30 March, 2015

A year of doing good: one woman, one New Year's resolution, 365 good deeds. by Judith O'Reilly [Surani, Waitakere Caentral library]

"I would do one good deed a day for a year. It couldn't be that hard - could it?"
Now, I don't know about you, but personally, I very rarely make New Year's resolutions I know are impossible, let alone decide to follow through and actually do them! The author of this book chronicles a year of following through with one such resolution.

Judith O'Reilly, bestselling author of the hugely popular blog and book Wife in the North, decided to embark on a year long experiment where she does one good deed each day. While juggling family, friends and neighbours in the small Northumberland village she lives, Judith recounts the many deeds and hard work of doing good. Ranging from the small, - babysitting, cleaning up dead mice, buying a bread bin for the neighbours, to the larger - trying to raise money for charity with her Jam Jam Army, she describes the lessons she learns along the way.

At times funny and hilarious, this book made me think about the joy and gratification that comes from contributing to someone else's life and making them happy, even if it is for a short while. Although this is technically a biography, it has more inspiration than most titles, for me. I found myself reflecting on my own life after finishing this, and resolved to 'be' good as much as possible and 'do' as much as I could this year.

If you want to make good deeds your next resolution, and gain the unexpected benefits of happiness and health, then this is definitely the book for you!!

Title: A year of doing good: one woman, one New Year's resolution, 365 good deeds.
Author: Judith O'Reilly
Published: 2013
Publisher: London: Penguin
ISBN: 9780670921133

24 March, 2015

Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2015, edited by Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew [Claire G, Grey Lynn Library]

This book brings together a mix of interesting topics and talented writers. It’s the kind of anthology we’ve seen from the small indie publisher Awa Press, which specialises in New Zealand non-fiction and has already brought out collections of sport and science writing. This one, though, is from Auckland University Press, and they have done a really good job.

We’re accustomed to columnists such as Steve Braunias and Joe Bennett, who appear in mainstream newspapers and magazines and produce whole books of their own. Indeed Braunias makes an appearance here, with his hilarious piece ‘About an Egging’ (I think he’s at his best when his daughter comes into the story, as she does here). But Tell You What – which is a great title, isn’t it? – is packed with information, insights and really nice writing, much of it from the web.

Among the first pieces are the compulsory (in the last five years) considerations of Christchurch and earthquakes, but these absorb the reader rather than invoking too great a sense of duty. Lara Strongman’s ‘Song from under the Floorboards’ I found particularly affecting and thought provoking.

After that the collection ranges over such diverse terrain as carnivorous snails, Kim Dotcom, cultural appropriation, and intellectual disability (David Herkt, in the only essay I’d read before, just as good the second time around). A few pieces I found too earnest but maybe that’s my (middle) age, and anyway, one can’t expect to like everything.

A favourite of mine relates an Overseas Experience. That is Ashleigh Young’s delightful ‘Small Revolutions, or: On My Bike in London’, which I credit with enabling me
finally to understand and appreciate the bicyclic enthusiasms of one of my near relatives. And while I can’t abide patriotism of the flag-waving, chest-swelling variety, I’m a sucker for real from-the-heart writing about the nature of this country. So when Naomi Arnold’s ‘Mother’s Day’ surprised me with this –
I loved living under the black night skies, salted with stars that hung so close over the rooflines it seemed you could float up and swim through them.... knowing I was cradled in the curve of a bay bordered with such untrammelled wilderness that people disappear in it every summer, and cavers are still plumbing its deep passages. There are no killer animals in New Zealand. It is the land that will swallow you whole.
– I fell in love with this book. Reckon I'll read it again.

Title: Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2015
Editors: Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew
Published: Auckland University Press, Auckland
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9781869408244

22 March, 2015

When by Victoria Laurie [Erika, Central City Library]

Maddie has seen the numbers for as long as she can remember. They are always there on people's foreheads and they never change. The numbers are a date, the date the person will die, and knowing those numbers has made Maddie a social outcast that some people in her town go so far as to call a witch. 

It's not all bad though; her gift allows her to bring some money into the house when she does readings for people - if only her mother didn't drink away most of the money she made. It seems such a harmless gift, one that can bring people peace about their death or the death of a loved one. 

But all that is about the change.

When Maddie does a reading for Mrs. Tibbolt she is startled to discover that one of the Tibbolt children has a week to live - and it is not the child Mrs. Tibbolt is worried about. When the Tibbolt child turns up dead, Maddie is an immediate suspect, especially for the sceptical FBI agents who believe Maddie predicted the death because she is the killer. 

When another person goes missing, Maddie and her friend Stubby find themselves in the cross-hairs of the FBI. Someone out there knows what Maddie can do, and they are using her gift against her, making her look like the perfect suspect. Can Maddie crack the mystery before she becomes the target, or Stubby is sent to jail for a crime he didn't commit?

When is not your typical teen thriller - it blends together the psychic phenomena with a tensely written murder mystery that will keep you guessing right to the end. Maddie is perfectly imperfect, flawed by her own doubts and worries, but still intensely loyal to her family and friends. Although not particularly gory or gruesome, there are some themes that are better suited to teens rather than younger readers. 

A promising debut novel and hopefully there are many more from Victoria Laurie.

Recommended for ages 14+. 

Title: When
Author: Victoria Laurie
ISBN: 9781484700082

Published: 2015
Publisher: Hyperion

18 March, 2015

Room: inside contemporary interiors [Louise, Central City Library]

Sometimes I get books just for the pictures, but if you ask me, it still counts as “reading a book”. I picked up this particular book using all my arm muscles at once – as weighty tomes go, this is definitely on the hefty side – but it’s absolutely worth lugging home if you love interior design.

Room features 100 of the most interesting and innovative interiors from around the world constructed in the last five years, and chosen by 10 curators with their collective finger on the pulse.

The interiors are all amazing (read: fancy and expensive) but they have a certain quality that makes them extra appealing. Whether it’s a café, hotel, apartment or office - rustic, glam, industrial or minimalist – the thing that seems to unite all the interiors in this book is their true human scale and a strong connection to the natural world, with lighting, plants or just a general earthy texture.

Like my personal favourite, a house in Tokyo that has a dirt floor inside with trees growing out of it. Consider my mind blown.

Title: Room : inside contemporary interiors
Publication info: London: Phaidon, 2014.
ISBN: 9780714867441

History of the Rain by Niall Williams [Biddy, Highland Park Library]

Ruth Swain is a young woman bedridden by a mysterious illness. She lies in her bed in the attic of a thatched farm cottage surrounded by 3958 books piled beneath the skylight in her room and watches and listens as the rain continues interminably. A poetic image, and a story brought to life by Williams' lyrical language that had me pausing to re-read sections just to enjoy the prose.

While tracing the history of her family and their idiosyncrasies, Ruth continually relates experiences to one of the books in her room. When describing her Grandfather Swain in action in World War I: "He's got all that mind... Mind has Mountains, that's in Gerard Manley Hopkins (Book 1,555, Poems and Prose, Penguin, London)".

Ruth's life is one filled with hardship in the grey, poverty-stricken part of  Ireland she inhabits. However, her tone is not melancholic but filled with hope and humour.

She relates her family's history - their endless challenge in striving to achieve the Swains' Impossible Standard that always succeeds in just eluding them, the loss of her beloved twin brother Aeney, and her father's quest to write the perfect poem.

This is a book worth reading-and re-reading!

Title: History of the Rain
Author: Niall Williams
Publisher: London, Bloomsbury
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9781408852026