Top 20 Non Fiction

These are the Top 20 Non fiction books that Leeds Libraries issued in the last month. Some of them may take you by surprise! Even if you think that non-fiction is not for you I challenge you not to be tempted by one of these.

Creation: an oratorio for soprano, tenor & bass soli, SATB & orchestra by Joseph Haydn

Did you know that you can borrow whole orchestra sets from us? We have issued this 180 times in the last month, so some orchestra somewhere is having fun practicing this at the moment. To find out more about our music lending service click here.

Top NF HappyHappy by Derren Brown

Everyone says they want to be happy. But that’s much more easily said than done. What does being happy actually mean? And how do you even know when you feel it? Across the millenia, philosophers have thought long and hard about happiness, and come up with all sorts of different definitions and ideas for how we might live a happier life. Here, Derren Brown explores the history of happiness from classical times until today, when the self-help industry has attempted to claim happiness as its own. His aim is to reclaim happiness for us all, and enable us to appreciate the really good things in life for what they are.

Top NF AdmissionsAdmissions: a life in brain surgery by Henry Marsh

Henry Marsh has spent a lifetime operating on the surgical frontline. There have been exhilarating highs and devastating lows, but his love for the practice of neurosurgery has never wavered. Prompted by his retirement from his full-time job in the NHS, and through his continuing work in Nepal and Ukraine, Henry has been forced to reflect more deeply about what 40 years spent handling the human brain has taught him. Moving between encounters with patients in his London hospital, to those he treats in the more extreme circumstances of his work abroad, Henry faces up to the overwhelming burden of responsibility that can come with trying to reduce human suffering.

Top NF SapiensSapiens: a brief history of humankind by Yuval N. Harari

100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come? Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, ‘Sapiens’ challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power … and our future.

Top NF ring of bright waterRing of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell

An oldie but a goldie; Gavin Maxwell’s account of his life at Camusfearna, a remote cottage in the western Highlands, and in particular the two otters, Mijbil and Edal, who became his constant and much-loved companions.

Top NF IELTSEssential Words for the IELTS by Lin Lougheed

Join the library and enjoy free materials to help you learn and study. This book offers IELTS students extensive practice in vocabulary building and correct English usage, with emphasis on 600 English words that relate to specific categories that appear frequently on IELTS exams. These categories include nature and the environment, leisure activities and hobbies, the arts and culture, transportation, health, tourism, business, technology, social issues, and education.

top NF Life UKLife in the UK test

We also have books for loan to help with working towards your UK citizenship. Ask about them in your local library. This handbook presents all the latest official materials you need to study in a simple and easy-to-learn format.

Top NF Little DribblingThe road to Little Dribbling: more notes from a small island by Bill Bryson

In 1995, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his home. The hilarious book he wrote about that journey, Notes from a Small Island, became one of the most loved books of recent decades, and was voted in a BBC poll as the book that best represents Britain. Now, in this hotly anticipated new travel book, his first in fifteen years and sure to be greeted as the funniest book of the decade, Bryson sets out on a brand-new journey, on a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis on the south coast to Cape Wrath on the northernmost tip of Scotland. Once again, he will guide us through all that’s best and worst about Britain today while doing that incredibly rare thing of making us laugh out loud in public.

Top NF Yorkshire ShepherdessThe Yorkshire Shepherdess: how I left a city life behind to raise a family by Amanda Owen

Amanda Owen has been seen by millions on ITV’s ‘The Dales’, living a life that has almost gone in today’s modern world, a life ruled by the seasons and her animals. She is a farmer’s wife and shepherdess, living alongside her husband Clive and seven children at Ravenseat, a 2000 acre sheep hill farm at the head of Swaledale in North Yorkshire. In ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’ she describes how the rebellious girl from Huddersfield, who always wanted to be a shepherdess, achieved her dreams.

Amanda will be appearing this year at the Morley Arts Festival. Book a ticket here.

Top NF ItalyItaly by Christian Bonetto

Why pay out for a guidebook you might only use once? We have travel guides in all our libraries and they can be reserved for free. This guide to Italy is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Take in a gondolier’s sweet song while gliding past Venetian palaces, sample olives and wines as you traverse Tuscany’s storybook hills, or be humbled amid thousands of years of Roman history and art; all with your trusted travel companion.

Top NF ReasonsReasons to stay alive by Matt Haig

Aged 24, Matt Haig’s world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again. A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.

Top NF Les parisiennesLes Parisiennes: how the women of Paris lived, loved and died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba

We were lucky enough to have Anne do an event with us earlier this year when she talked about this book. By looking at a wide range of individuals from collaborators to resisters, actresses and prostitutes to teachers and writers, Anne shows that women made life-and-death decisions every day, and often did whatever they needed to survive. She explores the aftershock of the Second World War and the choices demanded. How did the women who survived to see the Liberation of Paris come to terms with their actions and those of others? Although politics lies at its heart, ‘Les Parisiennes’ is a fascinating account of the lives of people of the city and, specifically, in this most feminine of cities, its women and young girls.

Top NF BerlinBerlin by Andrea Schulte-Peevers

This city guide to Berlin includes various types of accommodation options, from lakeside camping to historic hotels and entertainment, from classical to cabaret.

Top NF JungleJungle: a harrowing true story of adventure, danger and survival by Yossi Ghinsberg

Four travellers meet in Bolivia and set off into the Amazon rainforest on an expedition to explore places tourists only dream of seeing. But what begins as the adventure of a lifetime quickly becomes a struggle for survival when they get lost in the wilds of the jungle.

Top NF Homo DeusHomo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow by Yuval N. Harari

This is the second book in the Top 20 for this author.

During the 20th century, humankind has managed to do the impossible: we have brought famine, plague and war under control. Today, more people die from obesity than from starvation; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed in war. We are the only species in earth’s long history that has single-handedly changed the entire planet, and we no longer expect any higher being to shape our destinies for us. As the self-made gods of planet earth, which projects should we undertake, and how will we protect this fragile planet and humankind itself from our own destructive powers? Yuval Noah Harari examines the implications of our newly acquired divine capabilities, from our desperate pursuit of happiness to our dogged quest for immortality.

Top NF Bletchley GirlsThe Bletchley Girls: war, secrecy, love and loss by Tessa Dunlop

Historian and broadcaster Tessa Dunlop tells the story of the women of Bletchley Park, through exclusive and unprecedented access to the women themselves.

Top NF CatchingCatching a serial killer: my hunt for serial killer Christopher Halliwell by Stephen Fulcher

On the evening of Saturday, of 19th of March 2011, D.S. Stephen Fulcher receives a life-changing call that thrusts him into a race against time to save missing 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan, who was last seen at a nightclub in Swindon. Steve knows from experience that he has a small window of time to find Sian alive, but his hopes are quickly dashed when his investigation leads him to Christopher Halliwell. Following the investigation as it develops hour-by-hour, Steve’s gripping inside story of the cat-and-mouse situation that ensues shows how he hunted down Halliwell – his number-one suspect – which led him to the discovery of Sian’s body and another victim, Becky Godden-Edwards, who had been missing since 2002.

Top NF Chimp ParadoxThe Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters

A personal development book by Dr Steve Peters, the British cycling team’s psychiatrist, in which he shares his phenomenal mind management programme.

Top NF Deliciously EllaDeliciously Ella every day: simple recipes and fantastic food for a healthy way of life by Ella Woodward

The ‘Deliciously Ella’ way of eating isn’t about following a diet, it’s about enjoying delicious, natural food to help you look and feel your best. Luckily, Ella understands that nourishing your body with wholesome ingredients needs to fit in with your existing lifestyle and not feel like something difficult, which is why she has written this book – to help you make the right choice every time and start to glow from the inside out. With ‘Deliciously Ella Every Day’, her easy-to-make food will become a natural part of your life.

Top NF Walking HomeWalking Home by Simon Armitage

‘Walking Home’ describes Simon Armitage’s extraordinary, yet ordinary, journey. It’s a story about Britain’s remote and overlooked interior – the wildness of its landscape and the generosity of the locals who sustained him on his journey. It’s about facing emotional and physical challenges, and sometimes overcoming them.

 

 

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Librarian’s Choice: Fiction for foodies

This blog post comes from Maddie, a Community Librarian based in the east of Leeds.

I enjoy baking and love books which have food at the heart of them. I particularly like the idea of books which recipes in them.

Maddie Cupcake CafeMeet Me at the Cupcake Café by Jenny Colgan

When Issy Randall loses her boss/boyfriend and her job she decides to make a new start and open a cafe. With recipes handed down to her by her Grandpa Joe she turns her life around. This is an easy reading chick-lit romance and in true chick lit style Issy eventually manages to find Mr. Right. If you’re a fan of Sophie Kinsella then this is one you might like to try.

Maddie Shape of waterThe Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

My next choice is completely different, as this is a crime book. This is the first in a series of books about the Sicilian inspector Montalbano. The books are set in Vigata, a quiet little town where not very much happens apart from bizarre murders and lots of them. Inspector Montalbano is passionate about food and always eats his meals in silence appreciating what he is eating. There are lots of descriptions in the book about food that he is ordering in restaurants and has inspired me to look up recipes of the food described.

Maddie chocolatChocolat by Joanne Harris

This seems an obvious choice to include in this selection. I read this book many years ago before the film was made of it. The book is about a young single mum – Vianne Rocher who arrives in a quiet French village with her young daughter and opens up a chocolate shop much to the discontent to the parish priest and divides the whole community. It is probably the only book where the description of the cooking has been so vivid that you can almost smell the chocolate being made.

Maddie Like water for chocolateLike Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

The protagonist of this story is 15 year old Tita who falls in love with her neighbor Pedro. They want to marry, but her mother forbids it because of a family tradition where the youngest daughter is not allowed to marry as she is expected to look after her parents as they age. The book is set out in monthly chapters and at the beginning of each one there is a Mexican recipe.

 

Maddie Baking Cakes in the KigaliBaking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Meet Angel Tangaranza a professional cake maker, matchmaker and a shoulder to cry on. This book reminded me very much of Alexander McCall Smith’s book The Lady’s no. 1 Detective Agency. The book is set in Rwanda. The people who order cakes from Angel for special occasions relate their problems to her and she does her best to help. I liked the way that the food is the connecting factor. I’m not in Angel’s league when it comes to baking cakes, but I am tempted to try one although it might have to be a simplified version.

Man Booker Award 2017 – Shortlist announced

The Man Booker Prize is the most well known literary award in the English speaking world, and has brought recognition and reward to outstanding fiction for over four decades. Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK. It is a prize that can transform the winner’s career.

The prize winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors. Both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a worldwide readership plus a dramatic increase in book sales.

The shortlisted books, and their lucky authors who each receive that £2,500 have been announced today. The overall winner will be announced on the 17th October 2017.

Which one will be your winner and will you agree with the judges?

Booker 43214 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

On March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths.

Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Loves and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Chapter by chapter, the rotating narratives evolve into an elaborate dance of inner worlds enfolded within the outer forces of history as, one by one, the intimate plots of the four Fergusons’ stories rush on across the tumultuous and fractured terrain of mid-20th century America. A boy grows up – again and again and again.

Booker History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Linda, age 14, lives on a dying commune on the edge of a lake in the Midwest of America. She and her parents are the last remaining inhabitants, the others having long since left amid bitter acrimony. She has grown up isolated both by geography and her understanding of the world, and is an outsider at school, regarded as a freak.

One day she notices the arrival of a young family in a cabin on the opposite side of the lake. She starts to befriend them, first their four-year-old son Paul, and then his young mother Patra, who is also lonely and isolated. For the first time she feels a sense of belonging that has been missing from her life.

Leo, the father, is a university professor and an enigmatic figure, perpetually absent. When he returns home, Linda is shunned by the family unit. Desperate to be accepted again, she struggles to resume her place in their home and fails to see the terrible warning signals, which have such devastating consequences.

Booker Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia lock eyes across their classroom. After a while, they talk, he makes her smile and they start to fall in love. They try not to notice the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the curfews and the public executions.

Eventually the problem is too big to ignore: it’s not safe for Nadia to live alone and she must move in with Saeed, even though they are not married, and that too is a problem. Meanwhile, rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to London or San Francisco, Greece or Dubai. One day soon the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to seek out one such door, joining the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.

Booker ElmetElmet by Fiona Mozley

Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they were even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.

Elmet is a lyrical commentary on contemporary English society and one family’s precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go.

Booker LincolnLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

On 22 February 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln is laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, his father Abraham arrives at the cemetery, alone, under cover of darkness.

Over the course of that evening, Abraham Lincoln paces the graveyard unsettled by the death of his beloved boy, and by the grim shadow of a war that feels as though it is without end. Meanwhile Willie is trapped in a state of limbo between the dead and the living – drawn to his father with whom he can no longer communicate, existing in a ghostly world populated by the recently passed and the long dead.

Unfolding in the graveyard over a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief and the deeper meaning and possibilities of life.

Booker AutumnAutumn by Ali Smith

How about Autumn 2016? Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Autumn is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.

From the imagination of Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.

Fun Palaces at Leeds Libraries

Fun Palace logo

This year we are delighted to be hosting Fun Palaces in 7 of our libraries.

Fun Palaces is a movement campaigning for culture by, for and with all – with a firm belief that community belongs at the core of all culture – and an annual weekend of events, where arts, crafts, science, tech and digital are a catalyst for community engagement and full participation for everyone, from the grassroots up.

Fun Palaces are made by local people for their own communities, bringing together arts and sciences, crafts, tech and digital, free and fun, linked by the the Fun Palace network – Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist. We welcome many more, from everywhere and anywhere, to join us in 2017 and beyond.

We want you to help us create a Fun Palace that is unique and relevant to the community that you live in. Have you got a skill that you can share with others? We would love you to give some time to share that skill at one of our Fun Palaces over the weekend of the 7th and 8th October. Follow the links below to find out more about the venue and contact details.

Community Hub and Library Fun Palaces in Leeds are in the following places:-

Armley One Stop Centre

Compton Centre

Crossgates Library

Dewsbury Road Community Hub

Guiseley Library

Horsforth Community Hub

Reginald Centre

For more information about Fun Palaces in general, visit the Fun Palace website.

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Librarian’s Choice: Funny Memoirs

This blog comes from Angie, an Assistant Community Librarian based in the east of Leeds.

My reading interests lean towards psychological thrillers but on occasion I like to lighten the load with something humorous. Laughing is a wonderful tonic and respite from the cares of the world and books are as mood busting as a trip to a comedy festival or an old episode of ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’
Some books are just wry and witty, some are light entertainment and others are laugh out loud “whoops there go my cornflakes all over the breakfast table” hysterical. I have often found myself involuntarily laughing out loud much to the bemusement of my fellow commuters. Below is a selection of some of my favourites, most of which are co-incidentally memoirs.

Ang Teenage RevolutionTeenage Revolution by Alan Davies

A very funny trip down memory lane, this time as an adolescent in the weird and wonderful late 1970’s early 80’s. This memoir will resonate with anyone of a similar age set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain. It is a reminder that far from being the ‘time of our lives’’ it can also be a period of high anxiety, of struggling to fit in and find a purpose to life. The book is such a great and painfully honest account of being a teenager, with lots of musical references thrown in, I had to dig out my vinyl collection afterwards to recreate the mood.

ANG Wishful DrinkingWishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

I have always been a big fan, I have enjoyed her previous memoirs films and regular TV appearances. We mourn the passing not only of a space princess but a genuine comic talent. In truth there is an element of ‘celebrity net twitching ‘ going on here which I am not immune to, but the reader is allowed this guilty pleasure since Carrie fisher’s life was full of dichotomies having enjoyed all the superficial benefits of a Hollywood lifestyle coupled with all its dysfunctions. Ms Fisher’s biographies are full of clever observations and acerbic humour.
‘Wishful Drinking’ is one of her later memoirs and as the title suggests offers an insight into her life post rehab. I read it in a hospital waiting room in 3 hours and frequently drew concerned looks from other patients as my whole body writhed with laughter. Sadly, as we now know she never did rid herself of her demons.

Ang The tentThe Tent the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy

As a child of the 1970’s I could so relate, my childhood and teens were similarly spent coiled in embarrassment whether by my mother’s cat suits and penchant for fancy dress parties or my dad’s moustache and permed hair, Kevin Keegan has a lot to answer for! Emma Kennedy is able to evoke such awkward but hysterical memories it almost makes me melancholic for the 3 day week and squishy cheese in a tube. The book introduces you to her eccentric family and their disastrous attempts at holidaying in a tent first in the UK then abroad. Be warned all holiday makers check that your tent is weather proof and that you take spare clothes for all eventualities including motorway service stations. This book was made into a BBC T.V series ‘The Kennedy’s, look out for any repeats, it is a must watch.

Ang How to beHow To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran not only lets you glimpse into her past but brings you bang up to date with the trials and tribulations of being a woman in the noughties. It is one long, very funny feminist rant. Caitlin is the funniest feminist commentator of our modern times, not for the fainthearted as it is very ‘earthy’ in tone and language.

Ang Serge BastardeSerge Bastarde Ate My Baguette by John Dummer

This book was borrowed to accompany me on my travels to France a few years back. I really enjoyed this true account of ex brit musician who relocates across the channel to try his hand as an antique dealer. Along the way he meets a fellow Brocante enthusiast Serge Bastarde (Bastarde by name and by nature) and hence the drama begins. Serge reminded me of Dell Boy in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ a hopeless yet likeable rogue. As with any story set in rural France there is lots of wine drinking thrown in, what’s not to like? A very funny foray into the foibles of the French and all the more enjoyed due to a shared passion for antique hunting and flea markets.

Ang How to be a husbandHow to Be A Husband by Tim Dowling

A comical biographical journey through the life and times of 21st century man and confessed non-alpha male Tim Dowling. This books offers a very funny insight into the Guardian columnist life. Having been married over 20 years and with three sons he is more than qualified to comment on the matter. The book is essentially a collection of no-particular-order chapters of which include: “Twelve Labours of Marriage”, “Seven Ways in Which You Might Be Wrong”, “Five Things You Can Actually Fix by Hitting Them with a Hammer”. Basically Tim Dowling portrays himself as baffled and bewildered where even the family dog is a rung higher on the family pecking order.

Ang The HusbandNot to be confused with the equally funny ‘The Husband’, part of a spoof collection of ’How It Works’ Ladybird classics also available in Leeds Libraries

Ang Lady in the vanThe Lady In The Van by Alan Bennett

Camden is my old stomping ground and indeed my children were born there. I am familiar with the uniqueness of London, where the uber rich live cheek by jowl with the homeless. This is such a poignant and funny account of trying to put your principles into practice, the desire to be a good neighbour and humanitarian whilst also begrudging the consequences. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film or play this memoir revolves around a homeless eccentric old lady who lives in a van and after the threat of eviction becomes a sitting tenant in Alan Bennet’s front drive. This is classic Bennett, full of awkwardness and honest self- effacing northern humour

Happy Reading!

Librarian’s Choice: Books with a local connection

We asked the staff in our Local & Family History Library for their favourite books with a local connection. Here are their suggestions:- 

LFH Death avid readerDeath of An Avid Reader by Frances Brody, Set in the Leeds Library

Kate Shackleton’s sterling reputation for courageous sleuthing attracts the attention of the venerable Lady Coulton. Hidden in her past is a daughter, born out of wedlock and given up to a different family. Now, Lady Coulton is determined to find her and puts Kate on the case.
“I like this book because it is a very good detective yarn which keeps you guessing to the end. It is set in Leeds in the 1920s, The plot is centred around the Private Library on Commercial Street. I can relate to the staff in their roles as library assistants and can visualise the descriptions’ of the building from my visits there.” –Lynn, Library Officer

LFH Never trust a rabbitNever trust a rabbit by Jeremy Dyson, Leeds – Yorkshire

Unsettling premonitions, fortune-telling cashpoints and disappearing mazes all converge in Jeremy Dyson’s first book – a collection of short stories that established him as a formidable storyteller on original publication.
“Jeremy Dyson’s short stories are utterly terrifying in the smallest possible ways – tiny changes in routine lead to disturbing consequences, or a simple wrong turn leads somewhere scary and unexpected… Read ‘The Maze’ for an eerie story set in Leeds Central Library!” – Ross, Librarian Manager

LFH ChocolatChocolat by Joanne Harris, Barnsley – Yorkshire

When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious moral danger to his flock – especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial. As passions flare and the conflict escalates, the whole community takes sides. Can the solemnity of the Church compare with the sinful pleasure of a chocolate truffle?
“This is without a doubt my favourite book, if I need comfort there’s no better way than to follow the wind and completely immerse myself in Vianne and Anouk’s world along with the mysterious Pantoufle (who doesn’t love an imaginary Rabbit)
Vianne is a strong female character who lives by her own rules and doesn’t care what other people think. Chocolat is a feel good book with a twist, a fascinating mixture of Folk Tales and Witch Craft with a dash of romance. Darker than the film, but the descriptions are far more magical than a film can show. Perfect for curling up on a rainy day with a cup of hot chocolate.” – Klara, Library Officer

LFH Damned UnitedThe Damned United by David Peace, based upon Leeds United Football Club

In 1974 the brilliant and controversial Brian Clough made perhaps his most eccentric decision: he accepted the Leeds United manager’s job. As successor to Don Revie, his bitter adversary, he was to last only 44 days. In one of the most acclaimed novels of this or any other year, David Peace takes us into the mind and thoughts of Ol’Big’Ead himself, and brings vividly to life one of post-war Britain’s most complex and fascinating characters.
“David Peace’s searing vision of life inside the head of (probably) the most charismatic football manager this country has ever produced remains a vital and necessary read. It’s not even really “about” football; instead, the novel carries a deep and pervading sense of loss for a very particular vision of ‘England’, of a community much diminished in the brutal face of very different notions of what a nation can and should mean.” – Antony, Assistant Librarian Manager

LFH Behind the scenesBehind The Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, York – Yorkshire

Ruby Lennox was conceived grudgingly by Bunty and born while her father, George, was in the Dog and Hare in Doncaster telling a woman in an emerald dress and a D-cup that he wasn’t married. Bunty had never wanted to marry George, but here she was, stuck in a flat above the pet shop in an ancient street beneath York Minster, with sensible and sardonic Patricia aged five, greedy cross-patch Gillian who refused to be ignored, and Ruby…
“I enjoyed this first novel from York-born author Kate Atkinson, which won Whitbread Book of the Year in 1995. It follows the life of Ruby Lennox, interspersed with flashbacks which cover the lives of six generations of women from Ruby’s own family.” – Karen, Assistant Librarian Manager.

LFH The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien, reader of English and Professor at Leeds University (a tenuous link but for a book as good as this we’re letting it in)

The Hobbit is a tale of high adventure, undertaken by a company of dwarves in search of dragon-guarded gold. A reluctant partner in this perilous quest is Bilbo Baggins, a comfort-loving unambitious hobbit, who surprises even himself by his resourcefulness and skill as a burglar. Encounters with trolls, goblins, dwarves, elves and giant spiders, conversations with the dragon, Smaug, and a rather unwilling presence at the Battle of Five Armies are just some of the adventures that befall Bilbo.
“Tolkien, with almost ease creates this complex world full of imaginative creatures, including simple hobbits, beautiful elves, mischievous dwarves, dastardly orcs, and the dreaded dragon, Smaug. I like this book because it represents all of the fun of the fantasy genre while creating perilous obstacles that the characters must overcome. I have read The Hobbit numerous times as a child, teenager and adult, each time ending the novel with a new insight and as an added bonus it has one of the most iconic opening lines, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’” – Josh, Library Officer

Book Reviews: A Brief History of Seven Killings, Flowers for Algernon and Toby’s Room

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Stu Brief HistoryTo begin, a couple of notes on the title. This book cannot accurately be described in any way, shape or form as being “brief”; it clocks in at nearly seven hundred pages of tiny print, and even for it a super-speedy reader like me it takes some getting through. Secondly, although the title refers to seven killings, there are an awful lot more than that contained herein. If I said the body count was closer to triple figures it would sound like an exaggeration, but it’s probably actually not far off the mark. This is a brutal, nasty affair in places, packed with the kind of cinematic violence you’d expect from a Tarantino movie, with gallons of claret flowing throughout.
What you’re really dealing with here is a history of Jamaica in the second half of the twentieth century – centering on the savage political violence that split the country in half after its independence from Great Britain in 1962 – told through the distinct voices of innumerable characters, from gangsters and slum-dwellers to CIA operatives and American journalists. Stylistically it’s reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, with each chapter and episode being narrated by a different protagonist with a distinct narrative voice, from Jamaican patois to American hipster slang. It’s epic in scope, taking in the slums of Kingston, the keys of Miami and the desolate urban sprawl of 70s New York, and it works on so many different levels that it almost defies belief. It’s a literary page-turner, a pulp-fiction thriller, an investigation of the shooting of Bob Marley (referred to as “The Singer” throughout) two days before the Smile Jamaica peace concert in 1976. It contains flavours of Southern gothic and film noir, and the whole thing is shot through with a rich vein of super-dark humour which can’t help but raise a smile, despite the bleak nature of the subject matter. The characters are beautifully drawn and their individual voices are superbly rendered – this really is writing of the highest order. According to the blurb on the cover it made it onto 23 ‘book of the year’ lists when it was published. All the plaudits are richly deserved. I absolutely caned my way through this, desperate to see how it would finish, and yet was disappointed when it finally ended as I felt like I wanted to read more. A genuinely challenging, stimulating and thoroughly entertaining read, and how many Booker Prize winners can you say that about? Absolutely brilliant.

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Stu FlowersI’ve long been familiar with the plot and general themes of this vintage sci-fi novel, but it’s only recently that I’ve finally got around to reading it. For the uninitiated, it’s the story of Charlie Gordon, a man with an IQ of 68 who works a menial job sweeping the floor in a baker owned by a friend of his uncle, who secured him the job to prevent him being sent to a mental institution. Charlie is selected by scientists to take part in a trial for a new surgical procedure which can increase intelligence, a technique which has previously been tested on laboratory mice, one of which is the Algernon referred to in the title. The surgery is a success, and Charlie’s IQ triples, but the effects are not quite as anticipated.

He realises that his ‘friends’ at the bakery aren’t his friends at all; they like having him to be around to make fun of and make them feel better about themselves, and they’ve coined a phrase – “pulling a Charlie Gordon” – to describe someone doing something to unintentionally make a fool of themselves. They feel threatened by his new intelligence, turn against him and he ultimately ends up losing his job. Despite being blessed with a genius level IQ, Charlie still has the emotional intelligence of a child, and struggles in social situations; he speaks to scientists and professors, but finds their conversation limited and dull; he seeks the love of a woman, but his intellect is such that he can’t engage with the opposite sex on any kind of basic level, and he’s lonelier than he ever was before the operation.

I don’t want to give the ending away so won’t say any more about the plot, but this is a great take on the Frankenstein fable about scientists playing God and the terrible consequences that it can bring. For those who don’t consider themselves fans of Sci-fi, don’t let the label put you off. The premise may be sci-fi, but this is set in a very recognisable universe, features very real, believable characters and shows some uncanny psychological insight throughout. Be warned though – it’s not a happy read and the ending is a real tear-jerker. It’s a startlingly original bit of writing which has become a stone cold classic since its first publication in novel form in 1966, and deservedly so. Well worth checking out if you fancy a left-field, thought-provoking read.

Toby’s room by Pat Barker

Stu Toby's RoomThis novel sees Pat Barker return to the subject of the First World War, and it’s absolutely brilliant. The story starts in 1912. Elinor and Toby Brooke have a relationship far closer than any brother and sister ever should, and one that they never dare acknowledge. Fast forward to 1917 – Toby is gone, missing presumed killed in the carnage of Flanders. Elinor is trying to find her feet as a professional artist, and is struggling to come to terms with what happened to her brother. Only one man – Kit Neville – an old friend from art school who was one of his stretcher bearers knows what happened to Toby, but he is suffering too, struck down by a hideously disfiguring facial wound. Only their mutual friend, commissioned war artist Paul Tarrant, can find out the truth, but will it be too much for Elinor to bear?
One of the great strengths of this novel is Barker’s incredibly perceptive understanding of her characters and their motivations, and her depiction of the complex relationships between them is first class. Her descriptions of the chaos of war and the effects it has on the men fighting it are startlingly real, and the climactic scene in which Neville describes the real events that lead up to Toby’s death while a winter storm rages outside is staggeringly emotional.
Technically it’s superb – practically flawless, actually. The descriptive prose is brilliant, the dialogue pitch-perfect, the scenes of war cataclysmic and the bits about the facial injuries suffered by many – as painted by Henry Tonks, who appears as a character in this novel – stomach-churningly graphic. Barker sets the plot in motion immediately, and right from the first couple of pages I was absolutely hooked on this. It’s a great story, beautifully written and told by an artist with an absolute mastery of her craft. Superb stuff.

Reviews from Stu, a Community Librarian based in the east of Leeds