Hastings District Libraries

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh

Certain authors and their books are in the same vein as 'comfort food' for me. These are ones I go back to time and time again when I need to relax, de-stress and just enjoy.  There are so many fabulous books out there, both fiction and non-fiction but sometimes my brain and weary mind just needs the familiar.

On reflection I realise that my 'back to' authors all create worlds of their own and the characters in their books become real people who exist in these worlds. Do you have a favourite author like this?

My top pick at the moment is New Zealander Nalini Singh, wonderful writer and beautiful person. Her Psy-Changling novels are total escapism, fun and (dare I say it) a little bit sexy. Thanks Nalini for bringing these amazing characters to life.

Posted by Cookie Fan

Catalogue link: Mine to Possess

About the author

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

I adore the books of Barbara Pym; her witty and perceptive novels set in post-war Britain have a certain Jane Austenish charm.  Like many of her stories, Excellent Women concerns an unmarried woman, in this case Mildred Lathbury, and how a few small events overturn her well-regulated and predictable life.

The first event is the arrival of new neighbours. They are the glamorous Napiers – clever anthropologist Helena Napier and her dashing husband Rockingham. To Mildred they seem to have a far more exciting life than her own, which is dominated by involvement in church jumble sales and charity work with a society for impoverished gentlewomen.

But the Napiers’ marriage looks headed for disaster and each of them turns to Mildred to supply countless cups of tea and a sympathetic ear. Meanwhile Mildred’s close friendship with the vicar and his unmarried sister is overshadowed by the arrival of their dazzling new lodger, the attractive Allegra Gray, who is a vicar's widow, and therefore suitable in every way.

Pym peppers the book with hilarious minor characters: the outspoken Sister Blatt, the intellectual Everard Bone and his embarrassingly dotty mother, the well-meaning but otherworldly vicar. Mildred may be relegated to tea-making duties at every turn, but she provides a wonderfully wry and shrewd narrative voice.

Pym does a good job at sticking up for the ‘excellent women’ of her day, regarded as spinsters and stuck on the fringes of society, while showing up the vanities and foibles of those in more glorified circles. Excellent Women is a truly excellent read.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Excellent Women

About the author

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Poets' Wives by David Park

David Park’s latest novel describes three women whose own ambitions and dreams play second fiddle to the art and egos of their famous poet husbands.

Catherine has come from humble beginnings to marry the Romantic visionary poet and artist, William Blake – creator of the well-known ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ and favourite hymn, ‘Jerusalem’. Blake is way ahead of his time with his pacifist and liberal ideas while many regard him as mad.

The story of Nadezhda Mandelstam is particularly harrowing. Her husband Osip is regarded as one of the great Soviet poets of his generation, but under Stalin’s regime, he is persecuted and sent to the work camps. In a climate of fear, Nadezhda finds that the only way she can preserve his work is to learn the poems off by heart, keeping them secret for decades.

These two astonishing true stories are rounded off by the story of Lydia, the only fictional wife of the book, who organises the scattering of her husband’s ashes near the seaside town where he wrote. Accompanied by her daughters, the women share their bitterness about how Don’s poetry always came first in their lives, even before their grief over the death of Don and Lydia's son.

Park is a very lyrical writer and suits his style to the voice of each of the three women as they tell their stories. The poetry of their husbands has the chance to live through their words and while each story is really powerful in its own distinct way, similar themes run through them all. This is a beautifully crafted book from a very talented writer.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Poets' Wives

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia by Su Meck

What’s it like to have your sense of self and all your memories gone in one fell swoop? Su was 22 years old when a traumatic head injury left her unable to remember even her own children. This is her memoir of having to learn almost everything from scratch, including how to act as an adult in a world she had no memory of ever experiencing before.

Su’s accident had left her in a dependent state upon a husband she had no knowledge of or affection for, with the responsibility of caring for two small children. The extent of her amnesia was unrecognised by both the medical community and even her own family.

Her account is both candid and alarming. With repeated episodes of becoming almost comatose over those early years, Su believes that it is incredibly lucky that both she and her children survived. Su often had no understanding or meaning for many of the activities she was expected to perform in her life and could only pretend to act like other adults. Dependent and naïve, the brain injury took a terrible toll on her marriage.

This is Su’s account of an incredible journey of self-development. Using the smallest clues, like her old record collection, she slowly began to get a sense of what she used to be like before the accident. But still, for her, the old Su is an unknown person, one she is only acquainted with through the memories of family and friends. Heart-breaking yet inspiring, Su’s story illustrates the important role of our own past and how it shapes the fabric of our present.

Reviewed by Spot
Catalogue Link: I Forgot to Remember

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Treachery by S J Parris

Elizabethan-era philosopher and spy, Giordano Bruno, is back with another rip-roaring adventure in S J Parris’s latest novel, Treachery. Bruno's great friend, Sir Philip Sydney, has offered their services to Sir Frances Drake who is assembling his fleet for a foray against the Spanish.

Sydney wants to join the action and make his fortune in prize money but when the two arrive in Plymouth, they are thrown into a murder investigation. The body of Robert Dunne has been found in his cabin on board Drake’s flagship, the Bonaventure. Bruno quickly confirms that what is dressed up as suicide has a more sinister cause. Can Bruno sift through the list of suspects, who include Dunne’s wife, her lover, his numerous creditors, and the man Dunne's been blackmailing, to find the killer?

It’s an investigation that will take numerous twists and turns. Drake's life is constantly under threat with the rich prize offered by Philip of Spain for his death. The royal favourite is also in possession of a Coptic text he would like Bruno to translate – a heretical work that could be a missing gospel. This brings an old enemy of Bruno’s out of the woodwork – the book dealer, Jenkes, who with his missing ears is a particularly nasty piece of work.

Treachery is another absolutely whizzing yarn from Parris, who writes about Elizabethan England, its politics and people, its marketplaces, brothels and alleyways, as if she’s been there herself. She writes with wit and verve, and Bruno is a star.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue Link: Treachery

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Coming Home by Sue Gee

Sue Gee’s latest novel is set in post-war Britain and focuses on a family finding their feet in a changing world. Will has made a life in India as a sugar cane planter until enlisting for active service during the war. Flo has joined the women’s auxiliary forces in India having failed on the marriage market and as a nurse. When she meets Will it’s love at first sight.

Marriage follows just as Will’s life in India comes to a close and they leave for Britain with dreams of farming and children. How they adjust to a draughty farmhouse and the hard physical work of the farm, caring for their two children - outgoing Bea and sensitive Freddie - brings up some new issues. These include Will’s health and Flo’s restlessness as a home-maker and her urge to write. India holds a particular place in their hearts that they can never forget.

In the background Britain is still reeling from the effects of war and rationing, women have had independence during the war but are back to running homes again, or bringing up children alone. There are examples of mental illness and infidelity while the old rules about class and people’s place in society are on the verge of change.

Coming Home is a sensitive look at one family through the fifties and sixties. Each character is finely drawn and their individual struggles really engage the reader’s sympathy. It was interesting to read about Sue Gee’s own family background which prompted to her to write the novel. Perhaps this explains why Coming Home has such a ring of truth about it. Another great read from an accomplished author.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Coming Home

About the author

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Look Who’s Back: A Merciless Satire by Timur Vermes

Hitler is back. He has woken to find himself on a barren patch of ground amidst the busy Berlin summer of 2011. Disoriented and unsure what has happened, one thing is obvious: he's on his own – no Nazi party and no headquarters. He discovers Germany is in a terrible state. He must regroup the best he can - the Fatherland needs its Fuhrer.

And regroup he does. With the explosion of media and celebrity culture, Hitler finds it remarkably easy to build up a following in the new world order. He is mistaken for a flawless impersonator and his theatrical type rants fit perfectly into stand-up television and YouTube. He's a hit. The public love him.

Look Who's Back became a bestseller in Germany. It is written in the first person in the style of Mein Kampf but, unlike Mein Kampf, Hitler comes across as almost likeable (the book only has light sprinkles of his hatred for 'others'). He is charmed by small children and women, and is charming in return. He is earnest, determined, upfront, and honest. His strength of vision, leadership qualities, and ability to turn a situation to his advantage are almost admirable.

Reviewers outside of Germany seem to attribute the novel's success to the country's still strong taboo around the subject. But while there's nothing in this book that jolts you wide awake, no sharp prickle of fear creeping up the back of your neck nor any particular laugh-out-loud moments, it will exert a strangely optimistic charm and, all the while, you are thinking: could another dangerous madman climb the political ladder in the West?  are our democracies as safe and unassailable as we assume them to be? The gentle unease will stay with you, just like your fascination with the rich, famous, and successful. Be mindful how susceptible you are is the take-home message, and don't forget that the merciless can assume a civilised façade when they choose.

Look Who's Back is deceptively naïve.  Great reading for an election year. 

Reviewed by Spot
Catalogue Link:  Look Who's Back