29 September, 2014

Spook Country by William Gibson [Kelly, Central Library]

There’s a distinct feel to the work of William Gibson. It’s in the details; the lists of products, the designer gear, the odd books characters read (Gibson put me onto Geoffrey Households wonderful Rouge Male), the strange occupations and lifestyle choice. The esoterica of modern life. If Gibson ever slips it’s when he drops a name or a brand that you are familiar with, piercing his romantic patina of ultra hip facades.

Spook Country features an ex-rock star journalist in recovery (from being in a band), a prescription drug addict detained by a rouge intelligence operative and a Chinese Cuban Santeria practitioner who works in the shadowy world of freelance information exchange. The action takes places across North America and features, as its backdrop, a secret cold civil war between factions within the American government.

Taken entirely at face value that might seem like a bad high concept movie that stars Keanu Reeves but it reckons without Gibsons dry sense of humour;

“Milgrim dreamed he was naked in Brown’s room, while Brown lay sleeping. It wasn’t ordinary nakedness, because it involved an occult aura of preternaturally intense awareness, as though the wearer were a vampire in an Anne Rice novel, or a novice cocaine user.”

It’s even funnier if you imagine the author narrating it himself in his quasi Burroughsain drawl.

Spook Country possesses a beautiful, clean prose style that never strains to impress. Like the best music it seems to induce a contact high, a stoned glide through the pages. I like to imagine William Gibson, in his Vancouver house, exploring the world via the internet, stumbling on the new, the novel, the odd. Observing with a zen, perhaps slightly bemused, detachment and then, between tokes, putting it all down on the page, one word at a time.

Title: Spook Country 
Author: William Gibson
ISBN: 9780241953549
Published: 2007
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons

26 September, 2014

Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo [Suneeta, Highland Park Library]

Possibly like a lot of people, once started, I couldn’t stop reading this book. 

Full of fun and froth on the top, with darker elements lurking underneath, this is a story of 74-year-old Barrington Jeddiah Walker, a West Indian immigrant in London, his stereotypically shrewish wife of 50 years and two grown children. It is also the story of Morris, Barry’s best friend and secret lover since their adolescent days in Antigua. 

As the charming, colourful character with a fondness for rum and Shakespearen quotations is thinking of ending his double life to come out openly with Morris, we catch glimpses of a lifetime of frustrations, resentments and lost chances. Decades of deception and trying to live up to the immigrant ideal, and portraying respectability in the community, have left Barry caught in a trap. And unfortunately some of the resulting damage afflicts those around him. We see this in his wife Carmel's brief extra-marital affair, aching as she is for his love and admiration.  

With wonderful descriptions of life in modern London and with a humour that is both dry and hilarious, author Bernadine Evaristo takes on a rather tough and unusual subject of ageing homosexuality in an Afro-carribean ethnic group and delivers a bittersweet story with a deft and tender touch. A clever combination of Patois, street and the Queen's English must make the audio version a delightful experience. If you'd like to listen to the story, request the audio CD.

"An original and brilliant voice" says Chris Abani, author of The secret history of Las Vegas. 

Title: Mr Loverman
Author: Bernadine Evaristo
ISBN: 9781617752728
Published: 2013
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

21 September, 2014

Beyond heaving bosoms : the smart bitches' guide to romance novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan [Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library]

syndetics-lcIf you like romance then you should read this book. If you are thinking of writing romance then this book is a must read. The authors Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan are responsible for the website smartbitchestrashybooks which reviews romance novels from a crew of smart bitches who will always give it to you straight ... and they do. Be prepared for plenty of wit and snark.

Romance novels are hugely popular but also looked down on as a genre, many readers who love them are reluctant to admit they read them. This book takes a critical look at the romance genre, and no, it doesn't rubbish it all, in fact it is written by two lovers of romance books, but they have no patience for badly written or plotted books.

In Beyond heaving bosoms they analyse all of the various stereotypes you find in romance, and have fun dissecting the many different plot devices and cliches, some which work, others of which are just plain silly. (Just think secret baby, or nobleman masquerading as a pirate for starters, although they concede that in the hands of a skilled writer these plots can rock). They are scathing of bad writing, no punches are pulled in their criticism of the worst this genre has to offer. There are also plenty of quotes and contributions from current and popular romance authors such as Lisa Kleypas and Nora Roberts.

Wendell and Tan look at the evolution of romance writing through the years, (modern gals are way less naive and the guys now less shouty and grabby). The Hero and Heroine types are investigated. To quote "The heroines are either so feisty they make your teeth hurt, or the embodiment of every virtue known to man, dog and Chthonic deities."  All of the different sub-genres are discussed, (think historical, suspense, paranormal and fantasy romance just for starters), and they ask if romance novels are just candy-coated porn or is it more than that? The evolution of romance cover art is also critiqued with glee.

All in all a very amusing read.

Author: Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan
ISBN: 9781416571223 (pbk.)
Published: 2009
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster

16 September, 2014

The dead will tell by Linda Castillo [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]

My first introduction to Linda Castillo’s character Kate Burkholder was on an audiobook. Her descriptions of Amish life combined with clever crime writing drew me in. A narrator brought the stories to life and I enjoyed these renditions, with the bonus of learning how to pronounce the Pennsylvanian Dutch words. Now I can’t wait for the audio version to be produced and read the print books as soon as I can get them!

This is the sixth in the series but can be read as a standalone novel. Kate is the chief of police in a small rural town and is called out to investigate a suicide. It turns out to be a murder and Kate finds links to a dreadful event from 35 years ago when five members of a family were killed and the mother disappeared, leaving a sole surviving son. When another murder occurs Kate realises she is dealing with someone intent on revenge.

I like the way Castillo writes – there is a good balance of descriptive and narrative passages, and the story draws you in. Cleverly all Kate’s ‘scenes’ are told in her voice and the rest of the story in the third person, which makes Kate’s view much more personal. Her complicated relationship with state agent John Tomasetti and her past life as a member of the Amish herself make her an interesting and comprehensive character.

You can always rely on a good twist in the books in this series, and this one doesn't disappoint.
Check out the earlier titles too, in print, eBook, or audio versions.

Author: Linda Castillo
ISBN: 9781250029577
Published: 2014
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Uganda Be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler [Sue W, Central Library]

Total light, frothy, naughty, funny trash. Chelsea Handler, I love you. Not so much  your show but your writing is hysterical. She is loud, vulgar, self-deprecating, and a person who speaks aloud the things that others filter pre-verbalising. 

The first book of Chealsea’s I came across was an entire book dedicated to the one-night stands she has had. Yes, truly! I love the fact that she was so brazen (at the risk of sounding like my mother, although mother would use the term brazen hussy) about sharing the plentiful number of candidates but also that freedom to state that yes, she is a woman with an appetite, so what of it? 

After reading that first book, I devoured everything else the library had of hers. Like I said, I am not a fan of her E! show but I love how her humour transpires in written form. This is more of the same, but with a travel focus. Places she has been with her girl bandits as willing accomplices and various examples of women  on location behaving badly. 

Title: Uganda be kidding me
Author: Chelsea Handler
ISBN: 9781455599738
Publisher: New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014  

12 September, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir [Christine, Takapuna]

The MartianFortune favours the prepared mind..

Mark Watney is in the worst possible situation; he is stranded, left for dead by his crew mates, on Mars. He is the only human on the entire planet, probably the only living thing. Mark, however, is an engineer, a botanist and a fully trained astronaut. He has the resources the aborted mission left behind which include a habitation dome, food to last six people a month, power and equipment to make breathable air and... six potatoes. What he doesn't have is immediate hope of rescue.

Much of this book is Mark's account; he devises solutions to living in his low pressure, very cold environment using historical technology when the 21st century stuff just won't do. He makes a ramp out of rocks like ancient Egyptians and a working sextant similar to those used by 18th century mariners. Totally admirable! Bear Grylls eat your hat!

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown
ISBN: 9780804139021
Date: 2014  

10 September, 2014

“The Dickens Dictionary” An A-Z of England’s greatest Novelist, by John Sutherland [Ana, Central Library]

The Dickens Dictionary’ by John Sutherland is an interesting book which provides a great insight into Dickens works, the Victorian age, and Dickens himself.  John Sutherland is a literary scholar and clearly a Dickens lover.  The book is arranged like a dictionary or encyclopaedia, with about 90 different topics, which are arranged alphabetically.

Each of the subjects covers about a page and a half and many are accompanied by a photograph, engraving or sketch.  There are topics such as Blue Death, Boz, Catholicism, Christmas, Gruel, Micawberomics, Murder, Perambulation, Pubs, Ravens, Smells, and three segments on the Thames subdivided as:  1. Death and Rebirth, 2. Pauper’s Graveyard, 3. Corruption.

The author explains some of the background to Dickens life and how he wove this into his writing.  As a 12 year old child, Charles Dickens was put to work in a boot-blacking factory while his father and family were in debtors’ prison; this was a profoundly harsh period and Dickens only ever confided the details to his biographer, but he draws on this experience in references in his writing.
We also find out that in his childhood Dickens family was constantly on the move; in later life Dickens himself moved his place of abode constantly, and his final residence was the only house he ever owned - despite being very well remunerated during his lifetime.

The author gives a lot of detail about Dickens works - he puts these in the context of the times, and Dickens own views and experiences.  We find out that Dickens popularity benefited greatly from the expansion of the railway and the steam engine. The railway allowed his works to be distributed widely and quickly.

His writings were issued in serial form, and could be purchased at the station and read on the journey. And one could purchase a publication when boarding the train, and return it again on reaching the destination, for a partial refund or as a part payment for the next instalment. Dickens was involved in a major rail accident in later life and was fortunate to be one of the few survivors.

If you have read some of Dickens works, or if you are interested in the history of the Victorian age, you will find this a real treasure trove.  It is easy to pick up and delve into; you can read one page or many.  The illustrations are equally fascinating.  It is well worth a look.

Author: John Sutherland
ISBN: 9781848313910
Published: 2012
Publisher: Icon Books

07 September, 2014

The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman [Judy, Orewa Library]

I knew a little about Jean Batten from my college days but I had no idea how famous this brave young woman from Rotorua really was until I read Fiona Kidman's brilliant new novel, The Infinite Air.

Jean Batten was obsessed by flying from an early age and, with the enthusiastic support of her mother, she pursued her dreams relentlessly, smashing existing international aviation records. Jean made the first-ever solo flight from England to New Zealand.

As well as describing her aviation achievements, Kidman reveals Jean's family relationships, especially her special bond with her mother. Of course, Kidman makes it a very interesting read.

The Infinite Air inspired me to research more into what Jean achieved - I found clips of her landing her plane, and giving short speeches. She was a real star, and I appreciate that Fiona Kidman has reminded us about her. It's a great read.

Title: The Infinite Air
Author: Fiona Kidman
ISBN: 9781869797928
Published: 2013
Publisher: Random House

- Judy, Orewa Library

Prodigal Father Pagan Son by Anthony 'LT' Menginie [Juliet, Mangere East Library]

Cover image for Prodigal father, pagan son : growing up inside the dangerous world of the Pagans motorcycle club I pondered whether this book would scare me more than enlighten me upon picking it up, but once I began to read it I felt drawn in.

At times the candor and brutal honesty of the author is unsettling, as page upon page offers a deeper and more intimate insight into the world of the notorious Pagans motorcycle gang. Growing up in the gang for ‘LT’ Menginie meant accepting a life of violence and drugs, and when your father is the former president, you are in it deeper than most.  

His father’s defining statement speaks volumes: “ First is my bike, then my dog, my woman and lastly kids.” Loyalty was everything, disrespect and dishonour always met with a high price. To make the decision to turn your back on the gang lifestyle to live a different life was the choice Menginie had to make.

Menginie offers us his story unsanitised with an insight only those who have lived through it first-hand could offer. This is a worthwhile read from a man brave enough to tell his story with such  honesty and reflection.
Author: Anthony Menginie, Kerry Droban
Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press 
Year: 2011
ISBN: 9780312576547

05 September, 2014

The Mockingbird next door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills (Biddy, Highland Park)

Why did Harper Lee never publish another novel after the outstanding success of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel :”To Kill a Mockingbird”? Was tomboy Scout Finch from the novel based on her character as a child? “The Mockingbird next door: Life with Harper Lee” answers these questions and many more about the intriguing author and her life after “Mockingbird”.

Nelle Harper Lee, known to friends and family as Nelle lives in Monroeville, Alabama, the town Maycomb, home to the Finch family in her bestselling novel, was based on. Nelle Harper resisted the fame thrust upon her by the success of the book and the intrusion that accompanied it. She gave few interviews until she met Marja Mills, the author of this biography. In 2001 Mills was sent on assignment by the editor of the Chicago Tribune to Monroeville to find out what she could about the elusive author and her hometown.

Mills was delighted when, uncharacteristically, she was invited by Nelle’s older sister, Alice, to meet Nelle and then volunteered information for an interview and ultimately, this book. Alice and Nelle trusted and warmed to Marja Mills and she provided them with the opportunity to have their say and put paid to some of the rumours written about them.

The book gives an insight into the quiet and fulfilling lives lived by Alice and Nelle. I was intrigued by the narrative and anecdotes of Alice, the lawyer and keeper of family history and Nelle, whose childhood friend was Truman Capote, and her dedication to her writing  which divided her life between small town Alabama and New York city. A fascinating read especially for those who loved “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

Author: Marja Mills
Publisher: Penguin, New York
Date: 2014

03 September, 2014

The art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campell [Annie, Helensville Library]

A thematic voyage through the works of Neil Gaiman – a biography of his oeuvre, rather than his life. The author has known Gaiman most of her life, so this is a close friend’s take – but one with a close friend’s access to archival material (the boxes in the attic).

It is fascinating to see into the mind of a creator, and to discover how inspiration strikes, and how it can be twisted and recreated. As Gaiman’s work features in so many genres and formats, he has fans across the spectrum, and can adapt his work to meet the needs of the chosen format.

Although there is slightly too much text for a coffee-table book, the lavish illustrations and high-quality production values mean that this volume should be regarded in the same vein, and prized highly. I spent a happy weekend indulging. A treat for fans. Which I guess I must be - this is the the third Gaiman related review I've posted here... (Previously, Neil Gaiman's 'Make Good Art' speech and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.)

An addenda: as I was trying to decide which book to review for September, Gaiman's links with graphic novels /comics (bring on Comic Book Month!) and  Doctor Who swung the vote. Yes, the Doctor is back and I'm very-so-slightly obsessed with it... If you're interested, we do have Gaiman's episodes available on DVD: 'The Doctor's wife' and 'Nightmare in silver'.

Title: The art of Neil Gaiman.
Author: Hayley Campell; foreword by Audrey Niffenegger.
This is in two different editions, with two different library records:

UK edition, published by Ilex, 2014.
ISBN: 9781781571392.
US edition, published by Harper Design, 2014.
ISBN: 9780062248565.

01 September, 2014

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

Welcome to the wild west. Your nightmare, where no-one is safe, where your friend will become your murderer in the twitch of an eye. Enter your host, the Kid. Who as a 15-year-old leaves a drink-drenched home, and ends up joining the Glanton gang - a band of ammoral and brutal bounty hunters of Indian scalps with a thing for thievery and random killings of anyone on the side. Judge Holden, a giant Bombyx Mori, is the spectre that haunts this novel. This insane pale bald giant cavorts naked and secretly strangles children while expounding on intricate points of law which cause sane people to follow him despite the horror he drags with him. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Who is the Judge? He is dreadful yet invincible.

In this insanity, miraculously the Kid survives, and survives. Shot in the chest, ambushed by Indians, parched in the desert, frozen in the mountains, thrown in Mexican jail, and then some more.

Still in my head are things like: images of a Comanche war party raging through the Glanton gang, "wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery"... a frenzy of killing and scalping and horses screaming... and the Kid survives. To walk through the desert with a man with a gangrene arm, dying slowing from putrefaction.

This is a violent book, no doubt about it. It is also set within a beautiful and amazing country. Many of the passages describe the land in intricate detail, from the "mottled and boney limbs of the cottonwoods stark and heavy against the quilted desert sky","through high pine forests, wind in the trees, lonely bird-calls." Based on real life happenings on the Texas-Mexico border in 1849-1850, it is a historical novel.

When I finished I went looking for someone else who had read this. I needed to talk about what I'd seen. Because although this book is words, these words make images, that will burn themselves upon your eyes.

Title: Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Published: New York, Echo Press, 1986
ISBN : 9780679641049