Deborah and Kerry’s fiction picks

This week’s choices are both due in early 2012 (February and March respectively) and are written by young, female American writers.  Snow Child is the debut novel of Alaskan Eowyn Ivey whilst Arcadia is Lauren Groff’s third publication – we have her other books here and here.  Both these books have been well received and glowingly reviewed!

Syndetics book coverSnow child : a novel.
“Here’s a modern retelling of the Russian fairy tale about a girl, made from snow by a childless couple, who comes to life. Or perhaps not modern-the setting is 1920s Alaska-but that only proves the timelessness of the tale and of this lovely book. Unable to start a family, middle-aged Jack and Mabel have come to the wilderness to start over, leaving behind an easier life back east. Anxious that they won’t outlast one wretched winter, they distract themselves by building a snow girl and wrap her in a scarf. The snow girl and the scarf are gone the next morning, but Jack spies a real child in the woods. Soon Jack and Mabel have developed a tentative relationship with the free-spirited Faina, as she finally admits to being called. Is she indeed a “snow fairy,” a “wilderness pixie” magicked out of the cold? Or a wild child who knows better than anyone how to survive in the rugged north? Even as Faina embodies a natural order that cannot be tamed, the neighborly George and Esther show Jack and Mabel (and the rest of us) how important community is for survival. VERDICT A fluid, absorbing, beautifully executed debut novel; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 9/21/11.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverArcadia.
“Groff’s dark, lyrical examination of life on a commune follows Bit, aka Little Bit, aka Ridley Sorrel Stone, born in the late ’60s in a spot that will become Arcadia, a utopian community his parents help to form. Despite their idealistic goals, the family’s attempts at sustainability bring hunger, cold, illness, and injury. Bit’s vibrant mother retreats into herself each winter; caring for the community literally breaks his father’s back. The small, sensitive child whose purposeful lack of speech is sometimes mistaken for slowness finds comfort in Grimms’ fairy tales and is lost in the outside world once Arcadia’s increasingly entitled spiritual leader falls from grace and the community crumbles. Split between utopia and its aftermath, the book’s second half tracks the ways in which Bit, now an adult (he’s 50 when this all ends, in 2018), has been shaped by Arcadia; a career in photography was the perfect choice for a man who “watches life from a good distance.” Bit’s painful experiences as a husband, father, and son grow more harrowing as humanity becomes increasingly imperiled. The effective juxtaposition of past and future and Groff’s (Delicate Edible Birds) beautiful prose make this an unforgettable read. Agent: William Morris Endeavor. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly)

Sewing books to check out!

Some great new sewing books have arrived recently and I thought I’d share my picks with you.  Now these are for women’s clothing, just to let you know, but I’ll do a post on children’s clothes later!

First up there’s a couple of books by Built By Wendy designer Wendy Mullins.  Built by Wendy is a New York based clothing line designed by Mullins.  She’s turned her hand to writing how-to books for sewers and we hold three in this series.
Syndetics book coverBuilt by Wendy dresses : the Sew U guide to making a girl’s best frock / Wendy Mullin, with Eviana Hartman ; illustrations by Beci Orpin ; additional illustrations by Dana Vaccarelli.
I think this book is fantastic!  I can sew, but not well, and I found it easy to follow and understand.  All patterns are provided and the instructions and variations are clearly explained.  Its written in a chatty, informal way which helps too.  Mullins also makes sure that any problems you may encounter are covered, which is extremely useful.
Syndetics book coverSew U : the Built by Wendy guide to making your own wardrobe / Wendy Mullin with Eviana Hartman ; illustrations by Beci Orpin ; additional illustrations by Agnieszka Gasparka.
This is an earlier book in the series and it covers skirts, shirts and pants.  It has basic patterns for each, simple instructions and how to alter each for different sizes and other variations.  Similarly, its full of helpful tips and tricks.  The third book Built By Wendy: Coats and Jackets is on order at the moment – reserve it now!
Syndetics book coverLittle green dresses : 50 original patterns for repurposed dresses, tops, skirts, and more / Tina Sparkles ; photography by Erica Beckman.
This book is good for fans of secondhand shopping and those who want to be more eco-conscious with their fashion choices.  It covers mainly patterndrafting and how to alter secondhand purchases.  It also looks at finding good uses for vintage fabrics, buttons and other bits and pieces you may accumulate along the way.  Definitely worth a look!
In a similar vein is ReSew (also a new order – reserve here) which looks at repurposing secondhand finds.
Syndetics book coverTwinkle sews : 25 handmade fashions from the runway to your wardrobe / Wenlan Chia.
Any knitting fan will know about Wenlan Chia and her innovative designs.  Chia is also a designer, overseeing an entire Twinkle range.  What I like about this book are the great designs – these are not basics, these are clothes I’d actually like to wear!  This book’s not for beginners though, you’ll have to know what you’re doing.  But the instructions are clearly written and easy to understand.  Unfortunately, assembling the patterns can be problematic, but it’s worth persevering.

Mayhem and murder in the Peoples’ Republics

We’ve been fascinated with Scandinavian crime novels, particularly Henning Mankel’s Inspector Wallander and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. But mayhem and murder occurs everywhere, even in the utopia of a Peoples’ Republic. So if you’ve done the Scandinavians and you’re looking for a new police procedural series set in a completely different cultural and political environment, try these authors.

Colin Cotterill – Dr Siri Paiboun
The Coroner’s Lunch” is the first in a series set in the newly communist Laos. It is 1976, and with Pathet Lao government in control of things in Laos, life ought to be getting much better for everyone.  Except that most of the people you need have fled across the Mekong to Thailand, including the country’s only coroner. When the wife of a high-ranking official suddenly dies, the authorities have only one person they can turn to: Dr Siri Paiboun, a recently retired 72-year-old surgeon and Pathet Lao veteran.

Thus begins Dr Siri’s late career as the coroner of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Armed only with an old French-language textbook on pathology, and assisted by the efficient and able Nurse Dtui, and Gueng, a willing but mildly Down’s syndrome assistant, Dr Siri begins his first autopsy. Of course, Dr Siri’s boss, Judge Huang, with his band-new Soviet diploma, is not really interested in the inconvenient truths Dr Siri and his team uncover – and things get even trickier as new bodies turn up. Still, Dr Siri doesn’t give up, and with his new colleague in the local police, the loyal and incorruptable Lieutenant Phosy, and the occasional help of his best friend Civilai, a member of the ruling Politburo, he carries on

Dr Siri is an adorable character– cynical, wise, humorous and humane and we all cheer for him and his eclectic team as they battle against limited resources, party bureaucracy, and Siri’s disturbing spiritual encounters to solve their cases. As you read your way through the series, there will be plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but as the novels progress, we increasingly see this socialist paradise for what it really is – ruthless, corrupt, and inept. In the latest title, “”Love songs from a shallow grave”, Dr Siri is imprisoned during an official visit to Kampuchea (Cambodia) by the murderous Kmer Rouge regime. I could hardly bear to read it to the end. But have no fear! – Dr Siri apparently survives this experience, as Colin Cotterill’s next installment in the Dr Siri series is on its way to publication.

Syndetics book coverJames Church – Inspector O
A corpse in the Koryo” introduces Inspector O, a police officer in based in Pyongyang, the capital city of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. His sparse little modern flat is an oasis of calm, even if he knows that it is regularly searched. But the workplace he describes is an altogether more dangerous place, with constant feuding between the various groupings of security agencies, the shifting centres of power and the frequent betrayals by colleagues, with dreadful consequences for the betrayed.

He copes in this volatile environment by keeping a low profile and doing his work as efficiency and with as much humanity as he can. He has a very small measure of protection through his grandfather having been a revolutionary hero. But even for the watchful O there is no avoiding of trouble when he obeys a simple order and heads out at dawn with instructions to photograph a specific car passing at a particular point on the empty highway leading into Pyongyang. It seemed a straightforward task, but like so much in North Korea, nothing is what it seems, and he finds himself dangerously caught up in a tussle between two state intelligence units, who will go to any lengths to conceal past crimes of state-sponsored kidnapping and murder.

Inspector O is an enigmatic fellow and we only get to know him better by reading subsequent titles in the series. What makes him an attractive protagonist is that in the midst of this brutal environment, he retains his humanity and a measure of assertiveness, along with a wry appreciation of absurdities of what passes for normality in North Korea. But this is grimmer stuff than the Dr Siri series – there is little to laugh about in North Korea, and the sense of ever-present threat of imminent arrest, labour camps and death affects everyone, even in their most ordinary day-to-day living. There are 4 books in the series so far, and the latest, ““The man with the Baltic stare”, published last year, anticipates the possibility of fundamental change in the Korean Peninsula.

Qui Xiaolong – Detective Inspector Chen
In “The death of a Red Heroine” we meet Detective Inspector Chen Cao, newly promoted to head the Special Case Squad of Shanghai Police Bureau. He’s a faithful Party cadre and a conscientious police officer as well and a poet and a lover of fine food. But while he is a loyal Party man, he is troubled by the rapid changes in societal values and the relentless, heartless commercialism taking hold in the People’s Republic of China.

This first title in what has become a very strong series is set in the Shanghai of 1990, not long after Tiananmen Square. The body of a young woman is found in a city canal. She’s not just any young woman, though. She is National Model Worker Guan Hongying, and she’s been murdered. Inspector Chen and his faithful comrade, Detective Yu, begin their investigation, overseen by Commissar Zhang, an old-guard Party bureaucrat. There’s more to this case than meets the eye, of course, and Chen and yYu soon begin to feel pressure from Commissar Zhang not be too thorough in solving the case.

I’ve only just started on Inspector Chen myself, and I’m hooked already. He’s an intelligent, honest, hard-working policemen, who in the end realises that in order to reach the truth he must put aside his concerns for his career and standing in the Party. Despite these amirable qualities, I’m not warming to him in the way I did with Dr Siri and Inspector O. Still, it’s early days, and there’s so much more to this series than just solving crime. We have here a wonderful portrait of China: its landscape, its history, its politics, its literature, its beliefs and cultural practices, and the changes which will make China the powerhouse it has, in the 20 years since, become. The latest title in the series, “The Mao Case”, explores the Cultural Revolution and the legacies of that terrible time which still resonate in modern Shanghai. I’m looking forward to reading this.

Just as a footnote: Chinese surnames always precede firstnames, so you should find the Inspector Chen books under “Q” in the library. Just check, however, that there aren’t some under “X”, just in case they’ve been shelved in the wrong place.

Masterchef cookbooks to check out!

Who hasn’t been watching some version of Masterchef over the last year?!  I just wanted to let the fans know about some of the Masterchef cookbooks we have in our collection.

Syndetics book coverMexican food made simple / Thomasina Miers ; photography by Tara Fisher.
Masterchef actually began on British TV  in the nineties and many contestants have gone on to work in the food industry.  One former winner is Thomasina Miers, who became a chef, opened a restaurant and wrote this cookbook – and if you like Mexican food you’ll really enjoy this book!  While you may have to hunt about to find some of the ingredients, the wonderful recipes and flavours make it worth the effort.  It also explains all the ins and outs of Mexican food and cooking so you’ll learn how to put an authentic Mexican meal together.

Syndetics book coverComfort food / [Greg Mehigan] ; food photography by Dean Cambray.
My favourite Masterchef TV show is the Australian version.  This book is from one of their judges, Gary Mehigan – one of Australia’s top chefs and restaurateurs.  In this book he covers all his favourite home-cooking recipes, but with fancy, chefy twists.  There’s wonderful photography too!
We also have the first Australian Masterchef winner Julie Goodwin’s book.  (Adam, the second series winner, is expected to publish a book in May – I’m keeping my eye out for it).

Syndetics book coverMasterChef New Zealand : the cookbook : volume one / FremantleMedia.
And of course, we have the book from the New Zealand Masterchef which screened last year.  All the contestants, and the judges, have contributed recipes and so far this book’s been quite popular.

I have to admit though, that my favourite competitive cooking show is Top Chef.  So for all those other Top Chef fans out there – you haven’t missed out!  The library has this show covered too!

Photography books to check out!

Photography books are always a pleasure to order – they’re a treat to look at and if you enjoy reading them you’ll certainly agree. It’s exciting finding new artists, subjects that look cool, or are beautifully covered, to add to our collection.  I always hope customers discover and enjoy them as much as I do. This time I thought I’d share some that are definitely worth taking out, all about American photography.

Syndetics book coverStarburst : color photography in America 1970-1980 / Kevin Moore ; with essays by James Crump and Leo Rubinfien. Starburst explores how the use of colour became a viable photographic practise, having previously been considered of little value and even controversial. It looks at the groundbreaking work of William Eggleston (the inspiration behind Karen Walker’s latest collection) and other ‘colour pioneers’ such as William Christenberry, Stephen Shore and Helen Levitt.

Syndetics book coverThe last photographic heroes : American photographers of the sixties and seventies / Gilles Mora. This book covers the modern, fresh photographic style that emerged from America during this time – similar to the ‘street style’ photography popular at the moment. It surveys the work of photographers Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and Lee Friedlander, amongst others, and places them in the wider social context of this tumultuous period.

Syndetics book coverDestroy this memory / Richard Misrach. Prolific artist Richard Misrach takes a completely different approach to photographing the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. He’s known for photographing people in landscapes, but in these works the only human touch are the messages scrawled on destroyed building and debris. Huge full page pictures that initially appear to be humorous, convey the absolute devastation of this disaster. No information is offered – like titles, dates, locations, only the messages – allowing you to make up your own mind about the images. Interesting and sad – I recommend!

On my bookshelf these holidays – a mystery set in Saudi Arabia

Syndetics book coverCity of veils / Zoe Ferraris.
Holidays are a great opportunity for reading. In my Christmas/New Year reading there were quite a few mysteries – a favourite genre of mine – but I was particularly captured by this recently-published title.
Katya Hijazi is a rarity in Saudi Arabia, a professional single woman, working as a forensic technician in the medical examiner’s office in the port city of Jeddah. When the body of a young, mutilated, semi-naked woman is brought in for an autopsy, Katya is drawn into investigating her death. Coincidentally, she meets up again with Nayir Sharqi, a Bedouin guide, whom she first worked with and got to know while investigating an ealier case. Nayir is now investigating the disappearance of an American contract worker, and as they help each other out in their separate investigations, it becomes apparent that his and Katya’s cases are linked.  Along with their crime-solving , Katya and Nayir are at the same time carefully navigating their way through an awkward, budding romantic relationship – difficult in a country where men and women are separated by so many religious and cultural  practices.

What’s compelling about this book is not just the depth and complexity of the characters, but the physical and cultural setting of the novel. The descriptions of the landscape – the intensity of the light, the suffocating summer heat and the threatening beauty of the desert – are palpable. The  characters are beautifully drawn, and Katya and Nayir in particular are engaging.  But this novel disturbs in places – the constant undercurrent of fevered sexuality in a repressed society, the description of the everyday happening of a public whipping, the claustrophobia and the powerlessness of the women’s lives, even those who are lucky enough to have progressive fathers and husbands.

If you enjoy this novel, look out also the first title in the series, “The night of the Mi’raj”, which is equally compelling.

Sick of cupcakes?

Well really, how could you ever be sick of cupcakes?!  But for those looking to extend their cutesy-baking repertoire, here’s some suggestions from me.

Syndetics book coverBiscuiteers book of iced biscuits / Harriet Hastings & Sarah Moore ; photography by Katie Hammond.
Firstly, the Biscuiteers show you how to make pretty, retro (and quirky) iced biscuits.  Definitely for those wanting to improve their icing and design skills.

Syndetics book coverA zombie ate my cupcake! : 25 deliciously weird cupcake recipes / Lily Vanilli ; starring Paul Parker ; [photographer, David Munns].
The zombie treatment gives cupcakes a whole new twist!  Very weird and I only recommend for those who want to spend time shaping these humorous and detailed creations.

Syndetics book coverMarvellous mini-cakes / Ilona Chovancova ; photography by Ilona Chovancova.
My pick would be  mini-cakes – the mini-cake being a stylish, tiny, muffin-cake hybrid, and a big trend in Paris apparently.  They’re a good way to experiment with creative cake-baking without going the whole hog.

New cookbook to check out

Syndetics book coverHarvest to heat : cooking with America’s best chefs, farmers, and artisans.
While most other foodies have been caught up in Annabel Langbein fever, I’ve been enjoying something a bit different.  Harvest to Heat is an American cookbook by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer, advocates of using sustainable, organic and local ingredients.  They have drawn together top US chefs – such as Rick Bayless, Thomas Keller and Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio – to create recipes that showcase artisanal and regional produce.  Its certainly not everyday cooking, but it is inspirational!  And the photography and styling are great – I totally recommend.