24 August, 2016

The big questions in science – the quest to solve the great unknowns, by Hayley Birch, Mun Keat Looi, Colin Stuart.

‘The big questions in science’ is an interesting non-fiction book, written by three science writers.  The authors take twenty of the most intriguing scientific questions of our time, and then explain them (or try to explain them) in relatively simple language and through the use of diagrams and photographs.

The book starts by looking at some of the big cosmos questions such as “What is the universe made of?”, and “are we alone in the universe?”, then moves on to human questions like “what makes us human?” and “what is consciousness?”.

There are also theoretical topics such as “what’s so weird about prime numbers?”, and biological subjects like “will we ever cure cancer?” Each section of the book is carefully researched and explained, and it is great to just pick up and dig into at any chapter.  The book is written in different formats – in addition to standard layout there are many black pages with white text, bright orange feature articles; sketches, photographs and diagrams.

This is an ideal book if you have an interest in some of the big questions that come from science, and are looking for some explanations in layman’s terms.  There are also some challenging theories that will make you think.

Title: The big questions in science - the quest to solve the great unknowns
Authors: Hayley Birch, Mun Keat Looi, Colin Stuart,

Recommended by Ana, Central City 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.

22 August, 2016

Cold Hard Murder by Trish McCormack

This is Trish McCormack’s third murder mystery set on the West Coast of the South Island.

Assigned to Murder” and “Glacier Murder” were her first two novels in the Philippa Barnes series.
In this latest tale Barnes takes a break from being a glacier guide at Franz Josef and takes a job with the Department of Conservation in Paparoa National Park for a few months.

The story opens with the first murder…..a runner pauses above the surge pool at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Suddenly, a harsh laugh and clawing fingers around his neck. A scuffle on the cliff edge follows. The runner loses his grip and falls. A new DOC manager arrives, announcing new plans for the park and upsetting the small community. More violent deaths follow and Phillipa Barnes, once again, slips into the role of amateur detective. One by one, the dark secrets of the locals are revealed.

Not usually a fan of this genre, I surprised myself by reading it in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down! I loved the way the underground caves and the wild West Coast location played such a crucial part in the tale.

Title: Cold Hard Murder
Author: Trish McCormack

Recommended by Claire S. Information Services, Central Library.
Claire likes reading biographies, New Zealand, art & other interesting bits and pieces.

The Slaidburn Angel by M. Sheelagh Whittaker

The author was tracing her roots through her mother's mother, when she came upon an intriguing story. There had been a murder in the family. A little child had died back in the 1800's and her grandmother's stepmother and her sister had been tried for the murder.

Joining forces with some relatives from across the world who were also looking into the story of the little boy Thomas, they were able to travel from Canada to the scene of the murder in the north of England, and examine parish and other records.

As they looked deeper into the tragedy they came to realise just what had happened and how the little boy had died. The author writes about the events through the eyes of her grandmother, a young girl at the time. This helps her to unravel the mystery.

This is a tragic tale, and highlights the plight of unmarried mothers and illegitimate children in the 19th century, but it is a moving and very well told story.

Title: The Slaidburn Angel
Author: M. Sheelagh Whittaker

Reviewed by Clare K at Massey 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.

21 August, 2016

Level up your life: how to unlock adventure and happiness by becoming the hero of your own story by Steve Kamb

Most of the self-help books I’ve read in the past few years have offered some sound advice on achieving and maintaining personal goals and dreams. From micro-resolutions to forming good habits, self-help authors all tend to say the same thing but with different degrees of experience, qualifications and background. With this book, I found that Steve Kamb took it to another level. He used everything but jargon to get his point across. He made the whole process into a giant game!!

By using the concepts in video games, Steve Kamb designed a system that allowed him (the hero) to complete quests, take on boss battles, earn experience points, and literally level up his life. He created a website, Nerdfitness.com, where anyone can join his ‘Rebellion’ and level up their lives into getting stronger, losing weight or just living better lives by pursuing all sorts of dreams.

What I enjoyed the most wasn’t just the clearly laid out chapters with easy to follow steps, but the way Steve incorporated quotes and anecdotes from his favourite ‘heroes’ in video games and movies. It was such an exhilarating experience imagining myself as a ‘Rebel fighter’ from Star Wars or a simple hobbit off to find treasure in the Misty Mountains!

Now I know most of you might think this is just for geeks and nerds but I promise you it isn’t. This book is for anybody because deep down everyone has a ‘hero’ inside them crying out to go fight some storm troopers or vanquish treasure-hoarding dragons!

Steve Kamb’s quote; “Every time we complete a quest or mission, we have to remember that it’s often the journey that produces the happiness not the destination”, encapsulates the essence of his book for me. I would recommend you strap yourself into your favourite chair and give it a read just to enjoy the journey!!

Title: Level up your life: how to unlock adventure and happiness by becoming the hero of your own story
Author: Steve Kamb

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.

20 August, 2016

Princess more tears to cry by Jean Sasson

My husband worked in Saudi Arabia for five years and I got the chance to see life in the desert kingdom from 1995 to 2000 when I went there with my children.

The culture was  very different to the one we were exposed to and it took a while getting used to life and segregation of males and females. Though they had fancy cars women were not allowed to drive, and even a 10 year old boy could do so but not the women. Male members were treated on a higher level than women.

I often wondered what the women must have felt in such circumstances . I read many books by Jean Sasson who had lived in Saudi Arabia and written interesting books on the lives of women in particular. It really opened my eyes to the gigantic problems many of them faced.

The book "Princess: More tears to cry", talks about how some modern male members in the family genuinely try to understand their women and better their lives . At the same time the majority of Saudi women are controlled by the males in the family who torture and even murder them without any fear of breaking the law, as they have the power of doing so. Old customs try to subjugate women and there are very few who can educate themselves and stand on their own two feet though they have the brains and capability to do so.

In this book, Princess Sultana tells us about some development that has come about with her efforts, as well as some very committed doctors and social workers. Together they are fighting for the rights of women who have no voice against sexual abuse, rape or forced marriage to men who are very old. Even though the Princess is from a wealthy family, she is still answerable to the male members in her family and as long as they are good to her she can continue in helping women and children. I am glad to know the princess is helping women when she could have turned a blind eye to the plight of women in her country. She is courageous in doing this work.

I think you will find this an interesting read as women living in other more emancipated countries will appreciate the fact that we live on equal terms with our men folk. We have a lot more freedom than women in Saudi Arabia who have to hide behind the veil at all times.We are lucky to be able to achieve our dreams on our own terms.

Title: Princess more tears to cry
Author: Jean Sasson

Reviewed by Kanchan T, Blockhouse Bay library.

Kanchan loves reading biographies and stories to do with other cultures.

18 August, 2016

Problems by Jade Sharma

The blurb on the back of this book absolutely nails its essence and if it fails to make you delve deeper, this review will not add anything extra to sway you. You will only read this book if you’ve  a penchant for the dark, preferring your humour on the bleak side.

In terms of addiction themed novels, this sits outside of the usual florid descriptions of the great fall and scrambling in the depths of depravity, then, in the interests of tying things up, a short nod to the recovery process a la then-I-saw-the-light style of narrative. 

For a start the narrator is not terribly likable, first world problems and all that. Maya is  kind of narcissistic, selfish and aware of the repetitive nature of choosing the same destructive self soothing behaviours to escape  the stultifying boredom of her life. There is no deep dark trauma from which she seeks escape, but rather a distinct lack of self-identity or sense of confidence to step out and effect change. 

Then there is the fact that this book is kind of depressing. You find yourself thinking, "hmmm, do I really want  to read this?". Ultimately yes you do want to keep on reading because, despite so many poor Hollywood portrayals of the life of an addict, they fail to address  the mind numbing boredom of the same behaviours, running into the same problems and turning to the same destruction mechanisms to escape from life. 

By contrast this book shows Maya’s self awareness and shame as she knowingly avoids doing anything remotely instrumental in moving on. We see the   grubbiness of addiction, the fossicking round in the detritus of life and yet there is a certain  curiosity  about how Maya is going to alter her behaviours and what that process will look like. 

In a way this book is reflective of the social environment of the now, the discrepancies between the fairy tale promise of what life will be like when you’ve reached certain milestones in your young adult life and the crushing disappointment when the actualities of daily life are so far removed from the imagined ideal. 

This is such an accomplished book, really well written with a  gritty integrity. Maybe not your first choice if you’ve an appetite for the light or uplifting.  

Title: Problems
Author: Jade Sharma

Reviewed by: Sue W

Sue W loves her fur babies equally but differently and used to administer time out to think about bad behaviours, however since Patrick the fox arrived, she can no longer lock a miscreant in the spare room least Patrick is set upon.

Thunderstruck and other stories, by Elizabeth McCracken

Some of the most affecting and effective short stories are ones in which humour and sadness, though seemingly at odds, work harmoniously together.

“Thunderstruck” and the other eight fictions in this slender volume are definitely funny–sad, and they are excellent. 

Death weaves in and out of their pages. There’s the ghost of Missy Goodby, “dressed in a pair of ectoplasmic dungarees”; the disappearing Karen Blackbird, with “muddy circles under her eyes”; and the father for whom Things Do Not Look Good (he’s on a ventilator).

Of course, we also meet the living: the mother who seals her daughter’s room; the son who is starving; the woman who fights to hide grief from a grandchild.

Humour is speckled throughout. It’s tempting to quote bits of it, but without their surroundings they may lose their piquancy, and what jolts one person’s funnybone might slide straight past another’s.

McCracken is a mistress of the pithy observation – an apparently throwaway line that stays with the reader.

One that struck me, from a character with little left to lose, was Six-dollar wine. Wine for people who either don’t drink wine or drink too much of it.”

In Thunderstruck and other stories, I think you too will find something that strikes a chord or hits a nerve: maybe several (somethings, chords and/or nerves).

Elizabeth McCracken was a delightful discovery for many of us who attended this year’s Auckland Writers Festival. Do read her, and spread the word.

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 where the light gets in.

17 August, 2016

My Italian bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

 A book that makes the preposterous quite plausible is a delight. 

Paul is a conventional man; a writer of books about the culture and cuisine of various British and European areas. As such he has acquired a modest fame, causing so many distractions that his editor sends him to Tuscany to finish his current book, which is appropriately about Tuscany. 

He arrives in Pisa to claim the rental car that was booked for him to find, through a farcical level of corruption, that not only is there no car for him but that in all of Pisa there is no car, van or truck for hire either.  He is persuaded to hire a road-worthy bulldozer at another hire centre. Paul neither has to travel fast nor far so he can't find a good argument against hiring it. 

Much to his  surprise there are advantages to driving a bulldozer; for one, lots of respect on Italian roads!

Title: My Italian Bulldozer
Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Reviewed by Christine O.

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

My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry : a novel by Fredrik Backman

There are now many books where fantasy and this world overlap. This is not one of them. Well.. not quite....

Elsa is an exceptional child, nearly 8, her character has been formed in part by her rebellious and chaotic grandmother. This grandmother had a whole interesting and important life before Elsa was born but now she spends as much time as she can with her. She is a brilliant storyteller, original but not above pinching good elements out of Harry Potter, Grimm's fairy tales or comic books. She has always been chaotic, but sometimes that is just what you need. She was a surgeon operating in countries disintegrating with civil strife. When all around her was falling apart, she could cope.

When Grandma is hospitalized she gives Elsa, her knight errant, the task of delivering apologies to the people that she thinks that she has failed, and thus for the first time, in the real world Elsa meets a wurse, the fabled loyal, brave, ferocious creature of the land of Almost-Awake.  

As well as a great story, this is an education in how to handle (and how not to handle) difficult people.  Funny in spots, very wise in others.

Author: Fredrik Backman

Reviewed by Christine O.

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

Recipes for love and murder by Sally Andrew

When her bosses instructs the editor of a newspaper serving the Klein Karoo in South Africa to add an advice column she had a small problem. The only possible way to include one was to replace the recipe column written by her friend, Tannie Maria.  Fortunately the kind and intelligent Tannie Maria agrees to take on the role of Agony Aunt.  She answers a couple of letters each week. She strongly believes in the power of good home cooking so she slips in an appropriate recipe too. 

Her advice to a battered woman to leave her abusive husband inadvertently and indirectly leads to one, maybe two murders. Tannie Maria and the reporter on the newspaper (who is keen to be an investigative journalist) look into the circumstances, taking a quite different approach from the police.

The landscape, vegetation and wildlife are economically and beautifully described, making it easy to visualise this exotic setting.  As bonus, we are given the recipes featured in the story. A delight!

Author: Sally Andrew

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.