30 April, 2014

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volumes 1-3

Are novellas and short stories taking too much of your time? 

Never fear, tiny stories are the thing for you!

These tiny volumes quickly caught my attention, and I speed through them. Every page contains a tiny and beautiful story, told in words and drawings, by a wide range of different authors and compiled by Hollywood star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  

Tiny Stories are a great on-the-go book, easy to dip in and out of at leisure, and of course teeny-tiny pocket-sized. 

Something light and full of fun, enjoy!

Title: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volumes 1-3
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Publisher: It Books

Date: 2011
ISBN: 9780062121660

Date: 2012
ISBN: 9780062121639

Date: 2013
ISBN: 9780062121653

29 April, 2014

Sunset Ridge by Nicole Alexander [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]

‘The troop trains would come in and the war fodder would be unloaded and begin their walk to the front.’

ANZAC Day is when we remember the sacrifices of our forebears, and this book follows three brothers from an outback station in Queensland who join up to fight the war in 1916.

It recounts their experiences and relationships in this time and in the future, when the granddaughter of the youngest brother delves into her family’s past to organise an art show.

Sunset Ridge covers a lot of ground – from outback Australia, to northern France, to the battlefields of Flanders in Belgium. It’s also set over two time periods and involves many characters and sub plots with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Despite that, it’s easy to follow and become engrossed in the stories of the various people that were affected by the Great War.

I particularly liked that this novel showed the viewpoint of the French soldiers, the British medical staff, the sweethearts and mothers of the soldiers as well as the Australian brothers. One of my favourite parts involved Roland the dog, based on a real French Red Cross dog named Prusco. I never knew that dogs were used to locate the wounded on the battlefields and was touched to see this ingenious way of making the most of the loyalty that dogs give to humans.

Very moving in parts, this book brought home the impact of war on families, whether at home or in a far-away country.

Title: Sunset Ridge
Author: Nicole Alexander
ISBN: 9781864712773
Published: 2013
Publisher: Random House

25 April, 2014

Paris was the place by Susan Conley [Suneeta, Highland Park library]

This book is a love story in every sense of the word. While romance is a part of it, some of its most achingly tender and compassionate aspects lie in the love felt between brother and sister, teacher and student, two friends and between daughter and the ghost of her mother.

The story's heroine is Willie, a 30 year old American who follows her brother to live in Paris. There she volunteers as an English teacher in a detention centre for young refugee girls, meets and falls in love with a visiting immigration lawyer and the story continues - filled with complexities and complications in the lives of a group whose ties bind them together. I have to say that on occasion these can appear a tad convenient, but the story compulsively carries you anyway.

I did find parts of the story flat and formulaic, like the lovers’ first obligatory tiff, a subsequent miscarriage, certain clichéd images of India, (where they travel on a short trip) and an exaggerated ‘French’ version of structuring English sentences). However, I would still recommend this book for its gentle prose, psychological drama and because it is set in one of the most wonderful cities on earth.

An enjoyable read that quietly stays with you awhile.
Title: Paris was the place
Author: Susan Conley
ISBN:  9780307594075
Published: 2013
Publisher: Alfred  A. Knopf

24 April, 2014

Move along please by Mark Mason (Christine, Takapuna Library)

If you purposely travel from Land's End to John O'Groats (ie. go the whole length of Britain) you can call yourself a Lejoger. Of course you can also go to other way.

Numerous people have competed this journey some walking, some cycling, others using more inventive means of transport and in this book Mark has chosen to do the journey by bus. He catches local buses, from stop to stop as he wants to really see Britain.

He interviews and eavesdrops along the way. He is an ideal travel companion, a fount of trivia with a fondness for daft place names.

Title: Move Along Please: Land's End to John O'Groats by bus
Author: Mark Mason
ISBN: 9781847947109
Published: 2013
Publisher: Random House

22 April, 2014

The Neanderthals rediscovered : how modern science is rewriting their history / Dimitra Papagianni, Michael A. Morse (Clare, Massey Library)

Image for The Neanderthals Rediscovered : How Modern Science Is Rewriting Their StoryMany of us have been fascinated by the sad story of the Neanderthals and how they were supposedly wiped out by modern humans - in other words, us. This book tells a different story. It outlines how scientists and paleontologists have discovered through genetics, that the Neanderthals live on in us all. At least, all of us whose ancestors left in Africa.

This book also shows us how scientists were recently able to extract ancient DNA from the fossils of Neanderthals and map their entire genome. They then made an exciting discovery: comparing the two they saw that the non-African people of the world have a range of 1-5% Neanderthal.

Title: The Neanderthals rediscovered : how modern science is rewriting their history
Author: Dimitra Papagianni
ISBN:  9780500051771
Published: 2013
Publisher: Thames & Hudson

21 April, 2014

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

In the state of Guerrero in Mexico, in a rural area run by the powerful men of the drug cartels, lives Ladydi Garcia Martinez. She and her mother live in a small dirt-floor shack on a mountain. The mountain has no men - they have all gone away to the United States and the women fend for themselves and protect their girl children by making them ugly, so they will not be kidnapped by the drug cartels.

Outside every house is a hole for the young girls to hide in when they hear the cartel SUVs coming, so they will not be stolen. But one day, Ladydi's friend Paula does not hear the warnings and she is taken to be a slave by one of the most powerful men in northern Mexico. Ladydi is profoundly affected by this, especially as on her return, Paula is damaged - tattooed by some man and cigarette-burned by herself, barely able to speak.

The story hangs on Ladydi's observations of her living conditions, which she realises are not usual - "I'd seen my life on television". She is both inside the events and an outside observer of what goes on around her. She seems so passive and so without any control of what happens to her and her mother seems a wreck - pining over her runaway husband, drinking and watching TV all day long.

Usually I would be overwhelmed by such hopelessness. However, I liked Ladydi: the things she noticed and the way she told things kept it all together, and getting to the bottom of what happened to Paula was another thing to keep me wanting to hear more.

Ladydi does leave the mountain. Will she get to a better life?  Read it to find out.

Title: Prayers for the Stolen
Author: Jennifer Clement
Published: London, Hogarth, 2014
ISBN: 9781781090176

17 April, 2014

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We need new Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Biddy, Highland Park)

Told in the voice of a ten-year old girl, this story is powerful and manages to combine humour with harsh reality. Darling lives with her mother and grandmother in a shantytown in Zimbabwe. She and her friends, named amongst others-Forgiveness, Godknows and Bastard, live extraordinary lives free of the boundaries of school (they have all been closed) and family life of their contemporaries in more affluent parts of the world.

The narrative appears almost dispassionate as Darling describes the seemingly endless games of the children. They flee the wealthy suburbs after sating their hunger with stolen guavas, act out dramatic scenes they have witnessed or pose while aid workers and tourists click their cameras.

In a layer below the apparent carefree fun of their lives is the memory of "Before" - before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policeman, before the schools were closed and before their fathers left for South Africa in pursuit of jobs as things fell apart in their homeland.

Darling clings on to her dreams of "My America" where she will go to live with her Aunt Fostalina and finds, instead of her land of milk and honey, a cold, dreary place where the snow sneaks in and prevents her "from going outside to live life".

This novel is crammed with word-pictures of places, times and characters. I rate it as a "must read"-prepare to be moved.

Author: NoViolet Bulawayo
New York, Reagan Arthur Books, 2013

Wake by Elizabeth Knox [Danielle, Youth Service Development]

I've read a fair amount of horror novels, but I've never felt quite so... mugged by a book before. This is an astonishing and troubling book, but the darkness is illuminated by the acts of everyday people becoming quietly heroic in an extraordinary situation.

I had previously read and adored Knox's young adult titles, the Dreamhunter duet and Mortal Fire, and the brutality of Wake's opening scenes took me by the throat and upended any expectations I had of what an 'Elizabeth Knox book' might be like. There were dark threads running through the earlier books, but be warned, even with my teenage years spent devouring Stephen King, there were sentences in Wake that made me literally cover the page with my fingers so I couldn't take in the images. The author has a very adept touch at finding just the right spare and effective details that will linger in your mind's eye.

After that set-up, I was really interested to see where the book would head, what aspect of the story would become the most important. I've read horror stories with similar beginnings which went on to become suspense tales, focusing on the remaining threats to survivors and backing this up with periodic scenes of violence. There were elements of that in Wake, but they were mostly fairly subtle. What I liked most about Wake was that it was about the people, the survivors, and how they coped with the disastrous unknown, how they transformed. Some time after I read the book, I came across Knox's wonderful and illuminating blog posts about Wake, where she writes:
"...this book has a catastrophe, but it’s also about the struggle to stay useful and good, and what’s encouraging in that."
Title: Wake
Author: Elizabeth Knox
ISBN: 9780864737700
Published: 2013
Publisher: Victoria University Press.

16 April, 2014

Charming by Elliott James [Annie, Helensville Library]

Urban fantasy with a fairytale twist.

Our hero is Charming. John Charming. Charming by name, not so much by nature. Well, he is still trying to figure out what exactly his nature is. He's not entirely human. And this led to his expulsion from the Knights Templar. After all, part of their mandate is to kill creatures like him (whatever he is).

When a blonde Valkyrie then a vampire walk into the bar he works in, he becomes embroiled in a vampire hunt with an eclectic group of hunters (think Scooby-Doo). Charming is witty, sarcastic, and scarily physically capable. 

This is an entertaining read, with welcome touches of humour, and expected moments of violence and gore. I had to read bits aloud, just to savour the tone. And, it wasn't just me - my 70-something mother enjoyed it too (and she coped with the violence and gore). 

Fans of the Dresden Files and the Iron Druid Chronicles will find much to enjoy in this one.

Title: Charming [Pax Arcana; book 1]
Author: Elliott James
Publisher: Orbit
Publication year: 2013
ISBN: 9780316253390 

12 April, 2014

The Straight Story, directed by David Lynch (DVD) [Stanley, Collections South]

A journey of a thousand miles… begins by fixing your tractor.

Alvin Straight, a frail 73-year-old man, has just found out his estranged brother Lyle has suffered a stroke. So he sets out on a journey across state borders in order to mend their relationship. He can’t drive, and is too stubborn to accept a lift, so he rigs up his tractor for the journey. 

The gorgeous scenery and the salt of the earth, warm-hearted small town folk he encounters on the way are some of the highlights of this excellent film, which is based on a true story. Director David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) manages to pull off a charming and heartwarming movie that is family-friendly – yes, really. (Did I mention it was produced by Disney?)

Fans might recognize muso Angelo Badalamenti’s touch in the soundtrack - it is slow-paced, while the movie itself includes cameos from a few Lynch regulars. Also, there’s that surreal scene with the deer… which reflects the strange atmosphere in some his other work. And a bicycle race!

Recommended viewing both for Lynch fans, and for those looking for a quirky and moving tale that is uplifting without being hokey. 

Author: David Lynch [director]
ISBN: 6867449003498
Published: 2008 [originally released 1999]
Publisher: Channel 4

The Answer To the Riddle is Me-David Stuart MacLean [Sue W Central City]

syndetics-lcThis book is amazing, terrifying and engrossing, like finding yourself situated in a  nightmare that you have no way of waking up from. This is David MacLean’s account of waking up one day finding himself on a train platform swarming with people in India. No idea of who he is or what he doing there. Can you imagine?

It turns out, over the coming months and years, the author has suffered profound amnesia as a bizarre response to an antimalarial drug. Does it make it any better to be told this? On the one hand you have the consolation of knowing you’re not suddenly insane, but then the lost memory shows no sign of coming back, remains elusive and is enough to challenge the writer’s mental health, sense of self and ability to take any decisive steps in his life.

This is as much an account of the author’s attempts to recover and gain some sense of control over his life, as it is an account of a rare and unexpected opportunity to examine himself from a very different angle, looking at himself without the blinkers of subjectively felt and lived experience. Perhaps the nightmare situation has some unintended advantages that softens the trauma of what it is to suddenly lose your sense of who you are in the world and the path you are traversing. 

This is a fascinating read, well researched and engaging on a number of levels.

Author: David Stuart MacLean
Publisher:Boston, Massachusetts : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

11 April, 2014

The Dalai Lama on what matters most: conversations on anger, compassion, and action by Noriyuki Ueda [Suneeta, Highland Park Library]

index.php (359×400)"The Buddha clearly taught that even if one has great knowledge, if his mind is not quiet, then the knowledge is worthless."

Hearing what His Holiness the Dalai Lama has to say never fails to inspire me. Even after several books based on his discussions and interviews with various people, the simplicity, open-mindedness and wisdom of “this simple Buddhist monk” as he describes himself, surprises me with new truths so powerful, they resonate at the very centre of my being. 

In this little powerhouse of a book, you can eavesdrop on a translated account of a two-day conversation between the Dalai Lama and Japanese cultural anthropologist, Noriyuki Ueda. Compassion, faith, anger and appropriate action are some of life’s dilemmas that are addressed here – all the things that matter most to the spiritual awakening of every person.
It is the kind of book that can be dipped into and pages turned until something grabs your attention or awakens an inner thinking, but as always, it is best with time for reflection in between. 
Whether you are Buddhist or not, an admirer of the Dalai Lama or new to his teachings, you will gain valuable insights into the virtues and failings of human nature, of yourself and of humankind in general. Enlightened Buddhism for the the modern world, there is something to live by, for us all.

Author: Noriyuki Ueda/Translator: Sarah Fremerman Aptilon
ISBN: 9781571747013
Published: 2013
Publisher: Hampton Rhodes Publishing

08 April, 2014

Byzantium (DVD) [Angela, Central City Library]

I like vampire films so I picked this one up, I wasn't expecting too much but I was very pleasantly surprised. This is the best vampire film I've seen since Let The Right One In. There isn't too much horror, which is good as I don't like really scary movies, Byzantium concentrates more on its characters, their history and motivations - it's more a thriller than a horror.

It is a feminist film at heart, concentrating on the turbulent relationship between vampire mother Clara (Gemma Arteton) and vampire daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), how they struggle to get by and hide from the all-male vampire sect known as 'The Brotherhood'.

Two hundred years ago Clara was living a miserable and sure to be short life, dying of syphilis, she jumps at the chance for eternal life. This and the actions that lead to her daughter becoming a vampire years later set her and Eleanor on a collision course with the Brotherhood. In modern times they're still being hunted and arrive at an English seaside town and a run-down hotel called Byzantium.

Eleanor starts seeing a boy, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and struggles with keeping her true identity a secret from him. This is the weakest part of the film, mainly because of the mediocre acting and atrocious attempt at an English accent from the American actor who plays Frank. They tried to explain this away by saying he spent some time in America when he was younger, but I don't see why they couldn't just hire an English actor who can act.

That aside, I really enjoyed this film and can highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys vampires movies and light horror.

Title: Byzantium [DVD]
Director: Neil Jordan
Year: 2012
Publisher: Demarest Films
Rating: R16 - Restricted to persons 16 years and over. NOTE: Horror, violence, sex scenes and offensive language.

06 April, 2014

A tale for the time being by Ruth Ozeki [Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library]

There are dual storylines in this novel, which is told in alternate chapters. 

Nao's story is revealed in a diary. She is a teenage girl who grew up in California but had to return to Japan with her parents when her father lost his job. She is bullied at school and has to deal with her father's depression and difficult family circumstances. She finds solace with her great grandmother Jiko, who is a 104-year-old Buddhist nun. She wants to write Jiko's story, but the diary reveals more about Nao as she unburdens herself on its pages. 

Ruth is the second main character - she lives on a remote island in British Columbia and finds a carefully wrapped Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on a beach. Inside is the diary along with an antique wristwatch and a packet of letters written in French. She wonders if it is debris from the Japanese tsunami and starts to read the diary. She is drawn into the mystery of the girl's fate. 

I enjoyed this book, but it is not fast-paced so be ready for a gradual unfolding of the story with a few meandering digressions as well - which I found interesting but others may skip to get on with the story. I found Nao's story fascinating due to its insight into Japanese life and history (including the story of Nao's uncle who was forced to be a kamikaze pilot and revelations of the brutal training they were given). 

Overall this is a thought-provoking book with a focus on time and the relationship between writer and reader.

Author: Ruth Ozeki
Publisher:Viking New York 
ISBN: 9780670026630 (hbk)
Publication date: 2013

05 April, 2014

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz [Ina, Mt Albert Library]

Wes Anderson has become one of the best known, debated and loved "indie film" directors over the last 20 years. Truly American in style but otherworldly at the same time, his films always take us away into subtle but engaging stories that you want to continue to experience long after the the credits have rolled. Their beautiful visuals alone make them absolutely watch-worthy and each set is created with a care and love of detail that never ceases to amaze me.
Now, after a long 20 years filled with amazing films like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, a filmography has been published, discussing his life, work and career in detailed interviews with the director himself.
They start at the beginning with Anderson's first short film called Bottle Rocket and move on chronologically right to the latest of his films. The interviews are really insightful as his thoughts about certain decisions and events get revealed and feel very personal as the author and Anderson have a long history together. On the visual side, many details are interwoven into the text: artifacts, memorabilia, still photographs from the set, frame enlargements, storyboards, influences and references, ... the list goes on - It's like looking through the personal visual diary of Anderson himself.
Throughout the book you can feel that unique voice of his work, a style that many indie filmmakers emulate, but no one quite matches. If you are a fan, you can't miss this book, it will make you want to watch all his films again plus the references and influences. So get ready for a journey of discovery.  

04 April, 2014

Susceptible by Genevieve Castree [Tim, Central]

Susceptible is a comic book filled with lots of little stories about a girl called Goglu. She grows up a little bit between one story and the next- in the beginning a small girl at the edge of early memory and by the end a teenager who is old enough to leave home. The book is about her being at the mercy of her childish parents and her struggle to understand the unfathomable way they act. I really like this one early story from when she is about five years old and she lives with her Mother and Father. She is sitting inside her house at night, looking out the window. Her Father sits outside on his motorcycle- the glow of the headlight is the main thing she can see. Then another motorcycle rides up with its headlight glowing and joins him and then her father rides away with it into the dark. And then after that Goglu and her mother live on their own. This is all quite plainly told and I like how Castree avoids explaining or complaining too much (‘Goglu’ is really Castree by another name so this ‘graphic novel’ is no work of fiction). Her drawings are beautiful and delicate and precise and cartoony all at the same time- they kind of remind me of Julie Doucet and Tove Jansson- and, along with the understated writing and mosaic-like structure, make Susceptible a book that I kept coming back to.
Title: Susceptible
Author: Genevieve Castree
Published: 2012
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterlyhttp://search.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz/?itemid=|library/marc/supercity-iii|b2806653

03 April, 2014

Wild Tales by Graham Nash (Juliet, Mangere East Library)

Rock legends like Graham Nash made music that defined a generation and gave the world some of the most memorable songs, such as 'Marrakesh Express', ' Teach your children' and Carrie Anne. From his working class roots in post war Manchester UK to California, embracing the Woodstock generation, Nash creates a journey worthy of a narrative, and promising like all good rock legends elements of sex, drugs and fine, fine music.

He was a founding member of British iconic band 'The Hollies' and was a friend of both the' Beatles' and 'The Rolling Stones'. His success continued in the USA, where he became the Nash of folk rock icons 'Crosby, Stills and Nash'. His unique vocal and musical talents made him worthy of twice being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nash can be defined by his many musical successes but equally by his activism and love of photography.

I love the candor and intrigue that this book offers the reader, and recommend this autobiography to all those who want to jump aboard the 'Marrakesh Express' and take the wild ride that is the life of Graham Nash.

Title:  Wild Tales
Author: Graham Nash
Publisher: Crown Archetype

02 April, 2014

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb [Zoe, Waitakere Central Library]

A prequel to the Farseer trilogy, Hobb tells the tale of the darkest legend of the Six Duchies. 
Princess Caution, never properly bound to her name, refuses all attempts to be married off & instead bears an illegitimate son. Known as the Piebald Prince for the markings on his skin, the young prince is raised by Caution's lowborn companion, alongside her own son.

Meanwhile, the king’s refusal to name another heir over his illegitimate grandson brings issues of the succession to the forefront. As the perceived legitimate successor amasses power, the Court becomes divided and the threat of violence builds.

I enjoyed this tale, written in the voice of Felicity, companion and caregiver to first Caution and then her son. The Willful Princess and the Piebald is a brief (200 page) and engaging story of loyalty, intrigue and betrayal with a whisper of magic.

Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Date: 2013
IBSN: 9781596065444

01 April, 2014

Blood Secret by Jaye Ford [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]

Escaping a violent past, Rennie stumbles upon Haven Bay, a small town north of Sydney. She only intends to pass through but finds she feels safe, so gets a job and somewhere to live.

Four years on she is happy with her partner Max when he suddenly vanishes from a party they are attending. Is his disappearance something to do with a recent road rage incident or is someone from Rennie's past trying to get to her? Friends, family and the police are all helping search for Max and there are a number of theories on how and why he has gone.

The events in this thriller are drawn out and the clues to what happened in Max and Rennie's hidden past are drip-fed as you keep reading. Blood secret moves along at a good pace and gets more urgent towards the end when Rennie is getting closer to solving the mystery. The small-town dynamics are described well, as are the emotions of the main characters, especially Rennie as she grapples with the possibility of Max coming to real harm.
The ties of family, both good and bad, feature throughout the book as the underlying theme. I read this one quickly - it has a story that makes you want to hurry to the end for the solution, and, like all good thrillers, has short, sharp chapters.

Title: Blood Secret
Author: Jaye Ford
ISBN: 9781742756776
Published: 2013
Publisher: Bantam