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.

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist announced

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction chose to announce the longlisted books on International Women’s Day earlier this week. The list is sixteen brilliant books chosen by the 2017 judging panel. This year the panel members are Tessa Ross, Chair of Judges, comedian Sara Pascoe, novelist Aminatta Forna, broadcaster Katie Derham and journalist Sam Baker.

The judges now have the unenviable task of whittling these sixteen titles down to just six shortlisted titles before finally choosing the winner which will be revealed at an awards ceremony hosted in the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall on 7 June 2017.

And of course you can borrow them all from Leeds Libraries so you can see which ones you think deserve to be on the shortlist, and ultimately win the £30,000 prize money.

Baileys Stay with meStay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.

Baileys The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

In ‘The Power’, the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Baileys Hag-seedHag-Seed byMargaret Atwood

Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge. After 12 years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

Baileys Little DeathsLittle Deaths by Emma Flint

It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery. Noting Ruth’s perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation. Sent to cover the case on his first major assignment, tabloid reporter Pete Wonicke at first can’t help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew. Ruth Malone is enthralling, challenging and secretive – is she really capable of murder?

Baileys The MareThe Mare by Mary Gaitskill

Velveteen Vargas is eleven years old, a Fresh Air Fund kid from Brooklyn. Her host family is a couple in upstate New York: Ginger, a failed artist on the fringe of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Paul, an academic who wonders what it will mean to “make a difference” in such a contrived situation. The Mare illuminates the couple’s changing relationship with Velvet over the course of several years, as well as Velvet’s powerful encounter with the horses at the stable down the road, as Gaitskill weaves together Velvet’s vital inner-city community and the privileged country world of Ginger and Paul.

Baileys Teh Dark CircleThe Dark Circle by Linda Grant

The Second World War is over, a new decade is beginning but for an East End teenage brother and sister living on the edge of the law, life has been suspended. Sent away to a tuberculosis sanatorium in Kent to learn the way of the patient, they find themselves in the company of army and air force officers, a car salesman, a young university graduate, a mysterious German woman, a member of the aristocracy and an American merchant seaman. They discover that a cure is tantalisingly just out of reach and only by inciting wholesale rebellion can freedom be snatched.

Baileys Lesser BohemiansThe Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

One night in London an 18 year old girl, recently arrived from Ireland to study drama, meets an older actor and a tumultuous relationship ensues. Set across the bedsits and squats of mid-nineties north London, ‘The Lesser Bohemians’ is a story about love and innocence, joy and discovery, the grip of the past and the struggle to be new again.

 

Baileys midwinterMidwinter by Fiona Melrose

Father and Son, Landyn and Vale Midwinter, are men of the land. Suffolk farmers. Times are hard and they struggle to sustain their property, their livelihood and their heritage in the face of competition from big business. But an even bigger, more brutal fight is brewing: a fight between each other, about the horrible death of Cecelia, beloved wife and mother, in Zambia ten years earlier. A past they have both refused to confront until now. Over the course of a particularly mauling Suffolk winter, Landyn and Vale grapple with their memories and their pain, raking over what remains of their fragile family unit, constantly at odds and under threat of falling apart forever. While Vale makes increasingly desperate decisions, Landyn retreats, finding solace in the land, his animals – and a fox who haunts the farm and seems to bring with her both comfort and protection.

Baileys Sport of KingsThe Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

Hellsmouth, a wilful thoroughbred filly, has the legacy of a family riding on her.

The Forges: one of the oldest and proudest families in Kentucky; descended from the first settlers to brave the Wilderness Road; as mythic as the history of the South itself – and now, first-time horse breeders.

Through an act of naked ambition, Henry Forge is attempting to blaze this new path on the family’s crop farm. His daughter, Henrietta, becomes his partner in the endeavour but has desires of her own. When Allmon Shaughnessy, an African American man fresh from prison, comes to work in the stables, the ugliness of the farm’s history rears its head. Together through sheer will, the three stubbornly try to create a new future – one that isn’t determined by Kentucky’s bloody past – while they mould Hellsmouth into a champion.

Baileys Woman next doorThe Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbours. One is black, one white. Both are successful with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed. And both are sworn enemies, sharing a hedge and hostility and pruning both with a vim that belies the fact they are over 80. But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. And gradually the bickering and sniping softens into lively debate, and from there into memories shared. But could these sparks of connection ever transform into friendship? Or is it too late for these two to change?

Baileys lonely Hearts HotelThe Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.

Baileys Essex SerpentThe Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, ‘The Essex Serpent’ has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way. They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned.

Baileys BarkskinsBarkskins by Annie Proulx

In the late 17th century two illiterate woodsmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, make their way from Northern France to New France to seek a living. Bound to a feudal lord, a ‘seigneur’, for three years in exchange for land, they suffer extraordinary hardship, always in awe of the forest they are charged with clearing, sometimes brimming with dreams of its commercial potential. Rene marries an Indian healer, and they have children, mixing the blood of two cultures. Duquet travels the globe and back, starting a logging company that will prosper for generations. Proulx tells the stories of the children, grandchildren, and descendants of these two lineages, the Sels and the Duquets, as well as the descendants of their allies and foes, as they travel back to Europe, to China, to New England, always in quest of a livelihood or a fortune, or fleeing stunningly brutal conditions.

Baileys First LoveFirst Love by Gwendoline Riley

Neve is a writer in her mid-30s married to an older man, Edwyn. For now they are in a place of relative peace, but their past battles have left scars. As Neve recalls the decisions that led her to this marriage, she tells of other loves and other debts, from her bullying father and her self-involved mother to a musician who played her and a series of lonely flights from place to place. Drawing the reader into the battleground of her relationship, Neve spins a story of helplessness and hostility, an ongoing conflict in which both husband and wife have played a part. But is this, nonetheless, also a story of love?

Baileys Do not sayDo Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.

With maturity and sophistication, humor and beauty, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of life inside China yet transcendent in its universality.

Baileys Gustav SonataThe Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

It is the tutor who tells the young Gustav that he must try to be more like a coconut – that he needs a hard shell to protect the softness inside. This is what his native Switzerland has perfected – a shell to protect its neutrality, to keep its people safe. But his beloved friend, Anton, doesn’t want to be safe – a gifted pianist, he longs to make his mark on the world outside. On holiday one summer in Davos, the boys stumble across a remote building. Long ago, it was a TB sanitorium; now it is wrecked and derelict. Here, they play a game of life and death, deciding which of their imaginary patients must burn. It becomes their secret. ‘The Gustav Sonata’ begins in the 1930s, under the shadow of the Second World War, and follows the boys into maturity, and middle age, where their friendship is tested as never before.

International Women’s Day – The Lemonade Syllabus

This blog is from Kat, a librarian based in the North East of the city.

The Lemonade Syllabus

Beyoncé may not be everyone’s kind of feminist but no one can argue with the effect she has had upon a generation of Independent Women who grew up listening to Bills, Bills, Bills, Independent Women, Survivor, Irreplaceable, Single Ladies and Run The World (Girls). One of the greatest moments of my life was seeing her perform Single Ladies at Glastonbury – I have never seen so many men look confused at all the enthusiastic women in the crowd.

Last year she released a visual album Lemonade (which is available to borrow from the Music Library) which inspired doctoral student Candice Benbow to create the #LemonadeSyllabus hashtag and social media campaign. As a result of this Candice released the syllabus as a free downloadable resource of over 250 works centred around the lives of Black women. Within the first week, it was downloaded over 40,000 times.

A selection of the titles featured are currently on display at Chapeltown Library and features both fiction and non-fiction coving a range of subjects which centre around Black Womanhood :

kat-raisin-in-the-sunA raisin in the sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Set in 1950s Chicago, A Raisin in the Sun is the classic play about a black family’s struggle for equality. The play was originally published in the USA in 1959 but has since become a standard text in American schools.

kat-americanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

From the award-winning author of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, a powerful story of love, race and identity. As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race.

kat-blues-legaciesBlues legacies and black feminism by Angela Y. Davis

In this work Angela Davies provides the historical, social, and political contexts with which to reinterpret the lyrics and performances of Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday.

kat-snow-birdBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

‘Boy, Snow, Bird’ is a deeply moving novel about three women and the strange connection between them. It confirms Helen Oyeyemi’s place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of her generation.

 

kat-letter-to-my-daughterLetter to my daughter by Maya Angelou

Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou’s path to living well and living a life with meaning. Told in her own inimitable style, this book transcends genres and categories: guidebook, memoir, poetry, and pure delight. Here in short spellbinding essays are glimpses of the tumultuous life that led Angelou to an exalted place in American letters and taught her lessons in compassion and fortitude: how she was brought up by her indomitable grandmother in segregated Arkansas, taken in at thirteen by her more worldly and less religious mother, and grew to be an awkward, six-foot-tall teenager whose first experience of loveless sex paradoxically left her with her greatest gift, a son.

kat-a-piece-of-cakeA piece of cake : a memoir by Cupcake Brown

‘A Piece of Cake’ is the story of a girl named Cupcake, which begins when, aged 11, she is orphaned and placed in the care of sadistic foster parents. Neglected and sexually abused she fell into drug abuse and gang culture before turning her life around.

 

kat-the-bluest-eyeThe bluest eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change- in painful, devastating ways.
With its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment the Bluest Eye remains one of Tony Morrisons’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.

kat-the-book-of-phoenixThe book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

They call her many things – a research project, a test-subject, a specimen. An abomination. But she calls herself Phoenix, an ‘accelerated woman’ – a genetic experiment grown and raised in Manhattan’s famous Tower 7, the only home she has ever known. Although she’s only two years old, Phoenix has the body and mind of an adult – and powers beyond imagining. Phoenix is an innocent, happy to live quietly in Tower 7, reading voraciously and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human. Until the night that Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated, Phoenix begins to search for answers – only to discover that everything that she has ever known is a lie.

kat-we-should-allWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike. Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a bestselling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

kat-you-cantYou can’t keep a good woman down by Alice Walker

A natural evolution from the earlier, much-acclaimed collection In Love & Trouble, these fourteen provocative and often humorous stories show women oppressed but not defeated. These are hopeful stories about love, lust, fame, and cultural thievery, the delight of new lovers, and the rediscovery of old friends, affirmed even across self-imposed color lines.

In case you were wondering my favourite song from Lemonade is Hold Up, and my ultimate Beyoncé track would have to be Survivor – I will survive and keep on surviving!

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.