Reviews - Regional News | Connecting Wellington


Life Done Differently | Regional News

Life Done Differently

Written by: Lisa Jansen

High Tide

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Record | Regional News

On the Record

Written by: Steven Joyce

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life  | Regional News

Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life

Written by: Mason Ball


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Supper Club | Regional News

The Supper Club

Created by: Ali Harper

Directed by: Ian Harman

Running at Circa Theatre until 17th Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Imagine an old, abandoned Supper Club. The ghosts of grandeur haunt every cobwebbed corner, the hopes and dreams once nurtured within now scattered like boa feathers in the wind. But with Tom McLeod and The Jazz Hot Supper Club Band, New Zealand songstress Ali Harper is about to restore The Supper Club to its former glory, embodying the various singers whose echoes still reverberate through its storied, sequined past.

As characters like the happy-go-lucky English girly and the sharp, smouldering German superstar, Harper trills, thrills, and traverses everything from Cole Porter’s It’s De-Lovely to Édith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien to Madonna’s Material Girl. Because anything can (and does!) happen in this fabulous production, I don’t wish to spoil any further specifics or surprises… only to give you a taste of the tantalising talent within.

First up, there’s Harper, whose respect and reverence for the muses she inhabits is palpable. With charm, charisma, and chops for days, she is, quite simply, sensational.

Then we have that phenomenal band, with musical director Tom McLeod on arrangements and piano, Blair Latham on saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and flute, Olivia Campion on percussion, and Scott Maynard on double bass. A tight, cohesive unit in their own right, when paired with Harper, their joy is infectious, their chemistry crackling. They bounce off each other like reflections from a disco ball.

Everything director Ian Harman touches turns to gold. As set and costume designer to boot, he’s created the world where all this magic takes place. Meticulous details abound, from the crystal glasses that once would have housed the finest cognac to the way Harper’s dazzling black gown catches the light.

And speaking of light, Rich Tucker’s moody, glam lighting scheme brings this Supper Club to life, crafting intimate moments while highlighting the showstopping spectacle of it all in equal measure. The epitome of ambience.

The Supper Club? A delightful, delicious, de-lovely escape.

Wonka | Regional News



116 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Chocolate cherries and gourmet ganache, Rocher rivers and fudge flowers, the newest iteration of Roald Dahl’s capricious chocolatier in the 2023 movie Wonka is so sweet it’s saccharine. In fact, the whole story is Pure Imagination.

From the fanciful mind of Paul King – creator of PaddingtonWonka is supposedly the musical origin story of the eccentric, egocentric, megalomaniac Willy Wonka that we all know and kind of love… but it’s actually something altogether different.

Played by Timothée Chalamet, Willy is a starry-eyed youth with a “hatful of dreams” and suitcase full of chocolate hoping to change the world. Naïve and overly optimistic, the young man lands himself in a predicament involving two Dickensian con artists and an all-powerful chocolate cartel. With his ragtag band of newfound friends, including the wise orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), Willy may risk everything, but he never loses hope or the belief that the world is good.

Comparing Chalamet’s Wonka to Johnny Depp’s wouldn’t be fair, much less to the unparalleled maniacal genius of Gene Wilder. At the best of times I’m not a fan of Chalamet as I find him flat and, frankly, dull. In the shoes of the beloved Wonka he didn’t stand a chance. But truly, in this case, I don’t believe it is his fault.

Chalamet sings beautifully and dances all the better. Nathan Crowley’s production design is a decadent feast for the eyes. The jokes, though predictable, are charming, especially from Hugh Grant’s posh Oompa-Loompa. Even the fanciful moments of magic are beautifully crafted. As a standalone story, Wonka is sweet in a Disney-esque sense.

However, Wonka comes from a long-loved legacy. This prequel does not match up with the inevitable future. Chalamet’s optimistic humanitarian gives no indication of transforming into the capitalist, nihilistic sociopath he is doomed to become. In fact, he fights those characters tooth and nail. The dark and lonely future of Willy Wonka casts no shadow on this idealistic youth. Perhaps in the future, hardened by many years, the world won’t stack up to his own imagination. Perhaps he learns that only within his mind will he be free. I just wish, even fleetingly, this darkness had tangoed across the screen.

Gangster’s Paradise | Regional News

Gangster’s Paradise

Written by: Jared Savage


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Air Raid Book Club | Regional News

The Air Raid Book Club

Written by: Annie Lyons

William Morrow & Company

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

Root Leaf Flower Fruit | Regional News

Root Leaf Flower Fruit

Written by: Bill Nelson

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secrets of the Land | Regional News

Secrets of the Land

Written by: Kate Mahony

Cloud Ink Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

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

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

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

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