Thursday, 15 August 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Kya remembered Ma always encouraging her to explore the marsh:  "Go as far as you can...way out yonder where the crawdads sing."

Where the Crawdads Sing is an unusual and captivating read. It's a cross between a coming of age novel, a murder mystery, and a nature study.
 Kya's family is known by the locals as 'Marsh People': a derogatory name given to the those who live in the swamp and marshland areas of North Carolina. Kya's father is a violent drunk; when this becomes too much for her mother she finally leaves but without her children.  One by one Kya's older siblings leave too and she is left more and more to fend for herself, spending hours each day in the beautiful yet unforgiving natural environment.
A scant half day of schooling and bullying is enough to convince Kya that she does not want to be formally educated, and a time of deftly avoiding the truancy officer follows.

In later life Kya has relationships with two young men: Tate, who loves the marsh environment as much as she does; and later the popular and handsome Chase. When Chase is later found dead the police are not convinced that his death was accidental and a dramatic court case follows.

The other main character in Where the Crawdads sing is the natural environment, which is described lovingly by Delia Owens.  It is no surprise to discover that Delia Owens is an American wildlife scientist.  She makes some astute observations about male and female animal behaviour throughout the book, drawing comparisons with events in Kyla's life.

Where the Crawdad's Sing is set between 1952 and 1970 with beautiful prose and a folksy Southern dialect. This novel also highlights the bigotry and prejudices of the time. Read it before it is made into a film ( actor/producer Reese Witherspoon has purchased the film rights) and also if you enjoyed Educated or My Absolute Darling.  Everything you could ask for in a novel really - great characters, stunning landscape and a clever plot. 

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link:  Where the Crawdads Sing

Thursday, 8 August 2019

The Listeners by Anthony J Quinn

This book is a crime thriller set in the gloomy, atmospheric lochs of Edinburgh, Scotland. Detective Sergeant Carla Herron is an inexperienced fast-tracked police officer. Carla is married to David, and has two young children, 3 year old Alice and baby Ben, with David being a stay at home dad. After the birth of her daughter Alice, she changed careers from teaching to the police.

Carla now faces one of her toughest challenges as a police detective. She is tasked with interviewing a patient at Deepwell psychiatric hospital who has confessed to the murder of psychotherapist, Dr Jane Pochard. The confession is vividly detailed but utterly impossible as the man is locked in a secure ward, under 24-hour surveillance. However, Dr Pochard is missing and the staff at Deepwell seem determined to hinder rather than help with the investigation.

Carla finds herself drawn into the dark history of the hospital’s past and uncovers a cult-like group: The Holistic Foundation of Psychotherapists; who seem to have the ability to ruin the careers of mental health practitioners who disagree with them.

I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about this book. Normally I’m a character driven person, I enjoy getting to know them and their lives. In this book it was the plot that drove me to keep reading. I really wanted to know what was happening and was drawn in by the gloomy, almost fantastical and dream-like setting and intricate writing.

At the beginning I struggled to empathise with the main character Carla Herron. She found it difficult to reconcile her job and motherhood, ultimately giving priority to her job at the risk of her home life and mental health. She is admirable in that she shows a tenacity to solve the mystery and a willingness to learn from her taciturn partner Detective Harry Morton.  

The book itself kept me guessing until near the end and I would recommend it if you like atmospheric, intriguing thrillers.

Posted by Ms Lib

Catalogue link: The Listeners

Monday, 5 August 2019

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Stacey Halls’s debut novel, The Familiars, is based on real events that took place in the county of Lancashire in 1612. An ardent Protestant, King James I was keen to suppress any forms of belief that conflicted with the religion of his reign. This included Catholicism, of course, but also witchcraft or any perceived devil-worship.

Lancashire was considered a particular problem - remote enough for Catholics to worship in secret plus suspected pockets of witchcraft, although healers in poor rural areas were often thought of as wise women or witches. The Pendle witch trials of 1612 are noteworthy as twelve ‘witches’ were seized for trial, with ten convicted and hanged.

Stacey Halls reimagines the events around the trials, using real characters from the time. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is a young noblewoman who is pregnant once more; her husband, Richard, eager for an heir after several miscarriages. Fleetwood is a troubled woman – she suffers from nightmares and is the product of a childhood tainted with loneliness and abuse.

When she discovers a doctor’s letter to her husband, Fleetwood learns that giving birth is likely to kill her. A chance meeting with the healer and midwife, Alice Grey, offers Fleetwood both friendship and hope. As Alice’s remedies dramatically improve her health, Fleetwood begins to imagine that she might just survive to be a mother.

But this hope begins to fade when Alice is named as a witch and a warrant is put out for her arrest. If Fleetwood is to survive, she must somehow prove the innocence of her friend.

The Familiars is a gripping read, evocatively describing an era of suspicion and terror, and how superstition can fester through the illiteracy of ordinary folk. I was completely caught up in Fleetwood’s story – even though she is comfortable and well-cared for, she lives in constant fear, a potent reminder of the powerlessness of women at the time. Somehow Fleetwood manages to fight back and the story moves to a gripping ending, with a race against the clock to save both Alice and herself.

I might not have picked this book up as the thought of witch-hunts and cruel punishments puts shivers down my spine. But this is a terrific novel and I can’t wait to see what Stacey Halls writes next.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Familiars

Thursday, 1 August 2019

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah

After reading Kristen Hannah’s latest novel The Great Alone, I can understand why this novel was voted the 2018 Goodreads Choice Award for historical fiction.

Ernt, a former POW, returns from the Vietnam War a changed man. He struggles to fit back into his old life with his wife Cora and teenage daughter Leni, and also his previous employment. Ernt is quick to lash out, and hurts the family and friends he is close to. He is given a lifeline when his late POW friend bequests him land and a house in Alaska. The family move to this formidable place with great hope of mending their broken husband and father, and reconnecting back to the relationships they once had.

Ernt and his family now face new challenges as a result of living off the grid in a small shack in the middle of nowhere, with little in the way of resources. The need to prepare for the coming winter is an important reality of living in Alaska. As winter descends, the family fight to survive the harsh darkness, and Ernt’s mental health declines as his temper and violence escalate. The community rallies around to help the family. Ernt rejects all offers of help and isolates his family from the community. When the most brutal violent attack occurs Cora and Leni reach out to friends as they flee Alaska.

As mother and daughter rebuild their broken lives, they realize if they are to have any hope of regaining happiness they must finally face the past. With love, strength and forgiveness they return to the realities of their past and make amends in order to face a brighter future.

Kristen Hannah’s writing is gritty and honest with strong characterisation. The realities of living in the wilderness of Alaska makes for an interesting setting. Her next novel will be highly anticipated.

Posted by Lynette

Catalogue link: The Great Alone

Monday, 29 July 2019

More Book Chat Winter Reading

The Russian Tapestry by Banafsheh Serov
A sweeping story of love against the setting of WWI and the Russian Revolution, this novel has been one of the most popular books discovered at Book Chat recently. The novel follows two characters caught up in huge political events: Alexei, a colonel in the Russian army, and Maria, a wealthy merchant's daughter, and is based on the lives of the author's husband's grandparents, making it all the more poignant.

The Road to Grantchester
by James Runcie
We've read the six books in the Grantchester Chronicles series about Sidney Chambers, the priest who solves crimes with policeman and backgammon pal, Geordie. But what set Sidney on the path to the church? This novel looks at Sidney's service in WW2 and events in the Cassino campaign which deeply affected him. Sydney before the war is not the same as Sydney after the war, and this book helps explain his problematic relationship with Amanda and his understanding for people caught up in all kinds of moral dilemmas.

My Mother's Secret by Sanjida Kay
A woman with a dangerous secret trying to keep her family safe. A disaffected teenager who is desperate to discover the truth her mother is hiding. These two story threads build into an page-turning narrative with an ending that will make you gasp.

The Jane Austen Project
by Kathleen A Flynn
What happens when two researchers from the future have the ability to travel back in time to the era of Jane Austen? Eager to solve questions around the famous author's death and uncover an unpublished manuscript, actor-turned-scholar Liam and disaster-relief scientist Rachel embark on a difficult quest. Austen fans will relish this as well as anyone who likes a good story.

Heart of the Grass Tree by Molly Murn
Pearl and her mother and sister return to Kangaroo Island, off Australia's south coast, to mourn the death of her grandma, Nell. This is a wonderful story about each woman's recollections of Nell, her secrets revealed in stories, art and poems, as well as evoking terrible events of the island's history. The stunning setting adds atmosphere to this multi-layered debut novel.

The Book of Dreams by Nina George
The author of The Little Paris Bookshop is back with another novel of warmth, compassion and whimsy. In The Book of Dreams, four characters connect in a hospital, including two that are coma patients. George brings together their stories - a boy who is meeting his father for the first time and the woman who still has feelings for the man; a young girl who is the only survivor of a crash that killed her family. A moving and thoughtful novel that contemplates the meaning of life.

Posted by Flaxmere Library Book Chat

Friday, 26 July 2019

Together by Annabel Langbein

In a bid to liven up our dinners I have set myself a wee cookbook challenge. Each week I will make all our dinners from one cookbook. Starting the challenge with Annabel Langbein's latest cookbook, which she has put together with her daughter Rose, I am keen to have a go at the Balsamic Mushroom Burgers - even though I am not sure I will like vinegar on my burger.

Forgetting to buy garlic means I have only one missing ingredient and I will substitute egg-free chipotle aioli with ordinary mayonnaise. So I am quietly confident that this recipe may turn out just like Annabel intended. All I have to do is bake the mushrooms, fry the haloumi, toast the buns and assemble all in 20 minutes. And I do just that with the only hiccup occurring when assembling as I put the burger fillings on the top half of the bun. Of course I don’t actually realise this till I look at the photo and by that time the burger is eaten. Simple, tasty and the balsamic vinegar works really well with the other flavours. A really easy weekday recipe.

With our cold weather set to continue I am going for a book with hearty recipes next.


Posted by Veronica

Catalogue link: Together

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Ten Caesars by Barry Strauss

Barry Strauss’s Ten Caesars is the story of the Roman Empire from rise to reinvention, from Augustus, who founded the empire, to Constantine, who made it Christian and moved the capital east to Constantinople. During these centuries Rome gained in splendour and territory, then lost both. The empire reached from modern-day Britain to Iraq, and gradually emperors came not from the old families of the first century but from men born in the provinces, some of whom had never even seen Rome. In the imperial era Roman women—mothers, wives, mistresses—had substantial influence over the emperors, and Strauss also profiles the most important among them, from Livia, Augustus’s wife, to Helena, Constantine’s mother. But even women in the imperial family faced limits and the emperors often forced them to marry or divorce for purely political reasons. Rome’s legacy remains today in so many ways, from language, law, and architecture to the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Strauss examines this enduring heritage through the lives of the men who shaped it: Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Diocletian and Constantine. Over the ages, they learned to maintain the family business—the government of an empire—by adapting when necessary and always persevering no matter the cost. 
 - Back cover description

I am not normally a reader of non-fiction, however I do enjoy history and when I saw this thought it would be an easy read to reintroduce myself to the ancient world of Rome. I was very impressed! This book is not a comprehensive history of the Roman emperors, rather it takes historical figures and presents them to us as real people with real problems and issues, albeit theirs had a tendency to end in bloodshed and death.

Each chapter considers a single Roman emperor starting with Augustus and ending with Constantine. It paints an overall picture of their most important characteristics, styles of rule and how they furthered (or ruined) Rome’s power. Their early life/career is considered and then it goes on to talk about their rise to power and rule as emperor. I also enjoyed how the role of the women in these men’s lives impacted on them and their rule.

It was the type of book you could freely dip in and out of as you pleased. It was great book, engaging and well-written. I would recommend it for anyone who has an interest in ancient Rome and doesn’t want to get bogged down in intricate details.

About the author:
Barry Strauss is the chair of the history department and a professor of classics at Cornell Universtiy and has written many other books on antiquities history.

Catalogue link: Ten Caesars

Posted by Mya