Holiday boredom-busters

The holiday season is upon us and it’s a great time to spend time with some quality books, movies, and music.

Here are some titles that will tantalise you with their mystery, entertain you with their storytelling, amaze you with their creativity, and leave you with a sense of satisfaction. We’ve got Fiction, Audiobooks, Graphic Novels, Music CDs, and DVDs, all just waiting for you at your local library.

Cover of An unwanted guestSo 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.

Cover of Norse mythology by Neil GaimanThese 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 RobinsonThe 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.

Cover of DemonAnd 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.

And finally, what to watch..? If you like twisted retellings of classic folktales then you’ll love Tale of Tales

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.

Definitely some good options if you’re looking to enter our Summertime Reading Challenge!

Happy festive season and good reading to you,


Frankenstein and the Vampyre: A Dark and Stormy Night, 16 June 1816

 Cover imageOn 16 June 1816, trapped inside a villa by insatiable thunderstorms erupting across Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Lord Byron challenged his party of young bohemians to a ghost story competition.

That night, Byron’s challenge gave birth to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Polidori’s The Vampyre, the first great vampire novel. Combining drama and a stellar cast of popular writers, including Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood, this documentary explores one of the most significant moments in gothic history and its lasting effect on modern literature.

View the video Frankenstein and the Vampyre: A Dark and Stormy Night.

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Family blues

The Year of Magical Thinking was Joan Didion‘s book about the death of her Book coverhusband, novelist and journalist John Gregory Dunne.  Blue Nights is about the life, illness and death of her daughter, Quintana, and it’s a read to set any parent thinking.

I was particularly struck by the chapter that begins:  “I do not know many people who think they have succeeded as parents”, because I don’t either.

Fictional failures can bring some comfort, so I’ve been idly compiling “My List of Books Featuring Parents who are Worse than Me”.

Top (mostly because it was read most recently) would be The Family Fang.  Camille and Caleb Fang are performance artists who use their children as props in their work. Buster and Annie, or Child A and Child B as they are known when taking part in the always confronting and often cruel situations their parents construct, find adult life something of a struggle.   The adult Fangs are fiends, but Kevin Wilson doesn’t make it all too bleak.

Next is We need to talk about Kevin, both because it’s a great if painful read, and because I saw Book coverLionel Shriver at a Writers Festival a few years ago. Kevin has shot nine people at his high school, and his mother is writing about it to her estranged husband.  Using such an event in a novel turned Shriver into an expert in school shootings, at least in the minds of the journalists who would contact her for comments after each horrible incident. Who is to blame? Shriver is skilled enough to show, not tell.

Coraline ends up with an uncomfortable number of parents when she enters the identical flat next door. The Other Mother  is so much better than Coraline’s busy real mother, distracted by her computer. The Other Mother has time for Coraline;  it’s just a shame she wants to replace Coraline’s eyes with black buttons.  The  incomparable Neil Gaiman is at his very best here.

Any advances on this crew as the worst parents in fiction of this or any other year?

Music on the interwebs, or down the rabbit hole we go

Neil Gaiman Press conference
Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman

Yay for New Zealand Music Month, and yay for live performances, and for hearing new musicians and old favourites!   On TV! On the radio!  In libraries!  But also yay for the particular brand of musical insanity that can be found on the internet.

A friend and I recently spent a few nights emailing each other bizarre and fantastic music clips from YouTube.  It was so much fun, not to mention distracting – every clip we found led to dozens more.  Which is the coolest thing about the internet; it just seems to go on forever.

Much like me, in fact.  Because what I really wanted to share with you today is a wee project I discovered through Twitter.  It’s called the 8in8 project, and was organised by a few of my favourite people.

Superstar author (and my ultimate superhero) Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls fame) recently got together with Ben Folds and Damian Kulash (from OK Go), and attempted to write and record 8 songs in 8 hours, as part of Boston’s Berklee College Rethink Music event.  Described by Gaiman on his blog as being the ‘world’s least super supergroup’, they were initially inspired by Kulash’s question:

“Can the album cycle actually be reduced to a single day? If the recording industry is supposed to be a means of connecting musicians to music listeners, well, then, here it is – spontaneous and circular.”

They nearly managed it – 6 in 6 being the eventual output, all presented on an album called NightyNight, which you can buy online, with all proceeds going to charity.

The songs are crazy and funny and charming, and witty and sad and clever, and get stuck in your head like the best kind of earworm.  And the icing on the cake?  Because they ran the whole project through Twitter, hundreds of people online got to have a say on possible song titles, AND THEN hundreds more went straight off and made music videos for all the tracks.  My favourite so far?  The Problem with Saints, I think, but I also loved I’ll Be My Mirror.  Ooh, and Nikola Tesla and …

So while you’re waiting for the next New Zealand Music Month performance at your local library, jump on our free internet computers and search Twitter or YouTube for “8in8”, then sit back and enjoy, and then tell me your favourite!

Neil Gaiman takes out 2010 Carnegie Medal

Neil Gaiman has been awarded the most sought after prize for children’s fiction in the UK, the CILIP Carnegie Medal, for his book, The Graveyard Book.  This is the second major prize that Gaiman has won for The Graveyard Book as he won the US equivalent of the prize, the Newberry medal, making him the first author to win both the prizes for the same book.  Although it wasn’t my favourite book in the shortlist (I would have voted for Patrick Ness’ Ask and the Answer) Neil Gaiman is a fantastic writer and definitely deserves the praise.

Australian illustrator, Freya Blackwood is the winner of the 2010 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, the UK’s most prestigious award for children’s illustration.  Her book, Harry and Hopper is a moving book about a young boy Harry, who has to come to terms with the sudden death of his best friend, his dog Hopper.  The judges commented that “Freya Blackwood excels in her use of muted colour, perspective, and exterior and interior space to give a powerful take on the father-son relationship, and a much-loved pet’s death. A sensitive issue for young children is beautifully handled, with Harry’s emotions and memories of Hopper expressed visually to great effect.”  It is a beautifully produced book and a well-deserved winner.

Check out the shortlist from this year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal , as well as videos from the awards presentation on the awards website.

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer: full press conference audio

Our sincere thanks to the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week organisers and media team for allowing us to be at this media conference. We appreciate it very much.

This is the full 25-minute conference. You’ll hear Neil and Amanda talk about being happy to be back together again, learn about the clothes Neil used in ‘that’ interview in the bath, hear about why Neil keeps in touch with fans so much, how he’s ‘banging the drum for libraries’, the duo’s own artistic collaboration, the writing process and more. Oh and yes, the wedding dress question.

There is some background noise and clicks and bumps and water being poured and even Amanda opening a mint. Enjoy!

Interview – Some Rights Reserved – Creative Commons License Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand

“Libraries are as important as anything gets” – Neil Gaiman

“Libraries are as important as anything gets”. So says ‘feral child brought up by librarians’ author Neil Gaiman.

Richard Liddicoat was at Neil Gaiman’s press conference this afternoon, before Gaiman was set to take the stage – he is no doubt the golden boy of the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week with fans all abuzz.

Gaiman is an ardent library lover, and is about to be honorary chair of American National Library Week.  Even in depressiony, recessiony times, he says, your library is still there …
Listen to Neil here:

Neil is in New Zealand with his rock star girlfriend, the genius Amanda Palmer who is touring New Zealand.  She is playing at Al’s Bar in Christchurch on Tuesday 16 March. You’ve gotta love a woman who sings about Oasis, Guitar Hero and Leeds United, looks super hot at the Golden Globes – and graces the cover of Friday’s Press supplement!

Amanda is also working on a record called Amanda Palmer Down Under in which she’ll sing Oz and NZ related songs and collaborations.

Kia ora Neil and Amanda.

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman

Everybody loves Neil

I’m bursting with excitement at the upcoming release of the movie version of one of my most favouritest books ever.  I’d like to say that it’s a philosophical tome of great worthiness, but that would be a lie (and possibly make quite a boring movie …).  Instead I will confess that it’s a children’s book, Coraline, written by one of my most favouritest authors ever – Neil Gaiman.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, because my Mr Gaiman is one of those writers.  Continue reading

Bronny’s in love …

Personal taste – there’s no accounting for it. And when you combine it with self-imposed expectations and outside pressures, it’s quite a steamy little brew. Let me explain: I really want to love graphic novels. I love the idea of them, and I like the idea of liking something that most other people either hate or don’t ‘get’. Pathetic, I know, but hey – personal taste …

So far, though, it’s been an uphill battle. I tried the worthy ones, and the pretty ones, and the edgy ones, and the foreign ones (both European and Asian), and the ones by my favourite author, and the ones by the cute little singer, and the just plain weird ones; and while there were one or two that I liked facets of (writing/storyline/illustrations), none really won me over wholeheartedly, although the Fables series came close. I began to realise that, far more even than with regular novels, the balance and mix had to be just right.

I even sought professional help (thanks, Malc, and Bek too), but alas for all my seeking, none truly filled that graphic-novel-shaped hole in my heart.

Until now. Now I’m in love. And not with just one, but two! Never rains but, etc …
Problem is, both of my new loves are beginnings of series, just released. And I’m kind of impatient. As Freddie says, “I want it all, and I want it now!” (Actually, there’s one about him here too …).
If I confess my new crushes to you, will you ‘fess up to me? And maybe support me in my waiting?

New Love Number One: Hatter M, by Frank Beddor and Ben Templesmith – a dark twist on the Alice in Wonderland tale.
New Love Number Two: Locke & Key, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Mmm, yummy.

Or am I the only one who wants to want something? Doesn’t necessarily have to be graphic novels, even (we do blab on about them a bit here); could be Russian literature, or ancient mobster classics, or massive art history tomes …