Book Review: The Two Worlds of Maggie Papakura (2005) by David Andrews

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Maggie Papakura, probably taken in her house at Whakarewarewa. Photograph taken by William Henry Thomas Partington [ca 1910], courtesy of http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=1355

 Margaret Pattison Thom, who was later widely known as Makereti (or Maggie) Papakura, (1873 – 1930) is a fascinating New Zealand historical figure, because her story spans two contrasting worlds and times. She was born to an English father and Maori mother and grew up in a traditional Maori way—living in a whare, sleeping on the floor, and cooking over a hangi. She became one of Rotorua’s most famous tour guides and hosted thousands of visitors, including the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. Her natural charm and storytelling ability lead to international exhibition opportunities in Sydney and London, and the press of the time report her as being comparable to the most charming English woman.

She eventually married an English country squire and lived the kind of life unimaginable to her as a girl. All the while she is focussed on preserving and promoting traditional Maori culture, using this as her thesis topic for anthropology studies at Oxford University in 1926, although she died in 1930 before it was published (it was published eight years later by a friend).

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A different world: Maggie Papakura, 21 July 1913, taken in a London studio, courtesy of http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=29454

No wonder David Andrews was (clearly) fascinated by his subject. I am grateful to him for researching, collating and preserving Papakura’s story for future generations. He travelled far and wide and spent a lot of money piecing together her life. However, the writing often rambles and is repetitive, and the entire book is in need of a thorough edit. Don’t get me started on the random spaces before commas and other layout issues! Continue reading

Book Review: Heart to Start (2013) by Derek Handley

I first met Kiwi entrepreneur and social change-maker, Derek Handley, in the early 2000s when we were party-mad 20-somethings, downing champagne and mojitos (or Manhattans if you’re Derek) at Auckland’s Crow Bar. At the time I owned a model and talent agency, and our wider group had that glorious unbreakable optimism of youth—we felt like we owned the world. But what most of us didn’t realise, while we were getting into mischief and staying up half the night (Derek included), was that Derek had almost been bankrupted, and, between drinks, was feverishly masterminding global technology ideas. In 2009 he sold his company, The Hyperfactory, to U.S. company Meredith Corporation, for an undisclosed sum. Oh, and bought half of Crow Bar—just for kicks.

Handley, Derek

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Book Review: The Girl Who Stole Stockings (2015) by Elsbeth Hardie

The Girl Who Stole Stockings is a meticulously researched and engaging true story about 12-year-old Colchester-born servant, Susannah Noon, who, in 1811, was convicted of stealing stockings and sentenced to seven years transportation on the convict ship, Friends. The story is two-fold: firstly, Susannah’s changing fortunes and society in early convict New South Wales; and secondly, her marriage to convicted bigamist Samuel Cave and their eventual arrival in a remote whaling community in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds in 1838—and being one of only two Pakeha (white) women for miles.

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Keeping great company at the book launch—with cover girl (and my cousin) Sophia, and the author (my aunt), Elsbeth Hardie. Image copyright C. Barron 2015

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Book Review: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015)

Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks is a master storyteller, whose obsession with her subject matter gleams from the pages of her latest novel, The Secret Chord, like the golden Ark of the Covenant. Perhaps it is her previous life as a war correspondent, but she has a way of observing setting and walking in the shoes of her characters that I swear she must have been there with David, listening to him compose his mourning song for Yonatan, or watching Bathsheva ladle scented water over her body on the rooftop.

Geraldine Brooks ticket

Image copyright Caroline Barron, 2015.

I saw Brooks at an Auckland Writers Festival event at the Maidment Theatre last month and was captivated by her immense love of research, her vast knowledge of varied subjects, and her ability to recreate a world. In The Secret Chord, as in Caleb’s Crossing (2011) [read my review here] and in Years of Wonder (2001) [which I am part way through—yes I’m having a Brooks-fest], she takes an historic time, layers it with real-life characters and imagines the rest: their thoughts, their dialogue, their every day. Of course this is a tried and true narrative method (my article on ‘Creating Fictional Worlds’ appears in the Summer 2015 issue of NZ Author magazine), but some people—Brooks—do it a hell of a lot better than others. I’ll give an example passage shortly. But first, to the structure.

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Book Review: Body & Soul by Frank Conroy (1993)

Five stars. Amazing. Body & Soul by Frank Conroy

Five stars. Amazing. Body & Soul by Frank Conroy

Of course Conroy was an accomplished jazz pianist. There is no chance a non-musician could write such a vivid story about a musically gifted little boy and about music the way Conroy does. I studied music through to my last year of school; I sing, play piano and guitar. Body & Soul gave me so many ‘a-ha!’ moments; musical moments I did not think could be put into words: Continue reading

Book Review: On Coming Home by Paula Morris

Paula Morris (image credit Mike Brooke)

Paula Morris (image credit Mike Brooke)

On Coming Home is an elegantly-written and deeply moving essay on returning home to New Zealand after almost thirty years abroad, by the award-winning author of Rangitira and Queen of Beauty, Paula Morris.

Morris sifts through time for examples of ex-pat writers and what it meant to them and their work to return home, in order to guide or decode her own experience of coming home. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Black Rock White City’ by A. S. Patric: Five Stars, Baby!

I’m off to Melbourne to catch up with My-Friend-Jarrod next month and what better way to ready myself than to indulge in new Melbourne fiction. And my goodness. What fiction this is. Five, oh five, oh five glorious and shining stars, Mr. Poetic-Patric.

He can’t speak to any of it because it isn’t about words anymore. It’s about another existence. Neither of them is sure about the present but this is some kind of afterlife (17).

A spot of reading. (Image copyright C. Barron lovewordsmusic.com 2015)

A spot of reading. Unposed, of course.
(Image copyright C. Barron lovewordsmusic.com 2015)

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Book Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder is like holding up a cut crystal to the light—from each angle it reflects and refracts differently. In Wonder, 10-year-old Auggie Pullman’s experience is refracted through his own point of view and those of people close to him: his sister Via, his friends Summer and Jack, Via’s boyfriend Justin, and Miranda (Via’s friend). In this edition (Borzoi 2012) there is also ‘The Julian Chapter’ written from the point of view of Auggie’s enemy.

Oh yeah, you should know: Auggie has serious facial abnormalities.

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Book Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (2014)

It seemed to me that if you had to have a mother who’d dropped you off like a bag of dirty laundry and a father who was not above stealing from you (or your sister), you were pretty lucky to have that same sister take you to Hollywood and wash your underpants with hers and share her sandwiches with you (28).

Amy Bloom is coming to town, for the Auckland Writers Festival and lovewordsmusic.com will be in the audience, dangling off every delicious, erudite word. I first discovered Bloom in a fiction class – Silver Water remains one of my favorite short stories ever. I had high hopes for Lucky Us; and – Lucky Me – hope soared and found its mark in a carriage house in Ohio crowded with achingly flawed and real characters.

Amy Bloom reading book

C’est moi, sneaking in a bit of reading over Easter. Image copyright to Caroline Barron

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Book Review: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (1990)

My-Friend-Jarrod is like one of those fortune-telling Magic 8 Balls; you know the ones – shake it, ask a burning question, get an answer. Thankfully Jarrod is not actually a Magic 8 Ball, because his answers are far more useful than “Reply hazy try again” or “Outlook not so good”.

When I asked him to recommend books or films “with non-linear narrative structure and several points of view and possibly an unreliable narrator” to help with my novel, he had an immediate reply: “Better not tell you now.” Bugger off 8 Ball. He had an immediate reply: Continue reading