Books

Staff Picks - what we are reading

Staff and volunteers share some of their favourite reads from the scheme.

My Dark Vanessastaff-pick-my-dark-vanessa

Recommended by Kirsty Grant

 

In a few words

The tale of Vanessa, a 15 year school girl who is seduced and manipulated by her 42 year old professor and has an ongoing relationship with him that continues for a number of years. Now she is 32, and another student has accused the same man of sexual abuse. Vanessa is forced to confront the reality of her life journey, the abusive relationship they had, and her inability to see it for what it was.

Great for

Those trying to understand more about this difficult yet important topic — not just the sexual abuse itself — but the concepts of consent, power, victimhood, denial and healing.

Why I loved this book

IT MADE ME THINK AND IT MADE ME FEEL! This book is indeed dark but it is also vivid, real and compulsive. I could not put it down. My heart ached for Vanessa; not just for the experiences in her teenage years, but for her unhappy adult life and her need to believe that it was love, not abuse.

More than that, the book made me rethink my own attitude to sexual abuse and also the #MeToo movement. I had at times sat in my comfortable middleclass armchair and been impatient and even judgemental about the stream of women that are now speaking about sexual abuse – why had it taken so long to speak out? Is a touch on the arm abuse? I even found myself thinking that “they had a choice”. Now I see how brave these women are. My Dark Vanessa helped me understand how power, manipulation, male dominance and trauma take that choice away.

Read this book!

My one criticism would be

I don't have one

Read more about My Dark Vanessa in the catalogue or login to add it to your book list.

I also recommend

The Virgin and the Whale (Fiction, NZ) — Carl Nixon
A whimsical and engaging story of nurse Elizabeth looking after a man who had lost his memory in WWI. Woven through the book are the stories she tells him to keep him calm and engaged. This book is light and yet quite deep. I loved that it was based on a true story.

American Dirt (Fiction) — Jeanine Cummins

Crikey, what a ride. This book is races through the journey Lydia and her son Luca take to escape Mexico for the USA. Disturbing and violent and yet very readable. Gives you insight in to what a terrible position these refugees arein.

 


News of the Worldstaff pick news of the world

Recommended by Barbara Brown

 

In a few words

Set in Texas after the American Civil War, Captain Kidd, a travelling newsreader, accepts the dangerous task of escorting a young girl back to her relatives after being kidnapped by Kiowa Indians.

Great for

Those who enjoy historical novels, especially character-driven stories.

Why I love this book

News of the World is a delightful story with endearing characters.

Captain Jefferson Kidd, an aging widower, earns his living travelling from town to town in 1870 Texas giving selected readings from the latest newspapers. Historically it’s very interesting, as many of the citizens at that time were either illiterate or unable to buy newspapers and this was their only way of hearing what was going on in the world around them.

The captain is offered $50 to return a young girl to her relatives some 400 miles away. Johanna, a hostile 10-year-old, speaks no English and has no memory of her relatives. She considers herself to be a Kiowa and is distraught at leaving the only family she knows. Captain Kidd buys a wagon and they set off together battling rough terrain, bad weather, bandits and comanches. Even when they reach Johanna’s relatives, the adventure is not over. There is more to come!

The author is a poet and this comes as no surprise as her prose is beautiful. She has clearly researched the time and place well and we’re there with them as they make the dangerous journey south. Through the dangers they encounter, they come to trust each other and eventually become close friends.

It's a fascinating journey and is very well written. I highly recommend the book.

Read more about News of the World in the catalogue or login to add it to your book list.

My one criticism would be

The last chapter is a little unusual and perhaps rushed, but really my only criticism is that the story finished!

I also recommend

Something to Live For (Fiction) — Richard Roper
Andrew, a 40 year old bachelor, works for the local Council arranging funerals for people who die alone. It sounds morbid, but it’s light and amusing and would appeal to readers who enjoyed ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’.

Nothing to See Here (Fiction) — Kevin Wilson
An amusing, quirky and touching story about a young woman caring for two children who spontaneously burst into flames. Don’t be put off by the combustion! It’s a story about love and acceptance and it’s a good read.


The Big Thirst
the-big-thirst

Recommended by Annie Boardman

 

In a few words

Water is so easy to take for granted, so why would I waste precious reading time on this subject? A good question, but I couldn't resist the promise of a subtitle ‘The secret life and turbulent future of water’. A quick glance at the first page of the book with its mention of water being used for both baptising children and launching spacecraft, and before I knew it, I was well and truly hooked and chapter two was within my sights.

Great for

Anyone who enjoys narrative nonfiction. If you like your books with a political or environmental focus, then you will appreciate the wide scope of this book. Readers who enjoy going to the next level of detail will appreciate the (optional) comprehensive notes for the references that appear at the back of the book, which ensures they do not impede the flow of the story.

Why I love this book

Beyond minor first world irritation at the temporary disruption to Christchurch’s water supply during the earthquakes and its more recent chlorination, I have had the luxury of taking water for granted.

However, reading this book immediately relieved me of such complacency and I developed an appreciation and deeper understanding of just how vital the provision of safe, potable water is to our very existence. Apart from intriguing scientific background information about water, this book offers in-depth insights into the economics, politics and culture surrounding the subject.

The case studies and situations the author investigates and reports on (notably in Australia, India and the US) make for compelling reading. This is one of those remarkable books that stayed with me long after I finished the last page.

What I learnt through exposure to the recycled wastewater debacle at Toowoomba, or the water excesses of Las Vegas, had me not only pondering the vagaries of human nature but being able to apply what I had learnt to the next water management crisis appearing on my news feed.

Read more about The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman in the catalogue or log in to add it to your book list.

My one criticism would be

It was instructive and interesting reading about water challenges and responses in other countries, but it would have been fascinating to have had New Zealand and some of its water management issues under the microscope.

I also recommend

Let There be Water (Non-fiction) — Seth M. Siegel 
If you have dipped your toes into the subject of water, then here’s an even more recent book to consolidate and stretch your understanding and appreciation of water, this time in Israel.  

Rat Island (Non-fiction) — William Stolzenburg
Another fine example of narrative non-fiction. It is especially engaging as New Zealand features prominently in this story of pest eradication and conservation.


PlainsongPlainsong by Kent Haruf Book Cover

Recommended by Cherie Gordon

 

In a few words

A novel that shows ordinary people living mostly ordinary lives, and overcoming obstacles with humour, courage, and kindness.

Great for

Those who love character-driven stories; where the eight principal characters are lovingly and compassionately drawn, and who get under your skin as you read.

Why I love this book

I felt that I too lived in the small town of Holt, Colorado. I came to know the people who lived there, and think of them as friends — especially Harold and Raymond McPheron (elderly bachelor brothers) and Victoria Roubideaux (the pregnant teenager they opened their home to).

Some of the most beautiful and poignant moments in the book are in the brothers' interactions with Victoria; when they attempt to make conversation with her by telling her all about the stock market and share prices; and when they sit with her and comfort her when she is in labour. It's very moving, but funny too!

The book is not sentimental or melodramatic in any way — instead it's a lovely portrayal of grief, bereavement and loneliness tempered with kindness, caring, and a sense of community.

Plainsong is actually the first in a trilogy, so it may whet your appetite to read others. Each, however, is a standalone book with very little character overlap.

Read more about Plainsong by Kent Haruf in the catalogue or log in to add it to your book list.

My one criticism would be

Kent Haruf died in 2014, so won't be writing any more books for me to read! Some might find his lack of quotation marks irritating, but I thought it helped the story to flow more smoothly. 

I also recommend

Our Souls at Night (Fiction) —also by Kent Haruf
An elderly and lonely widow knocks on the door of a widowed male friend and makes an unusual request!

The Alice Network (Fiction) — Kate Quinn
A cracking good yarn about a female spy network during the First World War, largely based on fact. Over 500 pages, but hard to put down.


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creekstaff-pick-the-book-woman-of-troublesome-creek

Recommended by Barbara Brown

 

In a few words

A novel that captures the imagination and the heart — it is based on the Pack Horse Library Project, set up in rural Kentucky during the Great Depression.

Great for

All readers, but particularly those who enjoy historical novels based on true events.

Why I love this book

This book was inspired by two real events: the blue-skinned people who once lived in rural Kentucky; and the Pack Horse Library Project, set up to support isolated and poverty-stricken people in Kentucky.

Our book woman is Cussy Mary Carter, a 19 year old, blue-skinned librarian from Troublesome Creek in Kentucky. She lives with her widowed father and has a job delivering books and other reading material to the isolated people in the Appalachian mountains — from the back of her mule, Junia.

Cussy Mary loves her job and the reader comes to love Cussy Mary as she travels the back roads on Junia, delivering reading material to people with little or no money and very little education. With her blue skin, a rare genetic condition, Cussy faces discrimination and hatred from many people, but she is also loved by the people she helps.

This book has a bit of everything: history, extreme poverty, superstition, bigotry, discrimination, romance, medical testing and the joy of reading. Highly recommended.

My one criticism would be

The book starts slowly and has an abrupt ending, but what’s in-between is really special. It makes the reader appreciate the many things in life that we take for granted.

Read more about The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson in the catalogue or login to add it to your book list.

I also recommend

The Widows of Malabar Hill (Fiction) — Sujata Massey
Parveen Mistry is a young female solicitor working in her father’s law practice in Bombay in the 1920s. An engaging and original detective story set in a fascinating period.

The Cause of Death (Non-fiction) — Dr Cynric Temple-Camp
The author is a New Zealand pathologist based in Palmerston North. He discusses various cases he has worked on, including the Lundy case. Written in a chatty style, it’s extremely interesting.

 


Becomingstaff pick becoming

Recommended by Renee Blackburn

 

In a few words

A compelling autobiography about identity, family, and a country divided.

Great for

Political nerds, women, women of colour, and those interested in the concept of celebrity and fame.

Why I love this book

Having only previously experienced Michelle Obama from a celebrity point of view, I quickly became captivated by this tale of an unassuming, but hard-working girl from Chicago who finds that the greatest 'success' in life comes from serving others.

The book is a warm and relatable read — and I quickly became attached to the Obamas in a way that made my reading slow to a dawdle toward the end of the book (I knew how it would end, but was hoping for a different outcome). I had been forewarned that books like this would include an element of political spin; that it could be a piece of democrat propaganda. I already knew myself to be left-leaning, so I tried to bear all of this in mind as I read, but at some point I either forgot to check my bias or had discovered a genuine voice whose only agenda was to express its desire for a fairer, more united country. If that's the Obama bandwagon I've jumped on, I'll happily ride it all the way to social justice town.

I got clued-up on the American political system, I googled Michelle and Barack's speeches, I researched what she wore to the inauguration balls — but I was also able to relate much of what I learned back to concepts closer to home. Michelle struggles with her identity: In traditionally white environments she is 'other' because of her blackness and in some black environments she is 'not black enough'. When she travels to Kenya to meet some of Barack's family, she is disappointed to find she doesn't feel connected to the continent of Africa either — she is 'other' here too. Growing up as a Pākeha New Zealander, I have benefited from absorbing through Te Ao Māori the importance of whakapapa/genealogy. I learned how to introduce myself as part of a connected line of people reaching back to my ancestral homelands. For most African Americans, these connections were completely severed during the slave trade — it's no wonder this violent displacement continues to pose issues for black identity.

This book made me feel a mix of hope and disbelief — how did the same country that voted for Barack, with his dream of a united America, vote for such a divisive figure in 2016? And what can we in New Zealand learn from this extreme swing?

Read more about Becoming in the catalogue or login to add it to your book list.

I also recommend

Hillbilly Elegy — JD Vance

A true story that gives some insight into the forces that divide Americans, told from the perspective of one man who managed to claw his way out of a community in social and economic decline.

The Choice — Edith Eger

Now a prominent psychologist in her nineties, Edith was sent to Auswitch at the age of 16 and barely survived. While in the camp, she clings to the idea that "no one can take away what you have put in your mind" and this belief sustains her through unnumbered physical hardships. However, it is how she chooses to deal with the deep psychological scars left after liberation, including forgiving her captors, that is even more inspiring: “To forgive is to grieve—for what happened, for what didn’t happen—and to give up the need for a different past.”


The Worst Hard TimeThe Worst Hard Time

Recommended by Trisha Coffin

 

In a few words

A non-fiction account of the hardships of those who thought they could better their lives, but could not.

Great for

Those who are interested in learning about the lives and times of the families who lived through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression in 1930's USA.

Why I love this book

I did not know the history of the Dust Bowl and why so many families went to live there, so I learned a lot from this book. I thought it was very well written and I could easily imagine how the farmers and their families felt when the crops failed — their earth turned to dust, all because of the aggressive farming methods used to make the land produce food for people living elsewhere. The descriptions of the dust storms were very real and you felt for the animals. 

Some were able to leave their farms, but what about those who could not afford to? And even those that did leave — what kind of life would they be able to make during the Great Depression?

I remember one group's comments reflected on the similarities with The MacKenzie Basin here in New Zealand — perhaps there are some ecological lessons here too.

Read more about The Worst Hard Time in the catalogue or login to add it to your book list.

I also recommend

The President's Hat — Antoine Lauraine

A series of little adventures following a line of characters who each owned a special hat. A lighter, lovely, quirky read.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind — William Kamkwamba

William, a young boy living in Malawi, designs and builds a windmill from scrap materials to help irrigate his village's crops and save them from starvation. He now speaks at TedX conferences and his story has been made into a film.


The HumansThe Humans

Recommended by Aimee Bloy

 

In a few words

A fresh way of looking at humanity — from an analytical alien's point of view!

Great for

People who love homour, maths, dogs, poignant moments and aliens!

Why I love this book

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but I absolutely loved it. It was a funny and light-hearted approach to how an alien would view our human world and puts into perspective what really matters.

The book covers some serious themes, yet leaves you with a reminder to enjoy the simple things in life. Read more about this book in the catalogue

I also recommend

Becoming — Michelle Obama

Wow, what an amazing woman! Loved learning her back story and seeing what a genuine, humble and hard-working couple she and Barack are.


Mornings in Jeninstaff pick mornings in jenin 1

Recommended by Lesley Heal

 

In a few words

A heart wrenching page-turner that provides an insight into the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

Great for

Readers who enjoy an emotional family saga while gaining an understanding of other cultures and their history.

Why I love this book

It tells the story of four generations of the Abulheja family. Beginning in the village of Ein Hod it follows the family as they are displaced from their ancestral home to refugee camps, in both Israel and Lebanon; how they live with conflict, invasion and loss but also how love, friendship and family help them endure.  

I cried as I read this fictional story woven around actual historical events and I had my eyes opened to an ongoing conflict between two cultures and one country. Read more about this book in the catalogue.

I also recommend

Moloka’i — Alan Brennert

This story follows Rachel who was separated from her family at the age of seven and sent to the island of Moloka’i which was a leprosy colony. Wow! Thank goodness for modern medicine. 

See You in September — Charity Norman

Set in New Zealand this book tells the story of Cassy on her OE from England being lured into a cult on the shores of Lake Tarawera.  Scary for all parents farewelling their young people on their overseas travels.

Hillbilly Elegy — JD Vance

A memoir written by JD Vance about his life and struggles growing up poor in rural white America. He writes of the Appalachian region in decline and how it affects the lives/culture of the people living there and how he rose out of it. Inspirational.


A Fort of Nine Towers
Staff Pick a fort of nine towers

Recommended by Kirsty Grant

In a few words

The extraordinary true story of a boy growing up in Afghanistan through brutal civil war and foreign invasion.

Great for

Those who are interested in history, family, and culture.

Why I love this book

I found the story of Qais and his family; their unbelievable journey and the violent history of Afghanistan, fascinating. However, the strength of this book goes way beyond the storyline. His writing is fluid, lyrical and beautiful. He tells of horrors and brutality through the eyes of a boy (himself) but is not hateful or vengeful. There is strength, bravery — even humour at times — and the love of the family and their culture shines though. I was in absolute awe of the suffering of this family and the people of Afghanistan, but was not depressed or sad when I finished the book - I felt enriched and moved. Read more about this book in the catalogue

I also recommend

The Beauty of Humanity Movement — Camilla Gibb
The story of Maggie Ly, returning to Vietnam to find out what happened to her father. An exotic tale of Vietnam told so gently.

I am Pilgrim — Terry Hayes
A fast-paced, at times brutal, thriller about US spy codename Pilgrim.

The Universe versus Alex Woods — Gavin Extence
The coming of age story of Alex Woods and his unlikely friendship with his reclusive neighbour Isaac Peterson. I didn’t expect to like this book so much, but the characters really got under my skin.

 

More Staff Picks
Your Favourites (as voted by BDS groups)
Challenging But Rewarding (as voted by BDS groups)
The Book Discussion 
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