Celebrate International Women’s Day with Stephen King’s Sleeping Beauties

Stephen and Owen King have gender issues.

Dooling is a place where people live on a knife edge; work hard, drink hard. Women around the world bear the brunt of this in their daily lives. Some have gone to prison for fighting back.

Tiffany lives in a trailer at the edge of a forest. She’s regularly beaten by the man who has enslaved her to drugs.

Superhumanly beautiful, a naked woman comes down from the forest and changes everything.

All over the world women succumb to an enchantment. (Or sickness depending on which books you read.) Falling asleep, they form moth-like cocoons around themselves. The women are not dead, merely sleeping.

Where has their consciousness gone? Wake them and you’ll find out – in a terrible bloody way. They turn into very angry zombies.

Lila is the local Police Chief. She loves her husband. Or does she? Suspicious of his love, resentful over the pool he made her agree to (first world problems, LOL), Lila has a choice to make.

Fighting the curse valiantly, (and not without the aid of some confiscated contraband), Lila eventually closes her eyes and crosses over… to the world beyond the huge tree in the forest; a world without men. The idea appeals to many – inmates like Jeannette, wives like Elaine.

Without their women, the men left behind get depressed, go nuts, drink and burn things. Some prepare for battle.

If Evie, the woman who began this series of events, is killed in the inevitable battle between good and evil, the women stay in the place beyond the Tree forever.

If she lives, they get to choose if they want to stay in what they have come to call “Our Place”, or come back to the world of men. It’s a difficult choice for some. (The honeymoon period only lasts about eight weeks according to S.K.)

There is a suggestion here that the characters are at war with Nature and God. Has Evie come from the Garden of Eden?

“Once I’m dead, the portal between this world and the land of sleep will close. Every woman will eventually nighty-night, every man will eventually die, and this tortured world will breathe an enormous sigh of lasting relief.” Evie, p.362

The tree motif is a great link to the world of faerie. Trees have been doors to other worlds (than this) in many stories. The Kings enchant the normal world with ‘fairy handkerchiefs’ (spider webs in the grass), clouds of moths, a snake, and a tiger…

Always an advocate for women (see Big Driver) this latest offering is well written, topical (the senior King jokes about Trump), and thrilling without being too brutal.

Stephen and Owen have crafted a riveting read with the characterisation that fans love him for. He even throws in a book group or two.

Suggested reading

Sleeping beauties
by Stephen and Owen King
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473665200

Strange weather: Four great reads in one

Previously, short stories have always been studiously avoided by me and I admit now, I might be guilty of misjudging them. Given that I always feel quite time poor you would think that short stories would rate quite highly with me, but this has never been the case. Until now. Joe Hill’s Strange Weather is an excellent collection of four short stories.

This is what you can look forward to:

Rain – America descends into chaos with sharp glass icicles raining from the sky with lethal results to those unfortunate enough to be caught outside. Of course it doesn’t take long for the vagaries of human nature to emerge and for polar changes to happen in people that used to coexist quietly together.

Strange Weather

Loaded –   Extra marital affairs, mental health issues and guns are never a good combination. America has a rather large gun problem and Loaded quite neatly flips between the pros and cons of easy access to guns while dealing with these issues. Like me; you may find yourself wishing that the good guy had a gun to hand by the end.

Snapshot – The story of a teenager that finds himself being threatened by the owner of a futuristic device that can steal aspects of a person’s memory with the click of a button. He has seen the loss and heartache that it causes to his old housekeeper and finds a way to prevent this from happening to other people.

Aloft – Imagine going skydiving for the first time. In addition to the terrifying thought of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good plane; you crash into a solid ‘cloud’ that can anticipate your needs and wants to keep you. And your only way off is to jump.

I had to stop myself wanting to know too much about why and how these things happened. That’s not what these stories are about. They are about ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary circumstances that change their lives forever. And they are really well written.

The best part about discovering an author that you really like is finding out that they have written plenty of other books for you to get your teeth into. Joe Hill is the author and co-author of several novels, graphic novels and short stories so why not try some of these other titles by him?

image_proxy[8]Cover of Road RageCover of The FiremanCover of Locke & Key: Heaven and EarthCover of NOS-4R2

And what about some short stories by other authors…

Cover of Everything's eventualCover of Match upCover f Legoland

Strange Weather
by Joe Hill
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473221178

Perfect or flawed? Cecelia Ahern’s dystopian sequel

Ever since she was tiny, Miss Missy has loved books and reading. She never had a security blanket—instead she had to have Peepo by Janet and Alan Ahlberg in her cot to go to sleep. Our best “look what my baby can do” party trick was getting her to bring us alphabet letters from the fridge. She could find the “S for Sausage” or the “G for Genevieve” or the “H for Helena” (her BFF) long before she could say any of those words. When she got bigger, she went through chapter books so fast that on trips to the library, she’d have finished a book before we even pulled up the drive.

9780008125097I shared all my best-loved books with Miss Missy—the Chronicles of Narnia , Milly Molly Mandy stories, the Little House books, and (of course!) Harry Potter. As she got older, she started sharing her favourites with me, like Michael Morpurgo and Lauren Child two authors that I thoroughly enjoy reading. Now that she’s reading teen fiction, Dystopian novels feature heavily. A while back she brought home Flawed by Cecelia Ahern. I was intrigued by this world where perfection is everything, where the smallest mistake can see you branded, literally, as a flawed member of society, and by Celestine, the girl who decides to make a stand for the shunned.

It was a fast paced and exiting story, which ended with Celestine on the run, so Miss Missy and I were both eagerly awaiting Perfect, the next book in the series!

Cover of Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

Much as I wanted to enjoy it, I couldn’t help thinking that Perfect was, well, less than perfect. I expected it to pick up just were Flawed left off, with Celestine on the run, and determined to take down the evil Guild that controls the world she lives in. But Perfect doesn’t take off at a run. Instead of running, Celestine decides to hang out on her Granddad’s farm for a couple of weeks, going no-where, doing nothing. And of course, she almost gets caught. Once she finally starts running, I expected her to go get the vital evidence she needed to bring down the evil Judge and his Guild, but it took her an absolute age to figure out what I already twigged onto–that she’d been given the evidence secreted in an unexpected gift. She’d had it since the first book, and it took her half the second one to figure it out! I got a bit annoyed with her naivety (stupidity?). She was just too trusting, and it kept getting her into trouble.

But maybe I’m being to harsh! Miss Missy loved it, and once it got off the ground, I did enjoy reading it.  I think Perfect just suffers a little from Sequel Syndrome (I thought I was being clever coming up with that, but a quick Google search will show you its not a new thing!) Is it cynical of me to think that Ms Ahern’s publisher just wanted her to spin the story out into two books instead of one? All in all it was a pretty good book, and if you enjoyed Flawed, it’s definitely worth reading this to find out what happens, so don’t let me put you off!

And maybe you’d like to tell me about a sequel that you thought fell a short?

by Cecelia Ahern
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:  9780008125141

Mona Anderson’s tale of High Country life

A River Rules My Life has been re-released!

Originally published in 1963, Mona Anderson’s unique perspective of a woman’s experience on a South Island farm brings to life the High Country of days gone by.

Deep in the Rolleston Ranges, in the Main Divide of the Southern Alps, Mount Algidus Station is isolated between the mighty and dangerous Wilberforce and Rakaia rivers.

Mona crosses the Wilberforce as a new bride in the 1930s to start her life in this harsh environment. To get to her new home she must ride a dray cart for hours in a freezing wind – perched on top of all her worldly possessions – including a piano!

Mona’s observations of everything from errant cooks to brave horses are quite matter of fact and entertaining, while sad events are accepted as a part of life.

When World War II takes away many farmhands never to return, Mona and her husband Ron are stretched to do many jobs, and Mona has to muck in – feeding the men, and working alongside them – often on horseback.

Poetry and “back country” ditties pepper the tale, including one written by the author. Most notable are these lines written by a young hand leaving to join the Army:

Oh land of river, rock and spur / Of sunkissed hills and sky so blue / I, a humble musterer, Will ever leave my heart with you. / Tho I dwell beneath some distant sky / My memory will ever turn / To mates I knew in days gone by / And evenings when the camp fires burn. / For I am leaving you this day / To return again. But who can tell, / For good or bad. I cannot say.  Mount Algidus, I wish you well.

The charm of this book includes quaint “station names” for many local features; such as Bustmegall (Bust my gall) Creek, More-rain Hut and Boulderstone Creek (the Rolleston). Mistake ‘Hill’, at 7000 feet illustrates the Southern capacity for understatement.

Filled with thrills and spills (no-one is spared a dip in the Wilberforce), this book is a cornerstone of New Zealand back country life and a must for your holiday reading list.

More information

A River Rules My Life
by Mona Anderson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775541141

Take a trip down Twelve Mile Straight: Eleanor Henderson

The Twelve Mile Straight is as Southern as fried chicken.

Two babies are born at Cross Roads Farm – one mulatto, one white.

People come from miles around to view the babies – a miracle of nature. Born to a white woman, Elma, the children are said to have two fathers – one white; her fiancée, Freddie Wilson, – one black, believed to have been forced on her by Genus Jackson.

Genus Jackson is lynched without trial at the beginning of the book. Will those responsible get away with it?

Juke Jessup is hiding a still. His intentions towards Nan, the house girl, are less than fatherly. His own daughter Elma, is “fixin” to be wed to Freddie Wilson, the local cotton mill owner’s son. But when the twins are born, all hell breaks loose.

Cover of To kill a mockingbirdLike Light in August and To Kill a Mockingbird, this is a story of injustice for all. Racial segregation was still prevalent in 1930s Georgia, where African-American people were barely removed from slavery.

To say that women in this story get a raw deal is an understatement. Even the man pulling the strings in town, George Wilson, is not spared from the sufferings he hands down the pecking order.

Each character has a tale to tell in this riveting book. And they all have secrets. Dreams too – sometimes their dreams are all they have.

Nan has grown up on Crossroads Farm after the death of her mother, the housekeeper Ketty. She dreams of the return of her father, Sterling, but never loses sight of stark reality even while she fantasizes about the future:

She had long had a picture in her mind of his homecoming: he would come up the driveway in an automobile, a Pontiac or Chevrolet, with a licence plate that said MARYLAND. The dogs would go out to greet him first and she’d step out onto the porch. He’d be wearing a Sunday suit and a wide-brimmed hat, which he’d tip up to get a better look at her, and then he’d take off the hat and hold it over his heart, and his eyes would see and see her. And then she would know. She would recognize him. She would recognize her own face in his.

But she knew nothing happened the way you imagined it. That was how she knew it was real.

It’s not a question of whether the truth will out, it’s when – it slowly but surely leaks through the holes in the characters’ stories, gathering together to a flow as large as the local creek.

Eleanor Henderson writes with feeling, strong historical influence and an eye for a poetic phrase. Despite most reviewers’ perception of this as a tragic story, I was pleased with its conclusion.

I got lost on The Twelve Mile Straight. You will too.

Twelve Mile Straight
by Eleanor Henderson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008158699

Find more in our collection:

The Boat Runner

When you read Devin Murphy’s immersive coming of age novel The Boat Runner, you are carried away into a world where doing the morally right thing no longer seems so straight forward.

The boat runner

Devin Murphy spent eight years working on this debut novel, inspired by his own and his wife’s family history. He draws on the stories of the war he heard as a child, and his own personal experiences as a young man exploring the oceans. He also incorporates his struggles to find his own purpose.

Devin’s love of storytelling means he describes those little details that make you feel you are actually there.

Exploring the moral perspectives of the Dutch and German boys thrust into the campaign, we see events through the eyes of 14 year old Jacob Koopman. Jacob’s story in the novel exposes how people came to accept the German invasion and the propaganda of the times,  and how morally complex those dark days were.

CoverThe book shows a young naive man striving to determine his own path when war threatens and family values are being reexamined. In his search to do what is right, he has to reexamine how he sees his family and what it means to be human.  The novel traverses the pre-war days of the Hitler Youth Camps and the build up towards war.

As war erupts, Jacob is quickly thrust into events beyond his comprehension, and we learn the story of the young Dutch boys thrust into the German war machine. It is a fast-moving tale of boyhood, honour, and bravery – tempered by painful realization of the horrors of war  and the story builds toward the decision which changes the path of his life forever.

Wanting to know more? Visit Devinmurphyauthor.com

The Boat Runner
by Devin Murphy
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062658029

Friend request: Social media mystery

Friend Request is the debut novel of Laura Marshall.

When I read the blurb about this book, I wanted to read it.
“Louise receives a Facebook friend request from Maria Weston.”
“Maria Weston wants to be friends.
But Maria Weston’s dead.
Isn’t she?”

Ohh, talk about goose bumps!

The novel follows Louise a woman with a troubled teenage past that has caught up with her. Can she face her past and come clean? She has a lot to lose, her son for one.

The narration is skilfully split between the present day (2016) and the past (1989) as we learn about what happened to Maria 25 years ago.

This psychological thriller has themes of social media, bullying, teenage & middle age angst and dealing with choices made in the past.

I found Louise realistic as a paranoid single Mum, but found her only reasonably likeable. I’m sure I would have found the book rather gripping if I had connected with Louise, but I ended up finding it rather flat with the ending slow and transparent.

I still think if you like psychological thrillers, like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, or Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone you should give it a try. Maybe you’ll connect with Louise and find it the gripping modern mystery it could be.

Friend request
by Laura Marshall
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9780751569155

Tania Cook
Outreach Library Assistant

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Samuel Hawley is a very violent man. I say this because he will still hurt someone if they in any way harm his adored 12 year old daughter Loo. But to be fair to the man, his extreme villainy and violence were conducted in his past. A past which becomes more and more important as the story progresses.

cover of The twelve lives of Samuel Hawley

Samuel and Loo have returned to Olympus, Massachusetts,  the home of Loo’s late mother.  They’re trialling settling in one place after a lifetime of changing motel rooms and schools for Loo.

Loo, it must be said, is one tough customer and deals with her problems a bit like her old man. She is aware her Grandmother lives in Olympus but is warned to have nothing to do with her by Samuel. This is the only  person apart from her Dad who knew her late Mum well and she is desperate to know more about her.

Loo finds herself going through the few things left of her Mother, a photo and toiletries, for clues of her Mum. These have been set up shrine-like,  by Samuel in every motel they have holed up in.  Its been a peripatetic lifestyle and has made Loo tough and self sufficient but she is still struggling with school, socialising and wanting to know more about her Mum. She is growing up and starting to question Samuel’s past. He is constantly aware that it could come back to haunt him, wants to stay and give Loo a steady life, but he can’t stop looking over his shoulder.

There is a lot of  going back and forth in time in this story.  How did Samuel end up with 12 bullet hole scars in his body? 12 Bullet holes and still alive?!  Some history!  Why does he carry a small armoury in his truck? Could his way of life as a young man and the death of her daughter be why Loo’s Grandmother is so determined to have nothing to do with them?

I found Samuel’s surviving 12 bullets slightly implausible.  A good read but not one that gripped me.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
by Hannah Tinti
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781472234360

Joyce Carol Oates: The Word Master

The Doll Master is the latest offering from Joyce Carol Oates (aged 79!).  And she’s as fresh as ever.

Highly recommended by Gillian Flynn, The Doll Master is a riveting collection of thrillingly sinister stories from the dark side of life.

All is not as it appears. Each protagonist has a secret. Each story has a twist.

In the title story, a boy collects dolls after the death of his cousin. But as he collects more, it becomes apparent that his obsession is unhealthy. What does it have to do with a series of child abductions? And who is the ‘friend’ that urges him on?

Oates uses the medium of mystery to cleverly and eloquently reflect very current social issues, from very different walks of life.

‘Soldier’ plays with our sympathies while looking at the sides taken after a mixed race (accidental?) shooting. Receiving death threats from some, yet heralded for bravery by others, Brendan Shrank maintains his innocence. But why did he pick up his Uncle’s gun that day?

‘Gun Accident’ takes a fine-toothed comb to a shocking home invasion, in which a young man is shot. But what secret does Hanna hold? Why has she never spoken about what really happened that night? Why is she paralysed with anxiety when she revisits the scene, twenty years later?

‘Equatorial’ had me thinking of Vonnegut‘s Galapagos. I just couldn’t get him out of my head. But it fits, in this whacky story of a woman convinced that her husband is trying to kill her. Is it all in her (pounding) head? Oates draws parallels between the lengths will they be driven to and the fight for ultimate survival. Only the fittest will prevail…

‘Big Momma’ addresses the problems of working single parents, poverty, runaways, body image and abduction (but boy with a twist!). Where is the Clovis’ mother? And who or what is Big Momma?

I love the fluent and easy way Joyce Carol Oates writes, the (conspiratorial) asides she whispers in brackets to the voyeuristic reader. Oates wields a lovely turn of phrase;

A single high window overlooks, at a little distance, the rough waters of the Atlantic that appear in the moonlight like shaken foil.

She avoids bad language, (barring ‘Gun Accident’) and is not wordy, except in the more literary Edgar Allen Poe influenced ‘Mystery Inc.’ In this Who’s Who of mystery writers, invoking The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Oates narration becomes more classically sinister; her protagonist a predatory bookseller, intent on adding to his empire by foul means.But again, a twist: “Charles” entertains the idea of being partners with his mark, Aaron Neuhaus. Will he change his murderous mind? Or has Neuhaus become suspicious?

The six stories in The Doll Master are a good length, almost novellas. Although I’m not a mystery reader, I was riveted to each twisted little tale, and couldn’t put this book down.

I had to find out what would happen… Did he, or didn’t he? Will she or won’t she? Is it HIM?

Read on if you DARE!

Find out more

The Doll-master and other tales of terror
by Joyce Carol Oates
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:  9781784971038

Harry Potter and the Cursed Sequel

Based on a story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the transcript of the celebrated London play. The story takes place 19 years after the battle of Hogwarts or, (in muggle terms), ten years after publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, the last instalment in this beloved series.

Harry, now married to Ginny, is the father of three children, and works for the Ministry of Magic (couldn’t they have given Harry a slightly cushier job? I mean we muggles would at least have given him a knighthood …).

Ron has taken over Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’ (he kind of helped to save the world too by the way people, just saying, headmaster of Hogwarts maybe?…). Hermione and Ron are happily married with a daughter, and that is all we care about, right? Wrong. The main focus of this story is on Harry’s difficult relationship with his son Albus. Living in the shadow of his father, Albus Potter is a bitter, alienated teen, with something to prove, and slowly, as the story goes on, well, he doesn’t really prove it. He does however cultivate a great friendship with Draco Malfoy’s wonderfully drawn son, Scorpius. Fun, endearing, and emotionally intelligent, Scorpius saves this play from just being a bit of a cheesy reunion with the Harry Potter cast. There is some good banter between the two such as:

Albus: We’re ready to put our lives at risk.
Scorpius: Are we?

How Draco produced a real brick, and Harry produced a bit of a plank, is something we will gloss over, as we will the fact that Harry, perhaps the greatest wizard of all time, still wears glasses and hasn’t managed to conjure up some twenty/twenty vision for himself after all these years.

The story centres around the death of Cedric Diggory at the Triwizard tournament, back in Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts. Albus and Scorpius, determined to correct the past, end up rewriting the past with dangerous consequences. There are some traditional, and ever welcome, Rowling plot devices along away- such as poly juice potions, time turners, and appearances at Hogwarts. Like the main Harry Potter novels, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is very character driven and fans will be thrilled by appearances from old characters like Snape, Dumbledore, and even Harry’s parents.

While this did have a bit of a fan fiction feel about it for me, I loved getting the chance to hang out with the Harry Potter crew again. I grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, so, like any respectable Harry Potter fan, reading this was not an opportunity to be passed up on. While the plot wasn’t a typically clever, intricate Rowling plot, it certainly kept me engaged until the very end, and I enjoyed a lot of the fun dialogue:

GINNY: I’m scared too. 
RON: Nothing scares me. Apart from. Mum.

Harry-ites will have to bear in mind that ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is in play format, and was not written by Rowling herself, if they want to have a good time reading this. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was always going to be a bit of cursed sequel as most fans have been gagging for a follow up for the past ten years. The pressure to be as good as the rest of a bestselling series is always huge, not made easier in this situation by the fact that Rowling herself is not the writer. If you are keen to make some allowances and not expect a ‘sequel’, I guarantee you’ll just have a fun time reuniting with the world of Harry Potter again. After all, as Albus Dumbledore said, ‘perfection is beyond the reach of humankind’. Except, I will add, if it has been written by JK Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child parts 1 and 2.
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand