30 July, 2015

Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haig

This is one of the most accessible books on depression and anxiety that I’ve encountered in recent times. In essence this is  Matt Haig’s account of his experience of crippling anxiety and depression which struck like the proverbial lightning bolt. I think the crucial point here is that rather than looking for cause and effect, sometimes there is no precursor. 

It is also important to note that Haig’s recovery was not a euphoric moment of triumph but rather a very gradual, incremental easing of the heaviness and  mental warfare of the mind. It almost crept up upon him unawares, causing him to look around and note with surprise that he felt somehow lighter. 

This is not a prescriptive text, more of an account of  Haig’s subjective experience and a sharing of the tools and steps he took to try and loosen the stranglehold the depression and anxiety had on him. 

There is something to be had for everyone within this narrative; greater empathy and compassion from those who have been fortunate enough to never have experienced these conditions, encouragement for those supporting friends and loved ones and of course, plenty for those in the depths themselves. 

It’s great to note this title is also available as an audiobook which can sometimes be an easier medium to engage with if you have a busy mind and are having some trouble concentrating. 

Title: Reasons to stay alive
Author: Matt Haig

Recommended by: Sue W, Central City Library

Sue W obeys her cats and lives to please them, sometimes she is allowed some free time to read so long as she answers the service bell when it rings.

29 July, 2015

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson

Practice reading with a French accent for this adorable tale of love and family. 

Gaston’s sisters Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La are perfect little handbag poodles. Gaston… not to much. True, he learns not to slobber, and not race, but he keeps growing.  

When the poodle family meets the bulldog family, it’s obvious a mistake has been made. But will fixing the obvious make things better?  

Be prepared to “aww” with cuteness on this tale of identity and family. It is truly adorable and heart-warming. 

This is one of the many adoption-themed books I’ve stumbled across recently. Others on this theme I’d recommend are:

Title: Gaston
Creators: Kelly DiPucchio & Christian Robinson

Recommended by Annie C, Helensville Library. 
Annie C is a voracious and versatile reader, but her habitual reads are fantasy, romance, and a diverse selection of non-fiction subjects. 

28 July, 2015

What you can when you can : healthy living on your terms by Roni Noone and Carla Birnberg

The title of this book says it all; you can work on being healthy by doing a bit at a time. It acknowledges that everyday life sometimes gets in the way of a regular health and wellness program and that is perfectly OK! The authors suggest positive solutions to challenges that could undo your good intentions and give you choices to suit your own lifestyle.

I like the short, sharp chapters - they are perfect for dipping into, and the format is attractive and clear to read with well-selected inspirational quotes highlighting the text.

Suggestions for interacting on the blog and other social media are a great innovation and make this more than just a book because you gain access to a supportive community of like-minded people. The appendix explaining social media will be welcomed by those who haven’t yet ventured into this type of communication.

A great collection of easy-to-do ideas on healthy living for your body and mind delivered with humour and warmth.

You can also read this as an Overdrive eBook - the perfect format to complement the social aspect of #wycwyc.

Title: What you can when you can
Authors: Carla Birnberg & Roni Noone

Recommended by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t go to sleep unless she has read a bit before turning the light off. As well as most fiction, she enjoys craft and lifestyle books to get project ideas for her rural home. She spends her working day buying books for Auckland Libraries.

27 July, 2015

Heads you lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman Files series, has teamed up with first time author David Hayward to collaborate on a mystery novel. The plan is to write alternating chapters without knowing where the plot is going or what the other has planned, at the end of the chapter they will exchange notes.

Siblings Paul and Lacey Hansen live in the nowhere town of Mercer California. When the headless corps of Lacey’s ex-fiancé appears on their property they decide to get rid of the body rather than draw attention to their pot growing business.

When the body reappears back on their property several days later, Lacey decides to quit the pot business and get out of Mercer, but first she’s going to find the killer. Paul and his ex-stripper girlfriend (who’s a lot smarter than she appears) are drawn into Lacey’s investigation.

As the relationship between Lutz and Hayward (former romantic partners) becomes feral the body count rises and the placid town of Mercer becomes a hot-bed of blackmail, adultery and murder.

I liked the story within a story idea, it was entertaining to watch the authors dredge up relationship issues from the late '90s, use characters to snipe at each other and wrestle over the plot.

Heads You Lose has everything you would want in a mystery a quick pace, interesting characters, red herrings, cliff-hangers, plus and a glimpse of what goes into writing a novel.

Title: Heads you lose
Author: Lisa Lutz, David Hayward

Recommended by Murray L, Devonport Library

Murray L works at Devonport Library and enjoys reading mysteries, sci-fi and horror.

25 July, 2015

Dead to me by Mary McCoy

Browsing through some newly arrived books, I came across Dead to me. The author is a librarian and this is her debut novel; enough to get me interested.

Set in the 1940s, it's about two sisters growing up in Hollywood during Hollywood's Golden Age, describing a side to life that's anything but golden. It deals with the seedy underside of Hollywood which exploits the young and naive who arrive in Los Angeles dreaming of a life of wealth and fame, or those thrust into this world by their parents.

Alice Gates is a courageous, resourceful young girl who tries to find out how her older sister, Annie, ended up in the hospital badly beaten and in a coma. Annie had run away four years earlier after a fight with their alcoholic parents. A seedy detective reconnects them when he asks her help him find out who is responsible for almost killing Annie. This takes her to places she didn’t know existed, exposing her to danger and betrayal by the very people who should be protecting her.

Dead to me is a teen mystery novel, but could just as easily be classified as an adult novel. Full of interesting characters doing whatever it takes to survive; this is a very impressive first novel illustrating the truth of the old proverb “all that glitters is not gold”. There are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing right up to the end. Looking forward to more from this author.

Title: Dead to me
Author: Mary McCoy

Reviewed by Lynda T, East Coast Bays.

Lynda T reads anything that grabs her interest, but is particularly interested in science fiction and young adult novels.  

Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch

Often I come to a TV series by way of a book. Sometimes the adaptation does the book justice either by faithful interpretation or reinterpretation...and sometimes not.  However as I started watching the recent TV debut of Wayward Pines, I began to be curious about its literary origins. The TV series starring Matt Dillon is based on a trilogy written by American author Blake Crouch.

So I sought out the all three books in the Wayward Pines trilogy – Pines, Wayward and The Last Town – and pressed pause on the TV show - and am I glad I did! There is nothing as satisfying as finding a good book that you can sit down with in on a rainy afternoon only to emerge hours later hungry for the next installment. So finding three was like all my Christmas’s at once!

This trilogy had me pinned me to the chair turning pages at an eager pace. It’s hard to review these books without giving the game away but if you like an edge of your seat thrilling, unconventional mystery that twists and turns, ratcheting up the tension to the very last line of the Epilogue - then this is the perfect companion for those dark wintry nights in front of the fire.

Blake Crouch’s writing is succinct but skillful and will have you holding your breath as it moves towards revealing the ultimate fate of Wayward Pines. I definitely recommend reading the books before watching the TV series as the adaptation loses some of the tension in its retelling.

Author: Blake Crouch

Reviewed by Jo C, Central City Library

Jo C works as a library assistant at Central City Library and enjoys reading crime fiction, most contemporary fiction and also non-fiction books that inspire creativity and open her mind! Her favourite authors are Margaret Atwood and Stephen King.

21 July, 2015

Chasing the scream: the first and last days of the war on drugs by Johann Hari

Controversial British writer and journalist Johann Hari spent three years and travelled 30,000 miles around the world to research and write this compelling history of the war on drugs through the eyes of the people who have lived it since the first prohibitive legislation was passed a hundred years ago.

The book focuses on the US, where the war on drugs has helped quadruple the US prison population since 1980, but also explores the ramifications of US policy throughout the Americas and beyond.

The stories that Hari tells, from the persecution of American jazz singer Billie Holiday to the brutal life of a transsexual crack dealer on the streets of Brooklyn, are a testament to his skills as a researcher and talent as a journalist. His writing is unflinching to the point of uncomfortable; readers will not soon forget his recounting of a female prisoner who “cooked” to death in a cage in the Arizona heat whilst prison guards wandered past.

The science of hard drugs has been told before, and there are many prison-reform books on the shelves, but Hari weaves the science and the reform into the narrative of people’s lives to present this story in a way that is novel and riveting. From presidents of South American countries to homeless addicts all but invisible to history, from heads of government correctional departments to prisoners lost in the system, Hari shows the pervasive influence of the war on drugs on all their lives.

This is a book that debunks myths, challenges assumptions and rewrites tired old political clichés. If you think you understand drugs, addiction and their influence on society, pause to read Chasing the scream and see how much your opinion has changed by the final page.

Title: Chasing the scream: the first and last days of the war on drugs
Author: Johann Hari

Reviewed by Nick K, Ranui Library

Nick K enjoys reading crime fiction, demonological adult and young adult fiction, classic children’s fiction like Arthur Ransome and picture books, especially those illustrated by Quentin Blake. He hates reality TV.

20 July, 2015

The making of a man by Tim Brown with James Lund

I chose to read this book not because I am an NFL fan nor a Tim Brown fan, but because I was attracted by the title of the book. As a wife and a mother of teenagers, I wanted to know more about manhood. This book didn’t disappoint.

Not knowing anything about American football didn’t stop me from reading the book as the Chinese say “in one breath” from beginning to end.

The book focuses on four relationships which cover all the facets, and go all the way through a person’s life – the relationship with God, the relationships by blood (with his parents and his children), the relationships with ladies, and the other social relationships with his team, his community and friends. 

Tim recounts the mistakes he made, the temptation he met, the proud gains and heart breaking losses in these relationships.

I love the book. It led me into the internal world of a man, from a church boy, to a sports star who was surrounded by different kinds of temptations, to a passionate father. His relationship with ladies and the consequences he had to bear. How he got out of the negative cycle, and won true love. This is an inspiring read for all including teenagers. 

Tim expresses a lot of keen and honest advice, which he attained from his own experiences, to teenagers and parents in the book. 

A good book will make you think. Not only was I compelled to read this book, but it also made me reflect on and review my own relationships. 

Furthermore, I also learnt about the general rules of American Football, NFL competition criteria and some under-the-table issues too. I will call these a by-product of my reading! 

Author: Tim Brown with James Lund

Reviewed by Honour Z,  Northcote Library

Honour Z works at Northcote Library. She loves reading biographies and nonfiction in general. 

17 July, 2015

The empress by Meg Clothier

The empress is a tale of power, intrigue and survival among the highest levels of medieval society. Agnes of France, the heroine of the story must adapt quickly in the court of one of the richest and most dangerous empires in human history.

I found this piece of historical fiction very engaging, and the characters, surprisingly sympathetic, despite the disturbing tone at some points. It is easy to forget that although privileged and already powerful, Agnes is still a young girl thrown into a foreign culture with expectations thrust upon her. While forced to make unenviable and at times abhorrent decisions she is also trying to find what is most important to her while dealing with shocking and very real situations.

The pacing in this story I found particularly excellent where the narrative is told from the point of view of two protagonists and bounces back and forth between them depending on the proximity of one to the other.

With detailed settings, well defined characters and dialogue as sharp and sometimes as violent as the battle scenes, The Empress is tale that will appeal to mature readers with a love for historical fiction, adventure and intrigue.

 Title: The empress
 Author: Meg Clothier

 Recommended by James W, Sir Edmund Hillary Library Papakura

James W enjoys working in the library, but wanted to be a Galaxy Ranger when he was little. A fan of pro-wrasslin' he often wonders if wishing to one day shake Bret 'the hitman' Hart's hand trumps wishing for world peace.

British clubs and societies, an A-Z by Gordon McKie

British clubs and societies an A-Z  by Gordon McKie

This is an interesting book which details about sixty different clubs and societies in Britain.  It is not an exhaustive listing, rather it provides a selection of clubs – and in a couple of pages for each it gives a good description of the club, its origin and history, well known members, where it is located, and its current status.

It is arranged alphabetically starting with The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) and ends with The Zoological Society of London.  The RAOB motto is ‘Philanthropy and Conviviality’ and it raises money for charitable causes, was set up in the late 18th century.

The book describes many of the famous historical clubs in London, such as the Athenaeum Club, whose membership has included names like Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, T S Eliot, Sir Alec Guinness, Anthony Trollope and W B Yeats.  The club is very proud of the fact that 52 of its members have won a Nobel Prize.

Other clubs are The Flat Earth Society, which promotes the idea that the Earth is flat, the Eccentric Club, the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, the Slow Society, which is for the environment and against capitalism, etc. There are the more learned organisations like the, the Royal Society of Literature and the University Women’s Club.  the London Scrabble League, the Steam Car Club of Great Britain, and the Left Handers’ Club, to identify some.
Also clubs for very specific interests;

This book is well worth picking up to have a browse through, it is interesting and light-hearted, and shows a slice of British society from working peoples’ clubs to the elitist organisations whose members are drawn from royalty and parliament.

Author: Gordon McKie 

Recommended by Ana, Central Library

Ana loves reading. She reads mainly fiction but also non-fiction and Scandinavian thrillers. I have many favourite authors but some of them are Ian McEwan, William Boyd, Lionel Shriver.

15 July, 2015

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Edmund Dantes is about to celebrate his engagement to his beloved, when three men conspire take him away, try him for a crime and imprison him for a very long time.  His imprisonment and subsequent escape are thrilling.

The island of Monte Christo is a real place (in the Mediterranean, between Corsica and Tuscany) and many of the background events are likewise true. Dumas writing close to the events he describes, gives a real flavour of post-Bonaparte Europe. 

The Count is supremely competent as he creates situations to discomfort and ultimately ruin those who stole 14 years of his life.  Yet his vengeance is tempered by his desire to protect the children of his adversaries.  Fortunately for him he is extremely wealthy and somehow in prison his fellow prisoner managed to instill in the rough French sailor the manners of an aristocrat and the ability to impersonate Englishmen and Italians.

Beware! this is a very long book, it took me a month and even so I skipped some of the long speeches.  That said, definitely worth reading.

Author: Alexandre Dumas

Reviewed by Christine, Takapuna Library
Christine has worked in North Shore libraries for over 20 years. She likes her fiction to be credible and her nonfiction to be accessible

Dead wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Even if you don’t normally read non-fiction, I would recommend you try this thrilling but heart-breaking read about the Lusitania, the huge passenger ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat around the beginning of World War 1.

The Lusitania was the glamour liner of the time, on its way from New York to Liverpool when it was attacked. The Germans had given a warning about the possibility of attacks on passenger ships, making some passengers and crew apprehensive, but they truly believed the British Admiralty would protect them. Why didn’t they?

Erik Larson almost made me feel as if I was on board that fateful voyage - it was a very eerie and suspenseful read, which I could not put it down. The 1962 people on board nearly made it safely to their destination, but sadly over 1100 people were to perish in the cold sea that sunny afternoon. Like me, you may be left feeling chagrined on behalf of the ship’s captain, who seems to have suffered a terrible injustice, and you may question the actions of some other famous historical characters.

It’s a true story, but I found it as compelling as any thriller.  

Note: we also have a worthwhile DVD documentary on the sinking of the Lusitania, called Lusitania: murder on the Atlantic.

Title: Dead wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania
Author: Erik Larson

Recommended by Judy W, Orewa Library

Judy W may appear to work as a library assistant but in her own mind she is a top criminal defence lawyer and animal rights activist.

12 July, 2015

The art of baking blind by Sarah Vaughan

If you are a baking voyeur and love watching those TV bake-off shows, this might be a good book for you. In this novel there are lots of descriptions of lovely baked goods being made, however this is not overly done to the detriment of the story, just mouth-watering moments with lush descriptions of the food, (and then you wish you could be there to try out the yummies).

Five very different contestants with a passion for baking are selected for the 'New Mrs Eaden' baking competition. We get glimpses into their lives and the personal problems they face.  The baking competition affects each contestant in different ways and makes them reassess their close relationships. We also have chapters about Kathleen Eaden, author of The Art of Baking, published in 1966, who has long been held up as a paragon of baking, with portions of her life when she was writing the book and trying to balance domestic life with the demands on her as the wife of a successful grocery magnate.

A good page-turner this, the only tricky part initially is remembering who is who. Was Karen the perfect yummy mummy whoever eats what she bakes? Is it Jenny who is facing the empty nest? Was Claire the solo mum who had to give up her dreams and Vicki who is struggling with motherhood? The easy one is Mike, because he is the only bloke, (and the only one who we did not follow the story of, which was a shame as it would have been nice to know a little more about his life as a single father).

I enjoyed this book but I would have liked a bit more resolution about what happens to the characters after the baking contest, (although I did have fun making up the possible outcomes for them, so maybe it is not all bad). This novel is steeped in a love for baking with snippets of Kathleen's famous book scattered throughout. A delicious read.

Title: The art of baking blind
Author: Sarah Vaughan

Recommended by Anita S, Blockhouse Bay Library

Anita S reads widely and eclectically, but most often random non-fiction fact books, good general and teen fiction, (often dystopian future types), fantasy and sci-fi if they cover a new angle on something, kids books and ... actually she'll take a look at most stuff. Books are great! She also loves art and illustration.

10 July, 2015

The light of the world: a memoir by Elizabeth Alexander

The title of this lovely book is taken from a poem by Derek Walcott: “O Beauty, you are the light of the world.”

Described as a memoir of love and loss, it is the story of the life shared by American poet and playwright Elizabeth Alexander and her husband Ficre, who suddenly and swiftly dies by heart attack four days after celebrating his 50th birthday.

When Elizabeth and Eritrean-born artist, chef and restaurateur Ficre first meet she describes it as an actual coup de foudre (bolt of lightning or love at first sight) and they decide to marry within a week of this first meeting. Through Alexander’s eyes we see their enviable marriage filled with the warmth of dancing at weddings, making coffee, planting gardens and talking about everything under the sun.

Ficre calls his home his casa dolce casa where he is a loving and gentle father to his two sons and where friends and family gather. Nourishment happens in the form of food as well as poetry and art.

After his death Alexander describes how she comes to terms with the “new normal” life she must live but always in the background is the shadow of her soulmate guiding and comforting her. Eventually she and the children leave the home and garden where Ficre smoked and planted trees for his beloved, to move to New York.

The language is in parts lavishly metaphorical and at times downright simple, a perfect fit for a love story between poet and artist. According to some readers, reading this book is like watching a foreign film - an emotionally rich experience.

Title: The light of the world: a memoir
Author: Elizabeth Alexander

Reviewed by Suneeta N, Highland Park Library

Suneeta N particularly enjoys biographies, travel stories and reading authors from around the world. She loves a good discussion and believes that everybody has a story worth telling.

09 July, 2015

The falconer’s daughter by N.K. Ashworth

This impressive first novel by a local writer, N.K. Ashworth, has proven to be appealing to tweens, teens and adults alike. Ashworth has lived on Waiheke Island for many years and has recently turned her creative talent from painting to writing. The result is The falconer’s daughter, which is vividly realised, gripping and enchanting. It draws on Ashworth’s passion for mythology and falconry, but is set very much in the real world of modern Waiheke Island, off the coast of Auckland city.

Maddie is a young girl with a mysterious past, desperate to uncover the truth about the mother she lost along with her memories when she was only four years old. Now, at the age of 14, a series of mysteries begin to unravel Maddie’s world. Who else is visiting her mother’s derelict tower? Does her mother’s medallion really have magical powers? And why does her mother’s unpublished manuscript seem to echo Maddie’s own life? As Maddie digs deeper into these mysteries and begins to care for an injured hawk, the question remains: will she ever know the truth?

This novel has believable, sympathetic characters set in a world where the lines between fantasy and reality have begun to merge. It will have you gripped to the very last page, and leave you reeling with its cleverly crafted twist ending. Whatever your age, I recommend you check it out today.

Author: N.K. Ashworth

Reviewed by Rhiannon B. Waiheke Library

Rhiannon B works at Waiheke Library on Waiheke Island. She is currently doing her research project on how to help tweens find books that will nurture their love of reading, and believes that the reading experience (which is individual to each reader) is what really gives books their significance.

06 July, 2015

Orange is the new black: my year in a women's prison by Piper Kerman

In my opinion the book is always better than any film or television adaptation. Which is why I have never really got into the televised version of Orange is the New Black. Prison documentaries have been more my thing because I find reality way more fascinating than dramatised versions of it in programmes such as OITNB and women’s prison drama Wentworth. This original true-life account that the OITNB series is loosely based on is well, so much more real than the show.

Indeed, there is plenty of real-life drama in Piper Kerman’s memoir of her fifteen months ‘down’ for transporting drug money (but not actual drugs) to make it far more entertaining than a prison documentary as well. I also came away with a much better understanding of what it’s really like to be in a women’s prison.

Life on the inside is a huge eye-opener for white, well-educated and privileged Kerman. Seen through her eyes we get an insight into the degrading and soul destroying American penal system and are introduced to her fellow inmates, an often hilarious colourful cast of characters. It is the relationships between the women that provide a humanising element to what is otherwise a dehumanising environment.

Yes, there are a few same-sex relationships (including the ‘gay for the stay’ phenomenon) but it’s not the overplayed salacious trope that is portrayed on television. Sure, some of the inmates have bad attitudes, but there are none of the constant catfights and bitchy feuds seen on TV either.

Like Kerman, most of the women are incarcerated for non-violent drug related crimes. Her book made me think a lot about serious issues such as social justice, what an epic fail the War on Drugs has been and the desperate need for rehabilitation as opposed to punishment in these areas. So, I really recommend reading this book instead of zoning out in front of the goggle box for hours.

Title: Orange is the new black
Author: Piper Kerman

Recommended by Karen I, Devonport Library

Karen I likes reading biographies and memoirs about people with interesting and unusual lives, because she spends a lot of time reading and doesn't get out much.

04 July, 2015

The other son (DVD) directed by Lorraine Levya

This story is about two boys who have been switched at birth in an emergency evacuation .The switch occurs between Joseph born to Jewish parents and Yassin a boy born to Palestinian parents.
The mix up is found only when they are nearing their eighteenth birthday as Joseph is not accepted as a Jew, but denounced as an Arab.

This denies him entry into the Jewish army. Though he thinks like a Jew, he is ostracized by the rabbis. On the other side, of the border, Yassin faces his own dilemmas. His brother cannot come to grips with the fact that he is born to Jewish parents.

Through all this, Yassin and Joseph strike up a friendship and the two families realise that though  there are cultural differences and a lot of enmity over the years, the love of parents for their child is the most important thing and cannot be extinguished. I loved the way the movie has handled sensitive issues like the shock of finding out that their babies were switched at birth and that they belonged to families with different beliefs and identities. All these problems fade away as the two families realise that their love for their child is at the core of their existence. A movie worth watching.

I liked this movie as it was thought provoking and makes us think of the futility of war and the power of love.

Title: The other son
Directed by: Lorraine Levya

Reviewed by Kanchan T, Blockhouse Bay Library

Kanchan enjoys reading biographies, non-fiction and real life stories.