review — i am a human being

Jackson is a great human and a stellar poet, and so I decided to review their new collection I Am A Human for the Unity Books Auckland website (oh yeah, by the way, we have one of those now, look at all those titles and think about the fact that aaaaall those titles were loaded manually, with at least 600 loaded by yours truly).

Continue reading review — i am a human being

new work – atlas/pantograph punch

Exciting developments in writing life, one of which is a long time coming in a couple of ways. In the more general, longer term way, I FINALLY have a creative piece in a print literary journal. Hurrah! In the specific, shorter term way, I submitted this piece over a year ago, and it was allocated to the second issue of the journal.

But now, it’s out! Issue 2 of Atlas Literary Journal is out, and my piece, ‘Trading Pain’ is in it. It’s about hospital and scary things like emergency surgery and ketamine and nasogastric tubes.

Continue reading new work – atlas/pantograph punch

Shouts from the void…

I’ve been so dreadful at maintaining this lately. Life is busy, and it’s winter. Combine those two things with an eternally uncooperative immune system and chronic blah-blah-blah and I’ve been pretty exhausted when I’ve been in a position to write things. Which is a pain, both for my disposable income and my general creative juices.

So, an update:

In curly health news! I have written a thing for the Crohn’s & Colitis NZ website about my experience living with IBD. I also spoke last week at a meeting of Inner Wheel (a women’s branch of Rotary), along with Brian Poole, the chairman of CCNZ, about my experiences with Crohn’s and associated shenanigans. It was rather lovely, actually – and I won the raffle, which was a bonus.

In book news! I have been reading SO MUCH GOOD STUFF. The Man Booker Longlist has some excellent heft to it this year. I adored The Chimes, by very lovely kiwi Anna Smaill , and hope like hell that it wins – but at the same time, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is astounding. I haven’t felt that torn apart by a book in a long time – possibly ever. Part of me thinks that Yanagihara might be the first person to take the Booker, Pulitzer and the Bailey’s (formerly Orange) prizes. It’s only the second year that a person could really be eligible for all three. Maybe we should have a draw for the Booker and Bailey’s? Could we do that?

Of the ‘Booker dozen’ I have also read Lila by Marilynne Robinson, which was also excellent. I’ve also got Anne Enright’s The Green Road on my bedside stack, but after I’ve wrangled that one, I might wait until the shortlist is announced, just to pare down my list a little.

I’ve been continuing my radio reviews, still primarily on Newstalk ZB, but I’ve nipped over to Radio NZ once, and will hopefully do so again. So far, I’ve talked about The Mime Order (as previously mentioned), Aquarium by David Vann, The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire by Fiona Farrell, The Age of Earthquakes by Douglas Coupland and, most recently, Mislaid by Nell Zink. All have been excellent, and have provoked interesting discussion in the studio. I’ll try to do some written bits and pieces on at least some of them at some point.

I’m also trying to stay on top of NZ books, naturally, and am about to get back into The Pale North by Hamish Clayton, after putting it on a brief hiatus while getting on top of things needing review or other immediate attention. I’ve also recently gotten through New Hokkaido by James McNaughton and The Predictions by Bianca Zander – and the previously mentioned The Chimes and The Villa at the Edge of the Empire are both NZ books too.

The second Rat Queens trade is out, and I’m verrrry slowly working my way through it, so as to make it last as long as possible.

And, most recently, I’ve just finished Margaret Atwood’s forthcoming novel The Heart Goes Last. Which I have mixed feelings on. I enjoyed it – I just didn’t adore it as much as I’d hoped I would. Again, I’ll try to write something of more substance soon. I think I was – we all were – spoiled with the expansive world and characters created in the Maddaddam trilogy – but The Heart Goes Last is standalone and tops out at just over 300 pages, and is accordingly much more limited in its scope.

My to-do list is full of exciting things. The Enright, I’ve already mentioned. I also have an ARC of the new Jonathan Franzen, which will be interesting as I’ve never actually done any Franzen before. But I’ve been hearing immensely good things. I still need to get around to reading my work-birthday-present book, Between You & Me by Mary Norris, which promises to be delightful. I also still need to bash through The Art of Asking out of a sense of curiosity and nostalgia. And there are a million other things on my to-do pile, but to try to note them all would be a waste of everyone’s time. Suffice it to say that I’ll get there, one day.

Also, in book/writing news, I wrote the content for the latest Unity newsletter, which was deeply satisfying to see come to fruition (I’d managed to forget the joys of the print production process already, but it was good to be reminded of how things operate). It’s all online in PDF form now, but you can also grab a print copy if you’re in Wellington or Auckland.

That ‘update’ turned much more in-depth than I’d intended. Ah, well. Consider yourselves informed.

Review: How Does It Hurt?

how does it hurtBooksellers NZ review blog – How Does It Hurt? by Stephanie de Montalk.

Here’s my latest review for Booksellers NZ. I felt a very deep connection with elements of this book – a memoir/essay collection/non-fiction wonderland focusing on chronic pain. Stephanie’s own experiences are at once entirely different and so very familiar to my own. Every page held a combination of new understanding of both the experiences of others and how to put into words my own experiences.

I fought the urge to make the review entirely third person without my own involvement, because it’s the sort of book that you are automatically involved in, whether you yourself have experienced pain of this sort or not. It’s informative where it’s not relatable. It’s a book that could play an important role in the understand the experience of others. It’s just a damn good book, too.

Here’s the first snippet.

A review should, as a rule, be an impersonal thing. But occasionally a book falls into your hands that resounds with you in such a tortuously familiar way that it’s impossible not to feel your own related experiences playing in the background as your read. With that in mind, this is a review of Stephanie de Montalk’s How Does It Hurt?, my reading of which was underpinned by my own experiences with chronic pain and illness and the medical world.

The rest can be read on the Booksellers NZ blog.

I also had my latest radio review today, which I will link to when the audio clip is up. The book in question this time around was Aquarium by David Vann, and it was altogether excellent. More on that later, hopefully!

How Does It Hurt? is published by Victoria University Press with an RRP of $40 and can be purchased at all sorts of good bookstores across NZ. Like this one!

Review: The Mime Order

Briar Lawry reviews The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon on Newstalk ZB with Tim Fookesthe mime order

I’m currently working on a few long-ish form book reviews for a couple of places – and when those are complete, I will link to them here – but in the meantime, here is a link I meant to post a few weeks back. My first radio review – simultaneously nerve-wracking and fun. These will be cropping up every six-ish weeks, as Tilly and I swap from session to session. Since I’ve previously reviewed The Bone Season here, it only made sense to make sure my review for its sequel ended up on here too, regardless of the different format!

Review : The Bone Clocks

A good book leaves you thinking about it between reading sessions. A great book leaves you thinking about it after you’ve finished. A freaking spectacular book not only leaves you thinking about it, but colours everything that you try to read afterwards, and leaves you feeling slightly hollow, because the experience is over.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell falls into the ‘freaking spectacular’ category. As the page numbers started growing ever larger, I felt enormous internal conflict – on one hand, the compulsive desire to find out what happens, but on the other hand, the need to draw things out slowly, to savour every page and thought. I suspect the fact that the last book that really had that effect on me was The Luminaries is a very good sign for The Bone Clocks’ chances on the award circuit.bone clocks

Even now, days after I finished it, I think about the feeling of closing that heavy pink hardback after reading… and then opening it again, to re-read the final page – knowing that it was going to be a hard act to follow. Perhaps intentionally I have limited much of my reading since then to easily-packaged pop YA fiction (even when I have responsibilities to other books) – I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to fall into another story so deeply.

The Bone Clocks is mysterious. It contains fantasy, but you wouldn’t dream of shelving it in an SF/Fantasy section. It’s epic and complex without being incomprehensible. It visits the past and the present, the real and then unbelievable. David Mitchell is a wizard. I have heard mixed things from others about his earlier books, so I’m a little wary of dipping my toe into those waters – after all, I would hate to taint the admiration that I currently have for the man.

I’m loath to go into too much detail, because however I try to describe it, I won’t do it justice. Good and evil are more black and white than they are in some tales, and yet it takes quite some time to figure out precisely which is which. It’s about survival at any cost and in the worst circumstances. It’s about examining the way in which we treat our world. It’s about one person, and so many people at once.

It is not a book to jump into lightly. You need to treat it carefully, give it the time that it deserves. If you peck at it bit by bit, you might not be captured by it as much as it deserves. Get yourself somewhere comfortable, allow yourself a decent chunk of time, make yourself a pot of tea or a plunger of coffee. Appreciate the beautiful design, both aesthetically, and conceptually. Be prepared to have people comment on how pink it is. Laugh gently, knowing that they have no idea what this pink tome holds. Then, when you’ve finished, pass it on to someone else to read, so it can inhabit them next. It’s what Marius would do.

This is the first of (hopefully) several reviews of books longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Last year I only managed to sort out The Luminaries and We Need New Names – this year, I will hopefully manage to do the whole shortlist (all the better if this magical title makes it through to the next round – my hopes are certainly high).

Unitarianism Update

omar musa
Author & rapper Omar Musa reading to the crowd at Unity Books Wellington

Working on various reviews at the moment (bit overworked and overwrought to pour enough energy into any single title at a time right now) but if you’d like to have a glance at things that I’ve been up to at the moment in The Real World, here links to (and snippets from) my last couple of event write-ups for Unity Books.

Omar Musa visited us for his first event outside of Australia. Review and photos by yours truly. We cranked (shop-appropriate) rap tracks and made stupid/hilarious “here comes the dog!” jokes with regard to Tilly’s naughty but loved (or at least tolerated, by some) pup Rhon.

His language was colourful (‘Sorry for swearing so much – actually, I’m not sorry at all.’) and hilarious (‘I think I should get a writer’s residency at Queanbeyan McDonalds.’) while the passages he read from Here Come The Dogs varied from beautiful to brutal. He did not shy away from any of the questions asked by the crowd, recounting various tales of his past and the writing experience, including his shenanigans while spending time with Irvine Welsh.

And a couple of days later, it was National Poetry Day! Cue excitement across the city (and country)! Apparently there were poets doing poetic things on buses – sadly my route was not one of them, but still! Bringing magic to the people. Nice stuff, Wellington. We had seven VUP poets performing, and the turnout was INSANE. I love Wellingtonians. I trekked around the crowd and listened and loved and am really excited about working the launch for one of them (Frances Samuel) in the next couple of weeks.

Obligatory snippet:

In our books, there is perhaps no finer day of celebration than National Poetry Day. And this year, we were thrilled to mark the day with a lunchtime event in association with Victoria University Press. Seven VUP poets performed for crowd that grew and grew as the readings went on – across the store, people could be seen turning their attention from cookbooks and photography collections to the writers at the mic.

There’s a reason why my current Twitter bio is ‘I go to a lot of book launches’.

I love it, though.

Book Awards write-up coming. Internal conflicts regarding future bookish plans stewing.

This has been your captain speaking, we hope you have enjoyed this flight of fancy.

Review : The Bone Season

I wrote this up over the last couple of evenings, and just as I went to post it, I saw that Samantha Shannon posted on Twitter that it’s a year to the day since The Bone Season was released. Most fortuitous timing to be nattering about it here then, hm?

The Bone Season hovered on the edge of my reader consciousness for a while before I took the plunge. As I’ve probably mentioned here, the life of a bookseller is a wonderful one in many ways, but difficult in others – particularly when it comes to prioritising books to read. But months of noticing a staff pick card stuck to one of the computers at work (thanks, Ness!) eventually piled up and I decided it was time.

Nice work, self. The Bone Season

The basic genre concept of The Bone Season combines supernatural fantasy (love – when well executed) with dystopia (double love). I’m sure there are other examples of this combo out there, but I can’t recall having encountered one. Clairvoyance, alternate history, bit steampunky, dystopic future… it’s a helluva combo.

The main character, Paige, is well crafted in a way that many ‘genre’ characters tend not to be. She’s not superwoman, despite having rather unusual abilities – and at the same time, she’s not one to swoon wildly in the presence of preternaturally-beautiful god-like beings. Which is refreshing.

I’m looking at you, paranormal romance.

It’s such a fascinating world that Samantha Shannon has created. Dystopia always seems to exist in the terrifyingly plausible and familiar world, whereas fantasy is, well, fantasy. Combining the two is a satisfyingly eerie combination – some of the standard ‘oh GOD this could HAPPEN’ of dystopia is worn down because of the fantastical elements – but the characters are no less accessible because of it – the amaurotic vs. voyant divide may be an imaginary rift but it echoes many such historical instances of persecution.

It breathes life into a realm of fantasy that dances closely to real life – obviously there are people in the world who do place a lot of faith in psychics and tarot readers. What they would make of Shannon’s world, I don’t know, but it (almost) makes me want to believe.

We have many more to look forward to in this series, with Shannon being signed for three titles from the get go, and recently having this extended to all seven intended instalments.

As a reader? Bloody loved it. Read it swiftly. Finished it and looked up exactly when book two is due out.

As a writer? The usual sense of ‘what am I doing with my life?’ that one feels when encountering authors who get signed while still in undergrad. Admiration and frustration.

As a bookseller? DREAM. It’s adult fiction, but eminently readable but most of the young adult crowd. Written well – in such a way that non-‘genre’ readers might be willing to give it a go, but not so ‘literary’ (ugh, these labels) that those who generally stick with fantasy and/or SF (often high-concept/poor-execution)


The Bone Season is out now from the clever folks at Bloomsbury.

Review : Max Gate (video for Booksellers NZ)

You’d all but forgotten me, hadn’t you, internet?

No reviews since April?! Shameful. But don’t worry. I’m working on it. I’ve been reading up a storm lately (throwing back a YA novel a night, at times) so there are words to come. In the meantime, here is a VIDEO review (exciting, right?) that I concocted for Booksellers NZ (with the help of Sarah from Booksellers) after our manager at Unity, the ever-wonderful Tilly, suggested that I might be an appropriate person to represent the clan in video form.

You can be the judge as to whether I help up my workplace’s reputation. I’m going to be doing some more written reviews for Booksellers – and possibly videos, who knows? This one was specifically for the New Zealand Post Book Awards finalists, though. Along with The Luminaries (heard of that one, huh?) by Ellie Catton, The Last Days of the National Costume by Anne Kennedy and The Bright Side of My Condition by Charlotte Randall, Max Gate by Damien Wilkins is a finalist in the fiction category. How exciting!