06 December, 2016

Gentlemen of the road by Michael Charbon

A warrior with a huge battle axe and scowling expression is seated in a tavern. A lank-haired skinny fellow armed with a rapier insults him and they agree to duel to the death. 

An ostler takes bets on the outcome; excitement rises as first one then the other combatant is wounded. 

It's a scam of course, the downed warrior recovers out of sight, the two duelists slink away together having made a tidy sum of money.

Zelikman and Amran, our two gentlemen of the road, have wits aplenty and fighting skills to match. When they meet a prince dispossessed by his wicked usurping uncle, and bent on revenge, they see a chance to make real money.

This rollicking, action-paced tale set far away and long ago (Caucasus Mountains, circa A.D. 1000) is saved from being a pot-boiler by sly deft humour.

Title: Gentlemen of the road
Author: Michael Charbon

Reviewed by Christine O.

Christine O has worked in libraries on the North Shore for over 20 years.  She likes her fiction to be believable and her non-fiction to be accessible. 

05 December, 2016

Greenwich Village stories from Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation edited by Judith Stonehill

‘The Village’ is a neighbourhood on the west side of Manhattan, New York City and for years I’ve been catching glimpses of the place and the colourful, eccentric characters who have lived there via various books and movies.
A Bohemian haven, home to the Beat Generation and the sixties counterculture and now part of a Historic District, it consists of more than fifty blocks. Most of the buildings are mid-rise apartments, 19th century row houses and the occasional one-family walk-up. A sharp contrast to the high-rises of Mid and Downtown Manhattan. The oldest house was built in 1799.
This almost mythical place is brought to life through a collection of short individual reminiscences interspersed with numerous photographs and paintings. It makes fascinating reading.
Artists, musicians and writers were attracted to Greenwich village when the rents were low and you could get a large loft with views for $40.00 a month. The list of well- known names peppered throughout is endless - Wynton Marsalis, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Pete Seeger, Bill Murray, Donna Karan, Dustin Hoffman, Lillian Hellman, Allen Ginsberg, Marcel Duchamp, Dylan Thomas - to name just a few.
I particularly loved hearing about the amazing stores and eateries that have long since disappeared like the first Eighth Street Bookshop which helped establish the Beats and was destroyed by arson in 1976. Bakeries, jewellers, record shops, delis, diners and nightclubs, dance and art schools all contributed to the magic of the neighbourhood.
A lot of the old buildings have gone but thank goodness redevelopment there is now severely restricted.

Title: Greenwich Village Stories
AuthorGreenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation edited by Judith Stonehill

Reviewed by Claire S, Central Library, Information Services.

Claire S reads a wide variety. Biographies/art/New Zealand are all favourite topics.

Those who wish me dead by Michael Koryta

I usually read nonfiction and recently I realised that there are a lot of gaps in my reading repertoire.

Yes, I've read historical, classics, literary and romance fiction, but not a lot of what I think of as 'men's' fiction. James Patterson, Clive Cussler etc.
This author (Michael Koryta),was recommended to me as an introduction to the genre, and if all the books are like this then I will be reading plenty more.
Take a young teenage boy on the run from two desperate murderers, and add in the backdrop of the rugged Montana mountain back country and you have a thriller which is un-put-downable.

Jace is put into a witness protection programme to hide from two brothers because he is the only witness to their crime. A young couple who run a wilderness survival programme for troubled teenagers agree to take Jace on board to hide him. Neither of them will know which of the six boys who arrive is the one they need to keep safe.

The Blackwell brothers are hunters, ruthless and desperate, and nothing will stop them in their quest to find Jace. The action unfolds as the chase is played out in the wilderness and challenges all of their survival skills.

A very good read.

TitleThose who wish me dead.
Author: Michael Koryta

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.

04 December, 2016

I contain multitudes: the microbes within us and a grander view of life by Ed Yong

When you think of scientific texts, you usually think of technical jargon followed by page after page of equations, diagrams and other essential scientific nomenclature pertaining to that subject. As I began reading this book my fears were assuaged as Ed Yong had written an easier and somewhat humorous tome about this fascinating world of microbes.

Ed Yong delves into the world of microbes and takes us on a journey to marvel, not just at ourselves, but all living beings in our natural world, and see it in a new light; as thriving ecosystems to trillions of microbial communities. He introduces us, in every chapter, to the remarkable scientists who are on the front lines of discovery into this hidden world. Not only did I learn of the wondrous science behind all sorts of unique creatures, but also of the role microbes played in our own bodies. Yong also demonstrates the various partnerships between microbes and their hosts. I contain multitudes is the story of these extraordinary partnerships and reveals in great depth how we humans are disrupting these partnerships and how we might manipulate them for our own good.

Despite the easy nature of Ed Yong’s writing, readers might find some portions of this book a bit technical. If you, like me, find it difficult to grasp, I recommend that you take your time in reading it through. It will truly fascinate and amaze you when you begin to understand the impact and influence this unseen world of microbes have on the way we live and have lived. This book has profoundly changed the way I see the natural world and my own place in it.

I contain multitudes is truly one of the best scientific books published this year.

Title: I contain multitudes: the microbes within us and a grander view of life
Author: Ed Yong

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 December, 2016

Badgerlands : the twilight world of Britain's most enigmatic animal by Patrick Barkham

The badger is an unmistakable beast, with its low, solid form and distinctive facial stripes, given that, it is amazing how little people know about British native.  This book seeks to remedy this lack of knowledge in a highly readable form.                                                    In the past badgers were 'baited' that is hunted for sport.  It was a pastime for the lower classes and to my eyes uncomfortably brutal.                                             Children's fiction  portrays them as wise, solid characters, advisers rather than actors.  "The wind in the willows" was the first book to portray badgers in this favorable light and thus initiate a change how badgers are viewed.                                                       There are now a growing number of people who feed and encourage badgers, getting great joy out of seeing these shy nocturnal animals. Badger numbers are increasing; there are now urban badgers, modern drainage in farms enables badgers to dig setts that will remain dry, and of course badger baiting is now illegal.  All is not rosy in the badger world though, they are carriers of T.B.  Many farmers see them as hazards to the health of their cattle and wish for a cull.  Other voices call for different measures to minimize the spread of T.B.  All have valid arguments clearly presented here.                                                                                                                    In the interests of gaining a complete picture of badgers Patrick even eats one! (roadkill)

Title: Badgerlands : the twilight world of Britain's most enigmatic animal
Author: Patrick Barkham

Reviewed by Christine O.
Christine has worked in libraries on the North Shore for over 20 years.  She likes her fiction to be believable and her non-fiction to be accessible

Lab girl by Hope Jahren

Here begins the most beautiful love story ever known - between a girl and her book.

While I wouldn't mind owning most books I like, why would I, when the library exists to fulfill all my bookish needs? As a result, there are very few books I read that I like to own myself. 

Lab Girl is one of these books.
When I finished this book, I procrastinated returning it. I wanted it to stay with me forever, and even possibly get a second copy. As I checked it in and it no doubt fulfilled another hold for someone else in Auckland, I had a slight feeling of a phantom limb - my hands once had this book attached, and now it didn't... though I could still feel it there. I had this book in my possession for almost a month, and it had already become a part of me.

It's safe to say, I love this book. 

Hope Jahren is a scientist. Simple as that. She loves what she does and does it with enthusiasm. 
Her book spans her journey from studying to the three laboratories she's had (so far) in her life, and her adventures include working in a hospital, digging holes, dodging exploding glass and digging more holes.

How is it exciting? Why is digging holes so impressive?

Jahren has a way of writing that makes you feel like she is truly in love with her work and the world around her. She makes things we (or, I) take for granted, like the roots of trees, and makes them magical. Jahren describes things in a way that doesn't make you feel stupid for not knowing what palaeobiology was before picking the book up. She takes things you might not understand, explains them, explains why she loves them, and slowly convinces you to fall in love with it too. 

Although Lab Girl is largely about science, this book is definitely a memoir. Jahren lets you in on moments in her life that feel strangely too intimate for you to be there - her first job, meeting her lifelong companion, her pregnancy - but not in an effort to reel you in. Lab Girl is written in a way that feels like she was never writing the book for an audience - but for herself and her family and the person who asked her to. She glosses over nothing and doesn't embellish things that would make for a better story. To me, the book felt like she wrote to make sense of what happened instead of telling us how amazing or heartbreaking her life was. This was why it was so easy to love Lab Girl.

Books (memoirs especially) will flirt with you, and try and seduce you. You'll think about it while your fling is happening, and maybe a little while after, before moving on.
Lab Girl is the book in the back, doing it's own thing, that flashes you a smile and you're won over in an instant. Lab Girl is that rare romance that you will think about for a long time after, wishing you could read it again for the first time. 

While this book still has a number of holds on it, don't delay in putting your name on that list. Lab Girl is a book worth waiting for - true love always is.

Title: Lab Girl
Author: Hope Jahren

(Heavily) Recommended by Dana S, Central Library

Dana S is a, (completely unbiased) senior library assistant at Central Library who likes to think she has the best taste in books in the world. You can often find her telling people about a particularly good one. However, her taste is not open for criticism, and you will usually hear her follow up her recommendations with 'If you love it, we should talk about it! But if you don't, don't tell me. Just never speak of it again.'

02 December, 2016

Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell (Music CD)

Sing, o muse, of a dead woman and the penniless musician who loved her, who followed her to the underworld to win her back from the king of the dead. 

Sing of the underworld king, hard and cold and susceptible to beauty; sing of his stolen queen, subversive and sly. 

Sing of the bargain they struck, the living and the dead, sing us this: the tale of Eurydice, who would follow Orpheus back up the underworld road to life as long as he didn’t turn around.

Sing of Orpheus, who turned around.

It’s an old Greek myth, this tragedy about a man who tried to conquer death for the sake of love and failed at the last minute. His near miss is an emotional gut-punch that plays on our own fears of loss and failure, which might explain why variations of the myth surface so often in operas, films, graphic novels, children's stories and poetry- and in this particularly unique resurrection, as a concept album by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell.

Billed as a ‘folk opera’, Hadestown is a song cycle layered with banjos, violins and rich harmonies by a cast of indie folk-rock demigods (notable contributors include Ani DiFranco, Greg Brown and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon). It’s a gorgeous thing, poetic and political, simultaneously crooning and complex. The narrative is set in a world vaguely reminiscent of the Great Depression, where the clash between Orpheus’ sunny optimism and Eurydice’s hunger sends her, us and Orpheus after her into the walled underground mine of Hadestown, where Hades and his wife Persephone have their own problems. Quietly haunting, Hadestown take us on a journey into the underworld and nearly all the way back before leaving us to its inevitable, bittersweet ending.

Title: Hadestown
Artists: Anaïs Mitchell, Greg Brown, Ani DiFranco, Justin Vernon, Ben Knox Miller, The Haden Triplets and others.

Reviewed by Valerie T, Māngere Town Centre Library.

Valerie T 
loves Shakespeare, fairytales, Trinitarian theology, twentieth century poetry and picture books about bears.

SPQR: a history of ancient Rome by Mary Beard

I’d planned on reviewing a graphic novel but was less enthused about it by the end (it’s Staff Picks not Staff Worsts), *ahem* so here’s something else I enjoyed a bit more about… ROME. What sets this apart from the plethora of existing material in our amazingly excellent and diverse library catalogue? Well, it is written with such readable prose you may stop and think:

'Wait-a-minute, this isn't super boring as! What's going on here then?'

Mary Beard being a super excellent author and historian is what's going on. She chose to approach her dauntingly titled book (SPQR stands for the ‘Senate and People of Rome’) from both the ‘important’ figures and everyday citizens view of the empire, through well-established historical texts and archaeological findings ( i.e. what did Romans eat? Let's check the Roman cess pits!). The result is an engaging tour of Ancient Rome.

What I find most intriguing is the revisionist twist Beard brings to her narrative which challenges the old narrative 'gospel' of Roman history: Was Nero all that bad, or have subsequent emperors made him out that way to solidify their own position? Was Mark Anthony really a puppet of Cleopatra or merely the victim of propaganda?

I enjoyed this a lot and would recommend it to everyone from die hard classicists and Rome enthusiasts (who’ve probably read it already), to those of you who yawn at Roman history unless it has film stars traipsing about in sandals with English accents (hmm, I seem to fit in both groups).

Title: SPQR: a history of ancient Rome
Author: Mary Beard

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W was thinking about an apt quote for these times and decided to lean on Tacitus: Ratio et consilium propriae ducis artes. Thanks Tacitus.

01 December, 2016

Do Over by Jon Acuff

I stumbled upon this book after reading Stuff Christians like,  not just liked, nay, LOVED no less and decided to order up everything else Jon Acuff had written.

But first I want to tell you about Stuff. The premise of this book is in indeed modeled on Stuff white people like and I realise no one likes a copy-cat, however, it is just so ridiculously funny, self deprecating and bang on you cant help but like it.

I should add that Acuff is commenting on a certain subset of Christianity so not all professing Christians will relate to this book. If, however you have experienced the  Pentecostal church environment (yes to the uninitiated, that is church “happy clappy” style) you will wince with recognition and absolutely love it. Conversely you might be massively offended and feel it denigrates everything you hold dear. It is worth that risk, trust me.

Where was I? Right, Do Over, this is Acuff serious style, well as serious as he gets. He’s talking about reinvigorating your working life and taking yourself out of that tired circular route of apathy, complaining about your work and doing very little to change either your circumstances, or your ability to generate better working conditions.

Initially I wondered what someone of his demographic would have to contribute to this topic, I can imagine him as a hipster type, exuding ridiculously high levels of self confidence and morally offended at working among philistines. (excuse the biblical pun). However what won me over was his total honesty, about his own bad  attitude and repeated self defeating behaviours.

We’re not talking another What color is your parachute? book, this is more of an inner exploration, enlisting help from trusted mentors to give you some honest feedback on your traits and areas of both strength and weakness.

Acuff does address the scenario of a change of career or workplace, its just that he explores the inner work that needs to a part of that process.

At a  time of the year when everyone is feeling rather worn and in need of some rest and replenishment that hopefully Christmas can provide, this is the book you need to read. It has more substance than the usual hot air brand of self improvement books and retains that signature humour whilst being thoughtful and insightful.

Title: Do Over
Author: Jon Acuff

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.

30 November, 2016

The Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh

In some circles, Aucklander Nalini Singh is a well-known author. For others, not so much. 

It all comes down to ‘genrefication’ – her books are classified as paranormal romance, so are skipped over by those who don’t read romance and/or paranormal.

However, you could well be making a mistake.

If you like complex world-building, character-driven stories – try it out.
They straddle the science-fiction/fantasy line.

Science-fiction, because they are set in a slightly future alternative world, with psychics, who have trained out emotions (with massive repercussions). 

Fantasy, because they feature changelings – it is hard to find a scientific explanation for people who can shape-shift into an animal form.

Romance, because the focus within (most of) the stories is a romantic relationship between two characters. 

Do not let your genre blinkers blind you to this amazing series, by a local author we should be celebrating. 

The long issue periods over Christmas/New Year are the perfect time for some binge reading (there are 15 in the series so far, plus a few novellas). I will be (my personal copies, as I kept needing to re-read them at random times, when library copies were not readily available – ie 2am), and I’m hanging out for the next installment, due in June. *sigh*. 

Title: The Psy-Changeling series
Author: Nalini Singh

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.