Book review: Starlight Peninsula by Charlotte Grimshaw

Starlight Peninsula cover imageStarlight Peninsula by Charlotte Grimshaw, Vintage, ISBN9781775538226, RRP $38

Starlight Peninsula is the beguiling new novel from one of New Zealand’s most celebrated contemporary authors, Charlotte Grimshaw. The novel’s central character, Eloise Hay, is a young woman forced to slowly confront trauma from her past, a past that suddenly seems to her to be full of layer and hidden meaning. Readers of Grimshaw’s previous books will already be familiar with parts of her story.

The author uses instantly recognisable characters and scenarios from recent events in New Zealand politics and media to create a mysterious tale of power and influence, as well as an enthralling glimpse into the mind of a woman who’s trying to understand what’s happened to her life.The novel feels at once deeply embedded in the New Zealand landscape and still universal. Every character is like a small perfect portrait, and the absolutely stunning writing creates an atmosphere of dreamy mystery.

Perhaps this was what happened when you went mad: eventually everyone was a stranger. You went on talking and in the end you were surrounded by faces you didn’t know.

Eloise is a character dealing with loss every day but in many ways failing to allow herself to move beyond it.

Grimshaw’s use of language really was so beguiling to this reader. She mostly writes in a sparing manner but every so often an image is dropped into the narrative that is intensely powerful and poignant. It’s hard not to become intrigued by the ominous undercurrent moving through the book, which correlates strongly with our society’s own current zeitgeist that asks if those who purport to tell us who we are might not instead be our worst enemies.

Reading Starlight Peninsula is a disquieting experience but also immensely satisfying. Now I have to catch up on the rest of Grimshaw’s books.

Eloise half-listened. She was remembering the person hidden behind Kurt Harmann’s eyes. How many of us are living so deep below the surface, no one knows who we are?

Book review: Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh

Shards of Hope cover imageShards of Hope by Nalini Singh, Gollancz, ISBN 9780575111813, RRP $29.99

Nalini Singh is a prolific New Zealand/Fijian author and something of an undervalued hero in the NZ literary scene. And by prolific I mean “over 30 books published and that’s not counting novellas and stories”. Yes, that kind of prolific.

She specialises in amazing romance/paranormal/sci-fi hybrid novels and Shards of Hope is the 14th instalment in her Psy-Changeling series. It’s also the first of her books I’ve ever read – if you know me you’ll know that romance/paranormal/sci-fi hybrid novels have traditionally not really been my thing. What I love about reviewing though is getting to read books I might not pick up myself.

The story begins with our main characters, Aden and Zaira, waking up wounded in a darkened cell and knowing they must escape, and survive, to warn others of a new powerful enemy. Their determination to protect their fellow Arrows soon extends to protecting each other when they end up in the midst of a changeling pack. And before you know it, boom chicka-wah-wah, they’re basically all over each other.

Okay, I’m cutting out a huge amount of detailed back story and history from Singh’s imagined world. Her characters are strong, complicated and sexy, and the action in Shards of Hope is virtually non-stop. The Psy-Changeling world is complex and believable while still retaining a bold fantastical quality. After 30 books Singh could be forgiven for being a bit formulaic but at no point did I feel she was “churning it out”. And after reading dross like Grey it was a relief to find some romance (which, by the way, is code for intense emotions and matching sexual escapades) that felt written by an author who recognises her readers are grown-ups.

Shards of Hope is immensely readable adult fiction and the perfect escapist fantasy for a wet weekend’s reading.

2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards judges announced

The 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards will be judged by 12 eminent academics, writers, journalist, commentators, former publishers and booksellers from around New Zealand; a three-fold increase on the number of judges in previous years which reflects the Awards’ new judging structure.

Each of the Awards’ four categories – Fiction, Poetry, General Non-Fiction and Illustrated Non-Fiction – and the awards for Best First Book  in those categories, will be judged by a panel of three judges, all specialists in their fields. A Maori language adviser will judge the Maori Language Award.

The judges will announce their longlist finalists on November 25, 2015, and their shortlist on March 8, 2016.

New Zealand Book Awards Trust chairwoman, Nicola Legat, says the judges selected for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are second-to-none.

“Authors and publishers can expect to receive the rigour and respect from this year’s line-up that their books deserve. Rather than four judges reading 150 or more books, as has been the case previously, these specialists will read only the books in their category, allowing for a more detailed examination of the works,” she says.

Owen Marshall photo

Owen Marshall

The Fiction category, whose $50,000 prize is now known as The Acorn Foundation Literary Award, will be judged by distinguished writer Owen Marshall CNZM; Wellington bookseller and reviewer Tilly Lloyd, and former Director of the Auckland Writers Festival and Creative New Zealand senior literature adviser Jill Rawnsley.

The Poetry Prize will be judged by former Auckland University Press publisher Elizabeth Caffin MNZM; James K Baxter expert Dr Paul Millar, of the University of Canterbury, and poet and University of Auckland academic Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh.

The General Non-Fiction Prize will be judged by Metro Editor-At-Large Simon Wilson; Professor Lydia Wevers, literary historian, critic and director of the Stout Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington, and Dr Jarrod Gilbert, a former Book Awards winner for Patched: A History of Gangs in New Zealand, of the University of Canterbury.

The Illustrated Non-Fiction Prize will be judged by former publisher Jane Connor, publisher of the magisterial The Trees of New Zealand, which won the Book of the Year award in 2012; Associate Professor Linda Tyler, Director of the Centre for Art Studies at The University of Auckland, and Leonie Hayden, the editor of Mana magazine.

“It’s always an honour to be invited to judge these prestigious and important awards but also a major commitment of time.” says Ms Legat. “So we are enormously grateful that these very busy and skilled people are happy to demonstrate their support for the awards by diving in to months of reading and debate. We very much look forward to their final longlist, shortlist and winner selections.”

The winners will be announced on May 10, 2016, at an event at the Auckland Writers Festival.

Entries to the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards can be made via . Books published between June 1, 2014 and December 21, 2015 are eligible for entry.

The New Zealand Book Awards is enormously grateful to the generosity of its partners: Ockham Residential, The Acorn Foundation and enduring funder Creative New Zealand.

Three award-winning international authors at the Tauranga Arts Festival

An exciting line-up for the Literary Programme for this year’s Tauranga Arts Festival includes three award-winning international authors making their only New Zealand appearances at the festival.

Photo of Christina Lamb

Christina Lamb

Christina Lamb OBE has been covering Afghanistan for British newspapers for more than 25 years. Following on from her best-selling 2002 book, The Sewing Circles of Heart, Lamb has this year published Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World, a personal account of the longest war ever fought by the US, and one of the longest fought by the UK. How did a group of religious students and farmers defeat the might of NATO, with 48 countries and 140,000 troops on the ground? And what does instability in landlocked Afghanistan mean for the region and the world? Lamb appears twice on Saturday, October 24 and once on Sunday, October 25.

Photo of Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll

Melbourne novelist Steven Carroll last year co-won the Australian Prime Minister’s Award for Literature for A World of Other People which is set the London of 1941 and inspired by one of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets poems. Carroll is the author of nine novels, including The Time We Have Taken, which won both the Commonwealth Writers’ Regional Prize and the Miles Franklin Award, and Spirit of Progress. His novel about the 1960 West Indies cricket team tour of Australia, The Gift of Speed, is being reprinted in time for the festival. Carroll writes in longhand, 1000 words every day, usually in the shed at his home. He often listens to Beethoven while working. He appears once each on Saturday, October 31 and Sunday, November 1.

Photo of Phil Jarratt

Phil Jarratt

Phil Jarratt rode his first wave aged 9 and published his first article about surfing in 1968, aged 17. Since then he has edited Tracks magazine and the Australia edition of Surfer’s Journal, been named among Australia’s 50 most influential surfers, worked for Quiksilver, and founded the Noosa Festival of Surfing, the world’s largest surf carnival. His books include That Summer at Boomerang (2014), the story of Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku’s visit to Australia on the eve of World War 1 and the best-selling Mr Sunset (surf legend Jeff Hakman) which was made into a film, while Bali: Heaven and Hell (2014) is a history of the island interwoven with personal memoir. Jarratt appears once on Saturday, October 24 and twice on Sunday, October 25. He will also introduce the free, outdoor screening of the 1972 surf movie classic Morning of the Earth at a Mount Maunganui reserve on October 24.

New Zealand authors in the line-up are Mandy Hager, Nicky Hager, Stephanie Johnson, Debra Daley, Tracey Barnett, Riley Elliott, Harry Ricketts, Damien Fenton, Bryan Gould and Joseph Romanos. Victoria University’s printer-in-residence Sydney Shep is leading a Zine Craft workshop on October 31 and speaking the next day. Moderators include Wallace Chapman, Toby Manhire, Stephen Stratford and Tony Wall. Full details of the programme, which for the first time includes day passes, are available at

Book review: Grey by E.L. James

Grey cover imageGrey by E.L. James, Arrow, ISBN 9781784753252, RRP $19.99

Grey is the latest instalment in the inexplicably mega-popular Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, and retells the original Fifty Shades of Grey book, this time from the perspective of Christian Grey himself. The fans were apparently clamouring for this novel but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like a particularly lazy way to continue to milk the brand.

Sadly the book itself has almost no redeeming features, the characters are unlikeable and cartoonish and the writing, including the much talked about sexy-times, is repetitive and bland.

Yes, the reader gets insight into the mind of Christian Grey but this particular reader wondered why we needed it. Mr Grey spends a lot of time telling us that he’s a dark and troubled person but the “shocking” formative moment that James presumably intended to explain his temperament turns out to be laughably formulaic.

There is far better written erotica available and fans should be clamouring for that.

I also talked about Grey on More FM Waikato.