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.