Before You Knew My Name

by Jacqueline Bublitz

Rating: 5 out of 5.

How had she not noticed that only some [dead] people are deemed worthy of having their stories told?

I used to be a bit of a ghoul.

Well, still am really, but I no longer trawl through sites like The Charley Project, NCMEC & NamUs, trying to figure out why some missing person cases got so much publicity & others the moderators on these sites would sadly report;

Few details are available in his case.

The cases that seemed to get the most publicity would be young, pretty, blonde girls.

Like Alice Lee.

Alice went to New York to leave a troubled past behind. She had dreams, she had ambitions.

Australian Ruby Jones at 36 is twice Alice’s age, but also travels to New York to leave a past that is more unsatisfying than troubled. But in New York she finds she is even lonelier than ever.

But then she discovers Alice’s body…

The bare bones of this story don’t give any indication of what a satisfying read this was and how beautiful & lyrical Ms Bublitz’s use of language is. I was mesmerised – & I’m not normally a fan of (view spoiler) or dual points of view.

Recommended.

Fire

by Deborah Challinor

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m having trouble assigning a rating to this book, as for around the first three quarters of it I had a few problems with Challinor’s writing style. This is an adult book, but the use of language & the pacing (but not the subject matter – there is a lot of sex & talk about sex) was like a 1950s YA novel – think Beverly Cleary. This did make the start rather a dreary read – even though, as a Kiwi who grew up in Auckland, I’m just loving the ‘local’ touches. The fictitious Dunbar & Jones department St is on Wyndham St, one couple go on their first date to the Civic Theatre. I love the Civic! My favourite New Zealand building.

Civic Theatre

The inside of the Civic is pure magic.

The book really does improve as it goes on. The Pakeha (European) land grab at Orakei – shameful. I did not know the history of that – & I grew up not far away from there. The book was inspired by the real life fire at Ballantyne’s (which was in Christchurch) was edge of the seat stuff, so while writing this review I decided I was going to go with 4★, but be aware particularly if you are not a New Zealander Dear Reader, you may not regard it so high.

Night Horse

by Elizabeth Smither

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Winner of the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2018

Since Elizabeth Smither’s name turns up so regularly in NZ book awards I have wanted to sample her work for a while.

& I enjoyed this collection very much. Like most poetry collections for me, not every poem appeals but Ms Smither has a nice turn of phrase. I especially enjoyed Cat Night & Night Horse.

Putting a Line Through Addresses
 was darker than the other poems & I think it might be my favourite.

As people who know me realise, I’m a sucker for good cover art & this cover by Keely O’Shannessy is one of the best I’ve seen this year.

Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine

by Monique Fiso

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Winner of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction (2021)

& this is indeed a beautiful book, but like another restaurant book I reviewed a few years ago, Saison A Year at the French Café by Simon Wright for the most part the recipes are made to be looked at and admired – a coffee table book rather than a practical cookbook. I’m just not going to go to the trouble of making my own pine oil for example. I do admire Ms Fiso’s determination to make the unusable usable (for example, Red Matipo.)

The illustrations make me feel confident that I could use them to forage some food. (I became an enthusiastic forager during the first Lockdown, but wasn’t confident enough to try native plants) The illustrations are beautifully shot and clear.

As an example, here is a picture of Puha;

Puha

This is the plant most often used in people’s daily cooking. It is supposed to be quite bitter, but Ms Fiso has some recommendations to combat this. I will wait for Spring to try this.

As you can see the pictures are beautiful, but the labelling is with the book text, rather than the picture itself. Stylistically, this is more pleasing but makes the book harder to use for a casual browse, as sometimes the text is distant from the photo.

The only recipe I found that I could/wanted to make was a desert Kumara Roroi. Hopefully I can get hold of coconut sugar.

I do have one question – why did Māori men in historical times urinate on their nets or traps? Belief that it brought good luck maybe.

I do recommend this book, but would borrow from a library rather than purchasing.

Edit: & the Kumara Roroi was indeed beautiful & the whole house smelled of cinnamon & nutmeg. (I’m assuming the kumara itself provided the sweetness in pre-European times. Will definitely make this again.

Dashing Dog

by Margaret Mahy

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I may have mentioned this one or two (thousand) times before, but I am a big fan of the late Kiwi children’s author Margaret Mahy.

I loved the whimsical use of language in this title but wasn’t a fan of illustrator Sarah Garland’s work. Most of the pictures looked a bit muddy to me. Not in colour but in design. I did like a couple of pages though & appreciated the effort to include different ethnicities. Not the fault of the illustrator, but Ms Mahy always made her books as international as possible in the belief that would make them easier to sell. So no Māori or Pacifika people.

Mahy’s books are often hard to find now in New Zealand, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to acquire this one if I was you.

Dressed: Fashionable Dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910

by Clare Regnault

Rating: 5 out of 5.

(Deserved) Winner of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award Illustrated Non-Fiction (2022)

I think this is the most beautiful book I have ever seen!

Just look at it! 

The delicate, soft pink used, the front cover lightly padded which just makes one want to stroke it!

It isn’t only the exterior that is well presented the photographs are beautifully done.

They often have a more detailed close up.

Some of the garments may look more like instruments from a torture chamber – a maternity corset (also to be used whilst breastfeeding- eek!)

This book doesn’t shy away from the controversial. The trade in feathers caused the extinction or near extinction of many species. I have no quarrel with feathers being used used for feather cloaks or for muffs (NZ/Aotearoa had no native animals, although my aging memory thinks a species of rat arrived with the Māori) and people have to keep warm somehow! I just hope this poor Huia wasn’t only killed for it’s beak!

In spite of efforts to protect it, the last known sighting of a Huia was 1907. [source:this book]

Towards the end of this book, clothing was changing for the more practical – some of the fashions in the early part of this book must have been a nightmare for these pioneering women!
Here is Māori nurse Hannah Hippolite wearing a shorter skirt – & knickerbockers were controversial, but popular.

This book is published by Te Papa (our national museum) & the end covers some of the techniques & difficulties in preserving these often fragile treasures. I volunteer at our local museum and know that we even need special mannequins to avoid the clothes being further damaged. I’m going to a meeting at the museum tomorrow & will try to take a picture of a couple of the wedding dresses we have just acquired.

I’m sure you have already guessed this, but I highly recommend this book!

Magnolia

by Nina Mingya Powles

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The rising star of New Zealand poetry

I read Two Portraits of Home – [IMG_098] & [IMG_227] in the New Zealand Listener (Jan 23 2021) and I am intrigued. Very pretty use of words.

Let’s call it 4★ & see what the rest of the collection looks like.

Sonnet with particles of gold

Lovely – Powles works so effectively with colour & taste 4★

If anyone is interested, https://thespinoff.co.nz/tag/ockham-poetry-shortlist-2021 has one poem from each shortlisted entry to the Ockham’s.

I’m puzzled why Maggie Cheung’s Blue Cheongsam was chosen to represent Powles work. It is a fragment of prose. I normally hate fragments, but this one is pretty. Ok so 2.5★

Field Notes from a Downpour Pretty & yet profound. Loved this one! 5★

Girl Warrior, or; Watching Mulan (1998) in Chinese with English Subtitles. Outstanding! Captures the feeling of displacement one gets when not completely from the place where you are living. 5★

Breakfast in Shanghai sigh. Fragments. But lovely descriptions that make me feel like I’m in Powles world – in particular for a pink morning in late spring another sigh for the lower case titles though. 3🍑💫

Maps Another fragment of prose. 2.5★

The Great Wall, 2016 This may be a fragment but watching the author read it made a big difference for me. 3★
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-d601HfAfE

I have been given some Amazon gift vouchers & this is one of the books I have purchased. I’m probably not going to review every poem the way I have above, but let’s see how I get on.

One thing I’m finding (& I don’t think it’s my kindle) is that the pages ‘stick’ a bit & are hard to turn. Haven’t had this with a kindle book before.

Edit; & I have thrown in the towel & returned the kindle edition to Amazon. There is a note on the Amazon page warning that this is a large file (for 81 pages!) & it has proved impossible to read, as it sticks & jumps pages. I can’t get hold of the author, but I have contacted her publicist to suggest this needs fixing.

Edit: Never did hear from the publicist.

Marking as a Can’t Finish for now.

Impossible: My Story

by Stan Walker, Margie Thomson (Ghostwriter)

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Impossible couldn’t be nominated for the Ockham’s (NZ Book Awards) last year as although Stan’s voice shines through, he had the services of a ghostwriter, Margie Thomson. The Ockham rules are clear – the majority of the book has to be written by the writer.

For the most part Ms Thomson does a sterling job of organising Stan’s thoughts, although the ending of the book rambles a bit.

For those of you who don’t know him, Kiwi Stan Walker won the final series of Australian Idol aged only 19. Stan has the voice of an angel, but that isn’t the most remarkable thing about him. What is truly remarkable is Stan’s ability to forgive a nomadic childhood full of physical and sexual abuse.

but when we landed on the Gold Coast the heat was a whole other thing. It was so hot it shocked us when we got off the plane. And there was Pāpā, and we had our new beginning. But of course we didn’t. You can’t just move somewhere else and expect the problem to change. You’re the problem, and you take it with you wherever you go. Be a drug dealer and a rip off and an abuser in New Zealand, you’ll be exactly the same in Australia. It was all exactly the same, and the cops started coming around to get my dad, just like they did back home.

Since this is real life, I don’t consider it a spoiler to say Stan’s whole immediate family healed through finding their faith, although finding out some truths was hard for them. And I haven’t even touched on Stan getting stomach cancer…

Not a perfect book, but still very highly recommended.

Those of you who would like to discover Stan’s voice… Much to my surprise I found that Stan himself doesn’t care much for this song.

And my favourite is the duet he sang with fellow Kiwi Ginny Blackmore;

The Abundant Garden : A Practical Guide To Growing A Regenerative Home Garden

by Niva & Yotam Kay, Jane Usher (photographer)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Saying I know Yotam & Niva is pushing it, as where I know them from is the Saturday markets in our town, when I was often served by a smiling, curly haired young man or a serene dark haired young woman.. But my husband has done one of Yotam’s workshops about basic vegetable gardening. Marty came home really inspired- & I soon became sick of the words “Yotam says…” Marty had already developed a strong interest in vegetable & fruit tree gardening (he isn’t keen on plants he can’t eat!) in part due to the ever rising price of all food in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Other than my herbs (& Marty has now muscled in on those too!) I’m not a keen gardener, but I am enjoying reaping the benefits!

How did the Kays get a book deal? I’ve been told someone employed at Allen & Unwin (NZ) did one of Yotam’s workshops, was impressed & said he should write a book. Yotam & Niva did just that, one of Aotearoa’s best photographers ([author:Jane Ussher|7136545]) took some amazing photos & the book became a runaway best seller. Unfortunately the publisher seriously underestimated demand & what with COVID & the book being printed overseas, we had to wait quite some time for our second edition copy.

The book is very well laid out, with lots of photos, b/w drawings & graphs. The Kays think about gardening in a different way from anyone else I’ve seen. For example, Yotam doesn’t turn (dig) the garden over, as you lose the top 4 inches of nutrients. Instead he just forks it.

Quite a different way for us Kiwis to think about gardening. But the proof is in the pudding (so to speak)

From the back cover;

Other than the tomatoes & flowers (we grow our own tomatoes & you won’t catch Marty eating flowers!) I’ve eaten all of these from Yotam’s stall. I particularly recommend the baby turnips. The products are always fresh & tasty.

I know this book is available in Australia – I hope it is available throughout the Southern Hemisphere. & Yotam is supposedly working on a cookbook now.

Great New Zealand Robbery: The Extraordinary True Story of How Gangsters Pulled Off Our Most Audacious Heist

by Scott Bainbridge

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Reasons I decided to read this book.

I found it in the local equivalent of a Little Free Library.

And the iconic Northern Steamship Building is featured – a building I used to know well! My father worked for Northern Steam (who occupied the bottom floor) for just over twenty years. I believe he was their last paid employee when Ron Brierley gutted the company. (Dad then went to work for Brierley at another company)

It was a gorgeous building – very Dickensian inside. Dad used to take one or two of us kids in with him when he did a spot of Saturday overtime, & the manager quite often had his granddaughter & we would have a great time playing hide & seek, hiding in the cubby holes.

By Auckland War Memorial Museum – http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/collect…, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index…

This picture is from the 1920’s, but more recent pictures all seem to have scaffolding on it.

I went for a meal when it was the Northern Steamship restaurant & the interior was pretty much gutted. This was done well before the restaurant was in place. Last I heard it was a bar.

My dad never mentioned that a huge heist had taken place at the Waterfront Industry Commission’s offices (on the first floor – we were never allowed to go up there) around 10 years prior – there was no real reason he should. I wasn’t born at the time of the heist, & Mum & Dad were still living in Canada.

I’m a bit of true crime ghoul, but it turns out that doesn’t include burglaries & cracking safes. Or discussions on bank note numbering. Who knew? Plus Bainbridge without warning starts to treat this book as fiction with chunks of dialogue inserted. Very jarring.

I was interested in reading about NZ politician John Banks. Whatever you think about this controversial figure, his parents were a career criminal & a backstreet abortionist who both spent a good bit of Bank’s childhood in jail.

I think I would be more interested in a book about the Banks’ family.

DNF @ 37%.

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