Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Fairest of All by Serena Valentino

This book series will make you question EVERYTHING you thought you knew about the villains of Disney. Serena Valentino puts her own spin on the classic tales - making them darker, more intense and full of a lot more plot twists and character history than we had ever thought possible.

The first book in the series, Fairest of All, is unsurprisingly about the Wicked Queen from Snow White. It is initially puzzling at first how nice the Queen herself is, actually having a strong mother-daughter bond with the tiny and adorable little child known as Princess Snow White. The Queen was not always royalty, growing up as the daughter of a mirror maker who was famous throughout the land for being the best of his trade, which caught the King’s attention. Upon meeting the Queen, the mirrors weren’t the only thing that took his interest and Valentino actually writes quite a beautiful love story between these two characters.

One of my favourite parts of the book was some of Valentino’s own characters, namely three peculiar sisters that sound as if they have walked straight out of a nightmare. Introduced as the King’s cousins, these odd ladies can be described as living dolls with piled up hair, pale skin, tiny red lips, large black dresses with tiny pointy shoes sticking out underneath. These ‘witches’, as we shall call them, are extremely mean and sadistic, delighting in teasing Snow White with vicious tales and being perhaps the main cause for the Queen’s corruption and ultimate end (that’s not a spoiler, we all know what happens at the end of the movie). Oddly enough, they are an incredibly fascinating edition to the book and I am pleased to say they continue to hover for the rest of the series.

Following on from Fairest of All are The Beast Within (the Beast from Beauty and the Beast), Poor Unfortunate Soul (Ursula from The Little Mermaid), and more recently Mistress of All Evil (Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty). But if you want to see yourself looking at the first Disney tale in an entirely new light (I know myself I can’t look at the Wicked Queen the same way ever again), find yourself a copy of this book and I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.

Posted by Rhiannon

Catalogue link: Fairest of All

Monday, 11 December 2017

Guilty Waters by Pricilla Masters

Joanna Piercy is the cycling, psychology graduate Detective Inspector who stars in over a dozen novels by Priscilla Masters, with Guilty Waters being the twelfth. Working out of Leek in Staffordshire, Joanna becomes concerned when French mother, Cécile Bellange arrives in the district, looking for her daughter Annabelle and her friend Dorothée. The flirty seventeen-year-olds are due to start their university courses soon and were expected home weeks ago.

Keen on Kippling, the girls were entranced by Lake Rudyard, where they were last heard of, so Joanna begins her investigation here. Suspects soon mount up – there are the two climbing brothers, Martin and James Stuart who discover a postcard from the girls while letterboxing – a hobby which is a bit like orienteering with secret messages. Then there’s creepy Mr Barker who runs the Mandalay B&B who turns out to be a pervert, but is he twisted enough to commit murder?

Guilty Waters is a fairly decent character-driven police procedural, with an interesting storyline and an evocative setting that’s sure to appeal. I enjoyed the back-story of Joanna and new husband, Matthew Levin, who works alongside Joanna from time to time as the police pathologist. Their relationship has evidently been running through the series from book one, and they are currently thinking about having a child together.

The DI Piercy mysteries would be a perfect go-to series for anyone looking for a relaxing weekend read that isn’t too taxing, a little in the same vein as novels by Ann Cleeves and Louise Penny.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Guilty Waters

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

The best things come in small packages is one way you could describe the works of Elizabeth Strout. Her writing is the kind of quiet, perfectly observed fiction where every sentence carries a depth of understanding, the dialogue is pitch perfect and the characters seem very real. Strout delivers more of her small town insight in the new collection Anything Is Possible.

These stories all have a connection with Strout’s novel My Name Is Lucy Barton. Each dips into the life of a different character from Amgash, Illinois, where Lucy grew up. Lucy even makes an appearance when she visits her family home, the grubby and crumbling house that is now home to her brother and where lurks the misery of their childhood.

I particularly warmed to the character of Patty, who buys Lucy’s book and finds it inspiring. We read how she met her husband and the terrible event in her childhood that has affected her ever since. Later in the collection, a whisper of gossip lets us know that Patty has moved on and found happiness. Other characters make early appearances, such as Dottie who runs a bed and breakfast visited in an early story, only to have their own story later in the book.

There are dark threads of recrimination, broken childhoods, sexual abuse and cruelty running through the stories. Elizabeth Strout is brilliant at capturing the lives of quiet desperation you find in rural backwaters, or anywhere really. But there is hope as well, the warm moments when characters make unexpected connections. Like the title says, anything is possible.

Sometimes you can easily overlook short stories in favour of the wider scope and plotlines offered by the novel. And while it is true you can easily pick up and put down a collection of stories, I found I had to keep reading this one. Strout is a master at both genres. If you enjoy Anything Is Possible, make sure you read Strout’s Pullitzer winning collection, Olive Kitteridge, which is now something of a modern classic.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Anything Is Possible

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

How much personal information do you share with your best mates? Joni, Deb, Trina and Eden have been friends since they were twelve. Now married and in their thirties, the women still meet for catch-ups over coffee and sometimes take an all-girls holiday, away from kids and husbands. This time they’re at a beach house for five nights in winter, which should be fun – lots of chat and laughs.

After a few wines and something a little less legal, it suddenly seems a brilliant idea for each to write an unsigned letter revealing a secret to be read out to the others randomly over the following days. But during a sleepless night, Joni discovers a fifth letter,  partially burned in the fireplace, one that describes an all-consuming hatred for one of the four friends. Finding the original letter in the trash basket on the old computer downstairs, she sets out to discover not only who wrote it, but who could be the object of such loathing.

Joni is the main narrator of the action and of the women seems the most insecure. She and husband Kai have been trying unsuccessfully for a baby and she’s got a problem with work. Part of her narrative is told in visits to a priest’s confessional, and Father O’Reilly is almost as good as going to a psychiatrist. This makes for an interesting and original way to tell a story.

Over all I found The Fifth Letter to be a very readable and engaging novel, though definitely a beach read. The characters can be a little mean and intense at times, but all have interesting secrets. The desire to tell something but not reveal who owns the secret adds a buzz of tension which escalates to a some high drama towards the end of the book and a satisfying ending.

Nicola Moriarty is the sister of the more famous Liane Morarty, and YA author, Jaclyn Moriarty so comes from good writing stock. The Fifth Letter is her second novel.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Fifth Letter

Thursday, 30 November 2017

From auditor to soldier: stories of the men who served

Can we ever have too many books on the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and World War One?

This commemorative book produced by the Office of the Auditor-General looks and feels like an oversized coffee table book. However don’t let the glossy cover or the rather staid title put you off. This is a fascinating insight into 32 ordinary New Zealand men who voluntarily enlisted in the First World War.

The brief introduction explains the job titles and order of seniority system used by the Audit Department, as well as how the New Zealand armed forces turned these auditors into soldiers. Archival photographs show the various sports teams the men and women participated in as well as a photograph of the 1921 annual picnic.

New Zealand had the highest casualty rate amongst British Empire countries and this is reflected in these biographies. Starting with their work within the Audit Department before they enlisted, each biography includes military service details, battles involved in, injuries sustained and, for those that survived, their post-war employment.

Many of the men from the Audit Department served first in the Samoan Advance Party before going off to the battles at Passchendale, Le Quesnoy, Somme, Messines and ANZAC Cove. Of the 32 men, five did not return having been either killed in action or died from disease. The 27 men who survived did so with both physical and mental wounds having also suffered measles, tuberculosis and pneumonia.

There are three local men featured: Harry Latchford Marbrook, Hastings; George Grant Smith, Waipukurau; Henry Charles Steere, Waipawa. All returned to work for the Audit Department after the war.

Not all the men led such worthy lives post war. Several of the soldiers were imprisoned for theft and fraud with one soldier imprisoned multiple times before being diagnosed with acute mental depression. Each biography is accompanied by a small photograph of the soldier as well as photographs of toy soldiers re-enacting war scenes.

So can we ever have too many books on the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and World War One? I don’t think so. Not when we have books like From auditor to soldier, personalising soldiers’ stories and telling it like it was, warts and all.

Lest we forget

Posted by The Rummaging Bibliophile

Catalogue link: From Auditor to Soldier

Monday, 27 November 2017

The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan

Author Elizabeth Buchan explores the themes around women's lives and changing social views post World War Two. Described as historical fiction, The New Mrs Clifton is a gripping, authentic feeling novel, building to a dramatic climax. The ongoing mystery and twists up to the last page had me hooked.

London's Clapham Common, 1974, and a young couple discover a skeleton wrapped around the roots of an old sycamore tree on their new property. The pathologist dated the young woman’s death between 1945 and 1947, noting that the trauma to the back of the head was considerable and that she had probably been killed by a blunt object.

The novel then winds back to Clapham Common in 1945, where Gus Clifton, former barrister turned intelligence agent and secretly married in Berlin, is arriving with his new German bride Krista to Gus's family home where his two sisters Julia and Tilly live. His siblings find his behaviour truly shocking - why has he married Krista who is, after all, the enemy? Gus and Krista are not in love, she's not pregnant and why did he change his mind about Nella, his beautiful loyal fiancée and close friend of the two sisters?

The characters are all so compelling and well-drawn that I felt for them all. Krista, who had seen and experienced terrible horrors in the war and now living in London, hated and rejected by practically everyone except her husband; Julia, whose RAF husband Martin was lying dead somewhere in Europe and whose baby daughter born far too soon after the shock of Martin's death, did not survive; Tilly, a damaged bohemian who had freedom during the war but has difficulty with post war life; and Nella who along with her brother Teddy cannot understand Gus's rejection of her in favour of Krista. The two families' close relationship pre-war begin to unravel.

Posted by VT

Catalogue link: The New Mrs Clifton

Friday, 24 November 2017

Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin.

Most of us would recognise Magda Szubanski as Sharon: the hapless netball-loving “second best friend” in the Australian TV comedy series Kath and Kim. Although this memoir covers Szubanski's path to becoming a comedian and actor; much of the book is about Szubanski's father. From the age of 15 to 19 he was a Polish Resistance fighter in Warsaw during WW2; killing Nazi’s and collaborators.

His experiences left inevitable scars and post-traumatic stress disorder. He had at times a difficult relationship with Magda; although the more she learned about his past the more his behaviour made sense, and they became close in adulthood.

The author later visits Poland, uncovering family stories and coming to terms with the intergenerational trauma inflicted by the war.

After being liberated from a POW camp he meets and marries Magda’s Scottish mother. Emigrating to the outskirts of Melbourne in the 1970's from England was a delightful culture shock for the Szubanski children, and Magda describes her carefree childhood running around a new suburb with dirt roads and few amenities.

Szubanski records with humour and pathos her emerging comedy and acting career, battles with weight, and coming to terms eventually with her sexuality. At one point she was a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers.

She describes coming out as a lesbian to her friends, family and then later the public as “a fate worse than death”, but has since become vocal in her support of marriage equality in Australia.

Reckoning has won numerous awards in Australia including Book of the Year and a Booksellers' Choice award.

Magda Szubanski is an excellent and intelligent writer and Reckoning is so much more than a celebrity memoir.

Reviewed by Katrina