Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Better Luck Next Time by Kate Hilton

This witty novel is, according to the author, Canadian Kate Hilton, a divorce comedy, if such a thing is possible. Certainly, the plot has among other things, two divorces as well as a divorce lawyer in the cast of characters, and it is very funny - I chuckled all the way through. Better Luck Next Time is the story of the Hennessey/Goldstein family and begins as so many family stories do, at Christmas.

Zoe doesn't want to tell her family she is getting a divorce. Her stay-at-home mother, Judy, puts on Christmas dinner every year, tears over the gravy and all. Mentioning the divorce would be just too much. Zoe's Aunt Lydia is a feminist icon, now in her seventies. Zoe's brother Zack made a name for  himself for writing a TV comedy loosely based on Lydia and her daughters - something cousin Beata, mother of Oscar, has never forgiven him for. Beata gave birth to Oscar at twenty, telling her family the father was a donor at a sperm bank. 

Into this setting, several secrets are revealed. That Oscar is the product of a one-night-stand at a party thrown by Zoe sixteen years before. When Oscar determines to find his father, he is furious at Beata for keeping his parentage a secret, and it doesn't take him long to find his dad who happens to be Will, an old university friend of Zoe's and partner at the law firm handling Zoe's divorce. Zoe's lawyer is Eloise, Beata's girlfriend - another secret kept from family. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

The story is told from alternating points of view, beginning with Zoe, switching to Beata, as well as Mariana, whose marriage to shiftless musician Devlin is also falling apart. Mariana is a highly principled  journalist forced to write about pop culture and women's lifestyle themes to pay the mortgage and help raise her young daughters.

Through the year that follows, more secrets come out of the woodwork, people date, get married (there's a very funny scene at a bridal store and another at a women's rally with Lydia at the forefront. While these events keep the plot bubbling along, Beata, Mariana and Zoe and other characters do a lot of soul-searching and open their hearts. The book highlights with much humour the pressures women are faced with - family, love and career just for starters. 

But it's in the little details where much of the humour lies. The disastrous forays into online dating made by Zoe and then Mariana. The money to be made from the wellness industry, exemplified by FairMarket Beauty's owner Harmony Delacroix who becomes Mariana's boss. The speech Mariana gives at Beata's wedding shower is hilarious and would put off anyone contemplating matrimony.

There is such a lot of fun in Better Luck Next Time, a comedy of manners for our time. I would love to see more books by this author - she's such a breath of fresh air. This novel is available in both print and ebook format from the library. 

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Better Luck Next Time (print)

Catalogue link: Better Luck Next Time (ebook)

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Quick Reviews from Flaxmere Book Chat

Inge’s War: A German Woman’s Story of Family by Svenja O’Donnell
Journalist, Svenja O'Donnell, uncovers the story of her grandmother’s war in East Prussia, from the rise of the Nazis and the harsh prewar years, to falling in love with a man sent to the Eastern front. Finally fleeing for her life with her family as the Red Army closed in, she made a new life for herself in Paris but hides the secret of her German life for decades. A powerful true story you can’t put down.

Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
This fun read poses the question: what if Jane Austen suddenly appeared in 2020 as a twenty-eight year old. Would she find a suitable husband or write novels? Jane befriends fading film-star, Sofia Wentworth and is attracted to Sofia’s brother Fred before discovering she is a famous writer. The more her romance with Fred blossoms, the more she begins to fade into obscurity as the writer we know and love. A witty romantic comedy with an original plot.

What If? By Martina Reilly 
Another book about family secrets revealed at the end of a woman’s life, in this case Lily, who is losing her memory to Alzheimer’s. A diary which she wrote at the age of fifteen holds the story of her youth and she persuades her caregiver to read it in the presence of her daughter, Deirdre. Will Deirdre now understand the choices her mother made all those years ago?

Lamentation by C J Sansom
This may look a huge tome, but you will find yourself whizzing though the pages because Sansom really brings history to life. As King Henry VIII lies dying, his queen, Catherine Parr, is desperate to find the book she has misplaced, containing her own potentially heretical writings on theology. Her life will surely be in danger if it falls into the wrong hands but how could it have vanished from its hiding place? Her friend and ally Matthew Shardlake must find it and solve a perplexing murder.

Seashell Season by Holly Chamberlain 
Verity Peterson’s baby daughter Gemma was snatched from her by Alan, the child’s father, sixteen years ago. Every year on the same date, Verity sends a message in a bottle into the sea in the hope that she is reunited with Gemma, but when Alan goes to prison, she might just get what she wished for. But how do you reconnect with the teenage daughter you hardly know? This novel about a mother's enduring love that is put to the test is a heartfelt and engaging read. 

The Fourteenth Letter by Claire Evans
This very different mystery is set in London in 1881. It is Phoebe Stanbury’s engagement party and she is all set to enter polite society when an intruder appears and stabs her to death, whispering to her fiance, 'I promised to save you'. As mystery enfolds into mystery, Inspector Treadway and shy young law clerk, William Lamb, have the task of finding all the secrets while plenty of dramatic characters and plot-twists add to the thrill.

My One True North by Milly Johnson 
Laurie and Pete are overwhelmed by grief when they meet at a counselling group for people who have recently lost their partners. But the more they get to know each other, the more they discover how alike their two stories are, even down to the day their partners died. An engaging story about love, loss, truth and hope with an interesting twist. 

Up and Down Australia Again by Arthur Upfield 
This collection of stories from the author of the Bony detective novels, draws from the author’s experiences in the bush between 1911 and 1931 and highlights among other things, the brutal treatment of Aboriginal people at the time. Along with 34 short stories, there’s a radio play as well as an unfinished Bony novel. This mammoth collection offers some fascinating insight into Australian life from the time.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Brasswitch and Bot by Gareth Ward

This year has been a bit of a year. (That might just be the understatement of the century!) At the beginning of the year, and even during Lockdown here, I was looking forward to going to the Brasswitch’s Ball - the afterparty of the book launch for this book. But then life happened, and I wasn’t able to go, which was sad! Last year, we went to the Clockill’s Ball, and that was so. much. fun! So when I was walking past a bookstore and saw this sitting in the window, I went: “Oh! Must have!” And then I sat down and started to read. 

If you’ve read my review of The Traitor and the Thief  (I just checked, and I haven’t posted a review about The Traitor and The Thief here yet! Terrible!) Well, in that case, I will note here that I personally found it a bit hard to get into. I actually put off reading it for a while, because to get fully into it, I needed to sit down and be alone and not distracted. I’m not sure why that was, my best guess is that I need to read all of the world building that I am 100% sure the author did (Gareth, if you’re reading this, I’m serious! As an aspiring author I think it’d be fascinating!). HOWEVER, once I got into TTatT, I was hooked and didn’t want to put it down. In fact, I sat down, read it, finished it, and then turned back the beginning and started again!

This book, on the other hand, I sat down, and INHALED. I was sucked in from the dedication, I loved the plot, I loved the characters, and I LOVED Bot. If you love sarcasm, he’ll be your favourite character. A humanoid (ish) mech, his sense of humor is right where I like it.

I’ve started annotating my books. (I hear you sucking in a gasp, I was the same to start with. If it helps, I use pencil, and only in my OWN copies. PLEASE DON’T WRITE IN LIBRARY BOOKS! Not even to note in the front if you have read it. Get a notebook. Please.) This book I underlined a lot of things that I really enjoyed, but I also made notes for my flatmate (who was reading after me) about words I didn’t know. For example: Snickelway - ‘Snickelway’ is a portmanteau of the words snicket, a passageway between fences; ginnel, a narrow passageway between buildings; and alleyway, a narrow street.That’s not a word I have come across before!

The plot was swift moving and well written; the characters were ‘fleshed out’ (yes, even the mech); the world was believable and desirable; and the mix of steampunk with fantasy/sci-fi was amazing. I won’t go into too much detail, because there’s so much going on that no matter what I say I am afraid of creating a spoiler, so basically, go read it! 

Content warnings: threat of electrocution, violence, some gore, magic, deaths 

Rating: 5 stars

Posted by Li

Catalogue link: Brasswitch and Bot

NB: Gareth Ward will by joining James Russell (author of the Dragon Defenders series) in a session of interactive world building for young minds as part of the Hawke's Bay Readers and Writers Festival. Night of the Dragons is on Saturday 17 October, 6:00 pm at Lovecraft Game Store, Napier. 

Monday, 7 September 2020

Wine Books and More: August reads

 Wine Books and More

The secret diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 years old - Hendrik Groen
Good book, celebrating life.

I am pilgrim - Terry Hayes
Found it unsettling. Power of America, world view, not comfortable.

Marc Dane Series - James Swallow
Closer to Bourne that Jack Reacher. 

The wife between us - Greer Hendricks
Didn't really like the twists or feel like they really contributed to the story.

The anarchy: The relentless rise of the East India Company - William Dalrymple
Very interesting and readable.

Black water - Louise Doughty
Set in Indonesia. Was interesting. 

An almost perfect holiday - Lucy Diamond
Nice and light read.
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The lost future of Pepperharrow - Natasha Pulley
A little bit different. Japan 1880s with a steam punk style. Interesting.

Akin - Emma Donoghue
A travelogue of Nice. 

The dead will tell - Linda Castillo
Really enjoyed this one!

Liar - Lesley Pearse
Nice, easy book to read but a bit wishy washy.

Where the crawdads sing - Delia Owens

The history of loneliness - John Boyne
Found it quiet enlightening, make me look at loneliness differently.  

Pull no punches: Memoir of a political survivor - Judith Collins
Liked the book. A good insight into her life and how parliament works.

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The operator - Gretchen Berg
1950's America. Similar to The Help.

The gilded cage - Camilla Lackberg
Good read with a surprising end. Recommend it.

The gap - Benjamin Gilmour
True but with names changed. Paramedics in Sydney. Blew me away because it's all true- terribly sad.

The absolute book - Elizabeth Knox
Norfolk, London and Auckland fiction. Librarian writing about things that threaten libraries. Fantasy rooted in temporary concerns. Really good read, couldn't put it down.

The underground railroad: A novel - Colson Whitehead
Sad. Based on true concept but took poetic licence. 

Becoming - Michelle Obama
Non-fiction and a bit hard to get in to. Interesting to see her life. 3 1/2 stars

The  dry - Jane Harper
Didn't finish how I expected it to. Good book.

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Thursday, 3 September 2020

A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson

1960’s Hydra – the Greek island, not the mythological sea monster. It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Polly Samson's new book describes the boho set that converged on Hydra at this time, the artists and writers, the poets and dreamers. At the centre, Australian writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston act as hosts and help new expats get settled.

On Hydra they find inspiring scenery, a warm climate, delicious food and cheap housing. Oh, and lots of wine. The scene is set for people behaving badly. All that is required is a match to light the fuse. As Charmian and George fight (he’s battling TB and both of them drink too much every night, leaving their kids to run amok), another marriage is in tatters - that of Norwegian enfant terrible, Axel Jenson and his stunningly beautiful wife, Marianne Ihlen. Enter twenty-five-year-old Leonard Cohen, and sparks fly.

Witnessing all of this is young Erika, the novel’s heroine. She’s also fresh off the boat, accompanied by her brother Bobby and her boyfriend Jimmy, both friends who met at art school. Still grieving the death of her mother, Erika spends time with Charmian, a former neighbour and family friend. Charmian tells her a few home truths about living with artists, and advises her to find her own path in life and not to saddle herself with a man too soon. 

The book captures the era wonderfully. It’s the early days of the counter-culture, the lead-up to the swinging sixties, while feminism waits in the wings.  And while it is the story of artists at play, falling in and out of love, testing the boundaries of social norms, Samson also recreates Hydra - the heat and the shimmering sea, the flavours and smells - so you can just imagine you are there. 

A Theatre for Dreamers is an engrossing read, peppered with personalities, including New Zealand writer, Bim Wallis (not the most flattering picture). It's well-researched, the characters vivid on the page, though it is Erika who I connected with most. Her youth and open-heartedness encourage confidences and friendships.

A fascinating piece of social history, this novel is beautifully written and will transport you to another time and place. Recommended.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: A Theatre for Dreamers

Saturday, 29 August 2020

The Golden Age of Crime Fiction

One of our Third Thursday Book Club members has been reading books from the British Library Crime Classics collection –These are ‘hidden gems from the Golden Age of crime fiction.’ and even have a facebook fan group devoted to them:

Our reader’s favourite this month was Murder in the Mill-Race by ECR Lorac.

So what is this ‘Golden Age of Crime Fiction’?

Wikipedia explains that it was ‘an era of classic murder mystery novels of similar patterns and styles, predominantly in the 1920s and 1930s.’ Many of the authors were British, such as G K Chesterton, and Dorothy L Sayers; although a few Americans also wrote in this genre, but with a distinctly British flavour.

Golden Age whodunits are built around certain established conventions and clich├ęs that leave the reader knowing what to expect –no surprises in the plot, clear clues that lead to the identity of the murderer, and stereotypical settings such as the secluded English Country House.

A typical plot of the Golden Age mystery might go something like this:

•Guests have arrived at a country house for the weekend. They are likely to include characters such as an aristocratic young man, an opinionated widow and her independent daughter, a retired clergyman, the prodigal older son of the house; and an unlikely detective .

•The gardener discovers a body on the manicured lawn next to the orangery.

•Due to unexpected flooding, the police are unable to get to the house to assist until the river goes down.

As society changed in the 1940s and readers became more critical and challenging of the norms presented in Golden Age Crime Fiction, the decline of their popularity began. Rather than being seen as the height of fashion and literary achievement, Golden Age Crime became displaced by books drawing inspiration from wider society, and more well rounded and diverse characters. Their influence lives on in the modern genre of ‘cosy’ mysteries however –set in tea rooms, rustic cabins, catteries and quilting shops; as well as in popular television such as MidsomerMurders and the game of Cluedo.

Modern readers who thirst for blood may love their forensic science and police procedurals, but for those of us who want a rollicking good light read, set in a quaint vicarage during a snowstorm, with all the clues assembled so that we can gradually guess who the real villain is……golden age crime classics are perfect. And as Agatha Christie’s enduring popularity proves, it’s a winning formula for success.

Posted by Elizabeth 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

I saw this book on a colleague’s desk and picked it up. After flicking through a couple of pages it had definitely caught my interest and I decided it was worth a read. 

The main character, a bookstore owner, is interviewed by an FBI agent about a book list he had created for his blog some years before. Eight books describing eight perfect murders. But why is he being interviewed? What's the agent's interest? It's all about unsolved murders which appear to be following the plot lines of various murder mystery novels... are they following his list?

I immediately identified with the main character, as running a small independent book shop is a bit of a fantasy of mine. He seems plain, boring and a bit clueless and as you find out more about him this impression is only reinforced. However, as you follow him further and deeper into the story, more and more information comes to light and those impressions change.

This is a book with twists and turns that keep going right to the end, packed with psychological suspense.

You also end up with a good list of books to read at a later date. Look out for Nero the cat (He didn't do it).

eBook Link: Rules for Perfect Murders

Posted by Rob