Book Review: Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History by Philip Simpson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_totaraThe ‘mighty tōtara’ has been central to life in New Zealand for thousands of years. It was used by Māori for carving and building, and when the white settlers arrived in New Zealand they found it a perfect wood for cutting into fence posts as they divided up their farms.

Botanist Philip Simpson shares his knowledge of these trees in his book Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History, which is well illustrated with many excellent photographic examples of trees still to be found around the countryside.

New Zealand has four recognised species of tōtara: lowland, Hall’s, needle-leaved, snow and one distinctive variety (South Westland). The biggest trees being the lowland tōtara and the smallest ones the snow tōtara being found among the alpine rocks.

Growing up in the Takaka Valley, Simpson recalls second growth tōtara was a major feature of the valley, as settlers had cleared the earlier forest, and in this boyhood playground his love of the trees began.

In the Foreword Maui John Mitchell says, “Philip has written a history of Aotearoa/ New Zealand from the tōtara perspective. He has seen it as part of the primeval natural world, he has clearly portrayed why the tōtara is the leading rakau rangatira-‘chiefly conifer’-to Maori, and he has shown how critical the tōtara was to successful European settlement.”

Throughout New Zealand, tōtara trees have been honoured by inclusion as place names, for example just south of my hometown of Oamaru there is a small rural school called Tōtara. Its name came about because of a lone tōtara tree growing on a limestone outcrop.

This excellent publication is a book for all to enjoy, the well written text is supported with a variety of photographs in colour and black and white. The cover has a stunning photograph of Pouakani, the largest tōtara tree in New Zealand at 3.88 metres, found at the northern end of the Hauhungaroa Range in the King Country. It can be picked up time and time again to be reread and devoured. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Where tōtara lives and who lives with it” which discusses climate and environmental factors which influence distribution, and the author also discusses the importance of the tōtara to wildlife including spiders, butterflies, lizards, microsnails and birds.

Reviewed By Lesley McIntosh

Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History
by Philip Simpson
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408190

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Book Review: Island Nurses, by Leonie Howie & Adele Robertson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_island_nursesLeonie Howie and Adele Robertson live and work on remote Great Barrier Island – so called because it faces the full brunt of the wild Pacific weather and acts as a barrier for the mainland about 100 kilometres away. With a population of about 1000, no reticulated electricity, no ATM machine, no street lights and one pub, it is a wildly beautiful place. It has a long history of farming, whaling and fishing, and the people who live here are a resilient lot, proud of their community.

Howie is married to the doctor on the island, and their younger children sometimes attended consultations, including births, although they were generally asleep in the car.
Midwifery and nursing on a remote island bring a wide range of dramas and emergencies, and Howie and Robertson share the islanders’ stories-sometimes tragic, sometimes happy, sometimes funny-from over 30 years of challenging yet uplifting work.

In the early days, Dr Howie worked from an old building on the southern end of the island and in the public health nurses’ cottage in the north, travelling by motorbike and then in a second-hand Holden sedan. ‘On Wednesday they drove in Ivan’s iconic and durable light blue Holden HQ up north to the nurse’s cottage in Port FitzRoy for the northern clinic. At this time, in the mid-eighties it took just under an hour to reach Adele’s clinic.’

Clinics were also held in a caravan on the couple’s front lawn, and in their lounge, before Dr Howie encouraged the locals to form a community trust which built the islands medical centre.

A map at the beginning of the book is a great asset and I found myself referring to it as I was reading the book. The collection of photographs also complements the text and I loved the cover design, the fresh faced nurse’s smiles inviting the reader to open the book and read their story.

This memoir is the first book the pair has written and it highlights just how a small community supports itself and the people living there. It will be of interest to anyone interested in health services and who enjoys a life away from city living.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Island Nurses: Stories of Birth, Life and Death on Remote Great Barrier Island
by Leonie Howie & Adele Robertson
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781877505843

Book Review: The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter, by Deborah Challinor

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_cloud_leopards_daughterSet in 1863, the story begins on the Otago Goldfields where the daughter of a Chinese Tong master is kidnapped and whisked off to China and a forced marriage.

We meet up with Kitty and Rian Farrell sailing into Dunedin harbour in their schooner Katipo 111 to meet with their friend Wong Fu who is based at Lawrence, very unwell, and concerned for the wellbeing of his daughter Bao.

The couple agree to sail to China to find the girl and the reader is taken on a fascinating journey which includes pirates, another kidnapping and the opium trade into China.
When their daughter Amber is taken from a hotel in Cebu, Phillipines, Kitty is devastated as this is the fourth time in her life that Amber has been kidnapped. She wonders if she “were being made to pay for plucking Amber from the streets of Auckland when she had been tiny”.

This is the fourth book in the The Smuggler’s Wife Series which are all based on the high seas in the Pacific. This title is easily a stand alone book as I had not read any of the previous books and was soon absorbed into the adventures of the very real, colourful characters brought to life by the descriptive writing.

The author has done a great deal of research into the opium trade into China which has given an interesting depth to the story of an era which has almost been forgotten. In the author notes at the rear of the book Challinor says, “The British reluctantly paid for their pekoe, teacups and bolts of silk in bullion, but, concerned at the amount of silver in particular leaving England, soon realised there was a ready market for opium in china”.

The peaceful but rugged coastline on the front cover of The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter enticed me into this book, I learned a lot about the opium trade, and I believe anyone who likes a family saga with some adventure in it will enjoy it as much as I did.

Deborah Challinor lives in New Zealand with her husband. While at University she did a PhD in military history and when her thesis was described by one of her university supervisors as readable she sent it to a publisher, and came away with a book deal. She has now published fourteen novels in fifteen years. She has also written one young adult novel and two non fiction books.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter
by Deborah Challinor
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460751572

Book Review: One Woman’s War and Peace, by Wing Commander Sharon Bown

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_one_womans_war_and_peaceWhen Sharon Bown, nee Cooper, a young Registered Nurse from Tasmania joined the Royal Australian Air Force it was with the goal of providing humanitarian aid to the world, as a Nursing Officer. During her eleven years of service she served in East Timor, Bali and Afghanistan working to save the lives of others, but almost losing her own.

Her autobiography is a very powerful, courageous story of a very determined young woman who survived a helicopter crash that left her with a shattered jaw and broken back, while deployed in Timor.

“On the ninth day of my hospital admission I was finally allowed out of bed and introduced to the ‘old lady body’ that was now mine as I had to learn to walk again”. With grit and determination Sharon worked hard with her own rehabilitation and after five months, was able to stop wearing the back brace which had supported her for months.

When the Air force was asked to provide AME support to the evacuation of Australians following the Bali bombing in 2005, Sharon was relieved to be asked if she was ‘available to deploy’?

Following this she spent a year as an Aide-de–camp to the Chief of the Defence Force working in Canberra for Dr Brendan Nelson, during which time she received promotion to Squadron Leader.

Back in Townsville, Bown worked as a Military Support Officer, providing specific advice to ADF members and their families such as bereavement support, arrangement of military funerals and assisting with the deceased estates administration. A year into this two-year posting, Bown was asked to return to Air Force Health where her leadership skills saw her deployed to Tarin Kot, Afghanistan

Bown has written with great honesty sharing her inner-most feelings of despair, especially when children could not be saved, as well as the physical and mental effects of her accident. Some time after her return home to Australia, she was diagnosed with post –traumatic stress disorder. In 2015, Bown was discharged from the Royal Australian Air Force as medically unfit from a job she loved and which had seen her rise to the rank of Wing Commander.

I thoroughly enjoyed this inspirational story which is well written and beautifully presented on glossy pages. The inclusion of a number of quality photographs compliments the story and the last photo introduces the reader to Bown’s husband Conway, and her two sons Tiberius and Austin.

Bown continues to live in Townsville and is highly sought after to speak of her unique experiences during her service career.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

One Woman’s and Peace
by Wing Commander Sharon Bown
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781925335316

Book Review: Double-Edged Sword – The Simonne Butler Story, with Andra Jenkin

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_double-edged_swordIn 2003, Simonne Butler’s violent partner, Antoine Dixon, high on methamphetamine, cut off both her hands with a samurai sword. Her hands were reattached in a ground-breaking marathon surgery and she spent the next decade healing her mind, body and spirit.

I started this book with mixed feelings as like many New Zealanders I had followed this story through the media and asked myself why had Simonne got herself into this situation, and why didn’t she leave the violent relationship? But after reading her story, I now understand how life circumstances shape our lives and how people can cling to the hope they can change others with love and support and hopefully the next day will be better.

This is a powerful book and Simonne shares her background growing up in a challenging household where a cycle of abuse was prevalent. Fed up with supporting her alcoholic mother, Simonne moved out of the family home and into a flat when she was twenty-one, and during that time met Tony, who was her friend Shasta’s boy-friend.

Tony began stalking Simonne, and their friendship grew as she explains, “Tony was so funny, determined and resourceful. He was so into me it was hard not to get caught up in it all. He was exciting and what seemed like a little dangerous.”

As the story unfolds, the reader is drawn into the life of the couple who are soon living together and Simonne learns that Tony is still married and concerned his wife will take their children to Australia. Life with Tony is erratic and at times dangerous, and while Simonne does attempt to leave him, he draws her back until she is too exhausted to be able to get away.

Simonne has not spared the reader in her description of the attack, its graphic detail is harrowing and you feel you have to read on. She has shared her life in pictures as well, wonderful snapshots of a girl growing up in New Zealand, photos of the surgery and then life post-surgery.

Simonne Butler is to be congratulated for being able to share her story in Double-Edged Sword. It is a must-read book for young adults upwards, as Simonne has vividly described many of the oppressive traits that abusers can exhibit.

It is also an inspiring read, as this brave woman overcame extreme stress and trauma to rebuild her life, taking it in new directions after graduating with a Diploma of Naturopathy from Wellpark College of Natural Therapies. In February 2013, she began a formal shamanic apprenticeship at the Medicine Woman Centre for Shamanic Studies after studying with a master shaman since 2006.

Reviewed By Lesley McIntosh

Double-Edged Sword – The Simonne Butler Story
by Simonne Butler, with Andra Jenkin
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN  9780473364359

Book Review: Her Space – Kiwi She Sheds, Back Rooms and the Kitchen Table, by Marilyn Jessen

cv_her_spaceAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.Available now in bookshops nationwide.

If you have a dream of getting out of the grind of a nine to five job and fill your days with creativity Her Space is a must read. We often hear about the ‘Man Cave’ or ‘His Shed’ but little had been written about a space for women until Marilyn Jessen took a stroll down the garden path.

The reader is taken on the journey from Northland to Southland as the author steps into the spaces of over 60 artistic, creative and inspirational women to share their passionate stories. Over the course of a year Jessen met, interviewed and photographed jewellers, milliners, painters, sculptors, crafters and collectors to record the creative journeys of many New Zealand women.

Some of the women featured are just starting out, and still working at a day job while creating in their spare time. Others have taken a leap of faith to do what they love, hoping and believing the money will follow, and we meet some who have been creating long enough to know that it is financially sustainable.

Their spaces vary in size, some are just a table in a bedroom, an easel in a lounge while others have found sanctuary in a church or caravan or taken over the basement garage.
In her introduction Jessen says these ordinary women are extraordinary because they follow their passion, despite having faced physical, financial and emotional challenges.
“Some talk of the extraordinary power of creative endeavour to heal and give meaning to life, even in its roughest moments”.

Jessen has included some pages of advice including ‘Getting Started Creatively’, ‘Staying Passionate about Being Creative’, and ‘Creating Your Very Own Her Space’. Turning a creative passion into a full time job is a serious step and Jessen includes a ‘Marketing and Money’ section to assist in navigating the business side of the enterprise.

Her Space is a stunning book, and the photographs are a wonderful accessory to this well-written record of a selection of talented artists in New Zealand. It will sit well on my coffee table to be enjoyed by anyone spending time in my home as each story can be read separately and independently .

Marilyn Jessen carved herself a career in several senior management roles with high profile companies before opening her own successful management consultancy. She has also completed a media arts degree and became a specialist teacher in music, photography and film-making. Her introduction to books came when her husband Don asked her to take photographs for his books.

Reviewed By Lesley McIntosh

Her Space – Kiwi She Sheds, Back Rooms and The Kitchen Table
by Marilyn Jessen
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869539443

 

Book Review: Scarlet & Magenta, by Lindsey Dawson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_scarlet_and_magentaFamily letters retained and passed down in a family, inspired this book set in Tauranga in the late 1800s. Author Lindsay Dawson has cleverly woven an interesting story around an idea in her great- grandfather’s correspondence and the resulting novel delves into early history of New Zealand, especially of the pioneering women and men who settled in this country.

It is January 1886 when Anna Hamilton wife of Bank Manager meets Violet Sutton who has recently arrived in Tauranga from London. She has a past, considered scandalous in Victorian times, which led to her marriage to an older man and her voyage to the other side of the world. She is able to confide in Anna and the pair enjoy a spirited friendship.

Violet’s liason with rival banker Rupert causes ripples in the town setting off a chain of events which have dire consequences for the strong, free-thinking woman.

I was half way through the book before I had an inkling of how the interesting title came about, but with his bright red hair it is an apt description for Rupert, while Violet describes herself as scarlet, “ not so much a school marm as a scarlet woman . We are a red pair you and I”

Over half of Scarlet & Magenta takes place in the first six months of the year in the Bay of Plenty town, with the author recording the tale like a diary, with each chapter dated. The inclusion of quotes at the beginning of each chapter is also an interesting touch. Dawson explains in notes at the rear of the book, “they are taken from newspapers and journals published in the era covered by the story.”

I found it an easy read which flowed along at a good pace. Life in early New Zealand was vastly different for women compared with today and Dawson has highlighted a number of these differences. The book combines interesting historical events, such as the Mount Tarawera eruption, with a touch of romance and mystery so will appeal to a wide number of readers.

Lindsey Dawson has written eight other books, but Scarlet and Magenta is her first historical novel .As well as writing her own stories she enjoys helping others write theirs, offering mentoring , workshops in person and online.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Scarlet & Magenta
by Lindsey Dawson
Published by Out Loud Press
ISBN 9780473341428