Hastings District Libraries

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Case of the Imaginary Detective by Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler’s novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, was a big hit this year, worthy of a place on the Mann Booker short-list. I had a look at one of her earlier books, The Case of the Imaginary Detective, a story featuring another damaged female character.  Rima is grieving after the recent deaths of her brother in an accident and her father from leukaemia. She holes up at the seaside home of her godmother, the acclaimed novelist Addison Early, famous for her series of Maxwell Lane mysteries.

Addison lives a secretive life with her oddball housekeeper, Tilda, and employs university students to walk her dachshunds, encouraging them to help Rima re-engage with the outside world. The other odd thing about Addison is the miniature dolls’ houses she creates, each one a grisly tableau of a different Maxwell Lane murder.

As Rima settles in, she can’t escape the urge to discover what caused the rift between Addison and her father many years ago. It's a puzzle that leads her back to the now derelict Holy City, once a religious community under the helm of the autocratic William Riker and the scene of a suspicious death.

The Case of the Imaginary Detective has plenty for the reader to enjoy – quirky characters with interesting pasts; mystery and clues galore; a sympathetic main character; the atmospheric setting of a seaside town in winter. All this comes together beautifully because of Fowler’s superb writing. Surely this author gets ten out ten for originality.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Case of the Imaginary Detective

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud

Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed some of Britain’s most endearing architecture of the early 1900s, but died in obscurity. He spent a short time in Suffolk as Britain entered the First World War, drawing and painting watercolours of the natural world around him. In Esther Freud’s new novel, Mr Mac and Me, we have the story of an imagined friendship between Mackintosh and thirteen-year-old Thomas Maggs, the son of a Suffolk publican.

The Maggs family have had their problems: a father who drinks and the deaths in infancy of Thomas’s six older brothers. But Thomas busily gets on with life, in spite of a club foot, dreaming of the sea and filling his schoolbooks with pictures of ships. His drawings attract the attention of Mackintosh and his wife, and Thomas does the couple odd jobs, while they feed him up and give him lessons in painting.

In the background, the war is shown through the eyes of a small Sussex town. Supposed to be over by Christmas, it has turned out to be more serious than ever imagined, with terrible casualties and loss of ships. The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) has the locals on the look-out for spies with worrying consequences.

Freud has captured brilliantly a time and place through the eyes of her young narrator in a way that brings it all to life. Thomas is wonderful company – full of energy and determination, but also sensitive and interesting. Mackintosh’s character is equally complex and the art of Charles and his wife vividly brought to the page.

Mr Mac and Me is a well-crafted and original novel, describing tumultuous events within the world of ordinary people. Recommended.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Mr Mac and Me

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

This exceptionally elegant novel has a deep humanity threaded throughout, all the while exploring the perennially thorny problem of how to balance the primitive human urges of passion, impulse, and procreation with a complex society that urges order, restraint and the pursuit of the material.

Fiona Maye is a successful and well respected High Court judge who is renowned for applying the law with intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. She presides over cases in the Family Division with a calm and ordered mind, unflappable in the face of acrimonious and warring parties, knotty ethical issues, and the stream of dysfunctional families.

But at home, her calm has been ruffled and her marriage of thirty years is in danger. With the steady and familiar rhythms of her life in flux, Fiona is plagued by a sense of unease. There are consequences of past decisions not fully resolved and current courses of action to be anticipated and thought through.

It is in this unusual state of unrest that the case of a 17 year old Jehovah Witness, who is refusing blood transfusion, breaks through her carefully constructed professional and personal boundaries. While the courtroom provides an orderly pace and structure within which life’s messy problems can be considered and deliberated on, Fiona finds herself on unfamiliar ground when her everyday world becomes more impulsive and unpredictable.  She must struggle to remain in control - if that is really what she wants.

It is easy to see why McEwan's latest offering has received high praise from critics. The graceful simplicity of the prose weaves your consciousness seamlessly into Fiona’s and, for the short duration of the novel, you find yourself almost wearing her courtly robe and her cultured and measured life. The effect is enchanting.

Reviewed by Spot

Catalogue Link:  The Children Act

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Droitwich Deceivers by Kerry Tombs

If Dorothy L Sayers had set her mysteries in the late 1800s, they might have turned out a bit like this. When salt baron, Sir Charles Chilton, discovers his nine year old daughter has been abducted during a stroll through the churchyard with her governess, he is reluctant to call the local bobbies. Instead, Detective Inspector Ravenscroft is asked to investigate, abetted by his colleague Constable Crabbe.

The two are perplexed by the web of secrecy surrounding Hill Court, Sir Charles’s residence in Droitwich, particularly Chilton’s reluctance to allow questioning of staff and his veto on Ravenscroft’s interviewing the child’s fragile mother. And what was going on in the churchyard which caused the governess to leave the girl unattended?

Meanwhile Ravenscroft’s wife Lucy finds a distraught young woman on her doorstep, worried about the whereabouts of her baby. With her husband away in Droitwich, Lucy takes it upon herself to look into the case, which will take her into the nefarious world of baby farming.

Kerry Tombs has put together a classic whodunit, set in Victorian England, and packed with the usual dodgy suspects, quaint characters, and mansions belonging to the rich and titled. What sets The Droitwich Deceivers above the run of the mill in this genre is the lively dialogue, humour and well-paced plotting. Don’t let the tiresomely alliterative titles of the series put you off; if you like a briskly entertaining mystery, Tombs doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Droitwich Deceivers

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Don't Call Me Stupid by Rewia

This is the heartwarming story of Rewia, a young woman with cerebral palsy and her struggle to get out of the intellectually disabled system into which she had been misguidedly placed.

Don't miss your opportuninty to meet this inspiring author!

Rewia will be in Hastings Library, Saturday 6 December, 2 - 3.30pm



If you would like to purchase Rewia's book it is available as an eBook:

Don't Call Me Stupid by Rewia - Amazon Kindle Version

Don't Call Me Stupid by Rewia - Kobo Version

For local stockists of the book please contact:

The Flower Barrow - 229 Gloucester Street, Taradale
Paper Plus - 285 Gloucester Street, Taradale

Artmosphere Gallery - 1307 SH2 Waipawa - Otane

Central Print and Design - 29 Ruataniwha Street, Waipukurau
Paper Plus - 77 Ruataniwha Street, Waipukurau

The RRP is $19.95.


Review: Don't Call Me Stupid by Rewia
Review by Rachel Wise
This review first appeared in The Link, 3 December, 2014.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

In 2002, after years of circulating rumours, crime writer Tara Moss was publicly challenged by a journalist to take a polygraph test to prove that she wrote her own books. Many people had trouble believing she was intelligent enough to write them herself. Why? Because she was a model.

In her first non-fiction work, Moss easily demolishes a range of flawed ideas when it comes to the judgements made about women. Until you read this book, you probably won’t have realised the extent of these ‘fictions’ and the impact they have on your own life and the lives of the women and men around you.

These aren’t issues that can be relegated to the history books, yet, either. Without deliberate intervention, the young girls of today are going to come-of-age in a society where their chances of sexual assault are still disturbingly high, domestic violence is prevalent, where men are paid more and promoted more than woman, and where the bulk of childcare and domestic work falls on to the shoulders of women. Today’s teens need to know this stuff and be aware that their personal choices will play out on a public stage - one that is still weighted in favour of men.

Moss presents a personal and engaging account of how these issues have played out in her own life and in our public spaces. Her evidence is convincing and her discussion contemporary. She argues that new technologies and social media have brought both positives and negatives for women. However, technology without a change in attitude can only deliver us so far. Moss describes many cases of men who still buy into the old prejudices and feel entitled to control over women’s bodies and behaviour. As an Australian, she sees this dangerously embodied by current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Abbott is the ultimate contemporary warning – his charming paternalism, however well-intentioned, could easily undo progress made, so far, toward equality.

Moss writes for ‘everyone’ in a very accessible and entertaining style and is well capable of holding the interest of all, including the Facebook generation. She provides a compelling argument for the need to inform each new generation and to keep challenging these issues, politicising them, and legislating against them. I recommend reading it yourself, and then empowering your own teen by putting it on their Christmas list!

Reviewed by Spot

Catalogue Link: The Fictional Woman

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Return to Fourwinds by Elisabeth Gifford

Elisabeth Gifford’s novel, Return to Fourwinds is a family drama set across two generations, going back to the evocative setting of Valencia, Spain in the early 1930s. This is home to young Ralph Colchester, whose mother is a kind of "housekeeper" to the English banker, Max Gardiner. Ralph pines for his father, who has abandoned them to live in South America, but Max takes an avuncular interest in him.

When Ralph is sent to school in England, World War II is not far away, and next we are following the story of Peter, a poor evacuee from Manchester, sent to live with Alice Hanbury’s family. It’s a totally different world, with servants, plentiful food, music and conversation and Peter’s brief sojourn here will change his life for ever.

Switching forward in time, the plot also follows the imminent nuptials of Peter’s daughter Sarah, and Ralph and Alice’s son, Nicky, at the Colchester home of Fourwinds. As the bride experiences wedding jitters, two devastating secrets are set to emerge.

Yes, it’s one of those secrets from the past that upset the apple-cart sorts of novels, and there are a lot of characters that perhaps could have had a novel all their own. But the writing is flawless and the period settings nicely brought to life.

Gifford is emerging as a reliable author of period/family drama, producing sympathetic characters and an engrossing plot. Perhaps this book could have benefited from a little less melodrama and a little more character development, but it is an entertaining read nonetheless.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Return to Fourwinds