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Parenting, Warts and All

Book Review
Is it bedtime yet?  by Emily Writes (Penguin Random House, $35)
Reviewed by Justine McLeary

emily_writes_webIf you’re looking for a parenting book that spouts generic pearls about parenting and classifies every part of it into sections as if raising children is a clear-cut job, this is not it.

No, this book is honest. It exposes parenting in all its glory, despair and guilt. It gives you the good, the bad and the ugly, and that’s refreshing since, with parenting – as anyone doing the job will know – there’s a lot of all three.

Author Emily Writes shares in brutal, honest detail how tired raising two young boys makes her, and about how sometimes she really doesn’t like her children. Her musings are interspersed with stories from other Kiwi parents. These touch on various topics including passing on culture to fatherhood, throwing a successful birthday party and how to handle a screaming toddler in a supermarket when everyone is staring at you. It’s real.

Books don’t often make me laugh out loud, but this one did because, being a mother of two myself and having survived the baby, toddler and pre-school years, I can relate to every tale. Ever had a baby poo, wee and vomit at the same time? Tick. Been so tired you forgot you hadn’t started the car and wondered why you couldn’t reverse? Yep, been there. Cried with pride and overwhelming love when your firstborn took his first steps into your arms, or danced on stage in his first production, or won his first award? I’ve done that too.

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Immortal Love

Book Review
Warrior’s Touch by Deb E. Howell (Kristell Ink Press, paper, $14.99)
Reviewed by Rachel Stedman

warriors-touch-front-cover50webWarrior’s Touch is the second book in the Touch Series by New Zealand writer Deb E. Howell. Set in an alternative world, the Touch Series follows Llew and Jonas as they struggle to survive and to love, despite the many barriers they encounter.

The series has a wild-west tone with a steampunk vibe, so if you’re a fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly or Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea, then chances are you’ll enjoy this book.

Llew is a rare creature – a Syaenuk,  able to heal herself by touching living creatures. Only problem is that she drains energy from those she touches. Her touch can kill crops, animals – even humans.  Unsurprisingly, this power isn’t much appreciated by others, but Llew’s a tough individual, and throughout the first book in the series (Healer’s Touch) she proves hard to kill. 

And then there’s Jonas. Blessed with superhuman strength and speed, he’s a Syakaran – the last male of his kind and the nemesis of Llew’s race. But by the conclusion of Healer’s Touch, Jonas and Llew have fallen in love.

As Warrior’s Touch opens, Llew is recovering from her encounter with Jonas’ brother, Braph, and is pregnant with Jonas’ child. Unfortunately, they don’t have long to celebrate domestic bliss. Jonas is expected to play stud and sire more Syakarans. And Llew, an unwelcome immigrant in a strange land, must hide her pregnancy. She’s unsure of Jonas too – although she carries his child, surely he’d prefer his own kind?

All too soon, tragedy strikes. To make matters worse, psychopathic Braph reappears, just as Aris, Jonas’ general, plays an unexpected role.
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The Unfound

Book Review
The Missing Files: Unsolved New Zealand missing persons cases by Scott Bainbridge (Plus One, $39.99)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

the-missing-filesI always read whatever Scott Bainbridge writes. Especially his triumvirate of Without Trace (2005); Still Missing (2008) and this new title, which is an updated amalgam of several of the disappearances related in the first two books, with the addition of six new cases.

Why?

Because his topoi intrigue me. Missing people who have been missing for quite some time. Who may have been murdered. May have committed suicide. May have willingly vanished themselves. May have met with some terrible accident somewhere in this country’s hard scrabble back country somewhere.

Everyone loves a good mystery, and all of Bainbridge’s missing people certainly match this criterion. The disappearances of some are more bizarre than others – take Heidi Charles’ baffling evanescence from main streets of Rotorua, as one prime example; while some are almost certainly the victims of drug cabals gone awry and seeking vengeance, as in the cases of Marion Granville and Lionel Russell.  One or two would seem more straightforward, given no sighting of them has ever been made since – take Hazel Latta and Kenneth Balfour for example.

Whatever the situation, Bainbridge captures well the sheer despair of loved ones, the frustrations of the detectives searching for culptits or conclusive evidence, the fascination of the ‘general’ New Zealand public with historical enigmas such as the Mona Blades situation (interestingly Bainbridge does not mention anything about possible Highway 61 involvement in her disappearance all those years ago.) He objectively presents as much pertinent information as he can and never conclusively claims concrete solutions, most likely as he cannot. Indeed, as the back cover blurb declares, ‘The only thing no one seems able to provide is answers.’

Given also his fluid and fluent writing (though it would have been great if Māori was printed with the macron; while we don’t actually inhabit pā as on page 107 regarding the intriguing Betty Wharton scenario – I think marae is what was meant) readers will be drawn on quickly to read a chapter without pause and then to shoot on onto a new one. Read more »

A Home of Their Own

Book Review
Puffin the Architect Written and illustrated by Kimberley Andrews (Puffin, $19.99)
Reviewed by Melinda Szymanik

puffin_architect_cover_webThis is a visually appealing picture book, with muted earthy tones and a charming central character in Puffin the Architect. We are quickly introduced to what being an architect means, and then the story leads us through a variety of fun, quirky examples to illustrate this, as Puffin tries to understand what her latest clients – her own children – want in a home of their own.

The text is mostly rhyming, and cleverly arranged with the repeating lead-in of, ‘a lot of clever cupboards’ as Puffin describes each home she has planned. Architectural ideas and terms are shown through small sketches next to the text, and words chosen such as ‘bracket, pulley operated, skylight, and rooftop decks.’ The text increases with each subsequent description, adding a new concept to all the previous recurring ones.

The architecture depicted is engaging and the illustrations provide plenty of detail for children to pore over. I did find the colour palette a little dark and subdued in places, and it would have been nice to have someone distinctly local amongst the global who’s who of animal home owners, but these are minor quibbles. As the pufflings reject home after home, it is clear that different creatures have very different needs, and the youngsters now have the language and understanding to explain what they hope their own dwelling will have. The end result is the right home for them.

It was refreshing to find that the working professional in this Puffin family is female and she is clearly very good at what she does, satisfying all her clients through careful listening and expert planning. I think older primary children will get the most out of this book and I can just see young readers imagining what they might include in their own future homes, just as I used to when reading Dr Suess’s Come Over to My Place as a child.

pages-from-pta-spreads_web

The Politics of Eternity

Book Review
The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder (Bodley Head: London, 2018)
Reviewed by Valerie Morse

unfreedom_coverFollowing closely on his international bestseller On Tyranny, Yale professor of history Tim Snyder publishes a stunning account of the mechanisms of contemporary Russian power in US and European politics. In telling this story he presents both startling alarms for our own society and some mechanisms of resistance.

Snyder’s premise is founded in the competing ideas of what he calls the ‘politics of inevitability’ versus the ‘politics of eternity.’ The former is a characterisation of life under Western neo-liberal capitalist democracies where there is a Francis Fukayama-like ‘end of history.’ Underpinning it is a set of assumptions that history is progressing linearly towards a better world, which looks a lot like what currently exists, and that there are no real, radically different alternatives to neo-liberal capitalism.

By contrast, the politics of eternity are the politics of neo-fascism; they are, quite simply, the politics of modern Russia. They seek to glorify a fictional past that can be reclaimed; they invoke myth and leader-worship where succession is impossible; they create culture wars that portray Russia as a victim of external plots and threats – for example claiming that homosexual and queer people in Russia are essentially enemy agents; they promise nothing and normalise massive inequality ensuring there is no mobility and no way out.

What is particularly useful about The Road to Unfreedom is Snyder’s amazing grasp of Russian and Ukrainian source material, and the application of his significant historical knowledge of Russian and Eastern Europe to make sense of the present.

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