12 February, 2016

The QI book of general ignorance: the noticeably stouter edition by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.

Most readers will have seen the QI programme on television (where QI stands for ‘Quite Interesting’) in which Stephen Fry is the quiz master of a game- show that seeks out interesting facts and exposes popular myths and beliefs.

This is labelled as “The Noticeably Stouter Edition”; there have been a number of QI books published and this further volume in the series. It is a thick little paperback that is packed with facts and trivia.

It contains about 300 different topics,  Each starts with a simple question, then there is about a page of background, explanation and researched facts, which generally discredit the conventional understanding of the question.

The subjects are diverse – the universe, history, famous people, biology, medicine. The first question raised is “How many wives did Henry VIII have?”  We all know it was six.  But no, after reviewing the details of each of his marriages, we find out that legally, it was two.  And “How many toes has a two-toed sloth?” – the correct answer is six or eight.

What is the best floor of a building to throw a cat from?  The answer is anything above the seventh floor. From seven and above, cats are able to orientate themselves into a shape to reduce their velocity and land safely. Below seven, they can’t do this fully and can land with more impact.

This is a fun book to just pick up and delve into anywhere.  You will be amazed and amused.  Finally, how many commandments are mentioned in the Bible?  Ten?  Wrong.  The answer is 613.

Title: The QI book of general ignorance: the noticeably stouter edition.
Author: John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.

Reviewed by: Ana, Central Library

Ana enjoys reading and listening to music, travelling and many other things. She reads fiction, non-fiction and from genres, crime: the Scandinavian crime writers, Patricia Highsmith and some others.

The good fairies of New York by Martin Millar

I would like to see Auckland Libraries run a competition for the best opening sentence in a book. The best writers hook you in their very first sentences and then reel you in. This book would be my entry in that competition:

Dinnie, an overweight enemy of humanity, was the worst violinist in New York, but was practising gamely when two cute little fairies stumbled through his fourth-floor window and vomited on the carpet.

Hooked! The fairies’ names are Heather and Morag, Scottish thistle fairies and virtuoso violinists with a love of punk. They have an intense love-hate relationship that forms one of the key plot lines of the book.

Around Heather and Morag and a motley assortment of fairies and humans, Millar spins a riotously funny tale. Fleeing Britain after some complicated misadventures, the fairy friends proceed to spread mischief and magical chaos in New York whilst their enemies seek them out and plot their demise.

The relationships that develop between the fairies and those questionably fortunate few humans able to see them are both hilarious and touching. The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, crossed and re-written in creative ways as the stories develop and coalesce.

The humour is fast and clever, occasionally scatological and pornographic. Behind the humour lies the commentary on modern society and its values, urban decay, identity and sub-culture. The fairies see what humans have learned not to notice, because if you do not notice, you do not need to care.

If you enjoy this book, you should also try Millar’s latest novel, The goddess of buttercups and daisies.

Title: The good fairies of New York
Author: Martin Millar

Reviewed by Nick K, Ranui Library

Nick K enjoys reading crime fiction, demonological adult and young adult fiction, classic children’s fiction like Arthur Ransome and picture books, especially those illustrated by Quentin Blake. He hates reality TV.

11 February, 2016

Go set a watchman by Harper Lee

Originally written a few years before the international bestseller <<To kill a Mockingbird>>, Harper Lee’s recently published book <<Go set a watchman>> centers around an adult Jean Louise (Scout) and her visit back to her hometown, Maycomb. 

The passing of time is shown clearly with the death of her brother Jem, her father Atticus now suffering from arthritis, and the introduction of a new main character Henry Clinton. However, some aspects have not changed: the relationship between Jean Louise and her Aunt Alexandra is still as intriguing as ever and despite the Tom Robinson case being many years ago, racism is still very much prevalent. 

<<Go Set a Watchman>> is about a young woman struggling to find her own beliefs in a society where everybody seems to be constantly pushing against her. Lee once again captures the setting of a Southern town in the 1950s flawlessly and while in her previous novel, we saw a young child quietly observing the scenes, we now witness her confronting her loved ones and finally becoming her own being.

I enjoyed reading this book and finding some closure on what happened to the lovable Finch children. It was even more entertaining to read the many references to Lee’s earlier book through the many childhood flashbacks Jean Louise has throughout the novel. I highly recommend this novel and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

Author: Harper Lee

Recommended by Honour Z, Northcote Library

Honour Z works at Northcote Library. She loves reading biographies and nonfiction in general.

09 February, 2016

Render unto Caesar by Gillian Bradshaw

Render unto Caesar is an historical novel set in the Roman Empire. It follows a Greek money-lender from Alexandria who travels to Rome to collect on a defaulter. Unfortunately that defaulter happens to be one of the most powerful men in Rome. What transpires next is a battle of pride, privilege and plots (<<< alliteration!).

This was an incredibly easy read, due to the tremendous authorship of Gillian Bradshaw whose convincing portrayal of a burgeoning imperial Rome is excellent (This city feels alive and dangerous!). There is always a concern (in my case anyway) of being unable to suspend disbelief with historical fiction, but I feel in safe hands with Bradshaw, who leaves little doubt that she knows her setting and subject and is able to relay that knowledge with confidence.

Bradshaw also moves her plot along at a good pace, where the main character (Hermogenes) must find his way across the city quickly in an attempt to resolve his financial difficulties. She also gives plenty of time for the reader to breathe though, as Hermogenes and his travelling household, flesh out their own issues with one another.

While Bradshaw centres the book on themes such as the worth of citizenship and the abuse of power, wealth and law; she also manages to throw in a (albeit anachronistic) crisis of conscience as Hermogenes has a growing concern for the welfare of slaves.

Render unto Caesar is an excellent read and rewarding for anyone with a love for a good thriller set in historical times. Doubly so if you are into this particular period of history!

Title: Render unto Caesar
Author: Gillian Bradshaw

Recommended by James W, Mangere Bridge Library

Since James W thinks you remind him of the babe. What babe? The babe with the power! He therefore thinks that by Grabtha’s hammer and the sons of Worvan… you shall be avenged! James enjoys topical pop-culture references.

The Japanese lover by Isabel Allende

Whether or not you are familiar with Chilean American author Isabel Allende’s poetic voice, you will delight in the elegance of The Japanese lover

At the centre of this charming story are 80 year old Alma and young Moldovian immigrant Irina. Alma is a resident at a retirement home in San Francisco and Irina is her carer. 

Slowly and mostly in flashback Alma reveals the secrets of her tumultuous life to Irina and her other companions at the home – a large group of assorted characters searching for love. 
Among them are survivors of the Holocaust, of the Japanese-American Internment camps, of the collapse of the Soviet Union , of the Aids crisis. Along the way, their lives are also captivatingly revealed. 

I enjoyed the book for its understanding portrayal of friendship, love and ageing, for its unusual setting and for the colourful characters that fill the pages. Important too was that for the first time I learned the harsh facts about how Japanese Americans were sent away to detention camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. A cruel sentence for innocent people.

Like all Allende’s books, this one was originally written in Spanish, because  to her “fiction comes from the womb, not from the brain.”
Lucky for us nothing appears to be lost in translation!

Title: The Japanese lover 
Author: Isabel Allende

Also available as an eBook

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.

07 February, 2016

Color me creative : unlock your imagination by Kristina Webb

This book is really cool. It's  partly an autobiography of web-sensation and talented artist, Kristina Webb, and partly an art challenge book. There are some cute ideas in this book, designed by Kristina, which would be perfect  for a creative teen, (or adult for that matter). If you're an artist, like being creative or just need that little push to get back into creating, read this book and try out some of Kristina's art challenges. It is also full of her own artwork.

Considering just how young she is she has had quite an interesting life, with an exotic up-bringing compared to most children. She was born in Tauranga, but as a child she has lived on a remote tropical island, the Gold Coast in Australia and then on a yacht before finally moving back to NZ. She had a fair share of ups and downs, especially in her teenage years, (which is when she went to the USA as an exchange student), but her love of art grew and grew.

It is her passion for drawing which is a constant throughout her life, and with social media sites such as Tumblr and Instagram (@colour_me_creative),  she managed to get an on-line following of  many thousands while still a teenager, in fact she topped a million while writing this book! This led to magazine articles, live radio and television shows, and finally - this book! It shows you that if you follow your passion wholeheartedly, then it is possible in this day and age of the internet to fulfill your dream. Go Kristina, (and to think she is only at the beginning of her adult career)

Title: Color me creative : unlock your imagination
Author: Kristina Webb

Recommended by Anita S, Blockhouse Bay Library

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.

26 January, 2016

American pain by John Temple

In the past, whenever I heard that some celebrity or other was addicted to painkillers, I thought it was a bit naff- not a real addiction, surely: neat brown labelled bottles containing little pills prescribed by a doctor. All legal and unfortunate and a bit silly, but nothing deadly like heroin or meth amphetamines, surely? After reading American Pain, my views have changed completely.

The book starts with the vivid description of a car accident that immediately links the actions of so-called pain clinics with their victims in a way that evokes the emotions of the reader. There is nothing naff about being attended by strangers while you die from multiple fractures, leaving the police to discover the interior of your vehicle scattered with little blue pills.

I opened the book to have a quick peek while I was walking to my car, and I finally looked up and realised that I had read the whole first chapter while standing in the car park, completely absorbed. John Temple knows how to tell a good story and the statistics in the book are mind-boggling. Every chapter elicited a "wow!" from me: the money being made, the numbers of "patients" and pills dispensed and most poignantly, the number of painkiller-related deaths.

In addition to being a gifted storyteller, John Temple has the ability to describe complicated medical and legal situations in such an uncomplicated way that they are easy to understand and discuss with others. And this is a book that you will want to discuss and share with others.

Title: American pain 
Author: John Temple

Reviewed by Monica F, Orewa Library

Monica F is happiest in gumboots and apron, attending to her animals, harvesting her crops and making stuff. Like all truly wholesome people, she has a dark side, and enjoys nothing better than well written true crime and forensic medicine.

25 January, 2016

The Bridge the complete series two

I am not one to borrow a 28 day loan DVD with three Cd’s in it at a busy time over Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I decided to take it as a customer recommended it to me. I am glad I did, as it was so interesting and I couldn’t wait till I got to the very end of this Scandinavian drama based on a bridge which connects Sweden and Denmark. There was so much I learnt by watching this series. The detectives Saga and Martin are played by accomplished actors who have performed flawlessly in their challenging roles. Saga acts like a person who has no social skills while her partner Martin the detective she works with, tries to make her aware of how to live in the real world. Both of them are good at their jobs and try to avert a major disaster at the EU summit which would have left a highly dangerous virus from infecting innocent people.

Watching this series made me find out how the two countries worked with the bridge as a connection, as it made me aware of how angry people might behave if their fears are not addressed. I also looked at the Bridge and how it was a modern masterpiece. I have requested the first series and I can’t wait to get it, though I know I am watching it the other way round.

Hope you like it, just as I did. If you are looking for something which is nail biting and full of suspense till the very end-this DVD is the answer! A big thank you to Sofia Helin who portrays Saga and Kim Bodnia who is Martin.

The Bridge The complete series two 

Hans Rosenfeldt, Björn Stein, Sofia Helin, Kim Bodnia, Dag Malmberh, Ellen Hillingsø, Anders Landström, Bo Ehrhardt, Kathrine Windfeld, Morten Arnfred, Mikael Hansson, Måns Mårlind

Reviewed by KanchanT, Blockhouse Bay Library
Kanchan T loves to read books on different topics but her recent interest has been in fast paced adventure based series DVDs.

The devil in the white city: murder, magic and madness at the fair that changed America by Erik Larson

The Paris world fair of 1889 had been a successful and glamorous occasion, topped off with the opening of the fabulous Eiffel Tower. To the delight of its citizens, Chicago was chosen to host a world fair to honour America’s history. The great Chicago fair of 1893 became known as the White City. It ran for six months and recorded 27.5 million visits.  This book describes the extraordinary efforts of the dedicated and ambitious architects who designed and supervised the massive construction.
Around the same time, evil was at work in Chicago. A charming young and handsome doctor had installed himself in a very strange hotel which he built near the fair, and was enticing women into relationships – women who seemed to disappear.  The charming Doctor H.H. Holmes, who also happened to be a serial killer, said chillingly at his confession, “I was born with the devil in me”.

I’m so glad I discovered this best-selling author – his gripping non-fiction transports the reader through time. Imagine my absolute ecstasy when I learnt that this book is soon to be made into a movie starring my favourite actor Leonardo DiCaprio.  My favourite actor and one of my favourite authors – I’ll be first through the cinema doors for this one!

Title: The devil in the white city: murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America
Author: Erik Larson
Recommended by Judy W, Orewa Library

Judy W may appear to work as a library assistant but in her own mind she is a top criminal defence lawyer and animal rights activist. She can hardly move for piles of books in her small house.

24 January, 2016

Living with intent: my somewhat messy journey to purpose, peace, and joy by Mallika Chopra

Usually when we start a new year, every one of us makes some kind of resolution; or we look back on the year that has passed and reflect on all that we experienced and achieved. This memoir chronicles Mallika Chopra’s year-long search to find more meaning, joy, and balance in her life.

In this book, we hear not just her story of growing up with her father, America’s leading self-help guru, Deepak Chopra, but also of her successes and failures, and how she inspires others through them. We read of the myriad of wisdom she gathered from leading experts such as Eckhart Tolle, Arianna Huffington and Dan Siegel to name a few. Each chapter focuses on each step of Mallika’s journey and on each piece of her INTENT plan: Incubate, Notice, Trust, Express, Nurture, and Take Action. At the end of each chapter she provides helpful and clear reflection points and practical steps that one can follow to formulate your own thoughts and create outcomes.

With every page, I found myself becoming transfixed with what Mallika had to say. Everything she spoke of resonated on a deeper level of understanding and I found myself nodding along and accepting the truth in her insights. Through her honest and simple writing, mingled with humour as she describes anecdotes from her personal life, I felt as if Mallika had written this book with someone like me in mind. My own journey in life became clearer and focused.

Mallika Chopra’s message, for me, is quite simple: Find out who you truly are and let that person’s strengths shine through and lead the way towards greater purpose and peace.

If you need a book to start a new chapter or just make some kind of change in your life this year, I recommend you read this memoir!!

Title: Living with intent: my somewhat messy journey to purpose, peace and joy
Author: Mallika Chopra

Available as an ebook.

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.