Book Review: Boo!, by Ben Newman

cv_boo.jpgAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

This is the kind of book youngsters love; short and pithy with graphic pictures, and a narrative that even the littlest child can sense is going to end in a bang.

Ben Newman has his audience in the palm of his hand from the start, from the garishly coloured cover with its cut out eyes spelling “Boo” through to the ending which is funny and expected but also not expected, by an audience of the littlest. The five- and seven-year-old loved it and the older ones pretended not to, while looking over the shoulder of the reader and trying not to laugh at the unabated mirth of their siblings after each rendition.

I have to confess I enjoyed it too. Books like this one build a foundation for an ongoing love of reading in children, as well as developing in them a desire to discover things. The words and pictures may be simple but the message they teach is that it’s fun to learn, and that something unexpected is just around the corner if we keep on going.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Boo!
by Ben Newman
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN 9781911171058

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

Book Review: No Place to Hide, by Jim Flynn

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_no_place_to_hidJim Flynn encourages the reader of his book to “critically examine” what he has written about the climate debate, not elevating it to “the status of scripture, but assess[ing] everything I say”. He, himself, set out to discover the true facts after, as he puts it, “being assailed by contradictory opinions that ranged from nightmare scenarios to reassurance”.

In his extensively researched book, Flynn comes to the sobering conclusion that at a certain date, likely as early as 2050, global warming may become a self-sustaining process – a state of no return. The greatest illusion, he states, is that the nations will agree to cut their carbon emissions in time to avoid this point of no return.

He sums his findings up with two propositions that were put forward by climate change observers in past studies. The first is that even if current emissions were cut immediately by 20, 50 or 80 percent, 2050 would still be the point of no return where the melting of the polar glaciers, the acidity of the oceans and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere will mean new higher temperatures that will persist for thousands of years.

Secondly, there is no way of de-carbonising the world’s economy that is viable within the next fifty years. For various reasons, all thoroughly explored, conversion of dirty technologies to cleaner ones will initially raise emissions, as the infrastructures of the latter are created and put into place.

The staggering amount of research Flynn has done in producing this book, gives the reader an idea of the complexities of the situation we find ourselves in. There are many factors involved, all interrelated in ways that add to the effects of the damage our planet is sustaining.

Writing before the results of the election in the US were known, Flynn comments – “If the Republicans win the election in 2016 you can kiss American carbon targets goodbye”. He further states that “even if a sane president is elected…” the pressure from the coal, gas and oil lobbies will make it extremely unlikely that the phasing out of the use of fossil fuels will be on the political agenda.

In the last chapter, Flynn puts forward suggestions founded on various studies, of possible solutions, which, in light of his preceding conclusions, seem almost like wishful thinking, a clutching at straws with little hope of seeing a fulfilment. He concludes by asserting that global planning is needed. Clean energy and climate engineering are fundamental to any effective long term strategy. 2050 need not be the point of no return if governments stop making gestures and face reality.

As a reader I feel his earlier words are more likely, that the greatest illusion is that all nations will agree to cut carbon emissions. But one thing this book does is inform those who take the time to read it, of the immensity of the problems facing us as we head into the future.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

No Place to Hide
by James Flynn
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503246

Book Review: Only Two for Everest, by Lyn McKinnon

cv_only_two_for_everestAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Most, if not all, New Zealanders know of Sir Edmund Hillary and his successful ascent of Everest. What many, including myself, didn’t know, was that the events that lead up to that first ascent of the world’s highest mountain could have meant that a different New Zealander could well have stood triumphantly on the summit in 1953.

Lyn McKinnon has researched and written an excellent account of the early years of mountain climbing in New Zealand, and the young men involved. Two in particular were Earle Riddiford and Ed Cotter. Contempories of Hillary and George Lowe, they climbed with them in the Himalayas. Cotter and Riddiford, along with Pasang Dawa Lama, made the first ascent of Mukut Parbat in 1951. Hillary and Lowe accompanied them on the first part of the climb but turned back after deciding the summit was too difficult to reach. It was this climb which brought the New Zealanders to the attention of the Alpine Club in London who were in the process of organising a British Reconnaissance of Mt. Everest. An invitation was sent to the four climbers while still in the Himalayas, for two of them to join the party. On receipt of the telegram, a day and a half of bitter dispute divided the men and set in motion events reaching even into our time. Only two men could go and this is where the title of the book comes in.

The two men who did go were the members of the expedition who eventually summitted Everest. The two who missed out, Earle Riddiford and Ed Cotter, have their stories told at last in Only Two For Everest. Lyn McKinnon has drawn on private papers as well as published work, and interviewed Ed Cotter, the families of both men and many other contemporary climbers to set the record straight about these two extraordinary men, whose climbing achievements have been eclipsed by the prominence given to the man who reached the summit.

Riddiford and Cotter deserved to have their stories told and McKinnon has done them justice in a book rich in detail and photographs.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Only Two for Everest
by Lyn McKinnon
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781927322406

Book Review: Working Class Boy, by Jimmy Barnes

cv_working_class_boyAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Jimmy Barnes says of his writing this account of his early life: “the time I have spent writing this book has caused me a lot of pain.” He was born in Scotland, one of six children. His father was an alcoholic who drank away his wages, and the children learned to fear the violent rows that ensued when his mother confronted him each time she was faced with having to scratch to feed the family. The area of Glasgow where they lived was mired in poverty, and drunken fights and mindless violence, even amongst the children, were horrifyingly common. Jimmy, at four, survived a life threatening attack by boys not much older than he by running away as fast as he could. His friend wasn’t as lucky. The youngster was pelted with rocks and bottles and finally set on fire. He ended up in hospital for a long time and Jimmy still carries guilt for leaving him behind.

The family eventually became “ten pound tourists,” so called because that was what it cost for such ones to emigrate to Australia to become Australian citizens. Arriving in the “lucky country” in 1962 when Jimmy was five, things went from bad to worse. Dwindling money, fraying tempers and too much alcohol gave way to more violence and finally, despair. The mother who had sworn she would never leave them, left one night without a sound. The children woke to find that they were effectively on their own.

The loneliness of the young boy as he struggles to deal with the neglect and the chaos makes for hard reading, but Jimmy, the adult, tells the story with a candour and humour that imbues it with a sense of hope. Many times that hope would have been difficult for Jimmy and his siblings to imagine, especially as they grew into their teens in the hellish conditions of the Adelaide suburbs where drugs and alcohol-fuelled violence in the streets as well as in the home.

Jimmy left his home to join a band and that’s where his account ends. It’s not where his story ends though, as those of us who have listened to his songs over the years know.

Reading about his harrowing early life gives a greater understanding of both the belting lyrics and the softer, sometimes haunting, music he has produced. As Sam Neill writes in his own review of this book, “Remarkably, out of all this bedlam one of the best men I know emerges – a great artist, a terrific friend and – how does this happen- a devoted loving family man.”

This moving account of Jimmy Barnes’ early life is an example of how a terrible childhood doesn’t necessarily doom one to a life of misery. But it also shows in grim detail the enormous effort Jimmy had to put in to become the man he is.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Working Class Boy
by Jimmy Barnes
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460752135

Book Review: Days are like Grass, by Sue Younger

cv_days-are-like-grassThis is a great read from a new New Zealand novelist, and is available now at bookshops nationwide.

Claire Bowerman has returned to New Zealand from London at the behest of her fiancée, Yossi. She is a pediatric surgeon at Starship hospital in Auckland, working with young patients suffering various ailments and traumas. In one such case, parents of a child with Wilm’s tumour refuse chemo and surgery, preferring alternative treatment. The resulting furore and media attention focuses unwelcome attention on Claire’s past, a past that she has spent a lifetime trying to forget. As she struggles against the encroaching memories, her relationship with Yossi begins to fray. Her fifteen year old daughter, Roimata, is also caught up in the turmoil as her own past begins to be revealed.

Claire’s reactions are very human and at times make for uncomfortable reading as she takes her anxiety and distress out on her family members, even as she attempts to keep them safe from the harm that she is sure threatens them all. It is hard to predict how things will be resolved and it is this very unpredictability which makes it hard to put the book down.

The characters are well drawn, believable and human. The Auckland landscape is equally detailed.

Sue Younger has written a novel that can take a well-deserved place on any bookshelf, and could easily be one that might be read again in a bid to take in detail missed on the first read.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Days are Like Grass
by Sue Younger
Published by Eunoia
ISBN 9780994104762

Book Review: Stag Doo, by ‘Big Al’ Lester

cv-stag_dooAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Having grown up with male relatives who enjoyed hunting and fishing in the great New Zealand outdoors, I thought I’d enjoy this book. I did, but I think I’ve grown out of my youthful desire to be one of the boys..

‘Big Al’ Lester collects mates and their stories like a gumboot sock collects burrs. The stories are well told and I enjoyed them mainly for this reason. I have male friends now who love sharing tales of their derring-do in the wilderness, and this book would make a welcome gift, one to be read over a few beers, while reminiscing with like-minded mates. I don’t think many of the stories in the book have been too exaggerated in the telling. This makes for some head shaking moments as one reads, if the reader is someone who has never experienced such adventures in person. But even such a reader will enjoy the humour and eccentricity revealed as ‘Big Al’ encourages his mates to tell all. As he says in the epilogue- “the hills are full of hard case characters who are out there simply being themselves.” And one can identify with them to some extent because, like us, they’re human.

I enjoyed the photographs that were included, but I would have liked to see what some of the biggest ‘character’s looked like. And the book contains a glossary at the back which explains terms which may be unfamiliar to the townie. All in all, a good read for the hunter in your life who loves to laugh at the mishaps of his or her fellows.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Stag Doo
by ‘Big Al’ Lester
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143574064