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
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.

26 February, 2017

The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu: and their race to save the world's most precious manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Reading history books might seem a bore to some people but when you read about the recent past, history takes on a different, more relevant meaning. This amazing book covers events that took place not long ago, in one of the most unexpected places in the world - Timbuktu, the legendary city known for its rich culture and heritage.

The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu recounts the tale of Abdel Kader Haidara, a young adventurer and collector for a government library journeying across the Sahara and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts. His goal was to preserve these texts in a gorgeous library. As he worked tirelessly to fulfil this ambition, Al Qaeda showed up at the door.
The incredible story that follows tells of how this mild-mannered archivist and historian became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers as he saved these texts from sure destruction.

Joshua Hammer has done an amazing job, through meticulous research and interviews, in bringing this story to life. Some chapters might have more historical detail than others, giving readers a complete picture of the situation that arose in Northern Mali at that time. I would not consider this as academic history book, but a thriller. There’s suspense, intrigue and a heist that races against time - giving it a semblance to an Ocean’s Eleven movie!

I'd be lying if I said I hadn’t learned anything from this book. Not only did I become aware of the growing conflicts that citizens of Northern Mali had to live through, I also learned of the courage and bravery that ordinary citizens of Mali displayed in their struggle to protect and preserve the beauty of their rich culture.

An amazing and inspiring read for anyone who enjoys learning more of the world we live in today!

Title: The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu: and their race to save the world's most precious manuscripts
Author: Joshua Hammer

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. 

23 February, 2017

Rethink: the way you live by Amanda Talbot

This book exudes a certain something, a mysterious beauty, it is a  portent of calm and an invitation to create some breathing space. It works its magic from first sight, with its distinctive and beautiful presentation through to its carefully curated pages.

In a sea of average and standardised book format and presentation this book most definitely catches the eye. Few of my colleagues will have handled this book and been able to resist at least a cursory look inside.

Rethink  is, loosely speaking, a home and living book that promotes a certain type of living. Not one generic form or categorisation but rather a collection of thoughtfully assembled houses, rather beautiful in their starkness and simplicity. There is something about the mood, the clean lines of the houses presented.  Part of its allure is the angle of the photography and the way the light falls that just seems to work so beautifully together.

It is almost impossible to categorise what exactly makes this book so special and soothing to spend time in. Maybe it’s the collection of ideas, the celebration of the simple yet careful curation of beautiful materials, the magic of entering a book where the design is so well crafted it’s like wandering through a state of the art gallery. Or…could it be the antidote to life’s general busyness, the cacophony of  consumer messages screaming relentlessly? This book is like walking through a cool enveloping rain forest

It doesn’t matter if home and living style books aren’t normally something you would gravitate towards, trust me on this one, you will feel soothed and restored just by handling this book for however short a time.

I could wax lyrical and itemise the many ways this book stands out from the crowd yet I fear that would lessen the pleasure of ordering this book and laying eyes on it for the first time.

Title: Rethink: the way you live
Author:  Amanda Talbot

Recommended by Sue W,  Central Library
Sue W recently took drastic action to cull the house of fleas and although she is not certain who introduced them to the house, she is pretty sure Patrick the fox is in the clear. 

22 February, 2017

Cry heart, but never break by Glenn Ringtved

I have read a lot of children's books about death and grief (well over 200 at last count). A book has to have something special to make it stand out from the rest - or be horrendously terrible.

This book does not fall into the latter category.

What this is, is a beautiful and sensitive look at the importance of death as part of the balance in the world. Without death, we would not enjoy life.

The lesson is shared by Death (portrayed a la Bergman's The seventh seal movie / or the derivative Bill and Ted's bogus journey) in a touching - albeit mystifying to the children listening - allegory. 

Tissues may be needed. 

Other recommended picture books on death for 5-7 year olds:

Title: Cry heart, but never break 
Creators: written by Glenn Ringtved, illustrations by Charlotte Pardi, translated from the Danish by Robert Moulthrop.

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. 

21 February, 2017

I found you by Lisa Jewell

This is a story of two parts. Lily is a Russian woman married to Carl - who has gone missing. She has only been in England just over a week after they married overseas and she doesn’t know much about his life except he has a mother and a sister.

When the police get involved it turns out he doesn’t exist – his passport is false.

Alice lives at the seaside in Ridinghorse Bay with her three children from different fathers. She notices a man sitting on the beach all day and offers him a coat, then ends up inviting him to stay at her place despite concerns from her friends.

He has lost his memory and can’t remember his name so she calls him Frank. It seems he has trauma amnesia (‘can be caused by seeing or remembering something from past that has been repressed’) and all he knows is that he has gravitated to Ridinghorse Bay for a reason.

Alice and her friend Derry look into past incidents in the town to see if they can find anything that may be connected to Frank. As Alice gets to know Frank she likes him more and more but he is worried he might have done something bad and is reluctant to get involved with her and her family.

Interspersed with Lily and Alice’s segments is the storyline of a family in 1993 who spend their summer holidays at Ridinghorse Bay. The son Gray and daughter Kirsty meet up with Mark, a slightly disturbing young man who lives in a big house in the bay.

The story slowly unfolds and you get a get a bit more information with each chapter. It’s one of those books you just want to read a bit more of as pieces of the puzzle falls into place. Are things related or not? Who is Frank, really? And what does the family from 1993 have to do with it all?

This is a well-written mix of suspense, contemporary fiction, coming-of-age and romance genres with a surprising and satisfying ending.

Title: I found you
Author: Lisa Jewell

Reviewed 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.

13 February, 2017

The city & the city by China Miéville.

Every China Miéville book I have read has been brilliantly plotted. This one is no exception, a science fiction murder mystery with a twist. Set in two fictional East European cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma, which occupy the same space, and where citizens coexist by ignoring, or ‘unseeing’, one another’s cities and inhabitants. To attempt any direct interaction with the counterpart city in any way is a crime resulting in Breach, the powerful entity in the shadowy borderland between the cities that enforces their separation. This lends strangeness to a story which is otherwise a dynamic police mystery.

Detective Inspector Tyador Borlú from Beszel is called to investigate the murder of a female found on a patch of waste land where she has been dumped from a van. He learns that the victim is from Ul Qoma. A videotape comes to light showing the van arriving legally in Beszel from Ul Qoma via the official border crossing point, so Breach has not occurred, and Borlu must travel into Ul Qoma to pursue the investigation. When Breach occurs the transgressors, no matter what their motives or status, usually disappear for good, or are found with their memories wiped.

As Borlú delves deeper into his initial murder investigation, he gets drawn into whispered rumors of a third city, Orciny, which exists in the cracks between the two cities.

A novel highlighting the diversity, contradictions and societal taboos of humans living in cities. China Miéville is one of my favourite authors and I have nothing but admiration for his originality, and the way the complex plot is satisfactorily resolved by the book's end.

Title: The city and the city
Author: China Miéville.

Highly recommended by Lynda T, East Coast Bays Library.

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

12 February, 2017

Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame

Shall I start with a confession? Of all New Zealand writers I’ve ever read, Janet Frame remains my number one author, a true writer with the most distinctive, unusual and remarkable voice. However pathetic it may sound, such a feeling of admiration and respect totally overwhelms me whenever I come across her writing, whether it is an early or later novel, autobiography or correspondence.

This time it was her first and possibly most recognised novel written in Frank Sargeson’s hut in Takapuna where, after eight years in mental hospitals and over 200 electroshocks, she was fortunate to find some quiet place and time to write a book. The novel’s successful publication afforded her an overseas trip to Europe where in the next eight years she fully established herself as a writer.

Owls Do Cry is a story of one family in a provincial New Zealand town, reminiscent of Frame’s own family and the town she grew up in. It starts with some nostalgic images of the poor yet cheerful childhood of four siblings, soon to be clouded by a terrible accident involving the death of one of them. In the following chapters, we see the same characters as grown-ups, get to know and understand each of them a little better, think of what they became or did not become.

As a writer, Frame has been mostly praised for her use of language, experimentation with literary forms and ideas – the skills she had mastered so well over the years. Aware of her shy personality and solitary lifestyle, one would possibly not expect Frame to be a great people expert. Yet what struck me most, especially in this first novel, was her insight into and knowledge of personality types along with her deepest sympathy towards the nature of human suffering.

Title: Owls Do Cry
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.

10 February, 2017

The Dressmaker [DVD]

Adapted from the novel by Rosalie Ham, this Aussie film is set in a dusty, fictional town of Dungatar in the Australian outback. 

It is 1951 and the beautiful and talented Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), who was banished from here as a child,  returns, armed with her sewing machine and haute couture design skills acquired over the years in Paris. 

“I’m back, you bastards” she says, (ostensibly to care for her cantankerous and eccentric old mother) played by Judy Davis, but ends up taking sweet revenge on those who had wronged her. 

While she gets to work, outfitting the local women with fashionable frocks, she tries to find some light on a tragic incident from the past that she can’t quite recall. 

As she manages to reveal the town’s skeletons, we meet a raft of quirky characters from the cross-dressing police sergeant to the hunchbacked-wife-abusing pharmacist, the womanizing councillor and gossiping teacher.

Fellow outcast - the hunky, pure-hearted farmer Teddy (Liam Hemsworth)  lives in a trailer with his mother and mentally challenged brother fancies the at-first reluctant Tilly.  She falls in love with him but sadly he comes to a sorry end…

While the townspeople’s nastiness can be cartoonish and simplistic, with the tone shifting awkwardly at times from jaunty comedy to dark violent drama, there are some scenes that stand out as gems -  and some gorgeous costumes. Can’t say you’ll see another film like this one for a long time. Quite an original.

Directed by: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Starring: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving.

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.