Hastings District Libraries

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin

Another book in the Rebus series is always cause for excitement for me!
Rather be the Devil finds Rebus in a relationship with pathologist Deborah Quant and dealing with health issues as a result of a life time of neglect.  He keeps the details a secret from those around him and dubs the shadow on his lung 'Hank Williams' while he struggles with giving up the booze and fags.  Considering we are talking about fictional characters here I have no business at all being as anxious as I am about where all this will lead and how far away the last Rebus mystery may be...
As a retired Detective Inspector he whiles the time away trawling through the old notes of an unsolved  cold case forty years earlier, when a beautiful young socialite was murdered in an upmarket hotel at the same time a famous rock singer and his entourage were staying there.
Meanwhile young-gun criminal boss Darryl Christie is assaulted in his driveway,and Rebus's old colleagues Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are investigating; albeit in a chilly atmosphere as Fox has been promoted to a job which Siobhan covets, at the prestigious Scottish Crime Campus.
As people of interest  are injured or killed, the two cases overlap and Rebus is called in to help in a consulting role.
Ian Rankin's Rebus novels are such a treat; the seedy side of Edinburgh and the familiar renegade character of Rebus who is  a lifelong non-conformer. Even the criminal element are well known foes from the past.
In this case familiarity does not breed contempt, because Rankin continues to produce well thought- out plots with a richness of characters and relationships.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link: Rather be the Devil

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

How to be a Writer by John Birmingham

If, like me, you sometimes like to drag out the old laptop and hammer out the odd story, or perhaps you have a fully-fledged novel manuscript sitting in your documents folder you haven’t the nerve to show anybody, or maybe you write blogs and little freelance articles and wonder if you could turn your hobby into a full-time writing career - well then, this could be the book for you.

John Birmingham is author of the highly popular He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, and a bunch of fiction and non-fiction, blogs and newspaper articles – a proper jobbing author in fact. So he knows what he’s talking about.

How to Be a Writer won’t tell you how to write: how to construct a story, develop characters, hone your prose, etc. What it focuses on are the practices and habits that help you to be more professional: how to boost your word count, how to pitch a story, get over self-doubt, the business of self-publishing. And a lot more.

Birmingham is an unrelenting task-master: he scolds and howls in your ear, peppering his invective with bad language. Somehow this is very encouraging, because every now and then you need someone to give you a rev up and your friends and family are usually too nice. He is also very funny. I would love to quote some of his wittier moments here on this post but there’s the problem with the bad language and I’m not allowed. So you’ll just have to read the book instead.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: How to Be a Writer

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, twelve-year old Sunny is an Albino girl who just wants to fit in at school and be able to play soccer. Bullied for the way she looks, and unable to go in the sun without an umbrella, Sunny tends to stand out of the crowd, even if sometimes she just wishes she could blend in to it.

But one day something amazing happens. With the help of two kids in her neighbourhood she discovers that she has juju magic running through her veins. Can she learn to control her power and defeat the evil forces at work? Will she make friends, and be able to balance her everyday life with her magical one?

Akata Witch was pitched to me as ‘Harry Potter, with a Hermione type lead, but set in Nigeria’, and while that was enough to gain my interest, it does not do this wonderful book justice. This is a book about a girl displaced.  Trying to keep her strict parents happy, while not angering her bad-tempered father; then finally discovering that she belongs in a world of magic, only to feel like she is constantly falling behind the other Leopard People (witches and wizards) because they were raised in it, whereas she is new. But she never gives up. Sunny is smart, hard working and determined, and I spent the whole book wishing that she was my friend.

A beautiful diverse YA book that I would recommend for any reader – not just the teenaged one.

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: Akata Witch

Monday, 9 January 2017

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

With her trademark quirky humour, Roz Chast has been publishing cartoons in The New Yorker since 1978. In Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Chast has written a graphic memoir chronicling her relationship with her parents as they grew old, well into their nineties, and their reluctance to think about their care and eventual dying.

Chast’s parents were older than the norm when she was born and lived in the same Brooklyn apartment for 48 years. And never threw anything out. Her mother was the dominant parent, an ex-teacher who didn’t stand any nonsense and threatened anyone with ‘a blast from Chast!’ Her father was quieter, timid and nervous, rather like Roz herself, with a different set of peculiar habits.

While the narrative is mostly chronological, there are vignettes, many of which are very funny. The Wheel of Doom is a diagram of things to be avoided on pain of death: swimming without a cap; laughing during a meal; wearing too tight watchbands…; there are poems her mother wrote, illustrated by her daughter; her father’s paranoia over decades of accumulated bankbooks; photos of hoarded stuff in her parents old apartment, much of it dating back to the 1950s.

Through Chast’s characterisation of her parents, the quirky drawings, the growing guilt and anxieties that she records, you get to see the funny side of coping with the aged. But it is a poignant, honest and increasingly sad read as well, particularly as her parents decline and Chast has to deal with a mixture of emotions and memories.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is an award winning book (Kirkus Prize in Non-fiction; National Book Award Finalist; National Book Critics Circle Award Winner). Give it a try, even if the graphic format isn’t your usual sort of reading, for this is an outstanding book in so many ways.

Posted by JAM

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Scattered Pearls by Sohila Zanjani

Subtitled 'three generations of Iranian women and their search for freedom' Scattered Pearls describes how the women in one family survived, and on varying levels overcame, violence, intimidation and control. Sohila Zanjani grew up in Iran, seeing the impact of domestic violence on both her mother and grandmother but also seeing the fierce determination of these mothers to do their best for their children.

After completing a degree, Sohila grasps a chance to avoid following in her grandmother and mother’s footsteps. She meets a man visiting relatives from Australia, where he is studying towards a post graduate degree at university. They marry and set off for a new life down under.

Unfortunately, Sohila’s husband has never been to university, seems incapable of holding down a job, and is reluctant to contribute to the care of their home and increasing family, while spending his day smoking and gambling. Meanwhile, Sohila works outside the home and tries to manage the family’s finances. Gradually she becomes a victim of increasing domestic violence.

Sohila doesn’t consider leaving for years because she assumes that she will lose her children, something that she is threatened with regularly. Eventually with the help of relatives, workmates and the Australian legal system, Sohila leaves her husband, returns to university to study law and starts her own business.

Sohila’s story is a compelling one, going beyond the personal to look at how cultural expectations can shape the behaviour of individuals, even in a new country on the other side of the world. Her determination to rise above the ill-treatment she suffers to make a new start gives the book a final message of courage and hope.

Posted by LCH

Catalogue link: Scattered Pearls 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

And I Darken by Kiersten White

'Fantasy' is not necessarily the best description of this book. It is more like an ‘alternative history” (or maybe a gender swapped historical fiction), set in Transylvania at the height of the Ottoman Empire. It is imaginative, it is political, and it is brutal.

What if Vlad the Impaler was a young woman?

Lada is an amazing lead character. She is strong, and passionate, and kind of psychotic. She has grown up hating the fact that she was not born a man. She has spent her life being told that her brothers will get power, lead armies, and rule over the Kingdom, while her only purpose is to get married to someone who would be a strong ally. But she wants what her brothers have. She wants the power and position that would have been passed to her on a silver platter if she had been born a boy. She works harder than any soldier in the Ottoman army just to be considered a fighter, while her younger brother (who is called Radu the Handsome, is very effeminate, and has no battle skills) gets handed his own troop of soldiers to lead. While Lada makes a huge amount of bad choices, I can’t help but be inspired (and at times afraid) of how viciously she is prepared to go after what she wants.

At times it was very dark, and Lada is not a likeable character. But I devoured this book. I have seen it described as ‘Game of Thrones’ without the magic or dragons, and honestly, I think it’s a fair comparison.

Posted by Sas

Catalogue link: And I Darken

Monday, 2 January 2017

Sing Street

As someone who was a teenager in the 1980s, this was a hoot; my 16 year old daughter had a giggle as well.  The double denim, the big glasses and the perms, as well as music by the Cure, Duran Duran and the Clash - happy times!
Fourteen year-old Connor is having a tough time growing up in Dublin.  His Dad has lost his job and his parents are always arguing. It is decided he will have to move from his private school to the tough Catholic Boys local boys school.
Connor convinces a beautiful aloof girl  Raphina to be in a music video for his band.  Which would be great except he is not in a band.  So of course he starts a band with a group of misfits and advice from his drop-out stoner brother.
They avidly watch music videos and write songs in the style of whichever band they currently admire (as well as stealing their look/mother's clothes with great hilarity)
If you liked Irish music movies such as The Commitments and Once (a most excellent movie about a busker by the same director), give Sing Street a viewing.

Reviewed by Katrina 

Catalogue link:  Sing Street