05 August, 2015

What if : serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions by Randall Munroe

This book delivers what I call 'firm science' that is physics and chemistry  without all the tedious maths and formulas.


One intriguing investigation is into what would happen if we pulled the plug on the Pacific Ocean and drained the sea, another looks at eliminating the common cold virus by isolating all humans, yet another into how one person could find another on a depopulated planet.   Most of these situations are impossible. All are unwise but thinking about them is mind play at its best!

Us humans are not so good at thinking about the vast and the fantastically tiny.  “What if” uses new units of measurement (as well as the standard ones) to describe these phenomena outside of normal human range; height in giraffes, energy in annual household consumption and, likelihood in lightning strikes.

This is further enlivened by cute and pertinent cartoons and footnotes, for the geeks among us there is a huge bibliography.

Title :  What if : serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions
Author : Randall Munroe

Reviewed by Christine O., Takapuna Library

I've worked in libraries on the North Shore of Auckland for over 20 years.  I like my fiction to be credible and my non-fiction to be accessible.

Common people by Alison Light

How better to acknowledge Family History Month than to check out a family history book? 

Alison Light may be a professor of literature and culture, but she is also a family historian. Divided into four sections – one for each grandparent and their family – Common people is an exploration into her family’s past. A past that was mostly forgotten and not discussed. 

Although very English-based, there will be aspects that resonate with New Zealanders and their family histories. Many of our ancestors will have come to New Zealand for the same reasons Light’s ancestors migrated around England – work and family. And, many of our ancestors will have been ‘common people’, just like Light’s. 

Absorbing, this is a recommended read for family history fans, or those intrigued by the history of the everyday person in industrial England. 

Inspired by this, check out Writing your family history: a New Zealand guide by Joan Rosier-Jones.

Title: Common people: the history of an English family
Author: Alison Light. 

Recommended by Annie C, Helensville Library. 

Annie C is a voracious and versatile reader, but her habitual reads are fantasy, romance, and a diverse selection of non-fiction subjects. 

04 August, 2015

Frances Ha directed by Noah Baumbach (DVD)

The International Film Festival has closed in Auckland, but never fear! Now’s your chance to catch up on all those great films you missed in previous year’s festivals, many of which we hold at the library.

One of my favourite films from the last couple of years was Frances Ha, a contemporary comedy directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg) and written alongside Greta Gerwig, a talented writer/actress/muse and definitely one to watch. Gerwig plays title character, Frances, a chaotic twenty-something trying to live and work in New York with varying degrees of success.

Frances’ story is one that a lot of us will relate to (I definitely did!). She’s in that uncomfortable space between graduating college and entering “the real world” of adulthood. Single, unemployed and essentially homeless for most of the film, Frances feels left behind as her roommate and best friend gets engaged, gets a job, grows up and moves on. This is a sensitive portrayal of female friendship and this is one film that will certainly pass the Bechdel Test.

Frances Ha wears its influences on its sleeve, referencing 1960s French cinema and Woody Allen's early romantic comedies in equal measure. It is filmed entirely in black and white, but remains fresh and original and a delight to watch.

Title: Frances Ha
Director: Noah Baumbach

Recommended by Ella J, Central Library

Ella J is a library assistant who has equal amounts of time for literary masterpieces as she does for trashy pop culture icons, and is always looking out for something fresh and exciting to get her teeth into.

The book of lost things by Cynthia Voigt

Books by Cynthia Voigt are usually worth a read and I wasn't disappointed with these.  Mister Max:The book of lost things, and the sequel, The book of secrets are squarely aimed at kids who are looking for a well-plotted book with good characters and a bit of adventure! 

Twelve-year-old Max lives at home with his parents who own a theatrical company, but his life changes completely when they are invited to perform in India. He is to go with them, but upon arriving at the docks to meet them he is surprised to find they have disappeared, and the ship they are supposed to have sailed on does not exist. Thus the mystery begins.

Max is faced with a problem: he does not want to be put into care and would rather stay in his own house and work out what has happened. Luckily his Grammie lives next door, although she can't afford to have him indefinitely. He has to find a way to earn money, and  when he helps find a lost pet he decides he will become a 'solutioneer' and solve peoples' problems, (while working on his own mystery). 

He calls himself 'Mister Max' and uses characters from his parents' plays as inspiration for his disguises. He is more than a detective, as sometimes working out a good solution to the problems takes a bit of scheming and plotting. However he has help from a keen young girl called Pia and a University student called Ari, as well as his Grammie, who works at the library. 

Although sometimes a little far fetched, these books have charm and intrigue aplenty, and will appeal to the child who likes a book to get into, (probably in the 9 to 12 age group). Well written as you would expect from Cynthia Voigt


Title: The book of lost things and The book of secrets
Author: Cynthia Voigt

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.

03 August, 2015

Three mothers (and a camel) by Phyllida Law (book).


I challenge you to read this book with a straight face. It is, I assure you, impossible.

This is Phyllida Law's unique and hilarious history of family life. An autobiography with a difference, she details her adventures, caring firstly for her mother-in-law and then her own mother.

Her mother-in-law's deafness had got very bad, so they tried various hearing-aids with mixed results. Phyllida then began a written daily diary to liase with her.

Likewise, when her own mother developed dementia, communication became somewhat fraught.The account of their daily doings brings to life the highs, lows and hilarity that only family life can bring.

Ms Law is the mother of the actresses Sophie and Emma Thompson,and we also hear snippets of her own distinguished acting career. The writing is interspersed with drawings which bring the events detailed to life.

Not to be missed.



Author: Phyllida Law

Reviewed by Clare K. Massey City Library

Clare K works at Massey Library in West Auckland. She believes that there is nothing you can't learn from a book, and the more you know the more you grow.

Ghastly business by Louise Levene

Set in 1929, this glorious novel describes how our heroine, Dora, takes a position as a clerk in the pathology department in a London hospital headed by Alfred Kemble, where she immediately becomes immersed in the ghastly business of murder, schadenfreude and scandal.

The character of Alfred Kemble is created using the public essence of the famous Sir Bernard Spilsbury, but this is in no way a biography. His physicality, court presence and most famous cases are borrowed, but all else is a product of Levene’s vivid imagination and dark humour, backed up by thorough research.

Levene’s clipped and witty prose paints a picture of 1929 London as a bleak world of conflict between public and private: social niceties and outward modesty contrast vividly with private abandon and bloody mayhem.

If you devour details of historic cases such as the “Brides in the Bath Murders” and enjoy a heroine who is acerbically naive, then you must read this book and add Louise Levene to your list of preferred authors, as I have.

Ghastly business
Author: Louise Levene

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.



02 August, 2015

Breakthrough: how one teen innovator is changing the world by Jack Andraka


If you are like me and enjoy the successes of others, then this is the book for you!

Jack Andraka faced many problems in his young life but nothing could compare to the pressures of high school bullying and a close family friend was dying of cancer. Instead of giving in to the homophobic bullying and the despair, he took another path. He turned to science.

Using his passion for science, Jack decided to try to create a better method of cancer detection, in memory of their family friend. After conducting two years of research and asking hundreds of universities and companies for help, Jack was finally rewarded when one lab agreed to help him. Jack was just 15 when he came up with an affordable early detection test for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer. With this amazing achievement, Jack Andraka won not just science fair awards, but the most coveted and prestigious Gordon E. Moore Award in 2012. The fame that followed led to interviews and audiences with dignitaries ranging from U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, President Obama and Pope Francis!

What I liked the most was Jack’s honesty which came through in this book. Jack writes of his sexuality and the inner turmoil he was going through in an open voice. He maybe an ordinary teenager, but you can tell he is on the path to being something even greater. With every chapter I felt like standing up and cheering him on. It’s very rare to see such courage and determination written down by one so young.

If you are a science geek like Jack, the nifty science experiments included in the back will be something you might like to try!!

I would recommend this book to every one of all ages to read, especially teenagers looking for inspiration!


Title: Breakthrough: how one teen innovator is changing the world
Author: Jack Andraka


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.


30 July, 2015

Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haig

This is one of the most accessible books on depression and anxiety that I’ve encountered in recent times. In essence this is  Matt Haig’s account of his experience of crippling anxiety and depression which struck like the proverbial lightning bolt. I think the crucial point here is that rather than looking for cause and effect, sometimes there is no precursor. 

It is also important to note that Haig’s recovery was not a euphoric moment of triumph but rather a very gradual, incremental easing of the heaviness and  mental warfare of the mind. It almost crept up upon him unawares, causing him to look around and note with surprise that he felt somehow lighter. 

This is not a prescriptive text, more of an account of  Haig’s subjective experience and a sharing of the tools and steps he took to try and loosen the stranglehold the depression and anxiety had on him. 

There is something to be had for everyone within this narrative; greater empathy and compassion from those who have been fortunate enough to never have experienced these conditions, encouragement for those supporting friends and loved ones and of course, plenty for those in the depths themselves. 

It’s great to note this title is also available as an audiobook which can sometimes be an easier medium to engage with if you have a busy mind and are having some trouble concentrating. 


Title: Reasons to stay alive
Author: Matt Haig

Recommended by: Sue W, Central City Library

Sue W obeys her cats and lives to please them, sometimes she is allowed some free time to read so long as she answers the service bell when it rings.

29 July, 2015

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson


Practice reading with a French accent for this adorable tale of love and family. 

Gaston’s sisters Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La are perfect little handbag poodles. Gaston… not to much. True, he learns not to slobber, and not race, but he keeps growing.  

When the poodle family meets the bulldog family, it’s obvious a mistake has been made. But will fixing the obvious make things better?  

Be prepared to “aww” with cuteness on this tale of identity and family. It is truly adorable and heart-warming. 

This is one of the many adoption-themed books I’ve stumbled across recently. Others on this theme I’d recommend are:


Title: Gaston
Creators: Kelly DiPucchio & Christian Robinson

Recommended by Annie C, Helensville Library. 
Annie C is a voracious and versatile reader, but her habitual reads are fantasy, romance, and a diverse selection of non-fiction subjects. 

28 July, 2015

What you can when you can : healthy living on your terms by Roni Noone and Carla Birnberg

The title of this book says it all; you can work on being healthy by doing a bit at a time. It acknowledges that everyday life sometimes gets in the way of a regular health and wellness program and that is perfectly OK! The authors suggest positive solutions to challenges that could undo your good intentions and give you choices to suit your own lifestyle.

I like the short, sharp chapters - they are perfect for dipping into, and the format is attractive and clear to read with well-selected inspirational quotes highlighting the text.

Suggestions for interacting on the blog and other social media are a great innovation and make this more than just a book because you gain access to a supportive community of like-minded people. The appendix explaining social media will be welcomed by those who haven’t yet ventured into this type of communication.

A great collection of easy-to-do ideas on healthy living for your body and mind delivered with humour and warmth.

You can also read this as an Overdrive eBook - the perfect format to complement the social aspect of #wycwyc.

Title: What you can when you can
Authors: Carla Birnberg & Roni Noone

Recommended by Kathy N, Collections Development


Kathy N can’t go to sleep unless she has read a bit before turning the light off. As well as most fiction, she enjoys craft and lifestyle books to get project ideas for her rural home. She spends her working day buying books for Auckland Libraries.