Thursday, 20 June 2019

Living Big in a Tiny House: Exploring small-space design projects from New Zealand and around the world by Bryce Langston

“I’ve travelled the world seeking examples of cleaver small-space design and delving into the lives of the people who inhabit these ingenious structures… These homes may be small but within their walls it’s easy to find a lot to love.”

Five years ago, while living in Auckland, Bryce Langston was looking for a way to have a permanent home while living costs just kept rising. While searching online, he came across an image of a tiny house on wheels which planted a seed in his mind that was too hard to ignore. Bryce started to explore the concept of tiny living and begun to share what he was learning on his YouTube channel ‘Living Big in a Tiny House’. From there he was inundated with demand for tiny house content. His channel evolved and he began to travel around New Zealand, and later on around the world, viewing tiny homes and talking to their occupants about everything from the lifestyle choice to process to quirky design elements. His channel has exploded and he is now nearing on two million subscribers.

Living Big in a Tiny House is an extension of his YouTube channel. The book begins by sharing what he has learnt while exploring downsizing. It includes design essentials, off grid living, how to live tiny and costs involved in living tiny. The rest of the book explores different tiny dwellings around the world which are broken up into three categories: on the road, grounded and parked up. Each dwelling is photographed beautifully alongside a write up about the home and its inhabitants.

Reviewed by Kristen Clothier 

Catalogue link:  Living Big in a Tiny House

Saturday, 15 June 2019

On the Come Up

Sixteen year old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. She wants nothing more than to be on the come up - to be successful so that she can take care of her family. This book is a love letter to Rap and Hip Hop, an example of the importance of fighting for your dreams when the odds are heavily stacked against you, and really opened my eyes to the realities of poor and working-class black teenagers in America.

"You'll never silence me and you'll never kill my dream,
Just recognize when you say brilliant that you're also saying Bri."

I am guessing that this book won’t be as well received as THUG was. Bri is harder to like than Starr was. She can be rude, impulsive, quick to anger and at times seems to easily fall into the behaviour of ‘hoodlum’ (one of many words used to describe her in the book). While Bri does not watch her friend get murdered by a cop the way Starr did, she does get unfairly targeted by school security. She watches her mother (a drug addict now eight years sober) struggle to find a new job. She goes hungry when they couldn’t afford to buy food, and is cold when their gas is turned off. She watches as her smart, hardworking older brother has to give up grad school to make minimum wage selling pizza. Her life is hard and she is angry about it. She raps about it, she rants about it, and she gets in fights about it.

“It is kinda messed up. Here my brother is, doing everything right, and nothing's coming from it. Meanwhile, Aunt Pooh's doing everything we've been told not to do, and she's giving us food when we need it.
That's how it goes though. The drug dealers in my neighborhood aren't struggling. Everybody else is.”

I can see why some people may not like her, but Bri is a complex, flawed person and I loved her so much for that. She loves Star Wars, while also rapping about guns and violence, she wears tweety bird slippers but gets in fights with whoever tries to keep her down. She pushes people away because she thinks that is what it will take to help them, and she struggles to succeed in a world that wants to keep her down because she is black, and a girl.

On the Come Up may be a YA book, (and so many adults seem to hate the idea of reading books written for young adults) but it’s one that I will suggest to anyone. It has everything you might want from a novel – family relationships, romance, the importance of friendships – the support they can offer and the pain they can cause, insight into the music industry (the author was a teenage rapper much like the story’s lead), and is such a powerful insight into the systemic racism that is still so prevalent today (and not just in America). Angie Thomas tells a powerful story in this novel, and I can’t wait to read what she does next.

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: On the Come Up

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

There is something compelling in the way author and neuroscientist, Lisa Genova, weaves clinical manifestations into her dramatisation of lives irreversibly affected by neurological diseases.

In this Genova’s fifth book; we have Richard an accomplished concert pianist who lives to perform. While his professional life sees him on world stages his private affairs definitely take backstage. So much so that when he is diagnosed with ALS his ex-wife and daughter are the last to know.

Denial is the coping technique Richard uses when the fingers on his right hand start to lose strength and dexterity. Tendinitis is what he tells his adoring public and what he secretly hopes is the correct diagnosis. However his hopes are crushed when paralysis grips his entire right arm and he is strongly encouraged to purchase a wheelchair for when he can no longer walk and to record his voice for when he can no longer speak.

Ex-wife and mother of Grace, their only child, Karina is also a gifted pianist. Time and circumstance has seen her beloved jazz music relegated as she brings up Grace and teaches piano to reluctant and in the main uninterested children. It isn’t until Richard phones her, in a moment of panic, that it becomes clear that Richard can no longer care for himself and she makes the reluctant decision to become his caregiver.

So what is ALS? Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is the disease that brings on paralysis, shortens lifespans by decades and is commonly associated with American baseball star Lou Gehrig and physicist Stephen Hawking.

Genova is not new to writing stories where one of the main characters has a neurological disease. She is perhaps best known for the book, later made into an Oscar award-winning movie Still Alice, the story of a women with early onset Alzheimer's.

So with a complex premise; seriously flawed characters and no happily ever after what makes Every Note Played so compelling? It is the quality of the writing; sensitive, raw and compassionate.

Reviewed by Miss Moneypenny

Catalogue link:  Every Note Played

Monday, 10 June 2019

Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce

The idea for Dear Mrs Bird was born, the author tells us, when she began reading letters and articles from wartime magazines. They were so interesting, she began to collect magazines from this era. Set in 1941 in London, and narrated by young Emeline (Emmy) Lake, Dear Mrs Bird is a story that is at times humorous and heart-warming and at other times sad.

Emmy, feeling unfulfilled in her current work, answers a job advertisement thinking it will lead to her dream position of Lady War Correspondent. However, there is an unfortunate misunderstanding at her interview, and she finds herself typing letters for the frightening Mrs Bird, the agony aunt at Women’s Friend magazine.

Emmy is a kind, cheerful young woman, who when told by Mrs Bird to bin any letters containing any form of unpleasantness, secretly decides to write back to the despairing women who sent them.The dialogue between Emmy and her best friend Bunty and also her friends at the Auxiliary Fire Service where Emmy volunteers as a telephone operator is one of the highlights of the novel as it feels so true to the times.

Dear Mrs Bird is an engaging story of the friendships, courage, generosity and warmth of spirited but ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I am so pleased I was recommended this novel by Janet, one of our library customers. Like Janet, I really enjoyed A J Pearce’s debut novel and hope she writes many more.

Posted by VT

Catalogue link: Dear Mrs Bird

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama

‘I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey

I would have to admit to feeling somewhat neutral about Michelle Obama before reading Becoming.
Some years ago I thoroughly enjoyed reading Barack Obama’s excellent autobiography Dreams from My Father, which is all the better for having been written years before he entered politics.   Becoming fills in the gaps from the end of that book, and is a fascinating insight into life inside the White House.  

Michelle Robinson had a humble but grounded upbringing in a small apartment on the South Side of Chicago.  Her father had Multiple Sclerosis yet never complained nor sought medical help. Somehow he went to work literally every day until the day he died.

Michelle describes her family's slave roots and the casual and blatant racism causing her grandfather and father to have blue collar low-paying jobs.  A union card was a necessity for many jobs but union cards were unobtainable for African Americans. Partly due to this, education and success were valued in her family and she became a Harvard trained lawyer with a high salary. When she quickly became disappointed by the paperwork of the job she chose to take on a community job at half the salary, much to the horror of her parents.

When Barack Obama becomes a summer intern at her firm she is asked to be his mentor.  A lovely slow-burning love story follows, despite the fact that she initially tried to set him up with one of her friends:
 ‘To me, he was sort of like a unicorn—unusual to the point of seeming almost unreal. He never talked about material things, like buying a house or a car or even new shoes. His money went largely toward books, which to him were like sacred objects, providing ballast for his mind.’

The second half of the book focuses on political life - something she had and claims to still have a strong aversion to.  Life behind bomb-proof glass with children and a constant Secret Service presence presented many challenges. During her eight years as First Lady Michelle  focused on helping military families and promoting children’s health, famously starting a vegetable garden within the White House grounds.

Throughout Becoming Michelle Obama maintains a dignified tone and pokes fun at her Head Girl-ish personality, while explaining the challenges of going from being an independent professional to being known as the wife of someone.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link:  Becoming

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Wine, Books and More Bookclub - recent reviews

Dirty Little Secret Jennifer Ryan
'Predictive, derivative and a staccato narrative.'

Perfectly Good ManPatrick Gale
'Really good book. Set in Cornwall. Didn’t want to finish it.'

Pieces of Her Karin Slaughter
'Best name for a mystery author. Enjoyed it overall but found some bits a little gruesome.'

Temptation of ForgivenessDonna Leon
'Pretty good. Few twists and turns.'

Girls Like UsGale Giles
'Set in modern time. Friendship fic. Funny, very honest and at time sad.'

Eat & runScott Durek
'Thoroughly enjoyed. Autobiography of ultra-marathoner. It’s all about power of mind. Very informative.'

In Order to LiveYeonmi Park
'Autobiography of North Korean girl. Found it really hard to get into. Skipped ahead in some
parts, not sure if I’ll finish it.'

The Dudley Smith TrioJames Elroy
'Set in early 50s so represents 50s attitudes. Less PC language. Really good. LA Confidential is
the second book and most well known.'

Hangman & HunterJack Heath
'First book set up the premise for future books. It felt forced and awkward. Slightly better in
second book. Very gruesome but also slightly more funny. Set in the FBI.'

Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear UnderpantsOatmeal
'Very funny. Enough said.'

The Tattooist of AuschwitzHeather Morris
'True story written as fiction. Very moving and eye-opening. Set in WW2.'

Sunday, 2 June 2019

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

When a ball is thrown to find a wife for a young prince, obviously young women are going to go nuts. But there will be girls who couldn’t care less, including a spoilt young woman who specifically says to young dressmaker Frances “You know what, just make it ghastly.” The startling dress not only causes a stir among the guests, but also catches the attention of young Prince Sebastian.

Prince Sebastian has a secret: he doesn’t always dress as a boy. Sometimes he feels more comfortable putting on dresses and being a girl. As soon as he sees the dress Frances made, he knew she was the right person to create dresses just for him.

The prince sends the only person who knows his secret to employ the talented young Frances and bring her to the palace. By day, he has an image to uphold as a member of the royal family. By night, he dazzles crowds as latest fashion icon Lady Crystallia, taking Paris by storm.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel for teens and grown-ups alike, and was the first story for quite a while to hook me in so much I couldn’t put it down. While also fitting into the romance genre, the book focuses on getting to know yourself and following your dreams.

This story certainly puts a new spin on classic fairytales, which is possibly what makes it so enjoyable. And it’s also not your traditional love story, yet the building romance between the characters is just so sweet. The whole thing flows as you read it, and you can’t help falling in love with the characters.

Jen Wang is a very talented cartoonist, writer and illustrator based in Los Angeles. I have also read another graphic novel of hers called In Real Life which focuses on video gaming, but this story beats it by a mile. Full of humour and emotion, I’d recommend this to anyone with a fondness for beautiful illustrations, graphic novels in general or simply memorable stories.

Posted by Rhiannon

Catalogue link: The Prince and the Dressmaker