Dear Diary Day

Dear Diary Day is observed each year on 22 September. If you have kept a diary, today is the day to go back and reread your efforts – or if you don’t have a diary, today is a great time to go about starting one.

Diaries are acknowledged to be excellent ways of letting off steam, and effectively becoming a better person (though if you are like me, realistically, you just brood on what you have written and become all the more grouchy – but then I am a bit ‘special’ like that). There is also nothing quite like going back and rereading these snapshots of your life – be they good or bad – and, in the process, enjoying a lot of memories, and learning from your mistakes.

Dear Diary Day, is also a great time to acknowledge those great diarists who have taken the ultimate step in diary keeping – namely, committing their memories to print. Here are some great reading picks for ‘Dear Diary Day’ that will hopefully inspire you to write up your thoughts for posterity too:

Cover of The Kenneth Williams diariesThe Kenneth Williams Diaries: The Telegraph recently predicted that in twenty years time, Kenneth Williams will not be remembered as a Carry on favourite, but as one of the English language’s finest diarist. It is impossible not to agree – this volume of his diaries is devastatingly honest both in his assessment of others, from Joe Orton to Tony Hancock, and of himself. Deliciously waspish, and often unbearably tragic, these diaries really do bring readers closer to a fine autodidact and one of Britain’s most underrated performers.

The Noel Coward Diaries: These erudite and witty diaries bring to life one of Britain’s most beloved theatrical figures – Noel Coward. A man of seemingly numerous talents from acting to writing, Coward’s diaries take us through theatrical tours, his own private struggles with depression, and ultimately priceless stories of his contemporaries and of himself. A sheer delight to read, Coward’s diaries are rewardingly gossipy but always without any sort malice, just like the man himself.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf: These diaries from one the 20th century’s most important and ground-breaking literary giants, are a real privilege to read. Virginia Woolf’s diaries take you to the very heart of a genius – dispelling the myth of a sobering and snobby intellectual, and replacing this with a complex, sensitive, and even humorous woman. With descriptions of other famous literary figures – from Katherine Mansfield to T. S. Eliot – as well as descriptions of day to day life, and her journey through writing, this first volume of her diaries is a fascinating and eye-opening read.

Cover of The diary of a young girlThe Diary of A Young Girl: Just after receiving a blank diary for her birthday, Jewish teenager Anne Frank and the rest of her family were forced into hiding in Nazi occupied Amsterdam. This beloved classic is her evocative and honest record of those two years in hiding in a claustrophobic attic, along with her parents, sister, and others desperate to escape the horror of the Nazi regime. Over seventy years since its first publication, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ remains an unforgettable testament to one of the most shameful events in world history, as well as a moving tribute to the spirit of a remarkable young girl.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys: You couldn’t really say that you love reading diaries and not read Samuel Pepys. A member of parliament who rose to the position of Chief Secretary to the Admiralty, Pepys is better known now for the diaries he wrote throughout the 1600s. Recording such historical events as the Plague and Great Fire of London, these astonishingly honest and ever entertaining diaries also chart the author’s own life – from political chicanery, to his own sexual adventures and domestic conflict.

Cover of The diary of a booksellerThe Diary of A Bookseller: Shaun Bythell’s hilarious diary charts a year in the life of the largest secondhand bookshop in Scotland. It is one of the ultimate books about books, packed with stories of eccentric book buyers, sound book recommendations, and accounts of stock purchase trips to auction houses and estates. With its wonderfully barbed and ever-entertaining style, this is a diary enthusiast’s and book shop lover’s dream.

The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh: These classic diaries reveal Evelyn Waugh in all his cantankerous yet honest and genuine glory. A must for Waugh fans, and anyone wishing to delve into the history of this era, these diaries are a mesmerising read filled with hilariously indiscreet portrayals of his peers, and great insights into the creation of Waugh’s beloved work.

Journal of Katherine Mansfield: The diaries of Katherine Mansfield contained in this volume, are mainly drawn from the last years of her life as this beloved author struggled but bravely strove to continue writing. Despite war time losses, and the immense pain Mansfield found herself in, she manages to write of the beauty of things surrounding her, and movingly reflects on her life, and celebrated writing.

Cover of Ancient as the hillsAncient as the Hills: James Lees Milne was a writer and English architectural conservationist, now best known for his compulsive diaries. Kept over the course of 60 years, his diaries cover a fascinating half century in history – from war time England to Blair Britain. Along with engaging descriptions of his own life and work, Milne observes a fascinating array of people from Nancy Mitford to Mick Jagger – always with absolute honesty and a fantastic eye for detail.

I Will Bear Witness: These powerful diaries are Jewish scholar Victor Klemperer’s record of life in Nazi Germany. His eloquent and mesmerising entries describe the day-to-day horror of life in Hitler’s Germany with important detail, candour, and courage.

Read more

Shaun Bythell – The Diary of a Bookseller: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverToday at Christchurch’s The Piano, a packed out audience was treated to a hilarious hour with Shaun Bythell. His beloved Diary of a Bookseller charts a year in the life of the largest second hand bookshop in Scotland. It is one of the ultimate books about books, packed with stories of eccentric book buyers, sound book recommendations, and accounts of stock purchase trips to auction houses and estates. It also perfectly evokes life in a small rural town, namely Wigtown, a picturesque sounding location by the sea.

The session opened with a music video – not just any music video but one set in Bythell’s gorgeous shop, complete with staff vocals.

Brian Phillips was the perfect host, launching straight into the interview by simply allowing Shaun Bythell to be Shaun Bythell, letting the session flow along beautifully and naturally. Bythell read a passage from Orwell’s ‘Bookshop Memories’ in which he described bookshops as seemingly beacons for ‘certifiable lunatics’. Bythell assured the audience that things have ‘changed a little’ since Orwell’s time.

Lovers of ‘Diary of a Book Seller’ will already be aware that there is more than an edge of misanthropy to be detected in Bythell’s narrative – with barbed (though most probably very lifelike) observations of his customers, and reflections on the hardships that often come with owning a bookstore in the age of Amazon. This response will therefore have come as no surprise. Despite this though, there is an odd sensitivity about Bythell. There is a touching moment in his diaries when he describes the books he purchases from deceased estates

Going through the books of the person who has died affords an insight into who that person was, their interests and, to a degree, their personality’

Then conversely (or perhaps reassuringly depending on your viewpoint), five minutes after this we are back to comments such as
‘a whistling customer with a ponytail and what I can only assume was a hat he’d borrowed from a clown bought a copy of Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I suspect deliberately to undermine my faith in humanity and dampen my spirits further’.

How many customers have been offended by Bythell’s book? ‘Not enough’ Shaun replied, then more specifically – none so far as he knows, with the exception of ‘bum-bag Davies’. But really, says Bythell, all he has done is describe people’s behaviour – “if you’re rude – tough, don’t be rude and you won’t get into the book”. Shaun confessed that when he started writing the book, he was disappointed when his customers were not rude, “I needed material”.

Shaun Bythell: Diary of a bookseller
Shaun Bythell. WORD Christchurch Festival 2018. Saturday 1 September 2018. File reference: 2018-09-01-IMG_0230

Phillips then asked how his staff felt about his depictions of them, more specifically, Nicky – his proud bin foraging employee. Nicky, happily was fine with the book, even the narrative of the ‘bible battle’ (Nicky, a firm Jehovah’s witness would take great pleasure in putting Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ in the fiction section, while Shaun would repay this gesture by putting the bible in fiction as well). Bythell shared that Nicky now has her dream job chopping down trees – she did not however ask for a reference. To be fair, said Bythell, I would have given her a glowing one.

This inevitably raised the subject of Bythell’s infamous reference for Sarah, an ex teenage employee, in which amongst other things, he observed that ‘she never, in the entire three years of her time here, did anything constructive… and was offensive and frequently violent to me” and in conclusion ‘was a valued member of staff and I have no hesitation in recommending her’. Bythell confirmed that he and Sarah are still good friends.

Phillips asked how Bythell’s leap into the book selling world came about. Shaun explained that in his twenties, he made a conscious decision not to pursue a career, which ‘became a career decision of its own’. He popped into the bookshop which was at that time owned by John, a man he had known for many years. “We were having a natter” said Shaun, “I was talking about how I was at a loose end and John said he wanted to retire… why didn’t I buy the bookshop off him?”. In response to Shaun’s observation that he had no money, John simply replied ‘That’s what banks are for’. And so Shaun bought the business knowing nothing about bookselling or running a business. Seventeen years later, added Shaun “I still don’t”.

Has he always been a keen reader? Shaun’s response was that yes, he was, then he added the universal truth that “as soon as you become a bookseller you stop reading”.

Shaun shared that his favourite part of being a bookseller is the buying, rather than the selling – nice as getting the money is. You soon learn to let go of your misconceptions, he says, as sometimes the most stately castle can offer nothing, while a small bungalow can hold some gems. ‘You never know what you are going to find’.

Shaun also shared some quirks about his shop which were missing from the video – including a miniature railway and broken kindle. The kindle has a plaque which reads ‘Shaun Bythell shot this’, the result of a tutorial on how to fix your kindle. Shaun described this as one of the most satisfying things he has ever done, and the most photographed thing in the shop.

There was a surprise revelation that Shaun has actually written another book ‘Tripe Advisor’ complete with Trip Advisor logo on its cover. This was in response to Shaun’s own trip advisor comment being taken down from the website, in which he described the  shopowner as being “wonderfully fragrant”, amongst other generous claims. The book has had some fantastic contributions from Shaun’s Facebook followers too amongst them a review from ‘book hater’ bemoaning the fact that they hate books, and only came to the shop because they were advised there was a hunky Scottish bookseller there. They looked everywhere but only found ‘a curly headed ginger lady’. Actually, as Shaun will have no doubt heard many times, it is hard not to spot a similarity between Bythell and Bernard from Black Books – just replace the red curly hair with black, and just tone Bernard’s manner down a bit and you’re there.

How did Diary of a Book Seller come about? It was an idea that Shaun had had for a while but almost given up on when Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops came out in 2012. Happily for us, Shaun pursued his idea, deciding on a diary form instead. Shaun described the original diary as being along the lines of ‘today customer dropped book – farted’ and upon sending it to a literary agent was told  that it needed more – well – writing.

Shaun also shared the exciting news that there is a sequel to Diary of a Bookseller on its way. It is written, he confirmed, and will probably be out next year. “To be honest though its just the same as the first one”‘ he added encouragingly. After such an entertaining hour with Shaun Bythell, I am only feeling all the more excited for Diary of a Bookseller 2 in spite of the hilarious deprecation of its talented writer.

Orphans, Immigrants, and Identity – Lloyd Jones: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverAt the lovely Piano venue in Christchurch, Lloyd Jones, one of New Zealand’s most successful writers (author of the Man Booker Prize nominated Mr Pip), sat down for a fascinating interview with broadcaster John Campbell.

Campbell set up the session with a great introduction. He gave the audience an insight into Jones’ latest offering The Cage. Campbell described it as ‘a willfully shocking book… confronting and tough’. No surprises here, as Jones is an author who has never shied away from the brutally honest and even harrowing (Mr Pip had me virtually traumatised for a week, and the movie was probably the most distressing piece of cinema I have ever seen).

Jones explained that The Cage was inspired by his own experience of witnessing the arrival of Syrian refugees in Budapest. He described the sight as harrowing with clusters of families squeezed onto cardboard rafts, and women trying to sweep their small spaces as if to preserve their last vestige of dignity. The Cage was written to stress the importance of having a voice and a conscience when faced with tragedy.

Lloyd Jones. Image supplied.
Lloyd Jones. Image supplied.

Jones never tells readers where ‘the strangers’ in the novel are, or where they have come from. He is a strong believer that ‘readers complete a novel’  joining the dots themselves… reading their own circumstances. Jones recalled a book signing for Mr Pip where a young girl asked him if Matilda returned to the island. Jones gave the somewhat disappointing but honest response that he didn’t know, ‘what do you think?’. After a moment, the girl smiled and said ‘Yes’. Campbell concurred that he believed she did too – without a doubt – but not without an admonishment later that Jones ‘did write the bloody book’.

CoverAlong with eleven novels, Jones has written short stories, and non fiction including an incredibly powerful autobiography A History of Silence. Endearingly, he shared that he walks the places his characters walk – he walked the orphan museum just like Matilda, and ‘Matilda loved Dickens because the author did’.

Jones commented that people often describe his books as all being very different from each other, but really they are all similar in their exploration of the theme of identity. Orphans also play a big role in Jones writing because, as he observed, ‘my family specialised in them’. Jones’ mother was given away at the age of four, while Jones father went through a series of foster homes after the death of his mother. ‘One does not look back if not taught to look back’ observed Jones.

His history of silence was just that – ‘There was no history… my parents never never spoke about it’. Jones also spoke movingly about discovering the story of his wife’s ancestors (which involved a tragic drowning) from an old man. The same man witnessed the mass shooting of Jewish women and children during the Second World War – the women instructed to lift their babies above their heads to be killed first, then the mothers killed after. “It’s amazing how landscape hides sins” said Jones. Visiting the site later, he would never have known, the world would never have known, had it not been for that man bearing witness:

If we ignore what is happening we are complicit – you cannot un-know something.

The session ended with audience questions but the closing one in particular seemed such a fitting way to end of the session. One audience member asked Jones if he had faith in humanity, to which he replied:

Definitely – every person in this room will have done something wonderful, and every person will have also done something they are not proud of. I do believe though that we still need a set of core values.

While Jones never seeks to give us answers in his books, or indeed pretend for one moment that he has the answers, his writing always manages to do just this – somehow help us to discover core values and what it means to be human.

Lloyd Jones at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Lloyd Jones: In Conversation Friday 31 August 1pm

The Freedom Papers Sunday 2 September 1pm
Edinburgh Festival director Nick Barley speaks to three of the international writers from The Freedom Papers collection – Yaba BadoeLloyd Jones and Juno Dawson – about what freedom means to them.

National Poetry Day Picks

Despite the beauty of timeless poetry, there is nothing quite as likely to get blood boiling and teeth gnashing, as a conversation about favourite poets. There is a Daumier lithograph called ‘A Literary discussion in the second balcony’ depicting a group of men brawling in an opera box upon such a ‘discussion’. However, National Poetry Day on Friday 24 August, is calling for a good ‘literary brawl’, and below is a list of my ten favourite poetry volumes to add to the furore.

The Poems of Tennyson

If you are wanting to dapple in sheer sunlit perfection, you couldn’t do any better than read a volume of poetry by Alfred Lord Tennyson. From ‘The Lady of Shalott’ to ‘Idylls of the King’, each poem in this collection is word perfect, cementing Tennyson’s reputation as perhaps the most-loved poet of the Victorian era

CoverEugene Onegin

If you can’t see yourself getting though a daunting looking volume of poetry in its entirety, why not try this beautiful novel in verse by ‘Russia’s Shakespeare’, Alexander Pushkin. Through exquisite prose, Pushkin relates the timeless love story between Eugene Onegin, a world weary dandy, and Tatayana a diffident but passionate young woman. This fine translation manages to capture both the rhythm and beauty of Pushkin’s novel in verse, making it a sheer joy to read.

CoverW.B. Yeats

You would be hard pressed to find a list of greatest poets that doesn’t include W.B. Yeats. Reading this wonderful collection of his work, it isn’t hard to see why. A prolific poet who is dearly loved for his moving poems about Ireland, as well as his perceptive meditations on life and death, Yeats is certainly justified in being regarded as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century.

CoverSelected Poems

This selection of Byron’s works includes the beautiful Hebrew melodies and the complete text of lengthier works such as Childe Harolde, an enduring classic. Mad, bad and gloriously dangerous to know, who could not love this selection of his works (and, lets face it, the mad, bad man himself).

Collected

This beautiful selection of Auden’s works includes such loved poems as ‘Funeral Blues’ and ‘In Praise of Limestone’ (who knew limestone could so inspire readers, such is the power of Auden). This selection showcases the amazing diversity of Auden’s writing and its incredible beauty. Mention must be made here of Tom Hiddlestone’s beautiful recital of ‘As I walked One Evening’. If you do nothing else this National Poetry Day, please listen to this and you will be inspired to read this volume of Auden in its entirety.

CoverThe Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved, and influential poets of the nineteenth century. Little of Dickinson’s vast work are known to have been published during her lifetime, due to their astonishing originality, but this collection brings together 1775 of her poems, doing justice to a truly unique and insightful  American voice.

Rubāʻīyāt of Omar Khayyam

Perhaps the most celebrated meditation on the brevity of life, this 101 verse narrative known as the ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ is filled with perception, wit, and beauty. Over two hundred years old, this narrative pieced together from Khayyam’s quatrains by Edward Fitzgerald, caused a storm upon its publication for the sheer distinctiveness of its voice. Today it remains an accessible yet incredibly profound mediation on human existence.

CoverThe Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë

You may know the Brontes better for their incredible contributions to English literature in the form of novels (i.e ‘Wuthering Heights, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’) but Bronte fans would be truly missing out if they were to pass up on their poetry. This volume contains the complete works of Emily Bronte’s poetry, and it is every bit as accomplished as her only published novel, Wuthering Heights.

CoverChristina Rossetti

Popular for her effervescent ballads, and incisive poems on love, Christina Rossetti is a poet who seems to become more and more celebrated as time moves on. This beautiful collection contains her complete works including perhaps her most famous poem, ‘Goblin Market’, some terrifying childrens verses, beautiful sonnets, and romantic verses.

Selected Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love Elizabeth Barret Browning – let me count the ways… This would actually take far too long so I will just say that this volume of her selected poetry will say it all. Including her much loved ‘Sonnets from The Portuguese’, this beautiful volume of her poetry perfectly showcases the perfection of her work, with every line a sheer pleasure to read.

CoverThe Complete Nonsense and Other Verse

Okay, I did say ten picks, but including a light, humorous poet, who doesn’t write with brooding intensity but rather of gentleman and ladies from various parts of the country, did seem too brave a step for me. Edward Lear is my ‘additional’ pick, a fun and fantastical poet whose writing is always sheer fun and joyous to read.

Agree or disagree, there really is a poet out there for everyone. If you have never been convinced of this fact before and have always thought that poetry is strictly for the somewhat soppy, over sentimental birds, please think again. There are poems for literally every taste and every situation-death, war, love, childhood, loss, grief, the list goes on, and with all good poems, the words live on, capturing human emotions in a way that no other art form quite can.

If reading poetry is not your thing and you are more of a listener, there are some great poetry events on at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 to help celebrate National Poetry Day. These include a lunchtime reading with celebrated NZ poet and winner of Te Mata Poet Laureate (2002), Elizabeth Smither, as well as the 2018 Christchurch Poetry Slam. You can also see Ray’s super helpful blog detailing many other poetry workshops and events in Christchurch.

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Last week, armed with a librarian buddy, my dubious three hour and twenty minute attention span, and a generous stash of chocolate, I went to see the beautiful documentary ‘Ex Libris: The New York Public Library’ at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

This documentary by celebrated film maker Frederick Wiseman, is admittedly a lengthy look at its subject, but each piece is truly hypnotic, offering a unique and insightful look into this most beloved of landmarks (and yes, I do say this with a conscious bias). ‘Ex Libris’ perfectly captures the day to day life of the library – from a talk with Richard Dawkins to a border patrol representative; an inquiry about unicorns to finding information on a long lost ancestor; robotic sessions to braille lessons; babytimes to recruitment drives, the vibrancy and passion within these walls is very real.

There are over ninety-two library branches in New York, and although only a handful of them are covered in this film, Wiseman manages to reflect the sheer diversity in both the patrons and services across the city. The ‘politics’ of libraries is highlighted in many ways, from conversations about digital inclusion, to inaccurate representations of African American history in a set of children’s books, to the tension between the homeless community in New York and the rest of the library users. There is no narrative in this film, and there is no need for one. Whether we are sitting in on a meeting discussing the best use of private funding, watching a book group discuss Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or observing a student research with the library’s microfiche, the theme of the library as a place of equality for everyone, to learn, think, and create is gently yet powerfully observed.

As a librarian and a library lover generally, I found the parallels between our libraries in Christchurch, and those in New York fascinating – in particular the seemingly universal questions and programmes popular with its customers, and the importance of the library as a safe and enriching haven in every community. I hugely recommend this film, not only for library lovers but for anyone who enjoys a perceptive and beautifully produced documentary. I would of course also recommend the chocolate and a very, very good buddy with an extremely good attention span (cue: dramatic Oscar-acceptance-style speech thanking my own buddy for getting me to this point of now being home).

If you have missed out on getting tickets to this event, never fear, there are many other great picks for the NZIFF. If you are super unlucky and all your picks have sold out, there is again a silver lining as the library has a fantastic range of classic New Zealand films – both movies  (think ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’) and documentaries (think ‘Pecking Order’).

Even better our non-fiction DVDs are now free to borrow. Whatever way you decide to take part in the NZIFF – whether its going to the cinema, borrowing a New Zealand DVD, or reading a related book (see Donna’s fantastic blog of this year’s related titles) there really is something for everyone.

Find out more

Philippine Independence Day, 12 June

Philippine independence day marks the anniversary of the nation’s independence from Spanish rule on June 12 1898. Changed from being on the 4th of July (independence was officially granted to the Philippines by the US on this date in 1946, plus the date was thought to fit in neatly with the States own independence day), this year marks the 54th anniversary of the Philippines ’12th of June’ independence day, and the 120th anniversary of its independence day generally. While we don’t have an option in NZ  to mark this as a public holiday, or to have a parade as impressive as the one that will take place in Manila, there are still some things you can do to commemorate this day. Here are our top five options:

Talk in Tagalog: If you can manage this you will be doing a lot better than me (even though I am half Filipino the only Tagalog words I’m familiar with are those associated with food, a sad indictment on my life incidentally). Happily the library has plenty of resources to help you manage this, including Mango languages, a fantastic language learning website (and app) available 24/7 on our website. Mango offers a course on Tagalog (as well as 60 other languages), and as Tagalog’s standardized form is one of the two official languages of the Philippines (the other is English) Mango could be a great starting point.
There are also some great books available in our libraries to help you learn some Filipino, for both youth and adult learners.

Read all about it: The Philippines has an extraordinary history spanning from pre 15th century barangays (settlements), to three hundred years as a Spanish colony, through American occupation, to its status as a Republic. It has a rich culture that is influenced by both East and West, its Spanish influence clearly evident in the archipelago’s sumptuous feasts, parades, and prevalent Catholicism, and its Chinese influence clearly seen in some of the counties favorite dishes (think rice cakes and noodles), and the supreme importance of family. Our libraries have some fantastic books available to help you learn more about the Philippines fascinating history and culture.

Cook Philippine style: A mere mention of pork adobe will make most Filipino weak at the knees (I would be one of the unashamed statistic aforementioned). Why not try your hand at one of the Philippines’ truly delicious dishes? The library has some cookbooks at hand to help you – some in Tagalog and some in English.

Karaoke: Karaoke has become one of those integral parts of Philippine culture, but if you’re not feeling up for singing there are plenty of pros around to listen to. Our libraries have some great Filipino CDs you can borrow which could inspire you to great karaoke success (or excuse you from performing, which in my case would be the same thing).

Phillipines book display at Central Library Peterborough

Borrow a Tagalog book: Did you know that we now have a Tagalog collection at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre? And Central Library Peterborough is also hosting some books from the collection (photo above) this month to celebrate Philippine independence day. If neither of these libraries are close to you, never fear, there are Tagalog eBooks you can borrow from home through one of the libraries ebook platforms, Overdrive.
If you’re not feeling like a book today, there is also a great selection of Tagalog eMagazines and newspapers available through PressReader, one of Christchurch City Libraries’ eMagazine and newspaper platforms.

Queens of crime combine: Money in the morgue

Taking over from Dame Ngaio Marsh, one of the original Queens of Crime, would be a daunting prospect for any writer, but Stella Duffy (winner of the CWA Dagger Award, and Stonewall Writer of the Year) has beautifully risen to this task in the new inspector Alleyn novel, ‘Money in the Morgue‘.

Set in New Zealand during World War Two, Marsh’s beloved detective finds himself called into a murder investigation, right in the middle of an espionage case. The novel opens when courier Mr Glossip finds himself marooned at a military hospital, thanks to a terrific storm. When the wages which Glossip has just delivered go missing, then an unexpected body turns up in the morgue, it is left to inspector Alleyn to unravel the nights mysteries. He does so with his usual charm, and perfect manners (let’s just say you wouldn’t be surprised to read that upon being asked by Alleyn to pass along the salt, a woman fainted by his feet).

His sidekick is a kind of inspector Fox substitute and cunningly, there are so many mentions of inspector Fox as Duffy talks about this man who is clearly not inspector Fox, that by the end of it you have somehow wound up concluding that this clearly not inspector Fox man, is actually Inspector Fox. There is also mention of Troy, as Alleyn tries and fails to pen a letter to her (but manages an epic three page masterwork to inspector Fox, just saying).

In many respects, Duffy is the ideal candidate to finish a novel started by Ngaio Marsh. As well as being an esteemed writer of sixteen novels (five of these being crime), like Ngaio Marsh, Duffy spent her childhood in New Zealand, moved to London, and as a producer, and scriptwriter, has had a long standing relationship with the theatre. There are some lovely references to the world of theatre, in particular Shakespeare, as Alleyn absently quotes the Bard to himself on several occasions, much to the bewilderment of the local constabulary.

As Eric Morecambe would have said to Ernie Wise you just  ‘can’t see the join’, when you read ‘Money in the Morgue’. The two writers just dovetail so perfectly. Later I learnt that Marsh wrote the first three chapters of this work, Duffy the rest, but had it not been for a sneaky look at a interview with Stella Duffy, and one tell tale passage toward the end of the novel (where Alleyn muses on New Zealand as being like a ‘living entity”, not the most 30s European attitude toward the land) I would not have picked this for myself.

There is a strong cast of characters too including shell shocked Dr Hughes, the stern yet endearing Sister Comfort, and the sparky Rosamund Farquharson. Marsh and Duffy conjure to life an intriguing array of suspects, against the dramatic backdrop of WWII New Zealand. Readers are treated to some evocative descriptions of the land, as well as some lovely insights into New Zealand culture, as seen through the eyes of a young Māori soldier, corporal Brayling. The ending is a satisfying one (all important for any mystery) and the novel is consistently packed with all the fun and endearing Alleyn moments a fan could wish for. This is a truly fantastic partnership between two queens of crime that will leave you wanting more. With any luck, another of Marsh’s unfinished works will be unearthed soon and we will be treated to another Marsh/Duffy installment in this classic series.

Money in the morgue
by Stella Duffy and Ngaio Marsh
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:  9780008207113

Ngaio Marsh House event – Sunday 27 May 2pm

The Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust is putting on an event to celebrate the Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy’s new novel “The Money in the Morgue”:

Celebrate with style and panache the publication of Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy’s new novel “The Money in the Morgue”. Be theatrical and wear your vintage clothing, fedoras or berets.
You will get to view the improvements to the Ngaio Marsh House, and then got to Cashmere Presbyterian Church for drinks, hors d’oeuvres and entertainment. Scorpio Books will have a selection of Ngaio’s book’s for purchase.

Find out more on Facebook.

Ngaio Marsh House
Ngaio Marsh House. 15 December 2015. Flickr 2015-12-15-IMG_1617

The Killers bring Vegas to Christchurch

On Tuesday night at a sold out Horncastle Arena, the Killers took the stage in the most spectacular, Vegas-style fashion. They started off with their first single Mr Brightside (cue several audience members paying up on their bet that this would be the last number), the audience got to their feet, and remained there for the rest of the night. Immediately after, the arena went dark, a fantastic show of lights began, and the band launched into a fantastic repertoire of old favourites’ like ‘Human’, and ‘Read My Mind’, along with some great new songs such as ‘The Man’ and ‘Run For Cover’.

Brandon Flowers owned the stage, firstly in a fabulous pink jacket, then in the most glittering of gold suits that Elvis himself would have envied. If you were worried you wouldn’t be able to hear the show over the loud suits – never fear. Brandon Flowers voice was as powerful and on form as ever.

He was also backed up with a great band including 2 guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and 3 backing vocals. To be very technical about it, the noise was loud, and the Killers sounded bigger and better than ever. There were some great touches of flamboyancy too with giant confetti and streamers pouring from the ceiling at a couple of opportune moments. The band seemed to be stoked to be there, and Brandon Flowers smiled, pranced, and made love to us all. He said it had taken fourteen years for the band to get to Christchurch but assured us  it wouldn’t take that long again. The entire audience will no doubt hold him to that.

The programme was truly packed, and pauses for applause were very small, almost as though the band were worried we wouldn’t applaud. There was a nice hat tip to Kiwi music, with a rendition of ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ and the band went out with a true bang, on ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’.

Not all of the Killers were there as guitarist Dave Keuning has left touring to spend more time with his family, and bassist Mark Stoermer has likewise paused touring to take up study (as my brother in law observed, this is ‘in true rock star fashion’). How unusual is it to hear of rock stars halting their careers not for rehab reasons but rather for study and their bubs? This is just another reason to love this band. Brandon Flowers in particular just comes across as a heck of a nice guy, thrilled to bits that you’re having a good time.

If you’re gutted you missed the concert, well, this blog probably hasn’t helped. Happily though, the library does have plenty of Killers albums you can borrow, and like Brandon Flowers said, it won’t take fourteen years for the group to come back. Judging by the love for Brandon Flowers bursting from fans on Tuesday night, the group are no doubt aware that Christchurch has already started the countdown.

The Wife’s Tale: A brutal but beautiful memoir

In The Wife’s tale, Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam recounts the life of her grandmother Yetemegnu, an indomitable woman who lived through the most extraordinary century in Ethiopia’s history.

Edemariam first introduces readers to Yetemegnu on the day of her wedding, when she is just eight years old. Barely aware of the vows she is making, Yetemegnu is being married to Tsega, an ambitious priest more than two decades her senior. Over the next thirty years, Tsega is varyingly tender and brutal to his wife – a tyrant who beats her when she returns home from merely buying food, and a father who..

‘…when I was a child braided my hair.
Trimming the rough edges, teaching me manners.
My husband who raised me’

Edemariam heartbreakingly evokes Yetemegnu’s secluded marriage, (as a child bride and a clergyman’s wife), and her difficult motherhood which consisted of ten births, infant deaths, and difficult partings to give her children a better future. Edemariam brings her grandmother’s voice to life with vivid descriptions of her daily routine, observations of the world around her, and her prayers offered to the Virgin Mary. Edemariam’s narrative is  filled with rich prose that perfectly evokes her grandmother’s life, such as:

“The dry season wore on… Wild figs darkened in the trees. The peaches mellowed.”

Edemariam also gives a fascinating and unique perspective into the events of the time. Born over a century ago, Yetemegnu lived well into her nineties and bore witness to the 1930s Italian occupation as well as famines, revolutions, and political coups. She vividly recounts events such as Yetemegnu fleeing her city during allied bombardment, her audiences with Emperor Haile Selassie to defend and avenge her husband; and her battles in a male dominated court to protect her property rights. With a housewife’s unique perspective, Yetemegnu also bore witness to economic and educational changes, as well as the huge changes in culture and attitude Yetemegnu herself had to struggle to understand.

Edemariam’s distinctive narrative manages to delve not only into the mind of her grandmother, but also into the rich history and culture which surrounded her. Elegant, and superbly researched, ‘The Wife’s Tale’ is both a rich panoroma of 19th century Ethiopia, and an inspiring tribute to the courage and importance of seemingly ordinary wives like Yetemegnu.

The Wife’s Tale
by Aida Edemariam
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780007459605

The Five Book Challenge

There are many great book challenges out there such as the A-Z book challenge (where you read books by authors with surnames beginning with A right through to Z) or the 52 book for 52 weeks of the year challenge but sadly, my year, and my bookshelf, were too short to attempt either of these.

Instead, I took on a somewhat easier book challenge which involved reading five books in genres you don’t usually read. The idea is to broaden your horizons  (i.e. stop the PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie binge reading that I am very prone too) and try something different. My picks were Mills and Boon, science fiction, young adult, western, and fantasy, all genres I have never had the time (or, I’m sorry too say, inclination) to read. The nice thing about taking on any sort of challenge is that once you have vaguely mentioned it to understanding family (who incidentally had hysterical laughing fits and commented on how the mighty fallen re the Mills and Boon…) that you are thinking of doing one, you are, indeed committed.

MILLS AND BOON: The Librarian’s Passionate Knight

CoverMy Mills and Boon pick was The Librarian’s Passionate Knight (of course, this had to be any respectable librarian’s Mills and Boon pick). Phoebe is a lonely, bespectacled librarian (note: contrary to popular novelist’s opinion, it is not part of our job description to wear glasses), whose only real joy in her life is her job. One night, she is accosted by her stalkerish ex-boyfriend as she walks down the street. Enter gorgeous billionaire Daniel Barone and his “rock hard abs” who happen to be strolling by at the time. Happily for Phoebe, Daniel (and his rock hard abs) come gallantly to her rescue and an amazing romance begins. There is mention of Phoebe’s tragic past- (with an alcoholic parent and an abusive boyfriend thrown into the sad mix)- and then we are of course back to Daniel’s rock hard abs (Gerard is an author who presumably believes in prioritising). Of course it is the chemistry between the two that audiences are after, and happily there is plenty. This was a light, enjoyable  (though admittedly not especially deep) read. I can see why so many people get addicted to this genre as it is certainly a lot of fun. A good introduction to Mills and Boon? I would (cautiously- and very quietly so my family won’t hear me), say yes.

SCIENCE FICTION: The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Cover

As soon as I mentioned to my all-knowing hubbie that I needed a sci fi read, I was told that The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was my perfect match. I couldn’t argue. I was hooked from page one by Adams’ wondrous mix of fantasy and Wodehouse/Milligan-ish humour (I mention this as an avid fangirl of the two). Lines like:

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools”

could have come straight from Plum himself, and inspired lunacy such as:

“Not unnaturally, many elevators imbued with intelligence and precognition became terribly frustrated with the mindless business of going up and down, up and down, experimented briefly with the notion of going sideways, as a sort of existential protest, demanded participation in the decision-making process and finally took to squatting in basements sulking” 

is certainly on a par with the great Spike Milligan.

As to the story, it all begins one Thursday afternoon as Arthur Dent protests the upcoming destruction of his house to make way for a new bypass. Unfortunately, the earth too is scheduled for demolition that day to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Arthur and his friend, a hitchhiker from another planet, soon find themselves the sole survivors of the demolition and armed with nothing but their towels and a book which displays the words ‘DON’T PANIC’, they begin their journey of inspired lunacy through the galaxy. I inevitably made my way through the series in far shorter time than I would have liked. Happily though, each book is sheer genius, a sure winner even for those who, like me, are not really big on fantasy.

YOUNG ADULTS: Wildlife

CoverMy awesome colleague and YA expert Alina (who also blogs, plug plug) recommended me Wildlife by Fiona Wood.  As a big fan of I Capture the Castle style YA (i.e well written, with a good plot, which is just as good to read if you’re an adult), this was an ideal match for me. Told by two narrators (which I didn’t actually realise until a quarter of the way through, YA readers are obviously far more on the ball – or just far more awake- than me), ‘Wildlife’ tells the story of two girls’ experiences attending a school wilderness camp. Lou is recovering from the tragic death of her young boyfriend- while Sib is simply trying to survive a toxic friendship and her first romance. Clever, touching and memorable, ‘Wildlife’ is a joy to read and certainly got me hooked on Fiona Wood. I did, incidentally, read Cloudwish straight after this, a gorgeous read about the teenage daughter of a Vietnamese immigrant family. A fabulous introduction to YA (thanks Alina!!).

FANTASY: Good Omens

CoverGood Omens – An angel and demon working together to bring about the apocalypse- a bit of confusion about where exactly the young anti Christ got to – what could possibly go wrong? Happily for fans of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, plenty, and it makes for fabulous reading.
Though admittedly the middle part of this did drag a bit for me (with a little too much back and forth between multiple characters, some of whom just didn’t interest me as much), this was a thoroughly enjoyable read far worth pursuing till its fabulous end. A hilarious, clever read, ”Good Omens’ is a wonderful fantasy novel to start on. Pratchett and Gaiman really are a writing team made in heaven.

WESTERN: Riders of the Purple Sage

CoverRiders of the Purple Sage tells the story of Jane Withersteen, a 28 year old Mormon woman facing pressure to marry one of the polygamous elders of her community. Brave, fair but determined to keep the peace, Jane is also faced with the problem of continuing her friendship with two friends – one of them a notorious gunman and killer of Mormons.

A constant on classic Western lists, ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ has influenced many other Western novels due to its winning formula of romance, action, strong plot, and evocative descriptions of the American West (there are a lot of descriptions of sage incidentally – much, much, sage – in fact, there are no descriptions of sage that Zane Grey does not like). While some may argue this classic is now a little dated, it remains an engaging read and, I imagine, a must for fans of this genre

With the New Year coming up it is the perfect time to set yourself a book challenge- why not try one out? There is a great list of 2018 reading challenges by Popsugar and of course there is our own library book challenge this summer for kids and one for the adults too. Whatever stage you are at (whether you have just finished a book challenge or are about to make a start) we’d love to know. Feel free to leave a comment below. Good luck and of course have fun!