Backstairs of History: The Best of Recent Biographies

I am, I am, I am Cover

Have you ever thought about writing your memoirs? Of course you have! And you don’t need to be a famous politician or a rock star or an eccentric billionaire to do it—some of the most radical (and successful) memoirs have been written by normal-ish human beings!

But perhaps you need a bit more encouragement? Never fear, below is a list of some of the best biographies of the last few years, and while, yes, there is a celebrity or two, there are ordinary people as well, and each of them have expanded the idea of what a memoir can accomplish—and whose voices need to be heard!

The beautiful struggle : a memoir / Coates, Ta-Nehisi
“With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth in 1980’s Baltimore, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.” (Catalogue)

I am, I am, I am : seventeen brushes with death / O’Farrell, Maggie
“A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. This is a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal to us a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It is a book to make you question yourself: what would you do if your life was in danger?” (Catalogue)

Hunger : a memoir of (my) body / Gay, Roxane
“Gay, who deals fearlessly with our hardest truths in both essays (the New York Times best-selling Bad Feminist) and fiction (An Untamed State, an LJ Best Book), here addresses issues of eating and self-image, then broadens her meditation on body as she examines violence against women, starting with a terrible incident in her youth.” (Catalogue)

Making rent in Bed-Stuy : a memoir of trying to make it in New York City / Harris, Brandon
“A young African American millennial filmmaker’s funny, sometimes painful, true-life coming-of-age story of trying to make it in New York City–a chronicle of poverty and wealth, creativity and commerce, struggle and insecurity, and the economic and cultural forces intertwined with ‘the serious, life-threatening process’ of gentrification.” (Catalogue)

Driving to Treblinka : a long search for a lost father / Wichtel, Diana
“When Diana Wichtel was 13 she moved to New Zealand with her mother, sister and brother. Her father was to follow. Diana never saw him again. Many years later she sets out to discover what happened to him.” (Catalogue)

You can’t touch my hair and other things I still have to explain / Robinson, Phoebe
“A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.” (Catalogue)

Wishful drinking / Fisher, Carrie
“In her first ever memoir, Carrie Fisher takes us on an intimate, hilarious and sobering journey through her life. Adapted from the sold-out one-woman show of the same name.” (Catalogue)

The good immigrant / Shukla, Nikesh (editor)
“Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.” (Catalogue)

This is going to hurt : secret diaries of a junior doctor / Kay, Adam
“As soon as Adam Kay set foot on a hospital ward for the first time, he realized there’s quite a lot they don’t teach you at medical school. His diaries from the NHS front line – scribbled in secret after long nights, endless days and missed weekends – are hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking by turns.” (Catalogue)

Golden Age of Crime

A Different Kind of Evil cover

In 1930’s Britain an eclectic group of authors banded together to form The Detection Club. Some of the participants included Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, G K Chesterton and A A Milne. The members were all known for their literary excellence and were not shy of mining the darker side of human conduct. They wrote tales of mystery that have enthralled their audience from publication to current times. Their club oath defines what would become the style of the ‘Golden Age of Crime’:

To do and detect all crimes by fair and reasonable means; to conceal no vital clues from the reader; to honour the King’s English… and to observe the oath of secrecy in all matters communicated to me within the brotherhood of the club”

The gentle tropes perfected by the Golden Age writers has been reprised and honoured by modern authors using both style and characters. Referencing Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance in 1926, Andrew Wilson presents the ‘Dame of crime’ with mysteries of her own. Private detective Hercule Poirot is revived through the work of Sophie Hannah. Below are some classic titles and some new works that reference the style of the era:

Murder on the Orient Express / Christie, Agatha
“Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mystery, reissued with a striking new cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers. Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.” (Catalogue)

 

The complete Father Brown stories / Chesterton, G. K.
“Father Brown, one of the most quirkily genial and lovable characters to emerge from English detective fiction, first made his appearance in The Innocence of Father Brown in 1911. That first collection of stories established G.K. Chesterton’s kindly cleric in the front rank of eccentric sleuths. This complete collection contains all the favourite Father Brown stories, showing a quiet wit and compassion that has endeared him to many, whilst solving his mysteries by a mixture of imagination and a sympathetic worldliness in a totally believable manner.” (Catalogue)

Party girls die in pearls / Sykes, Plum
“Not rich and not glamorous, Oxford outsider Ursula Flowerbutton wants only to be left to her studies. But when she finds a classmate with her throat slashed, she’s quick to investigate. Determined to unravel the case and bag her first scoop for the famous student newspaper Cherwell Ursula enlists the help of her fellow Fresher, the glamorous American Nancy Feingold. While navigating a whirl of black-tie parties and secret dining societies, the girls discover a surfeit of suspects. From broken-hearted boyfriends to snobby Sloanes, lovelorn librarians to dishy dons, none can be presumed innocent.” (adapted from Catalogue)

A different kind of evil / Wilson, Andrew
“In January 1927 Agatha Christie sets sail on an ocean liner bound for the Canary Islands. She has been sent there by the British Secret Intelligence Service to investigate the death of one of its agents, whose partly mummified body has been found in a cave. Early one morning, on the passage to Tenerife, Agatha witnesses a woman throw herself from the ship into the sea. At first, nobody connects the murder of the young man on Tenerife with the suicide of a mentally unstable heiress. Yet, soon after she checks into the glamorous Taoro Hotel situated in the lush Orotava Valley, Agatha uncovers a series of dark secret” (Catalogue)

The mystery of three quarters : the new Hercule Poirot mystery / Hannah, Sophie
“The world’s most beloved detective, Hercule Poirot – the legendary star of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and most recently The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket-returns in a stylish, diabolically clever mystery set in 1930’s London. Returning home after lunch one day, Hercule Poirot finds an angry woman waiting outside his front door. She demands to know why Poirot has sent her a letter accusing her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy, a man she has neither heard of nor ever met.” (Catalogue)

An act of villainy / Weaver, Ashley
“A gem filled with style, banter, and twists that traditional mystery fans will positively relish. With husband Milo, Amory Ames glides through 1930s London to the dress rehearsal of a new play directed by friend Gerard Holloway. Unfortunately, Gerard has cast his mistress, Flora Bell, in the lead (Amory is friends with his wife), and he wants her to figure out who’s sending threatening letters to Flora. Curtains up for another charmer from Louisiana librarian Weaver.” (Catalogue)

Four funerals and maybe a wedding / Bowen, Rhys
“Star amateur sleuth of the 1930s-set Royal Spyness Mystery series, Lady Georgiana Rannoch is getting ready to walk down the aisle and is offered her godfather’s fully staffed country estate as a home. But the staff don’t seem very trustworthy, and the gas leak in her bedroom doesn’t seem like an accident.” (Catalogue)

 

Staff Pick DVDs – Aug/Sep

A collection of new Staff Pick DVDs & TV Shows. From indie Sci-Fi, to Art intrigue, coming-of-age drama, and savage political satire.

Breath.
Australian writer Tim Winton is regarded by many as one of the finest writers in the world at this moment in time. His collection of coming of age short stories The Turning has already been adapted into a very fine celluloid feature. This latest film adaptation Breath is another coming of age story which was recently one of the highlights of the 2018 NZIFF and it has now been released on DVD. The book and film are about two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood learning about life, death and love through their shared passion for surfing and their occasionally troubled friendship. The surfing scenes are superbly done, and short of donning a wet suit and going out into the ocean yourself the experience and emotion of interacting with this primal force of nature is brilliantly portrayed and realised. The lead performances by the boy actors has a depth, maturity and believability than many actors strive for all their career and the cinematography is of the highest order. All in all it amounts to a thoughtful, nuanced and well-crafted movie. (Neil J)

Waru.
This is a New Zealand DVD. It is 8 (waru) stories that is told by 8 different Maori female directors. It is set in the same moment in time around the time of a Tangi of a young boy who was killed by a caregiver. Very different stories but connected and very poignant. Very sad and powerful. Briar Grace-Smith, Casey Kaa, Ainsley Gardiner, Katie Wolfe, Renae Maihi, Chelsea Cohen, Paula Jones, Awanui Simich-Pene, and Josephine Stewart Te Whiu. All names to keep an eye out for. (Brigid)

Rampage.
In recent years Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has almost become his own movie genre. And Rampage is perhaps one of the finest examples of what he does best and why he is so popular. It’s a monster movie with The Rock playing a tough but kind wisecracking primatologist looking after his best mate who just happens to be an albino Gorilla recently infected by a dangerous pathogen. Its big, it’s silly, there’s lots of banging and smashing, it makes no sense at all but boy is it fun. If you are looking for a funny, action packed popcorn blockbuster that is just about pitch perfect then Rampage could be the ideal movie. (Neil J)

Peter Rabbit.
A lovely movie very loosely based on Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Old Macgregor dies and leaves his farm to a young great nephew (Domnall Gleeson- this Irish actor plays famous Englishman a lot) who finds out that not only has he inherited a farm but some very naughty and active mischievous rabbits. Lovely story told with both actors and animated cartoon characters. I found it funny in parts and enjoyed it. Very little kids might need parental guidance when watching it. Rose Byrne plays Beatrix Potter. Sam Neill is Old MacGregor. (Brigid)

Sweet country.
Set in the Outback in the 1920s, an aboriginal worker shot a white farmer. Although it was self-defence and the white farmer was a vicious racist, a massive manhunt was undertaken. This may sound like a typical western story, but this second feature by the Australian auteur Warwick Thornton, who impressed us with his debut Samson and Delilah; a compelling love story of the aboriginal teens, offers a much deeper, poignant drama exposing the dark side of the Australian history. It’s a harsh, devastating story with the colonialist psyche, but taking the majestic scenery as a part of narrative, Thornton manages to deliver lyrical, mesmerising moments. This is a remarkable work by a highly individual filmmaker, and although it doesn’t make you happy, it gives you a profound affection, which only great films can offer. (Shinji)

The death of Stalin.
Caustic, pitch black humour of the highest calibre is delivered in Armando Iannucci latest comedy. Set around the events and chaos surrounding the death of Stalin this star studded movie was so controversial that the Russian government banned it. Its wicked, hilarious, merciless and definitely not for the faint hearted. However if you enjoy satire of the very darkest and blackest in nature then this movie is a must watch. And the ever wonderful Jason Isaacs is mercurial as Field Marshal Zhukov. (Neil J)

Riviera. The complete season one.
There is a lot of money up on the screen in this Art based drama set amongst the Riviera’s rich set. After just a year of marriage to billionaire philanthropist, art collector, and Banker Constantine Clios (Anthony LaPaglia), the immaculate life of ex-Art Curator Georgina (Julia Stiles) is blown apart when her husband is killed in an explosion aboard the yacht of a Russian oligarch. Believing there to be more to the tragedy, she sets out to uncover what happened. Dark truths about Constantine’s dealings emerge, as she begins to realise who she was really married to, but just how far will she go to find out the truth… Stiles is excellent in this stylish but overblown drama. A good escapist watch, reminiscent somewhat of the potboiler novels that were popular in the 70s & 80s by writers such as Sidney Sheldon. (Mark)

The endless.
Two brothers return to the cult they fled from years ago to discover that the group’s beliefs may be more sane than they once thought. Endless is an independent, science fiction, thriller, horror cross genre movie that has as its literary DNA the writings of H P Lovecraft. (Though the film has a contemporary American setting). It’s well-made, well filmed and obviously done on an independent film budget. What makes it really worth watching is the mind bending storyline that deals with concepts of time, memory and space in an often genuinely creepy fashion . This is very much an underground cult film but if you like thought provoking, original and clever movies of the cult variety then this movie comes highly recommended. (Neil J)

A quiet place.
This is a thriller set on earth after Aliens come through and destroy most of the humankind. The Aliens have acute hearing but no sight so the remaining Human kind have to live their lives in silence. The moment they make a sound the Aliens appear and eat them. The story revolves around a young family who have to carry on their lives out on a farm, around these devastating turn of events It is a really good thriller. Lots of suspenseful parts. It stars Husband and wife team Emily Blunt and John Krasinski as the screen couple. Brilliant story and great acting. Contains violence. This movie is classed as both a thriller and a horror. (Brigid)

Faces places.
From the opening credit, it’s a delightful affair. A legend of French new wave cinema, 88 year old Agnes Varda teams up with a photographer and muralist JR, who is 55 years her junior, hit the road on a tour of rural France. On the way, they learn the histories of communities, some of which are long abandoned, and of people they encounter, and bring new lives to them with gigantic mural photos. It’s a celebration of people and places as well as creativity. This odd couple makes a great team and their friendship, curiosity and vision make it wonderfully charming. At the end of the film, another French new wave giant Jean-Luc Godard makes a cameo in his peculiar way and adds the unique dimension and the depth. Young at heart. (Shinji)

The man who invented Christmas.
This is a movie about the life of Charles Dickens and the events leading up to the writing of A Christmas Carol. It showed well what 19th Century life in England was like. It had dark parts and gave a real insight into the workings of his mind. Creepy in parts. Good character acting although hard at times to work out when he was imagining and what was real. (Brigid)

Manifesto.
Transformed to a feature film from an art installation, German artist and filmmaker Julian Rosenfeldt’s Manifesto is an intelligent, elaborate work. All dialogues in the film are excerpted from published artistic and political manifestos such as communism, futurism, dadaism, situationism, and pop art, and these historical statements are delivered by the 13 fictional characters; from a homeless man to a choreographer to a punk rocker, all performed by Cate Blanchett who displays an astonishing virtuosity. It still gives an impression of the visual art rather than the feature film, but under Rosenfeldt, Berlin’s outstanding talents come together here, including Christoph Krauss who provides magnificent cinematography and two prominent musicians; Nils Frahm and Ben Lukas Boysen who create impressive soundtracks. Germany’s got talent. (Shinji)

Goodbye Christopher Robin.
This movie is the story of the life of A.A. Milne around the time of his writing Winnie the Pooh. It shows his life from coming home from the first world war with PTSD. And his writing block after seeing the horrors he had seen. The sanctuary he sought in the country with his wife and son Chris. It is a lovely movie but shows the reality he was living. Brilliant actor Domhall Gleeson plays A.A.Milne. The story goes through the life of the child Christopher. This movie showed the beautiful relationship between A.A. Milne and his son and the creation of Winnie and the other animals. A really good watch. (Brigid)

New popular non-fiction books

Fight Like a Girl book cover

Another small, perfect book from BWB Texts begins our list today, False Divides written by Lana Lopesi.

False divides / Lopesi, Lana
“Te Moana Nui a Kiwa is the great ocean continent. While it is common to understand ocean and seas as something that divides land, for those Indigenous to the Pacific or the Moana, it was traditionally a connector and an ancestor. Imperialism in the Moana, however, created false divides between islands and separated their peoples. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, these connections are becoming visible again, partly through the use of globalising technologies. In this BWB Text, Lana Lopesi argues that while colonisation created divisions across Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, the adaptability of Moana peoples is now turning the ocean back into the unifying continent that it once was.” (Catalogue)

That F word : growing up feminist in Aotearoa / Marvelly, Elizabeth
“Lizzie Marvelly tells the story of New Zealand’s feminist roots, then traverses the modern landscape, tearing apart areas of gender imbalance and pervading attitudes to Kiwi women. Lizzie speaks about her own first-hand experiences with sexism and male misconduct, while also offering advice to young girls on how to take full control of their lives…” (Catalogue (adapted))

What to read and why / Prose, Francine
“In an age defined by hyper-connectivity and constant stimulation, Francine Prose makes a compelling case for the solitary act of reading and the great enjoyment it brings. Inspiring and illuminating, What to Read and Why includes selections culled from Prose’s previous essays, reviews, and introductions, combined with new, never-before-published pieces that focus on her favorite works of fiction and nonfiction, on works by masters of the short story, and even on books by photographers like Diane Arbus…” (Catalogue (adapted))

Value of everything : making and taking in the global economy / Mazzucato, Mariana
“A scathing indictment of our current global financial system, The Value of Everything rigorously scrutinizes the way in which economic value has been accounted and reveals how economic theory has failed to clearly delineate the difference between value creation and value extraction. Mariana Mazzucato argues that the increasingly blurry distinction between the two categories has allowed certain actors in the economy to portray themselves as value creators, while in reality they are just moving around existing value or, even worse, destroying it…”-Publisher’s description.” (Catalogue (adapted))

The AI delusion / Smith, Gary
“Gary Smith argues that the real danger of artificial intelligence is not that computers are smarter than us, but that we think they are. Through many examples, Smith shows that human reasoning is fundamentally different from artificial intelligence, and it is needed more than ever. …Computers are very good at discovering patterns, but are useless in judging whether the unearthed patterns are sensible because computers do not think the way humans think…” (Catalogue (adapted))

Digital human : the fourth revolution of humanity includes everyone / Skinner, Chris
“This digitalisation of our planet is bringing about a major transformation. Everyone on the planet will soon be included in the network and everyone on the planet will get the chance to talk, trade and transact with everyone in real time. This book offers insight into a number of intriguing topics that stem from the digitalisation of humanity such as how bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are challenging government and control mechanisms and why the Chinese tech giants are more imaginative than their Western counterparts…”-Dust jacket.” (Catalogue (adapted))

Poverty safari : understanding the anger of Britain’s underclass / McGarvey, Darren
“Darren McGarvey has experienced poverty and its devastating effects first-hand. He knows why people from deprived communities all around Britain feel angry and unheard. And he wants to explain… This book takes you inside the experience of poverty to show how the pressures really feel and how hard their legacy is to overcome. Arguing that both the political left and right misunderstand poverty as it is actually lived, McGarvey sets out what everybody – including himself – could do to change things…” (Catalogue (adapted))

Emotional AI : the rise of empathic media / McStay, Andrew
“What happens when media technologies are able to interpret our feelings, emotions, moods, and intentions? In this cutting edge new book, Andrew McStay explores that very question and argues that these abilities result in a form of technological empathy. …Combining established theory with original analysis, this book will change the way students view, use and interact with new technologies. It should be required reading for students and researchers in media, communications, the social sciences and beyond.” (Catalogue (adapted))

The edge of memory : ancient stories, oral tradition and the post-glacial world / Nunn, Patrick D.
“In The Edge of Memory, Patrick Nunn explores the science in folk history. He looks at ancient tales and traditions that may be rooted in scientifically verifiable fact, and can be explored via geological evidence, such as the Biblical Flood. We all know those stories that have been told in our families for generations. The ones that start “Have I ever told you about your great, great Uncle …?” In some cultures these stories have been passed down for thousands of years, and often reveal significant information about how the surrounding environment has changed and the effect it has had on societies–from stories referring to coastal drowning to the devastation caused by meteorite falls. Geologists are now starting to corroborate the tales through study of climatic data, sediments and land forms; the evidence was there in the stories, but until recently, nobody was listening.” (Catalogue (adapted))

Plundering beauty : a history of art crime during war / Tompkins, Arthur
“The roll-call of mankind’s wars down the centuries is paralleled by an equally extensive catalogue of the theft, destruction, plundering, displacement and concealing of some of the greatest works of art. …The works of art involved have fascinating stories to tell, as civilization moves from a simple and brutal ‘winner takes it all’ attitude to the spoils of war, to contemporary understanding, and commitment to, the idea that a society’s artistic heritage truly belongs to all humankind”–Back cover.” (Catalogue (adapted))

Wolf boys : two American teenagers and Mexico’s most dangerous drug cartel / Slater, Dan
“What it like to be an employee of a global drug-trafficking organization? In the border town of Laredo, Texas, Gabriel and his friend Bart abandon promising futures for the allure of the Zetas, a drug cartel with roots in the Mexican military. Mexican-born Detective Robert Garcia has worked hard all his life and is now struggling to raise his family in America. As violence spills over the border, Detective Garcia pursuit of the boys, and their cartel leaders, puts him face to face with the urgent consequences of a war he sees as unwinnable. Slater shows the way in which the border itself is changing, disappearing, and posing new, terrifying, and yet largely unseen threats to American security.” (Catalogue)

Raising Rosie : our story of parenting an intersex child / Lohman, Eric
“When their daughter Rosie was born …intersex – a term that describes people who are born with a variety of physical characteristics that do not fit neatly into traditional conceptions about male and female bodies – Rosie’s parents were pressured to consent to normalizing surgery on Rosie, without being offered any alternatives despite their concerns. Part memoir, part guidebook, this powerful book tells the authors’ experience of refusing to have Rosie operated on and how they raised a child who is intersex. The book looks at how they spoke about the condition to friends and family, to Rosie’s teachers and caregivers, and shows how they plan on explaining it to Rosie when she is older…” (Catalogue (adapted))

Fight Like a Girl book coverFight like a girl / Ford, Clementine
An incendiary debut taking the world by storm, Fight Like A Girl is an essential manifesto for feminists new, old and soon-to-be, and exposes just how unequal the world is. Personal and fearless – a call to arms for feminists new, old and as yet unrealised by one of our most outspoken feminist writers.” (Catalogue)

New Classical CD Picks

In this week’s new classical music CD arrivals there are three interesting new recordings from Deutsche Grammophon:

Johann Sebastian Bach. Performed by Víkingur Ólafsson.
“Thirty-five tracks and just one name – Johann Sebastian Bach. This exceptional album may be devoted to a single composer, but it contains an astonishing range and variety of music. ‘There isn’t just one Bach,’ explains Víkingur Ólafsson… All of these many facets [of Bach] can be heard in Ólafsson’s performances here…” (CD insert).

Nightfall. Performed by Alice Sara Ott.
A compilation of piano pieces by Debussy, Satie and Ravel, the trio of early 20th century French composers. “Nightfall is that magical hour when day and night face each other and the sky descends into twilight. For a brief moment, light and darkness are in harmony and merge together…” (Alice Sara Ott, cover).

Symphony No. 2, ‘The Age of Anxiety’, Leonard Bernstein. Performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker.
“…when Leonard Bernstein celebrated his 70th birthday, he invited Krystian Zimerman to perform his Symphony No. 2 with him for the first time. After a fabulous concert Bernstein asked the pianist, ‘Will you play this piece with me when I’m 100?’ So here we are, more than 30 years later – Bernstein live from Berlin!” (cover).

Read before you crawl… Fiction Choices

The excitement is building as LitCrawl is almost upon us! But before we get to the main event, and to get you prepared and in the mood, we have selected just a few titles from some of the many fantastic fiction luminaries appearing at this years event. Make sure you check out this year’s programme and start planning your crawl! We just can’t wait! Enjoy!

The blue / McCallum, Mary
“Lilian lives in an isolated island community at the mouth of Tory Channel trying to make the best of a life that has at its core a secret grief. It is 1938 and for three months of every year the men take to the sea to hunt whales with fast boats and explosive harpoons. This year, the whales aren’t the only ones returning – Lilian’s troubled son Micky has come home too. In this rugged, unsettled world, things are not always what they seem.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Dreamquake / Knox, Elizabeth
“Following on from the mesmerising Dreamhunter, the story continues dramatically as Grace, ‘overdreamt’ by Laura, introduces a nightmare, instead of the happy holiday dream programmed, to a packed Opera House audience, with chaotic results. Laura has collected and dreamt the nightmare in response to a letter she thinks is from her dead father, Tziga, who has been forced by the government to dream it to keep prisoners frightened and subdued.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Baby / Jochems, Annaleese
“Cynthia is twenty-one, bored and desperately waiting for something big to happen when her bootcamp instructor, the striking Anahera, suggests they run away together. With stolen money and a dog in tow they buy ‘Baby’, an old boat docked in the Bay of Islands, where Cynthia dreams they will live in a state of love. But there’s an intruder waiting to upset Cynthia’s plans and when a trip to an island utopia goes horribly wrong, a rot sets in on their relationship.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Dead people’s music : a novel / Laing, Sarah
“Classical is karaoke – just playing covers of dead people’s music – or so Wellingtonian Rebecca concluded at her London conservatorium. She’s sabotaged her scholarship there, but wants to keep playing the cello, like her grandmother, Klara. Now unmoored from her classical training, she’s in New York City, where Klara grew up. As Rebecca investigates her Jewish-refugee heritage, she starts to compose her own songs, but has to contend with diabetes and other burning issues: is she with the right man, or should she swap stability for lust? And how much longer can she live with a neurotic, junk-scavenging flatmate, on the verge of murdering another zebra fish?” (Catalogue)

I’m working on a building / Adam, Pip
“Everything becomes clearer in reverse – because sometimes, things have to be taken apart to be understood. In the near future, an exact replica of the world’s tallest tower, Dubai’s Burj al Khalifa, is being built on New Zealand’s West Coast. It’s an exercise in economic stimulation and national confidence-building after a run of natural and financial disasters. Catherine is the engineer in charge of making sure it all works. She feels there is something wrong in the plans. Or is there something wrong in her? I’m working on a building follows Catherine from the top of the tower to a geodesic dome in a park in London; from the Grand Lisboa in Macau to student accommodation in Wellington; from a South Auckland theme park to the Pompidou Centre; to reveal the way chance events can undo the best efforts of human beings to plan and build their lives and worlds.” (Catalogue)

All our secrets / Lane, Jennifer
“A girl called Gracie. A small town called Coongahoola with the dark Bagooli River running through it. The Bleeders – hundreds of ‘Believers’ who set up on the banks of the river, who start to buy up the town and win souls. The River Children – born in the aftermath of the infamous River Picnic. They begin to go missing, one after another. Gracie Barrett is the naively savvy spokesperson for her chaotic family (promiscuous dad, angry mum, twins Lucky and Grub, Elijah the River Child and fervent, prayerful Grandma Bett), for the kids who are taken, for the lurking fear that locks down the town and puts everyone under suspicion.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Fishing for Māui / Ritchie, Isa Pearl
“A novel about food, whānau, and mental illness. Valerie reads George Eliot to get to sleep just to take her mind off worries over her patients, her children, their father and the next family dinner. Elena is so obsessed with health, traditional food, her pregnancy and her blog she doesn’t notice that her partner, Malcolm the ethicist, is getting himself into a moral dilemma of his own making. Evie wants to save the world one chicken at a time. Meanwhile her boyfriend, Michael is on a quest to reconnect with his Māori heritage and discover his own identity. Rosa is eight years old and lost in her own fantasy world, but shes the only one who can tell somethings not right. Crisis has the power to bring this family together, but will it be too late?” (Catalogue)

Fosterling / Neale, Emma
“A young man is found unconscious in a remote forest. He is over seven feet tall, his skin covered in thick hair which reminds onlookers of an animal’s pelt. A compelling story about society and our reactions to difference, convincingly evoked, beautifully written.” (Catalogue)

Fresh Historical Fiction

The Silence of the Girls book cover

Here are some recent titles ranging from first time authors through to accomplished writers. Two authors bring ancient and more recent Chinese history to our library collection. A thin slice of heaven – Tiāntáng bópiàn by Paul Wah recounts a family tale of an emigration to New Zealand followed by a return to a changed homeland. A Hero born by Jin Yong and translated by Anna Holmwood – is the first title of the twelve volume epic Legends of the Condor. Jin Yong is the pen name of Louis Cha Leung-yung, one of the most widely read authors in China, with a plethora of film, TV and game adaptations for his works of the wuxia genre – martial arts chivalry. This epic details the rise of the different forms of martial arts and the sweeping territorial exchanges of 13th century China.

History is written by the victorious, or so the story goes, yet there are so many tales are hidden in the vast mesh of human history. Writers have been teasing these stories from research, family anecdotes and personal interest to bring previous eras vividly to life. Although these are fictional accounts, the reconstruction of historical places and people; personal and national politics help us understand our own times.

Pat Barker, renown for her Regeneration Trilogy has turned her mind to the legend of The Ilyad, Silence of the girls, places the reader in the experiences of the women during the Trojan War. Conn Iggulden also looks to ancient conflict in The Falcon of Sparta. There is also a new edition of Mary Renault’s Funeral Games which transports the reader to the time and place of the death of Alexander the Great, and features all that follows in the wake of the vacuum of a lost leader. Other titles leaf through the pages of history to bring you tales of intrigue from Georgian London, and also trials of new settlement in North America and Australia.

A thin slice of heaven / Wah, Paul
“A historical novel recounting the adventures of the author’s great-grandfather, Ng Leung Kee, who migrated to New Zealand in 1880 and set up a successful Chinese merchant business in Wellington. Ng Leung Kee returned to Tiansum, China in 1922, to take his grandson Leslie to receive a Chinese education. They faced significant challenges, including the kidnapping of Leslie by bandits, during a period of tumultuous political, economic and social conditions in China.” (Catalogue)

A hero born / Jin,Yong
“China: 1200 A.D. The Song Empire has been invaded by its warlike Jurchen neighbours from the north. On the Mongolian steppe, a disparate nation of great warriors is about to be united by a warlord whose name will endure for eternity: Genghis Khan. Guo Jing, son of a murdered Song patriot, grew up with Genghis Khan’s army. He is humble, loyal, perhaps not altogether wise, and is fated from birth to one day confront an opponent who is the opposite of him in every way: privileged, cunning and flawlessly trained in the martial arts.” (Catalogue)

The silence of the girls : a novel / Barker, Pat
“Briseis was a queen until her city was destroyed. Now she is slave to Achilles, the man who butchered her husband and brothers. Trapped in a world defined by men, can she survive to become the author of her own story? Discover the greatest Greek myth of all – retold by the witness history forgot.” (Catalogue)

Daughter of a daughter of a queen / Bird, Sarah
“Powerful, epic, and compelling, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen shines light on a nearly forgotten figure in history. Cathy Williams was born and lived a slave – until the Union army comes and destroys the only world she’s known. Separated from her family, she makes the impossible decision – to fight in the army disguised as a man with the Buffalo Soldiers.” (Catalogue)

Funeral games / Renault, Mary
“After Alexander’s death in 323 BC his only direct heirs were two unborn sons and a simpleton half-brother. Wives, distant relatives, and generals all vied for the loyalty of the increasingly undisciplined Macedonian army.” (Catalogue)

The optickal illusion : a very eighteenth-century scandal / Halliburton, Rachel
“It is three years from the dawn of a new century and in London, nothing is certain any more: the future of the monarchy is in question, the city is aflame with right and left-wing conspiracies, and the French could invade any day. Against this feverish atmosphere, the American painter Benjamin West is visited by a strange father and daughter, the Provises, who claim they have a secret that has obsessed painters for centuries: the Venetian techniques of master painter Titian.” (Catalogue)

Salt creek / Treloar, Lucy
“Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch… Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can with the few travellers that pass nearby, among them a young artist, Charles – and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The hunger / Katsu, Alma
“Effortlessly combining the supernatural and the historical, The Hunger is an eerie, thrilling look at the volatility of human nature, pushed to its breaking point. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos.” (Catalogue)

The falcon of Sparta / IIggulden, Conn
“In the Ancient World, one army was feared above all others. 401 BC. The Persian king Artaxerxes rules an empire stretching from the Aegean to northern India. As many as fifty million people are his subjects. His rule is absolute. Yet battles can be won – or lost – with a single blow. Princes fall. And when the dust of civil war settles, the Spartans are left stranded in the heart of an enemy’s empire, without support, without food and without water. Based on one of history’s most epic stories of adventure The Falcon of Sparta masterfully depicts the ferocity, heroism, and savage bloodshed that was the Ancient World.” (Catalogue)

New CD Arrivals

The Beths album cover

New CDs in our AV collection feature awesome new releases from Aotearoa artists; the wonderful collaboration album by Neil and Liam Finn, and the new Auckland band The Beths’ debut album which Pitchfork gave 7.9 points. Some of the biggest names in the industry such as Paul McCartney and Paul Simon also issued superb new albums. Check them out!

Neil Finn – Lightsleeper
“Neil Finn of Crowded House fame and the newest member of Fleetwood Mac, needs no introduction. After Liam Finn moved to London with his band Betchadupa, they split and he began a solo career, attracting worldwide acclaim with the I’ll Be Lightning album, and touring with Eddie Vedder, The Black Keys and Wilco. In 2005 father and son came together onstage, including a show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, following which they worked together to create this their debut album, sharing writing duties equally.” (adapted from amazon.co.uk)

The Beths – Future me hates me
“The Beths from New Zealand occupy a warm, energetic sonic space between joyful hooks, sun-soaked harmonies, and acerbic lyrics. Their debut album Future Me Hates Me, forthcoming on Carpark Records, delivers an astonishment of roadtrip-ready pleasures, each song hitting your ears with an exhilarating endorphin rush like the first time you heard The Breeders/Jale/Veruca Salt.” (adapted from amazon.co.uk)

Paul Simon – In the blue light
In The Blue Light is legendary songwriter, recording artist and performer Paul Simon‘s 14th studio album. Produced by Simon and Roy Halee, who have worked together since the 1960s, the album features a talented cast of musicians who have joined Simon to lend fresh perspectives on 10 of the artist’s favorite (though perhaps less-familiar) songs, drawn from his unparalleled body of work.” (adapted from amzon.co.uk)

Paul McCartney – Egypt station
“Paul McCartney invites you on a musical journey to Egypt Station. Sharing a title with one of Paul’s own paintings, Egypt Station is the first full album of all-new McCartney music since 2013’s international chart-topping album New. The result is a kaleidoscopic journey through myriad musical locales and eras, yet firmly rooted in the here and now–with Paul’s singular unmistakable melodic and lyrical sensibility serving as a guide.” (adapted from realgroovy.co.nz)

Alice in Chains – Rainier fog
Rainier Fog marks a few firsts for the band: in addition to being their first album in five years, it’s their first album with BMG and their first time recording in their hometown of Seattle in more than 20 years (worth noting that the album title is a tribute to Seattle). They recorded at Studio X, the same facility where they tracked 1995’s self-titled Alice in Chains album (back when the studio was known as Bad Animals).” (adapted from amazon.co.uk)

Aphex Twin – Collapse
“Mythical electronic producer Richard D James aka Aphex Twin returns on Warp Records with the new 4-track EP Collapse which follows-up his 2016 Cheetah EP and 2014 full-length Syro. The cryptic release is introduced by the pummeling lead cut, ‘T69 Collapse’ whose mind-bending video premiere was pulled from Adult Swim at the last minute for failing the Harding epilepsy test.” (adapted from realgroovy.co.nz)

Charles Lloyd – Vanished gardens
“At 80 years old, NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd remains an intrepid musical pioneer, entering his ninth decade at a creative peak in what now stands as a mountainous and formidable career. Now on Vanished Gardens, he and his band The Marvels add a new dimension by collaborating with revered singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams to pioneer a new genre of Americana Jazz that draws on the musicians many influences and experiences.” (adapted from realgroovy.co.nz)

Nick Mason – Unattended luggage
“Nick Mason is one of the biggest selling artists of all time. A co-founding member of Pink Floyd, he is the only constant member of the group, performing on all of their albums as well as all of their live shows. Unattended Luggage is a further celebration of Nick Mason and his undeniably significant contribution to music. The set contains the albums Fictitious Sports, Profiles and White Of The Eye.” (adapted from realgroovy.co.nz)

New picture books to make sense of all your feelings

Me and My Fear book cover

Some fantastic picture books to take you on a journey through a roller coaster of feelings and emotions.

Hey awesome / Young, Karen
“If kids with anxiety could see their strengths, they would feel so much bigger than their anxiety. They would feel bigger than everything – as though a tiny, tip-toed stretch could have them touching the top of the world from where they are.
This book is a reminder for all kids that everything they need to be brave, strong and brilliant is already in them.” (Catalogue)

I feel teal / Rille, Lauren
“…You’re pink, you’re teal, you’re gray, you’re jade.
You’re every golden, warmy shade…
All of us have lots of feelings, and this sweet rhyming story cleverly uses colors to explore the wide range of emotions little ones experience throughout the day, from a shy scarlet to a quiet ecru to an exuberant magenta. Along the way it celebrates individuality and self-acceptance–after all, our feelings are the palette that makes us who we are” (Catalogue)

Me and my fear / Sanna, Francesca
“Introducing a companion picture book to the award-winning picture book, The Journey, from rising star Francesca Sanna.
When a young immigrant girl has to travel to a new country and start at a new school, she is accompanied by her Fear who tells her to be alone and afraid, growing bigger and bigger every day with questions like “how can you hope to make new friends if you don’t understand their language?” But this little girl is stronger than her Fear. A heart-warming and timely tale from the bestselling author and illustrator of The Journey, this book shows us the importance of sharing your Fear with others–after all, everyone carries a Fear with them, even if it’s small enough to fit into their pocket” (Catalogue)

My friend sleep / Baker, Laura
My Friend Sleep is a simple bedtime story that reminds children of the joy of dreams, and how to deal with the very common issue of night terrors that many toddlers and preschoolers experience.
Journey with a little girl through her dreams, alongside her friend Sleep. Meet friendly aliens, ride on a dragon’s back and meet a scary monster… who turns out to be not-so scary after all. With Sleep by your side, nothing is as terrifying as it seems. This magical picture book delights in the joy of dreams, opens a door to children’s imaginations and helps to contain their fears around sleep and night terrors. Featuring stunning, atmospheric illustrations, this beautiful story is the perfect book for getting little ones off to sleep at bedtime.” (Catalogue)

The bear, the piano, the dog and the fiddle / Litchfield, David
“Set in New Orleans with a new cast of animal musicians, this big-hearted sequel to the best-selling The Bear and the Piano teaches that friendship, like good music, lasts forever.
Hector and his dog Hugo have made music together through good times, bad times and even some crazy times. But when Hugo learns to play the fiddle, and gets the chance to play with Bear’s Big Band, Hector’s jealousy gets the better of him. Can Hector swallow his pride and learn to be for happy for his friend? Set in New Orleans with a new cast of animal musicians, this big-hearted sequel to the best-selling The Bear and the Piano teaches that friendship, like good music, lasts forever.” (Catalogue)

Comic book gold! New graphic novels at WCL

The Adventure Zone book cover

Comic book titles hitting the library shelves this month feature award winners, best sellers, classics, antiheroes and more. Classics by Pearl S Buck, Octavia E Butler and Karl Marx have been transformed into visual narratives. Kindred has won awards and recognition in the form an Eisner award, and a Bram Stoker award. Maybe illustrator John Jennings’ colour samplings from bruises and blood had some influence there! This powerful adaptation is worth looking through, and if it’s the first taste you have of Octavia Butler’s work, lucky you! She is a fearless, insightful writer whose work deals with gender, race, age and class. Crime author Denise Mina, a recent Wellington visitor, is the writer for the latest John Constantine, Hellblazer.

The McElroy brothers playing Dungeons & Dragons with their dad is a different type of adaptation altogether. The Adventure Zone is a comic based on the podcast of the same name. Their fantasy characters are complete with ‘loafers of leaping and sprinting’ and proficiencies in wolf training and tea making. The graphic novel instantly became a New York Times trade paperback bestseller on release in August 2018.

Moon Knight [1] : crazy runs in the family / Bemis, Max
“Moon Knight has always been a protector from the shadows, but this new enemy is set to extinguish those shadows with blinding light and fire. Get ready for the introduction of Moon Knight’s greatest nemesis! But as the path of the Sun King brings him ever closer to Moon Knight, Marc has problems of his own: A man known as the Truth is driving people to suicide! Things get worse when Sun King and Bushman hit Marc where it hurts the most, and Jake Lockley’s dark secret is revealed! Will Moon Knight finally be eclipsed?” (Catalogue)

The good earth / Bertozzi, Nick
“Although more than eighty years have passed since Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. This indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings, tells the moving story of honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan. Bertozzi retraces the whole cycle of life depicted in Buck’s original novel: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions, and its rewards.” (Catalogue)

Kindred : a graphic novel adaptation / Duffy, Damian
“This searing graphic-novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s science fiction classic is a powerfully moving, unflinching look at the violent, disturbing effects of slavery on the people it chained together, both black and white – and made kindred in the deepest sense of the word. Home is a new house with a loving husband in 1970s California that is suddenly transformed into the frightening world of the antebellum South. Dana, a young black writer, can’t explain how she is transported across time and space to a plantation in Maryland.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The Communist Manifesto / Rowson, Martin
“A graphic novel adaptation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s revolutionary pamphlet on the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, published in 1848. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s Manifesto for the Communist Party was at once a powerful critique of capitalism and a radical call to arms. Much of what it proposed continues to be at the heart of political debate into the 21st century. It is no surprise, perhaps, that The Communist Manifesto (as it was later renamed) is the second bestselling book of all time, surpassed only by the Bible.” (Catalogue)

The Adventure Zone : here there be gerblins / McElroy, Clint
“Join Taako the elf wizard, Merle the dwarf cleric, and Magnus the human warrior for an adventure they are poorly equipped to handle AT BEST, guided (“guided”) by their snarky DM, in a graphic novel that, like the smash-hit podcast it’s based on, will tickle your funny bone, tug your heartstrings, and probably pants you if you give it half a chance.” (Catalogue)

John Constantine, Hellblazer. 19, Red right hand / Mina, Denise
Constantine discovers he’s cursed with empathy for his fellow man as the multi-layered tale races forward. Seeking the origin of the Empathy curse, Constantine and Chris roll into Glasgow in search of Steve Evans, a “massively powerful magician” who is waiting for Constantine. Meanwhile John finds out that there has been a connection between himself and Chris before they even met. Written by award-winning crime novelist Denise Mina. Collects issues #216-229.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Made men : getting the gang back together / Tobin, Paul
“When Jutte Shelley and her squad are gunned down in an ambush, it looks like the end for the Detroit police officers, but Jutte comes from a very storied family… named Frankenstein. Using the secrets of her ancestors, Jutte enters the family business of resurrection, bringing her squad back from the dead. Sort of. As long as you don’t look too close. Eager for revenge, they’ve no choice but to team with the Detroit mob, using them for the resources to find the lowlifes who did them in, now that Jutte has quite literally gotten the gang back together.” (Catalogue)

The song of Aglaia / Simon, Anne
French illustrator Anne Simon, known for her biographies of Freud, Marx and Einstein, delves into whimsy and other worldliness. “Aglaia is a simple sea nymph. One day, a Merman seduces Aglaia, forever altering her life’s course. She is cast out of Oceanid by her chauvinistic father, forcing her to wander many days and nights, until one day she finds herself at the benefit of one Mr. Kite, whose traveling circus welcomes her (including the star attraction, a waltzing Horse named Henry) and once again alters her fate, sending her down many more unexpected paths.” (Catalogue)