29 November, 2014

Some of the dead are still breathing: Living in the future by Charles Bowden [Kelly, Central Library]

Last year, or maybe the year before, I picked up a small hard cover that had inexplicably found its way into the travel section of the collection. On the cover was a disturbing black and white photograph of what looked like a corpse floating in a river. Inside were a series of pieces the author, a journalist, had written during periods between major assignments. The topics ranged from musings on the impending future and near forgotten past, rattlesnakes and how we misunderstand them and ourselves, a brief memoir of time spent on a Sea Shepherds type vessel, a boat commandeered and crewed by misanthropes, and a meditation on hotel rooms and murder. It was the world as it is without sentiment or burnishing, ugly and punishing but not without hope or beauty.

While writing this I discovered Charles Bowden had died in September of this year. Reading this book I never got the impression that he was an easy person or without fault. I wondered if he was looking for redemption through the pen.

Here’s a video of him speaking about writing and life and what’s important:

Title: Some of the dead are still breathing: Living in the future
Author: Charles Bowden
ISBN: 9780151013951
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year: 2009

28 November, 2014

Us by David Nicholls (Biddy, Highland Park)

In this successor to Nicholls' bestselling novel One Day, he portrays a bittersweet story of a 21st century English family. The Petersen family comprises Douglas, a mild-mannered scientist, somewhat earnest but with a subtle sense of humour, his artistic wife Connie and their sullen 17 year-old son Albie. Albie is due to leave home to go to college and his mother has decreed that the family will experience a Grand Tour of Europe before he leaves-a chance to discover the must-sees of the art world together.

Douglas is happy with the arrangement until Connie wakes him one night to tell him that she "thinks" that she wants to leave him! She hasn't decided when but is determined that the tour must go on. Douglas is both perplexed and distraught and hatches a plan to change Connie's mind by making the holiday romantic and unforgettable.

Not surprisingly, things don't work out quite as Douglas had hoped. The novel continues with flashbacks to the early days of his life with the flamboyant Connie, an unlikely match for this rather grey and serious man, while he travels across Europe frantically searching for Albie, who has deserted his parents mid-tour in Amsterdam.

Nicholls' latest offering was long-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Personally, I felt that it lacked any "wow" factor. It was best described by one reviewer as "a quiet joy, written with an undemonstrative simplicity that is hard to achieve". Worth reading nonetheless.

Title: Us
Author: David Nicholls
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, London
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9780340896990

27 November, 2014

I Remember You: A Ghost Story by Yrsa Sigurdardottir [Danielle, Youth Service Development]

Another entertaining recommendation from the library's Horror enewsletter, this is a supernatural horror from an Icelandic crime writer, better known for her best-selling Thora Gundmundsdottir mysteries. In alternating chapters, two stories unfold: three friends are dropped off in a remote, snowbound part of the Westfjords to fix up a run-down house, in a last-ditch attempt to save themselves from bankruptcy; and in the town of Isafjordur, a handful of old and recent crimes start to show up alarming links to a recent suicide.

I found the characters slow to warm to (no pun intended, though much of this story takes place in vividly-described below-freezing temperatures), particularly the three unlikeable 'friends' in the Westfjords house. Characters gave up their histories piece by piece, and the relationships between them became gradually clearer over the course of the book. Isolation by nature or by choice was a common thread; many of the characters had been abandoned by others in various ways.

As the paranormal activity grows in the two parallel stories, the suspense and unease heighten and there are some genuinely scary moments that made me reluctant to go down our dark hallway at night... The freezing temperatures of the Westfjords make them a great setting for a story like this, where the landscape is almost more lethal than the unnatural threats haunting the old house. I really enjoyed the baffling hints at deeper connections between events in the Isafjordur story, which kept me guessing until the end. The only complaint I had about this story was the very last page, which seemed like an annoyingly traditional 'horror' ending that undid some of the satisfying journeys the characters had been on for the rest of the book. Otherwise - very creepy, and a neat way to learn about a country I know very little about, too.

Title: I remember you: a ghost story
Author: Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Published: New York City, 2014
ISBN: 9781594631399

We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson [Emma. Birkenhead Library]

Merricat Blackwood is straight-away a strange and tortured girl. Do you feel sorry for her? I did, at first, but as this book went on, my sympathy waned. Merricat lives with her older sister Constance (who does everything for her, just about) and her Uncle Julian. She says she is 18 years old, and she hates everyone else.

All of their family are dead, poisoned six years earlier at dinner, by person(s) and for reasons unknown. Constance was charged and acquitted of the murders, and Uncle Julian survived. Merricat, sent to bed that fateful night, escaped harm. The three now live together in a huge and creepy gracious home, feared and ridiculed by people in the nearby village. They reluctantly accept the few visitors who come to them, but on the whole deal with the world only when absolutely necessary. Until one day, moon-faced cousin Charles, seeking to steal the family fortune, forces his company into their midst. This precipitates stranger and stranger behaviour from Merricat and Uncle Julian - neither who like Charles one iota. Something has to give in these circumstances.

This is such an atmospheric story, so slowly teased out, with Merricat as narrator. Her reliability as she recounts events and her own feelings is certain, although her reasoning is often unclear. She creates a feeling of mystery and tension which you will be compelled to follow as far as you can.
Published first in 1962, this is a classic.

Title: We have always lived in the castle
Author: Shirley Jackson
Published: Originally 1962.  New edition:  Penguin Books, New York , 2006.
ISBN: 9780141191454

26 November, 2014

Backyard Building: Treehouses, Sheds, Arbors, Gates and Other Garden Projects by Jeanie and David Stiles [Louise, Central Library]

Some people read fantasy novels, others watch soap operas. Me? I read DIY books and daydream about building a treehouse with nothing but wood and nails and MY BARE HANDS.

My previous building experience amounts to haphazardly bashing nails into small planks of wood at kindergarten, but never mind that. I’m totally on my way to going full-Thoreau and becoming one with the wilderness because I’ve just read Backyard Building. I am now, pretty much, just a trip to Bunnings away from having mad Robinson Crusoe-type skills.

I mean, the real challenge is deciding which project to choose first. This book has instructions for two dozen projects, including four different and customizable treehouses (and that’s not even counting the playhouses!) And with such bold assertions as “you can order a single-sash or barn window from your lumberyard, but it’s easy to make your own” it gives me real hope for my backyard.

With lists of necessary supplies for each project, thorough step-by-step how-to’s and lots of bonus building tips, they make it all look so darn easy. The accompanying colour illustrations by co-author David Stiles are clear and full of detail and (can I say this about a book about building?) really cute. They look like they’re out of some cool comic book, and the illustrations are supported by photos of the projects in real life.

They even include some advanced projects: timber-framed house or artist’s studio, anyone? Talk about the stuff of dreams! It’s like they looked into my head and then made my room-of-her-own dreams out of wood. (I should just point out that the measurements are all in feet and inches, which is slightly inconvenient, and there are a few Americanisms but nothing that can’t be easily translated into New Zild. Practicalities, la la la...)

Backyard Building is a coffee table book for the table you DIYed yourself (yes, I know what the Y in DIY stands for). Live the dream!

Title: Backyard building : treehouses, sheds, arbors, gates and other garden projects

Author: Jeanie & David Stiles ; designs and illustrations by David Stiles.

ISBN: 9781581572384 (paperback)

Publisher: Woodstock, Vermont : The Countryman Press, [2014]

As you wish by Cary Elwes [Annie, Helensville Library]

It's difficult to believe it has been 25 years since the release of The princess bride movie, such is the film's timelessness. It is, at one and same time, both modern and around forever.

The affection its many fans feel is shared by its cast, as evidenced by Cary Elwes' mini-memoir. The movie appears to have been made in a spirit of generosity and love that seeps off the screen and into the watchers' hearts.
With quotations from other cast members, Cary lets his colleagues share the limelight.

I now want to re-watch it, to see if I can spot scenes mentioned in the book. And, I love Andre even more.

A delight to read, it will only take a few hours to immerse yourself into the magical world of The princess bride.

If you, too, need to revisit Florin, you can borrow the DVD from the library, or you can borrow the book (in print, as an eBook, or download and listen to the eAudiobook version).

~ Annie, Helensville Library.

Title: As you wish: inconceivable tales from the making of 'The princess bride'
Author: Cary Elwes
ISBN: 9781476764023
Published: 2014
Publisher: Touchstone

23 November, 2014

Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight with Michelle Burford. [Judy, Orewa Library]

In 2002 in Cleveland, Michelle Knight was frantically trying to find her way to an appointment with Social Services regarding the welfare of her young son. She was enquiring at a shop about directions, when a scruffy but softly spoken man offered to take her to the required address. Michelle could never have anticipated that the decision to accept this lift with her friend's father, (Ariel Castro), was the biggest mistake of her life and that it would lead to 11 years of imprisonment and torture.

Months after Michelle was taken, Castro also abducted Amanda Berry and later, Gina Dejesus. The three women and Amanda's young daughter (Castro's daughter) escaped in 2013, making worldwide headlines.

Michelle's story, told in her own words, is heart-breaking and harrowing but the book left me stunned at her courage, her ability to endure such severe trauma for so long. By the end of the story the admiration I felt for Michelle was so strong that it far outweighed the revulsion I felt for her captor. I'm happy to say that Michelle now has the help and support she so deserves. Her message is that we must never forget the people who are lost, and that we need to always look out for each other.

- Judy, Orewa Library

Title: Finding Me
Author: Michelle Knight
Published: 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins


21 November, 2014

Coast : a New Zealand journey by Bruce Ansley and Jane Ussher [ Claire, Central CityLibrary]

What a great book to take to the bach or read over a leisurely summer break.
This is one of the most exciting NZ books I’ve read for a while. Like most New Zealanders I often fantasise about taking this very journey myself one day. Just in case that never happens though, meandering slowly around the country with Bruce and Jane is definitely the next best thing.
This is a large book packed with beautiful photographs. Like a long journey, it’s not something you rush through. I gave it a permanent position on the breakfast table for a few weeks where I could feast over a page or three whenever I sat down for a snack break.
Fascinating histories and conversations with local characters revealing their connections to a place are a real highlight.
Towns and ports that were once thriving bustling places ‘reek of past glory’. Industries like the meat works at Patea and on the East Coast have closed down and populations have drifted away in search of employment.
The few that remain often sound quite happy with that. Many coast dwellers have settled in these places to escape the big cities and the rat race in search of a simpler way of life and a reconnection with nature.
Hmmmnnn... no more sitting for hours in Auckland traffic queues... a view of the ocean... might be time to take that journey sooner rather than later!

Authors: Bruce Ansley and Jane Ussher
Published: 2013
Publisher: Godwit

19 November, 2014

Spectrum 20: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art 20th Anniversary Volume [Nick, Central City Library]

The award-winning Spectrum series 20th anniversary volume showcases the best fantastic art from the worlds most renowned illustration artists, working in every style and medium, both traditional and digital, and covering a wide gamut of genres from science fiction and fantasy to horror, and the surreal. Spectrum is both a thrilling art book for fans and a handy index for clients, with contact information included for each artist.

Leafing through the pages reveals a kaleidoscope of pattern and colour, while the diverse range of fantastic imagery forms a compendium of Magic and Myth, of the nether regions of the imagination, where dragons and ghouls work their nefarious ends, and enticing fairies open windows on enchanted childhood Arcadias.

Imaginative reverie is the leitmotif, and in Mathieu Lauffray's illustration 'Treasure Island' I have envisaged the cavern as a totem of the psyche, and Long John Silver as a symbolic gatekeeper of the unconscious realms from whence emerges the raw material of creativity:

Perched atop a rough-hewn alter beneath a mysterious aboriginal idol, Long John Silver slumps languidly in an ornately carved ceremonial throne. His sheathed sword leans against his knee, and his eyes remain concealed behind the down turned brim of his hat. He is inscrutable, and what wonders stories might tell of his dark and treacherous deeds are written in the lines of his weathered face, etched in an expression of deep and troubled contemplation; or maybe he speaks to us from his dreams because they are also our own, dim, half remembered childhood fantasies.

Long John Silver, the mythological archetype, sits encircled by towering vaulted embankments that obscure him within a shadowy golden half-light. The craggy walls leap upwards into the hazy sunlit recesses of this primitive subterranean chamber. An ancient cavern redolent with an archaic and malodorous atmosphere and out of its misty vapour looms half formed shapes, peculiar echoes, and shadowy intimations.

Could he be sleeping, caught unaware while guarding some ancient buried treasure, and might we dare to approach? Aye now I recall, it is we who lie sleeping, the unconscious primal monad of his deeper dream! Beware! He reaches for his sword!

Title: Spectrum 20: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art
Author: Cathy Fenner and Arnie Fenner
ISBN: 9781599290676 (pbk.)
Published: 2013
Publisher: Underwood Books

16 November, 2014

Orphan train by Christina Baker Kline [Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library]

I always enjoy a good triumph over adversity story, and this book doesn't disappoint. It also illuminates a fascinating and forgotten chapter of American history.

17 year old Molly is living an uneasy existence in a foster home, not accepted or trusted by her foster mum. Circumstances mean she has to do community service, and this is how she meets Vivien (age 91), a well off old lady living in a large house who needs her attic sorted. Each box full of items means something to Vivien, and as her story unfolds we find out the significance of each one. 

Vivien is a survivor of the poverty of Ireland, was an immigrant living in New York at age seven, then after she loses her family at age nine, is sent on an orphan train to the Midwest to be 'adopted'. This leads to challenging times for the young girl as she has to adjust to different situations as she is passed on from family to family as each turn of events dictates.

The narrative interweaves the stories of both main characters - past and present. The connections between their two lives are clear in this absorbing back and forward story. This is an account of resilience, the struggle to transcend a past of hardship and isolation,  and the yearning for belonging and acceptance.

This is compulsive reading, a poignant story about two likeable characters who become unlikely friends, and help each other in the process. Highly recommended.

Title: Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
ISBN: 9780061950728 (pbk.)
Published: 2013
Publisher: New York : William Morrow

13 November, 2014

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders [Blair, Central City Library]

"and finally, having lost what was to be lost, my torn and black heart rebels saying enough already, enough, this is as low as I go” 
 - George Saunders, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

The stories of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline are set in a bleak dystopian America.  Saunders’ characters are tragic figures - alienated, ridiculed and inept. 

They’re stuck in terrible situations that only get worse. Horrible events are happening all around them - slavery, child murder, horrific mutations.  It’s all very grim.  But to solely characterise Saunders’ work in this way would be misleading.  The stories of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline are also full of empathy and humour. Saunders is a master of tone; his prose nimbly jumps from the tragic to the hilarious within the space of a paragraph. Saunders finds humour in his characters darkest moments, but never forsakes them. 

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline is a stunningly consistent collection of short stories and an excellent introduction to one of contemporary America’s most talented writers.

Title: CivilWarlLand in Bad Decline

Author: George Saunders
ISBN: 9781573225793
Published: 1997
Publisher: Riverhead Books

11 November, 2014

Dark Horse by Honey Brown [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]

Sarah’s life is a mess - her marriage has broken up and her much-loved property has been put up for sale. On Christmas morning she takes her horse Tansy and heads to the nearby bush to get away from her problems for a while. As she heads to a bushwalker’s hut, a sudden storm causes a flash flood, trapping her on the mountain.

She’s not too worried, and continues on to the hut to wait until the river subsides. She hasn't been there long when she discovers a man sheltering in a nearby shed. He says he was bushwalking up the mountain and injured himself walking to find phone reception. Sarah’s not sure if she can trust him or not, and when her gun goes missing, she begins to wonder just how safe she is.

The relationship between Sarah and Heath, the bushwalker, develops in the time they are forced to spend together and despite her suspicions, Sarah finds she is attracted to this man.

It’s one of those stories that has the classic thriller format of revealing things gradually, so it’s hard to put down as you want to discover more about the mysterious Heath. A sudden development sets the scene for the last few chapters of the book – totally unexpected, and one of the best twists I've read.

It's very atmospheric, both in the intensity of the plot, and in the descriptions of the Australian bush landscape and the menacing weather that has put them in this situation.

If you're heading off tramping these Christmas holidays, maybe read it when you get back home!

Title: Dark Horse
Author: Honey Brown
ISBN: 9781921901539
Published: 2013
Publisher: Michael Joseph Australia

10 November, 2014

The Bridge (DVD series) [Ana, Central Library]

‘The Bridge’ is a DVD series which is a joint Swedish and Danish production.  It is a thrilling crime drama, with numerous twists and turns through the ten one-hour episodes.

The story starts one night at the Oresund Bridge – the huge impressive structure and motorway that links Sweden and Denmark – when the lighting on the central section suddenly goes out.  On investigation a woman’s body is found lying exactly across the border. And so both countries become involved; Saga Noren from the Swedish police (played by Sofia Helin), and her Danish counterpart, Martin Rohde (Kim Bodna).

The story is complex and evolves throughout the series and whenever we feel everything is becoming clear, there is another turn.  Fortunately at the beginning of each episode there is a summary of the story so far, so it is clear what is happening.

This is a high quality ‘Scandi noir’ drama which has excellent characterisation and cinematography. We gradually get to understand the leading characters; Saga with her analytical reasoning combined with her difficulty in communicating with those around her and failed relationships, Rohde with his old-style policing methods, plus his family issues.  It is in Swedish/Danish with English subtitles. Fortunately, when this series comes to an end, there is Series Two to look forward to.

Produced by Filmlance International & Nimbus Film; Directed by Lisa Siwe, Henrik Georgsson; produced by Anders Landstrom, Bo Ehrhardt.
Publisher: [Australia] : Madman Entertainment [distributor], [2012]

Don't die with your music still in you: a daughter's response to her father's wisdom by Serena Dyer [Surani, Waitakere Central library]

If anyone reading this post hasn't heard of Wayne W. Dyer, then stop right now! You need to go and read up about this amazing man to continue and read this inspirational tome written by his daughter Serena.

Serena has lived her whole life hearing her father say "don't die with your music still in you" and a myriad of other principles that center on his many best-selling self-help books. This particular book that Serena has written is a sort of response to an earlier book of Wayne's which he wrote in 2001 called '10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace'. She reflects on each of the ten secrets that Wayne talks about and conveys to us her own experiences and how they affected her life. We can read stories of growing up in the Dyer household with two very spiritual parents.

What is unique about this book is that after each chapter that Serena has written, Wayne has added his own perspective on the same secret. It is a magnificent example of collaboration between father and daughter for everyone to find the 'music' inside them!

I don't usually boast about the fact that I read almost every self-help book out there, but this book will now sit at the top of the best books in this category for me. It is a very easy read and you'll find yourself laughing and crying at the same time to most of the stories that Serena shares about her family.

A truly wonderful and inspirational book for anyone who is looking for clarity and that special 'music' in their lives!!

Title: Don't die with your music still in you: a daughter's response to her father's wisdom
Author: Serena Dyer
ISBN: 9781848508392
Published: 2014
Publisher: Australia: Hay House

05 November, 2014

I quit sugar for life: your fad free wholefood wellness code and cookbook by Sarah Wilson [Emma, Birkenhead]

Do you want to feel better? Try this - stop eating sugar. But beware - there is more to the picture than stopping eating sugar loaded cakes, or putting sugar in your tea. Sugar is hidden in most refined foods. Check the label of your pasta sauce or flavoured tomatoes, watch Nigel Latta's programme on sugar, or read Dr Libby Weaver's books if you are sceptical.

My experiments in giving up sugar got me interested in this subject and this book looked interesting because I wanted to see how Sarah Wilson advised stopping sugar, and keeping stopped, in daily life. I wanted new recipes to inspire me.

Sarah Wilson's approach is fairly radical for someone like me. She advises giving up everything sweet - even fruit - for two months. This is to "re-calibrate" your taste and your system into not wanting the sugar flavour or effect. She advises cutting out all fructose, this includes that found in fruit - bananas are half fructose for example.

However although a couple of crackers and a cucumber might sustain her on a hike, I doubt a labourer would find that very helpful. Also, apart from the fact I'm not yet personally ready to give up fruit, lots of the ingredients are expensive or hard to source - proteins such as nuts, "special" stuff such as quinoa and chia seeds...and stevia or rice malt syrup in half the recipes in the book! Stevia is a plant-based sweetener, I found it in the bulk bin shop for about $30. You only use a bit, but why bother? It is surely very refined, and that goes against my grain. Unfortunately this cut out many of the recipes, and many other recipes were meaty, so not for me, but others may like them.

While I disagreed with some things, on the whole I liked her approach fine - be mindful, chose organic where possible, minimise waste and eat wholefoods. Exercise and drink plenty of water are a subtext. I found her discussions on nutrition not very comprehensive. I would recommend Dr Libby Weaver's The Calorie Fallacy for a better holistic discussion of nutrition and of the physiological benefits of cutting sugar.

Title: I quit sugar for life: your fad-free wholefood welness code and cookbook
Author: Sarah Wilson
Published: 2014, Macmillan, Sydney, N.S.W.
ISBN: 9781742613734

03 November, 2014

The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Biddy, Highland Park)

Fiona Maye is an experienced High Court judge in the Family Court. She is renowned for both her professionalism and sensitivity. When she is called on to try an urgent case concerning a 17 year old boy who is refusing life-saving medical treatment on religious grounds, she doesn't regard it as anything out of the ordinary. Her weeks are filled with sad cases. "All this sorrow had common themes, there was a human sameness to it, but it continued to fascinate her. She believed she brought reasonableness to hopeless situations".

There was something about this case, however, that affected her more deeply so that she made the unusual decision to visit the hospital to meet the boy before making her judgement.

In the background of the legal stories runs the tale of Fiona's personal life. Married for 30 years, her husband Jack shatters her day with the announcement that he needs to have an affair-he feels that they have become more siblings than lovers. He wants one last go at "Ecstasy, almost blacking out with the thrill of it".

Fiona meets Adam, the beautiful boy in the hospital, and they form a strong bond. She reaches the decision to overrule his wishes and those of his parents, all in the name of his welfare. She is satisfied with her judgement and believes that she has persuaded Adam that this is the right way forward for him.

I recommend that you read this book to discover the consequences of her decision and the effects on the lives of both Adam and Fiona. Yet again Ian McEwan does not disappoint.

Title: The Children Act
Author: Ian McEwan
London, Jonathan Cape 2014
ISBN: 9780224101998

1014 Places to see and do in Australia by Bruce Elder [Ana, Central Library]

1014 places to see and do in Australia – this seemed a strange title to me, why 1014? We find out in the introduction. Bruce Elder started with 1346 places on his list and decided he needed to reduce these, probably to 1000, a nice round number.  Well he got down to 1014 and decided that he just couldn’t omit any of those still on his list.

The book is divided into sections headed “encounters with …” and the topics cover the Ocean, nature, travel, people, history, and yourself. The 1014 places are each detailed in a short paragraph, sometimes with a photograph, and are contained in a chapter - such as Great beaches, Architecture, Convict heritage, Vineyards. So you can go to ‘Journeys by Rail’, and find fifteen special rail journeys from all over Australia. Each has a name, the location and state, and 50-200 words describing what is special about it and why it is on the list.

This is not a travel guide like most others, where you look up a region and find out all the things to see, etc.  If you want to make use of it like that you need to know the names of the locations and look them up in the index.

The benefit of this book is that it provides good points of interest to start from.  You can flick through it, find some interesting articles and think ‘I’d like to see that”.  It is very well researched, has a really broad range of topics, great photographs, and after using it you get a good insight into the real Australia.

Title: 1014 places to see and do in Australia
Author: Bruce Elder
Published: Chastwood, N.S.W.: New Holland, 2014
ISBN: 9781742575025