Book Review: Thought Horses, by Rachel Bush

The Wellington launch of Thought Horses, and a memorial of Rachel Bush’s life, will happen this evening at Vic Books in Kelburn, from 5.30pm. 

cv_thought_horsesRachel Bush’s newest collection of writing, Thought Horses, begins ‘between 4.30 and 6.30,’ and quickly stacks a list of thoughts onto the reader. The opening and title poem quickly puts the reader into the strange position of being a part of the poem, of belonging in it rather than being a voyeur into the poet’s world. While it begins with an almost command like ‘Some things to think of,’ it slowly moves into a list of ‘You think’ this and that, placing the reader in the position of imagining all that the poet wants us to.

While the collection does not continue in this same style, this introduction helps to engage the reader from the beginning. Bush then continues by bringing in outside references, things that we as readers can know and understand. There are numerous references made to the work of Anne Carson, especially in the poems ‘Anne Carson, Until I Fall Asleep’ and ‘Five Answers for Anne Carson,’ as well as ‘Made of Myrrh,’ which begins with a direct quote from this other writer. Bush also adds brief references to other works such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle. These other works provide a point of reference for the reader allowing an easy entry into the text.

These details are important, as a lot of the poetry in Thought Horses does feel quite personal, so these doorways help to prevent isolating the reader as purely being a voyeur. There are small intimate moments, like the mothers singing in the poem Sing Them:
When our mothers sang,
the words became us
and the songs became us.

In the poem Early there is a haunting quietness:
One ruru calls
its own name.
Its wings are invisible.
They make no sound.

These moments feel so quiet that it feels almost invasive to intrude upon their words.

The poem Little Bear is more personal as the narrator’s voice tells us about its mother:
One of my mother’s names
was Ursula. Mary Ursula.
Consider that open vessel,
that curved vase of a vowel.

In the poem Near Timaru ‘My father drove us / to a frozen lake’, and another personal scene opens up. These small but intimate moments contrast with the more open and inviting poems, creating an interesting dynamic. By moving between these quieter and louder poems, Bush forces the reader into a more thoughtful position. One doesn’t know what to expect from the next poem, and so thoughts must race to keep up with the changing landscape of this collection.

In the end Thought Horses is an interesting book of poems. It shifts itself constantly from one position to the next, and this dynamic helps to create a unique experience for the reader.

Reviewed by Matthias Metzler

Thought Horses
by Rachel Bush
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560721

Blog Tour: Sylvie the Second, by Kaeli Baker + a giveaway

I loved this book!

cv_sylvie_the_secondI have spent a great proportion of the last 19 years reading YA material, thinking of how to engage teenage boys, my target readers at Scot’s College (fact of life: where you work to some extent dictates what you read first!).

So to read this was a delightful, tearful, poignant, thought-provoking , feminist-in-a-good-way, funny, clever and all too short treat! Thanks, Kaeli Baker. Keep writing please.

So down to more thoughtful critique:

Kaeli Baker clearly has a handle on teenage behaviour. And on adult behaviour. And on psychological difficulties in kids and adults. And generally on life. For such a young writer, she demonstrates a wealth of understanding which many people can only imagine exists.

The novel is about Sylvie, the second of two daughters, who has poor self-esteem (she’s maybe a bit chubbier than she’d like), few friends (see previous comment) and a sister who is in and out of psychiatric care; Sylvie feels that her parents simply don’t see her. She flips out a bit, and ends up in a seriously horrible situation. So far, similar plot and problems to many other YA novels.

Where this one differs is primarily in the writing, which flows well and carries the reader along, and has enough humour to get you through the tough parts. The characters are all credible and Baker’s insight into the teenage psyche just makes Sylvie and her friends leap off the pages.

I variously wanted to take characters by the scruff of the neck and shake some sense into them, take them out somewhere and quietly dispose of them, or name and shame them. I am not often stirred to such thoughts when I read.

Also, I think that although the protagonist is a girl; the challenges, the turmoil, the innocence (or lack of street-smarts) are all things which are relevant to teenagers of whatever gender or orientation, so there’s no reason to label this as a book “for girls”. When a book works, as this one does, it does not need a designated target market. But it does deserve wide, wide readership. If you know a teenager, give them this book.

It’s a timely, gutsy, thought-provoking read, and I encourage all schools and public libraries to promote it widely. Yes, even the single-sex boys’ schools. It may not get wide readership there, but for each boy who reads it and takes on the points Baker is making, that’s a win in my opinion.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman, former Library Manager at Scot’s College, Wellington

Sylvie the Second
by Kaeli Baker
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994106537

We have a copy of Sylvie the Second to give away, to be in to win just leave a comment below by the end of Friday 18 March, telling us the most recent book you have read that has made you go “Wow.” 

Sylvie is on a blog tour! Check out these other blogs and dates for more reviews and interviews:

Mon 14 March:
Tues 15 March:
Wed 16 March:
Thur 17 March:
Fri 18 March:
Sat 19 March:


Book Review: Ad Lib, by Thomasin Sleigh

This book is available in bookstores now.

This is the story of Kyla Crane, mourning the dcv_ad_libeath of her mother, a famous musician. Shortly after, her life becomes a reality television show – in which people turn up that claim to play an important role in her life, despite her never having met them before, things being shifted around and her life being pushed in directions she is not prepared to take it.

An engaging and somewhat unusual story, the sort that makes you question reality and fate. The writing is candid, enjoyable, the characters grasp your attentions and – to a point – affections. The plot moves smoothly, like waves that lap against you, enticing you deeper There is something poetic and eloquent, almost artistic, about the narration. At times the plot seems almost surreal, as though the characters are not so much real people in a novel, but characters in a story within the story. There are many questions – some of which will be answered – and a few strange, but fitting twists, as well as multiple layers. This is the sort of tale that probably needs to be read twice, or even thrice, to fully appreciate the nuances and levels and to fully understand the bigger picture.

I found the cameramen particularly interesting – they seemed almost alien, with the way their interests would focus, abruptly, on the most mundane things and the song – more of a chant, really – that they began concocting. They added an eerie otherness to proceedings. The lack of names for many of the minor players: the aunt, the cameraman, the imposter, aided in this, as did the repeating theme of characters called “Michael”.

This tale, like fame, is nebulous and ever-shifting. It is beautifully written, intriguing, oddly captivating and makes for a compulsive read. Literary and thought-provoking.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Ad Lib
by Thomasin Sleigh
Published by Lawrence & Gibson
ISBN 9780473274849