Book Review: ransack, by essa ranapiri

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ransack.jpgessa was the first (and is the only) person to ever ask me what my preferred pronouns are. It came in the middle of an unrelated messenger conversation, just a simple ‘Not to be rude or anything what are your pronouns? [sic]’ So for the first time in my life, completely casually, I told someone outside of my immediate close friend group that I don’t feel 100% comfortable using “woman” as an identifier. And then we went back to discussing the LitCrawl after party.

It seems like such a simple thing, like ticking a box on a form. She/Her, He/Him, They/Them. But more often than not that last box isn’t available for ticking. And that is the space that essa writes from, where many of the poems in ransack have been created. This collection takes that missing box, that void, and fills it to the brim with the previously unacknowledged.

Ransack is like a petri dish. When you read it you feel like you are examining a living thing through a microscope. There are scientific equations scattered throughout, so many references to the sea, an earthiness that is almost visceral. At times while reading it I felt the same feelings of awe I feel while watching a David Attenborough nature documentary.

Perhaps it’s that essa has lived a life where they, and everyone around them, has viewed their mind and body with a cool impersonal remove. They state in the poem the nonbinary individual:  ‘This shouldn’t tell you much because gender shouldn’t tell you anything / about a person.’

There is a yearning throughout many of the poems in ransack, a sense that essa just wants to be accepted for who they are, and yet they are still trying to figure out for themself exactly who that is.

There are a number of poems addressed to Orlando, the titular character of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, who begins the book as a boy, and at the age of around 30 wakes up one day as a woman, spending the rest of the book as such. You get the sense reading The Dear Orlando series that this character is a stand in for a real life confidante or role model. In the first Dear Orlando poem, which is the first poem of the collection, essa writes ‘I think about your gender as I think about my own. Would you find that funny Orlando? And would you let me make it a running joke?’

And so essa does, inserting Dear Orlando poems in between poems about their childhood, discordant and frenetic poems about growing up, about love, body dysmorphia, suicide, colonialism, multiple classical references, and references to classic literature. There are also Māori creation stories and genealogies. They sit comfortably in amongst everything else to complete the origin story of essa.

In the poem Koare, essa writes:
My path is Tūrongo
who went to the east
and Māhinaarangi in whose womb
Raukawa slept.

A line direct to myself

In a world which so often doesn’t make space for non-binary and gender fluid people, essa is clearly carving out their own space in ransack. And by doing so, with unapologetic and raw words, they are making space for others to follow. I can imagine one day in the future a young poet will publish a collection full of poems addressed the poem Dear essa.

reviewed by Gem Wilder

ransack
by essa ranapiri
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776562374

Book Review: How to Escape from Prison, by Dr Paul Wood

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_how_to_escape_from_prisonPaul Wood was convicted of murder and imprisoned at age eighteen spending the next eleven years in Mt Crawford, Paremoremo, and Rimutaka prisons.

He has recorded these years in a recently released book How to Escape From Prison, a harrowing read of a young man’s journey with drug addiction and violence before his escape from his “mental prison’ enabled him to complete a degree while still in prison.

A mental prison Wood explains is a ‘set of distorted or misguided beliefs that condition our view of ourselves and the choices available to us, that prevent us from seeing clearly what we might achieve if we chose to live freely.’

Growing up in Wellington, Wood progressed from fighting with his brothers and dropping out of school, as well as becoming caught up in the drug scene before killing his drug dealer with a baseball bat, three days after the death of his mother.

How to Escape from Prison records Paul’s life behind bars and the people he meet inside who encouraged his road to redemption and the completion of a masters degree in psychology. He commenced further study for a doctorate while in prison completing this on his release and graduating on 2011.

The writing style is simple and easy to follow although the graphic detailing of the drug taking and prison life is at times overwhelming and I felt enormous relief as Paul Woods found his pathway to freedom through study. He said, “Once I discovered reading, I began to read voraciously”, and throughout the book he has included many quotations from books which assisted in his rehabilitation. His Five Steps to Freedom outlined in part two of the book include good advice and strategies to help people escape their mental prisons, and he has also shared “a list of things that assist in the development and exercise of self-control” which he calls “Willpower 101”.

Paul Wood lives in Wellington and is a motivational speaker and leadership and personal development specialist. He contributes regularly to the media and works with charities that focus on helping young men avoid prison or reintegrate on release. How to Escape from Prison is an inspiring read and valuable resource for anyone needing help to fulfil their potential and turn their dreams into reality.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

How To Escape from Prison
by Dr Paul Wood
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN‎: ‎9781775541196

Book Review: High Adventure, by Mike Allsop

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_high_adVenturey.jpgMike Allsop realised at an early age he had ambitions not to be ordinary. No person could be ordinary that dreamed of becoming a pilot – yet he had no idea how he was going to achieve this goal.  Luck is not something that falls off a tree, it’s something that is either in our souls before we are born or comes out of extraordinary sheer determination to achieve.

An airline pilot, a mountaineer who sees adventure as part of everyday life.  Mix this up with a wife and two children and you have a set of parents that decide their children are going to part of this exciting journey.

Mike and his wife Wendy decided that on each of their 3 children’s 7th birthdays Mike would take each of them in turn on an adventure into the Himalayas.  This became a ritual in the family with each child planning for months beforehand what they wanted to get out of this wonderful adventure.  The challenges and the people they met that became life-long friends.  Because of the success of these trips he and Wendy decided he would also get each child to plan an adventure to celebrate their fourteenth birthdays.

I absolutely loved this book.  Mike’s enthusiasm and writing ability took me every step of the way of each of his and his families various adventures. What a wonderful bonding experience each child in his family had.  I highly recommend this book to any reader that loves adventure in any shape or form.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

High Adventure – The Adventure Doesn’t End When You Become A Dad
by Mike Allsop
A & U New Zealand
ISBN 9781760633622

 

Book Review: Meltwater, by Suzanne Ashmore

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cv_meltwater.jpgSuzanne Ashmore’s Meltwater is a fractured and deeply personal novel, accurately hailed as a powerful ‘homage to storytelling’. Meltwater depicts the abusive childhood of Elizabeth and the lingering effect of that trauma following her through life. However, the novel in no way follows traditional methods of storytelling. Elizabeth has thirteen different ‘selves’ created to bury and protect their host, Elizabeth, from memories of her abuse.

This creates a splintered telling of Elizabeth’s life, as she jumps from memory to memory – some detached, some inconsistent, some uncontrollable, others passionate. Ashmore herself describes Meltwater as ‘rhizomatic’ – something with no single beginning, “always in the middle, between things, inter-being.” This perfectly describes the fluid nature of the novel – there are loose ends which are not tied, there are people who move in and out of Elizabeth’s life, people who are not mentioned again. Ideas start and stop, they flourish and they die. The ebbs and flows with Elizabeth’s emotions, aches with her confusion and exhaustion as she loses pieces of her past.

Elizabeth’s thirteen ‘selves’, particularly the narrator of the story and the ‘secret keeper’ Beatrice, steal memories to protect her from her trauma. This leaves large gaps in Elizabeth’s sense of self, especially as she grows older and longs to remember. There is a constant and fatiguing struggle within Elizabeth and her parts that are “born out of chaos”. From headstrong Lydia who always says what’s on her mind, to flirtatious Jessica longing for someone to love, and to love her – they all ‘take control’ of Elizabeth when life gets to be too much.

This means Elizabeth is, at times, detached from herself and her life, unable to ground herself. As memories are uncovered and moments unfold, she is lost, both literally and in her mind. At times, the memories are blurred and full of echoes, other times they are clear, silent, or in slow-motion.

Though detached, the descriptions in Meltwater are visceral and moody – from the hanging “paper-thin” Southern Alps to the tears of Taranaki, Ashmore’s prose is beautifully constructed. She paints on the page through Elizabeth’s thoughts, much like the art she later goes on to create.

There will be times in Meltwater where you need to put the book down – where Elizabeth’s pain is overwhelming. That in itself is compliment to Ashmore’s powerful yet graceful style. Meltwater is chilling, haunting, but most of all it is a brave and triumphant journey of a woman freeing herself from her past.

Reviewed by Susanna Elliffe

Meltwater
by Suzanne Ashmore
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473472313

Book Review: The Kiwi – Endangered New Zealand Icon, by Matt Elliott

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the-kiwi.jpgThe Kiwi has long held a special place in the hearts of most New Zealanders. Few of us have actually seen or heard one, but we know all about them. Or do we? Matt Elliott has embarked on an exciting journey to inform his reader about this amazing bird.

The subtitle gives you a clue to his approach. ‘Endangered’ allows him to look at the scientific facts. He describes all five species with illustrations and locations. He writes about sanctuaries both in New Zealand and overseas.  The dangers to the Kiwi include stoats, dogs and humans. His chapter on the use of 1080 is perhaps one of the clearest, most reasoned pieces of writing on 1080 use that I have read.

‘New Zealand’ includes kiwis importance to Māori as well as the use of the Kiwi on products and in advertising campaigns. The giant Kiwi in Eketahuna gets a mention, along with Kiwi pies and Kiwifruit.

‘Icon’ reminds us that we are known as kiwis ourselves when travelling. Who could forget the Buy NZ Made campaign that used the kiwi to remind us to support local businesses?

The Kiwi is the result of some extensive research, unearthing a wealth of little known information. I learnt that Roy Rogers sang about The Kee Wee Bird. I only remembered his song about the Little White Duck. Matt Elliott is an award-winning author writing for both adults and children. His love of history and skills as a researcher are evident in this book.

The illustrations and layout of The Kiwi make this an ideal introduction to our special bird. Both visitors and locals will discover a treasure trove of information between the covers. The final illustration by the author’s 5-year-old son begs the question: Will there still be Kiwi for his son to celebrate in 50 years.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Kiwi: Endangered New Zealand Icon
by Matt Elliott
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995110458

Book Review: Twinkle Twinkle Matariki, by Rebecca Larsen

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cv_twinkle_twinkle_matarikiRebecca Larsen continues to write and illustrate picture books with a true New Zealand flavour. She has already delighted young audiences with Row Row Your Waka and Tane Mahuta Has a Forest. In Twinkle Twinkle Matariki, we enjoy another musical tale. The appearance of Matariki, the Southern Cross, in our skies, has become the centrepiece of celebrations across the country. In Christchurch, we had a whole week of events. This book supports pre-schools and Junior classes in their activities. My own grandaughter already knew the story and song from her daycare centre. She was able to explain the ideas using the illustrations to help read the text.

Larsen uses simple illustrations based on New Zealand plants and animals. Her pictures are colourful and quirky. The text is in Maori and English so allows for a bi-cultural Reading. The inclusion of a CD song track allows the less musically inclined to enjoy the song. I found the music at a good pitch and speed to play to a class of 5 year olds.

Twinkle Twinkle Matariki is a new take on an old favourite. The pleasure of setting the song in Aotearoa allows an inclusive celebration of Matariki. This is a great addition to any family bookshelf.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Twinkle Twinkle Matariki
written and illustrated by Rebecca Larsen
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995114227

Book Review: Loving Sylvie, by Elizabeth Smither

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_loving_sylvieElizabeth Smither’s latest novel, Loving Sylvie, interweaves the stories of three generations of women: Isobel Lehmann, her daughter Madeleine, and her granddaughter Sylvie. Narrated in third person omniscient, the story fluctuates between past and present, thereby portraying the continuous vulnerability of each character. The women’s stories not only take place in different periods in time, but also in three prominent cities: Paris, Melbourne, and Auckland.

Loving Sylvie centres on the intricate joys and challenges of parental, filial, and marital relations, as well as its accompanying aspirations, regrets, and secrets. The story opens with the wedding of Sylvie Lehmann to Ben Taverner. Although the fancy ceremony is over, the bittersweet journey of marriage has only begun.

The novel delves into the lives and marriages of each woman. Isobel still regrets a decision she made during her marriage to her husband Kit. Madeline works for Madame Récamier in a Parisian bookshop, Le Livre Bleu. She leaves a young Sylvie in Isobel’s hands. Believing that “settling down” might remedy the wounds of several failed relationships in the past, Madeleine marries Freddie Rice, a man twenty years her senior. Not having her own mother to talk to, the newlywed Sylvie struggles with academic work and part-time jobs. Most significantly, she struggles to connect with her antagonistic mother-in-law, Cora. Having lost her own husband when Ben was just a toddler, Cora too has had her own hardships and bouts of loneliness.

This novel is yet another stellar work from a former New Zealand Poet Laureate. I highly commend Smither’s use of intertextual allusions. She colours each character’s psyche with a wide array of literary references, from Classical to Shakespearean and contemporary fiction. Her attention to detail is evident in her fond descriptions of the simple, yet often overlooked, delights in life: coffee, fruit, kind neighbours, lovable pets, and books. Moreover, the story elucidates the often quiet aspects of the human condition, whatever is mostly unsaid yet forms a tempest in the interior: hopelessness, frustration, and deep yearning.

Loving Sylvie is a truly heart-warming story that would be perfect for any reader this winter.

Reviewed by Azariah Alfante

Loving Sylvie
by Elizabeth Smither
Allen & Unwin NZ
ISBN 9781988547114

 

Book Review: Pioneer Women, edited by Sarah Ell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_pioneer_womenPioneer Women is the first title in The New Zealand Series. These books aim to support Intermediate and Secondary students, following the Social Studies Curriculum. This first book looks at the lives of 18 European women as they lived and travelled in the early days of settlement. The book explains that while there are no Māori women included, they too were pioneers in the settlement and survival in a new land.

The greatest blessing of the book is the light editorial hand of Sarah Ell. She has used letters, journals, sketches and photos from a variety of sources. After a short introduction about each writer, Ell lets the women tell of their experiences first hand with very little editing. The voices are varied and authentic. Each Chapter deals with a different aspect of early life from The Voyage, A New Life, Adventure and Exploration, Disaster and War, to Work. Three or four women are included in each chapter. The very first writer, known only as Maggie, succinctly summarises the sort of people who should or should not take the offer of a new life. This is honest, heartfelt advice and would be a brilliant starter for a classroom discussion on who should go and who should stay.

However, my favourite story comes from Jane Maria Richmond who arrived in Auckland in 1853. It is subtitled, “In my element”. She writes about the joy of hard work, the freedom from social constraints and the delight she feels in coming to New Zealand. In her words, “I can say most emphatically that I am disappointed in no single particular, that as far as I can see we acted most wisely in coming here”. Hers is a story of the success many women made of the terrible conditions through hard work and a dogged persistence.

As a short read, this book is a window into the world of our early New Zealand pioneering women. It shows fortitude in the face of hardship and delight in the comfort and happiness of families. For students it provides material to begin the search into their own journey to New Zealand.

reviewed by Kathy Watson

Pioneer Women
Edited by Sarah Ell
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506599

Book Review: irony | sincerity, by Hera Lindsay Bird and Klim Type Foundry

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_irony_sincerityirony|sincerity  is a collaboration between Hera Lindsay Bird and Klim Type Foundry. It is a book about irony and sincerity. Divided into three parts, Bird performs a version of irony on side of the book and sincerity on the other with an more essay type text separating the two parts. The conversation around irony and sincerity has been going for some time now, and this book posits that it is all performance, the lines that break your heart and the lines that make you guffaw come from the same artifice. This a very personal text in that people bother Bird about irony all the time seemingly missing the glowing heart of her work.

Bird is a f**king great poet, so when it comes down to the line to line level of the text, I can’t help be in love with it. And it’s concrete poetry in New Zealand by a New Zealand writer which is just so cool. Words move across the page in fun ways here, they change in font size to fill the space, or they are made small solitary blips in a black expanse, and for one section the words are italicised and shimmering on pink paper. There is just a lot of fun being had here; serious fun.

You have to save the dolphins
but you can only do so…

by killing

many,

many

dolphins.

We have the environmental concern being turned into a kind of nonsensical pattern. This is a section from the irony side and because of the razor sharp focus the poetry has this driving nature to it that keeps you reading. But even in it’s ironic state the text still deals with modern anxieties around work and environment, and there is still this sadness in the text. A quiet laugh turning into sobbing.

Because that is what irony is, it is a coping mechanism.

You
pray
so
often
that
God
refuses
to
exist,
just
to
spite
you.

This hurts my heart even if it isn’t meant to.

And the sincerity side of the book is no less funny or winking or painful. These two sides complement each other and we get the other side of the prayer; “anyway, / thanks / for / listening!” Funny things are often sad and sad things often funny, irony and sincerity aren’t any way to divide a book – and the central text lays this out very clearly. It’s a spoof of a lecture laying out an origin of the conversation around irony and sincerity.

And the argument is that ‘the problem with both attitudes is neither of them consider what it feels like to be alive. You can’t go through life without taking refuge in contradiction and absurdity, but you can’t live without meaning it either.’ This takes the exercise metatext tomfoolery to a place where we always knew it was – life is often a joke but it’s one that makes you cry just as much as laugh.

A part of what is so impressive is Bird here has essentially taken the hundreds or so comments that shit on her work for not being serious literature and turned that into serious literature like an alchemist or someone pretending to be a pharmacist when they’re not and the medicine they’re prescribing miraculously still works.

This experiment excites me, and I hope the design and poetry worlds blend more and get more public attention because I want to see more books with holographic letters on pink pages.

Reviewed by essa may ranapiri

irony | sincerity
by Hera Lindsay Bird and Klim Type Foundry
Published by Klim Type Foundry
ISBN 9780473448806

Book Review: Rufus Marigold, by Ross Murray

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_rufus_marigoldThe landline telephone rings at home, harshly jarring your cocoon. You immediately panic. What terrible tragedy may have befallen a family member? Or, much worse:  who is trying to make you talk to them?

The graphic novel Rufus Marigold is a print compilation of a multi-part online series by Tauranga artist Ross Murray. Rufus is a man-monkey living alone in a contemporary New Zealand city and struggling with debilitating social anxiety. He works in a faceless office as a Logical Data Analyst – a role that even sex workers find depressing – but quietly dreams of becoming an artist, despite its inherent imbalance between talent and income.

Rufus is overly concerned with how others see him, and always assumes the worst, erroneously. Caught up in self-loathing, Rufus’ anxiety consumes his life and overflows to impact others. Although Rufus fears being ‘alarmingly conspicuous’ in public, he is also dismayed when people don’t acknowledge him or his efforts.

In exploring self-help books, Rufus discovers Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety. It resonates. ‘I’ve finally found someone who completely and utterly understands me. It just so happens he’s been dead for over 150 years’. Eventually, Rufus’s tentative online posting of his artistic work receives some of the validation he’s been craving. But even this objective assessment of value still feeds into the cycle of anxiety, as he feels pressured to appease his fans with new and better material.

When he is offered a book deal for his work, Rufus cannot cope with the possibilities it offers. He is cajoled into agreeing for one Ross Murray, an ‘overwhelmingly mediocre’ local artist, to act as the public face of the role. Finally, Rufus is forced to confront his intrinsic needs. ‘Why don’t I feel happy?  Is acknowledgement what I really want? Does success require recognition?’

Murray has channelled personal experiences in the vignettes about the man-monkey who shares his initials. He deftly captures the ratcheting anxiety and exhaustion caused by over-thinking in social situations. Murray has been mentored by New Zealand comic artist alumni, such as Dylan Horrocks and Sarah Laing, resulting in images that are neatly framed to put the reader in the role of sympathetic (albeit occasionally irritated or nauseated) observer. The muted colour palette, with occasional floral bursts, reflects Rufus’ deliberately bland, careful life.

In this well-packaged graphic novel, Murray and Earth’s End Publishing show that deeply individual stories of anxiety can have wide resonance with many readers.

Reviewed by Jane Turner

Rufus Marigold
by Ross Murray
Published by Earth’s End Publishing
ISBN 9780473448035