Black History Month

October is Black History Month so Sapphia, an assistant community librarian based in the north of the city has compiled this list of titles that she recommends.

Sapphia HenriettaThe immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951 America an African-American woman goes to hospital and finds out she has cancer. This non fiction title looks at how colour and class affected hospital care In 1950’s America but also how ethics were dramatically different for all of us.
Using a sample taken from Henrietta Lacks without her permission on a hospital visit, the first first immortalised cell line was made. The cells known as ‘He-La’ have been mass produced and helped create vaccines for Polio, research Cancer, AIDS and the effects of radiation and much more. He-La cells have been reproduced to the weight of over 20 tonnes and has over 11,000 patents. Yet still her family were only informed of the importance of Henrietta’s cells in the 1970’s after the original He-La cells were contaminated and scientists tried to get samples from family members to investigate their genetics further.
By both informing you of who Henrietta was, and looking at the struggle and fight of Henrietta’s family to seek truth, ethical fairness, and recognition this is an incredible story, that should never be allowed to happen again. It’s hard to believe in this day and age, it could of happened in the first place.

Sapphia HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

Skeeter is the daughter of a white family who own a cotton farm in 1960’s America. After graduating from university, intent on becoming a writer against the ambitions of her mother she embarks on her first piece of writing. Constantine, Skeeter’s maid who cared for her as a child and brought her up has left the family home, quitting and going back to family in Jackson. This seems completely out of character for Constantine and Skeeter is determined to find out the truth. Talking to ‘help’ from other families Skeeter learns that she has truly lived another life compared to the often faceless men and woman that are employed as ‘help’ for the white families she represents. Skeeter will find out what happened to Constantine but she will also create a written account of the stories of the ‘help’ from her small town near Jackson. The stories will show them as individuals, with personality, loving and kind but also highlighting some of the deplorable conditions they faced everyday. This happened. This story may be fictional but is based on a history that was quite recent and the way that black people were treated as ‘help’, as a subordinate human is hard to conceive. But in some places, for some cultures it still happens. We need to learn from our history so that our future shows that we have changed.

Sapphia Hidden FiguresHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterley

During World War 2, the civil rights movement and mass labour shortages, Hidden figures looks at the true story of four African American women whose great intellect got them jobs working as ‘human computers’ for NASA. They defied segregation, forged alliances and overcame the prejudice that was common place for that time, for being black, and for being women. Their guts and determination is exemplary and these women need to be acknowledged and revered for their amazing accomplishments. Without these women the first American astronaut wouldn’t have made it to space, taking on each and every hurdle, changing their lives but also changing their countries future.
The film version of this book has been used to educate young, impoverished black women in America to show them that they can aspire and that they can reach the stars. I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I hoped. It wasn’t the story. It was the way it was written. I’m just happy that these amazing black women have had their stories publicly acknowledged and inspired millions more.

Sapphia Born a CrimeBorn a Crime : Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

I don’t think I can even describe how much I loved this book. I loved Trevor Noah before but now I am in awe. His biography tells you his childhood stories, starting with his first; that he was born a crime. Born to a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father in apartheid South Africa, Trevor was hidden indoors and always an outsider no matter what community he was in. Whether in poverty or becoming a business man in the ‘hood’. He is a mischievous yet endearing boy mentored by a determined, unconventional and loving mother who you can feel with every story Trevor’s love and admiration for. The memories are beautiful and vast, wether humorous or heartbreaking and seen through the eyes of a child living in a dangerous time, armed only with the aspirations his mother ingrained in him and hope.

Sapphia MockingbirdTo kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Written through the eyes of a child, To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in 1930’s Alabama. Scout and Jem’s father Atticus has been given the hardest case of his life, to defend a black man accused of raping a white girl. For a town steeped in prejudice, ignorance and violence the irrationality of Maycomb’s adult population leave Tom Robinson’s life in the balance. This is a heart rendering story, I almost cried on a bus. It’s sometimes hard to read with language that was the norm at the time, with the treatment of black people as second class citizens and getting lost into a story that you think couldn’t be real but most certainly was rife at the time. Atticus tries his hardest to get Tom Robinson justice and acquitted of the crime he clearly hasn’t committed, however the verdict is predictable and unfortunate. As a teen Jem is ashamed and betrayed by the adults around him for their lack of rationality and goodness. ‘Baby steps’ as Atticus says, is just not good enough, where is there humanity? I don’t want to tell you too much of the story in case I ruin it for anyone but I will say that it’s heartwarming to be captivated into a book because you see life from the perspective of an innocent. Reading this story as an adult you feel ashamed for being an adult and for the stereotyping that you do in your everyday actions, and although not to the extremes of the 1930’s we are all a little guilty if it. Even simply judging a book for its cover. But it’s lovely to reflect and force yourself to challenge these prejudices and to take every day as it comes.

Sapphia PoemsThe complete Collected Poems by Maya Angelou

Simply put Maya Angelou rocks. She is full of a wisdom that enlightens the soul. She was a civil rights activist and personally selected by Dr. Martin Luther King jr to be a co-ordinator for the Southern Christian Leader Conference. Just read her poetry. Think about what’s she’s saying to you. She knows what she’s talking about. Simply beautiful.

Other titles to consider:-

The Secret Life of bees by Sue Monk
Scottsboro by Ellen Fieldman
George the Poet (collection)
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
Their eyes were watching god by Zora Neale Hurston
Kindred by Octavia Butler

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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.

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

Librarian’s Choice: My favourite books for under 5s

This blog comes from Debbie, a Community Librarian in the east of Leeds.

As anyone with small children will know, the Summer Holidays bring many challenges, including how to keep little ones entertained for the entire 6 weeks…that’s a massive 1008 hours. With that in mind, I thought I would compose a list of my all-time favourite books for under 5s. As a Librarian and a mother, I have read countless children’s books over the years. Here are the 5 books that have stood out to me and I have returned to time and time again.

Each peach pear plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Deb Each peachThis is my favourite children’s book of all time. Written and illustrated by the magical duo Janet and Allan Ahlberg. This booked is packed with wonderful illustrations of fairy tale characters such as Tom Thumb, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Mother Hubbard and many more. There is a little ‘I spy’ rhyme on each page and children can look for the hidden characters. The rhymes are repetitive so children can quickly anticipate what will come next and can easily learn to recite the book themselves. The book is told in easy rhyme, ‘Each,Peach, Pear Plum I spy Tom Thumb, Tom Thumb in the cupboard, I spy Mother Hubbard.

Each, Peach, Pear, Plumb takes us through a journey to find the hidden characters, but the real joy comes from discovering the other secrets hidden on each page. Children can continue the story themselves, using the many characters for inspiration. I have spent many evenings cuddled up with my children with this book and this is a book I will never tire of. This is a charming, sweet book that you will enjoy reading with your child over and over again.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler

Deb The GruffaloThe Gruffalo is my next favourite book. Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler, the Gruffalo is a classic book that will be loved by children and grown-ups for generations to come.

This book captures the imaginations of young minds. We are introduced to the characters- the Mouse, the Gruffalo, the Owl, the Fox, the Snake with the ‘innocent’ mouse as the main character. Throughout the book the Mouse shows his bravery and underlying cunningness to save himself from the various predators lurking ‘In the deep dark wood’. He is able to trick the various forest creatures into believing that he is in fact ‘the scariest creature in all the wood.’ The short rhymes and their repetitive structure make The Gruffalo a fun book to read aloud and children will quickly learn the words and be able to join in.

How the Library (not the Prince) saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown

Deb How theThis is a lovely book with an inspiring message for younger readers. There are also many positive subtle messages that perhaps only the grown-ups will understand but using this a starting point to chat to children and develop the story gives this book many layers. The overall feeling for all readers in one of positivity.

It is so refreshing to see the damsel in distress (Rapunzel) ‘rescued’ by the library-and not the prince on horseback as we normally see. Lots of would be rescuers show their hand in this book, but alas only the library can save the day! The illustrations are bright, cheerful and engaging for readers and offer a fun and refreshing
background for the tale. The book is told in rhymes and a cast of multi-cultural characters that help set this book aside from most other ‘fairytales’. As a mother (and a Librarian), I am very impressed by the messages in this book as these echo the lessons I try to pass to my children,

“So don’t just wait for your prince to show.
He might turn up, but you never know.
Pop down to your library and borrow a book
There’s so much to find if only you look.”

Eat your peas: A Daisy book by Kes Gray and illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Deb Eat your peasMy daughter loved, loved, loved this book. This is the book I had to read over and over again.

Eat Your Peas is a funny tale of the battle of wills between Daisy (who really does not like peas) and her mum. Daisy’s mum tries everything to get her to eat her peas
resorting to bribing her with treats such as staying up later and skipping bath time. However as Daisy continues to refuse her peas, Mum’s promises start to become more and more elaborate, including offers of chocolate factories, elephants and bikes. But still Daisy refuses to eat her peas. Finally Daisy makes a suggestion. ‘I’ll eat my peas if you eat your Brussel Sprouts’. Simple. Except….Daisy’s mum replies ‘but I don’t like Brussel Sprouts.

This common problem of disliking certain food makes the story easy to relate to for
children. The repetition in the book is a fun way for the children to be involved often
calling out ‘but I don’t like peas’. The pictures a clear and vibrant and would be suitable for children of all ages.

We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and illustrations by Helen Oxenby

Deb Bear HuntThis classic book is a favourite in many homes, nurseries, schools and libraries. There is a perfect mix of rhyme and repetition which engages children from the off and the anticipation of what will happen next is enough to keep children interested in the story from start to finish.

The story sees the determined family of 4 set off on their own bear hunt and tells how they overcome several obstacles in their way, until at last they manage to track down the bear. The story is simple and fun and easy for children to join in with. The descriptions of the obstacles in their way ‘swishy-swashy grass’ and ‘thick oozy mud’ lends itself to interactive and fun storytime session, with children being able to act out the story as they go along. Reading is meant to be fun and this book certainly is that.

‘Must Reads’ for A-Level Students

This blog comes from Lauren, a student who was with us recently for work experience.

A-Levels are hard. On top of the abundance of essays, exams and coursework deadlines, there is also the expectation that one is well read. This can sometimes feel like a heavy weight to hold on your shoulders. However, reading for pleasure is easy if reading is made pleasurable. This short list of modern classics is aimed to enrich you with intellectual ideas that will hopefully compliment your studies and entertain all those looking for a good read throughout the summer.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Lauren A ThousandCalling all fans of The Kite Runner! Khaled Hosseini’s second novel provides the perfect counterpart to his debut, again focusing in on the social and ethnic rivalries within a modern war-torn country. The story follows two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam, whose lives are thrust together by conflict, loss and fate. The two soon form an unbreakable bond likening to that of sisters, enduring the hardship of Taliban rule together as a team. There is something undeniable about Hosseini’s narrative style throughout his work which makes even the most unbearable of events readable and I could honestly not put this book down. Although utterly heart-breaking, the political relevance of this novel helps further an understanding into the context surrounding fiction set in contemporary Afghanistan, providing invaluable insight into the complexities of modern Afghan society; this is especially useful to those studying The Kite Runner at A-Level. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel perhaps even more profound than The Kite Runner, one that will stay with you forever and a definite must read for all.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Lauren PerksThis brilliant book is a coming of age tale based around the challenges of the teenage years. Written as an epistolary entirely in the format of letters, the novella is set in early 1990s America and explores the themes of mental health, first love and self-discovery through the perspective of protagonist, Charlie, a socially awkward introvert. When faced with the world of first dates, mix tapes, school dances and adulthood, Charlie initially hates high school, but the story follows him on his journey of self-acceptance as he embraces his status as a ‘wallflower’ whilst himself through the help of fun-loving best friends Patrick and Sam. The film adaptation is equally as wonderful; the soundtrack features many of my all-time favourite songs, including music from The Smiths and David Bowie. This novel is beautifully written and deceivingly deep. I think it is important that young people take on board the messages within it and are encouraged to be brave, daring and sometimes a little wild.
“There comes a time when you have to see what life looks like from the dancefloor”

1984 by George Orwell

1984Written in 1949, Orwell creates a nightmarish dystopian future whereby everyone and everything is watched over by ‘Big Brother’ and controlled by its tyranny (clearly channel 4 were particularly inspired by this). This novel has had a profound effect and 1984 has now become shorthand for totalitarianism. It encapsulates the power of mass media and its ability to manipulate public opinion, the truth and even history. Great for writing about in exams and an even better conversation starter, this political thriller is truly unforgettable. Arguably one of the most thought provoking texts in modern literature, 1984 is an undeniable ‘must read’.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Lauren MatildaRoald Dahl is one of the unconditional loves in my life. His body of work is legendary and I could go on all day about how he inspired me throughout childhood etc etc… and I really don’t think we should forget this as ‘adult learners’. It’s important to take some time away from academic reading and indulge in some of Dahl’s delightfulness from time to time. Regress back to childhood with this wonderful piece of fiction about a six year old girl that we all secretly wish we could be. I certainly wish I was storming through double multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens! And I’m seventeen! The horrid Ms Trunchbull is contrasted wonderfully with the lovely Miss Honey and it is impossible not to become overly emotionally invested in Matilda’s crazy life. I encourage everyone to pour some excitement back into their lives with this magical classic.

Librarian’s Choice: Books for my holiday

This blog comes from Alison, Reader and Culture Development Manager for the library service.

I thought I would share my list of books for my holidays. I read all year round of course but holidays are my special time for really immersing myself in books. I deliberately pack light so that I can pack as many books as I can to take with me. Thank goodness for libraries – it would cost me a fortune otherwise!

I have two teenage daughters so we tend to take books that all of us will enjoy and can share between us, as the reading habit is strong in my family.

Ali The OneThe One by John Marrs

This first one is a cheat really, I have read this recently but I am taking it so my children can read it. I loved it so much that I read it in two sittings, staying up into the small wee hours of the night because I couldn’t put it down.

How far would you go to find ‘the one’? One simple mouth swab is all it takes. One tiny DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people take the test. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others.

Ali Call me by your nameCall me by your name by Andre Aciman

I actually read this some time ago but am going to re-read it again this summer as it is due out as a film later this year and I want to refresh my memory before I  see the film.

Call me by your name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blooms between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s house guest, Oliver, during a restless summer on the Italian Riviera. What grows from the depths of their souls is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration, and an experience that marks them for a lifetime.

Ali EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This is another book to be made into a film this year. I am a great believer in reading the book before the film comes out as the book is usually (but not always) better than the film. I want to imagine the characters in a book my own way before a director gives me their version.

Madeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her 17 years. But when Olly moves in next door, and wants to talk to Maddie, tiny holes start to appear in the protective bubble her mother has built around her. Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper, shows it at her window, and suddenly, a door opens. But does Maddie dare to step outside her comfort zone? Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

Ali Eleanor OliphantEleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman

I actually should have already read this one too, but I brought it home recently and my daughter pounced on it before I could get my hands on it, saying “ooh, this looks interesting!” She has now finished it and assures me that it is brilliant so I look forward to reading it on my sunbed.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Ali SummerSummer of Impossible things by Rowan Coleman

I had the good luck of meeting Rowan at an event recently where she was talking about this book. I enjoyed the Time Traveller’s Wife back in the day, so I am looking forward to Rowan’s take on time travel in this novel.

If you could change the past, would you? 30 years ago, something terrible happened to Luna’s mother. Something she’s only prepared to reveal after her death. Now Luna and her sister have a chance to go back to their mother’s birthplace and settle her affairs. But in Brooklyn they find more questions than answers, until something impossible – magical – happens to Luna, and she meets her mother as a young woman back in the summer of 1977. At first Luna’s thinks she’s going crazy, but if she can truly travel back in time, she can change things. But in doing anything – everything – to save her mother’s life, will she have to sacrifice her own?

Ali Broken SkyBroken Sky by Lee Weatherly

This was the winner of the 14-16 age group in the Leeds Book Awards this year and I have wanted to read it ever since but have not managed to get round to it.

Amity is a teen pilot, battling in one-on-one combat to maintain peace in a world where war has been replaced by dogfights. But when Amity discovers the organisation she works for is corrupt, she begins to question everything. In this society of double agents, suspicion and betrayal, nobody is quite what they seem – including Amity’s first love.

Ali NevernightNevernight by Jay Kristoff

My mum and sister are avid science fiction readers but I have never quite got into the habit even though I enjoy science fiction films. This book has been recommended by a couple of people so I am going to give it a go to see if it will start me in a new direction in reading.

Mia Corvere is only 10 years old when she is given her first lesson in death. Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world. But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya. Inside the Church’s halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult. The Church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student.

That is by far not the whole list, but some holiday choices also have to be down to serendipity. For that I will peruse the library shelf on my last day at work.