Archive for the ‘nonfiction’ Category

A lively anthology of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, celebrating the birds of Aotearoa.

On the skyline
a hawk
languidly typing
a hunting poem
with its wings.
– Hone Tuwhare

New Zealand birds have inspired mythology, song, whimsical stories, detailed observation, humour and poetry. There are tales of shooting and taxidermy as well as of admiration and love. From the kakapo, kokako and kaka to the sparrow, starling and seagull, both native and imported birds have been immortalised in print.

This is a varied and stimulating selection from the flocks of New Zealand writers who have given our birds a voice. They have brought extinct birds back to life and even enabled the kiwi to take flight on the page.

Bird Words: New Zealand Writers on Birds

Edited by Elizabeth Easther

Vintage

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Birds have always inspired the world’s writers to wax lyrical.

For many New Zealanders, our native birds hold a particular appeal, from our national icon of the kiwi to the cheeky kea, the melodic tui, and the graceful fantail.  In the Maori culture birds are a link between earth and sky, connecting mortals with their gods.

This anthology came about after Easther noticed how much New Zealanders revere their native birds and how beautifully we write about them. The collection features some of New Zealand’s best-loved and well known writers, with 62 works of fiction, essays and poetry, as well as obscure historical writings and less well known pieces.

Illustrated with delicate black-and-white watercolours by natural history illustrator Lily Daff, this book is very pretty and is an impressively wide-ranging collection of New Zealand writing, authors and styles and topics.

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On 17 September 1944, General Kurt Student, the founder of Nazi Germany’s parachute forces, heard the growing roar of aero engines. He went out on to his balcony above the flat landscape of southern Holland to watch the vast air armada of Dakotas and gliders, carrying the British 1st Airborne and the American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. He gazed up in envy at the greatest demonstration of paratroop power ever seen.

Operation Market Garden, the plan to end the war by capturing the bridges leading to the Lower Rhine and beyond, was a bold concept: the Americans thought it unusually bold for Field Marshal Montgomery. But the cost of failure was horrendous, above all for the Dutch who risked everything to help. German reprisals were cruel and lasted until the end of the war.

The British fascination for heroic failure has clouded the story of Arnhem in myths, not least that victory was possible when in fact the plan imposed by Montgomery and General ‘Boy’ Browning was doomed from the start. Antony Beevor, using many overlooked and new sources from Dutch, British, American, Polish and German archives, has reconstructed the terrible reality of this epic clash. Yet this book, written in Beevor’s inimitable and gripping narrative style, is about much more than a single dramatic battle. It looks into the very heart of war.

Don’t miss hearing Antony Beevor talk at the Auckland Writer’s Festival Saturday 18 May 2019.  Click here for details.

Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944

Antony Beevor

Viking

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

For many World War II armchair generals, no subject is likely to generate a vigorous discussion than Operation Market Garden – the attempt to capture a series of bridges in the Netherlands in late 1944. Devised by the recently promoted Field Marshall Montgomery, the aim was to capture a bridgehead over the Rhine in the Netherlands and pursue the Germany army into Germany. Needless to say, the operations did not go as planned.

Beevor starts the action a few weeks before the actual period in question, as the situational background is important in understanding the decisions behind the plan. He then follows the planning and implementation of the operation as envisaged. The last chapter is devoted to the aftermath of the operation and the German response. Those that know about Operation Market Garden and the film, A Bridge Too Far, will be aware that it failed.

Beevor, as part of his research, sought answers as to why. Blame is firmly attributed to Monty and his senior commanders. Beevor consulted documents from multiples sources, including Dutch and German, before writing this book. These two sets are important – both were witnesses and participants to the plans as executed. The Dutch army also had an Army Staff College who would have failed Montgomery for implementing a plan so simple and obvious as running directly up the road and straight for the Arnhem bridges.

I enjoyed Arnhem: it is a good read and the action reporting is balanced (it seems confusion abounded on both sides early in the battle). While the title is Arnhem, that city is not the sole focus, as fighting continued along the entire 120km route. It was the target, however, and despite later claims the operation was 90% successful, in this case the miss may as well have been a mile. Read it. I thank Penguin for supplying a review copy.

Why do we prefer to drink tomato juice on flights?
Why do we eat less when food is served on red plates?
Does the crunch really change the taste of crisps?

In Gastrophysics pioneering researcher Professor Charles Spence explores the extraordinary, mind-bending science of food. Whether it’s uncovering the importance of smell, sight, touch and sound to taste or why cutlery, company and background noise change our experience of eating, he shows us how neuroscience, psychology and design are changing not only what we put on our plates but also how we experience it.

Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating

Professor Charles Spence

Viking

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed  by Jacqui Smith

I don’t I have ever before come across a book that was almost 40% notes before; but this is a quite unusual volume in other ways. It’s a book about food science on a whole different level; about the psychology, chemistry, biology and even physics of eating. What effect does the environment, expectations, colours, sounds, smells have on the experience of food… It’s all here. And it’s all very interesting.

I suspect that almost anyone who works in the food industry and has a passing interest in science would be fascinated by this book. As would anyone with an interest in food and eating. It’s not a simple read, and I found that I preferred to read it a bit at a time with a pause for digestion. It does have some interesting adventures for the domestic cook as well, especially if you’re into hosting dinner parties. You’ll learn more than you really want to know about the ways in which the food industry manipulates what we eat. There’s even some surprising advice for weight loss – try using red plates!

Is vocabulary destiny? Why do clocks ‘talk’ to the Nahua people of Mexico? Will A.I. researchers ever produce true human-machine dialogue? In this mesmerizing collection of essays, Daniel Tammet answers these and many other questions about the intricacy and profound power of language.

In EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING, Tammet goes back in time to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; in Iceland, he learns why the name Bl r became a court case; in Canada, he meets one of the world’s most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots; contrives an ‘e’-less essay on lipograms; studies the grammar of the telephone; contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects; and corresponds with native Esperanto speakers – in their mother tongue.

A joyous romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings, EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING explores the way communication shapes reality. From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, these essays display the stunning range of Tammet’s literary and polyglot talents.

Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing: Encounters with the Mysteries & Meanings of Language

Daniel Tammet

Hachette Australia

Supplied by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve Litten

Daniel Tammet suffered from autism as a child, and saw the world in numbers, rather than words. Not surprisingly, this different view of the world, and language, made him a troubled user of English, his native tongue. At least, as a child. After moving to France and learning the joys of literature in French, he was re-introduced to English. Which he saw in another light. For apart from the whole number thing – words evoking numbers – he also has a certain degree of synaesthesia: words evoke other sensations.

It is this complex array of foibles, both bane and boon, that inspired this collection of essays. Daniel recounts an adventure language teaching in Lithuania, attempts at reviving a mostly dead language, chasing down a fellow autistic poet, a childhood vocabulary test and so forth. But instead of coming across as a whiney, life was hard sort, he buzzes with excitement. Yes, the difficulties of childhood were sad, but he recognises that these were his problems. The reader doesn’t suffer for Daniel’s limitations. Rather, he carries them along with his love of language and human communication.

I enjoyed this book. It gave me an insight into another mind, another method of approaching languages, for Daniel doesn’t confine himself to exploring just English. His essays, some of which are deeply personal, are not about him; they’re about language. For writers, language is almost all they have. For people who use words, and that is almost all of use, the title sums up what we strive for with our use of words: every word is a bird we teach to sing.

New Zealand: Untouched Landscapes is a fresh and strikingly beautiful collection of landscape photographs that have been captured throughout the country by professional photographer, Petr Hlavacek. From our most iconic locations to harder-to-access and protected areas, New Zealand: Untouched Landscapes presents the pristine and diverse landscapes of this country, often from a new perspective.

Petr’s photography is motivated by the opportunity to promote greater public awareness of our fragile landscapes, a landscape he is passionate about protecting. Petr Hlavacek is an important new talent among New Zealand landscape photographers.

New Zealand: Untouched Landscapes

Petr Hlavacek

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Keith and Jacqui Smith

I think we’ve all seen those coffee table books full of pretty pictures of places in New Zealand; souvenir shops and airport bookstores specialise in them. At first glance this might seem to be more of the same, but although it does fill that niche, it is much, much more. Our first reaction on opening the book was “Wow!” And there was more “wow” on page after page. You may take it that we were impressed.

This is a book of New Zealand landscapes; some relatively familiar, some more remote, all pristine, magnificent, and full of untouched beauty. Some are positively primeval – the Lake Wahapo kahikatea forest at sunrise struck me as practically Jurassic, only somewhat lacking in dinosaurs. All are photographed with consummate skill – believe you me, we can only wonder at the effort it took to get just the right shot at the right moment. You may think that landscape photography is easy – and it’s true that getting a good landscape with a decent camera isn’t that hard – but getting shots of this quality is not at all simple. We had to admire the skill and patience involved.

I have only a couple of small quibbles. It was only when I came to write this review that I realised that the book has no page numbers, which is understandable on double-page spreads, but when the photos do not extend to the edges, page numbers could be useful to help find that kahikatea forest I was talking about! And I would have liked just a little more text in places, explaining the landscapes to those of us who like our geology. But otherwise, this is a beautiful work of art, far from just another souvenir picture book.

There are few things as sweet as throwing some clothes, your togs, your jandals, some good sounds and your best mate into the car and shouting, ‘ROADIE!’ as you leave your everyday life behind.

Chuck this book in while you’re at it.

Let’s Get Lost is a guide to the real New Zealand that few of us get a chance to explore. In its pages, you’ll pass through the sausage capital of New Zealand, take a dip in a secret lake, visit a village entirely populated by guinea pigs, share a yarn with many a local good bugger – and so much more.

Let’s Get Lost will inspire you to get out there and take in some of the best this fantastic country has to offer.

Let’s get Lost: Great New Zealand Road Trips

Nicola McCloy & Jane King

Random House NZ

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

I always thought telling someone to “get lost!” was rude. Not anymore. More than just a travel guide, this book has Must Do’s, Diversions (from your route) and notes on Local Heroes who have craft studios or wildlife rehab centres; as well as history and where the best bakeries and other kai, is to be found. All this is told in a journal style which guides the reader like an old friend who knows the area very well and will make sure you do not miss any of the sightseeing or fail to appreciate the area you are travelling though.  Did you know Mark Twain was in Palmerston North in 1895? Me neither.

The New Zealand beer industry is a dynamic one – full of larger-than-life, passionate characters; from loveable rogues through to budding mad scientists. Our beers are just as diverse. Bringing together brewing traditions from all over the world and combining these with Kiwi ingredients, ingenuity and creativity, we have a beer culture unlike any other.

Since the release of Brewed in 2015, the New Zealand beer industry has continued to grow dramatically, which this revised edition takes into account by featuring 45 new breweries, meaning over 160 commercially operating New Zealand breweries are profiled. Additionally, the tasting notes for over 450 beers have been revised and are now in a separate section, divided into beer type, for easier comparison of beers produced by different breweries.

Brewed includes a style guide written specifically for the New Zealand craft beer market and has all the information needed to make the increasingly complicated beer world a lot more comprehensible.

Brewed will encourage experimentation among engaged beer consumers, helping them to discover new breweries and, with the use of the comprehensive tasting notes, benchmark them against old favourites. It will also help emerging beer drinkers to identify beers they will enjoy, starting them on a journey of discovery.

Brewed: A Guide to the Beer of New Zealand Second Edition

Jules van Costello

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve

Jules van Costello (né van Cruysen) wrote his first edition of Brewed in 2015, and in the two following years the scene changed sufficiently that a new edition was felt to be warranted. So what’s the difference between the first and second editions, and is it worthwhile getting the new one?

The basic layout is the same, but the second edition splits the tasting notes out from the breweries. In my opinion this is an improvement. Jules divides his tasting notes into styles. Hopefully not too many will be confused as to what style of lager or pale ale is in the glass (there are an awfully large number of beer styles in these two categories). The new edition is also about 10-15 pages longer, mostly due to the extra 45 that have opened, although obviously a few have also closed. What I do miss are the various area maps showing the locations of the breweries in the cities.

Is it worth it? Yes. The splitting out of the tasting notes from the brewery description makes for an easier and less cluttered read. Jules still mentions the styles the breweries focus on in their descriptions. But the tasting notes fill in the blanks, with Jules offering the suggestion of “Must Try” for the best or most distinctive examples within each stile.

I wish to thank Potton & Burton for the edition provided and offer my sincerest grovelling for being so late with this review.