Librarian’s Bookshelf

This blog is from Stu, a community librarian in the east of the city.

Stu's Bookshelf

If you ask most people who work in libraries what they love most about the job, or why they came to it in the first place, they can probably answer in a single word: books. I’m no different. I learned to read before I even went to school and have been a total bookworm ever since; I studied English Language and Literature at A-level, then English and American Literature at University. I have literally thousands of books in my house – more than some of the smallest branch libraries in Leeds – and love to read widely around a whole variety of subjects. Above is a snapshot of a random bookshelf of fiction in my house. Right now, I’m going to give you a guided tour of some of my favourite things on it:

The Poems of Emily Bronte: you can see the Haworth moors from the window of the house I grew up in, and I spent a lot of my childhood on my aunty’s bleak hilltop farm with the wind rattling the rooftop and snow piled as high as the windows in winter, so I’ve always had an affinity for the Bronte sisters. Emily in particular is my favourite, and this is a fantastic collection of all her best poems. It’s a little stilted by the standards of today – bound as it is by the poetic conventions of Victorian England – but there’s no doubting the power of the language, and the way she evokes the beauty of the harsh Northern landscape is utterly sublime.

Stu Ask the DustAsk the Dust by John Fante: Bukowski fans, walk this way…..He’s not a particularly well-known name, but John Fante was Bukowski’s hero, and his nihilistic brand of downbeat LA tales – mostly featuring the semi-autobiographical protagonist Arturo Bandini – were also a great influence on Bret Easton Ellis. This is the tale of an aspiring screenwriter, down on his luck in the early years of Holloywood, and, like the best of Buk, it’s pathetic, tragic and hilarious in equal measure. Ask the Dust is also notable as it contains one of my favourite lines in all American literature – “It was a great problem, requiring immediate attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed.” Most of Fante’s stuff is excellent, but this really is a high point. For the dedicated searcher, Chump Change by Dan Fante, his son, is another overlooked classic.

Hell by Dante: otherwise known as Inferno, this particular translation of part 1 of Dante’s Divine Comedy is by Dorothy L. Sayers, who’s far more widely known for her crime writing. I’ve read a few different translations of Dante but this is my favourite by far as it retains the playfulness and bawdy humour of the original, which can be lost in some of the more po-faced translations of earlier years. For a book about a journey through Satan’s underworld, it’s a lot funnier than you’d expect it to be, although it goes without saying that it’s pretty harrowing too.

The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett: Beckett was a literary colossus who wrote plays, poems, short stories and novels in both English and French, and excelled at every form he tried. This collection contains his entire dramatic output, from more famous plays such as Waiting For Godot and Endgame to more experimental works like Breath. My personal favourite is Krapp’s Last Tape, in which an old recluse looks back over his life by having a dialogue with his younger self, via listening and then responding to audio diaries he’s recorded over the years. There’s an amazingly powerful production of this starring an ageing Harold Pinter – Beckett’s most famous disciple – available online.

Stu GravitysGravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon: how the hell this guy hasn’t won the Nobel Prize for Literature is an absolute mystery for me. A man of singular vision, and possibly the greatest prose technician in the English language since James Joyce, his oeuvre is absolutely unique and nigh-on impossible to describe. For this gargantuan, head-frying classic, try reimagining Moby Dick as a World War Two espionage thriller, written in the style of Ulysses. On acid.

Stu TortureTorture Garden by Octave Mirbeau: words fail me when trying to describe this oddity from 1898, so here’s what Phil Baker of The Sunday Times had to say about it: “This hideously decadent fin-de-siècle novel by the French anarchist Mirbeau has become an underground classic. A cynical first half exposes the rottenness of politics, commerce and the petit-bourgeois; in the second half, our totally corrupt narrator travels to China and meets the extraordinary Clara. She shows him the Torture Garden, a place of exotic flowers and baroque sadism. There are satirical and allegorical dimensions, but it remains irreducibly horrible…..” Well worth a look if you want something totally left-field, but it’s not for the faint of heart!

Stu Malcolm xThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley: this is a stellar bit of biographical writing and is essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in 20th Century American history or the history of the Civil Rights movement in general. This works best when read immediately before or after The Autobiography of Doctor Martin Luther King, which is sadly absent from this shelf as some miscreant absconded with my copy a few years back. It’s fascinating to look at them side by side so you can see two completely differing solutions to the same problem.

Stu RainRain On the River by Jim Dodge: this little gem is, alongside The Complete Poems Of Raymond Carver, my favourite book of poetry, and it’s so well-thumbed that it’s starting to fall apart. I can’t think of any other poet who has brings such beautiful clarity to his images with such economy of language, and he gets right to the heart of what he wants to say every single time. “Naked beyond skin/we lift our palms to the moon/our bodies trembling like the limbs of a tree/a heartbeat after the bird has flown.” Unbelievable stuff.

Stu War and PeaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: some books are canonical for a reason. You know all those lists you see where they claim to show the greatest novels ever written, and this is always top? They’re absolutely right.

All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky: like most people, I discovered her when Suite Francaise was rediscovered and republished in 2004, over sixty years after the author’s death at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz. Since then, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on of hers that’s been translated into English. This is a typically sharp bourgeois tragedy about a man in love with a girl considered beneath him by his wealthy, snobbish and tyrannical family. As with all her work, the characters are beautifully and perceptively drawn, the story told in crystalline detail and the prose is exquisite.

And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave: it was perhaps inevitable that a man who so renowned for his lyrical skills should turn his hand to fiction, and this is his brilliant first foray into it from way back in 1989. For anyone familiar with his music – especially the stuff from the 80s – this is pretty much what you’d expect, that is to say, a hefty slice of dense Southern Gothic, with the ghosts of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor haunting every page. As you’d expect from him, it’s full of blood and guts, devils, demons, hellfire and the wrath of a vengeful God, but it’s savagely funny to boot. A deserved underground classic.

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Young Adult Favourites

This blog post comes from Caitlin, a 15 year old student from Cardinal Heenan school who has been working at Central Library on work experience over the last couple of weeks. Here are some of her recommendations:-

Caitlin Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by Sevens is one of my favourite teenage fiction books. It is about a young girl who loses both parents at the same time to a car accident. The young girl is far from stupid and doesn’t seem to let things like being judged for being unique to faze her, but the accident does. It portrays a good example of trying to move on from heartache and that if people are there to help don’t seclude yourself from them, open up to them because they only want to help. It also shows the struggles of carrying on through hard situations and the fact that even though you think you may be stuck, there is always a way to pull yourself back up again.

Caitling Violet WingsViolet Wings by Victoria Hanley

Violet Wings was my favourite book as a ten year old, a book about fairies, magic and wings, this was my ten year old dream after watching Barbie movies constantly. It is a book about a seemingly weak girl called Zaria, who after discovering her magical powers as a faery is faced with unspoken powers and evil people after her at every turn. In an attempt to help a human boy find his father, Zaria is faced with uncountable troubles. This book is full of excitement and intensity and made me see that power isn’t everything. It teaches near teens girls that truth is absolute and that you can do anything if you believe in yourself and the people around you.

Caitlin LimitLimit by Keiko Suenobu

This manga though less well known in the younger generation is a really good manga with a gripping and intense plot. After a group of school pupils are involved in an over the Cliffside bus accident, a small number are left behind and the less popular begin to show their true colours. Forced under a kind of leadership, Konno has to learn how to survive and keep her wits about her or her life could be taken by a satanic classmate. This book is very gripping and had me on my feet wondering if anyone was going to be killed. It shows you how to cope in an unexpected situation and that you must be able to survive because only the strongest do.

Caitlin Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights is a book about life, death and above all love. Catherine who is in love with Heathcliff is forced with another man against her will, this leads to saddening events and tragedies. A story, the epitome of how strong ones love for another can be and that pulling this meant to be love apart is tragic, a bit like Romeo and Juliet. This book had me crying for which reason is still unsure to me, is it the gripping love story, the tragic ending or the message behind it all- loved ones can’t stay forever.

Caitlin Carry OnCarry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On is a wonderful story of two boys falling in love. Simon and Baz are kind of enemies but secretly they both don’t think that is true. In a world of magic, is it ok for a vampire and human to be in love? In this coming of age book about diverse love, it made me really happy how accepting we are as a community nowadays. The book was really well written and had an intense plot and it was very gripping. Overall it had me very in depth with the storyline and hoping that what happened was best for the characters.

Health Information Week – Mood Boosting Books

There is strong evidence that self-help reading can help people with common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, sometimes on its own or with other forms of treatment.

In a report commissioned by GALAXY® chocolate on behalf of the Reading Agency’s Quick Reads initiative, which produces short books by well-known authors for busy people and less confident readers, it is revealed that regular reading has the unique ability to empower us to embark on positive journeys in life, connect us with others and make us feel happier in our own skin.

The Reading Agency have lists of books recommended for their mood boosting effect, and last year’s list, chosen by readers groups can be found in full here, http://reading-well.org.uk/books/mood-boosting-books/chosen-by-reading-groups-2016

Here are some of their recommendations and ours from our catalogue:-

HIWF ReadersThe readers of Broken Wheel recommend by Katarina Bivald

Sara has never left Sweden but at the age of 28 she decides it’s time. She cashes in her savings, packs a suitcase full of books and sets off for Broken Wheel, Iowa, a town where she knows nobody. Sara quickly realises that Broken Wheel is in desperate need of some adventure, a dose of self-help and perhaps a little romance, too. In short, this is a town in need of a bookshop. With a little help from the locals, Sara sets up Broken Wheel’s first bookstore. The shop might be a little quirky but then again, so is Sara.

HIWF DannyGoing to sea in a sieve: the autobiography by Danny Baker

Danny Baker was born in Deptford, South East London in June 1957, and from an early age was involved in magazine journalism, with the founding of fanzine ‘Sniffin’ Glue’, alongside friend Mark Perry. This is a biography of his life and career in television and radio.

HIWF FrankThe extraordinary life of Frank Derrick, age 81 by Bob Jim

Frank Derrick is 81 … and he’s just been run over by a milk float. It was tough enough to fill the hours of the day when he was active, but now he’s broken his arm and fractured his foot, it looks set to be a very long few weeks ahead. He watches DVDs, spends his money frivolously at the local charity shop and desperately tries to avoid the cold callers knocking on his door. Emailing his daughter in America on the library computer and visiting his friend Smelly John used to be the highlights of his week. Now he can’t even do that. Then a breath of fresh air comes into his life in the form of Kelly Christmas, home help. With her little blue car and appalling parking, her cheerful resilience and ability to laugh at his jokes, Kelly changes Frank’s life.

HIWF WonderWonder by R. J. Palacio

 ‘Wonder’ is the funny, sweet and incredibly moving story of Auggie Pullman. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, this shy, bright ten-year-old has been home-schooled by his parents for his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the stares and cruelty of the outside world.

HIWF HumansThe humans by Matt Haig

Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears. When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog. Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder?

HIWF RosieThe Rosie project by Graeme Simsion

Meet Don Tillman. Don is getting married. He just doesn’t know who to yet. But he has designed a very detailed questionnaire to help him find the perfect woman. One thing he already knows, though, is that it’s not Rosie. Absolutely, completely, definitely not.

 

Librarian’s Choice: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

This blog comes from Ross, a Librarian Manager based in Local and Family History at Centeral Library.

Darken your summer with a little ‘gloomth’!

I like to imagine Horace Walpole as the Tim Burton of the eighteenth century. An author and art expert, he was obsessed with an aesthetic he called ‘gloomth’ – a mixture of gothic doom and mouldy bliss which, while fanciful, he approached with intelligence and a certain sense of mischief. Embracing gloomth with the kind of fervour today’s librarians reserve for hygge, he spent his early twenties swooning around the ruined cathedrals of Europe, before coming back with a truckload of cobwebby trinkets in 1741 to regale dinner guests with tales of castles and curses, probably on the darkest and stormiest of nights.

His infatuation with gloomth eventually inspired him to design the outrageous but stunning Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham in 1749, which is part English villa, part Hammer horror, and all Horace Walpole. The idea of someone remodelling a country home on a literary whim might not go down too well in these austere times (especially if that someone were the son of a Prime Minister, as Walpole was) but he at least had the artistic integrity to follow up his folly with a really good book – one that was published on Christmas Eve in 1764. (He wasn’t one for doing things by halves.)

Gothic The castle of OtrantoThe book was The Castle of Otranto, and Walpole went the full ‘found footage’ route by pretending it was a translation of a manuscript discovered in ‘the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England’. Not only that, but it was purportedly originally based on a story traced back to Italy in the High Middle Ages. Whether the ruse was designed to whip up maximum interest from the gloomth community – or simply give Walpole something to hide behind if the book was a critical disaster – isn’t entirely clear but, in any case, Otranto was deservedly well received, and Walpole was happy to take full credit as the author of the second edition.

Truth is, he’d actually dreamt up the basis of the novel at Strawberry Hill, during a nightmare he experienced involving a giant armoured fist and a spooky staircase. In The Castle of Otranto, this translates into the surreal scene that starts the story, where an enormous helmet inexplicably falls from the sky, crushing the son and heir of the main character, Prince Manfred. It’s also the moment at which you’ll probably become gripped if you decide to read the book yourself. From this point on, the plot descends into a tangle of family secrets, manifested by the actual labyrinths Manfred’s relatives and servants spend the book blundering into – from the dark catacombs beneath the castle, to the deadly network of caves beyond its walls. There are murders (some accidental); there is madness (lots of madness); and, looming in the background throughout, the monstrous owner of the giant armour threatens to make an appearance of its own…

The text is a little dense, and Walpole packs more secret passages and moving portraits into one paragraph than J.K. Rowling manages in an entire term at Hogwarts, but otherwise this is a refreshing read, with a lightness of style that contrasts humorously with the ominous trappings. This being the very first gothic horror novel, you’re also never safe from a shiver of true fear… Mario Praz explains the sensation perfectly in his introduction to the edition I borrowed from Armley Library: ‘what begins as an arabesque, in time breeds teeth and nails, and after having pleasurably tickled this skin, gnaws through the very vitals’ (from Three Gothic Novels, Penguin Classics, 2006).

It’s a disconcerting description of a novel inspired by a dream inspired by a house – and about the warmest invitation you’ll ever receive into the velvety, vicious world of gloomth.

If this has whetted your appetite for Gothic fiction try some of these other classics from our catalogue:-

Gothic The MonkThe Monk: a romance by M.G. Lewis

Ambrosio, a pious monk, finds himself drawn to his pupil, Matilda, a young woman in disguise. Unable to control himself, he sates his lust, and soon tires of her. But Matilda has more than her body to offer. As his desperate acts become more and more depraved, it becomes clear that Matilda is not everything she seems.

Gothic Mysteries of UdolphoThe mysteries of Udolpho: a romance by Ann Radcliffe

With The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe raised the Gothic romance to a new level and inspired a long line of imitators. Portraying her heroine’s inner life, creating a thick atmosphere of fear, and providing a gripping plot that continues to thrill readers today, The Mysteries of Udolpho is the story of orphan Emily St. Aubert, who finds herself separated from the man she loves and confined within the medieval castle of her aunt’s new husband, Montoni. Inside the castle, she must cope with an unwanted suitor, Montoni’s threats, and the wild imaginings and terrors that threaten to overwhelm her.

 

Gothic The Fall of the house of usherThe fall of the House of Usher and other stories by Edgar Allan Poe

The eerie tales of Edgar Allan Poe remain among the most brilliant and influential works in American literature. Some of the celebrated tales contained in this unique volume include: the world’s first two detective stories — “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”; and three stories sure to make a reader’s hair stand on end — “The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”.

Gothic DraculaDracula By Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker’s novel became one of the masterpieces of the horror genre, brilliantly evoking a world of vampires and vampire hunters whilst simultaneously exposing the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and frustrated desire.

 

 

Finnish Books

The Finnish Institute in London is celebrating the centenary of Finland’s independence by highlighting the importance of literacy, literature and libraries. ‘10×10 Stories from Finland’ campaign has collected 100 books written by Finnish authors, translated into English, in cooperation with British publishing houses. The books are being donated to 10 different libraries around the UK during 2017.
Leeds Central Library was delighted to be part of this campaign and to be selected to receive 10 books. These books are now available for loan in our Lending Library.

 

A HAPPY LITTLE ISLAND cover final.inddA Happy Little Island by Lars Sund

Lars Sund is a Finnish writer from the Swedish speaking town of Jakobstad. He has written 8 novels and ‘A Happy Little Island’ is the first book translated into English. A scribe shapes the world into an island which he names Fagero, and populated it with an assortment of characters. The people of Fagero were often divided against each other but united in their appreciation of their happy little island. Then the dead bodies began to arrive, washing ashore with no identification and no one to claim them. Fagero’s inhabitants are forced to confront the truth that, even on their remote island, the world’s horrors and injustices could not be ignored.

Finnish Summer BookThe Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson is best known for her Moomin stories which were first published in English over 60 years ago. Jansson then produced a dozen novels for adults including the Summer Book which was a best seller in Finland. An elderly artist and her six year old granddaughter spend the summer together, on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland, their solitude disturbed only by migrating birds, sudden storms and an occasional passing boat. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, foibles and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that engulfs not only the summer inhabitants, but the very island itself. Tove Jansson writes with a special toughness, and with a quiet, dry sense of humour, about a small girl and her grandmother, who as kindred spirits share the long days together.

Finnish Daisy DarlingDaisy Darling, Lets read a Story by Markus Majaluoma

The collection of 10 stories also includes this children’s book by award winning children’s author Markus Majaluoma.
At the end of the day, a story is calming for children and adults alike. Daisy and Daddy start by choosing a book. What should they read? Where does the tale lead them? Daisy has her own favorite, and a wonderful journey begins.

Finnish One EveningOne evening in October I rowed out on the lake by Tua Forsström

Tua Forsström is a visionary Finland-Swedish poet who has become Finland’s most celebrated contemporary poet. Her poetry draws its sonorous and plangent music from the landscapes of Finland, seeking harmony between the troubled human heart and the threatened natural world.

 

Finnish CompartmentThe Compartment No. 6 by Rosa Liksom

A sad young woman boards a train in Moscow. Bound for Mongolia, she’s trying to leave a broken relationship as far behind her as she can. Wanting to be alone, she chooses an empty compartment – no. 6. Her solitude is soon shattered by the arrival of a fellow passenger: Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov, a grizzled, opinionated and foul-mouthed ex-soldier. Vadim fills the compartment with his long and colourful stories, recounting his sexual conquests and violent fights in lurid detail.

Finnish IceIce by Ulla-Lena Lundberg

In the summer of 1947, a young priest, Petter, his wife and baby daughter, arrive by mail boat on a tiny island. They are to take over a drafty homestead from where Petter is to minister to the scattered community. In this evocative tale, we are drawn into the minutiae of an austere yet purposeful life where the demands of self-sufficiency – cows to milk and sheep to graze – are tempered by the kindness of neighbours. With each season, the family’s love of the island grows and when the winter brings ice, a new and tentative link is created.

Finnish BicyclingBicycling to the moon by Timo Parvela

Purdy the cat and Barker the dog live together in a sky-blue house on top of a hill. Barker likes to potter in the garden. But Purdy has big dreams. One day Purdy decides that if he could just get a bicycle and ride it to the moon, he will come back the happiest cat in the world, and never want anything else again.

Finnish Winter WarThe Winter War by Philip Teir

On the surface, the Paul family are living the liberal, middle-class Scandinavian dream. Max Paul is a renowned sociologist and his wife Katriina has a well-paid job in the public sector. They live in an airy apartment in the centre of Helsinki. But look closer and the cracks start to show. As he approaches his 60th birthday, the certainties of Max’s life begin to dissolve. He hasn’t produced any work of note for decades. His wife no longer loves him. His grown-up daughters – one in London, one in Helsinki – have problems of their own. So when a former student turned journalist shows up and offers him a seductive lifeline, Max starts down a dangerous path from which he may never find a way back.

Finnish The MineThe Mine by Antti Tuomainen

In the dead of winter investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in rural Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life.

Kalevala

Among the collection is a copy of the country’s beloved book Kalevala, a collection of epic poetry and one of Finland’s most culturally significant texts.
Compiled in the 19th Century, Kalevala explores the traditional Finnish creation myth, including the fantastic story of the Earth being created from the shards of a duck egg and a string of fantastical quests and adventures. It grew out of a rich oral tradition with prehistoric roots. The poetry was brought together in the 1840s by the Finnish scholar Elias Lönnrot. Published in 1849, it played a central role in the march towards Finnish independence and inspired some of Sibelius’s greatest works.

 

 

Librarian’s Choice: Gripped from the start

This blog is from Louise a library assistant working in Morley Library.

Something that often comes up between us readers are our reading style or habits. On the counter I love to hear about when and where people read. Right before bed, only on the bus, over a lazy breakfast or in the evenings instead of the television. For others it is only ever on holiday or any moment snatched to oneself, in the middle of a crowded break room, or the middle of the night while the rest of the house breathes gently.

It would also seem that there are two distinct camps of readers, those who will diligently finish anything they begin, no matter how terrible and arduous, the sense of completion perhaps being the biggest reward and those who try on novels like dresses, knowing before the left arm is fully in whether or not this will be a keeper.
I am definitely in the latter. Two pages in and I want to be swept away, I have to have that complete immersion to invest my time in the world in between those pages.

In this way you kiss a lot of frogs, start out on a lot of journeys, sometimes go a little while without really getting anywhere but I feel strongly that reading is a passionate pursuit that requires total belief in the voice of the author.

Three such stories that I stumbled upon recently are:

Louise EncirclingEncircling by Carl Frode Tiller

David has lost his memory, a newspaper advert invites his friends and families to write in with stories, memories of their own to help him remember who he is. Those who respond begin to talk about David, about his family but most urgently themselves, very subtly the whole community is painted into the narrative. Set in rural Norway, with an absolute dynasty of characters, this is the beginning of a trilogy that spans generations and has enough room and depth to show the complexity of our relationships with others and with ourselves. With such a range of voices, Tiller has given us the chance to really explore what makes a story from every perspective.
Despite its scale this reads like a dream, these characters became my family for a time. Book Two is also available to borrow and Book Three is in the pipeline for translation in the near future.

Louise Post Office GirlThe Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

Set in Austria at the end of World War 1, a country utterly wracked with financial ruin, Christine works without cease in her lonely role in a post office. Just about getting by, every day the same, following mechanical routines, she is unaware of the scale of her unhappiness until one day she receives a surprise invitation from her wealthy American Aunt to join them in a Swiss resort.

Arriving at the fashionable Hotel with her simple garments mended, and luggage borrowed she is struck with awe and a burning sense of shame at her poverty. As in the fairytale Cinderella she is transformed becoming for the first time truly aware of a sense of herself, surrounded by wealth, beauty, freedom, frivolity, she blossoms into the society around her. Then without warning she is sent away, back to her old life. Left with only dreams of the life she has been allowed to glimpse.

This novel is completely astonishing, so very moving, and timeless in it’s messages of futility and hope.

louise Plot 29PLOT 29 by Allan Jenkins

Part garden diary, part memoir, Allan Jenkins (Journalist and Editor of Observer Food Monthly) shares with us a year in the life of his allotment, the beautiful details of sowing seeds, tending young plants, making good the soil and at times hacking it all back and starting again. He starts to unfold the story of his beginnings, rescued from his mother and placed in a Banardos children home, his brother Christopher who has always needed protection, and their new life with a brand new mum and dad. Plot 29 begins as a place to expand, to grow more and becomes a place of stability and healing.

‘When I am disturbed, even angry, gardening has been a therapy. When I don’t want to talk I turn to Plot 29, or to a wilder piece of land by a northern sea. There, among seeds and trees, my breathing slows; my heart rate too. My anxieties slip away.’

As Allan digs deeper into his past, sends away for care records, gets nearer to the haunting truth of the the violence lurking in his past, his commitment to his Plot becomes what keeps him upright and able to move forward.

If you are a gardener or grower you will love the simple, enriching day to day description of life on Plot 29, the power of earth and seeds and of hard work to heal. Theres a real, brave, unflinching story here too, of identity, of family, of what makes us who we are, and what we become.

Celebrating Helen Dunmore

We are so sad to hear that poet, novelist and children’s author Helen Dunmore, died of cancer yesterday (5th June), aged 64.

Helen’s fiction in particular was a firm favourite with our readers which her publisher, Penguin Random House characterised as “rich and intricate, yet narrated with a deceptive simplicity that made all her writing accessible and heartfelt”. Dunmore’s writing stood out for the “fluidity and lyricism of her prose, and how well constructed all her narratives were”.

Penguin Random House, which published Dunmore for over two decades, said it was “devastated by the loss of one of our best-loved authors”. A spokesperson said she had been “an inspirational and generous author, championing emerging voices and other established authors” as well as “a very dear friend” to many at the company and the wider literary community.

Here are a few of our favourite books from our catalogue.

Dunmore The LieThe Lie

Cornwall, 1920, early spring. A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family. Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life. Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him. He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?

Dunmore Birdcage WalkBirdcage Walk

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzy Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the 200ft drop of the Gorge come under threat.

Dunmore The GreatcoatThe Greatcoat

In the winter of 1952, newly wed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. One cold night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on her bed for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in.

Dunmore ExposureExposure

London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets. When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested. His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall. She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty.

Dunmore The BetrayalThe Betrayal

Leningrad in 1952: a city recovering from war, where Andrei, a young hospital doctor and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together. Summers at the dacha, preparations for the hospital ball, work and the care of sixteen year old Kolya fill their minds. They try hard to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but even so their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and the Ministry for State Security has new targets in its sights. When Andrei has to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, Volkov, he finds himself and his family caught in an impossible game of life and death – for in a land ruled by whispers and watchfulness, betrayal can come from those closest to you.

Dunmore IngoIngo

In this magical adventure, storyteller Helen Dunmore writes the story of Sapphire and her brother Conor, and their discovery of Ingo, a powerful and exciting world under the sea.

Dunmore StormsweptStormswept

Morveren lives with her parents and twin sister Jenna on an island off the coast of Cornwall – an island that in the long distant past was devastated by a tidal wave. Only some of those taken by the sea may not have been lost at all. Morveren’s life changes when she finds a beautiful teenage boy in a rock pool after a storm.