I do not like Fantasy, I do not like it Anywhere

But I’m reading Fantasy novels and worse (despite my carefully nurtured prejudiced convictions) I’m really getting into some of it. How the heck did that happen? I mean, Lord of the Rings was a once read and never watched. I gave it a go though and never got round to reading Harry Potter and don’t feel the need.

Enough! You get the drift I am not a fan, so how is it that the cover of Ben Aaronovitch‘s fantasy novel Rivers of London was constantly appearing either at the returns desk or on the shelves at different libraries and became a siren call? Great cover obviously, and the blurb on the back suggested humour and magic, contemporary and a mystery. So I gave in, read it and loved it.

Here’s a taster of the start. PC Peter Grant a probationary constable, looking likely for a placement in the Case Progression Unit (shuffling paper, not real copper work) is guarding a murder scene on a cold London night. His fellow PC Lesley – supposedly guarding the other side of the square – has gone for coffees when a strange looking geezer sidles up to Peter whispering that he knows whodunnit. Something about him makes Peter pretty sure he’s a ghost and when he vanishes at the sight of Lesley with the coffees he knows he’s onto it.

The next night he’s back in his own time, to see if there’s any further signs of spooks. No ghost but he does meet his future boss, Inspector Nightingale the last Wizard in England. Don’t be put off by the wizard bit, Aaronovitch makes the magic stuff seem perfectly normal and the upper Echelons of the Force use Nightingale and Peter when necessary but no-one’s allowed to use the M…. word. Rivers is written with lovely satirical wit and great imagination. Highly recommended.

shades of greyAgain with humour, and a suitably bizarre idea of a future, post apocalyptic world is Jasper Fforde‘s Shades of Grey. We of the here and now are “those who went before” and the leadership’s cunning plans including “great leaps backward” leaves this colourtocracy carless except for a Model A, severely short of spoons and with acronyms forbidden.

But there’s more rules of course and your status is defined by being able to see the higher end of a particular colour spectrum, purple denotes a higher social standing. Our hero Eddie Russett (sees red) has been banished to High Saffron due to a variety of misdemeanours. Depending on the results of his upcoming colour test though, he is destined to marry Violet.

But then he meets Jane, a Grey and with her smarts and attitude. It dawns on him that all is not as well as he thinks in a world he considers just and fair and has never questioned. A highly entertaining read. Ever since I read this I’ve been checking to see where the very slow to follow up Mr Fforde is with the sequel. He’s left a whole lot of us waiting impatiently for a good follow up to an original that’s got a nice tight plot, is cleverly satirical and laugh out loud. I may even read it again. In fact I know I will.

Book tea and tales with Jenny Pattrick – Community Read

Community Read kicked off yesterday at the Library at  Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre – Book chat, tea, and tales with bestselling author Jenny Pattrick. Jenny and her husband Laughton sang a little number especially composed by Laughton for the book launch of Heartland.

As much as I hate the expression “where else would this happen”  it still crossed my mind.  Jenny  read excerpts of the book including the last chapter and answered questions from Roberta Smith, the chair.

Facts:

  • Jenny has never belonged to a book club.
  • Manawa is based on a small town where she has stays frequently and where her son lives.
  • The three elderly Aunts and their tragic family story of soldier brothers was based on her own Great Aunts and family.

Although I have never lived in rural New Zealand Jenny Pattrick had me busting to read the book every spare moment.  To follow Donny Mac, the Virgin and the small number of character locals who permanently live in the dying community that is  Manawa. A very New Zealand story from a strong New Zealand author.

There’s more to come tonight and tomorrow, for adults and kids alike:

Jenny Pattrick’s Heartland brought to life by the Court Jesters – Friday 19 August 7pm to 9pm at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

Experience Jenny Pattrick’s book Heartland brought to life by The Court Jesters.
Drinks and nibbles from 6.30pm.
Find out more.

Storytime for Songbirds with Jenny Pattrick – Saturday 20 August 2pm to 3pm at  at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

Join Jenny for a special interactive, toe-tapping storytime featuring the enchanting The Very Important Godwit. Fly in with the whole family to enjoy a musical storytelling extravaganza!
Find out more.

Community Read

Heartland

Cosplay and Comics at Papanui Library

Love reading and drawing your own comics? Do you want help with your drawing, assistance with your technique and tips on comics, publishing etc and a free comic? All of this for no charge? Right then get yourself signed up for our free comic drawing workshop at Papanui Library with Spencer Hall, artist/cartoonist. The workshop is for ages 12-18, registered attendees only and a limit of 30. We won’t let you go hungry either, there will be pizzas from Hell.

comic book day posterThere was a waiting list of disappointed young cartoonists last year so don’t delay, break out the light sabers, shake out those capes, slap on the face paint and come dressed as your favourite comic book/Manga character and be in for a prize.

International Free Comic Book Day is on Saturday 7 May this year but our event, which will include free comics courtesy of Comics Compulsion, will be on Saturday 21 May.

The selection of free comics this year ranges from Dark Horse to Archie to Strawberry Shortcake to Titan’s Assassins Creed to Love and Rockets. Something for all tastes.

To see what you might be missing check out last year’s pictures.

Meanwhile back at the library our comic book collection grows apace. We have comic books about Men who dress as Bats, Women as Cats, Green Men, muscly men, and animals that talk, Bart Simpson and Adventures, Mysteries, Funnies, Scareys, the lot. I was delighted to see Scrooge McDuck, nephew Donald and the Beagle Boys make a comeback in hard cover. Made me quite nostalgic for my young reading self.

Calling all Book Fiends – to the library book sale

slowThe Annual Christchurch City Library Book Sale is on again.  It’s book buying time again. Yeehah! Diary 11th/12th March and remember the tables are constantly reloaded, so going after work doesn’t mean you miss out. On Friday, they close at 7 pm.

I thought when I started working in the libraries that my mania for reading, borrowing and owning books would calm down … it has, a smidge. Nowadays I keep myself for the one book sale a year. Last year I promised Mr Bishi that I would restrict myself to non-fiction as we still haven’t read some of the fiction I purchased a couple of years ago and all the bookcases are bulging. The look of disbelief and the resigned note of his voice were uncalled for I felt.

Undaunted I headed for Pioneer Stadium and the travel and cooking sections and with neck crooked at a suitable angle and decent sized box ready at my feet I went searching. I was hoping for Slow by Alison Gofton a really good slow cook book I had borrowed but desperately wanted to own. Found a copy too! … And all the other books that tickled my fancy of course.

On one of my many raids at the Library Book Sale I noticed the woman in front of me was picking up the very books I would have gone for if she hadn’t been in front of me.  What to do? We had words … nice words. Turns out she too worked on the eyecatching ways of my sort of cover unless she knew and liked the author already. We agreed to trawl different aisles. It seemed to be the most civilised outcome.

Big bargain book sale

CoverThe magazines are so cheap, worth buying just for the sudoku and crossword puzzles that haven’t been done because our customers respect that it’s a borrowed item and the articles of course. 10 for a dollar I call that excellent value. CDs, DVDs $3. Get that book the kids love that you constantly borrow but would love to own for $1.

And if you are a Friend of the Library (subscriptions in by 28th February) you get to go to the Sale Preview and pre-purchase and help your Libraries at the same time.

In the meantime, will I see you at the world famous in Christchurch Annual book sale? Do you have this thing about owning books as well as borrowing them? Don’t be ashamed you are not alone. Come to the sale and see just how many of us there are.

Like the Library Book Sale event on Facebook for updates.

November 17th was World Premature Birth Day and I missed it…

Cover of Just A Moment Too SoonThank goodness though I can scrape into World Prematurity Awareness Week, well, I could if I lived in Australia. My awareness is only due to my thoughtful library colleagues alerting me. You see, they have lived vicariously through the birth of my little grandson at 24 weeks and 5 days gestation. Also through the trials and tribulations he and his loving parents are still experiencing, so you understand why I am writing this blog late rather than never.

The Empire State Building was lit purple for World Prematurity Day. I think that gives you an idea of how big an issue “early birth” is and how the numbers are increasing worldwide. 15 million babies are born early every year. Some very early; some just a few weeks early.

The stress for them and their families is unimaginable. They are so very tiny and apart from the fight for survival they could potentially suffer brain bleeds, necrotising enterocolitis, heart malformations, bowel malformations, visual and hearing impairment, lung disease or learning disabilities. They also grow considerably more slowly outside the uterus and frequently take some years to achieve the growth rate of their peers.

Cover of Coming Home from the NICUMy grandson Ari, classed as “just viable”, was born weighing 700gms which is one and a half pounds of butter to those who struggle with baby weights in metric as I do. He was also born in the U.K. and we live in Christchurch, New Zealand, adding to our stress time and again over the following tense months. Waiting for communications from our daughter’s partner; trying to find out how he was… What happens now apart from the obvious breathing tube down his throat, wires attached to him all over (there wasn’t a lot of all over to attach them to either), incubator, etc?

For the mother there is also the sense of loss of pregnancy. She may grieve for what should have been a time of blooming and pleasure. No more sickness, just a blossoming baby. When the due date of baby arrives it is frequently a day of tears.

Cover of Ready for AirFortunately for all of us Ari is a wee fighter which is as well as he has chronic lung disease. This means he is still on oxygen and still in hospital at 5 months old – his actual age – but if you consider he was due in mid-September and it’s now mid-November, he is 2 months old.

The library was a good source of information, both in terms of what to expect and of the biographical aspects of premature birth.  It was good to be able to read heart warming stories of babies who survive their traumatic starts, grow into stroppy teens and healthy adults.

Were you a premmy?  I have met so many adults who were born early, but you would never have guessed it.  Have you been down this road within your family?

Bonjour, Ciao, Buenos Días!

A few years ago we had the chance to spend two weeks in a friend’s very basic cottage in the Bourgogne. The opportunity of pretending to be French or at least pretending to live there? Heck, yes. The house had no electricity and a few inside/outside issues. One being the hornet community that had recently crowned a new Queen and were very busy making babies and a new home on the gnarled antique beam above our bed in the attic. What was wrong with some nice fresh air circulating round the nest, boys?

The sole tap and loo being outside was nothing like as big a problem as Queenie and the crew turned out to be. One of them managed to get their revenge and stung me rather painfully in the armpit. Fair do. The local volunteer fire brigade who came in their shiny brass helmets and 2CV Citreon truck (Ooh la la) had removed the nest and its occupants, but failed to rid us of some very confused boyos.

Undeterred, we gave our all in the name of science; we tested the quality of the products of local pâtisseries and boulangeries and caused a bit of GBH to the ears of the local populace with truly awful French pronunciation and grammar. Bliss. Two weeks was enough for the waistline but not for the soul.

Cover of Driving over LemonsSo then of course the “Why don’t we up sticks and move to France/Spain/Italy” mood took over. I mean, plenty of people have done it. Chris Stewart for one. Chris was briefly the drummer for Genesis in its infancy, but his Dad said there was no future in the band and he needed to get a real job and possibly a haircut too. He didn’t listen to his old Dad and being an itchy-footed sort of bloke he travelled, developing his drumming skills in a circus, learning the guitar, and working, amongst other jobs, as assistant pig man.

This turned out to be his epiphany: he loved farming! Decided Seville in Spain would be a good place for a guitar playing, agriculture loving young man and his girlfriend. Driving Over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree are his first two books on their life in Spain and to my mind the best. We get to know the area, the lifestyle of the locals, mostly farmers, the history and the poverty of the surrounding area and Chris and Ana’s endeavours to survive and make the farm work financially.

Jamie Ivey and wife Tanya had the let’s ups sticks etc moment… while holidaying in France, enjoying some lovely Rosé. They believed they could see an opportunity to set up a small wine bar selling only Rosé wines. Now those of us who have read Peter Mayle‘s A Year in Provence will know that the French excel at bureaucracy and their civil servants can thwart the best of us. Starting with Extremely Pale Rosé I have followed their trials and tribulations from my armchair.

Cover of Vroom by the SeaPeter Moore makes me green with envy. In Vroom by the Sea, Pete, an Australian, tootles around Sicily, Sardinia and the Amalfi Coast on Marcello, an orange with white “go fast stripes” Vespa 1972 Rally 200. We’re most of us suckers for nostalgia; the Italians, it turns out, are no different and love Marcello. On a scooter there are no barriers to stopping and chatting to the locals, smelling the garlic, the sea, experiencing life. Another one for the bucket list.

Working, as I am so fortunate to do, in most of Christchurch’s libraries, I get to see a lot of travel books. I find it so hard to go past them if the cover/blurb looks remotely interesting. Do you travel vicariously as I do? From your armchair with a good book? Or have you broken free once, twice or altogether?

The Northern Frights

It’s wintertime and darkness is falling
Crime is thriving and the body count’s high.
Your neighbour’s dead
and your boss is in prison
So hush your mouth or you might die.

Cover of Last RitualsThis pretty much covers it if you read or watch Scandi Noir (Dark Scandinavian fiction) which, unlike those early raiders from Northern Europe, has quietly snuck into our consciousness. The translators have been busy and we’ve got Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish books and DVDs on our shelves for those keen to part company with their wits. Up to now my fave mystery writers have been British for a bit of the dastardly, but I love a bit of scarily dark and god knows these people seem to spend a lot of their time in deep blackness, so no wonder they’re good at maliciously murderous moments mostly occurring in the long, long nights. These days it’s Håkan Nesser, Jo Nesbø, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Karin Fossum, Åke Edwardson that have me peeking through the curtains, locking the doors…

Cover of Frozen TracksStieg Larsson‘s Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc) were the books that initially took me over to the dark side. In Swedish unsurprisingly the original title was Men Who Hate Women. Undoubtedly nasty, but utterly readable and unputdownable. There is a good reason they shot to number one in the bestseller lists. The main character, Lisbeth, a survivor, does her damnedest to balance out the injustices done to women in this series. I was rooting for her the whole way through. They’re violent but I still fully recommend them if you haven’t already been tempted. This despite being a complete wimp who would normally hide under the bed from such fiction.

Cover of The Girl with the Dragon TattooIf you don’t mind subtitles (and the brain adapts remarkably quickly to reading the screen and watching at the same time), The Killing could keep you awake for a while. But for me The Bridge is the best. Only two series so far. A body is discovered on the exact half way mark on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark, which brings in a police team from each country. Good characterisation of the cops and the villain, and the storyline moves well with twists enough for me to have accused all and sundry of being the murderer. I’m hoping like mad there will be a third. Excellent entertainment.

Not scary, but equally entertaining is a Danish TV political series, Borgen. Never dry, it’s a behind the scenes machination of several political parties and their leaders jostling for the best position and attempting to form a government after an election too close to call. Birgitte Nyborg, leader of one of the small parties, becomes the first woman Prime Minister of Denmark. A tough job and hard on the family life and relationships. She is dealing with crises, making policy, pondering who to trust, and handling the media. It certainly rang bells as we watched our various small parties jockeying to be the party that joins the big guys in Government. Compulsive viewing once you get who’s who, and what they want, sorted out.

Do you like your books and viewing slightly chilling and grisly? Is your current reading and watching becoming a bit tame? Fancy seeing something of Scandinavia (mostly in the dark)? Check out these titles and let me know what you think. Any other books / authors in the Scandi Noir genre that you’d recommend?

Scratch and grab

Cover of Chicken Whisperer's Guide to To Keeping ChickensWhen I told various people we were thinking of getting a couple of hens they assured me we would love having them. My thoughts were more along the lines of: chooks = garden turned over and manured = eggs. Not ‘chooks – I’ll love having them in our life’.

The first few nights of the fat bottomed girls being in residence in the coop involved our flatmate climbing into the coop, showing the girls where the roosting bar was and physically lifting them into place. A new ramp was made, the f-b girls learnt to motor up it in no time and the flatmate went back to having a life.

Cover of Dirty ChickWe are quite besotted with the big footed raiders already, but due to space restraints we’ve stopped there. Otherwise there would be a couple of pigs grubbing around somewhere as per Antonia Murphy, author of Dirty Chick. She moved to New Zealand from the US, her pipe dream being to have a bit of land, some chickens etc. Things get a bit out of hand and ever so slightly stressful as her stock wander the neighbourhood amongst other things. Let’s say she takes to country life with gusto… I wouldn’t say she calmly bestrides the chaos, but she copes with great humour and I am quite envious of her menagerie.

Cover of The Chicken ChroniclesAlice Walker on the other hand had been raised with chickens for eggs and meat and finding herself living in Mexico realised they were missing from her life. Enter Gertrude Stein, Babe, Glorious, Rufus and Agnes of God, turning her thinking to the interdependence of humans and the chickens. The Chicken Chronicles is more a memoir of a journey.

Meanwhile at Chez Bishi, and I can’t say we weren’t warned, Camilla and Priscilla have been escaping their carefully established playground away from my vegetable gardens and been caught scratching and grabbing with the odd guilty glance over the shoulder and then running away when in danger of being put back in the playground. The kids would never have got away with what these two chicks manage.

Are you thinking of taking on some egg laying devices? Still sitting on the roost perhaps? Afraid you might find yourself clucking round the garden with small feathered friends in tow? Take the plunge: you’ll be in good company.

Chook lit

The children are adults and left the coop so we thought we’d fill it with chooks instead. I blame my gardening hero Janet Luke – she who has quail, rabbits, miniature goats, bees and ducks at her place. That’s eggs, meat, milk, honey and more eggs. Not sure if she has started killing the ducks yet, but she knocks off the bunnies regularly and is working on a nice fur blanket. She also has a standard size section as opposed to our large allotment sized property.

Cover of Backyard ChickensAfter the mad measuring of space available for potential chicky coop, I turned to library books on chicken coop design.

Alas, despite much considered research, this aspect has proven to be the downfall of Ma and Pa Bishi’s chicken farm. Neither of us thought it through until it was too late and the girls were proving that the darn thing was too high and the pitch of the roof too sharp and they really weren’t all that fussed about going to bed up there, never mind laying their eggs in the right place. Like good new parents we were concentrating on things like chicken selection, rearing, diseases, food etc. and “can I give up some of my vege garden and can we actually squeeze in a two-chook-coop?”

Unfortunately (or fortunately from his point of view) Pa Bishi was the builder and a very proud builder was he! This was his contribution to family history, an ‘A’ frame chicken coop. In the days before the girls moved in he was frequently to be found at the window staring admiringly at his handiwork. Alterations were obviously the answer and major ones at that, but male pride was on the line here. So how to broach this delicately? I don’t know, I’ve never done delicate approaches. But !#@!&#!! seems to have done the trick.

Cover of The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping ChickensTo date one ramp with grips and a ground level entry have been added and Priscilla the partying chook has shown the cowardly Camilla how to do things when it’s bedtime. Camilla is a bit slow and so far has been physically put on her roost each night. She doesn’t seem to mind and somehow they both get down each morning. I’m a nervous wreck from worrying about the girls and Pa Bishi’s feathers are ruffled, but he’s carried out the necessary alterations to Chez Chic.

Do you manage to successfully keep chickens? Wish you could? Like the concept but afraid to put it into practice? Check out the books above – they are really helpful. The girls are lovely and cluck away in our garden and one day I won’t worry about them at all.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In my case it wasn’t Ms Woolf but her namesakes. After all I’d been raised on European children’s literature and these critters featured a lot. Admittedly never in the Secret Seven or Famous Five, but I had a fertile imagination and the night time was when those boyos promoted themselves to driving cars and generally getting round on two legs. Leading to a terrified wail in the night.

Cover of Phobias or The Way of The WorrierFears, irrational or otherwise – a lot of us have them. Fear of spiders, arachnophobia. Why and when did spiders produce such fear in some of us? Robert the Bruce wasn’t turned off from his close encounter, far from it. And of course there’s “aratnophobia”. I’ve seen someone clear a metre-high-plus bench top in one leap, to escape a rat. Needless to say the rat was legging it in the other direction equally as terrified. In his case quite rightly, as he bought it in the end and she came down off the bench.

Then there’s Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, which reduced parts of a generation to a jellied mess whenever a large flock of starlings or similar gathered nearby.

Cover of Freeing Your Child From AnxietyIt has been suggested that one in six of us suffer depression or a chronic anxiety disorder and there are plenty of books in our libraries on the subject that would suggest this might not be too far off the truth. In Phobias or the Way of the Worrier Tim Weinberg looks at the range of phobias – from common to bizarre. He examines scientific and psychological research to make sense of this strange world. And he shares his own journey in overcoming his fear of heights.

Anxiety, fears and phobias are not all limited to adults either. Freeing Your Child from Anxiety has easy, fun, and effective tools for teaching children to outsmart their worries and take charge of their fears.

Christchurch City Libraries have Conquer Your Fears and Phobias for Teens currently on order.  Holds or reserves can be placed on this book now.

Nerves and butterflies are fine — they’re a physical sign that you’re mentally ready and eager. You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that’s the trick. ~Steve Bull