Book Review: The Birds at My Table, by Darryl Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_birds_at_my_table.jpgThis book, The Birds at My Table is, in the words of its author, ‘an exploration of this fascinating, complex, simple, sometimes compulsive human activity’, the feeding of wild birds.

Darryl Jones writes that the United Nations estimate the global bird-seed industry to be worth US$5-6 billion, growing about 4% annually since the 1980s. He has searched for information from bird feeders all over the world, including here in New Zealand, regarding the effects of this food, which is consumed by the birds on top of what they eat in their normal diet.

Studies done by researchers in countries diverse as New Zealand, the UK and parts of the United States, have shown that 40-50% of households feed wild birds from some form of garden feeder.

In 2002 a journalist writing in the Wall Street Journal headlined his piece American Backyard Feeders May Do Harm To Wild Birds with the subtitle “Feeding Wild Birds Lures Pests, Predators, Causing Illness and Distorting Populations.” Citing this article as a summary of the arguments typically fielded against wild bird feeding, Darryl Jones says about The Birds at My Table– ‘this entire book is an attempt to evaluate and respond to the issues -some legitimate, some just provocative -raised by [the Wall Street Journal’s] piece.’

The average person, buying or preparing food for the birds that live around their home, most probably has never thought further than the pleasure it brings them and the benefits it may bring to the birds. This well researched book, written by a man who takes delight in seeing the wild birds visiting his feeder, opens a window to a greater understanding of the topic of why we feed wild birds and why it matters.

The book has an extensive appendix with notes on each chapter and references to other studies cited and discussed in the body of the book. It is a most interesting book and one that has been written to gently inform those interested, the implications of a pleasurable hobby.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

The Birds at My Table
by Darryl Jones
Published by NewSouth Publishing
ISBN 9781742235974

Advertisements

Book Review: Gabriel’s Bay, by Catherine Robertson

cv_gabriels_bayAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

At 426 pages, Gabriel’s Bay is a book that promises to fill a good few hours of reading time. So well written are the characters and the lives they lead, that I read it in just one and a half days. Catherine Robertson tells us in the book’s accompanying media release that she decided, after three hilarious chick-lit style novels, to try a new tack, focusing on what she feels good at: humour, characters and dialogue. As these are the things that most interest me when well executed, I can say that Catherine has succeeded in her stated aim.

I like that the novel is set in a recognisable New Zealand. The character who holds the whole cast together is a young man from the UK who, after making a shambles of his life at home, answers an ad for a home help in the small township of Gabriel’s Bay. Unlike some books of similar ilk, the people who live there are not cheerfully stoical and determinedly positive. They are a more realistic portrayal of the people who live in the little townships down the road from where you live, or perhaps, even, your next door neighbours in your own little township.

We get to know the characters well as as the young man becomes involved in the fabric of the village throughout the novel. Issues that we are familiar with in our own lives are dealt with in a way that fit into the story being told without dominating it or detracting from the tension the reader experiences.

Not all the ends are neatly tied at the finish just as they never are in real life, but the author has written a book that is so well tuned to real life that I, as the reader was satisfied that the characters had ended their tales on a note of optimism. I identified with each and every one of them, even the not so nice, and to me that is the mark of a story well told.

New Zealand can be proud of the work of our authors and poets. Catherine Robertson has written a novel that testifies strongly to that. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Gabriel’s Bay
by Catherine Robertson
Published by Black Swan
ISBN 9780143771456

Book Review: Epic Drives of the World, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_epic_drives_of_the_worldI’ve long been a fan of Lonely Planet publications, especially since they have included New Zealand in their reviews of great places to see and visit.  This book is no exception.  Epic Drives of the World contains three drives in New Zealand, in both the North and South Islands, and the very first two page illustration is of a VW campervan parked overlooking a portion of the East Coast somewhere in our beautiful country.

Fifty drives are described in detail with photographs of the terrain traversed, covering all parts of the globe from Africa and the Middle East, through the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. The drives are graded from Easy through to Epic.  And an added bonus is a feature which gives information about similar drives to the initial one being described.  For instance, even though only three major drives are featured here in New Zealand, the index in the back of the book has the information that there are eleven routes covered somewhere in the book describing drives in Central Otago, the Kaikoura coast, Southern scenic route, thermal hot spots and Waiheke Island to name a few.

An indication of the extensive research which has gone into the book is the description for the Pacific Coast Highway.  To quote: ‘New Zealand’s indigenous Māori culture, coastal scenery and Art Deco design combine in this off-the-beaten track journey around the country’s Pacific Ocean coastline. Start at Whakatane, one of New Zealand’s sunniest cities, and the departure point for boat trips to Whakaari (White Island), a sulfurous active volcano off the coast.  Nearby Ohope is close to the protected wildlife refuge of Moutuhora (Whale Island). The remote region beyond Opotiki around NZ’s easternmost point is steeped in the traditional ways of the Ngāti Porou iwi (tribe), with local Marae (Māori meeting houses) displaying beautiful wooden carvings.’

Napier-Napier-s-art-deco-architectureAlongside this description (reproduced in part) is a full page colour photograph of Napier with some of the Art Deco buildings and its white sand beach.  This drive was in the ‘More Like This’ section which follows many of the harder, epic drives throughout the book.

The book is a visual feast, being A4 size with a hard cover, and containing many photos and colour illustrations.  Little maps are at the beginning of each main drive showing where they are in the country represented, and each drive has the starting location, the end point, the distance covered, how to get there and, in some cases, what to take, when to go, where to eat, and websites to connect to for further info.  It’s packed full of information about the countries visited, the wildlife to watch out for and some history or relevant information about the country.

Epic Drives of the World is a real cracker of a book which would delight all sorts of readers, from the die hard adventurer through to the stay at home imagineers.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Epic Drives of the World
by Lonely Planet
Published by Lonely Planet Global
ISBN 9781786578648

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