So firstly, if you find yourself in the mood for a well crafted locked-room mystery in the style of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, get yourself a copy of An Unwanted Guest by mystery master Shari Lapena. It’s a group of strangers held captive by the elements in a secluded boutique hotel. When the guests begin to fall victim to murder the story weaves and wraps around in a classic whodunit style with a good twisty-turny plot. A perfect choice for a bit of summer escapism.
How about hearing some tales of the Norse Gods, written and read by Neil Gaiman – a self-confessed devotee of the classic sagas.
These stories are fantastical, full of deceit and murder, trickery and beauty, and expertly read by the author in the audiobook edition available on our eResource BorrowBox. You’ll discover the strange relationship between Thor and his brother Loki, learn how the Gods came to be in possession of their most treasured artifacts like Thor’s hammer, named Mjolnir, or how Loki came to bear his children – a brilliant story of Loki’s trickery coming back to bite him. Amazing stories and a privilege to be able to listen to the author present them just as intended – casual and conversational storytelling.
What about music…? If you’re looking for some tunes this season then I would suggest you check out the award-winning new album from Kiwi contemporary music legend Eve De Castro Robinson, The Gristle Of Knuckles. New Zealand’s contemporary music is in a fine state if this album is anything to go by. It’s from the hand/mind of one of the countries most respected music educators and composers and features many of our most celebrated musicians. It’s outstanding – dynamic, inventive, masterfully performed, and well worth a listen if you like jazz and contemporary music as an artform.
And there’s always a Graphic Novel to help you while away an evening.
A darkly comedic tale of a man who wants to die but instead, whenever he tries to die, he just shifts over into whoever is around him. A brilliantly funny and darkly curious take of modern life by an expert artist. It’s simplistic artwork counterpoints the bleak nature of the subject matter – a comedy about suicide!? And what results is book of gravity and heart.
A grown up fairytale from the legendary Giambattista Basile that is dark, twisted, and engrossing. Three kingdoms exist within the lands, each ruled by very different monarchs. Through the lives and demands of the people and the supernatural worlds, their stories intertwine to create a masterpiece of imaginative film making. A brilliant cast and a story that will stay with you long after.
It’s not often you get to attend the launch of a book written both by a local debut author but also by someone barely into their twenties. Book publishing is a competitive business and the path to publication can be slow and dispiriting (for those that make it there at all), so it’s an impressive achievement at any age.
All the Other Days is a book for teens, first written when Hartley was still a teenager himself. He was encouraged in this by his Shirley Boys’ form (and English) teacher who spoke at the launch, as well as by his family. While there were many subsequent years of hard work on the manuscript, interrupted by a degree in Psychology and a foray into teaching, it’s a testament to the positive influence the right teacher at the right time can have for many people — and also how the work of one author is built with the support of the community around them. A glance at the acknowledgements at the back of a book can give an idea of just how big this community can be.
Hartley is clearly passionate about bringing an authentic voice to Young Adult literature, particularly an authentic male voice which he struggled to find in his youth. (Should’ve asked a librarian.)
Many teens struggle with mental health during adolescence, on top of the usual mix of first love, dealing with school, and potentially problems at home, so being able to connect with characters having a similar experience can be a lifesaver. I have yet to read All the Other Days so can’t speak to the validity of the comparison, but the themes remind me of Will Kostakis (by coincidence another author who broke into publishing very young). If you’re looking for an exciting new addition to YA fiction then put yourself on the waiting list, because it’s looking like All the Other Days is already shaping up to be a big hit.
Another year is coming to a close and it gives me pause to think about what an amazing year it has been for fiction! We’ve been bestowed with such a wealth of quality new releases, from longstanding authors continuing to deliver, debuts of such genius it boggles the mind, sequels that have been waiting more than a century, and a bold author new takes on an old classic.
My highlights for this year start with not only the best book I’ve read this year but possibly the best I will ever read, ever!
I’m talking it up, I know but here’s some of the reasons why… Flames is a tribute to nature, the environment, our place in it, the unseen elements, the powers that rule, and the lives of all things. It weaves myths and small gods into the fabric of the environment, masters of unseen systems which shape lives unbeknownst to the humans inhabiting their land. This is an astonishingly good book. It’s elemental, blurs the lines between reality and mythology, sweeps you up in atmosphere and the sense of place, and the use of language is sublime. The story is set in Tasmania and centres around a family with deep connections to the land and environment. A young woman sets out south, alone to the wilderness of ancient Tasmania, while her brother sets out to build her a coffin and sends a private detective to track down his sister and bring her home.Through the course we discover an ageless world, gods of nature, young people coming of age, and what it is to engage with your world. Superb effort and the best thing I’ve read this year – quite an effort given the next titles I’ll share with you!
When Hogarth Shakespeare set out to create modern retellings of the great works of Shakespeare, they were inspired by their choice of Jo Nesbo to retell Macbeth. Macbeth The master of noir violence and mystery has done an absolutely brilliant job of turning Macbeth (the man) into a Scottish police officer, wracked with guilt of the past, plagued with addiction, and hungry for power. It’s so obvious to me now that Macbeth was MADE for the Scandi-Noir genre treatment. It’s gritty, dark, violent. Full of power, betrayal, and characters walking the fine line between sanity and madness. For this story Macbeth is head of SWAT in a dangerous and corrupt town and together with his mistress, Lady, the rags-to-riches casino entrepreneur, they embark on a powerplay to seize control of the city. But Macbeth has a sketchy past full of drug abuse and violence and as he relapses things get out of control, people get killed, lines get blurred… A great read and a must if you like Scandi Crime!
The next two I’d like to share are by two of the most important authors of our contemporary world right now – in my humble opinion. The first is the Australian writer Tim Winton and his newest book The Shepherd’s Hut. It’s the very colourful and memorable account of a young man forced by circumstance to take to the outback roads of rural Western Australia. Such brilliant descriptive writing will have you smelling the eucalyptus in the air, and hearing the crispy arid saltlands crunching underfoot. Jaxie is running and he’s got a vague destination in mind – north. And he’s got to survive the perils of rural Australia, criminals, and the very land that seems to want to kill him from heat, thirst or animal attack. An outstanding book from a great Australian author and written in vernacular language too, strengthening characters and adding some lightness!
Willy Vlautin is one of my favourite authors writing today and his works just keep getting better and better. He writes of contemporary everyday life and he tells the stories of working class Americans and the very real struggles faced by ordinary people in the America of today. This one is concerning a young American Indian man who passionately desires to be a champion boxer. He begins his journey on a ranch in Nevada where an ageing couple has adopted him, and follows him to Arizona as he sets his mind to a life of pugilism. Beautifully written and full of the heart and pathos that Willy Vlautin is famous for. A stellar effort and worthy of much praise.
Another great debut from Australia that really captures the Australian Gothic story. It’s the story of two young men, not boys but barely men, after a traumatic family event that sees them on a journey not of their choosing. The book describes the brutality of life in 1800’s Australia, the treatment of the indigenous population, and the rigourous adherence to the ‘old ways’ in this vastly alien and seemingly lawless world. If you like your reading to be vivid, violent, confronting, and troublesome then you’ll sure like this one!
I was originally going to keep this list of highlights to five titles but there’s another one that came to my attention recently. It’s the sequel (a prequel to be more precise) that’s taken over a century to come into existence. Dracul
The official prequel to the great work, this one penned by none other than Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew and authorised by his estate. It’s told in the familiar form of diary entries and personal notes, and tells the story of Bram himself who along with his siblings encounter some serious evil and a creature so powerful and unknowable that it threatens their very souls. So well written and very readable, good pace (bit of a page turner), and language that would please the original author. A great read for fans of horror, mystery/suspense, or the classics. Definitely one of my best picks for 2018 and a worthy inclusion to this highlights package (and my colleague Fee loved it too)!
Now I look at the titles that missed out on inclusion to this list with some sadness – like I say, it was a remarkable year for quality fiction! Here at least you have a selection for your holiday reading this summer. Grab one at your local library, settle in with a cup o’tea (or something else), and get some amazing stories in for the hols.
The 8th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment were one of the volunteers units raised soon after the war broke out in 1914. Very new to the Western Front in September 1915 they were part of a group of untested battalions thrown into the Battle of Loos. Following the men of the battalion through their training and the confusion of this first battle, Atter has researched and told their story in incredible detail. This is an excellent book if you want to find out about some, perhaps, less well-known aspects of the war.
The other book that stands out for me is Percy: a story of 1918 by Peter Doyle and with illustrations by Tim Godden. This is the story of an individual, based on a small archival collection, poignant and moving.
From this archival collection Doyle has fleshed out the story of Percy Edwards, a conscript from North Wales who joined the army in 1918. We are introduced to his family of miners, the village of Cefn where they come from, and his sweetheart, Kitty. The illustrations really add to the atmosphere of the book, which reminds us that however big the big picture is, its the stories of individuals that connect us to and create that picture.
Are there any recent (or not) First World War book that have made an impression on you?
2018 has been a stunning year for me when we talk about books and reading, and here’s a selection of recreational non-fiction titles that I have enjoyed in the back half of 2018 and that you too can enjoy over the New Zealand summer season!
I was lucky enough to see/hear Philip Hoare speak at this year’s Word Christchurch festival, and it was the realisation of a dream that I didn’t know I had – to meet the man who has had me mesmerised with his writing about the sea and natural science too often to count. Philip Hoare writes of the sea in such powerful and beautiful language. This particular book is his own graceful exploration of whales, their place in our world, our human history interacting with them, and the perils that they face at the hands of humanity and environmental changes. A book to read slowly, embracing every sentence for its beauty and poetic brilliance.
In completely the other direction, 2018 was the year I discovered this book from long ago – Wisconsin Death Trip
This book is a surreal journey about the real events surrounding the town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin way back in the 1890s. Over a decade or so the townsfolk underwent what can only be called a mass-mania with incidents of murder, arson, infanticide, institutionalisation, and all manner of other horrors. These stories are told through archival newspaper reports and the most astonishing images taken from glass-plate negatives taken during the time. Haunting images and crazy stories… an amazing piece of captured history.
A very compelling volume of short accounts of the sessions delivered by many noted British scientists including Richards Dawkins and the great David Attenborough himself. These lectures were aimed to get kids excited about science and they are very entertaining and informative – you’ll love them too!
And the last title I’ll share with you is a micro-history. A micro-history is a work which focuses on one very specific piece of human or natural history. In the past I’ve enjoyed brilliant micro-histories like Salt by Mark Kurlansky – the amazing story of the most popular food seasoning in the world, or The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester (a repeat offender when it comes to micro-histories!) – an account of a madman who made the most significant contribution to the English language dictionary. I may one day write a blog just about the amazing world of micro-histories (Alina has done a very good microhistories list to start with) but for this time it’s all about Krill in The Curious Life of Krill.
This is a fascinating read about one of the most bountiful and important food sources in the Earth’s oceans. Written with an expert’s mind and a writer’s sense of storytelling this is a most enlightening read. Krill; they’re not as small as you think, and they are almost definitely the most important link in the food chain for life on Earth. Great read. Cool creatures. Think of them when you’re BBQ-ing your prawns this Christmas! 🙂
And that’s the back half of my 2018 reading in recreational non-fiction. These are not all the titles that crossed my path but definitely the most interesting and the ones I would like to share the most.
Happy Christmas season to y’all and happy reading for the rest of 2018!
This wooden house was built in the 1850s for the Hon. J. C. Watts Russell, a prominent early settler. It changed hands several times and in 1910 was owned by the Countess Reina Ruys Fortega de Fresnedo. The Free Lance newspaper of 5 October 1907 tells us that she is a lady of ‘Spanish birth and estates’ and that she is a ‘countess by her own inheritance’. In 1907 she was making her first trip to the colonies, having done much travelling in the Old World.
The Countess is something of a mysterious figure and I haven’t (so far) been able to find out much about her, such as where she came from and what happened to her after the fire. However, the New Zealand Truth, a good old fashioned scandal rag, reveals that she was sued by her gardener in early 1910 for non payment of wages. (What ever did we do before Papers Past?)
Reports on the Press and the Lyttelton Times, both on 23 August provide quite a lot of detail abut the fire. The Countess was away in Australia, leaving the caretaker, Mr H. J. Croker as the only occupant. He escaped, but rather stupidly went back in the retrieve his gold watch (do not do this!) Thankfully the house was insured (for £2000) but the contents – which included some splendid furniture, silverware, and a new piano and pianola – weren’t.
Fortunately the cats and dogs managed to save themselves, but sadly a number of guinea pigs and canaries were not so fortunate. There were also two caged parrots (or possibly cockatoos). The fire seems to have destroyed or melted the cage and one of the parrots didn’t make it, but the other one did, albeit in a singed condition.
The Press reports that the ‘origin of the conflagration is a mystery’ but the Lyttelton Times suggests that there could have been sinister motives afoot:
Mr Crocker states that his opinion that the fire was willfully started is strengthened by the fact that some months ago the Countess received an anonymous letter stating that she would see Ilam burnt down.
Might this possibly be a case of a disgruntled gardener? I’m presuming that there must have been some kind of inquest, but I’m yet to track that down…
Do you know anything more about this fire or the mysterious Countess Fresnedo?
Kaveh has won awards, and his poems have appeared in heaps of prestigious publications like The New Yorker, The New York Times, Best American Poetry 2018, and The Guardian.
Check out Kaveh reading Max Ritvo’s “Touching the Floor” and his own poem “Portrait of an Alcoholic Frozen in Block of Ice”:
He founded DiveDapper, a poetry interview site. It is pretty much the poetry equivalent of Jerry Seinfeld’s show ‘Comedians in cars getting coffee’, but in DiveDapper you get two poets on top of their games in conversation. It features a stellar lineup of poets including:
Claudia Rankine, “I’m not investigating race as much as I’m investigating intimacy.”
and slam poet Anis Mojgani (who many of you will remember from his previous visits to Christchurch, slaying us with his potent words).
It makes total sense that Jeevika Verma in NPR refers to him as “poetry’s biggest cheerleader”:
He believes that everyone should be reciting poems as they walk into a coffee shop, as they do the dishes, as they go on with their lives.
“The fact that poems exist is the load-bearing gratitude upon which I have built my life,” he explains. “And what do you do with gratitude when it piles up? You have to push it outwards.”
He says it’s sort of like eating a Snickers bar. “Not sharing your gratitude is like holding a Snickers bar in your mouth for a week. You’d just get cavities,” he laughs. “This is what I want to do with DiveDapper. As far as I’m concerned, poetry is the best thing that exists in the universe.”
The event will be followed by a book signing, with Scorpio Books will be selling copies of Kaveh’s book. There will be food and drink available for sale too.
The nation’s best poets will compete in a literary showdown on Saturday, November 3rd in Christchurch. Poets representing Christchurch, Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Hawkes Bay, Dunedin, Nelson and Southern Lakes will perform in a three-round poetry slam as selected members from the audience will judge to determine the winner. Can Christchurch defend their title or will a new city take the crown?
Featuring 2017 National Slam Champion, Christchurch’s own Daisy Lavea-Timo (DaisySpeaks), this is not a night to miss.
What: NZ National Poetry Slam Finals
When: Saturday November 3rd 2018
Time: Doors 7pm, Show 7:30pm
Where: Haeata Community Campus, 240 Breezes Rd.
Cost: $20 general, $15 students
Funnyman Rhys Darby has teamed up with Scholastic in a fun new fiction series for kids. He talked to Christchurch City Libraries about his debut children’s book and reading interests, his passion for cryptozoology and his connections to Christchurch.
Darby joins other comedians like David Walliams and Australian Peter Helliar who have written children’s books. By Darby’s own admission, he has childlike sensibilities and this lends itself well to his writing.
“Loaded with unmistakably quirky and random Rhys humour, 12-year-old Buttons McGinty pens top secret scribbles in a collection of extraordinary notebooks, as he and his friends enter a universe unlike any they’ve seen before. Buttons has been shipped off to Ranktwerp Island Education Fortress for Gifted Lame Unruly Minors, a.k.a. R.I.E.F.G.L.U.M., a boarding school on a remote island, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Antarctica. His parents are missing under strange circumstances and there are bogus baddies and a burly bigfoot on the prowl.” (Scholastic press release)
Darby says the main character, a flame-haired 12-year-old, is a young spirited version of himself and that he used to dream about going on adventures as a kid but back then he could only go on such adventures in his head – lucky he had a big imagination. Darby’s three years spent in the army from the age of 17 also comes through in his children’s book with his use of Morse code and the military-like operations going on in the story. Darby describes the setting as like “an Alcatraz for kids.”
Who is the book for?
Darby kept his two young sons in mind (ages 8 and 12) when writing his book. He says he wrote it for anyone with a sense of humour. “It’s for reluctant readers or for fans of my work” and what’s more, he adds, “I wrote it to amuse myself – it had to be fun for me to do it.” It’s hard not to read the book without hearing his distinctive comedic voice in your head, making it feel as if he were reading it to you.
Aside from a bit of Morse code, the book is full of funny asides, drawings, lists, maps and speech bubbles. Darby says that breaking up writing like this makes reading easier and more appealing. The story is written with a sense of immediacy. Button’s journal writing addresses the reader and makes you feel as if you are there figuring out the mystery alongside him.
Rhys Darby’s interest in cryptozoology is evident in the book when a mysterious caged creature is snuck onto the island. He describes cryptozoology as “things unclassified by science that people don’t think exists – a pseudoscience.” “I’m a fan of the unknown,” he says and he co-hosts a long-running podcast on cryptozoology called The Cryptid Factor with the likes of wry Kiwi documentarian David Farrier.
Rhys, why cryptozoology? What sparked your interest and do you have any favourite creatures?
“You’re opening a can of worms asking about my interest in this but yes, ‘hairy humanoids’ like the Yeti, the Sasquatch and other upright walking things that seem to be human which aren’t human, like the Australian Yowie and also including human reptilian creatures and sea serpents like the Loch Ness monster.”
“I remember reading when I was a kid an Usborne book called Monsters, seeing that in the library – Pakuranga Library – and one of my favourites featured all the creatures that may exist and sparked my interest in the unknown. We haven’t solved all the things on the planet that need to be solved.”
What role did libraries play in your life?
“I was a big library goer, mum would let me choose 5 books – it was a ritual. It was a safe quiet place. I remember going to my school library at Elm Park Primary and getting obsessed with car magazines.”
When we spoke Rhys was planning to visit his old primary school to read to the kids there.
The Buttons character in your book is named after your mate Leon ‘Buttons’ Kirckbeck (from your projects the Cryptid Factor and Short Poppies)? Tell us more about the name ‘Buttons’ you chose?
“‘Buttons’ sort of alludes to someone who is very good at knowing how to push the buttons, being a bit of a tech whiz or having a knack for machinery – like in the movie Gravity when Sandra Bullock is trapped but just knows how to go in and tinker with things to save herself.”
Rhys, your children’s book is mainly available through Australasian distribution and there are a number of ‘down under’ references and slang in the book. You’ve got a great line in your book about Buttons trusting someone “as much as you trust a cheap pair of jandals.” What made you choose to ‘keep it local’ in your book?
“Since I have international pull I am in a position to keep and draw attention to our unique Kiwi ‘voice’ – like Taika Waititi does. Wouldn’t it be great if like, in the same way we accept the English world of Harry Potter, that we just accept things and it became like that on the other side of the world?”
Rhys has even managed to retain his kiwiness in the recent Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as the voice of a villain called Hypno-Potamus).
“I trust him about as much as I trust a cheap pair of jandals” – quote from Buttons McGinty.
(Rhys obviously loves jandals – so much so he wrote a song about them!)
What did you learn from writing your first children’s book?
“To keep the humour coming in and not so much fantasy or action and also to keep it light so it’s not too dark, like the territory that Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll get into.”
Obviously Book 2 is underway since Book 1 ends on a cliff-hanger and loose ends – and you hope to write up to 4-5 in the series once you see how this goes. What about a film adaptation?
“My dream would be that maybe the book series would get made into a movie and when I’m writing it I imagine it and am visualising it all.”
You’re so multi-talented… What drives you and motivates you?
“I have a creative brain and get bored easily if I’m not doing something creative and I enjoy entertaining.”
Is there nothing you won’t take up or try out? Conversely, what’s something you want to try your hand at – if you could wave a magic wand and just do it, what might it be?
“Nothing too dangerous like jumping out of a plane since I’ve got kids now and I don’t know when my luck will run out. I’ve had the opportunity to climb Mt Kilimanjaro – for charity – and ‘nearly died’. I was so sick so although I’ve since been asked to Everest, I’ve turned it down. But if I could wave a wand, I’d like to go back in time and be an explorer – like being in Cairo exploring tombs in the 1920s, just doing archaeological digs. And also I’d like to visit the Victorian days in England – like the gloomy time period of Jack the Ripper and perhaps solve the riddle of what happened.”
You’re already really interesting and diverse, but can you tell us something about yourself that we might not know?
Rhys (age 44): “Well, I like to skateboard. I have eight skateboards and got Tony Hawk to sign my son’s skateboard when I was working with him.”
What are you currently reading?
“I’m the sort of person with a stack of books on the bedside and read bits here and there but currently The Explorer’s Guildby Kevin Costner the actor (and Jon Baird) – it’s part novel/part graphic novel. It’s set around WWI and it’s a bit of a tome – it’s not an easy read but I like the idea of it. (A worthy but challenging read).
We know you like Spike Milligan and, as well as the non-fiction you’ve mentioned, what else did you read as a kid?
“I wasn’t a great reader when I was a kid but I did enjoy graphic novels like TinTin(because he was an adventurer) and Asterix – funny and involved time and I learnt about Romans ruling.”
You must be a fun dad! What are your children’s current favourite reads or things you like to read to them?
Rhys Darby spent some formative years living and studying in Christchurch. He attended the University of Canterbury, trained at Burnham Military Camp and did his early performances as a comedy duo in Lyttelton.
In your earlier autobiographical book This Way to Spaceship, you tell a funny story about being in the 1996 Christchurch Christmas Parade dressed as Mr. Blubby, a mascot to help advertise some sickly jelly concoction, but kids threw the jelly drinks at you and tipped you over. What other memories do you have from your time here?
“Christchurch was a time of awakening for me. I had my first girlfriend there, I had my first comedy gig there and went to Burnham Military Camp. I like going back to the places I remember and finding new places, visiting the park and visiting Canterbury University and also Lyttelton where I started with my friend Grant (Lobban) and my performing began (Rhysently Granted).”
Talking to Rhys Darby is a delight and a volley of conversation that can go in any direction. One thing that struck me was his way of thinking. “Just imagine” he says often or “I could imagine…” As you can imagine, he’s effusive and full of spark and creativity and his enthusiasm is refreshing and contagious. Rhys Darby certainly has cross-generational appeal. I have been looking forward to this book being published for a while, as both a children’s librarian and a parent of children in the target age group. I was already a fan of his comedy since his Flight of the Conchords days, but now I have children who enjoy his work too, in projects like Jumanji and Thunderbirds Are Go! With a children’s book in the mix, he’s growing a new fan base.
Darby’s first book is a winner! Borrow it, buy it, gift it! We look forward to finding out what happens next in Darby’s daring adventures in Book 2!