Blog Archives

Leading by the nose, Elizabeth Crayford

Laurence Fearnley
Penguin, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143773283

If technology and price allowed, Scented would have made a fantastic “scratch and sniff” novel. As it is, the pitfalls of first-person narration make this a challenging read, and I finished the book still not knowing how well the central character knew herself. But I also wasn’t convinced that this was the author’s intention. By the end of the first section, I was pretty sure I was onto it: Fearnley had created a narrator at the high-functioning end of the Asperger’s spectrum. She can hold down a well-paying academic job in a New Zealand university, but her struggles with intimacy and relationships are compensated for by a single and all-consuming passion for perfume.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

A view of the inner cemeteries, Reuben Johnson

Mind that Child: A Medical Memoir
Simon Rowley with Adam Dudding
Penguin, $35.00, ISBN 9780143771982

We can Make a Life: A Memoir of Family, Earthquake and Courage
Chessie Henry
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776561940

Dr Simon Rowley is a Senior Consultant Neonatologist at the Auckland City Hospital, and Adam Dudding is an award-winning journalist. Mind that Child is Rowley’s professional memoir, in which he reflects on his experiences and career as a neonatologist and on his interest in neonatal brain development.

Chessie Henry is a freelance copywriter. We can Make a Life, her first book, is a family memoir centred around her father, a rural Kaikoura GP who was awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal for his role in the collapsed CTV building following the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.

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Posted in Health, Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Life and death before 20, Angelina Sbroma

Catch Me When You Fall
Eileen Merriman
Penguin, $20.00,
ISBN 9780143770930

Ash Arising
Mandy Hager
Penguin, $20.00,
ISBN 9780143772439

Eileen Merriman’s Catch Me When You Fall – a title that provokes a head-tilt to begin with and that takes multiple possible meanings upon reading the book – is narrated by 17-year-old Alex Byrd, and it tells the story of a particular autumn (or fall, as they would say in America) in her life.

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Posted in Literature, Review, Young adults

From a trio of veterans, Anna Mackenzie

The Severed Land Maurice Gee Penguin, $20.00, ISBN 9780143770244 Shooting Stars Brian Falkner Scholastic, $21.00, ISBN 9781775433606 Cool Nukes Des Hunt Scholastic, $20.00, ISBN 9781775433422 As a veteran of more than 50 years, Maurice Gee is one of New Zealand’s

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review, Young adults

Before and after, Christina Stachurski

Remembering Christchurch: Voices from Decades Past Alison Parr Penguin, $45.00, ISBN 9780143573371 A Villa at the End of the Empire: One Hundred Ways to Read a City Fiona Farrell Vintage, $40.00, ISBN 9781775537519 King Rich Joe Bennett HarperCollins, $37.00, ISBN

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Posted in Non-fiction, Sociology

The Richie McCaw of golf caddies, Spiro Zavos

Out of the Rough Steve Williams with Michael Donaldson Penguin, $40.00, ISBN 9780143573555   Here is Adam Scott, the languid Australian golfer, on the second playoff hole of the 2013 Masters. He has hit his second shot to the green.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Captions and context, David Littlewood

The Anzacs: An Inside View of New Zealanders at Gallipoli
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Penguin, $45.00,
ISBN 9780143572336

Brothers in Arms: Gordon and Robin Harper in the Great War
Jock Phillips with Philip Harper and Susan Harper
NZHistoryJock, $40.00,
ISBN 9780473308773

One of the more encouraging historiographical developments of recent times has been a greater willingness to prioritise alternative sources. Instead of producing blocks of text with a few pictures thrown in for embellishment, scholars are increasingly using images as a central part of their efforts to communicate the “experiences” of the past. Both The Anzacs and Brothers in Arms demonstrate the potential of this approach for studies of New Zealand soldiers during the Great War. However, one of them manages to structure and balance its various elements more effectively than the other.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review, War

The place where stories begin, Paula Morris

Patricia Grace
Penguin, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143572398

It’s over a decade since Patricia Grace’s last novel, the moving, cinematic Tu – an ambitious book about war and its temptations, adventures and devastations for the men who went and the families left behind. Sparked by the wartime diary of Grace’s father, a member of the Māori Battalion, Tu should be a major nation-defining motion picture by now (Grace has already adapted it for the theatre).

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

“Shocking the model” John McCrystal

Five Minutes Alone
Paul Cleave
Penguin, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143572312

The Legend of Winstone Blackhat
Tanya Moir
Vintage, $38.00,
ISBN 9781775537755

Philip Temple
Font Publishing, $35.00,
ISBN 978047328204

You could argue that the artistic imagination is like one of those massively complex algorithms that scientists and economists use to search for patterns and rules in quotidian chaos. By constructing a simulacrum of reality and then tweaking the parameters – computer modellers call this “shocking the model” – they develop an understanding of the elasticity and sensitivity of the status quo to change. And by running a model forwards, they sometimes seek to construct a vision of the future, a probabilistic telling of our fortune.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Moving historiographical boundaries, Paul Moon

Man of Secrets: The Private Life of Donald McLean
Matthew Wright
Penguin, $40.00,
ISBN 9780143572213

At the Margin of Empire: John Webster and Hokianga, 1841–1900
Jennifer Ashton
Auckland University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781869408251

Those of us interested in reading about the past are increasingly confronted with history as abstraction or abstruse argument. Dense theoretical postulations tend to trump reasoned accounts of events, and entangled academic prose can displace engaging narrative. Here, though, are two biographies which in quite different ways are both antidotes to the creeping sterility of some history-writing, and which provide important perspectives on New Zealand’s maturation as a nation-state during the 19th century.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review
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