31 October, 2016

Here is New York by E.B. White

This is a newish edition of a short book based on a 'Holiday' magazine article the author wrote in 1948. It was republished in 1999 on the 100th anniversary of his birth with an introduction by his stepson.

White came to New York in 1924 where he worked for various magazines including 'New Yorker' & 'Harpers' but at the time of writing this had left and was residing in Maine. In the late 1930's he started writing children's fiction and was famously the author of Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte's Web (1952).
This stroll around Manhattan in a heatwave has been called the finest portrait ever painted of the city at the height of its glory.

His sketch begins "On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy". He describes three types of New Yorkers. Those who were born here, the commuters who come in daily to their place of work and those who were born elsewhere and came here in search of something.
In recalling the passing of the New York he knew in his youth and observing the changes that have occurred since he portrays a wonderful snapshot of post war Manhattan.

In light of the events that took place 53 years later on September 11th, 2001, I found this particular piece portentous and uncanny.
"The city for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightening, New York must hold a steady irresistible charm."

Title: Here is New York
Author: E.B.White

Also available in e-book: Here is New York

Recommended by Claire, Information Services, Central Library.

Claire likes variety & is currently revisiting the Complete Novels of Carson McCullers.

30 October, 2016

All rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

As middle grade novels go, this particular title called out to me. Filled with some funny, inspiring and unforgettable characters, ‘All rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook’ will have readers both young and old gripped until the end.

Perry was born and raised at the Blue river co-ed Correctional Facility in the tiny Nebraskan town of Surprise. His mother is a resident on Cell Block C. the warden has made it possible for them to be together and most people who know this are quietly okay with it. However, when a new district attorney is appointed, everything changes for the spirited 11-year-old. Perry is forced to live on “the outside” with the Van leer family but feels trapped. Feeling desperate to be reunited with his mother, Perry goes on a quest to learn the whole truth behind their Blue River story. And when he does, it takes all the courage he has to face it, and truly understand the strength of the family he has, and the home his mother has created for him, no matter where that is.

Told in Perry’s unique voice we get to see the inner workings of the prison he calls home and navigate the dramas of middle school. What amazed me was the quiet strength of Perry and the hope he leans on from the support from his friends, and the unique story that follows.

If you are looking for an inspirational children’s read similar to Dan Gemeinhart’s ‘Some kind of Courage’ and Joan Bauer’s ‘Almost Home’, then this should be next on your list!

Title: All rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook
Author: Leslie Connor

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.

26 October, 2016

The thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Going back in time for this month’s recommendation… 

The Thief is one of my comfort re-reads, and is not let down by its sequels.

It is Gen, the titular thief, who makes this sparkle. He is oh so human. He is witty, snide, not at all heroic – and has an overwhelming need for comfort, food, and sleep. 

When the book begins, Gen is in prison – having boasted he can steal anything, and get out of anywhere. When the chance comes for a special mission – one needing a skilled thief – where else would the King’s Magus turn? 

But Gen only reveals what he wants people to see. And that includes the reader. Hints are there all along, but finding out the truth will take until the very end. 

Fantasy, sort of – in a magical, mystical, mashed-up world of pseudo-Ancient Greece, with modern additions (like watches and guns). 

The Thief is followed by three sequels:

Each book has its own magic, and its own writing style. Readers of the series, and lovers of Gen, will enjoy each insight into this complex character and world. 

Title: The Thief.
Author: Megan Whalen Turner. 

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. 

20 October, 2016

Lily and the octopus by Steven Rowley

As a rule I don’t write reviews for books that already have the spotlight upon them. After all, why bother? Clearly people have heard about this book and are already on board. This book is the exception.

So when I finished this book, I had to just stop and savour its magnificence. Absolutely heart-breakingly beautiful, funny, sad, whimsical. It was like a literary gastronomical event. I haven’t wanted to read anything else for nearly a week now, that’s how reluctant I was to let this book go.

This is a story narrated through the world view of Ted, single, socially isolated and sharing his life with his dachshund Lily. Lily and Ted converse. Thursday nights they talk about the merits of good looking boys, which actor is superior in looks and charisma. Lily has an octopus on her head, Ted has just noticed it; this is how the story begins.

Of course we know it's not an octopus, it's just a tumor and its connotations are downright ugly. In a superstitious bid to stave it off, an octopus becomes the creature taking up illegal residence on Lily’s head. The evil eight legged one converses with Ted, lazily refuses to move or even offer up any paltry sort of explanations as to why it is there.

What ensues is battle of wills, an epic Herculean quest to save Lily, to rid her of the octopus and in the interim, savour every moment in case the unthinkable happens.

We have Melville references, Murakami’s flair for introducing the fantastical into the every day, as in conversing with animals. If the thought of this just seems fundamentally wrong, clearly you are not an animal person and are unaware of the rich conversations it is possible to have with your four legged companions.

I love everything about this book, not the least bit smaltzy, or reliant on the tired old tropes to bring on the tears. After all, you know from the first page we’re dealing with the big C, no surprises there. I found myself approaching the final chapters and I just had to finish it, I could not put it off.

It was rush hour in the staff cafeteria and I sat with paper towels in hand mopping up those tears that just would not stop. What a book! What a writer! Best book of the year for me. Sigh, is it really over, can I start again?

Title: Lily and the Octopus
Author:  Steven Rowley

Reviewed by: Sue W (Central Library)

Sue W loves her fur babies equally but differently and used to administer time out to think about bad behaviours. However, since Patrick the fox arrived, she can no longer lock a miscreant in the spare room least Patrick is set upon.

11 October, 2016

Life at the bottom : the worldview that makes the underclass by Theodore Dalrymple

This was an awful read…
Yes, there we go folks, enjoy your week!

Sorry, what I mean is if you have trouble dealing with pretty dire human stories that are given no real avenue for change (probably one of my criticisms of Mr Dalrymples writing), then be prepared for some depressing stories when you pick up this book.

Couple this with a sneering tone as our pretentious author descends from his high horse to aid and listen to the 'hoi polio' and their ‘self-induced’ problems, while railing on liberal thinkers and idiotic educationists. (._.)

“Woah, why did you pick this book then, you amazing person?”

Because it’s really good! For all his criticisms of the lower classes and societies ‘blending’, his points are often worthy of thought. The vivid, raw and (presumably) true anecdotes are compelling, tragic and sad, told with appropriate detachment and tinged with black humour in some cases:

Domestic violence, criminal responsibility, declining education standards, declining police standards, police anger, willful ignorance by the upper echelons of society and government… I'd like to say it gets brighter...

This book isn’t new (most of the articles are set before the turn of the century), but it is both good and relevant. Despite its strong conservative leanings, it is more than worth a look and Dalrymple’s language is immaculate. There’s even a chapter on his visit to New Zealand (we get a good kicking too)!

Read it.

Title: Life at the bottom: the worldview that makes the underclass
Author: Theodore Dalrymple

James W still hasn’t seen the film Titanic. Since he hasn’t seen it… does it truly exist (and therefore deserve 11 academy awards)? James is familiar with the anthropic principle.

10 October, 2016

Who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner? : a story about women and economics by Katrine Marçal

Did you ever sit in a macroeconomic lecture, staring blankly at a graph while your professor droned on? (I did) ..or perhaps you glance over the business section of the paper just to turn to Sideswipe at the back? (I do) Perhaps once you borrowed Economics for Dummies but didn’t get past the first three pages before you gave it up for a creative piece of Fiction (guilty).
If this is sounds like you, or if you are simply interested in a new view point of economics and its impact on how the world works, then order your copy of Katrine Marçal’s book Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?.

The book is a feminist view of economics. Adam Smith was the “father of political economy” who shaped our modern understanding. He built a theory based around self-interest and rational choices. Acting in our own self-interest is the foundation upon which capitalism has thrived, and the concept of the ‘economic man’ ingrained itself into our society.

This book systematically works through the skewed lens of Adam Smith and economic theorists since - pointing to their gaps. From unpaid, undervalued labour, to the potential consequences future generations will face. Every page has its own anecdote that will have you reconsidering the world we live in.

TitleWho cooked Adam Smith’s dinner? : a story about women and economics
Author: Katrine Marçal

Reviewed by: Suzy D, Mt Albert Library

08 October, 2016

All Visitors Ashore by C.K. Stead

Melior Farbro is a gay artist, a little over fifty "like the century itself", a loner believing "there is nothing a man needs a woman for, nothing his pals can’t provide and make it better". He lives by the sea in Takapuna in a tiny studio full of books, arts and tomatoes. He makes art in the morning, grows vegetables during the day, and entertains his visitors with witty conversations at dinner.

Cecilia Skyways with her ginger-gold curls all around her face is a South Island girl and a would-be writer. With envious determination, she writes her memoirs and follows her own form of Zen Buddhism in Farbro's garden hut. Before living here, she spent nearly six years at the nunnery (or whatever it was). She is a little bizarre, like the rest of the characters; painfully shy and sensitive.

There is also Curl and Pat, a young artistic couple hanging out nearby. Curl's brilliant young head is "full of novels waiting to be unravelled and his trousers full of something much more irrepressible". 

It is the summer of 1951, the waterfront dispute is on, the harbour is full of cargo vessels, but the passenger ships continue to sail. One after another the characters depart from New Zealand in search of a new life and better opportunities somewhere else.

As one may guess, Farbro and Cecilia are and aren't Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame, the two New Zealand's iconic writers. Just as the professor Curl Skidmore, capturing his memories over a gap of thirty years, is and isn't C.K. Stead, the author. Whether or not one is able and willing to recognise the real people and true story behind fiction, the novel is a page-turner, funny, and masterly narrated. It's a gripping and hugely enjoyable read.

Title: All Visitors Ashore
Author: C.K. Stead

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

07 October, 2016

The girl with seven names: a North Korean defector's story by Hyeonseo Lee; with David John

“The ruling Kim. He is the only figure in North Korea who exercises freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, his right not to be tortured, imprisoned, or executed without trial, and his right to proper healthcare and food.”
Imagine witnessing an execution at age seven. Imagine being forced to change your name seven times just to stay alive.
Here is an insight into one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships, from a woman who spent her childhood in one of its remote border towns until she made her daring escape at age 17.
It could be said that the author grew up in a relatively comfortable, environment surrounded by a loving and supportive family. Her father’s eventual fate, and a childhood spent attending school meetings where one  confessed guilt about something and accused others of the same, where portraits of the Leader had to adorn homes and be cleaned every day, ready for inspection by government officials in a bid to show loyalty to the party, makes a mockery of such a statement.
Twelve years after she fled “the best country in the world” (government indoctrination), first to China, and then to South Korea, Hyenseo returned to the North to help her family escape. 
Today she is married to an American and spends her time as a journalist and activist helping others in similarly distressed circumstances find their freedom.
You will be fascinated by this brave and courageous story of surviving the harshness of two defections, loss of self-worth and identity, and finding a new sense of purpose and belonging.

For another moving account of escape from North Korea, try In order to live by Yeonmi Park.
Author: Hyeonseo Lee; with David John
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.

03 October, 2016

Hester & Harriet by Hilary Spiers

Well, I read this in one evening so I would say yes, this book kept my interest. It is quirky and funny, with great characters.

Hester and Harriet are sisters, both widowed, who have decided to live together in a small village, the only drawback being that their boring cousins seem to think they need company. They are desperate to escape the Christmas dinner (with terrible food), and for once they have a good reason when they rescue a young woman hiding with her baby in an old bus shelter. Then their 15 year old nephew  Ben arrives on their doorstep begging to stay with them for a few days as well. The sisters peace and quiet falls apart, but maybe it is just what they need.

Daria and her baby Milo come with a mystery. Why are people looking for them? Plus it is hard to keep a secret in a small village. Add Ben into the mix (misunderstood by his parents), along with a Finbar, a homeless intellectual, and you have an entertaining book full of interesting characters and situations.

The writing is good and has a great flow. A light fun read even though it tackles some more serious issues.

Title: Hester & Harriet
AuthorHilary Spiers

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