Book Review: Lucky Punch, by Simone Kaho

Available now in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_lucky_punchFollowers of Simone Kaho’s poetry and spoken word performances on various stages will be delighted and surprised by her debut collection. As a performer, she is vivacious and alluring. Her captivating readings lure you in, captivating you with her tales of extended family foibles, childhood fascinations and modern city romance and heartbreak. At times Simone’s work has a dark undercurrent in the form of vignettes capturing various acts of violence and casual misogyny. Lucky Punch is in fact a string of inter-related vignettes, verging on prose poetry, with some more formal poems interspersed. Each one is short and succinct, requiring the reader to pause before moving to the next one. Set mainly in Waterview, Auckland in the 1980s, it is as much a coming-of-age story, as it is a poetic reflection of a domestic and urban life, through the eyes of a curious child.

The illustrations that grace the monochrome cover are courtesy of a young relative of Simone’s. They depict a child bobbing above the waves; the title submerged and a wide-eyed character navigating this subterranean world in big heels. On the back, we have a man and possibly a woman in freefall. The childish drawings are fitting for the experiences described within the covers, where hidden dangers lurk in the background of fantastical and mundane childhood experiences. The politics of growing up with Tongan culture is touched upon lightly in several poems, such as, Standards, where vegetarian Simone examines the cultural ideas and hypocrisy around meat eating.

…I gave up meat eating at sixteen.
They thought I was crazy in Tonga.

Or there’s, the poem, Here, that touches on the racial attitudes that are present toward the Tongan culture in New Zealand:

An Air New Zealand training manual gets leaked.
It says Tongans are softly spoken but drink the bar dry.
Maybe it’s Tongan thing, like gold teeth.

Some of the poems are peppered with cultural references: Tongan time, the umu, and catching crayfish.

Simone’s fascination with the rhythms and quirks of nature is evident in the collection; something that may surprise fans of her stage work, which has a more urban and edgy mood. Firmly rooted in place, many of the images will be familiar to Aucklanders, such as hanging out at the local creek, running from bulls, pillaging blackberry bushes and taking trips to the local dairy for cheap bags of lollies. We all know the delight of finding a bird’s nest and pulling a disgusted face on discovering a weta for the first time. It’s relatable in a way that brings a smile to the face of the reader.

Expressed at times as a stream of consciousness, we look through the child’s eyes as events unfold and circumstances shift into uneasy young adulthood and all its rude awakenings. Simone holds our hand for the journey and we are right there with her, swinging from branches and experiencing our first kiss, our first sip of peach schnapps and our first gasp of recognition that the reality of growing up can hit you like a badly-thrown punch. When we walk away relatively unscathed, we feel lucky; we might even laugh about it later, or in Simone’s case, metabolise the experience into a poem.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

Lucky Punch
by Simone Kaho
Published by Anahera Press
ISBN 9780473367510

Book Review: The Abyssinian Mountain Lion & other stories, by David McDougall

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

Is there such a thing as an Abyssinian Mountain lion? cv_the_abyssinian_mountain_lion

If you read the first story in this collection of short stories by New Zealand author David McDougall he will convince you they were once in the Wellington Zoo.

I like a book of short stories, especially over the summer, it is good to pick up when you have a spare moment and you can pick and choose which to read, depending what is happening in your day. The Abyssinian Mountain Lion, a collection of nineteen stories, is pure fiction, but you get the feeling the author has written them based on real characters, people he has encountered during his life.

The book is easy to read with a good size print and with the stories about eight to ten pages long you, are soon at the end of the 207 pages. Although there are some references to foreign places, the reader is left in no doubt the author’s origin is New Zealand with his use of words and phrases such as ‘another kiwi joker’ as well as references to places such as Lambton Quay.

David McDougall spent twenty-five years in a Wellington business before training as a social worker and family therapist and working with children in the mental health field, the Outward Bound Trust and Family Court. He lives in Eastbourne with his wife Judith, has four adult children and eleven grandchildren. It is this background which has given David the skill to write such a variety of stories which will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good kiwi yarn.

There is mystery, love, humour and history as well as “A Grey Area”:
“Mid-winter and everything’s grey; different layers and shades of grey. The lake’s a steely grey; frequent squalls driven by a mean sou’west wind are corrugating the surface. I can just make out the distant mountains. They’ll be completely covered in snow at the time of the year, but with the sun almost behind cloud, they tend to look grey.”

The endings of some of the stories are up in the air, making me think the author may carry on the story in another book or even develop it into a longer novel.

The cover design by John McDougall, who I presume is a family member, is quite unique and eye-catching, and it serves as a very fitting introduction to the first story, which is also the title of the book.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Abyssinian Mountain Lion & other stories
By David McDougall.
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994106995

Book Review: Every Picture Tells a Story, by Jocelyn Carlin

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_every_picture_tells_a_storyNot having heard of Jocelyn Carlin before nor having seen her work in any form, I was initially unsure of the message presented in the book. A photographer for nearly 40 years, Jocelyn has gathered images from her extensive collection into an eclectic and intriguing mix that drew me in to her world.

At times whimsical, sometimes heart-wrenching and always interesting, the photographs, accompanied by short narratives, inform the reader of a life spent in company as diverse as a young man playing the part of Marilyn Monroe on stage in nothing but a towel and white y-fronts; to Sir Ian McKellen,  and Rigaberta Menchu, a Nobel prize recipient.

Well known New Zealanders rub shoulders with Jocelyn’s family members, and stark photographs of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake lie on pages not far away from images of the damage climate change is causing to small Pacific islands.

One reading isn’t nearly enough to take in the full substance of this fascinating book. It is rather like moving through a passage which has drapes hiding various nooks and crannies where amazing, amusing and thought-provoking objects can be discovered on closer examination.  It is a treasure in its entirety.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Every Picture Tells a Story
by Jocelyn Carlin
Published by Te Whenua Press
ISBN 9780908689927