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The good, the bad and the ugly, John O’Leary

Scoundrels and Eccentrics of the Pacific
John Dunmore
Upstart Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988516219

William Deans: The Passionate Pioneer
Louise Deans
Wily Publications, $35.00,
ISBN: 9781927167342

Just as Australia’s Outback has its “characters” (according to popular legend, at least), so that other vast open space near us in New Zealand, the Pacific, has or had its eccentrics – people who, for a variety of reasons, found their own settled societies too small, too tight, or too law-abiding, and who preferred the watery immensity of the planet’s largest ocean, dotted with its constellations of islands, as the stage set for their lives.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review

Secrets of the All Blacks not all that secret, Spiro Zavos

The Jersey: The Secrets Behind the World’s Most Successful Team
Peter Bills
Pan Macmillan, $38.00,
ISBN 9781509856688

Murdoch: The All Black Who Never Returned
Ron Palenski
Upstart Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988516127

The cultural historian E H McCormick once noted that the only genuine masterpiece created in New Zealand was the Māori carved war canoe. The argument can be made that the national men’s rugby team, the All Blacks, can be added to McCormick’s list.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sport

Darkening and deepening, Catherine Robertson

Through the Lonesome Dark
Paddy Richardson
Upstart Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927262986

Paddy Richardson takes a risk with her latest novel. By setting it in Blackball, a mining town on the West Coast in the early 1900s, she raises expectations of another Denniston Rose, and for well over 100 pages, readers could be forgiven for believing that they are reading a similar tale of a spirited young woman in trying circumstances. 

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Fascinating threesome, Rosemary Wildblood

Obsession
Elspeth Sandys
Upstart Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927262900

Set mostly in the 1980s, Elspeth Sandys’s Obsession explores the dynamics of a relationship fuelled by desire and driven by a symbiotic need for intimacy. The narrative is purportedly written by a third party – who bears the sobriquet of the Dally poet – in a manuscript we are told in the foreword was discovered after his death. For those who like to judge a book by its cover, its design features three pressed flowers on a parchment-coloured background bearing faint traces of script, with the same theme continued through to the back in a graphic depiction of its contents. Combined with creamy pages inside, it’s a handsome book to own and shelve.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Love and war, Murray Bramwell

Love as a Stranger
Owen Marshall
Vintage, $38.00, ISBN 9781775538578

The Antipodeans
Greg McGee
Upstart Press, $38.00, ISBN 9781927262030

In his captivating new novel, Love as a Stranger, Owen Marshall immediately greets the reader with portents. The epigraph quotes the 17th-century dramatist and poet, Pedro Calderon de la Barca: “When love is not madness, it is not love.” And the opening sentence in the opening chapter, set in the present,  but located in a 19th-century Auckland cemetery, establishes with a limpid calm a story that is both pleasingly, disarmingly familiar and subtly marbled with a sinister unease:

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Tipping points, Sylvan Thomson

First Lady – From Boyhood to Womanhood: The Incredible Story of New Zealand’s Sex-change Pioneer 
Liz Roberts with Alison Mau
Upstart Press, $40.00, ISBN 9781927262375

Sexual Cultures in Aotearoa New Zealand Education
Alexandra C Gunn and Lee A Smith (eds)
Otago University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781877578687

2014 was the transgender tipping point. At least that’s what Time Magazine declared, with its front cover featuring the transgender actress Laverne Cox poised mid-step, svelte and powerful, beside the subheading “Men cannot become women. Women cannot become men”. This heading  – possibly perplexing to those unfamiliar with transgender issues – is part of the media’s growing sensitivity towards trans identities: if someone born male wants to be a woman, then they always were a woman; it is society that categorised them as a man.

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Posted in Gender, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

From the sidelines, Michele A’Court

Dan Carter: My Story
Dan Carter with Duncan Greive
Upstart Press, $50.00
ISBN 9781927262382

Here’s a crazy idea – get someone who doesn’t give a toss about rugby to review the autobiography of the world’s greatest rugby union fly-half. Madness.

Dan Carter: My Story has featured on the bestseller lists since it was launched just days after the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup win last October – the game (spoiler alert) New Zealand won, in which Dan Carter kicked four penalties, two conversions and a drop goal, and was named the Man of the Match. A game I didn’t watch. (I know – handing in my New Zealand passport now.) But, after initial hesitation, I figured Carter, his writing collaborator Duncan Greive, and their book, would cheerfully survive no matter what I thought. It seemed that me reviewing it was a risk that wouldn’t involve a knockout win or loss for anyone.

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Posted in Autobiography, Non-fiction, Review, Sport

Acts political, Vanda Symon

Fallout
Paul Thomas
Upstart Press, $35.00, ISBN 9781927262016

Where the Dead Men Go
Liam McIlvanney
Faber & Faber, $25.00, ISBN 9780571239863

New Zealand crime fiction is going from strength to strength, with great work being published by old favourites as well as the up-and-coming. This pair of novels by writers Paul Thomas and Liam McIlvanney explore the minefield of the political realm to underpin their stories.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review
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