21 March, 2017

A brief history of creation : science and the search for the origin of life by Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II


In the beginning… soup, or something along those lines. If I were to explain how I got from beginning to soup, it would probably take me many volumes, lots of mistakes (and some motivation), so there is something to be said for explaining the history of creation and how we came to that point in the space of 250 pages. This book does an admirable job and covers as much ground as possible, from Anaximander of Miletus’ theory of humans forming inside fish creatures to the work of Oparin-Haldane.

I enjoy my history a lot and though my mind fades to mush most of the time while reading about science, I do enjoy trying. This book grabbed me quite quickly with its readable narrative style, where the journey to the present day on the question of life is filled with 'heroes' and 'villains', instead of a straight chronological onslaught of theory. 

Interesting historical twists and fascinating science do abound, but I found the portrayals of the personalities involved most gripping, with such historical heavyweights as Darwin and Voltaire, alongside lesser knowns like biochemist Sidney Fox and the overlooked English chemist Rosalind Franklin. These people are brought to life with stories of their struggles, hits and misses.

Before you know it, the book is finished and the history of an important part of life is sitting lightly in your lap. Don't expect to come away diploma hardened, just happy that you know a little bit more about a very important subject.


Author: Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II 

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W has often pondered the history of creation and evolution. But lately it has taken a back seat to the creation and evolution of optical disc packaging and why, after 30 years, CD cases are still so rubbish...

20 March, 2017

Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame

Written in 1963, Towards Another Summer is one of Frame’s works that was not published during her lifetime. At the back of 2007 edition (three years after Frame’s death), Pamela Gordon, the author’s niece, thanked the board members at the Janet Frame Literary Trust for “sharing the responsibility for the decision to offer this manuscript for publication”. She noted that the text was “too personal” to publish during the author’s lifetime. 

Meanwhile, no matter how true to life the novel may seem to Gordon, who was not only aware of Frame’s life story through the other texts (whether or not one can trust them) but knew her in person (same question), Towards Another Summer seems to work perfectly well as a piece of fiction.

Protagonist Grace is a 30-year-old New Zealand writer living in London. She accepts an invitation from a journalist named Peter to spend a weekend at his place in the north of England with his wife Anne and their two small children. Due to her excessive shyness, Grace struggles to communicate with her hosts, hides from the kids whenever she can, feels uncomfortable and seeks privacy:

- I don't suppose you mind, having a couple of kids swarming around?
- Oh no, Oh no!
Grace wondered if her heart hadn't sunk through the floor of the taxi. There's still time, she thought wildly, there's still time to escape… 

The narrative shifts in time, looking back into the protagonist’s childhood in New Zealand, and is constantly interrupted by her expanded views on truth, literature and identity.  

Longing to belong and have an identity, Grace stubbornly claims to be “a migratory bird, not a human being”, insisting one can be anything (so why not a bird?), the notion of identity is fluid, always changing and that its borders are blurred.
  

Author: Janet Frame

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

17 March, 2017

Our souls at night by Kent Haruf

The night can be a very lonely time for widows and widowers. The day may be busy with friends and chores but after the sun has set each is alone in their own home.  She may have a profound thought, he may have a humourous anecdote that has just come into his mind, but they have no one to share them with.  It is a given that you don't disturb other people late at night just for a natter.
Addie comes up with an audacious solution to her loneliness problem, she invites her neighbour, Louis, to spend nights with her.  After initial surprise, Louis agrees and trots over to her place with his pyjamas and toothbrush in a paper bag. It becomes a regular thing and, of course, gets noticed in this small town.
This might just have been a sweet tale of elderly romance, but there is a bite to this tale too in the social control that their adult children attempt to exert on Addie and Louis.

Title: Our souls at night
Author: Kent Haruf


Reviewed by Christine O.

Christine O has worked in libraries on the North Shore for over 20 years.  She likes her fiction to be believable and her non-fiction to be accessible. 



Night song of the last tram: a Glasgow childhood by Robert Douglas


It takes a village to raise a child, they sometimes say. Here is a perfect example. 

Growing up in a one room ‘single end’ flat in a Glasgow tenement, Robert Douglas describes his life. A loving mother and abusive, philandering and thankfully, often absent father, are the blessing and the blight of his life respectively.

The tight-knit community of Maryhill is where Douglas grows up and hangs out with his friends. The adults keep a casually watchful eye and look out for each other. The local cinema affords him many blissful hours, there is a favourite Italian café and it is a nostalgic time of tram cars, lamplighters, pawnbrokers and the joy of simple pleasures like joining the local library and being able to read for free! 

Set during and immediately after the Second World War, Douglas takes us through his childhood and teenage years until the age of 16 when his beloved mother tragically dies of cancer.  

Although the story of their life together is in some ways very sad – there is poverty, wife beating and drunkenness and a marked inequality pervades the society of the times; it is also filled with happy and fun-filled moments. 

Characteristic Scottish humour and strength of spirit shine through the honest and unpretentious writing.  And if, like me, you enjoy the sounds of Scottish English, you will love hearing them in the words. 

There is a sequel to this memoir called Somewhere to lay my head, which begins when Douglas is forced to join the RAF after his mother’s death. I haven’t read it yet but it seems that once again, the author uses his remarkable memory for people and places and talent for telling stories to utterly charm the reader.

Title: Night song of the last tram
Author: Robert Douglas

Reviewed by Suneeta N, Highland Park Library

Suneeta N particularly enjoys biographies, travel stories and reading authors from around the world. She loves a good discussion and believes that everybody has a story worth telling.

15 March, 2017

The penguin lessons by Tom Michell


Juan Salvador is one amazing penguin.  First he survives an oil slick that poisons and 
drowns all of his fellow Magellanic penguins, then he contrives to be rescued from a beach in Uruguay by a young English teacher. Tom, the teacher smuggles him into the classy apartment where he is staying and cleans him with a mixture of butter, margarine and detergent in the bathroom.  Halfway through this process Juan Salvador realizes that this human is making him feel better and stops his frantic and vicious struggling. It's easy to imagine the state of the bathroom by this stage!
Juan Salvador (named as a nod to Jonathon Livingston Seagull) is also gregarious and adaptable, essential qualities for a penguin who after his rescue and clean up becomes a much-loved resident at the boarding school that employs Tom.  He learns to eat dead fish from hand, toboggan down stairs and swim in a concrete pool without crashing into the sides.  

TitleThe penguin lessons
Author: Tom Michell


Reviewed by Christine O.

Christine O has worked in libraries on the North Shore for over 20 years.  She likes her fiction to be believable and her non-fiction to be accessible. 

10 March, 2017

Rajesh Khanna

In the seventies, I was a young girl and Rajesh Khanna was the superstar of Bollywood films and a very big name in Indian (Hindi) films. His smile lit up his whole face and his fan following was the kind that only very few people could dream of. The hysterical fan following he had was unbelievable and he had young teenagers writing letters of love in their blood to show their devotion to him. It was bizarre.
However, the heavy workload and an erratic lifestyle of late nights, alcohol and unhappy relationships took its toll. Rajesh Khanna was slipping from his perch at the top of a high pinnacle. His fan following started changing and new faces started becoming more famous on screen. Rajesh Khanna the king could not understand how he could put it right. He married a very talented actress, Dimple, who was very young and one of his ardent fans. This relationship later fell apart, although they had two daughters whom he adored.
In the latter part of his life he was lonely and happiness eluded him as he hankered for the good old days. Until the end he remained true to his love of acting.
I, for one, enjoyed his acting and will always remain his fan. I am sure there are others who thought the same and this book will bring back forgotten memories.


Title: Rajesh Khanna 
 Author: Yasser Usman

Reviewed by Kanchan T, Blockhouse Bay Library

Kanchan is a library assistant at Blockhouse Bay library. Reading is her passion and the library is just the place she loves being in.

08 March, 2017

The fifth season by N.K. Jemisin

I love reading fantasy because of the freedom of imagination and exploration of the 'what if' type of ideas you can get. I like to read something new and this book gives it to you in spades.

Set on an alternative Earth (or is it our Earth, far in the future?), ironically called the Stillness. Stillness is subject to frequent seismic and volcanic activity and periodically has cataclysmic near extinction events called Fifth Seasons that keep humans on their toes. Evidence of past civilisations litter the planet, giving you tantalising glimpses of the past. It is not surprising then that in a world like this people who can control the kinetic energy of the earth (orogenes), would be either feared and killed, or controlled and trained to use their skills to avert disaster (under the shackles of Guardians).

The book follows three narratives on different timelines that at the beginning don't seem to match up, but it makes so much sense in the end. We have:

Damaya, a child who has been cast out by her family because she is an orogene, and her Fulcrum Guardian, Schaffa.

Syenite, a young woman who still wants to excel in the regime permitted for orogenes through the Fulcrum, and her assigned mentor, Alabaster.


Essun, a mother and orogene who has lived in hiding for years and now travels in the aftermath of disaster in search of her daughter in the company of a strange boy named Hoa. 

It does take a while to get into the story because you are figuring out the world as you go along, but it is worth it. The writing is beautiful and the world building is superb. N. K. Jemisin has created a innovative and unique world that feels very real. A fantastically rewarding read.


TitleThe fifth season
Author: N.K. Jemisin

Anita S reads widely and eclectically, but most often random non-fiction fact books, good general and teen fiction (often dystopian future types), fantasy and sci-fi if they cover a new angle on something, kids books and... actually she'll take a look at most stuff. Books are great! She also loves art and illustration

27 February, 2017

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

As part of my reading resolution for 2017 I have challenged myself to try new authors. Too often it's easy to get into a groove with our favourite authors (and genres) and overlook all the other amazing books out there just waiting to open our hearts and minds.

This is how I came to read Dear Mr. M by Dutch novelist Herman Koch, a dark crime novel which weaves a sinister tale, taking the reader through a maze of alternating perspectives and shifting timelines. The central story concerns the forty-year mystery of a schoolteacher who vanished into thin air one winter's day. Part crime novel, part observation of the darker undercurrents of the human condition, this novel takes patience, so savour it as you would an exquisite five-course dinner.

It's not a fast crime caper but if you like crime novels that build with a slow turn of the screw, such as The Talented Mr Ripley, then you'll like this.

None of the characters will win your heart, rather their narcissistic egos and almost brutal cynicism make them hard to love, which is why the truth hides so well in the shadows until the final twist of the tale.

A worthy read that dances to a slightly different beat than your average crime novel. This book will appeal to any reader looking for suspenseful read!

Title: Dear Mr. M
Author:
Herman Koch
Reviewed by Jo C, New Lynn Library

Jo C is a librarian at New Lynn Library. She loves a good crime thriller, dark dystopian tales and anything left of centre. Her favourite authors are Stephen King and Margaret Atwood.
Jo C's reading pledge for 2017 is to read more non-fiction and try new authors and genres!

The paper garden: Mrs Delaney {begins her life's work} at 72 by Molly Peacock

Intrigued by the botanical painting of an opium poppy on a black background, I opened this book and entered the extraordinary life of Mary Delaney, only to be astounded to discover that the poppy is in fact an intricate collage made from coloured paper.

In 1772, this remarkable woman at the age of 72 embarked upon a project of creating 1,000 flowers in this manner. When in 1783 poor eyesight forced her to stop, she was only 15 creations short of her target. Her ten-volume Flora Delanica is now held at the British Museum.

Mary’s aristocratic background meant she had the good fortune to mix with stimulating company. Her friend the Duchess of Portland owned one of the best natural history collections in the country and Jonathan Swift,  Sir Joseph Banks and the King and Queen of England were among her acquaintances. She received specimens from the Botanic Gardens at Kew and had also seen many specimens that came back from Australia on Cook’s Endeavour.

Amazingly, I had never heard of her or seen any of her creations before stumbling upon this biography.

Title:   The paper garden: Mrs Delaney {begins her life's work} at 72
Author: Molly Peacock

Claire S enjoys reading biographies.



26 February, 2017

The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu: and their race to save the world's most precious manuscripts by Joshua Hammer


Reading history books might seem a bore to some people but when you read about the recent past, history takes on a different, more relevant meaning. This amazing book covers events that took place not long ago, in one of the most unexpected places in the world - Timbuktu, the legendary city known for its rich culture and heritage.

The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu recounts the tale of Abdel Kader Haidara, a young adventurer and collector for a government library journeying across the Sahara and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts. His goal was to preserve these texts in a gorgeous library. As he worked tirelessly to fulfil this ambition, Al Qaeda showed up at the door.
The incredible story that follows tells of how this mild-mannered archivist and historian became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers as he saved these texts from sure destruction.

Joshua Hammer has done an amazing job, through meticulous research and interviews, in bringing this story to life. Some chapters might have more historical detail than others, giving readers a complete picture of the situation that arose in Northern Mali at that time. I would not consider this as academic history book, but a thriller. There’s suspense, intrigue and a heist that races against time - giving it a semblance to an Ocean’s Eleven movie!

I'd be lying if I said I hadn’t learned anything from this book. Not only did I become aware of the growing conflicts that citizens of Northern Mali had to live through, I also learned of the courage and bravery that ordinary citizens of Mali displayed in their struggle to protect and preserve the beauty of their rich culture.

An amazing and inspiring read for anyone who enjoys learning more of the world we live in today!



Title: The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu: and their race to save the world's most precious manuscripts
Author: Joshua Hammer

Recommended by Surani R, Waitakere Central Library, Henderson. 
Surani R enjoys reading biographies, travelogues, some non-fiction, and loves fiction that makes you laugh out loud. She also finds comfort in children’s fiction with thought-provoking stories.