Book Review: Hero of the Sea – Sir Peter Blake’s Mighty Ocean Quests, by David Hill and Phoebe Morris

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hero_of_the_seaRemembering where you were when you heard the tragic news that Sir Peter Blake had been killed is one of those iconic Kiwi moments. It came as a truly awful shock to those of us who had grown up idolising this epic New Zealander and following his fabulous achievements on the water. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to call him a hero and one very worthy of a children’s book.

Hero of the Sea by David Hill and Phoebe Morris is a welcome addition to their wonderful series about extraordinary New Zealanders. Starting from his early days learning to sail in Auckland, the book follows his adventures in yachting, his love of his family, and his efforts to bring attention to important environmental issues before his life was cruelly cut short in 2001. ‘Remember,’ he wrote, ‘this is the most beautiful world, and it’s the only one we’ve got.’

Hill and Morris are a great team. The story and the illustrations are perfectly balanced. With gorgeously simple lines, Morris accurately captures that well-known rugged, friendly face – moustache and all. The picture of Sir Peter taking a phone call in the bath is utterly adorable. The book has some truly beautiful double page spreads with ocean scenes, true testament to Sir Peter’s love of the environment.

Younger readers will love the brightly coloured illustrations; I predict that Kashin in her red socks will be a favourite . And, although a picture book, there is more than enough information in this biography to appeal to older readers as a great introduction to Sir Peter’s life. The inclusion of a detailed timeline is very useful for young researchers.

This book will be an ideal Christmas gift for aspiring yachties and conservation-minded kids. It is also a lovely reminder for us adults of what a special human being Sir Peter was and how lucky we were to have him. His legacy lives on through the Sir Peter Blake Trust’ helping a new generation of kiwi kids to explore and value our marine environment.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Hero of the Sea: Sir Peter Blake’s Mighty Ocean Quests
by David Hill and Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771654

Book Review: View from the South, by Owen Marshall, with Grahame Sydney

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cv_view_from_the_southOwen Marshall and Grahame Sydney have come together in poetry and photography for this collection, View From The South, which is a beautiful, hardcover, small coffee table book – in the best sense. Each page is roomy and the poetry and photography often work in tandem to project an overall image – like the full page photo of a tree covered in wet snow facing the sparse poem ‘The Big Snow’ which outlines it’s fate – ‘a great tree…borne down by soft, white death.’

In the poetry, Marshall places the grand events of life and history (birth, death, conquest) against life’s ordinary and even painfully mundane moments, often adding a dash of humour, for example in the prologue poem where it’s begged ‘God / Don’t let me die in Auckland.’ Later in ‘Tuoro’ the poem remembers Hannibal’s great victory at Trasimeno as the poem’s protagonists sit ‘at the end of a corridor / of time, and drink dark espresso in the sun.’

Sydney’s photography, beginning with the snow covered range at the end of a lone dirt road on the cover, display southern New Zealand as we northerns imagine it – vast and detailed, somewhat abandoned but with a few stoic people remaining. I assume these vistas are from the South Island – there is no information about the photos which is a pity for the curious.

View From The South does feature many poems set in the South Island but I think ‘the south’ here can also be interpreted as the later end of life. Marshall is looking across generations of his family (his father and his grandchildren in particular feature) and there is a consistent theme or ‘view’ of memory and remembrance throughout. This theme is heightened by the inclusion of several elegies. Marshall sees things differently from this view, for example in ‘Blowing Up Frogs With A Straw’ the poem lists the many ways as a boy the poem’s speaker experimented with killing animals. But not anymore.

Having experienced no suffering of
my own, I dished it out with gusto.
Yes.
and now I wince to step upon a snail.

Marshall isn’t doing anything new or experimental with the poetry in View From The South but the compact lyrics are solid and well crafted, letting you into the interior world. An investment has been made to create a beautiful poetry book, with space and colour, and all these factors pull together to make a book which is both thoughtful and delightful.

Reviewed by Libby Kirkby-McLeod

View from the South
by Owen Marshall, with Grahame Sydney
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143771845

Book Review: Ash Arising, by Mandy Hager

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ash_arisingWow! Before you pick up this book, go and read The Nature of Ash – a brilliant book which I thought was going to be a hard act to follow in keeping up the tension, suspense, thrill and adventure. Turns out I was wrong.

Mandy Hager has done it again. Ash, the reluctant key figure in a New Zealand overrun by dark and manipulative forces, responsible for his younger brother Mikey after their father was killed by those same forces, is now hiding out in Whanganui with his brother, and his friends Ziao and Travis, and his lawyer. Mikey, who has Down’s syndrome, is entirely Ash’s reponsibility and this relationship (so well drawn, and so spot on in its empathy and understanding) just adds an extra layer into the story – but one which provides a wonderful counterbalance to the horror and mayhem going on around.

The government, corrupt as can be, has yet to be overthrown by the handful of good guys who remain, and Ash becomes involved in some seriously frightening stuff. I will not tell you what, it’s just too good to spoil for anyone.

But prepare for nail-biting, uncontrollable page-turning and a determination to read on even though it’s time for bed! Trust me, you won’t be able to sleep until you finish the book.

This book is also a real celebration of brave young people – you know the ones, they think they are bullet proof (because their brains are not fully formed!) – but that’s exactly why they risk everything without second-guessing themselves. Mandy Hager reminds the older and more cynical reader that in fact change can be achieved by the young – and our job, if we still have one, is to assist them in that and refrain from saying old-fart things like ‘it will never work’ and ‘we tried that already’.

Do yourself a favour – go out and buy this book for yourself, and then buy copies for all the teenagers you know, and then lend one to all the old farts you know.  Mandy Hager, you’re amazing.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Ash Arising
by Mandy Hager
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780143772439

Book Review: Apartment Living New Zealand, by Catherine Foster

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cv_apartment_living_new_zealand.jpgEvery weekend about now – when weeds are unfurling and the grass is clearly in need of a trim – my partner and I look at each other and sigh. ‘We’re really apartment people,’ we say wistfully. Having spent time in apartments in Auckland, Wellington, London, Paris, Rome, New York, San Francisco and Melbourne, the lure of the apartment lifestyle is strong.

Author Catherine Foster begins with a brief description of the history of apartments in New Zealand and the changing cultural norms and attitudes towards apartment living. She notes that a lack of affordable land has seen rapid growth in the attraction of apartment ownership, which offers both convenience and quality of life. Significant increases in property prices, geographical restrictions and post-quake upheaval have all contributed to this growth.

Phoebe Gibbons lives with her partner in an inner-city Auckland apartment. She sums up the appeal of apartment living, sentiments that are shared by other apartment owners: ‘We have the city on our doorstep, a park across the road, and our jobs within walking distance. We can’t imagine a different lifestyle.’

Proximity to a city means that many owners walk from A to B, although almost all apartments covered in this book have their own parking space. In fact, one apartment includes parking for up to eight cars.

Foster and a team of photographers cover 20 diverse apartments, grouped by style: classic, contemporary and converted (typically from commercial to residential use). Some were constructed recently, others have been inhabited for close to a century. Auckland apartments feature prominently: 14 of the 20 apartments covered are in Auckland. Three are in Wellington, with one each in Lyttleton, Dunedin and Tauranga. I would have been interested to know Foster’s criteria for selecting the featured apartments and I’m grateful to the owners for sharing their homes.

Beautiful photographs of each apartment are counter-balanced with plenty of white space and interesting text. Each entry includes brief information about the apartment’s owner/s and their motivation for apartment living, followed by the property’s history and key design features. Architectural sketches offer a bird’s-eye view of floor plans, alongside information about the size (in square metres), the stud height, and the year constructed or renovated. Stud heights range from the traditional to a soaring 7m high cathedral ceiling.

Foster outlines the challenges architects face working with the demands of the Building Code, zoning restrictions and resource constraints, especially when renovating a heritage building. Patience is key during what some describe as ‘combative’ and ‘onerous’ processes. During renovations there’s a need to balance respect for the integrity of an original historic building with practical requirements for modern-day fixtures and plentiful storage. In some cases original fittings are still in use, such as the stunning bronze and glass lights in Wellington’s former Dental Clinic building.

Wellington_at_dawn

Panorama of Wellington at dawn, from Wikimedia Commons. 

There are many clever and sometimes surprising features, including a firefighter’s pole offering a quick descent as an alternative to an adjacent staircase, and self-contained pod bedrooms that can be easily reconfigured by future owners for commercial rather than residential use. In a Parnell apartment, enormously tall laser-cut aluminium screens double as folding shutters, providing both privacy and light control. And I’ve never seen anything else quite like the invisibly supported table suspended blade-like from one apartment’s kitchen wall.

Foster explains how both light and colour are used to best advantage, such as the bands of coloured glass brightening an exterior wall. Paint is also used to good effect: pastel shades to maximize space, blackboard paint on a kitchen wall to increase visual depth, and the 26 different shades of white in an apartment that serves as both home and office.

I appreciated the additional details Foster provides about artworks and other objects on display, such as sculptures and hand-blown glass vessels. An apartment owned by major patrons of the arts was constructed to showcase an extensive and eclectic collection that includes works by Warhol, Walters, McCahon, Upritchard, Killeen and others.

The combination of forward-thinking architects and open-minded clients results in clever design elements, such as the digital clock-tower in a Wellington apartment complex. Floor-to-ceiling cupboards offer not only spacious storage, but also help to reduce noise levels. In one apartment there’s a television hidden behind a mirror. In another, a mirrored splashback makes a small kitchen space appear deeper and reflects a bowl of juicy citrus fruit.

The apartments have diverse outlooks, including urban environments, ports and oceans, cityscapes, the Waitakere Ranges, and even the outer oval in the grounds of Eden Park.

There’s beauty in the writing too – ‘light washing down [that] creates a pattern of intersecting shadows; ‘the delicacy of a glazed atrium’; ‘bedrooms…quiet in both mood and decoration’; the ‘views of the Waitemata Harbour across the tumbling roofs of nearby houses’.

The final chapter outlines a pragmatic list for potential apartment owners to consider – safety, for example, as well as the need to look carefully at body corporate records. (Are there disputes between neighbours? What is the maintenance schedule? What are the annual fees?) The emotional implications are also teased out – for example, are pets allowed? Are occupiers allowed to make their own mark by changing the internal layout? A checklist and design prompts help to ensure that prospective purchasers know what to look for (including the direction of sunlight and prevailing winds), and what to avoid. A glossary lists real estate, architectural and legal terms as currently used and understood in New Zealand. A design directory lists most – but not all – of the architects and designers whose work appears in the book. Additional references include books, articles and websites dedicated to apartment living.

As an inveterate open-homer, I savoured every page of this elegant book. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite apartment – given a choice, I would spend a month in each. Until then I shall tackle the weeds and mow the lawn and dream of one day waking up in an apartment of my very own.

by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Apartment Living New Zealand
by Catherine Foster
Publisher: Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143770510

Book Review: Heloise, by Mandy Hager

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_heloise.jpgThis is a big book. Not big in size at a reasonable 381 pages, but big in scope and ideas. It’s a book that you want to take time and care with, so that you can appreciate it as it deserves.

Lots of people may know the names of Heloise and Abelard, even if like me, they don’t really know the details. Abelard was widely celebrated as one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century; Heloise was among the most lauded of his students, made more notable because of her gender in a time when women were most definitely meant to be barely seen and certainly not heard.

Mandy Hager tells the story from Heloise’s perspective, filling in the historical gaps with seamless narrative. She starts with Heloise’s childhood, about which next to nothing is known, and traces her life through to her teenage years and adulthood, and her fateful meeting with Peter Abelard. The story is well paced and rich, with excerpts from Abelard and Heloise’s own writing, and many references to other great thinkers including Ovid, Seneca, Aristotle and Socrates. With a lot of the story taking place within a religious setting, Sts Augustine and Jerome also get regular look-ins. The content is quite dense – not in a negative way, but in the way that a lets you know you’re reading a book that’s been really well thought-through, researched and edited.

A reader with modern sensibilities will rage against the unfairness with which Heloise is treated, where even Abelard, who professes to love and respect her, treats her as a chattel without feelings and ambition of her own. Abelard eventually comes across as a fairly unsympathetic character, even though Heloise’s love and forgiveness of his behaviour wins out time and again. I found myself snarling at some of the male characters in the story quite regularly … the perils of being a modern reader of historical fiction, I suppose!

Heloise reminds me of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, dealing in depth as it does with a historical figure who has name recognition, even if the reader doesn’t know much more. It’s substantial in the same way, and immerses you in a world that may be 800 years gone, but still echoes now in the 21st century. It’s not a light holiday read, but perfect for when you have time and space to read something substantial. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Heloise
by Mandy Hager
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143770992

Book Review: Maui and other Maori Legends: 8 Classic Tales of Aotearoa, by Peter Gossage

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_maui_and_other_maori_legendsThis bind-up collects eight classic Maori myths, the original picture books of which form some of my most visual memories from when I was a child. Six of the books that are reproduced here were published between 1975 and 1985, with the others from the early 2000’s. I remember clearly, sitting on the floor of the library at St Brigid’s Primary School, poring over these potent celebrations of Maori mythology, spellbound by the swirling style of the art within.

The first six of these stories are based on the mythology of Maui, arguably our most famous cultural ancestor. Many wonderful authors and illustrators have ensured our Maori mythology has endured, but Gossage’s bold, colourful art is the real joy of this collection, while his lyrical tellings are a pleasure to read aloud.

But Maui was still alive!
The wave children of Tangaroa and Hine-moana bore him on their backs.
The clouds shielded him from the fierce sun,
and Tawhiri the wind cooled him.

This collection is published beautifully by Penguin, and the handy bookmark ribbon has been a source of entertainment to my son Dan, who has happily started reading it to himself, making sure to keep his place with the ribbon provided.

My family is Pakeha, and my children’s main access to Maori myth is in essential books like this. It is a joy to re-read these old favourites and share them with my children. Please make sure you have this book in your library; it is still relevant and important.

Maui and other Maori Legends: 8 Classic Tales of Aotearoa
by Peter Gossage
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143309291

Book Review: Reach, by Laurence Fearnley

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

I was delighted to receive this book for review, as I had notcv_reach_fearnley read anything by Laurence Fearnley except other reviews of previous books! And while I had intended catching up, I had not yet managed that.

That has changed, or more precisely reading Reach has made me head off to the shelves to get hold of her earlier books.

The title, no pun intended, has far-reaching implications. Chambers Dictionary gives some of the definitions of the verb reach as: to stretch forth; hold out; to succeed in touching or getting; to communicate with; to arrive at; and some of the definitions of the noun form include: the act of reaching; a stretch or portion between defined limits.

All of these can be found encapsulated in this very clever and readable novel. The three central characters Quinn, Marcus and Callum are linked at first tenuously but finally inextricably,as their lives are connected by various events.

Quinn at first seems the most complex character, but all three have flaws and strengths peculiar to themselves.

Fearnley explores the various ways in which we reach, or can be reached by, others; how we interact, how personal space is important to everyone, how very singular individuals can be brought together – and indeed pushed apart. She does this by using the form of a countdown – Quinn, an artist, is preparing for a new exhibition, and the challenges which she faces in her work, her relationship with Marcus, and her friendship with Callum are all explored in depth, with great insight into the complexity of human relationships, the challenges faced and the decisions which must be made.

When I finished reading, I thought about the book a lot. At first I thought that there was very little dialogue, and that much of the text was around the unspoken thoughts of the characters. But then I realised that was not the case – there’s plenty of dialogue, and it’s powerful. However the real insights seem to come through in the way Laurence Fearnley writes about the mind.

I think this is a really good book. It’s well-written, intelligent, complex and creative. I’ll even read it again, which is unusual for me. And now I’m off to start The Hut Builder. I can’t wait to see what it’s like.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Reach
by Laurence Fearnley
Published by Penguin, 2014
ISBN 9780143571728