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.

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Librarian’s Choice: Funny Memoirs

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

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

Ang Teenage RevolutionTeenage Revolution by Alan Davies

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

ANG Wishful DrinkingWishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

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

Ang The tentThe Tent the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy

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

Ang How to beHow To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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

Ang Serge BastardeSerge Bastarde Ate My Baguette by John Dummer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

Librarian’s Choice: Books with a local connection

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

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

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

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

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

LFH ChocolatChocolat by Joanne Harris, Barnsley – Yorkshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Librarian’s Choice: Enjoy a bit of Fantasy Horror

This blog comes from Lisa, a development librarian based at Central library.

I thought summer would be a good time to go for something different and write about a few of my favourite horror/fantasy books, so here goes:-

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

Lisa NOS4R2I didn’t know until fairly recently that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. He’s clearly inherited the writing gene and I’ve since enjoyed several of his books. NOS4R2 is a not-very-festive Christmas story featuring a terrifying child abductor called Charlie Manx and a resourceful girl called Vic McQueen who initially escapes his clutches but then encounters him again later on in life. Things are typically not as they seem in this world and the author deftly mixes real world events with horror and fantasy elements. I like his writing style, and found myself really immersed in this story.

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Lisa Night WatchI got hooked by this one and had to go on to read the whole series. It’s set in Moscow and is about the precarious balance between the “Others”, who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. Agents of the Dark oversee nocturnal activity and those of the Light do the same during daytime. Legend tells of a supreme Other who will emerge and threaten this balance and in this first book, that’s just what happens. This series seemed quite different from others I had read and I really enjoyed the language and the Russian cultural references scattered amongst all the action.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M R Carey

Lisa Girl withA friend recommended this book to me and I was fascinated by it pretty early on. It’s probably best not to go into too much detail but if you like dystopian thrillers you’ll love this! It begins with Melanie, an unusual young girl who is picked up from her cell every morning for her lessons at gun point and strapped into a wheelchair. She loves to learn and clearly has much to give, so what’s going on and why are people so afraid of her?

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Lisa Let the rightSet in Sweden, this is an intriguing, haunting novel that’s not like the rest. Oskar is a 12 year old boy who struggles to fit in at school and is constantly bullied; however things change when he meets his new neighbour, a strange yet interesting girl named Eli who only seems to go out at night. Then a body is found that’s been drained of blood… If you enjoy reading this, you’ll find the Swedish version of the film is definitely worth a watch.

The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro

Lisa The StrainI was hoping I’d like this one as I’m a big fan of del Toro’s work. One of the early scenes in this book really got to me – when an aeroplane lands at JFK airport, then stops dead and all communications are cut. There is no way in and no way out for the passengers. It’s up to Dr. Ephraim Goodweather from the CDC to find out what happened and to try and stop what’s coming. This is pretty spooky and gripping from the start. It’s also written in quite a cinematic style so you can really picture the scenes, hardly surprising that it was made into a TV series.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Lisa American GodsOne of my favourite authors, Neil is so prolific that it was hard to choose but I love American Gods. Shadow is released from prison early when his wife dies alongside his best friend in a car accident and life gets stranger for him from that point on. He accepts a job offer from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who seems to know all about him, and is led into a world of ancient and modern mythology exploring the origins and influence of gods and spirits. I was absorbed in this from the beginning – I find the power of belief, how it spreads and what it can lead to really interesting; plus it’s a fantastic tale! The recent TV adaptation is definitely worth checking out as well.

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.

 

 

 

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.