Librarian Top 10 – Great fiction read this year

This weeks top 10 comes from Stu, a community librarian based in the East of the city.

WreakingWreaking by James Scudamore

A magnificent slice of modern Gothic storytelling, in which a reclusive academic seeks refuge in an abandoned mental hospital and slowly loses his mind while seeking to unravel the chain of events that led up to a horrific family accident in the dim and distant past. The over-riding theme is the relationship between time and memory, and the distortive effect that each has on the other. Everything about this book screams quality – vivid characterisation, pitch-perfect dialogue, wonderfully descriptive, nuanced prose and a fantastic plot hiding behind the multiple layers of smoke and mirrors. Highly, highly recommended.

1980Nineteen Eighty by David Peace

A typically sanguine Yorkshire-noir with a labyrinthine plot that will be all-too familiar to anyone who’s read the other books in the quadrilogy. This one is set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, but in-keeping with the rest of the series, the main focus is on the dodgy dealings of the bent coppers who are supposed to be investigating the case. It’s not for the faint-hearted – the Ripper’s monologues in particular are stomach-churningly graphic and deeply disturbing – but the plot moves along at a cracking pace, and Peace’s sparse, staccato style paints a suitably lurid vision of hell.

Life and Fate by Vassily Grossman

A trite line that crops up in quite a few reviews of this novel is that this is like an updated version of War and Peace, and it’s not too far from the truth. This book is an epic in every sense, featuring a huge cast of characters (including a cameo from Stalin himself) at all levels of society and deals chiefly with the Nazi invasion of Russia and the Battle of Stalingrad. Like Isaac Babel before him, Grossman was a journalist who wrote fiction based on fact, and this authenticity really comes through in his descriptions of the battle. It’s not an easy novel to read by any means – especially the scene in the gas chamber at Auschwitz -, but like all the best Russian literature, it’s very, very rewarding if you’re willing to give it the time and attention it deserves.

RegenerationRegeneration by Pat Barker

This is the first in a trilogy of books the deal with WW1, with war poet Siegfried Sassoon appearing as one of the main characters, convalescing at Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh. It’s only a slim volume but incredibly dense, and aims to deal with the awful psychological effects that war has on the minds of young men. There are some really harrowing scenes in here – particularly the descriptions of some of the treatments administered by the psychiatrists – but surely that’s to be expected in a book of this nature – and it’s an interesting read for anyone with an interest in the Great War.

The Last WordThe Last Word by Hanif Kureishi

Here Kureishi, arguably the greatest English writer of his generation turns his razor eye upon the struggles of an ageing man of letters. Told with his usual insight and acerbic wit, and a tongue firmly planted in its cheek, this book is very funny indeed.

The misfortunatesThe Misfortunates by Dimitri Verhulst

It would be all-too easy to describe this book as a Belgian take on Bukowski, but it’s not that far off the mark. It’s a squalid, sleazy tale of a family of small-town alcoholics and the misadventures they get up to in the course of their miserable, drunken lives. Okay, it’s not the most original subject matter, but the translation (by David Colmer) is fantastic and really brings the book to life in all its feculent glory. As with all books of this kind, it’s genuinely, laugh out loud, tears-on-your-cheeks funny, but ultimately downbeat and shot through with the kind of bottom of the barrel, red-eyed sadness that only boozy literature of this ilk can muster.

Wolf HallWolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This first instalment of a trilogy of novels deals with Thomas Cromwell’s formative years, his rise to power in the court of Henry VIII and the fall of his mentor Cardinal Wolsey. It’s all written in the present tense, which gives the story a real sense of urgency and keeps the pages turning. It’s a big book, make no mistake, but a far easier read than you’d probably imagine. There is a caveat though. If you’re unfamiliar with Tudor politics, you may struggle a little with some of the characters; lots and lots of the men are called Thomas (named after Becket, England’s favourite medieval Saint), and every other lady seems to be called Mary, which could be confusing to those who aren’t fully conversant with the court of the time. That said, there’s a table of characters at the front of the book for those who aren’t already in the know so don’t be put off, even if you know nothing of the period. This is a masterful bit of writing and a cracking historical novel that’s worthy of every bit of praise that’s been lavished upon it.

Bring up the bodiesBring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: or, Wolf Hall Part Deux.

Picks up at the precise point where the first book left off, and moves us through the fall of Anne Boleyn. The real skill of Mantel here is to take a story that’s fairly familiar to most people but still construct a narrative in a way that keeps you turning the pages, even though you know ultimately what’s going to happen (hint: things don’t end well for Ms Boleyn) There’s a wealth of great characterisation, lovely descriptive prose and she has a great ear for dialogue too, all the marks of a first-class writer working right at the top of her game.

The first circleThe First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

From the foremost chronicler of Stalinist Russia, this is a huge novel, dealing with all his usual themes – Gulag, show trials, Five Year Plans, Collectivisation, industrialisation etc. and how they affected the general populace of Russia during the Stalinist years. It’s another huge book, packed with a fantastic array of characters, all with their own hard luck stories to tell. One of his greatest qualities as a writer was to be able to relate the lives of people right at the bottom of the social scale to those right at the top, and to show how the machinations of the Party apparatus were inescapable for anyone unfortunate enough to be living in Russia at that time.

Les miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo

Gigantic, door-stopping tome dealing with the seedy underbelly of Paris in the early part of the 19th century. This is a very modern work in some ways. In the text Hugo often refers to himself as the writer, and it’s filled with references to real people and real events. It’s epic not just in size, but in scope too, combining what’s basically a detective story – Javert’s relentless pursuit of petty-crook turned outlaw Jean Valjean, which in itself is reminiscent of Ahab’s chase of the white whale in Moby Dick, another early modern(ist) novel) with a host of digressions, philosophical musings and essays on topics as diverse as the French Revolution, underworld slang, social inequality and the Battle of Waterloo. It’s definitely not for the casual reader – the Vintage edition has nearly 1300 pages, not including the generous introduction and a couple of hundred pages of footnotes at the end – but for those who want to sample a genuine classic of world literature, it’s an absolute marvel.

Top 10 – Science Fiction

These are the top 10 Science fiction titles borrowed from Leeds Libraries during November. Science fiction isn’t everyone’s bag – but why not try one of these for something different?

Heart goes lastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

The Long WarThe Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

A generation after the events of ‘The Long Earth’, mankind has spread across the new worlds opened up by Stepping. Where Joshua and Lobsang once pioneered, now fleets of airships link the stepwise Americas with trade and culture. Mankind is shaping the Long Earth – but in turn the Long Earth is shaping mankind.

The Long MarsThe Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

2040-2045: In the years after the cataclysmic Yellowstone eruption there is massive economic dislocation as populations flee Datum Earth to myriad Long Earth worlds. Sally, Joshua, and Lobsang are all involved in this perilous work when, out of the blue, Sally is contacted by her long-vanished father and inventor of the original Stepper device, Willis Linsay. He tells her he is planning a fantastic voyage across the Long Mars and wants her to accompany him. But Sally soon learns that Willis has ulterior motives.

A Storm of swordsA Storm of Swords by George R R Martin

The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud. Winter is approaching and the wildings are poised to invade the Kingdom of the North. Robb Stark must protect himself from them and the threat of his enemies in the south.

Lock InLock In by John Scalzi

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. 4% suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1% find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. 1% doesn’t seem like a lot. But in the US that’s 1.7 million people ‘locked in’ – including the President’s wife and daughter. Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge…

Fools assassinFool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife, Molly, for many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic and assassin: a man who has risked much for his king and lost more. On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives, seeking Fitz, only to mysteriously disappear leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Raising steamRaising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Change is afoot in Ankh-Morpork – Discworld’s first steam engine has arrived, and once again Moist von Lipwig finds himself with a new and challenging job.

Wards of faerieWards of Faerie by Terry Brooks

There was an age when the world was young, before the coming of humans, a time when magic was the dominant power. It was during this age that the Elfstones protecting the Elven disappeared. Now a clue to their location may have surfaced in the diary of a princess, and it will be the beginning of an adventure that no-one expected.

DragonbaneDragonbane by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Out of all the mysterious boarders who call Sanctuary home, no one is more antisocial or withdrawn than Maxis Drago. But then, it’s hard to blend in with the modern world when you have a fifty foot wingspan. Centuries ago, he was cursed by an enemy who swore to see him fall. An enemy who took everything from him and left him forever secluded. But Fate is a bitch, with a wicked sense of humour. And when she throws old enemies together and threatens the wife he thought had died centuries ago, he comes back with a vengeance. Modern day New Orleans has become a battleground for the oldest of evils. And two dragons will hold the line, or go down in flames.

BattlemageBattlemage by Stephen Aryan

Balfruss is a battlemage, one of a vanishing breed, sworn to fight and die for a country that fears and despises him. Vargus is a soldier, and while mages shoot lightning from the walls of his city, he’s down in the frontlines getting blood on his blade. Talandra is a princess and her father’s spymaster, but the war may force her to take up a greater responsibility, and make the greatest sacrifice of all. Known for their unpredictable, dangerous power, society has left battlemages untrained and shunned. But when a force unlike anything ever imagined attacks their home, the few remaining magic users must go to war – to save those who fear them most, and herald in a new age of peace, built upon the corpses of their enemies.

Librarian Top 10 – Girl Power

An occasional series featuring Top 10 book recommendations from our librarians. This first list comes from Kat, an Assistant Community Librarian based at Chapeltown, Oakwood and Chapel Allerton Libraries.

Am I normal yetHolly Bourne – Am I normal yet?

A story of friendship, feminism and mental health – there was nothing didn’t LOVE about this book. The way Evie’s illness affects her friendships, choices and family was really enlightening – I particularly found the way it does and yet doesn’t inform her relationship with her younger sister. Maybe because eleven years later my lifestyle is still that of a 16 year old girl, but I just felt that this book was describing my life, and I just didn’t want it to end. Also has the most accurate description of a hangover ever! I wish there had been books like this when I was a teenager.

not that kind of girlLena Dunham – Not that kind of girl

I love Lena’s tv show ‘Girls’, but some bits make me feel a little uncomfortable, and that is exactly how I felt about this book. I love the things she writes about, but some of it just made me sad. Not about Lena, but about society.

 

Elizabeth is missingEmma Healey – Elizabeth is missing

I think I only read this because it was getting a lot of attention and was nominated for the Booker Prize, but I am so glad I did. A woman with Alzheimer’s is trying to find her friend Elizabeth, but keeps losing track of what she is doing and feels like no-one is helping her. She is also reminded about the last time someone went missing, her sister during the war, a how that impacted her life. This was so frustrating at times as everything kept starting over again, but that is because Healey so accurately captures the illlness in her writing.

Opposite of lonelinessMarina Keegan – The opposite of loneliness

This is a book of essays and short stories which was compiled by Marina’s family and Yale writing professor; Marina died in a car crash just after graduating. She wrote about college life, family, friends and boys. Her writing is most often described as ‘promising’, and knowing what happened to her and that she won’t be able to continue to grow as a writer (and a person) makes me feel the same way I felt when I read ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank.

It was me all alongAndie Mitchell – It was me all along : a memoir

(I’m starting to see a theme here – the American college experience. Also all female authors – Girl Power!)

This is essentially a story of growing up overweight, being unhappy about it and the vicious cycle of comfort eating. But eventually Andie loses 135lbs (almost 10 stone!) through healthy eating, exercise and changing the way she thinks about food. I found all of this really inspiring (I was trying to do the same thing as I read it) but what stands out to me is the heart-breaking relationship she had with her father, and how she dealt with his death, so very emotional!

Spare BridesAdele Parks – Spare Brides

I see rows of Adele Parks all the time in libraries but never thought I’d be interested; I came across this book whilst putting together a suffragettes display and I was curious. It is Parks’ first historical novel, set in the 1920s, and is about a group of women who grew up expecting life to turn out a certain way and then find themselves a few years and a war later with drastically different lives and options than they ever expected. It was kind of Sex & the City meets Downton Abbey, and of course I loved that.

Eleanor and ParkRainbow Rowell – Eleanor & Park

This starts off as a teenage love story but as the story develops so do the underlying issues of both Eleanor & Park. I loved the mix tapes they listen to on the school bus, and the books that Eleanor borrows from Park and has to read in secret at home. I just thought that this was a great little love story, but it is sad that a teenage story has to be set in the 1980s to not be dominated by technology and social media. It must be the soundtrack, but it makes me think of 500 Days of Summer. Actually, this book is the teenage version of that film, set in the 1980s.

Opal PlumsteadJacqueline Wilson – Opal Plumstead

This was actually what inspired me to do the suffragettes display. I love Jacqueline Wilson. She is probably one of the reasons I love reading, and she nearly always writes really strong female characters (both the children and adults). One of my favourite things about working in a library is getting to talk to children who love reading her as much as I did. Of course when I saw she had a book about suffragettes I knew I had to read it, and it didn’t disappoint. The only downside was that Opal works in a sweet factory, and it made me want sweets every time I read it. Or do I just want sweets all the time anyway?

Mrs HemingwayNaomi Woods – Mrs Hemingway

I read this on the train to Paris; it was just the perfect book to take on that trip. The book is in four sections, each from the perspective of a different Mrs Ernest Hemingway toward the end of their marriage. To be reading this and then walk down the same streets, across bridges and into Shakespeare & Co bookshop was just dreamy. Although now I have thought about him from his wives perspectives, I don’t think I can like Mr Hemingway anymore (sorry, dad!), but if you go Paris you should read A Moveable Feast.

Deliciously EllaElla Woodward – Deliciously Ella

If you have read this far you have probably worked out that I quite like food. I take out pretty much every recipe book we ever get in, but this has be my favourite of the year (sorry, Nigella – I still love you!). In fact I know it is, because after taking it out of the library I actually bought a copy. It is all about healthy, wholesome food and isn’t drastically different from the other healthy eating books that have appeared lately (there is porridge, granola, hummus, avocado on toast, sprialised vegetables, ridiculously expensive ingredient filled desserts aka all my favourite things) it just happened to be the first one I came across. I have only made a few recipes from the book but they have all worked and all being delicious; Creamy Coconut Porridge, Raw Brownies, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, and a bonus – Warming Winter Curry from her blog is also delicious and ridiculously easy, and i’ve been eating it all year (but without the beans, I draw the health food line at any bean!).

deliciouslyella.com/warming-winter-curry

 

Top 10 – Adult Fiction

Last week we started with children books but this week’s Top 10 features fiction for adults. These are the Top 10 books borrowed from Leeds Libraries in Oct 2015.

  1. Personal by Lee Child

Personal Jack Reacher walks alone. Once a go-to hard man in the US military police, now he’s a drifter of no fixed abode. But the army tracks him down, because someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president. Only one man could have done it, and Reacher is the one man who can find him.

2. 14th Deadly Sin by James Patterson

14th Deadly SinDetective Lindsay Boxer and her three best friends are back and recovering from the events that pushed them all to the edge. After her near-death experience, Yuki is seeing her life from a new perspective and is considering a change in her law career. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Cindy has healed from her gunshot wound and has published a book on the infamous serial killers she helped to bring down. Lindsay is just happy that the gang are all still in one piece. But a new terror is sweeping the streets of San Francisco. A gang dressed as cops are ransacking the city, and leaving a string of dead bodies in their wake. Lindsay is on the case to track them down and needs to discover whether these killers could actually be police officers. Maybe even cops she already knows.

3. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Leaving TimeJenna Metcalf was with her mother the night she disappeared in tragic and mysterious circumstances, but she remembers nothing. Over ten years have passed, and still Jenna reads and rereads her mother’s journals, hoping to find some clue hidden there, in the meticulous recording of her scientific research with elephants. Desperate for answers, Jenna uses all her savings to recruit the aid of a private detective – and a psychic. Jenna knows her mother loved her. She knows she would not leave her. And she will not rest until she finds out what happened that night.

4. Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Gray mountainOne week ago, Samantha Kofer was a third-year associate at New York City’s largest law firm. Now she is an unpaid intern in a legal aid clinic deep in small-town Appalachia. When Lehman Brothers collapsed, she lost her job, her security, her future. As she confronts real clients with real problems, she finds herself a world away from her past life of corporate fat cats and fatter bonuses. This is coal country. Meth country. The law is different here. And standing up for the truth means putting your life on the line.

 

5. Thin Air by Ann Cleeves

Thin AirA group of old university friends leave the bright lights of London and travel to Unst, Shetland’s most northerly island, to celebrate the marriage of one of their friends to a Shetlander. But late on the night of the wedding party, one of them, Eleanor, disappears – apparently into thin air. It’s mid-summer, a time of light nights and unexpected mists. The following day, Eleanor’s friend Polly receives an email. It appears to be a suicide note, saying she’ll never be found alive. And then Eleanor’s body is discovered, lying in a small loch close to the cliff edge. Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are dispatched to Unst to investigate.

6. The Dandelion Years by Erica James

The dandelion yearsAshcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling pink cottage on the edge of the Suffolk village of Melbury Green, its enchanting garden provided a fairy-tale playground of seclusion, a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood. Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to the broken, battered books that find their way to her, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a notebook carefully concealed in an old Bible – and realising someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own – Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love.

7. Abattoir Blues by Peter Robinson

Abattoir BluesWhen two boys vanish under mysterious circumstances, the local community is filled with unease. And when a caravan belonging to one of the youths is burned to the ground, and a bloodstain is discovered in a disused World War Two hangar nearby, things quickly become much more sinister. Assigned to the case, DCI Banks and his team are baffled by the mystery laid out before them. But when a motor accident throws up a gruesome discovery, the investigation spins into a higher gear – and in another direction.

8. The Missing and the Dead by Stuart Macbride

The missing and the deadWhen you catch a twisted killer there should be a reward, right? What Acting Detective Inspector Logan McRae gets instead is a ‘development opportunity’ out in the depths of rural Aberdeenshire. Welcome to divisional policing – catching drug dealers, shop lifters, vandals and the odd escaped farm animal. Then a little girl’s body washes up just outside the sleepy town of Banff, kicking off a massive manhunt. The Major Investigation Team is up from Aberdeen, wanting answers, and they don’t care who they trample over to get them. Logan’s got enough on his plate keeping B Division together, but DCI Steel wants him back on her team. As his old colleagues stomp around the countryside, burning bridges, Logan gets dragged deeper and deeper into the investigation.

9. Mightier than the sword by Jeffrey Archer

Mightier than the swordEmma Clifton, now the chairman of Barrington Shipping, is facing the repercussions of the IRA attack on the Buckingham. Some board members feel she should resign, but Sebastian Clifton, newly elected to the board, is determined that she’ll stay. Sir Giles Barrington is now a minister of the Crown, and looks set for even higher office, until an official trip to Berlin does not end as a diplomatic success. Once again, his political career is thrown off balance by none other than his old adversary, Major Alex Fisher, who, for the second time, is selected to stand against him at the general election.

10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The girl on the trainRachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see: she’s much more than just the girl on the train.