Book Review: Finding Frances Hodgkins, by Mary Kisler

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cv_finding_frances_hodgkins.jpgThis year marks 150 years since the birth of artist, Frances Hodgkins. Mary Kisler, Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art at Auckland Art Gallery has written a remarkable book on the life and works of Frances Hodgkins. Her decision to travel to Europe and visit as many of the places where Hodgkins painted has resulted in a travelogue of Hodgkins’ work and the landscapes that inspired her. Kisler also uses Hodgkins’ diary to give us an understanding of the people and events which were so important in the paintings.

Arriving in 1901, Hodgkins was to spend most of her life in Europe with only two brief visits home to New Zealand. During these years she moved on average six times each year, only pausing during the wars when she could not visit her favourite places in France, North Africa, Holland and Spain. She enjoyed the company of others on her travels and accepted offers from friends and acquaintances to stay in new places. Kisler makes wonderful use of Hodgkins’ diaries to describe not only the landscapes, but also the social events that influence her life. Armed with photographs of Hodgkins’ paintings and her diaries and letters, it was a mammoth task to try to match each work to a specific place. While sometimes, this is achieved, a growing awareness of Hodgkins’ clever manipulation of form and space, helps Kisler to understand the way works are often composed of various elements rearranged by the artist.

I was impressed by the gentle patience of Kisler, who also chose companions for her travels. Language, lack of signage and the ravages of time, made her task daunting. The colour plates that sit alongside the text help the reader to follow the development of Hodgkins’ art. Her fascination with shapes and light, and the way she reduces a scene to blocks of colour, helped me better appreciate her work.

Here is a tribute to a truly great New Zealand artist. By melding her diaries, artworks and the actual landscape together, we arrive in awe of the output and quality of work that Frances Hodgkins produced. This was her life, and she worked hard at her craft, which was not always easy. My hope is that the touring exhibition of her work allows us a chance to truly stand in wonder at her works.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Finding Frances Hodgkins
by Mary Kisler
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995102972

Book Review: Historic Sheep Stations of New Zealand, by Colin Wheeler

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cv_historic_sheep_stations_of_new_zealandSheep, mountains, rugged people and painting. All these are important parts of the New Zealand psyche. They help to define us and the original publication of this book drew them together in a wonderful way.

It is now 50 years since Colin Wheeler and his wife, Phyllis, took to the road and travelled North and South Islands meeting with the owners, talking, sketching and painting the sheep stations of New Zealand. The three original books are now combined into one and in this limited edition; we can once again enjoy the stories and images captured between 1967 and 1972.

Colin Wheeler retired from teaching art at Waitaki Boys High School to paint, sometimes spending 70 hours a week at his easel. His artworks capture both the huge magnificence of mountain and sky, but also the oft-missed details in the woolshed or cookhouse. Each book included a detailed map showing location, a summary of the people and the history of the station, a large coloured painting and finally a number of smaller sketches. In the original publication, the plates were on glossy paper and separate to the text, but in this edition, they are part of the book. Changes in printing techniques ensure the quality of the original plates is maintained.

I was the proud owner of the first edition of Historic Sheep Stations of the South Island. Aged 11, I copied the flyer for the book in a painting and my teacher, Sister Winifred, arranged a local man to frame it. I gave it to my parents and they were astounded. I still have that painting and for my next birthday, they bought me the book. It was an expensive publication and I treasure it still, 50 years on. So this book set me on an artistic path for the rest of my life. Thank you, Colin Wheeler.

Over the years, I have looked for copies to complete the set of three books by Colin Wheeler, but unsuccessfully. This new edition is a joy to own. It still holds the magic of mountain and farm. These were the years when sheep farming was the most important agricultural industry in New Zealand. It was also at this time that Mona Anderson wrote her record of station life in A River Rules my Life. The country was in awe of the people who chose to live and work on sheep stations, often in remote parts of New Zealand.

My sister worked at Grasmere station for one season and my brother now runs one of the stations. This book captures for them the stories and the landscape. It is a great gift for anyone who has grown up in the 60’s and 70’s with the stories of the backcountry as their heritage. I cannot think of a better present for a 60th or 70th birthday.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Historic Sheep Stations of New Zealand
by Colin Wheeler
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775541325

Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_wine_trails_australia_and_nzIn 2015, Lonely Planet published Wine Trails, which covered 20 countries and 52 regions. This was a massive undertaking and I am sure we would all have liked to volunteer to trial a few for the editors. One of the criticisms which arose was that there were many areas not covered, or wineries completely missed. In fact, I remember at the time discussing how good it would be to have a Lonely Planet Wine Trail for each country.

Well, wish no more. In Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand we have exactly that.

As a backpacker of the 80’s, I find it amusing to see the company which produced my well-thumbed guidebooks has grown up. I used to seek out the budget hotels and the cheap meals from those pages. Now, the backpackers are all grown up and wish to indulge their sophisticated passions. What a wonderful way to spend a weekend.

Wine Trails covers 40 weekend possibilities. As a New Zealander, I immediately turned to see how we featured. Obviously, Australia dominates and has 30 of the weekends. So instead I began by checking how my local areas fared. I was pleasantly surprised.

The trails are in alphabetical order, so be warned you skip from Auckland to Central Otago. Each includes a map locating the wineries, a short background to the winery, their best products and the features of this region. Of immense help are the links which follow each listing allowing the reader to check details and products.

My local Waipara trail included 6 wineries and identified the features of each wine. Certainly, the Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir deserved its’ special mention. As well as the featured wineries, local eateries and accommodation are included. Travel distances and other local highlights complete the possibilities for the weekend. This trail mentions the gourmet sausage rolls from Pukeko Junction, the Hanmer pools and the Weka Pass railway. I was happy with the information and presentation.

The introduction to the book mentions the importance of being able to taste a wine in the place it was produced. The writers certainly covered a lot of ground and their combined expertise as well as local knowledge, has ensured this book is helpful, beautiful and extremely tempting. My wine tasting team have stolen my copy and plans are afoot for a weekend away. I am hoping it is to the Tamar Valley in Tasmania because their Pinot Noir grapes make amazing wine. Fingers crossed.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Wine Trails: Australia and New Zealand – Plan 40 perfect Weekends in Wine Country
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787017696

Book Review: The King’s War, by Peter Conradi and Mark Logue

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cv_the_kings_war.jpgThe recent visit to New Zealand by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, has rekindled the nation’s interest in things royal. This fascination has created images and articles across the years. When there is an Antipodean link, we become even more engrossed. Here is a book to nurture your curiosity on the part played by Lionel Logue.

Movie The King’s Speech, was released in 2010. It told the story of Lionel Logue, the Australian born therapist who worked with King George 6th on his acceptance speech. The King had a stutter which was never cured, but ably managed to allow him to address the public on countless occasions. Following the movie, the story was written by Peter Conradi, a Sunday Times journalist and Mark Logue, Grandson of Lionel. Both the movie and the book were a great success.

The King’s War is an opportunity for this established writing pair, to delve deeper into the story using material uncovered during the making of the movie. Mark inherited four large scrapbooks of information and personal family diaries and letters. This includes correspondence from the King to Lionel from 1926 when they first met, until 1952 when the King died. While the movie reaches a climax with the Coronation speech, this book looks at the growing relationship between Lionel and the King. As well as the letters, much of the information comes from the diaries kept by Lionel’s wife, Myrtle. These record the details of living in London during the war.

The actual book is an historical account of the Second World War and the events which impact on the Royal household, but also on the lives of those living through the Blitz, Dunkirk, the American support and finally peace. I liked the parallel between Logue’s involvement in every major event as he was called in to support and prepare the King for his public appearances, and the detail of family life for the Logue’s and their children, following these speeches.

It was not until after the death of George VI in 1952, that the role played by Logue became public. His was a private task and he always took care to respect this aspect of his work. While Logue had no academic qualifications, his skill in amateur dramatics enabled him to work successfully from his rooms in Harley St.

I enjoyed learning more about the warmth of the relationship between the King and Lionel. This book fills in all the gaps left by the earlier story, The King’s Speech. It is a story of an unusual relationship which we might have missed, but for Mark Logue’s desire to honour his grandfather, Lionel.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The King’s War
By Peter Conradi and Mark Logue
Published by Quercus Publishing
ISBN 9781782065975

Book Review: The Incurable Romantic: And Other Unsettling Revelations, by Frank Tallis

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cv_the_incurable_romanticLove makes the world go round, or so the songs say, but what happens when love goes wrong? This book gives the ordinary person, a secret glimpse into the world of a Psychotherapist. Frank Tallis has already written three works on psychology for the lay reader and is himself a clinical psychologist. By using examples from his experiences, he illustrates the many problems that arise in the name of love. Each chapter deals with a different story and he gives the background research for different disorders. So not only are we drawn into the problem, we are allowed to see the variety of tools available in searching for a solution.

Tallis begins by reminding the reader that love dominates our world through writing, movies, songs and history. His own interest with odd things led him to psychotherapy. As he says, ‘For me, psychotherapy is as much about narrative as it is about science and compassion, perhaps even more so.’

So these stories draw the reader into a strange and unsettling world. Megan, who falls in love with her dentist and becomes obsessed to the point of arrest. The elderly Mavis, unable to cope without her late husband. Tallis discovers it was not their shared interests but something more unusual that bound them together. Each story is told with compassion and the endings are often inconclusive. Years later, Tallis is still wondering how some patients have survived.

I found this book fascinating as love as an obsession was not something I have considered. While there is a lot of background history about the science of treatments, it is a readable book for the ordinary public. Tallis is a gifted writer who captures the essence of the problem and his narratives are sympathetic and informative. I see Ian McEwan endorses the book on the cover and I could see writers of romance or mystery finding the text very helpful in the development of a character. It brought to mind McEwan characters from On Chesil Beach.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Incurable Romantic: And Other Unsettling Revelations
by Frank Tallis
Published by Abacus
ISBN 9780349142951

Book Review: London – 24 hours and 160 photos in one city

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London_24hours.jpgLonely Planet continue to produce superb guides for travellers. Once the basic stuff has been covered (and I have well-thumbed copies of many places in Europe and Asia ) the challenge is to take the traveller aside and tempt them with something else.

In London, the something else is to revisit old favourites and discover new treasures. Both photos and text capture another view of the city and enable the traveller to stray behind the scenes. While some of the more familiar places are included such as Kew Gardens, Battersea Power Station etc, the text and images give a slightly different perspective. I loved the 8am section on the full English breakfast. Here we see local pensioners catching up at Formica tables while eating the traditional fare. The text is sympathetic and informative. No judgements are passed on the way of life portrayed. Rather, it suggests that this should be part of your visit and allow you to experience a different side of London life.

Another morning activity is swimming in the Serpentine. This is a long held tradition but as the temperature never exceeds 15 degrees, I suspect most visitors might pass on the opportunity. I sent some suggestions to my nieces who live in London. They tracked down the Nomadic Community Gardens and enjoyed meeting a Kiwi who has a regular plot there.

This book could easily be another coffee table treat, but I think it has more to offer the repeat visitor who desires a little more from their visit. The photos and text work well together to suggest an alternative excursion for the curious traveller.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

London: 24 hours and 160 photos in one city
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013438

 

Book Review: Bobby, the Littlest War Hero, by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

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cv_bobby_the_littlest_war_heroNow, 100 years after the Great War, stories are emerging about people and events previously unspoken of. I know with my own family, the stories were not recounted for over 50 years and it was the Grandchildren who became the listeners.

Bobby, the littlest War Hero is just such a story. For me the best part is that the tale comes as a picture book and so is available to an audience for whom the Great War is  distant history. This book makes it real.

Glyn Harper is a war historian and he uses a real event to tell the tale of a canary and his best friend Jack. The use of canaries in mining is well know, but their work during the war with the tunnelers was a revelation. Jenny Cooper brings the story of Bobby to life with the bleak browns of the battlefield and the yellow canary.

As a teacher I find a resource such as Bobby enables wonderful discussions and research. 30 years ago, such books were a rarity and it was difficult to engage my students. This book has been around many classes and I included my World War 1 entrenchment tool, to add another level to their understanding. This came back with my Grandfather and shows the fragility of life in the trenches.

As Anzac Day approaches, Bobby would be a wonderful way for a family to share ideas on war, peace and the importance of friendships.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Bobby, the Littlest War Hero
by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771876