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.

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The Perks Of Being In A Readers Group

Have you ever thought about joining a book club or readers group?  Leeds Libraries have groups meeting monthly at sites all over the city – ask at your local library for details.  Here are a few reasons why we think joining a readers group is a good idea:

  • Reading is a great window on the world and a useful way to expand your horizons by increasing your knowledge of the world around you
  • They’re a great way to expand your literary palette by allowing you to read books you may not necessarily have chosen to read yourself – you’ll have the opportunity to read books from a wide range of genres and by a host of different authors
  • They provide a relaxed, informal learning environment. By talking about books, you can develop critical thinking and discussion skills in a warm, safe place
  • They’re great places to get out and about and meet new people. What better way to make new friends than by sitting down having a chat about books?
  • Last but not least, readers groups are fun, lively places where there’s always a good conversation going on. Why not find one near you and join today?

Swillington Book Club (formerly Swillington Readers Group) is currently looking for new members.  Starting in March, the group will meet on the second Monday of the month from 12.30 – 1.30 p.m. in Swillington Village Hall.  Please contact Stu Hennigan – stuart.hennigan@leeds.gov.uk – or call him on 07891276538 for more details.

To whet your appetite this is a small selection of the books that some of our readers groups will be reading over the coming year.

bg-taxindermists-daughterThe Taxidemist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway. Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At seventeen, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

bg-complete-mausThe Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Combined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II – the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

bg-walls-comeWalls Come Tumbling Down by Daniel Rachel

‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ charts the pivotal period between 1976 and 1992 that saw politics and pop music come together for the first time in Britain’s musical history; musicians and their fans suddenly became instigators of social change, and ‘the political persuasion of musicians was as important as the songs they sang’. Through the voices of campaigners, musicians, artists and politicians, Daniel Rachel follows the rise and fall of three key movements of the time: Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone, and Red Wedge, revealing how they all shaped, and were shaped by, the music of a generation.

bg-griefGrief is a thing with feathers by Max Porter

In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness. In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described sentimental bird is attracted to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and physical pain of loss gives way to memories, this little unit of three begin to heal.

bg-everyone-braveEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

When war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up. Tom Shaw decides to give it a miss – until his flatmate Alistair unexpectedly enlists, and the conflict can no longer be avoided. Young, bright and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is – bewilderingly – made a teacher, she instead finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget. Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary. And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, and inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

bg-dead-prettyDead Pretty by David Mark

Hannah Kelly has been missing for nine months. Ava Delaney has been dead for five days. One girl to find. One girl to avenge. And DS Aector McAvoy won’t let either of them go until justice can be done. But some people have their own ideas of what justice means…

bg-gunslingerThe Gunslinger by Stephen King

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King’s most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

 

Librarians Choice – Book Club Favourites

This blog post is from Maddie, a community librarian based in the North east of the city.

I thought I would share my Readers Groups’ favourite books. I joined a Community Choir over 10 years ago and a few of us shared a passion for reading and decided to start up a Readers Group. These are a few of the titles that have prompted the best discussion.

maddie-we-are-called-to-riseWe Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride

This is debut novel, powerfully written and we felt it was a page-turner despite it being sad.
This novel is written from the different viewpoints of each of the four main characters. Middle aged Avis, struggling with an imminent divorce and a war torn son while Bashkim is an eight year old Albanian boy with immigrant parents and a strong sense of responsibility. Alongside them is Luis, a troubled soldier suffering from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and a world of other issues and Roberta, a volunteer social worker. These four lives all collide in one alarming incident.

maddie-saturdaySaturday by Ian McEwan

This was one of the first books that we read as a group. One of us wanted to read an Ian McEwan book and Saturday was one that none of us had read. ‘Saturday’ is a novel set within a single day in February 2003. Henry Perowne is a contented man, but what troubles him is the state of the world. Following a minor car accident, Perowne is brought into contact with a small-time thug called Miller. This meeting has savage consequences.

maddie-dissolutionDissolution –by C J Sansom

This is a murder mystery set at the time of Henry VIII. It introduces Matthew Shardlake, a monk, sent to investigate the horrific murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton. This is the first in a series. One of us had already read the book and was so impressed with it that she wanted to see what the rest of us thought of tit and it was a hit.

maddie-secret-life-of-beesThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Set in South Carolina in the 1960s at the time of desegregation. It’s a story about Lily Owens a teenager who has grown up believing that she killed her mother. Her father is cruel and harsh and she runs away with their servant Rasaleen and they end up finding sanctuary at the home of three sisters who keep bees.

maddie-skelligSkellig by David Almond

When a move to a new house coincides with his baby sister’s illness, Michael’s world seems suddenly lonely and uncertain. Then, one Sunday afternoon, he stumbles into the old garage of his new home, and finds something magical. A strange creature – part owl, part angel, a being who needs Michael’s help if he is to survive. With his new friend Mina, Michael nourishes Skellig back to health, while his baby sister languishes in the hospital. But Skellig is far more than he at first appears, and as he helps Michael breathe life into his tiny sister, Michael’s world changes for ever.

New Year, New You – Join a Readers’ Group

Why not join one of the thriving Readers’ groups in Leeds and have a night out discussing books and  fun meeting people?

If you fancy joining a group held in a library, there’s over  20 Readers’ groups on offer.  At the end of this post are the titles that will be circulating around these groups 2015/16.

70+ affiliated groups also borrow books for their groups from libraries free.

A national website called Reading Groups for Everyone is a great resource both for finding a local group or for existing reading groups, with books news and reviews, tips for running your group, and lots of free offers and promotions. Just register on the site if you organise a reading group, especially if you are looking for new members.

The sort of exciting titles that Leeds Libraries buys are listed below.

UsUs/The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August/A Life to Remember

Women On Duty/Irresponsible Traveller/The Invention of Wings

Burial Rites/ A Song for Issy Bradley/ Suffragette

The Long Bridge/ The Enchanted April

Catch 22/ The Bear

This Boy/ Lies We Tell Ourselves

H is for Hawk/ We are completely Beside Ourselves

Walking Home/ Kiss Me first

The Good Luck of Right Now/ Elizabeth is Missing

Proud/ The Good Girl

The Last Man Standing/ Book of Strange New Things

Dracula & Dracula’s Guest/ The Bone Clocks

Paying Guests/ The Miniaturist

Not My Father’s Son/ Axeman Jazz

Brenda Monk is Funny/ Vendetta

The Girl With All The Gifts/ Cross Stitch

Leaving Time/ Dear Daughter

My Second Life/ There’s Something I’ve Been Dying To Tell You

Dangerous Days in Elizabethan England/ Dear Committee Members

Dark Room/ Faceless Killers

Dark Briggate Blues/ Her

Swear Down/ Eeny Meeny

The Good Priest/ Deliverance of Evil