Book Review: The Flying Doctor by Dave Baldwin

9781775538929Available in bookshops nationwide.

Dave Baldwin is a medical doctor, and he’s also very good at telling stories in the style of the late Barry Crump.

Like Crump before him, Baldwin is a keen hunter and his tales of ‘glassing’ and then shooting deer and goats make you feel you’re there with him. Despite not being at all interested in hunting, this book was so entertaining and written in such an easy to read style, I finished it in days.

I’ve not read Healthy Bastards, Baldwin’s earlier book aimed at improving men’s health, but The Flying Doctor is what I’d describe as a bloody good read.

Baldwin tells of his life from the early days, struggling at school with dyslexia, and the bliss he felt going hunting with his beloved Granny Olive. The story of his life features some great lessons, particularly about not giving up, and working hard to achieve your dreams. It’s very much one of those ‘if I can do it, what’s your excuse for not trying?’ books, and it’s inspiring for those who don’t find things easy.

Baldwin talks about his medical training, and the sacrifices he and his wife, Sandi, made to forge a better life for their growing family. Early in his career, meeting a GP who seemed to have it all steered Baldwin down the path to his dream job – one that gave him time and space to follow his twin passions of hunting and flying. His descriptions of life as the base medical officer at Ohakea are worth the price of the book alone!

After buying a medical practice in Bulls, Baldwin established the Not-So-Royal Bulls Flying Doctor Service and began setting up satellite surgical rooms around the country at airstrips so he could perform aviation medicals for pilots. This also allowed him to hunt as often as possible, together with his son Marc, to whom this book is a touching tribute. He also wants it to be a reminder for people to keep an eye on their mental as well as physical health.

Baldwin knows the importance of building good relationships in his personal and working life and there are numerous mentions of the people whose help he has appreciated in his life.

I initially thought this book would appeal more to men than women, but now I’ve finished it, I honestly think it would appeal to anyone who enjoys a good read written by a ‘good bastard’, which is what Baldwin undoubtedly is.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Flying Doctor
by Dave Baldwin
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775538929

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Book Review: Fitting in Standing Out: Finding Your Authentic Voice at Work, by Harold Hillman

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_fitting_in_standing_out

I wish for many things in life – an abundance of money, the perfect wedding, my novels published and successful, good health, wealth, not necessarily in that order of course, but reading this self-help book by former American and now New Zealand citizen Harold Hillman has me wishing for two things:

  1. That I had read this influential work before leaving a job that just wasn’t working out, and
  2. That my former boss, the owner of that business I left, would read it and start utilising the exercises within to make my former workplace the unified success it truly could be.

Fitting In Standing Out, from the author of The Impostor Syndrome, is designed to help the reader whether employee, manager, owner etc, determine where they currently sit on the continuum of the workplace dynamic, and how to find the ‘sweet spot’, the place where your authentic voice at work is.

Using case studies, Hillman highlights four needs for business relationships to work effectively – Trust, Affiliation, Affirmation and Growth – those of the business, and those of the employees. The trick is learning how to both fit in and how to stand out. The ‘when’ is important too. And apparently, it’s all about the give and yake. Employees need to learn to be good at both, and so do the heads of any business. How well do you adapt and adjust when you start a new job? How well do you induct and introduce a new member of staff? Both are equally important in getting a workplace efficient and humming.

As well as case studies, the book comes equipped with activity sheets to help the reader work out where they stand in their current workplace and where they may need help to achieve what they really want to achieve in the workplace.

All in all, this is a great book. It truly is one that should be introduced into the workplace, starting at the very top with the owner or boss. Be authentic in your approach, walk your talk, and inspire others to do the same. Go out and get this book and make it part of your business practise today.

Reviewed by Penny M Geddis

Fitting in Standing Out: Finding Your Authentic Voice at Work
by Harold Hillman
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775538288

Dunedin Festival Foreword: Witi Ihimaera explores ‘Where is New Zealand literature going?’

Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival 2015 DWRF image

The 2015 Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival opened officially tonight with the Festival Foreword. The audience were treated to a haka powhiri from the combined Kings and Queens High Schools kapa haka group, before the chairperson of the Festival, Alexandra Bligh, opened proceedings. After an opening mihi from Professor John Broughton and an introduction from NZ Book Council chairperson Peter Biggs, special guest Witi Ihimaera delivered the NZ Book Council address, on the topic “Where is New Zealand literature going?”

 Witi Ihimaera speaks at the Dunedin Writers festival. Photo by Gregor Richardon, copyright ODT

Witi Ihimaera speaks at the Dunedin Writers festival. Photo copyright Gregor Richardson, from the Otago Daily Times 

In a wide-ranging, entertaining and provocative speech (which I hope was recorded or transcribed, as it deserves repeat listening), Ihimaera’s address circulated around questions of nationalism and the current state of affairs in writing and among the younger generation. He pointed out the two forces that have apparently defined New Zealand literature – the nationalistic urge, or the aspiration to write the nation, and the individualist urge, with an author fighting to keep his or her own sense of self, citing Katherine Mansfield, “New Zealand’s first literary exile”, as an example of this (and tracing a direct line from her to Eleanor Catton). The same two forces work on readers as well: as Ihimaera put it, “we want our writers to stay New Zealanders but are still dazzled when divinity is conferred from elsewhere”.

After Ihimaera asked the audience to discuss amongst ourselves what qualifies as New Zealand literature (a little interactive trick he used to charming effect throughout his address), Ihimaera considered where New Zealand literature was now – or rather, “where it’s wallowing”. Though in his eyes the nationalist literature of previous generations gave New Zealand literature “great bones”, the nationalist imperative “lost its mojo” somewhere along the way, and New Zealand writers now are writing without that imperative on their minds at all. He mentioned Anthony McCarten (screenwriter for the film The Theory of Everything), who talked about being in “the post definition period” i.e. that we no longer need to define who we are. Ihimaera seemed on the whole to disagree with this assertion, pushing for a renewed focus on New Zealand and our lives here on the Pacific Rim. Though Ihimaera acknowledged the very significant successes of Nalini Singh, Paul Cleave, Neil Cross and Nicky Pellegrino, he also asked, “is a paranormal novel New Zealand literature?”

Later in his address, Ihimaera also talked about the preponderance of young writers coming out of creative writing courses, the effect of which seems to “melt” the writing into homogeneous prose that “blunted” New Zealand’s edge. “Where are the anarchic books?” he asked. This was a theme he returned to several times, saying that he “missed the sense of risk” in today’s literature. In the later Q&A session, Ihimaera also said that, though today’s writing was beautiful, it was “so pared back” that it doesn’t allow for “elbows jutting out” – while also acknowledging that “today we don’t go for that kind of imperfection”. Having said that, Ihimaera also pointed to a generation gap between himself and these younger writers, asking “What New Zealand do we see? What New Zealand do the mokopuna see? Is it the same?” Ihimaera was questioned about these two main themes by an audience member who pointed out that the nationalistic urge is a collective one, while young people today are increasingly individualized and internationalised in outlook. Ihimaera responded by accepting he might not be right, but noting that there seemed to be a “dysfunction in the whakapapa”; he noted the intense interest surrounding Gallipoli, especially among young people, which indicated that the interest in history and research was there, and yet, no novels appeared about Gallipoli itself. He further asked the audience, “What is Pakeha culture? What are you sharing with your mokopuna?”

Nevertheless, Ihimaera didn’t seem to be bereft of hope for the future. He talked (withsome fascination and excitement) of his mixed-race grandchildren, wondering what stories their genealogy might throw up, and acknowledged the importance of getting the younger generation reading. And finally, when a nineteen-year-old writer asked Ihimaera what he would say to any other young writers out there, he advised her very warmly to “believe in yourself, and don’t hear other voices” – that is, other voices except your own – and to try to get yourself into the most natural (artistic) position possible to enable your voice to come out fully and naturally. He also asserted that the aim of artistic endeavour is “to achieve excellence” and to “go for longevity, and go for broke”.cv_Maori_boy

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

Witi’s latest book is the first part of his biography:

Maori Boy
Published by Vintage (Random House NZ)
ISBN 9781869797263

Book Review: The Legend of Winstone Blackhat, by Tanya Moir

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Tanya Moir’s third novel, The Legend of Winstone Blackhat, cv_the_legend_of_winstone_blackhatskillfully weaves together the story of a young social outcast with the wide open spaces of a John Wayne-style Western to create a novel that is lyrical and deeply felt. The novel follows Winstone Haskett, a twelve-year-old runaway living rough in Central Otago. As the novel unfolds, taking us slowly but inorexably towards the event that caused him to run away, we also see into Winstone’s active imagination, where he dreams himself into the cowboy Westerns he loves so much.

The contrast between the Westerns in his head and the real-life nightmares around him couldn’t be more striking. Winstone’s father is a violent drunk, his brother is headed in the same direction, and his little sister, silent Marlene, is a passive, frightened victim. As a reader, it was often a relief to escape from the aggression and bullying of Winstone’s reality into his made-up Westerns, where men do the right thing and there’s still honour among thieves. His imaginary Westerns cleverly evoke the tropes of a classic Western film:

The sky was a hell of a thing. […] It was universal. Paramount. […] Cooper and the Kid rode up into it, all the way from the line of the river below, crawling up the edge of the sky into the eye of judgement. It took most of the day. Time lapsed. The sun shifted.

At the same time, though, Winstone’s Westerns echo real-life occurrences and bring out further thematic resonances, enriching your experience of the novel.

As the novel’s narrative threads intertwine, the character of Winstone comes into focus. He’s totally believable as a young urchin, bullied by kids at school, repeatedly taken advantage of, and forced to be quick-thinking and resourceful in order to survive. Moir’s style is never to judge him for his actions, so her authorial voice often takes a backseat, choosing to merely present Winstone in precise, clear detail to draw us into Winstone’s point of view. We grow to understand Winstone so well that by the time we reach the climax of the novel, that climax is utterly tragic, and also totally inevitable. The ending Moir gives you is the only one that she could have written.

So much of this novel’s story is contained in the long, loping sentences Moir uses to describe the Central Otago landscape. Moir’s descriptions are another refuge (for Winstone and the reader) from real life, wonderfully setting up both place and tone:

Below him the line of [the gully’s] lip was a slow blue wave seeping back through the grass and in its wake the slope glinted keen and fresh and gold and further back and above and behind and all around the reef of the Rough Ridge Range spread under the sky with the brown grass mounting the rocks like a furious tide and the sun that shone on the range was not tame but a thing to tread around carefully, a stalking thing fierce and yellow and thin that might, if it chose, rip out your throat and pick your bones.

Perhaps the overall tone of the novel is reflected in that description: on the one hand, threatening and menacing; on the other hand, warm, idyllic, “keen and fresh and gold”.

This is a novel that will linger with you for a long time.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

The Legend of Winstone Blackhat
by Tanya Moir
Published by Vintage (Random House NZ)
ISBN 9781775537755

Book Review: Teddy One-Eye, by Gavin Bishop

cv_teddy_one-eyeAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Telling the story of a boy’s life using his Teddy Bear as the narrator takes the reader on a rather unique and magical journey. This book is a warm and engaging tale that shows just how very special our childhood ‘friends’ are and the role they can play in our lives, especially when change and growth seem rather scary and frightening. Although he his rather battered and tatty and has only one eye, Teddy is a much-loved companion and this is reflected in the warmth of this story.

Life might not always be easy, but Teddy is brave and courageous. He might sometimes be forgotten and even left outside overnight, but in his special Teddy way he is always needed. Teddy, of course, is the heart of this story. He is the friend we all need when things are not quite right and who better to tell the story of this author’s life than Teddy: after all, there is nothing he doesn’t know about him.

This is one of those books that will become a favourite, one of those special books
that is recalled with love and passed down through generations. As usual, Gavin Bishop has done a fabulous job, and like his other books, this one will create precious memories and bring magic into its readers’ lives.

I thank Random House NZ for this lovely book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Teddy One-Eye
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775537274

Book Review: Maori Boy – a memoir of childhood, by Witi Ihimaera

Available in bookstores nationwide.

I loved this book. The ancestors and the nocv_Maori_boy-so-distant relations, and the immediate family members are all brought to vivid life by this master of storytelling.

Witi Ihimaera has created an amazing work which gives us a picture of his life as a kid in the Gisborne region in the 1940s and 1950s, when times were pretty tough for many New Zealanders but more so for most Maori. The story of his whanau and the challenges, anguish, love and pain that they experienced are written about in such a way as to make you stop and think. Seriously. And for quite a long time.

I am sure that many of my generation (the same as Witi’s) who grew up in Pakeha Aotearoa will be as blown away as I was by the generosity of spirit with which Witi writes this book. It’s a learning curve for many of us to try to understand the importance of the ancestors in Maori tradition, but this book can be described as facilitating that understanding − if you are listening.

The way in which Witi writes about his ancestors, and the (to Pakeha) legendary figures in Maori history, is intensely personal. It reminded me of a tour of the Duomo in Florence I once did, where the English-speaking Florentine guide spoke about the Medici family and their activities – both good and bad – in the 15th and 16th centuries as if she had been there herself. This is a wonderful skill – to be able to give life to figures long dead, and Witi Ihimaera has it in spades. He weaves the Maori creation story into the story of his family and draws connections and brings the reader a deeper understanding of the traditions. At the end of many chapters there’s a section called the tika – the truth, or the correctness. This serves to give the real story as opposed to the “storyteller” story. It’s a great technique.

Memoirs are often short, and therefore sometimes only give a taste of the subject, an appetiser if you like, so you are left hungry for more. And sometimes,of course, that can be a good thing. However this book is long – at almost 400 pages, it’s longer than most novels – and it really gives you the whole prix fixe menu.

The book is split into sections dealing with the tipuna (ancestors), the whakapapa, Gisborne, finding his turangawaewae, the world and more. His relationship with his mother, in particular, will resonate with many readers. She was his Sycorax (look it up!) -and he realised that eventually you “find within yourself the courage to take your salvation into your own hands” and take your place as one on whom others can call and depend.

We can depend on Witi Ihimaera to write about life, love, history, tipuna, turangawaewae and more in a way that all New Zealanders, Maori or Pakeha, can identify with, rejoice in and share.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Maori Boy − a memoir of childhood
by Witi Ihimaera
Published by Random House NZ
9781869797263

Book Review: Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga, by Sarah-Kate Lynch

Available in bookstores nationwide.

What happens to women who have devoted themselves to their husbands and children cv_heavenly_hiranis_school_of_laughing_yogawhen those they have built their lives around no longer need them? This is the difficult, emotional question at the heart of Sarah-Kate Lynch’s latest novel Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga.

The answer, at least for our protagonist Annie, comes in a vibrant and unexpected package.

Annie is about to hit rock bottom – and with good reason. She almost never hears from her son Ben and her overindulged daughter Daisy only gets in touch when she wants to make a withdrawal from the bank of mum. Annie’s own gentle and loving mother has just passed away after a short battle with dementia and her husband Hugh has become more like a flatmate than a husband – he’s there but does he actually “see” her anymore? Just as Annie teeters on the brink of despair and depression, the disappearance of her beloved canine companion Bertie tips her over the edge.

When Hugh presents Annie with tickets to accompany him on a work trip to India, she cannot think of anything worse than a holiday in smelly, dirty, crowded, humid Mumbai. She has no intention of venturing past the gates of the hotel and every intention of staying in her air conditioned room ordering from room service. But fate has other plans and through a friendly waiter named Valren she is introduced to Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga.

It’s unlike any Yoga class you have ever heard of: held on the sands of Chowpatty Beach as the sun comes up on the frenetically paced city, the forced laughter exercises soon induce genuine mirth and joy. Despite her myriad of initial misgivings, Annie is drawn back each day to the embrace of this circle of men and women and their kind-hearted leader Heavenly Hirani. It also sparks off a chain reaction within Annie, and as she begins to explore the treasures of Mumbai aided by her devoted, unintentionally comical (and very wise) personal taxi driver Pinto, she learns all manner of things about herself.

This is Sarah-Kate Lynch at her funny, clever and insightful best. At times I wanted to shake her character of Annie as she curled up inside her timid shell, but by the end I wanted to hug her tight for the brave and honest transformation and self-discovery she had gone through, staring down empty nest syndrome and firmly kicking its butt. It’s a story younger women will connect with, perhaps having seen Annie’s dilemmas reflected in their own mums, while older readers will nod their heads sagely and with a wry smile think “yep, been there, done that, lived to tell the tale.”

And no matter what age you are, you’ll be captivated by the crazy, colourful, chaotic city of Mumbai brought vividly to life on the page by Sarah-Kate’s gorgeous descriptions. Like Annie (and the author), I have never had any desire to visit India but all that changed reading this novel – maybe Sarah-Kate needs to start charging the Indian ministry of tourism commission!

Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga is tender, big hearted story about a woman rediscovering herself and her place in the world, infused with all the wit and warmth we have come to know and love Sarah-Kate Lynch for.

Reviewed by Kelly Bold

Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga
by Sarah-Kate Lynch
Published by Black Swan NZ
ISBN 9781775537052