Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Turning the Stones by Debra Daley

Take a beautiful young heroine, a smidgeon of witchcraft, a buried secret and a family that will do anything to cling to its ebbing fortune, and you have the makings of a ripping yarn. Turning the Stones reminded me a bit of the novels of Robert Louis Stephenson or Samuel Richardson, with its benighted heroine, Em, and the 1760s setting.

It begins as Em wakes up in a strange bedroom, groggy and bloodied and unaware of how she got there. She discovers a vaguely familiar figure in the room, unfortunately and savagely dead, while the door is locked on the outside. Dressing quickly, Em scrambles out the window before she can be fingered for the crime, determined to make her way to France and the anonymity that might just save her life. Things don’t quite go as planned and Em must throw herself on the mercy of Captain McDonagh, a seaman with an agenda of his own.

Woven into Em’s current predicament, is the story of Em’s growing up with the Waterlands, a genteel family who saved her from the workhouse when she was tiny. Or so Mrs Waterland says. And who is the strange, witchlike Kitty Conneely, and what is she trying to achieve with her desperate incantations?

There are a wealth of secrets, plots and connivings going on to keep the reader well amused. But Debra Daley has a lovely way with words, and Em is a sharp, intelligent narrator with plenty of gumption which prevents the book from descending into melodrama. Turning the Stones is a surprisingly satisfying read and Debra Daley a new author for your watch-list.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Turning the Stones

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Trafficked: My Story by Sophie Hayes

When Sophie was 24, she went on holiday to visit a friend in Italy. Never in her wildest imagination did she expect to be coerced into prostitution by the man she had trusted so completely. This is the brutal and terrifying true story of how she managed to survive.

Sophie was a young British woman who had a close and supportive relationship with her Mum and siblings. An attractive young woman with a good job, she had none of the risk factors that victims of sex trafficking usually have. This is what makes her story even more startling.

It was the careful grooming by a man she had spent four years confiding in that made Sophie so vulnerable. Over the phone, he was a long distance ally, listening patiently to Sophie talk about her everyday ups and downs, giving support and encouragement. He seemed like a best friend. When he suggested that she needed a refreshing break abroad after a relationship break-up, Sophie was only too happy to take his invitation up. But, just before her return home, he told her that she was there for another purpose – to help him repay a debt. His knowledge of her insecurities and weaknesses were now used against her and he forced her into a life working the streets in Italy, Albania, and France.

Far from home and under the control of a violent and merciless man, Sophie lost her sense of self and nearly her life. Luckily, Sophie survived and was reunited with her family. She now works with the organisation Stop the Traffick and hopes that telling her story will raise awareness of human trafficking and its prevalence in every society.

Posted by Spot
Catalogue Link:  Trafficked: My Story

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil by James Runcie

The third book of Sidney Chambers mystery stories has arrived just as ITV have announced filming 'The Grantchester Mysteries', starring James Norton as the rector with a nose for detection, and Robson Green as his backgammon friend, Inspector Keating. The two tackle a range of crimes in Cambridge during the 1950s and 60s, and the series if full of the post-war, tweedy atmosphere you’d expect, while society is on the brink of change to a new more permissive era.

In The Problem of Evil, James Runcie gets the book off to a serious start with a serial killer who is murdering vicars, and leaving behind a grisly memento. The next story is more light-hearted and concerns a painting stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum, while Sidney is visiting with his posh friend Amanda. This story will take Sidney and Keating across the channel to France to chase down the bohemian young woman who provided an entertaining diversion as the heist took place.

In the third story Sidney helps out a film director friend from the war, taking the role of the vicar in a movie adaptation of the Dorothy Sayers classic, The Nine Tailors. There are plenty of humorous moments, but events take a grimmer turn when one of the cast drowns during filming. A final story is appropriate to the upcoming Christmas festival, when a baby is taken from a hospital ward and Sidney has to use his gentle priestly manner to bring about a happy ending.

The Grantchester series is a light, whimsical collection of cleverly plotted mysteries that are nicely written and full of terrific characters. Great Sunday afternoon reading - and, let's hope, coming soon to a TV near you.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person

If any book will put you off the hippy lifestyle – this is it. Describing this memoir as compelling feels like an understatement. It reads like an effortless retelling of childhood from a child’s point of view, but the simple style and beautiful backdrop of Canada’s wilderness only makes the disturbing nature of events stand out so much starker.

Cea Sunrise Person was born into a family that lived out the ethos of the 1960s counterculture to the extreme. Her grandparents never set boundaries for their four children and their chaotic life was filled with sex, drugs and a back-to-nature survivalism. Cea’s mother was only sixteen when she fell pregnant and marriage with Cea’s father only lasted a brief few months.

As family life began to splinter, Cea’s grandfather decided to move them all to a lifestyle of self-sufficiency in the remote regions of Canada. 18-month-old Cea went to live with her grandparents, mother, and two aunts in a home sewn tepee with not much more than a few pots and pans. Trapping and killing their own food, the lifestyle provided Cea with complete freedom, but this did not last.

When she was five, her mother met a man who took them away from their extended family into a new type of life, but not for the better. Eventually, Cea managed to find a way out of this precarious existence by becoming an international model at the age of fourteen. This is an incredible tale – sad, sweet, uplifting, and heartbreaking – I couldn’t put it down. It takes a long time to heal from such a journey, but Cea seems to have got there. The last few chapters finish with the insight and perspective of an adult.  One of my must-reads of the year!

Reviewed by Spot

Catalogue Link:  North of Normal

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fallout by Sadie Jones

Fallout chronicles the lives, loves and aspirations of four talented young people in London’s theatre scene during the 1970s. Lucas lives a life of quiet perseverance in Lincolnshire, caring for his alcoholic Polish father, and visiting his French mother in the mental hospital that has been her home since he was a boy. He works as a factory clerk, collecting Bob Dylan records and reading plays, without ever going to any live theatre.

One wet night, theatre hopefuls, Paul and Leigh, turn up from London and Lucas discovers two like minds. He throws in his job, heads for London and lands on Paul’s doorstep ready to dedicate his life to the theatre.

Meanwhile, Nina is an aspiring actress, struggling to be her own person, while her mother controls her auditions and appearances, and even her relationships. Like Lucas she is clearly damaged; when their worlds collide, the close working friendship Lucas enjoys with Paul and Leigh is suddenly at risk.

Sadie Jones creates a very intense story around her characters, filling in their histories, their insecurities and their flashes of brilliance. Tension builds between the characters, and Jones develops suspense and romance in equal measure, without descending into melodrama. She also immerses the reader in 1970s culture: feminism in the face of nudity on stage, experimental theatre, the music and fashions of the day.

Fallout is Sadie Jones’s fourth book, another credit to a novelist who can be relied upon to provide a vivid and diverting read.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Fallout

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle by Michael Booth

The Tall Poppy Syndrome might be well and truly alive in Michael Booth’s new book. The Nordic countries have been held up as examples of successful societies who manage to be both socially cohesive and financially prosperous. Having married a Danish woman and taken up residence in the country, Booth has taken advantage of this part-insider/part-outsider status to take a closer look at each countries national psyche, in the hope of revealing the secrets to their success and to question whether they really deserve such a glowing reputation.

He admits at the outset that his aim was to seek out the flaws of the Nordic countries and give a more balanced picture. What he gives us is a mixed bag full of cultural stereotypes, quaint local custom, and reportage on social problems such as binge drinking, prejudice against immigrants, right wing politics, and social conservatism. And, that’s before getting on to the Swedes' lucrative arms selling industry and Iceland’s reckless, self-destructing economic policy.

Interviews with numerous experts and leaders are thrown into the mix, but they don’t go deep enough. Booth finishes off without the necessary in-depth analysis or coherent narrative to really answer the burning questions – why do these countries repeatedly come out tops on so many happiness and social wellbeing measures?  And, how can other countries achieve their levels of education, social mobility and plain old contentedness?

Despite this, and the lack of human story to connect to, I can’t complain. I wanted to keep on reading - obviously, I quite enjoy a spot of cultural stereotyping, as un-PC as this is. Who isn’t entertained by learning such interesting facts as 54% of Icelanders believe in elves, and how much in-depth analysis is really necessary on such a topic?

As I can’t afford the airfares to go and see for myself, the book satisfied part of my curiosity about the ‘happiest nations’. We all have flaws, there is no perfect utopia, and social harmony takes more than a shared liking for pickled fish and knitwear.

Posted by Spot

Catalogue Link: The Almost Perfect People

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir

When American astronaut, Mark Watney, becomes stranded on Mars, we have the beginning of a thrilling, Robinson Crusoe kind of adventure story, that grabs the reader on page one and doesn’t let up until the last paragraph.

Mark has been left for dead as his fellow crew-mates flee for their lives in the middle of a ferocious storm. What follows is Mark’s journal of survival, packed with science and nail-biting tension, as Mark has to figure out how to provide all the elements he needs to keep himself alive: air, water, food and warmth – all of which are glaringly in short supply on Mars’ barren landscape. Once he’s got that lot sorted, he has to make NASA realise he is still alive, and stay that way long enough to be rescued.

Luckily a smart young scientist has already noticed some activity via satellite imagery, and soon the pointy heads at NASA are swinging into action with a daring rescue plan. Mark is a great character – smart, resourceful and funny – but the various scientists and their bosses on Earth are interesting too, and the reader follows their triumphs and despair as various options are trialled and don't quite come off. When Mark’s crew-mates get involved as well, the tension really cranks up and the reader has a nail-biting ride in store.

The Martian is a gem of a novel, loaded with science which makes it all seem weirdly credible, yet managing to keep the reader entertained, even not very scientifically savvy readers like me.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Martian