24 May, 2016

A primate's memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky

A Primate's Memoir : A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life among the Baboons

Chimps and gorillas have a certain charisma and books, even research works about them are well known and have reached a popular audience.  But what about baboons? In some ways they are more like us than the tree-dwelling primates.  They too are largely ground-bound and live in complex social groups.

To study savannah baboons, Robert camped in the home territory of one clan, living a very simple life for weeks at a time over 20 years, often his only human contact a fellow scientist, also studying a much maligned creature; "Lawrence of the Hyenas" one valley over. 

He admires the leaders of the baboon clan over the years that he studies them, but he learns most from the less socially competent members.  Living on the Serengeti is a tough game. If you are not fast or big you need family and friends; fellow baboons that reciprocate aid; who will babysit if you need time out or will take your side in an argument and who know you will do the like for them.   Naked social politics.  

Title: A primate's memoir ;  A neuroscientist's unconventional life among the baboons.
Author: Robert M. Sapolsky

Reviewed by Christine O, Takapuna Library.

Christine O has worked in North Shore libraries for over 20 years. She likes her fiction to be credible and her nonfiction to be accessible.

The secret chord by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret ChordNatan is a prophet.  As such he occaisionally receives blinding headaches and instructions from God.  Most of the time he is like the rest of us, using common sense to work out the best way forward.  Being the mouthpiece of the Divine earns Natan respect but also is a fearsome responsibility. 

His role is to speak truth to power, the power being King David. David had been a mere shepherd who rose to be a great psalmist and king over Israel.  David knows that he has God's favour and he believes that he is under that protection.  As his reign continues he slips into thinking that God approves of all that he does, he becomes a tyrant. 

This is a full-fleshed account of the intertwined lives of two men of the Old Testament, complete with  their foibles and urges. Natan and David's newest wife Batsheba are engaging, likeable characters, David, not so much.

Title: The secret chord
Author: Geraldine Brooks

 Reviewed by Christine O, Takapuna Library.

Christine O has worked in North Shore libraries for over 20 years. She likes her fiction to be credible and her nonfiction to be accessible.

23 May, 2016

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Judy Blume’s latest novel “In the Unlikely Event” was not written for young adults, like many of her well know classics - but it is coming of age.
Multiple characters’ lives are muddled together after their neighborhood is victim to three unrelated plane crashes over the course of three months. This novel, though fiction, is based on real events that occurred in New Jersey in the 1950s. With this as the backdrop, Blume draws on these series of events, to explore the impact it had on the community, from both in the sky and on the ground as their lives are interwoven with one another.

As always Blume’s characterization and writing is smooth and spot on. She understands humans, their questions, worries and dynamics. Despite some of the sad subject matter her book will leave you in a warm nostalgic haze having found a familiar companion or two within her pages.

Author: Judy Blume

Reviewed by Suzy D, Mt Albert Library

The Safe-Keeper's secret by Sharon Shinn

Lover of magical realism am I, and always fond of a simple story with some fairy tale-ish whimsy. Give me a female lead with a goal and throw in some magic, intrigue and 'olden times' and I am there in a heart beat.

The Safe-Keeper's Secret, a teen fiction by leading fantasy author Sharon Shinn, is the first in a series of three. A simplistic world - no fairy dust or dragons here - with a little twist: there are Safe-Keepers - who can be told a secret and trusted to never share, Truth-Tellers - who are unable to let a lie past their lips, and the Dream-Maker - destined to live a life of misery, but grants the wishes of those around them.

One night, while in labour with her own child, Damiana, Safe-Keeper of small town Tambleham, is delivered another secret for the night: a second child, from who-knows-where, to be kept safe from who-knows-what. She names them Fiona and Reed, and bring them up together as siblings. As they get older, Fiona is determined to follow in her mothers footsteps and become a Safe-Keeper, no matter what Thomas the Truth-Teller says - and Reed just wants to learn and try everything he possibly can, no matter the town rumors that he may be the illegitimate child of the heirless King.

A slow-paced but lovely tale, The Safe-Keeper's Secret is for those who like a hint of romance and magic but aren't in need of a grandiose battle or war. Similar to authors like Robin McKinley who infuse every story they spin with a wondrous flair, Sharon Shinn has created a fantastic little world for us to drop into.

Title: The Safe-Keeper's secret
Author: Sharon Shinn

Recommended by Dana S, Central Library

Dana S isn't bad at keeping secrets, and she usually tells the truth. She definitely won't tell anyone you ate the last cookie from the cookie jar - and did you know, you look lovely today?

20 May, 2016

The believing brain by Michael Shermer

The believing brain is a book by noted science writer and leading sceptic Michael Shermer that investigates the human belief system. Specifically the way beliefs are born, formed, shaped, reinforced, challenged, changed and extinguished. Shermer looks at real personal journeys, human biology, religion, politics, science and the cosmos in finding out not only why, but how we believe what we do.

There is some good stuff in here and Shermer is not afraid to put his neck on the line in explaining his own former beliefs, scepticism, politics etc. at the risk of colouring the reader’s bias against his argument.

Personally I found his explanations very interesting with terms such as ‘agenticity’ (belief that the world is controlled by invisible agents) for things such as souls, spirits, gods, conspirators and so forth. Also the way people tend to see patterns (‘patternicity’) in both meaningful and meaningless things. Shermer demonstrates why science (and positive evidence) is the tool to discern belief from reality.

I picked up The believing brain while at some ones house and was drawn in from the first page so I can’t really give much higher praise than that. With his background as a science writer he gets his teeth into the nitty-gritty of scientific terms which will appeal to those looking for substance behind his explanations. Check it out!

Title: The believing brain 
Author: Michael Shermer

Recommended by James W Māngere Bridge Library

James W wants to confirm that the preceding staff pick of The believing brain is true. And by true I mean false. It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies, and in the end isn’t that the real truth? The answer is no.

Stories men tell: New Zealand men talk about their lives edited by Neville Aitchison and John Keir

Described as a gym where the workout is only incidental to relaxation and comradeship, the Atrium Club, a private men only club in Central Auckland, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the establishment released a book. 50 years, 50 stories contributed by its wide cast of characters.

Members, who include doctors, lawyers, journalists, wealthy businessmen, school teachers, salesmen and academics, were asked to write about "a moment in their lives: one that may have enriched them for the better or shaken them for the worse, but a moment that has a continuing resonance.”

The stories and yarns that they may have shared anecdotally at the treadmill, in the sauna or over a whiskey are told here. They are original, insightful and honest.

One man spent his childhood in a Japanese POW camp, another flew the first New Zealand troops into Vietnam, one was sued by David Lange for defamation, another played cricket for New Zealand, one helped save Sir Edmund Hillary on Mt Everest, another lost a child to terrorism in the 2005 London bombings, and one walked away from a horrific plane crash.

While some of the bodies that are exercised at the Atrium Club are those of rich-listers, others are not necessarily well known. Some are born raconteurs, others not. But what is evident from the stories are that the qualities men most value in each other are loyalty, courage and good humour, along with a good dollop of self-effacement.

I think it safe to say that some of the contributors of his anthology possibly enjoy the health benefits of friendship over any unnecessarily vigorous exercise available within their club's walls!
A recommended read on and by some good Kiwi blokes.

Title: Stories men tell: New Zealand men talk about their lives
Author: edited by Neville Aitchison and John Keir

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.

12 May, 2016

Wyrmeweald. Returner's wealth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

Wyrmeweald is a hard, brutal place where only the strongest survive. Micah, a young farmhand from the plains, decides to undertake a journey to this harsh place in order to gain returner's wealth. He believes that this will help him win the hand of a young woman with whom he has fallen in love.

Mountainous Wyrmeweald is home to the kin and their dragon partners. The plains people, known as the kith, are their enemies. They come hoping to obtain wealth by hunting the dragons for the rich rewards they can earn by harvesting their valuable bones and organs. The harsh, rough terrain matches the characters of many of the people who manage to survive there.  

A tale loaded with plenty of action, adventure and memorable characters that draw you in. Chris Riddell's art adds to the story with his depictions of the various dragon types and some of the more depraved dwellers of this region.

This is the first novel in the Wyrmeweald trilogy. A teen novel that I would recommend to fantasy fans and dragon lovers, although not for the squeamish. I'm looking forward to exploring this world further in the sequels.

Title: Wyrmeweald. Returner’s wealth.
Author: Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

Reviewed by Lynda T, East Coast Bays Library.

Lynda T reads anything that grabs her interest, but is particularly interested in science fiction and young adult novels.

11 May, 2016

Dot con by James Veitch

James Veitch did what they tell us all never to do: he replied to a very obvious scam email and hilarity ensued. He very kindly put the best of these email communications in a book to cheer us all up and to teach us a thing or two about digital intelligence along the way.

In Dot Con, James Veitch poses as a modern day Wooster to lure his scammers in while his inner Jeeves exposes their clumsy attempts to scam him. I have my favourites, as you will have yours: mine are Solomon the gold dealer and the would-be Russian bride.

So far, I have not read one luke-warm review on Dot Con and I am rattling my brain cells to find superlatives to describe this book that haven’t already been used. What can I say except that I loved, loved, LOVED it! I was kicked out of the lunch room for guffawing and spluttering. This comic gem is an easy read, a pick-me-up, a treat on a rainy day. I can’t wait for a follow-up book, but James Veitch may have to change his online name as, he tells us, the scammers seem to be onto him and are now giving him a wide berth.

Dot con by James Veitch.

Monica F, Waitakere Central Library, Henderson.

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.

10 May, 2016

Perth by David Whish-Wilson

This latest little gem in New South’s  city series takes us to sunny Perth, the capital of Western Australia. Isolated geographically from other major Australian cities Perth is located on the coastal plain where the Swan River meets the Indian Ocean. Fremantle is it’s port.
Home to the author since he was 10 years old and surveyed in 1829, it was the first Australian city to be built to a plan. Surprisingly, it’s also one of the windiest cities in the world, with a south westerly called “the Fremantle Doctor” that sweeps in off the ocean.

Throughout four fascinating chapters;  River, Coast, Plain and Light, Whish-Wilson weaves a magical spell of history, flora & fauna, personalities and memories.  
Gliding through his rich layering like the Swan River itself, which flows in two directions at once at certain times of the tide, I was willingly lured into this dream of Perth. The picture he paints is so tangible you can almost feel the heat, so it’s no surprise that the dozens of local beaches play a central role in Perth’s sense of self.

Unfortunately, like most stories of colonisation, there is  also a sad side to the story. The aboriginal people of the area were known collectively as the Whadjug and the coast, swamps and lakes were their hunting grounds but hostile encounters with settlers led to massacres, diseases, and the loss of their traditional lands.
Like the others in this series Perth is a highly recommended read.
Title: Perth
Author: David Whish-Wilson
Recommended by Claire S, Information Services, Central library
Claire’s reading includes biographies, art, New Zealand and other interesting bits and pieces.

09 May, 2016

Waking Up in Time: Finding inner peace in times of accelerating change by Peter Russell

In light of the turmoil over the many problems that humanity and the globe is facing at the moment, this is a good read and may help to understand what is going on.

Without dwelling on our problems negatively, it is sensible to examine them and try and work out solutions. This is true on both a personal level and a global one.

Peter Russell studied with Stephen Hawking, and has spent a lifetime working on the nature of consciousness and philosophy, mindfulness and meditation.

He examines how we got to this point in time, and how we have dealt with our problems in the past, and what is needed at this point in time to overcome them.

He believes we have a choice. Either choose sustainable, less materialistic and more sane answers to our problems, or continue on our merry way and risk disaster.

A very good, intelligent and thoughtful discussion of how we might manage to avert global problems and reach peace and tranquility within ourselves.

Author: Peter Russell

Reviewed by Clare at Massey Library

Clare loves reading and thinks that working in a library isn't really work at all.