05 May, 2016

How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman

I've become a bit of a fan-girl over Ruth Goodman - her TV documentary series, and her books. 

She's lived as a Tudor, Victorian, Edwardian, and as a worker on a medieval castle building site. So, she can talk authoritatively about  such subjects.

When she talks about baking bread, sewing, cooking... you know she's done it. She lives the history we hardly ever read about it books. The history of the everyday, lived by normal people - not the aristocracy. 

A joy for any one interested in this period of history. 

Title: How to be a Tudor: a dawn-to-dusk guide to everyday life
Author: Ruth Goodman. 

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. A life-long love of children’s books, particularly picture books, helps in her day-to-day role as a children’s librarian. 

Mortal fire by Elizabeth Knox

A good book is one that grabs me after three months of reader’s block. According to that definition, Mortal fire is a Stonking Good Book.

In Southland, the fictional but somewhat familiar country introduced in Elizabeth Knox’s ‘Dreamhunter’ tales, Canny is transfixed what she calls the Extra: writing that hangs in the air. Like the air, it can’t be seen by most people.

When she travels with her half-brother and his girlfriend to a mining town for an oral history project, they are unexpectedly held up in the Zarene Valley. There, an unusual community comes under the strict control of its elders, and Canny learns that the Extra is part of every day ... something she can use herself.

Our heroine is Canny by nature as well as by name. She’s a calculating individual, literally and figuratively. A maths whizz (wizard?), she also has skills of manipulation that far exceed the considerable abilities of the average teenager. And yet in Knox’s hands she is a very believable 16-year-old.

Written for young adults, Mortal fire has depth, layers and nuancing that I find lacking in some popular YA novels, such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Knox’s characters are more than a means to an end, and her purpose goes beyond meeting a target market.

Turning her pages, we delve into a complex world, one that Knox says draws on games of imagination from her childhood. 

The experience of reading Mortal fire reminds me a little of first encountering Northern lights (aka The golden compass), the first part of Philip Pullman’s brilliant ‘His dark materials’ trilogy, with its equally precocious and mysterious heroine Lyra. It was spellbinding; it rewarded rereading. So might this book.

Title: Mortal fire

Author: Elizabeth Knox

Recommended by Claire G, Grey Lynn Library

Claire G reads widely, writes narrowly, pampers her poultry and neglects her garden. She thinks Leonard Cohen was right about there being a crack in everything.

Aha, Awakening. Honesty. Action. : the god moment that changes everything by Kyle Idleman

I have to say, Kyle Idleman’s writing is not a comfortable read, but rather like an intensive light glaring its mega wattage   into the messy crumb littered detritus of the self, the Christian self that is.  This book is for anyone who identifies as being a practising Christian, more than the “well, I went to Sunday school as a kid/I was baptised” kind of Christian.

Idleman's  message is that with the best of intentions, our own interests,  the lure of all the little baubles of life  nicely packaged as self care and self esteem, get in the way.  And of course we all can identify with this, in whatever form or behaviour our Archilles heel takes.

This is not a judgmental you filthy sinner type of book, but rather look at it as going in for a spiritual tune up. You might wince at the work needing doing and the effort/cost involved in getting the spiritual warrant, yet necessary.

The “Aha” premise is threefold. First you have the realisation there is a “situation” or behaviour that isn’t sitting comfortably with your professed faith and then you get honest about it, where you own it, walk around the wreckage and assess the damage and avoid doing an Adam -“she made me” blame response.  Then there is the third step, where you self correct and begin the sometimes painful actions that might be  necessary. Really isn’t all of life a series of these moments? I guess the more you check in and go for regular  “maintenance” sessions, the less severe the correction or tune up needed.

If this sounds pretty heavy going, its not. The writing is direct, compassionate, anecdotal and gently humorous. It is the honesty and precision of the writing that makes it is so compelling and yes, uncomfortable. I read two of Kyle Idleman’s books back to back, certainly powerful stuff and food for thought. I would absolutely recommend you read his earlier work,  Not a fan, which is also available in an   E-book format.

And as a humorous aside, one of the things the author talks about is the posturing we all do to a certain extent, to project a certain something to the outside world. Now every time I go the gym (which is not often) I smile as I remember Idleman saying when he moves from a weight machine he casually moves the pin lower to make it seem  as though he has been lifting heavier than the reality. I guess that’s kind of like, saying “well I only have maybe a one to two glasses of wine during the week”. Riiiight.

Title: Aha, Awakening, Honesty, Action. : the god moment that changes everything.
Author:  Kyle Idleman

Recommended by: Sue W

Sue W loves her fur babies equally but differently and uses time out to think about bad behaviours, she has been known to forget about the miscreant and then earn the title of worst-mother-ever.

03 May, 2016

The darkest hour by Barbara Erskine

Barbara Erskine had huge success with her 1986 novel Lady of Hay so comparisons are always going to be made to it for any later stories. The darkest hour still has the supernatural aspects, but instead of being set in ancient times, covers an era that is still fresh in the minds of many.

It was fitting that I finished this book on ANZAC Day when we commemorate those that have served in wars. Set around a British airbase in WWII and simultaneously seventy years later, it portrays some of the difficulties and experiences of servicemen and civilians in wartime.

The plot revolves around Lucy, a widow who is writing a biography of Evelyn Lucas, a renowned wartime painter. Evie’s grandson Michael has agreed to help Lucy by providing access to Evie’s studio and papers. Unknown to him, Lucy owns a painting that she believes was one of Evie’s.

As Lucy becomes involved in researching Evie’s life a number of unusual things happen around the painting and it appears that supernatural forces are in place. She realises that as well as people in the present day trying to stop her discovering what happened seventy years ago, there are some from the past who are reaching forward to warn her off.

I always enjoy stories where the past and the present merge and got engrossed in this tale. Historical detail is where Erskine excels so I found the parts about the airbase and the flyers very interesting and it gave me some understanding of the era. A large cast of characters, good and bad, make a good mix and all have a part to play in reconciling the past with the present.

Title: The darkest hour
Author: Barbara Erskine

Reviewed by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t 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 most of her working day buying books for Auckland Libraries.

30 April, 2016

Take care love accidentally [DVD videorecording]

Frannie has just been hit by a car and has just been released from the hospital. She has broken her left leg and right arm and cannot care for herself and after being passed around by her family and friends, she realises that they cannot give her the care that she needs.

Frannie guilt trips her ex-boyfriend into helping her, after all she once looked after him when he was sick. What follows is a funny light-hearted comedy of second chances and seeing someone you thought you knew in a different light.

After seeing Frannie go through the efforts of trying to get people to help her puts into perspective that who would I rely on to help me in my time of need. I also loved how she reconnected with her ex and that even though it started out as a blackmail tactic, Frannie and her ex realise the reasons why their relationship went wrong and can finally get some closure from it.

It was a nice fluffy romantic comedy that flowed along quite nicely.

Starring: Leslie Bibb, Thomas Sadoski, Betty Gilpin
Rating: M

Recommended by Emma W

Emma W, a library assistant from East Coast Bays Library, can be found zoning out constantly, requesting way too much stuff or humming along to the elevator music in her head.

28 April, 2016

That's not English by Erin Moore

When I picked up this book and flicked through it, I presumed it was a study of the differences between British and American interpretations of common words.  It is, but it is a lot more than that. The author, Erin Moore, is an American, but she has had a close association with British speakers through her work as an editor and through her marriage into an English family.

The book comprises about thirty chapters - each headed with a single word, and that word is then discussed in detail and the different interpretations from either side of the Atlantic explored. The chapters have titles such as “Quite”, “Sorry”, ”Clever”, “Brolly”, “Toilet”, “Proper”, “Shall” and “Tea”.

Erin Moore moved to England and raised a family there while having regular visits back to the United States.  She expected to be completely at ease with the language in England, but found there were more and more differences in understanding and meaning.  She looks at many of these examples in detail.

In “Cheers” she discusses how the word has become commonplace in Britain, used by all classes, and can mean a toast (when drinking), good-bye, or thank you.  She explains that the Americans know ‘cheers’ as a toast but struggle to interpret other meanings.  If they use it, they tend to over-pronounce it.  In this chapter, she discusses the place of the British pub and compares that with the drinking attitudes in America.

The small chapter “Toilet” is typical.  Both the British and Americans seem to have difficulty in discussing this subject.  In Britain you can ask ‘where is the loo?’ at a restaurant, but this would never do in America. They would prefer “bathroom” or “restroom”, but even this might be a bit strong and so they would ask for the “powder room.”

If you enjoy words and their derivations and meanings, and care to explore the differences in understanding of two different but similar cultures, then this is an ideal book for you. The writing is light and easy to read, it keeps your interest and you can pick and choose chapters as you like. You could say the book is quite remarkable – but of course ‘quite’ can mean entirely different things depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on.

Title: That's not English
Author: Erin Moore

Recommended 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.

27 April, 2016

Smith's Dream by C.K. Stead

Ironically, it was the very first New Zealand novel I read after my arrival to the country I knew nothing about. I grabbed the book from a library shelf randomly, attracted by its small size and a local author’s name. It’s time to start learning about the place I wish I could call home one day, I thought. I was then and still am absolutely convinced there is no better way to discover a new country than through reading its fiction.

From overseas, the land of the long white cloud, a green and sunlit island of laid-back people, seemed nothing but paradise, a realised utopia. You can now imagine my surprise, if not to say shock, when I discovered the book was a dystopian novel, a portrayal of a rather dark and horrifying world. Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury famously used the genre to show how far the tendencies of the times may lead the society.

I later learned that Smith’s Dream, the first novel by Stead, was written as a reaction to the Vietnam War in 1971. The book gained popularity within the country mostly by becoming the basis for the movie Sleeping Dogs by Roger Donaldson.

The main character, a librarian Smith, is left by his wife and goes to the Coromandel bush to hide away from his family crisis. A dictator named Volkner becomes the new Prime Minister of New Zealand and is using the army and special police to maintain his government. Very soon Smith falls under suspicion and is forced to go back to Auckland, where he is kept under detention and tortured. Luckily the character manages to run away but has to hide from the police by moving from one place to another, trying to make up his mind whether to join the opposition or stay by himself and save his own life. Decisions, decisions.

Although the novel was written almost half a century ago and may at first seem outdated, it still strikes me now, after more than 5 years living in the country, how much it remains relevant and how easily it can be applied to our everyday reality, both in New Zealand and worldwide.

Title: Smith’s Dream
Author: C.K. Stead

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.

The art of slow writing: Reflections of time, craft, and creativity. by Louise DeSalvo

This is such a beautifully written book, as satisfying as a long luxurious stretch when you’re feeling sleepy. Not a how-to for writers, more of an unfolding, an exploration of the written word for the curious, those that like words on the page, those that craft those words, and a gentle encouragement to mentally forage for the beginning seedlings of an idea that may lead on to the written word.

There is so much contained within the covers of this book, it is a portal into a lovely expanse of all things writing related and yet it clearly addresses the hard grafting element of writing, the lonely arduous self doubting moments.  And then there are the  painful revisions again and again ad infinum as well as the tenacity needed  to pick up your wounded self and carry on when you face inevitable criticisms and "thanks but no".

If you hold a somewhat romantic idea of the creative genius penning written wonders effortlessly, this book might be somewhat of a myth buster.  Maybe you are a bibliophile and love the written word, guaranteed you will have a deepened appreciation of just what an endurance course writing  is that only the most determined (some may say masochistic) writers finish. Maybe you just like to read well crafted reflective writing, step inside a while. You won’t want to leave, and when you do reluctantly turn the final page you will wonder if it is too soon to immediately begin again.

Title: The art of slow writing. Reflections of time, craft, and creativity.

Author: Louise DeSalvo

Recommended by: Sue W (Central Library)

Sue W loves her fur babies equally but differently and uses time out to think about bad behaviours, she has been known to forget about the miscreant and then earn the title of worst-mother-ever.

Dorothy must die by Danielle Paige

Dorothy Must Die is the first book in a trilogy for young adults.

When a tornado sweeps through the trailer park where Amy Gumm lives she is transported to the magical world of OZ. At the end of the Wizard of OZ after murdering two witches, deposing the ruler of the Emerald City and leaving a power vacuum that would eventually be filled by a scarecrow, Dorothy returns to her Aunty Em and their depression era farm. Dorothy immediately regrets her decision. She returns to OZ, seizes power and installs herself as the all-powerful, gingham clad ruler of OZ.

Under Dorothy’s rule OZ has become a darker, more sinister place. Amy is recruited by the order of the wicked, taught magic and trained to assassinate Dorothy (and her little dog too). Unable to trust her allies Amy can only rely on herself as she is sent on her first mission.

I liked the premise of the story and how Paige took OZ and its characters and twisted them into something new but still recognisable. Dorothy Must Die ends on a cliff hanger so if you find yourself enjoying the book get the next book in the series, The Wicked Will Rise, because it starts right after the first book ends.

Title: Dorothy Must Die
Author: Danielle Paige

Recommended by Murray L, Devonport Library

Murray L enjoys horror, sci-fi, fantasy and mystery books

22 April, 2016

Failure: why science is so successful by Stuart Firestein

Failure: why science is so successful is the second book by noted biological scientist Stuart Firestein. In this book Firestein aims to de-mythologise the idealised scientific process that is often perceived by the public and explain what he sees as the true cause of sciences’ unprecedented success: failure.

Failure is not something that people automatically associate with the notion of science. With companies and governments pumping large fortunes into science in all its forms it seems if anything 'success' would be a term more appropriate or at least desired by the scientific community.

Failure: why science is so successful is quite happy to drop cold water on that notion and Firestein happily explains why in this book. He advocates with numerous examples for the messy, hit-and-miss progressive nature of science as opposed to the methodical means (scientific method) that is taught in schools.

As well as this Firestein is not afraid to take aim at corporate funding and science education and following Firestein can be as entertaining, as it is informative. Another positive is the tone of the book where science is relayed in a very easy to digest format. It's short too! Highly recommended.

Failure reads more like a set of essays compared to his previous book, Ignorance: why it drives science, though it is not necessary to get Ignorance to understand Failure (ho ho ho). I thoroughly enjoyed both, so check them out and see how science is less “Eureka!” And more “Oh, I didn’t expect that.”

Title: Failure: why science is so successful
Author: Stuart Firestein

Recommended by James W Māngere Bridge Library

James W is goin down, 2 alphabet street!  He's gonna crown, the first gir... :) . James once dreamt of being a scientist. Twice in fact! In the same week no less! He tends not to eat too much pizza so close to bedtime these days.