Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, July 31, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler has just earned a place on the Mann Booker Prize long-list for her latest novel, the weirdly titled, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The story concerns Rosemary, a long-term university student who is struggling. The reader gets the sense that there’s a deep-seated problem, and next thing you know Rosemary is in trouble for hitting a policeman at the campus café. This launches her friendship with Harlow, a wild sort of character who is always in and out of trouble, and gets the plot off to an interesting start.

But the main story thread begins in Rosemary’s past, and for this we have to go back to when Rosemary was five and her sister, Fern, disappeared, causing a rift between her parents and her brother, and he hasn’t been seen in years either.

For me, what made this book really sing, apart from a wonderfully different kind of back-story, is the character of Rosemary herself. A scientific experiment that framed her childhood has undoubtedly damaged her and her family, but it has also made Rosemary interesting. She looks at the world in a slightly different way from most people, and this is because of her early years and Fern.

And while there is heart-break in the novel, there is also plenty of humour, with lively scenes involving student flats, missing luggage and a ventriloquist’s dummy. Fowler adds plenty of insight about the field of behavioural science, which provides the book with a powerful message. This is another great read from the author that gave us The Jane Austen Book Club and to my mind it is very deserving of its place among the best novels of the year.

Posted by JAM

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters

Debut novelist, Louise Walters has come up with an engaging intergenerational tale for her first book. Roberta works in a bookshop, secretly doting on its good-looking owner, Philip, when her dying father gives her a suitcase. It once belonged to her grandmother, who had always gone by the Polish name of Mrs Pietrykowski, not Mrs Sinclair as the suitcase would suggest.

Also peculiar is the letter Roberta finds inside which is written by her grandfather and dated some time after he’d been killed in the war. An avid hoarder of postcards and messages left in the second-hand books she sells, Roberta can't help but be curious.

The story switches back to the past, to the time of the Battle of Britain during World War Two, and we meet Roberta’s grandmother Dorothy, living in the country near an airfield and grieving for her still-born son. While her husband is away at war, she develops a friendship with a Polish squadron leader.

Events will lead Dorothy to make a desperate decision and bury a secret that won’t be revealed until Roberta can develop the courage to talk to her frail grandmother about the past. Both women are given difficult choices which make the book particularly gripping, as the chapters alternate between their different viewpoints.

While Dorothy has a tendency to fly in the face of convention and ignores the whisperings of those around her, Roberta accepts second best, muddling along in her job and ignoring her heart. Walters has created some wonderful characters and her writing style shows a care for language that makes for pleasant reading. I for one will be looking out for Walter's next novel.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

This psychological thriller explores the possibilities and problems in the world of social media. 

Leila is an intelligent but socially isolated young woman who agrees to help maintain an online presence for the suicidal but larger than life, Tess. Leila has never met Tess, but she knows more about her than anyone else. She has read all her emails, researched her background, and asked Tess for every detail about her family and friends. 

So when Tess first feels the need to slip away from the pressures of life, Leila feels well prepared to maintain Tess’s online identity in her absence. But Leila soon learns that there is more to a person than the facts and, slowly, her own life becomes consumed and complicated by Tess’s. This is an interesting and gripping read which will keep your attention till the end.

Reviewed by Katrina H

Catalogue Link:  Kiss Me First

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