Book Reviews January 2023

Summer reads! This month we take a dive into some fabulous reads, including a bunch of incredible stories from some fascinating New Zealanders.

Win! We have a copy of each book to give away, including a copy of Brad Smeele’s Owning It that was signed using his mouth. To be in to win, email competitions@nzmcd.co.nz or message us at Facebook.com/mcdmagazine with your choice. Winners will be drawn on January 20th, 2023.

Owing it: The ride that changed my life

Brad Smeele
Allen & Unwin
RRP $39.99

Aucklander Brad Smeele had it all. In 2014, the adrenaline junkie was living his dream. At the age of 27, he was a professional wakeboarder, top of his game, winning world championships and perfecting breathtaking tricks. Then in July 2014, everything changed. While practising his latest trick at Lake Ronex in Florida, he fell onto his neck, crushing his spinal cord, making him a quadriplegic. For someone whose life was built around his physical prowess, this was devastating, but Brad needed to find a way to make peace with it – which he achieved by writing Owning It, using a lightweight stylus in his mouth and pointing it at letters on a screen. “This was before Apple had made their swipe-to-text feature on keyboards,” explains Brad. “Initially I was like a woodpecker, doing one letter at a time, but the swipe-to-text doubled my word count.” Although the pre-accident story is fascinating, Brad wants people to draw from what happens after his accident; that’s where the lessons are.

 

 

 

Kai: Food Stories & recipes from my family table

Christal Lowe
Bateman books
RRP $59.99

If, like me, you’ve got a special place in your heart for beautiful cookery books, Kai is a must-buy. The gathering of food and the gathering of people to share a meal are at the heart of Māori family life, and Christall invites us to join her whanau table and experience for ourselves an abundance of dishes. Manawatū-based food stylist, photographer, recipe developer and artist Christall Lowe is also a mum of three, and this book is a passionate homage to a life deeply rooted in food, where exquisite flavours weave seamlessly alongside some of her cherished food memories. So much more than just a cookbook about Māori food, Kai is a photojournalistic art piece celebrating kai, whakapapa, mauri (life force) and whanau. It’s impossible not to be inspired by these beautifully captured recipes, with stories, anecdotes and traditions woven throughout the book. More than a cookbook, this is a tale of the delicious flavours of Aotearoa.

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Bryce Courtenay: Storyteller

Christine Courtenay
Penguin Random House
RRP $48.00

The long-awaited memoir of the beloved late author Bryce Courtenay has finally been written – as told by his wife, Christine Courtenay. Bryce was a born storyteller. The success of his debut The Power of One made publishing history, and for many years Bryce continued to entertain and inspire with his larger-than-life characters who embody the strength and triumph of the human condition. When Christine began penning her own memoir during lockdown, she found herself instead drawn to the story of her late husband’s life. From his humble beginnings in Africa to his success as a bestselling author, Bryce’s own rags to riches story reads like one of his own novels. It was a life marked by all the big themes – adversity, love, loss, hard-won success, fame and fortune and holding tight to a dream. This fascinating tribute to Australia’s most beloved and enigmatic author tells of a complex man, driven and complex, who never lost sight of his childhood dream.


 

 

 

The good life: Lessons from the world’s longest study on happiness

Robert Waldinger & Marc Schulz
Penguin Random House
RRP $40.00

What is the key to a good life? That is a question that preoccupies us all, and one that the longest and most successful study of happiness ever conducted strives to answer once and for all. In this groundbreaking book, directors of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, bring together more than 80 years of research to reveal the true components of a happy, fulfilled life. The Good Life makes clear that what truly makes a rich and happy life is not synonymous with financial success and achievement, but is rather the result of our relationships. This remarkable work brings together scientific precision, traditional wisdom, incredible real-life stories as well as some very actionable insights to prove, once and for all, that our ability to flourish and be truly happy is absolutely within our own control.

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KĀWAI: For such a time as this

Monty Soutar
Bateman Books
RRP $39.99

Although not a new release, Monty Soutar’s Kāwai: For Such A Time As This held the top spot on NZ’s bestseller list for eight weeks, making it worth another mention. This historical adventure tells the story of pre-colonial Aotearoa like it’s never been told before. A young Māori man, compelled to learn the stories of his ancestors, returns to his family marae on the east coast to speak to his elderly grand-uncle, the keeper of the stories. What follows is an enthralling account of the young man’s tipuna, the legendary warrior Kaitanga, after whom his marae’s whare puni has been named. The book reveals a picture of an indigenous Aotearoa in the mid-18th century, through to the first encounters between Māori and Europeans. It describes a sophisticated culture, with an immense knowledge of science, medicine and religion. However, it is also a culture illuminated by a brutal undercurrent of intergenerational vengeance, witchcraft and cannibalism.

 

 

 

Ashes in the snow

Oriana Ramunno
Harper Collins

RRP $35.00

It’s December 21st at Auschwitz in 1943. It’s snowing outside and Block 10 looks even bleaker than usual. Gioele Errera, a young Jewish boy imprisoned in the camp, finds the body of an SS officer, Doktor Sigismund Braun. On December 23rd, just before Christmas, Hugo Fischer of the Kriminalpolizei is sent to investigate the unexplained death of the renowned Nazi. But Hugo is holding a secret: he is suffering from a degenerative disease. The only way for him to survive is to give his support to the Reich and hide his condition. However, he is facing not just a battle with his health, but also a confrontation with pure evil. In Auschwitz, Hugo comes face to face, not just with a complex murder, but with a truth – that of the Final Solution.  From here, he is forced to decide what is most important to him – and who, if anyone, he should try to save… This is an intense read, and not always an easy one, but through Fischer’s character the story is told with empathy; he is a man of compassion and intuition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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