Thursday, August 04, 2011

Reading Round Up for.. June-ish & July

These are what I've read the past couple of months.  I did borrow some others and never got to read them.  Also a few holds came in for me, and I didn't manage to pick them up in time because of my mad month last month.

Blossoms and shadows / Lian Hearn.
This is the story of the birth of modern Japan, told by Tsuru, a young woman who breaks every stereotype of the Japanese lady. We meet her on the day of her sister's wedding, and soon realise that she will not accept the same domestic role that her sister is about to take on. ~ from the blurb
Found this interesting for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it's set in a period of Japan's history that is critical to it's development.  Secondly, the cultural mindsets and the conflict between the old and new ideas in parallel with the conflict between the gender stereotyping provides a fertile ground for story lines.  It keeps you reading to see what is going to happen.

A red silk sea / Gillian Ranstead.
Cam and Laurie's teenage years in a small South Auckland town are full of illicit sex, parties and quite terrifying brawls. In spite of this the girls go to university and are successful. At 25, Laurie commits suicide and it is up to Cam to face the painful memories of the past. ~from the blurb
Let me make one thing clear - this is not a "nice", easy read book because of the subject matter.  I continued with it though.  The culture and lifestyles portrayed in the book are so alien from my own upbringing in the western part of Auckland, that it was almost like reading about another country.  Some aspects of the story were disturbing.  The writing is great though.

Death and the devil / Frank Schatzing ; translated by Mike Mitchell.
In the year 1260, under the supervision of the architect Gerhard Morart, the most ambitious ecclesiastical building in all of Christendom is rising above the merchant city of Cologne: the great cathedral. Far below the soaring spires and flying buttresses, a bitter struggle is underway between the archbishop of Cologne and the ruling merchant families to control the enormous wealth of this prosperous commercial center - a struggle that quickly becomes deadly. Morart is the first of many victims, pushed to his death from the cathedral's scaffolding by a huge man with long hair, clad all in black. But hiding in the branches of the archbishop's apple orchard is a witness: a red-haired petty thief called Jacob the Fox, street-smart, cunning, and yet naive in the ways of the political world. Out of his depth and running for his life, he soon finds himself engaged in a desperate battle with some very powerful forces. Most dangerous of all is the killer himself - a mysterious man with remarkable speed, strength, and intelligence, hiding dark secrets that have stripped away his humanity and turned him into a cruel, efficient hired assassin who favors a miniature crossbow as his weapon of choice. But who is he killing for? Jacob the Fox - uneducated and superstitious - fears the killer is the Angel of Death himself. But the wily Fox makes an alliance with some of the strangest of bedfellows: a beautiful clothes dyer, her drunken rascal of a father, and her learned uncle, who loves a good debate almost as much as he loves a bottle of wine. Can this unlikely foursome triumph against the odds and learn the truth of the evil conspiracy before their quest leads to their death at the end of a crossbow arrow? ~from the blurb
The funny thing about this book is that I picked it up wanting to read about Cologne having visited there as a young teen.  I didn't realise it had been translated until I had finished and then I realised why some of the content seemed so Germanic. ;-)  Funny to me anyway.  The story was okay - I tended to identify with the women in it, so having the main protagonist as a doozy male who mostly appeared idiotic was kind of strange.

Poison : a novel of the Renaissance / Sara Poole.
In the summer of 1492, determined to avenge the killing of her father, Francesca Giordano defies all convention to claim for herself the position of poisoner serving Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, head of the most notorious and dangerous family in Italy. Francesca pursues her father's killer from the depths of Rome's Jewish ghetto to the Vatican itself. In so doing, she sets the stage for the ultimate confrontation with ancient forces that will seek to use her darkest desires to achieve their own catastrophic ends. ~from the blurb
Enjoyed this one.  A crime story basically but with poison :-)

The last Maasai warrior / Frank Coates.
"For so long as the Maasai shall exist as a people - this is the land tenure promised by the British government in their 1904 treaty with the Maasai. Seven years later the promise is broken and the leader of the Maasai warriors has just two options - to confront the whites superior power, or to bow to them and make the perilous journey to the new reserve. In the meantime he struggles to resist his forbidden desires for another man's wife. George Coll, arrives in East Africa to begin work in the new administration but finds himself in an impossible situation. Should he toe the government line and watch an innocent and previously peaceful people be unjustly thrown out of their homeland, or help them to resist? Coll also has a very personal decision to make. Hilda Wallace will share whatever life has to offer him, but can he accept knowing a ticking time bomb hangs over his head? As the Maasai gather to make their historic decision, the white settlers and government forces are determined to seize the land they need."--Provided by publisher.
A bit laboured and basically sad, almost futile.

Outliers : the story of success / Malcolm Gladwell.
"The best-selling author of Blink identifies the qualities of successful people, posing theories about the cultural, family, and idiosyncratic factors that shape high achievers, in a resource that covers such topics as the secrets of software billionaires, why certain cultures are associated with better academic performance, and why the Beatles earned their fame"--Publisher's description.
Really interesting take on success and why some people succeed and others not.

The thirteenth tale : a novel / Diane Setterfield.
Vida Winter, a bestselling yet reclusive novelist, has created many outlandish life histories for herself, all of them invention. Now old and ailing, at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to biographer Margaret Lea - a woman with secrets of her own - is a summons. Vida's tale is one of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family: the beautiful and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline. Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling, but as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction and she doesn't trust Vida's account. As she begins her researches, two parallel stories unfold. Join Margaret as she begins her journey to the truth - hers, as well as Vida's. ~ from the blurb
Gothic, secrets and mysterious!  I liked it.

I have also been availing myself of the Overdrive collection at Auckland Public.  Listening to some of the audiobooks has been a good way for me to unwind.  They are good for the commute too.  My only complaints is the limited number of audio books available for particular formats (e.g. the iPad or Android phone) that can be downloaded from the actual device and the fact all the ones I want are usually "out".  I know it's an Overdrive thing but with electronic media like this the concept of something being "out" is obsolete.  It's a file!  It should be able to be downloaded many times!  ok, rant over.

Valley of the lost / Vicki Delany

In the bucolic mountain town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, a young woman is found dead of a heroin overdose, her baby lying at her side. While this should be an open-and-shut drug case, restraint marks on the victim suggest that the death might not have been completely accidental.
Constable Molly Smith and Sergeant John Winters know little more than the dead woman’s name. Who was she? Was this just a drug deal gone wrong, or is there something more sinister at play? Does her orphaned baby boy hold the key to solving his mother’s murder?
Meanwhile, a controversial resort development is ripping apart their close-knit community. Has the disagreement pushed a member of this quiet community to murder?~ from the blurb

Winter of secrets / Vicki Delany
Siblings Wendy and Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth and their friends are in British Columbia, enjoying a two-week vacation. Tragedy strikes the group of privileged students when two of them crash through the ice into the frozen river.
It's Christmas Eve and the snowstorm of the decade has settled over the peaceful Canadian mountain town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. Constables Smith and Evans have a busy shift, attending fender-benders, tumbling pedestrians, and Christmas-tree fires. At the stroke of midnight, they arrive at the scene of a car accident: a vehicle has gone off the snowy road into the icy river. It seems to be an accident. But when the autopsy reveals a shocking secret, Constable Molly Smith and Sergeant John Winters are plunged into the world of sexual predators, recreational drugs, privilege, and high living.
Meanwhile Charlie Bassing is out of jail and looking for revenge, a handsome Mountie is giving Molly the eye, and her mother, Lucky, is cheerfully interfering in the investigation. ~from the blurb

Happily enjoying this new crime series for the setting and the characters. 

The Seance / John Hardwood
London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for her child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health Constance Langton takes her to a séance. But the séance has tragic consequences. Left alone, her only legacy is a mysterious bequest which will blight her life. That bequest comes in two parts: a house, and a mystery. Set in the world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail, black-hearted villains and murder, Constance must find the truth behind the mystery of Wraxford Hall - even if it costs her life. ~ from the blurb
I wasn't sure what to think of this one to begin with.  At first I thought it was going to be quite a horror sort of novel, but then it turned more into a mystery/crime story.  There are several different narratives in the story giving different perspectives.  Some of it is quite spooky - and unlike a written book I couldn't easily skip forward past descriptive bits to get to the action. *spanks hand at bad habit*  The narrator of the audio book does an awesome job of the different characterizations.

At MPOW we just launched a new collection for recreational reading.  It's intended to assist in our institution's impetus to promote literacy.  So we're buying for young teens and upwards. So far, the graphic novels are looking like the most popular!  No surprises there - and it's great to see our students reading.  Personally I'm looking forward to having access to stuff to read for fun too.  We took recommendations from staff and also from students.

At the launch yesterday, a few of us hired some costumes to get dressed up as book characters to help promote the thing.  We got a fair amount of positive feedback, an article in the student magazine and even issued a few books out there in the Hub.  It helped we put ourselves next to the free sausage sizzle!

Here is me all dressed up as Lizzie Bennett (more on my Facebook).  I even wore a corset - though I realised afterwards that as a result of the squishing I should have got the next dress size down so my dress fitted better.  Ah well...

#dailyimage2011 3 August Promotion

Monday, August 01, 2011


I haven't blogged since June!  Hmmm.

And now it is the end of July. It's been a bit of a stressful month, and while I know it's not been as bad as other people's stresses, I've felt it.
  • I had to write a paper for a conference
  • I had two abstracts accepted for poster presentations
  • I submitted a research proposal to the ethics committee
  • I revised (twice) the research proposal for the ethics committee in response to their feedback
  • Miss4 got chickenpox
  • Mr7 got chickenpox
  • Mr7 got nits
  • I had a birthday
  • I got chickenpox for my birthday
  • I applied for the permanent version of my job
  • I had an interview for the permanent version of my job
  • I was successful in getting the permanent version of my job
  • I felted another hat (photos to come when I get some good light and a chance to take it)
  • I dyed some wool (ditto)
  • We went on holiday

I haven't done a Reading Round up for ages, but then I haven't been doing much in the way of leisure reading, apart from a few audio books.

Our holiday was much needed.

Husband has been processing some of his photos from the holiday - you can see some on his Flickr stream or his website.  Incidentally, if anybody wanted prints of his stuff they should contact him via his website and inquire.

We flew into Christchurch and headed off to Lake Tekapo for two nights. The lodge there was ok, although a little basic and rather noisy.  There was one frying pan in the kitchen and no sharp knives.

Then we went on to Mt Cook where the lodge cost more but was more luxurious and had nicer cooking facilities.  They had had a good dump of snow so we got to do some sledding :)

Then we went to Wanaka to some very budget accommodation.  Luckily only for one night.

We crossed over the Haast pass the next day, missing all the snow and bad weather the eastern coast of the South Island got.  It was gusty and chilly in the pass, but we made it up to Fox to catch a sunset and then went over the hill to stay with friends in Franz for 3 nights.  It was great to pull into their place and see the excited welcome from two girls!

From Franz we went on to Lake Brunner, stopping at a few places on the way, like the Dorothy Falls near Hokitika.  We really should have done a bit more research before we left because we would have liked to have spent more time in the Hokitika area and in fact the West Coast in general.  It reminds me of West Auckland in many ways - less people and more mountains though.

We crossed over the Lewis pass from Lake Brunner to Hanmer Springs to visit the hot pools there. Can't say I found Hanmer particularly interesting.  It's a nice town, and probably good for older children who are interested in mountain biking and hydro slides etc, but for younger ones not so much.  There is a farm park that we went to, but not a lot else.  The walks are mainly through forestry plantations so of little interest to DH.

Finally we drove back to Christchurch, spent the afternoon at Orana Park and flew home.

Back to work today, and all seems to be ticking over there.  It's orientation week so I spent some time in the Hub blowing bubbles and wearing alien eyes on a head band in order to pimp the library to students! 

#dailyimage2011 8 Mar alien

And that's the update for anyone who is interested.