Category: Books

Vanya Insull (VJ Cooks) – Q&A

VJ Cooks is coming to the City Library!

Vanya Insull lives in Taupō, New Zealand. She is a passionate foodie who loves cooking, baking, sharing recipes and of course – eating! In November 2016, Vanya founded the VJ cooks Facebook page which quickly amassed a large following. From there, Vanya set up her own website which now has over 500 recipes (and counting!) with average daily views of over 25,000 from visitors across the globe.

On Friday May 24, Vanya will be conversing with the City Library’s own resident cooking enthusiast Alex Johnston.

We’re thrilled to have Vanya be our second participant in the soon-to-be-huge Questions & Authors series. Here are her Qs and As:

Q. What’s your favourite book right now?

A. I just read The Women by Kristen Hannah. It was so good, 5 stars from me.

Q. And what about when you were a child?

A. I love Alison Holst’s cookbooks. 

Q. What’s your earliest writing memory?

A. I don’t really consider myself a writer, but I started writing recipes down in a notebook about 7 years ago. 

Q. Do you have a favourite font for writing in? And revising? (Or do you write by hand?)

A. I just scribble the recipes by hand then type them up for my website or cookbook later on. 

Q. Top tip(s) for aspiring authors?

A. Content is king when it comes to sharing recipes so just keep sharing them on social media. 

Q. If you had the opportunity to travel to any country in the world to research food and drink, where would you go and why?

A. I would love to go to Thailand and do some cooking classes there, I love Thai food. 

Q. What is your favourite back-pocket recipe for an instant dinner?

A. What’s in the fridge pasta. I can make a tasty meal with just a few ingredients.

Q. Who would your dream dinner guest be and what would you cook them?

A. I would love to cook for my late grandparents and show them my success and how far I had come from being a plain and picky eater when I was a kid. 

Q. What is your most treasured food memory?

A. The cooking class I did when I was in Greece last year was very special. 

Q. Who are your food heroes/greatest influences and why?

A. I love to follow what other cooks create on Instagram. My faves are Gaby Dalkin, Donal Skehan and Half Baked Harvest. 

Q. What are the ingredients and flavours you could not live without?

A. My favourite flavour combos are: Garlic and Rosemary. Raspberries and Chocolate. Pasta and cream haha. 

New CDs

It’s so great that many bands still put out CDs of their music, which means libraries can buy them and share them!

You can ask the Library to buy an album if it’s not in stock. It’s not always possible to source them but we’ll try our best.

Here are some of the latest titles that have hit the shelves – click on a cover image for a link to the Library catalogue:

Miriam Sharland – Q&A

Miriam Sharland’s eco-memoir Heart Stood Still launches at Central Library on May 9 at 6pm.

Heart Stood Still is a record of Sharland’s journey towards finding healing in the world’s natural beauty, a beauty that we must fight to protect in the current climate crisis. It is both a memoir and a lyrical portrait of Manawatū.

Miriam Sharland is a writer and editor focusing on creative non-fiction, travel, biography/memoir and natural history. Based in England and Aotearoa New Zealand, her essays, reviews and features have appeared in numerous books, journals, magazines and newspapers, and online. Heart Stood Still is her first book.

Thanks to Miriam for being the first author to submit to our “Questions & Authors” segment! Here are her answers to some burning questions:

Q. What’s your favourite book right now? And what about when you were a child?

A. My favourite book is Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. It’s a lovely combination of nature writing and travelogue that explores the connection between landscape and the heart. I especially like the sections about the English South Downs, close to where I come from, and Macfarlane’s exploration of the life of Edward Thomas, poet and WW1 soldier. Last year I followed the footsteps of my WW2 airman uncle around England and this book was influential on my writing that story.

As a child I loved Alice in Wonderland, and still do. We had a vinyl recording of it that we used to listen to as a family in the living room of my childhood home. Alice always takes me back to my childhood.

Q. What’s your earliest writing memory? Either something you wrote, or when you met an established author, etc.

A. My earliest writing memory is writing stories in English class at junior school in England. Specifically, feeling disappointed for getting a lower grade when I attempted to write comedy. I learnt my lesson, I think!

Q. Do you have a favourite font for writing in? And revising? (Or do you write by hand?)

A. I like Calibri – it’s nice and clean. I do sometimes scribble in a notebook but I find a keyboard a lot easier.

Q. Top tip(s) for aspiring authors?

A. I didn’t really start writing properly until I did my Master of Creative Writing at Massey. I learnt that writing is a craft that has to be worked at. I also had deadlines which were great because I tend to procrastinate. And, persevere – the first publisher I sent Heart Stood Still to turned it down.

Q. Heart Stood Still follows the seasons, do you have a favourite season?

A. I like all the seasons but my favourites are spring in Aotearoa, and summer in England.

Q. As a cyclist what is your destination of choice?

A. Girona – I visited last year for the first time and fell in love with it. Smooth wide roads, courteous drivers, masses of cyclists, beautiful scenery, fabulous history, great bike shops. It’s home to a lot of professional cyclists and is cycling heaven.

I also love Copenhagen. 98% of locals get around by bike – and the pastries are to die for.

Q. During Covid you explored places you had never been to or seen properly. What were some of the highlights?

A. Discovering fungi foraging sites was exciting! I became obsessed with mushrooms. The calming effect of sitting in a little bamboo grove by the Turitea Stream was another.

‘Off The Page’ author series

Off the Page is back! The always popular Off The Page series is relaunching with a stellar line-up of local, national and internationally published writers. Off the Page will be bringing food writing, crime, historical fiction, romance and more to the Palmerston North City Library. The best of New Zealand writing is better than ever in 2024!

Off the Page will feature a popular writer in conversation with a local chair about their books, the writing life, and much more. As always, the events will also feature book sales and signings, snacks, and stimulating conversation. Everyone is invited and the events are free.

The writers in the Off the Page line-up are all acclaimed writers launching new books. They are the very best New Zealand has to offer! The writers you would pay to see at our national festivals, are free at your hometown library.

Launching the season, on April 19th, we have the award-winning crime writer Charity Norman in conversation with Gigi Fenster. Charity has published more than ten novels. Her book Remember Me won the Ngaio Marsh award in 2023 – an award which three of her previous books were finalists in. She is a wonderfully engaging speaker, and we are excited to be able to talk about her upcoming book as well as earlier ones.

On 24th May: Come and hear the wonderful Vanya Insull (VJ Cooks) in conversation with the library’s own Angela Rea. Vanya’s Everyday Favourites is a hit recipe book, and her blogs, courses and website are all hugely popular. If you’ve googled a meal for the family, you’ve probably cooked one of Vanya’s fabulous recipes.

On 21 June, Saige Vendome will be in conversation with Thom Conroy. Saige is an award-winning human rights journalist. Her new book The Seasonwife reveals aspects of our history previously hidden from mainstream education. Saige has a deep historical knowledge and understanding of the lives lived by her characters.

On 19 July, Catherine Robertson will talk about her TWO new books. Catherine is known for her wit, her vibrancy and her prolific writing career. She is a key figure in Aotearoa’s literary landscape. At least one reviewer has called her a ‘national treasure’. And she writes what she calls ‘Romcoms with heat and heart’!

On 20 or 27 September, Manawatū’s own Richard Shaw will be in discussion with Colin Bjork. Richard’s newest book, The Unsettled follows from his acclaimed memoir, The Forgotten Coast. In his latest, Richard offers readers the stories of Pakeha coming to grips with the truths of their family’s settler history – people who are unsettled but are doing something about it.

On 11 October, join us for Student Showcase. Massey University’s Gigi Fenster and Thom Conroy will host an evening featuring the emerging voices of Massey’s celebrated Creative Writing programme. The showcase is a rare opportunity to tomorrow’s biggest talent today.

Find all the Off The Page details here.

Books Just Want To Be Held

Like most of us, library books just want to be held. Holds are free at Palmerston North City Library, and it’s a great way to make sure you don’t miss a popular title. You can also place a hold on a book to bring it from another location. For example, if you’re at Ashhurst you can put a hold on a book that’s at Central, and it will be brought out to you.

Here are some ways to place a hold:

  • use the Place Hold button when you’re browsing the library catalogue. Just enter your card number and PIN, select the pickup library, click ‘Place Hold(s)’ and you’re done!
  • ask a librarian next time you’re at one of the library locations
  • contact us on 06 3514100 or at

Whichever method you use, you’ll receive an email when the book is ready to be collected. Then you have 10 days to pick up the item.

Show a library book some love today!

Tips for using ‘My Account’

While the Library app is unavailable, here’s a reminder of some things you can do by logging into My Account on the City Library’s online catalogue.

When you’re logged in, you can search for items, and it’s free to place holds on them. Once you receive a message to say an item is available, you have 10 days to pick it up.

Here are few other hold-related things you might find useful:

  • Going on holiday or have a long wish list?  You can ‘suspend holds’ so that they don’t arrive while you’re away.
  • If you don’t want to place a hold, but simply want to keep track of cool things you’ve spotted, try using My Lists. You can have several different lists with different themes, and then easily go back to place holds later if you desire.
  • If you no longer require a hold, you can cancel it. (Unless you’ve already been notified it’s available, in which case please contact the Library to cancel it for you.) Cancelling an unwanted hold speeds the process up for other people in the queue.

Did you know the system keeps a history of two years’ worth of titles you’ve borrowed? Look for ‘Checkout History’ in the Checkouts tab. You can use this literary time machine to travel back through all the cool books you’ve read!

While we wait for a replacement library app, you can still do all this via My Account.  Save it as a short cut on your computer or device for quick access.

Versions Tuarima – creative writing project

Versions is back! Each year we throw open the invitation to local writers to be part of an anthology. We provide the prompt (which you’re welcome to ignore if you don’t need it) and you can submit anything from a poem to a short story to a play. Actually, anything creative – music, visual art, sculpture, dance, anything – we’ll figure out how to include it.

Library staff do the editing and formatting, and then the anthology is published later in the year. All writers get a hard copy of the book, and are invited to bring their friends and family to the launch.

All submissions are accepted (unless they are offensive or plagiaristic). So if you’ve ever wanted to write something and have it published, here’s your chance!

This year’s prompt is as brief as it is broad: earth. This ties in with this year’s Heritage Month theme, so if you’re short on ideas, you could attend some of the Heritage talks and see if they spark something.

You might want to write a poem about Planet Earth. Or a short story where the protagonist builds a rammed-earth house. Go wild with it, and write whatever comes to mind.

As this is the fifth instalment of Versions, it will be called Versions Tuarima. (Rima = five.)

Keep an eye on the City Library website as we get closer to March, and we’ll release details of the submission dates and process.

Until then, start conjuring up ideas!

New Books Display

The last New Books Displays in the Fiction and Non-Fiction areas go up on Thursday Dec 14. The first one of 2024 will be on Thursday Jan 11.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the New Titles email – once we restart the lists on Jan 11, you’ll get a selection of the latest titles straight to your inbox every week!

Latest Prize winners (Nov 2023)

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, established in 2010, promote and celebrate excellence in Kiwi crime writing, both Fiction and Nonfiction. This year‘s prize winners were announced on Friday night in Christchurch. Congratulations to all the winners!

– Best Non-Fiction: MISSING PERSONS by Steve Braunias

– Best First Novel: BETTER THE BLOOD by Michael Bennett

– Best Novel: REMEMBER ME by Charity Norman

And on the other side of the world, the 2023 Booker Prize winner was announced this morning.

Irish author, Paul Lynch, won with his fifth novel Prophet song, an exhilarating, propulsive and confrontational portrait of a country – and a family – on the brink of catastrophe. Ireland is in the grip of a government that is taking a turn towards tyranny and Eilish Stack, the novel’s protagonist, soon finds herself trying to make sense of the nightmare of a collapsing society – assailed by unpredictable forces beyond her control and desperate to do whatever it takes to keep her family together.   

Check out a short clip where Paul talks about the book here.