Best fiction of the Year and otherwise – fiction selector Philip Tew

Cover of The girl on the trainYou’d think that the only novel published this year was The girl on the train and next year, when Emily Blunt has taken the train into town, it should continue dominating bestseller lists everywhere. There is, however, some murmurings in the publishing trade that “domestic no bliss at all” is starting to slow down.

Otherwise with fiction it was business as usual as Lee Child was way up there, along with all the old faithfuls from James Patterson who has cleverly cornered the adult, YA and children’s markets and must now have a houseful of writers turning his ideas into bestsellers.

Cover of The golden age of murderOne interesting trend is the republishing of old mysteries. It began with the British Library reprinting old Golden Age British mysteries. It would not have worked so well if they hadn’t been so well produced. English writer Martin Edwards provided interesting forewords and, if you are interested in the genre, we have his book The golden age of murder in the collection. Collins have now jumped into the market and are reprinting old mysteries from the likes of Edgar Wallace and Francis Durbridge (once a radio and television favourite).

Best reads of 2015

Widows and orphans Michael Arditti
A man who is trying to be good in a venal world is the main focus of this tale of the editor of a local newspaper in a seaside town and his nemesis, a greedy and coarse developer. Moral issues in a world where they are seen as irrelevant makes for a thoughtful and readable novel.

Cover of the real JustineThe real Justine Stephen Amidon
This American author is pretty good on the how we live now novel and this one combines this with a mystery plot involving a strange girl whose life is all over the place. Good social observation and a gripping plot.

Cover of Two acrossTwo across Jeffrey Bartsch
Two teenagers meet at a spelling bee in this first novel which is a likeable and droll tale about difficult parents, adolescent angst and creating crossword puzzles.

Cover of The year of fallingThe year of falling Janis Freegard
If you have lived in Wellington, you’ll love the atmosphere and background of this excellent novel. The story moves from Wellington to Iceland and the characterisation of two sisters, a child and an elderly neighbour is very well done and makes for an interesting and satisfying read.

Cover of GorskyGorsky Vesna Goldsworthy
The world of the obscenely rich Russian oligarchs in London and the story of a young bookseller who comes into this world when he has to assemble a library for one of them is the theme for this unusual and highly readable novel.

Cover of ChappyChappy Patricia Grace
This is a fascinating and touching novel where a young man learns the story of his Maori grandmother and Chappy, his Japanese grandfather. Beautifully written and my pick for the best New Zealand novel of the year.

Cover of High DiveHigh dive Jonathan Lee
Taking Irish terrorism and mixing it in with the Brighton bombing in the Margaret Thatcher era makes for a historical novel from the very recent past. The careful recreation of the time and place is beautifully handled. Especially good is the portrayal of the hotel staff, ordinary people who become caught up in big events.

Cover of Children of the masterChildren of the master Andrew Marr
The journalist and political commentator with his second satirical slap in the face for British politics. It’s set in 2018 where the Labour Party is in power and there are two candidates for the top job. Machiavellian in the extreme, this is an often funny and way over the top political black comedy. Of course we don’t believe ruthless opponents would use murder to get to the top but it makes for a good story. The Master, incidentally, has to be someone not a mile from Tony Blair.

Cover of The IlluminationsThe illuminations Andrew O’Hagan
Why this one didn’t get on the Man Booker Prize shortlist is a real puzzle. It’s a superb novel about Britain. Part of it is set in Ayrshire with an elderly lady who was once a leading documentary photographer in the 1960s. Her story is intercut with that of her grandson who has returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. A strong, forceful and moving book.

Cover of The Party LineThe party line Sue Orr
The author of some very good short stories made her novel debut with this story, set in the Hauraki Plains, where the arrival of a sharemilker and his outspoken (for this community) daughter question the assumptions of the place. The title is a clever one as it is the chief means of communication and also the way the community thinks.

Cover of I saw a manI saw a man Owen Sheers
A reporter whose wife has been killed returns to London and befriends the people next door. Through a misunderstanding something terrible happens, Moving from the affluent lives of the upper middle class to what happens when a tragedy occurs, this is a timely and gripping novel.

Cover of Mobile LibraryMobile library David Whitehouse
This excellent and underrated British author is remembered for Bed, his story of an obese man. The new novel is about a woman who cleans the mobile library and what happens when she takes to the road with her disabled daughter and a lonely boy. It is a bit far fetched but quite engaging.

Cover of My sunshine awayMy sunshine away M.O. Walsh
Down the Deep South tale in which a thirtyish man remembers his younger days and the whole suburban network of secrets and lies around the rape of a teenage girl. It’s a convincing portrait of a time and place and a very promising debut novel.

Visit our Best Reads 2015 page for more picks, and the chance to have your say.

Geraldine Brooks and the Pulitzer Surprise!

The Secret ChordWhen Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for her first novel March in 2006, she had no idea that her book was even up for consideration. At home with her eight year old son, painting figurines, she did not even believe the first caller. Her little boy answered the door when a florist delivery came and said: “Mummy can’t come now, she is having a Pulitzer Surprise!”

And last night in Christchurch at a WORD Christchurch event, The People of the Book were out in full force to hear Pulitzer prizewinning author Geraldine Brooks chat about writing and her most recent novel The Secret Chord. There – in Rangi Ruru’s beautiful new theatre – sat a petite, young Geraldine Brooks and her interviewer, Morrin Rout (wearing it must be said, distractingly eye-catching brick pattern tights). Let the excitement begin!

MarchGeraldine was originally a journalist who worked in the Australasian Bureau of The Wall Street Journal – a job which taught her that you can’t write around what you don’t know. She admitted to a New Zealand connection for her front page story on our research into Climate Change and Methane Gases – with its catchy title: The Farting Sheep Story.

When she talks about writing, Brooks several times made mention of finding the void in a theme and filling it:

Historical fiction works best when you have some blanks to fill. The trick is to let the story tell you what you need to know.

people of the BookThe viewpoints of different women is often the way for Brooks to get a fresh view on an old story that we think we know. It is still so true that you can get to powerful men through the women in their lives and she ranks an afternoon tea with Ayatollah Khomeini’s wife Khadijeh as one of the most remarkable afternoons of her life.

On her latest book The Secret Chord, she said her interest became piqued when her son asked for classical harp lessons (she’d been hoping for the recorder) and that David appealed to her as a character because every single thing that life can fling at you seemed to happen to him. She was particularly interested in how women affected David and how they wielded power in subtle ways.

Best of all Geraldine Brooks would slot right into any one of my book groups, her reading tastes are so similar. She is currently enjoying The Chimes by Anna Smaill (2015 Man Booker Prize longlist); thinks that the best book she has ever read is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (who won the Pulitzer Prize the year before her in 2005); is a big admirer of Hilary Mantel and can’t wait for her next book and (Geraldine was born in Sydney) she admires Tim Winton‘s writing as well.

I’d had an evening of minor mishaps prior to this event: a near miss at the restaurant where I was to meet my colleague (we sat waiting for one another in different parts of the venue). Then we held up the signing queue trying to get my photograph taken with this wonderful author – in the end the photo was out of focus. In the confusion, Geraldine misheard and signed the wrong name in the book. It took time for her to draw flowers over the mistake and insert the correct name (that copy is now valuable!). Finally I lost my car keys and had what felt like the entire theatre in an upheaval helping me look for them. You’d be forgiven for thinking “I wish I’d also gone to hear Geraldine Brooks – just not with them!”

But, I drove home on a high – so happy to be in the car, moving through my mundane surroundings to my precious home, and all the time thinking: I have met a Pulitzer Prize winner. I am so fortunate.

We have Geraldine Brooks’ works in book, eBook, and eAudiobook format.

You can also listen to Geraldine talk about The Secret Chord on RadioNZ.

Mark Twain, the tourist

All people think that New Zealand is close to Australia or Asia, or somewhere, and that you cross to it on a bridge. But that is not so. It is not close to anything, but lies by itself, out in the water.

Newspaper advertisement for Mark Twain's performances [1895]
Advertisement , Star, Issue 5410, 11 November 1895, Page 3 via Papers Past
The talk of the town 120 years ago in Christchurch was the visit of Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain, who despite some initial ignorance as to our whereabouts (as illustrated in the above quote), made it safely to the shores of Aotearoa in spring 1895, and would spend 4 days in our own fair city.

It seems that Twain’s visit was on a par with those of pop stars of today. His performances were wildly popular. Originally scheduled to perform 3 shows at the Theatre Royal on Gloucester St, an extra date had to be added due to demand. He was hosted and shown the sights (such as the museum and botanic gardens), and a dinner was given in his honour. And as is still the case with foreign dignitaries, he was thoroughly interrogated by journalists into giving positive reviews of the scenery (some things never change).

Twain had undertaken a world tour due to financial troubles and used his travels as the basis for a “non-fiction” account Following the Equator which was published in 1897. I use the term non-fiction cautiously. Though the book does more or less faithfully document the itinerary of his world tour, Twain was a self-admitted liar and yarn-spinner and some of the stories in the book are of a spurious nature. Take for instance the information he gleans from a fellow traveller about the Moa.

The Moa stood thirteen feet high, and could step over an ordinary man’s head or kick his hat off; and his head, too, for that matter. He said it was wingless, but a swift runner. The natives used to ride it. It could make forty miles an hour, and keep it up for four hundred miles and come out reasonably fresh. It was still in existence when the railway was introduced into New Zealand; still in existence, and carrying the mails. The railroad began with the same schedule it has now: two expresses a week-time, twenty miles an hour. The company exterminated the moa to get the mails.

Oh, really?

This passage is accompanied by an utterly bizarre and grotesque illustration featuring a moa, being ridden by a Māori man, kicking the head off another – while also carrying a bag of mail.

Of course, this tale is related by an unnamed third party so Twain could always just have claimed he’d been misinformed if proved incorrect – which is an old, tale tellers’ trick… and a good one.

In any case, he did get to see his legendary moa (or at least the skeleton of one) at Canterbury Museum. In terms of scenery he thought our riverside weeping willows “the stateliest and most impressive” in the world. He was also struck by the Englishness of Christchurch saying, in his usual sardonic style –

If it had an established Church and social inequality it would be England over again with hardly a lack.

He also applauded the success of women’s suffrage in New Zealand (women had got the vote in 1893), the good sense of which he summed up in the following statement –

In the New Zealand law occurs this: “The word person wherever it occurs throughout the Act includes woman.”

Well, of course.

More about Mark Twain in Christchurch

Cover of Autobiography of Mark TwainSearch our catalogue

The courage to write

Cover of A Way of LoveCourage Day is held on 15 November each year. It is the New Zealand name for The International Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The day acknowledges and supports writers who defend the right to freedom of expression.The day also stands as a memorial to writers who have been killed because of their profession. It was started in 1981 by PEN, the international writers’ organisation.

The New Zealand Society of Authors named the event after Sarah Courage and her grandson James Courage. Sarah wrote Lights and Shadows of Colonial Life: Twenty-six Years in Canterbury, New Zealand. This book was not well received by her neighbours. They didn’t like how she portrayed them. The neighbours burnt the book.

James Courage was born in Amberley and educated at Christ’s College in Christchurch. His novel A Way of Love was banned because he dared to express homosexuality in his writing prior to the setting up of the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1964. He has a plaque on the Christchurch Writers’ Trail outside his old school.

It takes a lot of courage to write a book that challenges our society’s views on what should or should not be in print. It takes even more courage to defend that right even when faced with persecution, imprisonment or death. As Heather Hapeta, previous chair of the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors, once said, ‘This New Zealand name of Courage is also appropriate because of the bravery required by those authors who face opposition in its many forms’.

On the 15th of November, let us celebrate the author’s right to write and the reader’s right to read.

Geraldine Brooks in Christchurch on 18 November – Toppling the hero…

Make sure not to miss this on Wednesday 18 November at 7.30pm – WORD Christchurch and Bookenz, in association with Hachette NZ, are proud to present an evening with Pulitzer prize-winning writer Geraldine Brooks, in conversation with Morrin Rout.

Cover of The Secret ChordHuman nature being what it is, we place certain personalities on pedestals only to vilify them on later occasions, normally when they have no right of response as they have departed the earthly world. Very rarely do we internalise why this situation arises, but usually the social barometer (public opinion) swings from left to right with alarming rapidity and then finally settles down somewhere in the ‘middle’ when a humane account i.e. their follies and their strengths make them more human.

Geraldine Brooks’ latest novel The Secret Chord based on the life of King David set 1000 BCE is a work of fiction, but reading it we have access to a creditably flawed and complex individual. His childhood is harsh but he survives it with an arrogance and self-belief system that is truly amazing. He is a tyrant and murderous despot who, having vast armies at his disposal, eventually becomes King.  He is loved as a figurehead by his subjects and his soldiers; yet his wives have reason to both love and fear him, and his children plot against him and betray him in their adulthood.

It’s a fantastic, hugely enjoyable epic story and lovers of historical fiction will probably race to get their copies.

Other works by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks can be found on our library shelves and on the library eBook and eAudiobook platforms (including our latest downloadable eAudiobook platform BorrowBox).

크라이스트 쳐치의 봄은 바람이 분다

이달은 온통 바쁨니다. 마음이 바쁨니다. 해아할 일들이 산입니다. 시작을 해야 하는 때인지 마무리를 해야하는 때인지 아직도 헤메고 있습니다. 11월이 봄이라서 그런가 봅니다.

이달에 소개할 책들 입니다.

모스크바 1957년 서곡 – 공영희

Korean books on shelf
Korean books, Flickr, Korean-Nov-2015-IMG_1471.jpg

모스크바의  밤은 길고 깊었다. 인적 없는 거리의 가로등 불빛으로  미친듯이 휘몰아치는  눈보라를 바라보며 모스크바의  겨울을 지냈다. 그때, 나는 생각했다. 토스토예프스키나 솔제니친의 소설 속에 나오는 시베리아 유형지를. 러시아의  긴 극한의 겨울밤에 나는 ‘참으로 고독했고 고향을 떠난자의 슬픔은 떠난 자만이 알 수 있다.’라고 생각했다. 모스크바에서 만난 특별한 인연들, 그분들과 나는 오랜 시간 정치, 경제, 문화, 예술에대해 그리고 조국에 관한 이야기를 나눴고, 정을 나눴다. 한국에 사는 사람들은  상상할 수 없는  한 뒤안길에, 그분들은 있었다. 역사는 누가 만드는 것일까, 역사 속엔  누가 존재하는가, 한 개인에게  국가는 어떤 존재인가. – 작가의 말 중에서

코끼리는 안녕 은 이종산 작가의 제1회 문학동네 대학소설상 수상작입니다. 드라큘라와 미라가 등장하는, 시공간을 넘나드는 판타지 로맨스….. ? 젊은 작가들의 신선하고 독특한 그들만의 도전은 기존의 틀을 깬 것 만으로도 그 가치를 인정받는 것 같습니다. 왜냐하면 그들만의 젊은 산고가, 그 시작이 새로움이라는 알을 낳았기 때문일 것입니다. “오래 품고 있던 마음을 전하려 매일 조금씩 썼다. 마지막 문장을 쓰고 나니 다음이 생겼다. 나에게 다음 같은 것이 생길 줄은 몰랐는데 신기하고 고맙다.”  작가의 수상소감에서

강태식작가의 굿바이 동물원 은 처절한 경쟁 사회에서 밀려난 주인공이 동물원의 동물로 취직하면서, 고릴라의 탈을 쓰고 철제 구조물 엠파이어스테이트빌딩을 오르내리면서 살아가는 이야기입니다. ”나는 안다. Cover of The Name Jar매운 건 마늘이 아니다. 눈물을 흘리는 것도 마늘 때문이 아니다. 사는 게 맵다. 매우니까 눈물이 난다. 한때는 나도 마늘을 까면서 눈물을 흘린 적이 있다. 그래서 안다. 마늘보다 사는 게 백배쯤 맵다는 걸. 그리고 마늘을 깐다는 게 사람을 얼마나 외롭고 쓸쓸하게 만드는 지도.” (p.159)

11월의 어린이 도서는 최양숙 선생님의 ‘내 이름이 담긴 병‘을 소개합니다. 이 책은 eBook (전자책) The Name Jar 으로도 읽을 수 있습니다.

Avian Flu and the ‘Quiet Days of Power’

It started with the destruction of the world via avian flu and ended with mind control and memory loss via music. My last few weeks have been filled with two books from my go-to genre, dystopian science fiction, and both were rip-snorters.

Cover of Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a classic post-apocalyptic tale. A deadly flu that kills within hours sweeps through the entire world population, laying waste to all but a few hardy souls. We follow a group of survivors, whose lives intersect at various stages throughout the book. The interesting decision by the author to switch between the time when the flu hit and then twenty years later to see how society survived, coped and altered gives the story movement and contrasts, and I loved seeing where and when the characters met and re-connected.

The main story centres around a band of actors and musicians who travel through mid-west USA performing Shakespeare and classical music to the few survivors in scattered outposts: people eking out an existence without any infrastructure, centralised government and dwindling resources. Holding onto history, art and culture in such a bleak landscape seems both foolhardy and wonderful in equal measures.

The Chimes by Anna Smaill is a very different animal. Yes, people are struggling, living in a London very different to the one we know, but things are very different from Station Eleven. There is a power in charge, a cloistered order that have developed a powerful weapon they use on their own people to keep control. The weapon? Music.

Cover of The ChimesThe Chimes are sent through the air and there is no escaping them; they wipe people’s memories and keep them subdued: you almost feel music has become an opiate that makes the populace feel safe. With no written word, people use music and song to remember things, such as how to travel from one place to another. They also keep objects that help them remember family, places and their history.

I love the use of musical terms in their language, many of which I had to look up, such as Lento, which means slow and Tacit, which means a sudden stop in a piece of music. I was fascinated by the way music was both their prison and their saviour, the way the protagonists in the story used music to keep themselves alive and to try to bring down those in power.

The run was tacit. Clare and I followed the first of the two strange, twisting melodies. Ours moved straight into the fourth chord and pushed on presto, skipping and meandering and returning almost completely on itself  before branching straight out in a modulation to the dominant.

Simon, our main character, is an orphaned young man who soon discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

Both books fit my ideal of dystopia. People struggling in an alien world, even if it is our own in a different time or altered state. Heroes, villains and fascinating ideas to transport you and challenge you. Both books get the Purplerulz  purple seal of approval… read them now!

To learn more about the writing process and ideas behind The Chimes, read Masha’s great post about her interview with Anna Smaill.

Rick Riordan’s Introduction to Norse Mythology

Rick Riordan, the creator of Percy Jackson, has just released the first book in his new series.  Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard follows Rick’s new character, Magnus Chase, as he tries to prevent the end of the world, Ragnarok. If you love Percy Jackson you’ll love this new series.  You can reserve your copy at the library now.

Cover of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard 1Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers. One day, he is tracked down by a man he’s never met a man his mother claimed was dangerous. The man tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god. The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants, and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years. When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

If you read Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer and want to find out more about Norse mythology or read more stories featuring the Norse gods we have the perfect book list for you.  We’ve just created an If you like…Norse Mythology for Kids booklist that has some great books that you could try next, including:

The Secret Lives of New Zealand Children’s Authors

Which New Zealand illustrator often gets chocolate on her artwork? Which New Zealand author once wet her pants in fright? Whose nickname is Giggleswick? Who loves to eat strawberry sandwiches? You can find out the answer to all of these questions in our New Zealand Children’s Author pages.

In our New Zealand Children’s Author pages we have interviews with New Zealand children’s authors and illustrators.  You can find out their favourite foods and authors, embarrassing moments, nicknames, what they were like at school and much more.  You’ll find interviews with authors like Margaret Mahy, Des Hunt, Elizabeth Pulford and Melinda Szymanik.  Some of our featured authors have even written short stories that you can read anywhere, anytime.  There is Giant Jimmy Jones by Gavin Bishop, The McGoodys by Joy Cowley, and It’s Quackers Around Here by Maria Gill.

We’ve added two more interviews recently, with R.L. Stedman (author of A Necklace of Souls) and Sue Copsey (author of The Ghosts of Tarawera).

This week we are celebrating New Zealand Book Week so there is no better time to check out these fun, entertaining interviews with some of our wonderful New Zealand authors and illustrators.

Off the shelf (2)

As followers of our blog will know, voracious reader Robyn has been sharing with us on a regular basis the titles that she has been adding to her For Later shelf. This time she reports back on some of the titles that have graduated to her Completed shelf.

An art theme to some books that came off the For Later shelf recently.

Gothic Wonder by Paul Binski
Cover of Gothic WonderA beautiful book. All the images are lovely to look at but my best ones are the gargoyles and the manuscripts. Favourite chapter is called the Pleasures of Unruling, featuring the unforgettable phrase ‘genitalia in marginalia’.  Gothic Churches were so expensive the monks were “very eager to highlight any financially winning miraculous or semi-miraculous events”. Finding a cache of coins was popular – a sure sign that God would provide and it was O.K. to just keep building.

Everything Is Happening by Michael Jacobs
Cover of Everything is HappeningIt’s good to look at things in detail sometimes, but lots of words on lots of pages on one work of art can be very daunting. This look at Velásquez’s painting Las Meninas (‘the maids of honour’ in Spanish) is both detailed and short. But it still manages to say some fresh things about a work that has been analyzed more than most.

Francis Bacon in Your Blood by Michael Peppiatt
Francis Bacon is a great and terrifying artist. He is also reputed to have said: “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends”. Two reasons to read a book about him.

What books have moved off your For Later shelf recently?