Daughters of Dystopia

Dystopia: relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

I love a great dystopian novel, it’s a genre that can veer into classic science fiction, but the ones I love the most are the ones you can imagine happening in your world, if the circumstances changed just slightly, a world power got that much more control, a disease could not be contained or the general populace let things that are deemed as unacceptable become acceptable, little by little. Ordinary people trying to survive, railing against the system or changing it forever.

When I began reading Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed, it was no surprise that both the victims and heroines of the story were young girls. Melamed is a psychiatric nurse who specialises in working with traumatised children. The girls in this debut novel slowly come to the realisation that the only world they have known is filled with lies and not as idyllic as their leaders have taught them it is.

The girls live on an island, living a puritan life, where everyday decisions and everyone’s lives are constrained by a set of rules set down by “The Ancestors”. The male descendants of these original peoples who fled The Wastelands across the sea run the island along rules to suit their own needs. Young girls are married off to older men as soon as they come into ‘fruition’, at puberty.The rules set down, called Shalt Nots, include practices that are definitely of benefit to the elder men, not their young daughters.

Every summer until then, the children of the island run rampant, rarely going home, sleeping rough and enjoying their freedom until the shackles of childbearing and helping the community survive are placed on them.

Told through the eyes of the older girls who are all about to reach fruition, chapters are given over to each girl in turn and I enjoyed the pace of the book and the way the author slowly revealed the horrors of being a young girl on the island. Little is shown of the feelings of the young boys, or the men’s justifications for their actions.

The main heroine is Janey, who should have reached fruition at 17, but is so desperate not to be a woman and succumb to the demands of a husband, she is slowly starving herself. She and Vanessa, who has access to her father’s library of books from past days, give the other girls knowledge and courage, trying to find a way to escape, or at least effect change.

Janey wakes early the third morning, at the first tint of crimson shattering the black night sky, as if someone had shaken her from slumber. She takes the precious moment gladly and watches the girls sleep peacefully. Let this last, she prays, she knows not who to – certainly not the ancestors, or their puppetmaster God. Just for a little while, let them have this. Let them have it. Please.

It certainly had a hint of Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale at times and I kept imagining it as a film, but I’m never sure if that is a good thing.

If you love a good dystopian tale about strong young women who decide to take a stand, this is your book. I powered through it in a few days, which is pretty amazing for me. I was in turn heartened and horrified but kept on turning the pages, wanting to see the fate of these young heroines clinging onto their childhoods to save their lives.

Gather the Daughters
by Jennie Melamed
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781472241719

New Books – 29 June

Hi readers, some treats this week:

Cover of What happened, Miss Simone

This biography caught my eye – the authorised story of Nina Simone.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is inspired by a documentary. Music journalist Alan Light (The Holy or Unbroken : Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the unlikely ascent of Hallelujah, and Lets Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain) draws on Nina’s diaries, rare interviews and her daughter’s memories to tell the story of the ‘real’ Miss Simone’ – a classically trained pianist, civil rights activist and one of the greatest artists of the last century. Did you know she rang David Bowie often? His cover of Wild is The Wind is one of my favourites.

Cover of The switchNext up, some Sci-fi. The Switch is Justina Robson’s twelfth book. She’s won two Arthur C. Clarke awards and been nominated for many others. GoodReads is calling this one ‘ground breaking.’

Harmony is a ‘perfect’ society. To maintain this illusion, the defective are ‘dealt with’ (eradicated). Nico and Twostar are two tough cookies from the slums. They are survivors. Can they overcome Nico being sentenced to death for murder, or the loss of his mind?

Cover of The river singsThe River Sings is Sandra Leigh Price’s second book. An historical novel, it has been awarded the Women’s Weekly Book Club Great Read seal of approval.

The River Sings follows the fortunes of Eglantine, from mysterious beginnings in London to her father’s transportation to the Australian colonies for pick-pocketing. Eglantine must live by her wits and follow his footsteps if she is to survive.

Cover of Lies the mushroom pickers toldIn Lies the Mushroom Pickers Told, by Tom Phelan, journalist Patrick Bracken returns to the village of his childhood in Gohen, Ireland. He’s come back to investigate two deaths that occurred when he was a child. Patrick knows the deaths weren’t accidental, the legal ruling, because he and his best friend were witnesses…

New Books – 23 June

Hi there, some great looking titles in the box this week.

CoverKatey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy, Futurama, Married with Children) has written an autobiography! Grace Notes tells the story of Sagal’s amazing and challenging life (not the least having a baby, told as a series of essays. Christina Applegate hails the memoir as “a beautiful poem…you will be transported…and healed.” Follow Katey Sagal on Twitter @KateySagal

CoverWildlife enthusiasts will love this biography The Durrells of Corfu. Those who loved reading Gerald Durrell’s stories of the exotic island and equally exotic pets will enjoy this. The author, Michael Haag, was family friend of Lawrence Durrell, Gerald’s father. The book includes photographs, excerpts from stories and an epilogue on Lawrence Durrell’s writing.

CoverClive Cussler’s new book Nighthawk is the 14th installment of the Numa Files (National Underwater and Marine Agency Foundation). A highly advanced spaceship disappears over the South Pacific. Kurt Austin and NUMA scramble to find it, and its unstable cargo before other nations can discover it. Great reviews. Keep track of his series with Fantastic Fiction.

CoverThe Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson, is an Historic novel about a German family, set in Southwest Africa. When her sister Marguerite later goes missing after their return to Berlin, the mystery haunts Ingrid, but her search is interrupted by the onset of World
War I. His second novel, the story is described at atmospheric, accurate, elegant and engrossing.

CoverA Dog’s Way Home is another novel from W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Purpose (recently on film). There are many wonderful tales of great animal journeys. In this story, Lucas has to give the dog he found as a puppy, as pitbulls are banned in Denver. Yet the bond between Bella and Lucas is so strong that Bella attempts a journey of 400 miles across Colorado wilderness.

CoverFamiliar Things is a bit of a gem. South-Korean writer Hwang Sok-Yong, is being hailed as ‘the most powerful voice in Asia’ (Kenzaburo Oe), this book as a ‘great political book’ (Critiques Libres).  Flower Island is a landfill, home to the poor who have been driven out of the city. Yet against the stark backdrop of reality, Ancient Spirits are about to reveal themselves…

New books for June

I love unpacking the new books from their boxes. These are my picks from the new book box:


Dead Writers in Rehab is the second novel by British author Paul Basset Davies; also a writer for stage, radio, television and film. Protagonist Foster James wakes up in what he thinks is rehab. After a therapy session with several writers who are dead (Hunter S. Thompson, for example), he’s not so sure…

Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman, is the story of Maggie, a maid in New York, who is left a house by one of her clients. She also inherits Edith, her former employer’s eighty-two year old mother. Erin Duffy recommends this as a book “you’ll want to devour in one sitting.”

John Grisham’s new offering Camino Island features the daring theft of five manuscripts belonging to F.Scott Fitzgerald’s novels. If you were a struggling writer, could you resist the offer to work with a historic manuscript, even if its origins are murky?


Spaceman of Bohemia is the first novel by Jaroslav Kalfar. Highly recommended by Darin Strauss and Lisa McInerney, this is the story of Bohemian astronaut Jakub Prochazka’s ascent and personal journey through Space. With only an Arachnoid for company Jakub comes to terms with his relationships while he tries to find a way back home to his loved ones.

Tengoku, by Rae D. Magdon, is the story of a Japanese girl, Aozora Kaede, who runs away from her noble family, with only her wolf, Rin, for company. She is hired as a Yojimbo (bodyguard) for a young female Samurai, Homura Imari. The two share an adventure to replace Imari’s missing hand, confront Aozura’s past, and save the Empire of Akatsuki Teikoku from evil.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a prequel to Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It’s set a century-ish before Game of Thrones, when the Targaryens are still in power… Featuring Ser Duncan the Tall, and his young Squire, Egg – who is really Aegon Targaryen. With illustrations!


The Walworth Beauty is a new release from Man Booker Prize shortlisted Michele Roberts. The Independent newspaper is hailing her as “one of Britain’s best novelists.” The Times goes further to describe her as descended from Monet, Debussy and Woolf. The novel follows two characters linked by the search for human connection, but separated by time.

I love the title of this one. (The Last Person to Call Me) Sweet Pea (Ended Up Dead) is a first adult novel by C.J Skuse, known for her writing for children and young adults. Rhiannon appears to be normal, living a normal life. She lives with her boyfriend and her dog, normal. She hates her job, normal. She is making a kill list, normal. Wait what?! The driver who cuts her off every morning. The guy who bruises her apples at the supermarket. Is this underestimated girl going to get away with murder?

For Later: January 2017

For Later shelf is now more of a For Later library but somehow the Just Ordered list comes out and every week the shelves just grow.

These titles sneaked on recently:

Cover of Thug KitchenThug Kitchen (subtitle could cause offence). Gwyneth Paltrow loved it. Not sure if that’s a recommendation but I’m all for a bit of cursing with my cooking.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina. If Mina’s other books are anything to go by this stand-alone based on a real case in 1950s Glasgow should be good. Mina won the best-dressed and best hair competition held in my head at the Wellington Writers and Readers Week way back in 2012. I’ve followed her ever since and she’s never let me down.

England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage. Will one of the ultimate books on Punk be as good as it was in 1991? Or will it just be really sad? It’s fully updated and expanded so probably sad.

And there’s always room for a few “Friday night flickers”, good for a mindless page-through on a Friday night:

Cover of Fashion, art and rock and rollFashion, Art and Rock ‘n’ Roll by Jean-Charles De Castelbajac. Worth it for his name alone.

Domino Your Guide to a Stylish Home: Discovering your personal style and creating a space you love by Jessica Romm Perez. Sigh.

City House, Country House Contemporary New Zealand Homes by John Walsh.

Gardening in the best possible taste

Cover of Grow for flavourNothing makes my day like a “hold available” notification from CCL for a crisp new garden book, and this week I got my hands on a real gem. Grow for Flavour by James Wong (of Grow Your Own Drugs fame – not nearly as dodgy as it sounds) is a fresh ray of light in a forest of glossy gardening books that look pretty, but can sometimes be a bit guilty of repeating much the same information.

Don’t get me wrong, Grow for Flavour is very a attractive volume indeed (who can resist an author who photographs his Star Wars figurines in his garden shots?), but it’s not just a pretty publication. It’s full of interesting facts and innovative ideas for getting the best flavours out of your home produce.

Wong argues that much of our gardening ‘wisdom’ is based on (British) Victorian gardening practice – essentially the time when yield was beginning to be prized over flavour, a sad trend that’s come to its lacklustre fruition in our supermarkets today. This book is a strike back in defense of taste. It’s full of simple ways to boost flavour in all sort of fruit and vege crops – and the thing I love best is that all of its tips are firmly rooted in science. (You see what I did there?)

Yep, Wong is a scientist as well as a herbalist and a gardener, which means that his observations, remedies and treatments all have solid scientific research behind them – a nice change in this subject area, where solutions are so often presented without a lick of evidence stronger than “Well my great Aunt Hilda swears by it!”

It’s one of those books I think my partner secretly hates. Inevitably, when I get hold of a volume like this, his quiet evening will be peppered with interruptions along the lines of “Hey, did you know I hate coriander because I have the OR6A2 gene that makes it taste like soap and bleach?” or “Can I turn the laundry bin into a fungus farm?” It’s not uncommon for these exclamations to turn completely nonsensical, like “Aspirin and molasses on tomatoes? Genius!” (Well, it made sense to me…)

We’re well into planting season now, so grab a copy today. You too can be making inscrutable garden related exclamations in no time…

Cool stuff from the selectors – from Patti Smith to Star Wars

Cover of M TrainOur Music Selector has been seeing lots of great music biographies lately, she said that this will be one of her highlights: M Train by Patti Smith

Reviews have been ecstatic, I particularly like this one by Nick Hornby

The most beautiful, incredible autobiography – it will make you ache for a time and a place that you probably never knew, New York in the 1970s.

Cover of The Ultimate guide to Vintage Star WarsGetting ready for the new Star Wars Movie? There have been a few adults and children’s books ordered including The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures 1977-1985. Unparalleled coverage of Star Wars action figures. Organized by film or television show, and by release date, the book is divided into two parts: action figures and accessories.

Cover of CosmosCosmos: The Infographic book of space
Using Infographics – the latest and increasingly popular method of explaining tricky subjects, the authors have laid bare modern science and the cosmos. Will appeal to stargazers and space enthusiasts of all ages.

…. And something for the children

Cover of A great big cuddleA Great Big Cuddle : Poems for the Very Young by Michael Rosen
Sometimes children’s poetry can be ignored in favour of a picture book but you will not be disappointed with the latest offering from the two biggest names in children’s publishing, Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell.  Rosen’s poems fizz off the page with sound and rhythm, energy and laughter, as he captures in the most remarkable way what it means to be very, very young. Chris Riddell has produced some his most extraordinary pictures ever to bring this world to life. It’s a book that will be enjoyed by the oldest grown-up and the youngest child and a future classic.

Cover of Over the hills and far awayOver the hills and far away : a treasury of nursery rhymes by Elizabeth Hammill
A collection of 150 rhymes from across the globe, beautifully illustrated by 77 world-renowned artists.


Shells, books and Lego: cool stuff from the Selectors

No matter where you are the world, you will never be far from a mollusc.

cover of Spirals in TimeHelen Scales hasn’t met a mollusc she didn’t like. Her book Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells is a passionate ode to shellfish, part travelogue, part natural science with plenty of story telling to make the humble mollusc a thing of wonder.

Inspiration of bookIntent on pushing the boundaries of book publishing, Inspiration of Book showcases 150 of the most imaginative and innovative books ever made, including a corset book, pop up books, books made of seeds, books within books, books made from shells, fabric… the list goes on. Don’t be put off by the cover; it’s rather dull considering the joys that await inside! Our selector had this to say:

I wanted to personally own every book they showed.

Beautiful LegoBeautiful Lego 2: Dark is just that – beautiful! This book showcases an array of pieces ranging from lifelike replicas of everyday objects and famous monuments to imaginative renderings of spaceships, mansions, and mythical creatures. A great companion for those of you who managed to attend the Kidsfest event Brickshow.

Cool Stuff from the Selectors: New Fiction

Inside the O'BriensUpcoming fiction has a lot of interesting material, but if you don’t want to read:

  • novels about domestic disharmony,
  • nice tales which you know are going to be nice as they have flowers on the cover,
  • blokey novels about saving the world in the way Tom Clancy and his many imitators do,
  • endless dark crime
  • and endless light crime (murder in flower shops, etc)

…then you might like to try these when they come into our libraries.

A  new novel by Lisa Genova who did the bestseller Still Alice – her forthcoming Inside the O’Brien’s has a family confronted by Huntington’s Disease.

Quicksand, by Steve Toltz, author of the terrific  A fraction of the whole. His second novel, Quicksand, is about a man to whom all the wrong things happen until he turns his bad luck into something of an art form.

*If you like writers who love bad taste, there is a A Decent Ridenew one from Irvine Welsh A decent ride and the publisher says it is his “funniest, filthiest” book yet as it takes on some dark taboos. His equivalent from over the Atlantic – Chuck Palahniuk – has a book of short stories called Make Something Up which is just waiting to offend.

And I need to put in a word for the Penguin series of Georges Simenon’s work: the intention is to go through all of Simenon’s work, from his Maigret stories to his psychological thrillers. As well, Patricia Highsmith, the author who made dark psychological mystery novels (most of them filmed, from Strangers on a train to the recent Two faces of January) is being republished in the months ahead.

Cool new stuff from the Selectors

Cover of Girls standing on lawnsGirls Standing on Lawns

Our selector noticed that this interesting and rather odd little book kept getting good reviews so she decided it was worth purchasing. Once she read it cover to cover (which only took less than 5 minutes) she agreed that this was quite a delightful wee book after all.

It is exactly what the title says, photos and paintings of girls standing on lawns with the author pondering and reflecting on the moment caught…

Marae: Te Tatau Pounamu: A Journey around New Zealands Meeting Houses

Bishop Muru Walters is a very well known Anglican minister. He is also a master carver, poet, broadcaster and former Māori All Black. His son Robin is a photographer and filmmaker who is director at Curious Films. Sam Walters, Robin’s wife, is a photographer.

Cover of MaraeTogether the Walters spent three years visiting some of this country’s major meeting houses as well as many of the more humble ones – houses that serve smaller hapū and iwi – to bring together a beautiful photographic book on the meeting house. They are intensively photographed, with detailed shots of their carvings, kōwhaiwhai panels, tukutuku panels and much more. Many are photographed during an event, the images conveying a rich sense of life and activity.

From north to south, from the east coast to the west, and from ancient wharenui to bold new designs, this handsome book, with its engaging personal text, captures the huge variety of New Zealand’s original architecture. It’s a book for all New Zealanders to treasure.

When Books Went to War

Learning that the US government, along with librarians and publishers, decided to dispatch millions of books to American GIs, sailors, and fliers in the Second World War is sure to warm any book reader’s heart.  For many soldiers this was the first time they had come in contact with literature; some were so moved they wrote to the authors!  These books helped ease boredom, alleviated stress and gave a sense of purpose. By the number of starred reviews it has received, this book of books should be a good read.

Cover of The Wellness SyndromeThe Wellness Syndrome

Feeling like you don’t exercise enough, or eat the right foods? You are not alone! The Wellness Syndrome follows people who go to extremes to find the perfect diet, corporate athletes who start the day with a dance party, and the self-trackers who monitor everything, including their own toilet habits.

This is a world where feeling good has become indistinguishable from being good. Visions of social change have been reduced to dreams of individual transformation, political debate has been replaced by insipid moralising, and scientific evidence has been traded for new-age delusions. A lively and humorous diagnosis of the cult of wellness, this book is an indispensable guide for everyone suspicious of our relentless quest to be happier and healthier.