek piano, and a couple of bar stools and mic stands the only adornments, the stage is set for intimacy and glamour. Harper is cloaked in sequins (clothes design by Roz Wilmott-Dalton) that catch the light and accentuate her star power. She is accompanied by resident musical director and pianist Tom McLeod (what chops!) and guitarist Callum Allardice, who brings a distinctly cool, laid-back vibe. Backing them all is the full might of musical director Tom Rainey’s arrangements, recorded with brass, strings, drums, the whole shebang.

The whole shebang is a great way to describe The Look of Love, a show in which everybody gives their all and then some. Harper’s joy is palpable, infectious. There is no way you can watch her perform and not see it radiating from her. There is no way you can leave the theatre without feeling it yourself. Her talent is difficult to put down in words; not only does she nail every note, her voice runs the full gamut of emotion, articulating the love and love lost that Bacharach’s songs so masterfully express.

In between songs, Harper shares Bacharach’s stories and waxes lyrical about her onstage and offstage collaborators, showering them with praise, adoration, and respect. Judging by the thunderous applause and standing ovation, the audience feels exactly the same way about Harper herself.

Go to The Look of Love and let Ali Harper catch you between the moon and Wellington City.

t-Lounge by Dilmah | Regional News

t-Lounge by Dilmah

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

t-Lounge by Dilmah is the only one of its kind in Australasia. On a blustery day in the city, my dad and I ducked in to the Willeston Street café to enjoy a decadent high tea to die for.

I should start by saying Andrew is a very fussy eater. In fact, when he was a kid, he only ate food beginning with the letter c – cheese, chips, chocolate, cake, and carrots. It was a constant source of anguish for his mother, I’m told! The fact that he demolished every morsel (bar the fish, which he hasn’t eaten in over 30 years) is probably the highest praise I can give. Nevertheless, I’ll try to do the experience justice myself.

Front of house manager Senuka kicked off the afternoon by talking us through the tea menu. The premium high tea comes with bottomless hot options, served in sophisticated glass strainers with a timer to tell you how long to let your cup steep. Offerings range from rose with French vanilla to Italian almond, with green, black, and oolong tea available alongside infusions like pure chamomile flowers.

I tried the Mediterranean mandarin to start. This was a bit too strong for me, but I enjoyed the zing and zest of it. Dad only likes strong tea, so his earl grey was spot on. He then ordered the Ceylon cinnamon spice (a wickedly spicy brew that sung of winter nights by a roaring fire) while I sampled the cinnamon t-kitsch. A mix of condensed milk and tea served in an authentic Sri Lankan t-kitsch jug, this sweet, frothy drink would be an ideal after-dinner treat.

Then it was onto the high tea, which looked divine when it landed on the table. Not for long! Cleverly organised over three tiers of ascending sweetness, I started writing down highlights and realised I was noting every single item.

Starting at the bottom on the savoury plate, my favourites were the Malabar tamarind cured salmon crepe roulades, adorned with the special touch of fish roe, and the unique Ceylon spiced chicken and cheese vol au vents. The bruschetta topped with jackfruit amazingly tasted just like chicken, and the cheese and curry leaf scones definitely top the best-of list in Wellington. I felt the lentil bites were a little dry, but it was nothing a sip of tea couldn’t fix.

From the middle semi-sweet plate, we both adored the Dilmah Ceylon cinnamon t-kitsch tres leches (effectively cake dipped in the drink I was telling you about before, making it incredibly moist), and the sugar-crusted kimbula, a Sri Lankan-style Vienna roll. Special mention must go to the buffalo curd with treacle macadamia nougatine. This dish is traditional and readily available in Sri Lanka, but not in New Zealand. With the curd coming from operations manager Chamila’s brother and sister-in-law’s farm in Christchurch, head chef Srimal designed the most enticing, maple-like syrup to drizzle on top alongside a sprinkling of candied nuts. The sweet and sour flavours and crunchy and creamy textures worked in seamless harmony, creating an explosion of intrigue for the tastebuds.

Finally, the top plate. A dangerously rich raspberry and milk chocolate cake (can you say death by chocolate?) was the highlight here, while the passionfruit macaroon balanced out the sweetness with a fresh, fruity tang. After the last bite we realised we’d overindulged – the premium high tea is definitely enough for a big lunch for two!

We finished with an iced tea each – I had a sparkling Prince of Kandy lemonade, which genuinely tasted like lemonade – and an extra treat, nitro tea. The nitrogen gas infuses tea with tiny bubbles, creating a silky, velvety texture and changing the flavour profile entirely. We tried a regular iced and nitro peppermint tea and really enjoyed the latter, which was so refreshing. This was the perfect conclusion to a perfect afternoon of five-star food, service, and of course, tea.

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.