Book Review: Release the Beast, by Romy Sai Zunde, Illustrated by Cinzah Merkens

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_release_the_beast

This book has a wicked approach to anger management. Instead of the usual softly, softly approach, the author of this book proffers that we all have some sort of monster inside us. Perhaps it’s our dark conscious or the alternate universe of our imagination, but in this book everyone has a little creature seething inside.

All of our everyday anger bottles up in this book − as we are annoyed by our sibling, break our favourite toy, lose another. Zunde’s approach is not to temper the building fires but to suggest that they be transformed: “When I’m naughty, Mummy and Daddy get really mad. But grownups are naughty all the time, and no-one tells them what to do. That’s when the Beast steps in!” The beast boils, fumes and rages. The main character has sinister thoughts of smashing the stars, or of kidnapping daddy in his mouth and running three times around the house. When Mum drags him off to the bath the Monster injects her into a giant bubble. When Dad hurries him up the Monster awakes and causes yet more mischief.

It’s all imagination, but what a way to control that outrage that may become a truly violent outburst. This story has that energetic, slightly ridiculous cartoon flavour that diffuses the seriousness with playful overtones. I really like the abstract, violent artwork which reminded me of Gerald Scarfe (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, etc) with its messy, explosive presence on the page. It even has a creative, if empathetic twist towards the end.

It’s a novel approach that my kids instantly recognised and embraced. It goes to show that many problems can be handled with humour, no matter how quirky.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Release the Beast
by Romy Sai Zunde, illustrated by Cinzah Merkens
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780992264819

Book Review: The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race, by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon

Available now in bookstores. cv_the_weasel_puffin_etal

This is a quirky, funny picture book, obviously about a race. The animals involved all have their own ways of trying to win, but you’ll be happy to know that cheats are defeated in the end!

The double-page arrangement of rhyming text on one page, with illustrations on the facing page, is cleanly set out, and the artwork is witty and more complex than it first appears. Very small kids might need some help with locating some of the characters in each picture, but the adults will take great pleasure from some of the weirder illustrations – the queen gets a look in, and the unicorn seems to be channeling Eeyore!

I thought it was a delightful book, and it has the added advantage of being hardback on good paper. Beatnik is a publisher to look out for. They only publish things which they like, so if your sense of humour is a little off-beat, and you like things which are well-designed and presented, you might like to hunt down other books from their list.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race 
by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780992249311

Book Review: Built for Caffeine, by Ben Crawford

Built for Caffeine is a book celebrating design in the New Zealand cafe environment. ImageThe author, Ben Crawford is most popularly known for co-winning the reality TV Show The Block in 2012. Following that, he and his sister opened an advertising agency in Auckland. Ben also writes a design column for the New Zealand Herald. The aim of the book is to delve into the design features of cafes, commenting on how they could be applied in the home environment. Ben has an eye for detail and his photos and commentary clearly give a sense of the physical environment. For the cafes I am very familiar with I found Ben’s photos gave me a greater appreciation for the space and detail of the location.

What could have improved this book was a coherent theme or rationale behind the cafes picked. While I found my head nodding at many picks, I couldn’t work out how he came to know about the cafes or why they were chosen above other cafes. Many of the cafes are, still now, only a few months old. How did he know about them? Is it because it is difficult to find out about design direction once time has passed? The cafes are organised North to South but I wonder if organising by design style (e.g. industrial, retro etc) could provided a link between cafes or the application of design advice. That being said, there may not be enough of each style to do that.

ImageBen’s narration is half design speak, half Kiwi casual. I found it distracting at first, but appreciated the enthusiasm behind his approach. Ben clearly gets more out of the cafe experience than just coffee and you get a sense of an engaging personality – one who has very competently interviewed the owners and designers behind each cafe project.  In a very ‘behind the scenes’ style he draws out the stories beneath the design. The city map wall in ‘Little King Cafe’ was inspired by the owner’s childhood town memories – a reminder that sometimes the most memorable design features are those originally inspired. I found a real DIY narrative to Ben’s stories – the Kiwi DIY gene is not limited to houses but also the businesses we run. Many stories detailed the amount of hard labour the owners did, stripping back decades of renovation to find the genuine bones of the building. I really liked that, being a New Zealand design book, all the suggestions about replicating the style should be achievable in New Zealand and look good here.

Coffee addicts will appreciate that every cafe’s brand of brew is given.

There is a surprisingly mixed audience for this book.  I think aficionados of home design magazines will enjoy it, but equally cafe-frequenting hipsters.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

Built for Caffeine
by Ben Crawford
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN  9780992249366