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.

Librarian’s Choice: Cat Books

This blog comes from Julia, a community librarian based in the south of the city.

Cats. Beautiful, noble, fascinating, independent and enigmatic. Domesticated around 4000 years ago, they now rank highly amongst our most popular pets. Cats are everywhere, having taken social media and YouTube by storm and the word on the street is that Leeds is to get its own Cat Café later this year! It seems appropriate and timely, then, to have a look at just a few of the fabulous felines who feature as favourites in our selection of fiction (and non-fiction) for all ages. Of course, I’m mindful that in writing this blog, I may be perpetuating the ‘cat lady’ Librarian stereotype but, as those who know me will testify, I AM a ‘cat lady’ Librarian, so here goes!

The association of cats and libraries is not a modern phenomenon: apparently, cats were used in the libraries of Egyptian temples and in medieval monasteries to safeguard precious manuscripts, by keeping rodents at bay! One of the most famous library cats of more recent times was Dewey, who lived at the Spencer Public Library, Iowa, USA, having been abandoned there as a kitten, so the first book on my list is:

Julia DeweyDewey’s nine lives: the legacy of the small-town library cat who inspired millions by Vicki Myron

In addition to the story of Dewey himself, Librarian, Vicki Myron, shares a selection of other true-life tales of incredible cats and the people whose lives they enriched. These heart-warming and uplifting stories capture the amazing ability of animals to touch and enrich human lives.

julia street catA street cat named Bob by James Bowen

Another famous feline (now a movie star, no less!) to be found lurking in the non-fiction is Street Cat Bob. Homeless and in dire streets, Bob arrives on the doorstep of James, a busker and former drug-addict who has recently moved from the streets to supported housing, in London. And so begins an incredible friendship, as James gives Bob a home; but that small act of kindness has the most amazing repercussions for both their lives! The incredible story of the amazing relationship enjoyed by the pair has generated a series of inspiring books beginning with this one.

julia guest catThe Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Over on the fiction shelves, The Guest Cat is a beautiful little book (140 pages) recommended to me by a cat-loving friend. The cover alone is a delight to behold, the captivating cat’s eyes conveying something of the enigmatic, other-worldliness of the tale within. The writer is a poet, which is most evident in the gentle, graceful prose. As with the true-stories, this book also explores the unique and incredible impact that interaction with a cat can have on human lives. Cats are ‘free spirits’ and this one is no exception, subtly inviting herself into the home of a couple living in a quiet part of Tokyo, despite having a home of her own! As the visits become more frequent, the couple find themselves increasingly affected by their little guest.

Julia molly cat cafeMolly and the cat café by Melissa Daley

If you’re interested in the growing popularity of cat cafés in the UK, you might enjoy this lovely story told from the viewpoint of two-year-old tabby, Molly, who finds herself rehomed in a house with three cat-hating dogs, after her first owner becomes ill. Desperately unhappy, Molly runs away and so begins her journey through the streets as she searches for her forever home. A delightful, easy read, there are tears and laughter along the way and beautifully imaginative descriptions of feline ways!

julia cat cafeThe home-made cat café by Katrina Charman

Continuing the cat café theme, this book is the first in series of stories written especially for children (9 years+). Isla is desperate for a cat, but although her mum works as a nurse for a local vet, Isla is not allowed a pet of her own, so she must make do with visiting the animals at the vetinary surgery. She is particularly fond of a homeless cat, she sees there, so when Isla’s lonely grandmother comes to stay with the family for the summer, Isla has an idea …and then the idea just snowballs! Immediately engaging with fun characters and cute illustrations, this book will purr-fectly appeal to children who love animals.

julia paractical catsOld Possum’s book of practical cats by T.S. Eliot

This collection of delightful cat poems, takes me back to my own school days when my recitation of ‘Macavity the Mystery Cat’ earned me a prize in the High School Reading Aloud competition! Eliot originally wrote the poems in the 1930s to amuse his godchildren and friends; then in the 1980s they were adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his West End musical, Cats! These colourful characters created and so exquisitely described by T S Eliot are utterly captivating. Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, Old Deuteronomy, Mr. Mistoffelees… each cat has his/her own fascinating story which will delight readers of all ages. These all-time literary favourites are available from Leeds Libraries in a variety of publications.

julia adolphus tipsThe amazing story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo

One of Britain’s best loved story-tellers, Michael Morpurgo is well known for a whole host of children’s books, many of which feature animals among the central characters. The main part of this story is set during the Second World War, the impact of which, on a family and community, is explored through the diaries of schoolgirl, Lily Tregenza. Lily has a cat called Tips whom she loves ‘more than anyone or anything’ but just as the family and their neighbours face evacuation from their homes, Tips goes missing. A tear-jerking, heart-warming tale of love and friendship, with a brilliant surprise ending, The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is recommended for children aged 9 years and above.

julia mogMog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

Mog, the loveable family pet, around whom Judith Kerr created a whole series of books, was a firm favourite in our household when our children were young. And these charming, timeless stories with gentle humour and beautiful illustrations are just as enjoyable today. Mog’s comical antics are based on Judith’s observations of her own cats and the series of engaging stories takes us on a journey through Mog’s life with her loving family (tissues at the ready for the final instalment!) Whether you’re meeting Mog for the first time or sharing your own childhood favourite with the next generation of youngsters, this tale of the forgetful tabby who saves the day, will not disappoint.

julia i love catsI love cats by Emma Dodd

This picture book is perfect for pre-schoolers who will delight in the lyrical rhythm and abundance of adjectives as a little girl searches for her ideal pet cat. How can she possibly choose from the many and varied kitties of every shape, size and personality? Colourful pictures, giggles aplenty and a heart-warming ending make this story just right for sharing at bedtime or anytime!

julia cat in the hatThe Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss

And finally, no blog about literary cats would be complete without the instantly recognisable feline favourite from the pen of Dr Seuss. The Cat in the Hat is now 60 years old, but his unique brand of moggy mayhem and tomfoolery still has youngsters chuckling to this day. The simple rhyming words with colourful illustrations to assist understanding, encourage children to read this classic for themselves – the very purpose for which the book was written! So, hold on to your own hats as you join the mischievous cat and his crazy companions, Thing 1 and Thing 2, on their riotous adventure in the home of Sally and her brother.

Librarian’s Choice: The books that got me back into reading

This blog is from Louise, a librarian based at Central library.

I used to read, a lot. Days would be lost with my eyes tied firmly to the pages in front of me as I awaited what would happen next, early favourites included the adventurous tales of Robin Hood and the multiple ‘scrapes’ encountered by red-headed orphan Anne Shirley. Teenage years followed with a dip into the teen horror genre and Stephen King, who I found way too scary but had to read because all my friends were. As young adulthood overtook teens it was into the world of ‘chick lit’ I fell. My reading tastes continued to grow and change as I aged and there was always a book in my bag to be opened and indulged whenever the chance arose.
And then it stopped.

Something major in my life happened that pretty much stopped dead my love of literature. I became a parent. Instead of reading by lamplight my nights were spent with a fractious babe. Sometimes I could barely remember what day it was never mind where I was up to in the plot. Instead of finishing a book in a couple of days it was now taking me a couple of weeks to even get to the middle and by the time I’d gone a whole year without finishing a book I realised I’d lost the habit. To me that’s what reading always was, a good habit that brought pleasure, escapism and knowledge.

Two children and one house move later I’d had enough, I wanted reading back but it appeared I’d forgot how to become engrossed in a book once more and repeated efforts left me feeling a failure when I couldn’t get past chapter 3. And then I remembered a book that I’d read 15 years previously and still had squirrelled away in a box somewhere. True Tales of American Lives by Paul Auster. 180 stories chosen from his National Public Radio programme are the stories of everyday people living in twentieth century America. There were only 2 rules to have your story included, it must be true and you must be previously unpublished. The resulting stories cover everything from grief to romance, adventurous to the hum drum, humourous, sad and ridiculous but all of them real. The best bit, most of them were short. Some barely a page while others took up 5, the book was one that could be picked up and put down without plot lines or character getting confused. This book got me back into reading while being one of the most authentic but multi-voiced books I have ever read. Some of the stories I couldn’t remember from my first reading 15 years previous, but others were like old friends just waiting to be reacquainted.

Louise The MothIt was also talking about my love of this book that had my next read recommended to me. The Moth: This is a True Story
by Catherine Burns.  Like True Tales, The Moth gathers together a selection of stories though this time there is definitely more of a fantastical element to the tales, with accounts of space walks from astronaut Michael J. Massimino, to the American doctor spirited away by a group of nuns to the bed side of Mother Theresa. Again the stories are short but always engaging and easy to read wherever you are.

These are the two books that got me back into reading, these are the two books I would recommend to anyone and everyone, whether you are already a voracious reader or someone looking for a way into a wonderful new habit.

Here are some other short story collections to kick off your reading habit.

Lou The not deadThe not-dead and the saved and other stories by Kate Clanchy

None of us are perfect, in the way we love, age, or view the world. ‘The Not-Dead and the Saved’ offers us an opportunity for reinvention: of ourselves, those we have lost, and the world in which we live. From a man doomed to spend his life trying to find solutions to cancer; to a new mother haunted by a swaddling, tablet-eating great-aunt; to an intrepid literary agent who travels to the Yorkshire Moors to discover the next big thing, and ends up eating Anne Brontë’s rock cakes, we meet a host of characters who are desperately, creatively, and often hilariously trying to evade the underlying truths of their lives.

Lou Sweet HomeSweet home by Carys Bray

A surreal supermarket, fictional parenting books, a gingerbread house and an alternative to IVF steeped in Nordic mythology are deployed in 17 very different notions of home, as Carys Bray explores loss, disappointment, frustrated expectations and regret through dark, funny stories which strike at the heart of family life.

 

Lou The visiting privelegeThe visiting privilege: new and collected stories by Joy Williams

Joy Williams has been celebrated as a master of the short story for four decades, her renown passing as a given from one generation to the next even in the shifting landscape of contemporary writing. And at long last the incredible scope of her singular achievement is put on display: 33 stories drawn from three earlier, much lauded collections, and another 13 appearing here for the first time in book form.

Lou Those were the daysThose were the days by Terry Wogan

Welcome to the party. Pull up a chair, take your ease, and join Tom, king of the Cattle Market branch, for a bite to eat and a glass or two of wine. Come and meet his customers: many of whom have become his friends, and many more of whom haven’t. Either way they’ve some fine tales to tell. Join Tom as he reminisces about the places he’s been, the people he has met, the laughter and the tears of daily life as he made his way from humble bank clerk to the heady heights of Branch Manager. ‘Those Were the Days’ is a collection of short stories by national treasure Sir Terry Wogan, filled with his famous humour, and charm.

Lou American HousewifeAmerican housewife by Helen Ellis

Meet the women of ‘American Housewife’: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party-crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. Vicious, fresh and nutty as a poisoned Snicker, this collection is an uproarious and pointed commentary on womanhood.

Lou Single, carefreeSingle, carefree, mellow by Katherine Heiny

A tender and ruefully funny look at varieties of love, secrets, and betrayal in ten exquisite stories that form a guided tour of the human heart.

 

Librarian’s Choice – Rediscovering Science Fiction

This blog post comes from Ben, who manages our Business and Information library at Central library.

Ben Time shipsMy rediscovery of a love of Science Fiction came about last August on holiday in Majorca. The jury’s out as to whether I had heat stroke or a virus but either way I spent 48 hours dividing my time between visits to the bathroom and lying in bed. There wasn’t much else to do except read, so I finished the 2 books I’d taken with me (Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall and Alan McGee’s story of Creation Records) pretty quickly. I managed to make it to the hotel foyer where there was a shelf full of random sun-bleached paperbacks that holiday makers had abandoned. In-amongst the chick-lit and James Patterson novels there was a book that intrigued me, it was “The Time Ships” by Stephen Baxter, which the cover told me was the authorized sequel to The Time Machine by H G Wells. I hadn’t read any Science Fiction since I was a teenager, I wasn’t really expecting much but took it back to my sick bed and soon got hooked. The story takes up where The Time Machine left off. This won’t mean much if you haven’t read the original but the Time Traveller, wracked by guilt, decides to return to the year 802,701 to save Weena (a devolved human from the future that he failed to save in the first book). However when he travels into the future he discovers that this timeline is no longer accessible because he has changed history through his previous journeys through time. He then embarks on adventures in time into distant pasts and futures (and even a strange alternate World War 2 at one point), but each journey alters reality. It tied my head in knots but in a really good way.

Ben children of timeTime Ships had whetted my appetite, and the next novel I read was “Children of Time” by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The last survivors of the human race leave the dying Earth, desperate to find a new home. Thousands are in suspended animation aboard a colossal ship, in hibernation until they find a habitable planet, heading for a world that was terraformed by humans long ago. The story alternates between the humans on the space ship, who are travelling for hundreds of thousands of years, and the evolution of intelligent life on the terraformed planet. While life advances on the terraformed planet it regresses on the space ship. You sense events are building to an inevitable collision between the two civilizations and the tension is unbearable by the end of the novel. This book makes you ponder really big themes – time, evolution, religion, God – but ultimately it’s also an excellent story.

Ben HyperionA couple of weeks ago I read “Hyperion” by Dan Simmons, a book that always features in top 10 Sci-fi lists. This book is really intense, in parts it’s as much horror as Science fiction. I read it in one week, and I absolutely couldn’t put it down even though it literally gave me nightmares! The galaxy is on the brink of a massive war, and the mysterious planet of Hyperion holds secrets that both sides want to exploit. Seven pilgrims set out on an epic journey to confront the Shrike – a monstrous creature “part god part killing machine” that inhabits Hyperion. The book consists of each of the pilgrims telling their tale to the others, to explain their reason for confronting the Shrike. It’s a strange, incredibly imaginative – and at times very dark – story, but the worlds and universe that Simmons has created are rich, detailed and colourful.

All three of these massively inventive books combine gripping story-telling with an ability to instill a sense of wonder in the reader and actually make you think more about the nature of the universe.

Librarian’s Choice – Teen Reads

This blog comes from Sapphia, a librarian based in the North East of the city.

I hit a bit of a wall. I have been super busy. But I also stopped reading. I don’t like it. I am a librarian. I looked at all the beautiful books, but couldn’t quite bring myself to read any of them. So I set myself a challenge, to read teen books. I worked on the theory that they would be easier to crack on with. I forget I’m not a teenager anymore! Seriously though, generally they are great, and even though you don’t have to worry about having friends at school anymore or whether you’re home before your parents can scream at you, we still go through similar scenarios and we still suffer the anxiety and self doubt that we did as young adults. Phew it feels nice to have got through it, but it’s also good to know you did, and remember now, you are capable of even more.
And one plus point, teenage books are definitely quicker to read.

sapp-suicide-notesSuicide Notes from Beautiful Girls – Lynn Weingarten

I loved this book! It’s full of plot twists and your constantly wondering what’s going to happen next! June and Delia used to be friends. Delia is wild and out of control, June is timid and fascinated that someone like Delia would want to be friends with her. They drifted apart. Then June finds out Delia has killed herself. She has left a suicide note. June is overcome with guilt for not answering Delia’s last call. But why did she call? When Delia’s death becomes suspicious, June decides to investigate. This novel is great at highlighting the all consuming turbulence of friendship and how toxic it can be. Its hard to tell you anymore without hinting to the plot twists but the end is immense and truly gripping, I couldn’t stop reading! Give it a go. It’s a quick read but adult in content so it captivates you throughout and you can relate to the characters.

sapp-our-chemical-heartsOur Chemical Hearts – Krystal Sutherland

For lovers of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Henry Page is sensitive. Maybe too sensitive at first I won’t lie to you, you think yep this is a teen book, I won’t be able to read this. But I kept going and I got drawn in, Grace is a captivating character. Grace is the new girl at school and she’s weird. She dresses in boys clothes and has no interest in anyone. Grace and Henry are both nominated to be the editor of their school paper and this means that they have to be around each other. Henry realises that it’s not about what a girl looks like it’s who they are that makes you like them…..but Grace has got some serious issues. And you just don’t trust her. Full of teenage angst, first love and movie references, including Harry Potter and Snatch. See how the characters explore and experience grief and how it can completely take over your life. (Only if you’re a teen, we’re adults now….yer we wish.) But there are also many forms of grief.

sapp-instructionsInstructions for a Second Hand Heart – Tamsyn Murray

One of the the teen titles chosen for this years Leeds Book Awards, I chose this book for the interesting title and book cover. I like a good cover. I didn’t read the back, I just read the book. I really liked it, I had a free day and I read it in the day. Niamh constantly fights her twin brother, always living in his shadow she’s about to be experience a future completely different, one where it feels like everything has fallen apart. Jonny has been in hospital for what feels like his whole life, every day he’s kept alive by a machine and wonders if this will be the day he will die? His best friend is Em, Em has cancer. To get them through the endless days in the hospital they create an ‘unbucket’ list for all of the things they will do together when they get out. But this is a book about facing the future, no matter how scary and painful it can be, and realising that the best way to heal your heart is to share it with others, no matter how much it hurts.

sapp-the-gracesThe Graces – Laure Eve

I wasn’t as keen on this book. Recommended by Mr. B of Mr.B’s Book Emporium I thought i would give it a go. River doesn’t know if Magic really exists, but when she moves school and meets the ‘Graces’ she suddenly finds herself desperate to be a part of the group that everyone loves. A modern day Matilda, with less of the mischief and endearment and instead, teen angst and a dash of witch craft. This is one for the ‘Twilight’ series fans. I think this was why I wasn’t too keen on it, it’s full of romance and I think I was hoping for more ‘The Craft’. Thinking about it, maybe it’s good the book didn’t go there for teen readers? This being said it’s likely that if you are a teen or know one, they might love it, can we all remember how big Twilight was? FYI I’m team ‘Werewolf’.
There will be more books to follow. It could start all over again!

sapp-monster-callsA Monster Calls – Patrick Ness – Conception by Soibhan Dowd

I really loved this book! Recommended by the Zoella Book Club and with all the hype with the new film adaption I felt like this had to be on a teen reading list. It was nothing like I expected. A wild ancient Monster visits Connor, he has been expecting one from his nightmares, but this monster is quite different. As well as the monster Connor is having to deal with his mothers illness, his dad starting a new family in America, his grandma getting in the way and the school bullies he has to face every day. The Monster doesn’t care about any of these things, he is here to tell Conner 3 stories and from him in return, he wants the most dangerous thing of all, the truth. I read this book in a day. I recommend everyone to read it and remember how it felt to be a child.

sapp-girl-upGirl UP! – Laura Bates

Ok – so this isn’t a fiction book. Its a book I think is really important. I needed this book as a teenager! It would have saved me from myself, doubt and envy. Ok, not completely, but it definitely would have helped. A non- fiction book with comic illustrations this is a book for teen girls and maybe even boys, talking about everything from body issues, identity and sexuality. And do you remember all those quizzes we are all obsessed with as a teen, wanting to be allocated in the ‘best’ category or body shape? Like really how did we even let this happen? Social media suckers us in and it does influence us. As much as we wish it didn’t or try to deny it. They have us wanting to conform to something we are not.
Laura Bates has a movement. If we educate teens and our kids even earlier, they can make informed decisions, knowing the consequences. But mostly, making the choice for themselves and not giving into peer pressure or social ideals, even it’s about responding to that nude Snapchat. I vote using the snapchat stickers Laura provides, just saying.
There’s also lots of great sign posting with useful contacts and info. Again, where was this when I was a teen?

 

Librarian’s Choice – Book Group Favourites

This blog comes from Julia, a Community Librarian based in the south of the city.

If asked about my taste in fiction, my answer would have to be ‘eclectic’, as some of my favourite reads are from completely diverse genres.  And that’s one of the reasons why I love being part of Leeds Libraries’ readers’ groups which give me the opportunity to read books that otherwise I probably wouldn’t select …only to discover some terrific stories. (Never judge a book by its cover!) Here are just some of the novels that I’ve enjoyed at Book Clubs and would recommend that you try:

julia-burial-ritesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent:

A debut novel, inspired by a true story, Burial Rites is set in Iceland in 1829 and tells the tale of Agnes, accused of a brutal murder and billeted with a family at a bleak, remote farm over winter, to await execution.  Well written and atmospheric, the story is compelling and the central characters described in detail.  The exploration of various relationships develops into a strong examination of the effect of the State forcing a family to accept a prisoner living amongst them and the turmoil of emotions which this brings.

julia-little-strangerThe Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

A ghost story – or is it? It’s up to you to decide!  This gothic novel is set at the end of the Second World War, when the NHS is just being established, the class system is changing and big old houses such as the one featured, are falling into disrepair, abandoned in the drive for modernity.  The protagonist is a young doctor whose mother had once worked at the house and who remembers the family’s halcyon days.  However, there are some spooky goings on; or are they just imagined by the various damaged individuals who live at or visit the property?

julia-guernsey-literaryThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Charming, funny, engaging, tear-jerking, heart-warming…. I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to descriptive words for one of my very favourite reads, which even features its own readers’ group within its plot!  It’s a story set at the end of World War Two, told through a series of letters exchanged between writer, Juliet Ashton and her friends and colleagues.  But when she receives a letter from a stranger who lives in Guernsey, little does she know that her life is about to change forever.

julia-place-of-executionA Place of Execution by Val McDermid

A real ‘page turner’ which gripped me from the word go and kept me captivated until the very end.  Fantastic crime fiction but with hint of realism as the story unfolds against the backdrop of the true crimes of moors murderers, Brady and Hindley.  A 13 year old girl, Alison Carter, has gone missing from the small, close-knit northern village of Scarsdale and DCI George Bennett steps up to lead the investigation.

julia-the-earth-humsThe Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan

Interesting and easy to read, this story is set during the 1950’s in a small Welsh town where everyone knows everyone else’s business!  The protagonist is 12-year-old Gwenni Morgan, the ‘voice’ of the book, through whose innocent eyes we see the comings and goings of her family and neighbours (including some fabulous characters) but as the story unfolds, the complexities and problems which lie below the surface of their lives are explored and family secrets are revealed.  A beautifully written and thought provoking book which prompted an enjoyable discussion at Book Club.

julia-the-language-of-flowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

You’ll never look at a bouquet in the same way after reading this book – and you’ll certainly choose your flowers with care after learning of the Victorian meanings associated with particular blooms.   The emotional and enthralling story of Victoria Jones, a young woman making the transition from a difficult childhood into adult life and for whom her own understanding of the language of flowers brings hope for the future.

julia-the-last-runawayThe Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

This is the story of Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman, jilted by her fiancé, who runs away from her life in England for the challenges of America in the early 1800s where she comes into contact with ‘runaways’ of a different kind.  The plot addresses themes of personal honour/values, the Quaker belief in equality, slavery and what some will do to help others despite the dangers involved. These were brutal times but issues raised still resonate in today’s world.  An easy read with interesting plot twists and well researched history.

julia-roomRoom by Emma Donoghue

It doesn’t seem quite right to say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book which tackles dark and harrowing subject matter but I was totally captivated by the story, told through the realistic voice of 5-year-old Jack who is held captive with ‘Ma’, in a single room.  It’s an emotional but utterly compelling read; hair-raising at times, when I could hardly bear the suspense.  (No surprise then, that it has subsequently been made into a film.)  Brilliantly written, heartfelt and thought-provoking, I do recommend that you give it a try.

julia-the-invention-of-wingThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk-Kidd

This book was inspired by the story of real sisters from the early 19th Century, who ultimately took a prominent role in the abolitionist movement. The fictional story, set in the American Deep South, is told via the alternating and interlinked narratives of Sarah Grimke, and her slave, Handful.  It is a moving read, exploring powerful issues including the parallels between the limitations of the life of a slave at the time, and that of her wealthy mistress.

julia-the-goldfinch

 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Don’t be put off by the sheer size of this book (circa 800 pages) as the story is a captivating read which will quickly draw you in!  With action in New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, the plot follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of young protagonist, Theo Decker who survives a terrorist explosion at the Metropolitan Museum and absconds with his mother’s favourite painting, a priceless Dutch masterpiece.  However, the story is much more than an account of what happens next; exploring themes of love, loss and loyalty through a variety of brilliantly drawn characters.

Librarian’s Choice: Recommended reads for LGBT History Month

PrintThis blog comes from Alex, a library assistant on our peripatetic team.

Love is in the air… — yes, but so is hail and frost you might say. Fair point, it is after all February and, let’s face it, the weather is what it is. But suppose for a moment, we could travel anywhere we’d like to without queuing at the airport or drying our accounts out. Imagine we could do that whiles being wrapped up in a woolly blanket, enjoying a deliciously warm hot chocolate. Now suppose that I’m not just daydreaming; after all there is one wonderful thing we can all do for each other this February. Let’s take advice from our wise Scandinavian cousins: let’s all get hygge and let the romance of these stories warm our hearts because, is there any more magical way to travel than through the pages of a gripping book?

Inspired by LGBT* History Month 2017, I have chosen some of the most heart breaking love stories to get us all through February.

Picture books:

alex-tango-makes-threeAnd Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole.

For all the animal lovers out there, there is probably no better love story than the one between Roy and Silo. Two penguins at New York Central Park Zoo, Roy and Silo might appear as an odd couple. Whiles their fellow penguins are preparing themselves for the joy and challenges of parenthood, Roy and Silo are worried they might never be able to become dads… or will they? There is only one way to find out.

Teenage Fiction:

alex-you-know-me-wellYou know me well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan

Friends at first sight, Mark and Kate have never spoken to each other until one fateful night their lives collide: Kate is running away from a chance of meeting the girl she has loved from afar, while Mark is in love with his best friend who may or may not loves him back. They are both lost and finding each other is the last thing on their minds., though they don’t realize just how important they will become to each other.

alex-fans-of-teh-impossible-lifeFans of the impossible life by Kate Scelsa

“May we live impossibly.” Sebby said when he opened his eyes. “Against all odds. May people look at us and wonder how such jewels can sparkle in the sad desert of the world. May we live the impossible life”.
Echoing Stephen Chbosky’s much celebrated novel “The perks of being a wallflower”, “Fans of the impossible life” is the story of love, loss, growing up and finding friends who can see through you and the person you’re trying to become. The story follows Sebby and his best friend Mira on their impromptu road trips and magical rituals designed to fix parts of their broken lives. But what will happen when Jeremy, the painfully shy and isolated art nerd, enters the picture?

alex-outOut by Joanna Kenrick, illustrated by Julia Page

This dyslexia friendly book is a short but gripping story of love, friendship and solidarity. “Out” poignantly portrays the difficult experience of ‘‘coming out’ and the struggle with unrequited love.

Teenage non-fiction:

alex-beyond-magentaBeyond Magenta: transgender teens speak out

Author and photographer Susan Kuklin meets and interviews six transgender and gender-neutral teens to portray them before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender identity, empathetically exploring their emotional and physical transitioning.

 

Adult fiction:

alex-oranges-are-notOranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson

If you grew up gay among religious fundamentalists, Jeanette Winterson feels your pain. Oranges, the novelist and critic’s 1985 autobiographical debut novel, follows an English lesbian girl coming of age in a Pentecostal community.

alex-carolCarol by Patricia Highsmith

“And she did not have to ask if this was right, no one had to tell her, because this could not have been more right or perfect.” Previously published as “The Price of Salt”, most of us are probably familiar with Todd Haynes 2015 rendering of Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian novel. In Carol, two women from different backgrounds—one a department store clerk who dreams of a better life, the other a wealthy wife — strike up a passionate love affair with each other in 1950s New York.

alex-rubyfruit-jungleRubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

Widely considered to be the lesbian coming of age novel par excellence, “Rubyfruit Jungle” follows the life of Molly Bolt, adopted daughter of a poor US family, who possesses remarkable beauty and who is aware of her lesbianism from early childhood. Sex, love and betrayal are at the heart of this turbulent coming to age, which often mirrors Brown’s own experience of being an emerging lesbian author in 1970s New York.

alex-orlandoOrlando: a Biography by Virginia Woolf.

“I’m sick to death of this particular self. I want another.” For the classics lovers amongst us, there is perhaps no book which better portrays the elusive essence of gender like Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”. Spanning a lifetime of almost three centuries, Orland accompanies us on a poetic journey of rediscovery which challenges conventional assumptions of gender as a binary concept.

 

Adult non-fiction:

alex-queerQueer: a graphic history by Meg John Barker, illustrated by Julia Scheele (eBook)

Activist-academic Meg John Barker and cartoonist Julia Scheele illuminate the histories of queer thought and LGBTQ* action in this ground breaking non-fiction graphic novel. You can download the eBook from our library catalogues.

Gay life and culture: a world history by Robert Aldrich

In the years since Stonewall, the world has witnessed an outpouring of research, critical inquiry, and re-interpretation of gay life and culture. This book draws on ground breaking new material to present a comprehensive survey of all things gay, stretching back to ancient history and ranging to the present days. Critically acclaimed historian Robert Aldrich with the support of ten leading scholars juxtaposes thought-provoking essays with an extensive selection of images, many never before seen. This masterful combination reveals the story behind gay culture from the industrialized world to the remotest corners of tribal New Guinea.

alex-art-and-queer-cultureArt and queer culture by Catherine Lord and Richard Meyer

A comprehensive survey covering 125 years of art that has constructed, contested or otherwise responded to alternative forms of sexuality. The book traces the rich visual legacy of art’s relationship to queer culture, from the emergence of homosexuality as an identity in the late nineteenth century to the pioneering ‘genderqueers’ of the early twenty-first century.

 

For comic book lovers:

alex-prideThe Pride by Joe Glass and Mike Stock

Have you ever been sick of being misrepresented? Of having no one like you to look up to? Have you ever wanted to change everything?
Then you need to join FabMan, Wolf, Muscle Mary, Frost, Twink, Bear, Angel and White Trash on their mission to help people and improve LGBT representation. Wanting to fight for change, FabMan has formed PRIDE, the world’s premier LGBTQ supergroup. Not exactly receiving the desired response, the group faces opposition from the confrontational Justice Division and the nefarious Reverend. After a serious trial by fire, the team find themselves the only super team in the world capable of stopping The Reverend’s diabolical plot for world domination.

alex-juicy-motherJuicy mother: celebration by Jennifer Camper

Featuring work by and about queers, women and black artists, “Juicy Mother” is probably the queerest cartoon anthology you can get your hands on; these stories are not just exuberant and carefree, they are also a marvellous celebration of artistry and diversity.

 

alex-100-crushes100 crushes by Lim Elisha

100 Crushes compiles five years of queer comics by Elisha Lim, including excerpts from Sissy, The Illustrated Gentleman, Queer Child in the Eighties, and their cult series 100 Butches, as well as new work. It’s an absorbing documentary that travels through Toronto, Berlin, Singapore, and beyond in the form of interviews, memoirs, and gossip from an international queer vanguard.