Blog Archives

Truths both bald and stretched, Eirlys Hunter

The Diamond Horse 
Stacy Gregg
HarperCollins, $25.00, ISBN 9780008124397

Grandad’s Wheelies
Jack Lasenby
Penguin Random House, $17.00, ISBN 9780143507338

Rona 
Chris Szekely
Huia, $15.00, ISBN 9781775501985

The Impossible Boy
Leonie Agnew
Penguin Random House, $20.00, ISBN 9780143309062

Reading fiction allows a child to imagine what it would be like to be someone else, and to develop insight into character, motivation and relationships. These four novels are very different from each other, but they all include depictions of behaviour and relationships that will help their readers to understand something true about people.

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Posted in Children, Literature and Review

Filling historical gaps, Claire Mabey

Daylight Second
Kelly Ana Morey
HarperCollins, $37.00,
ISBN 9781775540526

I am certain that I’ve seen Phar Lap. Somewhere, in the back of my memory, is a child’s-eye view of a very large horse in a glass case in a museum, somewhere. Claimed by Australians like pavlova and Crowded House, he’s up there on the shelf reserved for New Zealand national icons: All Blacks, Phar Lap, kiwifruit, Helen Clark.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Rewards, challenges, surprise, Roger Robinson

The Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell
Victoria University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781776560677

Alistair Te Ariki Campbell always surprised us.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Changing times, David Grant

>The New Zealand Labour Party 1916–2016
Peter Franks and Jim McAloon
Victoria University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781776560745

Researching a history of conservative political parties in New Zealand would be relatively straight-forward. The Reform/National Parties have, from their early beginnings to the present day, varied little ideologically – from centrist, to centre-right, to right – leaving the “far-right” tag essentially to those on that fringe, such as the Democrats in the 1930s, and ACT in more recent years. The same cannot be said of the New Zealand Labour Party, which veered from doctrinaire socialism under its first leader Harry Holland to, at the other extreme, unabashed neo-liberalism under David Lange (but led essentially by Roger Douglas) in the mid-to-late 1980s.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

Revisiting the 1930s, Tony Simpson

The Broken Decade: Prosperity, Depression and Recovery in New Zealand 1928–1939
Malcolm McKinnon
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927322260

In 1968, I left my home town of Christchurch and came to Wellington to work as a producer in radio in what was then the NZBC. I mostly spent the next three years writing and producing talks and historical radio documentaries. One thing that struck me as curious in retrospect was that, although I had spent six years at Canterbury University studying history (among other things), no-one had ever mentioned the 1930s Depression or WWII. It was only when I began talking to older New Zealanders that these two sets of events came into focus as the principal markers by which they measured the significance of their own lives. I therefore began collecting both written and oral recollections of the 1930s (mostly the latter); in 1974, these were published as The Sugarbag Years. I then waited for someone to follow my lead and publish a narrative history of the same events which placed the lives I had recorded in their economic and political context, but no-one did and so I did it myself, as The Slump in 1990. This second book made little impact, the world moved on, and those with personal experience of the 1930s have now almost all passed away.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Town and country, Simon Upton

The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities 1840-1920
Ben Schrader
Bridget Williams Books, $60.00,
ISBN 9780947492434

I live in a very large city – Paris. It is a melting-pot of anonymity, dynamic and dangerous. There are futuristic experiments in eco-design and saturated motorways; new season glitz on the cat-walks and terrorist attacks. The Bataclan attacks started just five minutes from my apartment. It is all very exciting. But I am not a city person.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

The long and the short of it, Jock Phillips

A Peculiar Gentleman: George Rusden – A Life 
John O’Leary
Australian Scholarly, $50.00,
ISBN 9781925333404

The World, the Flesh and the Devil: The Life and Opinions of Samuel Marsden in England and the Antipodes, 1765-1838
Andrew Sharp
Auckland University Press, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869408121

There are many similarities between these two books. Both are biographies, both are well-written, intelligent works, and both treat subjects with unusual ideas about race relations. More significantly, both books concern men, Samuel Marsden, missionary, and George Rusden, historian, who were English-born, but spent much of their lives near Sydney (before Rusden moved to Melbourne), and then achieved their greatest fame and influence through an involvement with New Zealand.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

New Zealand’s bloodiest campaign, Steven Loveridge

New Zealand’s Western Front Campaign
Ian McGibbon
Bateman, $80.00,
ISBN 9781869539269

Efforts to explain and/or convey WWI’s Western Front have endured for a century. Libraries could be stocked with military histories investigating the operation of armies, the performance of commanders and the fortunes (often the misfortunes) of this critical centre of the war. Social and cultural studies contemplating subjects ranging from soldiers’ experiences, interpretations rendered in memoirs and monuments, and the wider legacies etched on belligerent societies, have flourished as avenues of inquiry. Popular cultural representations have likewise worked in establishing and transmitting a sense of the subject – the humour within Blackadder’s irreverent summation (“the mud, the noise, the endless … poetry”), for example, hinges on evoking accepted and shared touchstones with the audience.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and War

A most “vigorous afterlife”, Roger Blackley

Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand: The  Māori Portraits
Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope (eds)
Auckland University Press and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869408565

This extremely elegant book, with its unusual, tall-and-thin “hyper-portrait” format, brings the artist Gottfried Lindauer and the principal collection of his works into the 21st century. It achieves this by foregrounding Māori perspectives, by emphasising Lindauer’s involvement with photography, and through the diverse range of scholarly perspectives by which the collection is explored. With contributions from Czech and New Zealand art historians, curators and conservators – both Māori and Pākehā – the book is a scholarly triumph for the Auckland Art Gallery.

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Posted in Art, Maori, Non-fiction and Review

The unnerving detritus of what was, Jane Westaway

The Shops
Steve Braunias and Peter Black (photographer)
Luncheon Sausage Books, $40.00,
ISBN 9780908689941

Once upon a time, I met people who owned a shop. I was young and impressionable and, on my first visit, was dazzled by a window display of ladies’ and gents’ watches, silverware and jewellery. The door pinged when you pushed it. Once inside, glass shelves and counters gleamed with promise, and the watchmaker’s wife stood behind the counter. It was a small place in a small town, but I was thrilled, not so much by what these people were offering for sale, as by the concept of shop-keeping itself.

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Posted in Essays, Non-fiction and Review
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