31 January, 2017

Unspeakable secrets of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan

I thoroughly enjoyed this off-beat novel set in Aro Valley, a sleepy bohemian neighbourhood close to the Wellington CBD. It was weird and strange with an unusual cast of oddball characters. We have Campbell Walker, cult leader, Steve the psychologist and a voluptuous wellness centre healer. Plus of course, protagonist Danyl (named after the author). He is also a writer and not really the hero type, actually more of the anti-hero type and thrust into his adventures a little against his will. In some of the book he is not even wearing pants. He seems to have a shortage of clothing full stop.

The plot had so many twists and turns that right up to the end you couldn’t really say where it was all going to end up.  There is an ancient legend, a shadowy cult, a trail of riddles and sinister goings on. Rooms are wrecked. So is a garden. Satanists slink around; a man in a photo has his face scratched out; a white van and a dark tower feature. Rather a lot of enigmatic objects are uncovered and opened.

Very entertaining, this book had me laughing out loud often enough that my son is now reading it. Oh, and when this book ends and you are left thinking, 'what the hell', cue the sequel, Mysterious mysteries of the Aro Valley.

TitleUnspeakable secrets of the Aro Valley
Author: Danyl McLauchlan

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.

28 January, 2017

Lunatic by Kongos

Bored during the Christmas break, I was watching old You Tube clips and chanced upon a blind audition from The Voice Canada 2015. The song was “Come with me now”, sung by the very talented Simon Morin. As great as Simon Morin’s performance was, I feel it dulled in comparison to the original: written and performed by Kongos.  The song got under my skin and became my preferred ear-worm for the next few weeks.

The group Kongos consists of four brothers- Johnny, Jesse, Danny and Dylan Kongos, supported by their father, the talented 1970’s musician John Kongos.

The Kongos’ music is defined by their deep throaty voices which blend so well together, thumping African beat and use of instruments not usually heard in rock music, notably the accordion.
This is the first CD that I have felt compelled to introduce and was thrilled that Auckland Libraries has both albums that the extremely talented Kongos brothers have produced so far: Lunatic, produced in 2012 and Egomaniac  in 2016.

If catchy, alternative rock is your thing, then Lunatic will not disappoint: may “Come with me now” become your ear-worm of 2017.

Author: Kongos
Reviewed by Monica F, Waitakere Central Library

Monica F is happiest in gumboots and apron, attending to her animals, harvesting her crops and making stuff. Like all truly wholesome people, she has a dark side, and enjoys nothing better than well written true crime and forensic medicine.

23 January, 2017

The unburnt egg: more stories of a museum curator by Brian Gill

Three decades in the role of curator of land vertebrates at Auckland Museum managing a collection of 20,000 natural history specimens has provided Brian Gill with a wealth of fascinating stories.

His behind the scenes glimpses of the work that goes into building natural history collections show us the important role museums play in allowing researchers to study changes in organisms over time while the stories of the original collectors take us back to Victorian times where from 1876 to the early 1930’s the museum was in Princes Street on a site now occupied by a high-rise hotel.

The author’s main fields of interest were the life history of New Zealand cuckoos and songbirds and the palaeontology of extinct New Zealand birds. This book follows on from his previous book, The owl that fell from the sky.

The story of how the museum acquired one of its moa eggs from a house fire is intriguing. Moa eggs are rarely found whole as they are thin shelled and Auckland Museum has three virtually whole eggs. There are only thirty-six near complete moa eggs in the world!

Other tales cover huias, rats, seals, king penguins, skinks and flying frogs.

I loved this small volume, read it one sitting and absorbed a lot of new information but best of all it’s sparked a renewed interest in visiting Auckland Museum again.

Title: The unburnt egg: more stories of a museum curator
Author: Brian Gill

Claire S enjoys reading anything relating to New Zealand.

River God by Wilbur Smith

I haven't read historical fiction in quite a while and this is a particularly sumptuous read, with royal barges, processions, great wealth and high status individuals.

It vividly brings to life the land of the Pharaohs and the civilisation that flourished for thousands of years beside the Nile.You can almost smell the dust, the sand and blood, and feel the unrelenting heat of the desert sun.

Pharaoh's court in all its splendour is shown through the eyes of the clever slave Taita, gelded years before by his master Intef.
We follow him as he serves Intef and his beloved mistress Lostris, Intef's daughter, and meet Tanus, the clever war captain, the lover of Lostris.
It is an intricate plot with many twists and turns, but I was able to put it down for a few days and still follow the plot later on.

A very good read.

Title: River God
Author: Wilbur Smith

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.

22 January, 2017

The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee

Having recently labored through two introverted novels which felt mumbled and had slow pace plots, reading Janice Y.K. Lee’s novel was a relief. 

Lee’s eloquent description of living abroad, along with intricate characters and drama plots had me looking forward to my evening read – to escape my own introverted mumbling and slow paced life.

The novel follows three expatriate women from the US who have all moved to Hong Kong. 

Margaret the perfect wife and mother of three, Mercy the Korean American Columbia graduate recently cast adrift into adulthood and Hilary the lonely wealthy housewife desperate to fill a void in her life. 

Their stories crunch into one another, resulting in life changing circumstances as they navigate some of the tougher  situations motherhood can present. From kidnappings, adoption and adultery this is a drama that is hard to put down.

Author: Janice Y. K. Lee 

Reviewed by Suzy D, Mt Albert Library

Colour Bar: the triumph of Seretse Khama and his nation by Susan Williams

This inspiring true story caught my eye in the strangest of places, on the small screen. It’s very rare for me to first hear of a story this way and compel me to find the book, so my initial reaction of seeing this title on the Auckland Libraries website was one of surprise then determination in reading it.

Colour Bar is the historical account of the lives of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams. He was the heir of Bangwato, the largest nation in Bechuanaland; now called Botswana. She was a white English clerk. Their love and consequent marriage shook the world. Many throughout the British and South African government of those post World War II years, worked to keep Seretse away from his home and away from power. However, despite their political machinations, Seretse ultimately came home thanks to his own calm attitude and persistent work for the country and people he loved. Seretse Khama became the first president of the newly independent Botswana on 29th September 1966.

Although there are many chapters pertaining to the political upheavals and historical events that stood on their path, this book is mostly a love story. It is, according to the Daily Mail, “one of the greatest love stories of the twentieth century,” because through all the hardships of estrangement and exile, Seretse and Ruth remained steadfastly loyal to one another and their love only grew stronger as their family grew.

If I wasn’t shaking at the injustices, I was crying my heart out as I read this memoir. For me this was an exceptionally well written book of a love that triumphed over the prejudices of their age. I truly believe that this is how history should be written.

For those interested, Seretse and Ruth’s story is now dazzling the silver screen under the title A United Kingdom.

Author: Susan Williams

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. 

20 January, 2017

Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman

The days are sticky and swampy, everything feels slightly soiled and crumpled in this heat. So for me, I don’t want my usual to read. No slightly cruel humour, complicated relationships or existential angst. But then again, I don’t want to gorge on the book equivalent of junk food. There needs to be some calorific value as well as pleasing to the palate.

So for me, Piece of Mind  offered just the right combination of ingredients. Rather lovely, whimsical and  gentle yet thoughtful. This is a book about Lucy, who undergoes a sudden change in life circumstances that wrench her from the touchstones of daily life and the familiar company  of her father with whom she lives.

Lucy had an accident that left her with head injuries at the age of three. You wouldn’t necessarily know that she has certain limitations; it hasn’t affected her mental capacity as such.

This is what we do know about Lucy that sets her as slightly apart in her functioning from other 20 something year olds. She is ridiculously clumsy, catastrophically messy, her brain seems unable to hold and follow through beyond the concept of “tidying up”. Her memory is impish at best and holding down a job, full or part time has not been successful.

Yet Lucy is so engaging in her way of thinking, there is an intimacy and empathy for this character as we are privy to how she makes sense of things and tries to make signposts for getting through life.
Imagine then how disorienting is would be for Lucy to sudden lose her father and have to relocate from the comfort and familiarity of the family home to a studio apartment, and that’s being generous, with her brother.

Take this book somewhere tranquil to help make those fleeting holiday moments stay a little longer.  This book is the long cool drink, the welcome breeze for these close humid days.

Reviewed by: Sue W, Central library

Title: Piece of Mind
Author: Michelle Adelman

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.

18 January, 2017

People knitting by Barbara Levine

I’m a knitter. I knit nearly obsessively, and have for years. Yet as far as I know, there is only one photo of me knitting. 

Barbara Levine has curated a wonderful collection of people from all walks of life, and all stages of life, knitting. From interned POWs, to movie stars (Joan Crawford, Mary Pickford, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman – and I challenge you to see evidence of Betty Grable’s soon-to-be baby).

As I look through the images, it is hard to pick my favourite – although the little girl with the cat is right up there. Oh, and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, knitting during a conference. 

To me, the most poignant is the man knitting for his baby, having been prescribed knitting as an anxiety therapy five years early. The photo is from 1951. Doing the maths, you wonder what horrors he saw during the Second World War. If knitting helped him weather the dark hours, then pick up those needles. 

Title: People knitting: a century of photographs 
Author: Barbara Levine. 

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. 

17 January, 2017

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The last Dave Eggers book I read some years ago literally did what it said on the tin. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius was a tour de force of a book that took me on an emotional rollercoaster of a journey from start to finish. Strangely though, I never sought out any of Dave Eggers' successive works until I came across The Circle in a recommended list of books with "good plot twists”.

After reading this thrilling, dark tale of a future world visible on the horizon of today, I have vowed not to neglect Mr Eggers any longer!

The story follows the journey of Mae Holland, a young twenty-something as she starts her new job at a leading California-based internet company called The Circle.

On the surface, The Circle is the perfect place to work; free gyms, healthcare, housing, celebrity chefs in the cafeteria and first in line to test all the latest gadgets and gizmos. However, as Mae begins to climb the professional ladder, gaining popularity and an increasingly public profile, the price to be paid for these gains becomes tragically more evident.

A modern parable about the dangers of allowing society to be consumed by the internet and social media, it challenges the reader to ask questions about their rights to privacy and information. This dystopian tale is hard to put down and almost impossible to shake off once you have.

The film adaptation starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks is due for release in April 2017 so reserve yourself a copy to read sooner rather than later!

TitleThe Circle
Author: Dave Eggers

Reviewed by Jo C, New Lynn Library

Jo C is a librarian at New Lynn Library. She loves a good crime thriller, dark dystopian tales and anything left of centre. Her favourite authors are Stephen King and Margaret Atwood. 
Jo C's reading pledge for 2017 is to read more non-fiction and try new genres!

The edge of lost by Kristina McMorris

This enthralling story of an immigrant to America in the early part of the 20th century covers a lot of ground and delivers an unexpected ending.

In 1919 young Irish boy, Shan Keagan, is living in Dublin with his indifferent uncle and performing in pubs to make money. When he discoverers his birth father was an American soldier he dreams of travelling to New York to find him. The opportunity arises and he and his uncle join the hundreds of people hoping for a better life in America. However, his arrival in New York is not quite as he had expected.

Nearly twenty years later, Tommy Capello, an inmate of Alcatraz prison, is working as a gardener when a prison guard’s young daughter goes missing.

There is a connection between these two stories but it is not apparent until well into the book and when you do realise, you wonder why you hadn’t made the connection earlier.

I enjoyed reading about the different locations and situations introduced in the story, from grimy Dublin, to New York boroughs, burlesque clubs and the famous Alcatraz.

There’s also a huge range of characters, both appealing and not.

From the cover image of a child looking towards Alcatraz, I was expecting the story to only focus on the prison search, but was pleased to find so much more. The themes of hope and survival are subtle but leave you thinking about how the choices we make change the directions of our lives.

Title: The edge of lost
Author: Kristina McMorris

Recommended 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 much of her working day buying books for Auckland Libraries.

13 January, 2017

Dad Art by Damien Wilkins

I was quite keen to read this one after listening to the author read an extract at the writer’s festival last year. Needless to say he went for probably the funniest chapter in the book, so it was a great sell. That’s not to say that there are no other laughs in Dad art but topping observations on giant faux faecal matter takes some doing.

I found this book to be an enjoyable read that dealt with a lot of different issues. The central character is Michael Stirling, an acoustic engineer dealing with: growing older, health issues, separating from his wife, getting back into the dating scene, connecting with his father and daughter and her generation, having to live in Wellington… okay not that last one so much. He is well and truly entrenched in his mid-life crisis and does not seem to be able to get to grips with being a divorced man in modern Wellington.

It all sounds a bit dour but what this novel does is inject these real life situations with some truly funny musings and moments to balance Michael’s story. Such laughs come through his interactions with his daughter and her ‘performance art' and his own Te reo classes. Wilkins doesn’t seem to bog this story down too heavily with symbolism in this novel but there are nods to identity in the flag debate and Te reo Maori and Michael’s divorce/dating is again mirrored through his daughter’s 'ropy' performance art.

It’s fun, it’s local, it’s good. Read this book and then go see the Great War Exhibition at Te Papa in a new light. Heh heh.

Title: Dad art
Author: Damien Wilkins

James W sneezed the other day into his raised elbow in a bout of politeness and was at once revered by his niblings as asserting his ‘swag’ over everyone else… James now carries a handkerchief wherever he goes.