Book Review: Trial of Strength, by Shona Riddell

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_trial_of_strengthThe Auckland Islands are part of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, wild, desolate, uninhabited except for a few hardy plants and wildlife. Despite their isolation, these islands have seen many visitors including Māori, Moriori, whalers, optimistic colonists, and today, conservationists and nature enthusiasts.

The history of the islands is fascinating, sometimes cruel and brutal in the case of whalers and shipwrecked sailors, and sometimes unfathomable – stories of the attempted 19th century colonisation of these islands remain incredible to us today. At its peak, the Auckland Islands Hardwicke settlement had 30 buildings and 150 residents, but farming was impossible, the weather was constant cold, rain and fog, the people grew depressed, and the temperature rarely rose above 10 degrees Celsius. The settlement lasted less than three years.

History and tales of the remote Auckland Islands far south of New Zealand have long been a personal fascination, ever since I read Joan Druett’s brilliantly told true story of shipwrecked sailors in Island of the Lost.

Trial of Strength, by Shona Riddell, kept me glued to the pages from beginning to end with its collection of gritty tales of the people who attempted to live there, those that exploited its resources, and the unfortunate shipwrecks that landed there through no choice of their own. The author has thoroughly researched both human and natural history of the islands and unearthed some ripping good yarns of people and events which she shares throughout the book.

The book also delves into stories of Macquarie and Campbell Islands, and The Snares islands.  Four unfortunate men from a sealing ship were left on The Snares in 1810 by a sea captain who decided he didn’t have enough provisions on board the ship to go around. They were given a few handfuls of rice, some potatoes and an iron pot and abandoned. The men were stranded on the island for seven years, but survived on the planted potatoes, local birds and seals before being picked up by a passing whaling ship. Only three survived; the fourth having lost his mind in the isolation.

The author’s inspiration to write Trial of Strength was that her great great grandmother was born on on the Auckland Islands in 1851. This inspired a personal pilgrimage to the islands to discover more about a land that few people will experience in their lifetimes, and a land of unforgettable wild beauty and fascinating in its differences.

Each chapter follows a loose chronological period of the discovery and human imprint on the subantarctic islands and also touches on the tourism and conservation on the islands today. Full colour images accompany the stories, the historical portraits, documents, and maps are interesting and useful, and the beautiful shots of the rough and wild landscape are a treat.

This is a great book to take away on your Christmas holidays, to read inside on those rainy days or enjoy in the warmth of the sun as you imagine those early settlers making a life in the howling gales and tough conditions of New Zealand’s Auckland Islands.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Trial of Strength 
by Shona Riddell
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593560

Book Review: Godley: the Man Behind the Myth, by Terry Kinloch

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_godley_pg.jpgAuthor Terry Kinloch ends his biography Godley: The Man Behind the Myth withIf this book gives readers a more rounded and balanced understanding of Godley -the man and the general – it has achieved its purpose.’  This book does exactly that.

Major General Bernard Freyberg of the Second World War might be uppermost in New Zealanders’ minds if asked to name a prominent influencer on New Zealand’s military tradition. However, Freyberg was a leader of a Division which formed part of an army and a military structure, which had been conceived in 1910, built and trained through to 1914 and then,  with the NZ Expeditionary Force  component,  led to war in Gallipoli, Palestine and Europe  by  the British general Sir Alexander Godley.

Godley was hired by the New Zealand Government from the British army with the aim of transforming New Zealand’s military structure into a modern, sustainable force that could help defend not only its own country but be inserted with ease into the armies of the British Empire.

This contribution from New Zealand to the Empire’s armies was sustainable because the transformation from the rather irregular nature of the country’s involvement in the Boer War, to  the establishment of regional,  part-time territorial units and even school cadet forces. It could be said the “Godley Structure” lasted through to the 1960s.

But Godley’s reputation is often blackened severely by his supposed responsibility for the heavy casualties and eventual failure of the Gallipoli campaign and then again at Passchendaele. One New Zealand military historian titled a whole chapter of his book as “Godley’s abattoir”referring to the Passchendaele tragedy. The label was first coined in relation to the Gallipoli battle at The Nek, where Australian troops were sent mindlessly  “over the top” and into a hail of machine gun bullets.

Author Kinloch lists the above two disasters, and other ‘recently published accounts’ including the view that ‘every ANZAC solider who had the misfortune to service under Godley’s command loathed him. In return, he detested the Australians and tolerated the New Zealanders. It has also been stated that Godley was trained by his father, that he had never seen a machine gun before 1914 and that he was a cavalry officer.’

‘None of these statements are true,’ writes Kinloch, ‘some are simply wrong, while others are misinterpretations or exaggerations.’

That statement is on page seven of the 319-page book. Much of the rest of the book is taken up with a deeply researched study of the man and his deeds from early childhood until his death. The quality of Kinloch’s research can be attributed to the access he had to Godley’s letters, a great many to his wife, Louisa but also to many contemporary soldiers politicians and others – even the King. Much of this material was written contemporaneously with the events and thus presents a valuable record within the context of the time.

There are many photographs and maps which add to the understanding of this man. None of the photos show him smiling. Clearly Godley was an “Empire Man” with great self discipline, ramrod appearance  and a rather aloof manner which  made him appear  uncaring. His first battles were in the Boer War where he established a good reputation as a  an organiser, leader and fighter.  Much praise came from Baden Powell, whom he served under at the historically famous siege of Mafeking.

Despite the difficulties of the Boer War, Godley, accordingly to Kinloch, decided that the years between 1910 and 1914 (in New Zealand) were the ‘most challenging of his career to date.’ There were grumbles among the kiwis at Godley bringing in other British officers but he was determined to set up a balanced structure resulting in a highly efficient and sustainable force. The need for it can be best understood by a quote of a New Zealand territorial offer, Andrew Russell , ‘The inefficiency of the officers, and the utter absence of any standard on which to model ourselves, is the root of our inefficiency.’ (Russell later became once of New Zealand’s most distinguish Generals).

Kinloch provides a comprehensive account  of Godley’s role in the  establishment of the what might be called the first professional New Zealand army, not large  but well  resourced  and trained across all the necessary  ingredients  of a modern fighting force from infantry, through mounted rifles, artillery, specialist machine gun  units, transport, pioneer and medical corps.  There was even a Cyclist Corps.

Having conceive it, organised it and trained it, Godley took a division to war in 1914 as the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Kinloch then traces the story of Godley’s war, almost battle by battle examining the myths and legends, criticism and praise attributed to the General , often  clarifying and even correcting long held  ‘understandings’ of  battles and also of the character of the man. A battle for which Godley received praise, rightly, was the Battle of Messines, where the planning, resourcing,  training  led to a famous victory for the New Zealanders and Australians under Godley’s command.

This is a very important book, well illustrated with photographs and maps, which will reshape our view of a man who played such a huge role in New Zealand’s engagement with the First World War. As military historian Chris Pugsley has written in a cover endorsement, this book ‘has brought this controversial commander….out from the shadows.’

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould
CEO, Booksellers NZ and owner of Messines Bookshop : Military History

Godley: the Man Behind the Myth
by Terry Kinloch
Published by: Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593638




Book Review: Feed Your Brain: The Cookbook, by Delia McCabe

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_feed_your_brainIn Feed your Brain: The Cookbook, Delia McCabe applies her Masters in Psychology and over 20 years of research into the connection between nutrition and brain health to deliver over 100 plant-based recipes covering breakfast, mains, soups, dessert and more.

The book is well laid out and begins with an brief summary of the seven steps to improving your mental well-being, which was the subject of her first book Feed Your Brain, published in 2016. It also includes insightful FAQs such as the best sweeteners to use and meal prep suggestions.

Moving onto the recipes, they are easy to follow and McCabe covers a good variety of dishes such as stir-fry’s, burgers and salads. Most dishes have also been gorgeously photographed and styled. I made the bean soup, which was very easy to throw together. It wasn’t the most exciting soup but it’s a simple, healthy and cheap recipe to go to when you’re feeling lazy. I also made the lentil apricot salad (below). This was surprisingly tasty with the dressing and apricots bursting with flavour to create the most exciting lentil dish I’ve ever eaten.

Overall, this cookbook packs a lot more than just recipes and would be a good source for those ready to move towards a more plant-based diet.

One aspect I did find annoying were the spotlights on ingredients (usually vegetables or nuts) scattered throughout the book. These weren’t particular interesting and, due to the theme of the cookbook, could’ve had stronger links to benefits for the brain or body. While I am slowly shifting my diet towards more healthier and nutritious food, I think I would only flick through this cookbook occasionally or as a go to if I needed to find a make a dish that could cater for a vegan or gluten-free friend.

Reviewed by Sarah Young

Feed Your Brain: The Cookbook
by Delia McCabe
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781925335613

Book Review: Today in New Zealand History, by Atkinson, Green, Phipps and Watters

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_today_in_new_zealand_historyOne of the joys of aging is picking up a book like this and recognising that nearly half of the events happened in my lifetime. I remember most of them too. This is not a highs and lows, shockers and disasters type of  book. Instead, we have a wonderful collection of events which include the quirky (introduction of Jockey Y fronts), the disasters, the political triumphs, cultural firsts (Anna Pavalova dancing here) and plenty of sports. My husband enjoyed the sports clips as they were often the lesser-known events. Interspersed with the events, are the birth of a variety of New Zealanders on this day. These little vignettes could be a book on their own, but included in the text and photos of the main items, they add another layer of enjoyment.

The collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and the Alexander Turnbull Library has resulted in a book that is both informative and visually captivating. There is a photo of Michael Joseph Savage on the steps of the Social Security building. It is all art deco and serious but captures the amazing introduction in 1938 of the Social Security Act. The photo of the opening of the Christchurch Town Hall also made me nostalgic, for I sang at the opening and attended a meeting there on the morning of the quake.

By uniting two such esteemed groups, this team have produced a book that rises above the usual coffee table pretty. I found the clear and easy to read text gave me enough information without boring me through detail.

As a teacher, I am constantly saddened by the lack of historical knowledge shown by my pupils. I feel that a knowledge of the past enables us to truly face the challenges of the future. As New Zealanders we have travelled a long way in a short time. This book would be a useful aid to help students focus each day, on an event. My husband commented that he would be able to do this using just sports as there are often 2-3 stories for each day, and sports feature often. There is a pupil like this in every class.

Add to all this a hefty hard cover and wonderful photos. What a great Christmas present for those baby boomer parents who can relive their childhood and educate the grandchildren at the same time.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Today in New Zealand History
by Neill Atkinson, David Green, Gareth Phipps and Steve Watters
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593003

Book Review: The Chalk Rainbow, by Deborah Kelly and Gwynneth Jones

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_chalk_rainbowIt is exciting to see so many books for children, which deal with diversity. As a teacher, I have always found that stories are the best way to approach the challenges of difference in our world. By sharing and discussing through stories, we are able to introduce a more open attitude as well as dealing with how to respond. Wonder, (Pelacio) did this brilliantly for older readers.

The Chalk Rainbow leads us into the autistic world of Zane through the eyes of his sister. She explains the everyday difficulties faced by her brother: his made-up language, fear of black, his meltdowns and the way he lines things up. We see the frustrations of his parents as they try to help. Finally, it is Zane’s older sister who helps us to see differently, through her chalk rainbows.

This story is simply told, and the illustrations support the text with detail and colour. We are led out into the streets the rainbows and Zane follows. Here is a story of trust, where we learn that unconditional love can help us to view things differently.

I would love to read this story to my classes as we discuss difference and prejudice.
There are many ways of solving problems and sometimes it is important to follow that rainbow.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Chalk Rainbow
By Deborah Kelly and Gwynneth Jones
Published by EK Books
ISBN 9781925335453

Book Review: I Don’t Have Time, by Audrey Thomas and Emma Grey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_I_don't_have_time.jpgIt took quite a long time to read this book, rather ironically, because it contains material that needs to be well thought over. It is written, according to Audrey and Emma, the authors, for ‘women of a certain age, splashing dramatically in a sea of self-inflicted over-commitment’ who need to realise that they do have time to do the things that will add satisfaction to their lives. The sub title of the book is “15 -minute ways to Shape A Life You Love”.

A quick flick through it offers some quick-flick ideas common to self-help literature, and this book fits into that genre. But a deeper reading reveals that Audrey and Emma have lived much of what they write about. It has an honesty about it which appeals and which prevents the material from being slick or glib. As some other reviewers noted, this is ‘a time management book for real people by real people.’

It’s a book that not only encourages us to look for ways to engage in activities that we enjoy, but gives us the motivation and energy to do so by recounting the success of others, detailing their efforts and their thoughts. It covers areas of life that matter most to us, exploring the excuses we make to keep us from achieving happiness and satisfaction. I enjoyed it even though I felt older than the intended readers (it is primarily, but not exclusively, written for the younger woman overwhelmed by the pressures and self-inflicted commitments of career building, child-rearing and home-making), because it enabled me to see how I’d managed my life through that time, and feel a little smug that I’d come through it reasonably well-adjusted.

Having said that, I enjoyed it also because of its approach. It appeals to the person we are, to the humanity we share and to the burdens and problems we suffer under, and it offers solutions that we can see will work.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

I Don’t Have Time
by Audrey Thomas and Emma Grey
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593218