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

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

There’s mutiny afoot…

“History is written by the winners”

This quote is attributed to either Churchill or perhaps Hermann Göring (the jury is still out!) and it’s pretty accurate – if yours is the only side of the story people hear, then its probably going to be the one that everybody believes. But the not-so-recent rise of fictional accounts of real historical events and significant historical figures has been trying to even the ledger by giving us the other side of the coin!

And we’ve had LOADS of writers contributing to this movement; think Hodd by Adam Thorpe – depicting Robin Hood as an outlaw, a thief, and generally a really bad man; or The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson – exposing John Batman as a scoundrel and murderer with his attempts to control (and/or massacre) the indigenous population of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and Victoria; and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – the courts of King Henry VIII from Cromwell’s view-point.

Each of these stories seeks to expose the “truth” or at least broader context of historical events in whatever form that can take since so long a time has passed…And now there’s a new title to add! In his new book Fletcher of the Bounty, Graeme Lay recounts the story of the mutiny on the Bounty with Fletcher Christian as the central character.

Lay’s skilled storytelling builds a world of contrast, between the confines of life on board a naval vessel adhering to authority and routine, to the freedom and love of life experienced during the time spent in Tahiti, connecting with people from another world and ultimately falling in love with an indigenous girl. He also describes well the slow unravelling of the ship’s commander William Bligh, and demonstrates just how alien he must have seemed while in Tahiti – clinging desperately onto his military ceremonies and brutal disciplines (continuing to wear full dress uniform in the sweltering heat, for example), while at the same time considering himself far superior to all others, crew and islanders both.

The story of the Bounty, one of idealism, betrayal and the resulting struggle to create a Utopian ideal, is familiar to all of us and as far as rewriting the story of the Bounty, the relationship breakdown between Bligh and Christian, and the inevitable mutiny, Lay doesn’t really push any boundaries beyond what we already know. It’s a well written sea-tale/love-story, and it does expand brilliantly on many of the themes dealt with in brief in the 1984 Roger Donaldson film The Bounty, (with the two leading characters played by the greats Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins).

His compelling character-driven narrative is highly descriptive and contextual and if you like a good nautical tale or are a fan of historical fiction then you should get a kick out of this retelling of the tale – I especially like the inclusion of regional languages as the crew travel around the Antipodes. Just don’t expect any new earth-shattering nuggets of insight.

Fletcher of the Bounty
by Graeme Lay
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775541066

And while we’re talking about stories in this vein, here’s a list of other titles that fall under the banner of Hard-Hitting Historical Fiction, explore, read, and enjoy!

These Dividing Walls

Far back on the Left Bank, there is a secret quarter.

A warren of quiet streets sandwiched between boulevards where little traffic moves. On a corner stands a building with a turquoise door – Number 37

These Dividing Walls

Set over a hot summer in a shabby corner of Paris we are introduced to the residents of Number 37. Heat is central to the novel and it is what binds the stories together –  from a city tense with heat and boiling tensions over nationality and immigration, to feverish dreams, and the languid and stifling air of the apartment block.

A debut novel from Fran Cooper this book is character driven, and if you don’t like or at least empathise with them then maybe this won’t be the book for you. Some I liked better than others and for some the more I knew about them the less they interested me. But others have stuck in my memory.

This novel is really a series of vignettes about the neighbours loosely coupled by the building they share and the city they live in. Sometimes their lives overlap and sometimes they are oblivious to the lives of others around them.

Through Edward we are introduced to the building. Edward has come to Paris to escape his own grief and an offer of an attic room by his friend Emilie brings him to Number 37 and the world of Frederique and her bookshop, Anaïs and Paul, Chantal and Cesar, Madame Marin and her beige husband, Isabell Duval, Monsieur Lalande, Amina and Ahmed, and the homeless man, Josef, who watches all the comings and goings at Number 37.

These Dividing Walls depicts a microcosm of society and features a cast of troubled characters – those living with grief, or looking for escape from it, night-time keyboard warriors, misguided ‘everymen’, and those lost in their own lives. “This is not the Paris you know” but maybe you may recognise these same characters living in your own community.

These Dividing Walls
by Fran Cooper
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473641549

The Alice Network – Review

I spent the last couple of weeks down the rabbit hole, head buried in The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. The story captured me from the very beginning—no need to read to page 90 with this one; I was hooked by page two!

Cover of The Alice network

Nineteen forty-seven was hell for little bony girls like me who couldn’t wear the New Look. Then again, 1947 was hell for any girl who would rather work calculus problems than read Vogue, any girl who would rather listen to Edith Piaf than Artie Shaw, and any girl with an empty ring finger but a rounding belly.

It was a surprising, rabbit-warren of a novel, following the interconnected paths of two very different women, and spanning both world wars. One path is the story of Charlie St Clair, the little bony  girl with the rounding belly, on her way to an Appointment to deal with her Little Problem. The other is the story of Eve Gardiner, a stuttering half-French girl plucked from her life as a file girl in an English law office and dropped into the spy network in France during World War I. It’s also the story of their two quests—Charlie’s search for her French cousin Rose, missing since 1944, and Eve’s quest for retribution and for peace.

And, it’s the story of Louise de Bettignies, code named Alice Dubois, queen of spies.

Cover of A tangled web: Mata Hari

Have you heard of her? If you have, you’re doing better than me! Before reading this fascinating novel, I knew nothing about women spies in WWI apart from some vague recollections about Mata Hari. I was surprised when I realised that I was reading about a woman who had truly risked her life providing the allies with information. I mean, I’m not completely ignorant about the world wars. I studied Gallipoli in History and War Poetry in English, not to mention a having a fair few novels set during the wars on my Completed Shelf. But Louise de Bettingnies was a stranger to me. It’s a shame she isn’t better known, as Kate Quinn says of her in the authors note:

The courage, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of the woman christened the queen of spies needs no exaggeration to make for thrilling reading.

Not only was Louise a real person, so too were several other characters, and many of the events in the story are based on historical events. I didn’t realise this while I was reading, so this realisation, at the end, made the book even more enjoyable.

This book is, by turns, exciting, harrowing, poignant, a little romantic, and quite funny. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Charlie, after being refused access to her own bank account because she’s lacking a man, decides to pawn her grandmothers pearls, and Eve surprises her by pretending to be the said grandmother and browbeating the pawnbroker into giving Charlie a decent price. I’m definitely going to be adding Kate Quinn to my list of must-read authors, and I hope you do too!

The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062654199

Going a-Viking with Linnea Hartsuyker

I love a good work of hard-hitting historical fiction, and it doesn’t get much better than a viking saga!

The best example is The Long Ship by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson – it’s probably the oldest, most famous, and (for me at least) the bench mark against which all others are measured.

So I was excited to learn that a new author, Linnea Hartsuyker has entered the genre with her new debut novel The Half Drowned King.

Before we talk about the story – volume one in a trilogy to come, let’s go over what we know about the author…

  1. She spent her childhood in Ithica (US) living on the edges of a large forest
  2. She has qualifications in Creative Writing, and Material Science and Engineering
  3. She traces her own lineage back to Harald Fairhair (Harfagr – the first King of Norway)
  4. She enjoys a life of travel, food & competes in Strong-Woman events

Fair to say then that she’s got the background to deliver some knowledgeable and interesting stories and I’m very pleased to say that this first installment of her trilogy is richly layered with culture, has plenty of grit and action, and keeps decent pace while outlining the lives of the people of ancient Norway.

The story is centred around a brother and sister, Ragnvald and Svanhild, as they negotiate the brutal realities of life in times of upheaval and uncertainty.

Ragnvald has been betrayed and left for dead by an assassination attempt orchestrated by his step-father and embarks on the slow road of obtaining a satisfying vengeance – all the while trying to ingratiate himself into the fold and remain useful to the young man who would be King of a united Norway, Harald Fairhair.

Meanwhile Svanhild has her own worries. Suffering abuses at the hands of the stepfather who wants her out of the way, he tries to marry her off to a local Jarl. But hearing of Ragnvald’s survival she is desperate to be reunited with her brother and protector so flees to find him – her story takes some interesting turns, none of which I will write about as I’d prefer you read the book, but suffice to say life unfolds in unusual and unexpected ways for all of us and Svanhild’s story is equal parts light and dark.

The most impressive aspect of this book is the way in which the author describes events and drives the plot by placing events into cultural context. A great example of this is after Ragnvalds survival and recuperation from his “near-death experience”. His plan to seek revenge entails arriving at the annual ting, a yearly gathering of the Kings and Jarls of Norway, and following the traditional route of challenging his rival to either a formal duel or recompense in front of witnesses and within their framework of honour – not your usual story of confrontation, and clever writing makes this an engaging device that carries the plot along nicely.

The action scenes are brutal, blood, and injuries occur to significant characters – there’s nothing worse than a lead character who is seemingly immune to everything that befalls everyone else! There is an amount of battle tactics but it’s not overly done, and the common folk are never forgotten.

She is also very good at her descriptions of place, giving the reader a good sense of the landscape, environment, and weather conditions, and how these affect the character, the plot, and the action.

Also, by centring the story on a young man and a young woman the author is able to demonstrate the cultural expectations, limitations, and values of young people living in that environment and under those circumstances. It gives great depth and width to the story and provides a broader avenue of access for readers while giving a greater cultural context to the times.

So with strong characters, a beaut story of revenge, lots of well described battle-action & an amazing sense of place, this book ticks a lot of boxes and stacks right up against The Long Ships!

If you are a fan of Hard-Hitting Historical Fiction and are drawn to stories by Giles Kristian, Bernard Cornwell, or even George R. R. Martin, then give this series a go, you should not be disappointed!

Skol!

The Half-Drowned King

The Half Drowned King
by Linnea Hartsuyker
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781408708798

Want more hard-hitting historical fiction recommendations? Try my Historical Fiction of the masses list

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Gail Honeyman’s brilliant debut novel features one of the most quirky and utterly original heroines you are likely to meet – Eleanor Oliphant, a quiet, socially inept office worker who ‘survives’ each day.

Cover of Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine

Unpitying and unambitious, Eleanor struggles with a past she can hardly bear to remember and which readers come to learn more of as the story unfolds. Eleanor is ‘completely fine’ simply because she has to be. She lives by the same carefully scheduled timetable each week of lunchtime meal deals, visits to the grocer for two bottles of vodka, and Wednesday talks with her vindictive ‘mummy’ until, one day, she meets Raymond, a clumsy, ‘unhygenic’ IT man from work. When the two rescue an elderly man who has collapsed on the side walk, an unlikely friendship begins to form between them, the type of friendship capable of showing Eleanor it is never too late to reclaim your life and allow yourself to be happy again.

Simultaneously, Eleanor finds ‘the love of her life’, an arrogant rock star who she concedes she hasn’t met just yet, leading to some hilarious ‘encounters’. There is a great passage where Eleanor glimpses him in Tesco’s and feels she must give him the benefit of her shopping wisdom via her sole means of communication, Twitter:

@eloliph
A Tesco Club Card is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. You should DEFINITELY sign up for one. A concerned friend xx

@johnnieLrocks
Tesco: stop pushing Big Brother spy-slash-loyalty card on here. It like living in a police state, yo #hungover #leavemealone #fightthepower

As ever, Eleanor remains touchingly oblivious. She is brutally honest herself, ‘helpfully’ telling people things they should not be doing and becoming stunned by ‘how rude’ they can be when they do not respond. She has lacked social contact for so long, that lack of knowledge rather than rudeness seems to be the cause of her faux pas.

Gail Honeyman has created a very remarkable character in Eleanor Oliphant. I loved the sensitivity with which Honeyman handled her past. It is impossible not to be moved by Eleanor’s observation that:

“When you read about ‘monsters, house hold names… you forget they had families. They don’t just spring from nowhere. You never think about the people that are left behind to deal with the aftermath of it all”

Or by moments such as when Eleanor, moved to tears, thanks Laura the hairdresser for making her ‘shiny’. Perhaps the part I loved most about this book though was the sheer warmth and ultimately, hope in Eleanor’s story. Her story is full of touching as well as hillarious moments which give a huge lift to the otherwise very distressing theme of crippling loneliness. There is a lovely scene where Raymond brings the convalescing Eleanor a Spongebob helium balloon:

“He passes me the ribbon, and the balloon soared towards my low ceiling, then bobbed against it as though it was trying to escape.
‘What is it supposed to be?” I said. “Is it cheese?” I had never been given a helium balloon before, and certainly not one this odd looking.
“It’s Spongebob, Eleanor,” he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some sort of idiot. “Spongebob Squarepants?”
A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth! On sale as if it were something unremarkable! For my entire life, people have said that I’m strange, but really, when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.”

I haven’t fallen in love so much with both a book and its narrator for a long time and happily give this brilliant novel a ten out of ten. If you’re looking for a witty, sensitive, uplifting read which perfectly captures the best and worst that life can offer, this wonderful book is a perfect choice for you.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Published by Harper Collins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008172121

Helen,
Central Library Peterborough

Memories, mind-wandering, and the evolution of language

“It was a dark and chilly winter’s night, but the crowd in the foyer of the Charles Luney Auditorium at St. Margaret’s College didn’t let that deter them. They were bundled up warm, busy chatting to their friends, and keen to get into the auditorium to hear Auckland University’s Michael Corballis present ‘Mental Travels in Space and Time’.”

Did you just get an image in your head of how that scene might have looked? If you’ve ever been into the Charles Luney Auditorium before, your mind will have travelled back there, remembered how it looked, and added in people in winter clothes and cold dark weather to suit the story.

If you haven’t been to this particular location, you might have remembered your old school auditorium instead, or maybe the foyer of the old Christchurch Town Hall or Isaac Theatre Royal, and pictured the scene as if it was happening there. Either way, regardless of how you imagined this scene, you based it upon your memories of a time you were in a particular location, and what you saw and heard, and how it made you feel.

You have just used your brain for mental time travel – using memories as a way to imagine ourselves in places and times that we are not currently in. That was the topic of Professor Corballis’ speech, held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The audience learnt about the hippocampus – the part of the brain which helps form memories of events, and which reinterprets those memories and helps us daydream and imagine ourselves in new places and times.

It’s because of the hippocampus that we can empathise, and put ourselves in another person’s situation, why authors and storytellers can come up with fictional made-up stories, and why readers sometimes get so caught up in the stories they are reading – our brain is letting us experience the story in the same way as it would if we were actually living it.

The audience also learnt what happens if the hippocampus is damaged. If this happens, you can’t form memories of the things you have done, but you remember skills that you have learnt. Could you imagine not having any memories of specific events? Or having others tell you that you have done something or gone somewhere with them, but you don’t remember doing it? Yet at the same time, you don’t have any difficulty remembering how to carry out skills such as walking, talking, or drawing? I can’t imagine that personally, but we heard about some individuals for whom this is normal.

Cover of The truth about language

The speech Professor Corballis gave was entertaining and informative, and these same characteristics come through in his new book The Truth About Language. I really enjoyed how accessible this book is – no matter your background, the conversational writing style is easy to read. With anecdotes, quotes from literature, and references to historical and contemporary linguistic theories, Corballis tells the story of how language came to be, and why it is so different in different countries and communities.

Don’t worry if you aren’t a linguist – you will still be able to understand the points Corballis is making, and enjoy the information found in this book. For those readers who do want a more in-depth understanding of the evolution of language, however, the book includes references to other theories and theorists, generous explanatory notes, and a comprehensive bibliography to guide further reading.

From the big bang to the different languages used world-wide in 2017, there are so many aspects of language – body language, pronunciation and sounds, grammar, and so much more. Michael Corballis’ The Truth About Language is a fun way to learn about this fascinating subject, and Christchurch City Libraries has a range of his other books that delve further into the subject. So, if language, the mind, and psychology are things you’re interested in, then check them out on our catalogue!

The Truth About Language: What it is and where it came from
by Michael Corballis
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN: 9781869408633

Find out more