Book Review: The Writing Life – Twelve New Zealand Authors, by Deborah Shepard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_writing_life_shephardThere are so many things to like about this book, The Writing Life Twelve New Zealand Authors. Deborah Shepard has interviewed the twelve authors and produced a book incorporating the very personal interviews, accompanying photographs and extra information. The book itself is well made, with a soft cover beneath a matching dust cover, and with pleasingly thick paper reminiscent of the days when new books arrived with uncut pages. It has a heft which promises a feast of good things and it doesn’t disappoint.

The twelve authors are men and women who have written in various genres throughout the years 1959 to 2018, on topics addressing such themes as death and loss, the joy they have found in writing and much more. For aspiring authors there is also advice on writing itself, which, given the depth of talent and length of time these ones have been engaged in their craft, is an invaluable treasure.

Distinguished photographer, John McDermott, was commissioned to take photographs of each of the authors, and the setting each one has chosen to be presented in gives further insight into their personality, as do the photos of the rooms in which a particular writer produces his or her work. I enjoyed examining those photos, searching for a further glimpse into each life. As an older person myself, who has read and admired much of the work of these twelve, I know that this beautiful tribute to them will be a book that I will delve into time and time again over the years ahead. It will be an asset, too, to teachers of literature as well as those who desire to write.

These twelve men and women have laid down a huge body of work for those who are coming on behind them and we owe them a debt of gratitude both for the work they have done throughout their life and for their willingness to tell us their stories. The Writing Life is more than a book, it is a treasure.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

The Writing Life – Twelve New Zealand Authors
by Deborah Shepard
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995109537

Book Review: Kiwi One and Kiwi Two, by Stephanie Thatcher

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kiwi_one_and_kiwi_twoThis is a joyful book about two young kiwi waking up at night ready for a playful adventure. When Kiwi One and Kiwi Two emerge from their burrow into the night sky but their feathered friends are all asleep. So our kiwi begin the fun by rousing their friends from their beds. There’s time for running races, kite-flying and a game of hide and seek. But not all animals are designed for night-time antics. What happens when the nocturnal kiwi outlast their friends who are starting to tire?

The upbeat and energetic mood carries throughout the story until dawn rises in the sky.  Kiwi One and Kiwi Two happily head back to their burrow sleep, along with their tuatara friend who has joined them all night long (our eagle-eyed readers loved finding him on each page!).

Stephanie Thatcher has included all the elements for a great picture book for young kiwi children. The rhyming poem dances along just waiting to be read and the illustrations speak the story by themselves. The two cheeky kiwi celebrate the joys of childhood and little ones will want to join in the fun.

There is no big moral or adventure in this story, but it doesn’t need one.  It is a deliciously simple bedtime story, perfect for reading at the end of a long day as a little one snuggles down to sleep!

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Kiwi One and Kiwi Two
by Stephanie Thatcher
published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434962

 

Book review: Bonkers about Beetles, by Owen Davey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_bonkers_about_beetlesIf you have a young coleopterist (beetle scientist) at home, you need this book! Owen Davey has created a book that is aesthetically pleasing, practical and exactly what the title says – it’s bonkers about beetles!

The book is structured so new concepts are introduced on each double page spread with lots of visual information to help young readers interpret what they read. It follows a non-fiction book structure, so there is a contents page and index for older readers to search for specific information. On the first page, the author shares the definition for a beetle (I’ll be honest, this is when I started to learn!). Our children at daycare particularly love the Guinness Book of Records-style pages at the end. It shares beetle highlights, including, which beetle is the heaviest, fastest and who has the best facial hair!

Owen Davey has perfectly pitched the text and explains complex ideas in a way that young children will understand. The book is filled with scientific knowledge and facts that will intrigue, amuse and amaze. Did you know the Bombardier beetle shots an explosion of burning liquid from its bottom? This is the information young children really want to know! Welcome to the beetle eat beetle world of poop, parasites and ladybirds.

This is a non-fiction picture book that wouldn’t look out of place on the coffee table. There are no photos, instead the beetles are computer illustrations which highlight the pattern and beauty of each insect. These are not cartoons but works of art! We google searched several of the illustrated beetles to see how accurate the graphic recreations are and were amazed at the dopplegangers in the book! The teacher in me sees so many opportunities for creating our own art pictures and talking about the patterns we can see.

Bonkers about beetles is our new favourite reference book to satisfy our curiosity about beetles. Any young child curious about the natural world will enjoy this treasure that dives deeply into the beetle world and it will spark many more insect hunts in the backyard.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Bonkers about beetles
by Owen Davey
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN 9781911171485

Book review: Short Poems of New Zealand, edited by Jenny Bornholdt

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_short_poems_of_new_zealandI’ll be the first to admit I didn’t expect to like this book. I loved the concept – the idea of a collection of short poems by New Zealand writers – but I saw the list of authors and felt a little disappointed

Experienced, known writers are usually the ones people gravitate towards. We figure if they got to where they are, they must be good. We feel safe in their hands.

I’m the opposite. I prefer to read new writers with different voices. I don’t often pick up Janet Frame or Sam Hunt, which probably makes me a philistine and a traitor to New Zealand literature.

Bornholdt’s vision was a collection of poems that ‘relate stories, describe memorable scenes, set off emotional grenades, sense death, declare love, make jokes.’ She had to decide what defined “short” – ten lines felt too long, six too restrictive. She settled on nine.

‘Ive begun to think of short poems as being the literary equivalent of the small house movement. Small houses contain the same essential spaces as large houses do. Both have places in which to eat, sleep, bathe and sit; the difference being that small houses are, well, smaller. … You might have to go outside to swing the cat, but you can still have the thought indoors.’

I liked the concept. I’ve always been a strict editor, I appreciate the talent involved in brevity. And though I opened the book with the belief that I’d find little to grab me, I was happy to be proved wrong.

I use cardboard gift tags to mark pages when I’m reviewing. This small book is now plump with card, so there’s no way of doing everything justice here. However, some beg noting, like this by Keri Hulme –

I asked for riches
you gave me
scavenging rights on a far beach

James K Baxter’s High Country Weather –

Alone we are born
And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow-mountain shine.

Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.

Elizabeth Nannestad’s You gave me a shoulder –

smelling of the sun
I can bite on, or weep.

What can I give you
so it’s fair?

Take
my rough, unsteady
compassion while you sleep.

I also reacted strongly to Fleur Adcock’s Things, Stephanie de Montalk’s The Hour, and Ashleigh Young’s Rooms, and ten others besides.

There really is something special about this length of poem, the life it condenses, the feeling it squeezes out of you.

In an interesting editorial choice, the book finishes with James Brown’s ‘The opening’ –

There is too much
poetry in the world

and yet

here you are.

Reviewed by Sarah Lin Wilson

Short Poems of New Zealand
edited by Jenny Bornholdt
Published by VUP
ISBN  9781776562022

 

Book Review: The Veggie Tree – Spring & Summer Cookbook, by Anna Valentine

9780473438951 Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_spring_and_summer_cookbookThe Veggie Tree Spring & Summer Cookbook is a visual feast that had my mouth watering as I turned the pages, due mostly to the full colour photos by author Anna Valentine and Aerial Vision. I’m not a vegetarian but I could happily eat most of these recipes this summer, with or without meat to accompany them.

The book is the second cookbook in The Veggie Tree series, following the Autumn & Winter Cookbook.

Spring & Summer is divided into four sections – salads, soups and sides; savoury; breads; and sweets, with the first section having the most recipes. Whatever fruits and vegetables are your favourites, you’ll find a recipe using them. Everything from a maple walnut and spring greens salad to humble iceberg lettuce wedges is here – and just in time for what we can only hope will be a long, hot summer. Salads may be simple to make, but knowing what seasonings and dressings to use makes a huge difference. I love the sound of watermelon and feta salad, and also summer slaw, which instead of the usual cabbage, combines corn off the cob and fennel or celery with fresh beans, capsicum, zucchini and cucumber. I’m hanging out for fresh sweetcorn to be available locally to try that recipe!

The savoury section has the usual soufflés and fritters, as well as dolmades and an exotic sounding Okonomiyaki with Bok Choy Slaw & Homemade Wasabi Mayo. Instead of fish and chips, there is a much healthier ‘Fry Day’ Night Chip Night that pairs the chips with beer battered tofu, mushrooms and aubergine.

Just in time for the big day is a Christmas Brioche Pinwheel with maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, cranberries, apple and soft fruit, topped with nuts. The instructions say to serve with custard or chocolate sauce (recipes included) – wouldn’t that be a perfect start to Christmas Day!

I usually make shortbread as gifts and this year I’m going to try Brown Sugar Shortbread for a change. The shortbread is also used in a Strawberry & Rhubarb Shortcake that I am drooling imagining how heavenly it would taste.

shortbread

It worked! 

Being a bit of a chocoholic, I’ll definitely be trying the Mexican Choc Pots. There is a recipe for Spiced Almond Biscotti underneath so you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do with the leftover egg whites.

A vegetarian since she was 12, Valentine says she is a fan of summer fruits and vegetables and the Spring & Summer Cookbook certainly demonstrates this. The instructions are clear (apart from a few typos) and there is also some nutritional information at the back about vegetarian nutrition.

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to get excited by this cookbook and it would be a great addition to any collection. If you have any vegetarians to buy for this Christmas, this would be the perfect present.

 

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Veggie Tree Spring & Summer Cookbook
by Anna Valentine
Published by The Veggie Tree
ISBN 9780473438951

 

Book Review: The King’s War, by Peter Conradi and Mark Logue

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_kings_war.jpgThe recent visit to New Zealand by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, has rekindled the nation’s interest in things royal. This fascination has created images and articles across the years. When there is an Antipodean link, we become even more engrossed. Here is a book to nurture your curiosity on the part played by Lionel Logue.

Movie The King’s Speech, was released in 2010. It told the story of Lionel Logue, the Australian born therapist who worked with King George 6th on his acceptance speech. The King had a stutter which was never cured, but ably managed to allow him to address the public on countless occasions. Following the movie, the story was written by Peter Conradi, a Sunday Times journalist and Mark Logue, Grandson of Lionel. Both the movie and the book were a great success.

The King’s War is an opportunity for this established writing pair, to delve deeper into the story using material uncovered during the making of the movie. Mark inherited four large scrapbooks of information and personal family diaries and letters. This includes correspondence from the King to Lionel from 1926 when they first met, until 1952 when the King died. While the movie reaches a climax with the Coronation speech, this book looks at the growing relationship between Lionel and the King. As well as the letters, much of the information comes from the diaries kept by Lionel’s wife, Myrtle. These record the details of living in London during the war.

The actual book is an historical account of the Second World War and the events which impact on the Royal household, but also on the lives of those living through the Blitz, Dunkirk, the American support and finally peace. I liked the parallel between Logue’s involvement in every major event as he was called in to support and prepare the King for his public appearances, and the detail of family life for the Logue’s and their children, following these speeches.

It was not until after the death of George VI in 1952, that the role played by Logue became public. His was a private task and he always took care to respect this aspect of his work. While Logue had no academic qualifications, his skill in amateur dramatics enabled him to work successfully from his rooms in Harley St.

I enjoyed learning more about the warmth of the relationship between the King and Lionel. This book fills in all the gaps left by the earlier story, The King’s Speech. It is a story of an unusual relationship which we might have missed, but for Mark Logue’s desire to honour his grandfather, Lionel.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The King’s War
By Peter Conradi and Mark Logue
Published by Quercus Publishing
ISBN 9781782065975

Book Review: Ezaara, by Eileen Mueller

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_ezaara.jpgEzaara lives a relatively peaceful life in Lush Valley, learning swordcraft with her brother and collecting herbs for her mother. But things change when the dragon appears, and carries her away into a life she has only ever dreamed of. It is a life of danger and excitement, of intrigue and tangled politics, and Ezaara must prove her worth not only to the dragon council, but also to herself.

Written in an eloquent and gripping style, Ezaara intrigued me from the start, but it was only when our, relatively naive, heroine was thrust into the midst of conspiracy and corruption that it really clutched me tight, and kept me reading far too late into the night! Along with her relatively rural upbringing, Ezaara has a strong heart and fiery determination, but will she prove a worthy companion for the queen of the dragons? Her wits and skills – and also her emotions – will be tested to their limits, carrying the reader along, on an emotional rollercoaster ride of their own!

For the young adult market – and anyone who has ever wanted to befriend a dragon – Ezaara is a spell-binding tale of friendship, courage and determination.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Ezaara
by Eileen Mueller
Published by Phantom Feather Press
ISBN 9780995115200