Saturday, 26 November 2016

All Day at the Movies, by Fiona Kidman

I will follow Fiona Kidman almost anywhere she chooses to go in her novels. I've read all of them, and at first I was a bit disappointed with her latest novel 'All Day at the Movies'.

Unlike many of her other novels, there isn't one main female character to really care about and engage with her journey. Instead, this novel follows the fortunes of a family, with each chapter leaping ahead in time and changing perspective to another member of the family.

These characters aren't particularly connected to each other, so it's a novel of loosely connected segments. However, reflecting on it over the past week, I've come to appreciate what the novel does achieve.

It's an exploration of life in New Zealand, and the forces that have acted on people living here over the past seventy years. The first character we meet is Irene. Her life was going well until her husband dies towards the end of World War II. With a widow's pension, she is not allowed to keep her job at the Wellington library and she and her daughter end up in Motueka, where she lives in a hut and works in the tobacco fields.

She meets a man, becomes pregnant with a second child, and then he dies in an accident. She is alone and vulnerable, and marries Jock Pawson, the foreman who has had his eye on her since she arrived in Motueka, even though she dislikes him.

The lives of her second child and the two of Jock's that follow are the main subjects of the remainder of the novel. After Irene dies they are incredibly vulnerable. They make some choices that work out, and others that don't. Overall, there is a sense that the quality of their lives is very dependent on who they encounter and how those relationships pan out, rather than being particularly self-directed.

In this way, it is an unsettling novel populated by a lot of unhappy people as well as a few fortunate ones. The themes stay with me much longer than stories of the individual characters.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Prosperous Heart, by Julia Cameron

In this book Julia Cameron encourages readers to look at their habits and beliefs about money, and change to a more deliberate approach to spending money on things that really do improve their lives.

She identifies four habitual spending types:

  • The Big-Ticket Spender
These people want to buy the best. Status symbols give this spender a sense of security to mask their actual feelings of insecurity and anxiety.

  • The Bargain Buyer
Quantity, not quality, give this type of spender a sense of security.

This shopper masks anxiety with compulsive bargain hunting. They rationalise their purchases because of the great deal they are getting.

  • The Monetary Miser
This is the shopper who doesn't make purchases, even when they're called for. "I can get by with what I've got" is this shopper's motto. The underlying belief related to this approach is a lack of faith in the future. 

  • The Enabler
These people often take responsibility for other people's debts and expenses. They are afraid if they say no to their friends' or partner's requests for money, they will lose the relationship.

As with many of Julia Cameron's other books (including 'The Artist's Way'), 'The Prosperous Heart' is structured as a twelve week course, with readers encouraged to write morning pages, take time outs, and walk regularly. In this book Julia also recommends avoiding spending money you don't yet have (apart from mortgages and big items like a car), and keeping a note of all spending throughout the twelve week course - just noting what you do spend money on, so that you can later evaluate whether there are alternative approaches which will work better for you.

Each chapter begins with an essay, and is followed by a series of writing exercises to bring to light the reader's beliefs and unexamined attitudes to money. The idea is to free you from automatic responses to your spending (or lack of spending, in the case of the Monetary Miser!)

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Fossil Ridge - new painting by Dean Bradley

​This painting, in red-ochres, chalk whites and burnt umber, strips the land back to its bones – reminding us the earth is shaped by geological forces that follow a far more ancient rhythm than human life.

Fossil Ridge, by Dean Bradley

Here are some more detailed photos of this painting.

Fossil Ridge - detail 1

Fossil Ridge - detail 2

Fossil Ridge - detail 3

To see more of Dean's work, please go to

Sunday, 30 October 2016

All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner

Reading this novel feels like walking with a friend, talking flat tack about what's happening in our lives.

Jennifer Weiner's voice sounds so like a friend of mine, it's as if my friend was in the room with me while I was reading this book. So, while this book is written from the point of view of a woman forming a huge addiction to painkillers, the tumbling roll of the writing style makes this a quick, breezy read.

It's easy to identify with Allison who is negotiating the stresses of work, motherhood, marriage and ageing parents, as she falls into a chasm of addiction. The power of this book is that it shows how easily anyone can slip from a successful job and family life into chaos. And that there is not much separating any of us - whether a heroin-addict on the street or a suburban mum - even if our lives look very different on the surface.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Secret Power of Middle Children, by Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann

Many books have explored the subject of birth order, but not one of them has been specifically about the qualities of middle children.

The good news discussed in this book is that although  middle children miss out on getting the most attention at home (not being first and experiencing the full focus of attention in the early years) or being the indulged baby of the family, the adaptations they learn as a result of their birth order gives them excellent skills as friends and partners.

"As children, squeezed between siblings at home, middleborns have to develop the ability to get what they want by being clever - rather than loud like the firstborn or cute like the last. They learn how to hold on to their friends by becoming good listeners, and being flexible and tolerant." (Page 163.)

Middles gravitate toward chosen family - their friends and partners - because they're not competing with them for attention based on the accepted familial hierarchy.

The authors state that "not only do stable, adaptable middleborns seem to have the best chances of making a marriage work, they also make dependable, lifelong friends". (Oldest children are better off marrying middles or youngest children. Youngest children are better off marrying oldest or middle children. In contrast, middles can also stay successfully married to middles.)

The downside is that in some cases middleborns can be too self-effacing or laid-back.

The book also notes that in terms of work, middleborns are great negotiators and often work in areas of social justice. They tend to choose their work based on internal motivation, whereas firstborns will be more influenced by family expectations.

The book finishes with an observation that there will be fewer middle children in Western countries in future, as families shrink in size.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Love as a Stranger, by Owen Marshall

The power struggle at the heart of this book - between a long marriage and a new love - is humanely portrayed. No one comes out looking like the 'good one'.

The strengths of this novel are the qualities that make Owen Marshall one of New Zealand's top writers - his ability to explore emotional complexity in ordinary lives, and his fabulous descriptions of the observable world. The tension created between these characters creates structure and momentum for this story.

The only thing that jarred with me was Owen Marshall's portrayal of the professions of the two male characters - I got the feeling he tried to write about their preoccupations as dentists and lawyers, but couldn't really go there in any genuine way. Perhaps he secretly dislikes them!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Best of Adam Sharp, by Graeme Simsion

I bought this book on holiday. From the first page I could tell it was going to be an easy, engaging read. Large text with lots of spacing says a lot! And I loved the Rosie Project, which was Graeme Simsion's first novel.

This novel isn't as profoundly interesting and unique as The Rosie Project - the main character is an ordinary guy in his late forties, wondering if he made a mistake not to commit to a girlfriend he had 20 years ago.

He moved on with his work and life, and is in a long term relationship. Then he and the ex-girlfriend reconnect and he goes on a journey to figure out who he really loves.

It's an enjoyable read. It's unlikely to change your life in any significant way, but if you like Nick Hornby's books you'll probably enjoy this one too.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

I survived a scary meeting - something well outside of my comfort zone - and I stood outside the cafe on a wintry, grey rainy day thinking, what next? I realised I wanted to mark the occasion with a reward for my scared inner self, and what better than a book?

I headed to Page & Blackmores, and my hand landed on 'A Little Life', by Hanya Yanagihara. I'd heard about it on the Australian Book Show, where almost everyone had loved it. Flipped it over - $24.99. Not bad for 720 pages!

Read the first page. My kind of book ... I like to be able to see the place I'm reading about, to believe in it immediately. 'A Little Life' starts with a scene of two students in New York settling into a less than flash apartment. The writing was smooth, the characters immediately likeable.

I knew the general premise was the relationship of four students who develop as an artist, an actor, an architect and a lawyer. That something happens that rocks them all.

I bought it and I was immediately entranced. All other books were swept aside as I entered this world over many weeks. It took me places I was not expecting to go, but the language and the characters pulled me in and onwards - it's irresistible..

I don't want to say too much about the story - it's better to just start and discover it along the way. The Times' quote on the back of the book sums it up perfectly:

"A singularly profound and moving work ... It's not often that you read a book of this length and find yourself thinking 'I wish it was longer' but Yanagihara takes you so deeply in to the lives and minds of these characters that you struggle to leave them behind."

Friday, 14 October 2016

Icarus - Fallen Angel, by Dean Bradley

This latest work involved scorching the wood panel using a little butane gas torch, to give a wispy ethereal effect.

​'Icarus - Fallen Angel' is now on show at Parker Gallery, in Nelson. 

Icarus - Fallen Angel, by Dean Bradley

To see more detail of this painting, please go to:

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Anthem of the Sun, by Dean Bradley

This is the first painting in Dean's new series of more organic works exploring parallels between micro and macro worlds. 

For more photos of this work please visit Dean's website at

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson

I've just finished reading this book - it's a big read at 585 pages, but it was effortless and enjoyable.

It's a deceptively light, airy novel due to the quality of the writing. Beneath the everyday life of Beatrice, a school teacher in a small English village, World War I is escalating and many of the characters suffer casual discrimination for being women, gypsies or homosexuals.

A day after closing the book, I'm still thinking about the characters and the time they lived in. That's the sign of a good read! I'm not a natural reader of history, or historical fiction, but this book really made this time and place come alive for me.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Honey Moon - new painting by Dean Bradley

Dean's paintings have taken quite a departure since early August. He found he needed a break from landscape-related work, and has begun a series inspired by natural patterns.
Honey Moon by Dean Bradley

Honey Moon is now on show at Parker Gallery in Nelson. To see more close up details of this painting please visit

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Southern Jaunt - part four

Our trip from Wanaka to Franz Josef was absolutely spectacular, from the lake scenery ...

Lake Hawea
.... through to Haast Pass (with a walk through beech forest to the Blue Pools along the way)

Blue Pools

Haast Pass

... and then up the glacier highway, travelling through amazing ancient forest. We arrived at Glacier View Motel in time to enjoy a dog walk just across the road, with bush and mountain views.

Franz Josef walk

Max - tired but happy!
The next day we visited Franz Josef glacier - it has receded significantly since we last visited it about 15 years ago when it extended down to the toe of these hills.

Franz Josef glacier

We stayed at Reefton on our last night with wood pigeons snacking outside our window at the Bellbird Motel.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Southern Jaunt - part three

After a brief meeting of the tribes at Pam and Ian's accommodation, we returned to our cabin at Lake Outlet - an uninspiring name but a beautiful spot with lake and alpine views. We settled in (Sue stayed with us too) and watched the rugby.

Lake Outlet Cottage

Dean and Max on the Lake Outlet foreshore

Next morning dawned brilliantly fine again, as it was to be for the remainder of our trip, We walked around Wanaka, chatting and taking in the town - which despite being more touristy than previously, still has the feel of a village where you can bump into each other on the promenade. Later that night we all congregated at the Bradshaw digs for a sumptuous Thai takeaway meal.

Still later that night, back at Lake Outlet, Max got to indulge in a little rabbit-hunting under the full moon which he was always up for, even if it meant leaving the fireside.

Next day we checked out bookshops, galleries and walked around Lake Outlet. Photos don't really do justice to the brilliant dazzle of snow, and the way the light hitting the slopes would continuously change in the evenings.

More views from our cottage
 We took a drive to Lake Hawea. Get a sense of the size of that vista!

Lake Hawea (Max and Dean at the centre of the picture!)
The next day was the family celebration for Pam and Ian's 50th wedding anniversary complete with champagne, speeches and rustic fine dining.

From left: Sophie, Annabel, Pam, Ian, Mal, Benjamin and Sue (and Max under the table hoovering up scraps!)

Monday, 19 September 2016

Southern Jaunt - part two

The next day dawned fine so we headed to the top of Mount John, the night sky observatory with panoramic views of Lake Tekapo and surrounds.

From there the destination was Lake Pukaki, one of the main places we wanted to see on our way to Wanaka. It didn't disappoint. It's up there with Haast Pass as one of the most stunning sights in the South Island. Mount Cook is the crowning jewel of the Alps, wonderfully offset by the cerulean blue glacial water.

The third stunning landscape of the day was the Lindis Pass. The immense forms of the land are breathtaking (and almost beg to be painted!) Check out how tiny the road is that winds through the Pass.

We arrived somewhat wearily, but replete with scenery, in Wanaka.

Southern Jaunt - part one

Armed with 10 ciabatta buns, we headed off to Christchurch for our odyssey around the mainland. We were off to Lake Wanaka to meet up with family to celebrate Mum and Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Our first big stop was Kaikoura, where Max renewed his fascination with the seals. Two ciabatta buns down, we headed inland to Cheviot and onwards to Christchurch.

Next morning we ventured into the inner city, to visit the City art gallery. We parked and walked ... in multiple wrong directions. The lack of the Cathedral to navigate by meant Christchurch felt like a busted compass.

We walked around and around piles of rubble. Construction noise and dust and gaps in city streeets next to new buildings was the overriding impression.

We eventually found the gallery, but needed to get back to the car to refill the parking meter. That's when things got a bit tense when we realised we couldn't the car (having frantically walked by it two or three times). The dog got a good hour's exercise anyway!

The less said about the drive to Ashburton, the better. Flat, plain and unremarkable. Things picked up in the quaint town of Geraldine.

We travelled on through a beautiful valley (literally called something like that, in good old NZ naming fashion!) to Kimbell, a small village five minutes on from Fairlie, in the shadow of Mount Dobson.

From here we made a short trip to Lake Tekapo, to soak in the hot springs and visit the famous church. Two couple were getting married on the foreshore, in the bitter cold - the brides wearing jackets over their white dresses until the very last moment.
Max and the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo
Next instalment to follow...

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Great Divide - new painting by Dean Bradley

Dean's having a change from his circle paintings.

Great Divide plays on the edge where landscape and abstraction meet. The title refers to the mountains that divide the South Island and the two panels of the painting. A feature of this work is the raised panels and carved areas.

For more detailed images of this work, please go to Great Divide - details.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

King Tide - new painting by Dean Bradley

A king tide is an especially high tide that only occurs a few times a year. This occurs when the Earth, Moon and Sun are aligned, resulting in the largest tidal range seen over the course of a year. These gravitation pulls on the movement of the sea provide the inspiration and structure for this painting.

King Tide is now on show at Parker Gallery, in Nelson. To see more of Dean's paintings please go to

King Tide, by Dean Bradley

King Tide - detail 1

King Tide - detail 2

Sunday, 3 April 2016

End of the Golden Weather - new painting by Dean Bradley

Here's Dean's latest painting, finished on Wednesday. It was inspired by the beautiful Autumn light at this time of year.

It's my favourite painting so far for 2016. It reminds me of an earlier work which was very different but also had a distinctive emotional impact (Winter Thaw).
End of the Golden Weather, by Dean Bradley

End of the Golden Weather - detail 1

End of the Golden Weather - detail 2

Dean's website is

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Image result for the signature of all things by elizabeth gilbert

I've gobbled up this book over Easter. At 580 pages, it was a multi-day read, but well worth it.

I was hooked by the first page. The irreverant, jaunty style of Elizabeth Gilbert's writing makes this book a joy to read. I usually avoid historical fiction, but I had no trouble joining Alma Whittaker in 1800.

Elizabeth Gilbert is best known for her memoir writing, including Eat, Pray, Love, but she's also a fabulous fiction writer.

King Rich, by Joe Bennett

Image result for King Rich, by Joe Bennett

Joe Bennett's first novel is awesome. If you like New Zealand fiction, you'll love this book.

Even though it is set after the Christchurch earthquakes and could have been a depressing read, it is instead an uplifting, interesting story about a man and a dog living in an abandoned hotel.

The main character has had a hard life, there's no doubt about that. But this book heaves with humanity as well as sentences that sparkle.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Where the Waters Meet - new painting by Dean Bradley

This painting is now on show at Parker Gallery in Nelson. Its title reflects that Aotearoa is a country where the dry, sandy East (below) meets the misty ocean-swept West (above).

Where the Waters Meet, by Dean Bradley

Where the Waters Meet - detail 1

Where the Waters Meet - detail 2

Where the Waters Meet - detail 3

To see more of Dean's work, please go to