Book Review: Lactivism, by Courtney Jung

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_lactivismWith my first child I was told to breastfeed, assumed I would and then was rather put out when no one would actually show me how to breastfeed. I was discharged from the hospital having never once actually latched my daughter by myself. A few days later, on a Friday, I realised that my sleepy baby was actually a dehydrated baby. My midwife referred me to a lactation consultant, but did not herself actually help me with breastfeeding. That night I had to work out how to make up some formula (because antenatal programmes are not allowed to demonstrate this) and felt like a terrible mother for doing so. I eventually managed to breastfeed, but not without spending a lot of money on lactation consultants and breast pumps.

With my second child, feeding came easier. Midwives were overall, much more hands on in teaching breastfeeding and breastfeeding classes were widely available. I fed happily in the knowledge that there was no better food source for her. I didn’t sleep through the night until breastfeeding stopped – when she was eighteen months old. I was confident that the benefits for my daughter were significant, and it was worth the great personal effort involved.

So it is with mixed feelings that I approached Lactivism. Courtney Jung, the author, is a political scientist and it is fascinating reading an evaluation of breastfeeding from this perspective. She was inspired to research breastfeeding after reading Hanna Rosin’s musings on breastfeeding in The Atlantic. Rosin discovered that the medical benefits of breastfeeding are far different than those outlined in popular culture. In fact, that a lot of the well-known benefits of breastfeeding have been somewhat overstated.

Courtney Jung focuses her work on breast milk as an increasingly in-demand product. Women are told that every drop of breastmilk is precious, and (particularly in the United States where you don’t have paid parental leave) that if they are at work they can just pump! And that there is legislation to support pumping! Except, the reality of the rather toothless legislation is that it isn’t really enforceable and many women find themselves punished by management and colleagues for trying to use the legislation to assist with pumping at work. When women are told that if they don’t breastfeed their baby will be less intelligent, more likely to be fat or get diabetes and more likely to be sick overall, you can see their motivation.

Jung goes through the relevant studies in a very easy to read manner. It seems that, particularly in the Western World, the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for an individual baby are, overall, modest. She discusses controversial public health levers to encourage breastfeeding – including giving breastfeeding mothers and children more food than formula fed babies in programmes for low income mothers.

There is also a chapter on HIV and breastfeeding – where the evidence that breast milk carries the HIV virus and that infants can be directly infected from their mother solely through feeding has been minimised or denied in pursuit of the cause of breastfeeding promotion. It is sobering.

I would love to have read in more detail about breast milk as a product and the industry that has developed around breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is promoted as being free. But parents are certainly encouraged to buy breast pumps, special breastfeeding clothes and bras, feeding covers and feeding necklaces. There are so many products ‘supporting’ breastfeeding that it would be quite easy to spend as much on breastfeeding as you can on formula.

Jung’s linking of the diverse community groups that have made breastfeeding part of their advocacy work into poor policy outcomes is easy to read and a fascinating study into culture, business and policy. Regardless of your personal beliefs, knowledge or choices around infant feeding it is a fascinating insight into breastfeeding and public health policy.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

by Courtney Jung
Published by Basic Books
ISBN 9780465039692

Book Review: World of Wearable Art – 30 designers tell their stories, edited by Naomi Arnold

cv_world_of_wearable_art_30_designersAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

The World of Wearable Arts competition is nearly 30 years old, and the small show that started in Nelson is now a major event hosted in Wellington. Designers and passionate crafters from all around the world compete in categories such as Creative Excellence: Architecture, Performance Art or Bizarre Bras. The finalists are selected and a beautiful stage show is compiled. It is truly a magnificent event.

This book, World of Wearable Art, tells the stories of thirty designers who have been involved in the competition. My appreciation for the work involved, and creative process is so high. Some designers have an ephemeral concept, some have an entry that is a triumph over a material, and others produce entries that are a complex mixture of symbols and story. Many of the finalists have created garments so original and startling that their images remain in the national consciousness long after the competition has ended.

This is a beautifully produced book. The photos are all high quality, and the layout of the book (white, uncluttered, good space for images and texts) makes this book so very readable. The only thing that I did want was more photos – sometimes the story told by the designer emphasised entries that were not included in the accompanying photos. It is though, a small criticism.

I’ve followed Fifi Colston’s work for a few years now so it was really nice to see her story included in here. I was very taken with the Peter Wakeman and David Walker stories as well. Designers who have competed many times, as well as those with only one entry are included. The passion of the designers really came through. Many learnt completely new skills in the process of creating their entries, while others display niche skills that they bring to their designs – such as saddlery.

The audience for this book is wide. If you enjoy learning about how experts make things I think you will enjoy this book. Crafters and lovers of design will also appreciate this book. My older daughter enjoyed seeing the pictures and learning about how artists create wearable art. A really engrossing read.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

World Of WearableArt: 30 Designers Tell Their Stories
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213506

Book Review: Lonely Planet From the Source: Italy

cv_italy_from_the_sourceIn addition to the eponymous travel guides, Lonely Planet occasionally publishes cookbooks. From the Source: Italy is the third such cookbook I’ve owned and enjoyed cooking from.

Like the travel guides, the Lonely Planet cookbook range is concerned with a genuine experience. This is not ‘watered down Italian food featuring universally available ingredients.’ This is an authentic book, celebrating produce throughout different regions of Italy, then providing a recipe featuring that item. Each recipe is accompanied by a story about the ingredient, region or chef and weaves together a tale. It is a beautifully readable book, a great gift for anyone who loves either travel or food.

I found the book inspiring and it set off a burst of pasta-making. I forgot how easy it is to make pasta, especially now that my children are old enough to use the pasta roller!Ravioli_Emma_Wong_ming

The recipe I decided to make first was Tortelli di zucca (Pumpkin tortelli), traditionally served on Christmas Eve in the Mantua region. I used the last of my summer crop of pumpkins and loved the final product – gorgeous dumplings of pumpkin, cheese, amaretti biscuit crumbs and relish. I knew that the recipe would produce a good result, so doubled the recipe and have some frozen for another night.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

From the Source: Italy
by Sarah Barrell, Susan Wright and Lonely Planet
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781743607619

Book review: Girl at War, written by Sara Novic

Available at bookstores nationwide.

Girl at War is the debut fiction novel of Sara Novic, a talented writer and editor. The book cv_girl_at_waropens with Ana, a ten year old at the start of the Bosnian-Croat conflict. Her life is carefree, with initially few intrusions from the commencing conflict around her. Ana enjoys holidays and roaming freely in the streets with her best friend, Luka. Inevitably, her world becomes one of bombs, ethnic conflict, warfare and genocide. The story moves ahead ten years and it is apparent that Ana, now a university student living in New York, needs to deal with her childhood in Croatia.

This is such a good debut novel. It is an incredibly satisfying read. I particularly enjoyed the well-developed characters. A lot of work has gone in to the cast of supporting characters, and how they are viewed through the eyes of a young child, and then later as a young adult. This is not a novel where all the loose ends are neatly tied up – it would not be a fair or honest treatment of the characters.

The author cleverly highlights how easy it is is for countries at peace to ignore or minimise the reality of war. Her American family refer to the war as ‘unrest’ or ‘troubles.’ When the exploding fireworks of Fourth of July celebrations cause Ana to take shelter for safety, you can feel her disbelief that any country that has experienced war could even celebrate with explosions. It makes perfect sense that Ana chooses to hide her heritage from her friends. She notes that American family and friends have not ‘smelled the air raid smoke or the scent of singed flesh on their own balconies’ – they have not experienced war in their neighbourhood and as such, it is too much for them to take in.

The book occasionally reads like an autobiography. There is a lot of detail given of the main settings and the author’s experience of living in both countries shows. I was struck by the dichotomy of family life and setting in both Croatia and America. In America her family seems remote, but the environment is safe, almost boring. In Croatia she is welcomed back with great warmth. It is clear though that post-war Croatia is still unsafe – a near assault while using public transport and previously benign buildings like the grocery store now carry the weight of wartime experiences. It is very cleverly done.

I’m left with a number of startling images and thoughts from the book. How can a country go ‘back to normal’ after a war (and particularly a civil war)? How can a young adult of two cultures ever feel truly at home? How does a country work to develop accord and understanding amongst the population when the war within the population has been so violent and directed at the citizenry? This is such a thoughtful novel and it left a genuine impact on me. I strongly recommend it.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

Girl at War
by Sara Novic
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9781408706558

Two Book Reviews: Detective Gordon: The First Case, by Ulf Nilsson

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Book review #1, by Hannah

The first case is about two detectives trying to solve the mystery of nuts being stolen from cv_the_first_casewoodland animals. Its a bit tricky though. The thieves are very cunning and also clever, which makes this case very hard to solve. Will the two detectives solve this mystery? Or will the thieves win this time? See for yourself!

I thought this book was wondrous to read, a tricky mystery that was nice, entertaining, adventurous and mysterious all at the same time. I know this book will be delightful to anyone who reads it. I hope you liked my review.

by Hannah Wong-Ming, age 8

Book Review #2, by Hannah’s mum Emma 

I am truly thankful for Gecko Press. Without this creative Wellington-based publisher, we would be very unlikely to have good access to such authors as Ulf Nilsson. Finding and translating excellent children’s books from all around the world is a passion of the publisher, Julia Marshall. I have not ever been disappointed by a Gecko Press book (I own an embarrassing number of them), and find them to be reliable presents. Ulf Nilsson’s All the Dear Little Animals and When We Were Alone in the World are two of my favourite children’s books.

The First Case features animals making sense of the forest around them. This forest features very polite animals, except for the thief who has stolen a squirrel’s stockpile of winter nuts. Chief Detective Gordon (a toad) is the most important (and only) policeman in the forest. It is his job to find the thief. In doing so he comes across a frozen, nameless mouse. They help each other, and on learning the mouse has no name, Chief Gordon solemnly names her to help make the mouse find her place in the world. He then uses his ever-present stamp to make it official. The newly named Buffy becomes Chief Gordon’s apprentice. Their combined skills, and a little logic, solve the case.

The story is simply and beautifully told. The accompanying pictures (illustrated by Gitte Spee) communicate the special world of the snow-laden forest. This is a gentle mystery story, suitable for young readers aged 7-9. I’m hopeful that it is the first in a series of further forest mysteries.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Detective Gordon: The First Case
by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271506

Book Review: Alice’s Food A-Z, by Alice Zaslavsky

Available in bookstores nationwide.
Alice Zaslavsky is a former teacher and Masterchef Australia contestant. She now hosts an Australian kids cooking knowledge quiz show, thus this book, Alice’s Food A-Z is a logical combination of those two experiences. This colourful book is aimed at sharing food facts, cooking tips and terminology with children –the main audience being 8-14 year olds.

There are nearly 40 recipes included, from the simple – peanut butter on celery sticks, to the more involved recipe for borscht. It is framed as an A-Z, with each letter featuring a food and recipe or two. The writing style is very casual, perhaps somewhat irritating for adults (the sentence “Science, yo” still sits uncomfortably with me) but it is very engaging for the target audience.

The fun facts are interesting. I enjoyed learning why bananas are curved and being reminded that baby carrots are not young carrots, but sculptured seconds from the adult carrot harvest. We have also changed the way we peel bananas – we now peel from the short end – on her recommendation. My eight-year-old daughter had this book by her side for a few days. Kids her age love facts – so we heard a lot of them during this time. She also really enjoyed the mushroom guide – she hadn’t realised that there were more types of mushrooms than those we typically buy from the supermarket.

The recipes are all labeled to make it clear which contain nuts and gluten, with some of the recipes being at ‘expert level’ – needing independent knife skills for example. The recipes are often written in a very informal way and do not assume prior knowledge of cooking skills. They also give good reminders when you may need some adult assistance.

This is one of those hard to categorise books. It is the sort of book that has a really wide potential audience, because it is very engaging once you pick it up. But it is one that would perhaps be easy to overlook as it isn’t really just a recipe book, or a fact guide. I recommend it for children who enjoy sharing ‘fun facts’ or would like a slightly more than basic recipe book.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Alice’s Food A-Z
by Alice Zaslavsky
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922179388

Book Review: Blood, Wine & Chocolate, written by Julie Thomas

cv_blood_wine_and_chocolateAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Blood, Wine & Chocolate is a crime thriller set in London’s East End and Waiheke Island. It is often violent (but the violence is somewhat moderated with humerous twists) and is exceptionally descriptive of the wine and chocolate production that becomes a theme in the second half of the book.

Blood, Wine & Chocolate opens with the story of three boys growing up in London, all linked by their fathers’ involvement in a criminal enterprise. Each boy gets their own chapter, and we learn why Vinnie, Marcus and Tom get set on their respective life paths. At times, I found it hard to keep track of each boy as their stories interweave, but it all comes together to create a cohesive narrative. When the boys become adults, their interests collide and the setting changes from London to Waiheke Island.

The story mostly centres on Vinnie Whitney-Ross, who grows up to become a well-regarded wine merchant. He witnesses a brutal murder:

He stared down at the corpse and shook his head. “Killed by a bottle of Petrus…I could have bought half a house with the price of that bottle.”

His childhood friend Marcus is the murderer, and the story details his motivations for testifying against Marcus, and the impact on Vinnie’s family as they are required to enter a witness protection programme. The police involved with the prosecution are well-developed characters, and the motivations for a police officer to betray Vinnie’s family well-explained.

I really enjoyed this book. It combined the usual elements of good crime stories – thorough research with great detail coming through the story, characters that are believable and are consistent and vivid descriptions of crime scenes that I could picture easily. Sometimes when I read New Zealand fiction, I find the setting of New Zealand too distracting. My focus is drawn from the story to the setting. When Blood, Wine and Chocolate moves the setting to New Zealand it was no distraction from the story, which is pretty fast moving at that point. For this reason, I really appreciated this book.

I read this book in two quick gulps. The book would be perfection if it came with some of the lovingly described chocolates (say the tequila ganache in lime infused white chocolate with sea salt) and wines that the main characters create!

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Blood, Wine and Chocolate
by Julie Thomas
Published by HarperCollins

Book Review: The Temporary Bride, by Jennifer Klinec

Available in bookstores nationwide.

The Temporary Bride is a memoir of how Jennifer Klinec, owner of a cooking school in cv_the_temporary_brideLondon, goes to Iran for cooking inspiration and falls in love with the son of her cooking instructor.

The author starts the book with an overview into an unconventional childhood. Independent at an early age, she quickly develops the travel bug, spending most weekends travelling while spending the weeks in a corporate job. She ends her corporate career when she opens a cooking school – priding itself on teaching authentic cooking. Her travels are now research for her day job, and her next stop is Iran.

Jennifer is excited to visit Iran, she contemplates and prepares by practicing wearing a headscarf. She is keen to fit in when she arrives as she senses this will be the key to a successful trip. On arrival she quickly meets Vahid, a local who speaks to her, practicing his English. She is invited to join Vahid and his uncle for sightseeing, and this quickly turns into an invitation to join Vahid’s mother for cooking lessons. The cooking lessons are supplemented by trips with Vahid to sample eyeball soup and to visit a slaughterhouse.

It becomes obvious that Jennifer is interested in Vahid, and a relationship quickly develops (it is hard to remember that the trip the book is based on lasts only a month). In a country without a dating culture, commencing a relationship is dangerous. For Vahid, there are some very real dangers − from the bureaucracy of the state and the disapproval of his family. The temporary solution that they find (the title of the book relates to this solution) was fascinating. I do not wish to spoil the story, so will merely note that I spent awhile online researching this concept.

Jennifer is not always a sympathetic character, and does not flinch from writing about her thoughts and actions when they do present her in a difficult light. Her experiences, culture and upbringing mean that she feels it is OK to pursue a relationship with Vahid − even though she is acutely aware of the problems and devastation that will follow. I found these parts slightly awkward. I became quite concerned for Vahid! But if you enjoy ‘love conquers all’ storylines then you will perhaps not share these concerns.

I was quite disappointed that this memoir of a cooking teacher learning about Iranian food had mouth watering descriptions of food but no recipes!* Jennifer Kilnec writes about food so beautifully, the meals felt alive to me. She is so clearly knowledgeable about food, and so keen to learn about the places she travels to. She is contemplative and deliberate and her writing is exquisite and alluring. It is a travel and relationship memoir, rather than a food memoir.

*There is one recipe on her website for a dish called tahdig.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran
by Jennifer Klinec
Published by Virago
ISBN 9781844088232


Book Review: Maori Art For Kids, by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke

Available now in bookstores nationwide.cv_maori_art_for_kids

This is a fantastic book for children, parents and educators and I heartily recommend it.

This book is so thoughtfully created. There are fifteen art activities included (suitable for preschoolers and older, independent crafters). Each activity introduces the reader to an art form or image, an artist who has produced work in the relevant art form and then a simplified activity for children to follow. There are step by step photos and instructions, with good suggestions for personalising the projects. My children liked looking at the pictures and could understand well the steps involved in the projects. I really enjoyed the commentary from the artists.

My four-year-old really enjoyed the pou pou screen-printing project and has tried to make hei tiki using playdough. My eight-year-old also enjoyed the screen printing project and this lead to a dizzying array of further independent art using the same materials. We plan to make the kete and poi projects over summer.

Templates and a glossary of Te Reo and crafting terms are included at the back of the book.

Finally, I feel that the layout of the book deserves special mention. The book is modern, fun, with bright, well-taken photographs. It is a pleasure to look at as much as use.

My copy is being donated to my local kindergarten. If you need a gift for preschool or primary teachers I can’t recommend a better resource to add to their libraries.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

Maori Art For Kids
by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke
Published by Craig Potton Publishing
ISBN 9781927213131

Book Review: Guinness World Records 2015

cv_guinness_world_records_2015Available now in bookstores nationwide.

Until recently, I would have thought that there would be little point in owning a physical copy of the Guinness World Records. After all, you can view enough world records online to keep you satisfied. However, there is something universal and compelling about a recent version of the Guinness World Records. Everyone who comes across the book picks it up for an idle flick. And the pre-teens that I tried it with just loved it. My favourite? The man who holds apples in his mouth and cuts them in half with a chainsaw.

This is a very well put together book. It is not a dry listing of records, but rather a summary of some of the more interesting or relevant records divided into sections. Each section starts with a list of milestone records (such as first man on the moon). There is a strong emphasis on personalising the experience of world records, with the book being both a resource and the start of the ‘records experience.’ There is an editor’s letter at the start of the book that seems to be personalised by region as it heavily references Australia and New Zealand. A flow chart at the start of the book outlines the process involved in submitting a record claim. For a full catalogue of records, check out their website:

There is an associated app with the book − just make sure that you download the app corresponding to the correct year. A quick trip to the app store and we got the feature showing the cover in 3D working brilliantly. Unfortunately, the app is quite difficult to use. Ours crashed numerous times, and when we did get it to work it was not user-friendly and it was quite clunky. It is a shame, as the potential is there to really add value to the book.

I can’t recommend this book enough for children aged 7-11 as a Christmas gift, or for that adult who is tricky to buy for.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Guinness Book of Records 2015 
Published by Guinness
ISBN 9781908843630