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SRB Highlights: Diego Mariani | Erica James | And More...

SRB Highlights: New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani | The Hidden Cottage by Erica James | And More…


A Grammar of Personality

December 7, 20120 comments

New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani, translated by Judith Landry
(The Text Publishing Company, 2012)
Reviewed by C P Howe

New Finnish Grammar received the Grinzane-Cavour Prize, was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award, and comes with an impressive array of plaudits. The most prominent is featured on the cover: The Guardian’s Nicholas Lezard says, ‘I can’t remember when I read a more extraordinary novel, or when I was last so strongly tempted to use the word genius of its author.’ It is impossible to come to this book without high expectations and, for me, they were definitely met.

On the surface New Finnish Grammar has an admirable simplicity, but its strength lies in its many layers. Marani is a professional translator and there can be no doubt about his love of language. He invented Europanto, a mock European language, in which he writes newspaper columns. It comes as no surprise, then, that New Finnish Grammar is, at one level, about language.
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Siren’s Song

December 7, 20120 comments

Lullaby by Amanda Hocking (Macmillan, Dec 2012)
Reviewed by Maria Robinson (age 14)

We’ve had vampires and vampyres. We’ve had faeries and fairies. We’ve had werewolves, angels, demi-gods, mermaids, and zombies.

Now we’ve got sirens.

Amanda Hocking’s new book, Lullaby, is the second instalment in the Watersong series. Penn, Lexi, and Thea are sirens. In the prequel, Wake, the trio captured Gemma to replace Agalope, Thea’s sister-siren, who was killed.

With the help of a gold shawl and a strange liquid — blood of a siren, blood of a mortal, and blood of the ocean — Penn, Lexi, and Thea turned Gemma into a siren too.
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Village Drama with Sex and Cell-Phones

December 3, 20120 comments

The Hidden Cottage by Erica James (Hatchette 2012)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

James’ earlier novels have won UK-based James Romantic Novel of the Year (Gardens of Delight, 2006) and a place on the Sunday Times top ten bestseller list (It’s the Little Things, 2009). James, who “divides her time between Cheshire and Lake Como in Italy”, has written novels set in both places, apparently striking up conversations with strangers to deliberately trawl for ideas.

More Maeve Binchy than Joanna Trollope, James is a good summer holiday read. A woman who self-confessedly finds love fickle, she nevertheless dishes it out for her readers. The Hidden Cottage is as unsustaining as a meal of candyfloss, but fun while it lasts. I suppose it’s an old-fashioned-style village romance novel, but with sex and cell-phones. Read more »

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Life After Death

November 26, 20120 comments

Life After Death: The Shocking True Story of an Innocent Man on Death Row by Damien Echols (Text Publishing, $40)
Reviewed by Kelly Bold

It’s hard not to bristle with impotent ire at the injustices meted out to Damien Echols. As the so-called ringleader of the “West Memphis Three”, he withered in an Arkansas Death Row cell for 18 years for the supposedly satanic killings of three eight-year-old boys: a crime he did not commit, of which there was not a scrap of evidence linking him or his two co-accused to, and for which he was blatantly set up by corrupt police.

What happened next almost reads like a soap-opera storyline, but it was real life – Damien’s real life. A determined woman named Lorri Davis became his pen pal, then tireless freedom crusader, then wife. She gave up her New York life to move near to him for visits of just three hours a week – all the while working relentlessly to clear his name, pulling in global superstars like our own Sir Peter Jackson, Johnny Deep and Eddie Vedder to her campaign, and in August 2011, securing his release.
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The Father Of New Zealand Geology

November 23, 20120 comments

Hochstetter Collection Basel, Part 1: New Zealand Paintings and Drawings by Sascha Nolden and Sandy B. Nolden (Mente Corde Manu Publishing, $124, available from
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

Ferdinand Hochstetter was just 29 when he arrived in in New Zealand at the tail end of 1858 as the geologist on Austria’s scientific expedition around the world. He spent the next eight months travelling widely around Auckland and Nelson provinces with his compatriot, Julius Haast, recording and interpreting the biological and geological features of the country they passed through.

After Hochstetter returned to Vienna, he published books, research papers and maps about New Zealand, and encouraged his scientific colleagues to work on his New Zealand collections. For the 25 years after his visit he corresponded regularly with Haast, who stayed in New Zealand, and followed developments Downunder with interest. Hochstetter’s work is still held in high regard, and he is widely regarded as the father of New Zealand geology.
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Peace on Earth

November 20, 20120 comments

Making Peace with the Earth by Vandana Shiva (Spinifex, $A36.95; order online from
Reviewed by Marlen Ware

In this book based on her 2010 Sydney Peace Prize lecture, Vandana Shiva passionately articulates her vision of a sustainable world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first is titled ‘Wars against the Earth’ and covers ‘eco-apartheid’, the ‘great land grab’, as well as water, climate and forest wars. The second section, ‘Food Crises, Food Justice and Food Peace’, looks at hunger by design, seed wars and corporate-controlled trade. Her conclusion, ‘Beyond Growth’, discusses ways to make peace with the earth.
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Falling down a Wishing Well

November 16, 20120 comments

Three Days in a Wishing Well by Kerrin P. Sharpe (Victoria University Press, $25)
Reviewed by Sienna Latham

What would it be like to spend three days in a wishing well? Cold, certainly. Dark and damp — the kind of damp that seeps into your bones and stays there, even during the brief summertime interval when you’d get a fleeting glimpse of the sun crossing the tiny circle of sky you can spy. It would be lonely, too, with only the curved stone walls and a periscope of light and slick rocky mirrors for company. But you’d have your wishes. Your hopes.

In her debut collection, Christchurch poet Kerrin P. Sharpe invites us to imagine ourselves inside the wishing well, peering up at the craggy hands holding coins to drop in, the symbols etched onto their faces and the dreams they embody. Like dream language, her wistful, wish-full poems rely upon a surreal, stream-of-consciousness style that borrows from familiar syntax then twists it slightly, finding a new angle and lending a new perspective. Read more »

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The King and His Fayre Lady

November 14, 20120 comments

Soon by Charlotte Grimshaw (Random House, $37.99)

Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

I haven’t read Charlotte Grimshaw until now. I know she lives in Auckland, has written “four critically acclaimed novels” called Provocation, Guilt, Foreign City and The Night Book, and has several awards for her writing. And I believe some of the characters in Soon have appeared before. But I came to this book fresh and found it a stand-alone read.

I like mystery novels, and this one is a bit old-fashioned in that it reminded me of both Iris Murdoch and C P Snow, the former because of the intricate interconnections between characters, and the latter because of the conversations between “important” men. For all that, it’s very much a New Zealand novel, and Grimshaw owns her depictions of dangerously vacuous women with strong, baseless views. Read more »


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