30 June, 2014

Transit by Anna Seghers, [Ana, Central Library]

Transit is an existential novel that reminds me of The Trial and even Waiting for Godot.  It is all about waiting, and boredom. It’s also about love but it’s unrequited love, each of the characters in love with someone who doesn’t love them. The protagonist has apparently escaped from a German concentration camp and has arrived in Marseilles  where refugees come seeking a boat to anywhere that is not occupied by the Nazis. They are all waiting for a transit visa that will allow them to stay in Marseilles while they wait for a boat. However they cannot get a transit visa until they have a visa to leave the country. Its is a vicious circle from which it is almost impossible to escape.

Before getting to Marseilles  the protagonist (whose name we don't know) is asked by a friend to deliver a letter to a German called Weidel who lives in Paris. But when he finally tracks Weidel down, he finds he has just committed suicide, leaving all his papers and the manuscript of a book. The protagonist decides to go to Marseilles to search for Weidel’s wife, to give her the manuscript and the papers, and instead he falls in love with her and doesn't tell her her husband is dead. So, she continues to search for him everywhere. She is not in love with her husband but is fixated with finding him. Meanwhile, the protagonist  has decided to take on a new identity as he is an escapee, and calls himself Seidler.

Seidler (although the authorities think he’s Weidel) settles in to chat to the other refugees in the cafes, hear their stories and exchange tips as to what's best to say at the consulates. The situation in Marseilles is absurd with all the refugees waiting for their transit visas which never coincide with their departure visas and so, they have to start again from scratch. Is Marseilles  intended as a microcosm of humanity where we are all in transit mostly doing meaningless things while we wait for death?

Title: Transit 
Author: Anna Seghers translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo
Publisher: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781590176252 

29 June, 2014

Wool by Hugh Howey (Anita Smith/ Blockhouse Bay library)

syndetics-lcIf you like reading novels about dystopian futures then here is a book for you! 

We start with a massive underground silo populated with people who have lived there for generations under strict rules, and a toxic wasteland outside. If someone expresses the desire to go outside, (strictly taboo), they are condemned to the ritual of cleaning. Yes, they are let outside but it is a one-way trip (and if you are wondering why the book is titled ‘WOOL’ they clean the outside cameras with wool). 

The regulations keep people safe but sometimes there are those who find out more than they should. When main character Jules is promoted to sheriff she moves up top, (after working in the depths of the silo as a mechanic). She is intelligent and resourceful and soon finds out information that leads her to question the whole system - there are secrets being kept and she is determined to figure out the truth. This leads to her being condemned to ‘clean’, and this sets off an uprising from below. I won’t give any more away as I enjoyed the progress of the novel as more truths are revealed. My only criticism would be that many characters are a bit two dimensional, however the overall concept is well thought out and interesting

This was a popular self-published e-book before the publishers picked it up, and there are sequels, with Shift (Book 2) and Dust (Book 3) following it.

Title: Wool
Author: Hugh Howey
Publisher: London : Century
Year: 2013
ISBN:  9781780891231

27 June, 2014

Oishinbo, a la carte: Fish, Sushi and Sashimi by Tetsu Kariya [Ella, Central Library]

I don’t know if it was just because I was hungry but while looking through the library’s collection of manga series for something to read on my lunch break, the title Oishinbo, a la carte: Fish, Sushi and Sashimi sounded too good to resist.

Oishinbo, which translates to “The Gourmet” is a long running manga series hugely popular in Japan and recently made available in English. It chronicles the exploits of young journalist Yamaoka Shiro, a passionate food writer, on a mission to create an “Ultimate Menu” of the best of Japanese cuisine.

These comics tell slow sleepy stories about life in Japan where everyone seems to have a fanatic obsession with food. Rivalries between various chefs and debates over the proper preparation of certain foods are common story lines. Often the dramatic structure of a story is simply based around what type of fish someone uses in their sashimi!

The plot of this manga may be simple but the level of detail it contains about the preparation and history of Japanese cooking is amazing. Each volume of the English collection contains copious notes for the Japanophiles amongst us as well as a recipe from one of the stories and step by step instructions, incase Akira Hanasaki's beautifully rendered drawings of food make you hungry.

The library holds all 7 volumes in English each focusing on a different feature of Japanese cuisine. The books cover sake, ramen, and ‘the joy of rice’ to name a few. Go on, give it a try!

Title: Oishinbo, a la carte: Fish, sushi and sashimi
Author: Tetsu Kariya
Year: 2009
Publisher: Vis Media

Sheila Fell: a passion for paint by Cate Haste (Claire, Central Library)

I first came across Sheila Fell while reading a book called Herculesand the farmer's wife : and other stories from a Cumbrian Art Gallery by Chris Wadsworth.

Born a miner’s daughter in rural Cumberland she moved to London to study at St Martin’s School of Art. At 24 she had her first solo show where the painter Lowry bought two of her works. He was so impressed he became her friend and patron for the rest of his life. He called her the finest  landscape painter of the century.

Her richly coloured paintings, so beautifully reproduced throughout this book, capture the moods and toughness of her childhood landscape. Bleak snow scenes and turbulent atmospheric skies, haystacks, potato pickers, lonely cottages, mountains and villages by the sea. The paint, expressively applied, looks luscious and thick - her skies are often compared to Turner’s.

Her influences were past masters and in her passport she kept a leaf of ivy picked from Van Gogh’s grave. The sad part of the story is her untimely death at the age of 48. The day before she died she told a journalist that she intended to live to 104 so she would have time to do all the paintings in her head. A growing dependency on alcohol was thought to be a contributing factor when she fell down the steep steps that led to her Chelsea studio.

We can only speculate on what she may have gone on to achieve.

Author: Cate Haste
ISBN: 9780853319795
Pub: 2010
Publisher: Lund Humphries

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Greg Kinney [Lilian, Central City Library]

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a fun, easy, entertaining and humorous book. It is set for ages around 8 and above as it is quick to read and quick to entertain those who read it.

It starts off with the narrator ‘Greg Humphrey’ talking about his life and it slowly leads to a school dance on Valentine’s Day. He tries to impress the girls so he could get a date but somehow all his plans fail. Rowley, who is Greg’s friend, helps Greg formulate a plan; however, their great plan does not go too well.

In the end Rowley grows more and more distant from him as if a gap has grown between the two friends. Every time Rowley spends time with his new girlfriend Greg feels like a third wheel. What should he do to get Rowley back to being the great friend he was?

This book is funny and quirky and deals with some relate-able problems especially how a relationship can really complicate a solid friendship between two best friends who try their best to help each other.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves funny, realistic stories about friendship.

Author: Greg Kinney
ISBN: 9780141344980
Publisher: Puffin
Published: 2012

24 June, 2014

'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma [Kathy, Birkenhead Library]

Sometimes I do judge a book by its cover and as soon as I saw this one I picked it up.

The main character, the delightfully named Marcia Garcia (that's Mar-see-a Gar-see-a), is a dressmaker, and the cover is a colourful collage of a dress made in a patchwork style. Hard for a quilter like me to bypass...

The story of Marcia and her turbulent relationship with policeman Farouk is set in Trinidad from 1943 to 1965 and is quite different from anything I’ve read before. The characters are larger than life and there’s family dramas, secrets, loves and loyalties. Chapters are told from the points of view of Marcia, Farouk and their daughter, so a nice mixture of personalities comes through. Life is hard for the family and some awful things happen, but they just seem to pick themselves up and carry on.

An original tale that brought the island and it's people to life.

Title: 'Til the well runs dry: a novel
Author: Lauren Francis-Sharma
ISBN: 9780805098037
Published: 2014
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

23 June, 2014

Romance is my day job: a memoir of finding love at last by Patience Bloom [Surani, Waitakere Central library]

Finding love shouldn't be that hard, right? It all seems quite easy, you meet a nice looking guy at a party and before the night is over you're laughing at his jokes and a few months down the track you're planning your future together. Most women, including our author, Patience Bloom, imagine their lives would turn out like the lives of heroines from romance novels!!

Patience Bloom's delightful memoir chronicles her journey from high-school through to getting her dream job in New York as an editor for Harlequin. She managed to fuel her romantic fantasies through the novels she edited. When it came to love and romance you would think Patience would be an expert. Unfortunately her dating life was bland compared to the lives her heroines enjoyed on the page!! Patience almost gave up on love until the day an old high school friend, Sam sent her a message on Facebook. What follows from this chance encounter is a long-distance romance like no other. I guess you will have to read the book to find out if Patience got her her own fairy-tale ending or not!!

What struck me first was the honesty and quirkiness in her writing style. She might jump around a bit but eventually we find ourselves on the right path. This book is Patience's true life experience, and your heart tends to go out to her in several chapters. It also reinstated my own belief in true love and that everyone can have their own happy ever after!!

I think this is the perfect book for both romance and memoir readers!!

Title: Romance is my day job: a memoir of finding love at last
Author: Patience Bloom
ISBN: 9780525954385
Published: 2014
Publisher: New York: Dutton Adult 

Voodoo Heart by Scott Snyder [Blair, Central]

Inspired by Scott Snyder’s brilliant run on the comic series, Batman, I delved into his early collection of short stories, Voodoo Heart. I was expecting a collection of genre stories – comic writers often have roots in science fiction or crime. But what I got was an earnest collection of stories about the wonder and terror of falling in love. 

Snyder is a highly imaginative writer and his best stories are full of indelible moments.  For instance,  In Blue Yodel, a lovelorn young man take off after a blimp, in which his girlfriend has escaped in; while Dumpster Tuesday’s plot involves a dumpster, a spear gun and a catatonic country singer.

Snyder’s imaginative details stick in the memory even when his stories don’t.  But even Voodoo Heart’s weaker stories are redeemed by Snyder’s deep empathy for his characters. Their actions are often misguided, and sometimes terrible, but he never judges them.

Voodoo Heart is an enjoyable read, but Snyder has found his niche in the comic book world.

Title: Voodoo Heart
Author:  Scott Snyder
ISBN: 9780385338424
Year: 2006
Publisher: New York : Dial Press, 2006.

19 June, 2014

When Fraser met Billy by Louise Booth (Anita Smith, Blockhouse Bay library)

syndetics-lcHaving recently read Jodi Picoult's book House Rules which involved a teenage boy with Asperger's Syndrome and the difficulties this can present to the whole family, this grabbed my attention. 

Told by his mother, this is a true story of a how a rescue cat helped a four year old autistic boy to cope with anxiety and lessen his meltdowns. Billy came into his life and right from the very start he began to have a profoundly positive effect on Fraser. What is more he seemed to know when Fraser needed him the most and helped ease him through traumatic situations, (like having his hair washed), and encouraged him to make the effort to do difficult things, like learning to walk up stairs. He even reached the milestone of attending school, after experts said he would probably never be mainstreamed. The lives of the whole family were transformed.  Louise Booth writes this story in an engaging way. I read it in one evening, so it’s not a big read and if you like cats it's a one up for cat lovers too!

Title: When Fraser met Billy
Author: Louise Booth
London : Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 2014
ISBN: 9781444769234 

16 June, 2014

Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets by Don Paterson [Paul, Birkenhead]

So, yeah, Shakespeare. Well, one of the things about his sonnets is that very smart people do very close readings of them and you get to see how it all sort of hangs together. Which doesn't much happen with most poetry.

But with Shakespeare its allowed because-because. Because the language has changed, the culture has shifted, er, cos he's considerably dead. So you can use a dictionary, or like ask somebody else. Which is nice.

Paterson makes a not uninteresting guide. Maybe cos he's a poet himself, or more likely cos he famously grouchy and hard of head. There's no bling in his blarney as he goes straight for the cobbledy cookery of  poetry. Of the poet too.  Both real but imperfect, nothing sublime except when they are.

So, relief. No scholarly arcana, more a ramble-romp-rant. The Paterson persona-non-grateful getting stuck into each sonnet in turn, riling at awfulness, picking at scabs, and grumbling on and on about the vast peculiarities of other critics. Except at times when he likes them, the critics I mean, and okay, even the poems. And then too he likes to yacht off on tangents about other things, like jazz, and how poetry is actually written actually, and how of course Shakespeare was a selfish self-pitying misogynistic gay trisexual prone to hideously redundant couplets, padding, fiddles, repetitions and obscurities. Still, he had his moments.

The book's a bit of a stew without an index of anything. Well, so, what do you want, a spoon?

Title: Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets
Author: Don Paterson
Publisher: Faber, 2010.

12 June, 2014

When Hoopoes go to Heaven by Gaile Parkin (Biddy, Highland Park)

In a tone reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith's "No 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series, this book is charming and funny and yet clearly articulates the hardships of life in present day Africa. Ten-year old Benedict moves to Swaziland from Rwanda to live with his grandparents because his parents are "late". He is enchanted by their garden - " the most beautiful garden in the whole entire world" - and happily occupies himself exploring nature and getting to know the people around him.

Benedict is a sensitive child, always trying to help others find solutions to their problems. He accepts that as  "kwerekwere" (non- Swazis) his family will never be entirely accepted in the community but is determined nonetheless to find a way to make his grandmother's cake business a success.

Benedict encounters families affected by AIDS, a school friend sexually assaulted by a teacher and a range of other challenging issues endured by the people around him. Despite this, he remains positive and happy, his innocent interpretation of life often providing moments of humour in the novel. Overall a feel-good read that goes beyond the average coming of age tale.

Author: Gaile Park
Publisher: Corvus, London
ISBN: 9780857894083 

09 June, 2014

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

Americanah was like getting inside someone else's skin, literally, because the main theme of the book was race. It was told by Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who travels to the USA to study, and there experiences culture shock as she struggles with a new way of life. As an African woman in the USA, she experiences the concept of "race" for the first time. She is an immigrant, and she is a woman, and she has an accent, and because of the colour of her skin, people assume she is part of what she calls "The Society of Former Negroes". But although on the surface she may look African American, her experience and attitudes are vastly different. As a "Non-American Black" she begins a blog about understanding race in America; covering many aspects of race-related topics - and this becomes very successful. However, after a relationship break-up, she decides to return to Nigeria.

On her return to home, several years later, she has become "Americanah". She has become accustomed to American ways and culture, and she notices how she herself has changed, while her friends who remained in Nigeria hold different values from her, particularly in their attitudes towards marriage and men. She can't understand how mercenary they are toward the men in their lives.

Meanwhile, throughout, there has been an unrequited love story going on. Ifemelu left her first love Obinze behind when she left Nigeria, and he was unable to follow her to the USA. His own traumatic immigration attempt is also told in Americanah. After a degrading incident during their separation  Ifemelu severed contact with him. However on her return to Nigeria she re-connects with Obinze, now married. Will their love be rekindled? Did their old bond stand the test of time? How will they get past the strict rules of Nigerian marriage culture? If you have ever wondered about your ex-, or have struggled with falling in love with someone other than your spouse, this might be worth a read on its own account.

"We read fiction so we can understand the world better"(Alexander McCall Smith). And it's a big big world out there. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's previous novel, Half of a Yellow Sun had me hooked, and taught me more than I have learnt elsewhere about life in Nigeria during the Biafran War. Her novel Purple Hibiscus and short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck are also excellent.  Americanah continues the tradition. It is a big book, both in idea and in size. It held me all the way - and it helped me understand a bit more, a bit of the world I will never be able to travel to.

Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published: London, Fourth Estate, 2013
ISBN: 9780307271082

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. surveillance state by Glenn Greenwald (Nick Central City Library)

In ‘No Place to Hide’, Glenn Greenwald documents the complicity of the five eyes partners, of which New Zealand’s GCSB is a member, in the construction of an Orwellian global surveillance network operating in the dark, with negligible oversight, under the alarming institutional aegis “collect it all, partner it all, sniff it all, process it all, know it all, exploit it all."

The menacing overreach of the NSA, in violation of core constitutional guarantees, and the chilling construction of the architecture of oppression, is placed on trial by this constitutional and civil rights litigator turned journalist. Greenwald incisively prosecutes the NSA’s ambition to indiscriminately invade personal privacy globally without check or possibility of individual protection, as explicitly revealed in the top secret documents leaked by whistle blower Edward Snowden.

Greenwald’s expert analysis is a revelation of fearless investigative reporting in defence of civil liberties and core democratic values. Piercing through the high noise to signal ratio of the mainstream press, Greenwald systematically subjects Government propaganda and subservient media stenography to a remorseless examination by trail lawyer logic. The resulting dissonance is both fascinating and frightening; on the one hand a reasoned, passionate, and erudite warning against the perils of sweeping state intrusion into our private lives, on the other a mutating political culture shredding hard fought for freedoms like confetti, and aggressively lauded by large factions of the supposedly watchdog media. Greenwald describes the hostility he encountered from members of his own profession as “anger and even shame over the truth that adversarial journalism had exposed: reporting that angers the government reveals the real role of so many mainstream journalists, which is to amplify power.”

The final chapter headed “The Fourth Estate” cross-examines the unprecedented and escalating attack on whistle blowers and investigative reporters alike, ironically by the Obama administration that promised to be the most transparent in history. Here Greenwald assertively reclaims the core tenet of journalism “The idea of the fourth estate is that those who exercise the greatest power need to be challenged by adversarial pushback and an insistence on transparency; the job of the press is to disprove the falsehoods that power invariably disseminates to protect itself.” From start to finish Greenwald's reporting exemplifies this attitude of moral courage,  complemented by Snowden's selfless act of conscience, it makes for a hugely inspiring read.

This book is part spy thriller, part dystopian nightmare, communicating an urgent clarion call to action in defence of our eroding civil liberties, a reminder of why the hard fought for freedoms that define our western democracies should not be abandoned to a sliding decent, an eviscerated mutation into a society very different from the one we all too often take for granted.

Title: No Place to Hide
Author: Glenn Greenwald
Published: 2014
Publisher:  Metropolitan Henry Holt

06 June, 2014

Under A Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein (Claire Central City Library)

Having really enjoyed Rick Stein’s numerous cooking/travel programmes I looked forward to reading his recent biography. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he wasn’t all I’d assumed him to be.

Growing up in the 50’s in rural Oxfordshire & North Cornwall his childhood seems idyllic. One of five children with unconventional parents, his memories of home-made food, fishing trips to Cornwall and the mischievous antics he got up to as a lad paint a picture of a pretty enjoyable and secure childhood. The dark side was his father’s depression (bipolar). “I merely knew that my father was someone to be scared of.” His father had a magnetic personality and like his son loved a good party but when Rick was 18 he killed himself by jumping from a coastal cliff onto the rocks below.

Teenage-hood was spent listening to Radio Luxembourg and Rock and Roll. (The book is peppered with song titles linked to places and memories). Sex rears its ugly head and numerous first attempts at ‘getting off with girls’ are described. Rick discovers a flair for organising parties. “I now realise that I enjoyed setting the scene and making other people animated.”

After a stint as a larder chef in a hotel he catches a boat to Australia. Here he stays for two years, gaining life experience and working at manly occupations in a slaughterhouse and on the railways in the outback.
Then it’s back to England, an English Literature degree at Oxford (explains referrals to and quotes from his reading), running a mobile disco and then a club (lots of fighting) which eventually became his first seafood restaurant in the fishing port of Padstow.

Now he owns so many properties in the town it’s known by the locals as Padstein!  I thought that seemed a little bit greedy but he’s obviously quite chuffed by it.

I won’t tell you anymore except that it’s a really engaging read by someone who’s had an interesting life. I particularly liked hearing about his dog Chalky, a Jack Russell who became a hero in Rick’s cooking series, often stealing the show.

Author: Rick Stein
ISBN: 9780091949907
Year: 2013
Publisher: Ebury Press,London,England

Bertie's guide to life and mothers by Alexander McCall Smith [Suneeta, Highland Park library]

Image for BertieWhether you are familiar with the 44 Scotland Street series or not (I wasn’t), you will enjoy this 9th book, set in picturesque Edinburgh, that tells of  the latest goings-on in the lives of a wonderful bunch of characters, some you will love, some you will love to hate.

As the stories run
parallel through the book, we encounter around 18 or so main characters, connected with each other. Sweet, beleaguered Bertie will tug at your heart as he endures yoga and Italian classes and therapy sessions at the hands of his tiresome, amateur psychologist, but well-intentioned mother.

What Bertie really wants, as any 7 year old boy would, is a pen-knife and pizza. Mercifully, he gets temporary respite when mum takes off overseas for a few days and is unintentionally captured and taken to a Bedouin camp where she starts a book club for the wives. As Pat and Mathew are on the threshold to a new love, large- hearted Big Lou, owner of the neighbourhood café and always unlucky in love, gets a foster child. Mathew and Elspeth, the young parents of triplets take on an au pair for the au pair! Angus and Domenica have visitors from hell - one in the form of an Italian nun. The absurdities are hilarious, yet the humour is subtle. 
As always, AMS writes attentively and simply, as his whimsical observations of everyday life and philosophical asides add a thoughtful touch to each tale. Even Cyril, Angus’s good natured, gold-toothed hound with a fondness for beer, thinks.  Master of writing for art and entertainment, the author leaves you with the feeling that he would warmly welcome into his own home the assortment of residents he has so cleverly crafted. 
Title: Bertie's guide to life and mothers
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
ISBN: 978-1-84697-253-9
Published: 2013
Publisher: Polygon

05 June, 2014

Ping Pong, DVD [Claire G, Central City Library]

Come with me to Inner Mongolia, where in 2010 the capital city of Hohhot is hosting the World Veteran Table Tennis Championships. Players aged 40-plus take part but the documentary I’m recommending, Ping Pong, focuses on eight people who are over eighty. One of them, Australian Dorothy DeLow, is a centenarian, a former international champion and now the oldest competitor in the world.

Doesn’t sound promising? Ping Pong has everything good drama needs: love, transformation and tension, including intense rivalry and a race against time. Producer Anson Hartford has commented that one inspiration was the triumph-over-adversity story of Rocky, the cult boxing movie featuring Sylvester Stallone.

Ping Pong feels akin to Young @ Heart, the 2008 doco starring a choir of Massachusetts senior citizens (not to be confused with the 1954 Young at Heart starring Doris Day and Frank Sinatra). It’s a bit shorter but it deserves, I think, to be just as popular.

Table tennis vets are timely right now because Auckland has just hosted the 2014 world championships. Indeed I encountered one of the players, a tall, thin German man, at the Central Library recently when he came to use a computer. It wasn’t his vicious backhand with the mouse that gave him away but the championships logo on his shirt.

In Ping Pong, Dorothy DeLow (the oldest, etc) encounters a newcomer who doesn’t play nicely: Lisa Modlich, a Viennese Texan who wants world domination. Who wins? Is all fair in love and table tennis? Watch and see.

Title: Ping Pong
Director: Hugh Hartford

Presented by: Banyak Films & Britdoc
Screening Time: 91 minutes
Released: 2012

River Monsters DVD [Erika, Central City Library]

It seems as though every television station has a fishing show, trying to outdo each other about the best fishing tips and tricks and the best places to fish.  When I first heard about River Monsters I thought, great another fishing show, but I am now hooked (no pun intended) on this better than average fishing programme.   

Jeremy Wade is not your average angler. He travels to some of the remotest parts of the world tracking down the stories about the monster fish that live in fresh water and claim people as their victims.  Some of the fish are what you might expect, including the Piranha, but some of them may also surprise you.  While each episode focuses on Wade's search for monster fish, and more specifically his attempts to capture them on his fishing line, the episodes are packed full of information about the history of the fish, recreations of reported attacks, testimonials from expert witnesses, and stories from Wade's own past.  It is not often that the same show can be watched by several different members of the same family - with everyone in the family enjoying the same show for very different reasons.

If you are looking for a nature documentary with a very different feel, a completely different approach to the carefully narrated television special, then try River Monsters.  Some of the stories may make you glad that we live in the relatively safe waters of New Zealand, but then again a later series features our native eels so maybe not such safe waters after all!  At only six episodes long, this series will not take you long to watch and if you are as addicted as my family is you will probably hope for another season to watch sooner rather than later.

Title: River Monsters
Year: 2011
Presented by: Jeremy Wade
Distributor: Magna Home Entertainment

- Erika, Central City Library