Tell us what you want (what you really really want) – and win*

Hello to all of our blog-readers! If you have just started following our blog and receiving our emails and posts, a special hello to you. I love seeing your ‘likes’ and comments come in, it just proves that the connection our followers have to books and New Zealand’s literary culture is genuine and passionate.

An introduction: my name is Sarah ForsterIMG_1298[1], and I have been running this blog for just over a year now, on behalf of Booksellers NZ. My role is to run all of the direct digital communications for Booksellers NZ, as Web Editor – you can find me on twitter, on Facebook over several pages, sending our regular newsletters Words of the Day (click to register), The Read and Preview of Reviews, and on our website. Booksellers itself is a membership organisation for bookstores in NZ – with over 300 member bookstores nationwide. We help our members to run their businesses in the best possible way, and we help them, especially, to sell books.

The focus of this blog is to fill in the cracks of mainstream media review coverage. We cover the big books, sure, but not all of them, and we are just as interested in those books that are not as likely to gain column inches. The areas in which we have a particular pool of talent are Poetry, with the likes of poets Sarah Jane Barnett, Emma Barnes, and English lit student Elizabeth Morton helping us to cover almost everything that comes out in the poetic field; Non-fiction, with reviewers including Gordon Findlay and Kimaya McIntosh; Literary fiction, with reviewers Chris Howe, Elizabeth Heritage and Feby Idrus; and Children’s books with myself, teachers Rachel Moore and Marion Dreadon, Angela Oliver covering YA, and tireless grandmother Christine Frayling. We have a lot of other amazing reviewers that I haven’t mentioned, and you can check out some of their short bios here.

IMG_0562[1]We have such a breadth of reviews now that I am going to start trying to focus on one specific area of literature per day, with daily kids’ book reviews at 4pm when I have them. My initial plan for is for Monday to be Non-fiction; Tuesday to cover Poetry and/or New Zealand fiction; Wednesday to cover International fiction blockbusters of various genres; Thursday to focus on Literary fiction; and Friday to be small and self-publishers day. All of this depends on how many reviews I get in each week, but I am fairly confident we will be able to keep it going!

My own reading is very broad – I will give pretty well anything a go, and I have sometimes have a hard time letting books fly off my desk when I really want to read and review them! But with a background of six years working with kiwi authors at the New Zealand Book Council as Education Programmes Manager, and with my two children aged 2 and 4, my real passion lies in kiwi children’s and YA books. Our children’s book publishing culture is massively strong, and shows every signs of continuing to thrive, despite the doom and gloom predictions for the industry overall.

This is where I ask for your input.
Our blog popularity is rising constantly, thanks to review coverage of major festivals and the quality of our reviews – but what else would you like to see? Author interviews? Summaries of international reviews for bestselling international titles? More personal blog pieces from myself and booksellers? A bit more genre fiction? Introductions to new publishers?

Comment below before 5pm this IMG_1299[1]Monday 29 September, and be in to win a pack of books: A New Zealand Book of Beasts, by Annie Potts, Philip Armstrong and Deirdre Brown (AUP), The Son-in-Law, by Charity Norman, The Lost Pilot, by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, and Built for Caffeine, by Ben Crawford.

Thank you for reading us – Sarah.

* I sincerely apologise if you now have the Spice Girls in your head…

Book Review: Where is Rusty?, by Sieb Posthuma, translated by Bill Nagelkerke

Available in bookstores nationwide. cv_where_is_rusty

Sieb Posthuma is a Dutch author, illustrator and designer. This particular book has been translated from Dutch to English.

Rusty, his mother and his two friends Henrietta and Toby are going into town on the bus. They get off at the stop near the department store. Rusty’s mother gives clear instructions that they are to all to stay together. The department story is a busy and interesting place. Rusty soon gets distracted and as a result gets lost. The two watchdogs on patrol are on the lookout for stray pups on the loose. Rusty ducks into the ventilation system and as a result a new adventure begins. His mother reports him missing at the Lost Dogs department. Rusty tries to blend in, hiding amongst various items in different departments within the store – at times not very well.

I read this book to my 3 year old granddaughter. Abby laughed at Rusty’s antics, and of course the “whys” came thick and fast. The amount of detail in each one meant we paused and spent a considerable amount of time really looking into each illustration and then discussing how they related to the particular part of the story. This book reminded me a little bit of the Where’s Wally series of books.

The character of Rusty is based on the author’s own dog, Rintje.

This book is one that would appeal to a wide range of ages – from as young as 18 months up to a self-read of over 5 years of age. A really lovely book and one I know the young ones in our family are going to enjoy.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Where is Rusty?
by Sieb Posthuma, translated by Bill Nagelkerke
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271469, HB 9781927271452 

Book Review: Shifting Colours, by Fiona Sussman

Available in bookstores nationwide

I remember as a university student in the early 1980s, cv_shifting_coloursfresh out of a sheltered existence at my high school, being confronted almost head-on with The World as seen through the eyes of the university student newspaper. Apart from the usual gripes that students had towards the tertiary education policy of the day, the overwhelming memory I have of those weekly student newspapers is the ongoing coverage of the violence and injustice of life in South Africa. As a very naive 17-year-old, I literally felt my eyes and mind being saturated and filled up with far away happenings.

Reading this novel took me right back to how I felt when I read those student rags, with their vivid and emotional reporting, engaging peoples’ physical and emotional pain, the little control they have over the path their lives take, and how hope and human kindness can still be found in the most unexpected places. It is a fabulous story, carefully and sparingly written, not too emotionally awful, but enough to make one ache for the characters and how little they are able to change their condition.

Opening in 1959, in Johannesburg, six year old Miriam lives with her mother Celia who is the maid for an English couple, Ria and Michael. Life is tough for Celia, although Miriam, being a child much loved by her mother, knows no different. The continuing unrest in South Africa leads to Celia’s employers returning to England, and giving Celia a terrible choice − they wish to adopt Miriam and give her the life that she could never have in Johannesburg. It breaks Celia’s heart, and Miriam all-too-suddenly finds herself living in Norwich.

The book then alternates Celia and Miriam narrating their stories as the years pass. Both suffer in their respective environments. Celia has trouble finding and retaining work, she has three older children and has to provide for them as well, black unrest continues unabated and Celia finds herself caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile in Norwich, where black people in the 1960s are almost unheard of, Miriam also has a terrible time. Unable to adjust in any way to life in England or to her new ‘family’, she is a most unhappy girl. An accidental meeting with an Indian girl and her family is the one bright thing in her life, and also becomes her anchor in the years to come.

Eventually Miriam, as an adult in the mid-1980s, finally realising that she needs to attend to the unfinished business of her early life in South Africa, makes the journey back to find where she came from. This perhaps was the most interesting part of the whole book. For here we have a black woman, well educated, speaking with an English accent, with the same rights as all other people in the UK, suddenly finding herself a repressed person, a second class citizen, subject to random searching, violation, and with very few rights.

I met the author socially at a dinner. This book had just been accepted for publishing and all she would modestly say about it was that it was set in South Africa. Very evasive. I am quite blown away that this is what her book was all about, and that it has been written with such humanity, power and intensity. She is South African-born herself, and at university found herself drawn to the protest movement. Knowing that background now, it is hardly surprising she has written this book with injustice and identity as central themes.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Shifting Colours
by Fiona Sussman
Published by Alison & Busby
ISBN 9780749016128

Book Review: A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris


Available in bookstores nationwide. 

A nature journal is a way to record your observations of the natural world around you. In this informative guide, Sandra gives many suggestions of artistic and creative ways to start noting down what you see. While the book has some cool facts on plants, animals and New Zealand terrain, its aim is to inspire young nature lovers to go out and explore the world around them. The activities Sandra has demonstrated will help the reader develop their own ideas and interests.

I would recommend this book for 8−10 year old nature fans who enjoy art and being outdoors. A younger child could read and enjoy the book too as it is not too complex and there is an informative glossary at the back.

As an eleven-, soon to be twelve-year-old, I found this book quite basic. I did like however that Sandra covered a range of environments, including cities and zoos, making it relevant to anyone. Although I do not plan to start a nature journal after reading this, the artwork is wonderful. Personally, I have been inspired by the level of detail in her colouring and have started to look more closely at the birds around me.

Overall it is a lovely book and an excellent one for your young nature-lovers bookshelf.

Review by Maia Gasson

A New Zealand Nature Journal
by Sandra Morris
Published by Walker Books AU
ISBN 9781921977657

Book Review: Hometown New Zealand, by Derek Smith

cv_hometown_NZAvailable in bookstores nationwide. 

Derek Smith has worked as a meter reader for most of his adult life, travelling on his work-issue scooter in town and country to read the power meters of suburban and rural properties.

The job was a revelation – he found he was able to indulge his passion for photography while earning a living wage. For over 30 years, Derek Smith took photographs of the ordinary scenes around him and turned them into a wonderful social documentary of our community. Derek would take photos of seemingly mundane streets, buildings, cars and billboards and capture a moment in time that we can still appreciate whether current or from 1982.

His ability to visit all types of properties allows him a unique insight into a broad cross-section of New Zealand. He completed stints as a meter reader in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Coromandel, as well as rural Otago, Westland, Waikato among others. The pictures in Hometown New Zealand reflect his time in all of these places.

The foreword is definitely worth reading next time you are relaxing on the couch with a cuppa in hand. He writes a wonderful and charming introduction to his idyllic life, linking arms with New Zealand people and culture. He shares amusing stories from his time on the road, coining the work-issue scooter with brake problems “Certain Death”, and gaining sympathy for his daily confrontation with beasts unknown in yards around the country. Then there are the stories of chatting with hermits in back-country properties, tracking down the power meter through 12 farm gates, and then swapping gates for electric fences. His time in Wellington is familiar to all who have lived there; survival of cutting southerly icy storms and walks up and down 137 steps to domestic properties.

His inspiration is that he ‘recognises our place in time as transient and important to document’, and it’s wonderfully nostalgic to look through the photos, reviving your own memories of growing up in New Zealand. It is such a surprise when you look at the rural photo of Foxton from 2004 with old cars, worn signs and battered paintwork and recognise that this photo is similar to that from Raetihi in 1986. Heart-warmingly, New Zealand hasn’t changed much if you find the right spot.

Review by Amie Lightbourne

Hometown New Zealand
by Derek Smith
Published by Craig Potton Publishing
ISBN 9781927213117

Book Review: Great Adventures: Experience the World at its Breathtaking Best, by Lonely Planet

cv_great_adventuresThis is not the kind of book you should attempt to read in one day. One year would be verging on excessive. The glossy photos, the exotic locales, the relentless hyperbole: too rich, too heady. You risk suffering like one who has taken only dark chocolate or strong coffee for an entire day. However, like those undertaking the actual adventures, sometimes a reader must take a risk.

Circumstance in the shape of a prolapsed disc and a compressed sciatic nerve had rendered the reader prone. But he was, as they say in some circles, time rich. So over the course of a week, with kidneys on the carpet and heels on the couch, he digested more than seventy adventures. The method was dictated by Serendipity. Pain played its part, as did TradeMe.Cuernos_del_Paine_from_Lake_Pehoé

“TREK CHILE’S TORRES DEL PAINE (wiki image above). A trek around or into the heart of one of the world’s most fantastically shaped mountain ranges.” Gravity had opened the book to page 22. “Brace for the brawn and beauty of nature…with gale force winds spearing ice into your face…” It was brutal that week in Dunedin too. The words and images fortified the reader for his personal trek through towers of pain, to the mailbox.

Monday’s mail: a letter and a smallish bar of dark chocolate from a friend in France. A double surprise: chocolate through the post, a friend in France. The adventures people were having. An idea occurred to the reader as he crawled back along the hall on his knees and elbows, hitched his feet up. France. He thumbed the contents page and turned to page 30.mont_blanc

“TAKE ON THE TOUR DU MONT BLANC (wiki image above). This international route, one of the world’s finest long distance hikes, has sections in France, Italy and Switzerland. The views encapsulate the entire Alpine landscape… the trails take you right to the foot of the towering rock faces and glaciers where alpinism was born. If you take the most strenuous route, it becomes as much as 11000 metres of climbing… the equivalent of Mt. Everest as you circuit this European mountain icon.”

And so the adventures unfold with rigorous consistency, one after the other, within sections: Hike, Dive, Bike, Above and Below (not a religious category), Climb, Ice and Snow, Animals, Water, and Drive. Each four-paged condensation of extreme behaviour in radical landscapes is presented with an eye for concision and aesthetics.Without deviation, you will encounter: prizewinning photographs, a map, a hyperbolic description, essential fact boxes, a select bibliography, and a paragraph titled The Adventure Unfolds which is written in the second person (“You’re suddenly standing in air so crisp and clear it’s as though you’ve stepped into a painting”) so as to stimulate your vicarium glands. It works. At the conclusion of page 33 the reader’s heart was pounding as if he had climbed Mont Blanc. But it may have been the dark chocolate. Sleep was elusive.

Wednesday’s mail: a kilo bag of coffee beans from Vanuatu. The reader had to stuff it up his vest to crawl back up the hall. He sat awkwardly under the grinder and ground a glass jarful. The aroma was anaesthetic. As the stovetop steamed he found something in the contents as close to Vanuatu as possible. Page 58.

bikini_atoll“DIVE BIKINI ATOLL (image credit John Stancampiano). Regarded as the ultimate theme park for wreck divers, this former bomb-testing site in the Pacific ocean is littered with the warped wreckage of destroyers, submarines and ripped-open battle cruisers that have been reinvigorated by a stunning array of marine life.” By the end of the adventure the reader’s pulse was racing, but it may have been the Fairtrade coffee. Or the sense of outrage: Though the experts have concluded that “there is no danger of radiation poisoning from swimming in the atoll,” over half a century on from the 23rd detonation on Bikini Atoll, “2000 Bikinians hope that soil scraping will rid this atoll of radiation so they can return home. In the meantime, they await a settlement from the US Government for the destruction of their universe.”

At least, the reader reflected, sleepless once more after the excitement of reading the entire Diving section, this book doesn’t evade historical and ecological truths.pedal_campino

Friday’s mail constituted a pair of second-hand Camper shoes, designed (and up until a few years ago, made) in Spain. The reader lay down, Campers on, and turned to page 110. “PEDAL THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO. For centuries, pilgrims have been foot-slogging their way across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compestela, to pay homage to the remains of the Apostle James. Today a new breed comes on wheels and 27 gears.”

Suppressing his misgivings about aluminium bike frames propped up against the Cathedral’s eleventh century stonework, the reader read on. “Beginning in the border town of Roncesvalles, the ride descends the Pyrenees into the city of Pamplona before crossing the wine region of La Rioja, where fountains dispense wine for pilgrims.”

It appeared to be the first great adventure that didn’t guarantee pain, terror or death. The reader placed a tick in his mental ‘Wouldn’t immediately say no’ column and continued with the remainder of the Bike section, during which he mainly placed ticks in the ‘Not even if you paid me in coffee and cacao beans’ column. By the end of it all, his elevated feet were aching, but it may have been the new old Campers.

On Saturday there was no mail delivery, an eloquent statement about changing communication trends. The reader’s morning lacked direction, until, in the first lucid flush brought on by a line of dark chocolate and a Vanuatuan short black, he recalled that his new old Campers were actually made in China. So he laced them back on, took his by now habitual position, flexed his triceps and turned to page 202.

“SEE PANDAS IN CHINA. We’re going on a beer hunt: clambering up the mountain, sneaking through the bamboo, tracking across the forest, tramping across the snow…following the trail of China’s most iconic and enigmatic but least colourful animal: the giant panda.” There are only 1600 of them still in existence, the reader learned with a heavy heart, and you’d need luck to sight “one of nature’s most beautiful mistakes.” But not as much luck as the giant panda will need to stay alive, the reader almost cried out before recognising that ecological passion would likely reinflame his sciatica. Focus on the photographs.

And truly, the image here of the giant panda, “lounging back, legs akimbo and surrounded by torn bamboo leaves, methodically crunching a a short, sweet stem,” was worth the price of admission to the book. It was also impossible for the reader to ignore his postural kinship with that panda. Substitute bamboo for chocolate and they were brothers. He looked deeply into the panda’s black rimmed eyes. They seemed to ask a question. “How do you feel, reader?” Like I have explored the world at its breathtaking best. Like a great adventurer. Like the planet is a little less lonely.

by Aaron Blaker

Great Adventures: Experience the World at its Breathtaking Best
Published by Lonely Planet Publications
ISBN 9781743601013

Book Review: Shamejoy, by Julie Hill

Available now in selected bookstores nationwide. 

With cutting, occasionally acerbic, Kiwi wit, Julie Hill has penned for us nine short stories, bound up in this slender collection, delighting in social satire, political parody and a scattering of pop culture.

cv_shameJoyIt is peopled with an eclectic cast of quirky characters − O’Gradient who has always wanted to lose a leg and cultivates an array of admirers who follow her every suggestion; Maus, the soft metaller who credits himself for ending the Cold War (with a song suspiciously reminiscent of one I recall from that era); Caramel, whose Uncle Jeff accidentally sparked an international incident − in which New Zealand and Australia go to war, over dessert.

The stories are short, with a bleak but sarcastic edge, a dark wit that creeps across the page and drags you in with a sadonic smile. This is quite literary, very character based, and at times the multiple point-of-views within the short story narrative become somewhat confusing, requiring multiple reads to see through the many layers.

Undeniably clever, the main flavour is strongly kiwi, the wit distinctly aimed at parodying our culture.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

by Julie Hill
Published by Giant Sparrow Press
ISBN 9780473284060