Book Review: From the Podium, by Gary Daverne

As a musician living in New Zealand, my interest was naturally piqued by this memoir. I had heard of Gary Daverne’s work as a composer over the years, as he’s been fairly prolific in writing advertising jingles, orchestral music, and, interestingly, music for the accordion. But I hadn’t been aware of his career as a conductor of orchestras, and I looked forward to reading more about this side of Daverne’s career. After all, I’m an orchestral musician and it’s always interesting to hear about life seen from the conductor’s podium.

As a man deeply involved and invested in music-making from the community to the professional level, Daverne’s career is impressive. He’s taken his orchestra, the Auckland Symphony Orchestra, to China with Amalia Hall, he’s guest conducted high calibre orchestras like the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and he’s apparently been in the enviable position of having more offers of work than he can handle—a sure definition of success!

In terms of the memoir itself, however, From the Podium lacks several aspects that would make it a fully engaging read. Granted, this book was self-published, so I can forgive some slips in presentation and basic editing (and I can even forgive one rather strange shift from third to first person near the beginning). It is however a shame that the memoir feels so episodic. Despite this memoir being nominally structured, in a rather cute way, according to the acts of a show, the memoir lacks overall narrative cohesion. In other words, this memoir feels too much like a collection of disconnected (if amusing) stories.
It’s a jumble of beads with no thread to string them onto. As such, these myriad stories may hold interest for those who know Daverne, or perhaps for those who have an insatiable interest in what goes on backstage at a show or at a concert and has never heard these kinds of stories before. But as someone who has lived through similar experiences (having to deal with inclement weather during an outdoor concert, the travails of touring, mistakes made and lights going out during shows) and therefore doesn’t find these things particularly surprising, each story was charming, certainly, but ultimately did not hold my sustained attention.

I found myself wishing that there had been more about what Daverne had actually thought about his experiences of New Zealand musical life, and what he’d learned through his life. Instead I was merely given a catalogue of anecdotes to read. And this is a shame; Daverne has clearly made a huge contribution to musical life, and that contribution should have been better represented. In the end, this memoir represents a missed opportunity to properly delve into an interesting life.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

From the Podium
by Gary Daverne
Available from http://www.garydaverne.gen.nz/

Tim Gruar – delegate of this year’s Father’s Day Present Committee

Dear 6-year-old daughter,

As the self-appointed delegate of this year’s Father’s Day Present Committee, I feel I should confide in you my gift preference for this year. Before I do, though, I wanted to tell you what an absolute joy it has been watching you grow in your own reading. Only a year and a half into the primary school system and you’ve already mastered the basics of reading.

cv_bad_jelly_the_witchI’ll be the first to admit that English is not exactly the easiest language. There are many words with similar meanings and spellings and even some words that are simply confounding. Of course, I can claim only a small part in your education. School has taken a major role in your reading development but I’ve always loved your passion for stories and reading to you every night has been an absolute pleasure and will be for some time to come. I remember your love of Dr Seuss, Richard Scarry and Spike Milligan’s Bad Jelly the Witch. It’s always fun to shout ‘Stinky Pooh, Knickers, Knickers, Knickers!’, despite what Mummy says.

cv_the_looky_bookOver time your tastes have changed, of course. Your love of Margaret Mahy and Donovan Bixley’s Looky Book and the Rainbow Magic Fairy series – your first chapter books. I was so proud when you chose a paper back copy of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at that tiny back alley bookshop in town one night. We just finished eating at a street food stall when you drifted off down to that nifty old bookshop crammed to the ceiling with books and bizarre ephemera. You had a long, extrapolated conversation with the owner before settling on your choice. Then you took your precious purchase home to read under the covers until way past bed time.

cv_cigars_of_the_phaeraohAnother time, in your classroom, you chose to read me one of my childhood favourites: Hergé’s Tintin: The Cigars of the Pharaoh. How did you know this? Did Mummy tell you? I’ve always loved the mix of colourful illustrations and the layering of politics, espionage and quirky characters. Rasterpopulous, Snowy, Captain Haddock. The story still holds up today but it was somehow much more magic sharing it with you. Your interpretations of the plot take me right back to my first impressions of the story. And there’s also a special magic listening to all the stories you read me from your library visits.

Your little 4-year-old sister is hard on your heels. Everything you love is already on her reading list, although though her love of Hargreaves’ Mr Men series is way more serious. And your big sister has long buried herself in movie tie-ins. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is piled up on her nightstand.

So, my darling, I’ve come to my decision. For my present this year I don’t want socks, handkerchiefs or anything that buzzs, blips or blings. This year I want you to buy me a book voucher. And with that voucher we will make a trip to the bookshop where you will choose a book to read to me. I want it to be something that you and I can enjoy together, something classic, that we’ll enjoy and read again and again; something that might endure fads and trends. Something that we can share together – that speaks about you and me. For Father’s Day, the greatest gift you can give me is you time to read to me. That’s what I want.

Love,
Daddy
a.k.a Tim Gruar

Tim_Gruar_daughtersTim and two of his daughters!

Book Review: Big Words for Little Tongues, by Iris Hambling and Stella Karaman

cv_big_words_for_little_tonguesIris Hambling is a speech therapist of some repute having worked in education and
hospital clinics for 46 years. She also has qualifications in Specific Learning Disorders and SPELD. She has been in private practice for 30 years and has written several therapy
manuals.

Stella Karaman qualified as a speech therapist more recently and works within the education sector. She has also had experience in hospital clinics.

I found this book particularly interesting as having been part of a number of children’s lives watching them develop over a number of years. Language has always been a fascinating subject to me and having two children of my own and now 6 grandchildren from 14 years of age down to just under a year old I have had a lot of years to observe the repetition and mimicking of adults that is part of the child’s learning progress.

I sat down with Abby aged 4 with this book slowly going through the pages with her reading the words and watching her reaction. At times she looked at me as though I was stupid and with this “I know this stuff” look on her face. As the words and pictures became harder for her, we played a game to help her guess what they were. I found the whole experience quite fascinating.

Next I sat down with Quinn aged 11 months. Quinn looked with interest at the pictures and at me sounding out the words for her. Not having much in the way of language skills yet, this book was probably a bit beyond her comprehension, but I definitely think as time goes on and we keep repeating the words and pointing to the pictures she will get the idea fairly quickly. It’s amazing how such a small person does actually communicate their wants and needs.

I believe the most important thing an adult can do when speaking to a child – either reading a book or communicating day to day things, you speak clearly. A lot of adults mumble, so it’s no wonder some children mispronounce words or use them in the wrong context. I can see this book being a very good tool for parents and teachers to use with other methods of communication.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Big Words for Little Tongues
by Iris Hambling and Stella Karaman
Published by Xlibris
ISBN 9781483659879

Book Review: The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa McInerney

Available in bookstores nationwide.

It starts with a murder, but that murder is kind of weird. A cv_the_glorious_heresiesguy dies – he’s been hit over the head with religion (literally; it’s an icon). The killer? Not your run-of-the-mill criminal, but Maureen – mother of Jimmy, a crime lord in the town of Cork, where this gritty story is set. Maureen is reluctantly put up in a building of Jimmy’s when she needs a place to stay; the victim is a previous ‘tenant’ returned. Thus fate is cast.

Running alongside this is the story of Tony (one of Jimmy’s henchmen) and his son Ryan, who seems to be resisting following in his father’s footsteps. Initially, anyway. Ryan is in love with Karine, and the relationship is a sweet one. Part of McInerney’s skill as a writer has to be how she creates a sense of horror in the reader as we watch Jimmy – prodigal, talented son – succumb to drug dealing and crime. ‘His lot’, some might argue. In this, the case for ‘nurture’ rather than ‘nature’ seems depressingly accurate.

Georgie the prostitute is the final protagonist – poor Georgie who doesn’t have much luck in life, and yet makes the most of what she’s got – she is the murder victim’s girlfriend. These narratives work side-by-side until, as with many great stories, they come together.

McInerney uses local dialect in her text, which means the reader really feels part of the place. Whether you’ve been to Ireland or not, the words and accents rendered here are as familiar as St Patrick’s Day. If that makes it sound lightweight, it’s not. The characters are well-written, and I found myself particularly taken with Ryan’s story – he who starts out as a boy and ends up a hardened man. It felt sad but inevitable, what with him being the son of Tony (poor Tony) who tries to leave crime, but can’t. His relationship with girlfriend Karine seemed so full of hope at the start and it’s testament to McInerney’s writing that one wishes it would stay that way.

It is bleak, yes, but also funny. It’s been described as a meditation on sex and family in ‘the arse end of Ireland’, which also happens to be the name of McInerney’s popular Irish blog. There’s a bit of a ‘Tarantino’ feel to parts of the book – especially the murder at the start and the unusual circumstances that surround it. If you, like me, enjoy vicarious living, this might be the book for you. I know one thing – I certainly wouldn’t want to live any of these lives for real!

Reviewed by Lara Liesbeth

The Glorious Heresies
by Lisa McInerney
Published by John Murray Publishers
ISBN 9781444798869

Book Review: The Pale North, by Hamish Clayton

cv_the_pale_northAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

What an amazing piece of writing this book is. At times I found myself wondering if it was autobiography, memoir, history or pure invention. Which author is writing which part? Are they all Hamish Clayton or is he inventing everything, including his own persona?

Certainly this is a brilliant, complex and cleverly interwoven work. Ghosts and imagined events – or are they real people and real events? – abound. Each section of the novel makes reference to the other parts. Characters appear and reappear – or is this a clever conceit of the author to make us think we know what’s happening when truthfully, it’s all quite mysterious?

The first part of the book is a work of fiction, ‘The City of Lost Things’, set in a post-earthquake-devasted Wellington. The central character, Gabriel North, explores what is left, and weaves his memories into it.

The second part, ‘In Dark Arches’, begins thus:

Something happens in a forgotten corner of the world and then, years later in another corner, something else which seems random and unconnected. And yet a chain is made between them by chance; a pattern emerges and meaning is inferred.

This, to me, is the essence of the book’s creativity. The connections made in the various aspects of the story, apparently by chance, but really by the author’s design, make you stop to think, to re-read, to check that what you have just read really is what appeared earlier in the text. It’s simply fascinating.

I don’t like repeating myself, but this is a wonderful creation; inventive, twisted, mysterious but ultimately all linked together.

I am off to find Wulf and see if the first book by Hamish Clayton is as good as this one.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Pale North
by Hamish Clayton
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143569268

Book Review: Troll Mountain, by Matthew Reilly

cv_troll_mountainAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

When a tribe of humans begins to be killed off by a mysterious illness, they learn that the fearsome trolls that inhabit Troll Mountain have created an elixir that will cure the disease.
However, all those who go to the mountain are unlikely to ever return.

When fifteen-year-old Raf’s sister Kira falls ill, Raf takes it upon himself to journey to Troll Mountain and retrieve the elixir. Raf’s quick thinking and resourcefulness come in handy on his peregrination; on the way he faces many challenges. During his quest he meets Ko, a wise hermit who lives in the middle of a swamp, and Dum, a misunderstood troll who vows to help Raf to find the elixir and save his tribe. Through a dried-up valley, a swamp and at last the Troll Mountain, Raf and his friends will have to use their combined strengths and work together if they are to make it out alive.

While Troll Mountain was an easy-to-read book that provided some clever plot twists, the characters felt underdeveloped and lacked unique, memorable personalities. They formed a cast of characters one would typically find in a fantasy myth such as this. There was the old, wise hermit who existed only to teach the protagonist valuable life lessons; there was the protagonist himself, whose character was composed of measures of bravery, sword-fighting skills and little else; there was the plague of dim-witted yet monstrous enemies (trolls in this case). I believe that these character tropes are quickly going stale, and I would have liked to see something a little different for once.

Having said that, there were elements of the story that were somewhat refreshing. The fantasy world was well thought out; maps of the land can be found throughout the book, and the history of the trolls and their mountain fortress is very interesting. This book is an action-packed story that is certain to keep people of all ages entertained, and the morals the tale will remind readers of are valuable ones.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon, age 16

Troll Mountain
by Matthew Reilly
Published by Macmillan Aus
ISBN 9781743537053

Book Review: The Antipodeans, by Greg McGee

Available in bookstores nationwide. This book has been on the NZ fiction bestsellers list since its release in early July.

cv_the_antipodeansIt took Greg McGee thirty years to complete this book, the seed planted in the mid-1970s when he was playing rugby in the north-east of Italy, living amongst Italians, speaking the language, absorbing himself into being Italian. At that time it was only thirty years since the end of the second world war, a war which tore Italy apart – one minute Italy was an enemy, next minute it was an ally – so still very fresh in people’s minds. Many NZ soldiers fought in Italy during the war, and in the northeast where this novel is set, a number of NZers were closely involved in the partisan movement, risking their own lives, and putting the lives of the local people at huge risk, for which the consequences were deadly. Much of this has been documented and McGee acknowledges these sources which he makes rich use of in his storytelling.

And what a rich tale this is, set against such a background, telling the story of three generations, over three different time periods, in both New Zealand and in Italy. Clare is one of the narrators, in the present day, who is accompanying her father on a trip to Venice for a reunion of a rugby team he played and coached for in the 1970s. Clare has had a pretty rough time of it lately herself and the trip is supposed to give her some space from what has been going on in her life. Her father, Bruce, is also on a personal mission which Clare does not appreciate until it is too late, and on reading her father’s diary she begins to unscramble the father she never really knew.

Parallel to the Clare/Bruce thread is that of Joe Lamont and Harry Spence – two NZ POWs, on the run in the mountainous regions of the border between Yugoslavia and Italy. It goes without saying that terrible things happen. Most of the book is taken up with Joe’s story – from his early life in rural Oamaru to his big war adventure, time as a POW and subsequent escape, then the dark days after the war and its horror ended. War does terrible things to people, some thrive and survive, others almost die and still survive, and others just die. Both Harry and Joe are haunted for the rest of their days by what went on in the mountains. Things have not improved much for Bruce when he is in Italy in the 1970s. Fascism never really went away after the war, and the Red Brigade is running its own terror campaign.

Through this many layered web, the story swirls and travels, coming together at the end in a most satisfactory fashion, and not without a twist or two in the tale. I really liked this book, I was hooked from the very beginning, and snatched chances to read a few more pages any chance I could. Fortunately the chapters were fairly short so I could do this!

The only two jarring notes for me were the constant shifts in time and location, I found it distracted from the flow of the story. And the second thing, the quantum physics stuff: I know the author is trying to tell us something here, but it just seemed to be out of place with the storytelling. But this is just a small criticism – the philosophical physics information does not distract from the story in any way.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Antipodeans
by Greg McGee
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781927262030