Staff Review:The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I have to start by saying that I am a huge Margaret Atwood fan. I met her as a teenager when I was working in a book store in Canada, around the time she released Oryx and Crake, the first of the heartMaddaddam series (which I highly recommend by the way). She was extremely kind, down to earth and I was instantly a super fan, proceeding to inhale every novel she had written.
Nifty fact, the novel Alias Grace is based on a true crime story in Canada, and partly takes place in my home town, Kingston, Ontario!
Anyway, to The Heart Goes Last, Atwood once again puts her mind to the future, looking at frightening yet disturbingly plausible near realities of the modern day. Stan and Charmaine live in a time which feels uncomfortably close, they’re both unemployed, both running away from debt and living out of their car, in a country which is on it’s knees following a social and economic collapse.
One day, they are offered a way out in the form of a social experiment. Once signed on, they can have a house of their own in the town, called Consilience, a stable job in community with virtually no crime. The catch? They spend one month in suburban bliss in Consilience and the following month locked up in Positron prison. The motto:  Do time now, buy time for our future.
All goes well at first, Consilience seems like a dream come true, an answer to the heightening problems out on the street and the project begins to expand. Slowly things start to turn sour, both in Stan and Charmaines personal life, and with the project, as desire and greed begin to take over. Unknown to them Stan and Charmaine are about to swept up in a coup in which they are merely pawns, forced to do unspeakable things in the name of a cause they often know nothing about.
I really like Atwood’s writing style, but I could see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. She isn’t afraid to use strong language or explore strong emotions in raw human detail. Especially in Stan, you feel a little bit uncomfortable reading his inner thoughts, mainly because he can be harsh and dirty, but also because you recognise that, free from judgement, many of us have the potential to be just as harsh and dirty as Stan.
Certainly not a light read, and one that really starts to grab you about mid way through the novel, this is one to stick with and really get into.
My adoration and love of Margaret Atwood’s work is unwavering following this instalment to her oeuvre.
By Amanda at Ruislip Manor library

Baby Book Reviews

Following my post about the benefits of reading to babies I thought I would share some of the books I am most excited to share with my niece when she arrives. These books are all available in Hillingdon Libraries.

Hungery catrpillar

‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle* – A classic children’s story of a very greedy caterpillar (my mum had to read this to me every night when I was small). There are lots of versions out there including board book versions that will suit little hands and even a puppet version with a simple count up of fruit rather than the full story. I would however steer clear of the pop-up version which, although beautiful, is a bit too delicate for little fingers.

how to catch a star

How to Catch a Star’ by Oliver Jeffers – This is a very sweet story with beautiful illustrations about a small boy who wants to play with the stars. This is a lovely soothing story for both parent and baby.

thats not my

Any of the ‘That’s not my…’ series from Usborne by Fiona Watts and Rachel Wells. There is a huge range of these touchy-feely books. The simple illustrations are perfect for little ones while the different textures in each image encourage babies to explore the page.

happy baby

I’m also keen to try the range of black and white board books that are becoming increasingly popular. These books provide high contrast images designed for a baby’s developing eyes, so that they will start to recognise and associate the images with the words.

All of these books are available in Hillingdon Libraries. It is free to join and children can order books between branches for free, so if we can’t find it for you at your local branch we can order it from somewhere else.

*Please note that not all versions of the hungry caterpillar, such as the pop-up version, are available from the libraries.

by Rosie Marchant (Oak Farm Library)

Our Young Adult Reading Guide

With the surprising new statistics that over 80% of Young Adult books are bought and read by Adults – you’re never too old to start reading ‘Young Adult’ (YA) fiction and we have the best guide for you to dive straight in!


All of Hillingdon libraries team who are YA readers have been on the task with finding you the very best books in the genre to start you off on the right foot as you begin your YA journey; or possibly just want something different to read. Some of them you probably would’ve heard of already in different genres but a general definition of YA Fiction is a book containing an adolescent protagonist, who will probably face significant difficulties and crises, and grow and develop to some degree – and these all fit in that that description.

So I’ve compiled a list of the Top Ten YA Books to start with and reasons for all.

  1. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

dark materials

I am being a bit naughty here as this isn’t just a stand alone book it’s a trilogy, but what a fantastic trilogy! These books are sometimes put in with children’s fiction but there are some very adult and arguably young adult, themes, complex plots and magical characters that make this so enjoyable. Start with Lyra’s alternate Oxford in Northern Lights where people’s inner-selves are physical represented as Daemons and children are mysteriously disappearing..


2. Sabriel by Garth Nix


If you love Game of Thrones, read this. It has as many disturbing themes, and also, it’s better. The main character is an 18-year-old necromancer on a quest to rescue her father from the other realm. And Nix has recently come out with a new book in the series, so there’s no better time.


3. Harry Potter by J.K Rowling


Seriously…you haven’t read this? Read it. You won’t regret it.


4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


No doubt you would have seen all the film hype about this, especially with ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ just coming out and even if you have seen some of the films the books genuinely are just so much better. Follow Katniss Everdeen as she volunteers as the tribute for District 12 in an annual fight to the death between children from every District in Panem. Some powerful and bittersweet themes run through this and it’s one of those books you won’t be able to put down.

5. Witch Child by Celia Rees

witch child

A beautifully written book narrated by the protagonist, Mary, who has just seen her Grandmother die after being tried as a witch and is desperate to escape the same fate. It’s a fast-paced story that hits the ground running and makes the reader wonder how much of the world is shaped on whispers and suspicion.

6. Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

chaos walking trilogy

A wonderfully written Science-Fiction Trilogy that is a wonderful stepping stone into Sci-Fi or YA for the reader who has never tried these before.

Imagine being able to hear everyone’s thoughts all the time, shouting, screaming, whispering, never stopping….then finding the one person whose thoughts you can’t hear at all.


7. The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

mortal instruments

If you’re a paranormal romance fan then this series is for you. Originally written for adults but having teenage protagonists this got put into YA at the height of vampires, werewolves and other super naturals when the popularity for them was at fever pitch – but this series has carried on and remained popular where a lot of other similar ones haven’t. City of Bones is about a fifteen-year old girl named Clary Fray, whose search for her missing mother leads her into an alternate New York called Downworld, filled with mysterious faeries, hard-partying warlocks, not-what-they-seem vampires, an army of werewolves, and the demons who want to destroy it all.


8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

the book thief

Written from Death’s POV this highly engrossing novel follows Liesel and her trials throughout the Second World War. Adopted on the brink of adolescence and forced to face trials no person should every go through. The book describes emotions and situations with brutal honesty and a disturbing beauty.


9.  How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

how I live now

I adored this book when it first came out and then read it again after watching the film when it came out at the cinema.  You follow Daisy, a neurotic American Teenager who comes to spend the summer with her eccentric British family when a nuclear bomb goes off in London that changes everything.

10. The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Girl from everywhere

We’ll finish off with a recent YA publication. This YA fantasy sweeps from modern-day New York City, to nineteenth-century Hawaii, to places of myth and legend. Sixteen-year-old Nix has sailed across the globe and through centuries aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. But when he gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end.


Really hoped you enjoyed this blog post!

By Lara – Harefield Library

Babies Love Books

Within the library service we are used to hearing and using the phrase ‘Babies Love Books’, there is even a lovely picture book with this title by Catherine & Laurence Anholt. And it’s true, babies do love books, there are many testimonies from parents on various forums and sites, including this lovely summary from a parent on booktrust’s site;

babies love books

There is a wide range of research into the benefits of reading to children from just a few days old. Summarising Dorothy Butler, Julia Eccleshare states,  ‘…by sharing books with babies from the earliest moment you are teaching them a lot about the looking and listening that underpins the later-acquired skill of reading’. Reading with babies is a fantastic way to reinforce routine, to calm and sooth before bed or naptime and to develop their language skills. Babies love books because it is an activity that allows them to be close to a parent, and to interact with and begin to understand the world around them.

baby book

As a very excited Aunty-to-be I was horrified to hear my brother-in-law say ‘what’s the point in getting my baby books’. After a swift telling off I vowed to shower the baby with as many books as I could; which I realise was probably his plan all along. In the library service we work closely with Booktrust to promote the Bookstart Programme of Baby Bags for, well, babies and Treasure Gifts for 3 year olds. There is a great range of packs for children with additional needs and support for families where english is a second language. The Booktrust offer supports parents and provides information on the importance of reading and literacy in children. If you’ve yet to receive a pack for your child just come into your local library and ask a member of staff for details.

For more information about benefits of reading to babies visit the bookstart website, where you will also find lots of hints and tips and activities to do together, as well as a brilliant bookfinder. I also found this lovely article on the guardian which has some other suggestions of books for babies.

By Rosie Marchant (Oak Farm Library)

Review – The Things we did for Love by Natasha Farrent

The things we did for loveInspired by YA Shot and having had the opportunity to see Natasha Farrant discuss some of her research methods and how she began telling this story, I was pretty excited to read this book.  The story follows Luc and Arianne, nourishing a budding romance in a village called Samaroux, France in the closing days of World War Two. Farrant describes village life in WWII very well; the two main taverns divided by differing loyalties, the village Pastor and the gossips who know everything about every one else.  Luc, reeling from a dark family secret feels it is his duty to join the resistance and help to end the German occupation, this drive is where this love story turns into a tragedy.  Arianne has already lost her Mother to illness, and her Father to a POW camp. She is your average young woman, looking after her mischievous younger brother, Paul (who was my favourite character actually) and talking about boys with her cousin Solange.  However, their reality is that they are living under Nazi occupation, and a catastrophic event is about to completely change their lives.
Based on real events from WWII in a village in the South-West of France called Oradour-sur-Glane, the culmination of this novel is heart breaking, even more so because the events described in this novel are true. Farrant describes the event in a prologue, encouraging readers to find out more and even visit Oradour-sur-Glane, which has been preserved just as the Nazis left it on the 10th of June 1944.
At it’s heart this novel is a love story, one which any wide-eyed young reader would adore, however there are some raw elements of fear, hatred, guilt and the very base nature of  being human in war time that give the story real depth.
By Amanda Patterson (Ruislip Manor Library)

My day at Young Author Shot – October 28th 2015

90fnzpI’ll be honest with you, going into this event I had not read much teen fiction. For me, my bedside table is consistently full with my personal back-log of books that I MUST read soon, and I didn’t consider making the space for a new genre, especially Teen Fiction which “I am far too mature for.”
IMG_0596Consider me painted wrong!
Directed by author Alexia Casale and supported by the London Borough of Hillingdon Libraries and the Arts Council England, YA Shot kicked off with a big one day festival on 28th of October. There were over 80 Authors and Contributors sharing their experiences, tips, tricks and secrets to writing their books.
IMG_0574There were Blogging and Vlogging workshops to support aspiring authors to build up a presence online and attract publishers. The Middle Grade workshops were fun for young and old, I attended What’s Your Superpower? with Susie Day, we all drew and described our own Superhero and crafted a story where we were all heroes!
IMG_0589Later on, in the main hall I watched Laure Eve chair a panel with James Dawson, Antonia Honeywell & Emma Pass as they really got to the heart of their craft, discussing everything, including researching, personal experience, developing characters, exploring social issues in fiction and current issues like feminism, LGBTQ and homophobia.
IMG_0585I had the opportunity to attend the 11.30 Playing with Time: Historical fiction and historical settings, chaired by Natasha Farrant (Author of the Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby series) joined by Lucy Coats (Author of Cleo), Rhian Ivory (Author of The Boy who Drew the Future) and Alison Rattle (Author of The Beloved).  Each author took the audience through their own research methods, and the varying challenges they faced based on the era they were writing in. Where Rattle is able to locate quite a bit of information from the 18th and 19th centuries, Coats had to search deeper to locate real information from Ancient Egypt, particularly about how they lived, how they decorated and how they ate as these were integral parts of writing a true to life character.
IMG_0594Each venue was a hustle and bustle of authors, contributors, fans and budding writers rubbing shoulders, sharing experiences and discussing ideas.
The best news is that this is just the beginning! The YA Shot event was the launch of a year long programme of free author visits across Hillingdon. Make sure you watch this space for your chance to get involved in the coming year.
By Amanda Patterson (Ruislip Manor Library)

Halloween Spooktacular

YI 1Yiewsley Library was transformed last month for our ‘Halloween Spooktacular’ event, organised as part of the Culture Bite festival. On October 31 visitors enjoyed an evening of spooky stories and other ghoulish activities! All to set your spine tingling…with excitement of course!

YIGreat effort was made by children, parents and Yiewsley library staff to dress up and we were pleased to see such a wonderful range of spooky costumes on display during our Halloween parade!

All the children did a fantastic job of designing and decorating their own jam jar lanterns to take home at the end of the evening. Thanks to everyone that came along and contributed to the success of this event.

YI 3    YI 2     YI 4

By Sarah (Yiewsley Library)

Mexico Lo Fantastico! Ruislip Manor Celebrate in Style

RM 1Ruislip Manor Library celebrated the Year of Mexico in the UK in grand fashion yesterday, the 29th of October, at our Mexico Lo Fantastico event. There was Dios de los Muertos, ” The Day of the Dead” themed childrens crafts, making sugar skull masks with lots and lots of glitter, a skeleton puppet and sugar skull colouring in.
RMThe adults got involved with the Mexican themed crafts too as we launched our Adults Colouring sessions, which will be happening every second Thursday starting on the 12th of November. We also had  Pat who was run off her feet showing our readers how to make Corn Dollys, lots of our visitors went away with traditional Corn Dolly designs. Our Dios de los Muertos alter was set up by Kim, who talked our visitors through what the Dios de los Muertos is about in Mexico, what the alter is for and how they honour their ancestors on this day every year.
RM 2We had a visit from the Mayor, the Mayoress and their Grand-daughter who ran straight for the crafts, while the Mayor ran straight for the food! Mayor George Cooper was impressed by how many members of the community came to take part, citing how libraries now support communities in so many different ways.
Rm 3A special thank you has to go out to the wonderful providers of authentic Mexican Cuisine, Hombres of Rayners Lane. The queue for their delicious homemade Fajitas, Guacamole, Nachos and Churros lasted the entire afternoon, with many going back for seconds!
All in all, it was an event to remember, bringing all members of the community together to celebrate, to celebrate a different culture, to celebrate learning. An excellent way to bring our CultureBite events to a close!
By Amanda Patterson (Ruislip Manor Library)