Book Review: Seeking an Aurora, by Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Anne Bannock

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_seeking_an_aurora.jpgSeeking an Aurora is one of those books which at first glance, seems just a light read with pictures. And for a child it probably is, with the beautiful pictures holding the interest more than the story.

In fact, reading it to the child in my life, we found that examining and discussing the pictures was a story in itself. We talked about the way the cold air made our breath puff out like little clouds, and the way frost on the ground crunched beneath our feet as we walked on it. We wondered how the artist had produced such vivid colours from what looked like crayons or pastels and we thought we might try to make some art work ourselves.  The depictions of the Aurora woke in us a fervent desire to witness one ourselves and we discussed how we could set about achieving this desire.  We really really liked the book on lots of different levels.

The main one for me was enjoying the company of my grandchild as we talked together about the book and the thoughts it brought up. For a child, reading it with an interested adult is the ideal, but I can imagine them reading it over by themselves afterwards, thinking their own thoughts, and enjoying the memories.  A lovely wee book.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Seeking an Aurora
by Elizabeth Pulford and Anne Bannock
published by OneTree House
ISBN 9780995106444

Book Review: Pathway of the Birds – The voyaging achievements of Māori and their Polynesian Ancestors, by Andrew Crowe

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_pathway_of_the_birdsAnthropologist Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) described ancient Polynesians as supreme navigators of history. Their double-hulled, sewn plant canoes propelled by woven mat sails explored the far reaches of the Earth’s greatest ocean.

Captain James Cook between the years 1769 and 1779 visited more Polynesian islands than any other European explorer before him.

Andrew Crowe in Pathway of the Birds explores the history of movement among the islands of the Pacific and the means of transport with the development of boat designs and the possibilities and archaeological finds of some of the various remote islands in the Pacific and the deep ocean voyages that were deliberate and planned. He also notes the different species of native birds and lizards and how they differ between the islands, and the tools used by the inhabitants and the purpose for what they were used.

This covers a subject of great interest to many readers with over 400 photos and illustrations breaking up the text.

While I found this book extremely interesting I did struggle at times to take in the information. As a New Zealander whose ancestors come from other places this highlights to me the courage and tenacity of Polynesian inhabitants and their desire to travel and explore the Pacific.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Pathway of the Birds: The voyaging achievements of Māori and their Polynesian
Ancestors
by Andrew Crowe
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869539610

Book Review: New World New God, by Ian Harris

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_new_world_new_godChristian churches in New Zealand are experiencing a drop in numbers attending Sunday worship as the younger generation question the traditional biblical teaching, but Ian Harris’s book New World New God provides new thinking on how to perceive God and his relevance in today’s world.

Ian Harris’s Faith and Reason columns – which have featured in the Otago Daily Times for fifteen years, and in The Dominion Post and Touchstone as “Honest to God” – argue that Christianity in this millennium is not the paradox it appears to be, but religion at its most creative. I have read them over the years in the Otago Daily Times, but having them together in a publication made for a challenging read for me and had me questioning much of my thinking, having been raised in a Presbyterian household, and continue to follow the Christian faith.

Harris believes ‘new doors are opening, new insights into the Bible are superceding understandings that once seemed chiseled in stone and new interpretations of the Christian faith tradition are emerging, that are fully in sync with our secular world.’
The collection in New World New God explores different aspects of Christianity under the chapter headings God, Jesus, the Bible, Easter, Christmas and the Holy Trinity, and each column has the date at the end when it first appeared in newspapers.

He says ‘one purpose of the column is to pass on to people the thinking of leading theologians of our lifetime’ and he includes comments by Sir Lloyd Geering, as well as Stephen Hawking and Phillip Pullman. To survive in the modern world the church needs to change its teaching, Harris believes, focussing on the new ‘God as symbol’ rather than the God out there of traditional theism.

I found this an interesting read, the columns are well written in language which people can understand. The columns can be read individually and I am sure I will pick this up and re read many of the pieces in the future. The author has acknowledged a number of references at the rear of the book which will be useful for further research .

Ian Harris’s career straddles the worlds of journalism and the church, as he grew up in a Methodist parsonage, and he gained an honours degree in English at Auckland University. He has worked for a number of years as an editorial writer on The Dominion as well as church publications. Instrumental in founding the Ephesus group in Wellington whose purpose is to explore new ways of understanding and expressing Christian faith in this millennium, he and his late wife Jill also wrote The Ephesus Liturgies series.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

New World New God
by Ian Harris
Published by Mākaro Press
ISBN 9780994137869

Book Review: The World’s Din: Listening to Records, Radio, and Films in New Zealand, 1880-1940, by Peter Hoar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_worlds_dinPeter Hoar provides us with a very worthwhile insight into the world of sound that emerged for New Zealanders as radio, musical record, and film sound was imported and adapted to local needs. This is nonetheless a partial insight, as it tries to convey in text, and illustrations, mostly a lost world of sound and entertainment forms. While it may only be a glimpse of what our forebears listened to, it remains a fascinating one.

The World’s Din is organised into three parts, based on: recorded technology and musical recordings; then radio technology, and the emergence of radio stations in between the wars; and finally a look at the musical accompaniment to the booming film and cinema industry. Hoar provides some context where necessary, and most of the text is placed within New Zealand social history, the key point being the way locals received the new technology from overseas, and adapted it in a cultural sense. This raises other cultural questions, such as with early commercial recordings of Maori singers. This was helpful to the performers, but they remained very much ‘cover’ versions.

Perhaps it is the chapters on the development of radio which include the most obvious evidence of local expertise, and perhaps of an enduring legacy. Interestingly, Hoar includes a chapter on ‘military radio’ and its influence on the later development of commercial radio after World War One. Not only does he remind us of characters such as Eric Battershill and Clive Drummond, who went from ham radio enthusiasts through the military, and then became commercial radio figures. But he also examines in detail how the early radio operators found life in remote places, whether that be on top of Tinakori Hill (in Wellington), or in the garrison captured from Germans in Samoa, in 1914. These chapters also have interesting archival photographs, including the raising of a large aerial radio mast on the Chatham Islands, and the operator of a radio set in the desert of Mesopotamia, who was enduring over 40 degrees of heat.

Back home, and after the war, there were also forgotten female pioneers in radio, such as Gwen Shepherd in Wellington. Her wedding was apparently broadcast live on 2YA in 1930, with a large crowd also in attendance at Old St. Pauls. Aunty Gwen, as she was known, was just as popular as the avuncular men who got into broadcasting between the wars, though none may have been as well known as Maud Basham (Aunt Daisy) in the post-war era. Hoar not only looks at the content ‘on’ the radio, and debates over musical styles, but also the role of the actual radio in interior design.

Towards the end there is more consideration of the broader cultural context. Although films became very popular over time, there is a sense in which some of the local flavour was lost, as accompanying music was supplanted by the ‘talkies’. And with the talkies came a particularly American form of entertainment, in a period in which the British influence was officially still predominant. It is always difficult to gauge the role of popular culture in historical events, in general, but this book indicates how the local and indigenous cultural forms are present and then perhaps quickly forgotten.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

The World’s Din: Listening to Records, Radio, and Films in New Zealand, 1880-1940 by Peter Hoar
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531199

Book Review: Little Hector and the Big Blue Whale, by Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_hector_and_the_big_blue_whaleHector was a small but daring dolphin. But Hector was too small to go anywhere. One day Little Hector decides he had had enough of being told he’s too small to venture past The Point so he decides to follow the bigger dolphins out into the open ocean where he quickly gets left behind. Little Hector learns about the dangers of boats first hand and why his mother warned him to never trust an orca! Lucky for Hector he meets a friend who safely escorts him back to The Point and teaches him a valuable lesson; being the littlest is just as special as being the biggest! And size definitely doesn’t matter when it comes to friendship.

Author-illustrator Ruth Paul introduces us to her latest character Little Hector in Little Hector and the Big Blue Whale. The softness of the illustrations compliments the ocean setting of the story and the characters are charming with their friendly expressions, especially, Little Hector!

This story includes enough suspense, possible dangers and problems to be solved to keep young children captivated as well as putting a spotlight on New Zealand’s Hector’s dolphin. I especially enjoyed the ‘All about the Hector’s dolphin’ facts included at the end. The health of our oceans and the creatures within it is very important and it’s something that children should be aware of from a young age.

Little Hector and the Big Blue Whale is a wonderful new book that teaches children about the rare Hector’s dolphin. Children will love reading all about Little Hector’s big adventure into the deep sea and meeting all his marine friends. I can’t wait to read about Little Hector’s next adventure!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Little Hector and the Big Blue Whale
by Ruth Paul
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771524

Book Review: The Peacock Summer, by Hannah Richell

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_peacock_summer.jpgThe Peacock Summer is the latest novel by bestselling Australian-born and England-based author, Hannah Richell. Narrated in the first person, the story centres on the lives of two women, Lillian and Maggie.

In the prime of her life, Lillian finds herself trapped. Encouraged by her aging guardian, Lucinda Daunt, and out of concern for her invalid sister Helena’s medical expenses, Lillian marries the wealthy investor, Charles Oberon. At twenty-six years old, she has become a porcelain beauty in a delicate dollhouse, burrowed within the paintings, ornaments, and collected objects of Charles’s manor. Now Lillian must navigate a world of cake tins and floral dresses, of high-society men and their wives with their expectations and illusory glories.

At the hands of her manipulative husband, Lillian becomes the victim of domestic abuse, which leads to her barrenness. The pains of maternal yearning and a loveless marriage plunge her into a world of deep loneliness. Nevertheless, what keeps Lillian going is Albie, her stepson, whose playfulness and curiosity remind her constantly of the joys of living and loving. Life takes a dramatic turn that summer, when Lillian meets the young artist, Jack Fincher, whom Charles has commissioned to paint the nursery.

Fast forward to the present day: At age twenty-six, Maggie Oberon feels like she is going nowhere. Her parents, Amanda and Albie, left her at a young age, going their separate ways. The rock of Maggie’s whole life was her grandmother, Lillian. Now that the aged Lillian is very ill, Maggie travels from Australia to Lilian’s English manor, Cloudesley, at the foot of the Chiltern Hills. As Maggie learns of Lillian’s story, she finds that they are very much alike. Lillian reminds Maggie about the brevity of life and the necessity, therefore, to live boldly and fully.

The Peacock Summer is a call to the genuine celebration of life and family. Richell’s prose is highly descriptive, tender, and vibrant. The story touches on the poignant themes of parenthood, loss, longing, and the indefatigability of authentic, sacrificial love. I strongly recommend this excellent book for the upcoming spring and summer months.

Reviewed by Azariah Alfante

The Peacock Summer
by Hannah Richell
Published by Hachette
ISBN 9780733640438

Book Review: Coming to it, by Sam Hunt

Available from bookshops nationwide.

cv_coming_to_it.jpgComing To It is a collection of selected poems from throughout Sam Hunt’s career (though it also includes many new poems). To review a poet who’s been working for over 50 years, who’s so well known, who’s been recognised by the Prime Minister and the Queen is a funny thing. So much is already established. Most reviews of it so far have been as much reviews of the man − his touring, his drinking, his remote eccentric lifestyle. They become reviews of Hunt’s contribution to New Zealand literature and identity.

But I’m not able to write a review like that. So let’s put it all − the man, the history, the career − to one side and look only at the poems which are in turns clever, lovely, funny, questioning and, the smallest of handfuls, out of step with the times.

Hunt is thought of as a poet whose lines aim to reflect natural speech yet they are full of rhyme and craft; it is not everyone who can overhear a conversation in a pub and turn it into a poem.

Most of the poems in the collection are grounded in Aotearoa − in the natural and manmade paths in Rangitikei; in the choppy waters of Cook Strait; in the salt of tidal rivers in Oterei and Kaipara. They are proudly focused on our communities, our place and the travels of the poet throughout it. The poem Notes from a journey is an example where the towns, the waters and the people all embody Hunt’s pride in this country.

He returns throughout the poems to those he loves − his mother, father and brothers; his sons. These are in turn touching and enchanting. In ‘No bells’ for example, the loss of his mother on the same night as the bamboo windbells on his verandah break are tied together to portray an irreparable sudden silencing. In the last poem, Brothers (which is perfectly placed) we find Hunt in the gaps, the white space around his brothers.

His poems about his lovers, and his descriptions of women generally, generate less delight for me. Women who love him in the poems are expected to accept that he will never be completely available to them; to be with him is to accept a level of loneliness. I find this especially difficult, this ‘arm’s reach’ attitude, from a poet and performer who treasures a deep connection with his audiences. While he is charming spectators, those who most deserve his attention are, like the partner in the poem My white ship, expected to accept:

The ethic of my love
For you remains that I
Am a lone sailor of
The night; captain of my
White ship: and though you be
A good day’s mate, your fight’s
Too weak to rise with me…

In another poem a desirable woman is compared to an unbroken horse; in another a woman’s domestic violence scars are mused over but hey, despite that black eye she is still a ‘sort of mystic hooker’. I wish these poem, and the rest of the poems in the collection, were labelled with a first publication date. Rightly or wrongly, it matters to me whether this was a view from decades ago or from today.

Oh dear, I haven’t managed to review just the poetry have I? I have, like most other reviewers of Coming To It, come back to Hunt himself. And perhaps that was inevitable, because Hunt has always said his subject is his experience and this opening up of a New Zealand life for decade after decade is the ultimate gift his poetry has given us.

Reviewed by Libby Kirby-McLeod

Coming to it
by Sam Hunt
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503802