Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom

The Case of the Missing Books is a madcap story that takes a half-Jewish, half-Irish librarian from London and deposits him in the remote, Northern Irish town of Tundrum. Israel Armstrong has never had a library job in spite of having qualified some years before. His girlfriend, Gloria, says this is his big opportunity to start his library career.

But his stint in Tundrum gets off to a troublesome start – the library he is supposed to manage has been closed by the council; he will instead be running a mobile library using a decrepit bus that has been stored in a chicken shed. On top of this, all the books are missing and Israel has to track them down. He is helped by the belligerent ex-boxer, Ted, who gets the bus going again, and genial Dennis the carpenter, who refits the shelving.

The Case of the Missing Books is the first in the Mobile Library mystery series and while hunting down what has happened to tens of thousands of library books is a crucial part of the plot, much of the story is about Israel’s introduction to a town full of quirky characters. He’s a stranger in town and often the butt of jokes and ruses, all the funnier because of Israel’s bumbling and oversensitive character. The book is full of hilarious banter and laugh-out-loud moments, and Sansom has a fine ear for the humorous quirks of language.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue Link: The Case of the Missing Books

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield

This is quite a complicated story but it is rich and rewarding reading. Set sometime in the 19th Century, it starts off with a 10 year old William Bellman, who is playing with several of his friends. As boys of this age do, he impulsively aims his catapult at a rook and, to his and his friends' surprise, he kills it.

Time passes and the story follows William as he grows up to be rich, successful, and blessed with a loving family.  But the death of the rook is something that comes back to haunt him and changes the course of his life. Tragedy comes, a strange and desperate bargain is struck, and William takes to a peculiar new vocation. A great read to linger over on a dark and rainy day.

Reviewed by Young at Heart Bookgroup

Catalogue Link: Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

A protagonist with amnesia is a tried and true plot device and works a treat in Anita Shreve’s novel The Lives of Stella Bain. Stella is an American nurse who wakes up in a French field hospital in the middle of World War One. She can’t remember who she is, but with the language barrier and all, no one seems to notice and soon she’s back at work, driving an ambulance.

A sudden hazy memory drives Stella to decamp for London, in search of the British Admiralty, where she is certain she will find the key to unlock her past. On arrival, however, she almost keels over from exhaustion to be taken in by the charitable Lily and August Bridge. August is a doctor specialising in cranial reconstruction, but is fascinated by Stella’s case and agrees to take her on as a patient.

The first half of the novel describes Stella’s slow recovery, and makes for gripping reading. Stella has discovered a talent for drawing and under August’s prompting her pictures reveal moments from her past. When she eventually visits the Admiralty, Stella makes a startling discovery – one that will send her home to America on a mission: to recover custody of her children.

The rest of the book, however, failed to live up to the promise of the first half, with a lengthy court case and lacking the character development I felt would have made Stella and other characters more interesting. Amid a plethora of recent novels about World War One, this one may not stand up too well, but I can just imagine it as a film starring Julia Roberts.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue Link: The Lives of Stella Bain

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

Character is a concept that has been in and out of vogue. Often associated with morality, its possession could earn you a stoical ‘good life’ or a spot in heaven by carefully avoiding temptation on the way. The postmodern world, however, regarded character as obsolete and, in recent times, it has clung on as a leftover remnant in places like old, elitist private schools.

But it is now experiencing another upsurge in popularity. Again, it is a means to an end - and that end is success. A lot of the book’s discussion around success is heavily focused on academic success and achieving the all-important tertiary degree which, in the US especially, often means the difference between a comfortable, affluent lifestyle and struggle-street.

A variety of research is presented to demonstrate that traits like perseverance and self-control contribute more to college graduation than IQ does. Tough reports on studies showing that the orderly and the organised do well in life. There are examples of how genius can be fostered in children and a discussion of how stress affects their development and ability to be resilient in the face of adversity.

For a book about how children succeed, Tough covers a lot of ground, including the enormous elephant in the room – the huge amount of research that shows the devastating effects of social inequality. The greater the distance between the affluent and the poor, the harder it is for those children to succeed. This is a fantastic book that provides something for everyone to think about whether as parents, educators, or society as a whole.

Reviewed by Spot

Catalogue Link:  How Children Succeed

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston

Drink is a tale of Ann Dowsett Johnston’s battle with the bottle, interspersed with her enlightening investigation into a growing social problem. Now that women are gaining equality with men in many areas of life, there seems to have been a change of mindset when it comes to alcohol consumption. Women are drinking like men. Unfortunately, women just don’t have the metabolism that men do and they are, increasingly, suffering the consequences.

Having grown up with an alcoholic mother, Johnston thought she had been warned off alcohol abuse for life. But alcohol managed to use its charismatic charm to sneak under her defences and slowly seduce her into a pattern of consumption that culminated in serious dependency. 

In Drink, she explores the modern woman’s lifestyle and how it relates to an explosion of female binge drinking and the rise of an ‘I deserve this drink’ mentality. The new respectability of female drinking has resulted in the ubiquitous presence of alcohol at increasing social events and settings. Partly, this is a result of the alcohol industries’ targeted marketing to women, with alcopops to seduce the young, moving on to wines called “Mommy’s Little Helper”, and the sophistication of the boutique vineyard/restaurant scene. And, partly, it’s a result of alcohol’s immediate and highly effective ability to sluice off the stress of a busy day carrying out too many jobs and being too many different roles.

If you or someone you know has a developed a pattern like the all too common trio of: one glass  while preparing dinner, a second to unwind with dinner, and then a third before bed, then this book will unsettle you with the consequences. Drink is not a definitive account of women’s alcohol use and abuse, but it is a compelling argument that the cost of those nightly drinks will be served to you whether you think you deserve it or not.

Reviewed by Spot

Catalogue Link:  Drink

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Good House by Ann Leary

Initially I found the chatty style of this book off-putting, but once I decided to treat the narrator – the main character Hildy Good: a divorced mother of two grown-up daughters, grandmother of one, a real-estate agent in her small home town in New England, USA - as a new friend telling me her story, the story of her town: the old-timers and the new-comers, and of her family it fair flew along. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how and why her marriage had failed. I wanted to know why a grown woman of sixty blushed when she met Frank – the town’s garbage-collector and Mr Fixit. I wanted the back story and I wasn’t let down.

The story follows her friendship with Rebecca a newcomer to town, to whom she sold a house. There is enough of the story centred around animals to engage the animal lover, enough detail around her relationship with alcohol to satisfy the reader who has more than a passing interest in this, and perhaps make those who didn’t think they did have a re-think, and not enough to overwhelm those who truly don’t. There is: the extra-marital affair, the suicide, the child with a disability and his worn-out parents, the old money come-down hard character(s) even a lobster fisherman! There is the family get-together for Thanksgiving, a touch of fortune-telling………

A funny, moving novel from an author I will read again. There is also a transcript from an author interview in the back of the book which makes for good background reading for those interested.

Posted by Catherine

Catalogue Link: The Good House

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Murder at Deviation Junction by Andrew Martin

Murder at Deviation Junction continues Andrew Martin's railway murder series with a rip-roaring and atmospheric mystery loaded with fire, steam and snow. It is 1908 when railway detective, Jim Stringer, is sent to arrest a steelworker but stumbles across a body when his train is delayed by a snow drift. It belongs to a young photographer who disappeared a year before, so this is a cold case in more ways than one.

Jim soon discovers that the deceased was interested in the Cleveland Travelling Club - a group of prosperous businessmen who travelled to work together in their own luxury carriage. But when Jim sets out to talk to its members, he discovers that a number of them have died in mysterious circumstances.

The novel steams along with plenty of action, as Jim travels the length of Britain, including the furthest reaches of the railways in Scotland, with some close calls with a violent adversary. There's also a fair dollop of humour in the Yorkshire banter Jim enjoys with his quirky co-worers, though not with peevish Sergeant Shillito who wants to take Jim down a peg or two.

Overall this is a fairly light read, but you can't  help but admire the way Martin recreates the steam age, as well as the social conditions of the time. Jim's wife is a feisty character with interests in women's rights and there are hints that an overhaul of the class system is not far off. Of course we know that World War One is just a few years away, but we will have to wait for later in the series to discover how it will affect our intrepid detective.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue Link: Murder at Deviation Junction