31 October, 2014

Retro caravans : vantastic Kiwi collections by Don Jessen [Claire - Central Library]

Don Jessen knows a thing or two about caravans. His dad started the business Liteweight Caravans in 1946 and Don worked for him for 23 years until it finally closed in 1990.
Eight years ago he spotted a dilapidated Liteweight in a field. He bought it and restored it. His passion for vintage caravans was rekindled.

The interest in retro caravans is not just a kiwi thing but a world wide phenomenon. Some don’t even get to travel after they’ve been renovated but are used instead as backyard sleepouts, studios ,offices etc. It’s a great way of gaining an extra room.

Over three years the author has chased down caravans and their owners and put together this wonderful collection of photos and stories.

This is a book that will bring back memories of summer holidays for many baby-boomers. (If only we’d hung on to that old caravan!)

Some of the original finds are shown before and after their makeovers. The transformations are amazing. The interior restorations are immaculate. Some have been restored to their original vintage specifications  while others have used their imaginations and created their own retro feel.

Some owners have even painted the caravan’s exterior to match their retro cars. Wow! Now that I’ve seen all the variations I can only say one thing ….. “I want one!”

Title: Retro caravans : vantastic Kiwi collections
Author: Don Jessen
Publisher: Auckland, New Zealand: David Bateman Ltd, 2014
ISBN: 9781869538705

30 October, 2014

Soviet Ghosts by Rebecca Litchfeild [Nick - Central Library]

The post-apocalyptic landscape photographs collected in Rebecca Litchfield’s book Soviet Ghosts constitute a hauntingly beautiful ode to death and decay, arousing in me a voyeuristic fascination. Here, desolated and disintegrating buildings, their interiors wreathed in pealing plaster, function as “galleries of cultural memory, exhibiting the social detritus of a recent civilization”.

The unnatural absence of people amidst the abundant evidence of their once industrious activity and everyday lives conjures an eerie silence, a vacuum, while the accompanying essays wax lyrical; "The lack of life, the presence of absence in this body of work, creeps across every page" and "It is the recognition of emptiness in these spaces that adds to their power. The more one turns the pages, the more the desolation becomes shockingly apparent, a lack of life that laments the exodus of the living". 

These ruins resonate with a melancholic nostalgia, with poetic sentiment that harks for a turn of phrase; In the gathering dust a child’s doll rests, here a hat perches on the edge of a chair, and broken windows gaze somnolently out on wild urban prairies, on burgeoning forests that crowd in against mans intrusion, everywhere the sublime in nature, and everywhere the entropic passage of time casts its pall in wonderfully textured patterns of corrosion and colour.

The text elucidates expertly on the underlying aesthetic theory "Many of the photographs are what in German would be described as unheimlich, a term derived from Freud’s musing upon aesthetics and translated loosely as ‘uncanny’. It describes a feeling of unease in a familiar setting, or might also suggest a hidden secret that is not known. Far from being just documentary in form, the unheimlich in the aesthetic of decay breathes life into the inanimate, an existence not measured in its lifetime but recognised through its decomposition in death. For it is here and now that it finds its true significance, where the mundane becomes an object of beauty."

For me, the photographs evoke a contemplative intimation of the void, what Daniel Pinchbeck describes as, "that vast garbage heap of all that is unknown and forgotten — that empty maw into which all celebrated enterprises eventually follow". Everywhere the fragility and fleetingness of human existence is made visible, while offering an unsettling presentiment about the ideological master narratives that animate our own lives, the closeness is almost suffocating, post-society, post-human, post-life.  In this context Susan Sontag’s famous commentary on photography offers a grave literality "To take a photograph is to participate in another person (or things) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to times relentless melt".


Title: Soviet Ghosts

Author:  Rebecca Litchfield; written by Tristi Brownett, Neill Cockwill, Owen Evans.
Publisher: Great Britain, Carpet Bombing Culture 2014 
ISBN 9781908211163

29 October, 2014

Fashion Knitwear by Jenny Udale [Louise - Central Library]

There’s something about the word ‘knitwear’ that makes me feel itchy, and it is not helped by the knitted cocoon wedding dress (yes, it is exactly as it sounds) by Yves Saint Laurent (1965) which features in the introduction to this book. But don’t let that kooky knit put you off: it just serves to highlight how far knitwear has come since the invention of Christmas jumpers and scratchy skivvies. Knitwear today is where ancient craft meets modern technology.

This book gives you a real sense of the possibilities for knitwear, whether it’s sculptural or slouchy, casual or conceptual: some of the world’s most interesting and talented fashion designers are creating garments with knitting needles, knitting machines, macramé and crochet.

Daniel Palillo from Finland does cartoony, roomy sweatshirt dresses in jersey and might just be the first designer to make high fashion onesies. Julien MacDonald, who once worked with Alexander McQueen, does intricate, lacy and sexy knitwear (yes! sexy knitwear! it’s a thing!) Tilda Swinton in a cashmere and silk top by Scottish brand Pringle is a practically perfect combo. And a book about knitwear wouldn’t be complete without Italian fashion house Missoni’s distinctive wavy patterns for artful clashing in body-conscious shapes.

This book’s beautiful soft photography gives you such a real sense of texture you may find yourself stroking the pages. (No? Just me? Ok then.)

Whether you’re a knitter yourself, a follower of fashion, or you just like looking at lovely books about clothes: get your cat to make you a Milo and curl up with this book. It’ll keep you cosy even if the jumper you’re wearing is 100% acrylic.

Title: Fashion Knitwear

Author: Jenny Udale

Publisher: London : Laurence King Publishing, 2014

ISBN: 9781780673431

Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen [Annie, Helensville Library]

Captain Hook – nefarious pirate and comic villain. That’s the man we grew up with thanks to Barrie’s Peter Pan – or, more likely, the Disney version. In Lisa Jensen’s reimagined Neverland, we meet James Benjamin Hookbridge, an embittered man who became more than lost but, like Pan’s Lost Boys, has not grown up. Trapped in Neverland for centuries, Hook has railed against his fate and watched his men die at the hands of Pan and the Boys, something he cannot do. For the first time, a grown woman has appeared in Neverland – much against Peter Pan’s wishes. This may be Hook’s chance to leave.

Retaining the charm of the original, this tale is wonderfully lush and magical – in only the way a true quest / love story can be. With sexual content and violence, this is not a Peter Pan tale for children.

Title: Alias Hook.
Author: Lisa Jensen.
ISBN: 9781907777875.
Published: 2013.
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books / St Martin's Press.

24 October, 2014

The reluctant fundamentalist (DVD ) [Suneeta, Highland Park Library]

The film The reluctant fundamentalist is an adaptation of the 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid. That the film was directed by U.S. based Indian director Mira Nair (The namesake, Salaam Bombay), was a definite attraction and it delivered most of what I expected – a visual treat and food for thought.

There are two strands to the story in which Changez, the young, westernised, upper-class, Princeton educated Pakistani is at the centre of both. In the present we see him as a professor in his native Lahore, telling his story to an American journalist. As they sit in the tense atmosphere of a café, the journo’s task is to find out whether Changez is involved in the abduction of an American professor visiting a local university.  

Interwoven into this narrative is the story of a younger Changez, the economic analyst specialising in corporate downsizing, living the capitalist dream in New York and very much in love with an American artist. Then the Twin Towers are attacked and the subsequent cultural divide that cracks the city, changes him.  As people of his colour and background come to be mistrusted, he reconsiders his loyalties and while his brand of “fundamentalism” appears rather vague, he reassesses his life choices and goes back to Pakistan.

Though the film has received some criticism for its lack of clarity, length and somewhat loose labelling as a thriller, there is much to enjoy in the performances by Riz Ahmed and the supporting cast, in this story of race, fear and inner conflict of a man forced to choose between two worlds.

Director: Mira Nair
Producer: Lydia Dean Pilcher
Year: 2013
Distributed by: Vendetta

23 October, 2014

The girl who saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson [Christine, Takapuna]

Nombeko had one of the worst possible starts in life, she was born female, black and fatherless in 1970s Soweto, however she was a natural mathematician and also adept in other subjects.  Her intelligence could not be recognised in South Africa of that time, so credit for her work was given to stupid people.

Thousands of kilometres to the north a man becomes disenchanted with the Swedish king, he seeks to brainwash his sons into acting to overthrow the monarchy.

These two threads intertwine then knit together.  The whole is highly improbable but due to the fine writing it is also totally believable.  The two central characters; well-meaning, intelligent people are constantly thwarted by morons, some of whom are their own family.  It is frustrating for them but highly entertaining for the reader.

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden
Title : The girl who saved the King of Sweden
Author: Jonas Jonasson
ISBN 99780062329127
Published: 2014
Publisher: Fourth Estate

The girl who saved the king of Sweden

19 October, 2014

The impossible lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer [Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library]

This is a time travel book but with a point of difference that is a fresh take on the idea. It is 1985 and Greta Wells' twin brother Felix dies of  AIDS. Soon after, her long-standing lover Nathan leaves her for another woman. Life is unbearable and she feels she just cannot go on. Counselling, drugs . . .  nothing works for her so her doctor tries her on a new procedure that has strange side effects.  She is catapulted into other existences, one in 1918, and the other in 1941. Here she is able to be with Felix and Nathan again, but no timeline is perfect, they all have compensations - but also losses. In addition the different periods have shaped the people she loves and herself in different ways, in one she is married with a child, in another she is falling in love with another man.

Each procedure cycles her through the three different times and in each she makes decisions that have an affect on that particular life, and as the story unwinds we realise that the alternate Gretas are also making their own decisions that will affect her life. Basically they inhabit each other bodies rather than physically jump to each time period.

Interesting was how Felix's stories provide an exploration of the limited choices available to gay people throughout history. Of course the modern Greta knows her brother is gay and encourages him to make choices which are true to himself. What was a bit weak was that the Gretas did not seem to think overly much on how their actions would impact on each other. There could also have been more details to flesh out the time periods but the overall premise of the story is satisfying, and this book will keep you reading to the end, after all you must find out which life will each Greta choose to stay in?

Author:Andrew Sean Greer
ISBN: 9780571295401
Published: 2013
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Ecco

13 October, 2014

The Mapmaker's Daughter: a novel by Laurel Corona [Surani, Waitakere Central Library]

Spain, 1492. That is when this exceptional piece of historical fiction starts from. Amalia Cresques, now aged 67, waits for her grandson in an empty room save for a single chair. They plan to go into exile together as the rulers of Spain have issued an order expelling all Jews who refuse to convert to Christianity. Amalia mourns the handmade atlas created by her father that she can’t take with her as she waits.

The story that follows from here is one of identity, exile, and what it means to be home. The narrative changes from the present day to memories of Amalia’s earlier life as young wife, mother, family matriarch, and converso, a Jew forced to hide her faith and live as a Christian. Amalia recounts the struggles she faced during her life and with each chapter we see history come to life in the pages.

This amazing, evocative and often heart-rending tale is another masterpiece where Laurel Corona has managed to bring to life one of the most tumultuous periods in European history. Filled with vivid description of the Iberian landscape and especially the Jewish rituals and values of the time, Corona managed to hook me into this amazing novel. I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but this piece stirred a long-abandoned interest and one I intend on pursuing.

Author: Laurel Corona
ISBN: 9781402286490
Published: 2014
Publisher: Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Inc.

11 October, 2014

Stone Mattress. Nine Tales- Margaret Atwood [Sue W Central]

Well hello Ms Atwood, welcome back, we have missed you so.  Its kind of intimidating writing a review of such a literary behemoth but Im going to talk about the experience of engaging with her latest work.

I like that Atwood has themed these nine interrelated tales around death. You know its going to be given extra special treatment. I think your experience of reading these stories will differ according to how familiar you are with her work. Atwood has writing has  crossed   literary genres shape shifting and evading attempts to neatly sum her up.

Maybe you are an avid follower and read each and every one of her offerings. Or maybe you pick the texts that most appeal to your reading taste. Alternatively, maybe you are an Atwood newbie and this is your first tasting. (Where on earth have you been to not have read anything of hers prior??)

Whatever your experience you will enjoy the wicked sense of humour, you will enjoy the subversive streak and her nod to previous works. There is definitely something here for everyone, especially the first timer. What joys await if this is your first taste of Atwood, to look for more and discover all the splendid choices for you to follow up.

Title: Stone Mattress. Nine Tales
Author: Margaret Atwood
publisher:London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

04 October, 2014

Journey to a hanging by Peter Wells [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

Here's a bit of history. Journey to a Hanging relates to the events leading to the 1871 trial and hanging at Napier of Kereopa Te Rau. Te Rau, a Pai Marire prophet, was charged with the murder of Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner at Opotiki in 1865. Völkner, an Anglican missionary, was said to be a spy for the colonial government. After he was hanged, his head was cut off , and his eyes eaten. Pai Marire was conceived peacefully, but came to be feared as it became associated with violent opposition to the warring colonial government: Pakeha called Pai Marire followers "Hauhaus".

The text refers throughout to historical sources such as letters, documents, and photographs (many are reproduced in the book). The pictures tell a thousand words, and I have looked at them over and over again. But the words are also interesting.

I have seen criticism that Peter Wells puts too much of himself into his writing and that he is facetious at times, but I disagree. I liked his conjecture on how people might feel and I liked his portrayals of Te Rau and Völkner, his placing in context of the events, and his depiction of other strong personalities involved such as William Colenso (who is a favourite of mine anyway), Bishop William Williams, and Sister Mary Aubert. I also liked the way he brought minor characters into the narrative, such as Te Rau's gaoler, shepherd David  Balfour and the Burrton family who lost a child the summer of Te Rau's trial. These things are the fabric of life and they brought the times alive. Wells also put himself into the picture, as he reflected on his own thoughts and feeling about the characters. This makes his book seem more than a historical account - at times you could be reading a novel, or a memoir. It skipped to the present, as Wells visited the places where things actually happened and described the spirits of the past impacting and intruding onto our present.

There is no simple straightforward conclusion to reach with these events except that the past is a complex picture, and goodies and baddies are really not there. Though there were bad things done, and dirty tricks, and the times in this book (as our times now are too) were full of them.

Title: Journey to a hanging
Author: Peter Wells
Published: 2014; Random House, Auckland, New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775533900

Hard Country: A Golden Bay Life by Robin Robilliard [Claire Smyth, Central Library]

Robin Robilliard trained as a nurse and took up journalism in her early forties. Raised in the prosperous Hawkes Bay where her grandparents had a sheep station she searches with her husband Garry for a farm they can afford.

One year after her marriage in 1957, and with a six week old baby, they arrive at their new ‘farm’ in Golden Bay – 1500 mountainous acres of gorse, scrub and bracken (aptly named Rocklands) and the punishing toil of eking out a living begins.

With a back boundary bordering the Abel Tasman National Park and a beautiful view to the ocean, Rocklands is on the far side of the dreaded Takaka Hill.

Robin covers the isolation, the environment and the people. Character building and inspirational, she wouldn’t exchange her six decades of a ‘vastly rewarding life’ for anything. She believes the compensations have more than made up for the hardships.

I really enjoy these books written about lives lived in isolated parts of New Zealand. Many, now written from a women’s perspective, are a delight to read. For city dwellers they provide a glimpse of life in rural areas we only get to see through books or film. Perhaps some of us will even be inspired to venture forth and experience some of these places for ourselves!

If you enjoy this book then take a look at:
The road to Castle Hill : a high country love story/ Christine Fernyhough
A Wife on Gorge River/ Catherine Stewart
High Country legacy : four generations of Aspinalls at Mt Aspiring Station / Alex Hedley.
The Price of Bacon / Jeanette Aplin

Title: Hard Country: a Golden Bay life
Author: Robin Robilliard
Published: Auckland, Random House New Zealand, 2014
ISBN: 9781775536635

02 October, 2014

As Sweet as Honey by Indira Ganesan (Biddy, Highland Park)

Likened to Arundhati Roy, Indira Ganesan uses similarly poetic writing to tell this story set on the Indian Ocean Island of Pi, "the tiniest crescent-shaped bindi above the eyebrows to Sri Lanka's tear". The narrator is Mina, a young girl, living with her extended family in their family compound on this lush, fragrant and picturesque island.

Through Mina we learn about the family members, her favourite being her Aunt,unusual for her Germanic name, Meterling, and her height at six foot. Aunt Meterling falls in love with an unlikely suitor - rotund, short, Englishman, Archer. Despite the opinions of those around them, they adore each other and find happiness together. Their happiness is sadly short-lived as Archer drops dead on the dance floor during their wedding waltz.

Meterling is understandably distraught, doubly so, when she discovers she is pregnant-a scandalous situation for their traditional family. Mina follows her story interspersed with those of her cousins and her life as they grow up. Meterling is saved from her unacceptable position by Archer's cousin, Simon, who woos and marries her and takes her to live in England.

This is a delightful story of families, relationships and cultures as Meterling adjusts to life in England and Mina to America when she moves there to join her academic parents. Both Meterling and Mina successfully manage the juxtaposition of the traditional aspects of their culture with their determination to be strong, independent women.

Recommended to all who enjoy reading about the contrast between East and West, women and families.

Author: Indira Ganesan
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY
Date: 2013
ISBN: 9780307960443


Decorate Fearlessly! by Susanna Salk [Louise, Central Library]

Sky-diving. Public speaking. Going to the dentist. And now, decorating. You can be fearless about many things, but selecting soft furnishings? I was skeptical. Is it courageous to put colourful cushions on my couch? Can bravery come from bedazzling a fruit bowl? Am I plucky for painting a feature wall hot pink? The answer is an emphatic YES.

As I turned the pages of this bright glossy book I started to see the fearlessness that comes with decorating so outlandishly even Diana Vreeland might’ve said ‘that’s a bit much’. Decorating fearlessly is about saying to heck with convention and rules and beige. It’s about saying 'this is my house and I’ll go OTT if I want to'.

This book is about grown-ups with proper houses, furniture in their bathroom and something called ‘entryways’. It’s a book for people who own, or aspire to own, chandeliers, 4 poster beds, a stuffed pink flamingo in their home office, and dead animals. Lots and lots of dead animals: fur, animal heads, skins, taxidermy, and animal print. Leopard print wallpaper and matching armchairs. So on trend! So brave!

But this book is not just for fancy-pants rich homeowners. You can take decorating ideas from this book because there are so many. In fact, even the ideas have ideas. It is genuinely helpful. Some decorating ideas I enjoyed were: only displaying orange and white books and some oranges on a shelf. Can’t decide which floral pattern you like best? Just use them all! In one photo of a room I counted 10 different florals! What if your favourite colours are olive, sky blue and that colour that’s like terracotta only worse and you can’t decide which one to use? (Have you learned nothing here?) Use them all! Together! In the same room! You’re fearless! Go get ‘em, tiger.

Title: Decorate fearlessly! : using whimsy, confidence, and a dash of surprise to create deeply personal spaces
Author: Susanna Salk
Publisher: New York : Rizzoli, 2014
ISBN: 9780847842339

01 October, 2014

Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts [Annie, Helensville Library]

Referencing how many of us first encounter Richard III (i.e. via Shakespeare), this approachable account of the discovery of his remains is separated into five acts (with a prologue and epilogue).

Act I backgrounds the Wars of the Roses and begins to explore our interest in Richard. Act II details how the dig came about. Act III is the excavation, followed closely by Act IV, the autopsy; and Act V, the inquest – how do they know this skeleton is Richard III?

Having heard Jo Appleby talk of the dig and her findings during last year’s Family History Month (and being a history and archaeology nerd), I’ve been reading as much as I can about the discovery in the carpark. Author Mike Pitts’ skills as both an archaeologist and journalist are put to good use, as he puts both humanity and science into the recounting of this unbelievable event.

I look forward to the release of more information, including more of the official reports, as the science is verified and confirmed. (You can stay up to date via the University of Leicester's Richard III discovery page.)

Title: Digging for Richard III: how archaeology found the king.
Author: Mike Pitts.
Publisher: Thames & Hudson, 2014.
ISBN: 9780500252000.