Thursday, 28 November 2013

Review: My Brother's Keeper by Donna Malane [Jan]

Missing person’s expert Diane Rowe is hired by Karen, an ex-P addict just released from prison, to find her daughter and ensure she is safe.  The crime Karen was imprisoned for was the attempted murder of her daughter.  Diane finds Karen’s daughter, Sunny, after a quick internet search which Karen could’ve done.  Suspicious of her client’s motives, Diane goes to check on Sunny’s safety.

At home in Wellington Diane’s boyfriend has bonded with her dog and her ex, her relationship has become serious, and her ex wants to sell the marital home.  Diane deals with this as her credit card balance dwindles and she keeps annoying police officers with her inability to keep her nose out of cases.  The adorable Wolf, Diane’s ex-police dog, appears throughout the book, as does the cute cop Robbie.

A strong, capable character, I’m impressed by Diane’s tenacity and her ability to have everything turn out ok in the end.  There where I few twists I didn’t see coming and the ending took be my surprise.  Set in Auckland and Wellington, the places were familiar and there were a few aspects unique to New Zealand.
I HAD to buy the second in the series as this series is so good!  Paperbacks are available from New Zealand websites only, but there is an e-book version.

Title: My Brother’s Keeper
Author: Donna Malane
Publisher: HarperCollins
Series: Book 2 in Diane Rowe
Reviewer: Jan

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Haim (rhymes with I am)

Haim are a super cool trio of sister's from The Valley in California who are currently walking the line between being indie-cool and being played on pop radio. If you're into Boy, The Naked and Famous, Lorde or any kind of 70's Fleetwood Mac-y kind of deal, you might be into these guys too.

Haim's debut album 'Days are Gone' came out a couple of months my and it's fricken awesome, my favourite songs are 'The Wire', 'Don't Save Me' and 'My Song 5'  but make sure you check out the whole album.

I wish I was in a girl-band so bad. Especially one as good as these guys...

The Wire

Don't Save Me

P.s. Haim are playing at Laneway Festival this January so try and go along to see them! 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Why New Zealand fiction is doomed

This is a page that should in truth be filled by Kiwi publishers...But despite Eleanor Catton's glorious win at the Booker Prize do, and notable efforts such as Mister Pip and co, the fact is, New Zealand fiction ain't doing so good at the tills. If one Peter Jackson does not a vibrant local film industry make, one Eleanor Catton sadly does not spell glory days ahead for the rest of us.

Here's why.

New Zealand publishers will not support genre fiction.

The top-selling international authors tend to be crime, action or romance ones - the genre guys. We're talking Lee Child, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, John Grisham. But while megabucks will be spent promoting their novels to Kiwi readers, virtually none will be spent marketing - or even publishing - the ones who live here.

There are a few crime authors being published by local companies, notably Penguin with Vanda Symon, HarperCollins with Ben Sanders and Donna Malane, and Random House with Paul Cleave. One of these is also the publisher of my previous crime series. So naturally, when I completed my new book, I sent it in. And I quote:
"Oh. It's just a crime novel. I didn't realise it was crime. Kiwis don't buy local crime, so I'm sorry, we wouldn't be interested."

Is it also true that EVERY work of general fiction goes down the tubes, because some are complete turkeys? It's not sour grapes, entirely, merely an observation. I was rather disgusted, to tell you the truth (especially as I know the publisher personally doesn't read crime novels and doesn't like them). I know that our publishers are in a bad way, minnows struggling to survive being swallowed up by their Australian offices. But the bulk of their money comes from cookbooks and international fiction anyway. Is it too much to ask that they try to support local authors, without writing off a whole swathe of them wholesale, based on genre alone?

I'm still in a better position than New Zealand's sci-fi and fantasy authors, who won't be published by any of our international firms. While they'll publish "chick lit", no one will touch erotica or the standard kind of romance either, except for Mills and Boon. Authors in these genres have to go to Australia and the US. In the long run, it's probably better for their careers.

Sadly, it's no better in television. I was told by one company: "Yep, loved the book, but it's way cheaper to import crime dramas from the UK and the US. No one wants to see a Kiwi crime drama enough to pay for it."

Unless, of course, it stars Oscar Kightley. Just sayin'.

The confusion continues. When I once entered a national teen fiction competition, I was told that my story was judged the best, but because the setting wasn't "Kiwi", the publishing firm wasn't interested. "Our brief is to support New Zealand stories".

A second publisher backed this up. One would think that by supporting local authors, you are supporting New Zealand literature - without the writers, there could be no stories. A good story should be borderless. But this distinction appears to be lost. This attitude also cripples our authors overseas. By making our stories so local and small, there is less chance of us picking up publishing deals in foreign markets. It's death by parochialism.

Meanwhile, our publishing houses are steadily being relocated to Australia, which has even less interest in promoting a Kiwi writing community. Do you see our Government pouring millions into reversing that, like they did after the America's Cup defeat?

Samuel Johnson once said: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money". Sometimes even hope is enough to keep us going. But remove even that, and you'll be left with silence.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Doctor? Doctor Who? : A Well Deserved 50th Birthday

You know you've got it made when you have your very own Google Doodle.  Now that is all kinds of awesomeness.

Then again celebrating 50 years is a pretty big milestone especially in TV land where only a handful of shows have lasted that long and most of those are documentary type shows.  That a science fiction show has managed to reach 50 years fills my heart with joy because without Doctor Who I would never have discovered the amazing world of science fiction in the first place.

Thanks Doctor Who.

For the scares

 the laughs

 the tears

And the sheer excitement that you have brought to so many

Happy Birthday Old Friend

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Review: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

On playing back the 911 recording, it’d seem that Mrs. Stegman was more concerned that the man outside her apartment door was naked than that he had a big shotgun.

John Tallow’s partner has just been killed on the job as a police officer in New York City.  While examining the crime scene he discovers an apartment filled with hundreds of guns; on walls, on the floor, in every room.  Several guns are collected at random and test-fired, to reveal each gun had been used in an unsolved homicide in a 20 year span.  John is assigned the case and realises he will have to solve each shooting before he can find the killer.

Not a comic book fan I was a little dubious the author Warren Ellis would write a crime novel that would appeal to me.  I was totally wrong – this book is fantastic!  The opening sentence snagged my attention and never lost it.  The excellent storytelling tells a dramatic tale of the gritty world of policing and offers hope the good guys sometimes win.  The manipulations and reasons behind the murders are chilling once you figure it out.

The characters are so life like and interesting, with the CSU’s having so many quirks you’ve got to love them.  The killer is creepy, with the psychotic side of him becoming clearer as the story unfolds.  I saw the ending coming halfway through but on the journey there more sinister details emerged.

If you like psychological thrillers, read this book!

Title: Gun Machine
Author: Warren Ellis
Publisher: Mulholland Books, c2013
Reviewer: Jan

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Review: An Extraordinary Land by Peter Hayden [Jan]

New scientific discoveries about wildlife unique to New Zealand are detailed in a collection of stories in this book.  Flowing together seamlessly and sensibly organized, some stories look at the unusual behaviour and strange life of animals, such as what nocturnal birds do at night and little blue penguins also do not like living in cold places.  Interesting knowledge is shared; did you know not only birds are responsible for pollination?  Lizards and bats also help plants pollinate.  The efforts of people and organizations battling to safe guard the future of New Zealand unique natural environment are noted and their dedication is amazing to hear about.

Written so the layman can easily understand it, the stories offer an up close view of the fascinating world and inhabitants of is natural New Zealand.  The writing is warm and friendly, sharing a glimpse into the personal experiences and memories of the writer and photographer.  The photography is splendid and seems to be alive on the page.  Rod Morris has been wildlife photographer for years and all the photos in this book are stunning.  The pages of this book are a high grade, glossy paper and it enhances the colour.

Anyone with an interested in nature or curious about New Zealand will love this book.  It will also appeal to anyone who likes a well written story enjoys stunning photos.  I highly recommend adding it to the collection on your shelf.

Title: An Extraordinary Land: Discoveries and Mysteries from Wild New Zealand
Author: Peter Hayden
Published: HarperCollins, 2013
Reviewer: Jan

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Tickle, Tartt and Trollope

I think there's some truth to 'the best things in life are free' because I am endlessly entertained by people's hilarious/different/weird names. Here are some examples that are impossible not to enjoy just a little. And yes, I am very easily entertained. It's delightful. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Review: Anticipation by Tanya Moir [Jan]

Janine is a successful real estate agent who also buys derelict houses too do up and sell.  This time she buys an island to live on and while doing it up tells the story of her life, switching from her present life; to her childhood with her mother; to her recent past with her husband.  Her mother was obsessed with genealogy and finding out about her ancestor’s lives.  She used to tell Janine idealized stories of their lives, viewed though rose-coloured glasses.  Then she gets sick and Janine continues the search and recording their stories.

This is a very well written book with a tightly wound, fascinating plot that moved seamlessly between the different time periods.  You have to concentrate at first to keep everything straight but as the story continued, you got a better understanding of the story.  The character of Janine is strong and likeable, with minor character real and believable.  The stories told of ancestors are very realistic and enjoyable.  Buy this book and read it cover to cover.  It’s great.

The talented author is a New Zealander and the book is set in the Invercargill of the past and present-day Auckland.  Her second novel, this is a compelling read and raises the question of how much of our past and future we want to know.

Title: Anticipation
Author: Tanya Moir
Published: Vintage, 2013
Reviewer: Jan

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Veronica Mars

This morning I was left in a dreamlike state due to the following video:

If you're a Veronica Mars fan such as myself, this clip will have you squealing with anticipation about the upcoming film. In short, the clip has the cast of VM getting all cute about whether they're Team Piz or Team Logan.

This movie is the result of an amazing Kickstarter campaign. Rob Thomas and cast got together to promote the campaign, offering T-Shirts, special screenings, and even an answer machine message recorded by Kirsten Bell herself, for all the different amounts contributed. The speed with which the goal was reached and surpassed was spectacular. It just shows how much VM fans want to see her and the gang again! So basically this movie is going ahead largely in thanks to all the crazy fans out there than contributed money towards the project.

This definitely paves the way for other much loved but cancelled TV shows, with rumors about many similar Kickstarter campaigns, in particular Joss Whedon's Firefly. Watch this space!

For the record, I'm totally Team Logan!

To tide you over here are some of the VM related goodies we house at the library:

Neptune Noir : unauthorized investigations into Veronica Mars

This is a collection of essays edited by the creator of VM, Rob Thomas! The essays cover a range of topics from Veronica and the kickass vigilante justice she dishes out, to her relationship with Logan Echolls. This collection highlights the issues of socioeconomic disparities as shown in Neptune, not to mention highlighting the powerful woman VM is in a world of sappy girl teen dramas!

Teen dreams : reading teen film from 'Heathers' to 'Veronica Mars'

While not strictly only about VM, this book chronicles not only the history of awesome teen movies, from the classic John Hughes films through favourites like Heathers and Clueless, and cult-classic TV Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Popular, and our favourite VM. It's an excellent expose on how these movies and TV programmes highlight the alternate side to the "American Dream".

And leaving the best to last!

Veronica Mars Season One

As well as Veronica Mars Season 2 and Veronica Mars Season Three

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Honestly, who reads these?

I get a number of books across my desk that, for some arcane reason beyond the wot of man, are still going out. After seeing this morning's gem, I had to share a few of these with you. In many cases, these are extremely old and well-loved items that just refuse to fall apart, so I can't get rid of them. A little bit like some of your relatives.

Believe it or not, this book has been out four times in the past year. Oh yeah.

If that seems incredible, here's one I got last week...that's been out three times in the past year.

Here's a tip: you don't need seven weeks. You just need a trip to Labtests.

And here's one I thought was in particularly bad taste, but will no doubt prove popular:

And how about this for aspirational parents? A series of classics for babies, in board book format.

Hairy Maclary? The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Nope. Try Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice (complete with punch-out cardboard figures to macerate), and The Hound of the Baskervilles, with a sound button you can press to make the hound howl, provided your fine motor skills have kicked in. Oh, and there's Anna Karenina, to give them a giggle.

Educating your kids about nineteenth-century Russian social mores before they've even learned to control their bowel motions? Potty.

Finally, here's my pick for weirdest forthcoming title:

I won't even mention Star Wars Shakespeare. The world is a crazy place.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Stalking the catalogue: 365 gratefuls

"Grateful hasn't always been part of who I am."
- A part of Amy Gill's contribution in 365 Gratefuls

In 2008, Hailey Bartholomew found herself struggling with depression. When she sought life coaching and counseling, Sister Paula advised her to reflect on her day and write something about that day that she was grateful for. From there, Bartholomew turned it into a photo album on Flickr, which then became a group where others began to share their own versions of the project. Bartholomew writes: "The consequence of feeling like life is actually amazing is that you start to believe you have something to give the world. You feel full, and it spills out all over the place."

I agree. It's something I've been doing myself, on and off, for the last wee while (although minus photos, and usually just inside my head and not a journal or photo album). A few months back I was in a bit of an emotional slump. My feels were all over the place and absolutely unreliable (i.e. I was bursting into tears over nothing of consequence at all hours of the day and night, and hating myself for it because, as I saw it, getting feels on me was so not punk rock) and it was ugly and messy. One little thing not going to plan and I'd let that colour my whole day. I hated it. And then I thought, "You can own the day, or you can let it own you," and decided to set my expectations for each day.

They weren't big things, sometimes they were incredibly silly, but the end result was always the same: Every day I would get out of my own head for a little while and deliberately look for people, situations, circumstances, things that would fit my expectation of the day. What I found was that I wasn't just actively looking, I was also continually assessing and reflecting. Okay, it sounds a little twee, and possibly it is,...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Oh Crap It's NaNoWriMo Again: Fa lalalala la la la la

Someone once asked me if it was hard to write.

The answer is yes... and no.

It's not so much that I want to write it's more a case that I have to write.  Seriously.  My head is a scary place.  It is constantly filled with stories (and not the fluffy bunny kind).  Trust me it's not the sort of place you would want to visit for a holiday.  And the stories I have are not just vague ideas. Oh no as a visual reader/writer I see everything laid out in glorious 3D... with surround sound.  And I'm not just an observer either.  No my head has to go one step further and be a part of the stories so that I am right there next to the characters seeing, hearing, feeling what they do.

It all sounds completely insane I know... or at the very least weird.  Which probably explains a lot.  At least to those that know me.

The hard part of writing for me is turning all those images into words so that what I see etc translates in a way that others can see the same things that I do.  It makes my head spin in circles just trying to think about it.  So I won't.

Instead what I will be doing - at least for the next 30 days - is trying to write 50,000 words because November is the month of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month for those that don't know.

Of course writing a novel in a month is just about impossible (though I'm sure someone somewhere has done it) but that's not really what NaNo is about.  What it is about is freeing yourself to write.  To stop that inner critic that so many of us writers have and just let our minds and imaginations run free without fear of getting it right the first time around.

What it also means is that I will be doing very little reading *sad face* or watching the latest seasons of Person of Interest and Supernatural *even more sad face* while I hide away in my bedroom and write.  Damn it.

All I can is insanity here I come...