Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train is one of the most talked about thrillers of recent months, with comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and talks of a likely movie. So I felt it my duty to give Paula Hawkins' debut novel a try. And this wasn’t difficult because Hawkins knows how to draw the reader in with her mixture of unreliable narrators and a plot that slowly picks up pace and powers to a suspenseful conclusion.

Much of the story is from the point of view of Rachel, an alcoholic who would like her old husband and house back. But he’s moved on with a new wife and baby. So Rachel, whose drinking has ruined her marriage and lost her both job and income, keeps up a sham of travelling to work each day on the same commuter train, where she can see her old house from the window. Further along the street she also watches the house where Jess and Jason live, the couple she imagines have the perfect life.

The tension moves up a notch when Jess (real name: Megan) disappears soon after Rachel makes a shocking discovery. She tries to tell the police but they just see her as a pathetic fantacist and perhaps they’re right. And what is the cause of Rachel's lurking sense of dread?

Rachel isn’t the only character who isn’t who they seem and soon her anxiety becomes the reader’s anxiety and a number of unexpected plot twists make for thrilling reading. I imagine The Girl on the Train will make a terrific film full of ominous clackety-clack railway sound effects and looming shadows a la Hitchcock.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Girl on the Train

Friday, March 20, 2015

After the Bombing by Clare Morrall

Clare Morrall is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Her latest book, After the Bombing, offers a refreshing view of the impact of the Second World War on ordinary lives in England. The bombing in question happens in Exeter in 1942.

Alma Braithwaite is at her boarding school when she and her fellow students are chivvied off in their nighties to an air-raid shelter to wait for the all-clear. When the raid is over her school is in ruins, and her parents, doctors working at the local hospital, are both dead.

Tracking forward twenty odd years we find Alma still living in her parents’ house, working as music teacher at her old school and, until recently, alongside her old headmistress who has died suddenly. In comes replacement headmistress, Wilhemena Yates, a new broom but with her own wartime bombing tragedy. She and Alma are set to clash horns.

Meanwhile, Pippa Gunner arrives in Alma’s form class and memories of the war come flooding back. Pippa's father, Robert, is the same Mr Gunner who as a young lecturer in charge of a student hostel took in Alma and her three best friends while their school was being rebuilt.

The novel captures two interesting periods of history and finishes with one cataclysmic event where history and personal lives collide.  But as always with a Clare Morrall novel, it is the characters and their curious quirks of personality that create so much of the drama. The tragedy of the past is balanced with music, humour and dancing. This is a charming and thought provoking novel from a talented writer.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: After the bombing

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cicada by Moira McKinnon

Cicada Springs is the name of the large Western Australian holding run by Emily and William Lidscombe - the harsh terrain with all its heat and wide expanses making an evocative setting for this debut novel by Moira McKinnon. Set just after the First World War, Cicada gets off to a riveting start when Emily gives birth to a black baby, and William flies into a rage.

Emily finds herself on the run, accompanied by her Aboriginal maid. Wirritjil is a godsend because she knows how to live off the land and keep them both alive. Slowly Emily becomes stronger and makes plans for their escape, while William, who has fragile health and a fear of horses, sends out his brother and a stock-man to track the women down.

The novel turns into a nail-biting escape and survival story. It also highlights the difficult relationship between white settlers and the indigenous people who are treated as trouble makers and punished for the smallest of crimes. McKinnon has a background as an academic in the field of indigenous health, and her depiction of Aboriginal folklore and their way of life makes for fascinating reading.

This is a thrilling debut, which matches its exciting plot with a vividly described landscape. The characters are made real by the difficulties they face, often with tragic outcomes. When the two cultures meet and work together, however, there is hope. This is one of the more interesting Australian novels I have read in a long time.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Cicada

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Books Change Lives

Recently we had a library customer tell us that while reading a memoir she realised that the author was an unknown relative.

Her decision to read that particular book and subsequent decision to contact the author has indeed been life changing.

"In books I have travelled, not only to other worlds, but into my own." - Anna Quindlen.

A colleague of mine was kind enough to share how her love of reading began, at the age of eight, when a family friend dropped off a sack full of old books to her home. Classic children's stories like Anne of Green Gables and The Famous Five were read and re-read countless times. They opened up her world and imagination.

We see this everyday in our libraries too as young children rush in clutching their returns and race off to find their next book. These are children that are curious, questioning and excited to see, do and think.

"I read because one of these days I'm going to get out of this town, and I'm going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready." - Richard Peck.

I was also told how thrilled a friend's children were when writer Margaret Mahy answered their letters in her own hand and with illustrations! This is a memory and keepsake they will have for life.

For me, as a collector of books, their physical presence on my bookshelf (or should I say shelves) is important in itself. For each one reminds me of a person, place or a moment in time. When a loved one died a few years ago many books that were important to her became important to me. I shall be happy to be surrounded by these memories for many years to come and curse my collection only when I move house!

"To build up a library is to create a life. It's never just a random collection of books." - Carlos Maria Dominguez.

Books may profoundly affect us with their message, teach us a new skill, or simply let us escape to another world for a brief period of time. Whatever their impact, for us as readers, our relationship with books and their authors is significant and lasting.

Books really do change lives!

Posted by CP.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I picked up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes with trepidation, after reading a review online which claimed this to be the most ‘cried aloud’ over book ever. It didn’t take me long before I too was drawn in.

Me Before You centres around the relationship between caregiver Lou Clark and wheelchair bound William Traynor. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but actually it’s one of the most compelling love stories I’ve read for a long while. It’s a story about love, but not just romantic love – it’s about the complicated layers of love, and how much love counts (or indeed, is tested) in the face of adversity, and physical, emotional - and ultimately, existential - pain.

I was reminded of David Nicholls’ One Day when I read this, not just because they both create such relatable characters, and a vivid British setting, but because, although both write with a light touch, they are not afraid to delve into the deepest and most painful of human experience.

There were tears. Yes, I cried. A lot. And questioned some of my most deeply held beliefs. But often it's worth persevering with painful subjects because hopefully out of the other side of discomfort comes an increased empathy and understanding for the struggle of others. This book was well worth the journey – and the lessons have remained with me long after the tears dried up.

By the way, Jojo Moyes latest book The One Plus One is now available at Hastings District Libraries.

Posted by Bookish Betsy

Catalogue link: Me Before You

Catalogue link: The One Plus One

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer

The slightly clunky title is my only problem with this book by Bauer who is shaping up to be one of my favourite crime/thriller authors. The Facts of Life and Death has a huge amount going for it:

Engrossing plot told partly from the point of view of Bauer’s disturbed murderer. Check. Engaging child narrator who sees much but understands little. Check. Bumbling yet likeable young copper trying to impress smart, good-looking female DCI. Check. Atmospheric seaside town where the weather is unpredictable and adds to the unease of the events as they unfold. Check. A slow escalation of violence building towards a gripping and utterly exhausting ending. Double check.

Bauer is also one of the more original writers of the genre. Here she describes a criminal with a particular axe to grind which he takes out on his young female victims. The women he abducts are forced to phone their mothers who must then listen to their daughters’ terrifying deaths. Not nice.

And she’s really good with her characters, who have faults as well as good points, plus a talent for not noticing what’s going on under their very noses. This build up of what your English teacher might have called ‘dramatic irony’ makes for a particularly nail-biting read, and I found myself flicking towards the back of the book for reassurance - which wasn’t particularly forthcoming. This is one of those books where the pleasure of the ending is partly due to the relief you feel that it is all over. Which I guess is what the thriller genre is all about.

Posted by JAM


Friday, February 13, 2015

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

‘Still Life with Bread Crumbs’ is the name of a much published photograph in Anna Quindlen’s similarly titled novel. It is a photograph that has earned protagonist Rebecca Winter a glowing reputation and ongoing royalties. But living in New York isn't cheap and Rebecca has rising expenses, including her mother’s nursing home to pay for. So at the age of fifty-nine, Rebecca up-stakes and heads for a cottage in the woods that she has leased off the Internet.

Yes, this is one of those ‘sea change’ novels and you can’t imagine a more striking change for Rebecca than forsaking the fashionable arty set of New York, to rub shoulders with the folk near her new home. First there’s Sarah, who never stops talking as she serves Rebecca breakfast at the Tea for Two café – the only place Rebecca can receive a phone and Internet connection.

Then there’s Jim the roofer who solves Rebecca’s raccoon problem. He’s strikingly good looking, though a bit young for Rebecca, yet the two become friends over a bird conservation programme. This could easily be a simple sort of ‘new life; new love’ story, but things get more complex when Rebecca discovers some unusual woodland shrines and decides to photograph them.

When a blizzard strikes, you realise how isolated you can be in a cabin in the woods and when the fragile infrastructure that keeps you connected to the world breaks down. Overall this a touchy-feely kind of story, but the writing is just witty enough to make this a fairly smart read, and the characters are interesting and diverse. A nice book to unwind with that will leave you in a happy place.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Still Life with Bread Crumbs