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A complicated relationship, Thom Conroy

The Ice Shelf
Anne Kennedy
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776562015

What role does a book invite me to accept as its reader? I need not comply with a book’s request, of course, but I’m bound to recognise or, at the very least, consider the question when beginning a review. Never an advocate of unnecessary terminology, the critic Wayne Booth used the term “friendship” to describe this relationship between what a book asks of us as readers and our response to that request. Anne Kennedy’s latest novel, The Ice Shelf, makes some strenuous demands on its readers and promises an intense – if intensely muddled – friendship in return.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Going high, Julia Millen

To the Mountains: A Collection of New Zealand Alpine Writing
Laurence Fearnley and Paul Hersey (eds)
Otago University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781988531205

Since the arrival of Pacific peoples, New Zealand’s mountains have enthralled and enchanted. Māori revered the craggy peaks from afar while they forged ways through the hinterland. The first European explorer, Abel Tasman, sailing to the Southern Ocean in 1642, recorded the sighting of “a large land, uplifted high”. Captain Cook’s crew were bent on “conquest” in more ways than one. This collection features the 1998 re-enactment by 13 climbers of the 1773 ascent of Mt Sparrman in Fiordland, made by a party from Cook’s second voyage on the Resolution.

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Posted in History, Literature, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Listening for the voice, Janet Hughes

Coming to it: Selected Poems
Sam Hunt
Potton and Burton, $30.00,
ISBN 9780947503802

Poeta: Selected and New Poems
Cilla McQueen
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988531281

Watching for the Wingbeat: New and Selected Poems
Pat White
Cold Hub Press, $40.00,
ISBN 97804734444204

A “Selected Poems” doesn’t confer quite the accolade of a collected, with its connotations of canonisation. But the poet is more likely to have a hand in shaping it, and to be around to enjoy it; it is more likely to privilege reading pleasure; and it’s simply more likely to happen. Back when publishers were powerful arbiters and gatekeepers, a selected poems affirmed a career and a reputation. Now that there are more gates and fewer keepers, the fact of a selected probably carries less freight.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

“Lashings of empathy”, Tina Shaw

From the Ashes
Deborah Challinor
HarperCollins, $37.00,
ISBN 9781460754122

What You Wish For
Catherine Robertson
Black Swan, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143772811

Discovering that From the Ashes is a sequel to Fire, Challinor’s 2006 novel, makes sense of this novel’s title. Fire was set in Auckland, although based on the Ballantyne’s department store fire of 1947 in Christchurch. From the Ashes is the second book in a series called “The Restless Years” that will take readers up to the Vietnam War.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Boys’ own journey, Chris Szekely

The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty
Rhys Darby
Scholastic, $18.00,
ISBN 9781775434979

Between
Adele Broadbent
One Tree House, $20.00,
ISBN 9780995106420

Slice of Heaven
Des O’Leary
Mākaro Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780995109247

I reckon I had the best summer break in ages: lots of sunny days, lots of sleep-ins, and a trio of junior-fiction books to read for pure pleasure. At the beach, on the couch, under a shady tree, it felt like the school holidays for a grown-up.

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review

Teenage territories, Barbara Else

Make a Hard Fist
Tina Shaw
One Tree House, $20.00,
ISBN 9780473421878

Ocean’s Kiss
Lani Wendt Young
One Tree House, $29.00,
ISBN 9780995106741

Legacy
Whiti Hereaka
Huia, $25.00,
ISBN 9781775503347

To state the obvious, one problem with writing young adult fiction, unless the author is a teenager, is that one no longer belongs to the demographic. The first YA novel, The Outsiders, was written by S E Hinton when she was only 16, observer and participant. It feels timeless, undated, as fresh and authentic now as when first published in 1967. It still illuminates the way teenagers must find their own way to adulthood across territory that is a combination of the world around them and their own explosive emotions.

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Posted in Literature, Review, Young adults

Where perspectives collide, John McCrystal 

The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke
Tina Makereti
Vintage, $38.00, ISBN 9780143771562

You don’t have to be a good old-fashioned structuralist to look into the patterns of history and see the tectonic grind of ideas reflected in the rippling of the surface, in the lives of individuals. It has seldom been enough for an emperor to appeal to might alone for the justification of hegemony. In practically every instance, a grand idea has been vaunted as the basis for the moral authority to rule. The wane of empires has usually been accompanied by a shift in philosophy, but not necessarily cleanly, completely, or all at once.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

A child’s-eye view, Anna Mackenzie

The Mapmakers’ Race Eirlys Hunter, Gecko Press, $25.00

Time Twins Arne Norlin and Sally Astridge, Submarine, $25.00

Finding David Hill, Puffin, $20.00

The bonds of family and place, seen from an appropriately youthful viewpoint, are the key players in three recent offerings for younger readers.

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review

Giving them what they want, Linda Burgess

Donato and the Cartege Blade
Fiona Jordan
Mary Egan Publishing, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473437367

1918: Broken Poppies Des Hunt, Scholastic, $19.00,

How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot Suzanne Main, Scholastic, $17.00,

Dawn Raid Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, Scholastic, $18.00,

Unlike the other books reviewed, Fiona Jordan’s Donata and the Cartege Blade is not set in a current or historical New Zealand. Its setting is recognisable, though. Time – Middle Ages, round about: place – fantasy land. This means there are monasteries, cloaked monks, ruined abbeys, looming mountains, ancient castles with dark passages, attempted assassinations and more than a hint of issues to do with identity. Indeed, quite early on in the novel, the protagonist learns he is no ordinary boy. He is the child of important parents, and who they are is one of the main threads running through the story. As a baby, it became clear that he was at risk of being murdered, so he was deftly swapped with another baby. Which was rather unfortunate for the replacement baby, for whom the swap turned out to be fatal.

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review

Words uncaged, Tim Upperton

How to Defeat the Philistines David Beach, David Beach, $25.00

Winter Eyes Harry Ricketts, Victoria University Press, $25.00

A Fine Morning at Passchendaele Kevin Ireland, Steele Roberts, $25.00

Poetic forms are a bit like zoos. When I was a child, zoos had much smaller cages, and the lions and tigers and leopards would pace up and down inside them. You could see the animals, but you were also really aware of the bars on the cage. I don’t know if the animals were bored, or seething with anger. They would get to the end of the cage and turn around and pace again, and what I wanted more than anything was to see them break out of their cage. The same is true when I read a sonnet, or a villanelle, or a sestina: I’m most interested in those moments when poems chafe against the forms that constrain them. Zoos are different now, the cages are bigger, less obtrusive, and the animals have room to roam. Poetic forms are different, too. A sonnet, for instance, has 14 lines, except when it’s an American sonnet, when it might have 20, or more, or fewer. It has a volta, or turn, after the octave, except when it has no turn at all, and it follows a Petrarchan or Shakespearean rhyme scheme, with sonorous pentameters, except when it’s in loose, unrhyming couplets, like Baxter’s “Jerusalem Sonnets”.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review
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