29 February, 2016

The inequality debate : an introduction by Max Rashbrooke (book).

Why has the gap between rich and poor in New Zealand grown so wide?

If you're after facts and figures this little book is a good start. It's an introduction to Max Rashbrooke's weightier tome of the same name and highlights the main points.

It details the history of New Zealand's former egalitarian society, beginning with Samuel Parnell in 1840, a carpenter, and founder of our public holiday Labour Day, which celebrates the 8 hour a day, 40 hour working week.

We progressed from there to the Welfare State, which allocated money to social policies funded by taxes paid by individuals and businesses.

One of the clues to why our society is so unequal now is on Page 43. It's an illustration of a ladder showing that 50% of New Zealanders earn less than $25,000 p.a, 70% less than $45,000 and 90% less than $76,000.

If you're looking for a quick, informative resume of this contentious issue, this is an invaluable resource.

Author: Max Rashbrooke

Reviewed by Clare K. Massey Library

Clare K works at Massey Library in West Auckland. She believes that there is nothing you can't learn from a book, and the more you know the more you grow.

28 February, 2016

Yes, my accent is real: and some other things I haven't told you by Kunal Nayyar

“This is not a memoir. I’m not a president or an astronaut, or a Kardashian. This is a collection of stories of my life.”

Now imagine this spoken by the 30 something Indian astrophysicist Raj Koothrapali from The Big Bang Theory!! This entire book, for me, played out in his unique velvety voice with that unmistakable Indian accent that most of the geeks out there, me included, have come to love.

What we have in this book isn’t your typical memoir, but a collection of essays which reveal the journey young Kunal Nayyar took from New Delhi to business school in Oregon and finally hitting the small screen and the fame that followed. Although he battles with feelings of loneliness and being an outsider (The Girl I went to Mass for), Kunal doesn’t let that get to him. After explaining to his parents his ambition to perform (How I Knew), his life became even more exciting. Each essay spoke of the experiences he had living and working in the US, the friends he made, and the many hilarious encounters he had as a fledgling actor. The stories I found especially hilarious was Kunal’s hilarious account of his elaborate seven-day long wedding to a gorgeous former Miss India!!

This funny, sweet and often inspiring collection of underdog tales follows Kunal Nayyar as he traverses two continents in search of a dream, along the way transcending cultural mix-ups, romantic misunderstandings and professional missteps that somehow miraculously prepare him for the role that would change his life. I truly admired the courage, determination and perseverance that Kunal showed as he pursued his dreams and the path he took to achieve them.

If you are a long-time fan of the popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory and all the lively characters there, you will surely love this delightful memoir!

Title: Yes, my accent is real: and some other things I haven't told you
Author: Kunal Nayyar

Available also as an eAudiobook, and as an eBook.

Recommended by Surani R, Waitakere Central Library, Henderson.

Surani R enjoys reading biographies, travelogues, some non-fiction, and loves fiction that makes you laugh out loud. She also finds comfort in children’s fiction with thought-provoking stories.

27 February, 2016

North American Lake Monsters: stories by Nathan Ballingrud

Genre fiction gets a bad rap. While cringe-worthy romances, predictably gory crime novels and dull fantasy abound, no genre is more reviled than horror.

Although horror fiction has had such luminous authors as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe, horror fiction still tends to be an under-read beast. Why?

Good horror fiction – moving, disturbing, lyrical horror fiction – is very difficult to do (almost as a hard as writing something really funny).

Without the boosts of unsettling music and heart-stopping jump scares available in film, writers must rely on the unseen and unsaid to create an atmosphere of anxiety and dread in the reader’s perfectly ordinary life.

Difficult to do, and even more difficult to do well.

Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters is a slim and unassuming volume, but within its covers lie some of the best horror short stories of the past five years. Certainly ‘Sunbleached’ is the best vampire narrative I’ve seen or read in memory, and snatches back the vampire from the glimmering clutches of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.

Ballingrud’s stories pit deeply flawed human characters against overwhelming exterior and interior forces that are human as often as they are supernatural.

An ex-con must adjust to life with his wife and surly teenage daughter, as well as the sudden appearance of a monstrous carcass on the lake shore. A single mother with an angry child is offered a way out of her own life. A contractor struggles with the aftermath of what seems to be a werewolf attack, while a survivor of Hurricane Katrina is left literally hollow.

Ballingrud’s stories are haunting and lyrical, perfect reading for a still summer’s night.

If you're interested in more good short horror fiction, try Jagannath: stories by Karin Tidbeck and Granta. 117, Horror edited by John Freeman.

North American lake monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

Reviewed by Hannah C., Mount Albert Library.

Hannah C. loves horror fiction, but she finds the works of Dan Brown to be the most horrifying of them all.

Public library and other stories by Ali Smith

Attracted by the title, but enjoyed for Ali Smith’s passion for words, literature and libraries. This book is a gem. Made up of 12 short stories interspersed with personal recollections by her many friends illustrating what libraries mean to them. No doubt inspired by Britain with its beleaguered public libraries. In an article I read Ali said during a talk at an Edinburgh book festival, that while editing the book twenty-three more libraries closed.

She begins with a personal anecdote recounting the time she and her editor went into a building with the word Library above the door, only to find themselves in a place where people would rather have a drink than read, a private club with “some books as a feature”.

Her first story, entitled Last, is about a woman trapped on a train in a rail siding and rescued by the author. As the story unfolds she includes her thoughts as they wander around words and their origins, pronunciation and evolution. Ali Smith clearly loves words and is a master wordsmith, deploying them with consummate skill.

Not normally a short story reader, I was captivated by this book. It contains a diverse, entertaining collection of stories, as well as a loving tribute to libraries and their importance in all communities.

Title: Public library and other stories
Author: Ali Smith

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.

26 February, 2016

Girl in a band by Kim Gordon

Even though I’ve listened to a lot of Sonic Youth over the years, Kim Gordon has remained very cool, aloof and mysterious to me. I was excited to read her recent memoir to find out how this alt-rock icon, well…rolls.

Her book opens at ‘The End’ with Sonic Youth playing their last ever gig at a music festival in Sao Paolo. It also marks the symbolic end to Gordon’s marriage to Thurston Moore, her Sonic Youth co-founder and guitarist.

Throughout her memoir, even though the pain from the recent dissolution of their 27 year partnership is still palpable - she writes about it with dignity and class - just sticking to the facts (Moore had an affair with a much younger woman). Even so, Moore comes across as a bit of a cad having a mid-life crisis. So yeah, I’m with Team Gordon (which is also a reason I didn’t go and see him play at the Powerstation last November).

Gordon’s level-headed perception also changed my view of Courtney Love, whom I have also long been fascinated by. Gordon relates her experience producing Hole’s first album ‘Pretty on the Inside’, saying she believes a personality disorder lies beneath Love’s “tarantula L.A. glamour” (sociopathy, narcissism?)…”I have a low tolerance for manipulative, egomaniacal behaviour.”

We also get a more tender insight into Kurt Cobain’s personality through his friendship with Gordon, whom he used to turn to for parenting and relationship advice: “Courtney thinks Frances likes me more than her”, which she describes as telling because “Kurt had no one else he could ask for advice” and “that Courtney was utterly self-absorbed and finding that he actually did spend more time with Frances Bean”.

Overall, the thing I enjoyed most about Gordon’s memoir – was finally getting a glimpse of what hides behind her cool and mysterious demeanour. Which she explains as arising from being mercilessly and sadistically teased by her mentally ill older brother “for every feeling I ever expressed”. So I can highly recommend this book if you, like I did, would one day like to crack the ‘Kim Gordon Enigma Code’.

Author: Kim Gordon

Recommended by Karen I, Devonport Library

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

24 February, 2016

Grandma Gatewood's walk by Ben Montgomery

I recommended this to my mother (who is in her late 70s), my sister (mid-50s), and I read it myself (early-40s) – we all enjoyed it.

I issued it to a customer, who is nearly 90. She returned it with a hug – a heartfelt thank you for finding her such an amazing book, about such an inspiring, wonderful woman. 

This is a customer whose reading diet is 90% books about inspiring women – refugees who have made it, missionaries, aid workers… Yet, it is Grandma Gatewood who captured her heart. 

Emma Gatewood’s story is amazing. A story of determination and individuality. She set out for a walk, carrying very little – and walked the Appalachian Trail. In her 60s. By herself. Without telling her family. 

Then, did it again. And again, in bits and pieces. And then walked other trails. 

And became a legend.

Recommended for – well, everyone, really. Women in particular. And for no particular reason. 

Title: Grandma Gatewood's walk: the inspiring story of the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail 
Author: Ben Montgomery. 

Also available as an eAudiobook and as an eBook

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. A life-long love of children’s books, particularly picture books, helps in her day-to-day role as a children’s librarian. 

23 February, 2016

Walking the Camino [DVD Recording]: six ways to Santiago

I have always been fascinated with pilgrimages. My first experience with pilgrimages was when I had watched a movie called "The Way" which showed one man’s chance to give his son his very last adventure of helping him to finish the Camino de Santiago.

"Walking the Camino" shows the true documentary side of the pilgrimage, the reasons why the pilgrims travel along the Camino, what they want to accomplish and the difficulties they face along the trail. This movie follows the story of six of the pilgrims (all different ages), each with a different story and outcome of what they achieve.

It will definitely appeal to the wanderlust that might be contained within you because there is something ever so slightly exciting but calming about the fact that all you have to do each day on this or any other pilgrimage, is walk. I like the sense of uncertainty, the overcoming of adversity and the triumphs that each pilgrim faces.  It makes me feel like I too should buy a plane ticket, a sturdy backpack and boots and see if I can complete a 800km/500 miles pilgrimage. But then again, maybe not.

Title: Walking the Camino [DVD Recording]: six ways to Santiago
Author: Lynda B Smith

Recommended by Emma W

Emma W, a library assistant from East Coast Bays Library, can be found zoning out constantly, requesting way too much stuff or humming along to the elevator music in her head.

As night falls by Jenny Milchman

Some books read like an episode of a television crime show, and this is one of them.

Sandy, her husband Ben, and daughter Ivy live in Ben's ‘dream’ home in the Adirondack Mountains. Life is pretty much OK but Ivy is getting to the rebellious age when she is starting to assert herself and question her parents. One evening Ivy is in her room after an argument with her mother when seemingly at random, two men force their way into the house.

Nick and Harlan are escaped convicts looking for supplies to help them get to Canada. But that’s not the whole story: there’s another reason why Nick has chosen Sandy’s home and as the ordeal continues, it is gradually revealed. A sudden snowstorm traps everyone in the house and the personalities of the convicts emerge; sadistic and violent Nick and simple, easily–led Harlan. The tension rises as the desperate family try to escape.

There is plenty of action to keep you reading and the interaction between the characters adds an interesting dimension. We see more than one side to all of them and our initial impressions of each are reformed as the novel progresses. Vivid descriptions of the ordeal and the setting draw you in to the action.

A good atmospheric thriller - don’t read this alone at home!

Title: As night falls
Author: Jenny Milchman

Reviewed by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t 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 most of her working day buying books for Auckland Libraries.

22 February, 2016

Furiously happy: a funny book about horrible things by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson has done it again. Hilarious author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened, and mind behind blog The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson has returned with another bestseller hit.

While Let's Pretend This Never Happened followed Jenny as she explained her life up 'til then in chronological order, Furiously Happy is more of a collection of essays and thoughts that most people don't bother to put on paper.

However, for Lawson, it works - mostly because that's what you're kind of expecting after reading her blog or previous book. If you're new to her work, it may seem a bit haphazard and scatterbrained. But, again, it's okay, because Lawson knows exactly how she sounds and how her work is read, and she mostly doesn't give a damn.

This book starts with one idea - if you are feeling terribly depressed or unhappy, turn that frown upside down, whether it wants to or not. Openly struggling with depression and mental illness, Jenny Lawson tries to live by being, of course, furiously happy. It's forcing yourself to smile in the face of depression and going out and having fun. It's not her pretending to be okay to others, but in fact her way of showing depression who the head honcho is. Sometimes, it works, and sometimes, Lawson finds herself hiding under tables.

Charmingly awkward and hilarious, but still relatable if you've suffered from mental illnesses before or not, Furiously Happy is Jenny Lawson's contribution to a world where often, everyone feels alone. Speaking about her hard times and great times, whether they are terribly embarrassing or cringe-worthy, is Lawson saying to all her readers, 'Me too,'.

Check her blog, and if her dark humor seems like a bit of you, I definitely suggest reading both of Lawson's books.

Title: Furiously happy : a funny book about horrible things
Author: Jenny Lawson

Also available as an eAudiobook and eBook.

Reviewed by Dana S.

Dana S works at Central Library, where she regularly finds really good stuff while shelving people's holds. That's how she found this one, in fact. She didn't take it, though! She put her name on the hold list and waited a very long time for it to come because it is/was very popular (you'd probably get it quicker than she did). Shame on you for thinking Dana just stole someone else's book. Tsk, tsk. Now you've hurt her feelings.

12 February, 2016

The good fairies of New York by Martin Millar

I would like to see Auckland Libraries run a competition for the best opening sentence in a book. The best writers hook you in their very first sentences and then reel you in. This book would be my entry in that competition:

Dinnie, an overweight enemy of humanity, was the worst violinist in New York, but was practising gamely when two cute little fairies stumbled through his fourth-floor window and vomited on the carpet.

Hooked! The fairies’ names are Heather and Morag, Scottish thistle fairies and virtuoso violinists with a love of punk. They have an intense love-hate relationship that forms one of the key plot lines of the book.

Around Heather and Morag and a motley assortment of fairies and humans, Millar spins a riotously funny tale. Fleeing Britain after some complicated misadventures, the fairy friends proceed to spread mischief and magical chaos in New York whilst their enemies seek them out and plot their demise.

The relationships that develop between the fairies and those questionably fortunate few humans able to see them are both hilarious and touching. The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, crossed and re-written in creative ways as the stories develop and coalesce.

The humour is fast and clever, occasionally scatological and pornographic. Behind the humour lies the commentary on modern society and its values, urban decay, identity and sub-culture. The fairies see what humans have learned not to notice, because if you do not notice, you do not need to care.

If you enjoy this book, you should also try Millar’s latest novel, The goddess of buttercups and daisies.

Title: The good fairies of New York
Author: Martin Millar

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.

11 February, 2016

Go set a watchman by Harper Lee

Originally written a few years before the international bestseller To kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s recently published book Go set a watchman centers around an adult Jean Louise (Scout) and her visit back to her hometown, Maycomb. 

The passing of time is shown clearly with the death of her brother Jem, her father Atticus now suffering from arthritis, and the introduction of a new main character Henry Clinton. However, some aspects have not changed: the relationship between Jean Louise and her Aunt Alexandra is still as intriguing as ever and despite the Tom Robinson case being many years ago, racism is still very much prevalent. 

Go Set a Watchman is about a young woman struggling to find her own beliefs in a society where everybody seems to be constantly pushing against her. Lee once again captures the setting of a Southern town in the 1950s flawlessly and while in her previous novel, we saw a young child quietly observing the scenes, we now witness her confronting her loved ones and finally becoming her own being.

I enjoyed reading this book and finding some closure on what happened to the lovable Finch children. It was even more entertaining to read the many references to Lee’s earlier book through the many childhood flashbacks Jean Louise has throughout the novel. I highly recommend this novel and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

Author: Harper Lee

Also available in large print and audiobook (CD)

Recommended by Honour Z, Northcote Library

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

09 February, 2016

Render unto Caesar by Gillian Bradshaw

Render unto Caesar is an historical novel set in the Roman Empire. It follows a Greek money-lender from Alexandria who travels to Rome to collect on a defaulter. Unfortunately that defaulter happens to be one of the most powerful men in Rome. What transpires next is a battle of pride, privilege and plots (<<< alliteration!).

This was an incredibly easy read, due to the tremendous authorship of Gillian Bradshaw whose convincing portrayal of a burgeoning imperial Rome is excellent (This city feels alive and dangerous!). There is always a concern (in my case anyway) of being unable to suspend disbelief with historical fiction, but I feel in safe hands with Bradshaw, who leaves little doubt that she knows her setting and subject and is able to relay that knowledge with confidence.

Bradshaw also moves her plot along at a good pace, where the main character (Hermogenes) must find his way across the city quickly in an attempt to resolve his financial difficulties. She also gives plenty of time for the reader to breathe though, as Hermogenes and his travelling household, flesh out their own issues with one another.

While Bradshaw centres the book on themes such as the worth of citizenship and the abuse of power, wealth and law; she also manages to throw in a (albeit anachronistic) crisis of conscience as Hermogenes has a growing concern for the welfare of slaves.

Render unto Caesar is an excellent read and rewarding for anyone with a love for a good thriller set in historical times. Doubly so if you are into this particular period of history!

Title: Render unto Caesar
Author: Gillian Bradshaw

Recommended by James W, Mangere Bridge Library

Since James W thinks you remind him of the babe. What babe? The babe with the power! He therefore thinks that by Grabtha’s hammer and the sons of Worvan… you shall be avenged! James enjoys topical pop-culture references.

The Japanese lover by Isabel Allende

Whether or not you are familiar with Chilean American author Isabel Allende’s poetic voice, you will delight in the elegance of The Japanese lover

At the centre of this charming story are 80 year old Alma and young Moldovian immigrant Irina. Alma is a resident at a retirement home in San Francisco and Irina is her carer. 

Slowly and mostly in flashback Alma reveals the secrets of her tumultuous life to Irina and her other companions at the home – a large group of assorted characters searching for love. 
Among them are survivors of the Holocaust, of the Japanese-American Internment camps, of the collapse of the Soviet Union , of the Aids crisis. Along the way, their lives are also captivatingly revealed. 

I enjoyed the book for its understanding portrayal of friendship, love and ageing, for its unusual setting and for the colourful characters that fill the pages. Important too was that for the first time I learned the harsh facts about how Japanese Americans were sent away to detention camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. A cruel sentence for innocent people.

Like all Allende’s books, this one was originally written in Spanish, because  to her “fiction comes from the womb, not from the brain.”
Lucky for us nothing appears to be lost in translation!

Title: The Japanese lover 
Author: Isabel Allende

Also available as an eBook and eAudiobook

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.

07 February, 2016

Color me creative : unlock your imagination by Kristina Webb

This book is really cool. It's  partly an autobiography of web-sensation and talented artist, Kristina Webb, and partly an art challenge book. There are some cute ideas in this book, designed by Kristina, which would be perfect  for a creative teen, (or adult for that matter). If you're an artist, like being creative or just need that little push to get back into creating, read this book and try out some of Kristina's art challenges. It is also full of her own artwork.

Considering just how young she is she has had quite an interesting life, with an exotic up-bringing compared to most children. She was born in Tauranga, but as a child she has lived on a remote tropical island, the Gold Coast in Australia and then on a yacht before finally moving back to NZ. She had a fair share of ups and downs, especially in her teenage years, (which is when she went to the USA as an exchange student), but her love of art grew and grew.

It is her passion for drawing which is a constant throughout her life, and with social media sites such as Tumblr and Instagram (@colour_me_creative),  she managed to get an on-line following of  many thousands while still a teenager, in fact she topped a million while writing this book! This led to magazine articles, live radio and television shows, and finally - this book! It shows you that if you follow your passion wholeheartedly, then it is possible in this day and age of the internet to fulfill your dream. Go Kristina, (and to think she is only at the beginning of her adult career)

Title: Color me creative : unlock your imagination
Author: Kristina Webb

Also available as an eBook

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.