16 May, 2017

True crime Japan by Paul Murphy

I have lately grown tired of scanning the true crime shelves and seeing mostly American and British true crime: all variations on a theme. I long for something different and good and a couple of months ago I hit the mother lode. The book is True crime Japan by Paul Murphy and if you want weird and wonderful stories about what goes on in courtrooms that do not follow our English Law system, then read on.

Paul Murphy is an Irish journalist and a fluent Japanese speaker who has lived in Japan for some years. This book is a careful curation of the most interesting cases from his observations of court cases in Matsumoto over a one year period. Paul groups the cases into themes, such as crimes committed by the elderly, sexual deviants, and the Yakuza, and also gives the social and legal background to these cases. This provides the context to what appears at first sight to be utterly bizarre. He also takes the trouble to follow up on the cases after sentencing, which is vital information for any hard-boiled true crime junkie.

I loved the simple explanations and easy narrative style in True Crime Japan, and highly recommend this as an intelligent read for those who enjoy reading true crime without the gory bits.

I am sorely tempted to discuss all my favourite OMG moments from this book with you, but I will restrain myself for fear of spoiling your reading experience. However, I have no doubt that this will be a book that you will want to discuss afterwards, and I would love you to leave a comment after you have read it. Enjoy!

TitleTrue crime Japan
Author: Paul Murphy

Reviewed by Monica F, Waitakere Central Library Henderson.

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.

15 May, 2017

Get well soon : history's worst plagues and the heroes who fought them by Jennifer Wright

I just read this fascinating book about plagues. You would think this would be a depressing topic, but the conversational tone and anecdotes make this a very readable book.

Jennifer Wright has gone through the ages and found out intriguing and informative facts about various deadly plagues and diseases, (including smallpox, leprosy, cholera, polio and more). What caused them, who caught them, stigmas and myths surrounding them, and ridiculous attempts at cures, and how some changed the course of history. It is also about the ways humanity responded to crisis, (often in a really bad way), but it includes people who did the right thing, the heroes who get their business together and go about saving lives and give people comfort.

I like how Wright tells about some lesser known plagues, like the  dancing plague in a small town in France in the 1500's. I learnt fascinating facts like: there was a no-nose club in the late 19th century, (a social club for sufferers of syphilis), or that the Spanish flu started in the U.S.A. And did you know there was a lobotomobile?  Wright has a delightful and  humorous writing style, she manages to make you laugh while reading about a pretty grim subject.

It is scary how quickly we can forget the terror of losing so many to a contagious disease, but we need to remember and plan for an event like this to happen again. With bacteria resistant bacteria we might be due for another outbreak. Definitely worth reading.

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

08 May, 2017

Explaining Hitler : the search for the origins of his evil by Ron Rosenbaum

Adolf Hitler.
Two words, the name of a man who has dominated the history books since he died in 1945. Who was he?

What man could go from the innocent little boy who features on the cover of this book to the monster who sent millions of men, women and children to their deaths.
Mr Rosenbaum looks at the various historians and authors who have tried to explain the reasoning behind this. He examines Hitler's early life and then rise to power. What stuck in my mind was the way that at first, in Germany, Hitler was treated like a clown and nobody for a moment believed that he would one day rule the country.
The origins for his anti-Jewish philosophy are also examined. Maybe he caught syphilis from a Jewish prostitute or maybe his own family hid a secret Jewish ancestor.
The book also examines the anti-Jewish feeling abroad in Europe at the time, and whether this was a contributing factor to Hitler's success. Of course, the Holocaust wasn't just Hitler, other people, seemingly eveyday, ordinary people participated too. But was Hitler the right man at the right time or could anyone given his history and temparament have done what he did?
It certainly gave me and anyone who is looking for an answer to the question of why, a very readable and easily digested book. I also took from it a warning. Once mainstream politics and ordinary people come together to demonise a whole race or religion or both, then unspeakable evil can be unleashed.

Title: Explaining Hitler: the search for the origins of his evil 
Author: Ron Rosenbaum

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.

07 May, 2017

Hidden figures: the untold story of the African American women who helped win the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Just like everyone else in the world, this title came to my attention when it hit the movie screens. With high hopes and anticipation; I went and saw the movie and it did not disappoint me. With a stellar cast it gave me an insight into the lives of the “West Computers” of NASA and the drama that was involved in putting a man into space.

The book, which I read later, gave me much more. We meet the four ‘figures’ of Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden and follow their lives from their early years as teachers, and into the late 1940’s as ‘computers’ for the NACA and learn of the work they performed in their respective fields. Filled with interweaving stories about these strong women, Hidden Figures also gives the reader an insight into the significant historical events that took place, such as World War II, NASA’s golden age, the civil rights movement, and the women’s rights era.

This book does not read like a history text for me. It was more like a memoir. Margot Lee Shetterly’s unique prose takes us deep into that period of time and we get to see not only history unfold before us, but also the intimate lives of these courageous women. I was inspired by the sacrifice, determination, and intelligence of these women as they endeavoured to reach the pinnacle of their careers and paved the way for the generations to come.

If you are like me and enjoy history and stories of women who have made a difference then Hidden Figures should be your next read!!

Title: Hidden Figures: the untold story of the African American women who helped win the space race
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly

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.

03 May, 2017

Beyond the Northlands by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough

What we know about the Vikings is usually through the lens of the victims – Christian monks. Bur what did the Vikings think about themselves? What was their experience? What influenced them? What did they think about the rest of the world? 

Barraclough has explored the Viking world – through text and geography – to get a real feel of their experiences and views. 
Her extensive research both permeates the text, and sits lightly upon it, which means the book can be seen as a light read – but it isn’t. Her writing style is engaging – I particularly like her footnotes. 

Highly recommended for history fans, and fans of the TV series – Vikings. You might also like to hunt out Neil Gaiman’s Norse mythology

Title: Beyond the Northlands: Viking voyages and the Old Norse sagas.  
Author: Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough. 

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. 

02 May, 2017

Blackout: tomorrow will be too late by Marc Elsberg

The plot of this book intrigued me – the power suddenly goes out across Europe plunging cities into chaos and officials scrambling to find the fault.

It appears that terrorists have hacked the computer systems of power producers and suppliers, causing massive shutdowns.  Thrown together by chance, an Italian computer expert and an American journalist work together to uncover the perpetrators and prevent any further destruction, travelling across the continent and putting themselves in danger in the process.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The story-line was great and so believable it had me checking on my home emergency kit. It moves at a really fast pace and the short chapters are so easy to read that you lose track of time. Characters are located in a number of cities across the continent with chapters alternating between them all. This took me a while to get used to, but adds an extra dimension with all the different viewpoints.

On the other hand, the writing was a bit clumsy which I put down to the fact this is a translation of the original German novel. Some of the interactions and descriptions with women were a bit awkward too, with a very slight sexist tone, particularly in the physical descriptions of characters.

There are so many consequences of an incident like this that you never think of, such as the collapse of currency markets, loss of transport because petrol can’t be pumped without electricity, scarcity of prescription medicines, and farm animals that die because they can’t be cared for properly.

It really makes you think about the vulnerability of the infrastructure we rely on and the security of our online networks. Although this is fiction, the reality of this is scarily possible. A well-researched thriller that will appeal to many.

Author: Marc Elsberg

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.

22 April, 2017

Howl's moving castle by Diana Wynne Jones


“Okay...Howl's Mov-… and… Yes! No one else as reviewed this one yet!”

*Does sad victory dance*

Howl’s moving castle is an oldie but a goodie and apologies to anyone who has already read this children’s classic (no, the Miyazaki film doesn’t count), but look at this as your excuse to read it again. You have my permission.

Howl’s moving castle tells the story of Sophie Hatter, whose surname speaks of a time when surnames belied your profession (I suppose Milliner could also have been her surname). She is soon whisked off her feet by a mysterious wizard, becoming the object of ire of the Witch of the waste and is cursed into becoming an old woman...

Sophie herself is a wonderful character who exhibits growth in her role and embodies the themes of courage not only adventure, but also of facing and overcoming societies expected perception of her, which colours the way she sees herself. I won’t get too deep into themes, it’s way too great a story to read purely analytically anyways. Read it aloud with friends, or to your kids!

Howls moving castle is a wondrous tale of adventure and magic filled with great characters, clever dialogue and fun-filled adventure. It’s too good not to read. Seriously!

Watch Miyazaki’s adaptation, also available in the library, it’s a great adaptation/reinterpretation.
Read the sequels too, Castle in the air and House of many ways, which are just as great in their own way!

Title: Howl’s moving castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W is also a wizard… at ironing, because ironing is awesome. If anyone tells you otherwise, then tell them to walk their wrinkly trousers into a different conversation.

20 April, 2017

Behind every great man: the forgotten women behind the world's famous and infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller

In this collection, teacher - historian and author Maureen Wagman-Geller, self-proclaimed lover of history, biography and trivia, has put together the back stories of 40 of history’s forgotten women; women who stood in the shadows of their famous (and sometimes infamous) husbands are defined and brought to light.

The criteria for choosing the subjects were that the men had to be easily recognised and the wives had to be largely unknown.

And so, chapter by chapter, the curtains are drawn back on the spouses of government leaders (Nelson Mandela, Adolph Hitler), writers (Steig Larsson, C.S. Lewis), musicians (Sting, Jerry Garcia), scientists (Einstein, Stephen Hawking) and plenty more.  In the author’s words, these are women who “have stood behind their legendary partners and helped to humanise them, often at the cost of their own careers, reputations and happiness.”

Through this titular cliche, each woman’s contribution to history  is concisely and amusingly documented, as we read their stories of how they stood by their men - whether through alcoholism, racism, infidelities or even as they became important collaborators in their spouse’s work.

A peek behind the curtain that asks some questions – like how much did Mrs Madoff know of her husband Bernie's business doings or why did Eva Braun stay with Hitler? Here are some answers from voices thus far silenced.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. And also available as an ebook.

Note to author: Hopefully, there will soon be a contemporary version titled Behind every great woman... 

Title: Behind every great man: the forgotten women behind the world's famous and infamous
Author: Marlene Wagman-Geller

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.

10 April, 2017

Dark matter : a novel by Blake Crouch

This is a roller coaster of a read that takes you in many unexpected directions.

The action begins when Jason Dessen, forty-year-old physics professor, is kidnapped at gunpoint and transported to . . . where? The world is similar, but not his, and where are his beloved wife and son?  I won’t say too much about the plot as it is better to let it unfold as you read, but this book melds thriller and science fiction to brilliant effect.  It is creative and mind-bending with a superb twist in the plot in the last part of the book. Just when you think you have the story sussed it gets weirder.

After I read this book,  my son picked it up and  read it in a day, he could not put it down, (this is a working day too). He loved it so much my daughter also read it and stayed up late to finish it. (They are both in their 20’s). The writing and the action draws you in and you want to just read the next bit, and then a bit more until it is finished at 1.30am in the morning. 

A thought provoking and gripping story that stays with you. It would make a great movie as well. Wait and see. . . . . .

TitleDark matter : a novel
AuthorBlake Crouch

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

07 April, 2017

The last act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

Interesting characters and an intriguing mystery combine to create a great story with many twists and turns.

Hattie is a high school student from a small American town who is determined to make her name on the stage in New York. She is a gifted actress and uses her skills off- as well as on-stage, changing her personality depending on who she is with. When her body is found in an old barn, the local policeman, an old family friend, is called to investigate.

More than a police-procedural story of an investigation, this book is defined by it's strong characterisation and realistic dialogue. It's told from three points of view which helps to get the feeling you know the individuals and understand their side of the story.
You feel the grief of the parents, the distress of the school students, the frustration of the police, the nervousness of the suspects. More than one of Hattie’s contacts had a reason to murder her, or was it someone she didn’t know?

The writing is excellent and gives great insights into personalities. As a keen reader, I liked this description from Hattie on her mother: “Mom would be reading whatever the library just got in, since she’d gone through everything on their shelves. She never wanted to talk about her books though. Maybe that’s what made her so hard to read sometimes, all those books floating around in her.”

This book is also published under the alternative title ‘Everything you want me to be’ which perfectly describes the complicated Hattie.

Title: The last act of Hattie Hoffman / Everything you want me to be
Author: Mindy Mejia

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.