Hastings District Libraries

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee

For anyone who has ever dreamed about what the life of a maharaja might be like, Abir Mukherjee gives you a taste in his second Sam Wyndham novel, A Necessary Evil. The story is set in Calcutta 1920, and the Viceroy is courting the many princedoms of India requesting their support for the British regime. And as chance would have it, policeman Sam Wyndham and his trusty sergeant ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee are on the spot when a maharaja’s son is shot dead by a religious fanatic.

Sam travels to the tiny state of Sambalpore, outrageously wealthy from diamond mining, and becomes embroiled in the intrigue and politics that occur close to the throne, with one ailing maharaja and a playboy heir. When a nervous British accountant disappears, Sam and Surrender-not do some careful digging but who can they trust?

This series got off to a flying start with A Rising Man, and now we have another glimpse of India post WWI, with settings involving sumptuous palace interiors and elephant hunts. Sam’s two bête noirs - Annie Grant, who turns up for the funeral, and his opium habit - also get a look in and give Sam even more to worry about. He and Banerjee make a great team, and you know that eventually, but not before there’s been more bloodshed, the two will crack the case. A terrific read. Roll on book three.

Posted by JAM

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Like Nobody's Watching by L.J. Ritchie

‘When Oscar and his friends hack into the school’s surveillance system, the plan is simple: find the footage, blackmail the bullies, and leave no fingerprints. But the sense of power it brings them is hard to let go …’ – Goodreads.

This novel follows what happens when cameras are installed throughout the buildings and grounds of a Wellington high school to ‘stop bad behaviour’. Oscar and his friends know that there is bullying going unnoticed, so are unsurprised (although disappointed) when they find out that no one is checking the footage. Oscar is an expert hacker, and together he and his friends hack into the security cameras, find footage of the bullies, and email it to them, threatening to turn them in to the staff if the bullying doesn’t stop.

It was just meant to be the one time, but the group decides to keep watching, and blackmails more and more bullies. Eventually the school finds out it was them, and some people decide to get their revenge.

This was a fast paced story about the dangers of surveillance, especially when it falls into the wrong hands. While the group’s intentions started out good enough, the power quickly became too much. A great first novel by New Zealander L.J. Ritchie, and an exciting read for teens.

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: Like Nobody's Watching

The Starlings by Vivienne Kelly

It takes quite a talent to sustain humour throughout what is in fact a sad story. In Vivienne Kelly’s novel The Starlings it is the amusing moments that make the pages fly but it is the unfolding narrative of a family coming apart that keeps you riveted to the end.

The story is told in retrospect by successful playwright, Nicholas Starling, recalling what happened to his family when he was eight years old. Nicky is a sensitive boy, who pours his imagination into creating small dramas around his action figures, the hero Zarlok and the evil looking Fleshbane. His mother has read him the stories of Shakespeare and King Arthur and these feed into his plays with humorous effect.

Meanwhile Nicky’s teenage sister is pining for a boy at school and rolling her eyes at every utterance made by their dad. And why wouldn’t she? All he ever talks about is the footy. Nicky does his best not to be a wimp and to feign interest in the high drama of the footy field so as not to annoy his father. Mum sympathises with her son and looks increasingly pained and frustrated.

On the day of Nicky’s birthday comes the news that his grandmother, Didie, has died of the cancer that has kept her bedridden and cared for by the lovely Rose. Nicky adores Rose and worries that she will not be around anymore when he visits his grandfather’s house. Only she is. Rose’s attachment to Nicky’s Grandpa adds more friction, and Nicky finds himself an unsuspecting spy when he visits, pumped for information on his return home.

The story hums along towards a crisis in his parents’ marriage, interspersed with Nicky’s reinterpretations of Shakespearean tragedy and Arthurian legend. Somehow the stories of Hamlet, Macbeth and the love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere help Nicky to make sense of what’s going on around him.

Kelly cleverly writes Nicky as a forty-year-old looking back, so the prose is fairly sophisticated, and yet we are still in the head of a child. I loved this novel. It is as witty and fresh as it is insightful and poignant and eight-year-old Nicky is wonderful company.

Reviewed by JAM 

Catalogue link:  The Starlings

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Book Chat Reading for October

Dare to Remember by Susannah Beard

Lisa retreats to the countryside to recover from a brutal attack that left her friend dead and with only a vague memory of events. As odd recollections of the assault return, she finds she has more questions than answers and eventually discovers a truth that she should have noticed before. A slow-burner of a story that draws you in, with terrific characters.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

A modern-day classic, the story takes us to Belgian Congo, circa 1960, where zealous Baptist minister, Nathan Price, has brought his family to begin a mission. The four girls and their mother struggle to survive the jungle climate and wild life, while Nathan, blinded by fanaticism, makes poor decisions which threaten them all. An engrossing and powerful read.

Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood

This is the twentieth Phryne Fisher novel in which our amateur sleuth investigates the murder of the conductor of an orchestra. The choir gives Phryne a chance to go undercover and there’s plenty of humour here during rehearsals of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. More serious echoes of Phryne’s wartime past as an ambulance driver emerge when she helps an old friend whose mathematician lover is in danger. Full of the usual madcap fun and quirky characters we have come to enjoy.

A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

Two time periods and two queens create two alternating plotlines in this novel by historian Alison Weir. In 1562 Lady Catherine Gray is imprisoned in the Tower of London, perceived as a threat to Elizabeth I. She becomes caught up in the story of another Catherine - Kate Plantagenet, daughter of Richard III, also locked up in the tower when Henry VII takes the crown. During Kate’s imprisonment, she explores the story of the two young princes her father is alleged to have murdered. A great read, if somewhat convoluted, for lovers of English history.

Dregs by Jorn Lier Horst

The first in Horst’s William Wisting series sees his top policeman leading the investigation when two left feet are washed up by the tide. Is there a link with a number of mysterious disappearances in Norway's Larvik district? Wisting’s journalist daughter, Line, also does her bit in this engrossing police procedural. Horst is a terrific new discovery for those who like their Nordic Noir to be intelligent and well plotted.

Posted by Flaxmere Library Book Chat

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Caller by Chris Carter

I read a lot of crime books. In fact, I would take a guess that about 95% of all books I read are crime books. This means that it takes a special kind of book to give me the goose bumps, make me double check that all my locks are actually locked and to make sure I am not being watched.

Recently, I came across a book called The Caller by Chris Carter. I speed through it and as it was the eighth book in the series, I knew I needed to read the rest of his books as quickly as possible. It didn’t matter what order they arrived in, I was reading them as quickly as I could get my hands on them.
The Caller opens with Tanya picking up a video call from her best friend, Karen. It quickly becomes a nightmare as Karen is gagged and bound and if the voice at the end of the phone is to be believed, her fate lies in Tanya’s hands. The police believe that it is a one off crime but the phone calls keep rolling in and the victims begin to pile up. It is up to Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia, partners who work for the UVC (Ultra-Violent Crimes) Unit within the Los Angeles Police Department, to catch the killer before it is too late.

Robert Hunter is an interesting main character. He has flown through the ranks at the LAPD and has been approached to join the FBI many times over the years. His thesis is even compulsory reading for any FBI agent during their time at Quantico. After the early deaths of both his parents he struggles with insomnia. He spends a lot of his time reading and so in true Sherlock fashion he is a wealth of knowledge about anything you could think of.

Chris Carter was born in Brazil and later moved to America where he studied psychology and criminal behaviour. Chris has been involved in interviewing over 100 serial killers, murderers and violent criminals. Following on from this he spent 10 years as a guitarist for Glam Rock bands. His book Evil Minds is based on some of these criminals he spent time with and I think it is the most chilling book to date.

Reviewed by Kristin Clothier

Catalogue link:  The Caller

Monday, 30 October 2017

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

‘The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state, is not useful enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.’ – Goodreads.

This was a hard concept to wrap my head around – the idea that people would willingly agree that this was a good law to make, and then that they would actually follow along with it seems outlandish. At first I thought that because of all the different dystopian novels that have been written in the last few years (lets be honest, most YA books seem to have been dystopian for the last few years) that maybe the author was grasping at straws to write something in the genre that hadn’t already been done before. I didn’t have much hope for the book but decided to read it anyway as I have a lot of parents requesting book suggestions for reluctant male teen readers and this always seems to be on the list of best books.

Man I am glad I gave it a chance. It didn’t take long for me to accept the strange premise and get totally sucked into the story. At first Connor and love interest Risa, seem like very two dimensional characters and it took me a few chapters to feel connected to them, but we start to see why they both ended up on the run. 

Connor is a trouble maker, and his parents decide to sign the papers to have him unwound. Risa grew up in a group home, where if you don’t excel at something that can make them money when you get older, they will automatically unwind you when you reach your teens. Eventually the two find a safe haven, only to find that maybe it isn’t as safe, or as idealistic as they hoped.

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: Unwind

Thursday, 26 October 2017

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Powerful, brilliant and shocking, this is one of those books that stay with you long after you finish it.

‘My absolute darling’ is what domineering and deeply flawed Martin Alveston calls his 14 year old daughter Turtle; whom he has brought up alone since the death of his wife.
Martin is a hard man; teaching his daughter how to use a gun with skill, fend for herself in their dilapidated home and run wild in the beautiful wilderness of the Northern Californian coast. He is convinced the world will end soon and mostly shuts himself off from modern life.

However we experience the world through Turtle’s narrative. She struggles at school, shuns people her own age, and surreptitiously visits her alcoholic grandfather (who is estranged from her father).
Turtle’s life changes when she helps two clever and playful High School students Jacob and Brett, who are lost in bad weather in the forest. This friendship opens her eyes to how other people live and she begins to question her father’s authority.

The flora, fauna and landscapes in My Absolute Darling are lovingly and beautifully described; enough for me to look up images online of the Mendocino Coast with it’s verdant forests and rocky coastline.

This is Gabriel Tallent’s first novel. He grew up near the Mendocino coast and spent eight years writing My Absolute Darling. He began writing while in his final year of University, homesick for his ‘free range’ childhood in the wilderness.

A warning: graphic abuse is depicted in this novel; and I admit to putting the book down for a couple of weeks thinking it was not for me. I am glad I picked it up again; it is unforgettable and ultimately a novel of coming of age and rising above adversity, mixed with elements of a gripping thriller. Turtle’s character in particular is mesmerising; vulnerable yet tough, you just so want her to succeed and thrive. My Absolute Darling reminds me of a rural version of the award-winning A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; which was one of my favourite reads from last year.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link:  My Absolute Darling