29 December, 2013

iD: the Second Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby (reviewed by Paul, Birkenhead)

Ok, I think I've almost had enough robot sex now. Madeline Ashby continues on where she left off in vN and gives us a fuller grimmer sense of her grand conceit: the Church as a bunch of cynical perverts who have created androids as the ultimate ethical sex toys. Ones they like to half starve, so theyre kept small and young looking, really young. Anyway I don't want to regurgitate what I said in my review of vN, so I'll just shamelessly link to that now.

Actually its not just the church that looks depraved, its pretty much most men. And rich people and governments. And corporations. And the media. In fact, if you're not on that list you probably weren't in the book. In other words Ashby has created a whole society where it makes perfect sense to treat androids as if they're just robots, after all theyre just robots..

For all that its full frontal there's nothing lurid or gratuitous in Ashby's telling. Javier the main character here is the proverbial world weary mostly-a-prostitute-just-to-get-by prostitute but he's also optimistic and loving. Very loving in deed, on account of his programming: the androids have a built in "failsafe" which means they tend to shut down if there's any threat to a human. It's a particularly nice-as-in-vicious riff on the Asimovian laws.

Actually, ponder that 'failsafe.' Its a clever narrative device that allows Ashby to constrain these "machines" to human dimensions and tell a comprehensible story with empathy, but

oh, i seem to have run out of space.

Title: iD: the Second Machine Dynasty
Author: Madeline Ashby
Publisher: Angry Robot, 2013.

Reviewed by Paul, Birkenhead Library

27 December, 2013

Departures: seven stories from Heathrow/ Tony Parsons [Suneeta, Highland Park library]

“The airport never really slept, the pilot thought. It only closed its eyes, and waited for the dawn.”

The seven short stories that make up this slim volume of vignettes offer glimpses into the secret life of Heathrow airport. They follow fearful fliers, asylum seekers, pilots, air traffic controllers, firefighters and other airport workers. Apparently, the author spent a week at Heathrow to get the background material for the book. He includes everyday details of airport life such as the transport of live animals, drug mules dying through swallowed narcotics, to how birds can disrupt flights.
Alongside, he describes the wonder of airports and flight in which the airport is described as "a cathedral, built to inspire awe…” and the thrilling observation of the pilot flying a 777 at 35,000 feet, “he saw a blood red moon rise into a black sky and for a moment he could not breathe."

Written in a functional style, with some very insightful observations my interest was captured enough from the first story on, to want to finish it in one go.  For those travelling these holidays it will make a good airport lounge or in-flight companion  and for those staying put, a great arm or deckchair read.

Title: Departures: seven stories from Heathrow
Author: Tony Parsons
ISBN: 9780007458653
Published: 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins

23 December, 2013

Abominable science! : origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other famous cryptids / Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero.(Clare Kitt, Massey Library)


Have you ever wondered where the stories of the Yeti, Sasquatch or the Abominable Snowman came from? Many of us are fascinated by the possibility of an ancient hominid or supposedly extinct species, existing somewhere in a remote location, seen by only a few, but still out there somewhere.
One of the authors tells us how his fascination with the subject was sparked by his discovery of a giant footprint, when he was in the American wilderness. He later discovered that he had been hoaxed by friends, but it started him wondering.  
The writers take us through the mythology and the history of the stories of the different creatures from all over the world. They outline their own opinions on why people continue to tell these stories and what it is that fascinates us so much about them.
This is an entertaining, not too stodgy scientific read, just right for the holidays, a shady chair and a long cool glass of something.
Prothero is a leading palaeontologist and Daniel Loxton writes for the Sceptic magazine, so they approach the subject slightly differently, but with the obvious intention of proving whether such creatures can or do exist. Their conclusions are offered to the reader, and they certainly give each story a thorough examination.

Title: Abominable Science! : origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other famous cryptids

Authors: Daniel Loxton and Donald Protheroe

Publisher: Columbia University Press, 2013

ISBN: 9780231153201 (hardback)

Caliban's War by James Corey [reviewed by Paul, Birkenhead]

If you really want to you can go a long way past stories with 'star' in the title. Case in point, this. Sprawly, epic, with planet-squashing matroksha-esque brain.. Ok, let's just call it 'space opera' then.

Plenty of fighting and killing and blowing up stuff, but what makes a book like this more than just milgrade SF is that the gungho is in the grip of characters trying to do more than just f, k & blow stuff up.

Actually I was reminded of Dune, in the way that the politicians were out-convoluting each other without falling into the trap of borking my head off by being talking-marching stumps for the isms of left, right and weirder. I guess another way to say it is that they was twisty thinkers.

Equally Dune-y was the way the supersoldiers (not as twee as it sounds) presupposed more - more super, super-super, such that everything just seems to be about to ratchet up another superknot.. Ok, to really appreciate this fact you'll need to ogle the whole tril.

So Dune-oid, yes. Also, Peter F Hamiltonian. In particular Great North Road (but better; but-but, not better than the Night Dawns Trilogy). I think we can go ahead and coin a sub-sub genre here: Enviro-Space Opera, where unnatural ecosystems plus artificial intelligence stirred by too many finger analogs equals runaway something or other hubristles..

Read it. Don't go to Venus.

Title: Caliban's War. The Expanse bk 2.
Author: James Corey.
Publisher: Orbit, 2012.

20 December, 2013

Railsea by China Mieville [reviewed by Paul, Birkenhead]

Mr Mieville. With a name like that I just know that somewhere he must have a Mini-Me. No wonder his point of views are so unusual..

Think King Rat. The boy-rat rat-boy slipping in and out of every bit of London's architecture in one long carnival ride, wild with the enthusiasms of language. There's been many intriguing books since then, but I've really enjoyed Railsea. The politics, the politicisation, is better submerged in the story, so the adventure and language stand out and almost get clean away, and us carried with them. Perhaps this is because it's a "kids" book. Who cares? Giant moles! Slipping in and out of every bit of.

It's like Moby Dick on Dune, with trains. Oh my-

Actually if Lance Armstrong has taught us anything it's that it's not about giant moles per se, but the whole ecosystem. Big moles, little moles, and the boy who would be. And this world, why is it as it is?

As usual Mieville (Melville?) is unusual, taking tropes and trumping them. So, the Captain Ahab figure drives a train and is female, yes. But the radical aspect here is how she's only one among many Ahabs and their obsessions are codified and socialised. They might as well form a group on Facebook.. It's all a fabulous sub-detail, neatly gilded to the main plot. It's a triumph of Mieville's wit and an essential part of his ethic.

Yes but.. giant moles!

Title: Railsea
Author: China Mieville
Publisher: Del Ray Ballantine 2012.

Reviewed by Paul, Birkenhead Library.

19 December, 2013

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood [Angela, Central City Library]

What do we leave behind? How will others know us after we are gone? Iris Chase is approaching the end of her life. She is currently living a solitary and plain life, far removed from the privileged and glamorous days of her youth. Though she is not unhappy, she is haunted by memories of her sister, Laura, and decides to write a memoir of her earlier life.

The prose of Atwood's work is beautiful, some sentences are so gorgeously described you just want to read them again and again. The story is told in three main narratives, one with Iris in the present day, one with Iris in the past and one through excerpts from the cult Science Fiction novel The Blind Assassin written by her sister Laura Chase. These narratives intertwine to create a rich picture of  life in Canada in the 1920-40s and the social changes of the time.

I really enjoyed this story, especially the excerpts from the The Blind Assassin, I don't usually read literary  novels but this one was extremely readable and I highly recommend it.

Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2000.

Title: The Blind Assassin
Author: Margaret Atwood
ISBN: 9780385720953
Published: 2000
Publisher: Random House

17 December, 2013

Calling me home by Julie Kibler [Kathy, Collections Orewa]

This book was described as being in the same vein as Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and it does have the same underlying themes of discrimination and racial prejudice, but in this tale the relationships between the white and black characters are much more intimate and personal.
Set in the 1930s and the present time, this is the story of Isabelle, the daughter of a wealthy family in Kentucky. Against convention, she falls in love with the son of her family’s housekeeper and they embark on a secret affair. Many years later when Isabelle is nearly 90, she asks her black hairdresser Dorrie to drive her to a funeral from their hometown in Texas to Cincinnati. She gives no other details but Dorrie agrees and as the trip progresses, Isabelle’s story unfolds. It is not until they reach Cincinnati that Dorrie discovers the significance of the journey.
The story alternates between Isabelle’s youth and the present day with Dorrie. The two women are both strong characters and have an interesting relationship- despite Isabelle’s brusqueness you can sense the fondness Dorrie has for her. At the beginning of the story I found Isabelle to be a bit one-dimensional but as the book progresses her experiences change and strengthen her personality.
This story of lost loves, inequality, loyal friendship and reflecting on past times was a good thought-provoking read with a good mix of sadness and optimism. No spoilers, but a very well crafted ending...

Title: Calling me home
Author: Julie Kibler
ISBN: 9781250014528
Published: 2013
Publisher: St Martin's Press

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater [reviewed by Paul, Birkenhead]

The Scorpio Races was excellent; this is better. An urban fantasy that reminded me somewhat of Mythago Wood and The Dark is Rising, with a touch of The Magicians' disillusion insinuating itself.. So, wow!

Often fantasy novels disgorge huge encrustations of political manoeuvrings, guilds, gimmicks, gadgets, & magicks - as well as a cast of thousands hollering, reeling, reciting & transforming, so that by page two one is quite weary. 

Stiefvater gives something better: build-up. She takes the time to develop empathy for characters, without slacking on plot. The magic seeps into the storylines, entwined with the quest group's dynamics - if it is a quest, if it is a group.  And while it might be a young adult book, (in that the leads are teen-ish), this categorisation doesn't signify undue wallowing. Maybe because Stiefvater has such a nice take on gender roles you're never pained by their relations, just intrigued.

Which is just to say - at least so far! The book ends on a threshold; and I was cursing "The  Raven Boys" for being only the first in a, gulp, "cycle." 

And yeah, there's a- oh wait, that might be a spoiler. Caw, that was close.

Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2012

Reviewed by: Paul, Birkenhead Library

16 December, 2013

365 gratefuls: celebrating treasures, big and small by Hailey and Andrew Bartholomew [Surani, Waitakere Central library]

If we think about the books we tend to read throughout our lives, we very rarely actually see the author behind the amazing creation before us. In this particular book we have the pleasure of seeing the author behind it if we look hard enough and connect with what inspired her at each page. I say this because this book is actually a compilation of photographs the author took over a year.
The author, Hailey Bartholomew, had been struggling with depression and when she reached out for help, she received some life changing advice:
 'Find something every day that you are grateful for.'

What followed is the book before you. Hailey used her skills as a photographer and captured pictures of her 'gratefuls.' This amazing book recounts Hailey's recovery from depression through these photographs of everyday moments. It also has stories and images from many others who have encountered the effects of gratitude. Reading these stories that accompanied most of the photographs was an emotional and uplifting experience for me.

'365 gratefuls' is an inspirational book that has helped me see the world in a brand new light. When I recommended this to my mother, she read half and insisted I buy her a copy instead!!
I hope everyone who reads '365 gratefuls' finds the same inspiration I did!!

Title: 365 gratefuls: celebrating treasure, big and small
Author: Hailey and Andrew Bartholomew
ISBN: 9780399161186
Published: 2013
Publisher: New York: Perigee

14 December, 2013

Hyperbole and a Half [Sue W Central ]Allie Brosh

syndetics-lcHow has it taken so stupidly long for me to hear about Allie Brosh? She has a blog with the same title as the book and has a huge audience of loyal fans. There is something both child like and slightly manic about her illustrations, which just makes her all the more endearing. This book is a memoir but narrated with illustrations, wonderfully deceptively simplistic looking cartoons. Its impossible not to be charmed by the author, both through her illustrated incidents of her life and the stories themselves. I love the fact that her illustrated form doesn’t change from childhood anecdotes through to adulthood, somehow reinforcing that sense of never fully being or feeling like a certified “adult”. I think my personal favorites from this book are the stories about her two cray cray dogs, “simple” dog and “helper” dog. Not to mention the sugar incident from childhood. This last one made the list because those of us driven my a need for sugar, recognize that this impulse is unfortunately not one you necessarily outgrow. Read the book-check, saved the blog to favourtes-check.
Reviewed by: Sue W

Author:Allie Brosh
Simon and Schuster

And God said “Billy!” by Frank Schaeffer [Stanley, Central City Library]

Frank Schaeffer has had an interesting life. Now a Huffington Post blogger and author of assorted nonfiction and fiction loosely based on his experiences, the former pro-life activist and son of evangelical writer Francis Schaeffer, takes us on a wacky and completely irreverent ride through the world and life of one ‘born-again’ Christian. Billy is a troubled man, “full of self-justifying crap" and a strange internal monologue that he thinks is God [*spoiler* -> it isn’t!], later replaced by the voice of his friend Molly, a 'backslider’ who has secretly met another woman. 

Trying to market “God’s movie” in Hollywood, he settles for a low-brow genre film on the advice of the few scriptwriters who get back to him. Billy is given a dire revenge-explotation-horror film to direct, with no budget and little time. Treated like dirt by producer and prima donna actors, he seeks to improve the narrative by adding lines from children’s poetry for the protagonist to recite while eyeing targets with his rifle. Most of the action takes place in apartheid-era South Africa, which is a curious backdrop to this strange tale.

Readers of any of the books in his “God Trilogy” (Crazy for God; Patience With God; Sex, Mom and God) will recognise some of the paradigms he challenges or puts forward. At times the narrative is secondary to the idea, or the crazy leaps of logic in Billy’s head. This story and setting is based in part on his experience directing four “pretty terrible” movies during a brief and unsuccessful movie career. 

The last section of the book was so unexpected and brilliant – and ultimately redemptive – that it makes the many flavours of crazy that permeate the novel worth going through. Let’s just say that it introduces the most compelling character, a Russian Orthodox monk from Namibia, who is instrumental in the devastating conclusion to this tale.

If you are looking for Christian fiction, then… maybe get something else that’s less profane and irreverent and crazy (but not the Left Behind series, please). If you enjoy an unruly cocktail of movies, desire and spirituality this is for you. And don’t forget his autobiography, Crazy for God, as well. 

Author: Schaeffer, Frank
ISBN: 9781478700012
Published: 2013
Publisher: Outskirts Press

12 December, 2013

Moon over Martinborough: from Michigan to the Wairarapa - how an American city boy became a kiwi farmer By Jared Guilan [Jo, East Coast Bays Library]

I really enjoyed reading about the friendly Martinborough community who welcomed and helped this "townie" couple on their lifestyle block.  It was interesting finding out about the boutique products being produced and I love a book that makes me laugh.

I thoroughly recommend this book.

-Jo, East Coast Bays Library

Title: Moon over Martinborough: from Michigan to the Wairarapa - how an American city boy became a kiwi farmer
Author: Jared Guilan
ISBN: 9781775530053 (pbk)
Published: 2013
Publisher: Auckland, NZ.:Random House New Zealand

11 December, 2013

The Gleaners and I by Agnes Varda [Jonny, Central]

You must see this little gem by Agnes Varda.
Varda  has got a deeply personal and highly idiosyncratic approach to documentary-making-it's more like a visual essay than a conventional documentary.
Varda nimbly balances self-reflection, of a then 62 year-old film-maker, with a deeply humane, compassionate exploration of Gleaning in French society at the turn of this century.
The film is populated with a panorama of modern gleaners, some of whom glean to survive, for political reasons or for fun.
The films deeper concerns are with people left behind just as much as the things these people salvage from societies waste.
Varda's youthful new-wave spirit powers the free-flowing structure and her willingness to experiment with (what were then) the newest digital video cameras.
Initially the film's quirks might jar with some viewers, but once you adjust to its rhythms Varda's sharp intelligence, humour and warmth will draw you in and like me, you will be sad to reach the end of this wonderful film.

The disc also includes a follow up film made two years after the success of the first and is a perfect companion-piece.

Title: The Gleaners and I
Director: Agnes Varda
Distributor: Madman Cinema 2003

09 December, 2013

The Dragon Griaule by Lucian Shepard [reviewed by Paul, Birkenhead]

There are dragons, and there are dragons. And there are dragons and there are dragons. And then there's the Dragon Griaule. Old as the hills, big as a mountain, dead as a doornail and an evil, live wire weeviling its way into the minds of characters who thought these were their stories.

Half a dozen long short stories written over nearly 30 years, Griaule is part metaphor, part figment, and actually an actual dragon. An introduction by Graham Sleight - who only sounds like a pseudonym to people who have come under the influence of Griaule - posits the dragon as an metaphor for President Reagan. Which sounds rather provincial from down here, but couple this to the epilogue where Shepherd provides a brief background-explanation to each story and it all fits together rather plausibly.

Then again.. while it might be useful to read these fantasies as fancy polemics against a hokey president, I couldn't help but think Griaule also came across as something much more baleful than that. Like, say, a writer.

Not that I'd want to over-claim that either - its not something Shepherd works up excessively as so many books and movies have. There's no deconstruction here, only destruction. Its just that these stories seem less like regular fantasy than the stuff of Mervyn Peake or Jorge Borges. Yes, no. Its just a sneaking insidious miasma of a suspicion uncurling from Shepard's fine prose. Ignore it. There's no such things as dragons anyways.

Title: The Dragon Griaule
Author: Lucius Shepard
Publisher: London, Gollancz, 2013.

07 December, 2013

FIGHTING TALK: Boxing and the Modern Lexicon by Bob Jones

Who would have thought that a lot of the words and phrases we commonly use were derived from boxing? 

This book contains a very interesting and surprising compilation of boxing terms that we read and hear about every day.  It also gives a background when/how the phrase was derived and also the examples of their usage in politics, current events and news articles.  Some of the words and phrases have also evolved and is now used differently from how it all began.  It is a thoroughly interesting reading and one which will add a sense of appreciation to the things we hear and say.  This book is conveniently arranged alphabetically by words and phrases and provides a good short glimpse on their etymology.  So, go ahead, pick up this book and enjoy … it will “knock your socks off”.

Example of surprise discoveries include:

“Double-Cross” – which comes from the concept to “cross” or bet on someone to lose a fight, however, if the fighter who was predetermined to lose suddenly wins, it results to those with the insider knowledge to squander their sure win bets … and now the term is used to describe someone who does the opposite of what was promised.

“Right on the button” – which is a slang for a punch to the point of the jaw … and is now used to mean when something is accurate.

06 December, 2013

Landscape paintings of New Zealand : a journey from north to south by Christopher Johnstone (Claire, Central Library)

Named as one of the Times Literary Supplements' book of the year, this gorgeous coffee table book is a must for anyone interested in New Zealand art. A revised edition with 32 new additions,the 135 paintings are organised geographically and range from colonial to recent times.

I was impressed by the excellent quality of the reproductions. The colours and details are fantastic. So good, you almost feel you are looking at the original. You can even see cracks in the surface on some paintings.
Biographical notes on the artist appear on the page adjascent to the painting. They make for interesting reading and often describe the artist's response to the scene, their painting style and some history about that particular area.
One of the best things about this book is the inclusion of many lesser known artists and images. I discovered a number of paintings i had never seen before and it was great to see them reproduced so beautifully.

Title: Landscape paintings of New Zealand: a journey from north to south
Author: Christopher Johnstone
ISBN: 9781869621803
Published: 2013
Publisher: Auckland, N.Z. : Godwit

A guide to the birds of East Africa : a novel by Nicholas Drayson [Christine, Takapuna]

Rose Mibikwa is an attractive woman and very knowledgeable about birds too, so it is not surprising that at least two gentlemen wish to ask her to the social event in the Kenyan calendar, the Hunt Ball.  Mr Malik is modest in both manner and means, Harry Khan is flashy, expansive and wealthy.  The self-appointed arbitrator of etiquette at the club determines that it would put the lady in an invidious position to have two simultaneous suitors.  They agree to a bird-counting competition, the winner to have the privilege of asking Rose to the ball.  These two twitchers set out on their week-long missions both with passion but using very different styles.  Gentle humour with a leavening of ornithology and delightful little sketches of some of the birds of Kenya.

Title : A guide to the birds of East Africa : a novel
Author : Nicholas Drayson
ISBN : 9780670917570
Published :2008
Publisher : Viking

05 December, 2013

Waiting To Be Heard: a memoir by Amanda Knox [Judy, Orewa Library]

It was a media frenzy with headlines like 'Sex, Lies and Murder!' and 'Foxy Knoxy', screaming out across the globe. Even in New Zealand, I think most of us were, at least vaguely, aware of the trial of Amanda Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher.

It was 2007, and Amanda had come to Perugia, Italy to study languages and creative writing at university. It was a dream she had been saving hard to fulfil, but before long it became more like a nightmare.

The ordeal began for Amanda and Raffaele when the body of Meredith, a friend and flatmate of Amanda, was found in her own bedroom. She had been brutally stabbed. Amanda describes how she tried to help the police with their enquiries, only to be treated harshly, deprived of food and rest, and then, to her shock and total disbelief, she realised she was being accused of the crime. On the basis of the testimony of the third person charged with the murder, the prosecution proceeded with their theory that Amanda had stabbed Meredith after a sex game that went wrong.

It would be impossible to understand the terror of the situation Amanda and Raffaele found themselves in, which Amanda describes in her book. They were convicted of murder, and spent four years in prison, where Amanda learned how to make the best of her situation. In 2011, her 26 year sentence was overturned by the Appeal Court and Amanda was free to return to Seattle. However, in March 2013, her acquittal was overturned by the Italian Supreme Court and the case is now being retried. Not surprisingly, Amanda has not returned to Italy for the retrial.

I think this is a brilliant book - I feel incredibly sympathetic to Amanda, who has been much maligned. I can hardly imagine a more extreme case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I really hope she goes on to make it as a successful writer.

Title: Waiting To Be Heard: a memoir
Author: Amanda Knox
ISBN: 9780062217202
Published: 2013
Publisher: New York, N.Y. Harper

-Judy, Orewa Library

04 December, 2013

The life and art of Lynley Dodd by Finlay Macdonald [Anne, Helensville Library]

Out of the gate and off for a walk went...
Surely you can finish the line. Most New Zealanders can, as can many from around the world. 

This is a loving exploration of Dame Lynley Dodd's life and career. Peppered with quotes from interviews and speeches, with - as you'd hope - many an illustration - this is approachable reading. As approachable as Lynley's work, itself. 

Who knew that famous terrier was the result of a last-minute publishing panic? Or that Bottomley Potts was originally a beagle? 

From her childhood in Kaingaroa Forest, through art school and motherhood, Lynley was always drawing, so finding herself as an illustrator wasn't much of a shock. But, being an author was. 

Beautifully presented, this is a treat for all fans.

Title: The life and art of Lynley Dodd 
Author: Finlay Macdonald. 
Publisher: Penguin. 
Publican date: 2013. 
ISBN: 9780143567967. 

~ Ann(i)e, Helensville Library. 

02 December, 2013

The last Days of the National Costume by Anne Kennedy [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

Not such a compelling subject, I first thought - Auckland in the late 1990s, a clothes-mender, an Irish dancing dress.  Not what I would usually go for.  But Anne Kennedy works magic.  Makes almost mundane subjects into something very special.  Her first book of poems (Sing-Song),  about her daughter having excema, I loved.   I also loved this book.
The Last Days of the National Costume made me feel like I was walking around Eden Terrace and central Auckland with GoGo Sligo, looking over her shoulder.  Her familiar way of talking to you,  as though you would "get it", and understand her actions, and her feelings (you do get it, sometime before she does).  GoGo lives with her husband Art in a "villa conversion", from where she runs her business: mending and altering clothing. Along with the clothes come the secrets of her clients; as she says, "people dress up to cheat" - and then they rip their clothes.  A guy brings her a dress to fix, and she becomes intrigued by him, so she keeps telling him the dress isn't ready, so he keeps coming back.  Meanwhile, there is a power cut in the city, which lasts for weeks.
This is a story of different kinds of love, of someone slowly realising things about herself, and her life.  The description is sensual - tactile and visual.  The skidding of beads across a floor, the touch of warm skin, of coarse thread, of fabric.  Against the soft light of the sun, and hurricane lamps in the darkness of no electric.   It is in soft focus, and beautiful, and yet quite common-sense too!

Title: The Last Days of the National Costume
Author: Anne Kennedy
ISBN: 9781743313862
Published : Sydney, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 2013