Book Review: Not for ourselves alone: belonging in an age of loneliness, by Jenny Robin Jones

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_not_for_ourselves_aloneThis is a very comprehensive and detailed book which deals with how we can, may, and already do manage the modern world with its present emphasis on the individual, and our very particular needs to be part of society. ‘No man (or woman) is an island’ seems quite a pertinent thought when reading this work.

Jenny Robin Jones clearly did her research well. The book fires off in different directions via an almost bewildering number of avenues, thoughts and connections, from the entirely dissimilar – Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Age of Reason and Eleanor Catton – through stories of family members, references to early New Zealand settlers and the tangata whenua, immigrants to New Zealand – until she ends with positive thoughts about how we can best get on with living despite being torn in apparently different directions.

It’s an interesting and complex read. Some of the people interviewed turned out to be people I knew, which is hardly unusual in New Zealand, but it did pique my interest more, in what turned out to be a challenging read.

How to feel not alone – or how to cope with those feelings and acknowledge that they are normal for many of us – makes up the backbone of the book. To put this into some kind of perspective, Jones uses her researcht o develop her case for the need for compassion. In one of those odd coincidences of which life is made, I recently read and reviewed Gigi Fenster’s memoir, Feverish, which also deals with the importance of compassion – she sees it as the single most important attribute for human beings to aim for.

Jones’ book is divided into three major parts, with subsets in those – Getting Started, World Face to Face and World Big Wide. Getting Started is self-evident, face to face is about personal relationships and stories, and World is more on politics and philosophies.

As I said, it’s very wide-ranging and I did find it hard to follow the thread at times.
However I think it addresses several important issues, and it is definitely worth a read.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Not for ourselves alone: belonging in an age of loneliness
by Jenny Robin Jones
Published by Saddleback
ISBN 9780995102507

Book Review: Broken Play, by Nicholas Sheppard

Available at selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_broken_planAlec Haudepin is 23 years old and ever since he can remember he has dreamed of playing for the All Blacks. Alec has struggled with his sexuality for as long as he can remember, while growing up in rural New Zealand at a rugby-obsessed high school, but as he’s got older it’s been harder to deny. His life is complicated further by blame his parents have put on him when his brother Mark was killed in a farm bike accident, which led eventually to their separation.

When Alec is selected to play rugby for his province, his dream of being an All Black is so near. The one problem he has is his temper, which is fueled further by alcohol. He comes close to it blowing up in his face, so down on his drinking and managing his temper becomes a number one priority.

Alec lives in an apartment building at which a new arrival attracts his attention; Jackie and her troubled son Maxim.

In the era Alec participated in the sport, the male fraternity would not tolerate or contemplate that homosexuality could ever co-exist. Covering his frustration with alcohol just exacerbated the problem.

With the enlightenment that has come with time I am surprised to still not be aware of any openly gay rugby players playing for provincial or national rugby teams. I daresay – I hope – this is only a matter of time.

I found Broken Play a compelling read and wish to thank this first-time author Nicholas Sheppard for writing such a book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Broken Play
by Nicholas Sheppard
Published by RSVP Publishing
ISBN 9780994140814

Book Review: Fishing for Māui, by Isa Pearl Ritchie

Available at selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_fishing_for_maui.jpgThis novel, the second by Ritchie, is an episodic stroll through the lives of the characters, all of whom are either related, or in a relationship with one of the main characters.

There are two sections – the calm, and the storm. The calm of course sets the scene for what it to come. It’s quite a storm, but I won’t give spoilers – but the calm is not all that calm either, really!

There are four siblings – Elena, the pregnant conservationist; Michael the surfer/student who is keen to learn about his Māori heritage from his grandmother; John who hates school and is therefore quite angry most of the time, and Rosa who observes them all with more than the average understanding you’d expect from an eight-year-old. The other protagonists are their separated parents sports TV fan Caleb and doctor/mum Valerie, and their grandmother Gayle. Also Elena’s sidelined partner Malcolm, and Michael’s kind-of girlfriend, animal rights activist Evie. The narrative centres on the thoughts, concerns, and dilemmas of these characters.

Each character has a distinct voice, generally well-drawn, although I find one or two less credible than others – the stereotypical dysfunctional, separated father is one, and oddly the doctor mother is the other. I say oddly because the other female characters are all well-done and even if they appear marginally crazy from time to time, they still are more credible than the mother.

The driving forces for all these people, and their interactions, move the book along, but in the end I did not really enjoy it all that much. Everyone seems to be just a bit too driven.

The writing style is straightforward, but there are some obvious errors of style and language which should have been picked up in editing. So overall, for me it just misses the mark.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Fishing for Māui
by Isa Pearl Ritchie
Published by Te Ra Aroha Press
ISBN 9780473437541

Book Review: Death Actually – Death, Love and In Between, by Rosy Fenwicke

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_death_actually.jpgSet in Queenstown, New Zealand, Death Actually tells the story of Maggie, woman who has had to be both a mother and father to her two children, Kate and Nick, when her husband abandoned them.

The sudden death of both her parents leads to her returning home to New Zealand from Australia with her young children, to take over the family business of funeral direction when her brother took off overseas following his parents’ accident. With the support of her best friend Elka and her mentor Betty, Maggie has had to accept her role and has since become very much part of the Queenstown community.

The reader is taken into the lives of the people who are important to Maggie with the author’s clever characterisation of Lizzie, Elka and Betty making the writing realistic, and I really felt part of the Queenstown lifestyle. Nick and Kate lend a hand and support their mother and her friends, but there are some secrets in the background, which add complications and the new doctor in town is at times an irritation to Maggie.

Set in winter when the ski season is at its height in Queenstown, there is death (actually) in the book and I found the role and tasks undertaken by the funeral director was extensive and at times challenging, but the author has written these with sensitivity and grace.

And of course, a modern day story set in the resort would not be complete without a jet boat accident, a movie on location nearby and the dramas which accompany these activities.

The author has gently moulded the strands of the story together with humour and it moves along at a brisk pace with some very satisfactory outcomes from the twists and turns she created among the characters.

Like any good book there is sorrow as well as celebration, but friendship and love is an important thread entwined throughout the pages and anyone who likes an inspiring family drama of modern living will find this a good read and like me, they will find the vivid descriptions around Queenstown to be captivating. The underlining theme highlights strength, reliance and hope while looking to the future, ‘Alexander Benjamin Potter was born normally, at nine twenty-one on a dark and stormy night in early spring, in the back of his grandmother’s hearse, in a paddock in central Otago. He weighed 7 lbs 13ozs, and was full of fight and noise, much to everyone’s relief and joy.’

Rosy Fenwick is a doctor, writer and mother of three adult children living in Martinborough. In 2017 she released her first novel, Hot Flush, which received excellent reviews, and which I would be keen to read to see if I enjoyed it as much as Death Actually.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Death Actually: Death, Love, and In-Between
by Rosy Fenwicke
Published by Wonderful World
ISBN 9780473430986

Book Review: This is it! It’s your life. Live it, by Amanda Mortimer

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_this_is_it.jpegAs a great procrastinator, I thought Amanda Mortimer’s book This is it! It’s your life. Live it. may set me on the path to changing the things about my life that I’m not happy with. As bad habits don’t disappear overnight, I can’t report any amazing changes yet – although my treadmill did get used again and I have finally gone for a walk along the beach – two things I’ve been saying I’m too busy for.

Queenstown-based coach Amanda Mortimer is an internationally accredited and board approved Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) coach who wrote this book to help people reach their full potential by making serious lifestyle changes.

The book is split into 11 chapters and starts by asking if you’re living the life you want – if not, are you ready to change it for the better. Instead of a series of transformational stories about people changing their lives, Mortimer shares her story, which in many ways will be familiar to some readers. While her goal at first seemed impossible, she had a goal and knew how she was going to achieve it.

There are self-evaluation exercises to assess your current life satisfaction, including career, finances, fitness, health, relationships and more. Readers are encouraged to read and participate in the written exercises, and also go online to accompanying video and audio resources.

I watched some of the videos and tried listening to the audio resources but the one I had been most looking forward to, a 30-minute relaxation recording you’re advised to listen to three times a week, wouldn’t play. It was the final step in the process of making the changes stick, so to speak, so that was disappointing. It will be interesting to see if the changes I told myself I’d make and the first steps I set in motion are still with me in three months.

I did all but one of the exercises outlined in the book, and think I gave it my best shot. Towards the end Mortimer advises she isn’t including a full belief change exercise in the book because she feels that is best done in a session with an experienced coach – and I think NLP therapy may also need to be done in person for it to work effectively.

If you’re into self-help books, this is an interesting read, but it’s pretty much the old story of no pain, no gain. You have to want to make those changes and be prepared to put in the hard work to achieve your goal or it won’t happen.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

This is it! It’s your life. Live it.
by Amanda Mortimer
Published by Amanda Mortimer
ISBN 9780473246563

Book Review: Aging for Beginners, by Doug Wilson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_aging_for_beginners.jpgAs I’m fast approaching 60 myself, I was eager to check out Doug Wilson’s book, Aging for Beginners – getting older in today’s world – what it means for you.

Aimed at those aged 60 and above as well as those who have every intention of living to that age and older, the book is a sort of workshop manual for keeping things ticking along in good order. The difference is, it’s your body the information is about, not that of your car.

Wilson’s parents both lived until their late 90s, so he’s possibly got a head start as far as good genes go, but his advice will help everyone to make the best of however many years they have got left.

Some parts of the book are a tad depressing. Let’s face it, we all know things slow down or start to wear out as we age, and some things that will happen are unavoidable. But forewarned is forearmed and Wilson doesn’t pull any punches when discussing the things that will or may happen as we age, and what we can do to slow them down or make them more bearable.

All the bad stuff is in the health and aging section, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, arthritis, etc, but knowing what can happen means you won’t get any nasty surprises as 60 is left behind in the rear view mirror.

Not surprisingly, Wilson says exercise and a good diet are important, and stress isn’t ignored either, as he’s well versed in the effects stress can have even on healthy people.

There’s a section on adjusting to life for the over 65s as retirement can mean huge upheaval for many. The tough stuff isn’t forgotten either, with mentions of separation, divorce, elder abuse, and the dying phase.

The final section of the book is entitled ‘The Plan’ and in it there is advice on the things you need to be doing early if you want to live a long and healthy life – bearing in mind all the things you can’t change about your life.

The book isn’t intended to be a bible on getting old, but it’s a good launching pad for seeking more information and putting some of those good ideas (like exercise and a healthy diet) into action.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Aging for Beginners
by Doug Wilson
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995103221

Book Review: Little Truff and the Whales, by Ann Russell and Lara Frizzell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_truff_and_the_whalesThe gorgeous Little Truff returns for another adventure, this time in a setting that will teach readers about the importance of sea/ocean life and the responsibility we all have to look after it and ensure its future. The book also creates awareness of the immense damage that equipment designed for use in the sea can cause, to those it wasn’t intended to impact.

Little Truff, a Blenheim Cavalier is out on a boat with her family, when she senses something isn’t right and tugs on her masters shorts and barks to get his attention. A humpback whale has become entangled in a fishing net and needs help. The family needs to make choices and wise ones at that.

This book which is endorsed by DOC is simply brilliant, it’s message resonates in a very real and practical manner, there is a serious side to it but a lightness also so it isn’t weighted down. The illustrations are fabulous and fit the setting in a way that catches the eye and enhances the story.

Both author and illustrator have worked very hard to produce a book that shares an important message in a child friendly way, Little Truff is already well known to children and she is very popular with them. Every home and library should have a copy of this.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Little Truff and the Whales 
by Ann Russell and Lara Frizzell
Published by Ann Russell
ISBN 9780473367756