29 June, 2015

Feed by M.T. Anderson

It started out like any ordinary trip to the moon. In a futuristic society where people connect to the Internet via feeds implanted in their brains, Titus, a well to do boy content with his consumerist and ignorant lifestyle meets Violet, a lower class girl fighting against the Feed and its omnipresence and fighting for the right to think for herself. 

Books you have to study in school are usually read grudgingly and seldom become favourites. This book defied both odds and I can easily say it's one of my favourites. Dystopian, check. Satire check. Successfully mixing two genres I love to read, Feed, in my opinion, offers the most realistic vision of the future that I have read about so far. 

The plot was interesting, the characterization spot-onTitus is the perfect embodiment of Anderson’s shallow world and Violet represents the forgotten society wonderfullyand the issues and themes that Anderson alludes to are very relevant.

Addiction to technology and the internet, slang and swearing in everyday language, a corporate society where information about you can automatically be gathered, a lack of environmental awareness, decreasing interest in knowledge, language and thoughtthese are all addressed in Anderson’s novel, but they could just as easily be about our own society today and in the near future. 

The best, and scariest, thing about this book is that Anderson offers no finality or solution, he just shows us a world with many flaws and lets it creep under your skin and make you wonder about where we are headed.

This book is a great read for teens or adults: it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cringe, it’ll make you feel sad. But most importantly, it’ll make you think. Check it out.

Title: Feed
Author: M.T. Anderson

Recommended by Sucheta R, Grey Lynn Library

Sucheta R is based in Grey Lynn Library. When she doesn't read, she has an overflowing shelf full of books and an ever-growing to-be-read pile. When she does read, it’s two or three books at the same time: a few chapters here, a few chapters there and a few more somewhere else. Sucheta likes dystopian sci-fi, contemporary fantasy, satire, young adult and the occasional classic.

The extreme centre : a warning by Tariq Ali (book).

Why are so many people the world over, not voting?

Why are politicians (together with journalists, but that's another story), so untrusted by most people?

How can those who don't vote now, be convinced that their votes do count?

Tariq Ali, a leading left-wing author and journalist in the UK, examines the problem and proposes solutions. He takes us on a very readable history of the past forty years in the politics of the Western countries.

He shows us how most people were led to believe that if you voted for the centre party, such as Tony Blair's New Labour, then you were voting for more reasonable and moderate governments.

However, in his view, the centre has been taken over by business-friendly, pro-corporate lobbyists who exist only to serve their masters, and contribute freely to political parties who are both centre-left and centre-right.They push neo-liberal, small government and pro-privatisation policies and have led to the growing inequality of society and most of the world's wealth being held by a tiny minority of super-rich.

For this reason the centre has become extreme and not fair and balanced in the interests of the whole of society. It's a well-thought out, well-researched look at the problem that most Western countries are facing today. And it gives us good reasons and answers to the question of how to fix it.

Well worth a read, and if you don't vote, it just may convince you to give it a go.

Title: The extreme centre : a warning

Author: Tariq Ali

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.

The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, my grandmother and me by Sofia Zinovieff

I do love an English eccentric (or two). Full of naughtiness, madness and frivolity this book is a delightful treat.

Lord Berners was a gifted composer, painter and writer who lived a life of pure fantasy in his country mansion (pre-war) with his much younger companion, Robert Heber-Percy (the Mad Boy) at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

A background of wealth and privilege is the usual spawning ground for English eccentricity. Edith Sitwell, being one herself, even wrote a book called The English Eccentrics where she says that the aristocrat is not afraid of the opinions of the masses. (of course it helps if you never have to bother with seeking paid employment!)

Growing up in an eighteenth century edifice with turrets and Gothic flourishes set in beautiful parkland with twenty house servants not to mention the gardeners and estate workers, Lord Berners moves on to owning a house in Rome near The Forum then another in London in fashionable Belgravia.

He then inherits Faringdon, a large Georgian house in Oxfordshire. Welcoming an array of fascinating and famous house guests, he entertains lavishly. A flock of doves dyed bright pink and a white horse in the drawing room are but a few examples of his wit and humour.

Strangely enough the Mad Boy goes on to have a liason with a 'society girl' who then produces a daughter.

At the age of twenty five Sofia Zinovieff unexpectedly inherits Faringdon from her grandfather, the Mad Boy. She is the author of this intriguing tale which could almost be fiction.

Title: The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, my grandmother and me
Author: Sofia Zinovieff

Recommended by Claire S, Central Library

Claire S enjoys biographies about creative, interesting characters,  reads non-fiction  connected to the Arts, food, women, New Zealand and even reads the ocassional fiction.

28 June, 2015

Better than before: mastering the habits of our everyday life by Gretchen Rubin

“Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life.”

Have you ever woken up late thinking, “I should have gone to bed earlier”? Do you find it hard to start new habits? If you answered yes to either one of these questions, then this is definitely the book for you!

In Better than before, acclaimed writer Gretchen Rubin, tackles the question ‘How do we change our habits?’ and identifies every approach that really works. She uses extensive research and herself as a guinea pig on the different theories around habits. Drawing on these and cutting-edge science related to habits, willpower, and decision making, Rubin also examines the experiences of her family and friends.

What fascinated me personally after reading this book was not just her engaging storytelling she used to extrapolate her theories, but the questions she has you asking yourself. Once I had understood the differences between the Four Tendencies that influence habit-formation and identified myself within this framework, I realised that I could adapt my habits to suit my personality. The 21 habit-changing strategies that Rubin talks about in this book allowed me to put my new found self-knowledge into action. Everything that Gretchen Rubin talks about in this new book has opened up my eyes to the different habits that propel my life.

Interspersed with inspirational quotes and Rubin’s own “Secrets of Adulthood”, this engaging and informative read is one that will change your life irrevocably. Once you answer the questions in this book and find out everything you need to know about yourself you will be able to shape your habits for a happy life.

If you wanted to read one self-help book this year, make sure it this one as it has the power to change your perception on life!!

Gretchen Rubin has also authored The Happiness Project and Happier at home, both claiming spots on the New York Times bestseller list.

Title: Better than before: mastering the habits of our everyday life
Author: Gretchen Rubin

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.

26 June, 2015

Celebrating the southern seasons: rituals for Aotearoa, by Juliet Batten

The generation in which I grew up was perhaps the last in New Zealand for whom it was quite normal to receive – and send – Christmas cards featuring snowy landscapes, red-breasted robins and well-covered Santas.

More recent Christmas imagery in the southern hemisphere has shown Santas in swimming togs, and flowering pohutukawa instead of English robins.

But I think many of us have yet to engage fully with our immediate natural environment and its seasonal changes. Only in the last decade has the flowering kowhai become the chief symbol of spring for me. Over the same period I have begun to see how winter scarcity brings more native birds into urban back yards to feed.

My change in perspective stems partly from this book. Celebrating the southern seasons came out in 1995, but when I first read it in 2005 (in the tenth anniversary edition), it still felt fresh and new.

That’s ironic given that it draws on age-old cultural practices. Author Juliet Batten closely examines season-related traditions from both pre-European Aotearoa and Europe (pagan and Christian), footnoting meticulously all the way.

Each chapter looks at a different time of year – be it a solstice or an equinox – and each ends by suggesting related rituals for this country, today. These will resonate with people whose focus is spiritual but they have the potential to interest a much wider readership.

I particularly enjoyed Batten’s information about how the flora and fauna of these islands respond to the seasons, and the response of Maori life and traditions in turn.

An early field of study for this author was English (in which she has a doctorate), and this is quietly evident: she is a good communicator, and draws on a deep well of poetry for suggested readings.

▪ Juliet Batten speaks on “Matariki meets Winter Solstice: a new year for Aotearoa” at Grey Lynn Library, 474 Great North Road, 1.30pm on June 30, 2015.

Title: Celebrating the southern seasons: rituals for Aotearoa
Author: Juliet Batten

Recommended by Claire G, Grey Lynn Library

Claire G reads widely, writes narrowly, pampers her poultry and neglects her garden. She thinks Leonard Cohen was right about there being a crack in everything.

25 June, 2015

Unabrow. Misadventures of a late bloomer by Una LaMarche

You’ve seen the cover of this book so no surprises at the title of this memoir. This is  vitamin c for the mind to immunise against the winter blues.

There is something hugely appealing about meeting someone who is willing to mine their own flaws and imperfections for comic material. Think Jacqui Brown, Miranda or Lena Durham. Funny females are powerful.

You know those awkward cringe inducing period of your life you choose to bury? Una Lamarche deliberately goes fossicking around for them, pulling out the most ludicrous shame making memories.

All those fashion choices thought to be the height of sophistication, clumsy attempts to lure boys once hormones started stirring, not to mention the shame of a virginity that refuses to leave home.

This memoir is never going to be a contender for literary greatness however it is funny, irreverent and so recognisable. All in all a perfect antidote to gloomy mood.

 If you are wanting to peruse a smorgasbord of similar humour, might I also suggest the following books;

Chelsea Chelsea bang bang by Chelsea Handler

On my knees   by Periel Aschenbrand

Title: Unabrow. Misadventures of a late bloomer.
Author:  Una LaMarche

Recommended by Sue W, Central City library

Sue W  loves to read and never has enough time to do so. Sue's cats are jealous of books and feels she pays the written word way too much attention at the expense of more important things, like feeding them.

24 June, 2015

The dawn of the deed by John A. Long

With a subtitle of The prehistoric origins of sex, prurient curiosity will attract many a reader (including myself) to this book, but it is the author’s authoritative, yet approachable, writing style that will keep you reading.
Who hasn’t wondered how dinosaurs did ‘it’? Their size and/or attachments (think of the Stegosaurus) create a logistical conundrum (and odd mental images).

Get over any embarrassment about reading such a book (after all, if it wasn’t for sex, we wouldn’t be here), and be prepared for some fascinating, obscure, and truly bizarre facts (as evidenced by the Australian edition’s title Hung like an Argentine duck). 

The author steps us back even further than the dinosaurs, to the earliest evidence of sex. He does so in such a way that the layperson will never feel lost or overwhelmed by jargon or scientific facts. But he also acknowledges, without over-indulging, the ‘snigger’ factor inherent in discussion about sex, even among academics. 

I’ve been on a science reads binge recently, so there are a few similar titles I’d recommend for those with a science-bent: 

Title: The dawn of the deed: the prehistoric origins of sex.  Also published as Hung like an Argentine duck: a journey back in time to the origins of sexual intimacy.  
Author: John A. Long. 

Recommended by Annie C, Helensville Library. 

Annie C is a voracious and versatile reader, but her habitual reads are fantasy, romance, and a diverse selection of non-fiction subjects.  

23 June, 2015

The lost swimmer by Ann Turner

Ever feel like you have no control over something? Rebecca Wilding does. She is an archaeology professor at an Australian university and has been accused of misappropriating department funds. She also suspects her husband Stephen is having an affair and that he has been making risky investments with their money.

Rebecca hopes a shared working holiday to Europe will give her an opportunity to investigate the discrepancies with the university bank accounts and work on her relationship with Stephen. But before she can resolve anything, Stephen disappears while swimming at the beach near their Italian hotel and Rebecca is accused of being involved.

Ann Turner describes situations and settings in great detail. An encounter with a kangaroo at Rebecca’s home in Australia was particularly vivid and memorable. The scenes in Italy had me imagining I was there (or wishing I was), and I felt outrage on her behalf when she was accused of something she hadn’t done.
The plot was interesting and kept me involved and curious about what was going to happen next. How was Rebecca going to discover who was framing her for fraud and what was Stephen hiding from her?

I did feel the main characters were fairly shallow and that a number of secondary characters didn't seem significant until well into the book, meaning I had to go back and revisit their initial appearances, but overall this is a good story and I enjoyed reading it.

Ann Turner's website is worth checking out with an excellent trailer for The lost swimmer and lots of other interesting snippets on her writing.

Title: The lost swimmer
Author: Ann Turner

Recommended by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t go to 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. She spends her working day buying books for Auckland Libraries.

22 June, 2015

The healer's apprentice by Melanie Dickerson

The lovely fairy tale-esque YA fiction, written by renowned Christian and Romance author Melanie Dickerson, is a fantastical take on Sleeping Beauty.

Rose is a woodcutter’s daughter and is constantly battling her mother’s attempts at selling her to the highest bidder arranging her marriage. The only thing that has really saved her this long is that she is also the town healer’s apprentice – in line to be in a position of honour, respect and free to stay unwed. Unfortunately, after saving Dukes’ son, Lord Hamlin, from an otherwise disabling wound, she has also caught the eye of both Lord Hamlin and his brother, Lord Rupert. As a peasant seen carousing with Rupert, she quickly gains a reputation in the towns although she has done nothing untoward and protects her dignity with a steady faith.

Meanwhile, Lord Hamlin is trying to find a sorcerer of black magic, who is in pursuit of his betrothed, Princess Salomea – who is in hiding and who Hamlin has never actually met. But in the midst of his hunt for the sorcerer, he still finds himself thinking of the healer who mended his leg, despite his love for her being impossible as he is still promised to the missing Salomea.

Dickerson has created a world filled to the brim with magic, faith, and romance that combines into an absolutely charming story. As a fan of fairy tales and Fantasy, but not so much of Christian, Historical or Romance fiction, this one was a surprise and a delight as it still hit all the right notes for me and my fussy checklist of what makes a good book.

This is the first in a series, which I will undoubtedly be reserving for myself – all loosely based on the classic fairy tales we all know and love.

Title: The Healer's Apprentice
Author: Melanie Dickerson

Recommended by Dana S, East Coast Bays Library

Dana S reads a lot of manga and indie graphic novels, among other things like fantasy, general and mystery fiction as well as almost anything that has food and/or magic. She has heaps of hobbies but reading gets in the way of most of them. Dana also writes for the library blog, popculturAL, where she just rambles on and writes passionately about how everybody should read comics. Well, they should!

Uncle John's Robotica, mechanical marvels and mind-melting machines of the past, present, and future by the Bathroom Readers' Institute

“Robotica” is a small book which is packed full of interesting facts and trivia relating to robots. Each page covers one topic You can flick through the book and read as you want – an article here or there, whatever you fancy.

So we have basic facts, like the word ‘robot’ which is taken from the Czech word for ‘slave’. The book questions what a robot is, and whether artificial intelligences and computer programmes are robots.  It solves the issue simply by concluding that robots can be explained as “… being saddled with all the work we don’t want to do”.

In Japan, Panasonic have developed the Head Care Robot which will wash and style people’s hair. This is in use now in rest homes for elderly and handicapped persons. In the medical field, surgical robots have been in use for 30 years – these perform minor surgical procedures and can be calibrated to carry out precise and delicate work.

At Osaka University engineers have come up with an answer to how impersonal business meetings via video conferencing or Skype can be improved to provide the traditional hand shaking, to conclude a successful meeting or business deal.  They have created a silicone robotic hand that can be shaken realistically, and it is hoped in future this will mimic the person’s grip and actual movements.

There are even “Robostitutes” functional sex robots that are already available: Roxxxy is a 120-pound fake lady equipped with lifelike silicone skin that warms to the touch – an artificial intelligence engine that can be programmed to learn its owner’s likes and dislikes.

A final note: there is no one author credited with writing this book; it is “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Robotica”, from the Bathroom Readers Institute.  The last page of the book confirms that the Bathroom Reader Series is in fact published with the ‘bathroom reader’ in mind.  This book is an interesting find and well worth reading at any time.

Title: Uncle John's Robotica
Author: The Bathroom Readers' Institute

Recommended by Ana, Central Library