Hastings District Libraries

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

This travel romance memoir recounts the two-year journey of Australian Torre DeRoche and her Argentinian partner as they cross the Pacific in a small yacht.

The author begins the journey with strong anxiety about being on the open ocean, which over the course of several months develops into a satisfying confidence as she offsets her partner's frequent nautical near-misses and magnetism for injury.

The story takes place in a setting of oceanic weather extremes that most of us never get to experience, interspersed with periods of relative calm at beautiful island anchorages. Think palm trees, coconuts and azure-coloured water. It helps having main characters who are able to express their feelings, one with a charming Spanish accent.

DeRoche is painfully honest about her dilemma, which is an age-old one: to follow the head or the heart. As time passes she becomes more unhappy with the isolation of being at sea. Should she continue sailing with Ivan, although it is his dream, not hers, or leave him and return to Australia ?

The book is well-written and wraps you up in the story. You want it all to work out for them, and, like all good books, you feel a sense of loss when you finish reading it.

Posted by JMR

Catalogue link: Love with a chance of drowning

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Forever Girl

A childhood crush that evolves into lasting unrequited love is the topic of The Forever Girl, a one-off novel from the author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. As he does so well with Mme Ramotswe’s Botswana, McCall Smith conjures up the evocative setting of Cayman Island. Here Clover lives with her Scottish banker father and expat American mother. There are huge disparities of wealth on Cayman, but Clover’s family clearly belong to the well-to-do set with tennis clubs and pool parties the order of the day.

From the age of six, Clover and James are great friends, but as the children get older, this friendship becomes awkward for James, while in the background, marital strife dogs both sets of parents. These issues are brought to a head when the children leave the island to go to high school. This becomes a period of separation and longing for Clover, while James scarcely seems to notice.

The story follows Clover’s continued unrequited love for James as she goes on to university in Edinburgh. She’s so likeable she soon makes friends and settles into student life. But she continually feels a sadness over James until she decides she must take steps to deal with it.

The Forever Girl is an unusual novel, dealing with an issue that in less capable hands might have left the reader cringing. McCall Smith is at his best when handling the perplexities that burden the human heart, and as usual adds wisdom to his story telling. The end result is a warm, compassionate and sensitive novel, and I particularly enjoyed the contrasting settings of tropical Cayman and the university city of Edinburgh.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Forever Girl

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Ways of the World by Robert Goddard

Robert Goddard won a Thumping Good Read award for an earlier book, so I knew I was in safe hands with his more recent thriller, The Ways of the World. Set mostly in Paris just after World War One, it features a dashing young hero, James ‘Max’ Maxted. Max has amazingly survived the war as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps and is keen to get on with life and start his aviation school with his mechanic friend, Sam Twentyman.

But all this is put on hold when Max’s father, minor diplomat Sir Henry Maxted, falls to his death from the rooftop of his mistress’s apartment building. Max suspects foul play, but the French police and the British secret service are keen to sweep it under the carpet as a likely suicide.

In the background, heads of state have converged on Paris to nut out the Treaty of Versailles and there are diplomatic secrets ready to be bought and sold. Sir Henry seems to have had many contacts including Travis Ireton who makes his living as a trader in secrets. Had Sir Henry discovered something that put his life at risk?

The Ways of the World definitely falls into the ‘thumping good read’ category, with a ton of action, mystery and a great cast of characters. Grease monkey, Sam Twentyman, desperate to avoid joining the family baking business is a great foil to Max’s more upper-class Bond type hero. There may not be a lot of character development, but with such a whirlwind of plots and sub-plots, action and secrecy, the reader is kept well entertained. The writing is crisp and flawless, and the atmosphere of Paris in a not very clement springtime evocative and interesting. Top marks from me.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Ways of the World

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Honeysuckle for devotion, aster for patience, bougainvillea for passion, and red roses for love ....... 

Victoria Jones grew up in the foster-care system. Now eighteen, she is plagued by her history of guilt and grief, and is unable to get close to anybody. Her only connection with the world is through her love of flowers and the secret language of meanings the Victorians associated with them.

Whilst rough sleeping in a public park, her talent for flowers is discovered by a local florist. She is employed and soon becomes adept at selecting the right flowers to suit each person. She finds peace and renewal as a wedding florist, and enjoys helping her customers as they choose flowers based on personal meaning. But this peace is shaken by a mysterious man at the flower market and Victoria must decide whether to risk opening herself up to create a new kind of future.

This is a fascinating and delightful novel, which I recommend to others.

Reviewed at Young @ Heart Book Group  

About the Author
Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born and raised in California. She has degrees in Creative Writing and Art Education from Stanford University. She is an activist and has worked in non-profits with "at risk" youth, including homeless and foster youth.

Catalogue Link:  The Language of Flowers

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Reckoning by Rennie Airth

I don't know why it took me so long to pick up Rennie Airth's The Reckoning, which had me hooked from page one. Scotland Yard are stumped by a couple of execution style murders, and the apparently blameless lives of the victims, both men in their sixties. Retired policeman, John Madden, finds himself helping out his old colleague, Billy Sykes, when a letter is found written to Madden by the second victim, Oswald Gibson.

Gibson was worried about something, but shot before he could explain himself. Another murder occurs in Oxford, and the police fear they are on the hunt for a serial killer, while the only similarity between the dead men, and indeed Madden himself, is that all of them served in the First World War.

The plot picks up as the murder count rises, and Airth adds some terrific action as Madden and his old cronies close in on the killer. London adds buckets of atmosphere with an exciting chase scene through pea-souper fog.

There’s plenty to like about this traditional whodunit with some superb writing and brilliant characterisation. While Madden is obviously sympathetic and clever, the Scotland Yard team are a treat. There’s no-nonsense but oddly endearing Superintendent Chubb, and Sykes is a lively, ex-army sort who gets on well with everyone. 

But the star of the show has to be plucky Lily Poole, who has fought her way to a place in CID, only to be allocated safe cases that don’t stretch her obvious brain. She soon makes a breakthrough discovery and talks her bosses into letting her go undercover. Poole is lucky to escape with her life, which is a good thing, as I hope she and the rest of the team will be around for the next John Madden mystery – I’ll be putting it on my reading list for sure.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Reckoning

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths About Who We Are by Matthew Hertenstein

Despite my addiction to popular psychology titles, I couldn’t get into this book - but only, at first. Hertenstein teaches and researches psychology and his writing style has the flow of an interesting lecturer rather than a practiced author. But the content soon outweighed any stylistic concerns and, as the subtitle promises, he soon shows you the many small clues about the people you meet; clues that are hidden right in front of you.

Most of us are lousy at spotting liars, performing barely any better than chance. But there are a small group of people who are known in the field of lie detection as truth wizards. These amazing human lie detectors can detect deceit in over 80% of cases. Unfortunately, there are not many around and your local copper probably isn’t one.

Another slightly scary finding relates to the link between your facial characteristics and your chances of ending up in the slammer. I thought the Victorians were a bit batty with their fixation on the pseudo-scientific art of correlating facial features and head circumference with things like morality. Surprisingly, there are scientific findings to support some links between bone structure and behavioural tendencies.

Hertenstein gives a lot of food for thought. You can find out about the accuracy of your Gaydar, how to predict the success of companies based on photos of the CEO, how even kids as young as five years old can predict who’s elected as president, and how lecturers can increase their students’ evaluations of them by changing just one superficial behaviour. All aspiring Sherlock Holmes - please pay attention….

Reviewed by Spot

Catalogue Link: The Tell