Library sounds – a mid-year review

I’ve been exploring the CD collection available through Christchurch City Libraries this year and I’ve found some absolute gems!

There’s a mix of styles and eras in this list and quite a representation of New Zealand music – and it just so happens to be New Zealand Music Month.

So sit back and get some sonic stimulation from some quality musicians from around the world of music…

2018 – The Best of Music

List created by DevilStateDan

Music highlights for the year. Some are brand new, some are decades old but new to me, all are great!

Versatile – Van Morrison doing jazz interpretations backed by a very slick big band. It’s really well produced and if you’re new to the American jazz standards then this is a great way in!

Utterance – I love this album! It’s a collaborative effort between three on NZ’s finest musicians; David Long (banjo w/effects), Natalia Mann (harp), and Richard Nunns (taonga puoro). These flavours blend beautifully to create haunting soundscapes that are textural and dynamic – truly beautiful sounds from Aotearoa!

The Jazz Messengers – The first album from the group that went on to be the band that every jazz player wanted to be in. They’ve had some huge names in jazz through their ranks over the years and this is a great way to start their 40+ album recording career!

The Kitchen Table Sessions – Beaut, home-cooked alt-country from NZ’s favourite adopted daughter, Tami Neilson. Great country grooves and a lady with a voice of gold – what’s not to love!?

Preservation – Some more beautiful, lyrical, melodic songwriting from NZ’s Nadia Reid.

Second Nature – This is just how I like the Blues; stripped back, acoustic, you can just imagine it on the porch on a hot summer day… This father and son team recorded this album in single takes with no overdubs whilst they were touring Finland in 1991, and it’s a timeless and solid an blues album as you’ll find.

Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band – Charlie Watts (drummer for the Rolling Stones) gives it his jazz side on this album, featuring the big band of Danish radio. Some great jazz music here particularly the ‘Elvin Suite’ numbers. After that you get the obligatory big band arrangements of some Stones songs, beautifully arranged and executed but nothing terribly exciting musically.

Dog – Stripped back acoustic blues doesn’t get much better than this album of what I like to call “porch music” from Charlie Parr. Solid songwriting and a very real connection with the blues makes this a great addition to the genre.

Don’t Let Them Lock You up – New Zealand music is in good shape these days and I really like the creativity and superb musicianship that is on display on this album. They usually perform as a duo but the recording process has allowed them to expand on their ideas and grooves, implement new harmonies and percussion lines, and get really solid and funky! Great album!

Black Notes From the Deep – A great jazz album from the British multi-instrumentalist jazz legend Courtney Pine. Brilliant small ensemble playing and solid musicianship on display. I really liked the instrumentals – not so much the vocal numbers – but that’s just my preference. It’s good compositions played really nicely without arrogance or naff-ness. Jazz fans should have a listen.

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Recreational non-fiction – a mid year review

I’m a pretty avid reader and mostly I love good fiction, but this year I have made a determined effort to read more non-fiction, but not just any old non-fiction – what I was after was “Recreational Non-Fiction”!

After a great deal of library exploration, and some very, VERY dry encounters with some non-fiction authors and their writing, I soon discovered that I’m particularly drawn towards non-fiction that is;

a) interesting / informative (gotta love what you’re reading about, right?)

b) conversational (this is very important to me!)

c) about an individual’s own explorations on a subject (it’s great to go along for the ride while someone makes discoveries!), and

d) based on the natural sciences (that’s just what floats my boat I guess!)

And I’ve been building a list this year to keep track of the “recreational non-fiction” titles that I have really loved, and here they are along with some notes on each;

2018 – The Best of Recreational Non-Fiction

List created by DevilStateDan

These are my best titles for the year under the banner of “recreational non-fiction”. Most of these titles are new releases, some are from decades ago, all are great! I do have a particular liking for the natural sciences so most of these books will be on this topic…

New Zealand Geographic – I love this magazine for championing and celebrating all the good things in New Zealand’s natural world. Every issue is packed full of interesting scientific projects being undertaken, updates on the status of various endangered species, and how humans are impacting on the environment and what we can do about it as individuals.

Cover of Smith journalSmith Journal – This is a great periodical, full of insight, information, and learning opportunities. Stories about potentially world-changing initiatives mix with current trends in sciences, and the revolution of traditional crafts, all from around the world. Very entertaining read!

The Secret Life of Flies – Do you like chocolate?!?! Then you’re relying on the humble and, misunderstood fly – they are the only pollinator of the cacao tree! Shocking hey!? Flies have so much more to offer the environment than we realise. Have a read of this entertaining and informative book, it may change the way you view these annoying pests for good!

Curious Encounters With the Natural World – This is a masterpiece of recreational non-fiction! Written conversationally (like you sitting with the author at the pub over a couple of pints discussing the natural world!), hugely informative, and hilarious, this book offers a very real access point for those who don’t read non-fiction or find in inaccessible. If you’re interested in the natural world, here’s one for you!

Cover of The truth about animalsThe Unexpected Truth About Animals – Another brilliant book about some of the lesser known creatures of the Earth and their own particular nuances. It’s very easy to read and pretty funny, making the science really attractive and easy to digest. Great dinner party fact fodder!

Blowfish’s Oceanopedia – The story of the seas from the coast to the deep. This book is divided up into quickfire digestible facts on all manner of issues and powers of the most abundant ecosystem on the planet. A great read for lovers of natural science.

Cover of SpinelessSpineless – Juli Berwald really likes jellyfish and this book proves it! Follow her story as she travels the globe learning about the state of jellies in our oceans, how they are coping with climate change, and what’s leading to the huge and unpredictable super-blooms of jellies. There’s so much information in this book about this underrated creature of the seas that it makes you wonder why we know so little about such a successful and abundant animal. A solid, insightful, and entertaining read and I look forward to seeing her future work.

Cover of American WolfAmerican Wolf – Follow the committed souls who observe the wolf packs of Yellowstone National Park. Wolves have only recently been reintroduced to the wild in this region and careful monitoring has led to some quite simply amazing discoveries about the ecological balance of a region. But not everyone is so keen to have the wolves back and as we follow the pack that she-wolf O-Six we learn how hard it is to survive in the wild under diminishing environment and increasing threats. One of my books of the year, this one!

Cover of The soul of an octopusThe Soul of An Octopus – In this book we follow the author as she becomes increasingly enamoured with all things octopus! We get to share the experience of learning SCUBA and see first hand behind the scenes at the New England Aquarium – a facility dedicated to sea life and full of passionate and knowledgeable staff and volunteers. And throughout the narrative we think on the idea of consciousness and emotions in all life – did you know that fish dream?!?

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I’ll continue to add to this list as the year progresses and I have a feeling that this is only just the start of a beautiful relationship between myself and recreational non-fiction!

The Crime Scene – The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

There’s a new crime fiction author at work!

I’ve recently had the opportunity to read the debut novel from a new Irish-Australian author by the name of Dervla McTiernan. She’s from County Cork originally, but she’s a West Australian nowadays and has produced her first book. The Ruin is set in Galway and sits nicely in the noir crime genre.

It’s a great read! Entitled The Ruin, we see a Dublin city detective Cormac Reilly returning to his rural home town to take up a post in the local Galway Gardaí. He’s got some emotional baggage (of course, this is noir crime!) and is drawn back into a case from when he was first on the force – the death of an alcoholic drug addicted mother, and the institutionalisation of her two young children. It shifts to 2013 and the now-adult son has been found dead in the city river, but there are suspicions around what exactly happened. His sister (who has been working in the Australian outback) has returned to Ireland and slowly builds a case that the gardai refuse to engage with. With the help of her brother’s recently pregnant girlfriend and Detective Reilly searching from the other end of the investigation, they seek the truth, uncovering scandal, corruption, and small town parochial mindsets.

McTiernan writes with good pace, interesting character development, and a very strong sense of place – you may find yourself shivering as she describes the sideways sleeting of winter Galway! It’s a good blend between a police procedural and a whodunnit, all the ingredients are there, and she delivers a good read.

CoverThe Rúin sees a new addition to the noir crime genre, a genre that is ever-expanding and increasing in its quality as it incorporates new cultures and inspirations. It contains all the ingredients for good crime fiction; an unsteady detective, darkness and winter, a who-can-you-trust sense of uncertainty, and an intricate plot of twists and turns – everyone is under suspicion! And it got me thinking about countries outside of Scandinavia who are producing quality noir crime literature. We know the depth of Scandi Crime and there seems to be an endless source of sinister criminal imagination coming out of that region, but what about the rest of the world?

So if you like books like the ones listed, there’s a big chance you’ll like this new author and will soon be awaiting her next… and her next… and her next book!

CoverThere’s Scotland’s Ian Rankin; his Rebus novels have grown to unimaginable heights for crime fiction. They’re dark and disturbed, and feature a flawed detective barely holding on to his own sense of worth. A twisting plot line and some harrowing criminal acts

CoverAustralia has the recently deceased Peter Temple; The Jack Irish books (and films!) are first class crime fiction, offering a look at the dark underbelly of Melbourne, Australia. His use of language in particular make his characters very deep and believable, and his plots are twisting and his characters are never quite out of danger – exciting and full of regional levity. As the blurb says; “Melbourne in winter. Rain. Wind. Pubs. Beer. Sex. Corruption. Murder.” What’s not to love about that sentence!?

CoverHow about our own Paul Cleave? Who knew Christchurch could be such a hotbed for underworld sinister occurrences! His police procedural novels featuring detective Theodore Tate are gripping, dark, and give the reader a look into the fictionalised seedy side of Christchurch, New Zealand. He has written other stand-alone novels too and continues to produce dark and sinister stories to revel in from the comfort of your armchair.

There’s plenty of dark mystery set in and around our own region and for a first book The Ruin is a solid start, and should create a great foundation for the author to build on. I’m looking forward to more from her! Give it a go…

Slāinte!

The Ruin
by Dervla McTiernan
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460754214

An Easter music egg-stravaganza!

Easter approaches and you find yourself with some extra time for contemplation, relaxation, and resetting your spiritual clock.

How best to do this?

Personally I find music the best avenue for transcendental experiences so I have created a list of different options to share, for your ears, eyes, and souls!

And here it is…

An Easter playlist

List created by DevilStateDan

Some Easter-y music to enjoy on the long weekend… We have a wide range of traditional and not-so-traditional music here on this list, so happy listening to you – there may even be an “easter-egg” to discover somewhere in this list!

Let’s begin on a lighter and fun note with Jimmy Wakely singing “Peter Cottontail”. This 1950 Song Reached #7 on Country Music Charts in America and is sure to get your foot tapping while you ready yourself for the Easter season.

Cover of St Matthew Passion, J. S. BachSt. Matthew Passion – The masterpiece of baroque music, first performed on Good Friday 1727 in Leipzig Germany. It’s the story of the crucifixion – as according to the bible – and features beautiful baroque choral singing and stunning solo arias. Make Good Friday a good Friday with this piece!

St. Matthew Passion – And if you’ve got some musical skills and can pull a group of singers and instrumentalists together, why not give the piece a go yourself! This score is for soloists (SATTBB), two mixed choruses (SATBSATB), and two orchestras. Christchurch City Libraries has a large print music selection available for you to borrow!

Symphony no. 2 – What can you say about Mahler No.2 ‘Resurrection’ Symphony other than it’s moody as heck, excites conductors to a frenzied end, includes the most magnificent ‘musical death shriek’, and is an eternal piece of brilliant composition. Listen and you’ll agree, but is it an Easter piece…? You decide!

Cover of Mahler documentary on Access VideoMahler (Documentary) – Want to know more about the crazy musical genius oddball Bohemian, Gustav Mahler? Try this documentary available to stream for free through your Christchurch City Libraries membership.

Le lamentazioni del profeta geremia per il mercoledi santo – Thomas Tallis is super-important in early music history and is celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest ever composers. He straddled the times of change as HenryVIII was revamping the church in the early 1500’s Tallis proved quite adept at pleasing both sides of the believers (catholic and protestant) both stylistically and exaltedly! Have a listen to his magnificent choral arrangements!

Eight Classic Albums – And here’s a surprise inclusion but I couldn’t resist – an Easter-Egg if you will! On one of these eight classic albums the great Gerry Mulligan meets the great Ben Webster – a coming together of jazz saxophone to play the tune; ’18 Carrots for Rabbit’. Happy Easter!

Handel’s Messiah – And to finish off lets watch a live performance of Handel’s Messiah – the mightiest of all Easter pieces!

^DevilStateDan

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Vale, Peter Temple (& Jack Irish)

It’s always a sad day when you hear of the death of someone whose work you have appreciated over the years. For me, this time, it’s Peter Temple; Australian crime author who died from cancer at his home in Ballarat on the 8th of March, 2018 at the age of 71.

Peter Temple was born in South Africa but immigrated in 1977 due to his anti-apartheid political stance. He moved to Germany at first and then two years later he arrived in Australia and began on his journey to becoming one of Australia’s great writers – and it was lucky for Australia!

CoverCoverCoverCoverCoverCover

He’s most famous for his books featuring Jack Irish; the loveable, roguish lawyer/drinker/debt-collector who likes a flutter on the nags and to prop up the bar at his local Fitzroy watering hole. The character of Jack Irish and the excellent use of language to convey the very matter-of-fact communications of the Australian working class male made these books a tremendous success and highly influential in the Australian crime writing genre. The books are entwined with plot twists and intrigue, corruption and politics, are very well paced, and perfectly capture the social nuances of Australian life. As do the television series that they have been turned into, featuring a who’s who of Australian acting and Guy Pearce as the main man Jack Irish. The producers really nailed the casting, the style, feel, and sense of place and the books really were celebrated in this particular telly treatment!

There are four books in the Jack Irish series, all worth reading but begin with Bad Debts. The tv series is available on DVD and to stream on Lightbox.

Peter Temple’s other books also saw critical acclaim. In 2010 he landed Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin Award, for his novel Truth – sequel to The Broken Shore. For a crime writer to win the Miles Franklin was quite a coup and his acceptance speech was trademark self-deprecation and wry humour, inviting the judging panel to “…take the flack for giving the Miles Franklin to a crime writer”. His third book in this new series has not been presented to his editor as yet, but perhaps sometime on the future another Australian literary great will take the final steps and finish the story and we will see the results. Possibly a posthumous award to go with his Miles Franklin, his five Ned Kelly Awards, and his Duncan Lawrie Dagger!?

For now I suggest we kick back, appreciate the fact that our region has produced another great writer, and for fans I suggest a nostalgic re-read.

Or if you’ve never tried his books before, get stuck in, mate!

Vale, Peter Temple.

What were we listening to in 1988? – A musical nostalgia trip!

Nothing is as quite as good as music for transporting you back to past times of love, loss, and the gaining of life’s experiences. I know that most of my childhood can be most effectively measured musically!

I was suitably shocked to learn that ‘Simply Irresistible’ by Robert Palmer featured prominently in the New Zealand charts waaaaayyyyy back in 1988! I still remember vividly that steady rock beat, the simple, punchy, and catchy tune, the stabby brass section, and those almost-very-nearly-identical dancing/band girls – an astonishing coming-together of style and substance built to last (complete with that awesomely syncopated drum fill that inspired the young drummer in myself!) – it’s in your head right now isn’t it!?

And that got me to thinking, “I wonder how many other standout classic tunes that, just like me, are maybe getting on a bit?” and “I wonder what other songs were around at the same time as ‘Simply Irresistible'”? Turns out that 1988 was a bumper year for iconic music!

So I made a list to share with you all – I’m referring to it among my colleagues as “A Musical Nostalgia Trip” to avoid having to feel too old myself! This is by no means an exhaustive list of the quality of music back in 1988, merely a list of tunes to hopefully trigger some nostalgic thoughts and memories, and maybe even prompt you into some nostalgic musical discoveries of your own!

There’s some big hitting songs in here so if you remember them from 1988, maybe go easy and have regular cups o’tea…

Enjoy:

What we were listening to in 1988!

List created by DevilStateDan

All of these songs listed here could be considered classics and, in some cases, so can the albums that featured them. And as always with music there are so many ways to experience the world of sound, so in this list I offer you CDs, artists’ biographies, live shows on DVD, music press articles, and printed music so you can play them yourself! Get borrowing and set off singing along your own musical nostalgia trip!

Bad – Yep, we were groovin’ to ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ 30 years ago this year. In fact, the first week of 1988 saw the great song at #6 on the NZ charts! Great tune, so cool, and still so good after three decades!

Cover of Michael Jackson The Making of Thriller : 4 Days/1983Michael Jackson – MJ sure did release some amazing music. This book looks behind the scenes during the making of ‘Thriller’, with exclusive photographs and insights.

The Very Best – INXS were big in Australia and New Zealand. ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ was, and still is, a massive hit, reaching #11 in Aus and #30 in NZ and still one of their very best – hard to believe it was 30 years ago though….

Cover of Best of INXSBest of INXS – Why not celebrate the 30th birthday of ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ by learning to play some of INXS’ other hits! This is music in P/V/G – that’s to say it has music for piano/vocals/guitar to play the tunes listed – get playing!

Rattle and Hum Songbook – We’re getting all kinds of opportunities to learn to play these songs that we were rockin’ to 30 years ago this year, including ‘Desire’ by U2! Hey, if the Edge can do it then so can you…

U2 – The latest telling of the U2 story, they gotta mention ‘Desire’ in there somewhere, right?!?

Faith – Has there ever been a more widely celebrated breakout solo album than ‘Faith’ by George Michael…!?!? The title track was the first #1 of NZ’s 1988 calendar year! Give it a spin to mark the occasion, and listen without prejudice!

Cover of George Michael: The lifeGeorge Michael – The most recent account of the life of the iconic singer/songwriter penned by a writer who has all the skills in producing engaging biographies.

George Michael: The Lone Star State. By Adrian Deevoy, Q, Jun 1988. Part of Rock’s Backpages.

Access All Areas – Big hair, slow-mo dancing, oversized and off-the-shoulder cardies…and Belinda Carlisle – it must be 1988! ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ turns 30 in 2018.

Belinda Carlisle – Heaven Is A Place On Earth. Official video. Released in 1987, taken from Belinda’s album ‘Heaven On Earth’.

Cover of Guns n' Roses FAQGuns N’ Roses – What a debut album Appetite for Destruction was for the band Guns n’ Roses and the standout commercial track on that album was definitely ‘Sweet Child of Mine’! That iconic guitar riff, the snake-like dance moves of Axl Rose – all that hit up to #7 in the NZ charts, 30yrs ago!

Guns N’ Roses: Dancing with Mr Brownstone. By Paul Elliott, Sounds, 4 Nov 1989. From Rock’s Backpages.

Guns N’ Roses FAQ – Think you know everything there is to know about these rock legends and the music that hit the world rock n’ roll scene like a speeding night train?!? Try this new book out and see how much you missed!

Cover of The best of Bobby McFerrinThe Best Of Bobby McFerrin – This one is such a classic that I still hear folks whistling the tune to ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ at the shops or in the library! This guy is a huge talent so if ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ is the only tune you know of his then follow the link and stream some more! And YES, he’s still alive – there was never anything to the rumours of the 1990’s…

Bobby McFerrin. By Tim Page, Newsday, 30 Jul 1995. Part of Rock’s Backpages, The ultimate library of rock music writing and journalism.

Cover of Bon Jovi chord songbook collectionChord Songbook Collection – Learn to play ‘Bad Medicine’ to celebrate it’s 30th birthday this year! It got to #2 on the NZ charts and is there a bigger rock anthem..!?!?

Bon Jovi – The story of the rockers from Jersey. Get some background and context for their penning of ‘Bad Medicine’, 30yrs ago this year.

Def Leppard – Working class boys from northern England make it big with one of the biggest albums in rock history, but right now we’re talking about that iconic smash that entered the NZ charts mid-March, topped out at #40, then disappeared. We’re talking about ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ a song that had us rockin’ out in 1988! – wrecking ball at the ready!

Def Leppard: Loadsamoney!!. By Mat Snow, Q, May 1988. Part of Rock’s Backpages.

Cover of Easy acoustic songsEasy Acoustic Songs – ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman is one of those songs that instantly transport you back to where you were when you first heard it – what a beaut song! Give it a go on Piano, Vocal, Guitar in this easy acoustics songbook, where it’s jammed in with loads of other tunes you’ll want to try too!

She’s Gotta Ticket: Tracy Chapman. By Lucy O’Brien, City Limits, 5 May 1988. Part of Rock’s Backpages.

Pet Sounds – Has there ever been a song so divisive amongst its artists devout followers as was ‘Kokomo’…?!?! It got at least up to #11 in the NZ charts! Still not sure how I feel about it even after 30 years! Why don’t we have a listen to their best album instead…

The Very Best of – Gee these boys hit us hard in the late nineties, non bigger than their iconic hit ‘I’m Gonna Be’ which is still shouted as loud as a roaring soccer crowd at any Celtic-themed pub around the world today! It made it all the way to #3 on the NZ charts in 1988 but ran home to #1 in January of 1989, not 500 miles from our featured year by any extent! ….it’s stuck in your head now isn’t it. Go on, sing it!

Sunshine on Leith – The Proclaimers songs are so iconic that a musical movie was built around them a few years back. If you’re a fan of the music and you missed this film then you’re in luck as we have it in our collection!

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A guide to European political thrillers

Political thrillers are great. They’re most often a mix of brain and brawn and they give us a chance to get behind the scenes of a part of society many of us are never privy to first-hand. We also get to ride along with an individual who might know just as little as us about navigating the worlds of poli-speech, discovering where the true powers lay in the scheme of things, and who is really working for whom… It’s a good recipe for intrigue and action!

And it makes sense that America would be a hot-bed for political thriller writers – think Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Archer, Vince Flynn… the list goes on and on, and little wonder when the state of politics in the good ol’ US of A seems a swirling miasmic minefield of betrayals, press control, and hidden agendas… what a source of inspiration for willing authors!

But what about Europe?!? European political thrillers have often been the poor cousins of the big budget American titles, but I’d like to speak out for the Euro-Political-Thriller and encourage you all to try some out.

Not only do we encounter the world of politics but with the Euro versions we also get conflicting cultures trying to outwit each other, the language barriers of neighbouring countries, and recent history – don’t forget that there are wars ongoing in places like Turkey, Ukraine, and the ever-present threat of Russia – a heady mix to spark the creative juices of European thriller writers

So here’s a list of ten recent Euro-Political-Thrillers that were released last year (2017) for your enjoyment. There are some excellent ingredients here including (of course) the MI6, people-smuggling, an ever meddling Russia, and a whole lot more troubles of our times – just remember as you read, trust no one!

A Guide to Euro Political Thrillers

List created by DevilStateDan

Not all political thrillers are written by American authors, and here’s a slice out of the European side of things.

Cover of The 7th function of languageThe 7th Function of Language – A murder conspiracy neck-deep in the world of literature. Seeking a lost manuscript, and the truth of what happened to the murder victim – a high brow literary critic – our detective, Jacques Bayard, delves into a secret alternate history of the French intelligence agency. Action packed and at times humourous, if you liked the Da Vinci Code then give this one a go!

You Don’t Know Me – The defendant has sacked his lawyer and is now taking up his own defence. We, the reader, are essentially jury members as he takes us through each piece of evidence. There’s gang violence, cover-ups and conspiracy. Wait until the end, and you be the judge…did he do it?!?

Cover of KompromatKompromat – A story to echo our times… Easily written and at times seriously close to the mark, this story (by a former politician) outlines Britain’s split from the EU, a meddling Russia, a farcical US election, and all the underhand machinations that occur under the table. Truly a satire of our current political world.

A Damned Serious Business – The cold war still rages but this time it’s computer hackers in addition to bombs! Our central character sets out on a near-impossible mission that will see many lives inperiled. It’s a classic race for survival with a great sense of pace.

Cover of The Susan effectThe Susan Effect – Susan has a strange an unique gift and some very powerful people want to use her for their own purposes and gain information about the Future Commission – an underground political movement. The story unfolds in two timelines and is complex, full of sub-plot, a little dystopian, and completely thrilling.

A Divided Spy – A cat and mouse spy thriller about an ex-MI6 agent tasked with locating and recruiting a Russian spy to the English side. Lines are blurred between the sides as the plot unfolds and the Russian agent’s secrets become clear. If you like John Le Carre then you’ll love this!

Cover of I am pilgrimI Am Pilgrim – A terrorist has something seriously big planned for the North America and it’s down to one man to stop him. A modern day spy vs. spy story in the same vein as the Bond or Bourne stories.

A Dying Breed – War journalism is not for the faint of heart but our protagonist, William Carver, is out for the truth about a bombing in Kabul. A younger journalist is sent to manage Carver but the plot goes deeper than first thought, way back to the corridors of Whitehall it seems. Another one for fans of John Le Carre.

Cover of NomadNomad – Inside the MI6 Marc Dane is a pencil pusher, always on the safe side of the action. But that’s about to change! A brutal attack and a conspiracy running all the way through the secret service means Marc Dane is now an active agent.

Die Last – The fourth book to feature detective Max Wolfe and this one, with it’s tag-line “twelve dead girls, thirteen passports” delves into the morally corrupt world of people smuggling and the modern day slave trade. It’s lots of action, a sympathetic detective and loads of twists and turns. If you like Rankin’s Rebus then have a go at Parson’s Wolfe!

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A novella idea…

Well the new year is underway and it’s another year of excellent reading ahead!

But if you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of reading, or if the idea of a thick tome after weeks of recreation has you daunted, then I’ve got an idea for you; why not try a novella or two!?

A novella is a mid-length story that fits somewhere between a short story and a full blown novel. Many great authors have produced great works through this medium (some of them feature in this list!) and it’s a format worth celebrating, so here’s a list of stories in…

The Mid-Length Form

List created by DevilStateDan

Not quite a novel but longer than a short story; here’s a list of great reads in the shorter form of a novella and ranging from all over the world, across many genres and eras. There’s some big names (authors) in this list and a great way to read some classics without committing to a hefty tome! From Voltaire and Kafka, to Jack London and John Gardner – there’s something here for all tastes and all easily knocked over in one or two sessions.

Cover of The daylight gateThe Daylight Gate – A dark and violent story of witchcraft, witch-hunting, and human frailty. A stunning read by a great writer! It’s 165 pages will transport you back to the brutal times in 1600’s Lancashire

The Forensic Records Society – A group of men decide to create a society for the forensic appreciation of 7″ vinyl records, each taking turns to share their chosen song in silence. That is until a newcomer has different ideas as to how the society should work – are the originals open to change!?! Very humourous and insightful book by one of my new favourite authors. 182 pages.

Cover of McGlueMcGlue – A sailor with the mother of all hangovers tries to reassemble the happenings of the previous night. He’s now locked up and on a murder charge so things must’ve gotten out of hand. Amazingly dark and vivid descriptive writing from a Man Booker Prize shortlisted author. Just over 100 pages for this character to grasp some metaphoric life-raft of decency.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer – A dreamlike discussion between an elderly man and his grandson outlines the confusing and heartrending circumstances of dementia. 76 pages of introspection and warmth.

Cover of The old man and the seaThe Old Man and the Sea – The classic and one of my all time favourite books. If you haven’t read this yet then do so now, it’s beautifully written and explores ideas of humanity, life, death, and more – all in under 130 pages!

Hunger – Published in the 1890s, this is about the abject poverty and desperation in he life of a young writer struggling to stay alive in the freezing streets of Oslo. Absolutely stunning writing and descriptive writing and a hidden classic that should be held in much higher regard than it is! This one’s a bit bigger at 232 pages, but well worth the extra time.

Cover of The subterraneansThe Subterraneans – A group of young wasters in NYC drift about doing not much else except try to find themselves and discover who they are. He’s a good writer and this is one of his best imho. Only 110 pages but crammed with quality.

Fifteen Dogs – The Greek Gods are a troublesome lot and two of their order have a bet about the nature of “intelligence”, so they bestow self-realisation upon fifteen dogs due to be destroyed. What happens after is shocking, funny, violent, heart-wrenching, and amazing. Great book at 170 or so pages.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward – Classic horror right here with a young man drawn to the dark arts of witchcraft in Rhode Island. His dabbles with Hell become increasingly dangerous and with he himself becoming more deranged by the day. What’s going on behind his closed door at night and what are those strange lights…?!?! 127 pages will leave you freaked by the evil that men do!

Cover of GrendelGrendel – The Beowulf Tale but told from the perpective of the monster… but what if you had a deeper understanding of Grendel, about his feelings, his motivations – is he still so monstrous or are the monsters elsewhere!?!? This is an outstanding book beautifully written. So much in it for only 123 pages!

The Peculiar Life of A Lonely Postman – A curious tale of a postman who develops a love of haiku, and starts a poetic dialogue with a stranger that gets deeper and deeper. Maybe a case of mail fraud and stalking but delivered in such a light hearted and charming approach and only 119 pages.

Cover of Call of the wildThe Call of the Wild – A classic novella with the hardy Buck as our hero. A timeless and ageless adventure and survival story. It’s about love, loss, power and control, and the will to endure hardship through sheer inner strength. An amazing 79 page story for all ages.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – A harrowing yet beautiful look at 24hrs of life in a Stalinist Russian prison and labour camp. Our central character strives hard to maintain dignity in the face of inhumanity. Seemingly ordinary objects take on great significance in the quest for one’s own survival. A bleak and hard hitting read and a cult classic. 142 pages of grim determination.

Cover of Animal farmAnimal Farm – Another book that everyone should read. It’s very famous story of farm animals in revolt against their perceived oppressors is nowadays part of our very culture. If you’ve not read these 104 pages then do so now!

Metamorphosis and Other Stories – A man awakes to find himself transformed…. into a bug, and his (and his family’s) attempt to adjust to his new form. It’s about identity, social isolation, alienation, and loads of other heavy allegory that you don’t need to be aware of when getting into the 64 pages of weirdness and exposure!

Cover of The death of Ivan Ilyich & confessionThe Death of Ivan Ilyich – Explore the stages of grief with Ivan Ilych, who has just been diagnosed with an incurable illness that will soon see the end of him. He and his family travel the rocky roads of denial, anger, and finally acceptance over the course of the 114 pages. A great work by a great writer.

The Time Machine – H.G. Wells is a giant in the world of fantastical sci-fi, and The Time Machine is arguably his greatest work. An eccentric inventor loses his beloved and seeks to travel through time to save her, but what he finds throughout the depth and breadth of human history is shocking, disturbing and thoroughtly inhuman. A brilliant piece of work in 118 pages.

Cover of the Third man & The fallen idolThe Third Man – Rollo is a writer. He writes cheap paperbacks. When his friend, Mr Lime, invites him to Vienna he jumps at the chance for an interesting journey. But Mr Lime has been killed before Rollo arrives and Rollo finds himself embroiled in a post-war Vienna noir thriller. A good suspenseful novella of 195 pages.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Other Stories – Another classic horror story that is so familiar to us nowadays, but if you’ve never read the book then you only know half the story! With lines like; ““I slept after the prostration of the day, with a stringent and profound slumber which not even the nightmares that wrung me could avail to break.” – how could you not love every word in its 110 pages…!?

Cover of The outsiderThe Outsider – A story in two parts; the first follows a young man on the fringes of identity with no aims or plans, when an incident occurs. The second part is the resulting consequences of that incident. French author Albert Camus is the king of the novella and this one is a beaut place to start if you’re new to his writing. 126 pages of thought provoking text.

Candide, Or, The Optimist – Candide is a well balanced young man who has been raised to see the best in the world, until he becomes embroiled with a local girl and is ousted from his wealthy family home. What happens next is a road trip like no other with adventurous deeds and arduous ordeals. A brilliant story in 135 pages.

Cover of Slaughterhouse 5Slaughterhouse-five – Butchery in the service of authority is the theme of this classic novella. It’s post-war absurdity, humour, and tragedy, and quite brutal – a great read in 185 pages!

View Full List

You’ll get through those in no time! So you might also want to check out Joyce’s list of tiny books.

What’s a young person to do this summer?!

The summer holidays are upon us at last and there’s now lots of daytime hours to pursue your extracurricular interests and one of those interests is sure to be reading, but just WHAT do you read..?!?

I have compiled a reading list just for you so you don’t have to waste your precious summer moments searching for your new favourite book.

There’s everything in here, from steampunk adventure to wilderness survival, sci-fi alien battles to swords and sorcery, everyone will find something to rock their world this summer. There’s not a lot of romance in here, it’s all action, adventure, and fantastic tales – just the ticket for the long hot season!

So get looking through the list, place holds, search your local library, and talk to your local librarians…

Teenage Kicks

List created by DevilStateDan

A list of action-packed, non-sentimental, teenage reads!

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The Obsidian Blade
The first book of a trilogy that hurtles through dimensions as the young protagonist seeks answers and the truth behind what has happened to his family. Fast paced, full of action, and confronts the ideas of organised religion – great read!

Stormbreaker
High octane adventure as a young man gets recruited into the secret service – action packed!

Mortal Engines
Cities on wheels scouring the globe eating each other..?? A brilliant future-fantasy/steampunk adventure, and the first of four books. Hugely inventive and creative in it’s world building, and non-stop action!

Nation
A desert island survival adventure with a fantasy twist, and it’s Terry Pratchett so you just know it’s going to be full of heart and humour.

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Starship Troopers
If you like science fiction then this is the one for you! A huge story of alien battles, military camaraderie, and a high level of irony make this space adventure story a huge winner! Once you’ve read this book then watch the 1997 movie of the same name – you’ll never look at humanity in the same way again!!

Hatchet
Another wilderness survival story, this time in the wilds of Alaska and a young man alone. A great coming of age story – he goes into the wild a boy and becomes a man, but does he survive…??

The Outsiders
Gang life in the 1980s is where this story is at, with all the highs and lows of growing up in a poor and struggling family, trying to find your way in the world. This is a modern classic and a must read for all teens!

The Book Thief
As my colleague AliReads describes this book; “The Book Thief, Leisel, embodies the idea that humans need stories to continue being human. Like a lot of these other books, it’s a holding-on-to-your-humanity story, because war will strip you down.”

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Gone
What would you do if everyone fifteen or older was suddenly gone? No explosion, no green alien smoke, just … disappeared.

A Wizard of Earthsea
Wizards. Dragons. Good vs Evil. Oustanding and classic fantasy storytelling complete with the reluctant hero and a great quest. This has also been made into a movie by the legendary Japanese filmmaker Goro Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli)

Ashfall
A natural disaster survival story about a young man trying to reconnect with his family after a devastating volcanic eruption negotiating dangerous terrain and perilous people.

Neverwhere
Modern fantasy by the best in the business right now – Neil Gaiman.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go
I’ll let my colleague stewaroby describe this one; “Where have all the women gone? 13-year-old Todd Hewitt must solve this mystery and escape a strange, all male society on a strange,, harsh planet. He will need to find a new way to be a man”…sounds beaut!

Eragon
A young farmer finds a dragon egg and is propelled headlong into the action and intrigue of a swords and sorcery fantasy story – dragons are cool, this story is cool.

Cycle of the Werewolf
Werewolves are terrorising a small town in this horro story from the godfather of horror; Stephen King – a great place to start for a young horror enthusiast!

The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The one that started it all! Follow Arthur, Ford, Trillian and friends as they travel through the universe together, guided along the way by the best known travel book ever – and don’t forget your towel!

The Maze Runner
Think of an escape room… now make it as big as a city and extremely dangerous! That’s where a young man wakes up suddenly one day, finding himself in the company of strangers who together have to figure their way out of their deadly predicament!

The Lord of the Rings
The classic fantasy trilogy – it’s got everything, awesome world building, swords and sorcery, a quest of great significance… if you haven’t read this yet then do so now!

Ender’s Game
With humanity under threat from an alien race, six-year-old Ender Wiggin leaves his family on Earth to journey to the Belt. There he enters Battle School and is strictly disciplined in mind games and mock battles. In instinct, compassion and genius he is unequalled, for his is a unique destiny.

But hey! maybe Graphic Novels are your thing…?!? No worries, we have you covered and Ma1co1m’s reading list is full of the best of the best graphic novels for 2017.

But wait….there’s more!!

With reading comes your chance to WIN!

That’s right, all you have to do to be in the running to win a Westfield voucher, an MTA voucher, or book or movie vouchers is either visit one of our libraries or our website, complete the challenge sheet and hand it in and you’re chance to win! You can find out more by visiting our website (where you can also download a copy of the challenge sheet!)

And remember; if you can’t find the information you need, come and talk to one of our librarians and they’ll set you up with a beaut new read.

Happy Summer to you 🙂

The 12 sounds of Christmas

December is here and it’s time to make merry!

Pohutukawa and music notes

Break out the ugly Christmas shirts, decorate the house and surrounds, start thinking about that all-conquering Christmas lunch, and sing a happy tune – but which tune…?

Here are some ideas to give you the soundtrack of seasonal festivity that you deserve! 🙂

The 12 Sounds of Christmas

List created by DevilStateDan

The merry season is finally upon us so let’s kick start our festive cheer with some suitably Christmassy tunes to accompany you through the month of merry-making!

Felice navidad, joyeaux noel, and meri kirihimete!!

  • The Absolute Best Christmas Album in the World– Ever! Well this album is talking some BIG festive talk! What a collection of songs and artists though and it’ll surely set you up in the right merry spirit.
  • The Ultimate Classical Christmas Or maybe you prefer a classical kind of Christmas…!? Here’s a beaut collection of orchestral merriment.
  • Christmas Duets Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without ol’Elvis belting out some suitably festive crooning – don’t have a blue Christmas, get some Elvis!
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas From Chuck Berry to Brenda Lee – you can’t go wrong when you’re rockin’ out your Christmas with these tunes.
  • A Country Christmas Another star studded compilation and is it just me or does Christmas music really lend itself beautifully to the country genre…!?
  • This Christmas Who knew!?!? The legend of John Travolta, along with some of his friends (including jazz legend Chick Corea!) sharing the merriment with us.
  • Putumayo presents Latin Christmas A world view here with some Latin Christmas rhythms and vibes, a good one for a lively Christmas gathering!
  • Merry Christmas, Baby Rockin’ Rod Stewart giving it the Christmas treatment..?? What’s not to love!?
  • James Taylor at Christmas Some mellow Christmas vibes from the great James Taylor, for a nice cruisey Christmas.
  • Christmas The big sounds of Celtic Thunder doing Christmas. Expect some matinee cabaret gold!
  • Christmas in the Heart How does Bob Dylan do Christmas!? Very nicely as it turns out!
  • The Christmas Album Frank Sinatra is a December constant in my family – no-one does Christmas better then Frank!

View Full List »

Prefer to get your music online? See Simone’s recommendations for Christmas playlists from our online streaming services.