26 July, 2014

No mercy : true stories of disaster, survival and brutality by Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff [Anita, Blockhouse Bay]


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This book is fascinating - not just because of the accounts about stranded disaster victims from ship wrecks and plane crashes, but the comparisons between those groups that survived successfully and those that did not make for interesting reading. Sometimes adversity brings out the best in people, at other times it does the opposite. 

Using true stories from history as case studies (such as the Batavia shipwreck 1629,  the raft of the Medusa 1816, the Uruguayan flight 571 crash in the Andes 1972, and the Robber Cave experiment 1954)  the authors investigate the physical and psychological changes that affect these people, and also compare them to imagined scenarios such as William Goldings 'Lord of the Flies'.

They look at how the initial reactions of those involved are crucial to what happens further on. They investigate panic in its various forms, (freeze, flee, faint or fight), and establish that the actions of those in charge can have a huge impact on the rest of the survivors. Not surprisingly those disasters with the worst outcomes usually have the captain and crew looking out for themselves and leaving the rest to fend for themselves. No women and children first for them, (actually they have the worst survival rate!). A most interesting comparison is made between two shipwrecks on Auckland island, (the Grafton and the Invercauld) which both happened in 1864. One was a complete and utter disaster with only three survivors out of the several that made it to shore. In the other all of the men survived due to compassion, good leadership and planning.

Factors such as alcohol, starvation, suicide, fear of the dark and of course cannibalism are all looked at. All in all a well researched and compelling read  This book makes you wonder  what you might do if similarly tested.

Title: No Mercy: true stories of disaster, survival and brutality
Author: Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff 
Publisher: Melbourne, Vic. : The Text Publishing Company  
Year: 2013  
ISBN: 9781922147240 (pbk.)

25 July, 2014

Going solo : the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone by Eric Klinenberg [Claire, Central]

In 1950, only 22 percent of American adults were single. Today, more than 50 percent of them are single and 31 million live alone (1 out of every 7 adults). Britain, Scandinavia and Japan all post higher figures.
In this book renowned sociologist Klinenberg explores this sudden rise in solo living and the effect it's having on society.

If you're one of these predominately urban singles this book will lift your spirits. The popular myth that living alone leads to loneliness and isolation has been blown apart by Klinenberg.

He finds that people who live alone tend to spend more time socializing with neighbours and friends than people who are married. They are more likely to eat out and excercise, attend art and music classes, go to public events and lectures and even volunteer.

And the reason so many of us choose to live alone is...because we can! Being able to afford to live alone is seen as "a mark of distinction, not a social failure" - it's a symptom of a society's growing wealth. The rise of women's liberation has meant more women are working now and are able to support themselves financially and technology (cell phones,TV,DVDs,computers) has enabled us to live alone and still be in touch with others.
Being alone is no longer boring! We can now be constantly entertained.

Finding solitude is particularly important for those who spend alot of time online and in social media. With the pace of life becoming more and more hectic and the workplace increasingly competitive many young aspiring professionals are finding that they require solitude to restore their personal energy. Solo dwellers tend to create 'urban tribes' and many people find that the like-minded people they work with provide them with all the company they need.

The big question this book poses is how will we shape our cities and dwellings so we can all live together separately in the most effective and efficient way. The author gives an example of a community owned facility in Stockholm where 43 people live in 'companionable autonomy'. Separate flats make up one building which has its own restaurant, library, gym and a party space.

Thinking about New Zealand ... are our suburbs which were designed for nuclear families outdated? It looks liked dwellings will have to be more of a mixture to cope with the new ways we are living. This book leaves you with plenty to think about.

Author: Eric Klinenberg
ISBN: 9781594203220
Publisher: New York,N.Y.:Penguin Press,2012

22 July, 2014

The Accident by Chris Pavone [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]


They say to write about things that you know, and Chris Pavone has taken that advice by writing a novel about the publishing industry – he was a book editor for nearly two decades.

It’s a good thriller too, with an original story that moves along at a fast pace, with secrets galore and plenty of intrigue.

Book editor Isabel is sent an anonymous manuscript titled ‘The Manuscript’  that has the potential to ruin careers and bring down companies. It tells of a shocking incident that happened to a well-known media mogul over 20 years ago. Rogue CIA operative Hayden is trying to track down the manuscript and make sure all evidence of it is destroyed, including the people that have read it. The author has gone into hiding and is constantly checking he is not being followed.

Pavone's book is cleverly set over one day. Excerpts of the manuscript are dotted through the story and they reveal bit by bit what it is that so many people are trying to hide.

I was impressed that the author managed to fit so much action in one day and include a number of characters. It's interesting to find out what goes on behind the scenes of the publishing industry too, although I don't imagine it's quite as exciting as this story!

Author: Chris Pavone
Published: 2014
Publisher: Crown Publishers

20 July, 2014

Hung Up by Kristen Tracy [Emma, East Coast Bays Library]


I thought this was gonna be really sugary (romance-y), judging by the cover, but it wasn't (surprisingly enough). Was super easy to read and quite entertaining.

Lucy and James have only met on the phone by accident. James got a recycled number when he got his cellphone, while the number was for an engravers, making plaques etc. Lucy was the person who got ripped off by the company, but a friendship soon blossoms between the two, as they exchange phone calls. Soon they become quite close and end up sharing secrets that they didn’t think they would tell anybody, including their newfound anonymous friend.

I didn't see the twist at the end coming at all but I'm glad how the book turned out.

Title: Hung Up
Author: Kristen Tracy
Publisher: Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, 2014.
ISBN: 9781442460751

12 July, 2014

The Harm in Asking - Sara Barron [Sue W, Central City Library]


There is nothing like a good over sharer with a willingness to reveal  their own incidents of awkwardness and cringe inducing interactions to make you feel better about life in general. Sara Barron- American, Jewish, embarrassing family,  has a generosity of spirit in unmasking all of those moments most of us hide away securely and do not divulge to anyone. 

Bless you Sara Barron!  This collection of essays about her life, rich in source material and mortifying incidents is a beam of pure undiluted sunshine during the bleakest of winter months. Not embarrassed to admit her problem with flatulence, she uses it is a barometer to gauge the likely success of potential suitors based of their initial reactions to her outspoken gut. Then there is the period of  desperate attempts to try being gay or bisexual to make herself more interesting. In fact whole sections of the book are about   her misguided efforts to make herself more hip or edgy or whatever the latest moniker is denoting attractiveness and cutting edge style. 

Sweetie, the one thing you are, without even trying is wonderfully funny!!! Thank you Sara for sharing with the group, its like being privy to a good gossip among close girlfriends. 

Author: Sara Barron
ISBN: 9780307720702
Publisher: Three Rivers Press New York 2014

10 July, 2014

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook (Biddy, Highland Park)

An enthralling read about post-war Germany. Colonel Lewis Morgan is posted to Hamburg in 1946. His task is to oversee the reconstruction of this devastated city and turn the pro-Nazi population into abiding citizens accepting of the regime established by the occupiers. Morgan is joined by his wife, Rachael, grieving the loss of their elder son in the war, and Edmund, now their only child.

Morgan makes a courageous move when he offers to share the substantial house requisitioned for him and his family with the house's owner, a German widower and his daughter. Neither his colleagues nor his wife are comfortable with the arrangement but he insists that he cannot turn the German family out of their home to go onto a camp.The house is, he explains, .."more than my family needs, and certainly more than we are used to ."

The author paints a fascinating picture of life in post-war Germany, a period not frequently covered in novels. Emotions encountered are strong in this society of displaced, desperate people living alongside the British occupiers, some empathetic and some taking advantage of their elevated status in elegant requisitioned homes.  Brook tackles this strong subject matter evocatively and yet without sentimentality.

Characters are real and it is difficult not to feel sympathy for those on both sides. The plot is far from predictable as surprising relationships develop and scenes from their various pasts are revealed.

There is talk of a movie in the works and the plot and characters would certainly convert well on to the screen.

Title: The Aftermath
Author: Rhidian Brook
Publisher: Viking, London
Date: 2013
ISBN: 9780670921126

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett [Danielle, Youth Service Development]

The first rule of the town of Wink is: You do not talk about the town of Wink. This is a tricky review to write without giving away too much. At the core of this sprawling, slowly unfolding horror novel is a messy mass of secrets; the things the townsfolk hide from each other, the things they deliberately fail to acknowledge in their own lives, the ugly arrangements and compromises of life in Wink.

Wink is a small town in New Mexico that formed around a research lab up on the mesa. Turns out Coburn National Laboratory and Observatory was delving into some interesting stuff... cue dark thoughts about Raccoon City and Aperture Labs and Things Best Left Alone. Into this picturesque but ominous setting comes Mona, ex-cop, drifter, looking to find out about the mysterious past of her late mother who turns out to have been a leading Coburn scientist.

Although I can't talk too much about it without giving things away, American elsewhere sets up some good, solid mysteries for the reader to slowly piece together. The present-tense point-of-view hops from head to head which while distancing the reader from Mona somewhat, also gives the reader some eerie teasers about what's going on in Wink and who some of the more shadowy characters might be. There are several times when Mona seems to miss the implications of what's happening around her, but the reader - who has more pieces to the puzzle - has plenty of 'aha!' moments. I found myself preferring the other characters to Mona, to be honest; she sometimes seemed a bit thinly drawn, whereas some of Wink's other inhabitants were wonderfully idiosyncratic and unpredictable, or invited more empathy.

A warning for those who like their horror oblique: American elsewhere can be quite violent, at times, though Bennett is also effective at establishing a mood of quiet and understated threat. While the book provides deftly-written imagery and set pieces that echo other classic horror stories and games - as with Mona's excursion into the abandoned (but not empty) Coburn laboratory - the big secrets and back-story of Wink also feel fresh and vivid and bring a lot of energy to the story. If you have the patience for a long, slow-burning horror - at 670+ pages it's a bit of a doorstopper - it can be a rewarding, entertaining and memorable read.


Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Publisher: Orbit
Date:2013
ISBN: 9780316200202 

08 July, 2014

Hello New York: an illustrated love letter to the five boroughs. By Julia Rothman. [Ana, Central Library]

 Hello NY “, an illustrated love letter to the five boroughs” is a small, cute book, published in 2014, which catches the eye with its colourful aerial drawing of New York city on the cover.

If you love New York - or if you have never been there but are interested in learning some quirky facts about this great city, this is the book for you.  It is full of short articles on the most diverse subjects – places, people, little-known facts, each of which is described affectionately and succinctly by the author, and accompanied by her own drawings. It is a book you will be entertained by; you can pick up and skim through, or you can use it as an informative guide to find fascinating places to discover.

So instead of a dry description of the New York’s famous ‘the Met’ museum, we have two pages of “Ten treasures I would take home from the Metropolitan Museum of Art”, with a brief note and a drawing of each of the author’s favourite items. Two pages of ‘Sidewalk snacks under five bucks’ – no unnecessary words, just the name and a bold drawing of each. Then the article on Pizza describes how there are more than twenty places with ‘Ray’ in their name, many claiming to be the original ‘Ray’s Pizza’. To emphasise this we have a hand-drawn map of Manhattan with the locations of each indicated by a pizza ingredient. 

There are serious articles as well. While there is not undue reference to the twin towers tragedy, there is an article about a tattoo artist who developed a special tattoo for the firemen who survived to remember their fallen mates, and donated the proceeds to a charity for their widows and children. We learn in another article how Julia Rothman’s grandmother came to New York as a child, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, how her father had gone to America in search of a better life for the family but became isolated there due to the First World War. Her mother died, and the children travelled to America, arrived at Ellis Island where they were finally reunited with their father.

This is a carefully constructed book and in addition to the pen and ink drawings, there are a lot of handwritten notes. Furthermore there are several unusual fonts used in the book, and calligraphy. So the words flow up and down, in a personal style as though we are hearing the author recite them. This is a great little book for an interesting and informative look at one of the world’s most fascinating cities. 


Title: Hello NY “, an illustrated love letter to the five boroughs
Author: Julia Rothman
Published: San Francisco : Chronicle Books, c2014
ISBN: 9781452109848

Far from the tree : a dozen kinds of love by Andrew Solomon [Christine, Takapuna]

We have vertical identities, the characteristics that we have in common with our parents and their  parents; race, religion, language and to a degree ability. It is disturbing when children are 'other'.  This book explores that 'otherness'. Some people may have more in common with other people with the same condition than with their own families.  They form horizontal communities.

Deaf, Gay and Little People; people with autism, Down's Syndrome,  schizophrenia, severe physical disabilities; those who believe that the are the wrong gender; those that are far ahead of their age cohort, those conceived by rape, have gay parents or those who commit crime can be seen as fruit fallen far from their parental trees.  There is a chapter  devoted to each of these. 

Andrew is gay, so he knows first-hand the stress a such a difference causes; the search for a 'cure' and the eventual accommodations that people who love each other make so that they can live well together.

I meant to just dip in and out of this massive book, but ended up reading every chapter, and thinking about things that had never crossed my mind before.

Title: Far from the tree : a dozen kinds of love
Author: Andrew Solomon
ISBN: 9780701176112
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Date: 2013

07 July, 2014

The shadow society by Marie Rutkoski [Christine, Takapuna]

As a foster child, moving from home to home Darcy never really belonged anywhere. Then she found out that she wasn't human, not in the way the rest of us are. The Great Fire of Chicago somehow caused a dimensional split, two worlds emerging from one. In this world the Darcy's people are exterminated, in the other they are a hidden minority; despised and feared for their ability to 'ghost'. Darcy juggles conflicting loyalties as she works out where she really belongs. 



Title: The shadow society
Author: Marie Rutkokski 
ISBN: 9780701176112 
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux 
Date: 2012

Click on this link to go to catalogue record  Shadow society

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi [Emma, Birkenhead Library]


I entered this book expectation-free and was soon immersed in a story about a woman escaping her miserable past, finding a family and a new life in a small town. Everything might have been looking full of roses. But, this was a gothic tale. I should have been warned by the serpeant on the gorgeous cover.

Boy Novak is a young woman running from her wicked rat catcher father. She ends up in a small town where she marries a widower (Arturo) with a beautiful daughter, named Snow, whom everybody loves. Boy gives birth to another girl who they call Bird, on Snow's suggestion.

But Bird is born with dark skin, and the family secret is revealed: Arturo's parents are light-skinned African American ("coloured") who have moved north, and have been passing as white for many years. Seems they have worked hard to keep this hidden. Arturo's sister was sent away as a child, because she was too dark. Boy, sensing something threatening in Snow, sends her away as well, to live with this aunt.

This, for me, was when things take a sinister turn. Why does Boy send the innocent child away? Is she turning into a wicked stepmother? Bird, as she grows, thinks often of her sister, and aged 13, strikes up a correspondence with her. The girls discover they share things in common, like they don't always appear in mirrors...the blurred edge of a fairy tale world.

What follows is testimony from each of Boy, Snow and Bird, tells of their eventual re-uniting, and and strange twist which finds them eventually seeking out the ultimate in wicked-ness, the rat catcher. Snow White without the dwarfs, with a sprinkling of Rumplestiltskin, perhaps?

Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Published: New York City, 2014
ISBN: 9781594631399