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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Read Aloud. Change the World – Thursday 1 February is World Read Aloud Day

Thursday 1 February is World Read Aloud Day, because:

We think everyone in the world should get to read and write. Every year, on World Read Aloud Day, people all around the globe read aloud together and share stories to advocate for literacy as a human right that belongs to all people.

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat

When I was in primary school, “Library Day” was one of my favorite days. Every second Friday, the book-bus pulled up outside our school and we  chose a book each. Later that day, we would visit my grandmother and her sister. One of them would gather up the five of us and read our books to us. I loved it, especially if a hard book had been chosen and it had to be read to us. Even when we were old enough to read the library books by ourselves, being read to was enjoyed by all.  The Just so stories and The Arabian nights were popular reads in my grandmother’s house and they eventually became a bit shabby. Reading aloud continued until our grandmother and our elderly aunt could no longer see well enough to read. Then it became our turn to read to them.

When was the last time you read aloud? Was it when your child was little? Was it before they stated to read? Have read to an older child or an adult?

I have read to an older child and we enjoyed it. We were able to share stories and talk about the themes and issues raised by the authors. We were able to share stories that the child didn’t have the literary skills to read alone.  It was a time to chat, share and discuss anything and everything. The result was, the child was exposed to stories, words and ideas that they would not have had exposure to if they had just read the stories that everyone was reading.

I always thought that reading aloud was a good idea. According to Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, reading aloud to a child, puts them almost a year ahead of children who do not receive daily reading alouds. Reading aloud obviously improves literacy and everyone in the world should get to read and write. Every year, on World Read Aloud Day, people all around the globe read aloud together and share stories to advocate for literacy as a human right that belongs to all people. Here’s why that’s important:

According to UNESCO, 258 million adults – two thirds of them women – lack basic literacy skills. Among the youth population, female literacy rates have risen quickly, but still three fifths of the illiterate are women. A child who is born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five than a woman who is illiterate. A literate, educated girl is less likely to acquire AIDS, have a higher income and will have a smaller healthier family than her literate counterpart.

So, borrow some books.
Find a reading buddy.
Visit litworld.org and get ready to read out aloud.

Read alouds

 

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.

Reading Challenges, and the end-of-year rush to complete them

I love books.

Which is just as well, since I work in a library, and am surrounded by them everyday. Paperbacks, hardbacks, audiobooks, eBooks, and magazines – a library is an endless supply of stories to read, listen to, and learn from. Unfortunately, though, you need time to read and listen to books, and one thing I haven’t yet learnt is how to increase the number of free hours in the day, meaning that the more books I see, the more books end up on my ‘To Be Read’ (TBR) list.

Don’t get me wrong – that can be a good thing, as it means I can always find a book to read when I’m short of ideas. But it can also mean that books make it onto my TBR list, and then just languish there forever more.

Which is where the five book challenge comes in.

Midway through this year, I was given a book challenge – to read five books from my TBR list. To actually go back and read five of those books I’d been putting off reading, and finish them before the end of 2017.

And I did it. It may have been a close call, with the final two books being finished with only a few days’ grace before the year’s end, but I got there. And I am pleased I did. This challenge has been a good excuse to branch out and read something new, and means that I can actually discuss these stories with the people who recommended them to me.

So, what did I read, why were they on my TBR list, and what did I think of them?

CoverDear Fatty by Dawn French

I love Dawn French. Whether as a lady vicar, as one half of the inimitable French and Saunders, or in the many other comedic roles she’s played over the years, she has a way of telling stories that hooks me in, and I was very disappointed when I wasn’t able to get tickets to her ’30 Million Minutes’ show in 2016. One of my book club friends saw the show, and thought the book’s format of anecdotes and letters might be a suitable substitute for not seeing her. I enjoyed reading this book, and could definitely ‘hear’ Dawn’s voice in my head. Although she touches on some more serious topics – depression, suicide, relationship difficulties – Dawn is, at heart, a comedienne, and most of the anecdotes are amusing insights into different periods of her life.

CoverThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

“Does it spark joy?” At the start of the year, as New Year Resolutions are made … and followed up until January 5th … this question has become a cultural phenomenon.

Marie Kondo’s book was recommended to me by two different people in the space of a couple of weeks. One was a woman from my book club who found it absolutely life-changing, and gave it positive reviews at TWO book club meetings (once while she was in the middle of tidying her stuff, and the second time when she was in the post-tidy stage of the process), and one was a colleague, who had read it but found a few of the ideas a tad far-fetched. I have to say – I agree with my colleague. I just can’t bring myself to empty my bag at the end of each day, thank it for doing its job, and then put it away hanging up, not squashed, so that it feels happy until the next time I use it. Having said that, I was definitely able to take away some good ideas from this book, and have certainly become more conscious of my belongings, and which of them I actually use and appreciate.

CoverRaising My Rainbow by Lori Duron

Having done volunteer work with gender-diverse* young people, I am always on the look-out for books that I can recommend to them, or to their parents, whānau, and community. Published in 2013, this book had been on my radar for a while, but I just hadn’t had the time to read it. Until now.

Neil Patrick Harris wrote the foreword for this book, and congratulates Lori Duron on being so aware and accepting of her young son’s gender non-conformity. And I agree. It is great that this young child has a family that accepts him for who he is, and that doesn’t feel the need to make him only play and wear ‘boy’ things. However… there has been a huge increase in the awareness of gender-diversity since 2013, and more is being written now about supporting these young people from a very young age. I feel like this is a good book to read about some of the challenges of raising children in a society that is so very gendered, but there are more relevant, and more up-to-date books available if you are specifically wanting to support a young gender-diverse child.

* I have chosen to use ‘gender-diverse’ as an umbrella term here for people who do not identify as the gender they were born. Some people might call themselves trans* agender, non-binary, or one of many other words, and each of those terms are valid.

CoverThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

Brian Selznick has a wonderful talent for telling stories through both pictures and words. I absolutely loved his book Wonderstruck, and added this title onto my TBR list as soon as it came out. I am so pleased that I finally got around to reading it! The first half of the story details the stories of the theatrical Marvel family from 1766 to 1900, and is told entirely through illustrations. The second half of the story is set at the end of the 20th century, and is written in text. It recounts the tale of a young boy, his uncle, and his search for more information about the Marvels, and about his own family. This book was an absolute delight to read, and had unexpected twists that kept me engrossed right until the end. Selznick’s illustrations, as always, were stunning.

CoverTracks by Robyn Davidson

A few years ago I was at the movies, and saw the preview for a movie that looked really cool – a young woman decides to travel solo across the Australian outback, with only her camels and dog for company. A wee while later, this book was part of a Christmas book swap, and as soon as I realised it was the story that the movie was based on, I wanted to read it.

The first part of the book deals with her preparation for the trip, and the latter part details her actual trip. Parts of this are not an easy read. Outback Australia in the late 20th century was quite sexist and racist, and as well as the difficulties faced by the rugged landscape, Robyn also faced lots of difficulties from local residents. She finds herself having to make difficult decisions, and the reader really does feel for her at several points along the journey.

I would not normally read this type of book – I worry that sometimes there can be long passages where not much happens, but now I’ve read this one, I think I might try a few more armchair travel books in 2018.

Summertime Reading Club is for the littlies too

Don’t forgot to drop in a great board or picture book into the picnic basket or backpack as you head to the park this summer. They are a great way to entertain and engage with your kids as you lounge in this glorious weather.

Reading a book with tamariki provides awesome opportunities to explore, laugh and build bonds that come from conspiring over the antics of Hairy Maclary or Spot the dog. Maggie and I are looking at cheeky bears, foxes and chicks in this board book at Upper Riccarton Library.

Christchurch City Libraries Summertime Reading Club – Kōrero pukapuka ā te wā o raumati this year is for newborns to teens, covering ages from zero to 13 year olds. Developing language, a curious wonder of the world and love of reading – all come from the books we share right from when our children are babies. Plus there are great prizes to be won!

We will be here at the library all summer, so pop on down and grab a great book. Don’t forget to let us know which books made your day.

If you want some ideas, our Holiday Reading lists are highlight the best books of 2017, including picture books.

Fife-ing it up with Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin was born in Fife. I was born in Fife. Ian Rankin studied at Edinburgh University. I studied at Edinburgh University. Ian Rankin writes successful, suspenseful and gritty crime fiction. Nope, nothing. But I am most affirmatively a mahoosive fan-lassie for his thrillers set in the Athens of the North a.k.a. Edinburgh and featuring Mr Booze John Rebus.

Marcus Elliott and Ian Rankin
Marcus Elliott and Ian Rankin. WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College. Sunday 14 May 2017. Flickr 2017-05-14-IMG_0127

Last night Christchurch played host to Ian Rankin as the opening event of the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season and it was a full house at the Charles Luney Auditorium of St Margaret’s College. It was also a slightly more blokey audience than most book events attract, albeit it in a very metro, groomed and grizzled with grey fashion. Marcus Elliott, the Christchurch coroner, was asking the probing questions.

Rankin claims most crime writers would rather be rock stars than writers. Aged 12 he created a band called The Amoebas. With no musical ability himself – and no friends who actually wanted to be in a band – The Amoebas were entirely fictitious, but Rankin still managed to create world tour itineraries, lyrics for top 10 hits and music press interviews.

Writers are shy, nerdy kids who create worlds

he said, and while for most people the adult world draws a halt to childish imagination, for writers it keeps going. Rebus is his imaginary friend, but one who wouldn’t like Rankin in the real world. Rankin claimed Rebus would label him “a wishy-washy liberal”.

The first Rebus novel, Knot and Crosses is celebrating its 30th anniversary and Rankin said the character of Rebus leapt “fully formed” into his head. He didn’t entirely realise he was writing a crime novel and was a little perturbed to see what he thought was the next great Scottish novel appearing in the then “not sexy” crime section of his local bookstore.

He was aware early on he needed help with creating an authentic police world and wrote to the then Lothian Police to get some advice. He was also briefly a suspect in a missing person/murder case!

Asked if he counted policeman amongst his fans, Rankin said “weirdly yes”. Everyone likes a maverick and Rebus is his own man but also on the right side. His novels represent authentic investigations but with all the boring bits taken out, a streamlined version of a real investigation.

Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin: Writing Rebus. WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College. Sunday 14 May 2017. Flickr 2017-05-14-IMG_0140

Rankin added that keeping the series fresh wasn’t too challenging as Edinburgh, Scotland and Rebus had all changed. Rebus has retired, and after years of booze, fags and fried food, his body is starting to wind down. Rankin has recently gifted Rebus Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) but added he needs to work hard at remembering new story elements, for example he forgot he’d written in a pet dog for Rebus and then had to re-write and add the pooch in later!

Rankin said he likes to explore different social issues and each novel starts with a theme: immigration, people trafficking, xenophobia, banking crisis or business scam – but he is mindful that he also needs to create an exciting read. He says he doesn’t plan too much and sometimes the ending changes because the narrative knows better and he has to “trust to the muse”. All his books end before the criminal trial because, he says, he knows nothing about the Scottish criminal system and is too lazy to do the research.

Marcus Elliott asked about the TV versions of Rebus, and Rankin said there was early interest from the actor Leslie Grantham better known as Dirty Den of Eastenders’ fame. Later the BBC wanted the rather rotund Robbie Coltrane to play Rebus, and Rankin was like “Jesus you know he (Rebus) was in the SAS”! He recently got the rights back and would like to see them filmed in a more leisurely Scandi-style rather than the breakneck a-novel-condensed-to-an-hour speed of the ITV series. Writer, and fellow Fifer Gregory Burke is involved and the actor Ken Stott may even reprise his role.

There was time for a few questions from the audience, and it was the usual mixed bag with questions that aren’t questions and some sneaky self-aggrandisement. Rankin was asked about his love for the music of the late Jackie Leven, a prolific Scottish singer-songwriter, who he collaborated with on a CD and series of stage performances. He was also asked how he researches and makes authentic the criminals that appear in his fiction. He has spent time in prisons particularly through literacy in prison programmes, but was recently shocked when a fan described his recurring crime boss “Big Ger” Cafferty as a “big, huggable, loveable bear of a guy”. He fears he has perhaps over-identified with Big Ger and is going to make him horrible again.

The session started to wind up but Rankin still had time to apologise for Donald Trump being half-Scots and to warn us of the seething rage and stabby darkness carried inside romantic fiction writers. This was a witty and polished session with truck loads of well-executed anecdotes and crime fiction insights.

Ian Rankin signs book
Ian Rankin. Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College. Sunday 14 May 2017. Flickr 2017-05-14-IMG_0150

The HELL Pizza Reading Challenge

The New Zealand Book Awards Trust have teamed up again with HELL Pizza to encourage school-age children to read more. Their reading programme is now in its fourth year, and it runs through schools and libraries nationwide. Christchurch City Libraries is again offering this reading challenge reward system.

What is the HELL Reading Challenge?

The HELL Pizza Reading Challenge rewards New Zealand children for reading books in an incentivised reading programme that’s simple: Read for Pizza!

hell-reading-challenge-poster-2017

Children complete a ‘pizza wheel’ by reading seven books, and then go to any HELL Pizza store and redeem it for a free 333 HELL Pizza… It’s that easy! Every child/student must read 7 books to fill up their wheel to be able to receive their free pizza.

There is no limit on the number of wheels a child can fill up between March and December, provided they are stamped and authenticated by a librarian.

Pop into your local library to pick up a reading wheel. Get a slice of reading done and start getting your pizza wheel clicked. Then top off your reading with a pizza!

hell-reading-challenge-table-talker-2017-2

Rules

  • The HELL Reading Challenge is open to students in Years 1-8.
  • Each wheel is good for one 333 kids’ pizza from any HELL store nationwide.
  • Each wheel must be clicked off and signed by library staff from your library and stamped with our official library stamp. Each pizza wheel features detailed rules and regulations, as well as a serial number that will be traced back to your library.
  • Pizza must be picked up in-store only IN PERSON. One pizza per visit per child.
  • Wheels are non-transferable for money.
  • Come into any HELL store to redeem your voucher any time before Sunday 3 December 2017. The child/student must redeem their free pizza in person and before the expiry date.
  • HELL Stores have the right to refuse this offer in cases of suspected fraud, or when presented with unsigned and unstamped wheels.

Find out more about the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Explore our kid’s page for some great reading ideas.

About the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults are a unique celebration of the contribution New Zealand’s children’s authors and illustrators make to building national identity and cultural heritage.

Awards in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are made in six categories: Young Adult Fiction, Junior Fiction (the Esther Glen Award), Non-Fiction (the Elsie Locke Award), Picture Book, Illustration (the Russell Clark Award) and Te Kura Pounamu Award (for books entirely written in te reo Māori).

Five finalists are selected for each category, and from these a category winner is selected. All awards carry prize money of $7,500. In addition, the judges may decide to award a best first book prize of $2,000 to a previously unpublished author or illustrator. The overall prize, the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award, carries a prize of $7,500. The awards are judged by a panel of five. Te Kura Pounamu is judged by a separate panel of judges. A shortlist is announced in June each year, and the awards event is held in August of the same year.

At the same time, a major nationwide Reading Challenge, sponsored by HELL Pizza, encourages children to read.

According to Helen: Best reads of 2016

These are my top 10 books of 2016 – a mix of poetry, novels, and non-fiction that I loved and still wish I hadn’t finished (grumble grumble).

Cover of Book of longingBook of Longing

I have always been a big fan of Leonard Cohen‘s incredible music and was in no way disappointed by his poetry. This anthology is every bit as beautiful, poignant, and playful as his lyrics. I definitely recommend seeing out 2016 by reading this reflective and enlightening collection, and remembering this sadly missed genius.

North and South

To my eternal shame, I only read the book of ‘North and South’ for the first time this year, despite having watched the wondrous BBC series at least 50 times (and yes I am unashamed). I enjoyed every minute of this book and not only because I could envisage the dashing Richard Armitage throughout the novel (not wholly) but because of its fascinating story, real characters, and gripping narrative. A must read for anyone who loves classics – or even just an outstanding novel.

Cover of Nightingale WoodNightingale Wood

‘Nightingale Wood’ is a fun and fabulous Cinderella story set in the 1930s. It is a truly magical read that will make everything you read after seem vastly inferior (trust me, I still wish I hadn’t finished it, *sigh*).

The Fit

I enjoyed every minute of this hillarious, tragic, and poignant novel. Hensher handles some heartbreaking themes with perception and humanity.  ‘The Fit’ well earned its place in my best books of 2016.

Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman

This collection of short stories detailing the exploits of A J Raffles, a cricketer by day and society thief by night, is incredibly fun – and incredibly good. Lovers of Sherlock Holmes will enjoy these stories which are set in the same era as Holmes and told with the same flair. This is a new author to get addicted to.

Eugene Onegin

I just loved Pushkin’s beautiful novel in verse. Onegin’s dreamy prose, fabulous heroine, and exquisitely sad story made this not just a best read of 2016 for me, but one of my best reads ever.

Cover of Public Library and other storiesPublic Library and Other Stories

This weird and wonderful book was definitely a highlight of this year. While a very fitting subject for me to be reading about it was also a moving, wacky and constantly gripping read.

Shadowed Journey

Did I have a huge soft spot for this book because it was written by a distant ancestor of mine? Yes. But did I genuinely love this book with its adorably bad romantic story, and its wonderful evocation of New Zealand during the 1950s? A big yes. Oh and have I reserved more titles by this author? You bet, yes.

Cover of Oscar's booksOscar’s Books

This wonderfully warm and engaging biography must be the ultimate work on Oscar Wilde. Wright manages to get right into the mind of this incredible genius with an endearing obsessiveness, intelligence, and warmth.

Phantom Terror

Written with flair, honesty, and scintillating detail, Zamoyski’s latest work looks at Europe during the paranoid and anxious post revolution period. While reminiscent of one of Zamoyski’s earlier works (‘Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots and Revolutionaries 1776-1871’) ‘Phantom Terror’ is still a must read for any lover of grippingly written history. Zamoyski is a master historian who consistently manages to bring the past to life with a new and important perspective.

Want more reading recommendations for the best of the year? Check out our bumper Best Reads of 2016 post.

Helen
Linwood Library

Margaret Mahy and the importance of childhood reading

There’s a painting of a lady on the wall at my work. She’s sitting in an armchair, with a big black dog at her side and a black cat on her lap. Behind her is a bookcase full of books and to her right side a window, opening up to a garden and a sea on the horizon. There is a lot on the painting I can relate to. Books, a dog, a lazy cat. But the woman in the painting remains a mystery. All I know is her name: Margaret Mahy.

Portrait of Margaret Mahy by Glenda Randerson
Portrait of Margaret Mahy by Glenda Randerson. Flickr CCL-2012-07-24

I am most likely the last person who should be writing a blog about Margaret Mahy. First time I heard of her was three years ago when I realized I might be moving to Christchurch. The only New Zealand author who I had found on the bookshelves of my school library at home was Witi Ihimaera. So I did a bit of homework before I set out for Aotearoa. To my surprise I realized I was moving to a city that used to be a home to the greatest New Zealand children’s author, someone who won the Hans Christian Andersen award – the most prestigious and highest recognition in the world of children’s fiction.

margaret-tale   mahy organ music   mahy kaitangata   aotearoa mahy

After I landed, further revelations followed. Everyone I talked to seemed to know Margaret Mahy’s work or at least know about her. Even more: I was very lucky to make an acquaintance with a lovely lady who used to be her neighbour and a close friend. I ended up working at the same library as Margaret did. A lot of my colleagues still remember her. Her eccentric personality and masterful storytelling. Her fiery wig and starry cloak. Sue, who used to work with her, recalls her immensely generous and extremely modest nature:

She was very hospitable and often entertained colleagues and hosted parties for the local Children’s Literature Association at her home and was a wonderful friend and a colleague. She was also immensely interested in EVERYTHING – she learnt to fly, she studied astronomy. She was also a keen gardener.

Even though I have heard so much about her as a writer, a storyteller, a librarian, a person and a friend, she still remains a mystery to me. I have a strange notion the reason for this might be in the absence of her books in my childhood. It feels like she has never become a part of my imaginative landscape. She never entered my literary homeland because I never got a chance to read her books as a child. When I read them now, I still feel like I missed that initial, formative reading – experienced through child’s eyes, mind and imagination.

The irreversibility of time is unavoidable and cruel. I am reminded of that every time I talk to a person who read a certain book or author as a child, which I haven’t. I find myself swallowed by the feeling of missing out. It is similar to regret, that comes along when a favourite music star passes away and you realize you will never ever be able to see them again.

This points to the importance of reading in childhood, creating an imaginative mental space mutual to all – every reader, no matter their origin and background, can enter it. With reading, authors and books become a part of our collective memory, collective culture and make us feel at home, connect us together. With every new reader, this memory gets stronger.

mahy old3  odl mahy   mahy mrs

Reading and nurturing readers is not the only way of strengthening this memory. There are other ways as well. Every morning on the way to my work I am reminded of that: Margaret Mahy’s name greets me from the stone wall of the new exciting playground on the Cambridge Terrace. When I visit my colleagues at Fendalton Library or go to library’s storage facilities, I can’t resist not to browse through Margaret Mahy’s collection: a treasury of old children’s books that (most likely) your grandparents used to read as kids. Some of them never made it to my shelves. But they maybe did to yours.

I am inviting you, to help me figure out the mystery of the lady on the painting and create another little piece of collective memory of Margaret Mahy. Have you read her books as a child? What was it like? Which one was your favourite? Did you read them to your children? Grandchildren? Do you remember her? Have you been to any of her storytelling sessions in the library? What was she like? I can’t wait to hear your stories about her – please post them as comments below!

As for myself I will persevere. Reading her books, listening to stories about her. I hope one day I might be granted a visa to enter that world of collective culture, of bountiful legacy, that Margaret so generously laid in front of her readers. Until then, I will salute that lady on the painting every morning I come to work: in my name, yours and most importantly – in the name of those to come.

Read:

Get ready for Summertime Reading Club

With only a couple of weeks left of school you can start thinking about how you want to spend your summer holidays.  It looks like it is going to be another hot summer, which means you’ll either want to be outside enjoying the sun or find somewhere cool. Reading is something you can do in all sorts of places; lazing in the sun at the beach, perched in a tree, beside (or in) the pool, or in a tent.  While you’re soaking up some rays and a good book you can also be participating in our Summertime Reading Club.Summertime reading club The Summertime Reading Club is our annual reading competition, that is open to anyone from 0 to 16 years who is a member of Christchurch City Libraries. This year the Summertime Reading Club challenges you to read for as many minutes as you can throughout the summer.

All you need to do is pick up a reading adventure map from your local library, keep track of how many minutes you read for each day of the competition, then bring it back to the library after Monday 18 January and get a librarian to enter you in to the draw. There are some really cool prizes this year, including iPads, books, pool passes and movie passes.

Summertime Reading Club runs from Friday 18 December until Monday 18 January. Check out our Summertime Reading Club page for more information.

We have heaps of suggestions for books that you could read over the summer holidays. Check out our kids’ booklists for ‘If you like’ suggestions.  We’ve also just released our 2015 Holiday Reading Guide which includes some of our favourite reads for kids and teens in 2015.