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Kelp triffids, zombie chickens and taniwha, Annabel Gooder

Speculative fiction
At the Edge
Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray (eds)
Paper Road Press, $31.50,
ISBN 9780473354152

At the Edge is an original anthology of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy and horror) stories by New Zealand and Australian authors. The title is advantageously open; the eponymous edge can be outer space, a frontier planet, the border between the mundane and the supernatural, or living down here at the edge of the world. In a third of the 23 stories, that edge is apocalyptic. Another handful feature ghosts, and several more are about body-snatching or metamorphosis. Five take place off planet Earth, and the remaining few are varied – a  protagonist with narcolepsy, a pre-teen girl adopted by a street goblin, a housesitter with a zombie chicken problem.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

A prime ministerial primer, Simon Upton

New Zealand’s Prime Ministers: From Dick Seddon to John Key
Michael Bassett
David Ling Publishing, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927305294

New Zealand’s Prime Ministers is a very large volume. It is also an extremely ambitious one that is challenging as a through-read. Twenty-four prime ministers (PMs) dispatched chronologically, from Dick Seddon to John Key, is not an easy assignment. Many will, I suspect, explore this celebrated roll call randomly. You might pick out a shadowy, short-lived incumbent of whom you know little (like Thomas Noble McKenzie, whose three and a half month reign in 1912 brought the curtain down on the great Liberal era that began in 1891); or ferret in the (voluminous) footnotes to tie down the manoeuvrings of a contemporary survivor like Michael Moore or Jenny Shipley.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

A place on my bookshelf, Helen Anderson

Disobedient Teaching: Surviving and Creating Change in Education
Welby Ings
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927322666

One of the marvellous inventions found in my favourite libraries is the software that locates the book you are looking for and shows you the other books sitting on either side on the shelf. The notion of every book having its companions is a compelling one for the reader who enjoys building a “string” of connected and related books. Welby Ings’s Disobedient Teaching certainly caught my attention with its provocative title, and I was promptly on a hunt for books that were in its lineage.

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Posted in Education, Non-fiction and Review

Courting controversy, Emma Martin

Fiction
The Suicide Club
Sarah Quigley
Vintage, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143771012

Midway through Sarah Quigley’s The Suicide Club, Lace, one of its three troubled young protagonists, recalls a story told to her by her father, a celebrated film-maker who, along with Lace’s mother and younger sister, died in horrifying circumstances when Lace was eight – a loss which she has learned to accommodate, but from which she has in no way recovered. In the story, a beautiful princess develops an allergy to sunlight, which leaves her crying salty tears that form small ponds around her. The allergy becomes progressively more extreme until she is unable to tolerate even artificial light, leaving her living in darkness with only a blind manservant for company.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Fiasco, Jon Johansson

Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson
Potton & Burton, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947503390

As someone who has been around the political traps a fair while, my heuristic for judging political actors in and outside party politics is not the colour of their political stripe. Rather, there are people one would want to share a trench with; others, one would not – and, although rare, the odd person best sent to the enemy trench for the chaos they would cause. My trench is very multi-partisan as a result, and Nicky Hager, a friend, is emphatically in it. He’s exhibited, over a long time, courage and commitment when challenging the unequal power of the state over matters mostly concerning their coercive powers, as well as showing strength of character to withstand the blowback for doing so.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

People and places, Louise O’Brien

A Surfeit of Sunsets
Dulcie Castree
Mākaro Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994123787

The Earth Cries Out
Bonnie Etherington
Vintage, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143770657

In the late Dulcie Castree’s novel, Shirley abandons her sophisticated life in Wellington in favour of the small seaside town, and its eccentric society, of Taiwhenua on the Kāpiti Coast. Nursing a broken heart and feeling pretty sorry for herself, she finds herself besieged by A Surfeit of Sunsets, relentlessly predictable in their daily beauty.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

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
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