18 June, 2017

Beautiful hero : how we survived the Khmer Rouge by Jennifer H. Lau

The Khmer Rouge killed 2 million people out of a population of 6 million in Cambodia. After reading this book you wonder how you would cope in a regime like the one this family managed to survive. I am fairly sure I would have been 'whacked and dumped' (a term used in the book), fairly early on. 

The author, Geng (now Jennifer), was a child when the Khmer Rouge forcibly relocated her family. Her parents, brother and two younger sisters only had moments to grab what they could, and had to walk for days from comfortable city life to be resettled in the country. It was a struggle for survival against starvation, disease, parasites, forced labour and the brutality of the Khmer Rouge.

For the next four and a half years it was her mother who kept her family alive, but to do this she had to have a stone heart. She was hard and sometimes cruel to the children to ensure their survival. There were moments when Geng hated her mother, as she had no chance to be a child, but now she has admiration at what her mother achieved while retaining her humanity and dignity.

Harrowing, and hard to imagine the horrors they would have seen, this book shows a part of history of which we should be aware. A grim but utterly compelling read, told by an adult, much later, but with the matter of fact voice of the child she was at the time. She sticks to personal experience rather than inserting political explanations. HIghly recommended

(The title is a homage to her mother Meiyeng. Mei means Beautiful and Yeng means Hero.)

TitleBeautiful hero : how we survived the Khmer Rouge
AuthorJennifer H Lau

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

11 June, 2017

We are all made of molecules by Susin Nielsen

I don’t read that many young adult novels but something about this title compelled me to pick it up. I guess it was the quirky cover and interesting blurb that called out to me.

Set in the suburbs of Vancouver, this story tells of a blended family. Narrated by our two main characters thirteen-year-old Stewart and fourteen-year-old Ashley; ‘We are all made of molecules’ takes the reader into the lives of teenagers trying to fit into the new life that is unfolding before them.

Stewart is a gifted intellectual who is still coping with the loss of his mother to cancer two years ago, while Ashley is a popular fashionista seeking to climb the rungs of the social ladder in her school. Ashley’s parents have divorced after her father announced he is gay, and Ashley is finding it hard to accept. Stewart’s dad and Ashley’s mom begin a new relationship and they end up moving in together. We all know that new beginnings are never easy and this one is already looking unpleasant for all parties involved. The overlapping journeys taken by these two teenagers are filled with episodes filled with humour, sadness, bullying, bigotry and tolerance. Unlike most other books in the genre of contemporary fiction, Susin Nielsen delivers an engaging tale on the true nature of friendship and what it means to be a family.

This story gripped me from start to finish. Susin Nielsen’s style of writing is unique and appealing. The different voices of Stewart and Ashley expertly portray their distinct personalities and readers will find them hard to forget long after reading the book. I would recommend this book for older readers aged 13 years and up.
Readers of this title might also enjoy See you at Harry’s by Jo Knowles.

Title: We are all made of molecules
Author: Susin Nielsen

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.

07 June, 2017

Heartthrobs by Carol Dyhouse

I read romance novels. I don’t watch romantic movies. (Well, many movies at all). 

I am aware, however, of the current crop of ‘heartthrobs’ in our culture. And what are the current trends in romance novel heroes. (Navy SEALS, anyone? Or werewolves?) 

Dyhouse examines these trends through the lens of the cultural historian. 

What does the appeal of doctors in the 1950s say about what women – and society – were searching for, in the immediate post-War period? What about Valentino and the Sheikh? Why the David Cassidy phenomenon? Or Marc Bolan? What about Adam Ant’s ‘Prince Charming’ video? (There's a detailed paragraph about this video - so I thought I'd hunt it down for you.) 

A fascinating exploration of society, women’s place within it – and expectations upon them – and history. 

Title: Heartthrobs: a history of women and desire.  
Author: Carol Dyhouse.  

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. 

06 June, 2017

The map that leads to you by J. P. Monninger

This novel starts with the not-unusual scenario of a girl meeting a boy on a European holiday and falling for him.

Heather is exploring Europe with her two college friends before she settles down to the corporate life and a job in New York. Jack is following in the footsteps of his grandfather who left a diary of his travels taken after he was discharged from the army in WWII. They meet on a train, resulting in Heather and her friend Constance, abandoning their own itinerary and joining Jack and his friend Raef on their trip. As their relationship develops, Heather expects they will go back to the US together and continue their relationship, but all is not as it seems.

The style of this writing is quite literary and there are some very poetic descriptions and dialogue which made it more than a conventional romance. Nicholas Sparks has described it as “romantic and unforgettable” and I would agree with that. The story stays with you and with phrases like “we stood and swam into each other’s eyes, and I had maybe shared a baby cousin of this look with other men, but this was something different, something terrifying and wonderful…” the romantic angle is definitely covered.

I am always drawn to passages about books in writing and found this one very perceptive:  “Have you ever heard someone say that books are the place we visit and that when we run into people who have read the books we have read, it’s the same as if we had travelled to the same locations?”

A charming and interesting story that had me drawn in and involved from the start.

Title: The map that leads to you
Author: J.P. Monninger

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.

30 May, 2017

Black Lagoon. 001 By Rei Hiroe

Ah the 90s… Hair size was in the decline, to steal music you actually had to enter a shop, everyone knew the zip code to Beverly Hills, California (well one of them anyway), and if you had a cell phone you were called… a variety of derogatory names. The manga, Black lagoon is set in this magical decade, but is far less concerned with these 90s references and more with classic 90s gung-ho action.

The mercenary crew of the lagoon company take on only the most dangerous jobs as they walk a fine line between the warring gang factions of Roanpur (a fictional port somewhere in Southeast Asia) and various government departments. In the group we follow the two main characters of Revy ‘two-hand’ who is a ruthless, foul mouthed gunslinger and Rokuro “Rock” Okajima, a quick thinking Japanese salary-man with a bad case of Stockholm syndrome.

The action is fast and slick with the fights involved often being stylised and full-on. Each of the characters are unique and capable in their own way and we slowly get to know their own motivations after each adventure. We holler excitedly at their hi-jinks before quickly worrying about where on the moral compass their decisions are falling. While they are cool characters, they’re not always the 'good' guys.

The action is fast and violent (without being gratuitous), and the language is sharp and adult. Black lagoon will appeal to the 6 year old in you who snuck into the room while the adults were watching Robocop or Predator on VHS (oh wait those weren't 90s films!). Available at all good libraries today!

The latest volume is 10

Title: Black lagoon
Author: Rei Hiroe

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W is lacking in many of the essentials needed for traditional piracy: desire for robbery, a penchant for criminal violence… and a boat.

26 May, 2017

My name is Lucy Barton : a novel by Elizabeth Strout

“Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.”

This is a short book, a quiet book that really packs a punch. 

Lucy Barton’s childhood was grim to say the least. The family lived in poverty, in an uncle’s garage, in a physically and culturally isolated environment, with no neighbours, television or newspapers.  She grew up socially awkward, often ostracized by other kids and without knowing how to behave in certain social situations. One of three siblings she seems not to have shared any loving relationships with them, or her parents. 

When we meet Lucy, she is recovering from an operation in hospital. Here she thinks and reflects - mostly about her childhood, her previous marriage and her present life with husband and two daughters and the circumstances which led her to become a writer. Then, her estranged mother unexpectedly comes to visit and mother and daughter try to reconnect through shared conversations that last over three days.

This is a novel about the difficulties and limitations of love: marital, platonic and most of all mother and daughterly love. Lucy’s mother was unable to protect her from their poverty and from father’s unpredictable behaviour. Still, Lucy so loves her mother and needs her love and approval. In turn, the mother can only describe her feelings for her daughter by telling stories of old acquaintances  and their imperfect lives.

As I started reading, I had a feeling that this would be an unusual but remarkable tale. In less than 200 pages, without wasting a word, Elizabeth Strout made me want to read it through in one sitting.

Author: Elizabeth Strout

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.

24 May, 2017

This beats perfect By Rebecca Denton

"This beats perfect" is all about a girl named Amelie Ayers who the only thing she wants to do in the world is to sing her own songs and engineer the next big hit. The only thing standing in her way is her all-consuming case of stage fright which her father (also in the music business), is trying to help her overcome.

Her father offers for her birthday a backstage pass to "The Keeps" a popular boy band at the time, which is so not her scene but hey it's a free concert, that she gets to see what her father does and get a step into the behind the scenes action that goes on in concerts. Amelie is fascinated by the inner workings of the stage crew and the crowd, but "The Keep" is not going to be around much longer. One of its members (Maxx) is setting his sights on becoming a solo act and looking to Amelie’s dad to help produce his new C.D, which Amelie has been asked to help create. But Maxx is not who his boy band persona leads you to think and Amelie starts to fall for the guy who is also unsure of who he is when he is stripped away of his stardom. 

A love story with a difference through the eyes of a girl who is terrified to follow her dreams, and all the music industry knowledge that comes with it is interesting and eye opening. Leaves you wondering if Amelie will ever get the courage to get up on stage and also win the heart of the boy she is starting to fall for.

Author: Rebecca Denton

Emma W is a Senior Library Assistant at Waitakere Central Library who can be found humming constantly, requesting way too much stuff or playing in the lifts in the library. Luckily no one has noticed yet. 

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.