Double the reading fun with the Big Library Read!

Ever wanted to join a book club or reading group but never got round to it? Here’s your opportunity! It’s quick, easy and doesn’t require venturing out in dismal weather.

OverDrive Big Library Read

I am talking about the OverDrive Big Library Read, which is coming back from 7 to 21 October. The Big Library Read is a global book club: during this period, millions of readers around the word have unlimited simultaneous access to the selected eBooks – no need for waitlists or holds.

And, this time, the Big Library Read offers not one but two titles to choose from. You can place a hold now and you’ll be notified when the eBook is available:

Cover of The Door in the Hedge Cover of In THe Shadow of Blackbirds

The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley
(Suitable for ages 10 and up)
Ensorcelled princesses … a frog that speaks … a magical hind — Newbery Medal winner Robin McKinley opens a door into an enchanted world in this collection of original and retold fairy tales.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
(Suitable for ages 14 and up)
Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

So get ready to join the global book club!

Spec’ Fic’ in Chch

Spec Fic… what‘s that? Spec Fic is short for Speculative Fiction and was first used by R.A Heinlein in 1953 in a Library Journal as an umbrella genre for fiction about “things that have not happened”: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the bits in between. Spec fic is alive and well and happening in Christchurch as last weekend’s Spec Fic meeting to celebrate local Sir Julius Vogel awardees testifies.

Cover of The Heir of Night by Helen LoweAbout fifty people gathered in the Fendalton Library boardroom to congratulate four Vogel award finalists, two of whom won in their category. Beaulah Pragg, herself a published author, introduced the session and multi-award winning Helen Lowe who spoke about the importance of the genres and the place of awards. Fantasy, she told us, is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality, as the myths and folk tales of hundreds of human cultures attest. While writers write for the delight of storytelling and because the stories demand to be told awards can still be tremendously affirming to those who frequently work in some isolation. Moreover, events like this demonstrate the importance of the literary community supporting and celebrating one another.
Read Helen’s keynote on her blog.

The best of Twisty Christmas talesThe first finalist speaker was Shelley Chappell, who was short-listed for both best novella and for best new talent. Shelley has a PhD in Children’s and Young Adults’ Literature from Macquarie University in Sydney but writes for all age groups. Many of her YA titles are re-tellings of fairy stories, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstilkskin. Re-telling fairy tales, often with a twist, writing new ones, and exploring their development has become a fairly popular genre with several notable proponents such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Catherynne M. Valente and Jack Zipes.

Tim Stead has written a trilogy of book and seems well into the next trilogy. The ‘The Seventh Friend‘ was a finalist for Best Novel and have been warmly reviewed on Amazon. He was also a finalist for Best New Talent.

A.J. Fitzwater was the winner of the Best New Talent award, although she said that she’s been at it for five years so being called “new” was an odd thing to wrap her head around. She read us an excerpt from her latest story about to be published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Issue 61 – “Long’s Confandabulous Clockwork Circus and Carnival, and Cats of Many Persuasions” which seems to have a ‘carni-punk’ setting so look out for that one. A. J. also spoke about her experiences at the prestigious Clarion Writers workshop last year where she underwent an intensive six weeks of tutoring and writing with top writers such as Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, Nora Jemisin, and Catherynne Valente.

Spec Fic displayOur final winner was Rebecca Fisher who won the prize for Best Fan Writing. Fan writing isn’t the same as fan fiction, but rather is awarded for blogging, interviewing, reviewing and other forms of writing about speculative fiction. She has a popular blog They’re All Fictional, guest blogs at various sites and is a top reviewer on Amazon so if you’re into the genres she’s one to follow.

Connecting with New Zealand genre authors and their work isn’t always easy, so events like this are really important. If you want to find out more about these great authors follow the links above and keep an eye on the Sir Julius Vogel Awards and the SFFANZ (for science fiction and fantasy) or other NZ book sites.

Locked and loaded for the Zombie Apocalypse

Cover of Zombie SurvivalIt’s Zombie Awareness Month. Do you know where your cricket bat/lawnmower/blunt object of choice is?

No, but seriously, it IS zombie awareness month. What’s more, it’s nearly over and I haven’t even revised my evacuation plan or topped up the first aid kit in case of the Zombie Apocalypse. I deserve to get my brains munched, frankly.

But fear not! For your library is practically overflowing with zombie-related reading and viewing. So here are my picks of the best of the shambling undead.


Better check out some fight sequences and bone up on your best zombie combat moves –

  • The Walking Dead – We’re between seasons with everyone’s favourite zombie horror TV series, but why not got back and rewatch the first season before Rick went feral and facial hair took over his face? You know, back when the post-apocalyptic world was a kinder, gentler, better groomed place.
  • Warm BodiesCover of Warm bodies – A zombie as a romantic lead? Seems a bit unlikely but that’s the premise of this film starring Nicholas Hoult of TV show Skins.
  • World War Z – Where the zombies are fast and really good at climbing, the little monkeys. But are they a match for Brad Pitt in “action” mode? Well, they give it a good try at least…
  • I am Legend – Not technically zombies because they’re not dead (much like the ones in World War Z) but if you spend time quibbling about such distinctions during the apocalypse you’ll likely become someone’s afternoon tea, so just enjoy the ride (and make note of Will Smith’s survival skills and strategies).
  • Shaun of the dead (we’ve got this as a double-DVD combo with Hot Fuzz). Just the rom-zom-com to lighten the mood a touch.


Board up the windows and hunker down with some reading material –


No actual zombies around just at the moment? Make your own with the following crafty titles –

I think you’ll agree that’s plenty to be getting on with, but if you’ve got an hot tips for zombie reading or preparedness please do make suggestions.

Beyond The Veil: Historical Ghost Stories – WORD Christchurch

Book cover of The Thirteenth TaleWas anyone else frustrated that the ghost was always really just the Janitor in Scooby-Doo? Diane Setterfield, author of gothic suspense books The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black was. Today in her own writing she feels that she is doing injustice to real human experience if she explains all the spooky stuff away in the end.

Diane, Rosetta Allan, author of New Zealand Victorian ghost story Purgatory and Coral Atkinson, author of Lyttelton interwar spiritualism story Passing Through joined Liam McIlvanney to discuss all things historically ghostly as part of WORD Christchurch.

Real-life events inspired Rosetta and Coral to tackle historical subjects. Coral grew up surrounded by her father’s collection of historic swords and today feels that things from the past help her to write about it. She gathers photos, archival sources and objects from the era she is writing  to illuminate scenes and eras, sometimes basing scenes from her novels on old photographs. Coral is ever trying to avoid the ‘rock in the river’ when it comes to using all this historical detail though. All the authors agreed that historical accuracy shouldn’t take readers out of the story, but needs to be seamlessly worked in.

Book cover of PurgatoryRosetta’s novel, Purgatory, was based on a piece of family history she first heard from her father, notorious for his tall-tales. When she found out the story was true, Rosetta was inspired to start work on Purgatory. During a visit to the site of the murders, Rosetta felt he presence of John and so he became the ‘hero’ of the story.

Condensing significant historical events into personal stories was a challenge that faced all the authors. Diane finds it helpful to come at big events “slightly slant-ways” and Rosetta always wants to “find the personal story” in larger things. Coral is mindful that her characters “represent hundreds of thousands of other people” and wanted to show that things “go on and on” with disasters and tragedies, they are not just forgotten once the era has ended.Book cover of Passing Through

The authors finished by citing some influential writers:

Beyond the veil: Historical ghost stories
Coral Atkinson, Rosetta Allen, and Diane Setterfield.

Halloween – what’s not to like?

cover for HalloweenI think I’m going to put on my crusty curmudgeon hat and say “I hate Halloween”. I’m the sort of person who when kids come trick or treating says “your costumes look neat but we don’t do Halloween here”.

Why? Well let’s start with:

  • When did we start celebrating Halloween? Only in the last 10 or 15 years when the chain stores realised there was a buck to be made. Then they started promoting it like it had always been a Kiwi thing.
  • Allegedly it’s a time for kids to have fun but really it seems more like a thing for adults. They are either having Halloween parties and dressing up, or they are dressing up their kids.
  • It represents the triumph of American culture – Halloween is very much an American tradition which we have seen in films and television.
  • In many parts of the world All Saints Day is a time to remember the dead – not scary ghouls but real people you loved and who have died. The commercial takeover seems crass.
  • Halloween rituals make sense in the northern hemisphere where bonfires and lanterns are light against the encroaching darkness of the long Northern winter. Not so much in springtime New Zealand where the days are lighter and longer.

How do you feel about Halloween?

cover for Celebrating the southern seasonsAn alternative to Halloween which is green and rooted in Aotearoa’s cycle of seasons and cultural influences is suggested: National Green Day. Perfect for high spring: planting rituals like getting your tomatoes in, planting and enjoying fragrant native plants, harvesting the ti (tea tree), the return of pipiwharauroa (the shining cuckoo), enjoying the song of the riroriro (grey warbler).

Anyway grumps over – if Halloween is your bag we have lots of stuff to help celebrate the day:

A Zombie You Can Take Home to Your Parents

I learnt of a new genre this week and fell in love with a zombie for the second time. Zom-Rom-Com is a romantic comedy featuring a zombie as a leading romantic lead.

He’s cute, endearing and with a droll and funny sense of humour. He’s ‘R’ and he’s the zombie hero of Warm Bodies, a great Young Adult book by Isaac Marion that I really enjoyed last year, and is now a great new movie out in the theaters at present.

We have all got used to the lovable if troubled vampire, via the  True Blood television series, the books it was based on by Charlene Harris, and of course the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer that spurned a generation of movie vampire heart throbs.

But Zombies? They eat people, and they’re dead, so where’s the appeal? R doesn’t remember his past, just a shuffling existence around a deserted airport terminal in a post apocalyptic world. The remaining humans who have been spared the virus that has turned most of the world to zombies are holed up in a fortress and when R meets Julie, the daughter of leader of the human resistance, something sparks his humanity and he spares her, and becomes determined to save her and in the process saves himself.

The humour is great. In the movie there is a scene where ‘R’ tries to remember what life was like before, his voice over talks of a romanticised view of people connecting, loving, enjoying each other’s company, and we find ourselves looking at a busy airport terminal where everyone is connected alright, but to phones, computers, i-pods, all together but disconnected.

In both the book and the movie, the horror that is usually at the core of Zombie-hood is not at the core of the story, but love, acceptance and taking risks for others are.

Warm Bodies is a great story and has been made into a great movie, a faithful film recreation of a unique written story that is often hard to find.

Dark tales and a wimpy reader

Search catalogue for I remember youWhat sort of book makes a grown woman sleep with her light on? I have to admit I am only three-quarters through Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s book I Remember You and I am not sure I can complete it. When you get up half way through a sentence to make sure all the doors are locked and the windows closed then you know rather than enjoying the written word you are bordering on a panic attack.

Based partly in an isolated village (of course) in the Icelandic Westfjords we watch as three friends try to do up a derelict old house when they realise they are not alone. In the light of day you may accuse me of being a wimp but when you are snuggled up in bed at night all it took was a creak somewhere in my house for  me to question if my heart had stopped beating. I will finish this book – but only in daylight. If you are braver than me and love the feeling of all the prickly bits on the back of your neck standing up then check out this author.

Are there any other authors out there I should avoid reading at nighttime? I don’t have the nerve endings I once had!

Let the books find you

Tired of searching for stuff to read? Fret not, for there is a whole new way: let the books find you.

It’s easy as – just take a deep breath, calm your racing heart and step into a library, secure in the belief that the right book will, if not exactly jump off the shelf at you, at least seep in your direction.

Cover: Knit Your Own ZombieHere’s three of the books that found their way to me this month:

First up was Knit your own Zombie by Fiona Goble. A lovely colleague pointed this book out to me when I confessed that I would soon be knitting for my first grandchild. He steered me firmly away from the cute little knitted bunnies that I’d been eyeing, to this book of  eight full zombie characters who come with escaping entrails and velcroed appendages.

Forget stress balls and meditation and discover the insane pleasure of tearing their 100 percent little wool heads off.

Completely unsuitable for bebe on so many levels, but you gotta love the new craft movements that take old skills and whack them, with attitude, into the twenty-first century!

Cover: How to Be GayThe next shelf-jumper was How to be Gay by David M. Halperin. This is the sort of book that you don’t especially want to be seen clutching at in public, irrespective of your sexual orientation. But it is a great (albeit quite academic) read. The author is the founder of the LGBTQ course at the University of Michigan. His main argument is that gayness (particularly male gayness) is much more than a sexual orientation and is, in fact, a learned cultural orientation:

Just because you happen to be a gay man doesn’t mean that you don’t have to learn how to become one.

Halperin’s studies have incensed conservatives, fundamentalists and many gays as well. If you thought you were going to get décor hints and help to become a more stylish dresser, or that this read would be a fun romp that would help you blend in at the next Gay Parade, then this is not the book for you.

Instead, you might prefer the quintessentially British Hedge Britannia by Hugh Barker. Sub-titled A curious history of a British Obsession, this book lured me in at Fendalton Library – Christchurch’s Hedge Cover: Hedge BritanniaHeartland. It is a delightful read in which I learned all sorts of useless facts: that hedgerows have been around since Neolithic times and that Rockingham Castle has a stunning, rolling elephant hedge.  Wars over hedges haven’t been fought… yet, but hedge rage runs rife, and peeing on certain hedges can kill them.

I’d never have searched out these books because I didn’t even know they existed. So, a big thanks to all the wonderful displays put up by library staff around Christchurch, you help the books find me.

How about you, read any good shelf-jumpers lately?  Share, please do!

Avoid tinsel rage with some shiny graphic novels

I seem to be on a visual kick at the moment – I have managed to gather a huge pile of graphic novels recently, and am finding some real gems. I don’t know whether it’s an attempt by my poor pre-Christmas brain to cope with the insanity of all the lists in my head, or the fact that there’s so much tinsel everywhere I’ve just given in and succumbed to the visual madness.

Luckily for me, other people seem to be thinking the same way – many of the books I’m reading have been returns from other customers, and I’ve just scooped them straight off the Recent Returns shelf.  Others have been ordered by our clever buying team, and appear on my holds shelf. A few are old favourites, some are titles I just didn’t manage to read when they were first published, and some are brand new.  Here’s a few of the titles I’m loving right now.

  • Joe Hill’s Locke & Key series – consistently great story-telling, lovely artwork, and a steady supply of titles make this one of my consistent favourite graphic novel series
  • Staying within the family, dad Stephen King’s current graphic adaptation of The Stand. I think I’ve had a wee moan before that some of the other adaptations of King’s work have not been so great, but this series is outstanding.
  • Kick Ass 2 – this is one I never got around to reading when it was first published.  Book 1 is fab, as is the movie (although as with most of the titles in this post, needs to be read/watched away from young and delicate minds).  Here’s hoping with book 2.
  • Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. I’ve always loved Clive Barker, although sometimes he scares me – I’m hoping that this graphic novel will do the same! Also the cover reminded me of one of my favourite movies – Monster House – so that’s got to be a good thing …
  • The Underwater Welder arrived on my holds shelf as highly recommended by someone or something I can’t remember. The title confused me every time I looked at my reserve list – visions of some unholy mixture of Jacques Cousteau and that ’80s music video from Flashdance, but reviews are glowing and the artwork looks promising.
  • Memorial is another one that I must have seen and requested at some point. Again, I don’t know much about it, but it looks pretty, and sounds weird – just my cup of tea.
  • And finally, Tune.  I’m reading this already, and adoring it!  I may even try to squeeze it on to my Best Of list. It’s rude, and clever, and laugh-out-loud funny.  The art is perfect, it’s full of nerdy pop-culture references, and basically what I’m saying here is: find it, read it, and love it!

Get spooky this Halloween

Halloween is great fun for adults and kids alike. It’s not far away so it’s time to make crafts and decorations and think about some spooky food and costumes for your celebration.

Other cool stuff:

See if your local library has their decorations up.