Friday, April 25, 2014

Paris was the place by Susan Conley [Suneeta, Highland Park library]


 syndetics-lcThis book is a love story in every sense of the word. While romance is a part of it, some of its most achingly tender and compassionate aspects lie in the love felt between brother and sister, teacher and student, two friends and between daughter and the ghost of her mother. Its heroine Willie, a 30 year old American, follows her brother to live in Paris. Here she volunteers as an English teacher in a detention centre for young refugee girls, meets and falls in love with a visiting immigration lawyer and the story continues - filled with complexities and complications in the lives of a group whose ties bind them together. I have to say that on occasion these can appear a tad convenient, but, the story compulsively carries you anyway. So while I did find parts like the lovers’ first obligatory tiff, a subsequent miscarriage, certain clichéd images of India, (where they travel on a short trip) and an exaggerated ‘french’ version of structuring English sentences flat and formulaic, I would still like to recommend this book for its gentle prose, psychological drama and because it is set in one of the most wonderful cities on earth. An enjoyable read that quietly stays with you awhile. 
Title: Paris was the place
Author: Susan Conley
ISBN:  9780307594075                                                          

Published: 2013
Publisher: Alfred  A. Knopf
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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Move along please by Mark Mason (Christine, Takapuna Library)


If you purposely travel from Land's End to John O'Groats ie. go the whole length of Britain you can call yourself a Lejoger. Of course you can also go to other way. Numerous people have competed this journey some walking, some cycling, others using more inventive means of transport, Mark has chosen to bus, he catches local buses, from stop to stop as he wants to really see Britain He interviews and evesdrops along the way. He is an ideal travel companion, a fount of trivia, and a fondness for daft place names.

Title: Move Along Please
Author: Mark Mason
ISBN: 9781847947109
Published: 2013
Publisher: Random House
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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Neanderthals rediscovered : how modern science is rewriting their history / Dimitra Papagianni, Michael A. Morse (Clare, Massey Library)


Image for The Neanderthals Rediscovered : How Modern Science Is Rewriting Their Story
Many of us have been fascinated by the sad story of the Neanderthals and how they were supposedly wiped out by modern humans, in other words Us. This book tells us a different story. It outlines how scientists and palaeontologists have discovered through genetics, that the Neanderthals live on in us all. At least, all of us whose ancestors left Africa.
This book shows us how the scientists were able recently to extract ancient DNA from the fossils of Neanderthals and map their entire genome. They made an exciting discovery. Comparing the two, they saw that the non-African people if the world, have a range of 1-5% Neanderthal.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

In the state of Guerrero in Mexico, in a rural area run by the powerful men of the drug cartels, lives Ladydi Garcia Martinez. She and her mother live in a small dirt-floor shack on a mountain. The mountain has no men - they have all gone away to the United States and the women fend for themselves and protect their girl children by making them ugly, so they will not be kidnapped by the drug cartels.

Outside every house is a hole for the young girls to hide in when they hear the cartel SUVs coming, so they will not be stolen. But one day, Ladydi's friend Paula does not hear the warnings and she is taken to be a slave by one of the most powerful men in northern Mexico. Ladydi is profoundly affected by this, especially as on her return, Paula is damaged - tattooed by some man and cigarette-burned by herself, barely able to speak.

The story hangs on Ladydi's observations of her living conditions, which she realises are not usual - "I'd seen my life on television". She is both inside the events and an outside observer of what goes on around her. She seems so passive and so without any control of what happens to her and her mother seems a wreck - pining over her runaway husband, drinking and watching TV all day long.

Usually I would be overwhelmed by such hopelessness. However, I liked Ladydi: the things she noticed and the way she told things kept it all together, and getting to the bottom of what happened to Paula was another thing to keep me wanting to hear more.

Ladydi does leave the mountain. Will she get to a better life?  Read it to find out.

Title: Prayers for the Stolen
Author: Jennifer Clement
Published: London, Hogarth, 2014
ISBN: 9781781090176
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo


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

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Wake by Elizabeth Knox [Danielle, Youth Service Development]

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]

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]

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]


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.
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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]


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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