27 April, 2015

Brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson [Surani, Waitakere Central]

What captivated my attention with this title wasn't just the striking cover, but the plethora of reviews online wherever I looked. Written entirely in free verse, a format I hadn't actively read since high school, I found the whole book quite a different experience. This beautifully written book describes the harsh reality of the author's life during a pivotal moment in African American history.

Each poem told a story of an episode of the author's childhood. Jacqueline Woodson was raised in South Carolina and later in Brooklyn, New York during the 1960's and 70's. Through her journey as a young child the one constant that made Jacqueline and her siblings stand up a little taller and shine brighter was the deep family love and pride. Her eloquent poetry not only describes her hopes and fears, but also the joy of finding her voice through writing. Readers of this book will delight in witnessing her growing love of stories - and her funny, touching experiments in storytelling - as she exhibits the first sparks of the writer she was to become.

Jacqueline Woodson's honest writing, in my eyes, expertly describes some aspects of African-American life that I hadn't seen represented in children's literature before. This memoir tells so much more truth than most of the non-fiction that is out there for children. I believe that Brown girl dreaming has something in it for everyone no matter how old you are.

It is only right that Jacqueline Woodson has claimed the American National Book Award 2014 and a handful of other awards for this exceptional piece of writing.

Title: Brown girl dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
ISBN: 9780399252518
Published: 2014
Publisher: New York: Nancy Paulsen Books

18 April, 2015

Spook : Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach [Christine, Takapuna Library]

Mary Roach would like to believe that personality and memory survives after death but she is too much of a scientist to accept it without proof.  She looks for this proof world-wide and into accounts written by eye-witnesses long ago.

Reincarnation seems to happen mostly in India. A family is happy to accept the return of a favourite uncle as a baby in a neighbouring village but prompted 'memories' and commonality of village life leave Mary unconvinced.

Ghostly appearances seem to occur in the West. Charlatans most certainly did operate (and undoubtedly still do). Their 'effects' seem ludicrous today but deceived many ordinary people when they were first practiced. Ectoplasm, a strange substance resembling wet cheesecloth coming from the body of the medium is ... just cheesecloth!  

Anatomists have spent hours looking for the physical seat of the soul.  Even recently some believed that they had deduced its exact weight.  

What is most intriguing are those ghostly occasions where there seems to be no advantage to the reporter to make up a ghostly experience. Delusion or a true visitation?  

Title: Spook : Science Tackles the Afterlife
Author: Mary Roach
Publisher: Norton
Place of publication: New York
Date: 2005
ISBN: 039305626

All the light we cannot see : a novel by Anthony Doerr [Anita, Blockhouse Bay]

syndetics-lcSet in the 1930's and 40's this novel follows two young people.  Told in brief alternating chapters, the protagonists start far apart, but connections have already been made at the beginning, and you know that their paths will eventually intersect. 

Marie-Laure is blind. She has grown up in Paris and has been raised by her father who is the locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. They flee Paris when the German forces arrive and take refuge with an eccentric great uncle in the city of Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast. There, as he did before, he constructs a detailed model of their neighborhood so she can memorize it with her fingers. After her father goes missing she is drawn into the resistance with her uncle, housekeeper, and a hidden radio. Into the mix is thrown a (cursed?) sapphire, which may be the real thing or a copy, which was entrusted to her father.  A German finds his way to Saint-Malo following it's trail.

Werner is an orphan in a mining town, destined at age 15 to go into the mines that killed his father. He is gifted in science and maths and his ability to understand and repair radios gets him noticed and earns him a place in an elite but brutal Nazi training school. Ultimately he is put in a specialized team to track the Resistance by their use of radio. He travels all over Europe and in 1944 ends up in Saint-Malo. While here the city is bombed by the U.S Air Force and he becomes trapped in the ruins of an hotel.

This is not really a triumph over adversity book, the characters are firmly grounded in the reality of the times. The author deftly describes "the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France, the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers".  Werner often has to choose between morality and opportunity. It is the decisions he makes at the end which throw the two together.

A compelling read, the story draws you in and the characters are interesting and sympathetic. The short chapters make it really easy to keep on reading, and the narrative, while long, seems to race past. Cleverly and beautifully written - recommended.

Title: All the light we cannot see : a novel

Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: New York : Scribner
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9780007548668

16 April, 2015

What came before by Anna George (Biddy, Highland Park)

When Elle meets David they feel an immediate connection. Their relationship is intense and impulsive and its deterioration makes a compelling read. This is Anna George's debut novel and she tackles the topic of domestic violence with an admirable balance of candid realism and sensitivity.

The book opens with David's shocking confession. He is using his dictaphone to record a statement admitting that he has murdered his wife. The book continues with flashbacks to their meeting two years earlier and then  moves back to the present with David's panic at his actions. In contrast, Elle hovers above her battered body and replays their past in a calm and detached manner. She recalls her conviction that they were the new Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant and how they watched their idols' films at a moonlight cinema on an early date.

Anna George's debut novel is a page-turner,combining edge-of-seat-thriller with the powerful narration of a passionate relationship unraveling into domestic abuse. Her characters are real and complex and carry the reader with them to discover their fate.

I look forward to more from this emerging Australian writer. Recommended to readers who enjoyed Gone Girl and The Lovely Bones.

Title:  What Came Before
Author: Anna George
Publisher: Penguin, Melbourne
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9780670077731

15 April, 2015

In a World [Louise, Central Library]

This Staff Pick should be read (preferably out loud) in a deep, American-accented movie trailer voice.


Okay, go: In a world where the only people who do movie trailer voice overs are men, one woman tries to break into the industry. Carol (Lake Bell) finds herself competing with her dad, the arrogant and seasoned vocal artist who prefers the status quo, and the hotshot vocal artist Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) to voice the trailer for a new blockbuster quadrilogy.

Who is Lake Bell? Her name is just two random nouns. But learn that name, because she is awesome. She wrote, directed AND starred in this indie movie, and it’s also awesome. Want to know more? Geena Davis, Tig Notaro, lots of female characters that aren’t stereotypes, and a bunch of actors who were cast for their voices and not their looks.

The take-home message is feminism! Be heard, ladies! Now that is a message I can totally dig. You’ll laugh, you’ll cheer, you’ll wonder why more movies aren’t also 89 minutes long! Yes, you have time for this movie.

Title: In a World
Director: Lake Bell
Year: 2013
Distributed by: Sony Pictures (NZ)