People and Places Newsletter for September

This month in People & Places we feature the best in biography, travel, history and NZ fiction. Highlights include: double-Duchess delights with the lives of Wallis Simpson and Sarah Ferguson; Last Train to Paradise relives the glory days of NZ rail; and Wellington author Craig Cliff explores a number of novel themes – pregnancy tests, the poetry of Sappho and the artistic potential of photocopiers among others – in his short story collection, A Man Melting.


Syndetics book coverThat woman : the life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor / Anne Sebba.
“This is the story of the American divorcee notorious for allegedly seducing a British king off his throne. “That woman,” so called by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, was born Bessie Wallis Warfield in 1896 in Baltimore. Neither beautiful nor brilliant, she endured an impoverished childhood, which fostered in her a burning desire to rise above her circumstances. Acclaimed biographer Anne Sebba offers an eye-opening account of one of the most talked about women of her generation.”(Synopsis from

Syndetics book coverMary Boleyn : ‘the great and infamous whore’ / Alison Weir. “Mary Boleyn is remembered by posterity as a ‘great and infamous whore’.She was the mistress of two kings, Francois I of France and Henry VIII of England, and sister to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. She may secretly have borne Henry a child and it was because of his adultery with Mary that his marriage to Anne was annulled. It is not hard to see how this tangled web of relationships has given rise to rumours and misconceptions that have been embroidered over the centuries. In this, the first full-scale biography of Mary Boleyn, Alison Weir explodes much of the mythology that surrounds her subject and uncovers the facts about one of the most misunderstood figures of the Tudor age.” (Synopsis from

Syndetics book coverMatilda : Queen of the Conqueror / Tracy Borman. “Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, was the first woman to be crowned Queen of England and formally recognised as such by her subjects. Beyond this, though, little is known of her life. No contemporary images of her remain, and in a period where all evidence is fragmentary and questionable, the chroniclers of the age left us only the faintest clues as to her life. So who was this spectral queen? In this first major biography, Tracy Borman elegantly sifts through the shards of evidence to uncover an extraordinary story.”(Synopsis from

Syndetics book coverNo regrets : the life of Edith Piaf / Carolyn Burke.
“The beloved French chanteuse comes to life in this enthralling biography, which captures Piaf’s charismatic appeal along with the time and place that gave rise to her remarkable international career.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow to survive the Titanic : or, The sinking of J. Bruce Ismay / Frances Wilson.
“When the ship hit the iceberg on 14 April 1912 and a thousand men prepared to die, J Bruce Ismay, the ship’s owner and inheritor of the White Star fortune, jumped into a lifeboat with the women and children and rowed away to safety. Accused of cowardice, Ismay became the first victim of a press hate campaign. his reputation never recovered and while other survivors were piecing together their accounts, Ismay never spoke of his beloved ship again. For those who survived the Titanic the world was never the same again. But as Wilson superbly demonstrates, we all have our own Titanics, and we all need to find ways of surviving them.”(Library catalogue summary)

Syndetics book coverFinding Sarah : a duchess’s journey to find herself / Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York.
“The author documents a low period in her life and how she found strength in her struggles with adversity and eventually regained her sense of purpose for her life with the help of friends and several celebrity experts.”(Library catalogue summary).

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Travel stories & guides

This month: journey from a remote Italian mountain village, to a canal boat in World War II England; from the rich farming land of Southern France and Northern Spain, to the banks of the Tigris River. Experience all this and more in our new travel book picks – have a browse!

Syndetics book coverViolin lessons / Arnold Zable.
“From the songs of Arab diva Umm Khultum on the banks of the Tigris to The strains of a young boy playing the violin for his mother in Melbourne, to the swing jazz of the nightclubs and cabarets of 1940s Baghdad, a fisherman playing a flute on the banks of the Mekong, and Paganini in the borderlands of eastern Poland… Music weaves its way through each of these spellbinding stories… Arnold Zable takes the reader on an intimate journey into the lives of people he met on travels over the last forty years…” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThin paths : journeys in and around an Italian mountain village / Julia Blackburn.
“You come across the shell of a ruined house. It could be anywhere in southern Europe where people once lived and then moved away because there was no work to hold them there… The house is remote, but it is surrounded by a tracery of thin paths… Julia Blackburn and her husband moved to a little house in the mountains of northern Italy in 1999. She arrived as a stranger speaking no Italian, but a series of events brought her close to the old people of the village. They began to tell her stories that made the landscape come alive, repopulating it with their vivid memories…” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMaidens’ trip : a wartime adventure on the Grand Union Canal / Emma Smith.
“In 1943 Emma Smith joined the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company under their wartime scheme of employing women to replace the boaters. She set out with two friends on a big adventure: three eighteen-year-olds, freed from a middle-class background, precipitated into the boating fraternity. They learn how to handle a pair of seventy-two foot-long canal boats, how to carry a cargo of steel north from London to Birmingham and coal from Coventry; how to splice ropes, bail out bilge water, keep the engine ticking over and steer through tunnels. They live off kedgeree and fried bread and jam, adopt a kitten, lose their bicycles, laugh and quarrel and get progressively dirtier and tougher as the weeks go by.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLast train to paradise : journeys from the golden age of New Zealand railways / Graham Hutchins.
“‘Last Train to Paradise’ describes the halcyon days of New Zealand rail, some of which the author was fortunate enough to experience personally. The ‘name’ trains and journeys cover a considerable period of New Zealand’s history, from the late 1800s, through the ‘golden’ era of train travel (the first four decades of the 20th century). Among the special journeys covered are the Prince of Wales’ royal progress through New Zealand in 1920, and travelling the ‘Test Match Special’ to enjoy the rugby in 1956. The book also includes a wide variety of fascinating and unfamiliar photographs, not just of the trains themselves but also of the characters who travelled in them.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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We have a great list of new books in our History Recent Picks this month. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverIf Rome hadn’t fallen : what might have happened if the Western Empire had survived / Timothy Venning.
“This is a fascinating exploration of how the history of Europe, and indeed the world, might have been different if the Western Roman Empire had survived the crises that pulled it apart in the 4th and 5th centuries. Dr Timothy Venning starts by showing how that survival and recovery might plausibly have happened if several relatively minor things had been different. He then moves on to discuss a series of scenarios which might have altered the course of subsequent history dramatically. Would the survival of a strong Western Empire have assisted the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire in halting the expansion of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa? How would the Western Roman Empire have handled the Viking threat? Could they even have exploited the Viking discovery of America and established successful colonies there? While necessarily speculative, all the scenarios are discussed within the framework of a deep understanding of the major driving forces, tensions and trends that shaped European history and help to shed light upon them. In so doing they help the reader to understand why things panned out as they did, as well as what might have been.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverTurn right at Machu Picchu : rediscovering the lost city one step at a time / Mark Adams.
“Journalist Adams, whose previous Mr. America was an entertaining rediscovery of the life of early 20th-century fitness guru Bernard Macfadden, explores the weird crevasses of American exploration. In this fascinating history/travelogue, Adams looks at the work of Hiram Bingham III, who became a national sensation after he “discovered” the ancient city of Machu Picchu in July 1911. To celebrate the centennial of Bingham’s discovery, Adams attempts to follow Bingham’s exact footsteps through the Andes Mountains of Peru, with two clear goals: to figure out “how Bingham had gotten to Machu Picchu in the first place” and, in the face of recent claims that he had illegally smuggled artifacts out of the country, to understand the broader story of Bingham’s “all-consuming attempt to solve the mystery of why such a spectacular granite city had been built in such a spellbinding location.” (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverGreat central state : the foundation of the Northern Territory / Jack Cross.
“This book tells the sometimes bizarre story of the founding and precarious existence of the Northern Territory up to its constitution as a separate entity in 1911. Acquired by South Australia in 1863, the early years are a case study in planned colonisation, a world-wide movement in the mid-nineteenth century which, at its most ambitious, aimed at spreading civilisation around the world. This grand vision was marred by human folly, pride and hubris, overarching ambition, petty jealousy and murderous payback. Strange tales abound in this very lively history being published ready for the Territory’s centenary celebrations in 2011, as Jack Cross casts a wry, affectionate eye over a meticulously researched text that also anticipates the day when the Territory’s unique proximity to Asia determines that it becomes the seventh Australian state.” (Global Books In Print)

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New Zealand

From Short Stories to Science Fiction and Fantasy, this selection of new fiction show cases the diversification and skill of New Zealand writers.

cover imageGeist / Philippa Ballantine.
“The first in a new series. Between the living and the dead is the Order of the Deacons, protectors of the Empire, guardians against possession, sentinels enlisted to ward off malevolent hauntings by the geists. Sorcha Faris , a powerful member of the Order of the Deacons, is dispatched to an isolated village to aid a Priory plagued by violent Geist activity.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA man melting : short stories / Craig Cliff.
“This collection of stories moves from the serious and realistic to the humorous and outlandish, each story copying an element from the previous piece in a kind of evolutionary chain. “A Man Melting” was awarded the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize Best First Book.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe circus of ghosts / Barbara Ewing.
“New York, late 1840s, and in the wild, noisy, brash and beautiful circus of Silas P. Swift a shadowy, mesmeric woman entrances crowds because she can unlock the secrets of troubled minds. Above them all her daughter sweeps and soars: acrobat and tightrope-walker. The mysterious woman can help so many others, but she cannot unlock dark, literally unspeakable, memories of her own. In London memories fester in the mind of an old and venomous duke of the realm. He plots, with an unscrupulous lawyer (and a huge financial reward) against the mother and the daughter: to kill one, and to abduct the other and bring her across the Atlantic to him”. – (adapted from description)

Syndetics book coverThe conductor / Sarah Quigley.
“In June 1941, Nazi troops march on Leningrad and surround it. Hitler’s plan is to shell, bomb, and starve the city into submission. Most of the cultural elite are evacuated early in the siege, but Dmitri Shostakovich, the most famous composer in Russia, stays on to defend his city, digging ditches and fire-watching. At night he composes a new work. But after Shostakovich and his family are forced to evacuate, only Karl Eliasberg, a shy and difficult man, conductor of the second-rate Radio Orchestra, and an assortment of musicians are left behind in Leningrad to face an unendurable winter and start rehearsing the finished score of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony.” – (adapted from Book cover)

Syndetics book coverThe big kahuna : tax and welfare / [Gareth Morgan and Susan Guthrie].
“The big kahuna takes as its base assumption that we don’t, as a society, accept that huge differences in income are acceptable and that we therefore choose to redistribute wealth. While they are generally regarded as separate, the tax and welfare systems are fundamentally both methods of doing just that – redistributing income from those who have plenty to those who don’t.” –Back cover.

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