Saturday, 18 August 2018

Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray

The crime novels by Alex Gray feature Detective Chief Inspector Lorimer and psychological profiler Solomon Brightman, and are usually set in gritty Glasgow and the darker side of its society. In this book, the crime-solving duo’s fifteenth outing, Lorimer is on holiday with his wife on the island of Mull which they visit every summer and where, of all things, Lorimer finds a body.

Young Rory Dalgleish had been working at a nearby hotel, a posh kid with a loud voice who tended to annoy the locals. Lorimer finds himself caught up in the investigation, which is run by local DI, Stevie Crozier, who certainly doesn’t want him muscling in on her case.

But it is Lorimer the parents of the murdered boy turn to for comfort. And then there’s the fact that Rory looks such a lot like the victim in a similar case he worked on as a young DC. Both boys had been strangled and show signs of being tied up. Rigor mortis had set in revealing that they were hog-tied, but why had the murderer untied them before releasing them into the sea?

The story weaves back and forth between the two cases twenty years apart, the earlier case still unsolved. The reader also gains insight into what must have been a difficult time for young Lorimer, his wife pregnant with their first child in the heat of the summer, a child we know to have been still-born.

This is the first novel I have read by Alex Gray, and I confess to picking it up because I often enjoy books set on Scottish Islands. It is a fairly gentle murder mystery in that time and care has been given to developing the characters, both the locals and the police, and the psychological background to the murders. There is just enough description to give the reader a picture of the tranquil island setting, but there are bursts of action from time to time to keep the plot simmering.

I enjoyed the style of writing and the characters of Lorimer and Brightman so much I shall happily take the ferry to Oban and travel on to Glasgow to follow the rest of the series.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Keep the Midnight Out

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Hawke's Bay Opera House: The First One Hundred Years 1915-2015 by Michael Fowler

The iconic building we know as the Hawke’s Bay Opera House has been vacant since 2014; which sadly means it wasn’t open for its 100th birthday in 2015. However this didn’t stop local historian Michael Fowler from putting together this completely readable tribute to the great theatre that started life as the Hastings Municipal Theatre.

Yet it nearly wasn’t built. Many people of the time thought it wasn’t necessary for a theatre to be built in Hastings especially when there was a perfectly good theatre in nearby Napier. Further arguments were aired on who should design the theatre and whether it wouldn’t better be sited on Heretaunga Street. The latter drawing petitions for and against. Wellingtonian theatre architect, Henry White, designed the Art Deco exterior and the Art Nouveau interior with unobstructed views of the stage, perfect acoustics and excellent ventilation.

From the first proposal to the latest closure in 2014 when the Opera House was deemed to be unsafe in the event of an earthquake, this book tells it all. As we sail through the descriptions of past performances, both moving pictures and live acts, we experience a real feel for the theatre and its entertainment. Whether it was the 1920 romantic comedy opera Marama; the 1971 production of Hello Dolly; the Trapp Family Singers tour in 1955; or John Clarke’s tour with Fred Dagg in the 1970s, there was something for everyone.

Throughout this book, Michael Fowler has bought the theatre to life with numerous black and white and colour photographs. They really showcase the different sides of the Municipal Theatre. The stark photograph of the 1922 boxing match between Australian Pat Gleeson and American Jerry Monahan contrasts with the softly focussed colour photograph of Kiri Te Kanawa in her 2007 recital.

And like all good histories it is the people who bring the story to life. Michael Fowler has successfully used their narratives to bring together this one hundred year tale of the Hawke’s Bay Opera House.

Reviewed by Veronica 

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Year that Changed Everything by Cathy Kelly

Sometimes you just need some light and fluffy comfort reading to get you through the winter; a story where nothing bad happens and you can be assured of a happy ending. You can just tell from the beautiful floral cover of The Year That Changed Everything that nothing here will give you nightmares. If this sounds like you then I recommend a spot of Cathy Kelly. This is the first time I have read any of her work but this is book number 19 for Kelly; she is a former journalist who has been a writer of internationally best-selling women’s fiction since 1997.

The Year that Changed Everything features three very different Irish women who share a birthday but have never met. Callie is turning 50 with a big party, unaware that her privileged life is about to shatter; Sam is about to have her first longed-for baby at the age of 40 and worries if she will be a good mother, and Ginger is being a bridesmaid for her (not so) best friend on the day of her 30th birthday.

The three main characters are likeable and different enough that it’s easy to keep track of who’s who through the alternating chapters (rest assured the three women eventually connect). Kelly cleverly appeals to different age groups and the issues that apply to certain times of life, with wisdom and a light touch. To be fair it’s not all rainbows and unicorns: post-natal depression, addiction, and body image issues feature, and are sensitively dealt with.

The ending may be a little too rose-tinged and trite for some – if so go and find yourself some dark and depressing Nordic Noir with violence and gore all over the place; while I remain in my little bubble of warm Irish domestic fiction.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link:  The Year that Changed Everything

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Book Chat's July Reading

Few authors bring history alive the way Alison Weir does, particularly the kings and queens of England. In Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, Weir continues her series about the wives of Henry VIII, casting new light on the Henry's much mourned third wife who tragically died so very young. History often focuses on her brief time as queen, but this novel explores her much more.

The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorenesen is set at the time of the first moon landing and how it impacted on a remote coastal town in Western Australia. Port Badminton is the site of a satellite dish that will relay the telecast spectacle. The comings and goings, the families caught up in it all, the drama and emotions are seen through the eyes of a pet parrot. An original and amusing look at small town life in the sixties.

The Little Italian Bakery by Valentina Cebeni is a love story, with adventure, family secrets and, best of all, recipes. Electra has to take over the family bakery when her mother falls ill, but struggles to enchant with her baking the way her mother does. Cue a visit to a village in Sardinia and the home of her mother’s recipes. Of course there is more to food than the ingredients – there are stories and passion, traditions and love.

Icelandic crime novels don’t come much better than The Reckoning by Yrsa Sigurdartottir. What links a ten year old time capsule, a string of macabre events, and a murderer determined to strike again? Police detective Huldar thinks he’s been given the case to keep him busy, but he’ll need the help of psychologist Freyja to figure out the purpose of the capsule’s message and stop the killer.

Promise Not to Tell is the new book by Jayne Ann Krentz. Virginia Troy is a gallery owner in Seattle who is concerned that the suicide of one of her artists isn’t what it seems. Virginia and Private I Cabot Sutter believe the death has something to do with a fire that swept through the premises of a cult, a tragedy that haunts both Virginia and Sutter years later. This is a superbly paced romantic thriller.

Posted by Flaxmere Library Book Chat

Monday, 30 July 2018

The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle

This is a novel about a friendship between two people whose lives have been derailed by misfortune. James de Witt and Danny Allen were in the same year at their prestigious boys’ school – Danny a scholarship boy, unlike James whose well-do-do family have been students there for generations. Both boys were highly talented and expected to make their mark on the world. Now in their thirties, the two meet up at Four Oaks care home.

Danny is a carer at the home, a new recruit on his final warning from the Job Centre. A terrible tragedy for which he felt he was to blame sent Danny into despair and alcoholism, and he has never been able to hold down a job for any time after that. His relationship with live-in girlfriend, Maya, is on the rocks, but he seems unable to pick himself up and fix his life.

James made a fortune in property development, but sold up to run for Parliament. On the night he won a bi-election, he was punched in the head by an angry young lout and his life has never the same. Looked after at home by his parents, James spends his time watching DVDs and disengages from the world, until his sister persuades his parents to take a holiday.

The novel describes the slow development of James’s and Danny’s friendship and how the two manage to be the answer to each other’s problems – James providing Danny with a home and a job, while Danny gives James a shot at independence. But they each have to address aspects of their past if they really want to turn their lives around and the story builds up plenty of tension as events occur to hamper their best efforts.

I found this novel such a breath of fresh air, dealing with that rarity in fiction: male friendship. Gayle is a wonderful writer, with real empathy for his characters – his understanding of how a person with a brain injury might think is inspired. The Man I Think I Know is a novel full of wisdom but peppered with humour, manages to be very entertaining as well.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Man I Think I Know

Friday, 27 July 2018

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

“One of the main reasons that distinctions between oppressor and victim are blurred in North Korea is that no one there has any concept of rights. To know that your rights are being abused, or that you are abusing someone else’s, you first have to know that you have them, and what they are.”
Hyeonseo Lee

Have you ever wondered what life is like living in North Korea?
The Girl with Seven Names gives an astonishing and horrifying insight into the world Hyeonseo Lee grew up in, and the ordeals she survived when she left North Korea at the age of 17.

What is considered a relatively comfortable life to a North Korean is mind-boggling: Hyeonseo’s Kindergarten featured a classroom wall painted with a mural of a North Korean soldier simultaneously impaling an American, Japanese and South Korean soldier with his rifle bayonet. Hyeonseo’s ‘Uncle Opium’ made a living illegally dealing drugs – supply was plentiful as state laboratories made high quality heroin to sell abroad to raise foreign currency. Also at the age of seven she witnessed her first hanging; these happened regularly and in this instance the soldiers used a railway bridge as gallows.

Hyeonseo’s family lived in a northern town, beside a river bordering China. One day Hyeonseo decided to visit the town across the frozen river, na├»vely wanting to visit her relatives whom actually lived four hours drive away. The result was that she was then unable to safely return home and she had inadvertently defected, causing much trouble for her family then not seeing her mother for 12 years; as well as having to change her identity many times so she could stay in China and eventually South Korea.

Hyeonseo often regretted her defection over the years and dreadfully missed her family as well as feeling extreme guilt (she eventually devises a plan to try and get her mother and brother out also). She was also shocked and disbelieving upon learning that much of the propaganda she had grown up with was incorrect. North Koreans literally believe the Kim Dynasty members are living deities and that North Korea is the greatest nation on earth.

This is an informative and well-written memoir; it will make you feel very lucky.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link: The Girl with Seven Names

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck

A plane crashes into the Antarctic ice during a violent storm exposing a massive cave beneath. A rescue mission is launched but all contact is suddenly lost with them too: cue Alex Hunter and his team of super-soldiers or HAWCS ( Hot Zone All Forces Warfare Commandos) who, along with a team of scientists believing that an oil field exists within the cavern system, are sent in to investigate what has happened.

They find out that they definitely do contain oil fields, as well as discovering something that is very much alive below the surface. It is a force that dates back to the very dawn of time; an ancient terror that hunts and kills to survive. Naturally things do not go as planned and the group has to contend not only with Russian Black Ops (sent to make sure the US mission does not succeed), but also a number of unanticipated antediluvian biological horrors.

This is a story for the men (or for women who like me are drawn to a fast paced adventure/sci-fi/horror novel). Take a remote and dangerous setting, add in a vicious and deadly villain and a smattering of geopolitical intrigue, some cutting edge science, and you have the ingredients for a compulsive read.

There are lots of James Bond styled high-tech weapons and a hero in Alex Hunter who is a super-soldier with an Achilles heel. A near fatal accident has left him with near superhuman sensory and physical abilities that are almost more than human, a trait that the military have been quick to use to their advantage.

This book has it all. A remote and dangerous setting, a rugged hero, a feisty heroine, a band of elite soldiers baby-sitting a group of whining scientists and a mythological creature which has made its home in the ruins of an ancient civilization under the ice of Antarctica.

This is the first in a series of ‘Alex Hunter’ books. The fast paced action, coupled with characters who felt believable means that the reader is drawn into the adventure along with the other characters. If you enjoy fantasy mixed with science, mythology, frightening water demons and a super hero to save the day, then this is a must read.

Posted by Fiona

Catalogue link: Beneath the Dark Ice