Librarians' Choice

They're the pick of the crop; the best of the best. Check out these highly-recommended titles, hand-picked by our library staff across the peninsula. We asked our librarians to choose a book they've read recently from anywhere in our collection that really knocked their socks off, and we've compiled them all into a handy reading list to help you choose what to read next. Check back regularly both here and on our Facebook page for more great reads!

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Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman

 Marvel 1602: 10th Anniversary Edition

Imagine the heroes of the Marvel universe – Spiderman, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, Doctor Strange. What would happen if they came in existence 400 years too early?

Marvel 1602 introduces the familiar faces from Marvel to the political intrigue of Queen Elizabeth I’s England – and it’s all a lot more compelling than it sounds like it should be. Gorgeously illustrated, with plenty of knowing winks towards both 17th century history and Marvel’s Silver Age comics, Marvel 1602 sets out to prove its heroes and villains are timeless.

 Nick Fury is the Queen’s spymaster, while Doctor Stephen Strange acts as her physician; both involve themselves in the safe transport of a mysterious mystical object to England from the Holy Land. Young Peter Parquagh, fascinated by spiders, serves as Fury’s apprentice. Folk heroes the Four from the Fantastick have been imprisoned in Europe by Count Otto von Doom. The persecuted ‘witchbreed’ gather in England at a special school for the gifted. Meanwhile, Roanoke colonist Virginia Dare travels towards London with her Native American bodyguard Rojhaz, bringing bizarre apocalyptic weather with them. But how do they fit into this story? And if the Marvels exist now, what will happen in their future?

I’m not a massive Marvel fan, or even a particularly big fan of graphic novels, but I appreciated the nuance that went into every frame of Marvel 1602. While a slight familiarity with Marvel’s characters is definitely a bonus in understanding some of the references, Marvel 1602 sets out to create its own separate universe which recaptures the magic of meeting these characters for the first time.

Recommended by Nicole at Thames Library


A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip, by Alexander Masters

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A life discarded opens in a charmingly English setting. “One breezy afternoon, my friend Richard Grove was mooching around Cambridge with his shirt hanging out, when he came across this skip…” Thus a mystery is revealed, and the reader is hooked! The skip contains 148 diaries - quite old - and clearly by the same author, the writing packed in tight “right up to the edges, as though the words had been poured in as a fluid.”

Alexander Masters, a writer and friend of the chap who discovered the diaries is then tasked with piecing together the story of this discarded life. “Appointing himself reader for a text that was never meant to be read” the mystery is slowly unravelled to reveal quite a surprising ending. It’s tender, poignant, hilarious and sad. It’s hard to describe – but consider it a biographical detective story.

Recommended by Les at Mercury Bay Library.

 

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea: A Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery, by Vannak Anan Prum.

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This is quite an incredible memoir of a Cambodian man and his journey through modern day slavery. Vannak Anan Prum was born in 1979, the year that the Khmer Rouge was defeated by Vietnam. He had a deprived and difficult childhood living in a country that was still a war zone with not enough to feed him and his seven siblings and the Khmer Rouge bombing towns, murdering citizens and fighting the Vietnamese soldiers. At 14 he left home to escape an abusive stepfather and his journey began. When the war ended with work very hard to come by, Vannak, by now married with a child on the way, was forced to leave to find work elsewhere. When no work could be found, the next few years turned into a horror story of being sold into slavery, working on fishing boats under shocking conditions, finally escaping only to be sold again to a plantation owner. Eventually he was returned to Cambodia with the help of an International organisation fighting slavery.

From his childhood Vannak had a talent for drawing and this memoir is illustrated with his drawings which graphically describe the shocking conditions he lived under.
An extraordinary book.

Recommended by Margot at Thames Library


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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Scandal. Romance. Alchemy. Pirates. Adventure.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue follows the adventures of Henry ‘Monty’ Montague, a hedonistic British aristocrat, banished to the Continent for a year by his abusive father to complete his Grand Tour. Hopelessly in love with his best friend Percy, Monty imagines their time together in Europe will be a last chance to party hard, before parting ways to become respectable English gentlemen. Best-laid plans go awry, however, when Monty thoughtlessly pockets a puzzle box at the Palace of Versailles. Soon Monty, Percy and Monty’s younger sister Felicity are on the run from the ruthless Duke of Bourbon, caught up in the hunt for a mysterious alchemical panacea.

Reading like a cross between the Pirates of the Caribbean films and Becky Albertalli’s  Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Gentleman’s Guide is a book that knows how to hit a dramatic high-note without taking itself too seriously. At the heart of The Gentleman’s Guide is Monty’s forbidden romantic feelings for Percy, the childhood best friend he stands to lose forever if they can’t find the panacea in time. Monty sees himself as a tragic hero at the beginning of the novel, but as the trio are drawn further into the puzzle box’s mystery he learns to see past his own situation and recognise his own flaws and privileges. Monty’s ability to charm his way out of trouble can only get the group so far, and he must learn to trust Felicity’s intellect and Percy’s common sense to save them from the Duke’s plans.

The action shifts effortlessly between Parisian music halls, Mediterranean pirate ships and Venetian street-parties as Percy, Felicity and Monty fight to reach the panacea first. The book doesn’t set out to be an accurate portrayal of an eighteenth century Grand Tour, but there are plenty of great historical references to keep the story feeling authentic. I particularly enjoyed Mackenzi Lee’s research notes at the back of the book. An easy, hilarious and thoughtful read - I can't wait for the sequel!

Recommended by Nicole at Thames Library


Chase the Rainbow by Poorna Bell

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'This isn't a love story that ends in a kiss at sunset.  It isn't one where love is more powerful than the universe' - these are the first two sentences in Poorna Bells book about her husband's depression and subsequent suicide.

Poorna  beautifully  tells the tale of her first meeting with Rob and their romance which quickly blossoms into love.  She is aware that Rob has suffered from depression in the past but doesn't realise the extent to which he still suffers from it.  She also learns a few years into their marriage that Rob has a terrible addiction which Poorna was completely unaware of.  She honestly portrays the feelings of hurt and deceit  surrounding his addiction and trying to come to terms with the man she married and loved wholeheartedly to the man who has lied to her and led a double life for the past few years .  She gives a heart-wrenching account of losing the man she loves to depression, heroin addiction and suicide and its terrible aftermath.

Chase the Rainbow  had me laughing and crying in equal measure. It was a real insight into the absolute despair that some  people  suffer with depression, how sometimes even love isn't  big enough to overcome that depth of despair and for those who are suffering from  depression suicide seems  the only way out. 

 Recommended by Rochelle at Thames Library


Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

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A summer that will become a legend…

Georgina Fernweh waits with growing impatience for the tingle of magic in her fingers—magic that has been passed down through every woman in her family. Her twin sister, Mary, already shows an ability to defy gravity. But with their eighteenth birthday looming at the end of this summer, Georgina fears her gift will never come.

No one on the island of By-the-Sea would ever call the Fernwehs what they really are, but if you need the odd bit of help—say, a sleeping aid concocted by moonlight—they are the ones to ask.

No one questions the weather, as moody and erratic as a summer storm.

No one questions the (allegedly) three-hundred-year-old bird who comes to roost on the island every year.

When tragedy strikes, what made the Fernweh women special suddenly casts them in suspicion. Over the course of her last summer on the island—a summer of storms, of love, of salt—Georgina will learn the truth about magic, in all its many forms. 

A great and exciting fast paced teen read about love, family and magic with an unexpected twist at the end, highly recommended.    

Recommended by Shori at Thames Library

 

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

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A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present. When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father's past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the listener's belief in the power of love to move mountains.

This is a beautiful story that I gave a 9 out of 10.

Recommended by Linda at Thames Library

 

Out of Time by D.E. McLean

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A weird and wonderful Steampunk fantasy, Out of Time follows a close-knit group of misfits who crew an airship over the Firth of Thames. Millicent Darlington and her makeshift family of orphans, assassins and wanderers fly the skies over Grahamstown, picking up questionably-legal work and pursuing adventure wherever they go. After a run-in with pirates, the crew picks up Kev, an accidental time-traveller desperate to find his way home. Adopting Kev as one of their own, the book follows the crew’s various misadventures as they attempt to send Kev back to his own time. Along the way, they need to find buried treasure, survive a Kraken attack, plan a jail-break, and outwit the government authorities at every turn. Kev, meanwhile, must learn to deal with this strange new world he’s found himself in, as well as with his feeling for Persephone Mockett, the ship’s doctor. 

A quick read that bounces merrily from one adventure to the next, Out of Time is filled with a large cast of quirky characters who each get their moment in the spotlight. Fans of the Thames Steampunk Festival will find it easy to imagine themselves in Kev and the crew’s shoes, as much of the action takes place in and around Grahamstown, the Karaka and the Firth. If you’re new to Steampunk and not quite sure where to start, Out of Time is a fun and easy romp through some of the best tropes of the genre.

Recommended by Nicole at Thames Library

 

The Nam Legacy by Carole Brungar

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Set in New Zealand in the 1960's and 70's we are introduced to Jack Coles and Evelyn Hallett and their blossoming romance which eventuates into an engagement.  Jack is a salt-of-the-earth kiwi bloke who works on his father's farm and plays rugby and Evelyn is a 17 year old aspiring singer.  As Evelyn's career takes off she spends  less and less time with Jack  who is finding his life is lacking excitement and adventure so he signs up to serve with the NZ Army in the war in Vietnam.

After serving in Vietnam for 18 months  Jack comes home to Evelyn but not as the man he used to be.  He returns from Vietnam with nightmares that plague his sleep and leaves behind a piece of his heart.

Recommended by Rochelle at Thames Library.


Letters from Skye: a Novel  by Jessica Brockmole

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18 June 1940. Elspeth is fond of saying to her daughter that “the first volume of my life is out of print”. But a bomb hits an Edinburgh Street and Margaret finds her mother crouched in the ruins of her bedroom pulling armfuls of yellowed letters onto her lap. The next day Elspeth disappears. Left alone with the letters, Margaret discovers a mother she never knew existed: a poet living on the Isle of Skye who in 1912 answered a fan letter from an impetuous young man in Illinois. Without having to worry about appearances or expectations they became the people they wanted to be to each other.

Told solely in letters, this book is about the power of a pen pal friendship, and what happens when reality, family, and two world wars intervene. Recommended to me to read aloud to a group, I found this book surprisingly enjoyable and an illustration of a sophisticated story being able to be told through letters. Running two timelines (the pen pal exchange itself, and the daughter trying to solve the mystery of the first volume of her mother’s life during World War II), this story sets up mysteries to be solved by both the progression of the friendship, and the daughter’s detective correspondence. This keeps you engaged and reading to discover the answers and the ultimate outcome. I ended up re-reading the Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society to compare; I enjoyed this book so much!

Recommended by Jen at Tairua Library.


The Farm by Tom Rob Smith.

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"Your mother is sick, imagining things and she's in a mental institution'. Daniel's father phoned from Sweden with the startling news that his mother was delusional. In England, Daniel believed his parents were enjoying an idyllic retirement on their farm in Sweden.

'Don’t believe a word that man says, I need the police' was the next call from his mother.

Caught between conflicting stories Daniel is called upon to listen to his mother's accusations of horrific criminal events that his father is supposedly caught up in. Who to believe?
The story unfolds as a narration by Daniel's mother as she produces evidence to support her claims. All Daniel believed about his parents is turned upside down and he is forced to confront secrets of his own.

A psychological thriller, set in the bleak landscape of remote Sweden, that held my attention to the end.

Recommended by Linda at Thames Library.


The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips 

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In the cool of the evening, her presence hidden by twilight, Tess Moore sits on her back porch and watches in disbelief as a woman tosses a baby into her family’s well without a word. This shocking act of violence sets in motion a chain of events that forces Tess and her sister to examine their blue-collar community and its denizens.   The narrative flows in such clear, visceral waves that you can taste the grit as it swirls up from the dirt road, and feel the inky stillness of that night when everything changed.  Set in Depression era America during the stifling summer of 1931, The Well and the Mine is like returning to a time we all remember.   A stunning novel about love, hope and the importance of doing the right thing.  

Recommended by Les at Mercury Bay Library

 

Out of the Forest by Gregory P. Smith.

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Gregory was raised in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic, abusive father and a disengaged mother. He was dropped off at a Catholic orphanage for two years, where he suffered further abuse at the hands of the nuns who ran it.

Gregory's teen years didn't fare much better, and after leaving school at the age of 14 he drifted from job to job, town to town, feeling like he didn't belong anywhere and ultimately ended up an alcoholic like his father.

Discontented with society, Gregory heads into the forest where he spends the next ten years living the life of a hermit, brewing 'creek' beer and growing marijuana that he then sells in town to fund his pub benders and the small amount of necessities he requires.

It is only after Gregory is on the brink of death from malnutrition and alcoholism that he has to leave his beloved forest and re-enter society. He decides to catch up on the education he missed out on in his teen years and inspirationally earns a PhD in Sociology.

This book is at times heart-wrenching, yet at other times a heart-warming true story of a truly amazing man.

Recommended by Rochelle at Thames Library.


Get Well Soon! My (Un) Brilliant Career as a Nurse by Kristy Chambers.

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After trying and discarding various careers, Kirsty decides to give nursing a try.

This young Australian nurse takes you through her job as a nurse and perhaps just a few of the patients she encounters on that journey.

Kirsty has a lovely turn of phrase, an easy writing style that ensures that the reader enjoys the story from start to finish.

Mostly funny, sometimes sad, this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed.

This book could be read  by a varied cross section of readers, I don't think it is aimed at a specific audience. I recommend it regularly to our patrons and always get positive feedback.

Recommended by Christine at Mercury Bay Library

 

Kings of the Yukon: an Alaskan River journey by Adam Weymouth.

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The Yukon river is over 2,000 miles long, flowing northwest from Canada through the Yukon Territory and Alaska to the Bering Sea. Every summer, hundreds of thousands of King salmon migrate the distance of this river to their spawning grounds, where they breed and die, in what is the longest salmon run in the world.

For the communities that live along the Yukon, the fish have long been the lifeblood of the economy and local culture. But with the effects of climate change and a globalized economy, the health and numbers of the King salmon are in question, as is the fate of the communities that depend on them.

Travelling in a canoe along the Yukon as the salmon migrate, a four-month journey through untrammeled wilderness, Adam Weymouth traces the profound interconnectedness of the people and the fish through searing portraits of the individuals he encounters.

It is a fascinating insight into that part of the world, the demise of wild salmon and the symbiotic relationship between the people and the natural world. It's very well written too.

Recommended by Margot at Thames Library.

 

Ghost South Road by Scott Hamilton.

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The Great South Road was built in 1862 to carry a British army into the Waikato Kingdom. Today the eroding earthen walls of forts and pā and military cemeteries remember the road's history. They sit beside the car dealerships and kava bars and pawn shops of South Auckland, the most culturally diverse part of the world's most culturally diverse city.

Ghost South Road is a collection of photographs and essays exploring different aspects of life on the Great South Road. Stories of the soldiers and refugees who travelled the road in the 1860s mix with tales of highwaymen, vagabonds, lady-aeronauts and property speculators who followed later. Mixing personal experiences with interviews and forgotten histories, the author delves into the people and attitudes which have shaped the Great South Road as much as its geography.

Recommended by Nicole at Thames Library.