31 January, 2015

A history of food in 100 recipes by William Sitwell [Briar, Manukau Library]

When I was in my teens I was obsessed with non-fiction books. I read any book I came a across, just as long as it seemed interesting. I read a book on how to raise donkeys, and how to spin dog hair ( ... yes I did read it, all the way through, and I didn't know how to spin ... ). Looking back I think it all started when I read a children's library book called 'Pot Luck: Cooking and Recipes from the Past'. I was 8 or 9, and I just loved discovering the way people in the past lived their ordinary everyday lives. It even had recipes! I borrowed this books so many times I might as well as have bought it. I think it was then that my future career was set.

It was when I was thinking about this book the idea suddenly came to me to return to the library and re-discover the topic of food history. 'Put Luck' is long out-of-print, but I found a fascinating replacement in A history of food in 100 recipes. As the author William Sitwell explains the title is a misnomer.  The book is divided into over 100 short chapters, and while each is headed with a recipe most of them are not replicable by any modern standards. What it is is even better. Each chapter delves deeply into an aspect of food history. 'Cauliflower & Cheese' discusses the history of the vegetarian movement, from Pythagoras to today, and 'Welsh Rarebit' delves deeply into the lives (and food habits) in the 19th Century slums of London. William Sitwell seems to have just as much passion for this subject as 9-year-old me, and you can tell a lot of love went into researching each subject. It is the kind of book you dive into, but I know by the time I return it I will probably have read it cover to cover.

And I managed to find a copy of 'Pot Luck' online. I figured it was worth it for a bit of my personal history.

Title: A history of food in 100 recipes
Author: William Sitwell
Published: London, UK: Collins, 2012.
ISBN: 9780007411993

28 January, 2015

Madmen: Inside the Weirdest Election Campaign Ever by Steve Braunias [Ana, Central Library]

This is a small, thin book which catches your eye with its plain white cover, the title MADMEN in red capitals across the top, and the black outline rendering of a man smoking in the style of the old Zig-Zag cigarette papers packet. Is it John Key or John Wayne? Is it a joint he's smoking?

Steve Braunias is a naughty and cheeky New Zealand writer whose work appears in our leading publications and has won many awards. He is also a romantic who likes bird-watching. It just happened that leading up to the 2014 election - on the day that Nicky Hager was launching his Dirty Politics book, Braunias agreed to write a daily blog on the election - which was two weeks away - with Metro magazine.

Each day Braunias reports on the election, and the 2014 election is like a TV drama: the leadership question in the Labour party, National's issue with Judith Collins and citizen's privacy rights, the ACT party's problems, the Conservatives, again. We had Dirty Politics, privacy concerns and the spying agencies, Whale Oil, Rawshark, and the big reveal from Kim Dotcom (but was it?). He talks to many of the key players involved and details the events in his witty and satirical style. At the Election 2014 debate on TV3 between John Key and David Cunliffe, John Key "had only two pages of A4 paper on his lectern while Cunliffe had brought with him what looked like the manuscript of The Luminaries".

This is a great little book; it is very entertaining and provides us with further insight into the election. It will provide an excellent record of an important event in New Zeland's history. At the end of the day all the theatrical events of this election were put aside and the New Zealand voters made their choice.

Title: Madmen
Author: Steve Braunias
ISBN: 9780908689903
Published: 2014
Publisher: Luncheon Sausage Books

27 January, 2015

The Frangipani Hotel: stories by Violet Kupersmith [Suneeta, Highland Park library]

I was in the mood for short stories when I chanced upon The Frangipani Hotel. Its title hinted of the exotic and tropical and the Asian-American background of the author attracted me, so I settled in for a relaxing read. But I was mistaken. Nothing about this book is relaxing. The nine pieces in the collection are filled with terror and wonder that entwine the spirit world with the material. In each story, supernatural occurrences based on traditional tales of Vietnam (told to the author by her grandmother), are juxtapositioned in a modern setting. The other haunting spectres are the ghosts of a long and bloody war and the memories of those of who lived through it. Set in Vietnam the ancestral home, and California, the place of dreams and opportunity for many displaced Vietnamese people, the stories transcend time and place, and are written with a chilling clarity and a vivid imagination.

For an experience that is both haunted and haunting, this first book by Violet Kupersmith is highly recommended.

Author: Violet Kupersmith
ISBN: 9780812993318
Published: 2014
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

23 January, 2015

Terrible Estate Agent Photos by Andy Donaldson [Louise, Central Library]

If you’ve ever lived in a house then this is the book for you.

It’s a collection of (you’d hope) the worst examples of real estate on the market ever. I mean, these are supposed to be advertisements, selling the property to prospective tenants or buyers, rather than what looks like crime scenes after the bodies have been taken away.

Real estate is pretty much the biggest thing to happen to Auckland since Rangitoto erupted, and it is fuelled by the glut of DIY shows, books, blogs, and fancy shops selling must-have décor items. Don’t get me wrong, I love all that stuff: interior decorating would be my superpower (able to make a couch really pop with an array of mismatched cushions! Bam!) but soft furnishings are not going to save these dwellings.

Rooms that look like those photos of urban exploration in abandoned and derelict old buildings but they are actual dwellings that you can rent or buy! That is (and I am not making this up) if you don’t mind a toilet in your kitchen, or a place where a compulsive hoarder lived for 80 years and then generously left all their junk there.

Some of the photos have been included simply because they are terrible, pointless, and weird, perhaps with a touch of dodgy Photoshop, like a photo of a mirrored wall with no reflection (is your real estate agent a vampire?) or photos where the agent just went all artsy and indulged his inner surrealist photographer (thanks. but what exactly am I looking at here?)

At a time when housing prices are out of control, it is reassuring to know that no matter how small and expensive your current home might be, there will always be some other place out there that is even more depressing and seedy.

Title: Terrible estate agent photos
Author: Andy Donaldson
Publisher: London: Square Peg, 2014
ISBN: 9780224100915

21 January, 2015

Wild things by Betsy Bird et al [Anne, Helensville]

Children’s books are all peace, love, and fluffy bunnies, right? 

Even if you haven’t read a children’s book since you were a child, you know better.

You remember how well behaved Max and his Wild Things were. What about the Cat in the Hat? 

Three children’s literature lovers explore the subversive in children’s literature. From sex and drugs (obviously in teenage reading) to mischief and eating – all points are covered here. 

Not only the books, but stories behind the scenes are explored. For example, what Roald Dahl got up to in his war service. Acts of violence and murder by a sweet-as-pie children’s author. 

A fascinating read for lovers of children’s books – and those that wonder what the big deal is. 
I will admit to being a subversive reader, and enjoy the unusual in books. Mainstream children’s literature takes this much further than its adult literature counterpart. If you want to change attitudes, start with children. And that’s often what is going on in those ‘innocent’ children’s books lurking on the shelves. 

Title: Wild things!: acts of mischief in children's literature 
Authors: Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson and Peter D. Sieruta
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 2014
ISBN: 9780763651503

20 January, 2015

Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School by Adam Auerbach [Claire G, Grey Lynn Library]

When the going gets tough, I don’t get going: I get picture books. Since starting work at a community library that has picture books aplenty, I’ve realised that they can be the ideal read for adults during busy or stressful times. And as I check in the stacks of picture books that kids have brought back, I’m well placed to make some reading choices of my own.

Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School is one of the good ones – and for parents who are picture-book readers by necessity (because they read aloud to their children), it has the advantage of being all about beginning school – just the thing thousands of New Zealand four- and five-year-olds are about to do at this time of year.

For the toddlers of today, ancient Norse goddesses may be less of a drawcard than monsters. However, as a grown-up I much preferred this delightful book to Mike Austin’s Monsters Love School. The latter, though colourful and nicely designed, seemed a little didactic with its “school is cool” message.

Edda, the first book by author–illustrator Adam Auerbach, was inspired while he was listening to 
The Ring Cycle, a series of operas composed by Richard Wagner and based on Norse mythology. Fortunately, being a picture book (usual page count 32), it doesn’t take quite as long to get through as the 16 hours of the opera cycle.

Both book and character are quirky as well as short. Edda is a feisty girl who lives in “Asgard, a land full of magic and adventure”. She pines for friends her own age, and her papa knows just where to find them. School has its drawbacks, but Edda makes up for them by introducing her classmates to the magic of home.

Monster-loving children and their parents who turn the pages of this book will find that Edda caters for them too: here be dragons!

Title: Edda – A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School
Author: Adam Auerbach
Published: 2014
Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company
ISBN: 9780805097030

The intimate ape: orangutans and the secret life of a vanishing species by Shawn Thompson [Christine, Takapuna]

Like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas immersed herself in the world of a great ape.  In her case she studied orangutans in Borneo for fifteen  years.  Orangutans are every bit as interesting, intelligent and deft as the other apes. They tend to be solitary creatures but do form friendships between themselves and with humans. They have personalities and preferences, to study them requires the researcher to gain their cooperation.   Some have been taught sign language. Some have learned to turn keys in locks, paddle boats, paint walls...  Their applied intelligence is both a joy and a challenge to people working with them.

The human impact on orangutans is huge, they are now in danger of extinction. Their jungle home is shrinking, they are killed when they raid human crops and orangutan infants are stolen for pets.

This book also introduces the practical dilemmas of how to 're-wild' orangutans who have lived with humans until they were rescued, and what, if any, legal rights we give creatures that are so like us.

Title: The intimate ape: orangutans and the secret life of a vanishing species
Author: Shawn Thompson
Publisher: Citidel Press
Date: 2010
ISBN: 9780806531335

19 January, 2015

The heroes' welcome by Louisa Young [Christine, Takapuna Library]

Riley and his superior officer, Peter, both return to their sweethearts after serving in the First World War. Riley's damage is visible, his jaw was shot away and though it has been repaired he is no longer able to eat solid food nor kiss his bride. Riley and Nadine tiptoe around each other until they find his handicap fades in the face of their love.

Peter's damage is less obvious - he is consumed by guilt that he failed as an officer because many men died under his command.

He retreats into drink, shunning his hovering wife and young son. A sad, sad tale of the ongoing effects of war, but enlightening and positive in the end.

Title: The heroes' welcome
Author: Louisa Young
ISBN: 9780007361465
Published: 2014
Publisher: Borough

15 January, 2015

A pleasure and a calling by Phil Hogan [Christine, Takapuna]

There are functionaries that serve us, such as real estate agents who after they have done whatever we need disappear from our lives, or that is what we expect and what usually happens.  But what if said real estate agent is a class 1 nosyparker and keeps the keys to the house that you have just bought? The narrator here is just one such person, he also fancies himself as a vigilante, an unsupervised protector of his community.  The 'justice' that he dishes out is out of proportion to the transgression.
This is an unsettling tale, anybody of Mr Heming's mindset could act as he did.  It would be difficult to predict his behaviour and stop him. It is fascinating to get a glimpse into the mind of someone so nasty who can seem so ordinary.
Title: A pleasure and a calling
Author: Phil Hogan
Publisher: Doubleday
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9780857521880

14 January, 2015

Stiff : the curious lives of human cadavers by Mary Roach (Christine, Takapuna Library)

Stiff : The Curious Lives of Human CadaversDust to dust, ashes to ashes may be true but many amazing thing can happen to human bodies before they become just inert chemicals.  Mary is never afraid to ask questions of undertakers and crime-scene investigators, anatomy teachers and everyone else who works with the dead.  Their answers provoke more questions and many interesting asides. We people have been inventive and contrary in our attitudes to those no longer alive. If your curiosity exceeds your squeamishness, this perfect.

Title: Stiff : the curious lives of human cadavers 
Author: Mary Roach 
Publisher: W W Norton
Date: 2003
  ISBN: 9780393050936


12 January, 2015

The Last Illusion-Porochista Khakpour [Sue W Central City]

Its been a while since I was truly moved by something I read. Sometimes when you have an appetite for reading you barely pause to digest what you have consumed before reaching for the next. Summer months, long languid days, sticky heat make everyone and everything you do slow down. Slow way down.

This particular book has been in the pile for a while, it got bypassed a number of time until finally I thought just read it, pick it up and if it fails to engage right now, then release it. No need, this book was so beautiful. Part fable, part love story, quite unlike anything I have read before.

It is about the orphans in life, those that never quite find their fit, who exist with the sharp edge of loneliness like a thorn, always there, even when there are moments of happiness. A young boy rescued from an insane mother who has kept him  in a cage, amidst her aviary, only the human bird child lowest in the pecking order. He is later raised with love and tenderness in America to a devoted father and named Zal, after a mythical Iranian figure. Struggling to find his fit in contemporary New York he finds his other in a  young artist, intense, angry and all emotional hard edges. Neither of them quite fit, in society at large or with one another. Yet somehow they are drawn together, each offering the other something in making sense of what seems like an unforgiving wider society.

This is a read steeped in the magical, beautifully imagined and capturing the brittleness of the human psyche and the unknown depths of humanity, all its aches and psychic hungers. Most beautiful. Not to everyones tastes perhaps, but so very special.

Title: The Last Illusion
Author: Porochista Khakpour
Publisher: Bloomsbury 2014

11 January, 2015

Only lovers left alive [DVD] / a film by Jim Jarmusch [Anita, Blockhouse Bay]

http://movieposters2.com/images/1190945.jpgYet another take on the vampire genre, but don't expect lots of action and blood, this is not a thriller or a horror.  In this is a languidly paced movie, vampires, Adam and Eve have been lovers for centuries. Both are cultured intellectuals with an all-embracing passion for music, literature and science, who have evolved to a level where they no longer kill for sustenance

Adam is a reclusive underground musician hiding out in the ruins of contemporary Detroit. He despairs about human civilization’s decline, and worries about future survival. Eve, who is much older than Adam’s 500, takes a longer view of history and is more optimistic. She leaves her home in the ancient city of Tangier to come to his side.  Adam and Eve’s precarious footing is further threatened by the uninvited arrival of Eve’s carefree and uncontrollable little sister Ava. Unlike Adam and Eve, Ava hasn’t yet learned to tame her wilder instincts, and her recklessness concerns Adam.

This is a movie for  pop culture enthusiasts. It is a vampire film that takes advantage of its time span; cultural references dating back hundreds of years can be found at every corner. Jarmusch explores the quiet every day life of a modern, intelligent and ancient being who has, quite literally, seen it all. The casting of Hiddleston and Swinton is spot-on, they emanate a particular sort of cool only they seem privy to, accentuating their alienation, (you also get to see Tom Hiddleston with his shirt off!). The emphasis is not on action but interaction—especially the verbal kind. Jarmusch understands that what's really relatable about vampires is the getting-old part: the sense that as you get older, everyone younger than you is somehow stupid, crass, immature, and just not at all like you.

I really enjoyed this movie, as did my daughter, (the guys in our household seemed indifferent). We also loved the soundtrack which had two distinct sounds depending on whether the setting was Detroit or Tangiers. I would describe it as a bit laid back and trippy with some grungy guitar, it perfectly matched the tone of the movie. Also available at Auckland Libraries: Only lovers left alive [compact disc] / Jozef Van Wissem/Squrl. (although I went out and bought my own copy!)
Title: Only lovers left alive
Author: a film by Jim Jarmusch
Published: 2014
Publisher: Madman Entertainment

08 January, 2015

Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein [Briar, Manukau Library]

For the best part of the Sunday afternoon after borrowing this book you could find me sitting on my couch with Mad World in one hand, laptop on my lap, Youtubing all the songs and artists as I read.

Even if you are not a New Wave music fan Mad World is an awesome depiction of the music that made up a generation and contains transcripts of interviews with New Wave acts, ranging from the megastars (Duran Duran) to the obscure (Bow Wow Wow). Read on their own the stories are an honest and fascinating depiction of the time, both as it was and how artists see it now (ridiculous haircuts, fights, girls and all…).

There is something about this book that is brutally honest, but also touching and thoughtful. I just loved it.

Title: Mad world: An oral history of new wave artists and songs that defined the 1980s
Author: Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein
Published: New York, NY, Abrams Image, 2014.
ISBN: 9781419710971

07 January, 2015

Ripper: a novel by Isabel Allende (Biddy, Highland Park)

In this novel Allende strays from her traditional voice of magical realism into the crime/suspense genre. Engaging from the start with interactions between a cast of disparate and intriguing characters, the book moves into a nail-biter in the last hundred pages.

When Celeste Roko, celebrated Californian astrologist, predicts that "There will be a bloodbath in San Francisco", her goddaughter Amanda Jackson joins the majority who hear her prediction, in labeling it nonsense. Amanda is a bright teenage sleuth whose favourite occupation is playing Ripper, an internet game, with five children and one adult-her grandfather.

Amanda's mother, beautiful Indiana, is a bohemian alternative therapist and healer, described by her father as "idiosyncratic of appearance, timorous of character, but magnificent of mind". Amanda's view of her mother's occupation is disparaging but their bond is strong and they lead their very different lives harmoniously.

The novel moves from a pleasant narrative in Allende's trademark style with detailed and fascinating characters dominating the tale to a tense, race-against-time thriller as the members of Ripper progress from their game of solving the Whitechapel murders to a series of real murders in Amanda's hometown.

Recommended to all Isabel Allende fans and anyone who enjoys mystery and would like an entertaining read.

Title: Ripper: a novel
Author: Isabel Allende; translated from the Spanish by Oliver Brock and Frank Wynne
Publisher: Harper Collins, New York, N Y
Date: 2014

ISBN: 9780062325921

06 January, 2015

Real Santa by William Hazelgrove [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]

Real Santa is a great story to read now while Christmas is still fresh in our minds and it's too much fun to save until next December.
George’s daughter Megan is beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. Regretting the way he dealt with this dilemma with the children from his first marriage, newly unemployed George devises a grand plan to keep the magic alive for his youngest daughter. He employs a wannabe movie maker and makes preparations to dress as Santa, land nine reindeer and a sleigh on his roof, and climb down the chimney to deliver presents, all the time ensuring Megan can witness and record this on a video.

There are some laugh-out-loud moments as George realises he may have taken on a bit too much and encounters unexpected problems (like incontinent reindeer!). I worried that his well-intentioned plans may end in disaster so was keen to keep reading to find out how it ended.

This is a charming story of family, memories, hope and perseverance with a truly original plot. As one of the reviews suggested, it would make a great holiday movie too.

Title: Real Santa
Author: William Hazelgrove
ISBN: 9781940192963
Published: 2014
Publisher: Koehler Books

05 January, 2015

I spy a great reader: how to unlock the literary secret and get your child hooked on books by Jackie French [Surani, Watakere Central]

"Every child can experience the joy and power of reading if they are taught to read properly and given that "magic book" - the one that turns them into eager readers. Books give kids the power to understand the world and imagine their own future. They also give kids the tools to create it."

With such a powerful message within, you would be foolish to not want to read this book by Jackie French. Being an award-winning author and more recently, Australian Children's Laureate, Jackie French is the only possible candidate to write such a book. Drawing on her own experience with dyslexia, Jackie helps parents identify possible reading difficulties in kids and offers many fun and rewarding ways to help launch them into a lifelong love of books.

In this book Jackie emphasises that every child learns differently and each chapter is filled with fun games that can capture the attention of children from every age group. Some of these games sounded so cool and fun that I wished I was still a kid!

Jackie French is not only one of my personal favorite authors, but an inspiration. With this new title she has published, I believe she has achieved something remarkable. I spy a great reader is the one book, I believe, that every parent should own so that their kids can have the same fire for reading that I got when my parents gave me that magical first book!

Title: I spy a great reader: how to unlock the literary secret and get your child hooked on books
Author: Jackie French
ISBN: 9780732299521
Published: 2014
Publisher: Sydney, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers

01 January, 2015

The curious case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

One of Fitzgerald's (until recently) lesser-known stories, this satire follows the life of a man born a septuagenarian who progresses through life backwards, becoming younger and younger each year.

Here, the story is reproduced as a graphic novel, with sepia-toned art by Calef Brown that lends itself to the late 19th- and early 20th-century time period.

While this effort is admirable for the fact that it has Fitzgerald's original text nearly intact (save some abridgement for the sake of dialogue), some of the time-sensitive satirical elements may not resonate with young readers.

Still, growing old by growing young holds a certain universal curiosity, and extends the appeal of this to readers other than Fitzgerald fans or those looking for new entry-points into classic literature. Of course, the big-budget movie adaptation starring Brad Pitt will only amplify interest.

An afterword provides some context for this work in the whole of Fitzgerald's oeuvre, and offers a nicely ironic aside to his agent in which he despaired that it was "unlikely this story will ever bring me any movie money".

Title: The curious case of Benjamin Button
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

- Reviewed by Sally C, Central City Library

Sally C works on the website team for Auckland Libraries. She loves reading 19th-century novels and classic science-fiction, as well as contemporary fiction and biographies.