Wednesday, July 23, 2014

No mercy : true stories of disaster, survival and brutality by Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff (Anita/Blockhouse Bay)



This book is fascinating - not just because of the accounts of stranded disaster victims from ship wrecks and plane crashes, (which on their own would be just sensationalist), but the comparisons between those groups that survived successfully and those that did not make for interesting reading. Sometimes adversity brings out the best in people, at other times it does the opposite. 

Using true stories from history as case studies (such as the Batavia shipwreck 1629,  the raft of the Medusa 1816, the Uruguayan flight 571 crash in the Andes 1972, and the Robber Cave experiment 1954)  the authors investigate the physical and psychological changes that affect these people, and also compare them to imagined scenarios such as William Goldings 'Lord of the Flies'.

They look how the initial fear, and how those involved handle it in the first minutes and hours are crucial to what happen further on. They investigate panic in it's various forms, (freeze, flee, faint or fight) and how the actions of those in charge can have a huge impact on the rest of the survivors. Not surprisingly those disasters with the worst outcomes usually have the captain and crew looking out for themselves and leaving the rest to fend for themselves No women and children first for them, (actually they have the worst survival rate!). A most interesting comparison is made between two shipwrecks on Auckland island, (the Grafton and the Invercauld) which both happened in 1864. One was a complete and utter disaster with only three survivors out of the several that made it to shore. In the other all of the men survived due to compassion, good leadership and planning.

Factors such as alcohol, starvation, suicide, fear of the dark and of course cannibalism are all looked at. All in all a well researched and compelling read  This book makes you wonder  what you might do if similarly tested.

Title: No Mercy: true stories of disaster, survival and brutality Author: Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff Publisher: Melbourne, Vic. : The Text Publishing Company Year: 2013 ISBN: 9781922147240 (pbk.)

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Accident by Chris Pavone [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]


They say to write about things that you know, and Chris Pavone has taken that advice by writing a novel about the publishing industry – he was a book editor for nearly two decades.

It’s a good thriller too, with an original story that moves along at a fast pace, with secrets galore and plenty of intrigue.

Book editor Isabel is sent an anonymous manuscript titled ‘The Manuscript’  that has the potential to ruin careers and bring down companies. It tells of a shocking incident that happened to a well-known media mogul over 20 years ago. Rogue CIA operative Hayden is trying to track down the manuscript and make sure all evidence of it is destroyed, including the people that have read it. The author has gone into hiding and is constantly checking he is not being followed.

Pavone's book is cleverly set over one day. Excerpts of the manuscript are dotted through the story and they reveal bit by bit what it is that so many people are trying to hide.

I was impressed that the author managed to fit so much action in one day and include a number of characters. It's interesting to find out what goes on behind the scenes of the publishing industry too, although I don't imagine it's quite as exciting as this story!

Author: Chris Pavone
Published: 2014
Publisher: Crown Publishers

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hung Up By Kristen Tracy [Emma, East Coast Bays Library]


I thought this was gonna be really sugary (romance-y), judging by the cover, but it wasn't (surprisingly enough). Was super easy to read and quite entertaining.

Lucy and James have only met on the phone by accident. James got a recycled number when he got his cellphone, while the number was for an engravers, making plaques etc. Lucy was the person who got ripped off by the company, but a friendship soon blossoms between the two, as they exchange phone calls. Soon they become quite close and end up sharing secrets that they didn’t think they would tell anybody, including their new found anonymous friend.

I didn't see the twist at the end coming at all but I'm glad how the book turned out.

Title: Hung Up
Author: Kristen Tracy
Publisher: Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, 2014.
ISBN: 9781442460751
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Harm in Asking - Sara Barron [Sue W-Central Lib]


There is nothing like a good over sharer with a willingness to reveal  their own incidents of awkwardness and cringe inducing interactions to make you feel better about life in general. Sara Barron- American, Jewish, embarrassing family,  has a generosity of spirit in unmasking all of those moments most of us hide away securely and do not divulge to anyone. 

Bless you Sara Barron!  This collection of essays about her life, rich in source material and mortifying incidents is a beam of pure undiluted sunshine during the bleakest of winter months. Not embarrassed to admit her problem with flatulence, she uses it is a barometer to gauge the likely success of potential suitors based of their initial reactions to her outspoken gut. Then there is the period of  desperate attempts to try being gay or bisexual to make herself more interesting. In fact whole sections of the book are about   her misguided efforts to make herself more hip or edgy or whatever the latest moniker is denoting attractiveness and cutting edge style. 

Sweetie, the one thing you are, without even trying is wonderfully funny!!! Thank you Sara for sharing with the group, its like being privy to a good gossip among close girlfriends. 

Author: Sara Barron
ISBN: 9780307720702
Publisher: Three Rivers Press New York 2014

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook (Biddy, Highland Park)

An enthralling read about post-war Germany. Colonel Lewis Morgan is posted to Hamburg in 1946. His task is to oversee the reconstruction of this devastated city and turn the pro-Nazi population into abiding citizens accepting of the regime established by the occupiers. Morgan is joined by his wife, Rachael, grieving the loss of their elder son in the war, and Edmund, now their only child.

Morgan makes a courageous move when he offers to share the substantial house requisitioned for him and his family with the house's owner, a German widower and his daughter. Neither his colleagues nor his wife are comfortable with the arrangement but he insists that he cannot turn the German family out of their home to go onto a camp.The house is, he explains, .."more than my family needs, and certainly more than we are used to ."

The author paints a fascinating picture of life in post-war Germany, a period not frequently covered in novels. Emotions encountered are strong in this society of displaced, desperate people living alongside the British occupiers, some empathetic and some taking advantage of their elevated status in elegant requisitioned homes.  Brook tackles this strong subject matter evocatively and yet without sentimentality.

Characters are real and it is difficult not to feel sympathy for those on both sides. The plot is far from predictable as surprising relationships develop and scenes from their various pasts are revealed.

There is talk of a movie in the works and the plot and characters would certainly convert well on to the screen.

Title: The Aftermath
Author: Rhidian Brook
Publisher: Viking, London
Date: 2013
ISBN: 9780670921126
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hello New York: an illustrated love letter to the five boroughs. By Julia Rothman. [Ana, Central Library]

 Hello NY “, an illustrated love letter to the five boroughs” is a small, cute book, published in 2014, which catches the eye with its colourful aerial drawing of New York city on the cover.

If you love New York - or if you have never been there but are interested in learning some quirky facts about this great city, this is the book for you.  It is full of short articles on the most diverse subjects – places, people, little-known facts, each of which is described affectionately and succinctly by the author, and accompanied by her own drawings. It is a book you will be entertained by; you can pick up and skim through, or you can use it as an informative guide to find fascinating places to discover.

So instead of a dry description of the New York’s famous ‘the Met’ museum, we have two pages of “Ten treasures I would take home from the Metropolitan Museum of Art”, with a brief note and a drawing of each of the author’s favourite items. Two pages of ‘Sidewalk snacks under five bucks’ – no unnecessary words, just the name and a bold drawing of each. Then the article on Pizza describes how there are more than twenty places with ‘Ray’ in their name, many claiming to be the original ‘Ray’s Pizza’. To emphasise this we have a hand-drawn map of Manhattan with the locations of each indicated by a pizza ingredient. 

There are serious articles as well. While there is not undue reference to the twin towers tragedy, there is an article about a tattoo artist who developed a special tattoo for the firemen who survived to remember their fallen mates, and donated the proceeds to a charity for their widows and children. We learn in another article how Julia Rothman’s grandmother came to New York as a child, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, how her father had gone to America in search of a better life for the family but became isolated there due to the First World War. Her mother died, and the children travelled to America, arrived at Ellis Island where they were finally reunited with their father.

This is a carefully constructed book and in addition to the pen and ink drawings, there are a lot of handwritten notes. Furthermore there are several unusual fonts used in the book, and calligraphy. So the words flow up and down, in a personal style as though we are hearing the author recite them. This is a great little book for an interesting and informative look at one of the world’s most fascinating cities. 

Title: Hello NY “, an illustrated love letter to the five boroughs
Author: Julia Rothman
Published: San Francisco : Chronicle Books, c2014
ISBN: 9781452109848

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Far from the tree : a dozen kinds of love by Andrew Solomon [Christine, Takapuna]

We have vertical identities, the characteristics that we have in common with our great, grand and parents, race, religion, language and to a degree ability. It is disturbing when children are 'other'.  This book explores that 'otherness'. Some people may have more in common with other people with the same condition than with their own families.  They form horizontal communities.

Deaf, Gay and Little People; people with autism, Down's, schizophrenia, severe physical disabilities; those who believe that the are the wrong gender; those that arefar ahead of their age cohort, those conceived by rape, have gay parents or those who commit crime have all fruit fallen far from their parental tree.  

Andrew is gay, so he knows first-hand the stress a such a difference causes; the search for a 'cure'; the eventual accommodations that people who love each other make so that they can live well together.

I meant to just dip in and out of this massive book, but ended up reading every chapter, and thinking about things that had never crossed my mind before.

Title: Far from the tree : a dozen kinds of love
Author: Andrew Solomon
ISBN: 9780701176112
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Date: 2013
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Monday, July 7, 2014

The shadow socity by Marie Rutkoski [Christine, Takapuna]

As a foster child, moving from home to home Darcy never really belonged anywhere. Then she found out that she wasn't human, not in the way the rest of us are. The Great Fire of Chicago somehow casued a dimensional split, two worlds emerging from one. In this world the Darcy's people are exterminated, in the other they are a hidden minority; despised and feared for their ability to 'ghost'. Darcy juggles conflicting loyalties as she works out where she really belongs. 

Title: Shadow society
Author: Marie Rutkokski 
ISBN: 9780701176112 
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux 
Date: 2012
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Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi [Emma, Birkenhead Library]


I entered this book expectation-free and was soon immersed in a story about a woman escaping her miserable past, finding a family and a new life in a small town. Everything might have been looking full of roses. But, this was a gothic tale. I should have been warned by the serpeant on the gorgeous cover.

Boy Novak is a young woman running from her wicked rat catcher father. She ends up in a small town where she marries a widower (Arturo) with a beautiful daughter, named Snow, whom everybody loves. Boy gives birth to another girl who they call Bird, on Snow's suggestion.

But Bird is born with dark skin, and the family secret is revealed: Arturo's parents are light-skinned African American ("coloured") who have moved north, and have been passing as white for many years. Seems they have worked hard to keep this hidden. Arturo's sister was sent away as a child, because she was too dark. Boy, sensing something threatening in Snow, sends her away as well, to live with this aunt.

This, for me, was when things take a sinister turn. Why does Boy send the innocent child away? Is she turning into a wicked stepmother? Bird, as she grows, thinks often of her sister, and aged 13, strikes up a correspondence with her. The girls discover they share things in common, like they don't always appear in mirrors...the blurred edge of a fairy tale world.

What follows is testimony from each of Boy, Snow and Bird, tells of their eventual re-uniting, and and strange twist which finds them eventually seeking out the ultimate in wicked-ness, the rat catcher. Snow White without the dwarfs, with a sprinkling of Rumplestiltskin, perhaps?

Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Published: New York City, 2014
ISBN: 9781594631399

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Chasing shadows/Leila Yusaf Chung [Suneeta, Highland Park library]


I must admit that during this book, I was often tempted to reach for a map as my knowledge of Middle Eastern geography (and history) failed me miserably and often; that this is a troubled region is something we all know even if  political  facts and  figures may be hazy. So it was quite a revelation to journey through Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the British Palestine of 1947, through to Iran during the 1979 revolution and to read about it from a personal perspective. Though this is a fictional account, its authenticity and intimate detail are evident thanks to Lebanese author Leila Yusaf Chung. This is her debut novel and she has written with compassion a story of cultural conflict, the devastation of war and of loss in families in a way that is both sad and uplifting. 

Spanning two generations, multiple story lines are threaded through the narratives. There's Lavi, the Polish-Jewish father, Keira, his young Muslim wife and the mother who disappears one night in Lebanon never to return, and of Ajamia, the second of their four siblings who makes it her mission in life to find out the mysterious circumstances of their past that led to their beloved mother’s disappearance.

While suspense is quite a dominant element of the story, it makes interesting reading for many reasons, but I recommend it mostly because of the insights it offers into a part of the world one may never go to, and brings to life experiences and realities that are hard to imagine.

Title: Chasing Shadows
Authors: Leila Yusuf Chung
Publish info: North Sydney, N.S.W. Random House Australia, 2014.
ISBN: 9780857983305 
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