Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash,  I call them neighbours, friends, and family.
J.D. Vance

Remember all the disbelief when Donald Trump was elected President and the media wondered how they had got their predictions so wrong?
Hillbilly Elegy was a book touted after the election as an enlightening read as to how blue collar America became disillusioned with the effects of globalisation.  The book in fact has no mention of Trump as it was written before the election, but does examine the culture of  disenfranchised, poor white people.
J. D. Vance's family came from the Appalachian Mountains, (and Scotland and Ireland before that) and like so many moved to cities and towns in the American 'rust belt' for work in steel mills, coal mines and other industries.
As the industries closed down or moved offshore families fell on hard times.
J.D was lucky to have loving and supportive grandparents Mawmaw and Pawpaw; who although having problems of their own were often a safe haven for J.D.  His mother struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and J.D had 12 'stepfathers' throughout his childhood.
J.D's great-grandparents were 13 and 17 when they married.
J.D. spent time as a marine after High School and served in Afghanistan; an experience which taught him discipline and how to be motivated.  J.D. was also the first in his family to attend college. He went on to graduate from Yale law school; obtain a good job and construct a happy marriage.

Hillbilly culture has some strong positives; intense family  and patriotic ties and loyalty, and it's own sense of justice, albeit outside of the law.  Such values run alongside suspicion of those different from themselves, especially those with success and money; those in authority and also the media.
Towards the end of the book are some interesting insights into why the hillbilly culture can encourage learned helplessness.  The author ably combines his lived experience with a questioning analysis and sometimes harsh judgements.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link:  Hillbilly Elegy

Monday, 16 October 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

This particular story follows Dimple, an 18 year old girl who just finished high school and is preparing for college. She wants nothing more than to work in web design, and spend all her time coding. She doesn’t want the distraction of romance, and hates that all her mother’s spare time seems to be dedicated to finding her the I.I.H (Ideal Indian Husband). While Dimple's family is Indian, she was born and raised in America, and is trying to escape what she considers the ‘misogynistic’ ideals of Indian marriage.

Rishi was also born and raised in America to Indian parents, but he is very proud of his heritage, wants nothing more than to please his parents, who sacrificed much for him to have a better life. He is happy to have his marriage arranged by his parents. When he is given Dimple's photo, and is told to meet her in San Francisco, he trusts their judgement and starts imagining their life together. There is just one problem, Dimple has no idea who he is!

At times this novel could have come across as far too cheesy and forced, but the main characters are so lovable that I wanted nothing more than for them to both be happy. At times Dimple can be stubborn and a bit of a wet blanket, and Rishi has trouble trying to admit his true dreams (because it may mean disappointing his parents) but I still loved them both, flaws and all. This story was a fun summer read that I will be recommending to a lot of people.

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: When Dimple Met Rishi

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Close Enough to Touch is what you might call a not-so-simple love story. The two main characters have problems, big problems, and while it is chance that throws them together, their apparently insurmountable difficulties make any chance of a relationship highly unlikely.

Jubilee Jenkins is a recluse due to her terrible health problem – she is allergic to human touch. After Donavan Kingsley kissed her for a bet at school and she nearly died of anaphylactic shock (and of shame), Jubilee refused to leave the house. When her mother marries and moves away, Jubilee becomes adept at managing her life - educating herself, buying groceries, managing the garden - all with the help of the Internet. The story picks up when Jubilee’s mother dies, and to make ends meet, Jubilee finds work at the library.

Eric is divorced when he takes on a temporary assignment in New York, bringing with him his ten-year-old adopted son, Aja. The boy has never quite managed to grieve for the parents who died two years before. Instead he practises telekinesis, which gets him into trouble time and time again. Meanwhile, Eric’s daughter Ellie refuses to speak to him, but somehow her school reading journal winds up among the boxes Eric takes away with him. To find out more about the daughter he misses Eric decides to read the books Ellie loves most. This takes him to the library, where he meets Jubilee.

Colleen Oakley has written a poignant and engrossing comedy/drama, with characters who are quirky and so heart-breakingly vulnerable, you can’t help but feel their pain and want the best for them. We follow their journey as Eric attempts to reconnect with his daughter and keep Aja safe, and Jubilee develops the courage she will need to explore the world outside, accepting help when she needs to. While they deal with big problems, the humorous tone of the writing and the offbeat turn of events create a light and engrossing read. I found Close Enough to Touch a warm-hearted novel, which is surprisingly hard to put down.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Close Enough to Touch

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Queen of Beauty by Paula Morris

“Virginia Seton lives in rainy, seedy New Orleans, working as a researcher for an historical novelist with a "strip-mined" imagination. On a brief trip back to New Zealand for her sister's wedding, Virginia is drawn into the family secrets, lies and tensions of both the past and the present.” – Authors Website.

After reading two of Paula Morris’ YA novels (both set in New Orleans exclusively) I had almost forgotten that she was a New Zealand author, so it was lovely to read a novel where she included both settings (New Orleans and Auckland), and did so quite nicely. While parts of the story seemed dis-jointed (it was full of flash backs from other characters point of view across three generations) it was a lovely look at an extended Pakeha/Maori family, and the different relationships that happen within it.

Virginia left New Zealand to study at Tulane University in New Orleans fell in love with the city. She hasn’t seen her family in more than five years, but makes the trip back for her younger sister’s wedding. While the scenes set in New Orleans seemed to drag a little bit (she led an unexciting life working as a fact checker for a successful novelist) the scenes involving her family came alive, and reminded me (too much at some times) of my own crazy extended family. With her parents separated and remarried, new children, and old grudges, Morris paints a very realistic (and very entertaining) portrait of family secrets and relationships. I loved it.

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: Queen of Beauty

Thursday, 5 October 2017

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Being stamped with “literary award winner” means this is a book I would normally avoid reading. For me these three words conjure up boring novels with long scenic descriptions and in-depth character analysis which leave no room for much of anything to happen. However this debut novel, winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, cannot be described in these terms. Yes it is beautifully written and yes it has complex characters but it also has a well-crafted story-line, which kept me hooked from the first page.

Weaving back and forth between undocumented Chinese immigrant Peilan and her son Deming, we experience Peilan’s early life in the rural village of Minjiang where she lived with her father. America, the land of unlimited wealth and opportunities, beckoned and Peilan settles in New York City where she works in a factory sewing clothes and then into the much higher paid position of nail technician at a beauty salon. With no support the difficulties of working and caring for a small baby are beyond Peilan and she sends the very young Deming home to her father in China. Circumstances see Deming return to live with Peilan in the one roomed apartment she shares with her fiancé, his sister and her son. Then one day Peilan disappears and her fiancé’s sister takes Deming to the authorities with the result that at aged eight he is fostered into an American white family.

Deming’s journey, much like his mother’s, takes him from one continent to another, moving between different cultures and languages. To share more details than this would be a plot spoiler, for the story is woven through what happened to Peilan.

What makes this book such a good read is that it is more than a story about a separated mother and son. There’s the clash of parents doing the wrong things for the right reasons; there’s children trying to do the right thing for misguided reasons and there’s the story of present day American society failing to do the right thing in the fraught area of illegal immigration.

Ko has captured the heart of her characters and with descriptions like…snow fell like clots of wet laundry…maybe I could be tempted to read another literary award winning novel.

Posted by Miss Moneypenny

Catalogue link: The Leavers

Monday, 2 October 2017

Ruined by Paula Morris

A year after Hurricane Katrina, Rebecca Brown is sent from her home in New York City to live among strangers in New Orleans. Among the tombs of Lafayette Cemetery, one of the famous Cities of the Dead, Rebecca makes her only friend – a ghost named Lisette, who has a very old score to settle. – Authors website.

Unexpectedly sent to New Orleans for six months while her father travels for work, Rebecca has no friends, no family, and no idea what she is doing. The girls at her new school are snooty and distant, the family friend she is staying with is peculiar and reads tarot cards to tourists for a living, and she has been banned from talking to the only boy she finds even remotely interesting. So what else is a bored teenager to do but to explore the cemetery across the road and befriend a ghost?

Rebecca promises Lisette that she will help her however she can, not realizing that although Lisette died hundreds of years before Rebecca was born, the two are connected in unexpected ways.

I have to say that while this may not be one of the best YA novels I have read, it definitely had me hooked. Set in New Orleans (a city I have always wanted to visit) you would never guess that the author was a kiwi. This book for me was more about the setting, and the amazing descriptions of not only the various parts of the city, but the wonderful, colourful people that Rebecca meets along the way. Morris used such descriptive language to describe places, and included many restaurants and cafés in her story that truly exist (and that I can’t wait to visit for myself).

While this story was a supernatural thriller, with a teen love story, to me it was more like a love letter to a city.

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: Ruined

Friday, 29 September 2017

Leap of Faith by Jenny Pattrick

A vivid novel about ingenuity and hard slog, crooks and dreamers, bootleggers and love.

Billy is a young, impressionable dreamer. In 1907, at only 14 years old, he strikes off on his own, keen to prove himself an able worker on the new railroad. It's being cut through steep mountainsides and across deep gullies to join the two ends of the Main Trunk Line. Also drawn to the remote worker settlements are miners from Denniston, young men fresh off the boat, sly-groggers, temperance campaigners, women following their menfolk, local Maori and a varied assortment of people after a new life or a quick buck. Among them is a preacher, Gabriel Locke, who is running from a shady past and determined to avoid the daily grind. With untimely and suspicious deaths, the horrendous weather, impossible deadlines, the rugged landscape and a blossoming romance, it will take a lot more than a leap of faith for this disparate group to complete the railroad and build the magnificent Makatote viaduct ...

Jenny Pattrick takes us on a journey into the world of early New Zealand railway work and its often dangerous environment.

This book particularly appealed to me with Billy going out on his own at such a young age. I remember my own father telling me of leaving home at 14 to work on the fishing boats in the Arctic Ocean and the harsh, freezing conditions they survived through. I found myself comparing situations and wondering how young boys of today would cope. Jenny Pattrick, like so many great fiction writers, uses the experiences of real people to develop her characters. What would my father’s or your father’s stories become in the hands of a writer like her? Would their voices be used to create a character like Billy?
Identified by Nicky Pellegrino as 'one of this country's most talented storytellers', it has been said that she creates 'an authentic stage for a cast of characters who interact in ways that always ring true' (The Christchurch Press).

Reviewed by Hastings District Libraries

Jenny Pattrick is in Hawkes Bay for the Harcourts Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival Readers & Writers programme. Don’t miss her Family Fiction with Mary-anne Scott in the Spiegeltent, Havelock North Village Green, Saturday 30 Sept, 5.30pm and Keeping the Faith at the MTG Century Theatre, Napier, Sunday 1 Oct, 11.00am. We’ll see you there!

Catalogue link:  Leap of Faith