Thursday, October 2, 2014

As Sweet as Honey by Indira Ganesan (Biddy, Highland Park)

Likened to Arundhati Roy, Indira Ganesan uses similarly poetic writing to tell this story set on the Indian Ocean Island of Pi, "the tiniest crescent-shaped bindi above the eyebrows to Sri Lanka's tear". The narrator is Mina, a young girl, living with her extended family in their family compound on this lush, fragrant and picturesque island.

Through Mina we learn about the family members, her favourite being her Aunt,unusual for her Germanic name, Meterling, and her height at six foot. Aunt Meterling falls in love with an unlikely suitor - rotund, short, Englishman, Archer. Despite the opinions of those around them, they adore each other and find happiness together. Their happiness is sadly short-lived as Archer drops dead on the dance floor during their wedding waltz.

Meterling is understandably distraught, doubly so, when she discovers she is pregnant-a scandalous situation for their traditional family. Mina follows her story interspersed with those of her cousins and her life as they grow up. Meterling is saved from her unacceptable position by Archer's cousin, Simon, who woos and marries her and takes her to live in England.

This is a delightful story of families, relationships and cultures as Meterling adjusts to life in England and Mina to America when she moves there to join her academic parents. Both Meterling and Mina successfully manage the juxtaposition of the traditional aspects of their culture with their determination to be strong, independent women.

Recommended to all who enjoy reading about the contrast between East and West, women and families.

Author: Indira Ganesan
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY
Date: 2013
ISBN: 9780307960443


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Decorate Fearlessly! by Susanna Salk [Louise, Central Library]

Sky-diving. Public speaking. Going to the dentist. And now, decorating. You can be fearless about many things, but selecting soft furnishings? I was skeptical. Is it courageous to put colourful cushions on my couch? Can bravery come from bedazzling a fruit bowl? Am I plucky for painting a feature wall hot pink? The answer is an emphatic YES.

As I turned the pages of this bright glossy book I started to see the fearlessness that comes with decorating so outlandishly even Diana Vreeland might’ve said ‘that’s a bit much’. Decorating fearlessly is about saying to heck with convention and rules and beige. It’s about saying 'this is my house and I’ll go OTT if I want to'.

This book is about grown-ups with proper houses, furniture in their bathroom and something called ‘entryways’. It’s a book for people who own, or aspire to own, chandeliers, 4 poster beds, a stuffed pink flamingo in their home office, and dead animals. Lots and lots of dead animals: fur, animal heads, skins, taxidermy, and animal print. Leopard print wallpaper and matching armchairs. So on trend! So brave!

But this book is not just for fancy-pants rich homeowners. You can take decorating ideas from this book because there are so many. In fact, even the ideas have ideas. It is genuinely helpful. Some decorating ideas I enjoyed were: only displaying orange and white books and some oranges on a shelf. Can’t decide which floral pattern you like best? Just use them all! In one photo of a room I counted 10 different florals! What if your favourite colours are olive, sky blue and that colour that’s like terracotta only worse and you can’t decide which one to use? (Have you learned nothing here?) Use them all! Together! In the same room! You’re fearless! Go get ‘em, tiger.

Title: Decorate fearlessly! : using whimsy, confidence, and a dash of surprise to create deeply personal spaces
Author: Susanna Salk
Publisher: New York : Rizzoli, 2014
ISBN: 9780847842339

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts [Annie, Helensville Library]


Referencing how many of us first encounter Richard III (i.e. via Shakespeare), this approachable account of the discovery of his remains is separated into five acts (with a prologue and epilogue).

Act I backgrounds the Wars of the Roses and begins to explore our interest in Richard. Act II details how the dig came about. Act III is the excavation, followed closely by Act IV, the autopsy; and Act V, the inquest – how do they know this skeleton is Richard III?

Having heard Jo Appleby talk of the dig and her findings during last year’s Family History Month (and being a history and archaeology nerd), I’ve been reading as much as I can about the discovery in the carpark. Author Mike Pitts’ skills as both an archaeologist and journalist are put to good use, as he puts both humanity and science into the recounting of this unbelievable event.

I look forward to the release of more information, including more of the official reports, as the science is verified and confirmed. (You can stay up to date via the University of Leicester's Richard III discovery page.)

Title: Digging for Richard III: how archaeology found the king.
Author: Mike Pitts.
Publisher: Thames & Hudson, 2014.
ISBN: 9780500252000.
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Monday, September 29, 2014

Spook Country by William Gibson [Kelly, Central Library]


There’s a distinct feel to the work of William Gibson. It’s in the details; the lists of products, the designer gear, the odd books characters read (Gibson put me onto Geoffrey Households wonderful Rouge Male), the strange occupations and lifestyle choice. The esoterica of modern life. If Gibson ever slips it’s when he drops a name or a brand that you are familiar with, piercing his romantic patina of ultra hip facades.

Spook Country features an ex-rock star journalist in recovery (from being in a band), a prescription drug addict detained by a rouge intelligence operative and a Chinese Cuban Santeria practitioner who works in the shadowy world of freelance information exchange. The action takes places across North America and features, as its backdrop, a secret cold civil war between factions within the American government.

Taken entirely at face value that might seem like a bad high concept movie that stars Keanu Reeves but it reckons without Gibsons dry sense of humour;

“Milgrim dreamed he was naked in Brown’s room, while Brown lay sleeping. It wasn’t ordinary nakedness, because it involved an occult aura of preternaturally intense awareness, as though the wearer were a vampire in an Anne Rice novel, or a novice cocaine user.”

It’s even funnier if you imagine the author narrating it himself in his quasi Burroughsain drawl.

Spook Country possesses a beautiful, clean prose style that never strains to impress. Like the best music it seems to induce a contact high, a stoned glide through the pages. I like to imagine William Gibson, in his Vancouver house, exploring the world via the internet, stumbling on the new, the novel, the odd. Observing with a zen, perhaps slightly bemused, detachment and then, between tokes, putting it all down on the page, one word at a time.

Title: Spook Country 
Author: William Gibson
ISBN: 9780241953549
Published: 2007
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
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Friday, September 26, 2014

Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo [Suneeta, Highland Park Library]

Possibly like a lot of people, once started, I couldn’t stop reading this book. 

Full of fun and froth on the top, with darker elements lurking underneath, this is a story of 74-year-old Barrington Jeddiah Walker, a West Indian immigrant in London, his stereotypically shrewish wife of 50 years and two grown children. It is also the story of Morris, Barry’s best friend and secret lover since their adolescent days in Antigua. 

As the charming, colourful character with a fondness for rum and Shakespearen quotations is thinking of ending his double life to come out openly with Morris, we catch glimpses of a lifetime of frustrations, resentments and lost chances. Decades of deception and trying to live up to the immigrant ideal, and portraying respectability in the community, have left Barry caught in a trap. And unfortunately some of the resulting damage afflicts those around him. We see this in his wife Carmel's brief extra-marital affair, aching as she is for his love and admiration.  

With wonderful descriptions of life in modern London and with a humour that is both dry and hilarious, author Bernadine Evaristo takes on a rather tough and unusual subject of ageing homosexuality in an Afro-carribean ethnic group and delivers a bittersweet story with a deft and tender touch. A clever combination of Patois, street and the Queen's English must make the audio version a delightful experience. If you'd like to listen to the story, request the audio CD.

"An original and brilliant voice" says Chris Abani, author of The secret history of Las Vegas. 

Title: Mr Loverman
Author: Bernadine Evaristo
ISBN: 9781617752728
Published: 2013
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
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