Literary Challenge 2017 #6 Fantasy

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As part of the Literary Challenge 2017, this time Hillingdon Library Staff review Fantasy books. Dragons, kings, magic and alternate universes. But what is Fantasy? And where does it meet Science Fiction? Can we consider Fantasy as a sub-genre of Science Fiction? Read along and find your answers.

We read and review fiction books on a set theme every month, for you.

1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

main-qimg-b3f0ae5fa86abd52bb77a9b45d9f8bbbKurt Vonnegut has experienced a lot in his life, including having survived the bombing of Dresden during WW2. Being one of a small number of survivors made a profound impression upon him. He never felt able to talk openly about what he saw and how this terrible experience affected him personally, so he wrote a book giving him some ability to reveal and share his experiences. Billy Pilgrim, our hero, is a soldier, a prisoner, a time traveller and has been abducted by aliens known as Tralfamadorians on and off throughout his life. This surreal story is tragic, funny and enlightening. Kurt the author and Billy Pilgrim’s lives are certainly entwined. How much? We will never know as our author passed away some 10 years ago – and so it goes. Before I read Slaughterhouse-Five, I would have told you that I don’t like Sci Fi. Now? Maybe I do. I’ll always wonder if he was a genius with knowledge beyond most or a man made slightly crazy by the horrors of war. (Note: this book has been described as Science Fiction, but also as Fantasy. Where does Fantasy end and Science Fiction begin?)

5 out of 5 stars. Barbara – Ickenham Library

2. Among Others by Jo Walton

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I am not a Fantasy reader so my first challenge this month was to find a fantasy novel that I felt I would be able to read! I chose ‘Among Others’ because it didn’t look too long, it was not one of a series (which so many fantasy books are) and it didn’t feature dragons! Also I particularly liked the dedication: “For all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.” This book is set in the ‘real’ world and is written in diary form. Teenager Morwenna is sent to boarding school after a car accident in which her twin sister is killed and she is injured. Morwenna is an avid reader, mainly of Sci Fi and there are many references to the books that she reads. She also sees and speaks to fairies and uses magic but at the end of the book… This book was well written but I haven’t been converted to fantasy!

3 out of 5 stars. Carol – Northwood Library

3. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

eyes-of-the-dragon-coverThis is a Fantasy novel by the most famous of horror fiction authors. King leads the reader into a classic fantasy world -originally meant for children- filled with magic, dragons, wizards… Published in 1984, you could read it while a very 80s soundtrack plays in your earphones, or maybe just in your head. If made into a film it could have been just like Ladyhawke, with electric guitars playing alongside horseback riding scenes. One character in particular, the King’s wizard, made a great impression on me when I read ‘The Eyes of the Dragon’ for the first time as a child. One of those unforgettable characters that children meet in books.The story is rich of mysteries, evil plans, kings and princes, spells and poisons, perfect for children and teenagers, in the unmistakable style of King’s early work. In September this year Stephen King is going to be 70 and a new film adaptation of ‘It’ will be released, what better time to read his books?

3 out of 5 stars. Federico – Northwood Library

4. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

small-gods-1.jpgWhat is a fantasy writer? For me, Terry Pratchett counts, and he must surely be the funniest to have worked in the genre. Small Gods is typical – full of jokes, playful use of history, mythology and literature and much more, yet still thought-provoking on such themes as the use and misuse of power and the nature of belief. In Pratchett’s world, gods become bigger and more powerful the more people believe in them – and vice versa. Om, the god of Omnia, has been reduced to the size of a tortoise despite being surrounded by supposed believers. He is sustained by the true faith of one novice priest, Brutha, through whom he works to regain importance and incidentally combat war and tyranny. If this sounds serious, there is hardly a line without a laugh. Pratchett delights in turning cliches on their head; the Omnian inquisition kills heretics who claim the earth does NOT go round the sun. (We know they are correct to believe it is flat and carried on the back of a giant turtle…)

5 out of 5 stars. Mike – Eastcote Library

Have you read any of these books? Do you like Fantasy? Why Science Fiction has a dedicated section at Hillingdon Libraries whereas Fantasy doesn’t? You can borrow all these books from our catalogue. Thanks for reading!

 

My volunteering experience at Oak Farm Library

Sara, 16, tells us all about her experience volunteering at Oak Farm Library this summer, to help with the Summer Reading Challenge…

I wanted to volunteer as part of the Summer Reading Challenge to enhance my work experience. I remember the thrill of the Challenge when I was in primary school. At first no one really knew what it was about. However a member of staff from the library kindly came to our school for an assembly and told us everything we needed to know and so the mission began. I remember racing my friends to see who could read the most. The Challenge was exciting and the prizes were an excellent way to keep us reading, as I always wanted to get back to the library fast to change my books and receive my prize.

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Finnegan, one of the Starborg characters children collect during the Summer Reading Challenge in Hilligndon.

The reading helped with my English skills immensely, as I found my creative writing had improved. So when I heard about volunteering for the Summer Reading Challenge, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to help out as I knew what the Challenge was about and also I love working with young children. I actually enjoyed the tasks, I loved seeing the children’s faces light up when you handed them their prizes and certificates. I would see so many children returning books, taking books out, desperately trying to reach the next stage of the challenge.

Even my brother had joined and I could always hear him nagging my parents at home to go to the library each day, just so that he could return his books and receive his prize. This is what makes the Challenge so fantastic. The staff at Oak Farm were incredibly nice and were always there to help out if I was unsure about anything. The tasks I took part in were handing out gifts to the children, getting activities together and counting gifts to make sure that we did not run out. Overall I actually really enjoyed my time volunteering and would love to help out again in the future.

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Organised by The Reading Agency and libraries throughout the country, the Summer Reading Challenge is aimed at encouraging children aged 4 to 11 to visit the library and read during the summer holidays.

Staff Review – Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

 

Three- Martini Lunch follows the stories of Cliff, Eden and Miles in late 1950’s New York. Cliff is a university drop out with ambitions of becoming an acclaimed author. Eden has come to New York to build a career in publishing with the hopes of one day becoming an editor. Miles is soon to graduate from Columbia, an intelligent and thoughtful young man he too has literary ambitions. The novel is written in a first person narrative that switches between each of the protagonists’ perspectives. The lives of Cliff, Eden and Miles interweave as the plot develops.

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The U.S Cover for Three Martini Lunch

The narration feels informal and intimate with a notable difference in narration style as the novel switches to each character’s perspective. Cliff is arrogant and lazy; he is far more concerned with the acclaim a writer receives than with actually doing any writing. Meanwhile, Eden is the fresh faced and naïve graduate who works incredibly hard, but finds it challenging to build a career in a male dominated and sexist publishing industry. Whilst Miles is a very intelligent and sensitive character, his own ambitions seem somewhat smaller than Eden and Cliff’s, perhaps as a result, of his position as an Africa American in 1950s America.

In many ways these characters feel very familiar and unoriginal. On initial reading I feared that the novel would fail to tread any new ground. However, although the novel is rather clichéd in its range of characters, which ultimately, include a writer with an enormous ego, who spends most of his time drinking, a young country girl who wants to make it in the big apple and a young man from an underprivileged background who just wants to find his place in society, I still found it highly enjoyable.

Rindell is an author of very high calibre. She writes characters that, though lacking originality, are multidimensional and well developed. The ability to make Cliff, who is horrendously vain and selfish at points, endearing and vulnerable, is an accomplished feat. Moreover, the story has a good pace to it with many twists to the plot, the result of which makes the reader race through to the end. Rindell is also very successful at creating a sense of 1950s New York.

Rindell is rather ambitious with all the themes she covers in Three- Martini Lunch. This includes: race, sexism, sexuality, betrayal, father-child relationships, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Unsurprisingly, the depth of each of the themes and how Rindell deals with issues surrounding such subjects is variable. Perhaps, this novel would have been more satisfying if it dealt with fewer topics and instead explored them in greater depth. Although, the novel’s enormous breadth of subjects does not deter away from the enjoyment of the novel, as a whole.

I would recommend this novel to fans of modern historical fiction and contemporary fiction. Although it is not a novel that will change the literary landscape, it is still a good read.

 

About the Author

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Suzanne Rindell is a doctoral student in American modernist literature at Rice University. Her first novel, THE OTHER TYPIST, debuted on May 7, 2013. It has been translated into 15 languages and optioned for film by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Her second novel, THREE-MARTINI LUNCH, was published by Allison & Busby in April , 2016. She lives in New York City and is currently working on a third novel.

 

 

Review by Beth – Hillingdon Libraries.

The Other Typist is available to borrow immediately and Three Martini Lunch will be coming soon.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Human by Matt Haig #BookReview

Humans. What is our purpose? What impact do we have?17827166

Why are we here?

These questions we all avoid, we all sugar-coat, because in reality we don’t actually know the answers. Or we just can’t face them.

Matt Haig has taken it upon himself to rip off the mask and reveal the authenticity of life with his book ‘The Humans’. The narration of an extra- terrestrial being here on a mission; downloaded into a professor’s body to destroy information that would prove to lead to horrific circumstances because us ‘fighting idiots’ were not equipped to handle it. This, beyond intelligent, alien must learn to fit in to our society and abide by its rules.

Simple things of our everyday lives seem irrelevant and inferior from an outsider’s point of view. He sees behind trivial staples that we distract ourselves with and discloses the truth that we hide behind. His understanding is people drink to feel immortal, they laugh at others because ‘they don’t quite understand the joke that is themselves’ and that from the way society prioritises matters, the news should instead be called ‘the war and money show’. I can’t really describe to you how this one sided view made me feel but I just know that it was a captivating thing to read about the confusion, the disorder humanity seems to be. The truth.

However as the book cultivates we see this detached, emotionless being grow to identify with the feeling of comfort that comes along with the trivial things we indulge in. He sees that humans may be inferior when it comes to our knowledge but we have empathy, compassion and love to pull us through our journeys and that these things defeat everything and everyone else. This is probably the first book I have come across that completely changed my perception of who we are and helped me recognise why we do what we do- how we are more than what meets the eye, the complexity of our species. I saw the chaos and the magnificence in the miracle that is us.

The characters were so well developed and as a reader one could identify with any of them and their problems. The writing was so simple but difficult to grasp, which was strikingly effective as well as satisfying to read and for these reasons I couldn’t conceivably define to you my love for this book because the words are beyond my reach.

I just know that I will forever treasure the feeling of appreciation it gave me to be human, to be the beautiful mess that I was and to see that in truth, everyone around me was just as flawed as I was and that I wouldn’t want our perfectly imperfect world to be any different.

Reem Walid- age 15 (Work Experience at Hayes End Library)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman #BookReview

IImage result for eleanor oliphant is completely finef you are a follower of contemporary fiction you will already know Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is set to be one of the biggest novels of 2017. If fact, the buzz around this novel is so great that it has already been picked up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company ‘Hello Sunshine’, so the question remains is this novel worth all the hype? In one word: Yes!

The novel follows 30 year old, Eleanor Oliphant, a worker in an accounts department of a small design company. Although an intelligent woman she struggles with relating to people and forging relationships with others. The plot is driven on by Eleanor’s new friendship with co-worker, Raymond, a friendship that is formed after the two aid a collapsed stranger in the street, Sammy. As Raymond and Eleanor’s friendship develops Eleanor is forced to confront why she struggles to relate to people in the first place.

Honeyman has successfully created a very accomplished debut novel. The characters feel very vivid and Honeyman has a particularly good ear for dialogue. The plot has a good pace to it leading to the final crescendo. Although this novel does deal with some serious topics such as loneliness and alienation it manages to handle them with great warmth and sensitivity. In conjunction with the humour of this novel the reader will find himself /herself in the ending chapter before they realise. Gail Honeyman will be appearing at the Hillingdon Libraries event ‘Dazzling Debut’ on Friday 30 June and I for one cannot wait to hear her discuss her accomplished debut. Go forth and read now!

About Gail Honeyman

Image result for about gail honeymanWhile Gail Honeyman was writing her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. It has subsequently sold to almost thirty territories worldwide, and it was chosen as one of the Observer’s Debuts of the Year for 2017.

Gail was also awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award in 2014, and has been longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She lives in Glasgow.

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is will be available in Hillingdon Libraries very soon!!

Thanks for reading.

My Mother’s Shadow, Nikola Scott #BookReview

indexI really enjoyed this book.  It was well written and believable and, as it says, it’s “the perfect read for everyone who loves the novels of Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley” as I do.

The story has the familiar format of each chapter being set in a different time frame; what happened in the past having consequences in the present. As we see the events unfolding in the present, flashbacks to what really went on are intriguing and offer us a glimpse into a time of house parties, idyllic summer days and discovering first love. What we also see are the consequences of that love with far-reaching effects being lived out in the present day.

We experience the burden carried of a secret that could not be told and how different our attitudes are today compared with the 1950’s, what a long way we have come.

It’s a great read with just the right amount of twists and turns to keep you guessing and make you want to read on.

About the Author

Image result for Nikola Scott author headlineNikola Scott was born and raised in Germany and studied at university there. Having been obsessed with books from a young age, Nikola moved to New York City after her Master’s degree to begin her first job in book publishing – a career in which she could fully indulge her love of fiction. She spent ten years working in publishing in New York and then in London, editing other people’s books, before she decided to take the leap into becoming a full-time writer herself. She now lives in Germany with her husband.

MY MOTHER’S SHADOW is her debut novel and published by Headline. It is released on 21 Sep 2017.

Thanks for reading!

 

Literary Challenge 2017 #5 Female Protagonist

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As Wonder Woman hits the big screen, Hillingdon Library Staff review books with a female protagonist. From timeless heroines to modern teenagers, from eponymous titles to novels written by women and about women. Read along and get inspired!

We read and review fiction books on a set theme every month, for you.

1. A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore

712I2dHZxWLThis is a story about friendships, growing up, love and heroism. We follow Beatrice’s life, beginning with summer days set against the stunning Cornish coastline. Beatrice, whose mother is French, is invited to live with the rich Wincanton family to keep their daughter company. Whilst at Carlyon Manner Beatrice meets the love of her life, Rafe. She doesn’t realise this immediately and neither does Rafe who proposes to Beatrice’s best friend Angie Wincanton. Angie the rich daughter of an MP based mainly in London, wants for nothing materially and is used to getting her own way. However, you do have sympathy when life deals her some unfortunate cards in this tale. As Beatrice gets older we learn that she has an inner strength and a sense of right and wrong. All she needs is a purpose, which comes along in the shape of the 2nd World War. Beatrice volunteers into First Aid Nursing, finds love with an officer and falls pregnant. Like so many, the officer never comes home. Bringing up a child in such troubled times is difficult, but Beatrice knows she can do more. Speaking French she enrols as a spy which is a life changing experience. After many sacrifices, she now has to make another. This is where we meet Lucy who has just lost her father. After searching through some old papers she has come to look for Carlyon Manor, which has since burnt down. Lucy knocks on Beatrice’s door and Beatrice who is now very old, tells her all about the Wincantons. This story kept me gripped throughout. Whilst playing down the horrors of being caught as a spy, the author captured the atmosphere of times and locations really well.

4 out of 5 stars. Barbara – Ickenham Library

2. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

51NewXPoBTL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_‘Purple Hibiscus’ is a beautifully written coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of political and social unrest in post-colonial Nigeria. The narrator is 15 year old Kambili who lives a privileged and sheltered life in a wealthy family. However, her father, although respected and generous in the community, is a tyrant in his own household, feared by his wife and children who try desperately to please him. After a military coup Kambili and her brother Jaja are sent to stay with their aunt and cousins where they flourish in the more relaxed lifestyle and Kambili begins to gain courage and self-respect. This wonderful book educated, saddened and delighted me in equal measures and I shall definitely read more by this author.

5 out of 5 stars. Carol – Northwood Library

3. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

mrs-dalloway-susie-ghahremani-723x1024‘Mrs Dalloway’ is a key Modernist novel, written in the wake of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ and in the glow of psychoanalysis, with its emphasis on how experience shapes the individual. The novel, then, is tightly focused on the consciousness and memories of the characters, rather than the contemporary events. Taking place on a summer’s day in June 1923, the titular main character is getting ready for a party. Upper class, non-intellectual and repressed, Clarissa Dalloway doesn’t really come to life as a character. We see her as she sees herself, and as others see her. Some people loathe her; others love or admire her. It’s hard to say what Woolf thinks of her, but unlike Joyce and Leopold Bloom, she doesn’t seem to have much affection for Clarissa, and I don’t know enough about Woolf to suggest she identifies with her in any way. As well as being a Modernist classic, it has a claim on feminist literature too, with meditations on women’s bodies and choices at the different stages of life (and often contrasted with men). The themes of sanity and insanity are also very strong, particularly as Clarissa is linked through the loose narrative to Septimus Warren Smith, the schizophrenic shell-shocked soldier whose suicide Clarissa considers a heroic act, even whilst she shallowly feels such a matter should not be raised at the party she’s hosting. Woolf committed suicide after her own madness returned, so there’s possibly more of herself in Septimus than in Clarissa.

5 out of 5 stars. Darren – Uxbridge Library

4. Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

23592235Evie’s life is not easy at all. Most people’s teenage years are difficult, but Evie is having a particularly challenging time. Not only does she have to face regular issues such as school, family, friends and other relationships, but she also struggles with her mental health. She is very young but she already has a past she wants to keep secret, away from her new friends. She just wants to be a regular teenager, asking herself “Am I normal Yet?”. But who is actually ‘normal’? Who can help her? Holly Bourne’s clear view on mental health is educational and helpful. The story is well-informed as well as entertaining. The female point of view pervades all the pages, touching delicate themes. A group of female friends take central stage in Evie’s life and provide a meaningful view of young women’s lives. I would like to read more from Holly Bourne; her question-mark titles sound promising. ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’, ‘…And Happy New Year?’, ‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’.

4 out of 5 stars. Federico – Northwood Library

5. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

17061In Neil Gaiman’s fantasy, the eponymous heroine is a notably sassy and resourceful young girl, somewhat reminiscent of a modern-day Alice in Wonderland. The alternate world she finds herself in, however, is very different from Lewis Carroll’s. Despite the many touches of humour, some quite black, this is a dystopia of horror and gruesomeness in which Coraline must face deadly peril to save herself, her parents and the souls of other children from long ago. Incidental pleasures include the retired luvvies Miss Forcible and Miss Spink, and a sardonic talking cat…

4 out of 5 stars. Mike – Eastcote Library

Have you read any of these books? Do you find novels with a female protagonist particularly interesting? Why aren’t there more books -and films- where women take central stage? You can borrow all these books from our catalogue. Thanks for reading!