Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go

A legacy, a journey of discovery across Europe, a doomed expedition up Mt Everest, star-crossed lovers and the battlefields of World War One create a heady cocktail in Justin Go’s debut novel. The story begins when Tristan, a young American just graduated from university, receives a solicitor’s letter. He has a mere two months to prove he is descended from one Imogen Soames-Andersson to inherit an eye-wateringly large estate.

Tristan had always thought Imogen was his grandmother’s aunt but finds just enough clues to suggest otherwise, but not quite enough to prove it outright. So begins a journey that will take him from London to Paris, where he meets a beguiling young woman, and even as far as Iceland. 

The chapters alternate between Tristan's story and that of Imogen, and how she meets Ashley Walsingham, the young soldier that will steal her heart. Sadly, Ashley is off to the trenches, and when he is mistakenly thought killed in battle, Imogen goes to pieces and makes a difficult decision. The two will never forget each other, even as Ashley, a gifted climber, makes a dangerous assault on the mountain that will claim his life. 

While these events are part of the story presented to Tristan at the beginning, the novel still has plenty of revelations to come and the plot never flags for a moment. I found it compelling from page one, but then who can resist the idea of a legacy about to expire and a race against the clock. The three main characters are dynamic and headstrong which helps power the story along, while the settings are both varied and vividly brought to life. The Steady Running of the Hour is one terrific if heart-breaking read.

Posted by JAM

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Trivia Man by Deborah O'Brien

There is more than meets the eye in The Trivia Man, a light, easy read from Australian author, Deborah O’Brien. It is the story of Kevin Dwyer, who cleans up big time at the Clifton Heights Sports Club trivia nights because of his amazing recollection of general knowledge. With his head full of statistics he doesn’t need to join a team, he enters the comps as One-Man-Band, although several attractive women from other teams try to inveigle him into joining theirs. Only Maggie Taylor has any success.

Maggie is a member of Teddy and the Dreamers, and having Kevin on their team means their patronising team leader, Edward Clarke, has someone to take him down a peg or two, and she and Kevin begin to become friends. The story of their relationship runs through the book parallel to the on-going battle of the trivia teams towards the final. Meanwhile O’Brien fills in details Kevin’s growing up and his difficulties with people and Maggie’s struggle to get over the great love of her life, the caddish Josh Houghton.

While both characters make life-changing discoveries in the course of the book, there is also plenty of humour, especially surrounding the trivia nights and their ex-TV host MC, the Professor. But beneath all the fun, O’Brien tackles more serious issues regarding how difficult it is to fit in if you are a bit different. Although the author never uses the word Asperger’s, it hovers in the background, the elephant in the room. O'Brien uses a light touch laced with humour and sensitivity to create a bright and charming read.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Trivia Man

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

Originally published in 1957, The Fountain Overflows follows the growing up of Rose Aubrey who has been marked out as a child prodigy for her gift with the piano. She and her older sister Mary plan to be concert pianists when they grow up, like their talented mother who threw in her career for marriage.

It is just as well they are so accomplished as it is likely they will have to make their own way in the world, their father being so hopeless with money. Oldest sister, Cordelia, keeps sawing away at her violin, much to the family’s disgust – she has no taste or talent – but is determined, while young brother Richard Quin charms whomever he meets.

The family live in their London house in what could be described as genteel poverty, which has made their mother rather fierce, while their brilliant journalist father squanders more money on dubious investments and takes an interest in various political causes. It is an eccentric upbringing and within this setting some extraordinary events take place, such as the unmasking of a poltergeist, and the murder of a school friend’s father.

There is a wonderful collection of oddball characters, beautifully described in West’s witty prose: the pretentious Miss Beevor who takes on Cordelia as a pupil; Mrs Aubrey’s unpleasant tease of a cousin who is married to her childhood friend, and many more besides.

The Fountain Overflows is a unique novel, rich in every way, thanks to Rebecca West’s wonderful writing and obviously heartfelt, owing much to West’s own unusual childhood. The novel is reprinted courtesy of Virago Press – a fabulous collection of women authors which are now classics. If you haven’t read them before they are well worth dipping into. 

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Fountain Overflows

Friday, August 7, 2015

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Among the titles on the Man Booker long-list this year is Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Lila, the third book in her Gilead trilogy. The series is named after the fictional town in which it is set and follows characters connected with the Reverend John Ames.

Lila doesn't know her real name as she was kidnapped as a small child by passing drifter. Doll, who rescues her from a life of neglect, gives Lila the mothering she needs, but the pair live a hand-to-mouth existence through the Great Depression, picking up work where they can, and for Lila, the barest smattering of education. Lila is an engaging character because she has a natural intelligence and a will to survive when the odds are stacked against her.

The story weaves in Lila’s past with her arrival as a mature woman in Gilead, taking up residence in an abandoned shack on the outskirts of town. Stealing a bible from the church, Lila discovers the grimmer stories from the Old Testament have a bearing on her own life, and discusses her thoughts with the town’s preacher. John Ames is fascinated by Lila and a gradual courtship develops.

Lila is a novel quite unlike any I have read before. You have a feeling you are reading an American classic and I don’t know when I have come upon such a moving description of poverty and on-going struggle. Robinson’s imagining of Gilead and the terrible dust bowl years is evocative. But it is the characters that stand out – the voices Robinson gives them and her concern for what it means to be human. Lila is a book of hidden depths, but is very readable. You don't have to read the other Gilead books first, but after Lila you will probably want to return to this small Iowa town and its characters.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Lila

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Anna Smaill Makes Man Booker Longlist

Congratulations to Wellington based writer Anna Smaill on her nomination for the presigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Her debut novel The Chimes has received great reviews and is among a diverse selection of 13 books to make it onto the 2015 Man Booker Prize longlist.

If you want to explore the full list of nominees Hastings District Libraries have a number in their collections currently and others have been ordered.

Follow the links below to view the books in the catalogue.

The 2015 Man Booker Prize Longlist:

Bill Clegg, Did You Ever Have A Family
Anne Enright, The Green Road
Laila Lalami, The Moor's Account
Tom McCarthy, Satin Island
Chigozi Obioma, The Fishermen
Andrew O'Hagan, The Illuminations
Marilynne Robinson, Lila
Anuradha Roy, Sleeping on Jupiter
Sunjeev Sahota, The Year of the Runaways
Anna Smaill, The Chimes
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

The Man Booker Prize is awarded for the best English language novel of the year, as chosen by a panel of acclaimed judges. The 2015 Judges are Ellah Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith, Frances Osborne and Michael Wood (Chair). The winner receives £50,000 in prize money as well as huge publicity for the author and novel.
  • The Man Booker Prize shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 15 September 2015
  • The Man Booker Prize winner will be announced on Tuesday 13 October 2015.
New Zealand’s Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2013 for her novel The Luminaries.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In Real Life by Chris Killen

In Real Life is a witty but cautionary tale about relationships, social expectation and miscommunication in the age of the Internet.

The story switches between the characters of Lauren, Paul and Ian who met at university, beginning with Lauren’s sudden split from Paul in 2004. We can sympathise with Lauren’s grievances: Paul is a would-be writer who works in a bar, doesn't pay his way and has off-putting habits. When Lauren joins a friend travelling to Canada, she begins a warm and promising email correspondence with Ian, a musician and ex-flatmate of Paul’s.

Flicking forward to 2014 we find that Lauren, Paul and Ian have lost touch and for each of them, life has become a little messy. Is there any chance Paul can write another novel to match his earlier success, and can he be honest with his girlfriend? Will Ian find a new job, reclaim his pawned guitar or meet up with Lauren to sort out their unfinished business? Will Lauren ever meet Mr Right or manage to keep the staff happy at the charity shop she manages?

In Real Life will have you groaning at the online faux pas its characters make and remind you that posting statuses on Facebook while drunk is not a good idea. It’s a fun, bright, easy read on the one hand and a pithy snapshot of Generation Y on the other. This is Chris Killen’s second book and is definitely a novel for our time.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: In Real Life

Monday, July 27, 2015

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Deeply moving and beautifully written, A God in Ruins is an insightful view of what war means and the moral dilemmas of who is right and wrong. Written as a companion novel to the highly successful Life after Life, A God in Ruins could easily be read as a stand alone novel; or indeed the two books read in any order. Just do read it – the writing is exquisite.

While in Life After Life Ursula Todd is reborn many times reliving the same events again and again, in A God in Ruins the author revisits the same events in Teddy Todd’s life from different perspectives.

Atkinson takes the reader forward and backward through Teddy’s life; from his comfortable upbringing, to marrying his childhood friend Nancy; from his war experiences as a World War 2 Halifax bomber pilot, to bringing up his troubled child Viola; through to losing his independence as an elderly man in care.

Teddy does not expect to survive the war due to the high death rate among crews, but seems to beat fate time and again. He finds life somewhat bewildering after the war and is not quite sure what to make of his wife, child and later grandchildren. Wry stoic humour is interspersed with a depth of character, theme and plot:

“An eye for an eye,” Mac said at the squadron reunion. (Until everyone was blind, Teddy wondered?)”.

While being completely absorbed in this novel, I wondered if any of Life after Life’s time bending trickery would be used in A God in Ruins. For a long time it seemed like there would not be; but without giving anything away, a clever and surprising twist awaits the patient reader.

Posted by Katrina H

Catalogue link: A God in Ruins