Cool stuff from the selectors: an eclectic mix

9780847862993I have always enjoyed Oliver Jeffers’ picture books, they are clever and a joy to read aloud which is vitally important if it becomes your child’s favourite and needs to be read over and over again! The illustrations however have always been what has really attracted me. They are obviously drawn for children but there is a quirkiness and sophistication that makes them incredibly appealing to adults as well. It wasn’t until I read Oliver Jeffers : the working mind & drawing hand that I realised why his books are so wonderful as he is first and foremost an artist with a distinctive use of words and handwriting. As Bono of U2 fame (with whom Jeffers has collaborated) states “the handwriting is his thumbprint, his genetic code”.

Jeffers was born in Ireland in 1977 and describes his early life as requiring to grow a thick skin and a quick mind:

I learned to talk my way out of trouble and to charm myself into it. I learned early on that I also had an additional arrow to my quiver: I could draw well. This came in quite handy for getting out of class so I could help decorate the set for the school play. It also came in more handy when the hard men of the school I went to wanted me to draw on their schoolbags and skateboards, and thus I fell under their protection.

Thankfully Jeffers survived school and has gone on to produce wonderful children’s books and now a beautifully illustrated book of his life and painting.

Another superb illustrator is Shaun Tan. His most well-known book The Arrival was 9781760523534written for young adults and is a wordless story illustrating the alienation of migration and immigration.  Sketches from a Nameless Land describes the inspiration and creativity behind this remarkable story.

His latest book, Tales From the Inner City is written for children, but this is no easy read, it is challenging, thoughtful, and complemented by Tan’s distinctive illustrations.

World-renowned artist Shaun Tan applies his unique imagination to a reflection on the nature of humans and animals, and our urban coexistence. From crocodile to frog, tiger to bee, this is a dark and surreal exploration of the perennial love and destruction we feel and inflict; of how animals can save us, and how our lives are forever entwined, for better or for worse.

On a completely different topic…I was watching Project Runway last night (a guilty pleasure) and I was interested to hear one of the judges saying that modesty is now a fashion trend. Long sleeves, high necks, limited exposure of skin could be seen as a relief for many.

I was therefore intrigued to pick up a book by a young Muslim woman Dina Torkia called Modestly. This is a book that is hard to define, part biography, (she has an Egyptian father and English mother) part beauty guide, but also a book about modesty in Muslim culture, the decision to wear the hijab, social media and the pressures of being young and different. Dina Torkia is a very interesting young woman, her fashion sense is eclectic and beautifully put together, but it is her committment to her beliefs, and her obvious enjoyment (and at times frustration) with the fashion industry that makes her story so compelling.

 

NZ Bookshop Day 2018

Saturday 27th October is New Zealand Bookshop Day. Hurrah for the bookshop! There will be events, great deals on books and competitions too.

Events

Scorpio Books

What: Author talks and readings, as well as an evening literary quiz.
Author talk with Dr Simon Pollard at 10.30am (Simon is a spider biologist and award-winning author of The Genius of Bugs). Free event, activity sheets provided.
The Great Scorpio Lit Quiz at 6.30pm ($80 per table, bookings required).

When: Check Scorpio’s events page

Scorpio Books will also be running a campaign to encourage customers who make a purchase on NZ Bookshop Day to nominate a Christchurch school of their choice. Nominated schools will receive a copy of Aotearoa, Gavin Bishop’s multiple-award-winning, richly illustrated visual history of New Zealand. Scorpio Books will be donating 15% of their sales on the day towards this campaign. All nominated schools will also go in the draw to win a prize pack of New Zealand children’s books, specially selected by Scorpio staff. With support from RDU98.5FM.

Piccadilly Books

What: Childrens Book Reading 

When: Saturday 27 October, 11am to 11.30am, 2pm to 2.30pm

<h2>All about NZ Bookshop Day

Simpson & Williams, 238 High Street, Christchurch [1925] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0007
Simpson & Williams, 238 High Street, Christchurch [1925] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0007

Now I love working in a library. For just under forty hours a week I am surrounded by books: what more could a bibliophile want? Books have existed in one form or another since the advent of the written word. These were the days of the clay tablet, in the 3000’s BC. And we have them in abundance (books, not clay tablets).

A History of the Book in 100 Books

So it follows that I also have a tender spot for the old bookshop. For whilst I relish bringing books home from the library, there are some that I don’t much want to take back. The library may frown upon me keeping their books indefinitely, but if I’ve really fallen for one, I simply must own my own copy. I put this down to nostalgia, wanting to show off to house guests how well read I am and financial impulsivity…I’m woman so naturally when that magical word ‘SALE’ pops up out comes the credit card. That week when Scorpio Books upped sticks and had their big moving sale was a good week for me and my bookshelf.

Thankfully we do have plenty of exceptional, local, well established bookshops here in Christchurch. They come in all sorts. Old, modern, cosy, expansive, dusty, sterile…

There are the chain bookshops (seem more like gift shops to me), the independent and specialist bookshops, and of course the beloved secondhand bookshops where you can find all manner of out-of-print, sentimental gems. I still cherish my older editions of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five; I get a lot more enjoyment from seeing them on my bookshelf than if they were sparkling and new (or, god forbid, those treacherous 21st Century-ified editions). Oh, and there’s the online bookshop too. A bottomless pit where a person like me can inexplicably lose hours of life.

Aside: There was one aforementioned chain bookshop I did very much enjoy spending time in – Borders – but we know how that turned out. I could spend hours in Borders with my dad, perusing the ancient history/mythology section. Alas.

Mythology offering: witty Stephen Fry’s latest, Mythos

Canterbury Bookshops

Here are a few of the local Canterbury bookshops – new and secondhand – where you might just find your inner peace, and something to add to your permanent collection.

Local Christchurch Bookshops

  • Scorpio Books – after residing on Riccarton Road for a while, plus a stint at the container mall, they have now settled at the BNZ Centre in the CBD. They are a friendly bunch, and if they don’t have exactly what you’re after then they seem happy enough to order it in. Scorpio Books is a place where I must always take my time. Great range!
  • UBS – University of Canterbury Bookshop. Anyone can shop here! They have a good selection of books, at surprisingly palatable prices (excluding textbooks, eek). While you are there, be sure to visit one of the University libraries. They are trialing free membership to Canterbury residents until the end of the year (and hopefully beyond).
  • Piccadilly Books – situated in Avonhead Mall, they have an impressive magazine selection and friendly staff.
  • Christian Superstore – oh boy, I might need a good dousing in holy water before stepping here. They are a large bookshop with an expansive array of Christian material. They supply churches around the country and in the Cook Islands too.

Secondhand Bookshops That are Far From Second Rate

  • Smith’s Bookshop – Their old shop was destroyed in the earthquakes but they have a new permanent home in the Tannery (a very hip place where, by the way, you may also find some amazing pastries). They stock rare books; antiquarian books; secondhand books; new books; magazines and art supplies! My kind of place. Here you will find plenty of local content and first editions. Just you try not to sneeze.
  • Dove Bookshop – in Bishopdale Mall, New Brighton Mall and Harewood Road. I have unearthed some nice pre-loved finds in here.

  • The Chertsey Bookbarn – it’s a bookshop in a barn and it’s in the middle of nowhere…well in Chertsey, just after the Rakaia River and right before you hit Ashburton. But you will not regret the petrol spent. Imagine: you arrive to find a dimly lit, relatively secluded barn. You step inside – tall shelves tower above, brimming with books- and as you move forward the narrow passage closes in and you find yourself amidst a veritable labyrinth…of books. Where was the exit again? You don’t know and don’t care. Are those footsteps you hear from behind? Is it a scene from a horror film? A dream?

My Pick of the Online Bookshops

  • The Children’s Bookshop – a smaller online bookstore with material aimed at children and young adults. There is also a handy learning resources section with books on foreign languages, te reo, language, vocabulary and maths.
  • Mighty Ape – a NZ owned online bookshop operating out of their distribution centre in Auckland, with really fast shipping (same day shipping offered to most of the major cities).
  • Bookhaven – another NZ online bookshop, selling used books. They do have a small shop in Wellington but most of their stock is contained in warehouses around the country.
  • Abebooks – but you must be patient. Sourced from somewhat further afield, your order will likely be coming from the US or UK! Abebooks searches the catalogues of independent bookshops worldwide, to find great deals. I have often found exactly what I want on here, and at good prices too. They list both new and used titles, and some shops offer free shipping. In fact this is a great place to get textbooks from, just be somewhat organised about it and don’t wait until the last minute.
  • Book Depository – an international online bookshop, with free delivery and oftentimes great discounts.

And should all else fail, your local library could probably get a copy 😉

Digital Images

Here are some photographs of Christchurch bookshops gone by, for reminiscences.

Second Hand Books, 390 Colombo Street. Kete Christchurch Colombo_Street_390.jpg
Second Hand Books, 390 Colombo Street. Kete Christchurch Colombo_Street_390.jpg
Arnold Books. Kete Christchurch New_Regent_Street_-_6_June_2006__DSCN3794.JPG
Arnold Books. Kete Christchurch New_Regent_Street_-_6_June_2006__DSCN3794.JPG
Smith’s Bookshop 127 to 139 Manchester Street. Kete Christchurch Manchester_Street_127_to_139_Corner.jpg

These images are from Kete Christchurch, our online local history resource.

Books About Bookshops

Cover

Are there any Christchurch bookshops you love that I have missed? Any online book-shopping secrets you wish to divulge? Happy NZ Bookshop Day!

Women in foreign worlds

I’m still recovering, weeks later, from the season 2, final episode, final scene of The Handmaid’s Tale. It had both my husband and I screaming “NO!” at the television.

Cover of The Handmaid's TaleNot usually a great fan of movies or television made from great books, this depiction of The Handmaid’s Tale was produced with the author of the book being consulted and directing the story arcs and character development and it is one of the best adaptations of a book I’ve watched.

I read this stunning book by one of my all time favourite authors, Margaret Atwood, years ago. It set me on a path to dystopian books with women as the protagonists.  Women throughout history have borne the brunt of societal ignorance, discrimination and violence, either directly or indirectly. In dystopian fiction, there are several great books where women fight against the system, lead the change that is needed to free themselves and those around them or uncover the truths behind a  regime that is hell bent on holding onto power.

I wrote about Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed in an earlier blog. It’s a great example of putting women’s stories front and centre. It’s interesting when I put this list together, how much of the control and evil perpetrated on the heroes in these books is around contraception and rights over their own bodies. Here’s a quick list of others well worth checking out:

Cover of When she wokeWhen she woke by  Hillary Jordan: A fundamentalist right wing agenda is spreading through America, forcing those who commit crimes to be ‘Chromed’ their skin changing colour to fit a particular crime. Hannah finds her skin turned red to punish her for an abortion she had after an affair with a high ranking official. How she finds her way in the world and seeks refuge is at the core of this story.

The Power by Naomi Alderman: What if women suddenly became the stronger more deadly sex, able to inflict pain and even death by just a touch and there was a sudden shift in power? How does this change both society and the women and men in it?

Cover of The book of JoanThe Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch: In the near future, the earth has become a radioactive battleground and Humans live above the earth on a platform called the CIEL. The character Joan, is reminiscent of Joan of Arc and when she is turned into a martyr by the forces waging war – there are astonishing consequences.

Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall: This is a great story about a woman trying to escape a totalitarian state that enforces contraception and other restrictions on women. Sister has heard of a mythical commune of women who have fled and sets out to join them.

Cover of WoolWool by Hugh Howey: Another devastated world, and this time the few remaining people alive are in many leveled underground silos. Jules is one of the young women living in a silo, it’s all she’s ever known. But her curiosity leads her to discover the truth may be a lot different than what she has been told.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: In a small Oregon town, several women are coping with the fallout of strict government rules around contraception, abortion and believing ‘every life is sacred’.  They find themselves thrust together in a modern day witch hunt and a struggle to survive.

I found it interesting how many of these books are American and how many of the new ones seem to be commenting on the present government policies and alluding to the rise of the right wing agenda around women’s rights and the states’ intervention into their lives.

I seem to come back to this topic in my fiction reading time and again. It may seem a little depressing, but the women are strong, determined and more than often triumph and this is why I like the genre.

Find out more

Of humans and gods elemental

I’m a committed reader and I do read fairly widely and there’s one particular thing that I love when it comes to fiction; I love stories that blend and blur the lines between reality and mythology. The kind of thing where the lives of men and meddling gods coexist and the environment holds some physical form.

There’s loads of examples of this throughout literature – the Greeks and Romans loved to tell these types of stories, and those stories continue to be told in our own time – think of John Banville’s ‘The Infinities’ and ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by Andre Alexis . In both books the Classical Gods get involved in the modern life of humanity (and canines). And more recently there’s been ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman, and ‘Good Omens’ a joint effort between Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. Both of which will be getting the screen treatment very soon!

Cover of The infinites Cover of Fifteen dogsCover of American GodsCover of Good omens

But what about the more elemental gods, the older gods, gods of the earth, environment, and the supernatural world…?

Cover of FlamesI’ve just finished reading ‘Flames’ by Robbie Arnott – a young Tasmanian author with some serious talent! He’s been writing for some years now and has a string of awards following in his wake, and he’s a very welcome addition to the burgeoning Tasmanian writers scene, a scene which includes the rural romances of Rachael Treasure, the gritty historic fiction of Rohan Wilson, and the Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan. I’m a Tasmanian myself so I do enjoy keeping up with what’s coming out of the beautiful isle, but I wasn’t really prepared for how good ‘Flames’ was going to be! It feels as you read it as if the land of lutruwita (the indigenous name for Tasmania) is itself telling the story and we are the privileged few who get to gain some insider knowledge.

It centres on two young people just after the death of their mother, which itself acts as a catalyst for all that follows. The brother is steadfast and pragmatic and wants to protect his sister so decides to build her a coffin, to which her response is to flee into the wilderness of the South West where she discovers a supernatural aspect to the world around her, and to herself and also to her family. Meanwhile the brother mounts a search to find his sister. On the journey we meet characters that are both at one with the natural world and still finding and settling into their place in it. We meet their father, we learn more about the family’s background, and other characters each of who are portrayed perfectly to outline their purpose in the narrative.

Robbie Arnott’s use of language is poetic and evocative of times past, of the smell of earth, the feel of wind, and the heat of fire. The narrative moves organically from one character to the next, shifting perspectives and fleshing out the magic of the story as it progresses. His descriptions of Tasmania (and you can rely on this ex-pat to confirm) are stunningly accurate and establish a very strong sense of place – you can smell eucalyptus burning, hear the rush of the waves onto the rocks, and you can feel the semi-decayed earth under your feet as you negotiate the wombat burrows.

So; beautiful language, strong sense of place, great characters with depth and purpose, and an engrossing story line – it’s ticked all the boxes for me!

Cover of The buried giantAnd ‘Flames’ is not the only book to achieve this balance between the real, the myth, the supernatural. ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishaguro is the tale of an ageing couple on a medieval pilgrimage with their purpose obscured by a think fog affecting memories, or there’s the outstanding series ‘The Tale of Shikanoko’ by Lian Hearn where we follow a journey of growth within a fantastical Edo-era Japan that has such imagination and rooted in strong mythology and where the everyday is touched with magic both light and dark. As is fellow Tasmanian Richard Flanagan’s great piece of surrealist historical fiction ‘Gould’s Book of Fish – a novel in twelve fish’ which I’m sure was both inspiration and license for Robbie Arnott to create this work, ‘Flames’.

And if you like this particular sub-genre then there’s plenty of films and tele series’ that are similar. You could have a look at ‘The Kettering Incident’, Tasmania’s own supernatural, David-Lynch-esque, tele series. It’s brilliant, dark, a bit creepy, and it’ll show you some places and environments very like those Robbie Arnott has depicted in ‘Flames’.

Enjoy your reading,

^DevilStateDan

A fiction lover’s mid-year review

2018 is screaming past at quite a rate and I have had the pleasure of filling this time with some quality reading!

I’ve made a list of the novels that I have enjoyed so far in 2018 and made comments on each so you can better decide whether they might be for you – my guess is that they’re so good you’ll want to read all of them!

There’s a decent representation of my favourite authors here too – the universe smiled upon us this year for new books from amazing authors. I was particularly excited to get a hold of First Person, the latest from the great Tasmanian Richard Flanagan. He’s a Booker Prize winner for his 2013 novel Narrow Road to the Deep North, and could go again with First Person, it’s very VERY good!

And another great Australian author Tim Winton; I was eagerly awaiting the chance to read The Shepherd’s Hut, another triumph for the doyen of Australian literary fiction.

And then there was The Free by Willy Vlautin. His economy and direct use of language, and his ability to accurately depict the struggles of everyday rural and poor America makes him one of the most exciting American authors working today, in my humble opinion, and he’s producing consistently outstanding work.

And most recently I’ve finally gotten my hands on Macbeth by Jo Nesbo! Hogarth Shakespeare have really nailed it by engaging Nesbo to do Macbeth and it’s definitely one of my highlights for the year – that and Flanagan’s First Person will be hard to top!

I’ve also included some modern sci-fi, some new Scandi-Noir, some historical fiction from NZ, and a classic from Kurt Vonnegut – and I’ll let you read about them yourself 🙂 (Please note that a number of these titles are also available in eBook or eAudiobook formats, so you’ve got plenty of options!)

2018 – The Best of Fiction…. so far!

List created by DevilStateDan

The highlights of my explorations through the fiction collection of Christchurch City Libraries for the first half of 2018. Some titles are new, some have been out for decades, all of them are great!

Cover of First person by Richard FlanaganFirst Person – A struggling writer gets an opportunity to ghost-write the memoir of a notorious con man in 1990s Australia but the road is a slippery one and lines become blurred as our man becomes ever deeper involved.

This is arguably Richard Flanagan’s greatest work to date, and he’s definitely entrenched himself at the top of the heap of contemporary authors.

Cover of Macbeth by Jo NesboMacbeth – This is obviously a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and what a brilliant treatment and with Jo Nesbo as an inspired choice for author. 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…

Cover of The shepherd's hut by Tim WintonThe Shepherd’s Hut – The doyen of Australian literary fiction has done it again with this book. It’s the very real account of a young man forced by circumstance to take to the roads and outback of rural Western Australia. Such brilliant descriptive writing will have you smelling the eucalypt 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!

Cover of Machine learning by Hugh Howey

Machine Learning – A set of short sci-fi stories from the author of the super popular ‘Silo’ Series. Hugh Howey is one of the best contemporary science fiction authors working today and these stories are thought provoking, dark, ominous, and challenging. He features some stories from the world of ‘Silo’ as well as stories of AI, Aliens, Virtual Worlds, and some Fantasy too. Beaut writer, beaut stories!

Cover The free by Willy VlautinThe Free – Another winner from one of my favourite authors writing today. It’s a snapshot of everyday life in middle America amongst a group of individuals all experiencing life differently. The solo man keeping two jobs to stay afloat, the nurse who has seen too much and has a strained relationship with her mentally ill father, and there’s Leroy, an injured soldier who drifts between consciousness and another place. The characters all struggle in their way to navigate life and retain their dignity and sense of self, and the authors minimalist writing style is stark and very effective at conveying they way in which real people communicate with each other. If you like the human experience warts-and-all then give this a go!

Cover of The melody by Jim CraceThe Melody – This story centres around an ageing singer/performer who was once a celebrated entertainer commanding full houses of societys elite. Nowadays he shuffles around suffering from the recent death of his loving wife, but then thing take a sinister turn when he’s attacked in his own home by a creature of unknown origin. His world is challenged as he negotiates his way around the incident and who he once was, who he is now, and what his future holds. Supremely well written with great use of language.

Medusa – An outstanding addition to the world of Scandi-Noir and one of the best I’ve read. Solid character building, quick paced action, and interwoven plot of suspicion and intrigue, and a series of grisly crimes in rural Norway – everything you could want in a crime novel! Medusa

Cover of One way by Simon MordenOne Way – What do you do when you want to colonise another planet, say Mars for instance?!? Well you could take a leaf from the book of British colonialism and send convicts to do the hard yards before the rich and elite arrive – and that’s just what America has done in this new sci-fi adventure. A small team of “dangerous” felons are recruited to build the first habitation on the red planet, what could go wrong…? A murder perhaps, and with nowhere to run it’s a spacey-whodunnit! Good writing and full of wit, if you like ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir or his follow up ‘Artemis’ then you’ll get a kick out of ‘One Way’!

Cover of Only killers and thieves by Paul HowarthOnly Killers and Thieves – A great debut from a new author 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 colonial 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!

Cover of The sons by Anton SvenssonThe Sons – On its initial appearance it seems like another addition to the massive genre of Scandinavian crime novels, but it’s much more and can stand alone as a piece of literary fiction deserving of high praise. Three young men have just served sentences for aggravated armed robbery. They are brothers, raised by the petty criminal and domestic abuser father that they committed their last crime with. On the final sons release we follow what happens next as they try to recreate some kind of normality – whatever “normality” means for each of them though is very different. Starting out I was worried that because I didn’t really like any the characters my attention may sway, but that fear allayed pretty early on by the authors great descriptive writing which bares all to scene of a family torn apart by the criminal inclinations of a small representation of their larger sum. This is part 2 in the ‘Made in Sweden’ series, the first book being ‘The Father’. Can’t wait for the next one!

For more view the full list

^DevilStateDan

Recreational non-fiction – a mid year review

I’m a pretty avid reader and mostly I love good fiction, but this year I have made a determined effort to read more non-fiction, but not just any old non-fiction – what I was after was “Recreational Non-Fiction”!

After a great deal of library exploration, and some very, VERY dry encounters with some non-fiction authors and their writing, I soon discovered that I’m particularly drawn towards non-fiction that is;

a) interesting / informative (gotta love what you’re reading about, right?)

b) conversational (this is very important to me!)

c) about an individual’s own explorations on a subject (it’s great to go along for the ride while someone makes discoveries!), and

d) based on the natural sciences (that’s just what floats my boat I guess!)

And I’ve been building a list this year to keep track of the “recreational non-fiction” titles that I have really loved, and here they are along with some notes on each;

2018 – The Best of Recreational Non-Fiction

List created by DevilStateDan

These are my best titles for the year under the banner of “recreational non-fiction”. Most of these titles are new releases, some are from decades ago, all are great! I do have a particular liking for the natural sciences so most of these books will be on this topic…

New Zealand Geographic – I love this magazine for championing and celebrating all the good things in New Zealand’s natural world. Every issue is packed full of interesting scientific projects being undertaken, updates on the status of various endangered species, and how humans are impacting on the environment and what we can do about it as individuals.

Cover of Smith journalSmith Journal – This is a great periodical, full of insight, information, and learning opportunities. Stories about potentially world-changing initiatives mix with current trends in sciences, and the revolution of traditional crafts, all from around the world. Very entertaining read!

The Secret Life of Flies – Do you like chocolate?!?! Then you’re relying on the humble and, misunderstood fly – they are the only pollinator of the cacao tree! Shocking hey!? Flies have so much more to offer the environment than we realise. Have a read of this entertaining and informative book, it may change the way you view these annoying pests for good!

Curious Encounters With the Natural World – This is a masterpiece of recreational non-fiction! Written conversationally (like you sitting with the author at the pub over a couple of pints discussing the natural world!), hugely informative, and hilarious, this book offers a very real access point for those who don’t read non-fiction or find in inaccessible. If you’re interested in the natural world, here’s one for you!

Cover of The truth about animalsThe Unexpected Truth About Animals – Another brilliant book about some of the lesser known creatures of the Earth and their own particular nuances. It’s very easy to read and pretty funny, making the science really attractive and easy to digest. Great dinner party fact fodder!

Blowfish’s Oceanopedia – The story of the seas from the coast to the deep. This book is divided up into quickfire digestible facts on all manner of issues and powers of the most abundant ecosystem on the planet. A great read for lovers of natural science.

Cover of SpinelessSpineless – Juli Berwald really likes jellyfish and this book proves it! Follow her story as she travels the globe learning about the state of jellies in our oceans, how they are coping with climate change, and what’s leading to the huge and unpredictable super-blooms of jellies. There’s so much information in this book about this underrated creature of the seas that it makes you wonder why we know so little about such a successful and abundant animal. A solid, insightful, and entertaining read and I look forward to seeing her future work.

Cover of American WolfAmerican Wolf – Follow the committed souls who observe the wolf packs of Yellowstone National Park. Wolves have only recently been reintroduced to the wild in this region and careful monitoring has led to some quite simply amazing discoveries about the ecological balance of a region. But not everyone is so keen to have the wolves back and as we follow the pack that she-wolf O-Six we learn how hard it is to survive in the wild under diminishing environment and increasing threats. One of my books of the year, this one!

Cover of The soul of an octopusThe Soul of An Octopus – In this book we follow the author as she becomes increasingly enamoured with all things octopus! We get to share the experience of learning SCUBA and see first hand behind the scenes at the New England Aquarium – a facility dedicated to sea life and full of passionate and knowledgeable staff and volunteers. And throughout the narrative we think on the idea of consciousness and emotions in all life – did you know that fish dream?!?

View Full List

I’ll continue to add to this list as the year progresses and I have a feeling that this is only just the start of a beautiful relationship between myself and recreational non-fiction!

Three Things About Elsie

In Three Things about Elsie, we join Florence Claybourne (‘Flo’ only to a select few) mulling over the various scenarios that could occur once some kind soul at the Cherry Tree Nursing Home realises they haven’t seen her for a few hours. She is lying on the floor of her apartment where she has recently fallen

Florence is a mentally fragile (inferred by other inhabitants and members of staff at the Nursing Home) octogenarian, worried that her inability to summon both the right words and behaviour at the right time is influencing the ‘Powers that Be’ (namely Misses Ambrose and Bissell) that she is a suitable candidate for Greenbank where there is a far higher staff-to-resident ratio.

The thinly veiled threat of a probationary period just to see if Florence can rein in her unpredictable behaviour doesn’t help matters much.

Thank goodness she has an ally in her old and very dear friend Elsie to whom she can unburden her thoughts and fears. Especially so, when a new, unwelcome arrival at the Nursing Home is someone Florence and Elsie remember all too clearly from their past – and whom they both believed long dead. Why is he is now masquerading under an assumed name? Who will believe her when her current lapses in memory are causing concern to both herself and others?

CoverWhat evolves during the novel is both a murder/mystery needing to be solved, but more importantly an awareness of how people can disappear into old age and no longer be counted.

Florence is a delightful and very droll character – the very realistic everyday conversations that go off at various tangents evolve whilst trying to navigate and understand the different world that she, Elsie and other occupants of Cherry Tree find themselves in today.

It was a gardening programme.  Someone was standing on a patio in clean wellington boots, explaining how to plant seeds.  Jack pointed at the screen with his walking stick.  ‘At our age, it’s an act of optimism, planting seeds.’

Hats off to Joanna Cannon who in Three Things about Elsie has vividly captured the vulnerability and flawed natures of so many credible characters, and imbued them with the wit, courage and strength to battle yet another day.
Three Things About Elsie

by Joanna Cannon

Published by HarperCollins New Zealand

ISBN: 9780008196929

A guide to European political thrillers

Political thrillers are great. They’re most often a mix of brain and brawn and they give us a chance to get behind the scenes of a part of society many of us are never privy to first-hand. We also get to ride along with an individual who might know just as little as us about navigating the worlds of poli-speech, discovering where the true powers lay in the scheme of things, and who is really working for whom… It’s a good recipe for intrigue and action!

And it makes sense that America would be a hot-bed for political thriller writers – think Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Archer, Vince Flynn… the list goes on and on, and little wonder when the state of politics in the good ol’ US of A seems a swirling miasmic minefield of betrayals, press control, and hidden agendas… what a source of inspiration for willing authors!

But what about Europe?!? European political thrillers have often been the poor cousins of the big budget American titles, but I’d like to speak out for the Euro-Political-Thriller and encourage you all to try some out.

Not only do we encounter the world of politics but with the Euro versions we also get conflicting cultures trying to outwit each other, the language barriers of neighbouring countries, and recent history – don’t forget that there are wars ongoing in places like Turkey, Ukraine, and the ever-present threat of Russia – a heady mix to spark the creative juices of European thriller writers

So here’s a list of ten recent Euro-Political-Thrillers that were released last year (2017) for your enjoyment. There are some excellent ingredients here including (of course) the MI6, people-smuggling, an ever meddling Russia, and a whole lot more troubles of our times – just remember as you read, trust no one!

A Guide to Euro Political Thrillers

List created by DevilStateDan

Not all political thrillers are written by American authors, and here’s a slice out of the European side of things.

Cover of The 7th function of languageThe 7th Function of Language – A murder conspiracy neck-deep in the world of literature. Seeking a lost manuscript, and the truth of what happened to the murder victim – a high brow literary critic – our detective, Jacques Bayard, delves into a secret alternate history of the French intelligence agency. Action packed and at times humourous, if you liked the Da Vinci Code then give this one a go!

You Don’t Know Me – The defendant has sacked his lawyer and is now taking up his own defence. We, the reader, are essentially jury members as he takes us through each piece of evidence. There’s gang violence, cover-ups and conspiracy. Wait until the end, and you be the judge…did he do it?!?

Cover of KompromatKompromat – A story to echo our times… Easily written and at times seriously close to the mark, this story (by a former politician) outlines Britain’s split from the EU, a meddling Russia, a farcical US election, and all the underhand machinations that occur under the table. Truly a satire of our current political world.

A Damned Serious Business – The cold war still rages but this time it’s computer hackers in addition to bombs! Our central character sets out on a near-impossible mission that will see many lives inperiled. It’s a classic race for survival with a great sense of pace.

Cover of The Susan effectThe Susan Effect – Susan has a strange an unique gift and some very powerful people want to use her for their own purposes and gain information about the Future Commission – an underground political movement. The story unfolds in two timelines and is complex, full of sub-plot, a little dystopian, and completely thrilling.

A Divided Spy – A cat and mouse spy thriller about an ex-MI6 agent tasked with locating and recruiting a Russian spy to the English side. Lines are blurred between the sides as the plot unfolds and the Russian agent’s secrets become clear. If you like John Le Carre then you’ll love this!

Cover of I am pilgrimI Am Pilgrim – A terrorist has something seriously big planned for the North America and it’s down to one man to stop him. A modern day spy vs. spy story in the same vein as the Bond or Bourne stories.

A Dying Breed – War journalism is not for the faint of heart but our protagonist, William Carver, is out for the truth about a bombing in Kabul. A younger journalist is sent to manage Carver but the plot goes deeper than first thought, way back to the corridors of Whitehall it seems. Another one for fans of John Le Carre.

Cover of NomadNomad – Inside the MI6 Marc Dane is a pencil pusher, always on the safe side of the action. But that’s about to change! A brutal attack and a conspiracy running all the way through the secret service means Marc Dane is now an active agent.

Die Last – The fourth book to feature detective Max Wolfe and this one, with it’s tag-line “twelve dead girls, thirteen passports” delves into the morally corrupt world of people smuggling and the modern day slave trade. It’s lots of action, a sympathetic detective and loads of twists and turns. If you like Rankin’s Rebus then have a go at Parson’s Wolfe!

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A novella idea…

Well the new year is underway and it’s another year of excellent reading ahead!

But if you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of reading, or if the idea of a thick tome after weeks of recreation has you daunted, then I’ve got an idea for you; why not try a novella or two!?

A novella is a mid-length story that fits somewhere between a short story and a full blown novel. Many great authors have produced great works through this medium (some of them feature in this list!) and it’s a format worth celebrating, so here’s a list of stories in…

The Mid-Length Form

List created by DevilStateDan

Not quite a novel but longer than a short story; here’s a list of great reads in the shorter form of a novella and ranging from all over the world, across many genres and eras. There’s some big names (authors) in this list and a great way to read some classics without committing to a hefty tome! From Voltaire and Kafka, to Jack London and John Gardner – there’s something here for all tastes and all easily knocked over in one or two sessions.

Cover of The daylight gateThe Daylight Gate – A dark and violent story of witchcraft, witch-hunting, and human frailty. A stunning read by a great writer! It’s 165 pages will transport you back to the brutal times in 1600’s Lancashire

The Forensic Records Society – A group of men decide to create a society for the forensic appreciation of 7″ vinyl records, each taking turns to share their chosen song in silence. That is until a newcomer has different ideas as to how the society should work – are the originals open to change!?! Very humourous and insightful book by one of my new favourite authors. 182 pages.

Cover of McGlueMcGlue – A sailor with the mother of all hangovers tries to reassemble the happenings of the previous night. He’s now locked up and on a murder charge so things must’ve gotten out of hand. Amazingly dark and vivid descriptive writing from a Man Booker Prize shortlisted author. Just over 100 pages for this character to grasp some metaphoric life-raft of decency.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer – A dreamlike discussion between an elderly man and his grandson outlines the confusing and heartrending circumstances of dementia. 76 pages of introspection and warmth.

Cover of The old man and the seaThe Old Man and the Sea – The classic and one of my all time favourite books. If you haven’t read this yet then do so now, it’s beautifully written and explores ideas of humanity, life, death, and more – all in under 130 pages!

Hunger – Published in the 1890s, this is about the abject poverty and desperation in he life of a young writer struggling to stay alive in the freezing streets of Oslo. Absolutely stunning writing and descriptive writing and a hidden classic that should be held in much higher regard than it is! This one’s a bit bigger at 232 pages, but well worth the extra time.

Cover of The subterraneansThe Subterraneans – A group of young wasters in NYC drift about doing not much else except try to find themselves and discover who they are. He’s a good writer and this is one of his best imho. Only 110 pages but crammed with quality.

Fifteen Dogs – The Greek Gods are a troublesome lot and two of their order have a bet about the nature of “intelligence”, so they bestow self-realisation upon fifteen dogs due to be destroyed. What happens after is shocking, funny, violent, heart-wrenching, and amazing. Great book at 170 or so pages.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward – Classic horror right here with a young man drawn to the dark arts of witchcraft in Rhode Island. His dabbles with Hell become increasingly dangerous and with he himself becoming more deranged by the day. What’s going on behind his closed door at night and what are those strange lights…?!?! 127 pages will leave you freaked by the evil that men do!

Cover of GrendelGrendel – The Beowulf Tale but told from the perpective of the monster… but what if you had a deeper understanding of Grendel, about his feelings, his motivations – is he still so monstrous or are the monsters elsewhere!?!? This is an outstanding book beautifully written. So much in it for only 123 pages!

The Peculiar Life of A Lonely Postman – A curious tale of a postman who develops a love of haiku, and starts a poetic dialogue with a stranger that gets deeper and deeper. Maybe a case of mail fraud and stalking but delivered in such a light hearted and charming approach and only 119 pages.

Cover of Call of the wildThe Call of the Wild – A classic novella with the hardy Buck as our hero. A timeless and ageless adventure and survival story. It’s about love, loss, power and control, and the will to endure hardship through sheer inner strength. An amazing 79 page story for all ages.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – A harrowing yet beautiful look at 24hrs of life in a Stalinist Russian prison and labour camp. Our central character strives hard to maintain dignity in the face of inhumanity. Seemingly ordinary objects take on great significance in the quest for one’s own survival. A bleak and hard hitting read and a cult classic. 142 pages of grim determination.

Cover of Animal farmAnimal Farm – Another book that everyone should read. It’s very famous story of farm animals in revolt against their perceived oppressors is nowadays part of our very culture. If you’ve not read these 104 pages then do so now!

Metamorphosis and Other Stories – A man awakes to find himself transformed…. into a bug, and his (and his family’s) attempt to adjust to his new form. It’s about identity, social isolation, alienation, and loads of other heavy allegory that you don’t need to be aware of when getting into the 64 pages of weirdness and exposure!

Cover of The death of Ivan Ilyich & confessionThe Death of Ivan Ilyich – Explore the stages of grief with Ivan Ilych, who has just been diagnosed with an incurable illness that will soon see the end of him. He and his family travel the rocky roads of denial, anger, and finally acceptance over the course of the 114 pages. A great work by a great writer.

The Time Machine – H.G. Wells is a giant in the world of fantastical sci-fi, and The Time Machine is arguably his greatest work. An eccentric inventor loses his beloved and seeks to travel through time to save her, but what he finds throughout the depth and breadth of human history is shocking, disturbing and thoroughtly inhuman. A brilliant piece of work in 118 pages.

Cover of the Third man & The fallen idolThe Third Man – Rollo is a writer. He writes cheap paperbacks. When his friend, Mr Lime, invites him to Vienna he jumps at the chance for an interesting journey. But Mr Lime has been killed before Rollo arrives and Rollo finds himself embroiled in a post-war Vienna noir thriller. A good suspenseful novella of 195 pages.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Other Stories – Another classic horror story that is so familiar to us nowadays, but if you’ve never read the book then you only know half the story! With lines like; ““I slept after the prostration of the day, with a stringent and profound slumber which not even the nightmares that wrung me could avail to break.” – how could you not love every word in its 110 pages…!?

Cover of The outsiderThe Outsider – A story in two parts; the first follows a young man on the fringes of identity with no aims or plans, when an incident occurs. The second part is the resulting consequences of that incident. French author Albert Camus is the king of the novella and this one is a beaut place to start if you’re new to his writing. 126 pages of thought provoking text.

Candide, Or, The Optimist – Candide is a well balanced young man who has been raised to see the best in the world, until he becomes embroiled with a local girl and is ousted from his wealthy family home. What happens next is a road trip like no other with adventurous deeds and arduous ordeals. A brilliant story in 135 pages.

Cover of Slaughterhouse 5Slaughterhouse-five – Butchery in the service of authority is the theme of this classic novella. It’s post-war absurdity, humour, and tragedy, and quite brutal – a great read in 185 pages!

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You’ll get through those in no time! So you might also want to check out Joyce’s list of tiny books.

Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017

The end of one year and the start of another gives rise to lots of ‘Best of’ lists and reflections on what has stood out for the year. Here’s yet another literary round-up… 

The Best (& Worst) Children’s Books Evening co-hosted at the end of the year by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries once again celebrated the best in children’s books.

Held annually, the event is a way to shout about and share the best books in a light-hearted end-of-year event, with no actual prizes awarded but an opportunity to hear from various experienced and enthusiastic practitioners and experts. It’s also a chance to gather together for the holiday season as a community of children’s literature enthusiasts, with like-minded folks across Canterbury. Attendees included a diverse section of professionals interested in children’s books from the National Library, the University of Canterbury, Christchurch City Libraries and Selwyn Libraries, to teachers and school librarians, all coming together at the newly rebuilt Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre.

And the ‘winner’ is…

CoverIt quickly became apparent that Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – a debut novel by Australian Jessica Townsend – was the most notable book of the night, having been picked by several panellists who presented their top picks of 2017. But never mind about Nevermoor for now, let’s have a look at their other individual favourites…


Bookseller Picks

First up presenting was a representative from Paper Plus Bush Inn, Jo Harvey, who – aside from just Nevermoor – was also enthusiastic about:

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She also wants everyone to know about Those Shipwreck Kids by and Magnus Chase Ship of the Dead. And as for favourite picture books, she picked Tidy by Emily Gravett.

PaperPlus Bush Inn kindly donated bursting book bundles for the evening’s raffle draw.


Dyslexic-Friendly Texts

Katie Lumsden, from Christchurch City Libraries, spoke next about dyslexic friendly texts, and sang the praises about new changes to Overdrive (Overdrive is a digital content platform used by libraries to offer eBooks and audiobooks). It now has a feature to make some texts more accessible for dyslexic readers. An app called Libby has a feature that highlights the text as it reads aloud (only applicable on our Read Along collection). Katie has recently delivered talks on dyslexic-friendly texts and resources at the 2017 LIANZA conference in September in Christchurch.

AshboyKatie chose Ash Boy: A Cinderfella Story by Lucy Coats as her top dyslexic-friendly read of the year. It’s a good fun story says Katie, and, like other books from publisher Barrington Stokes, is printed in traditional dyslexic-friendly reading format using yellow pages, specific layout techniques and sans serif typeface. It has an interest level of age 8-12, yet is edited to a reading level of age 7, to allow ease of reading while still pitching to older readers.

When Cinder Ashok’s father remarries, Cinder finds himself lumped with a horrible new step-mother and step-brothers! They bully Cinder terribly – all he wants is to be left alone in the library, his favourite place in the world. But will a fairy godfather and a royal quintain tournament mean Cinder has a happily-ever-after on the horizon? Fun spin on the Cinderella story.

You can read the first chapter of Ash Boy here.


Top Student Picks

Each year we hear directly from the voice of young readers themselves. Primary school children from Waitākiri Primary School and Redcliffs School Mia, Otto, Evie & Flynn each spoke well and confidently about their favourite titles they read in 2017:

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Katie Lumsden (L) and Sophie O’Rourke (R) presenting their top picks at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017 event, Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre, November 2017 

Best Picture Books

Sophie O’Rourke, junior teacher at Waitākiri Primary School, shared her plethora of engaging picture book titles of 2017 that stood out in her classroom, reading some funny highlights and telling us about the reactions and responses she gets from her Year 0-2 to the books – the real test of how well the authors and illustrators have hit the mark. A few highlights from the dozen chosen are  The Scariest Book Ever, Triangle, Creepy Pair of Underwear, A Place to Read (also titled as Are You Sitting Comfortably?) and Bug Bear.

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Read Sophie O’Rourke’s full list of Best Picture Books of 2017


Best Junior Fiction

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Zac McCallum, school librarian

Zac McCallum, formerly a children’s librarian from Christchurch City Libraries and also a previous children’s book awards judge, and now school librarian at Halswell Primary School, shared his delights of 2017 in the junior fiction category, including Nevermoor and:

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Matthew is trapped in his bedroom by crippling OCD, spending most of his time staring out of his window as the inhabitants of Chestnut Close go about their business. Until the day he is the last person to see his next door neighbour’s toddler, Teddy, before he goes missing. Matthew must turn detective and unravel the mystery of Teddy’s disappearance… Page-turning, heartbreaking, but ultimately life-affirming, this story is perfect for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Wonder. It is a book that will make you laugh and cry. See Zac’s glowing review of The Goldfish Boy.

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See Zac’s Best of 2017 Junior Fiction book list

Also check out My Best Friends are Books, Zac’s brilliant blog of children’s book reviews.


Best Older Fiction and Young Adult Reads

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Author Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Literary Director

Ending the evening was author Rachael King, Literary Director at WORD Christchurch, who told engaging anecdotes about her favourite older fiction and young adult books read in 2017. She was also a judge in the 2017 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults so naturally her list includes a number of notable New Zealand titles.

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No surprise Nevermoor was also in Rachael’s top picks along with The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman and also by Pullman, a graphic novel: The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship 

See the full list of Rachael’s Best of Older Fiction & Young Adult Reads of 2017 and read the library’s interview with Rachael King which includes her all-time top picks of books for children and young adults.

Rachael also wanted to give special mention to what is actually an adult book, Tess, a page-turning eerie novella about a 19-year-old woman – a somewhat supernatural story set in late 1999 Masterson, by New Zealand author and publicist Kirsten McDougall.

WORD Christchurch also donated tickets to raffle off to celebrity children’s author David Walliams sold-out show which they were hosting. Priceless!


That’s a wrap…

Nevermoor was certainly the favourite on the night with three speakers having brought the book along as their favourite of 2017. Touted as Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland, the story is about “a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world – but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.” The panelists said they were pleasantly surprised to find that the book really did live up to its marketing hype. (There are eight more books in the series due out!)

And as for the ‘worst’ part of the event’s title? The books chosen as the ‘worst’ of the year are of a ‘you have to have been there’ type nature – Chatham House rules – but we can say that books about poo got the poo poo!


Big thanks to MC Scott Wolfe, literacy facilitator at UC Education Plus, and member of the Canterbury Literacy Association, who did a cracker job mc’ing – and cracking jokes – at this end-of-year event.

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A large audience of enthusiasts in attendance at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 Event, South Library, November 2016