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Reviews

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

Note to Self Journal: Tools to Transform Your World

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

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

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

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

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

Karachi Vice | Regional News

Karachi Vice

Written by: Samira Shackle

Granta

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

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

First-time author Samira Shackle is a journalist who was born in Pakistan but lives in London. She goes back at various times to report on events and see her family. At the start of the book is a very handy guide of the nine political groups, including five political parties. There’s a timeline of events spanning from 1992-2018 that includes terrorism, flooding, and political party activity. This was very useful as all I know about Pakistan is that the Black Cap cricket games to be held in Pakistan are constantly cancelled due to terrorist threats. And Imran Khan is their current Prime Minister and he was the captain of the Pakistan national cricket team in the 1980s, when I was lucky enough to get his autograph at the Basin Reserve. 

The central character is Safdar, an ambulance driver who was working during the 2009 bomb blast that killed 30 people. He earns his weight in gold during that upsetting event. His wedding is funny and I guess typical of that culture? There are huge cultural differences that may never sadly change – a 10-year-old girl marrying a man 25 years older.

The local newspaper has columns called Shootings and raids and Mishaps and bodies. Safdar’s father said “Getting a Pashtun [local] to follow instructions is like getting a camel to sit in a rickshaw.” This and “Grief enveloped Parveen’s mother like a shroud” are some examples of the colourful text I loved. The description of the places, people, culture, and food made me eager to visit one day if we can in a more peaceful time and post-COVID. Karachi Vice is a cracking read, and I highly recommend it.

All Tito’s Children | Regional News

All Tito’s Children

Written by: Tim Grgec

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

During an interview about his debut poetry book All Tito’s Children, which is about Yugoslav Marshal, then Prime Minister, then President Josip Broz Tito, Tim Grgec was asked, “Would you have a drink with him?” Grgec’s response was intriguingly equivocal – which can only mean that his research of Marshal Tito, whose shadow looms large over the book, must have revealed more than most of us know.

Grgec’s paternal grandparents arrived here in the 1950s having fled communist Yugoslavia. He has woven some of their memories of two siblings in similar circumstances into a verse biography of Tito. Despite, or perhaps because of, the poet’s research, his poetic creation is only loosely based on fact.

That said, the verbatim quote from Tito to Stalin is startlingly actual. “Stop sending people to kill me!” is a command more audacious than most of the Russian leader’s contemporaries would have essayed. Other sides of the former president are displayed in both historical quotes and poetic imagery. For example, we get him “offering spare cigarettes from my military jacket to Belgraders walking leisurely in the parliamentary gardens”.

The idea of Tito being or having a body double offers a dialogue – involving a cosmetic surgeon, Prime Minister Tito, and Marshal Tito body double – that’s redolent with intrigue and possibility. No wonder his people were entranced, an emotion, though, that was eventually to turn to disillusionment.

Whether Grgec is relating the strangeness and savagery of this peculiar leader, or relating some domestic detail, his imagery is evocative. He describes his mother thus: “Majka pinched her fingers to thread the eye of a needle, patching and repatching her hopes over our trousers”.

The Company we Keep was a section that resonated especially with me, beginning as it does with a historical sequence of Tito’s life – useful to the woefully ignorant reader such as myself. Also useful are the scrupulously added notes and references that backend the book.

This is a scholarly work albeit with exquisitely expressed whimsy and nostalgia that lift it into the poetic realm.

The Beauty of Living Twice | Regional News

The Beauty of Living Twice

Written by: Sharon Stone

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Who knew there was so much more to Sharon Stone than her acting career? She had acted in 18 movies before Basic Instinct shot her to fame. All I remember about Basic Instinct is that scene. I forgot she was a psychopathic killer so I must watch it again. I learned a lot about Ms Stone. The first page captured me – a handsome doctor stroking her hair who said, “You’re bleeding into your brain.” On the next page she tells her best friend, “There is a very good-looking doctor here, and sadly I might not be able to flirt with him.” I thought this was funny and apt. Good for her in those horrible circumstances trying to cheer herself up.

She was expected to do chores from a young age – paint the barn annually, and at 10 years mow the two-acre lawn on a ride-on mower. Kids these days won’t empty the dishwasher! Her mother brought her up to stand on her own two feet. And she did and then some.

Stone’s done a lot of charity work, under the radar, including personally handing out sleeping bags to the homeless in the worst parts of town. She tells me this statistic: 10,000 children live on the streets in Los Angeles. Staggering. Stone helps them by giving the children a camp to go to and then getting their mothers off the streets too. She fundraises and gets her family involved in her charity work and is quite a remarkable woman who is extremely positive and grateful about everything she has.

The Beauty of Living Twice has given me a newfound respect for Stone and the way she lives her life by helping others. She gets more spiritual and becomes a mother at a late age, and that is the best thing that happens to her. There are men and marriages, but her giving back seems to be the best thing she can do to make herself feel good. That and loving her three boys.

The Meat-Free Kitchen | Regional News

The Meat-Free Kitchen

Written by: Jenn Sebestyen, Kelli Foster, and Joni Marie Newman

Quarto US

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

I had at first thought the Meat-Free Kitchen looked and felt like one of the many cookbooks I have at home, and in some ways it certainly is. What stood out though was that each of the recipes within are relatively easy, most ingredients are already staples in my pantry, and for the odd anomaly, i.e. farro, a quick Google search was the only thing between me and a new untried and unheard of grain. Apparently farro is an ancient and complicated wholegrain wheat.

My hands-down favourite fare was the Spinach and Mushroom Pesto Breakfast Bowls. The delectable veggies and move away from my bog standard cereals that shall remain unnamed reminded me of our long-gone Japanese student and how he used to regale us with tales of his fish and vegetable breakfasts. From a healthy perspective and a ‘try something’ new perspective, I certainly can’t argue. Getting up and eating veggies was something new, but I liked it!

As I worked my way through the book, by no means cooking everything I must add, the goalpost for ‘favourite’ deftly moved. The Nut Burger was to me the holy grail. Simple, delicious, and full of nuts, it was in no way lacking from an absence of meat. Many of the Meat-Free Kitchen recipes feature nutritional yeast, another thing I found appealing. The Pepperoni Pizza Burgers were a winner with the youngest family member who thought it a hoot that a pizza was masquerading as a burger – not only that, they tasted great too. It forced me to rethink my definition of a pizza and a burger all at once.

The Meat-Free Kitchen has a whole section on sauces and there’s even The Better Mac, which I’m yet to try. What I love about cooking is that it challenges you to try different things, there’s always a bit of artistic licence, and if something doesn’t work, substituting ingredients and experimenting only adds to the creative process.

The Burn of a Thousand Suns | Regional News

The Burn of a Thousand Suns

Written by: Jillian Webster

Jillian Webster

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

After escaping New Zealand via questionable means and surviving a harrowing experience in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Maia and her new companion Lucas find themselves in the soaking ruins of what used to be called California. While they’re a few steps closer to reaching their goal of the Old Arctic Circle, it isn’t long before they find new dangers trying to stop them.

In her latest entry of The Forgotten Ones saga, The Burn of a Thousand Suns, Webster has managed to ratchet up the tension by introducing newer and far deadlier threats than Maia ever faced in Aotearoa. Everything from the harsh deserts of California to marauding gangs in Los Angeles bring a new intensity that I didn’t feel in the first book. Everything in this broken new setting seems to want to harm or kill them by design.

Just like the first book, The Weight of a Thousand Oceans, the world is extraordinary and comes alive off the page. With the dangers ramped up this time, it’s nail-biting stuff. Every time Maia and Lucas found themselves in hot water, I was literally on the edge of my seat eager to see how they would find a way out. 

Maia herself has grown since the first book, and far from being the wide-eyed innocent she was in Webster’s first entry, she has evolved into a confident, strong character who takes on everything thrown at her. Her bond with Lucas (whom she met in the first book) continues to grow. They make something of a dynamic duo who complement each other nicely. I cannot wait to find out if their relationship develops even further than it already has in (hopefully) the next book. 

Reading The Burn of a Thousand Suns was a real treat and once again I find myself in that strange position of not having anything to complain about. All I can do now is sit back and patiently wait for the next instalment of The Forgotten Ones saga.

Cloud Cuckoo Land  | Regional News

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Written by: Anthony Doerr

Fourth Estate London

Reviewed by: Ralph McAllister

Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his desperately moving wartime story All the Light We Cannot See. The novel remains one of my favourites of the last decade. And now, we have Cloud Cuckoo Land, an epic of 600 pages, beginning and ending with a Greek myth and, in between, five stories which cover wonderful journeys of fantasy and reality. All are linked quite simply by books, ancient and modern.

We meet Konstance, with her parents in a spaceship Argos already having travelled 65 years from a ravished Earth, much of her time spent in the ship’s library exploring legends and what may or may not be truth. Anna lives in Constantinople in the 15th century awaiting the Muslim Sultan’s attack while secretly learning to read. Omeir has been living in a farm with his family and his oxen but has now been dragooned to help the Sultan, as this young boy is a master at controlling Moonlight and Tree, his adorable oxen. Zeno is introduced first in his eighties at the local library in modern day Lakeport Ohio, where he is rehearsing with a group of young children a play called Cloud Cuckoo Land. Seymour, a young ecoterrorist, has a bomb on the premises and is preparing to target local estate developments.

Each of these characters may survive and relate, but what is certain is their common belief in humanity. All the stories are brought together in a triumph of textual brilliance by an author at the top of his achievements. Doerr uses the Greek and English languages with challenges to the reader that will, by turns, exhilarate and demand absolute attention. But books and their survival are central to this extraordinary accomplishment.

“For the librarians then, now, and in the years to come”, is Doerr’s dedication.

And, of course, the last acknowledgment is to his dear readers.

“Without you I’d be all alone, adrift atop a dark sea, with no home to return to.”

Get aboard.

HOLE | Regional News

HOLE

Written by: Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards

Running at Circa Theatre until 18th Dec 2021

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Antarctica is a heartbeat. Once a year it doubles its size, and then retracts. For millennia. One heartbeat.

Set in the 1980s, HOLE follows Greenpeace activist Bonny (Stevie Hancox-Monk), US Navy SEAL Ioane (Sepelini Mua’au), and Kiwi ozone scientist Stella (Elle Wootton) as they navigate not only a complex love triangle but also a clash of perspectives. Though vastly different in their ideologies, motivations, sexual orientations, and cultures, they learn that they all have one thing in common: their reverence and yearning to protect that which cannot protect itself; Antarctica.

A powerful call to action, HOLE is very clear in its intentions. Lynda Chanwai-Earle calls upon each and every one of us to recognise our impact and responsibility towards our climate crisis. By likening the continent to a heartbeat, Antarctica is rendered human, and suddenly we become intrinsically connected to what seemed like an abstract social phenomenon. By placing the climate crisis alongside other social issues such as racism, sexism, LQBTQIA+ rights, reparative justice, and global politics, climate change suddenly becomes a more pressing, urgent, even vital issue.

It is not only what HOLE says however but what HOLE does that is most commendable and inspiring. HOLE is eco-powered off-grid. Powered by Ice Floe Productions Tapui Ltd through solar and wind, the specially designed LED lights (lighting design by Isadora Lao) and sound production (sound design by Phil Brownlee, compositions by Gareth Farr ONZM, and AV design by Rachel Neser) aim to draw off only one-tenth of the power of normal theatre productions. On top of that the beautiful set, collaboratively designed by Jason O’Hara alongside directors Kerryn Palmer and Sally Richards, is made from recycled and repurposed materials, along with the props and costumes. Even the wind turbine and solar panels that were originally donated have been repurposed from Chanwai-Earle’s past show HEAT.

HOLE is not only a story underscoring the climate crisis and urging us to make change; HOLE goes one step further and enacts that change. This production goes sustainably on tour across Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022 and everyone should see it.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert | Regional News

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Little Simz

AGE 101/AWAL Recordings

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Off the back of her short but loud third studio album Grey Area, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert sees Little Simz return to her roots with her most finely tuned effort to date. Balancing cinematic instrumentation, precisely placed samples, and a raw talent for storytelling, the rapper has come to claim her crown.

Simz is a British-Nigerian rapper hailing from London. She released a string of mixtapes and EPs in the early 2010s in the lead-up to her debut LP, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, which arrived in 2015. The success of 2019’s Mercury Prize-nominated Grey Area brought her mainstream recognition, with critics calling the release “a new peak” for the artist.

Sonically, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert harkens back to the exuberant, horn-driven Stillness in Wonderland (2016), though Simz brings an undoubtedly fresh and mature approach to her songwriting. As the title suggests, Simz is looking inward, vividly portraying feelings of self-doubt, mental and emotional stability, love, and frustration in her verses. However, the album is also an unabashed celebration of Blackness, specifically Black women and Black art on tracks like Woman. Standing Ovation is a selfless round of applause to the culture that has so influenced her: “We built the pyramids, can’t you see what we are blessed with? From the hieroglyphics to the hood lyricist… Spiritual teachers, doers, and the doulas. The protectors and the rulers. The kids of the future.”

The mellow instrumentation is a welcome change for the rapper. After proving her worth as a spitter on Grey Area, here Simz sounds unpressured, leading to meticulous, well-structured songs that groove hard and speak honestly. Highlights include the epic opener Introvert, the percussion-led Fear No Man, the climactic How Did You Get Here, the soft and sweet Little Q Pt. 2, and the album’s prime head-bopper, Point and Kill, which contains an excellent chorus by Nigerian artist Obongjayar. However, the ever-smooth flow of the album is interrupted by several interludes, and although they don’t mar the experience overall, they feel less meaty than the primary tracklist and could have been left off.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert sounds like a spiritual successor to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, told from an internal perspective. While it doesn’t quite soar to that level, its messages and musicality ring true and certainly set a high bar for Simz’s future releases. For those who haven’t yet discovered her, this is the perfect place to start.