27 December, 2016

Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Witi Ihimaera

The protagonist David has everything a man could wish for – a loving wife and two adorable daughters, successful university career and good friends. He also has another life in “the Gardens of Spain”, places of encounter for gay and bisexual men.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The book is a story of a gay person coming out. It is Witi Ihimaera’s first novel centred on gay characters, radically different from his earlier Maori writing. Its main focus, and the strongest part, is on a family drama, relationships between a husband and wife, father and daughters, son and parents. Family problems are nothing new, yet the challenges faced by sexual minorities in keeping up with conventional family standards have hardly been addressed in literature.

The narrative shifts in time, looking back into the protagonist’s school years, personality development, career challenges, sexual attractions and experiences. There are lots of gay sex scenes and descriptions of naked male bodies.

Apart from David’s story, the novel shows the lives of other gay men in Auckland in the 1990s, “the lost boys”, as the author calls them. Not all of them, as the main character, are married fathers who had to conceal their identities. Some may look happier than others, while each is still “unhappy in his own way”. The book touches on such issues as HIV, drugs, depression, loneliness and suicide.

Author: Witi Ihimaera

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

23 December, 2016

Skeptic: viewing the world with a rational eye by Michael Shermer

2016 seems to have been a non-fiction year for me. Having started off so whimsically with manga and (amazingly) a romance novel, it has morphed into a steady run of science, history, philosophy and scepticism... memories.

With that off my chest, my last pick for the year is Michael Shermer’s Skeptic, the second book I’ve reviewed by this author (the previous being: The believing brain), this one is a collection of the author’s columns from Scientific American (which we have in our catalogue in print and online!).

There is a lot to get your blood up in this book if you enjoy turning your critical eye to issues which are of the controversial variety. There can be few more qualified fellows to guide you through the journey than Michael Shermer (I’m so tempted to call him the Sherminator, oh! I just did). His combination of scientific understanding and a pleasurable writing style make this a bright and breezy read.

Each article is only a couple of pages each and covers a large variety of subjects from aliens (including his own ‘brush’ with abduction) and conspiracy theories, to a famously heart-breaking pseudo scientific story on attachment therapy. Shermer (The Sherm? No, too far) is cutting and concise in his opinion and reasoning and is flush with both, as well as backing them up with interesting statistics and facts. Are you one of the minority (statistically speaking) who believe that having things explained is cool? Then unless you’re a long time borrower of Scientific American, this is the book for you!

Title: Skeptic: viewing the world with a rational eye
Author: Michael Shermer

Skeptic or sceptic? James W tried to get to the center of these differences but found the fiber of the task lacking color. Thus, he hopes his northern neighbors won’t take offense at his inability to analyze the issue.

20 December, 2016

The curse of beauty : the scandalous & tragic life of Audrey Munson, America's first supermodel / James Bone.

This new investigative biography sets out to uncover the story of a remarkable woman who would otherwise have been erased from history. A renowned artists model, Audrey Munson was celebrated in the early 20th century as 'the American Venus' and 'the world’s most perfectly formed woman'. She posed for many Beaux Arts statues and monuments across the United States and is the largest female figure in New York City after the Statue of Liberty, towering 25 feet above the Municipal Building opposite City Hall.

Sculptures of her posing as goddesses, nymphs, angels and heroines also stand outside the Brooklyn and Frick Museums, New York Public Library and the Pulitzer fountain outside the Plaza Hotel, plus many others across the U.S.

At the height of her fame she moved in high society and dated millionaires.
Munson began appearing in silent films during the industry’s nascence and is credited as the first woman to appear naked in a film. So how did she end up dying alone and forgotten in a mental asylum where she had been incarcerated for decades?

One of the most compelling things I found about Munson was that she was a woman very much ahead of her time. An early feminist, she campaigned for women's right to vote and transgressed societal norms: eschewing corsets and high heels and celebrating the female form in its natural state.

However, Munson’s beauty, fame and celebrity were to prove ephemeral. Her career became tarnished by scandal, engagements were broken off and she was cheated out of money owed to her. Eventually she was reduced to working as waitress in a diner.

Ominously, her life’s trajectory followed a gypsy fortune teller’s prediction given to her as a young woman. The gypsy foresaw her achieving wealth and acclaim but “when you think happiness is yours, its fruit shall turn to ashes in your mouth”. For the rest of her life Munson believed she was cursed.

What struck me most, reading about her fascinating and ultimately tragic life, was the huge price she paid for her beauty. On the one hand she was exalted and rewarded for being a sex goddess but on the other hand she was exploited and punished for the same power she had over the opposite sex. I found it very disturbing how much sexism, misogyny and censorship played a part in her downfall in what were still very repressive times to be a woman. I am glad that she is now getting the recognition that she deserves.

Title: The curse of beauty : the scandalous & tragic life of Audrey Munson, America's first supermodel 
Author: James Bone

Also recommended: Empty mansions : the mysterious life of Huguette Clark and the spending of a great American fortune / Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. 

Karen I likes reading memoirs and biographies about people with interesting and unusual lives because she spends a lot of time reading and doesn't get out much.

19 December, 2016

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

Have you missed the wonderful world of Percy Jackson? So, it seems, has author Rick Riordan, because it is back with a sequel to Heroes of Olympus.

Riordan is writing a five-volume series (or pentalogy if you like) called The Trials of Apollo; The Hidden Oracle is the first installment, with the next one due mid-2017. 

The series is centred on the trials and tribulations of the god Apollo, who is turned into a human as a punishment by his father Zeus (not for the first time), and dumped on earth in the form of a spindly teenager called Lester Papadopoulos. The god Apollo finds adjusting to being the human Lester painful to say the least.

Lester befriends a demigod daughter of Demeter called Meg, a smart, feisty and very likeable character with a dark past (don’t they all?). Together they seek out Percy Jackson and the demigod training facility Camp Half-Blood.  

At the camp, they discover chaos, with demigods going missing, the Beast lurking and the future of the world uncertain. A mission emerges, to save the world, naturally, but also perhaps a means for Lester to return to being the god Apollo once more. As those around him, though, suffer and make sacrifices, Lester comes to realise that he was a pretty selfish god. 

No spoilers on the villain, but Riordan once again does not disappoint his avid fans who know all his books inside out. It is a worthy opponent for our heroes to battle and this is just the beginning.
Riordan weaves together the strands of another complex fantasy, interspersed with all the humour and character development that were such strong features of the Percy Jackson series. He knows this genre so well; no-one does it better.

Recommended 9+ 

Author: Rick Riordan

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. 

17 December, 2016

The terrorist's son by Zak Ebrahim with Jeff Giles.

The author of this book is Zak Ebrahim, who is an American. His father is an educated Egyptian man, and his mother is an American schoolteacher who has changed her religion to Islam.

Though America is where his father El -Sayyid Nosair lives, his heart is full of hate for Jews. Zak's father kills the leader of the Jewish Defense League, and also helps plan the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

He is loved by fanatics of Islam and hated by the peace loving people who can't understand the rhetoric behind all the carnage that terrorism brings about on innocent people who have no strong affiliations to any religion.

The sins of their father weigh heavily on Zak and his family and they are ostracized by people wherever they live, as people think they must share the same hatred.

The good ending to this sad story is that Zak is a deep thinker, who also thinks that the world has to be a peaceful and non-violent place to live in. As opposed to his dad, he understands that hatred is not a means to an end and realizes that what his father had done was not the right thing to do. In order to balance the wrong-doings of his father Zak speaks out against terrorism and promotes peace!

It must have been difficult for Zak to write this book as it is very hard for a child to point a finger at his dad, who was his hero when he was young. I was very happy for Zak when he made the right choice.

TitleThe terrorist's son
Author: Zak Ebrahim with Jeff Giles

Reviewed by Kanchan T , Blockhouse Bay Library

Kanchan T works as a library assistant at Auckland Libraries. She loves to read books that are uplifting and inspirational.

16 December, 2016

Get back up: from the streets to Microsoft suites by George A. Santino with M.J. Beaufrand

George Santino spent the first part of his life in the South Philly projects, a rough, tough part of Philadelphia. 

One of 7 kids, he spent a lot of his time dodging the raging fits of their alcoholic, perennially out of work father. After cashing in a welfare cheque, his father moved the family to sunny Florida; here he opened a restaurant which soon went bust.

With dad back on the couch all day, the kids spent as much time as possible out of the house and in order to survive, street smarts was what young George picked up real quick.

From being part of a gang at age 11, to carrying groceries for neighbours in a stolen cart and selling tomatoes from the back of a truck, he learned early how to earn a quick buck. 

These were the first of his adventures.

Many more followed and along the way, he encountered several setbacks, both professionally and health-wise from a freak spinal cord injury. 

Over them all, he triumphed, and went on to build a happy, loving marriage and family life, a long, successful career with Microsoft and a small fortune on the side. 

All because of his simple philosophy of “No matter what life throws at you, get back up.” 

If a plainly told, yet inspirational, rags-to-riches story peppered with good humour sounds like it might be your kind of reading, don’t miss this one.

Title: Get back up: from the streets to Microsoft suites
Author: George A. Santino with M.J. Beaufrand

Reviewed by: Suneeta N, Highland Park Library

Suneeta N 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.

14 December, 2016

Letter from Kalangadoo: the Roly Parks collection by Bryan Dawe

I’ve had a late introduction to Roly Parks from Kalangadoo but I am very glad that I have finally made his acquaintance. Letters from Roly to his son Gene have been broadcast on ABC radio for 25 years and this little book is a compilation of some of the best stories.

Through the chatty, love-filled little letters to Gene, we get to know Roly as an intelligent, uncomplicated gent in his twilight years with a positive outlook on life and his fair share of small town problems. These include a bitter ex-wife, the token busybody and friends dropping off their perches.

He deals with it all with a warm wit that takes the edge off some stressful situations. I took particular delight in the uniquely Australian turns of phrase: in my opinion, the Aussies beat the Texans hands down in the metaphor wars. Roly’s are endearingly down-to-earth and I have bags of favourites, including “he wouldn’t shout if a shark bit him”. I also now no longer say I am “away with the fairies” but “down in my shed”.

Apart from the hilarious extended metaphors in these stories, I feel the real magic lies in the fact that Roly Parks is an Everyman: any older person who has worked and lived and loved and lost can see a bit of themselves and those they know in Roly, and can take comfort from his simple, calm take on what are life’s big dramas. Roly deals philosophically and light-heartedly with divorce and losing one’s friends while accepting that he is also moving up a seat every day on the bench in God’s waiting room.

TitleLetter from Kalangadoo: the Roly Parks collection
Author: Bryan Dawe

Reviewed by Monica F, Waitakere Central 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.

13 December, 2016

How to set a fire and why by Jesse Ball

This was an oddballs little number that celebrates the misaligned, the genius outsiders who are overlooked by society, conveniently boxed as trouble makers, no-hopers or just unseen.

It is however, our greatest gift as readers to meet Lucia, her terrifying intellect, and her raw potential. Lucia lives in a  ramshackle converted garage with her Aunt, after something terrible, which we are never privy to, killed her father and caused her mother to be confined to an asylum. Initially you wonder if this is what the novel is leading up to, the big reveal, the dreadful cataclysmic events that have to led to the here and now. However, this soon fades into insignificance and  you just want to watch and learn more about how Lucia’s mind and thought processes work.

This book is Lucia’s manifesto, her workings out of what happens in life, for her, from her vantage point and it is something quite special to be witness to it. In a sense its also an ode to fire, the magnificence of a sparking birthing a flame leading to an inferno. So the girl likes starting fires, everyone has their thing, right?

It won’t be for everyone, it is for those who want to get to know the marginalised, who wonder at someone’s story, that person who clearly walks to the beat of a different drum, so to speak.

Lucia will stay with you after the book is finished and you wonder and wish you could travel some more with her and see how she navigates life, or finds her tribe.  But actually, you know she has already found her tribe, through her refusal to curtail to social expectations and scripted social pleasantries her tribe will always find her.

Witness one of my favourite excerpts from the novel. Lucia is quizzed on why she is turning up at school so late, to which she replies demurely, “ big night out whoring, you know how that can be”. Or words to that effect. Who wouldn’t want to have been that bad arse at such a young age.

Reviewed by: Sue W

Title: How to set a fire and why
Author:  Jesse Ball

Sue W loves her fur babies equally but differently and used to administer time out to think about bad behaviours. However, since Patrick the fox arrived, she can no longer lock a miscreant in the spare room least Patrick is set upon.

06 December, 2016

Gentlemen of the road by Michael Charbon

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

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

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

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

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

Title: Gentlemen of the road
Author: Michael Charbon

Reviewed by Christine O.

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

05 December, 2016

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

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

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

Reviewed by Claire S, Central Library, Information Services.

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

Those who wish me dead by Michael Koryta

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

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

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

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

A very good read.

TitleThose who wish me dead.
Author: Michael Koryta

Reviewed by Clare K, Massey Library

Clare K works at Massey Library in West Auckland. She believes that there is nothing you
can't learn from a book, and the more you know the more you grow.

04 December, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended by Surani R, Waitakere Central Library, Henderson.

Surani R enjoys reading biographies, travelogues, some non-fiction, and loves fiction that makes you laugh out loud. She also finds comfort in children’s fiction with thought-provoking stories.

03 December, 2016

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

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

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

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

Lab girl by Hope Jahren

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

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

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

It's safe to say, I love this book. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: Lab Girl
Author: Hope Jahren

(Heavily) Recommended by Dana S, Central Library

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

02 December, 2016

Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell (Music CD)

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

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

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

Sing of Orpheus, who turned around.

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

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

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

Reviewed by Valerie T, Māngere Town Centre Library.

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

SPQR: a history of ancient Rome by Mary Beard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

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

01 December, 2016

Do Over by Jon Acuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: Do Over
Author: Jon Acuff

Reviewed by: Sue W, Central Library.

Sue W loves her fur babies equally but differently and used to administer time out to think about bad behaviours. However, since Patrick the fox arrived, she can no longer lock a miscreant in the spare room least Patrick is set upon.

30 November, 2016

The Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh

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

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

However, you could well be making a mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: The Psy-Changeling series
Author: Nalini Singh

Recommended by Annie C, Helensville Library. 

Annie C is a voracious and versatile reader, but her habitual reads are fantasy, romance, and a diverse selection of non-fiction subjects. A life-long love of children’s books, particularly picture books, helps in her day-to-day role as a children’s librarian. 

29 November, 2016

Working class boy by Jimmy Barnes

My introduction to Cold Chisel was at the first ever rock concert I went to in Wellington, where the band was Rod Stewart’s support act. We didn’t really know who they were, but Jimmy’s energy jumped out from the stage and the music was great.

Once I moved to Australia, Cold Chisel and Jimmy Barnes music was always around on the radio and at parties, so when I saw this book I was keen to find out more about the man.

I knew he had had come from a rough background and played hard but this book really tells what shaped him. Violence, child neglect, drinking, drugs, and petty crime all feature in his upbringing.

Jimmy’s family moved from Scotland to Australia in the early 1960's expecting a better life. Some things turned out to be better, but a lot remained the same.

This book covers Jimmy’s early years before he went on to success with Cold Chisel and is more about his family life than his music, however music is always in the background and this is the foundation of Jimmy’s show that he will be touring in New Zealand next year.

It’s very well told, and the writing flows with lots of anecdotes and yarns, as if Jimmy is there talking to you. Many of his descriptions made me laugh, this one about his sister’s boyfriend especially; “he wasn’t real smart but what he lacked in intellect he made up for in stupidity”.

Jimmy shares his feelings with us all throughout and despite some awful experiences he always looks at the positive side. Sad in parts. but honest; the love for his family shines through.

There’s great humour and in the end an acceptance and understanding of his parent’s struggles to bring up children, carrying on the legacy of how they themselves had been raised.

This book has been so popular the library has added many copies in print and ebook.
To quote Molly Meldrum (an Australian music journalist): “do yourself a favour” and read this one!

Title: Working class boy
Author: Jimmy Barnes

Recommended by Kathy N, Collections Development

Kathy N can’t 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.

23 November, 2016

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

On their second anniversary, Chaz surprises his wife, Joey, with a week long cruise on the cruise liner, the Sun Duchess. After a nice dinner and a few too many glasses of wine, Chaz throws her overboard.

Joey knew their marriage wasn’t great but didn’t think Chaz would resort to murder. Thanks to separate bank accounts and a will that give her fortune to charity, Joey is worth more to Chaz alive than dead, so why did he do it?

After washing ashore Joey decides to stay dead for a while, and with help from some new friends and some of Chaz’s enemies, she is going to get her answers.

I picked up Skinny Dip on a whim, I had never read anything Hiaasen had written before, but I liked the opening with Joey plunging off the ocean liner, and after reading a few chapters I hated Chaz and wanted to find out how it would end.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald and has written over a dozen books (some for children, like Hoot) and they are mostly funny crime thrillers set in South Florida with sun, corruption, intrigue, oddball characters, slapstick situations and a tight plot. So if you like Skinny Dip you are going to like his other books.

Title: Skinny Dip
Author: Carl Hiaasen.

Recommended by Murray L, Devonport Library

Murray works at the Devonport Library and likes mysteries, sci-fi and horror.

20 November, 2016

Me before you [DVD videorecording]

This movie is based on a romantic novel with the same name by Jojo Moyes, published in 2012.

The film talks about a high-achieving young man, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), who becomes completely paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. For the next two years, he struggles with his situation which he finds hopeless. He decides to find his way back to his former self in “his own way”.  

During this period of time, a special bond grows between him and his caregiver, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke), an enthusiastic, kind-hearted young lady. Their souls become intimately connected to each other, and they gradually change each other's lives.

Will this amour shake Will’s decision?

This is a brilliant film with a 7.5 rating in IMDB. A very serious ethical theme is explored in this beautiful, moving love story. 

The author cleverly has Will mention “My Left Foot” (Christy Brown’s autobiography, a man who was born paralysed) in conversation. 

He faces the same issue as Christy Brown, but decides to choose a different solution. I think they have both profoundly impacted the world. 

What is the purpose of human life? How do we define bravery? 

This story is available as a book, eBook, audiobook and sound track in our collection.

The voice of Sam Claflin who stars as Will is so rich, and mellifluous, giving an extra element of emotional intensity to the film. When reading the book, the voice seems to surround you, talk directly to you. The feeling is fantastic -- I bet you will love it!

Title: Me before you
Directed by: Thea Sharrock
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin

Reviewed by Honour Z, Northcote Community Library

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

13 November, 2016

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

Set in 1960s Ireland, Nora Webster, Colm Toiban’s most recently published novel, tells the story of recently widowed Nora, mother to four, who has been a dedicated house wife all her life.

Having always had decisions made for her, now she is faced with a future of her own making. Mourning the loss of her husband, she must forge her identity and passions as something other than a wife and a mother, she must find her own personal happiness.

This book is about re-evaluating, self discovery and independence. As with Colm Toiban's novels, he masterfully portrays the intricacies of ordinary lives and creates drama through characters that are flawed but strong, and relationships with depth and history.

Title: Nora Webster 
Author: Colm Tóibín

Reviewed by Suzy D, Mt Albert Library

12 November, 2016

Jay to Bee by Janet Frame

When reading fiction, are you, like me, curious about authors' personalities and their real life adventures? Surely, one does not have to live an exciting and eventful life to be able to write stories. This is and is not the case of Janet Frame, remembered as a painfully shy and introspective creature, whose dramatic personal history became well known in New Zealand and worldwide through a classic film by Jane Campion An Angel at my Table, based on Frame's three autobiographies.

Jay to Bee is a newly published collection of Janet Frame’s letters to the American painter William Brown whom she met at an artists’ colony in the United States in 1951. Since their meeting, the two artists from the different hemispheres began exchanging letters which for the first time now are available in print.

Every exciting letter has enclosures,
And so shall this – a bunch of photographs,
Some out of focus, some with wrong exposures,
Press cutting, gossip, maps, statistics, graphs;
I don’t intend to do the things by halves.
I’m going to be very up-to-date indeed.
It’s a collage that you’re going to read.

Over two decades, Frame wrote more than 500 letters to Brown, about 140 of which comprised the collection. They include her observations of people and events, arts and politics, household chores, quotes (like the one from W.H. Auden’s letter to Lord Byron I re-quoted above), all mixed up with drawings, photographs, doodles and collages. Witty and humorous, they reveal Frame’s warm and sensitive personality as well as her individual style of drawing and design, unknown earlier to the public.

Title: Jay to Bee: Janet Frame's Letters to William Theophilus Brown
Editor: Denis Harold

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

11 November, 2016

Lecretia's choice by Matt Vickers

Does the name Lecretia Seales ring a bell in your mind?

She was the smart, successful 42 year old Wellington based lawyer, who died of incurable brain cancer last year, after a brave and ground-breaking fight for physician assisted dying.

This book, written by her husband Matt Vickers, has love and admiration for her shining out of every page. It chronicles their years together, their happy times, friends and family, and professional successes, as well as their personal struggles. The first was trying to have a child, a desire that was left unmet even after a series of medical procedures and intervention and much money spent, which left Lecretia, particularly, disappointed and saddened.

Alongside this was the coming to terms with her illness which was first diagnosed four years before her death. An operation to remove the tumor in her brain was partially successful, and her life limped back to a kind of normal.

Then came the chemo and radiotherapy needed as the prognosis clearly became less and less optimistic. Through all this Lecretia was supported by her husband, family, friends and colleagues which was always something she expressed gratitude about.

Holidays surrounded by loved ones and trips away, travelling in foreign parts were something she undertook with a passion, almost as if one eye was fixed on the ticking clock.
The other task she put all her quickly depreciating energy into was that the end of life choice should become legal – that terminally ill patients like her should have the right to put an end to their suffering without risk of their physician facing prosecution.

In the end, she lost that battle but she gave voice to an issue that that has sparked enormous public interest and which has forever made a mark on the medico-legal fabric of our society.

As her husband continues to fight on, this is a must-read for all of us living in New Zealand, no matter which side of the debate we find ourselves on.

Author: Matt Vickers

Reviewed by Suneeta N, Highland Park Library

Suneeta N 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.

09 November, 2016

We’re all damaged by Matthew Norman

There is a certain pleasure to be had  reading well written books that look at life’s cruelties and pain points. Not in a comparing or judgmental sense but rather a wry recognition.

Matthew Norman’s novel hits the spot,  making you wince with recognition at how you find yourself, (at least once) as an  adult, looking around you in bewilderment and wondering how on earth this life differs so dramatically from what you had imagined.

Granted your life situation might not have the same checklist of disasters, as Andy Carter, the protagonist in this novel, yet there is something about a return to the family home, at any adult age and stage that causes an unpleasant frisson of nerves. Perhaps this is due to  the ghosts of hopes and dreams that seem to linger and mock you for your less than spectacular adult life.

Slightly too Eeyore in tone for you? It's not at all, but rather about seeing the past, looking it in the eye until it loses its power to shame or wound you, and then taking one tiny step after another to begin to overcome emotional inertia.

This was in fact the  perfectly timed book to read as I was in fact, on a visit south to visit my own family home.

I love the self deprecating humor of the protagonist Andy, he knows he is a mess;  it's hard to shame someone into making changes when they are all too aware their life resembles a train wreck. What better place to highlight the catastrophic failure of your adult life than a return to your hometown to visit a dying grandparent. Especially if the initial departure was more of an escape than a graciously executed rationally considered move to advance health and well being.

There is empathy for this character, he is lovable, ridiculously flawed, but then so is everyone around him. Sometimes having a scapegoat in our midst allows us to conveniently ignore that great hulking plank poking out of our own eye.

This is a light and tasty read, just like the cereal, it won’t bog you down, but offers enough substance to be enjoyable and engaging. Fans of Nick Hornby and Matthew Quick should enjoy this novel. And of note, we should all have a Daisy figure cross our paths at some point in life.  I imagine at the very least she would have some fascinating stories to tell.

Title: We're all damaged
Author:  Matthew Norman

Recommended by: Sue W (Central Library)

Sue W loves her fur babies equally but differently and used to administer time out to think about bad behaviours. However, since Patrick the fox arrived, she can no longer lock a miscreant in the spare room least Patrick is set upon.

07 November, 2016

Gut : the inside story of our body's most underrated organ by Giulia Enders

I am a sucker for those 'learn how things work' type of books (so long as it doesn't get too technical of course).  This one does not disappoint, informative while still being accessible to the casual reader you learn many  things about your digestive system and why it is so important for good health. 

Not just a boring run through the mouth to anus journey, this book is full of humour and funny anecdotes and encompasses a great deal of knowledge. For example: studies have shown that our gut bacteria has the ability to influence cravings in our brain for particular foods. 
As she says: "We do not yet know whether different bacteria express different desires. When we give up sweets, we eventually stop missing them so badly at some point. Is that because the gummy bear and chocolate lobby has been starved out? We can only speculate."

Communication between gut and brain is one of the fastest areas of medical research, and our gut reactions are intimately connected with our physical and mental well-being. Enders uses up to date research to show how scientists are finding out more about how the gut can affect the body in surprising ways, like the links between certain gut flora and depression, risk taking and suicide. A treasure trove of fascinating information.

Recommended for those who would like to know more about how their bodies work, but are afraid of biological/medical jargon. Also try Gulp : adventures on the alimentary canal / Mary Roach

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