Book Review: Living Big in a Tiny House, by Bryce Langston

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_living_big_in_a_tiny_house.jpgTiny houses are a big thing. Around the world, more and more people are embracing the concept of downsizing their living space. The reasons for doing so are as varied as the tiny houses they create. Some wish to lessen their impact on the environment, others want to reduce their cost of living, and for some, a tiny house offers greater flexibility in where, and how they live.

Five years ago Bryce Langston stumbled upon an image of a man standing in front of a tiny house on wheels and was intrigued to find out more. He was hooked, and from then on, he has constructed his own tiny house and at the same time, created a video channel showcasing his own experiences as well as exploring the tiny house concept. This book is born out of that passion and interest, and is a collection of inspirational houses and the people who live in them.

Ranging in size from a miniscule 4 metre square to a ‘huge’ 60 metre square, the houses are as different as their owners: some are kitted out vans, some are permanently fixed homes, others are converted shipping containers. The folk themselves range from singletons, to couples to families to retirees. One particularly impressive owner built her tiny house as her Year 13 school project – a home owner at just 18 years old.

Each house is presented with an array of photographs along with a background story/interview of the owner and the how/why of their tiny house journey. For those who might be inspired to build a tiny house, practical tips for construction and planning are included at the beginning of the book. Although the photographs offer a good peek at the inside, I would have liked to have included a plan of just how each tiny house is laid out.

It is beautifully presented, and is a colourful and interesting book to dip into. The personal stories show not only the possibilities of what can be created, but also how lives can be enhanced and widened by living with less. You can’t help but admire the tenacity and passion of these pioneers in the tiny house movement. This will appeal to anyone who is interested in design and lifestyle, or those who are keen to try tiny house living for themselves.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Living Big in a Tiny House
by Bryce Langston
Potton & Burton, 2018
ISBN: 9780947503901

Book Review: Fight for the Forests, by Paul Bensemann

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fight_for_the_Forests.jpgNew Zealand is proud of the Clean Green ideal we like to project to the world. Scenes from the Lord of the Rings, travel posters and Great Walks promotions all include images of pristine forests and snow-capped mountains. Paul Bensemann writes passionately about the battle to ensure these forests were not destroyed by logging and hydro schemes. He describes himself as a conservation foot soldier, beginning when as a 19-year-old, he became involved in the Save Manapouri campaign. Bensemann went on to work for the Forest Service to gather confidential information for the fight ahead.

This book charts conservation events, beginning in the early 1970’s. He interviews the key players, many of whom have gone on to work in the Conservation field. These were young, intelligent student activists. Many had a science background and all became seasoned campaigners as they took on the Government’s schemes for forestry and power. The Beech Forest Action Committee was set up to challenge the logging of huge areas of Beech forest on the South Island’s West Coast. Much of this land was to be replanted in pine. At the time The Forest & Bird Society was seen as the guardian of NZ Flora and Fauna. Bensemann comments that they were more interested in picnics than campaigns. And so the early campaigners lead marches, took field trips to the Coast, lobbied politicians, sought air time on TV and radio and generally stirred the consciousness of many New Zealanders.

This was not a pretty time to be a conservationist. It was hard, it was scary and there was little money to be made by the campaigners. In fact, many delayed jobs and families to focus on the issue. The book follows the development of the fledgling groups as they grew in numbers and resources. It is a detailed account of the campaigns, the conflicts which arose within the groups and the variety of projects undertaken across 20 years.

Eventually, the Forest & Bird Society became part of the campaign as the young Conservationists sought places on the board. Gerry McSweeney, an early member of the protest group, eventually became Director of F &B. In fact, the book finishes with a superb summary of the lives of the protestors today. It reads like a Who’s Who of the Conservation movement in New Zealand. These were not activists making a noise for the sake of it. Each had a personal involvement and a passion for the environment. That they chose to continue to be involved long after the major campaigns were won, is evidence of this.

I loved this book, because it shows a huge move in New Zealand identity and I was part of it. I attended the Easter field trip in 1975, I knew many of those involved and I know how hard and bitter the struggles were. I marched, I wrote, I walked and talked. This was a long campaign, and one that is not over. There are still those in New Zealand who wish to destroy the environment for economic or convenience reasons. All credit to Craig Potton for instigating the book and for the superb pictures included in the publication.

The photos of the very young-looking protestors and the detailed maps and posters added to the enjoyment of my read. Paul Bensemann has done a wonderful job of documenting this story so we can all celebrate success. But his epilogue reminds us that the job will never be done. There are always new campaigns, and new challenges ahead if we are truly to be Clean and Green New Zealand.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Fight for the Forests: The Pivotal Campaigns that Saved New Zealand’s Native Forests
by Paul Bensemann
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503130

Book Review: Coming to it, by Sam Hunt

Available from bookshops nationwide.

cv_coming_to_it.jpgComing To It is a collection of selected poems from throughout Sam Hunt’s career (though it also includes many new poems). To review a poet who’s been working for over 50 years, who’s so well known, who’s been recognised by the Prime Minister and the Queen is a funny thing. So much is already established. Most reviews of it so far have been as much reviews of the man − his touring, his drinking, his remote eccentric lifestyle. They become reviews of Hunt’s contribution to New Zealand literature and identity.

But I’m not able to write a review like that. So let’s put it all − the man, the history, the career − to one side and look only at the poems which are in turns clever, lovely, funny, questioning and, the smallest of handfuls, out of step with the times.

Hunt is thought of as a poet whose lines aim to reflect natural speech yet they are full of rhyme and craft; it is not everyone who can overhear a conversation in a pub and turn it into a poem.

Most of the poems in the collection are grounded in Aotearoa − in the natural and manmade paths in Rangitikei; in the choppy waters of Cook Strait; in the salt of tidal rivers in Oterei and Kaipara. They are proudly focused on our communities, our place and the travels of the poet throughout it. The poem Notes from a journey is an example where the towns, the waters and the people all embody Hunt’s pride in this country.

He returns throughout the poems to those he loves − his mother, father and brothers; his sons. These are in turn touching and enchanting. In ‘No bells’ for example, the loss of his mother on the same night as the bamboo windbells on his verandah break are tied together to portray an irreparable sudden silencing. In the last poem, Brothers (which is perfectly placed) we find Hunt in the gaps, the white space around his brothers.

His poems about his lovers, and his descriptions of women generally, generate less delight for me. Women who love him in the poems are expected to accept that he will never be completely available to them; to be with him is to accept a level of loneliness. I find this especially difficult, this ‘arm’s reach’ attitude, from a poet and performer who treasures a deep connection with his audiences. While he is charming spectators, those who most deserve his attention are, like the partner in the poem My white ship, expected to accept:

The ethic of my love
For you remains that I
Am a lone sailor of
The night; captain of my
White ship: and though you be
A good day’s mate, your fight’s
Too weak to rise with me…

In another poem a desirable woman is compared to an unbroken horse; in another a woman’s domestic violence scars are mused over but hey, despite that black eye she is still a ‘sort of mystic hooker’. I wish these poem, and the rest of the poems in the collection, were labelled with a first publication date. Rightly or wrongly, it matters to me whether this was a view from decades ago or from today.

Oh dear, I haven’t managed to review just the poetry have I? I have, like most other reviewers of Coming To It, come back to Hunt himself. And perhaps that was inevitable, because Hunt has always said his subject is his experience and this opening up of a New Zealand life for decade after decade is the ultimate gift his poetry has given us.

Reviewed by Libby Kirby-McLeod

Coming to it
by Sam Hunt
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503802

Book Review: A Way with Words – A Memoir of Writing & Publishing in New Zealand, by Chris MacLean

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_way_with_wordsChris MacLean is the author of some of our most successful non-fiction books. His foray into publishing came about in a roundabout way, though his family business was books – his mother being from the well-known Whitcombe family (of Whitcombe and Tombs fame).

In the 1950’s and 60’s New Zealand’s main publishers were A.H & A.A Reed and Whitcombe & Tombs. Improvements in technology changed how books were written – by hand to using typewriters, then computers. It was often a long and laborious process.  As technology progressed even further reproducing photos, drawings and paintings via scanning, made the process even easier.

Chris MacLean began his career as a writer in 1980 when as a designer of stained glass windows, he published a book in collaboration with his friend, historian Jock Phillips, called Stained Glass Windows in New Zealand Houses. This began a long publishing career.

I hadn’t realised until reading this book how many of Chris MacLean’s books that he went on to write and publish that I was familiar with – an interesting discovery.

A Way with Words lets the reader in on the extensive research and work that goes into writing and producing his wonderful non-fiction works.  From the biography of the climber and outdoor adventurer John Pascoe (I share the same family name) to the wonderful story  Tararau – The Story of a Mountain Range to Classic Tramping (I grew up tramping from an early age) and many more others.

For anybody interested in books, publishing or any of the subject matters Chris MacLean has written about, this book is a gem.  I loved it from the first chapter to the last.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Way with Words – A Memoir of Writing & Publishing in New Zealand
by Chris MacLean
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503604
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Book Review: Toroa’s Journey, by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_toroas_journeyThis wonderful book is based on the true story of the 500th albatross chick to hatch at Otago’s Taiaroa Head breeding colony. It tells the narrative of the chick Toroa’s adventures after leaving the colony based on tracking information, but also includes fascinating facts about albatrosses to add another layer of depth to the story.

I love the language in Toroa’s Journey. It’s rich and interesting, and for a book that’s narrative non-fiction, it gives as much varied vocabulary to the reader as a picture books by Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley or Lynley Dodd. For example, “Toroa jerks his head from under his wing … he waddles toward her and nudges open her bill; swallowing the slurried seafood.” The use of such evocative verbs adds another layer to the text which will promote questions and discussion for young readers and listeners.

The illustrations are stunning, including an open-out four-page spread to show off the magnificent reach of the albatross’s wings. They catch the movement of the birds, wind and ocean beautifully, and the illustration of Toroa arriving at a plastic patch looks oily and stomach churning – which is as it should be.

Toroa encounters a commercial fishing ship and a plastic patch in the Pacific Ocean, and along with some facts about the vulnerability of chicks to introduced predators, this raises for the reader some environmental messages. These aren’t preachy or overpowering, just factually stated, and again, these are likely to start a discussion for readers. I don’t know what it is, but the estimates in the fact box about plastic waste were really sobering for me, possibly because I wasn’t expecting to read them then and there in a children’s book.

Whether your young reader loves animals, adventure, non-fiction or is interested in the environment, this will be a great book to read together, or for older children (7+), to read on their own. It’s interesting, gorgeously illustrated, and full of fascinating facts.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Toroa’s Journey
by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey
Published by Potton & Burton
9780947503529

Book Review: It’s My Egg (and you can’t have it!), by Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_its_my_egg.jpgFrom the very first picture on the cover of this lovely new picture book, you are left in no doubt as to the hero of our story. It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!) is the tale of one brave kiwi’s fight to protect his unborn chick from all manner of two and four-legged predators in the bush.

I had the perfect audience to test out this new New Zealand picture book: my visiting 5-year-old Australian niece who knew little about the threats facing our native bird. The book led to a lot of questions and a very educational discussion with other visiting relatives whose dog had recently graduated from kiwi-aversion training.

It is clear that a great deal of thought and care has gone into the design of this book. Kennedy Warne’s bright white prose stands out beautifully on the moodily dark pages. Heather Hunt’s bright colourful (“neon” piped up my nine year old) illustrations of the dangerous predators contrast starkly with the dark background and the softer colours of our protective kiwi dad. The scratchy sketchy style of the drawings gives extra menace and edge to the stoat with his viciously sharp teeth. The five year old squealed with glee as the stoat met his sudden demise. (More sensitively-minded children might require some extra explanation about trapping and its benefits.)

This book will be a fantastic resource for early childhood education centres and families wishing to educate their young ones about the risks to and resilience of our wonderful kiwi.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

it’s my egg (and you can’t have it!)
by Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503567

Book Review: Edmund Hillary – A Biography, by Michael Gill

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_edmind_hillary_a_biography.jpgAuthor Michael Gill was a long-time friend of Sir Edmund Hillary’s. He accompanied him for over 50 years on many expedition, and was heavily involved in the Himalayan Trust, building schools and hospitals. The Hillary family gave Gill access to private papers and photos and others that had been donated by the family to the Auckland Museum, which enabled Gill to write probably the most in-depth book ever written about one of our national heroes.

This book looks at Sir Ed’s early life and how he became interested in climbing, telling the stories of his numerous attempts at Everest. Excerpts from letters that Sir Ed wrote have been included in this book, tying in the events surrounding them.

I have long been a fan of Sir Ed and have read every book he ever wrote and watched every television and film documentary made about his exploits over many years. He was my hero right through childhood and into adulthood. His feats to me were astounding.  As somebody who is experienced in outdoor adventures, one of the things that stood out to me was the equipment they carried on the early expeditions, and how far outdoor clothing and equipment has come over the years.

Edmund Hillary was not only a climber of Everest, he was an adventurer, a close friend of many, a son, a brother, a husband and a father to his 3 children. The tragedy of his wife Louise and his youngest daughter Belinda dying in a light air craft accident was an event that shocked the nation and the world. His wife Louise had been his rock and the love of his life for 22 years. The shock of her death sent Sir Ed spiralling into deep depression from which he eventually emerges, some years later marrying Peter Mulgrew’s widow, June. Peter Mulgrew was on the Erebus flight alongside others on that ill-fated flight.  Ed and Louise and Peter and June had been lifetime friends.

I was in my happy place reading this book. It is a fabulous book with many wonderful photos and stories never before published,of expeditions Sir Ed was involved in.  He had a very rich and exciting life that only some of us can dream about .

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Edmund Hillary – A Biography
by Michael Gill
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN  9780947503383