Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Underground Railway by Colson Whitehead

Barack Obama, Oprah, and the Pulitzer Prize panel have all declared the Underground Railroad a winner, and I found this novel about the reality of slavery both gripping and haunting.

The Underground Railroad was a network of sympathetic and brave people, willing to help runaway slaves escape to the safety of the north in pre-civil war America.  However the underground railroad is not just an historical metaphor here, but used literally, adding a clever and creative element of magical realism to the story.  Whitehead has said in an interview that he had the idea to make the railway real because American children learning history often mistakenly think the Underground Railroad was an actual railroad.

The main character is a young slave called Cora, who is an outcast even with other slaves working on a cotton plantation in Georgia.  Cora's mother had previously run away, causing Cora to be sent to a separate compound reserved for those with illness, disability, or no family.
Cora's emerging puberty and lack of family makes her vulnerable to being preyed upon by both fellow slaves and white men; so when Caesar, a young slave who has come from another plantation, tells her about the Underground Railroad, the two plan to escape.
The pair initially spend time in North Carolina. They are treated well and provided with jobs and hostel accommodation.  Eventually however, they are exposed to disturbing goings-on: black women are encouraged to be surgically sterilized and men are used as part of medical research studying untreated syphilis.
Along the way Cora also spends time working as a living exhibit in a museum, as a maid and hiding in an attic for weeks.  All the while she is pursued by Ridgeway, a notorious and relentless slave catcher.

The real Underground Railroad movement was not as organised as Whitehead's, but he extensively researched historical interviews and testimony, and all events are based on fact. Historic wanted notices for runaway slaves are used with chilling effect throughout the novel.
The content of this book means the depictions of violence and cruelty are powerful and shocking; but also described in a matter-of-fact way that is not gratuitous.
As a young man Whitehead experienced police harassment for no other reason than being a African American; in reading The Underground Railroad we can begin to understand the ongoing legacy of racial inequality.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link:  The Underground Railroad

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

As a boy, Evan Smoak was taken from an orphanage. Raised and trained in a top-secret programme, he was sent to bad places to do things the government denied ever happened. Then he broke with the programme, using what he'd learned to vanish. Now he helps the desperate and deserving.
But someone's on his trail. Someone who knows his past and believes that the boy once known as Orphan X must die . . .

(Publisher's blurb)

Two gripes on an otherwise very good, pacy action-packed thriller of a book. The first and most annoying is the insistence on such short chapters – are we readers really so unable to absorb more than a page or two of text at a time? Is it the dumbing-down into millennium-aged preferred sound-bites? Or am I just a cranky older reader? I don’t know but it infuriated me in this book. While admittedly adding to the fast pace of the action the chopping and changing of scenes and viewpoints was an annoyance; chapters of barely one page at times.

My second gripe is that the author’s name did not appear on the cover of the copy I read so that I really struggled to remember it. The author’s name is important to me; if I like the book I will hunt out others, and I will likely as not recognise the name when discovering it in future, in reviews or other commentary and feedback. 

The cover did contain glowing endorsement quotes from such heavyweights as David Baldacci, Lee Child, Jonathan Kellerman and Tess Gerritsen. If this is your genre then David Baldacci’s comment “Read this book. You will thank me later.” is spot on.

Posted by Catherine

Catalogue link: Orphan X

Friday, 19 May 2017

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce

This book is from a kids’ series so good it was made into a DreamWorks movie. Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King was so absorbing I couldn’t put it down for an entire day! Filled with magic and imagination, this story will take you to a fantastic world where we learn the origin of ‘Santa Claus’; once known as ‘Nicholas St. North’, the greatest bandit and swordsman in the world.

It was amazing to learn of the Boogeyman’s origins: how the dreaded ‘Pitch Black’ was locked away for years until he was accidentally released with his army of Fearlings. What I found the most absorbing was the story of the war at the end of the Golden Age. This was a fantastic time where people travelled across the universe in steampunk-like airships, which were ruined by Pitch Black releasing the nightmares from their prison, they then go to take down the royal family who live on the moon.

In order to defeat Pitch, North is aided by a brilliant wizard named Ombric, guardian of a secret village alongside a powerful bear and a Forest Guardian that can turn people to stone; a little girl named Kathryn with a powerful imagination who can make anything happen just by believing in it; and a strange spectral boy who flies around the world and watches out for the children alongside his special ‘Moonbeam’.

It’s so wonderful reading this story, because the way William Joyce retells the tale of the characters we think we know so well just gives us an incredible and new way of looking at them. So far, the second novel in the series is just as good and delves into the past of the Easter Bunny, aka ‘A. Aster Bunnymund’. The third edition looks at the Tooth Fairy and I am actually tempted to look for the side stories like ‘The Man in the Moon’.

Trust me, any child or adult who picks this up will disappear into another world, and won’t want to return. Take a trip to ‘Samtpff Claussen’, the ‘Place of Dreams’, and be sure to stay for a good long while.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Edwards

Catalogue link:  Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

April Update: 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

Tikki Tikki Tembo
Once upon a time, a long time ago, it was custom in China to give the first son great long names. Second sons were given short names. Through misadventures involving a well, Chang, a second son, teaches everyone the ridiculous nature of this custom.

I really enjoyed Tikki Tikki Tembo. I know that some people have issues with the non traditional names used in the book but I felt like it was an enjoyable story which would be great for a read aloud.

Rosie Revere, Engineer
Rosie dreams of inventing. After an unfortunate incident where her favourite uncle laughed at her failed invention she vows to give it up for good- this is until her aunt mentions her dream of flying.

I loved the message in this book. Nothing is perfect the first time and if you keep trying you will succeed. It also has an enjoyable rhythm making it a good read aloud for 6+

Mango, Abuela and Me
Mia's Abuela is leaving her sunny house surrounded by parrots and palm trees to live in the city with Mia and her family. Mia realises that her Abuela does not know how to speak English, while she struggles to understand Spanish. Mia undertakes the challenge to help her Abuela while learning in return.

This book has a great story of love weaved through. Mia wants to connect with her Abuela and even though they can't understand each other they find ways to break through the barrier until they can both communicate.

The Giving Tree
"There once was a tree and she loved a little boy." Every day the boy would come and play under the
tree. As the boy grows up he spends less and less time with the tree and wants more and more from the tree, yet the tree still loves him unconditionally.

When I finished this book, I actually said to the others in the room, "What a horrible book!" I don't like the fact that I felt like the tree kept giving and giving until the tree had nothing left the give and the boy just kept taking and taking without giving anything in return. In my opinion it does not deserve to be on this book list. Judging by Goodreads, there are others that agree with me.

Journey follows the story of a young girl who draws a door on her bedroom wall and once she goes through it she discovers a wonderful world where amazing things happen and she is free to create what she wants and what the world needs.

I struggled with this book. It has no words, which in itself was OK but I just found myself skimming through it. I wouldn't bother reading it again.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is set in the town of Chewandswallow. In Chewandswallow, food just magically falls from the sky and provides the town with just what they need until one day they falling food becomes unpredictable and dangerous. It might just be time for the townspeople to leave and find somewhere new.

I loved the idea behind the book. It is told via Grandfather telling his grand kids a bedtime story. The illustrations were amazing and the story was interested and easy to follow. 

Auggie is ten years old. He was born with a severe facial abnormality and has been home schooled Wonder is told in four parts from four different points of view. All four are well written and a pleasure to read.
his whole life. Now, coming into 5th grade it is time for him to go to school. Auggie must learn how to navigate all the ups and downs that come with it. Will his classmates learn to look past what they first see?

I LOVE this book. I have read it twice in the last year because it gives you all the feels. There are highs and lows and it really makes you think about other people. Auggie does seem wise beyond his years but he has spent most of his life with mainly adults to talk to. Highly recommended- I don't know of anyone who has not enjoyed this book.

Stanley Yelnats is an unlucky guy. Nothing ever goes right for him or his family and they all blame it on their good for nothing, pig stealing, great great grandfather. Stanley's latest spate of bad luck has left him at Camp Greenlake, a correctional facility for young boys. Every day, each boy must dig a hole five feet wide and five feet high. What are they looking for?

Holes is just like Hatchet. Ask anyone who went to school around the same time as me and they had it as a read-aloud. By the sound of things everyone loved them both. In my re-read of the story, everything happened a lot quicker than I remembered!

Matilda is an extraordinary young girl. Ever since she was three years old she has been working her way through the public library. Once she starts school, her teacher, Miss Honey, notices just how special she in. All the other adults in her life, her parents and her principal Ms. Trunchball, think she is trouble. Can Matilda get her
self out of a horrible situation?

As a child I loved Matilda, as an adult I see how horrible many of the adults in her life are. Matilda is a strong young women who has a golden heart. I am revisiting my love of all things Roald Dahl

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

By Any Means by Ben Sanders

I came to this book after hearing Ben Sanders read at a Writers and Readers Festival a year or two ago, and after first reading his more recent book Marshall’s Law

Unlike Marshall’s Law which is set in America, By Any Means is set in Auckland and it reinforced the decision made from reading the first to record an * in my books to read list, which means ‘read anything by this author’. For anyone not familiar with Auckland, Ben gives enough location clues to aid the reading. 

The novel is at times violent, but not excessively so and certainly not more than any other book in modern crime writing. M2 Magazine is quoted on the cover as saying “... a triumph of gritty, page-turning, good old crime writing...” and I agree. I hope we see more of the main character Sean Devereaux.

Posted by Catherine

Catalogue link: By Any Means

Friday, 12 May 2017

May Reading from Book Chat

The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain

Set around the years of WW2, Chamberlain tells the story of Ada, a young London seamstress, desperate to overcome her humble beginnings. Ada is swept off her feet by the charming Stanislaus von Lieben, who takes her to Paris, the home of haute couture. But when they are caught up in the German invasion, Stanislaus abandons Ada, and she must do whatever it takes to survive. A gripping story of love, ambition, betrayal and survival.

The Pigeon Tunnel by John le Carré

In his first memoir, le Carré writes about his experiences in British Intelligence during the Cold War and the events that inspired his novels, as well as the people who helped him shape characters such as George Smiley or Tessa Abbot-Quayle in The Constant Gardener. The Pigeon Tunnel is a writer’s journey over six decades and is a witty and incisive read, which will make you rethink historical events you felt you previously understood.

Redemption Road by Lisa Ballantyne

Margaret’s past is full of forgotten memories, when she experiences a car crash and a dramatic rescue by a scarred stranger who then disappears. The crash throws her into confusion and she becomes desperate to discover who she is and to find the man who saved her life. Redemption Road is a cleverly constructed thriller which seesaws between past and present; at times brutal, often sad, but in the end, a beautiful story.

Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman

Spilled Blood is really about the bad blood between two towns: affluent Barron, made prosperous by a scientific research corporation, and blue-collar St Croix, which sits down river and endures the toxic wastes the company pumps into the water. When the daughter of the corporation’s president is shot dead, a St Croix girl is accused of the crime. Part legal thriller, part environmental drama with shades of Erin Brockovich, this is a great read, hard to put down.

Death of a Ghost by M C Beaton

M C Beaton just seems to get better. In this the 32nd Hamish Macbeth novel, strange lights and eerie noises are reported at a haunted castle. While spending the night there to see what's happening, Hamish and his policeman, Charlie, discover a body, which strangely disappears on their return with CDI Blair. More murders, smuggling and illicit drugs crank up the plot, while Hamish’s quick wittedness plus the wonderful pairing of this crime-busting duo make for an enjoyable read.

Blackwattle Lake by Pamela Cook

This is one of those stories where the city girl returns to the family farm. Eve Nichols plans to sell the farm she’s recently inherited, but guilt and memories threaten to overwhelm her. Years ago she was blamed for the death of her sister, and she hasn’t been home for twenty years. Just as well there’s a lot of farm work to do and she’s soon back to the girl she used to be. A novel about forgiveness, Blackwattle Lake is grittier than most in this genre, well-written and captures the Australian landscape beautifully.

Posted by Flaxmere Library Book Chat

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Looking for a thriller writer that is on par with Harlan Coben and Tess Gerritsen? Then look no further. Peter Swanson, with three novels to date, writes fast-paced psychological thrillers. To date each book, with its stand-alone characters, has twists and turns that keep you guessing to the end.

In Her Every Fear, Englishwoman Kate Priddy, after a near-death experience, makes the bold decision to leave her home and family and swaps apartments with her Boston based cousin, Corbin. Soon after arriving, a young woman in the next-door apartment is found murdered. Kate is drawn into the ensuring investigation as she encounters a neighbour and a friend of the victim who both suggest Cousin Corbin is the killer. Then strange things start happening in her apartment.

Told from multiple points of view, the reader slowly puts together the pieces of this thriller puzzle. I am looking forward to Peter Swanson’s next thriller.

Posted by Miss Moneypenny

Catalogue link: Her Every Fear