Book Review: Passing Through by Coral Atkinson

Passing Through cover imagePassing Through by Coral AtkinsonDancing Tuatara in association with Whitireia Publishing, ISBN 9780473262693, RRP $34.95

It’s no surprise that, along with a good portion of the rest of the world, New Zealand is reassessing and revisiting its role and shared history in World War One, now that we are into the period of 100 year commemorations (please, please NEVER use the word celebration in this context). So it’s fitting that Coral Atkinson’s new novel, Passing Through, is a thoughtful and extremely readable human drama set in post-WWI Christchurch and Lyttelton.

Passing Through takes us inside the intersecting lives of four sympathetic and likeable characters: Ro and Harry, both returned servicemen from France, both highly scarred by their very different experiences; Louisa, a New Zealand nurse who during the course of the war became a wife, widow and mother (in that order); and Nan, a young housemaid with a gift of talking to the dead that Ro looks to exploit to make his fortune.

These characters, and accompanying minor ones like Poppy, Louisa’s daughter, are the heart and highlight of the book. They are all haunted by ghosts of the dead and Atkinson deals with each of them so gently yet so unflinchingly that the reader becomes highly invested in their stories. Ro, for example, is a total cad but I couldn’t help but have a strong sympathy for him, and he is as much a victim of his own circumstance as the other three.

Atkinson is a simply fantastic writer, with a wonderful turn of phrase and a deeply believable eye for detail and landscape.

The port was crowded with overseas ships at anchor, along with trawlers, tugs, launches and dredges; beyond the docks, the harbour stretched between islands and headlands, the rumpled khaki land like an old army overcoat, sleeves dangling into water.

Moving from scenes of appalling battle life on the French western front in WWI to moments of deep human intimacy to dubious “spiritual” seances, Atkinson takes all of these and delivers a story with a New Zealand heart and sense of place and time that is hard to beat.

It’s wonderful to have such a story told and by such a talented author. Passing Through is a superb book that deserves a wide audience.

 

Book Review: The Auckland Book

The Auckland Book cover imageThe Auckland Book by Nigel Beckford, Michael Fitzsimons, Patrick Fitzsimons, Alisha Brunton, Jess Lunnon, Sandi MacKechnie, Cynthia Merhej, Ivy Niu, Sarah Ryan, Ezra Whittaker-Powley, FitzBeck Creative, ISBN 9780473286033, RRP $45.00

From the team that brought us The Wellington Book and the brilliant The NZ Book there’s now a similarly beautiful The Auckland Book. Written and illustrated by the team at FitzBeck along with seven fantastic young illustrators from AUT, The Auckland Book does an outstanding job of capturing what’s unique and best about the city New Zealanders love and hate.

Page spread from The Auckland BookThe illustrations are quirky, fun and particularly gorgeous in many cases (the Auckland University clock tower and the Grafton page are my favourites). Along with the visual appeal there is also a range of fun facts and observations. And not just for visitors, there was plenty here that I didn’t know (and will now commit to quoting annoyingly), such as:

  • Alice [the tunnel boring machine] travels at up to 8cm a minute, about as fast as a snail;
  • Ponsonby was originally called Dedwood;
  • within a 20km radius of Auckland there are 49 discrete volcanic cones.

Page spread from The Auckland Book 2

The Auckland Book reflects the continuously changing face of our most cosmopolitan of cities, in an affectionate and fun manner.

Book review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling cover imageThe Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, Random House, Available now.

The Queen of the Tearling arrived on my doorstep in some simple but elegant little packaging, with warm grey tissue paper wrapping tied in a red bow, a little card attached with the title and author. The accompanying marketing blurb was nicely printed on a creamy laid paper with a satisfying weight¹. What book blogger could resist such presentation? (Not this one, I’m a sucker for the pretty).

Now, this is all very well and good, and reminds me how lucky I am to blog about books (well, reminds me why I put the time in to blog about books) but like the accompanying hype about this new title (It’s going to be made into a movie! Emma Watson loves it! And the Harry Potter films producer is producing it so lightning will strike twice!) it’s just pleasant frippery around the edges. The proof is in the reading.

The Queen of the Tearling delivers to a large extent on that, being a story with some of the best sort of characters and a gradually revealed backstory and universe that promises big things. Kelsea Glynn is heir to the throne of Tearling and has been in hiding since she was a baby. The book opens with the Queen’s Guard arriving at her modest foster parent’s home to escort her back to her castle to take her rightful place as Queen, as her mother has died. Along the way she learns many horrific and hard-to-hear truths about the state of play in Tearling, and the relationship with neighbouring Mortmesne and its ruler, The Red Queen (definite shades of the Red Woman from Game of Thrones), and The Queen of the Tearling is mostly taken up with this “beginning to be a queen” tale. Yes, it’s the first in a series.

I enjoyed many things about this part of the tale. The characters are fantastic; the likeable, worthy and intelligent Kelsea, her head guard The Mace, a solid and virtuous warrior, and the crazed Red Queen. These are just a few of the universe of characters that Johansen is beginning to create and clearly this is her strength. She also gives us plenty of hints and slow reveals about just where the Tearling universe is, an Earth-but-not-Earth, with talk of Europe and the Continent and the New World. I’m very keen to learn more about that.

There are also some things about the book that don’t work, with two main gripes from me. The tone is a little weird at times and this sense of dissonance meant there where times I struggled to stay engaged by it. Moments where the characters and writing screamed “young adult” were suddenly broken when the characters and writing screamed “you might wanna read this yourself before you give it to your young adult” and that made it hard to get a handle on who exactly the book is aimed at. This might not be a major issue for the average reader but tone is so important, and one of the reasons why editors are similarly important.

There were also some things that frustrated me about Kelsea as a character, she’s strong and intelligent, and I fervently hope that Johansen isn’t going to turn her personal story into “ugly duckling becomes a swan”. Some of the comments about her appearance and, yes, the news that Emma Watson is signed to play her in the movie, do worry me that rather than concentrating on the aspect of her journey into being a leader, we’ll be subjected to a standard “girl leader must be beautiful” story. The book doesn’t need it, so I do hope not.

So does this live up to the aforementioned edge-frippery hype? Not entirely but it’s still a very good read, one which will gain plenty of fans, including me. I’m definitely looking forward to finding out more and staying a part of the intriguing Tearling world.

¹ Yes, all right, I’m a paper geek.

An update from me

It seems a good time to update everyone on my journey along the non-profit road! The beginning to this project is detailed here, and the response was so amazing and overwhelming that I have to keep you all updated.

So far I have met with an advisor from the fantastic organisation Community Waikato. For those who haven’t heard of them, they provide support services (and distribute some funding) to non-profits and charities within the Waikato region. This was a great discussion, very insightful and useful. I talked about the whole background to my idea, as well as my own personal background and thoughts on where I want this (and me) to go.

One of the best things an advisor can give you is knowledge and history of the charity space, especially if like me you have the idea but not the experience. I got some realistic assessments of my perceptions. As you all know my focus was on the space of support services for queer youth, and I’m mindful of not wanting to either a) compete with existing services, or b) replicate existing services. This is where the advisor’s knowledge was invaluable. She saw a way that I could combine wanting to help with my personal skillset.

It means a slight change in direction, or at least refocussing my ideas, not away from the end user, but away from my initial thoughts of what my organisation might look like – in essence we may have come up with a business idea for a social enterprise that supports charitable and non-profit organisations. This doesn’t worry me – I am nothing if not adaptable and my ultimate aim has always been “how do we make it easier and better for queer youth to access the support they need”. Now I may just be able to do that for more people.

This is exactly why the support I received for my Givealittle campaign was so important and I’m so grateful for it. Research is key, identifying gaps and opportunities, making sure I know what’s happening, who’s what and what’s where. Next up is my trip to Auckland, which will happen in late August. I’m excited and I hope everyone who supported me is still happy they did!

Thanks again, all. :)

20 years of magic captured in Weta’s 20th anniversary books

Stories and achievements of Weta Workshop and Weta Digital brought to life

Image of Weta's The Art of Film Magic books

The celebrations of 20 years of film-making from the Weta Group will kick off with the launch today of two stunning books capturing the history of the Weta companies.

The books, Weta Digital: 20 Years of Imagination on Screen and Weta Workshop: Celebrating 20 Years of Creativity will be unveiled at Weta’s booth at Comic-Con International and are available as a special edition dual set for purchase by fans attending Comic-Con.

Published by HarperCollins and Weta, the books are available for pre-order through Weta’s online store: http://www.wetanz.com/the-art-of-film-magic-20-years-of-weta/; and ship in September.

The deluxe slipcase two-volume set is an insider’s tour of 20 years of film-making magic at Weta Workshop and Weta Digital, the creative companies behind such celebrated films as The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, The Avengers, King Kong, District 9 and The Hobbit. Brimming with never-before-published content, including concept designs, sketches, making of and behind-the-scenes imagery, along with interview material from cast and crew members, it is a stunning look at how the costumes, creatures and characters, weaponry, and visual effects are created for some of the world’s most iconic films. The two-volume set, titled The Art of Film Magic: 20 Years of Weta, includes both books.

Weta Digital: 20 Years of Imagination on Screen is a celebration of the people and projects that have defined the first two decades of Weta Digital. One of the world’s premier visual-effects studios, Wellington-based Weta Digital is known for its Academy Award®-winning visual effects for such films as The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and Avatar, as well as its ground-breaking work on Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Avengers, Prometheus, and The Hobbit trilogy. Featuring a foreword by Peter Jackson, personal stories and recollections, expert technical insights, and a wealth of behind-the-scenes imagery, the book offers fans an intimate look inside the studio and the minds of the people behind its innovative effects. Visual Effects Producer Clare Burgess wrote the book with the assistance of writer Brian Sibley and countless others who helped chronicle the studio’s remarkable history.

Weta Workshop: Celebrating 20 Years of Creativity reveals the extraordinary story of Weta Workshop, an Academy Award®-winning conceptual design and manufacturing studio known for its creations for such films as The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Avatar, The Chronicles of Narnia, District 9, and The Hobbit trilogy. Along with its film work, Weta Workshop makes collectible art, children’s television shows, and public sculptural pieces. Featuring a foreword by Peter Jackson, the book delivers unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes photographs, concept sketches, and final imagery from all these ventures. Weta Workshop: Celebrating 20 Years of Creativity was written by Weta Workshop Supervisor Luke Hawker, who has been with the Workshop for 14 years.

The book launch is the first of a number of activities celebrating 20 years of “Weta.”

The books are a key part of the celebration as they document, for the first time, the history and achievements of Weta, says Weta Workshop co-founder Sir Richard Taylor.

“We are very proud of our work and these books really bring that work and our artists to life. We hope our friends and fans who have supported us all these years will enjoy adding these volumes to their library, as we are incredibly proud of what our teams have achieved over these past 20 years.”

Weta Digital Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri says: “This is a great opportunity to give fans a closer look at how some of the new ideas and techniques developed by the artists at Weta Digital came into existence over the past twenty years, and how they have contributed to the changing world of Visual Effects in filmmaking.”

The Weta Group of Companies has their largest presence ever at this weekend’s Comic-Con International event in San Diego (July 24-27). The booth showcases New Zealand creativity, talent and artistry to industry media and thousands of fans. Weta is also exhibiting at the other satellite events in Denver, New York and Utah in 2014.

Whitcoulls Kids Top 50 Books

Kiwi’s love to read and vote for their top books

Whitcoulls Kids Top 50 logo

Since 1998, Whitcoulls has been asking Kiwi kid’s (and adults as well) to nominate their favourite books and from Monday 28 July 2014 they get the chance to cast their votes again.

In recent years, the most popular books have been series such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, all of which routinely appear in the top five.

New Zealand picture books have also fared well, with Lynley Dodd’s iconic Hairy Maclary books and Craig Smith’s award-winning book, The Wonky Donkey, always appearing in the top ten. Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is another enduring favourite and books by Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss are always hugely popular with Kiwis.

Whitcoulls asks New Zealanders to vote for up to three books and they can do this in one of several different ways:

  1. Whitcoulls website www.whitcoulls.co.nz.
  2. At their local Whitcoulls store.
  3. Via their smart phones/tablets using a unique QR code.

Everyone that votes will be in with a chance to win one of twenty $100 Whitcoulls Gift Cards.

Whitcoulls Head Book Buyer Joan Mackenzie, and the ‘face’ behind Whitcoulls influential Joan’s Picks says: “In an era where, it’s often said, books and reading are under threat from new media, and time is an increasingly rare commodity, the really good news is that kids are not only still reading – but reading more than ever! We’re seeing a consistent, growing interest from young readers who are still captivated by the exploits of strong characters, and by the thrill of a really good story – and their willingness to share these enthusiasms with other kids is truly alive and well.”

Once votes are in, the team at Whitcoulls begins the huge task of collating entries and compiling the nation’s Kids’ Top 50 books. The voting period runs for three weeks from Monday 28 July and closes on Sunday 17 August 2014. The Whitcoulls Kids’ Top 50 books will be announced on Monday 22 September 2014, just ahead of the school holidays.

So of course I’m totally going to vote! Probably for Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamquake series, Roald Dahl, Where the Wild Things Are, Gangsta Granny, The Book Thief… :)