Check out the reviews in our Stamp of Approval series.

Stamp of Approval is a series of reviews from the Dunedin Public Libraries. It covers books, eBooks, and eAudiobooks in the library collection, as well as movies from the Beamafilm online library.

Rebecca reviews Cat Tale, written by Craig Pittman and published by Hanover Square Press.

Stamp of Approval - Rebecca reviews Cat Tale by Craig Pittman dunedinlibraries



Engaging and enlightening, it shares the twisting tale of the Florida panther's struggle for survival amidst habitat destruction and the (often corrupt) quarelling of humans.

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Alyce reviews Auē, a powerful and perceptive look at family and love written by Becky Manawatu.

This award-winning debut novel made me cry about 5 times, and I read the second half of it in one sitting, unable to put it down. In Auē we hear from two brothers, Ārama and Taukiri, both in first person narration, and learn about some of their other whānau members in the third person. I’d say the book’s ability to illicit such strong emotion is largely due to having these alternating points of view, particularly those of the two brothers.

The dynamics between the characters are so real, their love and hurt so tangible, and hearing directly from them is like reading straight from their heads. These relatable characters are presented within the equally well-rendered wider world of the novel. The vividness of Manawatu's descriptions is further enhanced by being in familiar locations, with much of it set in the South Island.

The story weaves through time and space, slowly revealing itself in a way that I can only describe as exquisite. There are a few grisly moments, and it does deal with some pretty difficult themes. However, it is also a hopeful, and at times playful, story about family and love. Auē is incredibly perceptive, powerful, and full of heart. I cannot recommend it enough.

Auē - Becky Manawatu



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Emma reviews Genius, a documentary series starring Geoffrey Rush, Johnny Flynn, and Emily Watson

This National Geographic series chronicles the adult life of Albert Einstein. From his wayward student years and turbulent romances to his escape from Nazi Germany and subsequent involvement in the creation of the atomic bomb, it will keep you entertained, as well as providing a good reflection on history.

Themes include the politicisation of science and ideas, and how the regimes of the times deeply affected what the scientific community were willing to accept as fact. One can draw many parallels between then and now regarding tactics used to discredit inconvenient truths.

Einstein is played by Johnny Flynn in his younger years and Geoffrey Rush in his formative. It isn't immediately obvious at what age the switch between actors actually happens, so it is a little confusing in parts as the story isn't always linear. While I found Flynn's German accent a little cringe-worthy, he did a great performance overall. Rush is, as always, outstanding.

The use of some interesting special effects while he explains some of his famous theories, and a number of brilliantly simple metaphors and analogies mean I can pretty much guarantee you'll feel smarter by the end of it. Definitely worth a watch. 

Genius



You can also check out Genius in the DPL catalogue.

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Lauren reviews Convenience Store Woman, written by Sayaka Murata, and published by Grove Press.

Lauren says:

At first glance, this book could be mistaken for a story about the monotonous life of a Japanese convenience store worker, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Through the unique and occasionally disturbing (but intriguing!) eyes of the main character Keiko, we see the beauty and pleasure that can come from seemingly boring and mundane things like the repetitive routine of working in a convenience store.

Keiko has been working at the same store for eighteen years, yet she still finds joy in the familiar rhythms or her job: restocking products, repeating set phrases to customers, preparing fried food. Keiko is also baffled by normal social conventions, by what society expects of her as a woman, and by her family’s constant concern that she’s not making any so-called “progress” in life: they want to see her married with kids.

The thing that I found most fascinating about Keiko was that she understood these external pressures, but she herself did not seem to feel them or internalise them as most people do. In fact, any actions she took to “fit in”, such as mimicking her colleagues’ fashion sense or speech patterns, seemed to merely be ways to appear normal enough so that others might let her be, so she could continue doing what she loved: working at a convenience store.

You could certainly class Keiko as an unreliable narrator of sorts, as her take on any situation is skewed by her inability to fully grasp social norms and expectations. But this is what makes her so refreshing. We experience Keiko’s sharp and often amusing observations about the absurd way people act and present themselves in social situations. We see the world through the eyes of someone who is acutely aware that they don’t fit in, and it’s captivating. However, Keiko’s well-structured eighteen-year routine is threatened by the arrival of another outsider in her life, and mounting pressure from her friends and family forces her to make drastic decisions.

Murata manages to beautifully capture the inner world of someone who doesn’t conform, and does not really want to conform, to the pressures of the external world. This book is full of depth and insight, yet it is still somehow light and intensely humorous, and despite her quirks and unusual ways of viewing the world, or perhaps because of them, you find yourself rooting for Keiko and her happiness, whatever that may look like. If you’re after something that is different yet charming, and disturbingly delightful, then this is the book for you!

Convenience Store Woman



You can also check out Convenience Store Woman in our DPL catalogue.

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Rebecca reviews Followers, written by Megan Angelo and published by Graydon House

Set between 2015 and 2051, it centres around the relationships of three very different women and highlights the potentially dystopian effects of constant exposure and social media.

Stamp of Approval - Rebecca reviews Followers by Megan Angelo dunedinlibraries


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Ben reviews Norse Mythology, written by Neil Gaiman, and published by Bloomsbury.

Our society and culture have been heavily influenced by the Scandinavian and Germanic peoples of ages past, from our laws to the very names of the days of the week. Growing up, we often hear of characters like Thor, Odin, and Loki, and the popularity of Marvel’s Thor franchise has only helped to bring awareness to them. Naturally, there is great interest in the old tales. This book has to be one of my favourite approaches to the area of Norse mythology.

Gaiman takes a good selection of the Viking myths and weaves them into a (relatively) chronological narrative beginning with the creation of the world to the final battle at the end of the world, Ragnarok. Using elegant prose he tells familiar and foreign stories, such as Thor and Loki’s journey in the land of the giants and Odin’s discovery of poetry, with the myths often explaining why things, like the tides, are the way that they are. There is something comforting about Gaiman’s writing, and it is easy to imagine yourself sitting around a warm fire on a cold winter night listening to the tales instead of reading them.

Overall, the book is a very approachable way into learning about Norse mythology, with a colourful and interesting cast of characters to guide you along the way. Gaiman breathes life into old stories that have often been kept in the realm of academia, making these fascinating myths accessible to a public audience.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman





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Rebecca reviews The Memory Police written by Yōko Ogawa, translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder, and published by Harvill Secker.

Full of lyrical melancholy, it focuses on the life of a writer as she deals with unusual disappearances on her island home.

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Shirley reviews The Geometry of Holding Hands, written by Alexander McCall Smith, and published by Little, Brown.

This delightful new book by prolific Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith is number 13 in the Isabel Dalhousie series.

Isabel is a philosopher and an editor of the journal “Review of Applied Ethics”, living in Edinburgh in a comfortable house inherited from her father. She is a thinker, and loves philosophising about many things in her life, no matter how small. She tends to go off on tangents in her mind, which can be exasperating for those in conversation with her. And she loves a glass of chilled New Zealand white wine – something this reader can relate to!

The strength of this novel, and all books in this series, is the author’s rich use of language, and the discussions of the ethics of everyday issues. There is gentle humour, mostly plays on words, and the dramas are not earth-shattering, but each book is an absolute delight to read and enjoy. The first book in the series is called The Sunday Philosophy Club and is available at DPL from our fiction stack, and in fact every book in this series is held by DPL.

It is best to start from the beginning of the series as the reader is introduced to many characters who are present in other books. Characters such as: Cat, Isabel’s feisty, attractive niece who runs a delicatessen and has a penchant for unsuitable men; Grace, the housekeeper who worked for Isabel’s father and is a strong believer in the afterlife ; and Jamie, the handsome bassoon player who is first introduced as Cat’s boyfriend. Isabel herself also really develops as a person as the series continues, you will grow to love her and enjoy her quirks and foibles.

The Geometry of Holding Hands



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Laura reviews The Absolute Book, written by Elizabeth Knox and published by Victoria University Press.


I hesitate to even slightly reveal the plot of this book to you, as I went in blindly, totally fascinated by the tacky lo-fi cover design (yes, I judge books by their covers). Cover design is so slick these days, and it is usually the self-published books that have this kind of cover design – but this was by Victoria University Press, and a well known author! I became curious.

I knew nothing of Knox beforehand other than I saw her once at an art opening. She caught my eye because she oozed fame with her flowing grey locks. Also, when I was a teen, a family friend gifted me Knox’s teen novel Dreamhunter, which had such a bad cover that I cast it aside. It's probably at this point that you start to wonder why someone so shallow is reviewing a book, to which I would reply that you are definitely justified in that assessment.

This book is shelved in the Contemporary Fiction section of our library, and not knowing anything about the book, I therefore assumed that it had nothing fantastical, romantic, sci-fi, mysterious or thrilling about it.....this naïve assumption proved to provide much joy, because this book contained pretty much all of these themes.

When I read this book, I spent a fair amount of time getting distracted with internet searches about new words I had never heard like Moot and Sidh. (Just so you know, the latter is pronounced “Shee”. I spent half of the book pronouncing it “Side” in my mind and had to mentally change once I found out the correct pronunciation). I love books that expand your vocabulary for the old and strange. This book also has plenty of action, with one chapter in particular involving a psychotic ‘Muleskinner’ and a rising tide – by the time I finished that chapter it was 1am and I was in a pool of sweat.

The main character is what I liked most about this book. Taryn Cornick is her name, and she has an infectious open-mindedness to the strange and unexpected. She just flows into new situations with an ease that leads you along in wonder. She is accompanied by an equally likeable character, Jacob Berger, a police detective that should be trying to form a case against Taryn, but keeps being pulled into her unfolding drama. Initially, he is not as open-minded as her, but by the end he becomes almost more involved.

Why am I not mentioning anything in particular? Because I really think it’s best that you enter this book like Taryn traverses the world, with an open mind and a clean slate. That said, don’t read this book if you only like realism – this is anything but. 

Laura with The Absolute book by Elizabeth Knox



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Lauren, Ben, and Emma review The Name of the Wind, written by Patrick Rothfuss.

The first instalment in the Kingkiller Chronicle, "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss is a fantasy epic that can accurately be described as a literary masterpiece. The story follows Kvothe (pronounced Kwothe) from his childhood in a travelling theatre troupe, to his time as a homeless street urchin, through his learning of arcane magics and various misadventures as a overly gifted student, to his (presumable, eventual) killing of a king. It may sound like your typical brilliant-young-wizard-overcomes-struggles-then-beats-the-bad-guy fantasy tale, but this couldn't be further from the truth.

Emma: My favourite part about this book is how meticulously every detail is planned out. Every line is potentially a hint about things to come. There are so many stories within stories... All of them giving you fodder for theories and discussions about the world Rothfuss has created and how the main story arc and countless side plots might play out. I don't say this at all lightly, it is definitely my favourite adult fantasy book of all time.

Ben: I'd like to add that no matter how mundane the scene, Rothfuss manages to keep the entire book engaging. Every chapter leaves you wanting more. Whether it's the state of Kvothe's finances, or the overarching story of the Chandrian, every aspect of this story is captivating right up until the last page. His writing style is a joy to read and he skilfully weaves information about the world of Temerant into Kvothe's story without bogging the reader down with the details. This is by far one of the best books that I have ever read.

Lauren: Rothfuss not only crafts a truly fascinating and engrossing world for his readers, but within this world he beautifully creates intriguing and complex characters, all with their own character arcs which masterfully feed into Kvothe's story. Rothfuss' captivating writing style combined with the rich world he builds leaves the reader understandably craving more. While we all anxiously await the release of the elusive third book, I can promise that re-reads of the the first two books are just as enthralling, with more hints and details from Rothfuss' intricately layered stories revealing themselves to the reader. This series is undoubtedly the best I've ever read, so much so that I felt compelled to spread the word!

The Name of the Wind



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Rachel reviews Beautiful Lies, directed by Pierre Salvadori.

This romantic comedy follows the story of Emilie (Audrey Tautou) as she dispenses advice to clients and friends at her hair salon. 

Stamp of Approval - Rachel reviews Beautiful Lies directed by Pierre Salvadori dunedinlibraries


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Emma reviews Red, White and Royal Blue, written by Casey McQuiston.

Set in an alternate reality where the United States has elected a career politician as the first ever female president, first son Alex Claremont-Diaz has been raised in the public eye. As a result, his every move and every personal relationship is carefully monitored by the the press and public. Growing up accustomed to his face and activities being splashed across the tabloids on a regular basis, he, his sister, and their family friend are known as the positive media powerhouse "The White House Trio".

The negative side of this spotlight is apparent upon the exposure of his long running feud with the British Prince, Henry of Wales. In an attempt to placate the press and ease the public perception of warring millennials and strained international relations, a plan is made to create a fake friendship for the sake of the cameras. The resulting time spent together soon leads to something much deeper, to the immense dismay of these men who barely have the luxury of a private life.

A book to make you think about the various pressures and restrictions on freedom of expression faced by people from different walks of life. With the compelling style, dialogue, and excellent pacing of this novel, you'll find it hard to put down. As someone who is not typically a fan of romance novels, I was pleasantly surprised by how genuinely swept away I was by this story. With the amount of times it made me laugh out loud and feel oh-so-many emotions, I really cannot recommend it highly enough.


Red, White and Royal Blue




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Shirley reviews Dear Edward, written by Ann Napolitano and published by Dial Press.


A plane crashes en route from New York to Los Angeles, 191 people die, and there is one survivor - 12 year old Edward Adler.

This is the story of Edward as he comes to terms with this awful event where he loses his parents and his older brother Jordan. The chapters alternate between the people and events on the flight, and the post-crash life of Edward living with his aunt and uncle.

The writing is superb. Edward is absolutely real and he is surrounded by many well-drawn characters. I loved Shay, the girl next door to his new home. Her good sense and insightfulness are a welcome antidote to the physical and mental suffering of Edward. As a reader, we are drawn into Edward’s life and care deeply for him.

This is a page-turner and I read it in 2 sittings! Highly recommended.

Dear Edward 


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Autumn reviews Woman in Gold

A movie directed by Simon Curtis and starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, and Katie Holmes.

Woman In Gold’ (2015) is based on the true story of Maria Altmaan (Helen Mirren) and her epic legal battle against the Austrian Government to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting of her Aunt, ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch- Baurer 1’. It was stolen from Maria’s family when the Nazis invaded Vienna in 1941.

Now living in Los Angeles, an elderly Maria enlists the help of struggling young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). The film is richly cultured and follows their 7-year legal battle, beginning in Austria and ending in the US Supreme Court.

The cinematography in Maria’s flashback scenes breathes life into the narrative. Transporting the viewer into 1930s Vienna, Maria’s memories of her Aristocratic family and the vibrant Viennese streets are brought to life on screen.

The film’s greatest triumph, however, is Helen Mirren filling Maria’s shoes. Even in aging make up, she is luminous on screen. She truly embodies Maria, adopting a clipped Old World accent and exuding an air of cultural refinement. Her steely determination for justice is the driving force that propels the narrative forward. Her quips of wit and humour will draw up the corners of your lips and bring moments of lightness to an otherwise serious film. Despite the obstacles put in her path, Maria is fierce in her resolve. She invites you to stand alongside her as she fights for the last remaining piece of the identity that was taken from her. 

Woman in Gold



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Shirley reviews The Durrells

A TV series starring Keeley Hawes, Milo Parker, Josh O'Connor, Daisy Waterstone, Callum Woodhouse, Alexis Georgoulis, Anna Sawa, and Yorgos Karamihos.


Set in the 1930s, this family comedy-drama centres on Louisa Durrell, played by a brilliant Keeley Hawes, and her four children Laurence (Larry), Leslie, Margo, and Gerald (Gerry). The family had spent some time in India under the British Raj and when her husband dies, Louisa Durrell moves back to England to try to survive on a widow’s pension. To live more cheaply, she moves her family to the gorgeous Greek Island of Corfu where they live in a large crumbling house by the sea. Here they try to get by in a foreign land with the help of local man Spiro and Greek doctor, scientist, poet, and philosopher Theodore Stephanides.

You will be transported to a magical, heartwarming, and sometimes amusing world with a backdrop of fantastic scenery. The acting is very good, and the range of exotic animals studied by Gerry gives a quirky flavour to the story.

The series is based on naturalist Gerald Durrell’s books about his experiences of life on Corfu as a boy. Series 4 will be the last to be filmed, and I’m already waiting with excitement to join the family again.

The Durrells 



Series 1, 2, and 3 available in DVD format. Other titles by Gerald Durrell are available in book and electronic formats, including My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts and Relatives; and Garden of the Gods, which make up the Corfu Trilogy.


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Emma reviews Gideon the Ninth, written by NZ author Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth is a truly unique fantasy novel which manages to successfully blend contemporary and Lovecraftian style language, aesthetic, and horror. With the tagline on the cover "lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space", you don't quite know what you're getting yourself in to when you begin this niche sounding adventure.

The main story is that of Harrowhark Nonagesimus, heir of the Ninth House, who receives an invitation from the Emperor Undying to journey to his palace in order to train to achieve immortality. She must bring her Cavalier Prime to assist with the challenges in store. When this post becomes suddenly vacant, Harrow forcibly enlists the help of her childhood play thing and nemesis, Gideon.

If you enjoy intelligent plots, strong characters, witty dialogue, sword play, and a general air of creepy, this is the book for you. Tamsyn Muir is a masterful story teller who manages to convey emotional depth in her characters and relationships, while creating a vast universe that you can't help but need to explore further, despite the main story arc being set on one humble decrepit planet.

Thankfully the second instalment of the trilogy is slated for later this year. Watch this space!

Gideon the Ninth - Tamsyn Muir



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Lynn reviews Seeing Gender: an Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression, written by Iris Gottlieb.


It is so satisfying when a book not only looks fantastic on the outside, but it's as good on the inside! The cover caught my eye on display, and as a wahine (pronoun she, her, ia, whaea), I was really keen to learn more about this wonderful facet of humanity. Published in 2019, this is author and illustrator Iris Gottlieb’s third book, and it is a fascinating read about gender identity. Well-researched and presented with Iris’s striking illustrations, it answered many questions I had and made me think a lot about how people are categorized and the impact this has.

Clearly written, and not too heavy or academic, it covers terminology, gender theories, scientific information, key events and figures in history, along with explanations of many 21st century cultural phenomenon, albeit mostly North American. So, you won’t find anything about takatāpui or fa’afafine or read about any of our gender heroes like Georgina Beyer here, but there is some discussion on gender variance in other societies and cultures around the world.

As a Cisgender woman (I know what that is now!), I found the book really interesting. I think it is a really good overview or primer for someone wanting to know more about this topic, and Gottlieb’s very personal experience at the end of the book was enlightening. It should be compulsory reading for everyone, especially those who only see black and white and grey rather than the whole rainbow. Highly recommended. 


Seeing Gender



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Emma reviews Before the Coffee Gets Cold, written by Toshikazu Kawaguchi.

A book about loss, connections, and deeply inconvenient time travel. Set in a small café in Tokyo, this novel is made up of four interconnected stories about people who wish to travel through time to see a loved one, but the conditions to do so seem so arbitrary you have to question why anyone would bother:

- You can only see someone who has been to the café before.
- You can only travel back in one particular seat and may not move from it for the duration of travel.
- Nothing you do during travel will affect the present.
- You must return before the coffee gets cold.

This set of stories provides an interesting perspective into the lengths people could theoretically go to in order to remedy the regret of words left unsaid. With themes including degenerative disease, death, and lost love, this read creates a satisfying emotional roller coaster that left me with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. It should also be noted that this short novel does in fact go excellently with coffee.


Before the Coffee gets Cold


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Rebecca reviews There There, the debut novel from Tommy Orange.


Beautifully written and hard hitting, it follows the lives and relationships of urban indigenous people in Oakland, California, as they build up to the staging of a big powwow.


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Shirley reviews The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.


The recent death of this very talented author from Barcelona has prompted me to write a review of his amazing novel The Shadow of the Wind, the first of four books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. It was published in Spanish in 2001 and translated into English by Lucia Graves in 2004.

The book is set in moody 1940s Barcelona and we are introduced to a very sad, motherless 10-year-old boy called Daniel. His father, who is a bookseller, takes him to the gothic quarter of Barcelona to an obscure bookshop called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where he chooses a dusty old book called The Shadow of the Wind. Or maybe the book chooses him. From there the novel takes us on Daniel’s journey in search of other books by the mysterious author Julian Carax, uncovering some shocking secrets along the way.

The novel is filled with suspense, mystery, tragedy and romance. All the elements of a great story! Gothic Barcelona is a real part of the book, and I especially loved the dark and intense imagery the author uses to evoke this time and place. I highly recommend this book.

The Shadow of the Wind




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Rebecca reviews The Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller, both written by Shaun Bythell and published by Profile books.

Both share hilarious and relatable anecdotes from Shaun's life as owner and operator of beloved second-hand book emporium The Bookshop, located in Wigtown, Scotland.


Stamp of Approval - The Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell dunedinlibraries


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Shirley reviews The Other Bennet Sister, written by Janice Hadlow and published by Mantle

This is a first novel for the author who is obviously a lover of Jane Austen and her use of language. Mary Bennet, the middle daughter, the outsider who sits between the strong friendships of Jane and Lizzie, and Kitty and Lydia, is the subject of this transformative story.

The character of Mary is really fleshed out in this novel. We discover that she is not so boring and plain, but has a mind of her own, loves to read widely and feels deeply. Readers familiar with Pride and Prejudice will find out more about minor characters from the book (such as Mr Collins, Charlotte Lucas and Mr and Mrs Gardiner from Cheapside) and this is one of the real strengths of the book.

The language the author uses is mostly beautifully realised and the reader is gradually drawn into an Austen-like world. The book was a slow start for me, but once immersed, I relished the storyline and would recommend it as a very good read. 

Image by: Dunedin Public Libraries



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Rachel reviews Three Summers

A movie directed by Ben Elton, starring Rebecca Breeds and Robert Sheehan, and available to watch on Beamafilm.

This film follows the developing relationship of two very different musicians as they meet at the annual Westival, a music festival set in Western Australia.

Stamp of Approval - Rachel reviews Three Summers directed by Ben Elton dunedinlibraries



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Shirley reviews Saving Missy, written by Beth Morrey and published by Harper Collins.

Missy Carmichael is a 79-year-old woman with a prickly exterior that hides lots of secrets. She lives alone in a house full of memories in present day London. Through chance encounters with neighbours and dogs, her life changes and evolves, although Missy resists all the way.

To be honest, I did get a tiny bit irritated with Missy, but overall the book shines. I loved her neighbour Angela and her son Otis (they deserve their own book) and, of course, Bobby the dog.

Saving Missy by Beth Morrey


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Amanda reviews The Earth is Singing
A hard-hitting young adult novel written by Vanessa Curtis. It follows the story of Hanna, a Jewish girl living in Latvia with her mother and grandmother during World War II.

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Philip reviews Do I Sound Gay?
A documentary directed by David Thorpe, featuring Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn, David Sedaris, George Takei, and more.

Do I sound gay? Or, for David Thorpe, the question is ‘Can i not sound gay?’ – the point of this documentary journey.

With the influx of positive LGBTQI+ characters on TV and film – including Tales of the City, Hollywood, Sex Education, Schitt$ Creek, Call Me by Your Name, and Visible: Out on Television – this 2014 documentary could feel a little bit dated. But some people have those demons inside and that cloud of anxiety following them around, so Do I Sound Gay? still resonates.

I have been aware of being self-conscious about my voice ever since a high school French lesson, with a tape recording of us practicing our French. When the class erupted into absolute hysteria at one particular voice – that sounded a cross between Donald Duck and ‘The Year My Voice Broke’ – I slowly sank into my chair wishing the ground would swallow me up, as I realised the voice was mine.

Yes, one can be very self-conscious of one’s voice.

In this documentary, David Thorpe goes on a personal journey to investigate why he sounds gay, considers whether he wants to sound gay, and confronts ideas of stereotypes. The complexity of identity is unravelled through a speech therapy couch and interviews with family, friends, writers, and celebrities.

In the end, Thorpe decides that he likes standing out, because what is the point of being you without being proud.


Do I Sound Gay?



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Shirley reviews Catherine the Great, starring Helen Mirren, directed by Philip Martin, and available to view on Beamafilm.


This is a British-American miniseries in 4 parts. Acclaimed British actor Helen Mirren stars as Catherine. Incidentally Helen Mirren was born Helen Mironoff, daughter of Vasily Petrovich and granddaughter of Pyotr Vasilievich Mironov, a colonel in the Imperial Russian army. The superb filming uses interiors from real palaces in St Petersburgh and the Catherine Palace in Pushkin, Russia, and the baroque Rundale Palace in Latvia. Much of the filming took place in Lithuania.

Helen Mirren shines in this lavish production of the later life of Catherine the Great, set immediately after she has seized power from her husband Emperor Peter 111, with the help of the army. He dies mysteriously soon after and, although abhorred by Catherine, he is adored by the couple's foppish son Paul.

Of course Catherine's reign will never be secure, especially as many despise her for merely being female. What follows is a visually impressive look at her turbulent life as the Empress of Russia. She rejects her current lover in favour of General Grigory Potemkin, a virile, larger-than-life man who swears eternal allegiance to her.

I adored the attention to detail in the clothing of the time, the gorgeous interiors, and the superb acting of Mirren, but I must admit the script let the viewer down sometimes.

Catherine the Great



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Michelle reviews Life Undercover, the autobiography of former CIA agent Amaryllis Fox.

It follows Fox from her high school days, to working at a refugee camp in Myanmar (formerly Burma), to using Starbucks to contact other agents. A thrilling book, it also offers interesting insight into our world, conflict, and peace.

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Philip reviews Jeremy Scott – The People’s Designer

A fashion documentary about iconic designer @itsjeremyscott, directed by Vlad Yudin.

There are lots of very talented people in the world, but what takes some people to the next level? Jeremy Scott, the People’s Designer, follows a path of chance (luck) and pure bold determination.

This documentary takes you through Jeremy Scott’s life and vision, from failed attempts to get into some New York fashion schools, and even being called untalented. His drive takes him and his boyfriend to Paris where, again, not finding any internships, someone suggests he puts on his own catwalk show. Which he does… When Moschino takes him on as their creative director, the rest becomes fashion history.

Loved by celebrities and pop culture, disapproved of by the fashion press, Scott is known for his kitsch style and putting wings on trainers. He is not everyone’s cup of tea!

But this documentary goes beyond normal fashion documentaries and shows him visiting his family and his Conservative roots. He has a family who are very proud and supportive, and instead of hiding where he comes from, he’s embraced it.

Jeremy Scott - The Peoples Designer



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Shirley reviews Grown Ups, written by Marian Keyes and published by Michael Joseph.

The latest book by this very popular Irish author doesn’t disappoint. Her wit and zany humour are perfectly balanced against the very real problems experienced by her characters.

Three brothers and their wives and families are the book’s foundation. The story starts with concussion-induced no-holds-barred honesty, then goes back in time to reveal all that has gone before.

The family dynamics are brilliant and most of the people are believable and well-drawn - although I found Jessie the rich matriarch a bit much, and Liam, one of her two brothers-in-law, too one-dimensional. Apart from that, this is a very enjoyable read and perfect escapism.

Grown Ups



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Rachel reviews The Nightingale

A movie directed by Philippe Muyl, available to watch on Beamafilm.

This film follows the story of a lonely girl and her grandfather, as they embark on a journey to her late grandmother's birthplace in rural China.

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Philip reviews the documentary Dries

A fashion documentary about renowned Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. Directed by Reiner Holzemer, and featuring Dries Van Noten, Iris Apfel, and Pamela Golbin.


I do enjoy a fashion doco. Beautiful fabrics, beautiful catwalks, beautiful assistants, beautiful offices and, of course, the beautiful country retreat.

Dries Van Noten is a Belgium fashion designer of world renown (although my all-time favourite is his fellow Antwerp Six collaborator and friend, Walter Van Beirendonck – documentary about him soon, please).

With his vision, and the help of many people, Dries makes incredibly beautiful and inspiring fashion. I can easily spot one of his fabric designs when I’m window shopping. He takes his job/life seriously. His independent fashion label employs many people in his office and workshop, as well as the sewers in India who embroider his garments every season.

It is obviously hard and stressful work. Near the end of the film, Dries says that he’d like to be able to take a catwalk season off. Well, Covid-19 has made that happen.

From a personal perspective, I have an interest in clothing and have my own fashion brand, Op-Shop Ucci. The Ucci came about after going past a Gucci shop in San Francisco where someone had stolen the G, while Op-Shop is inspired by the 90% of my wardrobe that comes from op shops. Op-Shop Ucci has a few rules – wear things that totally don’t go together, that shouldn’t work but it does, and never wear black.

So, for me, Dries was especially enjoyable, especially the catwalk shows.


Dries



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Shirley reviews The Starless Sea, written by Erin Morgenstern and published by Harvill Secker.

This is the second book by Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus. The cover is very attractively presented to entice the reader into a world of books and magic.

We follow university student Zachary Ezra Rawlins on a dangerous quest into another world in search of The Starless Sea and many other things – like why his personal story is in an old book he found in the library…

The main story is interspersed with fable-like fragments, which the reader tries to link and decipher. Time moves back and forth, too, which can be somewhat confusing.

There are lots of puzzles involving books, swords, keys, owls, and bees; a bit of romance; some unusual characters; many references to books (Narnia, Harry Potter, The Shadow of the Wind – to name a few); and everywhere there are doorways leading to other times and places.

If you’re happy to go along for the ride, you’ll enjoy the descriptive writing and marvel at the extraordinary imagination of the young author.

The Starless Sea


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Michelle reviews the eAudiobook version of The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

Following on from the award-winning Handmaid’s Tale, it shares the stories of three women as they recount their experiences and bear witness to the horrors of Gilead.

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Dianne from South Dunedin Library reviews the Dark-Hunter series

This series features more than 30 fantasy/paranormal romance novels written by Sherrilyn Kenyon and published by Tor.

Dianne says:

One of my customers told me I needed to read Sherrilyn Kenyon (an author I hadn't gotten to). It didn't take me very long to get hooked and start going through her books as fast as I could get my hands on them.

After finishing one whole series, I started on Dark-Hunter – who doesn't like reading about mythology mixed into present day. What I've really enjoyed is that each book is about one particular Dark-Hunter – you follow them on their journey and learn why they became a dark hunter. Yes, I have read the series out of order, something I don't usually do.

We can see the close bond Acheron (Ash) has with all his men and the dealings he has with Artemis, so that he can give them back their souls when they find that special someone. None of them know the sacrifices that Archeron must endure so that they can each have their happy ending.

We follow the journey of each dark hunter and how they intertwine together. Fighting to keep humanity safe and also to keep the gods safe and from killing each other. As I was reading each book, I felt really invested in them – you could see the deep bonds of friendship and the unlikely relationships between each fraction.

I'm about halfway through the series and can't wait to keep reading on. If you enjoy Fantasy, give this author a go – some of the books are rather fat but you do get some smaller books in between.

Sherrilyn Kenyon novels

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Philip reviews Studio 54: The Documentary

Directed by Matt Tyrnauer

Starring Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell

I will always remember arriving in New York and ascending from the underground to discover another world. Planet NY.

Step into Studio 54, a nightclub in New York City. Opening in 1977 at the height of disco, it was set up by Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell. This documentary details the story of their lives and what drove them to create this vision. It explores how successful Studio 54 became and how its excessive highs brought about its downfall in just 3 years.

Studio 54 was a new world, a new freedom, the birth of the celebrity and the magic of disco. Schrager and Rubell created a theatrical escape, a place for people to come, an event for people to experience. For one New Year’s party, they had 4 tonnes of glitter on the dance floor

With a very strict entry policy – you had to be either very famous or very stunning to get in – it became world famous as the place to be and to be seen, and the paparazzi were created!

Of course, too many highs and something has to crash – an alienated crowd denied entry, lacking an actual liquor licence, not declaring taxes and huge amount of drugs and cash in their safe brought the cops calling.

As an interesting aside, the documentary also show the burning of disco records in baseball stadiums in middle America.

The freedom, the creativity, the idea of being able to be who you really are, or to escape into another world reminded me of my own somewhat small experience of this. When I was an art student in London a long time ago, Voguing was a thing for about a year. Having come over from America, these events were created at the Hippodrome, Leicester Square, where people would dress up in outrageous clothes and Vogue on the runway. I have a memory of dressing up in a black bin liner in an underground station on the Circle line. I have no idea what the theme could have been!

Studio 54: The Documentary

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Eryn reviews Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Eryn's book review focuses on Tin Man, a well-written, affecting portrayal of relationships, sexuality, and coping with loss.

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Lauren reviews the movie What We Did On Our Holiday

This charming film is full of wit and humour. It follows a family of five struggling to keep it together: parents Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike), who are in the midst of a tense separation, and their children Lottie, Mickey and Jess. Despite the trying times, the family drive to Scotland for Doug’s dying father Gordie’s (Billy Connolly) 75th birthday party, thrown by Doug’s wealthy micromanaging brother, Gavin (Ben Miller).

While Tennant and Pike do justice to the roles of embattled parents trying to hold things together, it is the enchanting combination of the curious and insightful three children with their wise and humourous grandfather Gordie that really captures you. Gordie refuses to take life too seriously, finding more in common with his inquisitive grandchildren than his preoccupied sons. When the children are faced with a challenging situation, it becomes clear none of the bickering adults will listen, so they adventurously take matters into their own hands.

This film uniquely engages the audience to see things in the simple way children do, delightfully offsetting the backdrop of the complex and strained adult relationships surrounding them. It is equal parts refreshing and uplifting, and well worth the watch.

What We Did On Our Holiday



What We Did On Our Holiday was directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin.

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Shirley reviews The Long Call written by Ann Cleeves


This is the first in a new series by prolific and very successful British mystery writer, Ann Cleeves. Readers will know and love her from the Shetland and Vera Stanhope series.

From the first line we know we're in the hands of a skilful writer. We are introduced to the main character Detective Matthew Venn, a quiet, thoughtful and troubled man. He and his husband have come to live where Matthew grew up, as a part of a strict Brethren community. A body is found and we are immediately plunged into the elemental North Devon setting.

Well-rounded and diverse characters are interwoven with the plot, some taking their turn as the voice of a chapter. I especially enjoyed Matthew's associate Jen Rafferty, a single mother with 2 children and a complicated backstory. The investigation quickly focuses on 'The Woodyard', a centre of community enterprises mixed with supported facilities for vulnerable adults, managed by Matthew's caring and dedicated husband.

Lots of red herrings and the relentless building of tension make this a very satisfying read.

The Long Call was published by Pan MacMillan.

The Long Call by Anne Cleeves



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Josh reviews The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a movie directed by Terry Gilliam.

Josh's creative (musical) take on the movie follows the out there exploits of advertising director Toby (Adam Driver), as he attempts to make his film, and its effects on a Spanish village.

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Tracey reviews The Eighth Life written by Nino Haratischvili.

A mammoth of a book with 934 pages...I am up to page 431.

The story starts at the beginning of the twentieth century on the edge of the Russian Empire. A family of chocolate makers prospers and owes its success to a secret hot chocolate recipe.
The recipe is passed on to family members as we learn about their lives and, often doomed, romances.

I thought the book might get bogged down in lots of detail but it doesn't. A good Russian history lesson at the same time!

The Eighth Life was translated from German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin, and was published by Scribe Publications.

The Eighth Life - Nino Haratischvili


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Rozz reviews The Braid by Laetitia Colombani

This well-crafted debut novel follows the lives of three women who appear to be very different in culture, geography (India, Sicily, Canada), and life experience. However, as Colombani weaves her narrative, we come to see that they have much more in common in many ways.


A compact, very satisfying read that left me looking forward to Colombani’s next work.

The Braid was translated from French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie and published by Picador.

The Braid

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Jo reviews The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

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Jo's eAudiobook review focuses on The Little Friend, the second novel from Donna Tartt. Set in 1970s Mississippi, the story revolves around a young girl named Harriet and her search for answers about her older brother's murder.

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Rebecca reviews Full Throttle by Joe Hill

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Rebecca's book review focuses on Full Throttle, a collection of short stories from author Joe Hill. Creepy and scary, but always relatable, her favourites included Faun (big game hunters in a fairytale world) and Late Returns (supernatural happenings on a library Bookmobile).
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