22 April, 2017

Howl's moving castle by Diana Wynne Jones


“Okay...Howl's Mov-… and… Yes! No one else as reviewed this one yet!”

*Does sad victory dance*

Howl’s moving castle is an oldie but a goodie and apologies to anyone who has already read this children’s classic (no, the Miyazaki film doesn’t count), but look at this as your excuse to read it again. You have my permission.

Howl’s moving castle tells the story of Sophie Hatter, whose surname speaks of a time when surnames belied your profession (I suppose Milliner could also have been her surname). She is soon whisked off her feet by a mysterious wizard, becoming the object of ire of the Witch of the waste and is cursed into becoming an old woman...

Sophie herself is a wonderful character who exhibits growth in her role and embodies the themes of courage not only adventure, but also of facing and overcoming societies expected perception of her, which colours the way she sees herself. I won’t get too deep into themes, it’s way too great a story to read purely analytically anyways. Read it aloud with friends, or to your kids!

Howls moving castle is a wondrous tale of adventure and magic filled with great characters, clever dialogue and fun-filled adventure. It’s too good not to read. Seriously!

Watch Miyazaki’s adaptation, also available in the library, it’s a great adaptation/reinterpretation.
Read the sequels too, Castle in the air and House of many ways, which are just as great in their own way!

Title: Howl’s moving castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W is also a wizard… at ironing, because ironing is awesome. If anyone tells you otherwise, then tell them to walk their wrinkly trousers into a different conversation.

20 April, 2017

Behind every great man: the forgotten women behind the world's famous and infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller

In this collection, teacher - historian and author Maureen Wagman-Geller, self-proclaimed lover of history, biography and trivia, has put together the back stories of 40 of history’s forgotten women; women who stood in the shadows of their famous (and sometimes infamous) husbands are defined and brought to light.

The criteria for choosing the subjects were that the men had to be easily recognised and the wives had to be largely unknown.

And so, chapter by chapter, the curtains are drawn back on the spouses of government leaders (Nelson Mandela, Adolph Hitler), writers (Steig Larsson, C.S. Lewis), musicians (Sting, Jerry Garcia), scientists (Einstein, Stephen Hawking) and plenty more.  In the author’s words, these are women who “have stood behind their legendary partners and helped to humanise them, often at the cost of their own careers, reputations and happiness.”

Through this titular cliche, each woman’s contribution to history  is concisely and amusingly documented, as we read their stories of how they stood by their men - whether through alcoholism, racism, infidelities or even as they became important collaborators in their spouse’s work.

A peek behind the curtain that asks some questions – like how much did Mrs Madoff know of her husband Bernie's business doings or why did Eva Braun stay with Hitler? Here are some answers from voices thus far silenced.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. And also available as an ebook.

Note to author: Hopefully, there will soon be a contemporary version titled Behind every great woman... 

Title: Behind every great man: the forgotten women behind the world's famous and infamous
Author: Marlene Wagman-Geller

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.

10 April, 2017

Dark matter : a novel by Blake Crouch

This is a roller coaster of a read that takes you in many unexpected directions.

The action begins when Jason Dessen, forty-year-old physics professor, is kidnapped at gunpoint and transported to . . . where? The world is similar, but not his, and where are his beloved wife and son?  I won’t say too much about the plot as it is better to let it unfold as you read, but this book melds thriller and science fiction to brilliant effect.  It is creative and mind-bending with a superb twist in the plot in the last part of the book. Just when you think you have the story sussed it gets weirder.

After I read this book,  my son picked it up and  read it in a day, he could not put it down, (this is a working day too). He loved it so much my daughter also read it and stayed up late to finish it. (They are both in their 20’s). The writing and the action draws you in and you want to just read the next bit, and then a bit more until it is finished at 1.30am in the morning. 

A thought provoking and gripping story that stays with you. It would make a great movie as well. Wait and see. . . . . .

TitleDark matter : a novel
AuthorBlake Crouch

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

07 April, 2017

The last act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

Interesting characters and an intriguing mystery combine to create a great story with many twists and turns.

Hattie is a high school student from a small American town who is determined to make her name on the stage in New York. She is a gifted actress and uses her skills off- as well as on-stage, changing her personality depending on who she is with. When her body is found in an old barn, the local policeman, an old family friend, is called to investigate.

More than a police-procedural story of an investigation, this book is defined by it's strong characterisation and realistic dialogue. It's told from three points of view which helps to get the feeling you know the individuals and understand their side of the story.
You feel the grief of the parents, the distress of the school students, the frustration of the police, the nervousness of the suspects. More than one of Hattie’s contacts had a reason to murder her, or was it someone she didn’t know?

The writing is excellent and gives great insights into personalities. As a keen reader, I liked this description from Hattie on her mother: “Mom would be reading whatever the library just got in, since she’d gone through everything on their shelves. She never wanted to talk about her books though. Maybe that’s what made her so hard to read sometimes, all those books floating around in her.”

This book is also published under the alternative title ‘Everything you want me to be’ which perfectly describes the complicated Hattie.

Title: The last act of Hattie Hoffman / Everything you want me to be
Author: Mindy Mejia

Recommended by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t sleep unless she has read a bit before turning the light off. As well as most fiction, she enjoys craft and lifestyle books to get project ideas for her rural home.

03 April, 2017

The affair of the thirty-nine cufflinks by James Anderson (book)

Lord Burford was sure that lightning wouldn't strike thrice, when his wife persuaded him to have guests at Alderley, his stately mansion.

Their beautiful home had been the scene of not one but two murders. It was ridiculous to think it could ever happen again. His beloved Aunt Florrie had died in London and had expressed a wish to be buried at her deceased husband's former home. So he agreed to hold the funeral at the nearby chapel and then invite the mourners back for refreshments.

Soon, the twelve beneficiaries of the will were the only ones left at the gathering, and they would have to stay the night, as the will could not be read until the barrister arrived.

So there they all together under one roof, and what the barrister revealed in his sonorous voice, was shocking to many of them. But first they had to fulfil a last request of Aunt Florrie's and sing 'She'll be coming round the mountain'.

To those looking for a gentle murder mystery, this is a light and entertaining read very much in the tradition of Agatha Christie,. Mr Anderson, who died in 2007, only wrote three like this but they are all just as good. 

Title: The affair of the thirty-nine cufflinks.

Author: James Anderson 

Reviewed by Clare K. 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.

02 April, 2017

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Every once in a while I pick up a children’s book and after reading it leaves a lasting impression on me. Lily and Dunkin is one of those books.

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a transgender girl trying to fit into the eighth grade. Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbet Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved down to Florida with his mother. Both teens are going through a challenging period in their lives. Both of them have secrets they are good at hiding. One summer morning, the two of them meet and their lives change forever. This unlikely friendship starts out with uncertainty and as the story progresses the reader gets to witness the immense bravery, kindness and love that revolves around these characters.

Donna Gephart writes this story in the two distinct voices of Lily and Dunkin. We are able to see not just the amazing characters they each are, but also the inner turmoil and anxieties they go through. Donna Gephart has created an amazing book which moved me immensely and opened my eyes to the world of these extraordinary young people. I find myself having a better understanding and acceptance of the issues facing transgender teens and those who suffer from mental health issues. It’s also very humbling to learn that the character of Dunkin was based on Gephart’s own journey with her son.

Out of all the books I’ve read so far, this story with its intricately woven plot lines and vivid description, taught me of the importance of identity, the love and support of family and staying true to what one believed in.

A truly inspirational and moving story, but more suitable for older ‘tween’ readers!

Author: Donna Gephart

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. 

29 March, 2017

This is what a librarian looks like : a celebration of libraries, communities, and access to information for all by Kyle Cassidy

So what does a librarian look like?

This book is the result of a project that involved taking photographs of
American librarians and recording their impressions and views about libraries and their importance in today’s communities. The photos are interspersed with chapters about some notable American libraries and essays by authors, including Neil Gaiman, Jude Devereaux and Cory Doctorow.

It illustrates how libraries are being used now along with visions of the future, and really highlights why we need good libraries and dedicated library staff. There is huge diversity in the people featured in this book but they all have the common values of tolerance, acceptance, and concern for their communities.

I liked the way the text is broken up by groupings of photographs which I found made it easy to read and kept it interesting. The portraits are of a high quality and manage to show the individuality of the subjects. The way the photographs are laid out is also pleasing to the eye, with its mixture of small and full–page portraits.

Although this is about American libraries, the issues and concerns are the same worldwide. Our policy-makers could learn a lot from this, as libraries seek to affirm their value in our societies.

And to answer the question - there’s no such thing as a typical librarian!

Title: This is what a librarian looks like : a celebration of libraries, communities, and access to information for all.
Author: Kyle Cassidy

Recommended by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t sleep unless she has read a bit before turning the light off. As well as most fiction, she enjoys craft and lifestyle books to get project ideas for her rural home.

21 March, 2017

A brief history of creation : science and the search for the origin of life by Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II

In the beginning… soup, or something along those lines. If I were to explain how I got from beginning to soup, it would probably take me many volumes, lots of mistakes (and some motivation), so there is something to be said for explaining the history of creation and how we came to that point in the space of 250 pages. This book does an admirable job and covers as much ground as possible, from Anaximander of Miletus’ theory of humans forming inside fish creatures to the work of Oparin-Haldane.

I enjoy my history a lot and though my mind fades to mush most of the time while reading about science, I do enjoy trying. This book grabbed me quite quickly with its readable narrative style, where the journey to the present day on the question of life is filled with 'heroes' and 'villains', instead of a straight chronological onslaught of theory. 

Interesting historical twists and fascinating science do abound, but I found the portrayals of the personalities involved most gripping, with such historical heavyweights as Darwin and Voltaire, alongside lesser knowns like biochemist Sidney Fox and the overlooked English chemist Rosalind Franklin. These people are brought to life with stories of their struggles, hits and misses.

Before you know it, the book is finished and the history of an important part of life is sitting lightly in your lap. Don't expect to come away diploma hardened, just happy that you know a little bit more about a very important subject.

Author: Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II 

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W has often pondered the history of creation and evolution. But lately it has taken a back seat to the creation and evolution of optical disc packaging and why, after 30 years, CD cases are still so rubbish...

20 March, 2017

Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame

Written in 1963, Towards Another Summer is one of Frame’s works that was not published during her lifetime. At the back of 2007 edition (three years after Frame’s death), Pamela Gordon, the author’s niece, thanked the board members at the Janet Frame Literary Trust for “sharing the responsibility for the decision to offer this manuscript for publication”. She noted that the text was “too personal” to publish during the author’s lifetime. 

Meanwhile, no matter how true to life the novel may seem to Gordon, who was not only aware of Frame’s life story through the other texts (whether or not one can trust them) but knew her in person (same question), Towards Another Summer seems to work perfectly well as a piece of fiction.

Protagonist Grace is a 30-year-old New Zealand writer living in London. She accepts an invitation from a journalist named Peter to spend a weekend at his place in the north of England with his wife Anne and their two small children. Due to her excessive shyness, Grace struggles to communicate with her hosts, hides from the kids whenever she can, feels uncomfortable and seeks privacy:

- I don't suppose you mind, having a couple of kids swarming around?
- Oh no, Oh no!
Grace wondered if her heart hadn't sunk through the floor of the taxi. There's still time, she thought wildly, there's still time to escape… 

The narrative shifts in time, looking back into the protagonist’s childhood in New Zealand, and is constantly interrupted by her expanded views on truth, literature and identity.  

Longing to belong and have an identity, Grace stubbornly claims to be “a migratory bird, not a human being”, insisting one can be anything (so why not a bird?), the notion of identity is fluid, always changing and that its borders are blurred.

Author: Janet Frame

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.

17 March, 2017

Our souls at night by Kent Haruf

The night can be a very lonely time for widows and widowers. The day may be busy with friends and chores but after the sun has set each is alone in their own home.  She may have a profound thought, he may have a humorous anecdote that has just come into his mind, but they have no one to share them with.  It is a given that you don't disturb other people late at night just for a natter.
Addie comes up with an audacious solution to her loneliness problem, she invites her neighbour, Louis, to spend nights with her.  After initial surprise, Louis agrees and trots over to her place with his pyjamas and toothbrush in a paper bag. It becomes a regular thing and, of course, gets noticed in this small town.
This might just have been a sweet tale of elderly romance, but there is a bite to this tale too in the social control that their adult children attempt to exert on Addie and Louis.

Title: Our souls at night
Author: Kent Haruf

Reviewed by Christine O.

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