20 October, 2016

Lily and the octopus by Steven Rowley

As a rule I don’t write reviews for books that already have the spotlight upon them. After all, why bother? Clearly people have heard about this book and are already on board. This book is the exception.

So when I finished this book, I had to just stop and savour its magnificence. Absolutely heart-breakingly beautiful, funny, sad, whimsical. It was like a literary gastronomical event. I haven’t wanted to read anything else for nearly a week now, that’s how reluctant I was to let this book go.

This is a story narrated through the world view of Ted, single, socially isolated and sharing his life with his dachshund Lily. Lily and Ted converse. Thursday nights they talk about the merits of good looking boys, which actor is superior in looks and charisma. Lily has an octopus on her head, Ted has just noticed it; this is how the story begins.

Of course we know it's not an octopus, it's just a tumor and its connotations are downright ugly. In a superstitious bid to stave it off, an octopus becomes the creature taking up illegal residence on Lily’s head. The evil eight legged one converses with Ted, lazily refuses to move or even offer up any paltry sort of explanations as to why it is there.

What ensues is battle of wills, an epic Herculean quest to save Lily, to rid her of the octopus and in the interim, savour every moment in case the unthinkable happens.

We have Melville references, Murakami’s flair for introducing the fantastical into the every day, as in conversing with animals. If the thought of this just seems fundamentally wrong, clearly you are not an animal person and are unaware of the rich conversations it is possible to have with your four legged companions.

I love everything about this book, not the least bit smaltzy, or reliant on the tired old tropes to bring on the tears. After all, you know from the first page we’re dealing with the big C, no surprises there. I found myself approaching the final chapters and I just had to finish it, I could not put it off.

It was rush hour in the staff cafeteria and I sat with paper towels in hand mopping up those tears that just would not stop. What a book! What a writer! Best book of the year for me. Sigh, is it really over, can I start again?

Title: Lily and the Octopus
Author:  Steven Rowley

Reviewed by: Sue W (Central Library)

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.

11 October, 2016

Life at the bottom : the worldview that makes the underclass by Theodore Dalrymple

This was an awful read…
Yes, there we go folks, enjoy your week!

Sorry, what I mean is if you have trouble dealing with pretty dire human stories that are given no real avenue for change (probably one of my criticisms of Mr Dalrymples writing), then be prepared for some depressing stories when you pick up this book.

Couple this with a sneering tone as our pretentious author descends from his high horse to aid and listen to the 'hoi polio' and their ‘self-induced’ problems, while railing on liberal thinkers and idiotic educationists. (._.)

“Woah, why did you pick this book then, you amazing person?”

Because it’s really good! For all his criticisms of the lower classes and societies ‘blending’, his points are often worthy of thought. The vivid, raw and (presumably) true anecdotes are compelling, tragic and sad, told with appropriate detachment and tinged with black humour in some cases:

Domestic violence, criminal responsibility, declining education standards, declining police standards, police anger, willful ignorance by the upper echelons of society and government… I'd like to say it gets brighter...

This book isn’t new (most of the articles are set before the turn of the century), but it is both good and relevant. Despite its strong conservative leanings, it is more than worth a look and Dalrymple’s language is immaculate. There’s even a chapter on his visit to New Zealand (we get a good kicking too)!

Read it.

Title: Life at the bottom: the worldview that makes the underclass
Author: Theodore Dalrymple

James W still hasn’t seen the film Titanic. Since he hasn’t seen it… does it truly exist (and therefore deserve 11 academy awards)? James is familiar with the anthropic principle.

10 October, 2016

Who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner? : a story about women and economics by Katrine Marçal

Did you ever sit in a macroeconomic lecture, staring blankly at a graph while your professor droned on? (I did) ..or perhaps you glance over the business section of the paper just to turn to Sideswipe at the back? (I do) Perhaps once you borrowed Economics for Dummies but didn’t get past the first three pages before you gave it up for a creative piece of Fiction (guilty).
If this is sounds like you, or if you are simply interested in a new view point of economics and its impact on how the world works, then order your copy of Katrine Marçal’s book Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?.

The book is a feminist view of economics. Adam Smith was the “father of political economy” who shaped our modern understanding. He built a theory based around self-interest and rational choices. Acting in our own self-interest is the foundation upon which capitalism has thrived, and the concept of the ‘economic man’ ingrained itself into our society.

This book systematically works through the skewed lens of Adam Smith and economic theorists since - pointing to their gaps. From unpaid, undervalued labour, to the potential consequences future generations will face. Every page has its own anecdote that will have you reconsidering the world we live in.

TitleWho cooked Adam Smith’s dinner? : a story about women and economics
Author: Katrine Marçal

Reviewed by: Suzy D, Mt Albert Library

08 October, 2016

All Visitors Ashore by C.K. Stead

Melior Farbro is a gay artist, a little over fifty "like the century itself", a loner believing "there is nothing a man needs a woman for, nothing his pals can’t provide and make it better". He lives by the sea in Takapuna in a tiny studio full of books, arts and tomatoes. He makes art in the morning, grows vegetables during the day, and entertains his visitors with witty conversations at dinner.

Cecilia Skyways with her ginger-gold curls all around her face is a South Island girl and a would-be writer. With envious determination, she writes her memoirs and follows her own form of Zen Buddhism in Farbro's garden hut. Before living here, she spent nearly six years at the nunnery (or whatever it was). She is a little bizarre, like the rest of the characters; painfully shy and sensitive.

There is also Curl and Pat, a young artistic couple hanging out nearby. Curl's brilliant young head is "full of novels waiting to be unravelled and his trousers full of something much more irrepressible". 

It is the summer of 1951, the waterfront dispute is on, the harbour is full of cargo vessels, but the passenger ships continue to sail. One after another the characters depart from New Zealand in search of a new life and better opportunities somewhere else.

As one may guess, Farbro and Cecilia are and aren't Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame, the two New Zealand's iconic writers. Just as the professor Curl Skidmore, capturing his memories over a gap of thirty years, is and isn't C.K. Stead, the author. Whether or not one is able and willing to recognise the real people and true story behind fiction, the novel is a page-turner, funny, and masterly narrated. It's a gripping and hugely enjoyable read.

Title: All Visitors Ashore
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.

07 October, 2016

The girl with seven names: a North Korean defector's story by Hyeonseo Lee; with David John

“The ruling Kim. He is the only figure in North Korea who exercises freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, his right not to be tortured, imprisoned, or executed without trial, and his right to proper healthcare and food.”
Imagine witnessing an execution at age seven. Imagine being forced to change your name seven times just to stay alive.
Here is an insight into one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships, from a woman who spent her childhood in one of its remote border towns until she made her daring escape at age 17.
It could be said that the author grew up in a relatively comfortable, environment surrounded by a loving and supportive family. Her father’s eventual fate, and a childhood spent attending school meetings where one  confessed guilt about something and accused others of the same, where portraits of the Leader had to adorn homes and be cleaned every day, ready for inspection by government officials in a bid to show loyalty to the party, makes a mockery of such a statement.
Twelve years after she fled “the best country in the world” (government indoctrination), first to China, and then to South Korea, Hyenseo returned to the North to help her family escape. 
Today she is married to an American and spends her time as a journalist and activist helping others in similarly distressed circumstances find their freedom.
You will be fascinated by this brave and courageous story of surviving the harshness of two defections, loss of self-worth and identity, and finding a new sense of purpose and belonging.

For another moving account of escape from North Korea, try In order to live by Yeonmi Park.
Author: Hyeonseo Lee; with David John
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.

03 October, 2016

Hester & Harriet by Hilary Spiers

Well, I read this in one evening so I would say yes, this book kept my interest. It is quirky and funny, with great characters.

Hester and Harriet are sisters, both widowed, who have decided to live together in a small village, the only drawback being that their boring cousins seem to think they need company. They are desperate to escape the Christmas dinner (with terrible food), and for once they have a good reason when they rescue a young woman hiding with her baby in an old bus shelter. Then their 15 year old nephew  Ben arrives on their doorstep begging to stay with them for a few days as well. The sisters peace and quiet falls apart, but maybe it is just what they need.

Daria and her baby Milo come with a mystery. Why are people looking for them? Plus it is hard to keep a secret in a small village. Add Ben into the mix (misunderstood by his parents), along with a Finbar, a homeless intellectual, and you have an entertaining book full of interesting characters and situations.

The writing is good and has a great flow. A light fun read even though it tackles some more serious issues.

Title: Hester & Harriet
AuthorHilary Spiers

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

28 September, 2016

Bust magazine

Bust is an alt-feminist publication from New York that definitely deserves a shout out. I love fashion and beauty and I enjoy reading women’s magazines, especially Vogue and Marie Claire, but I also find them at odds with my feminist ideals. Let’s face it – most lady mags are primed to make us feel insecure and therefore consume more, which is why I find Bust so refreshing.

Bust manages to strike a balance between feminism and femininity.  Articles on serious women’s issues such as rape culture and equal pay appear alongside items about celebrities, make up, food and other girly goodies.

With a slogan “for women with something to get off their chests” you won’t find any features on trashy reality TV stars here. On the cover of the July/August edition is one of my favourite people ever: Kathleen Hanna – original Riot Grrrl and rock’s reigning feminist. Previous cover girls include Courtney Love, comedian Sarah Silverman and singer and stylista, Beth Ditto.

True to 3rd Wave Feminism, Bust champions body positivity and sex positivity. All fashion editorials showcase non-mainstream and non-normative models. The latest edition features the sultry and tattooed Kristin Welch from indie band, The Dum Dum Girls, as well as an item on plus size swimwear.

There are also regular columns on women’s sexuality which promote women’s enjoyment of it – rather than Cosmopolitan magazine’s sex writing - which is all about pleasing men.
Also, unlike mainstream women’s mags there are no ads for ‘feminine hygiene’ products. Bust sticks it to The Man and his ‘Tampon Tax’ with ads for cheap and eco-friendly washable, reusable sanitary pads and menstrual cups.

With a focus on indie/alternative pop culture, I find Bust’s book, music and film reviews really useful for finding interesting new things to request at the library. If you’re looking for an empowering, thought provoking, fun and inspiring read then check it out.

Title: Bust
Publication info: New York, NY : Bust, Inc.
Frequency: Bimonthly

Recommended by Karen I, Devonport Library

Karen I likes reading memoirs and biographies about people with interesting and unusual lives, because she spends a lot of time reading and doesn't get out much.

26 September, 2016

Wendy Whiteley and the secret garden by Janet Hawley; photography by Jason Busch

Wendy Whiteley was muse, model and wife to the Australian artist Brett Whiteley, and this beautifully illustrated coffee table volume is a celebration of their life and creativity.
In 1974 they purchased a rundown Federation house overlooking Lavender Bay, with a magnificent view of the Sydney Harbour bridge and the city on the far side of the harbour.

The history of Lavender Bay is interesting. Once a v-shaped natural cove edged with sandstone cliffs, in 1890 it was filled in so the railway line could travel round the foreshore. This left a wide valley between the railway embankment and the cliff top which, over the years, became a tangled mess of feral plants and dumped rubbish.

In 1992 Brett died of a drug overdose and Wendy threw herself into cleaning up the wasteland and creating a garden in an attempt to put some order back into her life. Fifteen years later, with the help of numerous volunteers, her vision has become a reality.
People come from far and wide to visit. Tourists and locals wander through, wedding ceremonies often take place and office workers lunch there, but the land belongs to State Railways and there is still no guarantee that it can become a permanent public park. Hopefully, this book will contribute towards that happening.

Strangely enough, (or not so strangely) Wendy’s favourite book as a child was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett!
It’s definitely on my 'to do' list when I next visit Sydney.

Title: Wendy Whiteley and the secret garden
Author: Janet Hawley; photography by Jason Busch

Recommended by Claire S, Central Library, Information Services. 

Claire S's reading includes biographies, art, New Zealand, and other interesting bits and pieces.

Dead by sunset by Ann Rule

None of the women that Brad Cunningham dated and married had any idea of his true nature.Seemingly a successful businessman, good-looking and charismatic, he came from a good family and was liked by all who knew him.

Sheryl Cunningham was his fourth wife, with whom he had three beautiful sons, and a seemingly charmed life. But Sheryl had hidden Brad's true nature from herself and her family for a long time, and had now decided to leave the marriage. She told her brother, who was staying with her, that she was meeting Brad that night, and said if she didn't come back, to come immediately and get her.

But she wasn't where he thought she would be and it was only when a motorist on a main freeway stopped to help a van which had stalled in the fast lane, that the truth became apparent.

In light of the horrific level of New Zealand child and spousal abuse, this is a timely and very relevant story. If only women and families could read the signs, many women would stay away from men who later go on to abuse and sometimes kill them.

Title: Dead by sunset.
Author: Ann Rule

Reviewed by Clare K at Massey Library

Clare 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.

Hope in a ballet shoe by Michaela and Elaine Deprince

Hope in a Ballet Shoe : Orphaned by War, Saved by Ballet - An Extraordinary True StoryThis book is a teen read but is interesting to people of all ages.

"Ballet is probably the only career in which you begin training as a preschooler".

This shows Michaela's passion for ballet at a very young age. She proved a black girl could be a ballerina as well, where white girls were preferred.The moves of a ballet dancer on stage are artistic and emotional. The audience does not witness the pain and hardships that the ballerina has gone through.

Michaela was born in Sierra Leone, Ghana to loving parents who loved their daughter in a society that prized boys. This time was short lived, as they were killed in the atrocities of a war that made her early childhood unbearable. She lived in an orphanage where she was number 27 and the least loved child. She was exposed to horrors that no young child could comprehend.

Thankfully her adoption by a very loving American family at age four gave her the security that she had always yearned for.

A movie called First position based on her life was released in 2011. She was an inspiration for other children. She was motivated to make the best of the opportunities she had been given by her family, and finally joined the Dutch National Ballet, which was one of the top classical dance companies in the world.

Her motivation came from the photograph of a young ballerina on a magazine cover which blew into the orphanage all those years ago. I think if we all carry a burning desire to achieve our dreams like this little girl did, we will get there in the end!

TitleHope in a ballet shoe
Author: Michaela & Elaine Deprince

Reviewed by Kanchan T from Blockhouse Bay library.

Kanchan T is drawn to inspirational stories and believes that we can learn from them.