People and Places Newsletter for August

We’ve had some great new biographies, travel and NZ titles come through this month. “Fooling Houdini” tracks one man’s lifelong love of magic and his quest to become a master magician; “The elephant’s tale” shows that it’s never too late to live the dream, provided your dream is an epic tour of Europe on a shoestring budget and a 1150cc motorbike and recent bronze medallist Mark Todd reflects on his extraordinary career in “Second chance”.

If you’re planning on travelling somewhere exotic, be sure to try out Mango Languages, our new online interactive language learning system. It’s free and you’ll be speaking like a native in no time – or your money back. Try it now, here.


This month we feature the amazing story of Flora Sandes, the gently-born daughter of an English clergyman who became the only British woman to enlist as a soldier in The First World War. She was deployed to Serbia, initially serving as an ambulance driver and First Aid nurse, but through force of circumstances she became a soldier in the Serbian army She displayed exemplary courage and excellent organisational skills – these were recognised by her receipt of Serbia’s highest military honour, the King George star. She became a celebrity in both Britain and Serbia and rose quickly through the ranks, being commmissioned as an officer at the end of the war. The many fascinating aspects of this woman’s story are fully explored in this book. Those who enjoyed Tomorrow to be brave by Susan Travers, and Nancy Wake: a biography of our greatest war heroine by Peter FitzSimmons will be pleased to welcome another stout heart to the sorority.

Syndetics book cover18 bookshops / Anne Scott.
“Anne Scott has never housed her books in order of theme or author yet she knows where each of them is and the kind of life it has led. Some have been gifts but most have been chosen in bookshops unique in their style and possibilities. Gradually some of the shops become partners with her as her life changes and so do they. They have been observers of discovery, decisions, and marvels with her, following the line of her time and place.Some are everyday shops with a shelf of books in a corner, some are beginning again after long lives as churches, printing presses, medieval houses, a petrol-station. There are a few the author is too late to see: early print-houses and booksellers. They are here too in this book, searched for and described, side by side with all the bookshops open now and busy with readers. This book is about them. Not one is like another. In one way, the book is a sequence about writing. But first it is a map of books and a life.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverFooling Houdini : magicians, mentalists, math geeks, & the hidden powers of the mind / Alex Stone.
“When Alex Stone was five years old, his father bought him a magic kit, sparking a lifelong love. Years later, living in New York City, he discovered a vibrant underground magic scene populated by a fascinating cast of characters: from his gruff mentor, who holds court in the back of a rundown pizza shop, to one of the world’s greatest card cheats, who happens to be blind. From New York City’s century-old magic societies to cutting-edge psychology labs, Fooling Houdini recounts Stone’s quest to join the ranks of master magicians. But his journey is more than a tale of tricks, gigs, and geeks. In trying to understand how expert magicians manipulate our minds to create their illusions, Stone investigates some of the lesser-known corners of psychology, neuroscience, physics, history, and even crime.” – (adapted from Publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverEleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England / Ralph V. Turner.
“Eleanor of Aquitaine’s extraordinary life seems more likely to be found in the pages of fiction. Proud daughter of a distinguished French dynasty, she married the king of France, Louis VII, then the king of England, Henry II, and gave birth to two sons who rose to take the English throne – Richard the Lionheart and John. Renowned for her beauty, hungry for power, headstrong, and unconventional, Eleanor travelled on crusades, acted as regent for Henry II and later for Richard, incited rebellion, endured a fifteen-year imprisonment, and as an elderly widow still wielded political power with energy and enthusiasm. This gripping biography is the definitive account of the most important queen of the Middle Ages.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverBurying the typewriter : childhood under the eye of the secret police / Carmen Bugan.
“Carmen Bugan grew up amid the bounty of the Romanian countryside on her grandparent’s farm where food and laughter were plentiful. But eventually her father’s behavior was too disturbing to ignore. He wept when listening to Radio Free Europe, hid pamphlets in sacks of dried beans, and mysteriously buried and reburied a typewriter. When she discovered he was a political dissident she became anxious for him to conform.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverThe natural laws of good luck : a memoir of an unlikely marriage / Ellen Graf.
“Graf tells the quirky and funny story of how she marries a man from China whom she barely knows. “The Natural Laws of Good Luck” is a story of acceptance and of love beyond words. It is also a tale of finding renewal at midlife by taking a brave leap into the unknown.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA fine brother : the life of Captain Flora Sandes / Louise Miller.
“The only woman to serve as a soldier in the First World War, the Englishwoman Flora Sandes became a hero and media sensation when she fought for the Serbian Army and pursued a distinguished career in its ranks as officer. This account charts her incredible story, from her tomboyish childhood in genteel Victorian England, her mission to Serbia as a Red Cross volunteer and subsequent military enrolment, her celebrity lecture tours of Europe, her marriage to a fellow officer and her survival of a Gestapo prison during the Second World War to her final years in Suffolk. A fascinating character of her times and an inspiration to women the world over, Flora Sandes is brought to life and restored to her rightful place in history by this authorized biography – compiled with the help of her family, and using hitherto unused private papers and photographs.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverGood in a crisis : a memoir / Margaret Overton.
“During the four years of physician Margaret Overton’s acrimonious divorce, she dated widely and sometimes indiscriminately, determined to find her soulmate and live happily ever after. But then she discovered she had a brain aneurysm. She discovered it at a particularly awkward moment on a date with one of many Mr Wrongs. Overton, an anaesthetist, realised she had been so busy looking after the needs of others that she had forgotten to look after herself. So she set out on a course to take control of her future and finally become independent of men. Good in a Crisis is Overton’s laugh-out-loud account of dealing with the most serious of life’s problems: loss of life, loss of love and loss of innocence. It is a story of spirituality and self-delusion; of coming of age in adulthood and of navigating the terrible events that can cluster in midlife. Honest, hopeful and hilarious, this unforgettable memoir will make you laugh and cry. It will leave you a lot humbler, and just a little wiser.” – (adapted from summary)

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Travel stories & guides

Syndetics book coverGrowing old outrageously : a memoir of travel, food and friendship / Hilary Linstead and Elisabeth Davies.
“Two old school friends reconnect unexpectedly after thirty-five years and discover that they both love travelling – and the more exotic and far-flung the location, the better!” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe elephant’s tale : London to Vladivostok on two wheels / Mike Hannan.
“With their children grown and flown, Mike and Jo Hannan discover that it’s never too late to live the dream and embark on an epic tour of Europe and beyond on a 1150cc BMW motorbike called ‘Elephant’. With a limited budget, and all the essentials packed, they hit the road. Journeying through sunshine and rain, over good roads and bad, they explore France, Spain, North Africa, Russia and other former Soviet countries, Mongolia and Korea, taking in all kinds of sights and meeting all kinds of people. Along the way they also learn the difference between a tourist and a voyageur, and come to understand the deep universal significance of their journey.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe ten-letter countries : more zany adventures of the alphabet traveller / David Jenkins.
“With a touch of Bill Bryson’s humour, this wacky, fun book takes readers on a fascinating journey to parts of the world that few people visit. The Ten-Letter Countries is a story of a unique blend of countries visited by David based solely on their spelling…. David Jenkins is The Alphabet Traveller. Having previously made an 85 000 mile journey to visit all countries in the world whose names are made up of four letters, David is now off to explore 12 countries which all have ten letters to their name. David Jenkins hitchhiked to France the day he left school and has trotted the globe ever since…” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTravels with Bertha : two years exploring Australia in a 1978 Ford stationwagon / Paul Martin.
“A book for anyone whose friends, loved ones, or themselves have travelled to Australia, and for those interested in the dark history, the colorful characters, or the startling beauty of this most fascinating continent.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSwirly World sails south / Andrew Fagan.
“In 2007, Kiwi musician and radio personality Andrew Fagan set sail in his tiny 5.4-metre plywood yacht to circumnavigate New Zealand. And just to make it more difficult, he included a leg to the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands in the notorious Southern Ocean. All in all he sailed over 3000 miles (around 5000 km) in two months. Facing such potentially lethal conditions in such a tiny craft took careful planning mixed with extreme determination, serious fortitude and uncommon daring. In this account of his voyage, Fagan tells of having to avoid icebergs, sail through a force ten storm and visit sites of shipwrecks at Port Ross in the Auckland Island group. ‘With the genuine concern of a very fatigued person, I was sailing for my life and I knew it!’ ….” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhen Gods collide : an unbeliever’s pilgrimage along India’s Coromandel Coast / Kate James.
“Part detective story, part personal journey, Kate’s engrossing reportage explores India’s complex tapestry of religion and mysticism, assessing its Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and athiest heritage as she comes to terms with the faith she has rejected.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWild : from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail / Cheryl Strayed
“…..Strayed tells the story of her emotional devastation after the death of her mother and the weeks she spent hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail. As her family, marriage, and sanity go to pieces, Strayed drifts into spontaneous encounters with other men, to the consternation of her confused husband, and eventually hits rock bottom while shooting up heroin with a new boyfriend. Convinced that nothing else can save her, she latches onto the unlikely idea of a long solo hike. Woefully unprepared (she fails to read about the trail, buy boots that fit, or pack practically), she relies on the kindness and assistance of those she meets along the way… Strayed labors along the demanding trail, documenting her bruises, blisters, and greater troubles….–Mondor, Colleen Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)

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Before Tom Cruise started divorcing wives, Henry VIII had the biggest “celebrity” divorce around! This month’s history books include a new account of this famous divorce. We also have some great new New Zealand histories, along with looks at the Kings of Scotland and the twelve Caesars. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverThe divorce of Henry VIII : the untold story from inside the Vatican / Catherine Fletcher.
“Given the amount of material available on the Tudors, it’s difficult to think that anyone even remotely interested in this era is unfamiliar with the particulars of Henry VIII’s attempts to seek a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the resulting political and religious fallout. Fortunately, in her first book, Fletcher (history, Univ. of Durham, England) has found a new angle by focusing on a little-known figure: Gregorio Casali, England’s Italian-born ambassador to Rome. As one of the diplomats charged with securing the Pope’s approval for the divorce, Casali played a central role in the dealings at the papal court. Though some biographical gaps remain, the information Fletcher has uncovered about Casali’s life-full of clashing politics, professional rivalries, and deep family loyalties-provides a fresh perspective on the proceedings of the divorce attempt as well as an in-depth look at the complex world of 16th-century diplomacy. ” – (adapted from Library Journal summary)

Syndetics book coverThe meeting place : Māori and Pākehā encounters, 1642-1840 / Vincent O’Malley.
“The Meeting Place is an examination of relationships between Maori and Pakeha focusing predominantly on the period between 1814 and 1840 when, O’Malley argues, both peoples lived/inhabited a ‘middle ground’- in the historian’s Richard White’s phrase – in which neither could dictate the political, economic or cultural rules. Vincent O’Malley begins by introducing readers to pre-1814 encounters between Maori and European from, Tasman and Cook to sealers and whalers. He then provides a thematic analysis of the 1814 to 1840 period, looking at economic, religious, political and sexual encounters as Maori and Pakeha sorted through the meanings of land, money, gods, leaders and sex. Finally, O’Malley looks at why and how the middle ground gave way to a world in which Pakeha had enough power to dictate terms. The Meeting Place draws on an impressive range of sources to offer a welcome addition to works concerning Maori-Pakeha interaction in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries including those by Anne Salmond, James Belich, Judith Binney, Hazel Petrie, and others. It will appeal to the every general reader interested in New Zealand history but will also be useful for teaching. Its coverage of several major historical debates is likely to serve existing university courses throughout New Zealand as well as the senior secondary school curriculum.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe faded map : lost kingdoms of Scotland / Alistair Moffat.
“This book brings to vivid life the half-forgotten kings and kingdoms of two thousand years ago, of the time of the Romans, the Dark Ages and into the early medieval period. Though recent politics and logistics have established borders and jurisdictions which now seem permanent and impervious, The Faded Map looks beyond these to remember a land that was once quiet and green. In this fascinating account, Alistair Moffat describes the landscape these men and women moved through and talks of a Celtic society which spoke to itself in Old Welsh, where the Sons of Prophesy ruled, and the time when the English kings of Bernicia held sway over vast swathes of what is now Scotland. Heroes rode out of the mists to challenge them and then join with them. The faint echo of the din of ancient battles can be heard as Alistair Moffat takes the reader on a remarkable journey around a lost Scotland.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe twelve Caesars / Matthew Dennison.
“One of them was a military genius; one murdered his mother and fiddled while Rome burned; another earned the nickname ’sphincter artist’. Six of their number were assassinated, two committed suicide – and five of them were elevated to the status of gods. They have come down to posterity as the ‘twelve Caesars’ – Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. Under their rule, from 49 BC to AD 96, Rome was transformed from a republic to an empire, whose model of regal autocracy would survive in the West for more than a thousand years. Matthew Dennison offers a beautifully crafted sequence of colourful biographies of each emperor, triumphantly evoking the luxury, licence, brutality and sophistication of imperial Rome at its zenith. But as well as vividly recreating the lives, loves and vices of this motley group of despots, psychopaths and perverts, he paints a portrait of an era of political and social revolution, of the bloody overthrow of a proud, 500-year-old political system and its replacement by a dictatorship which, against all the odds, succeeded more convincingly than oligarchic democracy in governing a vast international landmass.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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New Zealand

This month’s selection includes books on well known topics in New Zealand. Keith Hunter investigates the 40 year old unsolved case of the Crewe murders, John Julian investigates the Rena disaster and twice Olympic gold medal winner Mark Todd publishes his autobiography. There is also a look at fifty years of the work ofIan Athfield – the architect who designed our very own library building, as well as many of Wellington’s other architectual landmarks. In the graphic novel format “Ngarimu Te Tohu Toa” recounts how Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu became the first Māori soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Syndetics book coverThe case of the missing bloodstain : inside an incompetent and corrupt police inquiry : the truth of the Crewe murders / Keith Hunter.
“For over 40 years the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe is the great unsolved mystery of NZ Criminal history. Local farmer Arthur Alan Thomas was twice convicted of their murders but following a Royal Commission of Inquiry was later given a Royal pardon. In this comprehensive anatomy of the investigation veteran investigative journalist and broadcaster Keith Hunter provides answers to all the unresolved issues in the case.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBlack tide : the story behind the Rena disaster / John Julian.
“Tells the real story of the Rena. The Rena, a 236-metre-long container ship was making 17 knots when she ploughed into the Astrolabe Reef at 2:20am on Wednesday 5 October 2011. She was on her way from Napier towards Tauranga carrying 1368 containers along with 1700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 200 tonnes of marine diesel. The scene was set for a major economic and environmental catastrophe; a race against time for salvors working in hideous conditions to stem the black tide.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSecond chance : the autobiography / Mark Todd with Kate Green.
“Mark Todd’s eventing career is the stuff of legend and encompasses one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time. When he ‘retired’ from competing in eventing in 2000, he had already been named ‘Rider of the Century’ for his natural empathy with a horse and his extraordinary success, which included back-to-back Olympic gold medals, five Burghley wins and three Badminton victories. He has also show jumped to Olympic level and trained winners on the racecourse.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAthfield Architects / Julia Gatley.
“Over many years, Ian Athfield and his team at Athfield Architects have reshaped New Zealand architecture – from the Buck House at Te Mata Estate to Wellington’s Civic Square, from Jade Stadium to Athfield’s own sprawling settlement on the Khandallah hills. Reflecting on half a century of work, Julia Gatley’s landmark book introduces a major body of architecture through modernism, postmodernism and beyond.” – (adapted from Publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverNgārimu : te Tohu Toa / nā Andrew Burdan ngā pikitia.
“Tells the story of Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu, the first Māori soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross, describing the battle on the 26 & 27th of March 1943 in which he fought heroically, but was killed. Suggested level: secondary.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUnposted letters : from a Japanese prisoner of war camp, 1942-1945 / J.C. Maddever ; compiled by Lorna Manson.
“Jack Maddever would never talk about his war experiences, but he kept a record in his letters which were never posted. He carried them home on his return in 1945 and they provide a glimpse into his day-to-day existence while in a POW camp in Palembang, Indonesia. In three years Jack’s weight dropped from nearly 13 stone (82.5kg) to under 7 stone (44.5kg). Jack died in 1982. His letters, compiled by his widow Lorna Manson, show us his struggle to survive those long years of incarceration.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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