Monday, 25 May 2020

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

Laura Lipman is an old hand at witty and charming comedies of manners. Her first novel, Then She Found Me was made into a movie starring Helen Hunt, Bette Midler and Colin Firth. On Turpentine Lane is Lipman’s eleventh book and I can see how her stories would translate well to the screen with their snappy dialogue and quirky characters beset by difficulties.

The story takes us into the world of Faith Frankel, recently returned to her home town and working at her old school, writing thank you letters to benefactors. Yes, apparently, there are jobs like that. Her fiancé is on a walking journey across the United States, supposedly to find himself, but seems to be finding a lot of attractive women if his social media posts are anything to go by.

Faith decides to buy a house, you guessed it, on Turpentine Lane - a run-down, do-up with a chequered history, including rumours that the previous owner murdered her husbands by pushing them down the basement stairs. And when her father finds photographs of babies in the attic that seem to have died, Faith feels more than a little unnerved.

But the mystery surrounding these discoveries is a helpful distraction from problems at work – being falsely accused of fraud – and with her family. Faith’s father has left her mother to reinvent himself as an artist painting fake Chagalls, and her brother’s confidence with women has been sapped by a bitter divorce.

This is a close-knit Jewish family, where everyone has an opinion about everyone and everything and a tendency to interfere. This adds much to the humour as Faith and her brother plot to patch up their parents’ marriage, and there is plenty of heated discussion.

Faith has a lot on her plate, but fortunately help is at hand from Nick, her amiable and good-looking colleague, also having a few relationship problems of his own. The story bubbles along as Faith’s house turns into a crime scene and Faith has to deal with one drama after another, towards a warm and humorous ending.

On Turpentine Lane is a light, bright page-turner will have you chuckling as you read - surely just what is needed in times like these.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: On Turpentine Lane

Friday, 22 May 2020

The Mark of the King

Jocelyn Green's novel tells the story of Julianne, a parisian midwife unjustly accused of the death of an aristocrat mother in her care. Sentenced to life, she is branded a murderess with the mark of the King, the fleur-de-lis, burnt into her shoulder.

Given the choice to trade her sentence for exile in the Americas, Julianne joins the throngs of convicts, starved and abused, who are being shipped to New Orleans. Here, against horrific realities, Julianne begins to forge her own life and reputation, even in the face of mounting tensions between the French and the Natchez Indians. Ultimately Julianne is a survivor, and after journeying with her through the brutality she endures, the conclusion of the novel and the love story she discovers feels just, hopeful, and a vindication of everything gone before.

There is some fascinating French and American history woven through the story. The French desperately needed to colonise the harsh frontier they had claimed as Louisiana, in honor of King Louis XIV, and particularly the failing outpost of New Orleans. They did this largely through transportation, forcing marriages between convicts with much brutality, to populate the region.This part of the story is so horrendous it's hard to comprehend it is based on historical fact. 

This novel really drew me in, often confronting and heartbreaking, I was totally caught up in Julianne's story. There is a fair amount of tension throughout and a betrayal, but as the novel's love story develops in the midst of all the awfulness, there is a sort of poetic justice to it. It's enjoyable to read a strong female character, who isn't rescued by her hero either, but works hard to save herself.

Available as an eBook through Libby

Posted by Jaime

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn

This wonderful book is a mystery story with a twist – told entirely from Chet the dog's perspective. Bernie Little is a private detective and together with his dog Chet they make the best crime-solving team. In this case, their client is Cynthia, a mother desperate to find her daughter Madison who has been missing for 8 hours – the police won’t look into it until 24 hours have passed. Bernie and Chet don't usually do this kind of thing but they need the money so take the job.

Chet and Bernie go to Cynthia's house to gain information about Madison but just as they are leaving, Madison arrives home. She explains where she has been but Bernie quickly ascertains that she is lying. When Madison disappears again, her mother waits over a day to call because she turned up before. Things work out rather differently this time as Bernie’s car tyres get slashed and Chet is injured.

The police believe she has run away and are not very concerned but Bernie and Chet continue to look for Madison. This story is well written and although I thought I knew the 'what' for a while, I hadn’t figured out the 'why' until the end.

Spencer Quinn has written several other titles in this series including Thereby Hangs a Tail and To Fetch a Thief (both on Libby). Although I slightly skimmed some parts to get to the 'why' in the plot, Spencer Quinn has easily become a new favourite author. He also wrote the Bowser and Birdie series which is in the Junior Fiction section at the Library.

Posted by Andrea

Catalogue link: Dog on It

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Some Classic E-Audiobooks

Lockdown has been a great time for audiobooks – you could have them playing while doing jobs around your bubble. Personally, I’ve been going for audiobooks of stories I know quite well as there is something comforting in the familiarity of well-known books.

Pollyanna was written by Eleanor H Porter in 1913 and tells the story of the little orphan girl, Pollyanna, who was taken in by her stuffy, dutiful aunt. Pollyanna’s father was a poor missionary who invented the ‘glad game’. The glad game began when Pollyanna wanted a doll so they asked that one be sent in the missionary barrels because they couldn’t afford one. The missionary barrels arrived but there was no doll, instead there was a pair of crutches. Pollyanna was disappointed but then she and her father decided that they could be glad they didn’t need the crutches. After her father dies and she moves to live with her aunt, Pollyanna shares the glad game with the town - except her aunt because her aunt has forbidden her to talk about her father. Pollyanna quite unknowingly changes the outlook and future of many people in the town but then something happens that makes it seem impossible for her to play the game. There are many sequels to Pollyanna also written by Eleanor H. Porter, including Pollyanna Grows Up, also on Libby.

Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery was written in 1908 and remains popular for children and adults due to the creative and likeable main character. Anne has been an orphan for almost her whole life and has been shuffled between orphanages and foster families ever since. The foster families took her in to help care for their children and were unkind to her. Anne longs for a place to call home and a family of her own. One day she is selected to leave the orphanage to make a new home at Green Gables with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. But when she gets there she learns that there has been a mistake and the Cuthberts wanted a boy to help on the farm. However Matthew quickly becomes attached to Anne and they decide to keep her on a trial basis and hire some farm help. Anne’s imagination and red haired temper land her in a few spots of trouble throughout the rest of the book. L M Montgomery wrote many other books including nine sequels to Anne of Green Gables.

Heidi was written in 1881 by Johanna Spyri. There are several different movies based on the book – one starring Shirley Temple. Heidi has been living with her aunt since her parents died when she was very young. When her aunt is offered a job, she takes Heidi to live with her estranged grandfather. Her grandfather is viewed as hostile by the village of Dorfli, but he takes Heidi into his home and is kind to her. Heidi settles in well and enjoys living in their house on the mountain until her aunt returns to take her away. Heidi is a beautiful story set on a picturesque mountain in Switzerland. Sadly the author passed away before she could write any sequels to Heidi. Her translator, Charles Tritten, however, wrote several sequels which perfectly capture the style of Johanna Spyri, including Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children, published in 1939.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (sorry, another orphan story) was written in 1847. I was obsessed with Jane Eyre as a teenager and listened to the audio story from the library many times (I don’t remember it being over 17 hours however). Even now I watch as many versions as I can find. There are so many facets to this love story – if you are a Jane Austen fan this is a must read, watch or listen to.

Next on my list are Little Women (written in 1868) - no orphans this time - and Pride and Prejudice (written in 1813).

Posted by Andrea

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Baking Fit for a Queen

For the first time ever, the Hastings Library Bakers Club happened online this month, and lots of people at home joined in. It seems baking is one of those things we all love to do, if only we had the time. Now we finally have the time!

Each month we have a new theme at Bakers Club, and this month, it was “Fit for a Queen.” Despite our annual public holiday falling in June, Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday is actually on the 21st of April, and she turned 94 this year. Early June was her grandfather, King George V’s birthday.

Now, I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, eyeball-it, she’ll-be-right kind of baker. I measure my ingredients pretty roughly, and if I’ve reached the last of something, I’ll tip in the rest of it, or not bother to top it up with the last 30 grams. The markings on the oven in my flat wore off years before I moved in, so temperature is always a guessing game, and if something burns, I’ll just scrape off the blackened bits and eat it anyway.

So baking something fancy? Suitable for royalty? Not really my forte. A quick search online (never as satisfying as looking it up in a library book) tells me Her Majesty the Queen’s favourite cake is a chocolate biscuit cake (find the recipe here), but it sounds like far too much dark chocolate for my taste. (It turns out the queen and I probably wouldn’t get along if we flatted together; I love to pile on the garlic and onions, which is a big no-no in the Kensington and Buckingham Palace kitchens. However, at least we agree that strawberries are everything in summer, but shouldn’t be shipped in out-of-season).

Inspired by the deliciousness appearing on the Library’s Facebook page, I decided to try a favourite from my childhood. I had to ask Mum to send me the recipe.

Araby Cake

· 125g butter
· ¾ cup sugar
· ½ tablespoon golden syrup
· 2 eggs
· 1 cup flour
· 1 ½ tsp each of cinnamon, mixed spice, and ground ginger
· 1 tsp baking powder
· ¾ cup milk
· 1 tsp baking soda

Cream butter and sugar with golden syrup and add beaten eggs. Sift in dry ingredients except baking soda. Warm the milk and mix baking soda in. Fold all together. Bake in round cake tin at 150C for 30-40 minutes.

Ice with chocolate icing:
· 1 cup icing sugar
· 1 tsp vanilla essence
· 1 dessertspoon cocoa
· 1 tablespoon butter (melted)
· Add water if needed

I have spent hours researching the origin of this cake and why it’s called “Araby”, but to no avail. The best guess is that it’s an old European recipe given the name Araby because of the spices used, which would have come from the Arab region. The recipe came to my family through an elderly patient of Mum’s back in the early 1990s. She gave Mum a cake one week, and after bringing it home for us, Mum had to ask for the recipe the following week. If that patient were still alive now, she would be a good 15 years older than the queen. If it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for the queen, I say.

I also made the obligatory Anzac biscuits, too, using the tried and tested Edmonds cook book recipe.

Next month’s theme is “Go Global.” Our physical worlds have shrunk, but we still have access to international recipes, and our taste buds love to travel. What will you whip up?

Posted by Emma

Catalogue link: Edmonds Sure to Rise Cookery Book

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

A House of Ghosts by W C Ryan

William Ryan is an award-winning Irish writer, known for his Captain Korolev series set in 1930s Moscow. Writing as W C Ryan, his latest book, A House of Ghosts, mixes mystery with an element of the supernatural.

The novel is set in 1917, on a wild and rugged island off the Devon coast, where sits Blackwater Abbey, the baronial pile belonging to Lord Highmount, a munitions entrepreneur. The Abbey is so old it is well and truly haunted and having lost both of their sons in the war, the Highmounts bring together two mediums in the hope of communicating with the dead.

But that isn’t all that is going on at the Abbey. London’s Whitehall suspects someone has been leaking plans for a new torpedo designed at Highmount’s factory. Among the guests, Madame Feda and Count Orlov are suspicious because they are, well, foreign. Also tagging along is Rolleston Miller-White, who has gambling debts and is engaged to Lord Highmount’s daughter Evelyn, and then there’s Lady Highmount who is Austrian. The suspects being to assemble.

Crossing in heavy seas as storms set to lash the island is Kate Cartwright, a Whitehall dog’s-body also on the guest-list. She’s an old family friend of the Highmounts and conveniently also has the gift of seeing ghosts. Kate adds eyes and ears for Whitehall agent Captain Donovan, masquerading as a valet, and the two make an uneasy alliance as they wait for the spy to make their move.

A House of Ghosts is a witty, action-packed yarn, filled with a varied cast of house-party guests and servants, reminiscent of Agatha Christie, but updated for twenty-first century tastes. There’s lots of snappy dialogue between Kate and Donovan, who are a brilliant odd couple: Donovan the stony-faced man of action; Kate, both intelligent and genteel, but set apart from her class because of her ‘special’ talent.

We are reminded of the popularity of spiritualism at a time when so many families were losing their sons to the carnage of World War One. And the Abbey is packed with ghosts who frequently find the antics of the living amusing. If you’re after a spine-tingling thrill, A House of Ghosts might not be the book for you, but there’s plenty of fun nonetheless. I whizzed through the novel enjoying every page.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: A House of Ghosts

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Wine, Books and More via Zoom

The Wine Books and More group didn't let a little thing like a worldwide pandemic get in the way of their monthly catch up in April. We all gathered around our screens and over Zoom shared what we had been reading. Two hours later we all had a much larger TBR (to be read) pile! Here are a few of the books we shared:

David Eddings
I had forgotten how readable and funny he is!

Chilbury Ladies’ Choir – Jennifer Ryan

Very readable book and a window into WWII. The story skips between 4 or 5 people which come together as a story as a whole. All belong to the choir.

Linda Costillo
She has such a lovely way of explaining things.

Words of Radiance - Brandon Sanderson
Very great writer but there are lot of story lines going on

Permafrost - Alastair Reynolds
Told between two time periods to try and change the future.

Call of the wild - Jack London
Saw the movie had come out so reread it. It is a great story of heroism and finding your place in the world. It doesn’t have the fluffing out that modern texts do.

Blue Moon – Lee Child
Really enjoying it- old Jack Reacher is great!

When the Floods Came – Clare Morral
Dystopian novel, following a family and their children. Interesting to read during a global pandemic.

Kin – Snorri Kristjansson
A Viking murder mystery set in AD times. An interesting story from a time period I enjoy/am interested in

The Whole Day Through – Patrick Gale
 Lots of character building

The Last Town - Blake Crouch
The best of the Wayward Pines books. Really enjoyed it

Disgrace- J M Coetzee
Disturbing in many ways but thought it was brilliant 5 stars. Sat there for some time afterwards in thought.

Nazi Officers Wife – Edith Hahn-Beer
True story about women who is sent to work for the German. She is Jewish. A very interesting story

This is How You Loose the Time War- Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Two authors telling the story of two aliens writing letters to each other in the middle of a time war. Different and unusual and I really enjoyed it

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
Set 30 years after events of Handmaid’s Tale. Really good, brings together everything. Interesting that it doesn’t contradict the TV series. 

The Girl who Lived Twice – David Lagercrantz
The first two he wrote weren’t that good but now he has got it and found his way. Really good.

Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein
Crime, murder and biographies.

Freakonomics- Steven D Levitt
A great deep dive into topics you would never even consider that they might be linked