Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

How do you make people listen when you are elderly and can’t keep things straight in your head? Joanne Cannon’s new novel weaves a lively story around the half memories and disappearing facts which bother Flo, a resident at Cherry Tree home for the elderly. It is fortunate that Flo has Elsie, her oldest friend, to help her stay focussed because Miss Ambrose thinks that perhaps Greenbank, with its higher staff-to-resident ratio, might be a better place for her.

The novel begins with Flo lying alone on her living room floor after a fall, waiting for help. As the hours tick by, the story shifts back to weeks before, when a new arrival at Cherry Tree upsets her composure. The charming Gabriel Price can do no wrong, but Flo remembers him as Ronnie, the man she is certain murdered Elsie’s sister Beryl just after the war. It doesn’t help that Ronnie was supposed to have drowned decades ago.

As Miss Ambrose puts Flo on probation – make an effort to fit in or it’s off to Greenbank – Flo has the unsettling feeling that someone has been moving things around inside her flat. The more she tries to get to the bottom of Ronnie’s re-appearance, the more it seems to Miss Ambrose that Flo needs more secure care. This adds to the tension and unexpected humour that runs through the book.

There is humour also in Flo’s terse narrative, her observations of the staff and her sudden acts of kindness that aren’t always appreciated. There is plenty of action too when Flo and her new pal Jack hatch a plan to unmask Gabriel Price, culminating in a rest home outing to Whitby and the kinds of shenanigans old people let off the leash might get up to.

This is a brilliant, slow-burner of a book, with characters you really warm to and a crisp, smart style of writing that shows a lot of care. Every paragraph is a joy but what else would you expect from the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Three Things About Elsie is Joanne Cannon’s second novel and confirms her as a fine new writing talent.

Posted by JAM

Find here in Epukapuka: Three Things About Elsie

Friday, 18 May 2018

Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath

Do we get the children we deserve?

Cat. Tom. Freya. A nice happy little family….until it isn’t.

Imagine that you wake in the middle of the night to a knock on the door. A police officer stands there with a young girl; a child you had no idea existed until that moment and just like that the familiar life that you knew is gone.

Cat Lupo is the woman whose world starts to fall apart after she discovers that her video games designer husband Tom has fathered Ruby after a one night encounter. Ruby’s mother has died in suspicious circumstances and Tom is the only family that she has.

As a clinical child psychologist Cat spends her days treating children who have been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorders. While Cat is in shock she does want to do what is right for the girl and tries to accept Ruby into their life, but all is not right with the girl. Items go missing, a dead hamster is found in Cat’s bed and Freya becomes quiet and withdrawn. Cat with all her training can recognise mentally ill children and she becomes convinced that that is what Ruby is. It is not long before she begins to fear for her own daughter’s safety, a concern she tries to share with her husband and her sister without positive results as they start to believe that an intensive period of psychosis suffered before the birth of her own child has once again taken hold of Cat.

Seeming to lose all her lines of support we are drawn into the claustrophobic intensity of the unfolding drama as Cat hunts for the truth about Ruby, her mother Lily her evasive husband Tom and dark secrets from the past..

Cat’s research tells her there’s no such thing as evil. Her history tells her she’s paranoid. Her instincts tell her different.

Give Me The Child is a skilfully written, engrossing read with an unforgettable twist at the end . This is the story of a dysfunctional family in meltdown which asks uncomfortable but important questions about how much we know about our partners, our children and ourselves.

Reviewed by Fiona Frost 

Catalogue link: Give Me the Child

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Song for Rosaleen by Pip Desmond

Losing and finding a mother in Dementia

A beautifully crafted memoir of a family coping with their mother's dementia, Song for Rosaleen is both a celebration of Rosaleen Desmond's life and an unflinching account of the practical and ethical dilemmas that faced her six children.

While the story is intensely personal, the impending global dementia epidemic gives it universal interest.

When Rosaleen Desmond first showed signs of losing her memory, she was in her early seventies, living alone. The author gives a courageous account of the practical and ethical dilemmas that faced the family as they struggled to get a diagnosis and support their mother during her illness. The voices of Rosaleen's five other children echo throughout the narrative as emails and remembered conversations.

As well as exploring illness, ageing and aged care, Song for Rosaleen reflects on the complexity of family dynamics, the perils of writing about real people, and the slippery nature of truth.

Dementia robbed Rosaleen of her memory and independence but it could not destroy her spirit. The book is ultimately a celebration of an unsung life typical of many women of her generation. Told with love, insight, humour and compassion, Song for Rosaleen raises important questions about who we become when our memories fail, how our rapidly ageing population can best be cared for, and what this means for us all.

I listened to the author speak at the Hastings book launch recently and she lamented on the fact that her mother, a very private woman, quite probably wouldn't have wanted her personal business publicised for all to read. What a brave decision Pip Desmond made to write it. How brave to raise the idea with her siblings and other family members knowing not all would approve or understand. It's a story that deserves to be told.

Any of us who have had to care for aging loved ones will empathize with this touching story and perhaps even recognise similarities to their own experiences. I hope others find strength and solace in the sharing of this journey.

Reviewed by Carla Crosbie

Catalogue link: Song for Rosaleen

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan

With its themes of love, loss and forgiveness, The Farm at the Edge of the World is a story about family and the place we call home. Beginning in 2014, elderly Alice Coates makes the decision to visit Syklark Farm in Cornwall to put right something that happened during the war.

Also in London, Lucy has a disastrous day. She discovers signs that her husband is having an affair, and at work as a neonatal nurse, almost gives a fatally incorrect dose of pain relief to a tiny premature baby. Lucy needs a breather, so makes her way to her childhood home, a place she has avoided since her father’s death, and where her mother and brother are struggling with the workload of keeping their farm solvent.

Lucy’s grandmother, Maggie, has lived on Skylark Farm most of her life and her mind often drifts back to the days during the war when she fell in love at seventeen. Will had been evacuated to Skylark Farm from London with his sister Alice, and he takes to farm life with gusto. But Maggie’s mother has plans for her daughter that don’t include Will.

Flipping between the war years and the present day, The Farm at the Edge of the World had me happily engrossed, eager to discover what had happened all those years ago which still cast a shadow over the present. I loved the characters, and the emotional pull of the story. The daily grind of farm-life – the animal husbandry and harvesting, the life and death scenarios - is evocatively brought to life, along with the wild Cornish coast, a beautiful setting for a lovers’ tryst.

Sarah Vaughan has created an evocative read, with a nod to Daphne du Maurier, which captures the unsettling years of the war and their long-term effects on a family. While there aren’t a lot of surprises in the overall plotting, Vaughan manages to pull off a delightful twist towards the end.

Posted by JAM

Monday, 7 May 2018

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates.

Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure. – nicstone.info (Author's website).

Do I just take what they dish out, try to stop being "so sensitive"? What do I do when my very identity is being mocked by people who refuse to admit there's a problem?

Justyce McAllister is a smart, accomplished black teen from a bad neighbourhood who worked hard to get a place at a prestigious (and very white) prep school. One night he tries to help his wasted ex-girlfriend out of a potentially messy situation (she is trying to drive home very, very drunk) but he is racially profiled by a white cop who treats him like a criminal and Jus has to experience police brutality first-hand. His whole world is shook. He has worked so hard to be good, to not be seen as one of ‘those guys’ but he is still treated like a thug. For the first time in his life he decides to start paying attention to what’s going on around him instead of ignoring it or glossing over it. He begins writing letters to Martin Luther King Jr about everything from arguments with his best friend, to the racist comments made by boys in his class (that refuse to believe that racism still exists – while being incredible racist!)

“Yeah, there are no more “colored” water fountains, and it’s supposed to be illegal to discriminate, but if I can be forced to sit on the concrete in too-tight cuffs when I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s clear there’s an issue. That things aren’t as equal as folks say they are.”

I actually had to stop reading at one point, because you would think that being treated like a piece of trash would be the low point of Justyce’s life – but things get So. Much. Worse. The situation was so frustrating, and I felt so horrible for the struggles that Justyce McAllister was facing – those same struggles that are faced by so many people of colour all over the world. But it was so beautifully written, and thankfully (tiny spoiler) had an ending that was full of hope (the idea that things can get better, people can change).

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was by far my favourite book of last year, and now Dear Martin might just be my favourite of this year. While T.H.U.G looks at the shooting of unarmed black men and boys through the eyes of a female witness, Dear Martin instead offers what it is like to be one of those racially-profiled black men.

"In that moment, when I thought I was dying, it hit me: despite how good of a dude Martin was, they still killed him, man."

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: Dear Martin

Saturday, 5 May 2018

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Trigger Warning for this book:

“...he covers her mouth.

That’s how you get a girl to stop crying; you cover her mouth until the sound dies against your palm.”

Romy Grey (the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, with an alcoholic father and no money) was raped by the popular and good looking son of the local sheriff. When she tried to tell people what happened she is branded a liar and everyone turns against her. All her friends have not only abandoned her, but make her life hell (especially in the changing rooms) and she is bullied relentlessly all day, every day at school.

Sometimes she even believes that she would rather be dead then have gone through what she went through.

“I wish I didn’t have a body, sometimes.”

Then the night of a huge town party both Romy and Penny (her former friend and the golden girl at school) go missing. Romy is found and returned home by the police and Penny is not, the townspeople and students at school lash out at Romy, saying the police "wasted time" looking for her when they could be looking for Penny.

What we get next is an exciting mystery novel with an unreliable (but beautifully written) narrator as everyone tries to figure out what happened to Penny, and Romy tries to ignore what people are saying about her.

“My dad used to say makeup was a shallow girl’s sport, but it’s not. It’s armor.”

This book is about the brutal reality of what it’s like to be a teenage girl in this day and age. It’s about being shamed by others who would rather believe that a girl is a liar, than to believe that someone (especially a boy that seems to have everything going right for him) could sink so low to do that to someone else. All the Rage will make you feel ALL the rage. It is honest, with startlingly real characters, and so many heartbreaking moments.

“I don’t know why it’s the girls who always seem to have to take on that kind of burden.”

- On April 14th, 2015, in celebration of the North American release of the novel All the Rage by Courtney Summers, the hashtag campaign #ToTheGirls launched. People were invited to send a personal message of support, encouragement and empowerment to girls across their social media accounts. #ToTheGirls was a resounding success; it went viral, trended worldwide on Twitter and was covered in many media outlets – (from the Tumblr page for #ToTheGirls).

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: All the Rage

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews

After reading lots of biographies and psychological thrillers I was looking for something a little different; and The Word for Woman is Wilderness is just that.

In Abi Andrews' first novel, 19 year old Erin decides that if Bear Grylls can embark on all sorts of exciting adventures so can she (even if Bear Grylls did not have to deal with a Mooncup).  Ignoring the fact she knows nothing about said wilderness and has been living a sheltered existence with her parents in suburban England, she sets off for Alaska by land and sea.

Even on those documentary channels that do programmes on whole families homesteading in the wilderness the woman is always Mountain Man’s wife, never, ever Mountain Woman, just an annexe of the Mountain Man along with his beard, pipe and gun.

Erin records her experience on video along the way for a future documentary, and often this novel reads like non-fiction.  The author Abi Andrews drew inspiration from the actual documentary of  Christopher McCandless who lived off the grid in Denali National Park in Alaska (and tragically starved to death).  Unable to take the journey to Alaska herself due to study commitments and wondering how different this journey would have been for a woman, Andrews wrote about it instead.

The Word for Woman is Wilderness is a Millennial feminist take on nature and travel writing.
Let's be honest, the main character Erin irritated me at times (because I am old), but this did not detract from an original, well researched and timely  novel.  Erin shares with the reader a stream of consciousness on all sorts of issues; nuclear arms, history, writers, nature, psychology and indigenous rights.

If this sounds all too serious rest assured there is a lot of wry humour in these musings also, with  sub-heading like: More space where nobody is than where anybody is; and:
Chivalry isn't dead, men just get sick of ungrateful b*****s (my stars not the author's as she endures unhelpful mansplaining on why she should not be travelling alone).

All in all an absorbing and insightful wilderness read with lots of fascinating ruminations.

Catalogue link:  The Word for Women is Wilderness