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Dear Donald Trump

by Sophie Siers

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is the title this book was published under in the author’s home country of New Zealand. In other countries this book was published as Dear Mr President.

Interestingly, my review received fewer likes than usual on Goodreads.

This book has a lot of charm.

Young Sam has a problem. His older brother keeps winding him up – & they share a room. Sam needs advice – fast. Who better to turn to than the most powerful man (at the time of writing) on Earth? & Trump is building a wall. Surely a wall would be the answer to all Sam’s problems.

The humour is gentle, but the book makes it’s point. It has a moral but doesn’t hit the reader over the head with it.

Trump haters – his presence is very subtle;

Spot the Trump!

Delightful!

Mozart: The Man Behind the Music

by Donovan Bixley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Despite being one of the greatest musical geniuses, he disdained high-brow musical jargon. Instead music was a living thing, something to be pranced about the room, or taken for a little stroll.

This was charming, but not as charming as Bixley’s Much Ado About Shakespeare That work had a lot of vitality right from the beginning, whereas with this tale I wasn’t as engaged by the prose or the artwork when Wolfgang was a child.

But once Wolfgang becomes a teen the story really takes off and shows this fascinating man as the complex being he was. I loved the little pieces of trivia (for example, the Prages Estates Theatre is the only theatre still standing where Mozart actually worked.)

This book is a keeper for sure.

Goddess Muscle

by Karlo Mila

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

The poetry book is literally the complete package!

A beautiful cover, great artwork inside, really impressive design..

At over 200 pages, this is much longer than your usual NZ poet’s book & spans a decade of creativity.

No subject is out of bounds for Ms Mila. She covers love, politics, J.C. Sturm and her husband, the gifted poet (but appalling human being James K. Baxter) ancestry and her Creative New Zealand Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Residency in Hawaii. The poetry can be gentle, angry, lyrical, reflective,topical. These are poems with muscle.

This amazing collection only made it as far as the longlist at this year’s Ockham’s (NZ Book Awards) I am part way through the shortlisted Magnolia, 木蘭[image] and that is lovely, but far more delicate than this one.

The variety of Aotearoa’s poets has me excited.

Ten Years in Wellington

by Michael McCormack

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was published in 2011, but Irish born McCormack is still around and still working from a studio in the beautiful Island Bay. You can click here if you want to see more recent examples of his work, but I don’t think McCormack’s style has changed much over the last decade – in Wellington he has found a very beautiful subject that he loves and there is a market for the work.

McCormack touches on the difficulty of painting outdoors in a city where the weather is both unpredictable and violent, but on a bright, sunny day there is no place to touch Wellington. If it wasn’t for the trifling matter of earthquakes and really extreme winds, I would love to live there!

Saying McCormack’s style hasn’t evolved much isn’t meant as a put down – he is very talented.

Really great and showing the movement of sea water and creating attractive seascapes.

Boat Shed at Lowry Bay (2008)

(I will apologise – because I have scanned the images from my own copy of this book, they are a little blurry to the left!)

He also captures how ingenious Wellingtonians have been, building up into the hills.

Corner on to Aro Street (2004)

And gives a lovely mystery to both wet weather and night time scenes.

Late Evening on Cuba Mall (2006)

Cuba Mall is still a hub for great cafes and quirky shops!

McCormack is fascinated by New Zealand Dairies.

Hall Street Dairy (2006)

I’m cheating a little and using the cover – but there there are several other examples in this book of NZ’s iconic equivalent to the corner store. McCormack mentions that shortly after he painted this one it was turned back into a villa home.

“Every country must have it’s version of the dairy, where kids go to spend their pocket money. The New Zealand dairy is unique however as the clever sods at Tip Top have managed to brand each one in a way that no one seems to mind.”

Not only don’t I mind – it is so much part of city/ small town landscapes that I don’t even notice!

McCormack writes well about his past in art school in Ireland and as a travelling art and sensibly keeps it brief. His descriptions of his art work mostly feel unforced – not like someone trying to thing of something different to say!

This book proves that self published doesn’t have to be slipshod and full of typos! It is now hard to find a copy. But (for kiwis) I do have a copy listed on TradeMe. Check it out!

Potiki

by Patricia Grace

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I don’t know what it is with Grace. I can admire the craft, this particular book is very thought provoking, but it doesn’t touch my heart.

She does write beautifully though and in New Zealand not just Maori land rights (which is the subject of this book)are topical – it is watching developers buy up properties and leaving them empty while so many people are homeless or living in cars. House prices are soaring over here where in much of the country it is difficult to find a house at less than $800k. Auckland – over a million.

It just isn’t right.

Funnily enough a comment another Kiwi author, Sue McCauley, made about this book moved me more.

Every marketeer and property developer in the country deserves a copy of Potiki. Patricia Grace sees straight but are we listening?

Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love

by Joanne Drayton

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I’ll give everyone a heads up – when you know how things end up for this volatile and flamboyant duo, this is rather a sad story.

Peter Hudson hid a lot of his past. David Halls hid a fair bit of his present from his English family. Or at least he allowed them to ignore his homosexuality.

Interesting to think that neither of them were ever truly ‘out’. Australian Hudson and British Halls met in New Zealand when homosexuality was still a crime. (embarrassingly, homosexuality was only legalised in NZ in 1986.)

So it is interesting while they always appeared to be themselves – they weren’t.

Both had strong entrepreneurial skills. They had several successful (and not so successful) businesses. Halls was a talented shoe designer and they made some good deals in NZ real estate.

Kiwis loved their Kiwi cooking show where they argued, set the kitchen on fire (accidentally!) and threw food on the floor. They lived like kings, but particularly in the early days of their show they were woefully underpaid. And they obviously made a few enemies at TVNZ as their show was cancelled when still reasonably popular.

I’ll mention that alcohol played a big part in their frequent arguments. Brings back unfond memories of those older generations in the 1970s for me.

A big talking agent promised them the moon if they moved to England. While they did have a cooking show in England (that was mostly panned by the critics) visa problems for the Australian Hudson, disasters in English real estate and, most tragically of all Peter’s prostate cancer came back. This lead to serious money problems. Deeply in debt and depressed, David Halls committed suicide a year after Peter’s death.

I hope the friend who lent them the money for the London flat was paid back. (not clear from this book)

The other weakness of this book is a rather rambling epilogue, which is more about the author than the two stars (because these guys were Stars with a capital S!) This book was put aside when Ms Drayton had trouble getting funding and the epilogue which for me contained a bit too much about the author and her musings. Your mileage may vary.

I’ll leave you with this picture of the guys with fellow NZ cookery TV host, Alison Holst. I find this photo very endearing and so typical of the warm personalities of all three of them.

No Winner

by Daphne Clair

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I still have great fondness for Daphne Clair’s (aka Laurey Bright and Daphne de Jong) Mills & Boon romances.

The best of her works are wonderful studies of both the main couple’s character & motivations. It is amazing how much Daphne can pack into less than 190 pages. They often feature New Zealand settings – in this book’s case, both where I mostly grew up (Auckland) and where I live now. Both descriptions are on the generic side and I would wonder if our town’s former (very tiny) library would have had more than one librarian in the seventies. (We got a new, more modern library around 1990) But there is just enough of a flavour of both places and NZ (‘hanky’ for handkerchief, individual fruit pies – not so common now!) to delight a Kiwi.

But this novel is problematic – very problematic.

For some it will have more triggers than Roy Rogers and neither of the main characters are particularly likeable. Some of Guy’s past actions are inexcusable – and he definitely seems to be a slow learner. Eloise’s bitterness & fragility is more understandable. She does show a pleasanter character when she is dealing with anyone but Guy!

I did like the way Eloise’s parents were allowed to grow in character & her mother in particular was given some very strong motivation.

But overall I just don’t buy the happy ending (not a spoiler – all M&B have happy endings!) and in fact I find it very hard to think of this ending as happy.

I was all over the place with my rating, but finally settled on a 3. I will probably read more of Daphne’s books and as with other favourite authors, I want to leave enough room to give her better works a higher mark.

I think a skilled writer like Daphne was bored with some of the rigid restrictions of the Mills & Boon formula, and was trying to push the boundaries. Brave move, but I don’t think this was the right one.

Mophead

by Selina Tusitala Marsh

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fabulous Cover.

Ms Tusitala Marsh won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults.

Ms Tusitala Marsh was then interviewed on NZ light news show The Project & after hearing what [book:Mophead|50902856] was about, I knew I had to read this book.

Although never called a name like Mophead I certainly was teased about my unmanageable mop of hair. It was frizzy and often knotted at a time when most teens wanted straight,silky, long hair. My mothers suggestion (always) was to cut it short, but I stubbornly longed for what I was never going to have.

Better hairdressers and hair products have helped. I now love my curls, and yes I now keep my hair short!

Children can be very unkind and the young Selina was certainly called some awful racist names which brought me to tears – in our town’s library. Desperate to conform, she ties her hair up;

while having a vibrant fantasy life at home.

All this changed when Kiwi poet [author:Sam Hunt|283599] gave a talk at her school. Sam Hunt is described on his Wikipedia page as having iconic status.

“…with long hair curling wildly above a well-worn face”

Inspired by the unconventional poet’s complete lack of interest in what people thought of him, Selina stopped conforming too – with very positive results.

The ending had me laughing out loud!

Joyous, happy, vibrant with a strong be true to yourself message.

And if even one bully reads this book and realises how much words can hurt…

Awesome.

Barry Brickell: A Head of Steam

by Christine Leov Leland

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The honesty in this biography (both by the subject and the author) make this one of the best biographies I’ve read

I never knew local icon Barry Brickell but like everyone else who lived on the Coromandel I certainly knew of him. The Hauraki Herald (back when it was truly a local paper, not a glorified advertorial) regularly had Barry’s contributions to the Letters to the Editor, – usually on environmental issues where Brickell followed no one’s drum but his own.

And of course I have visited the wonderful Driving Creek Railway several times, the last being late last year.

I’ve been struggling with what I want to write in this review because it is definitely warts and all. I’m assuming Barry (who died in 2016) was OK with that.

From childhood, Barry was different. His passions were fire, pottery and railways (at the time of this book’s writing his father was still annoyed about the time Barry and one of his sisters nearly burnt the family home down). Barry’s mother was extremely protective of her son and said she would always make sure she was home by 3.30 from school, as Barry’s relationships with other school kids and most of his teachers was so strained and Barry would arrive home shaking.

To please his father, Barry became a teacher (hard to understand how anyone could have felt this would ever work out) Barry left teaching after two terms and as the author says;

From 1961 onwards the story is of Barry’s choices for himself.

And his choices were doing amazing pottery and building a small railway (in fact two different ones)

Barry driving one of his trains. It must have been a freezing cold day for him to be wearing a jersey. He found all clothing constricting – he always cut off the sleeves on his shirts and wore the skimpiest of shorts. Unannounced guests often found him working in the nude!

This photo is b/w but it gives an idea of the gorgeous scenery the train ride takes visitors through;

This book is very honest and I will be honest in return – the speculation about Barry’s sexuality made me squirm a bit. But when you look at his pottery;

You can see the sensuality. Underneath a different piece of pottery the author writes;

Brickell believes that sexual activity reduces the energy, creativity and life force of the male. His sculptures reveal a fascination with the sensuality of human forms.

You would think this would sound like a conflicted personality, but I don’t think Barry was, once he started living life the way he wanted.

Minor criticism is that this book did need better proofreading. I couldn’t use one very quotable quote as the speech marks weren’t “closed off”, so I couldn’t tell where Barry’s thoughts ended & the author’s began. Wrong words in a couple of places (sandals instead of shorts.) A pity.

I’ll leave you with a Barry Brickell quote.

I am a visionary individual and have my own thoughts. I do not want to be conditioned in my outlook by conventional or popular opinion and am prepared to be labelled an eccentric if necessary. I cannot teach. I am far too busy with my own work. People educate themselves when they are fulfilled and happy in their own work. There is no such thing as teaching, only learning.

The Sixpenny Island

by Ruth Park

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Rating: 5 out of 5.


An old fashioned children’s story – and none the worse for that

Hasn’t every child dreamed of owning their own island?


The Swift family have moved to Sydney, Australia from the U.K. Mr Swift is seriously injured before he has even officially arrived in Australia, so he couldn’t start work. The two younger children buy a lottery ticket for 5 cents. And they win – an island in Queensland!

Now this is where the story gets cool. Older son Don is in the middle of Being A Moody Teen, but the parents are incredibly supportive and think – let’s check this island out. (I’m getting so used to children & YA books where the parents are just bit players in their offspring’s life) The parents’ positivity is one of the major points of this book. They just roll with all sorts of events. Well, maybe not Paula nearly drowning, but pretty much everything else. And life on the island is pure paradise.

I won’t write anything further. This book is both magical and rare, so if you can get hold of a copy do read it!

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