An Evening with Lee Child – Friday 23 November, 7pm – WORD Christchurch

CoverLee Child has just released his 23rd Jack Reacher book – Past Tense – and I can hardly wait to get my hands on it. The only thing that could possibly be better, is attending ‘An Evening with Lee Child’ – but you also won’t be surprised to hear that this WORD Christchurch event is already sold out. With a drawcard like bestselling author Lee Child having a chat with local author Paul Cleave – it’s no wonder! There was much seat bouncing and skiting to anyone who would listen when I heard that I would be going to see the creator of the Jack Reacher series in the flesh. It is almost like being in the same room as the great man himself – and who wouldn’t want to be up close and personal with someone like Jack?

Lee Child is one of an elite group of authors of whose work I have read in its entirety – and eagerly anticipate his next offering. This doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, I agree; but I am actually one of those librarians who don’t read many books. Blame the alluring pull of technology, being time-poor and feeling like it is taking my work home with me. But for another tale about Jack, I will always make an exception.

With 23 books under his belt and more than 40 short story anthologies, Lee Child has been giving his imagination and typing skills a serious work out over the last 21 years. His books have been bestsellers and he’s sold well over 100 million of them all over the world. From a librarian’s point of view I can honestly say that they are rarely back in the library long enough to actually get shelved.

Now I can see how this is a wee bit like teasing you all given that the event is actually sold out – but don’t despair. You can put your name on the waitlist according to the WORD Christchurch website – so you might be in with a chance! I on the other hand will be there with bells on and will let you know what you missed from the comfort of your lounge room – so watch this space!

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Annihilation

I’ve done it again. I’ve stumbled on to a book with a premise that really intrigues me and then leaves me floundering with more questions than answers. This drives me crazy. Other people love this book. I love answers. Fully committed though, I launched myself upon the movie when it turned up on Netflix.

More confusion as the writers took another turn with the story. My frustration now consumes me, but at least there was some resolution in the movie. But what is this story that managed to evoke such a range of emotions? Read on…

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Annihilation is the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s  Southern Reach trilogy. Southern Reach has control of Area X. This is an area of land that has apparently inexplicable changes happening to the environment, people and animals that live or have lived within it. Southern Reach has been sending teams into Area X for 30 years and up to this point, there has been a very high failure rate. One by one the teams either go crazy, kill themselves or return a shell of their former selves. Nothing stays untouched by the environment inside Area X. I say ‘inside’ but in reality there is no visible barrier that separates the real world and the one that is evolving inside Area X.

Southern Reach have decided that for their 12th mission it is time to send forth an all-female team consisting of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor and a biologist. They remain nameless for the duration and the chasm that exists between each of them is palpable and one wonders if it is deliberate. The very experiences that should bring them together are ripping them further apart due to an underlying distrust. Encounters with the inexplicable and alien continues the downward spiral as they search for answers.

Then my mind wanders and I can’t help but wonder, “Only 12 expeditions in 30 years?” That doesn’t sound quite right to me. History dictates that in our desperate need to find reason where there is none, we would have bombarded the area with specialists and most of all, military. Certainly not fluffed around so that there was more than 2 years between missions while Area X steadily grows larger! And the questions continue.

Hopefully you do better than me in your search for answers. Maybe you don’t need any and are happy to just immerse yourself in the possibilities alone. More than likely I gave up far too easily and just need to get stuck into VanderMeer’s next two books in the Southern Reach series, Authority and Acceptance and keep searching for those elusive answers.

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Alternatively try something completely different, if you gave up like I did:

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Strange weather: Four great reads in one

Previously, short stories have always been studiously avoided by me and I admit now, I might be guilty of misjudging them. Given that I always feel quite time poor you would think that short stories would rate quite highly with me, but this has never been the case. Until now. Joe Hill’s Strange Weather is an excellent collection of four short stories.

This is what you can look forward to:

Rain – America descends into chaos with sharp glass icicles raining from the sky with lethal results to those unfortunate enough to be caught outside. Of course it doesn’t take long for the vagaries of human nature to emerge and for polar changes to happen in people that used to coexist quietly together.

Strange Weather

Loaded –   Extra marital affairs, mental health issues and guns are never a good combination. America has a rather large gun problem and Loaded quite neatly flips between the pros and cons of easy access to guns while dealing with these issues. Like me; you may find yourself wishing that the good guy had a gun to hand by the end.

Snapshot – The story of a teenager that finds himself being threatened by the owner of a futuristic device that can steal aspects of a person’s memory with the click of a button. He has seen the loss and heartache that it causes to his old housekeeper and finds a way to prevent this from happening to other people.

Aloft – Imagine going skydiving for the first time. In addition to the terrifying thought of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good plane; you crash into a solid ‘cloud’ that can anticipate your needs and wants to keep you. And your only way off is to jump.

I had to stop myself wanting to know too much about why and how these things happened. That’s not what these stories are about. They are about ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary circumstances that change their lives forever. And they are really well written.

The best part about discovering an author that you really like is finding out that they have written plenty of other books for you to get your teeth into. Joe Hill is the author and co-author of several novels, graphic novels and short stories so why not try some of these other titles by him?

image_proxy[8]Cover of Road RageCover of The FiremanCover of Locke & Key: Heaven and EarthCover of NOS-4R2

And what about some short stories by other authors…

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Strange Weather
by Joe Hill
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473221178

Armistice Day – Will you remember them?

Now more than ever it is important that we remember. As we approach the 99th anniversary of Armistice Day, on Saturday 11 November, it is good to reflect on the enormous sacrifice of our forebears, lest we ever find ourselves at war again.

Armistice Day – Wreath Laying Ceremony
Bridge of Remembrance, Christchurch. Saturday 11 November

  • 10.45am Gather with the veterans if you wish to walk in the procession up to the bridge for the ceremony.
  • 10.50am Viewing public gather for ceremony at the bridge.
  • 11.00am 2 minutes silence will be held.
Crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating Armistice Day. Head, Samuel Heath, d 1948 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-007108-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22898377
Crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating Armistice Day. Head, Samuel Heath, d 1948 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-007108-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22898377

I grew up in Australia and I can still remember being told at school to sit in silence for a minute – and not fully understanding why. This followed by many silent but awkward looks around the classroom as one and all struggled to either remain silent; or willfully goaded their classmates into doing something that they would be reprimanded for. It wasn’t lost on me that it was out of respect for people that had fought in the war but what that means to me now is vastly different to what it meant to me then.

Fortunately, most of our children today have very little concept of war and the suffering it brings; as it is something far beyond their living memory. Even their grandparents are now the baby boomers rather than coming from a generation that lived through either of the world wars. Maybe because of this, you get the sense that recent years have seen a decline of recognition of such solemn occasions as Armistice Day. I honestly can’t recall a time in the last few years that I paused at work to mark the moment. With all of us attending to busy lives, 11am has simply passed without comment from everybody in the vicinity. And this is rather sad.

Armistice telegram. Kete Christchurch. Armistace_telegram.jpg
Armistice telegram. Kete Christchurch. Armistace_telegram.jpg Creative Commons License

I think we need to bring Armistice Day back into the spotlight. I think it would stand us all in good stead if we do have timely reminders of the loss, misery and horror that war represents. So let us not forget, let us always remember, let us instill these values into our children so they can lead the way for theirs.

Come down and see us at the library and we will be more than happy to share our numerous Armistice Day resources with you. Then gather up your loved ones and head over to the Bridge of Remembrance on Saturday 11th November. Arrive in plenty of time to get a good spot where you can share in this solemn occasion and quietly reflect at 11am for a minutes silence.

Lest we forget…

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Armistice Day

How not to ‘Halloween’…

Love it or hate it, Halloween is upon us once again. Today it is a vastly different experience than the one that the Celts traditionally celebrated. For them it marked the reaping of the harvest, the end of summer and an opportunity for the dead to cross over to the living world and scare the daylights out of everyone. Sounds like great fun so far!

For us however, Halloween has become an attempt at recreating what is largely a Northern Hemisphere celebration – with Southern Hemisphere seasons, beliefs and inclination. And more often than not, if we try to emulate what we see on TV we are destined for disaster. So here is a cautionary tale of ‘How not to Halloween’. Sadly parts of this aren’t as fictional as I would like them to be.

CB249_PUMPKINS_JCKT_RVSDLet us think for a moment… the pumpkins will have only just been planted and won’t be ready until around Easter next year. So now we will have to attempt to carve something sourced from the local supermarket. We pick out a nice Crown pumpkin and overlook the insipid grey colour and lack of grandeur. Beggars can’t be choosers. All it needs is a scary face carved in it and a candle to highlight your excellent pumpkin cutting skills. You take your sharpest knife and start to cut the top off what is arguably the toughest skin on any vegetable available*.

image_proxy[1]After you get back from the doctor, you decide that it is probably wise to do away with the carved pumpkin as you can’t afford to lose the use of your other hand. You may still be able to salvage it as a Halloween decoration however, as it is now rather realistically covered in blood.

Meanwhile, your kids are dressed up in the scariest costumes you could find at the local Opportunity Shop and are already dreaming about the sheer weight of the lollies that they hope to get. They wonder momentarily if that pillowcase is going to be big enough.

Leaving Hubby home in charge of the lollies; you venture forth into the bright sunlight with a handful of ghosts and witches in tow for the trek around what you thought was a friendly neighbourhood. How wrong you were. You find yourself greeted by grouchy people who can’t even fake being nice for the kids. They love to point out the error of your ways for daring to try and experience what is largely an American custom. Others will wander openly around their living room while your kids knock on a door that will never open. Some will go to the trouble of putting out ‘No trick or treaters’ signs to save you the energy of knocking. I like these people. We each know where the other stands.

Cover of The Halloween encyclopedia

Of course it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is the occasional legend that will gush over the kids costumes and hand over a lolly or two. But after an hour and a half of what amounted to a crushing failure; we head home defeated. I console the kids with the fact that if we’re lucky, their dad won’t have eaten his way through the entire bowl of lollies at home. It has been a rather disappointing experience. The kids don’t understand why their Halloween bears little to no resemblance of the ones that they have seen on TV. Let’s be honest – it’s still won’t be dark for another hour or more.

When we get home we find that the only other people that have come around trick or treating were teenagers who didn’t bother to dress up. And when my daughter finds out that they made off with her plastic skeleton that I’d propped next to the ‘bloody’ pumpkin; she probably won’t forgive me.

Cover of Halloween book of fun

I know that there are houses somewhere that are re-enacting their version of Halloween – I’ve seen the lollies disappearing from the shops. Maybe next year I’ll save myself some time and heartache and just ask them where they live. At least then we can be assured of a guaranteed result!

So if your kids are begging you to join into Halloween this year, you think you can avoid these amateur mistakes and you are looking to earn some easy brownie points; here are some books to help you achieve this.

Cover of Halloween activitiesCover of Halloween crafts Cover of Ghoulish get-ups Cover of Twisted cakes Cover of Trick or treat

Or try our –

And safety first!

*Try softening the pumpkin in the microwave first. I may have learned this the hard way!

A WWI story in letters: The Last Maopo

I find myself drawn to diaries and letters that record a soldier’s experiences of World War I. They are often intelligent, interesting and informative; and diary entries in particular can paint a vivid picture of what these men had to endure. It is never far from my mind that more often than not they chose to go to the other side of the world to stand side by side with strangers to defend the Empire and ‘see some action’. But I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of experience Māori had compared to Pākehā. They were just as eager to travel to the other side of the world and fight for Empire and country as their Pākehā counterparts.

But the Māori contingent were up against it from the beginning. Initially the Government wouldn’t allow them to fight at the front line due to the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi preventing them from participating in a European War. Concession was instead made for Māori to provide garrison, engineering and construction duties to support the war effort. However, it wasn’t long before they became the reinforcements as the allies suffered heavy losses.

This is how I found The Last Maopo by Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson. This is the very moving story of Wiremu Maopo and Phoebe Prentice – separated by war and the misguided intentions of her parents; they were destined to live out their lives apart. They were having a secret love affair while living at Taumutu, prior to Wiremu leaving for war, and he sadly would never know that he had fathered a little girl with Phoebe.

Cover of The last Maopo

Phoebe’s parents effectively stole her daughter Marjorie Joyce from her and had her adopted out to a loving family. It would be many years before Phoebe was reunited with her daughter as she never stopped looking for her. The tragedy is that Wiremu never knew he was a father and Phoebe never searched for him either as she was told that he died in the war. Wiremu wrote letters to Phoebe but never heard from her as they were destroyed to sever the connection she had with him, so he assumed that she had lost interest. She married 2 other men in her lifetime but maintained that Wiremu was her one true love.

The Last Maopo is their story – brief as it was. It is the result of 20 years of research by Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson. She pieces together peoples recollections, historical facts and Wiremu’s letters home to long time friend Virgie Fincham, from the more than 3 years he spent on active service. Their friendship and correspondence continued after the war when Wiremu returned to New Zealand to recover from a bad bout of pneumonia. Over the years his once large family had diminished until only Wiremu and his sister remained. Sadly she also died far too early which left him, as far as Wiremu knew, the last of his family line.

This makes it all the more fortuitous that events aligned to once again bring the Maopo family line into being. What an incredible gift to have the letters of our ancestors bring your family’s heritage to life. This is a very poignant book to take on but well worth your time. In addition to the personal story it is wonderful to see the high esteem the Māori Pioneer Battalion were held in for their bravery, work ethic and good natured camaraderie. If you are like me and enjoy reading historical diaries and letters, why don’t you try these:

 

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

y648This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.

Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.

There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?

Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.

The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)

The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:

  1. A Waltz for Matilda
  2. The Girl From Snowy River
  3. The Road to Gundagai
  4. To Love a Sunburnt Country
  5. The Ghost by the Billabong
  6. If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Cover of A waltz for MatildaCover of the girl from Snowy Riverimage_proxy[3]Cover of To love a sunburnt countryCover of The ghost by the billabongCover of If Blood should stain the wattle

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753118

Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars

In the hunt for Iolanthe Green, Anna Treadway takes you through a simpler time in many ways, with a notable absence of all the technology and urgency that dominates our existence today. This is what I found quite charming about the book – stepping into a time where you seemed to survive on tea and toast, your entire wardrobe could fit in one bag, you walked to get from A to B and you felt wicked if you stayed on the bus beyond the stop that you had paid up to.

I definitely had preconceptions before reading Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars – as we all do when we read the blurb on a book. I was expecting a really gripping mystery that would take me behind the scenes of the theatre district – so that I could literally peek behind the curtain of a world that I’ve never seen. This didn’t quite transpire, but I wasn’t disappointed because instead I was taken on a tour of 1960s Soho. But even this was secondary to witnessing some of the less pleasant aspects of life and relationships in this time.

Miranda Emmerson does a great job of highlighting the multitude of social issues that reigned during the mid 1960s. The story winds its way through racism, social hierarchy, police brutality, unplanned pregnancies – a time with some very big restrictions on personal freedom as abortions and gay relationships would both still be illegal for a couple of years. My overactive sense of fairness left me continuing to hope that the characters Anna and Aloysius would stand up and rebel against their treatment and segregation – and in small ways they did – but ultimately they were somewhat resigned to their place in the world. Ahh the frustration!!

Now this kind of book isn’t normally my cup of tea as I prefer to escape from the ugliness of our world when I read – or at least know the characters will have a win somewhere in the mix; but I still found it quietly entertaining and feeling very grateful for the rights that I was born in to!

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Miss Treadway and the field of stars
by Miranda Emmerson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008170578

Spontaneous!

CoverAs touted on the cover of Spontaneous, this is “A novel about growing up… and blowing up” – and it didn’t disappoint.  I love a good YA read and this one caught my attention from the outset as I pondered the outrageous thought of teenagers spontaneously blowing up in front of their classmates.

Initially I felt a bit like I was peeking into a world that wasn’t my own. It was something akin to looking at my daughter’s Facebook or Twitter account and reading things I either didn’t know – or didn’t want to know – about her life. So I take my hat off to Aaron Starmer for realistically getting inside a teenage girl’s head. I might also add that at this point I am fervently hoping that my 15 going on 16 year old daughter’s life bears little resemblance to Mara’s. Hey! – I can live in my happy naïve little world – it’s fun here!

Thankfully this feeling didn’t last and I was pulled in by my need to know ‘why’. Now I won’t say that why kids were blowing up was answered to my satisfaction as the ‘why’ became more of a side story to the ‘how we live with this and don’t let it define us’ one.

Spontaneous takes the reader on a quite personal journey with Mara Carlyle as her classmates start blowing up randomly and her life changes as they all become the centre of much speculation and trepidation from the community and country at large. But what happens when this anomaly doesn’t differentiate between friend or enemy? And how do you stay sane when you don’t know who is going to be next or if you will have to suffer the horror of witnessing yet another classmate spontaneously exploding? This is the challenge that Mara and her graduating class have to work through while trying to hang on to even the smallest amount of normality to keep them grounded.

Now despite the obvious serious aspect of Spontaneous, it is written in quite a light-hearted way. My favourite bit of levity would have to be the ‘hang in there, we’re with you’ pep talk from the President of the United States – I’m still chuckling just thinking about it, so watch out for this one!

I did end up quite enjoying this book but I also think that any teenager will find it infinitely more relateable than I did. There’s plenty of swearing, raging hormones and a distinct lack of need for adult supervision. A teenager’s dream come true, really.

Spontaneous
by Aaron Starmer
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753149

Remembering Richard Pearse 1877 to 1953

My name is Richard William Pearse and today it will be 63 years since my death. You know me because I was one of the first people in the world to fly a powered aircraft. Some of you even believe that my flight preceded that of the Wright Brothers and you would be right, it did by several months.

Richard Pearse 80 cent stamp
Richard Pearse stamp, 1990. Image used by permission of New Zealand Post.

But many years ago I conceded quite publicly that by my own rigorous standards I hadn’t achieved controlled and sustained flight. It was quite a ride though when I did achieve take off and stayed in the air for over a hundred metres before ‘landing’ atop the large gorse hedge that bordered my property in Waitohi. My collarbone and I fared about as well as my plane did when I hit the hedge and we were both the worse for wear afterwards.

So while I could obviously get my plane in the air I needed to set about solving the problem of aerial navigation. Despite my work, this is where my well funded counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere had the advantage until finally as I wrote in the Evening Star on 10th May 1915;

…as aerial navigation was already an accomplished fact, I decided to give up the struggle, as it was useless to continue against men who had factories at their backs.

But other events would also define my life. In 1910 I became very ill with typhoid and spent three months in bed and a further six months convalescing. It was with particular significance that only a couple of years later Wilbur Wright died from the same illness. I moved to Milton, Otago not long afterwards to farm sheep and took my designs and aircraft with me but the landscape was unsuitable for trial flights. I put my efforts into inventing farm machinery instead.

Richard Pearse Patent Drawing1906
Richard Pearse’s Fantastic Flying Machine, drawing from Richard Pearse’s patent, July 1906 [patent number #21476], Archives New Zealand (CC BY-SA 2.0)
In 1917 I was conscripted into the army and was placed with the Otago Infantry Regiment. I am 40 years old and despite enjoying walking the hills around my home and playing golf and tennis; I am unprepared for the toll army training will take on me. It soon became apparent that the typhoid had left its mark and I was eventually found to be physically unfit for further military service and discharged. I was home by the end of 1918.

By 1921 wool prices were plummeting so I decided it was time to sell up and I relocated to Christchurch. Here I eventually purchased three houses, two of which I rented out and lived off the proceeds so that I could continue my work. I dreamed of a plane in every home, but this was not to be. As time passed and my work continued to reside in relative obscurity; I became unwell and lived out my years at Sunnyside Hospital. I died here on 29th July, 1953.

But in a strange twist of fate my work lives on and is celebrated today. The recognition that eluded me in my lifetime has been heaped upon me in death. My utility plane and my years of research were discovered at my Christchurch home and a dump in Waitohi with thanks largely to my champion George Bolt. A replica of my plane was constructed in the mid 1970s, it toured the country and is now on display at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology. They even tested it in a wind tunnel to see if it would fly. Unsurprisingly, it did.

Richard Pearse's Aeroplane No. 1 replica, MOTAT, Auckland, New Zealand, 5 April 2010 photo by Phillip Capper
Richard Pearse’s Aeroplane No. 1 replica, MOTAT, Auckland, New Zealand, 5 April 2010 photo by Phillip Capper (CC BY 2.0)

More information on Richard Pearse