Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In Real Life by Chris Killen

In Real Life is a witty but cautionary tale about relationships, social expectation and miscommunication in the age of the Internet.

The story switches between the characters of Lauren, Paul and Ian who met at university, beginning with Lauren’s sudden split from Paul in 2004. We can sympathise with Lauren’s grievances: Paul is a would-be writer who works in a bar, doesn't pay his way and has off-putting habits. When Lauren joins a friend travelling to Canada, she begins a warm and promising email correspondence with Ian, a musician and ex-flatmate of Paul’s.

Flicking forward to 2014 we find that Lauren, Paul and Ian have lost touch and for each of them, life has become a little messy. Is there any chance Paul can write another novel to match his earlier success, and can he be honest with his girlfriend? Will Ian find a new job, reclaim his pawned guitar or meet up with Lauren to sort out their unfinished business? Will Lauren ever meet Mr Right or manage to keep the staff happy at the charity shop she manages?

In Real Life will have you groaning at the online faux pas its characters make and remind you that posting statuses on Facebook while drunk is not a good idea. It’s a fun, bright, easy read on the one hand and a pithy snapshot of Generation Y on the other. This is Chris Killen’s second book and is definitely a novel for our time.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: In Real Life

Monday, July 27, 2015

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Deeply moving and beautifully written, A God in Ruins is an insightful view of what war means and the moral dilemmas of who is right and wrong. Written as a companion novel to the highly successful Life after Life, A God in Ruins could easily be read as a stand alone novel; or indeed the two books read in any order. Just do read it – the writing is exquisite.

While in Life After Life Ursula Todd is reborn many times reliving the same events again and again, in A God in Ruins the author revisits the same events in Teddy Todd’s life from different perspectives.

Atkinson takes the reader forward and backward through Teddy’s life; from his comfortable upbringing, to marrying his childhood friend Nancy; from his war experiences as a World War 2 Halifax bomber pilot, to bringing up his troubled child Viola; through to losing his independence as an elderly man in care.

Teddy does not expect to survive the war due to the high death rate among crews, but seems to beat fate time and again. He finds life somewhat bewildering after the war and is not quite sure what to make of his wife, child and later grandchildren. Wry stoic humour is interspersed with a depth of character, theme and plot:

“An eye for an eye,” Mac said at the squadron reunion. (Until everyone was blind, Teddy wondered?)”.

While being completely absorbed in this novel, I wondered if any of Life after Life’s time bending trickery would be used in A God in Ruins. For a long time it seemed like there would not be; but without giving anything away, a clever and surprising twist awaits the patient reader.

Posted by Katrina H

Catalogue link: A God in Ruins

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen

Cole Cohen is 26 years old when she is told that there is a hole in her brain the size of a lemon. After the initial shock subsides this diagnosis actually comes as something of a relief. Endless rounds of tests and doctor’s visits have plagued her youth and to finally have a tangible answer provides some comfort to Cohen and her family.

Head Case is Cohen’s story in her own words and it tells of the challenges she has faced since childhood. With learning difficulties and no sense of judgement for distance, direction and time she struggles with basic maths, is unable to maintain a steady job and can barely cross the road let alone drive a car. These deficiencies seem totally at odds with her obvious intelligence and extremely articulate nature.

We follow Cohen as she moves away from home, attends university and struggles through her first adult relationship. There are also flashbacks to her youth and poignant reflections on her family relationships. Her frustrations are clear, but she writes with such wit and humour that this book avoids sinking into self-pity.

Cohen’s ability to gain her Master’s degree and write a clever and engaging book is testament to her perseverance and the unique coping strategies that help her navigate the world. This is a fascinating memoir and a reminder that we all see the world in a different way.

Posted by CP

Catalogue link: Head Case

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Grow a Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph

Subtitled simple pruning techniques for small-space, easy-harvest fruit trees, Ann Ralph's helpful guide places the emphasis on how to keep fruit trees small.  The book's instructions and advice are easy to understand and follow. The only downside is that the book is written for the northern hemisphere, so I had to keep adjusting in my mind any month she mentioned in the text.

The principles Ann Ralph teaches are best applied to fruit trees at planting. However, there is a section on dealing with older trees as well. With this book in my hands, I took a look at my young fruit trees at the weekend, and for the first time felt that I knew what I was looking at, and could match what Ann described with what I was seeing in front of me. It gave me the confidence to do some quite radical pruning. 

I have now ordered my own copy (in which I will change the months to match the southern hemisphere seasons). This is a must-read guide for the home fruit tree grower keen to get the most from their trees in spite of the constraints of a small space.

Posted by Jessie

Catalogue link: Grow a Little Fruit Tree

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Lovers of Amherst by William Nicholson

In William Nicholson's latest novel the lovers of Amherst are Mabel Todd, who enjoys a fairly open marriage with her young academic husband and Austin, the brother of nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson. Austin Dickinson is unhappy in his marriage, and secretly meets Mabel in the home of his sisters, where they are encouraged by reclusive Emily, who listens to their meetings through the keyhole.

The story may sound extraordinary, but the relationship of Austin and Mabel is extensively documented in diaries and the numerous love letters the two wrote to each other. Not surprisingly Nicholson’s modern day character, Alice, wants to write a screenplay about the affair. She travels from London to Amherst, Massachusetts where she has a contact in the form of much older, but still heart-breakingly handsome, Nick, who offers Alice a place to stay.

Of course one thing leads to another and suddenly there are two sets of lovers in Amherst. Nick and Alice enjoy a brief but turbulent fling, and they argue a lot about the Dickinsons, Mabel and love. This gives Nicholson the opportunity to explore issues that surround the nature of love and happiness, embellished by the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Nicholson knows how to put his characters through the ringer in order to achieve some kind of enlightenment. While Emily Dickinson is a shadowy figure in the background, her poetry stands out for its intensity and understanding. In spite of their obvious failings the characters are interesting and engaging, even serial womaniser Nick, who has his demons. This is another terrific novel from Nicholson who is a dab hand at dissecting love in a way that is both sympathetic and intelligent.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Lovers of Amherst

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Kindness by Polly Samson

The theme of paradise lost runs through Polly Samson’s latest book, a paradise that begins with the relationship of literature student, Julian, and Julia, the married woman he falls for. Julian meets Julia when she is exercising her husband’s hawk, which is suitably named, Lucifer. Julian rescues Julia from a violent marriage and the two become lovers.

Julian leaves university but eventually finds a niche writing hugely popular reinterpretations of history written from the perspective of eye-witness dogs. So he can afford to buy back his old childhood home of Firdaws in the country. He believes this will be an idyllic new life for them, but soon things go wrong – Julia struggles with the lengthy commute to work and their daughter Mira falls ill.

Samson weaves the story deftly around the characters, switching between past and present time frames, giving out snatches of information that tempt the reader into making assumptions and then blowing them out of the water. The novel is full of references to the fall of Adam and Eve, complete with forbidden fruit, pacts made with the devil, or at least a devilish character, and yes there’s even a snake.

But mostly this is a story about unintended consequences and how actions made for the best don’t always deliver what they promise. The Kindness is cleverly written with characters full of depth and tragedy. With its plot twists and heady atmosphere, it’s the kind of book that would make a great Sunday night TV drama. It’s original storyline makes you wonder what this author will come up with next. If you like Esther Freud and Sadie Jones, you will love Polly Samson.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Kindness

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a love story, beset by tragedy and despair.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, near the beginning of the 20th Century, the social history, landscape and politics of the city feature strongly. The action itself is framed by two historical fires from 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Coney Island Dreamland fire. It is these tragic events that entwine and cement the relationship between the two protagonists Coralie and Eddie.

Coralie and Eddie, who share the narration, are both motherless loners seeking an escape from their bleak existence. As an exceptional swimmer, no doubt aided by her webbed fingers, Coralie Sardie is forced by her father to perform as a mermaid alongside other side-show freaks in his Coney Island Museum of Extraordinary Things. Eddie Cohen, who has lived by his wits since leaving his father and the Orthodox Jewish community of his childhood behind, photographs the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and becomes embroiled in the hunt for a missing woman.

As the lives and histories of these main characters are slowly revealed in the first half of the novel I found myself willing them to meet! It is around the midpoint of the book that the action really gets going and it is full steam ahead by the book’s conclusion.

As someone fascinated with curiosities and turn of the century history I liked The Museum of Extraordinary Things. I found the characters interesting and the story, though slow moving in the beginning, intriguing enough to keep me hooked. This was the first book I’ve read from Hoffman and I shall be reading more!

Posted by CP

Catalogue link: The Museum of Extraordinary Things