This month’s People & Places eNewsletter has a decidedly New Zealand bent: writer James McNeish reflects on his formative influences; John Edgar looks back at the life and career of controversial Auckland mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson; Serious fun chronicles the multi-faceted career of entrepreneurial engineer Alan Gibbs; and Joanne Drayton’s The search for Anne Perry delves behind the mask of the reclusive author through interviews and analysis of her writing. All this plus the best in this month’s travel, history and New Zealand releases.
Sometimes we think it is all happening elsewhere – Britain, Europe, USA – but quite a lot is going on here in Kiwiland. For a country of such small size and population we produce many talented and innovative people. This month we feature biographies of a noted writer, a quirky businessman, and a much loved former former mayor of Auckland. Anne Perry, the famous writer of detective novels, is not a New Zealander but she spent several formative years here, during which she, together with her best friend, committed a shocking murder. Joan Drayton has done a masterly job of telling her story. Helen Brown, who won our hearts with the story of the liittle cat who saved her family from sorrow and heartbreak, has written another about the animal who succeeeded her. Here’s to New Zealand!! Happy reading.
Touchstones : memories of people and place / James McNeish.
“A young man leaves home as a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter, to travel the world. He returns to New Zealand changed almost beyond recognition. Along the way he meets nine people who influence his life and help make him the writer he becomes. James McNeish’s Touchstones has a cast of characters who include ‘the Mother Courage of the English theatre’, an anti-Mafia reformer in Sicily, a Kanak revolutionary who is assassinated, a rejected cousin and ‘Mr Punch in naval uniform’, the New Zealand poet Denis Glover. All are larger than life. Some of them, like the author’s mysterious Maori aunt, are good enough to bottle. The book is witty, poignant and in the words of its editor, Emma Neale, ‘rich in astonishing anecdote’. It is at once a self-portrait, a hymn to a vanishing New Zealand, and the first time James McNeish has written about himself.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
A year in the life of a duchess : Catherine, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge / Ian Lloyd.
“This gorgeously illustrated book celebrates Kate Middleton’s triumphal first year as the Duchess of Cambridge. It details her public appearances, her honeymoon in the Seychelles, her first official trip to North America, and much more, showing how the world has embraced her as the people’s duchess. There’s also coverage of William and Kate’s first Christmas as a married couple and other important milestones, and a photographic selection of the most stunning outfits worn by Kate over the past year.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Dearie : the remarkable life of Julia Child / Bob Spitz.
“On November 3, 1948, a lunch in a Paris restaurant of sole meuniere, the sole so very fresh with its delicate texture and cooked like an omelet in nothing but a bath of clarified butter, changed Julia Child’s life. In that moment, Child (1912-2004) recognized and embraced food as her calling, setting out initially to learn the finer points of cooking, and French cooking in particular. In this affectionate and entertaining tribute to the witty, down-to-earth, bumptious, and passionate host of The French Chef.” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)
After Cleo: came Jonah : how a crazy kitten and a rebelling daughter turned out to be blessings in disguise / Helen Brown.
“Many strong minded women have headstrong daughters. But this isn’t supposed to extend to their cats… Some say your previous cat chooses their successor. If so, what in cat heaven’s name was Helen Brown’s beloved Cleo thinking when she sent a crazy kitten like Jonah? Helen Brown swore she’d never get another kitten. But while she was recovering from major surgery an unscheduled visit to a pet shop resulted in the explosive arrival of a Siamese kitten.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Urban legend : Sir Dove-Myer Robinson / John Edgar.
“One of New Zealand’s most popular and colourful local politicians, Dove-Myer Robinson (1901-1989) was the longest-serving mayor of Auckland city, holding office for 18 years between 1959 and 1980. A controversial figure during his time as mayor, Robinson has today taken on iconic status largely because of his ahead of the times vision. In 2011 we often hear the refrain “They should have listened to Robbie”. URBAN LEGEND explores Robinson’s life from his hard days growing up in a working class Jewish family in Sheffield to his reluctant retirement from Auckland local government in 1980.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Serious fun : the life and times of Alan Gibbs / Paul Goldsmith.
“A man who in his twenties dared to take on the cosy club of import licence-holders who controlled the New Zealand car industry by building his own car for commercial production was always going to be someone to watch. Who could have picked, however, back in the early 1970s, that this young engineer would one day persuade Sir Richard Branson to zip across the English channel in his amphibious car, the Aquada? The life of businessman, inventor, merchant banker, philanthropist, art collector, adventurer and inveterate traveller Alan Gibbs has been far from ordinary.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
John Huston : courage and art / Jeffrey Meyers
“Veteran biographer Meyers steps into the ring with legendary movie director John Huston and proves adept at wrestling the larger-than-life figure onto the page. He does it by achieving a nice balance between the life and the work, playing off the flamboyant Huston’s romantic escapades (five marriages and hundreds of mistresses), world-class drinking (often in the company of good friend Humphrey Bogart), and reckless gambling against his prodigious appetite for work (he directed more than 40 films, including multiple masterpieces, ranging from his first directorial effort, The Maltese Falcon, in 1941, through his finale, James Joyce’s The Dead, in 1987).” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Tina Grenville : a life in three acts.
“Tina Grenville always wanted to be an actress. Widowed at the age of 20, in mysterious and still unresolved circumstances, she was forced to find work as a housekeeper on a remote Hawkes Bay farm. Eventually able to move to Auckland with her young son, she became first a radio actress, then a leading photographic and catwalk model, . One of Paddy’s Girls, an elite stable of top models, in 1964 she won ‘Model of the Year’ . Encouraged to move to Australia, she was a resounding success, in demand with leading couturiers and top fashion magazines. Finally achieving her childhood ambition, she became a long-standing cast member on Logie award-winning series ‘The Godfathers’. and a regular guest on television game shows and Paramount telemovies.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)
Branson / Tom Bower.
“The sensational critical biography of this phenomenal entrepreneur and his business practices – fully updated to cover Branson’s recent ventures.No British tycoon is more popular, few claim to be richer and none has masterminded a more recognisable brand than Richard Branson. What is behind the success of the buccaneering balloonist, the tabloids’ favourite celebrity nude, the ‘grinning jumper’ and the scourge of corporate goliaths?. Helped by eyewitness accounts of more than 250 people with direct experience of Branson, Tom Bower has a uncovered a different tale to the one so eagerly promoted by Virgin’s publicists. Here is the full story of Branson: his businesses, his friendships, his ambition, his law-breaking, his drug-taking, his bullying. From the cockpit of a balloon in the clouds to the centre of Branson’s operations in his Holland Park home this book is an intimate scrutiny of exactly how Richard Branson created himself and sold himself.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The search for Anne Perry / Joanne Drayton.
“Until 1994, the world knew Anne Perry as the writer of bestselling crime fiction at the peak of her writing career. But following the release of Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures about the sensational 1954 Parker-Hulme murders, came the shocking revelation that Anne Perry started life as Juliet Hulme, the teenager jointly convicted of murdering her friend’s mother. Life would never be the same for Anne. That a convicted murderer had gone on to become a celebrated crime writer with worldwide sales of over 25 million books was tantalizing enough. But careful analysis of her writing reveals that these were more than simple crime stories; spiritual and philosophical complexities thread the way through Anne Perry’s works and the characters she creates. Was Anne, in fact, revealing more about herself in the characters she was creating? Acclaimed biographer Joanne Drayton takes on the challenge of exploring Anne Perry’s writing to uncover her world view and her compulsion to write.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Travel stories & guides
The voluntourist : a six-country tale of love, loss, fatherhood, fate, and singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem / Ken Budd.
“When Ken Budd was thirty-nine, his father collapsed after eighteen holes of golf. Ken and his wife raced to the hospital–but it was too late. In the weeks that followed, as grieving friends revealed how his father had changed their lives, Ken started questioning his own life–and admitting, after years of denial, that he and his wife would never have children….” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Appointment in Zambia : an African adventure / Sara Dunn. “‘We could always go overland now that we have wheels,’ Ross had suggested out of the blue. I’d pulled out an atlas and we’d traced a route down through Africa via countries still marked with their colonial names. Only two strips of water interrupted the flow of land between Edinburgh and Chingola; the English Channel and the Straits of Gibraltar. Fourteen months had passed since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon so Africa couldn’t be that difficult, could it? A month later we boarded the ferry for Calais…” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
All roads lead to Austen : a yearlong journey with Jane / Amy Elizabeth Smith ; illustrations by Lucia Mancilla Prieto.
“Taking a cue from Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, literature professor Smith decided to set up Jane Austen reading groups in six different Central and South American countries: Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina. She wanted to see how readers in those countries would relate to Austen. Do Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma translate well at all?” – (adapted from Booklist summary)
The last bohemia : scenes from the life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn / Robert Anasi.
“The eternal clash between authenticity, art, and real estate development shapes this bittersweet memoir of New York’s most tragically hip neighborhood. Anasi witnessed Williamsburg’s progress in the 1990s and 2000s from crime-ridden working-class neighborhood overshadowed by crumbling factories – his explorations of the decrepit industrial waterfront are one of the books greatest pleasures – to edgy arts scene and hipster mecca to end-stage self-parody as an unaffordably upscale “Bohemian theme park,” sprouting sterile luxury condos where picturesque ruins once stirred the soul.” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)
Meander : East to West, indirectly, along a Turkish river / Jeremy Seal.
“Armed with a canoe, luggage, a box of baklava, and a jar full of water, Seal (The Snakebite Survivors’ Club: Travels Among Serpents) began his canoeing adventure down the Meander River (now known as the Buyuk Menderes River) from its headwaters on Turkey’s Anatolia plateau to its mouth in the Aegean Sea. As he recounts here, things don’t go quite as well as Seal had expected. …VERDICT Readers of history and travel will enjoy this charming book.” – (adapted from Library Journal summary)
A guide to Dickens’ London / Daniel Tyler.
“To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, a generously illustrated guide to the city that was perhaps the greatest of his characters. From Newgate Prison to Covent Garden and from his childhood home in Camden to his place of burial in Westminster Abbey, this guide traces the influence of the capital on the life and work of one of Britain’s best-loved and well-known authors. Featuring more than 40 sites, places of worship and of business, streets and bridges, this comprehensive companion not only locates and illustrates locations from works such as Great Expectations and Little Dorrit but demonstrates how the architecture and landscape of the city influenced Dickens’ work throughout his life. Each site is illustrated with substantial quotations from Dickens’ own writing about the city he loved.” (Global Books In Print)
A century of wisdom : lessons from the life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor / Caroline Stoessinger.
“Renowned pianist, music teacher, and Holocaust survivor Herz-Sommer shares intimate memories, harrowing experiences, and valuable life lessons. Recognized as the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor at 107, her legacy and her wisdom extend far beyond the years she spent at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Fellow musician and documentarian Stoessinger became acquainted with Herz-Sommer while working on a film about her life. From countless hours and interviews conducted over the course of several years, she has mined a treasure trove of insight and reflection. Herz-Sommer’s life is a tribute to the purity of artistic endeavor under the most devastating circumstances, and her refusal to be bitterly defined or essentially reshaped by tragedy is a testament to moral and spiritual courage. As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, it becomes increasingly important to capture and communicate their individual stories.” (Booklist)