Book Review: Fishing for Māui, by Isa Pearl Ritchie

Available at selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_fishing_for_maui.jpgThis novel, the second by Ritchie, is an episodic stroll through the lives of the characters, all of whom are either related, or in a relationship with one of the main characters.

There are two sections – the calm, and the storm. The calm of course sets the scene for what it to come. It’s quite a storm, but I won’t give spoilers – but the calm is not all that calm either, really!

There are four siblings – Elena, the pregnant conservationist; Michael the surfer/student who is keen to learn about his Māori heritage from his grandmother; John who hates school and is therefore quite angry most of the time, and Rosa who observes them all with more than the average understanding you’d expect from an eight-year-old. The other protagonists are their separated parents sports TV fan Caleb and doctor/mum Valerie, and their grandmother Gayle. Also Elena’s sidelined partner Malcolm, and Michael’s kind-of girlfriend, animal rights activist Evie. The narrative centres on the thoughts, concerns, and dilemmas of these characters.

Each character has a distinct voice, generally well-drawn, although I find one or two less credible than others – the stereotypical dysfunctional, separated father is one, and oddly the doctor mother is the other. I say oddly because the other female characters are all well-done and even if they appear marginally crazy from time to time, they still are more credible than the mother.

The driving forces for all these people, and their interactions, move the book along, but in the end I did not really enjoy it all that much. Everyone seems to be just a bit too driven.

The writing style is straightforward, but there are some obvious errors of style and language which should have been picked up in editing. So overall, for me it just misses the mark.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Fishing for Māui
by Isa Pearl Ritchie
Published by Te Ra Aroha Press
ISBN 9780473437541

Book Review: This is it! It’s your life. Live it, by Amanda Mortimer

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_this_is_it.jpegAs a great procrastinator, I thought Amanda Mortimer’s book This is it! It’s your life. Live it. may set me on the path to changing the things about my life that I’m not happy with. As bad habits don’t disappear overnight, I can’t report any amazing changes yet – although my treadmill did get used again and I have finally gone for a walk along the beach – two things I’ve been saying I’m too busy for.

Queenstown-based coach Amanda Mortimer is an internationally accredited and board approved Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) coach who wrote this book to help people reach their full potential by making serious lifestyle changes.

The book is split into 11 chapters and starts by asking if you’re living the life you want – if not, are you ready to change it for the better. Instead of a series of transformational stories about people changing their lives, Mortimer shares her story, which in many ways will be familiar to some readers. While her goal at first seemed impossible, she had a goal and knew how she was going to achieve it.

There are self-evaluation exercises to assess your current life satisfaction, including career, finances, fitness, health, relationships and more. Readers are encouraged to read and participate in the written exercises, and also go online to accompanying video and audio resources.

I watched some of the videos and tried listening to the audio resources but the one I had been most looking forward to, a 30-minute relaxation recording you’re advised to listen to three times a week, wouldn’t play. It was the final step in the process of making the changes stick, so to speak, so that was disappointing. It will be interesting to see if the changes I told myself I’d make and the first steps I set in motion are still with me in three months.

I did all but one of the exercises outlined in the book, and think I gave it my best shot. Towards the end Mortimer advises she isn’t including a full belief change exercise in the book because she feels that is best done in a session with an experienced coach – and I think NLP therapy may also need to be done in person for it to work effectively.

If you’re into self-help books, this is an interesting read, but it’s pretty much the old story of no pain, no gain. You have to want to make those changes and be prepared to put in the hard work to achieve your goal or it won’t happen.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

This is it! It’s your life. Live it.
by Amanda Mortimer
Published by Amanda Mortimer
ISBN 9780473246563

Book Review: Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau 1843, by M H McKinley

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

This book is a finalist in the category of Best First Book in the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

warsNew Zealand history should be an important part of the education of our children but sometimes it is difficult to package the information in an easily read way. I think this might be the answer. A graphic novel takes the best of illustrations with the bare bones of text. Creatively combined, they tell a story in an engaging and informative way.

The story of the Pakeha Māori conflict at Wairau in 1843, marked the first major conflict between European and Māori. I grew up knowing it as the Wairau massacre, then the Wairau affray. Certainly, it was a sad story of greed, poor communication and mistakes on both sides. This version is based on the experiences of two boys, William and Arana. We hear of the confusion regarding land ownership and the injustice of the European law when a Maori mother and her child are attacked and killed. The devastating effects of English diseases also get a mention, especially on mental ability following syphilis. The narrative follows the events involving settlers, the NZ Company and the local Ngati-Toa.

The style of the illustrations fits the story. The colours are dark and threatening showing the harshness of conflict and the anger of the people. Expressions are vivid, details abound.

The book also includes excellent historical notes. These give an account of the actual events and biographies of each of the main characters. Photographs of the original sites and people add another layer of interest as do the newspaper pages on the back cover.

This book marks a new chapter in history for our children. It presents a clear, balanced version packaged in an easily read, well-illustrated book. I look forward to further titles in this series that will follow other events in the history of New Zealand.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau 1843
By M H McKinley
Published by Kin Publishing
ISBN 9780473356514

Book Review: Currents of Change, by Darian Smith

cv_currents_of_changeAvailable now in selected bookshops.

Well-written and deliciously addictive. This spine-chilling ghost story kept me up until midnight, until just past the point where it stopped being a ghost story and became something else…

Sara is a troubled heroine, fleeing from her past, but burdened with self-doubts and shattered esteem. It is hard for her to trust, to open herself, and thus she protects herself with a wall of angry, sharp retorts. Her family home, in the isolated township of Kowhiowhio, Northland, provides the sanctuary she needs, but it brings with it darkness too. And not just because of the lack of electricity.

Sara’s sharp but endearing personality, her fragility edged with razors, make her an engaging heroine, and her friendship with general-all-round-good-guy neighbour, Nate, with his frank and generally cheerful nature, a good counterpoint. His sister-in-law, sharp, almost vicious, Moana adds a welcome dose of conflict and thrown into the whole weave is Great Aunt Bridget (long dead, but not at rest), a dark family secret, an adorable kitten, an almost-as-adorable little girl and an extremely unpleasant estranged husband.

This is an engaging read, although the sudden twist from ghost story to something else entirely derailed me for a heartbeat or three. Despite this, I would consider it a damn fine read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Currents of Change
by Darian Smith
Published by Wooden Tiger Press
ISBN 9780473318109

Book Review: The Grass was always Browner, by Sacha Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_grass_was_always_brownerThe Grass Was Always Browner by Sacha Jones has been described as a ‘memoir of ordinary events and aspirations’ but I’d describe it more as perfect blog fodder, and I wasn’t surprised to read the author does in fact have a blog, OWW: One Woman’s World.

Growing up in an ordinary suburban Australian family, Sally Jones isn’t all that happy with her lot. There’s her boring name for a start – Sally, a name shared with a neighbour’s dog. A mouthful of cramped teeth, a flat chest and a battle with asthma were added burdens.

For some bizarre reason a doctor prescribed suppositories to cure her asthma. After they made her vomit, ballet was deemed a better alternative. That made the name Sally even less attractive, because whoever heard of a ballerina called Sally? [Despite yearning to be called Sacha, and obviously achieving this at some point in her life, there isn’t actually any mention of when or how this happened.]

The Grass Was Always Browner is a simple story, made up of all the minutiae of family life, school, friends and ballet.

The story involves some moving accounts of Jones’ ballet career, both the highs and the lows, including her father being strongly against her indulging in what he sees as a frivolous pursuit. After reading about the sacrifices she made, you can’t help but cheer for her when she enters competitions and gets the chance to dance the lead role in a major ballet. The book ends with her heading off to London to enter two ballet competitions.

I’m not sure if there will be a sequel, but I was left feeling a bit flat, as I don’t know if she stayed in London and enjoyed a brilliant ballet career, or if the insecurities that plagued her early years overwhelmed her and she quietly returned to her ordinary life in Australia.

While The Grass Was Always Browner is an entertaining read, there are several sections, especially in the first half of the book, where I had the urge to shout, “Come on! Get to the point, woman!” Jones is probably great fun at parties, regaling everyone with tales of her youth. I’m just not sure it’s the kind of material that translates well into a book; it reads like the diary I imagine it started life as.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Grass Was Always Browner
by Sacha Jones
Published by Finch Publishing
ISBN 9781925048643

Book Review: The Agency, by Ian Austin

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_agencyDan Calder moves to New Zealand from the UK to put ghosts to bed. His father worked in the Police, rising through the ranks to become a senior officer. His father’s dirty secret was that he abused Dan’s mother. His mother died when he was a teenager, with Dan training to become a Police Officer himself, giving him an excuse to finally leave home. Dan has a successful career in the Police force in the UK but butts heads with those in authority, so leaves to live in New Zealand.

Dan lives next door to Paul and Shelley who try and make him welcome and include him in their social life, wanting to set him up with somebody they know. Dan has been burned a number of times in relationships, but he likes Tara, and they soon form a close relationship. Tara has a brother Neil who suffers from depression. Dan and Tara’s lives are soon linked forever through events far-reaching and beyond their control.

‘The Agency’ is formed by a woman with various identities. No job is too small or too difficult. She preys on the vulnerable – people suffering from terminal or severe mental illness. Dan, trolling the internet stumbles across ‘The Agency’. With his considerable computer skills he starts to wonder who is behind it. The name V. Stenning pops us again and again. He tracks the person behind the mysterious Agency down and manages to link them to an unsolved case in the UK…

This is a fantastic book and one of the best crime novels I’ve read for some time. Ian Austin worked as a Police Officer in the UK, and during a New Zealand Police recruitment drive he took the opportunity and transferred to the New Zealand Police. The thoroughness and detail that has gone into writing this book is outstanding. I look forward to reading more of Ian Austin’s books in the future.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Agency
by Ian Austin
Published by Ian Austin
ISBN 9780473355371

Book Review: Exits and Entrances, by Barry Southam

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_exits_and_entrancesExits and Entrances is a collection of both prose and poetry that describes characters at different points of their lives. Some of these figures are closer to the edge of certain exits and entrances, while others watch these borders being crossed in front of them.

Southam’s poetry is short and sweet, describing images that hint at lives beyond what can be seen. The poem Footpath Conundrum describes a torn photo as a ‘quartet of colour’. Lost without an owner, the photo is a fracture that ‘remains unanswered’; even the smallest things like a photo on the footpath carry their own resonances. His poetry also hints at change that is yet to occur; the poem Artist’s Studio is a piece that works in this way. It describes paint as’lifeblood’ for an unnamed character that works in the studio. These splashes of colour will soon become part of another canvas that is yet to be mounted, and therefore another piece of art. Without even describing the artist himself, a rich landscape is instead formed through the setting.

Southam’s pieces of prose also broke up the poetry nicely. Made In Heaven describes a rushed marriage through a cheeky main character who suggests, ‘If war breaks out, I’m going to maintain the Switzerland position,’ when drama seems imminent. Playing upon the setting of a wedding gone wrong, Southam brings just the right amount of absurdity to explore the complexity of human emotions that lead to such decisions. Sunday Crossroads is another piece of prose that looks at human nature, this time in the setting of a bush walk; it explores the tugs between pride and fear, the unknown and the safety of home. It is only the good sense of one of the figures that gets the characters out of the bush before it gets too dark. Needing to be reassured but unable to find it in the people around him, another character repeats “We’re okay now… We’re okay now” to himself like a mantra.

However, many of these prose characters fell flat, especially against the richness of the poetic language that surrounded it. A few of the stories were told through the perspective of characters who were passive figures that observed others undergoing change, rather than actively changing themselves. For this reason, I found myself wanting to know more about characters that weren’t focalised through the narrative, causing the actual main characters pale in comparison.

Nevertheless, Southam ends the collection sweetly with a section titled Two Memoirs. The poem Walking With Jim is a casual conversation that portrays the easiness between two characters while they mull over their history. Meanwhile, the poem Another Town, Another Time focuses on change in relation to place, describing the small town of Kawhia, before inevitably moving on to bigger cities.

The final poem, On Daffodil Day, is a pensive piece that describes a man in a hospital cancer department, surrounded by “terminal decisions”. In this way, the collection ends on an exit, but the former poems reflecting on change makes it clear that there were many entrances and exits along the way that lead to this final departure.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Exits and Entrances
by Barry Southam
Published by Copy Press
ISBN 9780994129598