Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Girl Before by J P Delaney

This psychological thriller features an ultra-modern house, almost as a sinister extra character.

Two vulnerable women in different time frames are desperate for affordable rental accommodation in London.

Emma (‘the girl before’) was attacked in her home and needs to find somewhere new and safe to live with her partner.  After a fruitless search they are offered an affordable dream rental: an award winning architectural house; on the condition that they allow architectural students occasional tours and agree to stringent terms set by the owner/architect. Cue warning bells.

Jane is grieving following a stillbirth; a baby she was going to bring up on her own.
She gratefully moves into the house and later has a relationship with the owner Edward.
Upon learning about the death of Emma, who fell or was pushed down the stairs of the house, Jane begins piecing together scraps of information about Emma and the investigation that followed, and finds that the Edward’s wife and young son were also killed during construction of the house.

I have to say upfront I find it increasingly difficult to read novels where bad things happen to women - sadly this narrows my reading options! The Girl Before features controlling relationships - I found myself shouting 'just get a restraining order!’ It didn't help that I saw this book advertised as a Valentine's Day read: um, noooo, not unless you like creepy weirdos.

To get fully engrossed in a book I also need to like at least one of the characters, and the main characters in The Girl Before all fall short eventually.

Having said that I read this book quickly and can certainly see it being made into a movie – it is tightly written, builds tension and contain some unexpected twists.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link:  The Girl Before

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

"Lucia Berlin's stories are electric, they buzz and crackle as the live wires touch"  Lydia Davis

Just brilliant!  A collection of stories based on the late Berlin's life (she called it "a transformation, not a distortion of the truth").  My favourite read so far this year but also somehow hard to describe.

Described as "the best writer you never heard of", Berlin has used her rich life history  in mining camps in Alaska, in a privileged life in Santiago and as a hipster in New York city. She also worked in hospitals and as house cleaner and college teacher. She was married three times by the age of 32; had 4 sons and a chronic alcohol addiction.  She has a very distinctive style and writes beautifully - funny, sad and surprising stories.
This book is surely a masterpiece from a genius writer - highly recommended, and I feel sad that Berlin has died before receiving the accolades she deserved while alive.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link: Manual for Cleaning Women

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Harrowing by James Aitcheson

James Aitcheson is an expert on the Middle Ages with a particular interest in the Norman Conquest of 1066. In his fourth novel, he focuses on the settling in period, when the new King William had to establish control over England, quelling resistance wherever it arose. This is the harrowing of the title – the Norman soldiers marching through the north, where lords and their subjects were last to submit, resulting in the burning of manors and villages, the killing of any who stood in their way.

Into these dark and dangerous times, a noblewoman, Merewyn, and her young maid, Tova, escape into the midwinter night, fearing for their lives, not at the hands of Normans, but their own people. They are rescued by the warrior, Beorn, who offers them protection as they journey north, his aim: to fight in the last Saxon rebellion at Hagustaldesham. The trio are joined by Guthred, a priest, and Oslac, a minstrel, all forming an awkward alliance based on desperation rather than trust.

Most of the story is told from the point of view of Tova. She’s a determined and fiercely loyal young woman and excellent company for the reader. She stands up to Beorn and begs him to take her and Merewyn with him, and even talks him into teaching her how to fight. Blended into her narrative are the stories of each of her fellow travellers and each has a terrible secret to atone for.

The Harrowing is a compelling novel, beautifully written and full of period detail that recreates England of 1070. You know that the past is all set to catch up with our five travellers even if the Normans don’t, so there’s plenty to keep you turning the pages. But be warned: there are quite a few fight scenes and descriptions of violence, so the book is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It's a ripping read, none the less.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Harrowing

Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña

With a small cast of characters, debut thriller writer, Shari Lapeña, extracts plenty of tension from the claustrophobic scenario she creates in The Couple Next Door. The story opens with a dinner party held by Cynthia and Graeme, who is celebrating his birthday. They are the neighbours of the main characters, Anne and Marco, who leave their baby home alone when their babysitter cancels at the last minute. They are after all just next door, and with half-hourly checks and a baby monitor, what could go wrong?

Anne is reluctant, she feels out of shape and plain next to the glamorous Cynthia, to say nothing of leaving baby Cora, but Marco insists. Anne has been struggling with post-natal depression, and a night out is just what she needs. But when the drinks keep flowing, and Cynthia flirts outrageously with Marco, and the hours tick by, it is soon no fun for Anne. Imagine the couple’s horror to return to find their baby gone and the front door left open.

Enter Inspector Rasbach and the spotlight is suddenly on Anne and Marco – had Anne’s depression caused her to kill her baby and for Marco to cover up the crime? And what of Marco’s failing business and growing debts? The investigation spirals slowly outwards when Anne’s wealthy parents arrive on the scene and a ransom demand finally arrives. Then there is the secret harboured by Cynthia and Graeme that threatens to tweak up the tension another notch.

This is a tightly written and compelling novel, the main characters full of flaws and insecurities, and as the pressure builds they seem ready to break. You get a good picture of the stresses on a young mother, struggling to manage her mental health while keeping up appearances, though the police investigation is only sketchily drawn. Other characters are also a little cardboard, and few are at all likeable; the book is all about the plot. It did keep my interest, though, and I belted through the chapters in no time. Sometimes a good airplane read is just what you need.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Couple Next Door

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

DC Universe Rebirth Omnibus Vol 1

We all like a good omnibus - large numbers of issues bound by a hard cover that you can read and reread to your heart’s content. Graphic novel book binding technology has always been slightly behind the times but in the last few years they have been able to make really large issues where the spine won’t split the first time you open it.

Now an omnibus is twenty or more issues in one. Usually they are collections of writers or artists that for some reason deserve a reissue/repackage.

So normally you have a lot of vested interest in an omnibus. Sometimes you have been waiting years for a collection to be gathered together or sometimes a series has been so successful they reissue it for the people who are only now coming on board and the fans who will buy two copies anyway. (One to read and one as mint.)

DC does neither of these things here. This is 21 issues of an entirely new story arc: Rebirth.

Initially that should sound interesting as you have 21 first issues but in reality you have 21 different stories that that are going in different directions. The connection is Wally West (Flash) as he appears in most of them and no doubt it will all come together in the months ahead. Saying that, this issue was fairly pricey so it’s an expensive way to collect. Another good reason to use the library.

Most of the stories are original stories with a twist around there being a problem with time. The characters are much the same with some minor uniform changes and a female Green Lantern character. Why we need another Green Lantern for sector 2814 as there are four or five active ones already, who knows! (Yes you can name them.)

It all looks much the same except except for the bits thrown in from the TV shows. Read it as an introduction to what is currently going on in the DC Universe and see if you want to continue as the story unravels.

The Library Cat

Catalogue link: DC Universe Rebirth Omnibus Vol 1

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Dr Bloodmoney by Philip K Dick

It’s good to see some of the older science fiction writers being re-released under this SF Mastersworks banner. Some of these novels have probably been out of print for some time and are well worth having a look at. The library currently has a number of books by Philip K Dick and some of his story collections in e-book format.

At one stage I owned most of Philip K Dick’s works - owning them was the only way of being able to reread them. Publishing houses never seemed to do big runs of his books, so they were always hard to find in libraries or second-hand bookshops.

In Dr Bloodmoney, there is not a long build up to the situation in which the characters find themselves and it all develops rather quickly from there. Basically there is a nuclear war and there are a number of characters who are known to each other before the war. They are reunited in the new circumstances, post-war, and what happens next, makes an interesting story.

Those who know Philip K Dick stories will be familiar with the various themes he presents in this novel. Well worth a read.

Posted by The Library Cat

Catalogue link: Dr Bloodmoney

Thursday, 16 March 2017

City of the Lost by Kelly Armstrong

Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a desperate need to disappear. She has been living a shell of a life, always on the move, since she killed the grandson of a mobster in college. Her best friend, Diana, is on the run from her abusive ex-husband. After both their pasts begin to catch up with them they know it is time to leave. Quickly.

Through the great vine, Diana has heard of a place that helps you disappear, for a price. Although Casey has her doubts after some investigating both are accepted and must walk away from their old life into the Canadian wilderness. Rockton is an off grid town population: 200.

It soon becomes obvious that the only reason Casey was accepted is because she is the only trained homicide detective on the hunt for a safe passage. Rockton has just had its first murder and the bodies are beginning to pile up. Will Casey be able to find the killer before her and Diana are no longer safe again?

I almost did not give this book a go but something made me take it home. The blurb gave me the idea that there may be a supernatural element to the storyline which isn’t really my thing. Turns out I was wrong and thankfully I did as I read it in bed in one night!

City of the Lost was originally released as a 6 part eBook series before it was published in mid-2016.  Imagine my surprise (and excitement) when I found out that not only was this the beginning of a series but that the second book in the series was published early 2017. I have already devoured book two and am counting down the months until book three is released, or a date is even announced.

It is not often I come across a new crime author that I enjoy so much. I came into work raving about it to anyone that would listen and it turns out I had convinced another staff member to take it home and she enjoyed it as much as I did.

Reviewed by Kristen