Librarian Top 10 – Matt’s Best Reads 2015

This Librarian Top 10 is from Matt, an assistant community librarian based at Armley library.

The Red PonyThe Red Pony by John Steinbeck

I’m a huge Steinbeck fan, ever since I read Of Mice and Men for my GCSE exams, and this is another example of how masterful he is when writing short fiction. The story is simply about a boy’s desire to possess and train his very own horse, but in typical Steinbeck-style, fate has its part to play. The novel is written with great affection for the land and nature, and, of course, the author’s beloved California. You’d be hard-pressed to find such vivid descriptive language and precise prose that captures the human condition in works by other authors.

Boxer HandsomeBoxer Handsome by Anna Whitwham

Most boxing novels, and movies too, tend to follow the same storyline (underdog wins and gets the girl etc..), however Anna Whitwham’s debut novel is incredibly original. The book focusses on two young pugilists from culturally disparate backgrounds and how their East End neighbourhood, and love of ‘sweet science’ brings them together in and outside of the ring – sometimes with devastating outcomes. The fight scenes are truly exhilarating and the author captures life’s intimate interactions most beautifully.

One.jpgOne by Sarah Crossen

Shortlisted for this year’s Leeds Book Awards – and rightly so! – One is the story of conjoined twin sisters who have no choice but to attend American high school when their family fall on hard times. They’re exposed to a world which they have tried to avoid all their lives; fortunately they find friendship and love, but their story is tinged with sadness. Sarah Crossan has written an immensely moving teen novel in prose-poetry that abandons rich language (usually found in verse) and uses line breaks and spatial wordplay to astonishing effect.

PhysicalPhysical by Andrew McMillan

Thank heavens for Andrew McMillan’s debut poetry collection! I was fortunate enough to see him read from Physical at Latitude festival and it was evident in his reading that we have a towering poetic voice in the Barnsley-born bard. His technical ability is unparalleled and his dissection of modern manhood is refreshing yet startlingly self-aware and honest. His poem ‘The men are weeping in the gym’ is a stand-out example of his verse; direct, funny and universal.

Black CountryBlack Country by Liz Berry

As I get older, I become more and more aware of how we are letting slip our link with history and the tribe of people that made us. So you can imagine my joy in discovering Liz Berry’s debut, which is largely inspired by her Black Country upbringing and the region’s thick dialect. The opener, ‘Bird’, soars into your mind as though the pages of the book our trying to take flight. And ‘Bostin’ Fittle’ (meaning good food) is a favourite of mine; musical and nostalgic, reminding me of the time I first saw a rabbit being skinned and transformed into a delicious stew.

HappinessHappiness by Jack Underwood

I saw Mr Underwood read at the Bridlington Poetry Festival and he obligingly recited my favourite of his, ‘Your Horse’, a surreal lyric about examining a relationship through a person’s belongings. There are flashes of Frank O’Hara and Philip Larkin throughout this collection, but the poet is an altogether inimitable talent. You only have to read ‘The spooks’, a poem about injecting blood into a banana and observing what happens when someone attempts to eat it, to realise you are in the midst of a rare literary mind.

Bunny vs MonkeyBunny vs Monkey Book One by Jamie Smart

My five-year-old son loves weekly comic The Phoenix, so he was dead chuffed when I brought home a copy of Bunny vs Monkey: Book One from the library. The basic storyline concerns a laboratory simian who was supposed to be fired into space, but instead crash lands in a nearby forest. He instantly thinks he should be ruler of the woodlands, with the help of an innovative skunk, however a defiant rabbit and his friends have something to say about it. This graphic book is wonderfully daft and Jamie Smart’s illustrations are accomplished and alive with colour.

The Gorse trilogyThe Gorse Trilogy by Patrick Hamilton

Patrick Hamilton must be the most overlooked novelist in literary history. Responsible for novels such as Hangover Square and Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, as well as the play Rope (later adapted for film by Alfred Hitchcock), his legacy should loom larger. The Gorse Trilogy is an epic novel following the decline of a swindler who preys on vulnerable women. However, as his powers of persuasion dwindle with age, he resorts to new, less sophisticated, methods of extracting what he wants from his victims. And I have to add that Hamilton is the finest writer when describing drunkenness and how it can suddenly creep up on you.

LanarkLanark: a life in four books by Alasdair Gray

A masterpiece in cross-genre fiction, Lanark is a portrait of the artist (Gray) as a young man as he transforms into a serious painter, lover and, er, salamander. The novel begins as a surreal dystopian fantasy, focusing on a mythical skin condition known as ‘dragonhide’, a metaphor for the author’s own battle with severe eczema. From that point, the plot takes several twists and turns in various guises of Modernism and realism – one chapter goes to great lengths to point out all the possible plagiarisms within its pages. Nothing comes close to this book, in terms of style and subject matter. Nothing!

UlyssesUlysses by James Joyce

Alright, I have to admit, I haven’t finished Ulysses yet – I’m about 350 pages in. Still, it is a fantastic novel and a vital contribution to Modernism and literature in general. I read the first 100-or-so pages in one go, but felt exhausted afterwards because the language is so complex, bulging with slang, Latin, unformed thoughts, etc… and the novel, as a whole, is pretty much devoid of plot. Having said that, if you pick at its bones, now and again, you realise that this is a text celebrating every aspect of living, creating a festival of words as you turn the pages. I plan to delve back into Joyce’s groundbreaking book when I finish my current read – hopefully I will have read Ulysses before the year’s out!



Book Review – The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Weddings

Wilfred Price CoverOur readers group at Wetherby Library recently read this interestingly titled book. Here are some of their comments:-

“The book is written in a gentle way, it completely reflects the behaviours and feelings of the characters. This quiet welsh town where people are very careful of the way they act and speak and emotions and secrets are kept very much to themselves.”

“This book made me laugh and made me sad. I thought the depiction of lifestyle and social thinking of the 1920s was well done. All the characters were well described. There are several beautifully written descriptive passages”

“At first I thought that this a nicely written but slow story. Then I realised this is to balance the second half of the book which moves more quickly – we know the characters well and are emotionally involved with them. Very much a story of its time and setting. The events wouldn’t occur now because society thinks differently. An intense thought provoking tale.”

“My thoughts having read thirty pages were “what a load of nothing, rubbish”. I was so glad that I read on. Within another thirty pages I was won over. The ending was a complete surprise. A lovely read. Let’s have more of this authors work.”

For further details of Wetherby’s and other library readers group, click here. If this has whetted your appetite you can reserve The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price online and pick it up from your nearest library.

Book Review – Room by Emma Donoghue

Some of the newspaper comments put me off – I don’t want my heart broken or my gut wrenched. However having got into the book I found it very well written, very clever in giving everything from a child’s view, and absorbing.

 There is no cloying sentimentality, and no dwelling on sensational aspects. I admired ‘Ma’ for her dedication in shielding him from the dreadfulness of their situation, she made a positive out of the most awful circumstances.

 Whether a ‘real life’ mother could have coped so well – I doubt. Her behaviour after thir release – more erratic, occasionally losing her temper – did show her returning to the world and to ‘normality’.  A really good read.

 A Halton Library Readers Group Member

You can reserve a copy of Room online and pick up from your nearest library.

Book Review – How It All Began by Penelope Lively

I picked up this book because I read an intriguing review, which said that it explored chaos theory – the idea that very small events can have enormous consequences.

It does indeed do so, but in a very small scale and human way. The event in question is the mugging of Charlotte, an elderly ex-teacher. She breaks her hip, and has to move in with her daughter Rose whilst she recovers. This causes Rose to miss a trip to Manchester with her employer Henry , who is accompanied instead by his niece Marion. What happens in Manchester has implications for both Henry and Marion, and for their friends, family and acquaintances.

And so it goes on. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, the ripples reach out, and Charlotte’s mishap affects the lives of a whole circle of people she will never know, in ways that she could not imagine.

It’s not a book that is driven by the plot, although there is quite a lot going on. Its strength is in the closely-observed characterisation, and the seemingly mundane detail of everyday life. The central concept of spiralling consequences underpins the story, but it is never laboured. Altogether a very satisfying read for anyone who is fascinated by the secret everyday lives of other people.

Book Review by a Leeds Library Reader

You can reserve How it all Began online and pick it up at your local library.

Book Review – The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

A short novel but is one that it is packed and one that is very easy to read.  It deals the past and how we can often our memories of events can be affected by the passage of time.  Are we remembering events or are we remembering our interpretation of events? 

The book is in two parts.  The first part deals with the narrator, Tony Webster,  his life at school and his friendship with three chums including the very intelligent Adrian Finn.  The four friends discover girls, sex and university and swear to stay friends for ever.  Tony meets the enigmatic Veronica and spends a really awkward weekend with her family.  The relationship fails and Adrian subsequently takes up with Veronica.  Letters are exchanged between Adrian and Tony that will haunt Tony later in the book.  Adrian’s suicide is a shock to all his friends.  Tony drifts away from his school friends and has a fairly dreary and meaningless life.  He marries but divorces but is still on good terms with his ex-wife and has a close relationship with his daughter.

The second part of the book begins with Tony receiving a letter out of the blue from solicitors saying that Veronica’s mother has died but has left him a bequest.  The bequest leads him into contact with Veronica and her brother once again and an eventual re-examination of the events told in part one of the book.

There is a twist at the end of the book that I did not foresee.  Personally I would have preferred more background information about events leading up to the twist.  The characters in the book are excellently portrayed.  There is humour in the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would heartily recommend it.

A Leeds Libraries borrower

Reserve a copy of Sense of an Ending online and pick it up from your nearest library.

Book Review – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

I’ve just read and really enjoyed “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Probably not my usual read but it was recommended to me by a friend – it follows Harold as he makes an unexpected journey to see a friend. The journey is the journey of a lifetime and has all sorts of unintended consequences. A gentle but thought provoking read.

Review submitted by Allison Roberts
You can reserve The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry online and collect from your nearest Leeds Library.

Book Review – The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Simon Mawer

 The Girl who fell from the Sky by Simon Mawer is a gripping story of the selection and training of an inexperienced 20-year-old English girl – Marian Sutro – who, with a Swiss/French background, is recruited into the Special Operations Executive soon after the start of World War ll. As she learns how to “fall from the sky” and becomes an undercover operative, Mawer really captures the constant fear of being an agent in German occupied France and you really feel the tension of being permanently afraid of discovery. Although there are some uneveness in the plotting and the ending (not wishing to give anything away) this is still an absorbing read that gives a good historical background to the group of women who were trained in this work and who risked their lives.

Submitted by booksarefriends
Reserve a copy of The Girl Who Fell From The Sky online, and collect from your nearest library.