30 August, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Land by Neil Gaiman [Paul, Birkenhead Library]

Not even a National Radio's dj could blunt an enthusiastic review of this book. Yeah, its that good. It's a bit like Coraline, though I suppose fans of Gaiman will find many points of contact with his many other works. Which is just to say, all mimsy are his borogroves.

I've heard some discussion of TOATEOTL being not quite categorisable as fantasy, being lodged somewhere-nowhere within fantasy, folklore, fairytale, mythology, allegory & whatevery. Proll this feeling comes about because Gaiman doesn't do what a lot of fantasy writers do and lard his story up with frothy terminologies, and nomenclatures and social cladistics and so-what the fuddly-diddly. He just - or should that be "just" - tells the story. It helps I suppose, to have a narrator who is a tad bewildered about what is going on; or to be fair, a middle-aged man looking back to something weird that happened to him when he was a child.

Hey, we've all been there.

Did I say weird? I mean too unbelievable for words, though notably Gaiman has a knack for knocking out choice phrases some of which I was going to quote you only I put the book down and somebody else picked it up. This is because other librarians are devious. Anyway, if you're automatically repelled by the very thought of fantasy don't be put off, for though there's a few elements that'll probably get worked up in the sequels, graphic novel spin-offs and movie adaptations, and assorted plastic nic-nacs, tea-towels, bic pens and ipod stickers here it's all mimsy are his-

Oh wait I think I've said that, which is sort of just to say the story has this very odd relationship to time, being both timeless and yet not, being as it is, as I almost said, rooted in and routed through one man-boy's regrets. So there's archetypes, and unique individuals, and things happen only once - only they're mythic as well.

It's a box of paradoxes that might invoke paroxysms in lesser minds, but no doubt has you musing on your place in the universe with a humility that is really quite fetching.

Love the ocean.

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2013
Publisher: Headline

 - Paul, Birkenhead Library

29 August, 2013

Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton [Angela, Central City Library]

I'm a big fan of Science Fiction writer Peter F. Hamilton, so I was excited to see a new book out by him. This is the first stand-alone novel from him in quite some time, he usually publishes books as part of a series. Great North Road was an incredibly fast read, despite its length at over 1000 pages. I read it in a few days, but it’s one of those books I wish I had read a little slower, so the joy of reading it lasted longer.

It starts off with the unusual murder of an unidentified North clone (the Norths are a family of clones who are extremely rich and powerful) in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 2142. But none of the clones have been reported missing. The search for the murderer takes the action to the planet of St Libra. Twenty years ago, a wealthy North clone and his entire household were murdered in exactly the same specific way on St Libra and Angela Tramelo, the only survivor, was convicted. All this time she has protested her innocence, claiming that the real murderer was an alien. She never waivered from this story, even under extreme interrogation - but St Libra has no animal life, certainly nothing that could have caused the injuries that were seen.

I enjoyed this book so much because of the character of Angela Tramelo, she was intelligent, practical and at times ruthless when she had to be. Unravelling the mystery of her past and why she was there on St Libra all those years ago, was just as enjoyable as finding out who or what was actually killing everyone. This was an incredibly satisfying book, which I recommend to any science fiction fan as well as anyone who likes thrillers or murder mysteries and wants something a little different.

Title: Great North Road
Author: Peter F. Hamilton
ISBN: 9780230750142
Published: 2012
Publisher: Macmillan

 - Angela, Central City Library

Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto [Biddy, Highland Park Library]

An intriguing story that takes the reader on a journey with eight women whose passion for their art makes it difficult to find the balance they seek in order to fulfill the roles expected of them by society.Six of the characters are based on real photographers such as Imogen Cunningham and Lee Miller. All are fascinating bohemian characters. It is only evident some way into the book that the characters are connected by a slim thread as they influence each others' lives and art.

The story is set in diverse locations from San Francisco and New York, to London, Berlin and Buenos Aires. It covers most of the 20th century, starting in 1910 where - whilst in London-Cymbeline, one of the photographers, attends a mass rally for Women's Rights in Hyde Park. In the 1920's we meet the extraordinary Lenny van Pelt - a young woman "unable to obey rules - who lives a hedonistic life with her group of friends in America and later becomes the muse and apprentice to a Parisian surrealist photographer.

Otto's vivid descriptions pull the reader into the times and places that her heroines move in. This book is an engaging read, particularly for those with an interest in photography, women's history and feminist literature.

Author: Whitney Otto
ISBN: 9781451682694
Published: 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York

 - Biddy, Highland Park Library

Persepolis, The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi [Clare, Massey Library]


This is a story about a young Iranian girl growing up in Teheran. She chronicles her history up to fourteen years of age, taking her through the Islamic Revolution and its aftermath.

The deceptively simple, and easy to follow, black and white graphics tell a harrowing story. She is the child of marxists and the granddaughter of the last Emperor of Iran.She outlines the events which led to the Shah being installed as the leader of the country, and then what happened when he was deposed in the Revolution.
Her own personal journey from six years to fourteen years of age gives us a feisty and intelligent young woman who honestly and fearlessly outlines the events which shaped her early years. We meet her family and friends, see her at school, and then afterwards when she is trying to decide her future. At fourteen her parents decide that her future needs to lie outside of Iran and she closes on that note.

This is Part One of two books by this wonderful young woman. Through her eyes and her black and white pictures, she skilfully draws us into her world and her history.

This September is Auckland Libraries' comic book month, and if you are looking to try a graphic novel, this one is a great start. Engrossing and moving.

Title: Persepolis, The Story of a Childhood
Author: Marjane Satrapi
ISBN: 9780099523994
Published: 2008
Publisher: Vintage

 - Clare, Massey Library

26 August, 2013

The Joy of English: 100 Illuinating Conversations About the English Language by Jesse Karjalainen [Elizabeth, Highland Park Library]

Are you unsure whether  to say a historic victory or an historic victory? Are split infinitives bad grammar? When should you use that and when which? Do you know the difference between the hyphen and the en rule and when to use them? Do you know what the en rule is? The Joy of English is not an exhaustive grammar reference and does not set out to be. In his preface the author declares, " I have written a book that gets straight to the point and provides answers to common questions without ... putting anyone off." (ix).  Karjalainen is a British writer, journalist and sub-editor and is writing about correct British usage but he explains American usage when it differs.

The explanations of transatlantic differences and of historical background make this an interesting book to dip into as well as a grammar guide. One example is the section on -ise and-ize spellings,  which gives the history of this spelling dilemma, the options and the advice to choose your camp (there are three) and be consistent. I recommend The Joy of English to anyone who wants to improve their writing or who is just interested in language.

The author also runs a website WhichEnglish.com and you can read more about him and this book at The Joy of English.

Title: The Joy of English: 100 Illuinating Conversations About the English Language
Author: Jesse Karjalainen
ISBN: 9781845284787
Published: 2012
Publisher: How to Books

 - Elizabeth, Highland Park Library

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini [Suneeta, Highland Park Library]


And the mountains echoed. A fitting title indeed, for an emotionally gripping book in which the mountains can be seen as a backdrop against which the choices we make, forever resonate.
The novel opens in a small village in Afghanistan with a father telling his children a bedtime story. The fable he recounts is about a simple peasant forced to give up his beloved child to a div, a demonic giant in Afghan folklore. The peasant chooses to give up the child who is happy and provided for by the creature instead of taking him back home to his village which is blighted by drought and where children are perishing. This sets the theme for what follows – wherein duty, sacrifice and family relationships affect the choices that are made and through which the present is haunted by the past.
While touching on the troubles of modern day Afghanistan, this sprawling novel sweeps over time periods and across continents, in the company of a wide cast of characters, all of whom are somehow intertwined.  Author Khaled Hosseini’s wonderful storytelling comes to the fore as many stories are told within one story, in different voices, jumping from past to present. Heart-breaking is a word that comes to mind to describe the book which captures love in its many manifestations. The central tragedy is of the lifetime separation of two devoted siblings. Their reunion at the end of the book is much awaited, but it occurs on its own terms, quite unlike the way you would expect, but rather like the way things sometimes happen in life.  It ties in well with the fable in the beginning, where the peasant father is given a potion by the div, that erases his memory and with it, the pain of having lost his son.
Reading this book, you won’t just shed a tear.You will probably weep.

Title: And the Mountains Echoed
Author: Khaled Hosseini
ISBN: 9781594631764
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 2013

 - Suneeta, Highland Park Library

25 August, 2013

Dodger by Terry Pratchett [Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library]

Aha – Terry Pratchett has ventured into Dickens territory. . . Victorian London, it’s sordid underbelly, and all the many sorts of people who lived there at that time. Obviously the main character is Dodger, who turns out to be a most interesting and very likeable character, and yes Charlie (Dickens) makes many appearances in this entertaining book too. Dodger saves a young woman from being beaten to death and is drawn into intrigue and adventure, after all somebody wants her dead. He most definitely rises to the occasion and must use all his wiles and charm to find a solution that benefits all

I hoped I was going to enjoy a book that was well plotted and full of nonstop wit and humour, and I was not disappointed. There are so many clever lines like “The man gave Dodger a cursory glance that had quite a lot of curse in it…”  and when a knife is at his throat “Not one muscle had moved anywhere on the body of Dodger, if you didn’t count the sphincter.” I am always impressed how cleverly Terry Pratchett writes, he can encapsulate an idea in a few well chosen words and make it funny at the same time.

Great characters, lots of excellent dialogue and plenty of action to keep the tale going - what more could you ask for in a book? And yes this is found in the teen section but don’t miss it because of this - a great read.

Title: Dodger
Author: Terry Pratchett
ISBN: 9780753191514
Published: 2012
Publisher: Doubleday

 - Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library

20 August, 2013

Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O'Brien [Claire, Central City Library]


Edna OBrien grew up in rural County Clare, Ireland in a town which had 27 pubs but no library. Her heroes were Joyce and Beckett.
'The Country Girls' was her first novel.

 It was released in 1960 and was banned in Ireland. The family priest publicly burnt copies of it. She claims it took 3 weeks to write and that "It had written itself, i was merely the messenger".

An alcoholic gambling father, a homestead in decline and convent school life provides her with the raw material for her fiction.

After four years working in a Dublin pharmacy she runs away to the Isle of Man with an older author who she later marries. He seems to be threatened by her writing success and eventually she leaves for London and gains custody of her children. (The children are rarely mentioned in this book.)

Fabulous tales of the swinging sixties party life and the celebrities she mixed with. Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Paul McCartney, Robert Mitchum, Harold Pinter, Gore Vidal and Jackie Onassis to name a few.
"I was excited by this galaxy of visitors, and yet i was never carried away. I knew it was transitory, we were all on route, heading for other places, orbiting up,up."

Written in her 78th year,the vivid story of her life flows along effortlessly. A joy to read, packed with memories rich in detail, colours and scents and lyrical descriptions.

Title: Country Girl: A Memoir
Author: Edna O'Brien
ISBN: 9780571269433
Publisher: Faber and Faber

 - Claire, Central City Library

Pigs in Clover, or, How I Accidently Fell in Love with the Good Life by Simon Dawson [Kathy, Collections Orewa]

Firstly a warning - if you're at all squeamish or sensitive, you may not like parts of this book There's also quite a lot of sexual content (but only of the farmyard variety!).

Simon Dawson's wife Debbie manages to get him to agree to move from London to the Devon countryside one New Years' Eve when he is a bit tipsy. They start out renting a property then buy 20 acres a few years later. This book tells of Simon's experiences as he finds himself falling in love with the country lifestyle.
He regularly gives tallies of the current animals they have managed to acquire along the way as well as lots of funny stories about a 'townie' learning the country ways.

His accounts had me in tears of laughter and also sadness when the inevitible circle of life on a farm goes on. Stories of drunk pigs, awful homemade wine, mating chooks and encounters with sheep kept me entertained and chuckling well after I'd read it. My favourite quote - reflecting on the day Simon has just lost one of his favourite animals and found out some of his writing has been published in a magazine - "I didn't know whether to mope about or celebrate, so I ate chocolate, which kind of works for both".

Recommended for those who already live on their own patch of paradise, and those that dream of it.

Title: Pigs in Clover, or, How I Accidentally Fell in Love with the Good Life
Author: Simon Dawson
ISBN: 9781780285016
Published: 2013
Publisher: Watkins

 - Kathy, Collections Orewa

19 August, 2013

The Trivia Lover's Guide to the World: Geography for the Lost and Found by Gary Fuller [Surani, Waitakere Central Library Henderson]

At first glance this title might sound boring to the average human, but if you have the same crazy itch that I have with the words "geography" and "trivia", then this book is definitely for you!

As I opened up this book the first question Gary Fuller started off with; "Where is New Zealand?", almost had me choking with laughter in the middle of my lunch! Once my choking fit subsided, my eye drifted to the chapter heading, 'The Effects of Geographic Ignorance' and I started to read the chapter to discover that 'fewer than 15% of college aged students in the US could find New Zealand on the world map'!

Peppered with many fascinating and interesting questions like, 'What is the first foreign county you would encounter if you went due south from downtown Detroit, Michigan?' to 'Which is the only continent without volcanoes?', this book has the ability to open your mind to a vast ocean of geographic information.

Gary Fuller provides us with an extremely enjoyable and engaging guide of geographic trivia along with a colourful background to each question. Many of the questions have accompanying maps that help illustrate the facts.

This book not only answers many questions that had been on my mind but it also has the ability to challenge today's global generation to truly get to know their world!

A must read if you have a pub quiz to prepare for, or if you just love random facts about our world!!

Title: The Trivia Lover's guide to the world: geography for the lost and found
Author: Gary Fuller
ISBN: 9781442214033
Published: 2012
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

 - Surani, Waitakere Central Library Henderson

17 August, 2013

This Is How You Die edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki [Stanley, Central City Library]


What would you do if you know how you were going to die? Accept your fate, try to resist it, or just ignore it?

This is the “sequel” to Machine of Death, an alternatively morbid and blackly humourous collection of stories Fox pundit Glenn Beck called a part of the “[liberal] culture of death”. MOD’s stories explored themes like free will, how to be popular, and whether you should follow your dreams when you’re destined to be “devoured and eaten by lions”. All stories in both books revolve around said machine, which cheerfully spits out a cryptic prophecy of your doom, e.g. Old Age, Flaming Marshmallow, Vegetables (?!).

The wide range of strong characters, styles and settings from the first book really stood out to me. It’s sort of like the literary equivalent of a bag of Party Mix lollies. You get a lot of sci-fi and black comedy, but also themes and stories that wouldn’t be out of place in a teenage fiction – or romance – collection. Twists feature a lot here, as the protagonists make various choices – some disturbingly hilarious, some escapist, others life-affirming. Many are well worth reading a second time.

This is How You Die is much the same. Thirty-one stories take us through wider societal implications of the machine, as well as less serious fare (would a prediction of death by “Rock n Roll” help your career as a musician?). Not to mention the inclusion of a “choose your own adventure” story… An added bonus is comics and illustrations by many talented artists. Check out several of the stories here.

I recommend this for those keen on short stories, black humour, and sci-fi tinged reflections on our use and misuse of technology.

Title: This Is How You Die
Author: Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki (editors)
ISBN: 9781455529391
Published: 2013
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

 - Stanley, Central City Library

12 August, 2013

Awake in the Dream World: The Art of Audrey Niffenegger essays by Krystyna Wasserman, Mark Pascale, and Audrey Niffenegger [Paul, Birkenhead Library]

I never read The Time Travellers Wife on account of the movie which I never saw either, except the trailer with the actor I can't be bothered with for no good reason I can think of. Also, time travel. Is it even possible without a tardis?

Anyway, I didn't realise Niffenegger was an artist as well and its always interesting when a scribbler's a doodler too, so maybe I will revisit TTTW, one day, time permitting.

This book divides her work into three convenient sections: "visual novels," self-portraits, and dreamland, which certainly help you get a feel for it as long as you're not too pigeonholier-than-thou about labels. Wasserman's intro is well worth it too in this regard.

The visual novels will help put Raven Girl in context, but I particularly enjoyed the self-portraits. With titles like 'Nest' and 'Monkey Mind,' 'Tornado Head,' and 'Bad Fairy,' you can probably tell (because you're amazingly perceptive as well as exceptionally good-looking) that she has a sardonic sense of self. Clear, with whatever else she is saying, about the vanity implicit in these projects.

Is she any good, technically speaking? Wouldn't have a clue mate! However being rather easily impressed I couldn't help but be impressed with the range of media she used: oil on wood, ink, coloured pencil, gouache, found paper, hand-dyed paper, graphite on persimmon paper.. I'm pretty sure next she'll be working directly with fruit.

Oh, that's been done.

And, yeah, the content. 'Dreamland' is as it's described. It's spooky, folklorish, a trifle macabre. Refer yourself to the book title for a proper sense of the eeriness.

Don't get too friendly with ravens.

Title: Awake in the Dream World: The Art of Audrey Niffenegger.
Author: Essays by Krystyna Wasserman, Mark Pascale, Audrey Niffenegger.
Publisher: Powerhouse, 2013.

Reviewed by Paul, Birkenhead

10 August, 2013

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger [Rochelle, Howick Library]


If someone were to ask me how I would rate this sequel to the hugely successful "The Devil Wears Prada", I would absolutely refuse to do so. I think it wouldn't be fair - given that I loved the first book - to readers who are absolutely waiting with bated breathe for this one. Don't get me wrong. Book 2 isn't that bad but it did disappoint me for a number of reasons:

1. I don't get where the revenge part is in the story?
2. Andy Sachs is still deathly afraid of Miranda Priestly after nearly a decade?
3. Andy lacks the wonderful, vibrant personality that made her a much loved character in the first book.
 4. Miranda Priestly is actually nice?

In saying that, it does redeem itself in more ways than one:
1. Emily is still the same bitch from book.
2. Emily and Andy actually become very good friends in book 2 - (how did this happen? Well you'll just need to read the book I guess!)
3. Andy gets married.
4. Andy finally finds the courage to (again!) stand up for herself and her beliefs.

See, that's the reason why I can't rate the book. Both pros and cons are equal. Overall , I can say it's an okay book. I guess it's my fault for expecting way too much out of this one.

Title: Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns
Author: Lauren Weisberger
ISBN: 9781439136638
Published: 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 - Rochelle, Howick Library

The Collective by Don Lee [Sue W Central Library]

I found this book loitering shyly on the new book display and took a closer look. Its very much in the mode of narratives that take a nostalgic look at that pivotal time in life, where a gang of liked minded souls grapple with their emerging identities and how they fit in the world. Often its a delicate balance to portray that certain time of life where youthful idealism stands at loggerheads with the capitalist way of being in the world and does the trope of artist with a vision stand the test of time when the worlds exerts its inevitable pressures on the individual?

Narrated through the eyes of Eric Chou, the novel begins in the introductory classes of a new collage he has joined and quickly establishes the other two characters upon which this novel stands. The novel actually begins in real time with a punch, something sudden and shocking and then we are back experiencing first day nerves through the world view of Joshua, about to relive his tripartite friendship and the establishment of the artist's collective.

All three characters are artists in their own right and have both Asian and American identities, although what that means  and how they  choose to portray that through their work differs for each of them.  The charismatic and contentious figure of Joshua Wong is the beacon upon which the novel revolves around, his outspoken and inflammatory world views , his activism and narcissistic expectation that others follow in his wake. Experiencing the novel through the point of view of Eric, you can feel the energy of idealism, contentious debate about what it means to be Asian and how your work should "reflect" or challenge notions of identity. At the same time as Eric  fields these challenges from his friend Joshua, he is also fighting to work out his own path separately from the almost overwhelming presence of all things "Joshua".

This is a beautiful work, very focused on the collage life and how the three friends establish their friendship and forge their own separate identities as artists in their own right. It has that tinge of sadness, because you know, right from the outset this is no happily ever after story.  It has all the optimism creativity and freshness of artistic ambition but it also shows the sadness of the battle wounds inflicted by differing ambitions and a world that has narrow definitions of success. Perhaps reading the book will trigger memories for some of certain friends they had at various times in their life, and how, for a time, the world seems to exist fairly closely around the parameters of your friendship.

Title: The Collective 
Author: Don Lee
ISBN: 9780393083217
Published: 2012
Publisher: W W Norton & Co

09 August, 2013

Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson [Simon, Central City Library]

Eros the Bittersweet was Anne Carson's first book. Its publication in 1986 announced the arrival of a thrilling new literary mind. On the one hand it is a scholarly work exploring the etymology of the greek concept of eros and the "bitterwseet" quality famously attributed to it by the greek poetess Sappho. On the other hand, those who have encountered any of Carson's work will know her books always shrug off conventional classification as easily as the archetypal "beloved" can shrug off the attention of the archetypal "lover." Her debut was no exception. It feels far too shot through with the authors own resignation at a phenomenon that is exclusively human; it is steeped in too much of the author's own sense of poetic timing for it to be read as a mere work of shcolarship. In some ways it is a collection of mini-essays that together form a maze of bittersweet mirrors. These mirrors reflect the bittersweetness of Eros back on the reader. They reflect the interdependence of desire and loss back on the readers own experiences of desire and loss. I am reminded of Nietzsche's aphoristic works by the way Carson walks such a careful line between neutral academic distance and aesthetically pleasing, authoritative style.

There is a run of five chapters in the first half of the book respectively entitled Finding the Edge, Logic at the Edge, Losing the Edge, Archilocus at the Edge and Alphabetic Edge. The chapter titles refer to that edge which forms a boundary between the lover and the beloved. "It is the edge seperating my tongue from the taste for which it longs that teaches me what an edge is." This five-chapter sequence gives a good indication of the way Carson works: she hones in on a concept and then she turns it over and over and over looking for that extra elusive insight. One senses her trying to find a loophole in what seems like insurmountable paradox. One senses her failing time and time again. In the end (but perhaps before she began to write Eros the Bittersweet), Carson bravely embraces the same irony and paradox that Sappho conjures up in her verses: "...greener than grass/ I am and dead - or almost/ I seem to me."

Title: Eros the Bittersweet
Author: Anne Carson
ISBN: 9781564781888
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
Published: 1998 (2005 printing)

08 August, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch [Ana, Central Library]


Two couples meet for dinner at a very expensive and posh restaurant in Amsterdam.  The two men are brothers, although they don’t have very brotherly feelings for each other (Perhaps this is quite normal).  Serge is very successful and likely to become the prime minister, but his brother Paul detests him.  He is a high school teacher and thinks himself superior.

As well as not liking his brother he doesn’t like fancy restaurants.  In this restaurant each course consists of a minute portion with a fancy name, and his irritation grows with the arrival of each one: “Greek olives from the Peloponnese, lightly doused in first-pressing, extra-virgin olive oil from Sardinia, and polished off with rosemary home-grown in a glassed-in herbarium”; “fillet of guinea fowl wrapped in paper-thin sliced German bacon and grapes on a deep purple piece of lettuce” and so on.  Serge and Babette arrive late, just as Paul expects them to do, as he thinks this is typical of a man who likes to be the centre of attention.

In the middle of the dinner, the really juicy story begins. Each couple has a teenage child (or more) and we find out what the children have been up to.  The novel presents the characters with a moral dilemma which exposes each persons true nature.

The mood is tense and uncomfortable and there is a feeling that something is going to explode at any moment.  This is a great read that makes us reflect on what would we do in their place as parents.

Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
ISBN: 9781848873827
Published: 2009
Publisher: Anthos

 - Ana, Central City Library

Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen [Christine, Takapuna Library]

This starts with a description of a horse and rider, perfectly attuned to each other, sailing over the last of the jumps at a national equestrian event to a certain victory. A horrible accident occurs, the horse, Harry is euthanised and the rider, Annemarie is left with a broken neck.  She survives but turns her back on the horsey world.  Much later after her marriage and career collapse dramatically she returns to her  parents' horse farm and meets a horse amazingly like her beloved Harry, except blind in one eye.

Title: Riding Lessons
Author: Sara Gruen
ISBN: 9780060580278
Published: 2004
Publisher: Harper Torch

 - Christine, Takapuna Library

The bookman's tale : a novel of obsession By Charlie Lovett [Jan, East Coast Bays Library]

This is a story about Peter who has two loves - rare books and Amanda. Returning to his work as an antiquarian bookseller he discovers a portrait - the sitter looks just like his Amanda, but as it’s a very old portrait it can’t be. Our unlikely and very shy hero is out to do two things - to discover who’s in the portrait, and also to prove that the works of Shakespeare were written by Shakespeare.

This well-written story has everything I look for in a book – suspense, mystery, murder, danger, a love story or two, a little bit of a ghost story, incredible coincidences, antiquarian booksellers and book collectors, fabulous old books and documents, and master forgers. Add to that a harking back to what happened in the past that bears on what’s happening now, and the perennial debate about whether William Shakespeare wrote the plays - and the result kept me turning the pages long after I should have gone to bed!

The storyline had a tendency to be a bit predictable at times, and the coincidences were really just too amazing to be believable, but I loved it anyway. I especially liked the way the tension would be built up in each chapter, then in the next you’d be back or forward in time to a different strand of the tale, and you’d have to wait … to find out what happened next.

Author: Lovett, Charles C.
IBSN: 9780670026470
Published: 2013
Publisher: New York: Viking

-Jan, East Coast Bays Library

07 August, 2013

Neil Gaiman's 'Make Good Art' Speech designed by Chip Kidd [Annie, Central Library]

In May 2012, author Neil Gaiman delivered a graduation address to the graduation class of Philadelphia's University of the Arts. This is the text of the speech, turned into printed art.

If the fact it's a Neil Gaiman isn't enough of a reason to check this book out, the stunning graphic design should tip it over to the 'want' list.

Graphic artist Chip Kidd has crafted a treasure of a book, where words dance across the page, mirroring the message of the text.

It is a tiny and inspirational delight for the eyes and psyche. A must-read for anyone in the creative arts and graphic design fields.

And, if you missed it when it broke all over social media, here's the video of the speech:

Title: Neil Gaiman's 'make good art' speech.
Author: Neil Gaiman.
Designer: Chip Kidd.
ISBN: 9781472207937.
Published: 2013.
Publisher: Headline.

~ Annie, Central Library.

06 August, 2013

People, Hell and Angels (CD) by Jimi Hendrix [Aimee, Howick Library]

Ooh this is sooo good.  The latest posthumous release of Hendrix material features twelve previously unreleased songs.  It’s Jimi minus the Experience trio – just playing new material with old mates.  And man it’s good.  Oh did I already say that?  Sorry, can’t help it.

It hasn’t been overdubbed and polished into oblivion, as can happen with these things.  Nope it’s beautifully preserved and full of raw human energy.  According to the accompanying booklet (which contains info about each track), the recordings “encompass a variety of unique sounds and styles incorporating many of the elements – horns, keyboards, percussion and second guitar – Jimi wanted to incorporate within his new music”.  The result is a really nice mix of blues and funk, with a bit of psychedelia thrown in for good measure.

I’ve heard rumblings online that purists aren’t totally impressed.  Pshaw.  The experimentation with other musicians hasn’t taken away from the guitar godliness in my opinion.  There’s still plenty of facemelters among the solos.

It’s not often an album comes along that I can enjoy straight away without repeat listens.  There’s nothing wrong with albums that grow on you (love them), but there’s a wonderful joy in totally loving something on the first listen.  On this album in particular, the track that stood out most on first spin was “Let Me Move You”, which features Lonnie Youngblood on saxophone and vocals.  I dare you to look it up on YouTube and not at least tap your foot (or freak out all over the lounge – whatever works for you).

Title: People, Hell and Angels
Artist: Jimi Hendrix
Published: 2013
Label: Sony

- Aimee, Howick Library

05 August, 2013

The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

Pakistan, Afghanistan, in the months following 9/11: there is no simple path to follow; no simple choice is possible. The effects of Al Qaeda and American retaliation and war reach deeply into a family, which is battered and torn by the actions of others that they cannot control.

I had this book for a long time, reading sometimes only a paragraph at a sitting, because I was frightened to glimpse around the corner at what was ahead. I was afraid! I didn’t want people to whom I’d formed attachments to be hurt or die!  I could not imagine how impossible and painful situations could be resolved!

Young men join a cause that betrays them; a struggling woman seeks a decent life for her daughter; people are torn between human decency and loyalty to conflicting religious dictates; an imperfect man is blinded by a jewel as he tries to keep his family intact; a couple hide their forbidden love.

Many tragedies told amongst passages of beautiful prose.  The garden that gives the book its title is also the books fragrant central setting, a constant backdrop into which the mad happenings of the surroundings sometimes intrude.

I had no idea how they would manage, but they did.

 “And the stars,” he says, “the twinkling of them.  I will remember them by holding the palm of my hand in the rain.”
Title: The Blind Man's Garden
Author: Nadeem Aslam
ISBN: 9780571287918

Published: 2013
Publisher: Faber & Faber

03 August, 2013

A World of Curiosities by John Oldale [Stanley, Central City Library]

“Never wrestle with a strong man nor bring a rich man to court.”

This Latvian proverb is probably an appropriate way to open a review of this book – a tour de force through trivia and facts on assorted aspects of nearly every nation on earth. From Somali litigation practices (which include poetry!), to Finnish fairy tales and Chinese cuisine, this is a real treat for trivia buffs.

The author – a scientist-slash-lawyer and generalist par excellence – speaks five languages and has visited over 90 countries. He writes in an engaging and warm style, with his punchy prose suiting the subjects well. These range from science (Darwin's finches, immortal jellyfish), to geography, politics and culture. One of the highlights was India, with everything from the eating practices of the Jain religion to why lying on a bed of nails isn’t as bad as it might seem…

Graphics illuminate every page, and give this tome an addictive quality. Bite-sized pieces of knowledge will pique your interest in any country you might (or might not) want to know about. I liked the coverage – even the very new (South Sudan, Kosovo) or the obscure (Liechtenstein) are included. There are larger sections for giants such as China and the United States, though even the tiny Faroe Islands get a page. The New Zealand section was refreshingly accurate and interesting, aside from the obligatory/pointless factoid about sheep.

So if you want to find out which head of state earns the most, how democratic countries with “democratic” in their name actually are, or the one surprising thing Borat got right about Kazakhstan… look no further.

Title: A World of Curiosities
Author: John Oldale
ISBN: 9780452297838
Published: 2012
Publisher: Plume

 - Stanley, Central City Library

02 August, 2013

The Enigma of the Return by Dany Laferrière [Biddy, Highland Park Library]

This unique account - where "fiction, poetry and autobiography meet" - written largely in poetry interspersed occasionally with prose, describes Windsor Laferrière's return to Haiti after three decades of exile in Montreal, Canada. Translated from the French into deceptively simple English, the book delivers a profound and powerful message.

Despite the horrors of his childhood in his homeland " ruled by a tropical dictator/who keeps ordering/ the beheading of his subjects", Laferrière cannot ignore its pull.

When he hears the news of his father's death in New York, he travels to New York to attend the funeral and then on to Haiti to tell his mother the news. Laferrière is a journalist who has been suffering from writer's block and his inspiration resurfaces with the bittersweet experiences and emotions that his return to Haiti evoke. He has to "relearn what he already knows/but had to forget along the way". He finds so much more than the warmth and beauty of Haiti he had longed for when feeling homesick and far away in the North. The rude reality of the suffering and broken dreams of everyday Haitian life provoke him into writing again.

I found that I kept looking for a pen to note striking phrases as I read. The eloquence of a few well-placed words is able to convey so much. If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary to read, I would recommend this without hesitation.

Winner of the Prix Medicis, a French literary award.
Translated from the French by David Homel.

Author: Dany Laferriere
ISBN: 9780857384362
Published: 2011
Publisher: Maclehouse Press, London

 - Biddy, Highland Park Library