Blindsight—book review

Blindsight, by Maurice Gee

I love the start of this book. It’s the antithesis of the thoroughly modern style where you bang crash into the action and grab the reader by the balls. (I don’t have balls but have a good imagination.) There’s a beautiful story setting: a woman does nothing more than walk down the road but I’m there, with her.

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The Tomo—book review

The Tomo, by Mary-anne Scott

Another great adventure story from Hawke’s Bay writer, Mary-anne Scott, who has corned the shelves in my house for books for boys. Again, she nails it, on-point for pace, topic and characters. The Tomo, hot off the press and in good time for Christmas, is aimed at boys who can read for themselves (8-14 ish) and fancy themselves heros of the great outdoors (at least in their imaginations). Oh, and you have to love dogs to understand this book. I mean, how can you possibly relate to a boy who risks his life for a dog otherwise?

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She is Not Your Rehab—Book Review

She is not your rehab by Matt Brown with Sarah Brown

Lots of books glorifying violence out there but I’ve never come across anything so focussed on stopping the intergenerational cycle of harm perpetuated on the vulnerable as this extraordinary work by Matt Brown and Sarah Brown. It’s part story, part autobiography, part self-help guide, part conversation, 100% inspiration.

Matt’s a barber; the creator of My Fathers Barbers. Men sit in his chair and chat. Not so much: Where are you going for your holidays, more : This is a safe space. You can talk about that if you want.

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Entanglement — book review

Entanglement, by Bryan Walpert

I read the first page and was smitten. Not sure what it was that hit me, I’m inclined to say the smell, which is nonsense, but it was that kind of attraction, something that comes at you side on and makes you turn your head.

This is a clever book. It’s about the study of time travel, and redemption, and doesn’t unfold for you easily. We come at the story through different perspectives, all of them quite wonderful.

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The Animals in that Country

The Animals in that Country, by Laura Jean McKay

Brilliant and intriguing book. And me someone who has avoided fantasy for decades. Don’t read the blurb about ‘talking animals’—this is not Dr Dolittle— read the excited hype from right across the review spectrum and watch the awards list grow.

Jean is an unlikely heroine. She’s rough bit of work: a hard drinking, chain smoking, promiscuous, internet-troll of a grandmother who makes bad choices. Her colleague Andy is one, she calls him when she wants booze or sex. He’s ‘hairy and stringy, skin stretched over his big belly’ with a jealous boyfriend on the side. Jean’s love for her six-year-old granddaughter is her one redeeming feature, though I wouldn’t trust her to look after any child of mine.

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Beautiful world, where are you — book review

Beautiful world, where are you, by Sally Rooney

Funny how Sally Rooney’s books have such misleading titles. Normal People a case in point. Conversations with Friends. Welcome to Rooney’s beautiful world of normal friends. In this case it comes with a twist at the end — enough to redeem her? I’m not sure.

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Overstory — book review

Overstory, by Richard Powers

This is another commitment book. I might have got on better with a rest before the attempt, having come straight out of some heavies. A chick lit or comedy, perhaps, to give a bit of a breather. It did overwhelm me, as I think a forest probably should, but not in a good way.

I persevered with it, through the numerous characters and their overlapping stories, because the theme is so important. The theme is that trees — or more particularly, forests — are the life blood and lungs of the world. We humans are destroying them at a horrifyingly alarming rate and something should be done.

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Master & Commander — book review

Master & Commander, by Patrick O’Brian

I felt a huge sense of relief to get through this ordeal of a book without being scuppered or broadsided and blasted by a thirty-six pounder or court marshalled and shot by my own side. I kept a furtive lookout for the massing enemy French fleet showing the tips of their masts over the horizon. The thought of comforting myself with several bottles of wine with dinner occurred to me, and a tot of rum a day wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Much of the detail of the action went right over my head and I know that’s the truth for most readers, though there are men who swear they understand every manoeuvre (who you really should not engage in conversation if you have somewhere else to be in the next, say five hours).

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Rangitira—book review

Rangitira, by Paula Morris

What a great book to follow my previous read, This Thing of Darkness. Both Thompson and Paula Morris’s book relate to the 19th Century notion of taking indigenous people from distant lands back to England to “civilise” them and show them off as curiosities. In Thompson’s book, Captain FitzRoy uplifts three Fuegians to ship home, and in Morris’s book the Rangitira travel voluntarily to England. Whichever way you look at it, this is manifest colonial exploitation.

Paula Morris is a descendent of Rangitira’s narrator, the wonderful Paratene Te Manu, Ngāti Wai, and she writes her tupuna with a sure voice. He comes across as a thoughtful and gracious man who, in 1886 while having his portrait painted by Gottfried Lindauer, relates the story of his voyage to England some twenty years before.

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This Thing of Darkness

This Thing of Darkness, by Harry Thompson

Sometimes you have to stick your hand up and here we go.
I hereby award This Thing of Darkness the title of my best book ever.

For sheer meatiness, immersion, characterisation, research, story telling, and adventure. For the immensity of history involved. For the reach of these lives and the illumination of their development over the years and the way things build and unravel – all understandable in retrospect but so uncertain and risky at the time. For all the surrounding stuff that comes with historical fiction and the extraordinary passing detail. For the way it made me re-evaluate my life and life in this century generally. For the way it made me feel.

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