It is about this time of year that the Selection Team starts getting notification of what items are coming out for the Christmas market. Recently we attended an evening where publishers presented their choices for Christmas high flyers.

Cover of Leaving TImeJodi Picoult was top of the list with her new title Leaving Time. It was billed as one of Jodi’s most powerful and affecting novels yet… This seems to the general hype for all her books so it will be interesting to see what she comes up with in this tale of a daughter searching for her missing mother.

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly sees the return of Harry Bosch. We were informed as an aside  that Michael Connelly is the nicest man you could ever meet!  I’m not sure what this has to do with the quality of his writing, but it was oddly nice to know.

Russell Brand, famous for his quick wit and even quicker marriage to Katy Perry, has produced a children’s book called Trickster Tales: The Pied Piper of Hamelin. I thought it looked great and will probably be buying this for someone – if not for myself.

Cover of Working StiffThe festive season always requires an uplifting tale of  triumph against the odds. Long Shots is a New Zealand title of inspiring sporting heroes and Love Without Limits follows on with the story of Nick Vujicic as he meets and marries his soulmate. “If you can’t get a miracle become one – no arms no legs, no limits”.

Two doctor stories feature this year: Working Stiff, the memoir of a young forensic pathologist, and Being Mortal, a doctor looking at death, dying and medicine. Not my idea of a light Christmas read, but there you go.

Cover of River Cottage Light & EasyChristmas reading wouldn’t be the same without the obligatory cooking books. River Cottage Light & Easy features a slim line Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on the front cover. I think I prefer him hairy and chubby. There are also two expensive titles, Sepia and Organum, that were presented as “cookery books that you would never cook anything from”. Seems to defeat the purpose of a cooking book, however they did look pretty.

For the history buffs amongst us, Queen Victoria features in The Queen, Her Lover and the Most Notorious Spy in History – “an unbuttoned history of Queen Victoria’s loves and intrigues” – and in the less salacious Victoria: A Life by the respected historian A. N. Wilson.

Two of my favourite children’s authors feature this year.  Libby Gleeson with The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present and Alison Lester with Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach. Both look great.

Which of these titles would you like to find in your Christmas stocking?

Luscious Lemon DessertsI love dessert! Sweet, delicious dessert! Chocolate raspberry torte… New York cheesecake… spiced pumpkin crème brûlée… even good old rice pudding — I love them all!

Dessert is my favourite thing about going out for dinner, but somehow the fates (usually in the form of fractious children) always seem to conspire against me. On the rare occasions that we do go out, more often than not, we end up having to go home without dessert.

The absolute worst meal out was the time Mr K and I were invited out by The Boss. It was the first time we’d been out sans kids since Miss Missy arrived in our lives (would it sadden you to know that she was 2?). Herculean efforts had gone into arranging a babysitter and negotiating sober transportation. You’d think since we had no kids I’d have a good chance of getting dessert, wouldn’t you? Well, think again!

I’m vegetarian, so my menu options tend to be a little limited. On this occasion, I was pleased to see that I could order a pizza…that is, until I realised that at this restaurant “pizza” actually meant “oversized-cracker-with-a-smear-of-sauce-and-a-meagre-sprinkling-of-cheese.” It wasn’t exactly unpalatable, but it certainly wasn’t satisfying! Towards the end of our meal Mrs Boss suggested we order coffee, which sounded fine until she said with finality “Since we’re having coffee, we won’t want dessert.”

Book cover of Modern Art DessertsSay what!? Since when does “let’s order coffee” mean the same thing as “let’s not order dessert” ?? Like I said: Worst. Meal. Ever. (Except the time I had a caterpillar in my dinner, and then got charged for it…but that’s another story!)

I was thinking the other day that fancy dinners without dessert are rather like books with bad endings. Even if the dinner was delicious (or the book was great) if there’s no dessert at the end of it, you just don’t feel satisfied.

I have just finished reading three books in a row with endings that I found completely unsatisfying. One was too ambiguous, one made a horrid character even worse, and one was just so sad. This got me thinking about conclusions and how important it is for authors to get them right.

Slow Waltz in Cedar BendFor me, the literary equivalent of “cracker-pizza-and-no-dessert” is Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend by Robert James Waller. It’s been years since I read it, but I can still remember how thoroughly disappointed in the ending I was! We’re talking intense-desire-to-hurl-the-book-across-the-room disappointment. I can’t really remember much about the story, except that the main character was chasing after the beautiful and exotic Jellie (I couldn’t help thinking of a packet of Gregg’s Jelly crystals) who had mysteriously disappeared. Except that she hadn’t mysteriously disappeared! When he finally finds her, it turns out she’d just gone to India to visit family, just like she did every year! What the heck?! If you’re going to write a mystery, you’d think you’d include an actual mystery in it, right? All that suspense, all that build up, and then… no dessert!

The Stag and Hen WeekendI had high expectations of Mike Gayle‘s The Stag and Hen Weekend. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his books before, so I was pretty excited when I found it on the shelf. I really liked the way he told two sides of the same story. Helen’s friends were rather like a string of paper dolls which I could barely tell apart, but I didn’t let that bother me because Helen and Phil were such great characters. Sometimes it’s good to read a book about decent, ordinary people, with regular, everyday sorts of problems. Seriously, I could not put it down. I had to know how everything was going to work out in the end. And then… he didn’t finish the darn story! I felt sooo ripped off!! This book was a great meal, where the waiter brought me a dessert menu — and then whipped it right out of my hands. If you like a good love story where everything works out at the end, and the couple who should be together end up together, then don’t read this book. It’s not that the wrong people end up together, it’s that you don’t know who ends up together! Mike Gayle himself says he hates ambiguous endings

What’s the point of reading all the way through a novel just to be told the ending “might be this or it might be that?”

I couldn’t agree more!!

So tell me, what’s on the top of your “books with bad endings” list? Do you agree that the ending makes or breaks a book? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Cover of Daughter of Smoke and BoneI kicked off a very full weekend at the WORD festival with some good old oral storytelling. Listening to stories read aloud is one of my earliest memories and my memories sitting in early intermediate school captivated by The Giver and terrified by Goosebumps are much easier to recall than what we learned in class afterwards…

Creating Young Adult Worlds was a great session, with five authors writing for young adults reading aloud from their work. Karen Healey, Laini Taylor, Meg Wolitzer, Elizabeth Knox and Tania Roxborogh gave us all a taste.

Laini Taylor read “the most embarrassing” chapter from the first book in her incredible fantasy trilogy Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in which art student Karou gets a satisfying revenge on her ex-boyfriend. The passage went from hilarious to heartbreaking in the space of a sentence, and included some pretty excellent life advice from a monster:

But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles–drug or tattoo–and…no inessential penises either.

Karen Healey read from a short story ‘Careful Magic’ which will appear in an up-and-coming anthology Kaleidoscope. Within minutes she crafted an intriguing magical world and a few really fascinating characters that I can’t wait to read more about. Kaleidoscope is a collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories featuring diverse characters, from disabled superheros, time-traveling Chinese-American figure skaters, to transgendered animal shifters. It’s is not in our library yet, so while you’re waiting why not catch up with Karen Healey’s other novels and short stories?

Elizabeth Knox read a passage from her historical-fantasy novel Mortal Fire, based in Southland, an imaginary country similar to New Zealand, which will be known to readers of her Dreamhunter series. Mortal Fire won the New Zealand Post Book Awards this year for best Young Adult Fiction. The story features some really interesting characters, though my favourite is Canny, daughter of a war heroine, Pacifica maths whiz and stubborn as anything.

“People get over things, cultures don’t.”

Cover of Mortal Fire Cover of Third Degree Cover of Belzhar

Tania Roxborogh read from the 2005 novel The Third Degree. The story is based on the author’s real experience of being badly burned when she was young and strongly features her relationship with her mother. Though the story begins when main character Ruth is starting university, many of the themes will be familiar to anyone who had to spend time in hospital as a child. There were some excellently gruesome medical scenes!

If I had to choose out of the five, I’d say that I am most excited to read Meg Wolitzer‘s new book Belzhar. I couldn’t describe it better than Karen Healey did in her tweet:

Intrigued? We have Belzhar on order so get your name on the waiting list!

Find these authors on our catalogue:

WORD Christchurch

Sydney Bridge Upside DownTwo of my favourite things about literary festivals are: to hear authors read from books, and to find out what their best loved reads are. Reading Favourites was a WORD event that ticked both those boxes for me.

The three authors were Kate de Goldi, Sarah Laing and Carl Nixon and they were asked to name their two favourite New Zealand books. Guy Somerset hosted this event, which he wistfully billed as being: “like an Uber Book Group without the wine or cake.”

Kate de Goldi chose:

Sydney Bridge Up-side Down by David Ballantyne, a book about which she confesses to be somewhat evangelical. Published in 1968, it is a book that “keeps finding its readers”. It was, according to de Goldi, way ahead of its time.

Kate’s second choice was Welcome to the South Seas by Gregory O’Brien, a book de Goldi classifies as Creative Non-Fiction. It is a book that awakens the child in you, that grandparents buy for their grandchildren and end up keeping for themselves. It has the artwork asking you the questions.

Cover of HicksvilleSarah Laing:

Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks topped Laing’s favourites list. She has read this graphic novel several times and never tires of its multi layered approach. With each reading she seems to uncover more and more.

Sarah’s second choice was From the Earth’s End – The Best of New Zealand Comics. Sarah reminded us that after the war, 47 comic titles were published every month in New Zealand alone and that libraries are the guardians of much of this early material.

Carl Nixon:

The Day Hemingway DiedCarl’s first choice was The Day Hemingway Died by Owen Marshall. It was the first book (at 18 years of age) that Carl remembers wanting to read as if he had discovered it all by himself. It has a very distinct tone, is the perfect illustration of character foibles and is laugh-out-loud funny – all at the same time.

Carl’s second choice was Gifted by Patrick Evans. He read a wonderful extract from this book about the meeting between Sargeson and Janet Frame, two people who never really understood one another at all, according to Carl. This book never received the attention that it deserved and Carl hopes that we will rectify that by getting out there and doing it justice.

This was a well presented, varied event in which the participants gave us a peek into their best-loved books. And, to top it all, it was free. That is correct, there were a number of free events at the festival, and the calibre of all events is very, very high. So, in two years time, even if the budget is tight and penury looms (and I do so hope this will not be the case), you can still tart yourself up, hitch a ride down to the Fest and recharge those tired old book-loving batteries.

See you there in 2016!

Karen Healey‘s first experience with Margaret Mahy came early, as a toddler.

There’s a photo of me — I must have been about 4 — reading A Lion in the Meadow, sitting on the toilet, wearing a raincoat and wellies. I’d obviously rushed in without bothering to take them off, but had made enough time to grab a book to read.

Cover of The CHangeoverIn contrast Elizabeth Knox first picked up The Changeover while working in a museum shop in her twenties. She had only recently started reading books for young adults again after a self-imposed diet of 19th century poets. (“I think Mahy would have got on very well with William Blake,” Knox adds.) The strong sense of family present in Mahy’s works, similar to those by Diana Wynne Jones, have made both writers firm favourites of hers.

Karen Healey:

I first read The Changeover when I was about 13 and it just blew my BRAINS out. I was so excited by this book, because Laura literally writes herself into being a heroine.

Laura’s strong, flawed character will be the core of the forthcoming Changeover movie, filmmaker Stuart McKenzie confirms. While some aspects of the book have necessarily been trimmed (including Sorry’s backstory and, much to my regret, librarian Chris Holly), McKenzie assures us that they have been pruned to allow better visibility of Laura and her story.

The film is set in post-earthquake Christchurch, updated from 1984. The transformation of the city echoes the various changeovers present in the book, from Laura’s physical change from child to adolescent to the changeover of the title.

Cover of Guardian of the DeadAnother strong character in the movie will be Carmody Braque, whose malevolent presence seeps through the book like the smell of peppermints — yet in the end the reader almost feels sorry for him. We get a glimpse of the person he might have been once, possibly someone quite similar to Laura. Healey admits to stealing the amoral nature of Carmody Braque, a character who decides his need to live overrides your freedom, for her first novel.

Braque is terrifying because you get the sense that he sees himself as quite reasonable. He turns up everywhere in various guises, whether as the patupaiarehe in Guardian of the Dead, or Laurel in Fire and Hemlock. In some ways they are utterly alien, yet there is the possibility in all of us to become another Braque. This role-reversal and exploration of the slipperiness of our sense of self is a theme throughout The Changeover, asking: When do we stop being ourselves?

The Great NZ Crime Debate and Ngaio Marsh AwardI confess to feeling a little weary sitting in my seat at 8pm, after a full day of thought-provoking sessions at WORD Christchurch. “You’ll have to take notes for me, I’m too tired,” I said to my neighbour, slumping over my bag.

Well, if I didn’t take notes it certainly wasn’t because I fell asleep, it was because I couldn’t possibly keep up with the fast-paced repartee and banter exhibited by all the debaters. Full marks to all contestants! Some may have lost the debate, but all were surprising, hilarious, bawdy, and full of snark and self-mockery. Joe Bennett was as always an entertaining MC, despite enduring much slander from both debating teams. (Who knew our Mayor had such a raunchy sense of humour?!)

Arguing the moot that crime doesn’t pay were lawyer Marcus Elliott, crime novelist Paul Cleave and amateur bank robber Meg Wolitzer.

The opposition put forward the idea that crime is profitable, headed by Mayor Lianne Dalziel (which seems a little worrying for Christchurch). Even more disturbingly, she had journalist Martin van Beynen at her side, with Timaru Police Notebook fan Steve Braunias bringing up the rear. As Marcus Elliott argued, if the government and the media are in cahoots, what hope is there for democracy? Luckily reason prevailed and crime was voted to not be worth the bother. Debate attendees are doubtless spreading peace and goodwill over the city even as I type.

Cover of Where the Dead Men GoAt the end we were privileged to hear the results of the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, winner being Otago lecturer and crime writer Liam McIlvanney for Where the Dead Men Go. A big congratulations to all the short-listed finalists, especially Liam McIlvanney, as well as a really big thank you to the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival organisers for creating such an entertaining event.

Book cover of The Were-nanaThe youngest readers weren’t forgotten in the WORD Christchurch festivities. On Saturday afternoon Read It Again! let five picture-book authors share their creations with an eager audience of three to eight year olds. Sheila Sinclair of Christchurch-institution The Children’s Bookshop chaired the session.

Melinda Szymanik read the NZ Post Children’s Choice award winner for 2009, The were-nana. Little sisters in the audience were positively gleeful at the morality tale!

Gavin Bishop brought a special guest: Teddy one-eye, author of an upcoming autobiography. Teddy one-eye was a dishevelled but very accomplished bear who taught himself to read over schoolboy Gavin’s shoulder. Gavin also shared the story behind Teddy’s tragic eye loss: as a youngster he admitted to his Grandma “I’ve swallowed one of teddy’s eyes.” “You’ll probably die.” was the reasurring reply. Happily, he’s survived long enough to read Stay awake, Bear!  to an attentive audience.

Charisma Rangipunga shared a song she sings to her children about a witch who lives in their wardrobe and tries to tempt them out of bed with lollies. Unfortunately for naughty children, the lollies turn out to be worms and the children are then forced to work in her dirty sock factory.

Book cover of Teddy one-eyeKristin Hersh read a story inspired by her son’s dislike of touring: Toby Snax. By the end of the story, lots of the kids in the audience would’ve been eager to head off for international adventures of their own.

Damon Young concluded the session with a continuum of ninja-knowledge and a rowdy reading of My Nanna is a Ninja, which he described as a “celebration of the fun of grandparents, the verve, the energy!”

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