Thursday, April 17, 2014

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

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We need new Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Biddy, Highland Park)

Told in the voice of a ten-year old girl, this story is powerful and manages to combine humour with harsh reality. Darling lives with her mother and grandmother in a shantytown in Zimbabwe. She and her friends, named amongst others-Forgiveness, Godknows and Bastard, live extraordinary lives free of the boundaries of school (they have all been closed) and family life of their contemporaries in more affluent parts of the world.

The narrative appears almost dispassionate as Darling describes the seemingly endless games of the children. They flee the wealthy suburbs after sating their hunger with stolen guavas, act out dramatic scenes they have witnessed or pose while aid workers and tourists click their cameras.

In a layer below the apparent carefree fun of their lives is the memory of "Before" - before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policeman, before the schools were closed and before their fathers left for South Africa in pursuit of jobs as things fell apart in their homeland.

Darling clings on to her dreams of "My America" where she will go to live with her Aunt Fostalina and finds, instead of her land of milk and honey, a cold, dreary place where the snow sneaks in and prevents her "from going outside to live life".

This novel is crammed with word-pictures of places, times and characters. I rate it as a "must read"-prepare to be moved.

Author: NoViolet Bulawayo
New York, Reagan Arthur Books, 2013
ISBN:9780316230810

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Wake by Elizabeth Knox [Danielle, Youth Service Development]

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I've read a fair amount of horror novels, but I've never felt quite so... mugged by a book before. This is an astonishing and troubling book, but the darkness is illuminated by the acts of everyday people becoming quietly heroic in an extraordinary situation.

I had previously read and adored Knox's young adult titles, the Dreamhunter duet and Mortal Fire, and the brutality of Wake's opening scenes took me by the throat and upended any expectations I had of what an 'Elizabeth Knox book' might be like. There were dark threads running through the earlier books, but be warned, even with my teenage years spent devouring Stephen King, there were sentences in Wake that made me literally cover the page with my fingers so I couldn't take in the images. The author has a very adept touch at finding just the right spare and effective details that will linger in your mind's eye.

After that set-up, I was really interested to see where the book would head, what aspect of the story would become the most important. I've read horror stories with similar beginnings which went on to become suspense tales, focusing on the remaining threats to survivors and backing this up with periodic scenes of violence. There were elements of that in Wake, but they were mostly fairly subtle. What I liked most about Wake was that it was about the people, the survivors, and how they coped with the disastrous unknown, how they transformed. Some time after I read the book, I came across Knox's wonderful and illuminating blog posts about Wake, where she writes:
"...this book has a catastrophe, but it’s also about the struggle to stay useful and good, and what’s encouraging in that."
Title: Wake
Author: Elizabeth Knox
ISBN: 9780864737700
Published: 2013
Publisher: Victoria University Press.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Charming by Elliott James [Annie, Helensville Library]

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Urban fantasy with a fairytale twist. 
Our hero is Charming. John Charming. Charming by name, not so much by nature. Well, he is still trying to figure out what exactly his nature is. He's not entirely human. And this led to his expulsion from the Knights Templar. After all, part of their mandate is to kill creatures like him (whatever he is). 
When a blonde Valkyrie, then a vampire, walk into the bar he works in, he becomes embroiled in a vampire hunt, with an eclectic group of hunters (think Scooby-Doo). 
Charming is witty, sarcastic, and scarily physically capable. 

This is an entertaining read, with welcome touches of humour, and expected moments of violence and gore. I had to read bits aloud, just to savour the tone. And, it wasn't just me - my 70[something] mother enjoyed it, too (she coped with the violence and gore). 

Fans of the Dresden Files and the Iron Druid Chronicles will find much to enjoy in this one.

Title: Charming [Pax Arcana; book 1]
Author: Elliott James
Publisher: Orbit
Publication year: 2013
ISBN: 9780316253390 
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Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Straight Story, directed by David Lynch (DVD) [Stanley, Collections South]

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A journey of a thousand miles… begins by fixing your tractor.

Alvin Straight, a frail 73-year-old man, has just found out his estranged brother Lyle has suffered a stroke. So he sets out on a journey across state borders in order to mend their relationship. He can’t drive, and is too stubborn to accept a lift, so he rigs up his tractor for the journey. 

The gorgeous scenery and the salt of the earth, warm-hearted small town folk he encounters on the way are some of the highlights of this excellent film, which is based on a true story. Director David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) manages to pull off a charming and heartwarming movie that is family-friendly – yes, really. (Did I mention it was produced by Disney?)

Fans might recognize muso Angelo Badalamenti’s touch in the soundtrack - it is slow-paced, while the movie itself includes cameos from a few Lynch regulars. Also, there’s that surreal scene with the deer… which reflects the strange atmosphere in some his other work. And a bicycle race!

Recommended viewing both for Lynch fans, and for those looking for a quirky and moving tale that is uplifting without being hokey. 

Author: David Lynch [director]
ISBN: 6867449003498
Published: 2008 [originally released 1999]
Publisher: Channel 4
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The Answer To the Riddle is Me-David Stuart MacLean [Sue W Central City]

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syndetics-lcThis book is amazing, terrifying and engrossing, like finding yourself situated in a  nightmare that you have no way of waking up from. This is David MacLean’s account of waking up one day finding himself on a train platform swarming with people in India. No idea of who he is or what he doing there. Can you imagine?

It turns out, over the coming months and years, the author has suffered profound amnesia as a bizarre response to an antimalarial drug. Does it make it any better to be told this? On the one hand you have the consolation of knowing you’re not suddenly insane, but then the lost memory shows no sign of coming back, remains elusive and is enough to challenge the writer’s mental health, sense of self and ability to take any decisive steps in his life.

This is as much an account of the author’s attempts to recover and gain some sense of control over his life, as it is an account of a rare and unexpected opportunity to examine himself from a very different angle, looking at himself without the blinkers of subjectively felt and lived experience. Perhaps the nightmare situation has some unintended advantages that softens the trauma of what it is to suddenly lose your sense of who you are in the world and the path you are traversing. 


This is a fascinating read, well researched and engaging on a number of levels.



Author: David Stuart MacLean
Publisher:Boston, Massachusetts : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
isbn:9780547519272
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Friday, April 11, 2014

The Dalai Lama on what matters most: conversations on anger, compassion, and action by Noriyuki Ueda [Suneeta, Highland Park Library]

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index.php (359×400)"The Buddha clearly taught that even if one has great knowledge, if his mind is not quiet, then the knowledge is worthless."

Hearing what His Holiness the Dalai Lama has to say never fails to inspire me. Even after several books based on his discussions and interviews with various people, the simplicity, open-mindedness and wisdom of “this simple Buddhist monk” as he describes himself, surprises me with new truths so powerful, they resonate at the very centre of my being. 


In this little powerhouse of a book, you can eavesdrop on a translated account of a two-day conversation between the Dalai Lama and Japanese cultural anthropologist, Noriyuki Ueda. Compassion, faith, anger and appropriate action are some of life’s dilemmas that are addressed here – all the things that matter most to the spiritual awakening of every person.
It is the kind of book that can be dipped into and pages turned until something grabs your attention or awakens an inner thinking, but as always, it is best with time for reflection in between. 
Whether you are Buddhist or not, an admirer of the Dalai Lama or new to his teachings, you will gain valuable insights into the virtues and failings of human nature, of yourself and of humankind in general. Enlightened Buddhism for the the modern world, there is something to live by, for us all.


Author: Noriyuki Ueda/Translator: Sarah Fremerman Aptilon
ISBN: 9781571747013
Published: 2013
Publisher: Hampton Rhodes Publishing
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Byzantium (DVD) [Angela, Central City Library]

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Byzantium
I like vampire films so I picked this one up, I wasn't expecting too much but I was very pleasantly surprised. This is the best vampire film I've seen since Let The Right One In. There isn't too much horror, which is good as I don't like really scary movies, Byzantium concentrates more on its characters, their history and motivations - it's more a thriller than a horror.

It is a feminist film at heart, concentrating on the turbulent relationship between vampire mother Clara (Gemma Arteton) and vampire daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), how they struggle to get by and hide from the all-male vampire sect known as 'The Brotherhood'.

Two hundred years ago Clara was living a miserable and sure to be short life, dying of syphilis, she jumps at the chance for eternal life. This and the actions that lead to her daughter becoming a vampire years later set her and Eleanor on a collision course with the Brotherhood. In modern times they're still being hunted and arrive at an English seaside town and a run-down hotel called Byzantium.

Eleanor starts seeing a boy, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and struggles with keeping her true identity a secret from him. This is the weakest part of the film, mainly because of the mediocre acting and atrocious attempt at an English accent from the American actor who plays Frank. They tried to explain this away by saying he spent some time in America when he was younger, but I don't see why they couldn't just hire an English actor who can act.

That aside, I really enjoyed this film and can highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys vampires movies and light horror.

Title: Byzantium [DVD]
Director: Neil Jordan
Year: 2012
Publisher: Demarest Films
Rating: R16 - Restricted to persons 16 years and over. NOTE: Horror, violence, sex scenes and offensive language.
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Sunday, April 6, 2014

A tale for the time being by Ruth Ozeki [Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library]

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syndetics-lc
There are dual storylines in this novel, which is told in alternate chapters. 

Nao's story is revealed in a diary. She is a teenage girl who grew up in California but had to return to Japan with her parents when her father lost his job. She is bullied at school and has to deal with her father's depression and difficult family circumstances. She finds solace with her great grandmother Jiko, who is a 104-year-old Buddhist nun. She wants to write Jiko's story, but the diary reveals more about Nao as she unburdens herself on its pages. 

Ruth is the second main character - she lives on a remote island in British Columbia and finds a carefully wrapped Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on a beach. Inside is the diary along with an antique wristwatch and a packet of letters written in French. She wonders if it is debris from the Japanese tsunami and starts to read the diary. She is drawn into the mystery of the girl's fate. 

I enjoyed this book, but it is not fast-paced so be ready for a gradual unfolding of the story with a few meandering digressions as well - which I found interesting but others may skip to get on with the story. I found Nao's story fascinating due to its insight into Japanese life and history (including the story of Nao's uncle who was forced to be a kamikaze pilot and revelations of the brutal training they were given). 

Overall this is a thought-provoking book with a focus on time and the relationship between writer and reader.

Author: Ruth Ozeki
Publisher:Viking New York 
ISBN: 9780670026630 (hbk)
Publication date: 2013
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Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz [Ina, Mt Albert Library]

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Wes Anderson has become one of the best known, debated and loved "indie film" directors over the last 20 years. Truly American in style but otherworldly at the same time, his films always take us away into subtle but engaging stories that you want to continue to experience long after the the credits have rolled. Their beautiful visuals alone make them absolutely watch-worthy and each set is created with a care and love of detail that never ceases to amaze me.
Now, after a long 20 years filled with amazing films like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, a filmography has been published, discussing his life, work and career in detailed interviews with the director himself.
They start at the beginning with Anderson's first short film called Bottle Rocket and move on chronologically right to the latest of his films. The interviews are really insightful as his thoughts about certain decisions and events get revealed and feel very personal as the author and Anderson have a long history together. On the visual side, many details are interwoven into the text: artifacts, memorabilia, still photographs from the set, frame enlargements, storyboards, influences and references, ... the list goes on - It's like looking through the personal visual diary of Anderson himself.
Throughout the book you can feel that unique voice of his work, a style that many indie filmmakers emulate, but no one quite matches. If you are a fan, you can't miss this book, it will make you want to watch all his films again plus the references and influences. So get ready for a journey of discovery.  
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Susceptible by Genevieve Castree [Tim, Central]

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Susceptible is a comic book filled with lots of little stories about a girl called Goglu. She grows up a little bit between one story and the next- in the beginning a small girl at the edge of early memory and by the end a teenager who is old enough to leave home. The book is about her being at the mercy of her childish parents and her struggle to understand the unfathomable way they act. I really like this one early story from when she is about five years old and she lives with her Mother and Father. She is sitting inside her house at night, looking out the window. Her Father sits outside on his motorcycle- the glow of the headlight is the main thing she can see. Then another motorcycle rides up with its headlight glowing and joins him and then her father rides away with it into the dark. And then after that Goglu and her mother live on their own. This is all quite plainly told and I like how Castree avoids explaining or complaining too much (‘Goglu’ is really Castree by another name so this ‘graphic novel’ is no work of fiction). Her drawings are beautiful and delicate and precise and cartoony all at the same time- they kind of remind me of Julie Doucet and Tove Jansson- and, along with the understated writing and mosaic-like structure, make Susceptible a book that I kept coming back to.
Title: Susceptible
Author: Genevieve Castree
ISBN:9781770460881
Published: 2012
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterlyhttp://search.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz/?itemid=|library/marc/supercity-iii|b2806653
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