Hastings District Libraries

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

August Reads from Book Chat

Canvey Island by James Runcie

James Runcie’s novel, Canvey Island, begins with the devastating flood of 1953, which saw 58 inhabitants lose their lives and a temporary evacuation of a further 13,000. The flood has tragic consequences for young Martin and he aspires to become a water engineer. The novel follows Martin and other members of his family and describes the long-term effects of the event that shapes their lives. A thoughtful portrait of post-war England.

The Ties that Bind by Lexi Landsman
This riveting novel follows the trials and tribulations of an American couple, Courtney and David, who are desperate to find a bone-marrow match for their young son when he is diagnosed with leukaemia. Meanwhile in Australia, Jade wakes up in hospital following the bush fire that has destroyed her family home and olive groves. The connection between the two stories makes for a gripping novel about family, forgiveness, love and hope.

Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent

This is a charming memoir about unexpected friendship across the generations. When Isabel is asked to look in on Edward, an elderly man who has just lost his wife, she thinks she is doing a favour for a friend. Edward cooks delicious three course meals for the two of them and shows Isabel how to slow down and take things one step at a time, even love. A delightful little memoir about the things that matter most in life.

The Railway Man by Eric Lomax

As a prisoner of war, the author worked on the Burma-Siam railway and was tortured for making a basic radio. This affected him personally for years, until his wife encouraged him to seek help and to come to terms with his horrific experiences. Eventually he was able to travel to Burma and even to express forgiveness to one of his captors, and they even became friends. An extraordinary story, very moving.

The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier

This early novel by du Maurier follows a family through several generations – the ‘loving spirit’ emerges as a yearning for travel, love and adventure that is passed down from grandmother Janet Combe. Set in Cornwall, the novel is based on the actual story of a shipbuilding family against a background of social and political change in England during the early 1900s. A powerful, atmospheric saga, extremely well written.

Posted by Flaxmere Library Book Chat

Friday, 19 August 2016

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Brilliant, harrowing and insightful: A Little Life is one of those novels that stays with you long after you finish reading it.

Four close college friends graduate and move to New York City to begin their careers: Jude the lawyer, JB the artist, Willem the actor, and Malcolm the architect.

Over several decades, this novel mostly focuses on Jude; loved by all, brilliant, and evasive about his past.
All his friends know is that he was brought up in a monastery, walks with a limp and keeps his body covered.
Information about Jude's traumatic past is drip fed throughout the novel as well as the inner turmoil behind the highly successful lawyer.
A Little Life is a painful read at times, and gives an unsettling picture of the physical and emotional damage caused by an abusive childhood.  It is redeemed by the beautifully drawn characters and friendships, and the tension created as Jude's history is unraveled.  I found myself internally shouting at this character I was so invested in: "get some help - please!"   Don't read this book when you are in a bad emotional space but do read it, it's brilliant.

reviewed by Katrina

Thursday, 18 August 2016

When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall

I was totally absorbed in this unusual novel and did not want it to end:  part realist dystopian fiction; part domestic fiction; part psychological thriller – something for everyone really!
Set in the near future some years after a deadly virus has swept through Great Britain; the island has been put in quarantine by the rest of the world.  Those who have survived are infertile, apart from a tiny minority who have natural immunity. Severe weather events are common, with huge rain storms putting London and other areas permanently in flood and unlivable.
Roza’s family, consisting of her parents and three siblings, have chosen to remain isolated in a large weather-proof tower block apartment on the outskirts of Birmingham.  The Capital has been moved to Brighton and there is pressure for fertile young people to move there and start families, as there are very few children left alive.  Rosa is engaged to a young man she has only met on-line and is about to meet him, leave her family and move to Brighton.
The family are close, and very resourceful in feeding and looking after themselves between drone drops of supplies from the Americans.  Twenty-two  year old Rosa and her younger brother Boris work on-line for the Chinese; Roza translates resources from Chinese to English.
After years of isolation, a charismatic and mercurial young man suddenly appears, changing family dynamics, avoiding questions about his past and bringing information about a local fair being held nearby.
The big question for the family is: can they trust this young man’s word?  Roza’s parents are suspicious and very protective of their children, Roza’s older siblings are desperate for adventure and contact with others their own age.  What happens next will change all their lives forever…

The strengths of this novel are the great characters, the building tension and the believable descriptions of life for this family in a ravaged and unpredictable world.  Recommended.

Posted by Katrina

Catalogue link: When the Floods Came

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

The Parrs are an odd family, descended from a liaison between a seventeenth century Nina Parr, alone and languishing in a remote Cornish mansion, and Charles II while he was on the run from Cromwell’s forces. This Nina Parr hid the future king and kept him safe, and in gratitude, Charles decreed the estate would always pass through the female line, with an allowance for its upkeep.

Harriet Evans’s novel is about the latest Nina Parr, who knows nothing of her illustrious ancestry, living with her American mother in London, a broken marriage behind her at barely 25. Nina’s life is broken in more ways than one. Her father disappeared while researching butterflies in the Amazon when she was a baby, she works at a menial job, having thrown in the towel with her studies and she doesn’t get out much. Frankly she’s a bit of a mess.

A strange meeting at the London Library with a shrill old woman throws everything into turmoil. There’s a suggestion that her father might after all be alive, so has Nina's mother been lying all along? Interspersed with Nina’s story is that of her grandmother, Theodora, who has her own personal tragedy in the years leading up to WW2.

The Butterfly Summer
is one of the more unusual novels I have read lately – there’s something fairy-tale like about it, but through Nina’s vivid and heart-felt narrative voice, it flows along like a story of our time. The Parr women are both blessed and benighted – their legacy has a sting in its tail, and there is much sadness, and even despair, before a resolution is reached. The bright and cheery cover might imply this is a frivolous story, but it is anything but. This is a well-crafted, quirky and intelligent read, much recommended.

Posted by JAM

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young

I loved Louisa Young’s novel My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, which first introduced us to her five characters whose lives are disrupted by the big shooting match that was World War One. Miraculously they all survive the war, and this novel, The Heroes’ Welcome carries on their story beginning in spring, 1919.

Essentially it is about two families. Riley Purefoy has married Nadine at the start of the book, and their relationship has to negotiate the difficulty of Riley’s terrible disfigurement. Riley determines to live life to the full while Nadine is desperate not to become her husband’s nurse.

Peter Locke has finally returned to his home in Kent with a slight limp, though mentally he’s a mess. As an officer, he carries the blame for the loss of his men and cannot sleep for the fear of seeing their bloodied corpses and hearing the echoing barrage of guns. He turns to drink and Homer.

Peter’s wife, Julia, struggling to deal with the husband for whom she has destroyed her looks, clings to her three-year-old son, Tom, or sends him away as the mood takes her. Peter’s cousin and Riley’s former nurse, Rose, develops an ambition to study medicine, but will family duty get in the way?

The novel gives an intimate picture of each character’s dreams and torments, their rash decisions and resolutions. Louisa Young probes Peter’s damaged mind with sensitivity and with interesting comparisons with Achilles and Odysseus, referencing Peter’s former time as a classical scholar. While the next generation offers hope of fresh beginnings, ‘winning the peace’ is a completely new battle.

There is such a lot more to say about these characters. With a third book, Devotion, in the pipeline, this is turning out to be one of the standout series about WW1 and the turmoil that followed.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Heroes' Welcome

The Santiago Pilgrimage: Walking the Immortal Way by Jean-Christophe Rufin

"Whenever I was asked: 'Why did you go to Santiago?', I had a hard time answering. How could I explain to those who had not done it that the way has the effect - if not the virtue - to make you forget all reasons that led you to become involved in it in the first place."
Jean-Christophe Rufin is an ex French Diplomat, a novelist, medical doctor and co-founder of Medicins Sans Frontieres.  He writes in this book about his experiences walking 800 km of the Santiago de Compostela, the Spanish medieval pilgrimage completed by thousands of pilgrims and backpackers every year.
Rufin's writing is honest, insightful and informative. My romantic views of walking the Santiago de Compostela were however somewhat deflated by Rufin's descriptions of the monotony of walking through industrial estates and urban sprawl (of course there are also areas of historical charm and natural beauty).
As somewhat of a loner, he mostly avoids the crowded hostels and chooses to stay in his small tent.
He does humorously describe some of his fellow travelers and people he meets along the way (not always in a complimentary fashion) as well as his rapid descent into dishevelment.

Catalogue link:  The Santiago Pilgrimage

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Young@heart book club

Smoke gets in your Eyes: and other lessons from the crematorium by Caitlin Doughty

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty -- a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre -- took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life's work.

Britt-Marie was here by Frederik Backman

When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg - of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it - she is more than a little unprepared.  “A little gem of a book!”

Black Flags: the rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

In a thrilling dramatic narrative, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Joby Warrick traces how the strain of militant Islam behind ISIS first arose in a remote Jordanian prison and spread to become the world's greatest threat.

Kit by Marina Fiorato

Novel based on the true story of an Irish woman fighting as a man in  Italy in 1702 – “quite amazing”

The Seamstress by Maria Duenas
1935: As turmoil brews in Europe, Sara Quinora’s carefully mapped-out life is thrown into chaos, first by love, then betrayal. Abandoned and alone, all she has are her skills as a seamstress, a talent that could not only save her but may influence the course of a war...