31 December, 2015

The Rose Hotel by Rahimeh Andalibian

Clinical psychologist Rahimeh Andalibian was born in the holy city of Mashhad, Iran. She moved with her family to California in 1986 after the Iranian revolution and Iran-Iraq war.

In this memoir she recalls her idyllic childhood in the 70s, lived with her four siblings in the prosperous and protected lap of her close-knit family. The onset of the revolution brings despair and disaster as the devout father gets caught in a web of religious and political dispute, the eldest son is falsely accused of a crime and executed, the beloved mother suffers a health crisis and is moved to London for medical care.

This forces a separation that scatters the family for a long period until they are once again united, within the confines of a small London flat. A second immigration takes them to California to start afresh – here, as they grapple with accepting and understanding life in the West, and alcohol, drugs, divorce and mental illness plague the children, they must also confront the secrets and hidden truths from their past. Finally, it is the fiercest love that allows each member to emerge from the shadows.

A powerful and perceptive story, I particularly enjoyed it for its insights into Iran and its Muslim culture, its examination of the universal family trait to always protect children in times of tragedy and for moving the reader with its understanding of
the internal revolutions experienced by each person in the family.

Author: Rahimeh Andalibian

Reviewed by Suneeta N, Highland Park Library

Suneeta 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.

30 December, 2015

Carry on, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

There are some writers for whom you just know your love will remain forever undimmed. For me, Wodehouse belongs in that select group.

Wodehouse’s oeuvre is extensive, but it is the Jeeves stories which remain his most loved work. Incredibly, it is one hundred years since Wodehouse introduced us to Bertie Wilberforce Wooster, the idle and foppish Londoner, and Reginald Jeeves, his ingenious and impeccably attired valet. So began one of the most touching and charming relationships in English literary history, and the start of so many effortlessly funny and intelligent stories. 

This collection contains ten mini-stories, nine told from Bertie’s perspective and one from that of Jeeves. Many of them fit into the familiar genre of a disaster befalling either Bertie or a jolly good friend of his, and Jeeves masterminding a solution that saves the day in the nick of time. 

The first story recounts how Jeeves came into the life of Wooster and became immediately indispensable, engineering his release from what promised to be a rather unsuitable engagement. Several of the other stories are set in New York, where Wooster whiles away a pleasant exile after some family mishaps.

Wodehouse’s characterization is acute, his aptness of phrase peerless. There are few writers who can create such memorable personalities is so short a literary space. To read his stories is to be carried away to a somewhat idealized 1920s and 1930s England or United States that you cannot help but think would have been an exceedingly entertaining place, provided that you were of a certain class of course.

If you enjoy reading the books, try out the Jeeves and Wooster TV series, featuring two of Wodehouse’s biggest fans, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, in impeccable comic form.

Author: P.G. Wodehouse

Reviewed by Nick K, Ranui Library

Nick K enjoys reading crime fiction, demonological adult and young adult fiction, classic children’s fiction like Arthur Ransome and picture books, especially those illustrated by Quentin Blake. He hates reality TV. 

23 December, 2015

Empty hands: a memoir: one woman's journey to save children orphaned by AIDS in South Africa by Sister Abegail Ntleko

I picked this book up because the woman on the cover looked so familiar to me and I could not put it down until I had finished it, with many tears shed along the way. 

Let me start by saying that despite moving me to tears, there is no dripping sentiment in this story. Sister Abegail tells it like she lives her life- with love and common sense and a delightful sense of humour. 

She tells her story from her birth in a mud hut in KwaZulu-Natal to her receipt of the Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award in 2009 for her work in the community with AIDS orphans.  She deals with racism and cultural issues with the ease of one who is comfortable in her own skin and although she is a natural diplomat, she is not one to say “no” to without a very good reason!

If it is possible for a story to make you a better person, then this one has done it for me. There are so many lessons to be learnt from Sister Abegail: being grateful for what we have, not giving up on things that are important, being brave, embracing change and emptying our hands: being receptive to help and blessings.

Sister Abegail has achieved so much with so little and all the odds stacked against her. She is a veritable Atlas, with the weight of her community on her shoulders, but she still manages to take time for the important things: refereeing football matches and dishing out ice-cream. If ever there was a case for cloning, Sister Abegail Ntleko is it. Read it with empty hands.

Author: Sister Abegail Ntleko

Reviewed by Monica F, Orewa Library.

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.

21 December, 2015

Murder in the stacks : Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the killer who got away By David De Kok (book).

This is the story of a young girl, Betty Aardsma, who, in her first year of university, was murdered. It's a real-life whodunnit, but it's also a fascinating look back at a time and place in small-town America in the late sixties.

The killer was never brought to justice, but as the book goes on, it becomes clear just who he was. His later life, and conversations he had with a teacher who never reported them, make it clear how and why he got away with it.

This was the year that a number of other high-profile murderers and serial killers were operating, Charles Manson, the Zodiac killer, the Co-ed killer. Looking back it is clear that society has come a long way since the sixties, and women are no longer held to be partly to blame for crimes against them.

And yet.

Are the attitudes that were prevalent then still around? The professor who spoke with the murderer on the night of the killing was protecting him. Would he do so now?

Title: Murder in the stacks : Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the killer who got away
Author: David De Kok
Reviewed by Clare K at Massey Library

Clare K has been with Auckland Libraries since 2009, and is an avid reader, mainly of non-fiction, but also fiction, newspapers, blogs and cereal packets.

The adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels

This book is gorgeousness personified. As tasty and delicious as the petit fours alluded to in the title. I want this book, I covet it. Are you listening Santa?

We’ve classified it under children’s books yet it has something to offer up to so many different people. If you have a penchant for whimsy, stylish writing and  an eye for the unusual, you will love this book.

Miss Petit four is a stylish being with her sixteen cats enjoying all sorts of adventures. She is  somehow a blend of Audrey Hepburn and Mary Poppins, with the flying and all.

I love Miss Petit four, I think I want to be her, 16 cats? We have a house limit of two. This is Anne Michaels’ first book for children and what an outstanding result. Her body of work has established her as a writer of pedigree in both adult fiction, and poetry.

I can imagine this book would be a great fit as a gift for a hard to buy for adult or perhaps a writer regardless of their audience. And of course, children will adore this book, thereby securing your position as best gift giver 2015.

Title: The adventures of Miss Petitfour
Author: Anne Michaels
Reviewed by Sue W

Sue obeys her cats, and lives to please them. Sometimes she is allowed some free time to read, so long as she answers the service bell when it rings. 

20 December, 2015

The geography of you and me by Jennifer E. Smith

I am a firm believer in not judging books by their covers but by their content. However, there are some books whose covers just tend to grab at your shirt-collars and steer you towards them! This lovely book had that effect on me a short while ago.

Told in two distinct narratives, The Geography of You and Me, is the love story of Lucy and Owen. Lucy lives on the twenty-fourth floor of a New York City apartment building. Owen lives in the basement. They meet for the first time right in the middle, stuck on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they are rescued, Lucy and Owen spend the night wandering the darkened streets and marvelling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. Reality hits once the power is restored and the teens move forward with their lives. Lucy ends up moving abroad with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father. The brief time they spent together leaves a significant impression on both teenagers. From this point Lucy’s story takes her from one end of Europe to another while Owen moves across America in the opposite direction. Despite the ocean between them, they find a way to keep in touch through old-fashioned postcards and an occasional email.

What drew me in wasn’t just the simple love story, but the magical way Jennifer E. Smith describes the many locations the teens travel to. Her simple use of language describing this tender and moving story is honest, with witty and often funny dialogue.

If you, like me, enjoy reading simple love stories like these, then this is definitely the story for you.

Title: The geography of you and me
Author: Jennifer E. Smith

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.

19 December, 2015

The gilded hour by Sara Donati

The turn of the last century in New York was both a heady and desperate time. Wealth usually equaled luxury and ease. Poverty entailed a mad scramble to keep a family fed and housed.

The female dominated Quinlan/Savard household is wealthy but the Savard cousins are not dilettantes, they are both hard-working doctors. They face suspicion from some of their male colleagues, but are welcomed by their mostly female patients for both their care and expertise. Their greatest challenge lies in helping women with their pregnancies, and with birth control at a time when it was illegal to give contraceptive advice. Anna and Sophie could well be arrested and tried if they helped their patients in this way.

We see the horrors of botched abortions and women worn thin with continuous pregnancy through their eyes. Yet there were men who took all this lightly, one even had a bet with his brother as to how many children their respective wives could produce!

This is a window into in to a little known slice of history, with admirable and witty characters.  Perfect!

Title:The gilded hour
Author: Sara Donati
Reviewed by Christine O.

Christine has worked in North Shore libraries for over 20 years. She likes her fiction to be credible and her nonfiction to be accessible.

16 December, 2015

10% human : how your body's microbes hold the key to health and happiness by Alanna Collen.

Our bodies are entire ecosystems, like woodlands or jungle.  We are inhabited by a diversity of microbes, our cells are vastly outnumbered by bacteria cells.  This is not a bad thing; these guests in taking care of their own business also work for our good.  We cannot make vital vitamin B ourselves but a gut bacteria does this for us. 'Our' bacteria form another line of defence against would-be invading pathogens.

Untargeted use of antibiotics is similar to clear-felling a forest. In some cases it causes long term imbalances in our human ecosystems.  We experience this in many ways with diseases and conditions that are common now but hardly existed 100 years ago.  Hay-fever, acne, irritable bowel and even obesity and autism could be due to one or more species of bacteria spiralling out of proportion.

This is accessible medial science at its best with lively case histories and accounts of discoveries that changed and improved human health. 

Title : 10% human : how your body's microbes hold the key to health and happiness
Author : Collen, Alanna

Reviewed by Christine, Takapuna Library

Christine O has worked in North Shore libraries for over 20 years. She likes her fiction to be credible and her nonfiction to be accessible. 

When books went to war by Molly Guptill Manning

I realise I’m preaching to the converted – I’m sure readers of a library blog are generally committed readers themselves. 

So, reading a book about the power of books and reading should be a winner, right? 

When books went to war is a resonant statement of such power. That the US military considered books so important, they held back thousands to supply the D-Day invasion force. 

That publishers put aside differences and worked together to supply over 140 million books to American troops around the world. And revolutionised the publishing industry in the process.

That thousands of non-readers became readers in the trenches and ships. Books relieved their boredom. Books reassured them they could still feel and care – and were human. Books could educate them. Books transported them back home, to a world they were forgetting. 

The scale of the programme is staggering. The personal connection men felt to authors and their books is affecting. 

Note: you may need tissues. 

Title: When books went to war: the stories that helped us win World War II
Author: Molly Guptill Manning

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. 

15 December, 2015

Where they found her by Kimberly McCreight

The body of a newborn is found in the woods near a college town and newly-appointed reporter Molly is called to investigate the story for her newspaper. Molly has recently returned to work after the loss of her baby so this assignment is especially challenging for her.

She finds out that there have been other mysterious deaths in the same area in the past. Molly delves into the lives of the staff and students to determine if the baby’s mother is connected to the university and discovers that there are plenty of people in the town with secrets to hide.

The pace of this novel is just right- the suspense builds up without skipping over the details which add depth to the story and characters. As well as the first-person narration from Molly, the story is also told from the views of teenage student Sandy and local school mother Barbara.

Some very insightful writing rounds out the characters. I especially liked the line which illustrates Molly’s emotional state ‘Happy was my adopted country, not my native land. I was still bracing to be expelled without warning’.

An interesting story with a good mix of suspense and drama and a satisfying conclusion.

Title: Where they found her
Author: Kimberly McCreight

Reviewed by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t go to 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. She spends most of her working day buying books for Auckland Libraries.

13 December, 2015

Apocalypse cow by Michael Logan

Apocalypse cow is the winner of the first Terry Pratchett Prize and the joint winner of the “Anywhere but here, anywhere but now” prize, for stories set in alternative universes. The set-up is that Britain has fallen into chaos, with a virus released into the country's livestock and turning them into drooling, mooing, flesh-eating zombie cows.

A small group of survivors have banded together to escape Britain and possibly find a cure: Geldof, a reluctant teenage vegan with a stalker crush on his maths teacher; Terry, an Old-Spice-drenched abattoir worker; and Lesley, a junior reporter at a second-rate paper who is in the middle of the story of her life. They are pursued by Brown, an agent who is hell-bent on keeping the government's involvement in the creation of the virus a secret.

Logan manages to make Apocalypse cow both funny and horrific. It is similar in tone to Black sheep, a New Zealand horror/comedy film.

Author: Michael Logan

Recommended by Murray L, Devonport Library

Murray L enjoys horror, sci-fi, fantasy and mystery books.

11 December, 2015

Battle royale by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale is a story set in an alternative version of late 90s where Japan has become a fascist police state named the Republic of Greater East Asia. Shuya Nanahara is on a what he thinks is a class study trip before his bus is gassed. His entire class wakes to find that they are part of the annual government program where each class member must take part in a survival contest where the goal is to kill one another until only one remains.

Battle Royale is, in a sense, a product of its time (initially released in 1999 to significant controversy) but remains a hard hitting and excellent read. It is probably more familiar outside of Japan for its motion picture release which came out in the west before the novel. More recently it is well known for the influence it has had on recent material such as the Hunger Games and the manga Gantz.

The overarching themes of death, loyalty, murder, psychology, exploitation, morals and love are revealed through the eyes of the various classmates in numerous scenarios. Each comes with various degrees of suspense and often tragedy. Once the driving scenario is initiated there is less a sense of “How they’ll get out?” than “How can they possibly get out?” There is also a sub-element of escaping one nightmarish element only to return to another.

Battle Royale is both frightening and frighteningly good and is not for the squeamish. I highly recommend this for mature readers who have yet to experience this recent classic in one form or another. Thumbs up people!

Title: Battle Royale
Author: Koushun Takami; translated from the Japanese by Yuji Oniki.

Recommended by James W, Mangere Bridge Library

James W is straight outta Mangere…Bridge. James has too many books to read over summer, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He has too many dvds too watch over summer also. No drama. Then there's his stack(s) of unfinished video games... James prefers winter.

10 December, 2015

Best day on earth - the world's most extraordinary experiences from dawn till after dark.

This is an impressive picture book which celebrates our spectacular nature and the diversity of civilisation on earth.  There are over 150 colour photographs, one per page, with a large paragraph of description for each.

While the book covers practically all countries on earth, the scenes are presented in no particular order or arrangement. The book is organised in four time periods – Sunrise, Daytime, Sunset, and After Dark.  The locations of each of the plates is shown on a world map at the front, and this records the place, page, and time of day.

The day starts with hot-air balloons soaring over the rock formations and ancient buildings at Cappadocia, Turkey.  Then there is a mixture of scenes covering natural landscapes and features, man-made objects and buildings, and human activity; -the starkness of the Mojave Desert, to a bustling floating market in Vietnam.

New Zealand gets three scenes in this book; the Moeraki Boulders, Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers, and Marlborough’s vineyards.  There are good descriptions of the locations, with suggestions of what to do and look for if you go there.

The After Dark section celebrates city skylines, street food stalls in Asia, party goers and late night entertainment across all continents; and ends with the Northern Lights.

The book is a compilation from Rough Guides authors, and in their words “… we hope that what we have chosen inspires you to book a ticket, travel somewhere new and have your very own Best Day on Earth”.

Title: Best day on earth - the world's most extraordinary experiences from dawn till after dark.
Author: Rough Guides, published by Penguin Random House

Recommended by Ana, Central City Library

Ana enjoys reading and listening to music, travelling and many other things. She reads fiction, non-fiction and from genres, crime: the Scandinavian crime writers, Patricia Highsmith and some others.

Reckoning, by Magda Szubanski

Now here’s a rare thing: a celebrity memoir that engages you fully, even if you knew little about the subject before reading. 

Australian (also Polish, Scottish and somewhat Irish) actor Magda Szubanski featured in the TV comedy sketch show Fast Forward before playing the awkward sidekick Sharon in Kath & Kim ... or Keth end Keem, as the neighbours would say. 

Kath (Jane Turner) of the latter is famous for “Look at moiye, look at moiye”, perhaps the most hilarious quote from Australian showbiz, but Szubanski’s “I said pet, I said love, I said pet” (Fast Forward, 1980s) must be close behind. 

Despite such credentials, Szubanski says in her memoir, Reckoning, “I am not the funny one in the family. My mother is.” She describes her mum as an expert in sarcasm, adding that “my father never got the better of her. None of us did.” 

This is a family memoir in many ways. Her father is the subject of its first sentence – already widely quoted – and it is a conversation stopper, the literary equivalent of a grenade tossed casually into the centre of a room filled with party-goers: 

“If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin."

Oh. As that opener and the title indicate, the book is about Szubanski coming to terms with things: her family background, and herself. 

Tabloids and so-called women’s magazines have had a feeding frenzy with her over the years, documenting (as they might put it) various personal “battles” and “struggles”. In 2009 a shock jock suggested, “You put her in a concentration camp and you watch the weight fall”. Even those not targeted would flinch at such an offensive, unfunny statement. 

Fortunately, Szubanski’s own humour is more memorable, and she’s much better than others at telling us about herself. She’s a really good writer, with a really interesting story.

Title: Reckoning
Author: Magda Szubanski
Formats: book, ebook, audiobook

Recommended by Claire G, Grey Lynn Library

Claire G reads widely, writes narrowly, pampers her poultry and neglects her garden. She thinks Leonard Cohen was right about there being a crack in everything.

04 December, 2015

The fast diet by Dr M. Mosley and M. Spencer

Fasting is a long time friend of mankind. Throughout history, we have experienced fasting multiple times, both voluntarily and through environmental situations such as disasters. 

However, we have walked away from fasting over time as we have gotten richer, and our food sources have become more abundant. 

No. 1 best seller, “the fast diet” attempts to mend this intimate relationship between us and fasting through research results from the science field.

The main researchers in this field who are interviewed are all slim but yet still fast, because they aim for longevity and quality of life. 

The book covers the background of fasting, the science of fasting and the fasting diet in practice. It also answers a series questions relevant to fasting, and fasting diet menu plans. Finally, the book ends with some testimonies.

I think that the book is a very useful and practical manual which can offer you any information you need to know before you would like to take such a change in life. I also love the theory that makes the foundation of fasting: “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”, as I think it applies to far more areas in our life than just fasting.  

Title: The fast diet
Author:  Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer

Recommended by Honour Z, Northcote Library

Honour Z works at Northcote Library. She loves reading biographies and nonfiction in general.

30 November, 2015

Mallard by Don Hale

This book might not ordinarily have caught my eye had I not at home a train-obsessed toddler with a particular passion for steam engines. As a result I have whiled away several very pleasant hours with this delightful book written by a blue-blooded train enthusiast whose passion lights up every page.

It was the afternoon of 3rd July 1938 when the A4 Pacific locomotive Mallard swept along the East Coast main line, reaching a world-record top speed of 126mph that has never been beaten. It was the culmination of decades of rivalry amongst England’s railway companies, particularly on the all-important London-to-Scotland lines.

The ingenuity of British engineering was on show, for domestic and international audiences, in the later ages of the British Empire. Courage, skill and artistry, and a desire to stay ahead of the Germans (who held the record that Mallard broke), fueled spectacular achievements. A couple of American locomotives may have exceeded Mallard’s time, but they were not officially timed so the English record holds.

Hale sympathetically explores this golden age, one that intersects with both World Wars, bringing to life with careful detail the stories of those who dedicated their lives to the railways. There is much to enjoy and admire in the unfolding dramas.

This is not a book that will threaten any bestseller lists but if you like steam trains, or have an inquisitive toddler that you need to stay one step ahead of, this is one to pick up, find some shade under a tree and escape into.

Title: Mallard
Author: Don Hale

Reviewed by Nick K, Ranui Library

Nick K enjoys reading crime fiction, demonological adult and young adult fiction, classic children’s fiction like Arthur Ransome and picture books, especially those illustrated by Quentin Blake. He hates reality TV. 

26 November, 2015

From India with love by Latika Bourke

Latika means a tender flowering climber-a loveable one. Latika was a baby, born to a fourteen year old mother in Bihar. She was brought to the nuns at Fakirana, a day after her birth. An Australian couple adopted her at eight months as the adoption took a long time to be finalised due to red tape.

She was happy and well loved by the Bourke family who had a family of eight children in total. They lived in New South Wales and though she had lived in India for the first eight months of her life , she had no real interest in her birth country.

"Slum Dog Millionaire" was the turning point in her life and this movie made her want to go back to India. Latika goes looking for the nuns in India, who had looked after her with so much of love, when she was a baby. She tries to find her birth family but the lack of records makes it impossible. She realises how lucky she is to have been adopted by such large hearted parents and is happy to have escaped a life of drudgery and poverty if she had gone on to live in the little village with a young unwed mother.

By making this connection with India, she learns to accept her Indian heritage and that it was her first home. This is a positive story about adoption . Latika is grateful to the nuns, her adopted parents and even her birth family. I think Latika is a very loving person with a big heart. She is a very successful political journalist and writes for the " Sydney Morning Herald".

Title: From India with love
Author: Latika Bourke
Reviewed by Kanchan T, Blockhouse Bay Library

Kanchan T works as a library assistant.  She loves to read biographies and inspirational stories.

25 November, 2015

Nod : a novel by Adrian Barnes

An apocalyptic novel with a difference. The end of the world is not the result of an environmental disaster, climate change, or a cataclysmic consequence of some crazed individual or government's greed or lust for power. Rather, it is the result of mass insomnia affecting the vast majority of the world's population.

Paul, an etymologist, is one of the world's few 'sleepers', and is our narrator as the world descends into mass psychosis. Sleep deprivation causes delusions and strange, murderous behavior as societal rules and accepted behavior rapidly fall away.

Those that cannot sleep believe that there is a reason behind this wakefulness, a truth that will be revealed to bring about an ultimate understanding. Paul becomes an unlikely prophet after his manuscript on etymology is taken to be a guide book for the new reality of a sleepless world by some of the city’s, by now, psychotic inhabitants.

This is an intelligent and exceptionally well written book where the journey into chaos is the story, rather than the inevitable end.

Title: Nod
Author: Adrian Barnes

Reviewed by Lynda T, East Coast Bays.

Lynda T reads anything that grabs her interest, but is particularly interested in science fiction and young adult novels.

Where my heart used to beat by Sebastian Faulks

Where my heart used to beat is the new bestseller by the author of Birdsong and A week in December

Central to the story is physician and psychiatrist Robert Hendricks, whose life we come to know from the time he spent in the war in Dunkirk to the 1980s, when he is now sixty something. 

The themes that run through are of love and war, of memory and desire and of the relationship between the body and mind. Robert appears to have sentenced himself to a life of solitude, as he tries to keep his own memories buried - until he fulfills the mysterious request from a stranger in the south of France. 

While the story-line of this moving novel is hard to narrate, jumping as it does through a series of flashbacks, confessions and remembrances, it makes compelling reading.  
If you especially enjoy a “literary yet popular” style of writing and eagerly await every new book by Sebastian Faulks, you won’t be disappointed.  

Title: Where my heart used to beat
Author: Sebastian Faulks

Reviewed by Suneeta N, Highland Park Library

Suneeta 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 November, 2015

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

A serious and gripping post apocalyptic tale with intense and believable action. The scary thing is that this could really happen.

Yellowstone is a super volcano, and this novel explores what would happen if it erupted.The story is told from the point of view of a teenage boy, Alex. He lives in Iowa, which is about 900 miles away from the event. He is alone for the weekend when a huge boulder destroys his house. After the rock comes fire, then the noise, then the ashfall. All infrastructure fails and Alex decides to travel the 100 miles to his uncles place, where his family have gone. It is a harrowing journey. The world is dark, filled with refugees, ash and violence. Food is in short supply. 

In his journey he encounters both the best and  worst of humanity. Survival is paramount but some people co-operate and help, and some prey on the weak. Alex's tae kwon do skills come in handy more than once, but he finds kindness too. He meets Darla, a whizz with engines,  and together they find the strength and skills to survive. 

Be warned the descriptions of the devastation, suffering and violence are graphic, but rooted in realism, which is what makes this book so compelling. And if you enjoy this book there are two sequels: Ashen Winter, and Sunrise, which continue the story and do not disappoint in terms of plot or action. 

Title: Ashfall
Author: Mike Mullin

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.

18 November, 2015

The strange library by Haruki Murakami

Why did something like this have to happen to me? All I did was go to the library to borrow some books.

And that's what you would normally go to the library for  borrowing books. Not getting trapped in a hidden reading room, forced to memorise books on Ottoman Empire tax collection methods with the threat of having your brains eaten by an old librarian if you fail.

This is exactly what happens to the young narrator of The strange library, who, on his way home from school, decides to sate his curiosity at the local library? Big mistake. Quickly, he finds himself locked in a small cell with three books to memorise in one month, and two strange fellow prisoners for company. The old man who he thought would help wants his brains as payment for using the library, and his mother is waiting for him at home, surely worried out of her mind. How will he escape?!

For something titled The strange library, it's strangely apt I came across it while working in a library. The book itself is as whimsical as the story, with images taken from The London Library's archives accompanying text set in a typewriter font. It's a short story, and the plot reads almost like a children's book if it weren't for the underlying sinister quality that carries it over to adult fiction.

This book is enchanting, bizarre, and creepy  everything Murakami. Check it out!

Title: The strange library
Author: Haruki Murakami

Recommended by Sucheta R, Grey Lynn Library

Sucheta R is based in Grey Lynn Library. When she doesn't read, she has an overflowing shelf full of books and an ever-growing to-be-read pile. When she does read, it’s two or three books at the same time: a few chapters here, a few chapters there and a few more somewhere else. Sucheta likes dystopian sci-fi, contemporary fantasy, satire, young adult, and the occasional classic.

17 November, 2015

The joy of missing out: Finding Balance in a wired world by Christina Crook

Just as we offer up suggestions of what we have read to share with you, this is a cyclical process where our next read is inspired by what YOU are ordering in!!

So thank YOU for your book discoveries and ordering them in to your local library, thereby giving us the incidental  joy of finding these little gems.

This little beauty was one such discovery. Particularly timely for this time of year when we are gearing up to that season of celebration and hectic activity it brings. Of course Christmas is so much more than this, and yet when it is over we are physically and emotionally ready for a good long relaxing break. This is when you need to pick up this book and really absorb the message.

The author suggests that deliberately opting out of social media and having selected time frames where you are “offline” can be a liberating experience, rather than being a disabling one.  It allows you to be more mindful and present in real time. Not only that, you will find you achieve more, in a considered and  intentional manner.

Stress levels will reduce and  your calm quotient will slowly increase. Consequently you’ll figure out a way to use social media in a fashion that truly honours your relaxation time, and gives you the boundaries you need to achieve balance across the spheres of your life.

Fans of Gretchen Rubin’s works will really enjoy this title, and in fact if you are interesting in reading further you may like to follow the author’s musings of her own internet fast on her website Letters from a Luddite.

Author: Christina Crook

Reviewed by: Sue W Central

Sue obeys her cats, and lives to please them. Sometimes she is allowed some free time to read, so long as she answers the service bell when it rings. 

16 November, 2015

The Narcissist next door : understanding the monster in your family, in your office, in your bed, in your world by Jeffrey Kluger

What is a narcissist and where does the term come from? Narcissus was a Greek youth so in love with himself that he spent all his time gazing at his reflection in a pool, thereby coming to a sticky end. The moral to the tale is obvious and in our times has been applied to those individuals who likewise think they are fabulous, can do no wrong and tend to lord it over the rest of us- hence the term Monster.

Jeffrey Kluger is an award-winning journalist who shows us how to recognise these people, and how to deal with them. He gives us many examples of prominent people who have been or are narcissists, and from his descriptions it is easy to recognise their equivalents in our own society.

I found it fun to guess where the people I know come on the narcissism scale, (especially the ones I don't like. Naughty I know). It's interesting to realise that we are all very different and that science has come to recognise and diagnose different personality disorders. It also made me wonder if I was a narcissist? 

I guess if I am this book would certainly tell me.

Author: Jeffrey Kluger

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.

Come away with me by Karma Brown

This book is about grief, love, loss and acceptance.

Tegan and her husband Gabe are expecting their first baby when a car accident changes everything. Their much-wanted baby is lost and Tegan is overcome by grief. She blames Gabe for the accident and withdraws from her family and friends.

When Gabe suggests that they pull some suggestions out of their Jar of spontaneity travel wish list, Tegan reluctantly goes along with his idea. He reasons that she needs to get back into life and a change of scenery could be the first step to healing.

Thailand, Italy, and Hawaii end up as the places to visit and the journey begins.

Parts of this story are told in the present, and other parts in the past - the 'before'. This technique is very effective in explaining the strong and loving relationship Gabe and Tegan have, and describing events before the accident.

The chapters set in the present tell of the time after the tragedy and the overseas experiences. You can see the progress Tegan makes as she moves on through her journey.

This is quite an emotional story, but there is always an undercurrent of hope to prevent the story from becoming too sad. You feel for Tegan, and Gabe too, as they cope with their loss in different ways. An unexpected direction in the tale gives you insight into the different ways people cope with grief.

Cover notes suggest that fans of Eat, pray, love will 'flock to this novel', but I found there was much more substance to this book and the only similarities were that the main character travels to three exotic locations.

Title: Come away with me
Author: Karma Brown

Reviewed by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t go to 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. She spends most of her working day buying books for Auckland Libraries.

15 November, 2015

A Year of Good Eating : The Kitchen Diaries III By Nigel Slater

Nigel Slater, or “Nige” as my flatmates and I affectionately refer to him, is my favourite food writer. I’ve spent hours pouring over his articles and cookbooks, savouring his words first, and his recipes later. His writing style is familiar and comforting so that it almost feels to me as if he is an old friend, hence the first name basis we’re on.

There is so much to love about Nigel Slater. While his recipes may not be as fancy as those of my other favourites Yotam Ottolenghi or Giorgio Locatelli, this is precisely their genius. These meals aren’t fussy – they consist of simple British fare and comfort foods that can be whipped up at home without too much drama. It is everyday cooking and the book is a record of what Slater eats every day.
This cookbook is written in the style of a journal, complete with philosophical musings on special ingredients, kitchen stories and the occasional glimpse into the author’s life.
Far from being prosaic his writing is sensuous, and relishes in the details of the everyday, celebrating them. You can tell from Nigel’s writing that he is obsessed with food. He refines and reimagines something as simple as cheese on toast until it is perfect, elevating it into something special. 

The book is beautifully bound in blue cloth and its small size makes reading it less like flicking through a cookbook and more like reading a lovely novel. This is a book that should be perused at leisure over a glass of wine and every word devoured.

A Year of Good Eating : The Kitchen Diaries III

Author: Nigel Slater

Recommended by Ella J, Central Library

Ella J
 is a library assistant who has equal amounts of time for literary masterpieces as she does for pop culture icons and is always looking out for something fresh and exciting to get her teeth into.

The road to happiness is always under construction by Linda Gray

Sometimes when you start reading a memoir or biography written by a celebrity, you immediately get excited at the prospect of reading all about their glamorous lives. In this memoir written by famous Dallas star Linda Gray, we find ourselves immersed in a more realistic and poignant story.

This fascinating book takes us back to Linda’s childhood, detailing an agonizing period in her life when she suffered from paralyzing polio, growing up with an alcoholic mother, and leading to an emotionally abusive marriage. Despite all this Linda Gray goes on to pursue acting classes and at the age of 38 gets her big break as Larry Hagman’s wife, Sue Ellen, in the now famous drama Dallas. The fame that follows brings more heartbreak than happiness. A bitter divorce and the loss of her only sister to cancer along with the pressures of being a single mother may have caused anyone else to break down, but Linda’s positive attitude kept her cruising, with a few speed bumps along the way, to the place of serenity she thrives in now.

As I first started reading this book, I couldn’t help but admire the courage and determination Linda has in her life. I hadn’t known until now that she had been a famous model before becoming Sue Ellen. Her personal stories are told in a very witty and humorous voice, bringing a more down-to-earth and humble perspective into the life of this incredible woman. I really like how The road to happiness doesn’t follow the traditional style most memoirs do and jumps around a bit. Linda includes all the wonderful and various life lessons she’s learned in the 75 years of her life in each chapter with delicious recipes, beauty tips, and books that have inspired and motivated her.

This is an amazing and inspiring read for anyone!! You can also read it as an ebook.

Title: The road to happiness is always under construction
Author: Linda Gray

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. 

13 November, 2015

From the cutting room of Barney Kettle, by Kate De Goldi

For adults who haven’t read her work, the “children” label on the library copies of Kate De Goldi’s latest novel may be offputting. It shouldn’t: her work transcends age, jumping out of the boxes we might try to put it in.

The title of the new book, From the cutting room of Barney Kettle, pays sly homage to a children’s classic by E.L. Konigsburg, From the mixed-up files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. In the latter, an enterprising brother and sister leave home to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

De Goldi’s story also stars two siblings with initiative, though here the boy is bossy
Barney is a film director and his sister the support staff. (In Konigsburg’s story, Claudia is the instigator and Jamie the necessary number two.) They live not in a museum but in a flat above their father’s junk shop. 
Barney has director
’s block about the next project he’ll focus on, when the answer comes: “’It’s going to be a documentary... It’s going to be about the Street and everyone in it.”’ The neighbourhood is “bulging with stories”, so he and Ren set out to find them.

They know who to interview – or so they think. But the sudden and serial arrival of a zine, addressed only to “YOU”, disturbs and excites them. How might it alter their plans?

De Goldi excels in both humour and poignancy. Her child characters in this book and its immediate predecessors (The 10 pm question, The ACB with Honora Lee) are engaging and precocious. 

The anonymous artists of the zine are equally intelligent and interesting but turn out to be older, edgy outsiders. Their presence just off stage contrasts and jolts the somewhat comfortable lives of B. and R. Kettle. It’s as if E.L. Konigsburg’s earlier New York children have become cynical, streetwise adolescents in the Antipodes.

Children may be the main focus here but don’t be misled: this is a sophisticated and complex novel that will reward the adult reader. 

Title: From the cutting room of Barney Kettle
Author: Kate De Goldi

Recommended by Claire G, Grey Lynn Library

Claire G reads widely, writes narrowly, pampers her poultry and neglects her garden. She thinks Leonard Cohen was right about there being a crack in everything.

12 November, 2015

Artists and their cats by Alison Nastasi

This is a small book which will appeal to you if you are interested in artists, or cats, or both.  In the introduction the author identifies some of the key traits of artists, and reflects that they are attributes that cats typically display.  Labels such as “nonconformist” and “aloof” are sometimes used to describe artists, and they certainly define cats too. Artists often have periods of intense work or creativity - mostly through the night when the rest of the population is asleep. Cats have similar habits. You can wake up to find a dead seagull in the sitting room. Both have “artistic temperaments”.

The artists cover a wide range of fields, nationalities, and periods. Andy Warhol had 25 cats all named ‘Sam’ and one ‘Blue Pussy’. Frida Kahlo who lived with a menagerie of animals, among them monkeys, a deer and hairless dogs and cats, and Salvador Dali who had an ocelot named Babou as a pet; it travelled extensively with him and had a great life. While in New York  Babou slept in an empty television set.

Then there is John Lennon & Yoko Ono, both of whom apparently adored cats. John’s first cat was called Elvis, then they discovered it was female. The photograph is of John & Yoko as we typically know them, except  John has a black cat in his arms.

Henri Matisse was another artist who loved cats, and he included some of them in his work (“Girl with a black cat”). Near the end of his life he lived with his pets at the Hotel Regina in Nice, where he continued to work from his bed.  The photograph shows him in this way, with a cat on the end of his bed.

This is an entertaining little book that is great to pick up and delve into, you find out many things about the artists.  We typically know them only from their work, but this shows another side to their lives and personalities.

Title: Artists and their cats
Author: Alison Nastasi

Recommended by Ana, Central Library

Ana enjoys reading and listening to music, travelling and many other things. She reads fiction, non-fiction and from genres, crime: the Scandinavian crime writers, Patricia Highsmith and some others.

11 November, 2015

Imagine there's no heaven by Mitchell Stephens.

I can spend many a day, week, even months, not pondering my religious (or otherwise) belief/s. 

Then something strikes me and I wonder whether I’m an atheist. Or an agnostic. Or both? Can you be both? 

If I picked up Stephens' book hoping for an answer, I didn’t really find it. At least, not to what I am. What I did find was a compelling exploration of the history of non-believers and their contribution to science, philosophy, society… Little things like that. 

It did make me question what I believe in instead. 

If there is no heaven – what is there. On that note, Stephens looks at why atheists can still be moralists, without the influence of a God and His – or Her – teachings.  

Well worth an exploration. And, I’m still not sure what label I give myself. 

Title: Imagine there's no heaven: how atheism helped create the modern world
Author: Mitchell Stephens.

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. 

06 November, 2015

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott


If you enjoyed Harry Potter, the Alchemyst Series is similar in tone but completely different. Scott has taken Greek, Aztec, Egyptian and Celtic mythology and historical figures like Joan of Arc and Billy the Kid and forms them into a complete world.
Fifteen-year old twins Josh and Sophie Newman are staying with their Aunt in San Francisco while their parents are away on an archaeological dig. Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel have been living quietly hiding the Codex (a book of magical recipes that they have used for the last six hundred years to prolong their lives) from the Dark Elders, creatures bent on remaking the world and enslaving (or eating) mankind.
When Nicholas, the owner of the used bookshop where Josh works is attacked by the immortal magician Dr John Dee, he and Sophie discover a world of magic, monsters and ancient gods. The twins are mentioned in the Codex as the twins of legend, destined to save or destroy the world.
With his wife Perenelle imprisoned on Alcatraz, most of the Codex stolen by Dee and his immortality running out Nicholas must find a way to awaken Josh and Sophie’s powers before Dee finds them.
However, when the twins discover that the Flamels have tired and failed to awaken other twins over the years with deadly results they are unsure who they can trust.   
Author: Michael Scott
Recommended by Murray L, Devonport Library
Murray L enjoys horror, sci-fi, fantasy and mystery books