Dragon Springs Road – Janie Chang

Cover of Dragon Springs RoadDragon Springs Road by Janie Chang has as many layers as a Chinese puzzle. This beautifully painted tale is a saga containing a mystery, with elements of romance, fantasy, fairy tale and Chinese spiritualism. The story is set against the dramatic backdrop of the 1911 Chinese Revolution; the last reign of the Xing Dynasty.

Jialing is a young hun xue (mixed breed) girl abandoned by her mother. The other word used to describe her isn’t very nice. Jialing’s mother was Chinese, her father British. Her plight highlights the status of women and those of mixed race in a changing society. Women at this time were regarded as property, with little options for independence.

Grandmother Yang, the Matriarch of a well respected family, takes Jialing in as a Bond Servant. She is property of the family until she can buy her freedom. Unfortunately for Jialing, her options as an adult are limited. Although educated, discrimination against her Eurasian appearance makes her almost unemployable.

When a family finds itself in financial difficulty, even wives can be sold; or as servants, or worse, into brothels. Jialing can only hope to be a mistress or a prostitute, unless she is lucky. Aided and protected by a Fox Spirit, Jialing attempts to find a home, friendship, her mother, independence and love.

Janie Chang is also the author of Three Souls.

This is the perfect book to read during Lunar New Year!

Dragon Springs Road
by Janie Chang
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062388957

Lunar New Year events

All about China

Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars

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

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

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

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

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

According to Helen: Best reads of 2016

These are my top 10 books of 2016 – a mix of poetry, novels, and non-fiction that I loved and still wish I hadn’t finished (grumble grumble).

Cover of Book of longingBook of Longing

I have always been a big fan of Leonard Cohen‘s incredible music and was in no way disappointed by his poetry. This anthology is every bit as beautiful, poignant, and playful as his lyrics. I definitely recommend seeing out 2016 by reading this reflective and enlightening collection, and remembering this sadly missed genius.

North and South

To my eternal shame, I only read the book of ‘North and South’ for the first time this year, despite having watched the wondrous BBC series at least 50 times (and yes I am unashamed). I enjoyed every minute of this book and not only because I could envisage the dashing Richard Armitage throughout the novel (not wholly) but because of its fascinating story, real characters, and gripping narrative. A must read for anyone who loves classics – or even just an outstanding novel.

Cover of Nightingale WoodNightingale Wood

‘Nightingale Wood’ is a fun and fabulous Cinderella story set in the 1930s. It is a truly magical read that will make everything you read after seem vastly inferior (trust me, I still wish I hadn’t finished it, *sigh*).

The Fit

I enjoyed every minute of this hillarious, tragic, and poignant novel. Hensher handles some heartbreaking themes with perception and humanity.  ‘The Fit’ well earned its place in my best books of 2016.

Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman

This collection of short stories detailing the exploits of A J Raffles, a cricketer by day and society thief by night, is incredibly fun – and incredibly good. Lovers of Sherlock Holmes will enjoy these stories which are set in the same era as Holmes and told with the same flair. This is a new author to get addicted to.

Eugene Onegin

I just loved Pushkin’s beautiful novel in verse. Onegin’s dreamy prose, fabulous heroine, and exquisitely sad story made this not just a best read of 2016 for me, but one of my best reads ever.

Cover of Public Library and other storiesPublic Library and Other Stories

This weird and wonderful book was definitely a highlight of this year. While a very fitting subject for me to be reading about it was also a moving, wacky and constantly gripping read.

Shadowed Journey

Did I have a huge soft spot for this book because it was written by a distant ancestor of mine? Yes. But did I genuinely love this book with its adorably bad romantic story, and its wonderful evocation of New Zealand during the 1950s? A big yes. Oh and have I reserved more titles by this author? You bet, yes.

Cover of Oscar's booksOscar’s Books

This wonderfully warm and engaging biography must be the ultimate work on Oscar Wilde. Wright manages to get right into the mind of this incredible genius with an endearing obsessiveness, intelligence, and warmth.

Phantom Terror

Written with flair, honesty, and scintillating detail, Zamoyski’s latest work looks at Europe during the paranoid and anxious post revolution period. While reminiscent of one of Zamoyski’s earlier works (‘Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots and Revolutionaries 1776-1871’) ‘Phantom Terror’ is still a must read for any lover of grippingly written history. Zamoyski is a master historian who consistently manages to bring the past to life with a new and important perspective.

Want more reading recommendations for the best of the year? Check out our bumper Best Reads of 2016 post.

Helen
Linwood Library

Back in time and half a world away

Armchair travel is always a big hit over the Summer holidays, so we’ve put together a travel list with a bit of a twist… Come, throw yourself backwards in time and half a world away.

Our new booklist, International Historical Fiction, has heaps of recommendations from all over the world, and from many different time periods.

My personal favourite is Eowyn Ivey’s new one To the Bright Edge of the World – Alaskan wilderness, science and exploration bordering on the world of magic and myth. Sophie, young and newlywed in the 1880s, is fascinated with the science of photography and a bit of a weird outcast among the other women, while her husband Allan is leading an expedition across the unexplored (by white people, at least) wilderness of Alaska. I could use lots of words like ‘frontier’ and ‘isolation’ and ‘fascinating detail’ and ‘gosh white explorers are awful when it comes to the native people.’

Cover of 'to the bright edge of the world'  Cover of 'Homegoing' cover of 'Barkskins'

If you like stories with huge scope that traverse through multiple countries and confront harsh historical realities, have a look at Homegoing, a story of half-sisters with two remarkably different destinies. One young woman, Effia, is given in marriage to a high ranking British official, while her half-sister, Esi, is held in the dungeons below as a slave. The ramifications of the distance between them and the unhealed scars of slavery run through this novel for seven generations.

Similar in scope is Annie Proulx’s new novel, Barkskins. Both Homegoing and Barkskins begin in the 18th century, but Barkskins opens in New France. At over 700 pages it should keep you going all holidays, and take you through the two intertwining families through the generations.

Or if you want to load up on an entire epic series, let Conn Iggulden’s five book Conqueror series take you back to the time of Ghengis Khan on the Mongolian Plains, or head east, to David Kirk’s Sword of Honour if you want to meet some samurai out for revenge.

Cover of 'Conqueror' Cover of 'Sword of honour' Cover of 'Snow flower and the secret fan' Cover of 'Under the Udala Trees' 

For something perhaps a little gentler, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a beautiful story of a deep and powerful friendship between two women in 19th century China. Something a little bit more modern? Under the Udala Trees is set in the 1960s and 1970s in Nigera, a dangerous place to be if you’re a woman in love with another woman. A debut novel of gender equality and the right to love in a country recovering from civil war.

Recommended booklists from Christchurch City Libraries:

Staff pickles logo Or check out our Staff Pickles personalised lists, some choice lists with a historical or international flavour are:

  • Historical Fiction of the Masses – no drawing-room gossip or swooning in these novels! A list by Dan.
  • Translated Reads – a glimpse of a life and a world originally told in another language. A list by Roberta.
  • The World Wars: fiction and fantasy – stories of the brightest and darkest of humanities nature during two horrific time periods. A list by Alison.
  • Behaving Badly in the 1800s – mostly young adult fiction, these are books about people busting out and breaking rules. Another list by Alison.
  • Dead Dames – books written by dead women. A list by Alina.
  • Microhistories – discover the unusual and often surprising history of things like sugar, human waste, bananas, milk, coal, plants and that most mysterious of the cutlery family, the fork. Another list by Alina.

Cool stuff from the Selectors: Children’s and adult fiction

CoverWild animals of the North by Dieter Braun
A children’s book about the animals who live across the 3 regions of North America, Europe and Asia. This book has been getting a lot of good reviews. The illustrations are stars. They are bright, stunning and show the animals as full of life and personality. This is the first in a series that will cover the animals of the world.

The Guardian has great examples of the illustrations.

CoverAnother animal book, this time from the always superb husband and wife team of Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. (They have produced 16 books together): Flying Frogs and Walking Fish : Leaping Lemurs, Tumbling Toads, Jet-propelled Jellyfish, and More Surprising Ways That Animals Move. 46 creatures in the typical paper collages against crisp white background style, showing  how they might march, stroll, tiptoe or perhaps glide soar or coast.

Fiction

On the fiction front there are promising titles such Days Without End by the Irish writer Sebastian Barry, which is a kind of literary western along the lines of that terrific novel The Sisters Brothers. Barry’s earlier novel  The Secret Scripture has been filmed (with Rooney Mara, Vanessa Redgrave and Eric Bana) and is expected to bring more publicity to this very talented writer.

Other titles coming up from first rate novelists include Michael Chabon Moonglow, Alice Hoffman Faithful,  Alan Moore Jerusalem,  Ron Rash The Risen,  Zadie Smith Swing Time Stephenie Meyer The Chemist.

So … something for everyone

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Historical Fiction of the Masses

Historical fiction is beaut and I read LOADS of it!

I find that it’s an opportunity for talented writers to explore a tiny part of history and expand on it in a way that keeps within the spirit of the times. With the added bonus of hindsight, they might get into some areas that perhaps weren’t fully described by contemporary historians in factual writings.

There’s another side to historical fiction too, and this is the tendency to lean towards topics & settings centred on ladies holding court in the drawing room or the Upstairs-Downstairs type narrative full of posh English aristocrats, much like the recently popular Downton Abbey or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which has had the tele treatment.

There’s nothing wrong with these stories, some of them are written beautifully and they sure make good TV fodder, but my concern is that we may be boxing the term “historical fiction” into these aristocratic themes and subsequently some other great works about the “historical common people” are not reaching audiences that would love them. So let’s get into the gritty side of what I like to call (for lack of a better term) Historical Fiction of the Masses.

CoverA fine example of Historical Fiction of the Masses (and I may be showing by Tasmanian roots here) is one of my favourite books of all time – Gould’s Book of Fish – a Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan. He’s a Tasmanian author who most recently won the Man Booker Prize for his work (also historical fiction) Narrow Road to the Deep North.

In Gould’s Book of Fish he delves deeply into the corruption, lunacy and brutality of the penal system of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land in the 17th/18th centuries. This is a history not often told in its full brutal reality by history’s keepers, until quite recently when shame around the perceived “convict stain” was turned around and many people began speaking with pride of their convicted and transported ancestors.

CoverThere’s another very accomplished and award winning Tasmanian author who writes good “Historical Fiction of the Masses” – Rohan Wilson. His two titles – The Roving Party and To Name Those Lost are full of grit and reality and are based on real points of history, and the characters based on real people.

And there’s other great international titles in this vein too, The Revenant by Michael Punke is a survivalist story set in the 19th century Rocky Mountains frontier and has recently achieved a lot of attention with Leonardo Dicaprio claiming his first Oscar for his role as the main character.

CoverThe North Water by Ian McGuire dealing with life on a whaling ship in the North Sea & the ship’s morally corrupt crew was long-listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize

There’s a huge depth of writing in this style and a new title piqued my interest after I heard an interview with the author Eowyn Ivey on Radio New Zealand.

CoverHer book is titled To the Bright Edge of the World and during her interview she expressed her admiration for minimalist writers such as Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. She even said that one of her best-loved books was Gould’s Book of Fish by Flanagan – how could you resist!? Her book is written as diary entries and other correspondence amongst a group travelling through the wilds of frozen Alaska, their families & their descendants. It’s brutal, realistic and believable with strong engaging characters, a weight of mysticism and a deep plot – all the elements for a fine example of Historical Fiction of the Masses!

Go get some titles like these and get reading! Ma Te Wa.

Father’s Day

CoverBring it on – I am prepared!!

On Sunday 4 September I will be armed with both a card and a small gift to celebrate the fact that I have a long-suffering but wonderful father.

When considerably younger I possibly needed a ‘mental jog’ about the impending event from my ‘constantly on my case’ mum, but in more recent times (a few exceptions aside when I was in different hemispheres and the dates were different), I have managed a card at the very least.

CoverMy last-ditch attempts during my self-obsessed teenage years must have been very taxing, but it sharpened up Dad’s ‘acting skills’ as he managed to look delighted when yet another ‘Brut soap on a rope’ appeared.  I hit the jackpot one year when I recycled a mother’s day present (who I found out was not a fan of ‘crooners’), and Dad became the proud owner of Francis Albert Sinatra’s ‘Greatest Hits’. That was indeed ‘a very good year’.

Fascinated since childhood by all things nautical – past, present and future – he has, since retirement, done a lot of reading courtesy of Christchurch City Libraries, ploughing through C S Forester’s ‘Hornblower‘ novels; Patrick O’Brien’s Captain Jack Aubrey works and recently Dewey Lambdin’s main character Alan Lewrie.

If transported through the medium of print or film back to the Golden Age of  Sailing albeit in the form of Egyptian wooden sailing Feluccas, Spanish Armadas, Tea Clippers, early Ocean Liners and Thor Heyerdahl‘s balsa wood ‘Kon-Tiki’ expedition you witness a totally captivated audience of one!

Many a Sunday night we sat down to watch The Onedin Line ; the Pater to appreciate wooden vessels whilst I watched a ‘period drama’ unfold and desperately hoped the seas wouldn’t be too choppy, NEVER having been a good sailor!!

The Christchurch City Libraries holds a wealth of information that keep fathers occupied and out of trouble – what can all its resources offer your Dad? Investigate all the possibilities – books, ebooks, audiobooks, films and report back (especially if I’ve missed a little ‘gem’ in the nautical line).

Oh, and the gift definitely isn’t soap-on-a-rope this time Dad!!

An Hour with Dame Fiona Kidman – WORD Christchurch

CoverFiona Kidman’s latest book All Day at the Movies explores what it means to be a woman in New Zealand. It’s an episodic novel  set over six decades. She explores where families were at and where they are going now.

Family is important to me as an only child I was often an observer looking in on families.

But she also says “I try not to put  my family into books”.

This novel was inspired by the sight of abandoned tobacco kilns.  Her father grew tobacco in KeriKeri and the memories of the Nicotiana scent drew her to setting her central character in the tobacco field of Motueka. The novel features a lot of pregnancies – as Owen Marshall observes, some more welcome than others.  One of her characters doesn’t know who her father is.

Fiona acknowledges pregnancy is a huge issue in women’s lives. She is an adoptive mother herself, and  acknowledges adoption was not handled well in the past.  Recently her novels are set around a central historical character – but in this novel she wanted to say something about politics, how decisions made in Wellington affect people’s lives.

Fiona has always been a political animal. She was part of the 1981 Springbok tour movement as explored in her novel Beside the Dark Pool. Exploring the social context her characters inhabit over the decades gives her a vehicle to say something about how Wellington decisions affect their lives.

Dame Fiona Kidman in interview with Own Marshall
Dame Fiona Kidman in interview with Owen Marshall

Looking at her characters as they deal with illegitimacy, estrangement, and abuse you may think she has a negative view of life and of men. But she says “I love men”. There are at least 5 positive men in the book, even though it may not seem that men come out well.

“I have had a lucky life” one of her characters says in the novel (and she observes it of her own life) which ends on an optimistic note. She looks at the circumstances of her characters and why things happen without making judgments. Authentic characters are important – how real people deal with things and how it affects them in 20, 30, 40 years time. Her characters become very real to her – they stand at the kitchen bench and come for rides with her in the car. By the time she sits down to write a novel they have their own voice which has to be listened to. Sometimes she is ready to let them go after a novel, and sometimes they don’t want to go away and reappear in another form like her character Jessie Sandal from Songs of the Violet Café.

Fiona has always been a feminist writer as is evident in  A breed of Women. She sees herself not as a woman’s writer but a writer writing for women. She first thought of herself as a writer as a 22-year-old in the 1960s. It was in an era when it was embarrassing to be pregnant. She had worked at Rotorua Library and moved to Rotorua High School library when she married her husband who also worked there. When she got pregnant, students remarked “Got her up the duff eh Sir!”, leading to a request for her to leave the school. Such were the expectations of the era.

She left and started writing – submitting a play for a competition. Her play evoked the comment that it must have been written by the dirtiest minded young woman in New Zealand.

I felt I did know stuff about being a woman that a middle-aged man in Wellington seemed not to know.

Fiona often struggled with expectations:

What am I doing sitting at the kitchen table, buying the kids clothes not preserving hundreds of jars and doing this.

She worked as a secretary of PEN and the NZ Book Council and hoped to help authors think of writing as working.

Her favourite genre is short stories but they don’t sell a lot of books and she loves poetry but working in other genres is necessary. She made as much money working in television in a month as writing in a couple of years.

  • Through working in television, she learnt to see as you would through the camera
  • through radio work she learn to listen especially to the silences
  • through journalism she learnt to ask questions

All have been useful in her writing work.  Poetry is not so much thinking about the audience more spontaneous.

Unsuitable Friends signed Signed by Fiona Kidman
Signed after all these years

Read more about Fiona Kidman from her official websiteThe Academy of New Zealand Literature, The New Zealand Book Council, and  Penguin Press.

Find books by Fiona Kidman in our collection.

WORD Christchurch

Written from the heart – Jenny Pattrick’s Heartland, our Community Read

HeartlandI wonder what it must feel like to have your book selected for the Library Community Read? To put your head on the pillow at night secure in the knowledge that all over Canterbury there will be folk propped up in bed, all of them reading your book.  Or readers will be meeting up at book groups to chat about it, and fans planning to attend events where you will be the guest of honour.

Because that’s exactly what has happened to Jenny Pattrick whose novel Heartland has been selected as the 2016 Library Community Read.

I know that I would be chuffed as, veering from inwardly proud to outwardly something of a pain in the proverbial. But it’s not going to happen to me. Instead, I get to read this marvellously heart warming book, host an event at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre which Jenny will be attending, and generally faff around getting caught up in this great event.

The Denniston RoseFor someone who only started to write at the age of sixty, Jenny has turned out to be something of a role-model for creative seniors and New Zealand writers in general. Heartland is her tenth book. Well known for her works Heart of Coal and The Denniston Rose, she is also the author of popular children’s book The Very Important Godwit.

If you’ve ever driven through any beautiful, small New Zealand town, stopped for a mince and cheese pie and an L&P, then  wandered over to the Estate Agent notice board and turned to your significant other and said: ‘this is a great little place, and look at the house prices – we should move here!‘ then you will love this book.

It’s got everything. But most of all it’s got heart. Or as Danny the main character would put it: WooHoo!

Find out more about the Community Read

  • Book chat, tea and tales with Jenny Pattrick. Thursday 18 August, 10am to 11.30am. Read Jenny’s book Heartland. Find out more.
  • Experience Jenny Pattrick’s book Heartland brought to life by The Court Jesters.
    Drinks and nibbles from 6.30pm. Friday 19 August 7pm to 9pm.
    Find out more.
  •  Join Jenny for a special interactive, toe-tapping storytime featuring the enchanting The Very Important Godwit. Fly in with the whole family to enjoy a musical storytelling extravaganza! Saturday 20 August 2pm to 3pm. Find out more.

Community Read

New Zealand International Film Festival 2016

Last night the Christchurch programme for the New Zealand International Film Festival was released and as usual, in amongst a programme that really does have something for everyone, there’s a healthy clutch of literary offerings.

Every year the New Zealand International Film Festival screens a range of films over a two week period. The 2016 Christchurch festival runs from 28 July to 14 August.

Literary films at the Festival

Several of the films at the Festival are based on books, or are on the subject of writers. Portions of the following list have been kindly supplied by the Festival organisers.

Cover of The History PlaysChimes at Midnight
Thanks to an astonishingly crisp restoration, Orson Welles’ 1965 Shakespearean masterpiece lives anew. Welles gives a mammoth performance as the Bard’s tragic fool Falstaff, along with John Gielgud as Henry IV and Keith Baxter as Hal. Chimes at Midnight is based on a compendium of Shakespeare’s history plays – Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The Daughter
The most lauded Australian drama of the last year, this bold, superbly acted debut from acclaimed theatre director Simon Stone reimagines Ibsen’s The Wild Duck in a contemporary small town.

The Handmaiden
Based on Welsh novelist Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, this outrageous and lusciously erotic thriller from the director of Oldboy transposes a Victorian tale of sex, duplicity and madness to 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea.

Cover of High RiseHigh-rise
In Ben Wheatley’s ambitious, wildly disorienting adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel, tenants of a high-tech skyscraper slip into a literal class war. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss. (Read our blog post about the novel, High-rise: J. G. Ballard’s Vertical Zoo)

The Idealist
A plane crash, government corruption and nuclear warheads are just some of the ingredients for this taut Danish docu-drama, set in the aftermath of the Cold War. Based on a book by the award-winning journalist Poul Brink.

Indignation
Adapted from Philip Roth’s autobiographical novel of the same name, Indignation is an incisive, affecting drama of embattled individuality on a 50s American campus. With Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon.

Cover of Life, animatedLife, Animated
This incredibly moving and fascinating doco takes us into the interior life of autistic Owen Suskind, and explores how his love of Disney animated features gave him the tools as a child to communicate with the world. Based on the book by Ron Suskind.

Neruda
Not your conventional biopic, this enthralling dramatic exploration of the legacy of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda conjures up a fiction in which he is pursued into political exile by an incompetent detective played by Gael García Bernal.

Obit
Vanessa Gould’s fond and fascinating documentary introduces us to the unseen women and men responsible for crafting the obituaries of the New York Times.

A Quiet Passion
Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle and Keith Carradine star in Terence Davies’ lively, witty and ultimately intensely moving dramatisation of the sheltered life of 19th-century New England poet Emily Dickinson.

Cover of The rehearsalThe Rehearsal
In Alison Maclean’s vibrant screen adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, a first-year acting student (James Rolleston) channels the real-life experience of his girlfriend’s family into art and sets off a moral minefield.

Sunset Song
“Terence Davies’s Sunset Song is a movie with a catch or sob in its singing voice: a beautifully made and deeply felt adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of rural Scotland.” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt
This new documentary provides insight and historical perspective on the life and work of philosopher Hannah Arendt, illuminating her relevance to some of the most troubling phenomena of our own times.

More information