31 October, 2013

Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson [Tim G, Northcote Library]

As the recipient of the Bram Stoker Life Time Achievement Award, and the title of Grand Master, Richard Matheson has been chilling hearts and denying sleep for over half a century. Knowing Matheson as author of I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come and screen writer of Stephen Spielberg's Duel, I delved into Other Kingdoms with the lights well and truly on.

This first person narrative is penned by the eighty-two year old Alex White, a well established horror author. Having waited sixty-four years to reveal the only true story of his life, he wields his dark and humorous wit one last time.

Fresh from the trenches and the arms of Harold, his dead friend, Alex decides to go in search of Gatford, Harold's mysterious and emphatically gorgeous hometown. Awaiting him is a cottage, oddly superstitious villagers and a forest path. Ignoring warnings to stay on the path, and away from the forest altogether, Alex finds himself embroiled in a sumptuously carnal, horrific and life threatening ordeal.

This story is a Grimm like fantasy, with a forest, other worlds, wicca, black magic and faeries.
If you are a fantasy horror fan like myself, you'd be hard pressed not to devour this book whole, just don't be ashamed to do it in a well lit room.

Title: Other Kingdoms
Author: Richard Matheson
ISBN: 9780765327680 (hbk.)
Published: 2011
Publisher: Tor Books

 - Tim G, Northcote Library

30 October, 2013

Who Killed Scott Guy? The Case That Gripped A Nation by Mike White [Judy, Orewa Library]

On 08 July 2010, in the early hours of the morning, Scott Guy was shot on his way to milk cows on the family farm near Feilding. For months nobody was arrested, but when Scott's brother-in-law, Ewan Macdonald was accused of the murder by police, the public interest was huge.

This book covers the investigation and trial of the case. Ewan Macgregor's legal team was led by Greg King, top defence lawyer. King, as we know, was found dead in Wellington in November 2012.

The outcome of the trial was a 'Not Guilty' verdict on the murder charge. There was a definite lack of evidence, as shown by King and his team. However the book does not answer the question it poses in the title.

The book ends with a quote from King "I believe there is no greater sin that a state can commit than to wrongly convict and imprison an innocent person. And the enduring sense of injustice that that person must be going through, sitting in a prison cell in the middle of the night when they are innocent - it's too sickening to even contemplate, so we've got to get it right." Hear, hear.

Title: Who Killed Scott Guy?
Author: Mike White
Published: 2013
Publisher: Allen and Unwin

-Judy, Orewa Library

The hare with amber eyes by Edmund de Waal [Ana, Central Library]

I liked this book because it is original and interesting.  It is original in that it traces back the movements of a collection of “netsuke” - miniature Japanese carvings made of wood or ivory - which have been passed from hand to hand within the author’s  wealthy Jewish family until he inherited them from his great uncle Iggie.

From Odessa to Paris, and from Vienna back to Tokyo, we read about World War II, the Anschluss, the persecution of the Jews, the Dreyfus affair, the great French author Zola’s defence of him, and much, much more.
Edmund de Waal’s family, originally grain merchants from Odessa, were very rich and prosperous but with the onset of World War II, the Anschluss and the persecution of the Jews, the family lost all their fortune.  All, that is, except the “netsuke”, which  their loyal maid hid inside her mattress and later smuggled out of their Viennese house, piece by piece.
I had never heard of “netsuke” before, and I enjoyed reading this story and of the Japanese artisans who made them.  A single piece could take days, weeks, or even months to create.

Title: The hare with amber eyes
Author: Edmund de Waal
Publisher: Orion Books 2013

28 October, 2013

The kitchen house by Kathleen Grissom [Suneeta, Highland Park Library]

syndetics-lcThe Kitchen House is Kathleen Grissom’s first novel and she has to be applauded for the detailed research that she undertook to create a work of historical fiction that packs an enormous emotional punch. Set between 1791 and 1810 on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, it is a story that addresses slavery, indentured labour where people are bought and sold like goods, rape and murder. These every day occurrences will fill any reader of the slightest imagination with a sense of horror at the cruel injustices carried out by the powerful over the powerless. At the same time, it is as much a story of love and acceptance that brings out the true meaning family, which is colour blind and in which loyalty wins over the rules of black and white. The plot is woven into the narration by two characters – much of it through the domestic detail that occurs in the “big house” of the owner and his dysfunctional family and that of the “kitchen house” in which live the black slaves who serve the family. Into this mix is thrown a 7 year old white servant girl who defies the order of that society and exposes the hypocrisy, dark secrets as well as the warmth of kinship of plantation life. While I found the writing in some parts slightly predictable and the relationships between characters sometimes confusing, this is a great book for discussion and can be enjoyed in a few sittings. Possibly a must-read if you enjoyed The Help.                                                                                                                                                                                                              Title: The kitchen house
Author: Kathleen Grissom
ISBN: 978085752d1545
Published: c2010
Publisher; Touchstone      

27 October, 2013

A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story by Qais Akbar Omar [Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library]

syndetics-lcThis is the sort of book that will stay in your head for a quite a while. It is a gripping account of life in Afghanistan starting when the author, Qais (rhymes with rice), was a seven year old boy. He lived with his large extended family in his Grandfathers sprawling house in Kabul, set in five acres of land surrounded by a wall. He was aware of the Russians but they had no real impact on his life until they left and food became very expensive. When the Mujahedin arrived, there were high expectations and for a while things improved, but before long the factions started fighting and chaos spread over the whole of Afghanistan. Qais's family was robbed and they were prisoners inside their house because of the many snipers around who would shoot anyone they saw, they were smack in the middle of two factions territories. They fled during a cease-fire and travelled through the war zone and over the hill where life seemed peaceful and arrived at the Fort of nine towers, (only one tower remained), to live on the charity of a friend. The family tried to escape the conflict a few times, but in their travels they encounter many dangerous situations. 

It is astounding the many brutal and disturbing things that he experienced and witnessed while still a boy, he witnessed mankind at his worst, but this is balanced by the times when they were helped by the generosity of complete strangers, and welcomed by distant family members and totally accepted into their lives. They camped in the caves behind the giant Buddha statues in Bamyan, took refuge with nomad cousins , and Qais met a deaf-mute Turkman carpet weaver in Mazar who showed him the beautiful art of carpet making which became his life's purpose.

This is an extraordinary book ,everyone I know who has read it has loved it, do not miss out!

Title:  A fort of nine towers
Author: Qais Akbar Omar
ISBN: 9780374157647 (hbk.)
Published: 2013
Publisher: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 - Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library

23 October, 2013

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl [Clare, Massey Library]

The author, Viktor Frankl, was a very well-known and successful psychiatrist in Vienna, prior to World War Two. He could have escaped the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, but decided to stay to care for his elderly parents.

He narrates how he was arrested and taken to concentration camps, how he escaped the gas chambers and how he and others coped with the brutality and privation they were subjected to.Although a very serious, even gruesome subject, the story is told with calm and thoughtful prose.

His experiences helped him to develop a new theory in psychology called logotherapy, which maintains that rather than the pursuit of happiness and pleasure, we need to search for what we personally find meaningful in life.

Title: Man's Search for Meaning: The Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust
Author: Viktor E. Frankl
ISBN: 9780807014271
Published: c2006
Publisher: Beacon Press

 - Clare, Massey Library

14 October, 2013

10 Billion by Stephen Emmott [Paul, Birkenhead Library]

I wasn't going to read this book and then I did, on account of the fact that I flipped through it and was sufficiently irritated by a book tootling on about human extravagance using only one sixteenth of each page because thats so chic that I kept flippin, all the way to the back to read Emmott's considered conclusion about our situation in the "unprecedented planetary emergency we've created." It reads in part:

"I think we're f-"

I could go on, but you get the drift.

And because I happen to think something similar I then went back and read the book from go to woe (woe o woe), and I discovered that he may only be using one sixteenth of each page but this allows him to really punch out his message in a pummelly kind of way, so by the end my face had had a bit of a massage at least, and the message may even have imprinted itself further on in. Also, my hand has had a lot of exercise which is good too right, you fat b-

But lets not get ahead of myself. This is not really a book detailing any of the particularities of current political windiness and the urinating that goes on into the very face of the evidence, so to speak. No, its about the science, what the science says about what is, and what the science suggests we should be attempting. There are lots and lots of graphs which are very graphic. Don't be put of by the math tho, just note the curve: its up, exponentially so. Off the chart really.

Give it a go; it won't even hurt. That comes later, just ask the bees.

Title: 10 Billion
Author: Stephen Emmott
Publisher: Penguin, 2013.

 - Paul, Birkenhead Library

13 October, 2013

Doktor Glass, by Thomas Brennan [Elizabeth, Highland Park Library]

Doktor Glass is an engrossing, imaginative combination of Victorian Gothic, science fiction and crime and perfect escapist reading.  It is set in Liverpool about the turn of the nineteenth century. In the background is The Boer War and in the foreground The Atlantic Span  (a bridge connecting Liverpool, and thus Britain, with New York)  which is about to be opened by Queen Victoria.  Overall there is fear of the shadowy Jar Boys, criminal gangs who are rumoured to steal the souls of the dead and of death itself.  "bells stood above many of the graves, with cords  or fine chains disappearing in to the ground and into the coffins below.  So many people feared being buried alive, being presumed dead rather than the doctors diagnosing narcolepsy or seizure." (p2). This probably sounds like complete fantasy but the setting and characters are so historically convincing and alive that the book reads more like a crime novel. The quote on the front cover sums it up. "An alternative Victorian England so vivid and lively that you believe every escalting fantastic development". The plot is clever with many surprises and a red herring that turns out to be not quite so red. Inspector Matthew Langton, who has been ordered to investigate the murder of  a night watchman at The Atlantic Span site, is plagued by nightmares in which cause him to visit a medium.  These two actions lead him deeper and deeper into the underworld and towards a solution readers could not forsee.

If you like Sherlock Holmes or Ray Bradbury or just a fast-paced and imaginative story you are sure to enjoy this book.

Title: Doktor Glass
Author: Thomas Brennan
ISBN: 9780425258170
Published: 2013
Publisher: Ace Books

 - Elizabeth, Highland Park Library

12 October, 2013

Her: A Memoir by Christa Parravani [Sue W, Central City Library]

This memoir is so beautiful, so haunting and such a visceral experience of grief and mourning, I wanted to turn around and read it all over again immediately.  Every time I engaged with the book, it felt like the saddest symphony played and the most intense out of control storm waged war, conflict, the fates, the furies, all those big big emotions and dramas. No doubt about it, this memoir, memorial to the author’s departed identical twin sister is intense but so rawly beautiful and untamed you never ever want to put it down, not till the final page, hoping the author finds sanctuary and some measure of peace. Don’t think this is “just another” of that rather crass voyeuristic genre disparagingly referred to as “misery memoir”. This is beyond and above all others, a love song, an aching wail of unadulterated pain and grief and finally maybe a sense of triumph at the fragility yet tenacity of the human spirit. I don’t need to go on. Either you shudder and think you’ll look for cheerier tomes (philistines!) or you are intrigued and will be checking out availability through our Auckland Library website. Do it, be amazed and moved.

Title: Her: A Memoir
Author: Christa Parravani
ISBN: 9780805096538
Published: 2013
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co

 - Sue W, Central City Library

11 October, 2013

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman [Stanley, Central City Library]

“Frowning takes 45 muscles, smiling takes 20.” “If you think and feel positively, you will attract positive energy.”

“Every day in every way, I am getting better.”

If you’re looking at the screen blankly, in disgust, or seething with rage, this is the book for you.

Through self-deprecating wit and dry humour the author questions the popular focus on happiness above all else, skewers The Secret and other philosophies that deny the negative side of life. He looks into everything from the ancient wisdom of the Stoics, to Zen non-attachment practice and modern management research, as an alternative.

Laugh with him, when he travels to The Museum of Failure, which features unsuccessful produces like Clariol’s ‘A Touch of Yoghurt’ shampoo, fortune cookies for dogs (Snookies) and Morning Banana Juice.  Laugh at him, when he takes on the serious challenge of embarrassing himself throughout his train journey in rush hour.

Become comfortable with paradox, lack of control and lack of closure. Discover the joys of uncertainty, how to get over yourself and learn how you can embrace your errors.  Wait, this is sounding awfully like a motivational speech…

Title: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
Author: Burkeman, Oliver
ISBN: 9781921922671
Published: 2012
Publisher: Text Publishing

 - Stanley, Central City Library

07 October, 2013

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagen [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

A 15 year old girl named Anais is sent to a high security children's home because she allegedly has battered a policewoman.  She was out-of-it on a massive cocktail of drugs at the time and is sure she did not.

For Anais life is grim - abandoned by a mentally ill mother, adopted at 9 and briefly loved but found her adopted mother murdered, takes drugs like lollies to escape the more painful things of her existence just gets her into more troubles, hounded by a manipulative ex-boyfriend from his jail cell, social workers who disappear when she needs them, and current evidence that does not look good for her at all.

However Anais manages to make friends with the other kids at the home, and dreams of living in Paris.  She meets a care worker at the home who has faith in her and helps support her when she comes before the police and courts.  But, circumstances are never stable - this is one thing that made this an excellent book.  The other thing that held my attention throughout the book was I was hopeful for Anais and wanted her to get to adulthood as unscarred as she could.  We never know whether she will even survive.

I did get this book originally for my 13 year old to read. I'm glad she was put off by the dialect - "cannae" "didnae" and suchlike peppers the dialogue - because it could be pretty harrowing reading.     

Title: The Panopticon
Author: Jenni Fagan
ISBN: 9780434021772
Published: 2012
Publisher: William Heineman

 - Emma, Birkenhead Library

06 October, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower [DVD] [Ina, Mt Albert Library]

Walsh, Kate - PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, THE A funny and touching coming-of-age story based on the beloved best-selling novel by Stephen Chbosky, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a modern classic that captures the dizzying highs and crushing lows of growing up.

I don't watch "coming of age" movies often, but this one has a certain sensibility and charm that I couldn't escape. I think maybe it might just be the really likable cast with favourite actors like Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. Or the feeling that everyone should have friends like they are in this movie.

The film is based on an acclaimed book and plays in midwest America in the 90s. Charlie is in a new high school in freshmen year who tries to find friends after coming out of a tumultuous year. His ego fragile and at times depressed, he involves the viewer immediately by writing letters to a friend he has lost to suicide. At first things are not easy, but he finds understanding and camaraderie with step-siblings Sam and Patrick and their eclectic group. They guide him through his first year in high school, including quite a few other firsts: love, independence, mind-altering substances, teen drama.

What I really liked about this film was the sincerity and honesty that you could feel throughout. When Charlie writes his letters, they capture his (and your) thoughts without avoiding the uncomfortable aspects and it brings a nice reflective side to the events. Even though it takes some time to get the whole story pieced together, your involvement never wanders off. And although not all of the (more sensitive) subjects touched get explored in depth, it feels like they don't necessarily need to be as this movie is not a phsycho analysis but a picture of the wild ride of teenage years, which most of us can relate to.

(Image courtesy of JBHiFi).

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflowers [DVD]
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Release: 2012
Publisher: Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: M - Suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over. Note: Offensive language, sexual reference and drug use.

 - Ina, Mt. Albert Library

Dancers Among Us by Jordan Matter [Erika, Central City Library]

It is amazing what the human body is capable of doing, especially when you watch gymnasts and dancers push their bodies to the limits. Both professions require years (decades) of dedication to make complex and difficult moves appear effortless and graceful.

Dancers among us is a collection of photographs from American photographer Jordan Matter who has captured dancers in everyday situations throughout America. The collection includes charming and quirky images, alongside deeply romantic and graceful images of dancers together and singly. I was first drawn to this collection because of images published on the internet, but the small collection shown failed to accurately portray the diversity of images and dancers captured in the collection.

This is a coffee table book of photographs with a difference, a collection of images you can admire for their beauty, their creativity, and for the ability of the dancers involved to reach such heights and to bend and stretch into such amazing positions.

Title: Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday
Author: Jordan Matter
ISBN: 9780761171706
Published: 2012
Publisher: Workman Publishing, New York

- Erika, Central City Library

03 October, 2013

Perfect by Rachel Joyce [Biddy, Highland Park Library]

The success of Rachel Joyce's debut novel "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry", made it a hard act to follow. Her latest offering entitled simply "Perfect" is, I think, a worthy successor.

The novel follows two story-lines, the strongest being that of of Byron and his friend, James, two 11-year old boys living privileged lives in England in the 1970's. James announces that 2 seconds will be added to time to balance the time clock with the movement of the earth and Byron is convinced that this great change will bring danger with it.

Byron's worst fears are realised when his mother has an accident while driving her Jaguar along Digby Road- despite her controlling husband, Seymour, forbidding her to go there. Diana, Byron's mother - so beautiful that she makes boys blush - is oblivious of the damage she has caused,  and drives on. When Byron eventually tells his mother that she knocked a child off her bicycle on that fateful day, his genteel existence begins to unravel despite"Operation Perfect", a campaign devised by Byron and James to save Diana. The invasion of their lives by brash Beverley from Digby Road causes escalating damage and a sequence of events beyond their control.

The second story- line moves to the present day and the life of Jim, a fifty-something man living in a caravan. Jim struggles with daily life, ruled by the compulsions of OCD and he hankers after the safety of his years spent in Besley Hill, a psychiatric hospital. His life changes when he meets Eileen and they embark on a surprising but charming relationship.

Despite the dark aspects of the novel, the characters are appealing and the narrative is scattered with delightful details like the boys' propensity to speak French when things become too difficult-or dull-to share in English.

I look forward to more from Rachel Joyce and recommend Perfect as a refreshing and entertaining read.

Title: Perfect
Author: Rachel Joyce
ISBN: 978 0857520661
Published: 2013
Publisher: Doubleday, London

 - Biddy, Highland Park Library

02 October, 2013

Matt Tebbutt's Guilty Pleasures [Anne, Helensville Library]

Over the years, I've enjoyed Matt's recipes when he hosted Market Kitchen, so stumbling across this collection in a new book's list, was serendipitous.

Matt's cooking always came across as no-nonsense, but with little chef-y touches. Things you could happily whip up at home, without having to find odd ingredients. But flash enough to impress visitors.

Like many a recipe book, the food is divided into things like starters, mains, desserts, baking... Unlike most recipe books, it's how the recipes are sorted within the sections. The sections themselves are devoted to a specific 'guilty pleasure'... Like peanut butter... Or marmite... Or white bread.

Matt's intros to each recipe are also entertaining, well worth a read in themselves.

Don't believe me? Then do what I did - get it out the library, and then end up buying a personal copy.

Title: Matt Tebbutt's Guilty Pleasures: Your Favourite Indulgences in 130 Easy Recipes
Author: Matt Tebbutt
ISBN: 9781782064671
Published: 2013
Publisher: Quercus

 - Anne, Helensville Library