Voyages in America by James Robinson

Voyages in America: A Story of Homes Lost and Found by James Robinson, ISBN 9780692223659, ask your favourite bookshop to order or buy from Amazon.

When you encounter America for the first time it’s an odd experience. Our culture, despite our insistence on experiencing “overseas” mostly through the UK, is saturated with images, ideas and entertainment from America. It’s the country that has overwhelmed the world.

So when you arrive there for the first (or even second or third) time everything is at once intensely familiar and strangely foreign. After spending 6 months in the States in 1996, I remember having the vivid experience of watching The Simpsons back in NZ and thinking about how realistic it is. It is strange as a non-American to realise you have so many shared experiences with Americans, we know so much of their history and their stories, yet they know so few of ours.

It’s easy to be disdainful of America but when you go there it’s very, very hard not to fall in love.

James Robinson’s Voyages in America captures these contradictions and comforts almost perfectly. Voyages in America started life as a blog on Stuff before Robinson decided to turn his thoughtful musings into a book. He did a damn good job of raising the funds to publish on Kickstarter and has produced a very polished tome. Normally collections of previously published columns (as we used to call them) can have a stop-start tone, or a disjointedness but Robinson has avoided this by reworking his blog posts, ordering them around several themes and providing personal background and context to anchor his thoughts.

What results is a meditative reflection on the familiarity and “otherness” experience of travelling and living away from one’s home, and particularly in America, peppered with some insightful personal and cultural observations. Robinson is not just an observer but is a thinker too, addressing a number of stereotypes (both perpetuated by Americans and of Americans).

Testament to the popularity of the blog, Voyages in America is a good read, fun and moving in equal measure. Robinson has a ear for the absurd and maintains a healthy sense of humour throughout the book, never allowing it to be weighed down with cynicism.

Highly recommended reading for actual and armchair travellers and thinkers.

The Sovereign Hand by Paul Gilbert

The Sovereign HandThe Sovereign Hand by Paul Gilbert, Steampress, buy now.

Fans of Gormenghast and China Miéville should drop everything and get themselves a copy of The Sovereign Hand as soon as they can. An amazingly detailed and hugely ambitious tale on an epic scale, it’s the debut fantasy novel from New Zealand writer Paul Gilbert.

We are taken into the world of Thorn, the gilded capital, a city at the centre of a world of supposed freedom and opportunity for all. In prose that is almost overwhelming at times, Gilbert gives us the tale of Alexa, prophesised hero against the Evil that is coming for Thorn and its citizens.

The above review appeared in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday, 7 September 2014.

NZ Herald on Sunday review imageAnother impressive release from Steampress, The Sovereign Hand is billed as pure fantasy and it really is. The language can only be described as “full on” which matches the epic scale of the world Gilbert has created.

What I love about Steampress is everything they release is interesting and a step forward. Again, brilliant stuff from one of our best indie publishers.

Glory Days magazine – Issue 7

Glory Days magazine issue 7 cover imageGlory Days vintage lifestyle magazine, issue 7, RRP $16.90.

Buy or subscribe online

Issue 7 of Glory Days magazine is out and, lucky me, I received a copy in my mailbox!

Issue 7 coincides with commemorations for World War One and so has a focus on wartime – specifically WW1 and WW2. As you can see to the left, the cover girl is Antonia Prebble who is starring in Anzac Girls, which has just started on Australian TV and comes to Prime in New Zealand later this year.

Much like the previous issue this is a nice looking magazine, with lots of fantastic imagery and a very nice feel – this is a magazine you’ll want people to see you reading! And they’ll probably ask you about it because it’s eye-catching.

Issue 7 has some great features, my favourites being The Way We Wore, a collection of images of people from wartime curated by the NZ Fashion Museum (more photos are also available online), This Vintage Town which in this issue takes us through Dunedin and surrounds, and The Beauty Spot: Making Waves which brings back the art of the curl set!

One of the strengths of Glory Days as a magazine is it’s variety of content. I really like that the editors interpret the term “vintage lifestyle” to not just encompass clothes and beauty but to also include vehicles, aircraft, music and some serious history.

Glory Days is a great read and I’m now going to be looking forward to every issue!

Buy or subscribe online

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.

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.