Book Review: World of Wearable Art – 30 designers tell their stories, edited by Naomi Arnold

cv_world_of_wearable_art_30_designersAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

The World of Wearable Arts competition is nearly 30 years old, and the small show that started in Nelson is now a major event hosted in Wellington. Designers and passionate crafters from all around the world compete in categories such as Creative Excellence: Architecture, Performance Art or Bizarre Bras. The finalists are selected and a beautiful stage show is compiled. It is truly a magnificent event.

This book, World of Wearable Art, tells the stories of thirty designers who have been involved in the competition. My appreciation for the work involved, and creative process is so high. Some designers have an ephemeral concept, some have an entry that is a triumph over a material, and others produce entries that are a complex mixture of symbols and story. Many of the finalists have created garments so original and startling that their images remain in the national consciousness long after the competition has ended.

This is a beautifully produced book. The photos are all high quality, and the layout of the book (white, uncluttered, good space for images and texts) makes this book so very readable. The only thing that I did want was more photos – sometimes the story told by the designer emphasised entries that were not included in the accompanying photos. It is though, a small criticism.

I’ve followed Fifi Colston’s work for a few years now so it was really nice to see her story included in here. I was very taken with the Peter Wakeman and David Walker stories as well. Designers who have competed many times, as well as those with only one entry are included. The passion of the designers really came through. Many learnt completely new skills in the process of creating their entries, while others display niche skills that they bring to their designs – such as saddlery.

The audience for this book is wide. If you enjoy learning about how experts make things I think you will enjoy this book. Crafters and lovers of design will also appreciate this book. My older daughter enjoyed seeing the pictures and learning about how artists create wearable art. A really engrossing read.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

World Of WearableArt: 30 Designers Tell Their Stories
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213506

Book Review: Bloodtree Chronicles: Bragonsthyme, by Elizabeth Pulford

cv_bragonsthymeLike its predecessor, Sanspell, Bragonsthyme is a beautiful book. The cover, hauntingly illustrated by the talented Donovan Bixley, evokes the icy feel and darkness that you will find wrapped within its pages. The prose, too, is equally evocative, rich with imagery. Even the first sentence is mesmerising: “The faint sound of a bell floated beneath the falling snowflakes. Like a whisper it was there.” This delicious use of language continues throughout the pages, taking the reader with Abigail on her journey into the worlds of the Bloodtree.

For Abigail, the events of Sanspell have faded into memories, but it is time for her to make a return to the Silvering Kingdom. Guided once more by her mysterious aunts, she must once more become Spindale, as she is thrust into another thrilling adventure, seeking to restore the happy endings to the stories of fable. This time, she goes into Bragonsthyme, a city frozen in time, or to be precise, frozen by Thyme – the ice dragon of legend. His story began, or perhaps ended, with a dark heart and a broken promise.

But Spindale is not the only one with a special mission – Flint is on a quest of his own, a quest to find the father he never knew. A quest that will take him, accompanied by the prickly Bramble, into the heart of the frozen city. Unbeknownst to all, their tales are bound to intertwine, uncovering a long-lost mystery and a secret that will alter the shape of the world as they know it. But success will not be easy, for power-greedy Zezmena, and her deadly father, Rackenard, have reasons of their own for hunting the children.

Fun, charming and fast-paced, Bragonsthyme continues what Sanspell started – a sophisticated and enjoyable tale for the 9-12 age range. It should appeal to both boys and girls.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

by Elizabeth Pulford
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432869

Book Review: The Pretender’s Lady, by Alan Gold

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_pretenders_lady“Her name will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.” So wrote the famous diarist and biographer James Boswell of his compatriot Flora MacDonald, the never-to-be-forgotten heroine of Scotland, for her single-handed role in the perilous escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie from the clutches of the rampaging English.

What a woman. Born 1722 in the Scottish Hebrides, her life is well documented. Her passion for a Scotland free from the iron grip of the English led her into many adventures and many troubles – not just risking her life to save the Prince, but also spending time locked up in the Tower of London on a charge of treason. In the 1770s, she lived for a time in North Carolina with her husband and children, only to be caught up in the War of Independence, and then surviving a raid by pirates on the return journey to Scotland. By any account she was an extraordinary woman, and her legendary place in Scottish history is well deserved. And hardly surprising either that there is a mystique and aura about her, that continually fuels the fires of independence, resilience and fierceness so part of the the Scottish identity.

In this novel, the Australian author has taken the bones of Flora’s life and created a rollicking good read that will appeal to a wide variety of readers, and not just those of Scottish descent or can lay claim to being descended from a MacDonald of the island of South Uist of the Outer Hebrides. She will be forever known as the saviour of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, aka the Young Pretender, and this is the central narrative of the story. Plus what would a good historical novel be without a bit of romance and bodice ripping in the Scottish highlands surrounded by heather and blustery winds? The background to all this however is just as important to the story. The author has thoroughly researched the history of the time – King George II, his son the Duke of Cumberland whose army famously defeated Charlie at Culloden in 1846 (later known as the Butcher Cumberland for his murderous treatment of the Scottish after this uprising), Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson, the American War of Independence – and tells it in very rich and exciting detail.

Comparisons of the author’s writing style have been made with Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) and Alison Weir who both write historical novels from the view point of key characters. As a result, fact is used as the starter for the story, but is not necessarily 100% factual in its content. The key word here, emblazoned on the front cover of such books is ‘a novel’. A great starting point for further research and reading.

For me, the key point of such historical novels, is that we learn so much – these books are page turners, they draw us in, real people and real events become vivid in our imaginations, history comes alive. And more importantly, these novels provide background to the nature of the world we live in now. For example, why did thousands leave Scotland from the mid-18th century onwards for the greener pastures of unknown lands in America, Canada, and New Zealand? Aside from the weather…

This is a terrific story, well told, great characters both good and bad, and in the light of the referendum that took place last year for Scottish independence, very timely. The relationship between the two nations may be cordial now, but it has not always been so, in fact many times over the centuries completely the opposite. Such a story makes me very proud of my Scottish heritage, and has sparked a wish to go to the Hebrides. My only criticism? Some pictures of Flora and Charlie would not have gone amiss, and a couple of maps would also have helped greatly in conjuring up images of the intrepid journey that Flora and her prince made.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Pretender’s Lady
by Alan Gold
Published by Yucca Press
ISBN 9781631580482

Book Review: ‘Tis the Month before Christmas – The True Story of Santa, by Patricia Chapman, illustrated by Richard Hoit

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tis_the_month_before_christmasPatricia Chapman has written a number of non-fiction books, including the bestselling Dunmore Book of New Zealand Records, and Strange Facts about New Zealand, as well as several novels. Richard Hoit is a freelance illustrator working full time on children’s books, with his work appearing worldwide.

With Christmas not that far away it was fortuitous that I was sent this book to review. It has a rather unique way of approaching the “true” story of how Santa became Santa. There is one story to be read for each day starting on 25 November and finishing on 25 December. Most of us are familiar with advent calendars (usually with a chocolate treat behind each date), so this is a great alternative if you want to avoid sugar overload leading up to Christmas.

Chapman tells the story of Nicolas Klaus, who lives with Grandfather Klaus in a farmhouse built of heavy logs, deep in the forests of Lapland. Grandfather Klaus had a herd of reindeer and Nicholas helped on the farm every day. We also find out how the reindeer got their names – from Prancer, Dancer  Vixen and even Rudolf.

I read this book to Abby aged 4 ½ in one sitting, which is not ideal, but I was keen to see just how much she would retain and what her views were on the conclusion of this story. When Mummy came home from work, one very excited little girl proceeded to tell, in her own words, the story about Santa, proving to me that she definitely had been listening.

The illustrations are fabulous and match the story with ease and with, flowing along gently engaging the listener and reader alike. This is a wonderful book keeping alive the magic of Christmas for children.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

‘Tis the Month Before Christmas – The True Story of Santa
by Patricia Chapman, illustrated by Richard Hoit
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781927262344

Book Review: The Blue Voyage and Other Poems, by Anne French

Available on 30 November in bookshops nationwide.

“How your face lit up, explaining
the blue voyage to me”cv_the_blue_voyage

Bookended by a short collection of poems by William Butler “Bill” Smith and some translations of Korean poet Han Yong-un’s work, Anne French’s new poetry collection, The Blue Voyage and Other Poems, settles itself into a context spanning oceans. From Bill and New Zealand, to the coasts of Turkey, and to Yong-un’s Korea, French writes alongside her fellow poets and the history of the idea of the blue voyage along the south-western Turkish coast.

Bill’s poetry anchors itself in the familiar, not venturing too far out from the New Zealand shoreline. It is a good starting point for this collection, as his experience feels like home, and his writing invites the reader into a conversation that slowly leads towards French and her poetry. He moves from the home, slowly towards the front porch and out into the water that sits on the edge of the blue voyage, from the kitchen and physical love of “Hot bread shop” to the dinghy and thoughts of the past in “Fishing at the Noises.”

French’s poems follow on from those of Bill and slowly move themselves out from the shore and into the waters of the Turkish coast. It takes a couple of poems to get ready for the blue voyage, and we see a carefully considered creation of the world of a seafarer. But it is the title poem that stretches out its characters and places in vivid detail. The words ebb and flow, the unknown resurfaces again and again, the Turkish faces and words, the wildflowers in Datҫa, the cats in Palamutbükü, until finally she turns towards England and asks How can I leave all this? / The roses, the oleander, / the sunshine, the mountains, / the water full of little fish, / the perfect sailing breeze. But leave she does, towards other places documented by her poetry. She takes others with her, like C.K. Stead (El Faro) and Geoff Park (Black notebook and On the way), and pays tribute to poetry, to sailing, and to love and life.

In the final section, “Going to Gwangju,” French makes her way to Korea and the tragic history of Gwangju. She recognises herself as an outsider and comes to understand the personal history, Only now I understand / the words you didn’t say. / ‘Gwangju’ means massacre. This poem highlights a point in Korean history that is met with sadness, and with silence. French’s sijo builds on this further, “Now silent on Achasan, your voice carries clearly across the century.”

It is interesting then to turn the page to the translations of the Korean poet, Han Yong-un. Silence is here also, but it is The Silence of Love. These love poems, echoing those of Bill Smith and those of Anne French earlier on in the collection, bring the book to a neat close, until finally, Waiting / for the ringing of the bells announcing daybreak, / I put down my brush.

Reviewed by Matthias Metzler

The Blue Voyage and Other Poems
by Anne French
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408428

Book Review: Alone on the Wall, by Alex Honnold with David Roberts

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_alone_on_the_wallYou might have heard of Alex Honnold, he is an incredible athlete who has gained worldwide notoriety not only for his physical abilities, but also for his attitude to life. He is a free solo climber, climbing rocks hundreds of metres high, alone, without ropes and harnesses or any of the usual protective gear usually seen on climbers. And he does this because he says it is fun.

The world’s fascination with Alex Honnold centres on a frank disbelief that someone could do something so inherently dangerous, and that he’s still alive, and still doing it. We’re also fascinated with his lifestyle choices – he lives in a kitted-out van and climbs mountains. He climbs using nothing more than tight climbing shoes and chalk to assist his ascent. Sponsorship makes his lifestyle feasible. He is admired and respected by climbers around the world.

Alex’s fame began within the local climbing community in his home in the USA, then word got out about how he was free soloing routes normally ascended with ropes and in teams. He was climbing them ‘free’ and he was climbing them fast. For him, free soloing is purism. His philosophy of life is his emphasis on simplicity, on paring away extraneous stuff. He likes the speed records because they give a baseline for improvement, and beating times is gratifying.

nat_geographic_YosemiteYou might have seen the feature about Alex’s climbing on 60 Minutes, or the famous front cover photo on National Geographic with Alex standing on a thin sliver of a ledge half way up an almost vertical rock overlooking a vast valley. After a local adventure film company made a few films about his ‘crazy’ ascents, he became famous on a wider scale – he reckons being Facebook-friended by thousands of people he didn’t know was one of the first signs of his burgeoning fame.

You get the feeling with Alex Honnold, though, that climbing rocks for challenge and satisfaction is something he was born to do and as you read his book, it is crystal clear that he is driven to keep at it. Climbing has made him extremely fit, and you need to be extremely fit to hang from a ledge with a finger and thumb wedged in if that’s all that is holding your weight.

He’ll say he hasn’t had many close calls that he can remember. He insists that his climbing is low-risk – he is not likely to fall off. He recognises that the consequences are high if he did, but he wants to be clear about distinguishing between consequence and risk. The rest of us just feel that it’s a chance we would rather not take, which is why we aren’t several hundred metres up in the air on a rockface in Yosemite National Park.

The book is a collection of some of his most challenging climbs, and it’s a chance to get inside his head as you wonder what he is thinking up there. Alex says the ‘camping lifestyle’ he lives day in day out does wear thin – camping likely holds a special appeal if you don’t do it routinely. He admits to liking showering, eating out, being able to call his friends, checking email. He also tires of the lonely life in the van sometimes, but it’s a trade-off and he says on the whole he is pretty content.

Alone on the Wall is a great read for the climber in your family and still very interesting if climbing is your worst nightmare. Life is precious, but just because something is precious it doesn’t mean you have to baby it. As Alex says, “What’s the point in having an amazing vehicle if you’re afraid to drive it?”

Review by Amie Lightbourne

Alone on the Wall
by Alex Honnold with David Roberts
Published by Macmillan Publishers
ISBN 9781447282693

Book Review: The Lost Landscape, by Joyce Carol Oates

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_lost_landscapeThis book is a compilation of pieces, most of which have already appeared in various publications. The author describes it as “a writer’s coming of age”.

At the beginning of the book she makes this statement: “We begin as children imagining and fearing ghosts. By degrees, through our long lives, we come to be the very ghosts inhabiting the lost landscapes of our childhood.”

It’s not a linear progression of memory, so it does not fit neatly into what we expect of a memoir, and because it’s a collection, or at least I imagine that this is the reason, there is quite a lot of repetition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and even occasionally serves to reinforce some aspects of Oates’ early life – particularly her relationship with her stern Hungarian grandparents.

Some of the pieces are a tad too whimsical, in particular the one written from the viewpoint of one of the chickens. Others hint at the much darker side of life that Oates experienced growing up in a small town in New York state. Life in the 1940s and 1950s in rural America was not easy and the differences observed and described between wealthy and poor families, the somewhat awkward and unbalanced relationship between Oates and some of her schoolmates, and the descriptions of what we would now term dysfunctional families are quite telling. You get a feel for the kind of life she had without her having to spell it all out in detail.

The book covers a huge amount of ground, and I think brings together many of the events and memories which have shaped Joyce Carol Oates as a writer. She clearly wrote from an early age, and was a voracious reader. The detail she applies in description, along with wonderful use of language generally, makes this collection interesting reading.

I wanted it to be more cohesive than it is, but overall found it a satisfying read, and I think now I may go and try something else by her.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Lost Landscape
by Joyce Carol Oates
Published by Fourth Estate Ltd
ISBN 9780008146597