22 December, 2014

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

Beginning in 1984 and concluding in 2045, The Bone Clocks leaps through time, space and dimensions. It follows the life of Holly Sykes, 15 when she runs away from home at the start; a seventy-year-old grandmother by book's finish. The Bone Clocks defies categorisation, being by turns realist, fantastical, sci-fi, and dystopian - all told in a matter of fact kind of voice which makes the whole thing seem reasonably possible.

Holly Sykes ties the story together, but narrates only at the beginning and end. Other characters who know her and narrate include a failing novelist, a corrupt and amoral university boy, a time-travelling reborn ageless doctor and Holly's own journalist husband. Through them we get the full picture of a world in which behind the human scenes, constantly reborn "Horologists" attempt to keep an increasing band of human-devouring "Anchorites" in check. These are the "Atemporals" - human-looking yet godlike in their powers of time travel, persuasion and sucking out of souls, as well as their memories of their previous incarnations.

It's not really full of weirdness - this stuff creeps up on you. It was not until the fourth of six sections that I consciously realised I was now reading sci-fi. Not my usual choice of genre but I admit this was a very exciting part of the story!

David Mitchell is one of my favourite authors ever, so I expected this book to be great. I savoured it, and enjoyed immensely, but, The Bone Clocks did not wow me to quite the same degree as Cloud Atlas or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I think perhaps that the contrasts between the sections, narrated by different characters, weren't distinct enough, and I struggled a bit (and let go) with the 'why' of the storyline. However - I am still seriously looking forward to his next book, hopefully to re-meet some of the characters again!

Title: The Bone Clocks
Author: David Mitchell
Published: London, Sceptre, 2014
ISBN: 9781473604889

The waiting by Cathy LaGrow [Annie, Helensville Library]

In 1928 a very innocent 16-year-old girl - Minka - is sexually assaulted, resulting in pregnancy.

With the support of her mother, stepfather and pastor, she is sent to a home to await the birth of her baby - and for a few weeks after, while a permanent home is found for her daughter. In that time she grows to love her baby, Betty Jane. And, on meeting her, briefly, so do Minka's parents.

But, it is still a secret. One she keeps close to her heart, only telling a very few people.

For nearly 80 years she holds her daughter in her heart, constantly praying that she has a good life.

On Betty Jane's 77th birthday, for the first time, Minka prays to see her daughter again.
The same day, a court order arrives at a house, unsealing a woman's adoption records.
This is a poignant, heart-warming read. A story of complete love, faith, and family. A truly lovely read.

Also available on CD, read by Pamela Klein; and as an OverDrive eBook.

~ Annie.

Title: The waiting: the true story of a lost child, a lifetime of longing, and a miracle for a mother who never gave up
Author: Cathy LaGrow, with Cindy Coloma.
Publisher: Tyndale Momentum.
Publication date: 2014.
ISBN: 9781414391908.

20 December, 2014

Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay [Claire G, Central Library]

Scottish writer Jackie Kay was a hit at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in 2013, and deservedly so. A gifted poet and playwright, she is a natural performer as well: at ease on the stage and in possession of A NICE BIG VOICE. Throw in a Scottish accent and some humour, and what’s not to like? 

Kay has produced several books of fiction, and all of these have benefited from her skills in the other genres. Her writing is lyrical; her characters always sound authentic and true, and she is a mistress of the soliloquy.

In Reality, Reality, her latest volume, most of the 15 stories are told by their main characters, in the first person. There’s a directness about this approach; readers connect right away with the stranger on the page, and are drawn into that person’s world — her reality — even though we may never learn her name. (Her name? Yes, most of Kay’s characters are women, though otherwise they are diverse: old or young, hetero or lesbian, of various ethnicities.)

Great opening lines add to the directness: every one has impact. So the unnamed narrator of ‘Bread Bin’ confides, “It’s taken me until the age of forty-nine to have really wonderful sex.” And another story, from which Kay read at the writers festival, begins, “These are not my clothes, I tell her. These are not my clothes, but she puts them on me anyway... 

The first story, about a woman who lives like a reality show contestant, gives the book its title — and ‘Reality, Reality’ is apt for this whole collection. In looking at each character’s ‘reality’, we often see the very human tendency to have a limited view, to lack self-awareness... even, sometimes, to be self-deceptive or delusional. Yet rather than judgement Kay brings pathos, humour and empathy to her portrayals. We can identify with her women, even when they’re far from wise.

This author’s chosen genre of the short story and the immediacy of her style are, I think, ideal for these times, when reading is rationed and gratification must be instant. The idea of a small serving (just one piece of shortbread) hooks us in, twenty-first centurians that we are, and before we know it, we’ve devoured a plateful. Jackie Kay delivers much more than brevity, however. Like other really good short-story collections, Reality, Reality is more than the sum of its parts.

Title: Reality, Reality (
ebookbook or CD)
Author: Jackie Kay
Published: Picador, UK, 2013
ISBN: 9781447217565

Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris [Christine, Takapuna Library]

David Sedaris has a claim on the territory between fiction and autobiography.  He has nurtured a fine crop of humour there for us to enjoy.  These short stories are fruit of festive-time events.  Some may even be true. He was employed as an 'Elf" in Santa's grotto in a big department store; a study human behaviour and mischief,  he finds out when the Dutch open their Christmas presents; discovers their startling (to him) Christmas traditions.

Title: Holidays On Ice
Author: David Sedaris
ISBN: 9780316035903
Published: 2008
Publisher: Little, Brown and Co

 - Christine, Takapuna Library

17 December, 2014

The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Pena (Simon, Central Library)

A few months ago a friend mentioned to me that The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Pena was the best book she’d read all year. Along with that evocative title, and the fact it was set in New Mexico, my interest was piqued.

Before I’d even begun reading it I was struck by the Francesca Woodman photograph on the cover. Like the novels title (and, as it transpired, like the prose inside), the cover image contained riveting contradictions. It was both tragic and romantic, seductive and chilling. In this haunting black and white picture a woman hangs by her arms to the top of a door frame. It is hard not to think of suicide by hanging. Her face is partially hidden behind her arm. One senses she is hiding from the cameras gaze - in the process of disappearing herself. Yet the woman’s arms are shaped into half an ‘X’ - is it possible that we are not looking at an image symbolic of self-harm, of self-disappearing, but rather some kind of symbolic crucifixion of the spirit by the world that lies outside the cameras frame? And in another way there is a semblance of hope – this woman is hanging on for dear life: suspended between what is left of her existence and inevitable death, between memory and the present, between the spirit world and the physical world. She does not want to leave the physical world behind – not completely.

These multiple strains are embodied by one of the 6 narrators of this book in particular. Julia, one of 5 sisters, is the one sent away to live with a distant uncle by their increasingly dysfunctional mother. Julia is suspended between a desire to locate the identity that her banishment robbed her of, and the equally strong desire to forget about the existence of her family all together. All the sisters are, in different ways, suffering a primal ache born of this lack – the lack of a mother capable of expressing the love she does indeed have in her heavy heart; the lack of having a father who could be as much of a Dad as a rambling, promiscuous fair-weather friend; the lack of having Julia, the sister who was disappeared for reasons that are slowly, expertly revealed as the novel winds on, switching between voices, and between the varied tones and perspectives of the same pulsing, passionate, interminable sadness.

With each new chapter a different sister is introduced, and then, eventually, we meet their mother. We become privy to her haunted mind, the endless flashbacks of the good times with the father of her children (times which were never purely good), and how quickly they were outweighed by times that were purely bad. We also become cognisant of her struggle to take any responsibility for the family dysfunction, and perhaps wonder if we'd be any more capable of consciously owning the type of parental guilt that is ever-present whether you acknowledge it or not. The mother’s voice is just as mesmerising, just as conducive of that ache of empathy that a good novel leaves the reader with, and especially heart-breaking. This switching between multiple introspective voices acts to sabotage any compulsion the reader might have to stoop to judgement. What emerges is a prism of familial female sadness in the face of a mostly absent father figure. The beauty of the writing is one source of redemption. Another is the sense we are left with, at the end of the book, that Julia is still hanging on, courageously, like the woman on the cover image, for dear life.

Title: The Sad Passions
Author: Veronica Gonzalez Pena
ISBN: 9781584351207
Published: 2013
Publisher: Semiotext(e)

09 December, 2014

The Digested 21st Century by John Crace [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]

The Digested Twenty-First CenturyHave you managed to read all the influential and popular books of recent years? I know I haven’t.

Don’t worry – if you read this book you can appear knowledgeable about titles you haven’t caught up with by browsing through John Crace’s "digested reads". Digested reads are a regular column in the British newspaper, The Guardian, where John Crace retells the content of current books in 800 words or less and concludes with a pithy one-sentence summary.
They are witty and very funny, even more so if you have read the book.

Each is written in the style of the author, so Bridget Jones is in diary form just as Fielding created her, Jodi Picoult’s book is as angst-ridden as they all are, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Stephen Fry, Keith Richards and Gordon Ramsay’s personalities come through in their titles, and The Da Vinci code is chock full of clichés.

Great fun for the holidays- you could say you read over 100 books in the break!

Author: John Crace
ISBN: 9781780338583
Published: 2014
Publisher: Constable