Book Review: Snails, Spells and Snazzlepops by Robyn Cooper

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_snails_spells_and_snazzlepopsThe day that Charlie got stuck in the loo was the day he decided he wanted to become rich.  It definitely had to be something to do with money; something that would make him lots of money so that the house he lived in with his Mum, his brother Zak and their Japanese language student Natsuko, could be renovated. He was sick of living in a crumbling house with door knobs that fell off in your hand, not to mention peeling paint in the loo and the smell from all the stinking farts.

Charlie’s Mum got very excited showing him six brown snails straggling along the kitchen bench.  Charlie suddenly saw fame and fortune at his fingertips.  He could become famous like TV chef Pierre Pascal  (Pierre was sprinkling salt onto skinned frogs legs).  Shiny pink legs with long spindly toes.  They began jiggling like they were swimming.  The chef said salt gets an electric current going in frogs’ nerves (they have to be freshly dead) and that makes the muscles contract.

Charlie wondered if snails danced if you put salt on them and whatever would frogs and snails taste like?  He could become a cooking star like Pierre Pascal, driving a flash car and making millions.

The school computer was the best place to start looking for recipes for preparing his snails for cooking.  The only problem it took ages to warm up.  When he could finally could get into googling “Cooking Snails” what came up really surprised him.  Heck, people really do eat snails.

This is a fantastic book.  Common garden snails for cooking?  Not something that the average child would think up, but imagination is wonderful.  Spells, potions and other interesting things enrich this story. A well-told tale.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Snails, Spells and Snazzlepops
by Robyn Cooper
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994137937

Book Review: New Sea Land, by Tim Jones

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_new_sea_landYou can lick the salt off this poetry, half expect sand to spill from the centrefold. Tim Jones’ latest collection, New Sea Land, is part history, part rattling fortune-telling. It is a slap on the face by a wet fish, a digging up of heads-in-the-sand. Jones has spied a calamity from the shoreline, an oncoming deluge. History is repeating on us, and this time the tide is coming in full.

New Sea Land is salty, but it is not your run-of-the-mill nostalgic beach jaunt. The sea and land are dispassionate players in a human-instigated ecological meltdown. Jones’ sea ‘does not mean any harm’ and his ‘sea does not apologise’. The sea is a desultory child, nibbling at the edges of things, erasing ‘Beachfront property / … with the stroke of a pen’.

Jones’ work is didactic, but not earnest at the expense of a playful image or a great one-liner. He pokes tongue at the itch for beachfront investments, and the securing of LIM reports. In a great little anachronism, Jones has Noah’s (of the Ark) carpenter crew curse ‘zero hours contracts’ and swim away from the job. Then there’s an alternative history played out, wherein Captain Cook and Dracula take ‘tea and blood together’ in Kealakekua Bay. It is all fun-and-games, but the broader picture is sober and confronting.

The world is falling apart at its seams. This is a New Zealand where climate change is playing out. The sea floods Lambton Quay, rolls over childhood homes, and meets householders at their doorsteps. People are left with new geographies of which to make sense. Jones gives us a periscope to a time where myopic vision has crystallised into something tangible. It is only once the impact is ostensible that we realise we ‘backed the wrong horse’.

There’s a passing of the torch, from one generation to the next, but one gets the sense that the flame has gone out. Jones’ people are asleep or in denial. They leave a legacy of rash decisions, a lack of investment in a future beyond their own:

‘You slept until you lost the path,

and woke to find your children’s path
blocked by rocks you long ago set falling’

New Sea Land glances backward, as much as it forecasts. It reflects on history, memory that ‘renders everything askew’. Jones stresses the importance of cognition of times-gone-by, in the navigation of a future. His people, though, are ‘so eager to obliterate the past’ that they ‘wash away the stepping stones’. Condemned to repeat past error, through disavowal of history, we find ‘all our futures / are hostage to our actions’.

Jones’ poetry is a caution and a premonition. ‘Nature doesn’t stuff around’. The sea and the land couldn’t care less about where we’re heading. Jones writes so well, you might lose sight of the fact you’re getting cold water thrown at you. You can lick the salt off this poetry, by all means. But Tim Jones doesn’t give you halcyon coastlines or ice-lollies on the beach. This is poetry that knows what’s coming, and insists you ‘keep your life raft close at hand’.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

New Sea Land
by Tim Jones
Submarine (an imprint of Mākaro Press)
ISBN 9780994129963

Book Review: Lewisville, by Alexandra Tidswell

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_lewisville.jpgOur stories are an important part of who we are. This is especially so in New Zealand, which really was the ends of the earth to our brave and intrepid forebears. Why would someone choose to travel in appalling conditions to a land of promise but little fact, far away from all their family, friends and culture?

Alexandra Tidswell has taken on the challenge presented by her own family to answer this question. As a seventh generation New Zealander, she had the initial stories, a 1960’s search and some 1980’s genealogical data as a starting point. From this, she has created a story which gripped me to the end.

Martha Grimm escapes to New Zealand with her daughter Mary Ann from Warwickshire in 1814. She left behind parents, other children and a husband, who had been transported to Australia. She leaves to follow her dream of escaping poverty and make a new life. While the novel is based on true events, the setting and characters are beautifully rounded and add real depth to the story. This is not a poetic foray into the beauties of the New Zealand landscape. At no time was I bogged down in treacle description. Rather, the storyline is strong and urgent. Martha has a determined and ambitious plan which she works hard to bring about. The tension in the story arises with the tale of her husband, as he too tries to escape the poverty and injustice of convict life in Australia. As his wife has remarried and become something of a society lady in Wellington, will her past catch up with her?

Tidswell has treated each part of the story with a genuine honesty and sympathy for the characters and their response to events. While we could view Martha as a selfish woman who cares little for her children left in the workhouse, we are drawn into the dream of a better future. The possibility that she might claim her children when she has succeeded, is always there. However, the stories of the children are also handled masterfully as they make their own way without the care of their parents. We cannot help but share the dream of Martha.

Likewise, the role played by the indigenous people, both in Australia and New Zealand, in supporting the naïve and unprepared immigrants in this new environment, is handled well. It is not overplayed but the information is there as part of the overall view.

Wellington residents will enjoy the description of early Wellington streets and suburbs as the settlement grows and the early homes are replaced by more substantial residences.
I see Lewisville as a coming-of-age book. The family story in integral but it is a really gripping story with real characters and identifiable places. This is a valuable contribution to the backstory of our country. It is well-told, excellently edited and researched and very readable. A great way for me to start my holidays.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Lewisville
By Alexandra Tidswell
Published by Submarine (Makaro Press)
ISBN 9780994137906

Book Review: An echo where you lie, by Polina Kouzminova

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_an_echo_where_you_liePolina Kouzminova captures a longing that tugs at the heart in her poetry collection, An echo where you lie. Amongst the tumultuous images of nature—snow, rushing water, glaciers—Kouzminova finds her emotions reflected in all aspects of the world around her.

Kouzminova was born in Siberia and from the age of ten, she was raised in New Zealand. The influence of these two cultures combined shows in her own poetry, where she reflects on all that she has left behind. Distance in both space and time is what defines the collection. Often, Kouzminova finds herself pausing in anticipation for this distance to close, for kilometres to be travelled, for hours to be finished. In the poem Chemistry, she waits silently, for “he will come, bringing / a thousand years’ absence home”. A quiet and unsettling atmosphere blankets the poem, a feeling of hushed and nervous expectation.

The poem Franz Josef Glacier is a soft and delicate piece about departure, and it’s my favourite poem in the collection. There are the familiar motifs come with this kind of scene: the act of letting go, a plane, a distance that only grows and grows. Kouzminova brings something special to these conventional images. She describes continents that “would lay themselves out / on the palm of my hand” and the dazed feeling of waking up and then having to again remember what’s been left behind. Especially heart-wrenching are these simple lines: “Now your softness will be touched / by somebody else; I do not exclude this.” The poem not only captures longing, but also a sense of bittersweet resignation, of having to let go of a warmth that could never quite be all hers.

However, leaving is not all bad. In the poem At the airport, Kouzminova describes the promise that comes with reaching her destination. She affectionately paints an image of her mother cooking in the evening, and thinks of the rest and warmth that she can finally have. Kouzminova captures the scene in one clear and crisp sentence: “These are the reasons to leave late nights / and fly back home”.

The poem If we aren’t careful is like a minimalist love poem, a poem that doesn’t demand much of its lover. Instead, it asks for the simple things: “Promise me / you will always be someone / from afar”. Distance seems to define Kouzminova’s life, and she is left to find echoes of other people in her memories. Even if she can’t see them in the flesh, her memories continue to reflect and bring them to life.

An echo where you lie is simply a stunning collection of work, and I love the way Kouzminova threads images together into crisp scenes. This is only Kouzminova’s debut collection, and I definitely want to read more of her poetry. She perfectly captures the strangeness that comes with moving, of having pieces of home scattered in different places and never quite feeling full. The stories she pulls together aren’t fantastical but everyday. The magic is in how she renders these familiar actions: leaving, arriving, forgetting, remembering. This is what holds up her words and what makes her work so bittersweet yet beautiful.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

An echo where you lie
by Polina Kouzminova
Published by Submarine (Makaro Press)
ISBN 9780994129949

Book Review: Lonesome When You Go, by Saradha Koirala

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_lonesome_when_you_goSaradha Koirala was born and raised in New Zealand. She is a teacher of English literature and creative writing at high schools and universities. Her third book Lonesome When You Go takes us to a town in New Zealand, and into the world of rock and classical music.

Lonesome When You Go follows the story of a teenage girl named Paige as she faces all sorts of challenges with her bandmates, friends and family. Over the course of the novel Paige discovers that she can’t always control everything in her life. This novel is filled with lots of fun, quirky unique characters, who help Paige discover that she’s never alone even when it seems like no one is there.

I very much enjoyed Lonesome When You Go and it’s dramatic twists and turns and they way that the characters beliefs grew over the course of the novel. I would highly recommend this novel to any high school student or music fanatic.

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston (14)

Lonesome When You Go
by Saradha Koirala
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994123749

Junior Fiction Shorts #2: Life According to Dani, Rona, and The Sam & Lucy Fables

There are a number of strong independent publishers based in Wellington, and these three books prove the point. Each of them is individual and necessary, and a lot of fun.

Life According to Dani, by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson

cv_life_according_to_daniThis is the fourth in this beautiful series exploring Dani’s life, and the emotional world our children have within them. Dani is in her happy place, with her best friend Ella on Ella’s part-time island, swimming in the sea, and making cookbooks, and selling buns and tea to the tourists who come by on the ferry. But the reason she is there is not so happy: her dad is still recovering from being run over by a car, and has been in hospital for months. Then one night, dad doesn’t phone…

As with many of Gecko’s writers, Lagercrantz and Eriksson have an uncanny way of getting under the skin of children and understanding their complicated lives – not underestimating them. I have most of the books in this series (and hadn’t realised I had missed one), and my son has benefited from them in times when he has been unsure of himself. The joy, and the sadness, of childhood is beautifully captured. Highly recommended for kids aged 4 – 9.

Life According to Dani
by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570713

Rona
by Chris Szekely and Josh Morgan

To be Released on 30 November 2016
cv_ronaIn contrast with Frankie Potts, Rona is a thoroughly New Zealand heroine, who when born was ‘so busy arguing she forgot to cry.’ She lives with her grandparents, and is part of a fantastic whanau. As the book opens, her cousin Jessie has come to stay for the school holidays. They go bridge-jumping and swimming in the local river, and Rona takes joy in playing pranks on her cousin, who is under her thrall. One of these pranks goes awry, with Rona’s pride & joy, a gold-trimmed Royal wedding mug, breaking in half as a result. Easy enough to fix, if it wasn’t for Granddad’s dog Snuffy…

There are two stories in this book, and the second story sees Rona tell some tall tales about her name’s origin at school, and deal with the consequences of plagiarising her uncle’s poem, while at home she helps nanna get the house ready for Christmas, with a brilliant bunch of family members. This is all about the comfort of routine, as Rona helps grandma bake the Christmas cake, granddad mow the lawn – and they go and buy a tree from the service station for once, which Rona keeps secret from grandma. Illustrations throughout from Josh Morgan add another element of fun to a very enjoyable story. This is a hugely relatable and comforting story, perfect to share with or gift to a child age 5-8.

Rona
by Chris Szekely and Josh Morgan
Published by Huia Publishing
ISBN 9781775501985

The Sam & Lucy Fables, by Alan Bagnall & Sarah Wilkins

cv_the_sam_and_lucy_fablesSam & Lucy are some pretty darn wise pigs. These are their stories, slightly reminiscent in format of Snake & Lizard, but with a fable that sees us learn something new about why the world is as it is at the end of each story. Every story has a guaranteed ‘is that true?!’ at the end of it, and Sarah Wilkins’ illustrations add wistful joy to each of the tales, each of which is more outlandish than the next.

My favourite fables are those with just the pigs, putting the world to rights – my absolute favourite being the Bus Stop story (hint: there’s always a bus there.) I highly recommend this for a book to read this holidays, perhaps in the back of a car on the way to a camping trip, where you may just see some flying carpets.

The Sam & Lucy Fables
by Alan Bagnall & Sarah Wilkins
Published by Submarine, with the help of Whitireia Publishing
ISBN 9780994129987

 

There are a couple more books I’d like to mention in the independent vein of things, which have landed on my desk more recently. Snails, Spells and Snazzlepops by Robyn Cooper is another from the Submarine imprint of Makaro Press, and looks like great fun; and if Lily Max: Slope, Style, Fashion from Luncheon Sausage Books is as good as the first Lily Max, (Satin, Scissors, Frock) it’s sure to be a hit. Jane Bloomfield has created an addictive character in Lily Max, and I look forward to reading this excerpt in her adventures.

All books reviewed by Sarah Forster 
And check out the first part of her junior fiction round-up here! 

 

Book Review: I Am Minerva, by Karen Zelas

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_am_minervaKaren Zelas has a light, airy, and playful tone that makes her poetry incredibly engaging. In her collection I Am Minerva, Zelas employs a wonderfully poetic voice that explores stories and histories, as well as the identity she crafts out of it.

In the first poem, Zelas presents a picture of herself in a modern context. In camera is a simple and short poem. It describes how, before the selfie, there was “always the invisible other” who wasn’t in the photo. The photographer helped complete the picture by taking the photo, and therefore also by not being present. The act of capturing the self was always left to someone else.

Zelas relies on spaces and breaks in verse to craft the tone of her collection, and create breathing spaces in her writing. Such a method wipes out the harsh break of full stops, and instead leaves every poem feeling like a long, drifting dream. In the poem Sound Waves, Zelas describes “open mouths tongues tripping / on syllables & the sibilance / of my heart ‘yes!’-ing”. The phrase “on syllables & the sibilance” especially rolls off the tongue in a satisfying way. Zelas’ writing voice is one that is very conscious of itself, and of how poetry wraps itself around a subtle rhythm.

Zelas’ poem Way point won the New Zealand Poems4Peace competition in 2014 and it’s easy to see why. The poem starts with the description of a place “where blue meets blue”. The description is not superfluous; the voice here is one that is gentle, kind, and patient. Despite the wide expanse of blue ocean, the poet reassuringly states “at that point will I find you… & as your ship breaks on my shore / I shall draw you to me”.

At times, Zelas also steps out of this voice. She presents a reminder about the dangers of pushing such a sweet voice to the point of romanticism. In the beginning is a poem that deals with the formation of the universe. At first, Zelas speaks in an expectedly lovely voice that portrays how “Sky & Earth / embraced in darkness”. Perhaps in reference to the many absurdities of ancient myth that are frequently skimmed over, Zelas undercuts this beauty at the end of the poem. She describes how “later that son fucked / his own daughter… & / there was night”.

The final poem is a piece of writing that beautifully twists the tongue. In the poem Born of the head of my father, Zelas confidently asserts “I am Minerva”. Then, she continues onwards: “I’m myth I’m rumour / madness mendacity / aftermath palimpsest” before ending on “I’m scribe”. Just like the goddess of Minerva, her wisdom includes both the histories of her own life and others. As a writer, these are the things that she turns into poetry. And in this poem, Zelas is able to finally present her own image of who she is.

The two images of the self—the camera selfie at the beginning, and the image of Minerva at the end—work as bookends of the collection in this way. In between, Zelas stunningly draws out a variety of settings with a subtle and soft tone. I Am Minerva plays with rhythm but never in a way that detracts from the images that are being brought forward. The whole collection carries a lightness that is wonderful to read, with Zelas holding up different images of herself into focus.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

I am Minerva
by Karen Zelas
Published by Submarine Books
ISBN 9780994129970