18 June, 2017

Beautiful hero : how we survived the Khmer Rouge by Jennifer H. Lau

The Khmer Rouge killed 2 million people out of a population of 6 million in Cambodia. After reading this book you wonder how you would cope in a regime like the one this family managed to survive. I am fairly sure I would have been 'whacked and dumped' (a term used in the book), fairly early on. 

The author, Geng (now Jennifer), was a child when the Khmer Rouge forcibly relocated her family. Her parents, brother and two younger sisters only had moments to grab what they could, and had to walk for days from comfortable city life to be resettled in the country. It was a struggle for survival against starvation, disease, parasites, forced labour and the brutality of the Khmer Rouge.

For the next four and a half years it was her mother who kept her family alive, but to do this she had to have a stone heart. She was hard and sometimes cruel to the children to ensure their survival. There were moments when Geng hated her mother, as she had no chance to be a child, but now she has admiration at what her mother achieved while retaining her humanity and dignity.

Harrowing, and hard to imagine the horrors they would have seen, this book shows a part of history of which we should be aware. A grim but utterly compelling read, told by an adult, much later, but with the matter of fact voice of the child she was at the time. She sticks to personal experience rather than inserting political explanations. HIghly recommended

(The title is a homage to her mother Meiyeng. Mei means Beautiful and Yeng means Hero.)

TitleBeautiful hero : how we survived the Khmer Rouge
AuthorJennifer H Lau

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





11 June, 2017

We are all made of molecules by Susin Nielsen

I don’t read that many young adult novels but something about this title compelled me to pick it up. I guess it was the quirky cover and interesting blurb that called out to me.

Set in the suburbs of Vancouver, this story tells of a blended family. Narrated by our two main characters thirteen-year-old Stewart and fourteen-year-old Ashley; ‘We are all made of molecules’ takes the reader into the lives of teenagers trying to fit into the new life that is unfolding before them.

Stewart is a gifted intellectual who is still coping with the loss of his mother to cancer two years ago, while Ashley is a popular fashionista seeking to climb the rungs of the social ladder in her school. Ashley’s parents have divorced after her father announced he is gay, and Ashley is finding it hard to accept. Stewart’s dad and Ashley’s mom begin a new relationship and they end up moving in together. We all know that new beginnings are never easy and this one is already looking unpleasant for all parties involved. The overlapping journeys taken by these two teenagers are filled with episodes filled with humour, sadness, bullying, bigotry and tolerance. Unlike most other books in the genre of contemporary fiction, Susin Nielsen delivers an engaging tale on the true nature of friendship and what it means to be a family.

This story gripped me from start to finish. Susin Nielsen’s style of writing is unique and appealing. The different voices of Stewart and Ashley expertly portray their distinct personalities and readers will find them hard to forget long after reading the book. I would recommend this book for older readers aged 13 years and up.
Readers of this title might also enjoy See you at Harry’s by Jo Knowles.

Title: We are all made of molecules
Author: Susin Nielsen

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.

07 June, 2017

Heartthrobs by Carol Dyhouse

I read romance novels. I don’t watch romantic movies. (Well, many movies at all). 

I am aware, however, of the current crop of ‘heartthrobs’ in our culture. And what are the current trends in romance novel heroes. (Navy SEALS, anyone? Or werewolves?) 

Dyhouse examines these trends through the lens of the cultural historian. 

What does the appeal of doctors in the 1950s say about what women – and society – were searching for, in the immediate post-War period? What about Valentino and the Sheikh? Why the David Cassidy phenomenon? Or Marc Bolan? What about Adam Ant’s ‘Prince Charming’ video? (There's a detailed paragraph about this video - so I thought I'd hunt it down for you.) 

A fascinating exploration of society, women’s place within it – and expectations upon them – and history. 



Title: Heartthrobs: a history of women and desire.  
Author: Carol Dyhouse.  

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. 
  

06 June, 2017

The map that leads to you by J. P. Monninger

This novel starts with the not-unusual scenario of a girl meeting a boy on a European holiday and falling for him.

Heather is exploring Europe with her two college friends before she settles down to the corporate life and a job in New York. Jack is following in the footsteps of his grandfather who left a diary of his travels taken after he was discharged from the army in WWII. They meet on a train, resulting in Heather and her friend Constance, abandoning their own itinerary and joining Jack and his friend Raef on their trip. As their relationship develops, Heather expects they will go back to the US together and continue their relationship, but all is not as it seems.

The style of this writing is quite literary and there are some very poetic descriptions and dialogue which made it more than a conventional romance. Nicholas Sparks has described it as “romantic and unforgettable” and I would agree with that. The story stays with you and with phrases like “we stood and swam into each other’s eyes, and I had maybe shared a baby cousin of this look with other men, but this was something different, something terrifying and wonderful…” the romantic angle is definitely covered.

I am always drawn to passages about books in writing and found this one very perceptive:  “Have you ever heard someone say that books are the place we visit and that when we run into people who have read the books we have read, it’s the same as if we had travelled to the same locations?”

A charming and interesting story that had me drawn in and involved from the start.

Title: The map that leads to you
Author: J.P. Monninger

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.

30 May, 2017

Black Lagoon. 001 By Rei Hiroe

Ah the 90s… Hair size was in the decline, to steal music you actually had to enter a shop, everyone knew the zip code to Beverly Hills, California (well one of them anyway), and if you had a cell phone you were called… a variety of derogatory names. The manga, Black lagoon is set in this magical decade, but is far less concerned with these 90s references and more with classic 90s gung-ho action.

The mercenary crew of the lagoon company take on only the most dangerous jobs as they walk a fine line between the warring gang factions of Roanpur (a fictional port somewhere in Southeast Asia) and various government departments. In the group we follow the two main characters of Revy ‘two-hand’ who is a ruthless, foul mouthed gunslinger and Rokuro “Rock” Okajima, a quick thinking Japanese salary-man with a bad case of Stockholm syndrome.

The action is fast and slick with the fights involved often being stylised and full-on. Each of the characters are unique and capable in their own way and we slowly get to know their own motivations after each adventure. We holler excitedly at their hi-jinks before quickly worrying about where on the moral compass their decisions are falling. While they are cool characters, they’re not always the 'good' guys.

The action is fast and violent (without being gratuitous), and the language is sharp and adult. Black lagoon will appeal to the 6 year old in you who snuck into the room while the adults were watching Robocop or Predator on VHS (oh wait those weren't 90s films!). Available at all good libraries today!

The latest volume is 10

Title: Black lagoon
Author: Rei Hiroe

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W is lacking in many of the essentials needed for traditional piracy: desire for robbery, a penchant for criminal violence… and a boat.

26 May, 2017

My name is Lucy Barton : a novel by Elizabeth Strout

“Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.”

This is a short book, a quiet book that really packs a punch. 


Lucy Barton’s childhood was grim to say the least. The family lived in poverty, in an uncle’s garage, in a physically and culturally isolated environment, with no neighbours, television or newspapers.  She grew up socially awkward, often ostracized by other kids and without knowing how to behave in certain social situations. One of three siblings she seems not to have shared any loving relationships with them, or her parents. 

When we meet Lucy, she is recovering from an operation in hospital. Here she thinks and reflects - mostly about her childhood, her previous marriage and her present life with husband and two daughters and the circumstances which led her to become a writer. Then, her estranged mother unexpectedly comes to visit and mother and daughter try to reconnect through shared conversations that last over three days.

This is a novel about the difficulties and limitations of love: marital, platonic and most of all mother and daughterly love. Lucy’s mother was unable to protect her from their poverty and from father’s unpredictable behaviour. Still, Lucy so loves her mother and needs her love and approval. In turn, the mother can only describe her feelings for her daughter by telling stories of old acquaintances  and their imperfect lives.

As I started reading, I had a feeling that this would be an unusual but remarkable tale. In less than 200 pages, without wasting a word, Elizabeth Strout made me want to read it through in one sitting.

Author: Elizabeth Strout

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.

24 May, 2017

This beats perfect By Rebecca Denton

"This beats perfect" is all about a girl named Amelie Ayers who the only thing she wants to do in the world is to sing her own songs and engineer the next big hit. The only thing standing in her way is her all-consuming case of stage fright which her father (also in the music business), is trying to help her overcome.

Her father offers for her birthday a backstage pass to "The Keeps" a popular boy band at the time, which is so not her scene but hey it's a free concert, that she gets to see what her father does and get a step into the behind the scenes action that goes on in concerts. Amelie is fascinated by the inner workings of the stage crew and the crowd, but "The Keep" is not going to be around much longer. One of its members (Maxx) is setting his sights on becoming a solo act and looking to Amelie’s dad to help produce his new C.D, which Amelie has been asked to help create. But Maxx is not who his boy band persona leads you to think and Amelie starts to fall for the guy who is also unsure of who he is when he is stripped away of his stardom. 

A love story with a difference through the eyes of a girl who is terrified to follow her dreams, and all the music industry knowledge that comes with it is interesting and eye opening. Leaves you wondering if Amelie will ever get the courage to get up on stage and also win the heart of the boy she is starting to fall for.

Author: Rebecca Denton

Emma W is a Senior Library Assistant at Waitakere Central Library who can be found humming constantly, requesting way too much stuff or playing in the lifts in the library. Luckily no one has noticed yet. 

16 May, 2017

True crime Japan by Paul Murphy

I have lately grown tired of scanning the true crime shelves and seeing mostly American and British true crime: all variations on a theme. I long for something different and good and a couple of months ago I hit the mother lode. The book is True crime Japan by Paul Murphy and if you want weird and wonderful stories about what goes on in courtrooms that do not follow our English Law system, then read on.

Paul Murphy is an Irish journalist and a fluent Japanese speaker who has lived in Japan for some years. This book is a careful curation of the most interesting cases from his observations of court cases in Matsumoto over a one year period. Paul groups the cases into themes, such as crimes committed by the elderly, sexual deviants, and the Yakuza, and also gives the social and legal background to these cases. This provides the context to what appears at first sight to be utterly bizarre. He also takes the trouble to follow up on the cases after sentencing, which is vital information for any hard-boiled true crime junkie.

I loved the simple explanations and easy narrative style in True Crime Japan, and highly recommend this as an intelligent read for those who enjoy reading true crime without the gory bits.

I am sorely tempted to discuss all my favourite OMG moments from this book with you, but I will restrain myself for fear of spoiling your reading experience. However, I have no doubt that this will be a book that you will want to discuss afterwards, and I would love you to leave a comment after you have read it. Enjoy!

TitleTrue crime Japan
Author: Paul Murphy

Reviewed by Monica F, Waitakere Central Library Henderson.

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.

15 May, 2017

Get well soon : history's worst plagues and the heroes who fought them by Jennifer Wright

I just read this fascinating book about plagues. You would think this would be a depressing topic, but the conversational tone and anecdotes make this a very readable book.

Jennifer Wright has gone through the ages and found out intriguing and informative facts about various deadly plagues and diseases, (including smallpox, leprosy, cholera, polio and more). What caused them, who caught them, stigmas and myths surrounding them, and ridiculous attempts at cures, and how some changed the course of history. It is also about the ways humanity responded to crisis, (often in a really bad way), but it includes people who did the right thing, the heroes who get their business together and go about saving lives and give people comfort.

I like how Wright tells about some lesser known plagues, like the  dancing plague in a small town in France in the 1500's. I learnt fascinating facts like: there was a no-nose club in the late 19th century, (a social club for sufferers of syphilis), or that the Spanish flu started in the U.S.A. And did you know there was a lobotomobile?  Wright has a delightful and  humorous writing style, she manages to make you laugh while reading about a pretty grim subject.

It is scary how quickly we can forget the terror of losing so many to a contagious disease, but we need to remember and plan for an event like this to happen again. With bacteria resistant bacteria we might be due for another outbreak. Definitely worth reading.


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



08 May, 2017

Explaining Hitler : the search for the origins of his evil by Ron Rosenbaum

Adolf Hitler.
Two words, the name of a man who has dominated the history books since he died in 1945. Who was he?

What man could go from the innocent little boy who features on the cover of this book to the monster who sent millions of men, women and children to their deaths.
Mr Rosenbaum looks at the various historians and authors who have tried to explain the reasoning behind this. He examines Hitler's early life and then rise to power. What stuck in my mind was the way that at first, in Germany, Hitler was treated like a clown and nobody for a moment believed that he would one day rule the country.
The origins for his anti-Jewish philosophy are also examined. Maybe he caught syphilis from a Jewish prostitute or maybe his own family hid a secret Jewish ancestor.
The book also examines the anti-Jewish feeling abroad in Europe at the time, and whether this was a contributing factor to Hitler's success. Of course, the Holocaust wasn't just Hitler, other people, seemingly eveyday, ordinary people participated too. But was Hitler the right man at the right time or could anyone given his history and temparament have done what he did?
It certainly gave me and anyone who is looking for an answer to the question of why, a very readable and easily digested book. I also took from it a warning. Once mainstream politics and ordinary people come together to demonise a whole race or religion or both, then unspeakable evil can be unleashed.

Title: Explaining Hitler: the search for the origins of his evil 
Author: Ron Rosenbaum


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.

07 May, 2017

Hidden figures: the untold story of the African American women who helped win the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Just like everyone else in the world, this title came to my attention when it hit the movie screens. With high hopes and anticipation; I went and saw the movie and it did not disappoint me. With a stellar cast it gave me an insight into the lives of the “West Computers” of NASA and the drama that was involved in putting a man into space.

The book, which I read later, gave me much more. We meet the four ‘figures’ of Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden and follow their lives from their early years as teachers, and into the late 1940’s as ‘computers’ for the NACA and learn of the work they performed in their respective fields. Filled with interweaving stories about these strong women, Hidden Figures also gives the reader an insight into the significant historical events that took place, such as World War II, NASA’s golden age, the civil rights movement, and the women’s rights era.

This book does not read like a history text for me. It was more like a memoir. Margot Lee Shetterly’s unique prose takes us deep into that period of time and we get to see not only history unfold before us, but also the intimate lives of these courageous women. I was inspired by the sacrifice, determination, and intelligence of these women as they endeavoured to reach the pinnacle of their careers and paved the way for the generations to come.

If you are like me and enjoy history and stories of women who have made a difference then Hidden Figures should be your next read!!


Title: Hidden Figures: the untold story of the African American women who helped win the space race
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly

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 May, 2017

Beyond the Northlands by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough

What we know about the Vikings is usually through the lens of the victims – Christian monks. Bur what did the Vikings think about themselves? What was their experience? What influenced them? What did they think about the rest of the world? 

Barraclough has explored the Viking world – through text and geography – to get a real feel of their experiences and views. 
Her extensive research both permeates the text, and sits lightly upon it, which means the book can be seen as a light read – but it isn’t. Her writing style is engaging – I particularly like her footnotes. 

Highly recommended for history fans, and fans of the TV series – Vikings. You might also like to hunt out Neil Gaiman’s Norse mythology

Title: Beyond the Northlands: Viking voyages and the Old Norse sagas.  
Author: Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough. 

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. 

02 May, 2017

Blackout: tomorrow will be too late by Marc Elsberg

The plot of this book intrigued me – the power suddenly goes out across Europe plunging cities into chaos and officials scrambling to find the fault.

It appears that terrorists have hacked the computer systems of power producers and suppliers, causing massive shutdowns.  Thrown together by chance, an Italian computer expert and an American journalist work together to uncover the perpetrators and prevent any further destruction, travelling across the continent and putting themselves in danger in the process.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The story-line was great and so believable it had me checking on my home emergency kit. It moves at a really fast pace and the short chapters are so easy to read that you lose track of time. Characters are located in a number of cities across the continent with chapters alternating between them all. This took me a while to get used to, but adds an extra dimension with all the different viewpoints.

On the other hand, the writing was a bit clumsy which I put down to the fact this is a translation of the original German novel. Some of the interactions and descriptions with women were a bit awkward too, with a very slight sexist tone, particularly in the physical descriptions of characters.

There are so many consequences of an incident like this that you never think of, such as the collapse of currency markets, loss of transport because petrol can’t be pumped without electricity, scarcity of prescription medicines, and farm animals that die because they can’t be cared for properly.

It really makes you think about the vulnerability of the infrastructure we rely on and the security of our online networks. Although this is fiction, the reality of this is scarily possible. A well-researched thriller that will appeal to many.

Author: Marc Elsberg

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.

22 April, 2017

Howl's moving castle by Diana Wynne Jones

*Typing*

“Okay...Howl's Mov-… and… Yes! No one else as reviewed this one yet!”

*Does sad victory dance*

Howl’s moving castle is an oldie but a goodie and apologies to anyone who has already read this children’s classic (no, the Miyazaki film doesn’t count), but look at this as your excuse to read it again. You have my permission.

Howl’s moving castle tells the story of Sophie Hatter, whose surname speaks of a time when surnames belied your profession (I suppose Milliner could also have been her surname). She is soon whisked off her feet by a mysterious wizard, becoming the object of ire of the Witch of the waste and is cursed into becoming an old woman...

Sophie herself is a wonderful character who exhibits growth in her role and embodies the themes of courage not only adventure, but also of facing and overcoming societies expected perception of her, which colours the way she sees herself. I won’t get too deep into themes, it’s way too great a story to read purely analytically anyways. Read it aloud with friends, or to your kids!

Howls moving castle is a wondrous tale of adventure and magic filled with great characters, clever dialogue and fun-filled adventure. It’s too good not to read. Seriously!

Watch Miyazaki’s adaptation, also available in the library, it’s a great adaptation/reinterpretation.
Read the sequels too, Castle in the air and House of many ways, which are just as great in their own way!


Title: Howl’s moving castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W is also a wizard… at ironing, because ironing is awesome. If anyone tells you otherwise, then tell them to walk their wrinkly trousers into a different conversation.

20 April, 2017

Behind every great man: the forgotten women behind the world's famous and infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller

In this collection, teacher - historian and author Maureen Wagman-Geller, self-proclaimed lover of history, biography and trivia, has put together the back stories of 40 of history’s forgotten women; women who stood in the shadows of their famous (and sometimes infamous) husbands are defined and brought to light.

The criteria for choosing the subjects were that the men had to be easily recognised and the wives had to be largely unknown.

And so, chapter by chapter, the curtains are drawn back on the spouses of government leaders (Nelson Mandela, Adolph Hitler), writers (Steig Larsson, C.S. Lewis), musicians (Sting, Jerry Garcia), scientists (Einstein, Stephen Hawking) and plenty more.  In the author’s words, these are women who “have stood behind their legendary partners and helped to humanise them, often at the cost of their own careers, reputations and happiness.”

Through this titular cliche, each woman’s contribution to history  is concisely and amusingly documented, as we read their stories of how they stood by their men - whether through alcoholism, racism, infidelities or even as they became important collaborators in their spouse’s work.

A peek behind the curtain that asks some questions – like how much did Mrs Madoff know of her husband Bernie's business doings or why did Eva Braun stay with Hitler? Here are some answers from voices thus far silenced.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. And also available as an ebook.

Note to author: Hopefully, there will soon be a contemporary version titled Behind every great woman... 

Title: Behind every great man: the forgotten women behind the world's famous and infamous
Author: Marlene Wagman-Geller

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.

10 April, 2017

Dark matter : a novel by Blake Crouch


This is a roller coaster of a read that takes you in many unexpected directions.

The action begins when Jason Dessen, forty-year-old physics professor, is kidnapped at gunpoint and transported to . . . where? The world is similar, but not his, and where are his beloved wife and son?  I won’t say too much about the plot as it is better to let it unfold as you read, but this book melds thriller and science fiction to brilliant effect.  It is creative and mind-bending with a superb twist in the plot in the last part of the book. Just when you think you have the story sussed it gets weirder.

After I read this book,  my son picked it up and  read it in a day, he could not put it down, (this is a working day too). He loved it so much my daughter also read it and stayed up late to finish it. (They are both in their 20’s). The writing and the action draws you in and you want to just read the next bit, and then a bit more until it is finished at 1.30am in the morning. 

A thought provoking and gripping story that stays with you. It would make a great movie as well. Wait and see. . . . . .

TitleDark matter : a novel
AuthorBlake Crouch

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

07 April, 2017

The last act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

Interesting characters and an intriguing mystery combine to create a great story with many twists and turns.

Hattie is a high school student from a small American town who is determined to make her name on the stage in New York. She is a gifted actress and uses her skills off- as well as on-stage, changing her personality depending on who she is with. When her body is found in an old barn, the local policeman, an old family friend, is called to investigate.

More than a police-procedural story of an investigation, this book is defined by it's strong characterisation and realistic dialogue. It's told from three points of view which helps to get the feeling you know the individuals and understand their side of the story.
You feel the grief of the parents, the distress of the school students, the frustration of the police, the nervousness of the suspects. More than one of Hattie’s contacts had a reason to murder her, or was it someone she didn’t know?

The writing is excellent and gives great insights into personalities. As a keen reader, I liked this description from Hattie on her mother: “Mom would be reading whatever the library just got in, since she’d gone through everything on their shelves. She never wanted to talk about her books though. Maybe that’s what made her so hard to read sometimes, all those books floating around in her.”

This book is also published under the alternative title ‘Everything you want me to be’ which perfectly describes the complicated Hattie.

Title: The last act of Hattie Hoffman / Everything you want me to be
Author: Mindy Mejia

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.

03 April, 2017

The affair of the thirty-nine cufflinks by James Anderson (book)

Lord Burford was sure that lightning wouldn't strike thrice, when his wife persuaded him to have guests at Alderley, his stately mansion.

Their beautiful home had been the scene of not one but two murders. It was ridiculous to think it could ever happen again. His beloved Aunt Florrie had died in London and had expressed a wish to be buried at her deceased husband's former home. So he agreed to hold the funeral at the nearby chapel and then invite the mourners back for refreshments.

Soon, the twelve beneficiaries of the will were the only ones left at the gathering, and they would have to stay the night, as the will could not be read until the barrister arrived.

So there they all together under one roof, and what the barrister revealed in his sonorous voice, was shocking to many of them. But first they had to fulfil a last request of Aunt Florrie's and sing 'She'll be coming round the mountain'.

To those looking for a gentle murder mystery, this is a light and entertaining read very much in the tradition of Agatha Christie,. Mr Anderson, who died in 2007, only wrote three like this but they are all just as good. 

Title: The affair of the thirty-nine cufflinks.

Author: James Anderson 


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.
  
    


02 April, 2017

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart


Every once in a while I pick up a children’s book and after reading it leaves a lasting impression on me. Lily and Dunkin is one of those books.


Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a transgender girl trying to fit into the eighth grade. Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbet Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved down to Florida with his mother. Both teens are going through a challenging period in their lives. Both of them have secrets they are good at hiding. One summer morning, the two of them meet and their lives change forever. This unlikely friendship starts out with uncertainty and as the story progresses the reader gets to witness the immense bravery, kindness and love that revolves around these characters.

Donna Gephart writes this story in the two distinct voices of Lily and Dunkin. We are able to see not just the amazing characters they each are, but also the inner turmoil and anxieties they go through. Donna Gephart has created an amazing book which moved me immensely and opened my eyes to the world of these extraordinary young people. I find myself having a better understanding and acceptance of the issues facing transgender teens and those who suffer from mental health issues. It’s also very humbling to learn that the character of Dunkin was based on Gephart’s own journey with her son.

Out of all the books I’ve read so far, this story with its intricately woven plot lines and vivid description, taught me of the importance of identity, the love and support of family and staying true to what one believed in.

A truly inspirational and moving story, but more suitable for older ‘tween’ readers!


Author: Donna Gephart

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. 

29 March, 2017

This is what a librarian looks like : a celebration of libraries, communities, and access to information for all by Kyle Cassidy

So what does a librarian look like?

This book is the result of a project that involved taking photographs of
American librarians and recording their impressions and views about libraries and their importance in today’s communities. The photos are interspersed with chapters about some notable American libraries and essays by authors, including Neil Gaiman, Jude Devereaux and Cory Doctorow.

It illustrates how libraries are being used now along with visions of the future, and really highlights why we need good libraries and dedicated library staff. There is huge diversity in the people featured in this book but they all have the common values of tolerance, acceptance, and concern for their communities.

I liked the way the text is broken up by groupings of photographs which I found made it easy to read and kept it interesting. The portraits are of a high quality and manage to show the individuality of the subjects. The way the photographs are laid out is also pleasing to the eye, with its mixture of small and full–page portraits.

Although this is about American libraries, the issues and concerns are the same worldwide. Our policy-makers could learn a lot from this, as libraries seek to affirm their value in our societies.

And to answer the question - there’s no such thing as a typical librarian!



Title: This is what a librarian looks like : a celebration of libraries, communities, and access to information for all.
Author: Kyle Cassidy

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.

21 March, 2017

A brief history of creation : science and the search for the origin of life by Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II



In the beginning… soup, or something along those lines. If I were to explain how I got from beginning to soup, it would probably take me many volumes, lots of mistakes (and some motivation), so there is something to be said for explaining the history of creation and how we came to that point in the space of 250 pages. This book does an admirable job and covers as much ground as possible, from Anaximander of Miletus’ theory of humans forming inside fish creatures to the work of Oparin-Haldane.

I enjoy my history a lot and though my mind fades to mush most of the time while reading about science, I do enjoy trying. This book grabbed me quite quickly with its readable narrative style, where the journey to the present day on the question of life is filled with 'heroes' and 'villains', instead of a straight chronological onslaught of theory. 

Interesting historical twists and fascinating science do abound, but I found the portrayals of the personalities involved most gripping, with such historical heavyweights as Darwin and Voltaire, alongside lesser knowns like biochemist Sidney Fox and the overlooked English chemist Rosalind Franklin. These people are brought to life with stories of their struggles, hits and misses.

Before you know it, the book is finished and the history of an important part of life is sitting lightly in your lap. Don't expect to come away diploma hardened, just happy that you know a little bit more about a very important subject.



Author: Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II 

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W has often pondered the history of creation and evolution. But lately it has taken a back seat to the creation and evolution of optical disc packaging and why, after 30 years, CD cases are still so rubbish...

20 March, 2017

Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame

Written in 1963, Towards Another Summer is one of Frame’s works that was not published during her lifetime. At the back of 2007 edition (three years after Frame’s death), Pamela Gordon, the author’s niece, thanked the board members at the Janet Frame Literary Trust for “sharing the responsibility for the decision to offer this manuscript for publication”. She noted that the text was “too personal” to publish during the author’s lifetime. 

Meanwhile, no matter how true to life the novel may seem to Gordon, who was not only aware of Frame’s life story through the other texts (whether or not one can trust them) but knew her in person (same question), Towards Another Summer seems to work perfectly well as a piece of fiction.

Protagonist Grace is a 30-year-old New Zealand writer living in London. She accepts an invitation from a journalist named Peter to spend a weekend at his place in the north of England with his wife Anne and their two small children. Due to her excessive shyness, Grace struggles to communicate with her hosts, hides from the kids whenever she can, feels uncomfortable and seeks privacy:

- I don't suppose you mind, having a couple of kids swarming around?
- Oh no, Oh no!
Grace wondered if her heart hadn't sunk through the floor of the taxi. There's still time, she thought wildly, there's still time to escape… 

The narrative shifts in time, looking back into the protagonist’s childhood in New Zealand, and is constantly interrupted by her expanded views on truth, literature and identity.  

Longing to belong and have an identity, Grace stubbornly claims to be “a migratory bird, not a human being”, insisting one can be anything (so why not a bird?), the notion of identity is fluid, always changing and that its borders are blurred.
  

Author: Janet Frame

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.

17 March, 2017

Our souls at night by Kent Haruf

The night can be a very lonely time for widows and widowers. The day may be busy with friends and chores but after the sun has set each is alone in their own home.  She may have a profound thought, he may have a humorous anecdote that has just come into his mind, but they have no one to share them with.  It is a given that you don't disturb other people late at night just for a natter.
Addie comes up with an audacious solution to her loneliness problem, she invites her neighbour, Louis, to spend nights with her.  After initial surprise, Louis agrees and trots over to her place with his pyjamas and toothbrush in a paper bag. It becomes a regular thing and, of course, gets noticed in this small town.
This might just have been a sweet tale of elderly romance, but there is a bite to this tale too in the social control that their adult children attempt to exert on Addie and Louis.

Title: Our souls at night
Author: Kent Haruf


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. 



Night song of the last tram: a Glasgow childhood by Robert Douglas


It takes a village to raise a child, they sometimes say. Here is a perfect example. 

Growing up in a one room ‘single end’ flat in a Glasgow tenement, Robert Douglas describes his life. A loving mother and abusive, philandering and thankfully, often absent father, are the blessing and the blight of his life respectively.

The tight-knit community of Maryhill is where Douglas grows up and hangs out with his friends. The adults keep a casually watchful eye and look out for each other. The local cinema affords him many blissful hours, there is a favourite Italian café and it is a nostalgic time of tram cars, lamplighters, pawnbrokers and the joy of simple pleasures like joining the local library and being able to read for free! 

Set during and immediately after the Second World War, Douglas takes us through his childhood and teenage years until the age of 16 when his beloved mother tragically dies of cancer.  

Although the story of their life together is in some ways very sad – there is poverty, wife beating and drunkenness and a marked inequality pervades the society of the times; it is also filled with happy and fun-filled moments. 

Characteristic Scottish humour and strength of spirit shine through the honest and unpretentious writing.  And if, like me, you enjoy the sounds of Scottish English, you will love hearing them in the words. 

There is a sequel to this memoir called Somewhere to lay my head, which begins when Douglas is forced to join the RAF after his mother’s death. I haven’t read it yet but it seems that once again, the author uses his remarkable memory for people and places and talent for telling stories to utterly charm the reader.

Title: Night song of the last tram
Author: Robert Douglas

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.

15 March, 2017

The penguin lessons by Tom Michell


Juan Salvador is one amazing penguin.  First he survives an oil slick that poisons and 
drowns all of his fellow Magellanic penguins, then he contrives to be rescued from a beach in Uruguay by a young English teacher. Tom, the teacher smuggles him into the classy apartment where he is staying and cleans him with a mixture of butter, margarine and detergent in the bathroom.  Halfway through this process Juan Salvador realizes that this human is making him feel better and stops his frantic and vicious struggling. It's easy to imagine the state of the bathroom by this stage!
Juan Salvador (named as a nod to Jonathon Livingston Seagull) is also gregarious and adaptable, essential qualities for a penguin who after his rescue and clean up becomes a much-loved resident at the boarding school that employs Tom.  He learns to eat dead fish from hand, toboggan down stairs and swim in a concrete pool without crashing into the sides.  

TitleThe penguin lessons
Author: Tom Michell


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. 

10 March, 2017

Rajesh Khanna

In the seventies, I was a young girl and Rajesh Khanna was the superstar of Bollywood films and a very big name in Indian (Hindi) films. His smile lit up his whole face and his fan following was the kind that only very few people could dream of. The hysterical fan following he had was unbelievable and he had young teenagers writing letters of love in their blood to show their devotion to him. It was bizarre.
However, the heavy workload and an erratic lifestyle of late nights, alcohol and unhappy relationships took its toll. Rajesh Khanna was slipping from his perch at the top of a high pinnacle. His fan following started changing and new faces started becoming more famous on screen. Rajesh Khanna the king could not understand how he could put it right. He married a very talented actress, Dimple, who was very young and one of his ardent fans. This relationship later fell apart, although they had two daughters whom he adored.
In the latter part of his life he was lonely and happiness eluded him as he hankered for the good old days. Until the end he remained true to his love of acting.
I, for one, enjoyed his acting and will always remain his fan. I am sure there are others who thought the same and this book will bring back forgotten memories.


Title: Rajesh Khanna 
 Author: Yasser Usman

Reviewed by Kanchan T, Blockhouse Bay Library

Kanchan is a library assistant at Blockhouse Bay library. Reading is her passion and the library is just the place she loves being in.

08 March, 2017

The fifth season by N.K. Jemisin

I love reading fantasy because of the freedom of imagination and exploration of the 'what if' type of ideas you can get. I like to read something new and this book gives it to you in spades.

Set on an alternative Earth (or is it our Earth, far in the future?), ironically called the Stillness. Stillness is subject to frequent seismic and volcanic activity and periodically has cataclysmic near extinction events called Fifth Seasons that keep humans on their toes. Evidence of past civilisations litter the planet, giving you tantalising glimpses of the past. It is not surprising then that in a world like this people who can control the kinetic energy of the earth (orogenes), would be either feared and killed, or controlled and trained to use their skills to avert disaster (under the shackles of Guardians).

The book follows three narratives on different timelines that at the beginning don't seem to match up, but it makes so much sense in the end. We have:

Damaya, a child who has been cast out by her family because she is an orogene, and her Fulcrum Guardian, Schaffa.

Syenite, a young woman who still wants to excel in the regime permitted for orogenes through the Fulcrum, and her assigned mentor, Alabaster.


Essun, a mother and orogene who has lived in hiding for years and now travels in the aftermath of disaster in search of her daughter in the company of a strange boy named Hoa. 

It does take a while to get into the story because you are figuring out the world as you go along, but it is worth it. The writing is beautiful and the world building is superb. N. K. Jemisin has created a innovative and unique world that feels very real. A fantastically rewarding read.


TitleThe fifth season
Author: N.K. Jemisin

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

27 February, 2017

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

As part of my reading resolution for 2017 I have challenged myself to try new authors. Too often it's easy to get into a groove with our favourite authors (and genres) and overlook all the other amazing books out there just waiting to open our hearts and minds.

This is how I came to read Dear Mr. M by Dutch novelist Herman Koch, a dark crime novel which weaves a sinister tale, taking the reader through a maze of alternating perspectives and shifting timelines. The central story concerns the forty-year mystery of a schoolteacher who vanished into thin air one winter's day. Part crime novel, part observation of the darker undercurrents of the human condition, this novel takes patience, so savour it as you would an exquisite five-course dinner.

It's not a fast crime caper but if you like crime novels that build with a slow turn of the screw, such as The Talented Mr Ripley, then you'll like this.

None of the characters will win your heart, rather their narcissistic egos and almost brutal cynicism make them hard to love, which is why the truth hides so well in the shadows until the final twist of the tale.

A worthy read that dances to a slightly different beat than your average crime novel. This book will appeal to any reader looking for suspenseful read!

Title: Dear Mr. M
Author:
Herman Koch
Reviewed by Jo C, New Lynn Library

Jo C is a librarian at New Lynn Library. She loves a good crime thriller, dark dystopian tales and anything left of centre. Her favourite authors are Stephen King and Margaret Atwood.
Jo C's reading pledge for 2017 is to read more non-fiction and try new authors and genres!

The paper garden: Mrs Delaney {begins her life's work} at 72 by Molly Peacock

Intrigued by the botanical painting of an opium poppy on a black background, I opened this book and entered the extraordinary life of Mary Delaney, only to be astounded to discover that the poppy is in fact an intricate collage made from coloured paper.

In 1772, this remarkable woman at the age of 72 embarked upon a project of creating 1,000 flowers in this manner. When in 1783 poor eyesight forced her to stop, she was only 15 creations short of her target. Her ten-volume Flora Delanica is now held at the British Museum.

Mary’s aristocratic background meant she had the good fortune to mix with stimulating company. Her friend the Duchess of Portland owned one of the best natural history collections in the country and Jonathan Swift,  Sir Joseph Banks and the King and Queen of England were among her acquaintances. She received specimens from the Botanic Gardens at Kew and had also seen many specimens that came back from Australia on Cook’s Endeavour.

Amazingly, I had never heard of her or seen any of her creations before stumbling upon this biography.

Title:   The paper garden: Mrs Delaney {begins her life's work} at 72
Author: Molly Peacock

Claire S enjoys reading biographies.