Budding Writers at Botwell!

For National Storytelling week Botwell Green Library ran a  250-300 word story-writing competition for children. 12 children took part and it was a really close call but the winner was 7 year old Jaslyn Gill!

In fact we loved her story so much we have put it up on our blog – enjoy!


Charlotte and the Witch

by Jaslyn Gill age 7


Once upon a time there was a girl called Charlotte and she was having a party with her animal friends. Their names were Charlie, Isabelle, Archie and Posh.

After that it was lunchtime and they all had lunch together on one big table.

Suddenly there was a FLASH!!! And a CRASH!!! There was a witch and she was in disguise. She was dressed up as a princess and then she said, “Come to my castle” and Charlotte said ,“Okay then”, as she was very pretty. After they had got there Charlotte asked, “Why does it look like a witch’s house?” and the witch said, “Ummmm… because I forgot to take down my halloween decorations”.

When they got inside the witch quickly turned her cage invisible. Then the witch very quickly locked her in the cage and she cackled so loud that Charlotte’s animal friends could hear her.

So they all came running to the witch’s house, but before they could go in they saw that the door was locked. The witch had made the key invisible. They already knew that because they looked through the window and heard her say that she turned the key invisible. So they all stood on top of each other and just poured some paint over the windowsill and then they found the key and they opened the door.

They quickly took Charlotte out and she saw the magic wand and she had a plan.

She got the wand and turned the witch into a fly and her animal friends took her home.


The End


Ruth Whippman and The Pursuit of Happiness

Ruth-Whippman-photo-e1448427012179Ruth Whippman’s debut book, The Pursuit of Happiness: And Why it’s Making Us Anxious, has received considerable attention on both sides of the Atlantic. Newsweek has identified it as one of the nine books that “will change the way you think in 2016,” and The Sunday Times has applauded the book for its “warm wit and chilling logic.”  The book is a wickedly funny read but for all the laughs it feels incredibly vital. It might be a very personal investigation, but the breadth of Ruth’s pursuit of the happiness industry in the United States of America presents a series of important questions about an industry that has seeped into mainstream American culture. I was fortunate enough to interview Ruth in the middle of a busy promotional tour for the book.

The British journalist and documentary filmmaker was inspired to investigate the ‘Happiness Industry’ when she moved to California. “When I first moved to California it seemed like this alien world. A world where everyone was incredibly positive all of the time, and everyone was talking about mindfulness.” Such was the extent of the mindfulness culture that people in California were even talking about “mindful dishwashing.”

The book follows Ruth’s investigation into this alien world of mindful dishwashing and cities designed to “explore the work/life balance”. Yet, despite the American focus of The Pursuit of Happiness: And Why It’s Making Us Anxious, the book feels just as relevant to British society. Ruth acknowledges this when she discusses how happiness focused British society has become.  “I remember thinking at the time that none of my British friends would be into this incredible positivity and mindfulness. That none of my British friends would think that this was any good. But then over the five years or so that we’ve been away, I feel like it’s absolutely seeped into British culture.”

The release of the book is deliberately designed to coincide with the UN International Day of Happiness on the 20th March. The UN’s website for the day notably includes the tagline, “The Pursuit of Happiness is a fundamental human goal.” Ruth, however, is sceptical. “The International Day of Happiness does put quite a big cultural pressure on people to feel happy, and to kind of aspire to happiness. Which I think research shows is not such a great idea.”



Ruth identifies this as part of a further concern about government involvement. “The fact that there are so many inconsistencies is why we should be very wary about governments getting involved in happiness. Somebody wanting to push a certain agenda could often find studies to back that up.” This is one of the repeated concerns in the book, Ruth’s exploration of the claims made by such studies and whether they stand up to scrutiny.

Yet while Ruth expresses scepticism in this research, the self-help industry is thriving. Ruth even tells me that, “British women spend over half a billion pounds a year on these kind of holistic practices like meditation, yoga and mindfulness.” I ask her why she thinks this is the case if, as she believes, the research is so inconsistent. “I think that there’s been very little critical thought about this industry, and especially the positive psychology movement, which is kind of the academic arm of the self-help industry.”

“The same people doing the research are the same people benefitting from it in terms of selling self-help psychology books. They’re very incentivised to make this research sound very impressive.”

But it isn’t just us who are investing in these practices. Big business is investing too. “I talk about it a bit in the book, where they’re actually sending their staff on happiness training. Some of them are these mystical, spiritual type things. Other ones are the more traditional, sweaty fist-pumping motivational type things.” This begs the question of why businesses would be investing money and time into happiness training. “It’s all based on this positive psychology research, that when people are happier at work they work longer, and more productively, and fewer people can do the work that used to be done by more.”

Worryingly, it isn’t just adults who are affected by this research. There’s one particular chapter in the book that sticks with me after reading it. In it Ruth visits a middle school in the U.S during a ‘Challenge Day.’

“What they do is they get everybody in the school together and then the children are supposed to confess to their deepest secrets. That could be family abuse, addiction in their family, something to do with their sexuality, or bullying, anything like that. They’re supposed to publicly confess in a two-minute allocated slot.”

“And then they move on and it’s never spoken of again. They never get any actual genuine help.”

This event feels like a real turning point for Ruth. It’s at this point in her book that she confesses her uncertainty as to whether or not it is “that simple to opt out” of her investigation into the happiness industry anymore. Ruth continues to ask what such events are actually doing to students and “what the long term consequences” are of children “admitting all this stuff to their peers.”

It’s difficult to imagine such events happening in the UK. So why are they happening in the United States? “I think self-help culture is so ingrained in American life. The pursuit of happiness is written right into the founding documents of the country. It’s hard to overstate what a big part of American cultural life it is.”

But it isn’t just American culture anymore. Ruth has identified a change in British culture too. “I used to say that you could blindfold me and read me out Facebook statuses of my American friends and my British ones, and I would instantly know which ones were which. The American ones were so chirpy, and everyone was blessed and wonderful and positive, and the British ones were all about being late for buses, and standing in the rain, and how rubbish everything was. And now that tone on social media has totally changed. The British are now every bit as happiness focused and positive on social media as the people that I know in America.”

But is there a danger in being so happiness focused? Ruth thinks there might be. “The mindfulness movement is all about a non-judgemental awareness of the present moment. So you’re supposed to be focused in the moment, and you’re not supposed to be analysing it or judging it. You’re just supposed to be experiencing it. I think this can be a useful technique for some people in some situations, but this idea that we should be so mindful that we should switch off our judgement is, I think, quite damaging.”

bookRuth’s message isn’t pessimistic though. Her book reiterates repeatedly that she believes in the power of community to make us feel happy. “The thing that stuck out for me, because there’s so many inconsistencies in the research, is that there’s this one so consistent point. Happiness is dependent on our social interactions.”

Ruth Whippman’s book, The Pursuit of Happiness: And Why it’s Making Us Anxious, is out now and can be found at all good bookstores.

For more information on the UN International Day of Happiness visit http://www.dayofhappiness.net

Judging Books by Their Covers

This week’s cover of the week goes to a entire publisher, Penguin, and the role they have played in why we have book covers to begin with.

penguin collectionPenguin are associate with the classics. Their editions of paperback classic novels, linked together through illustrative covers, are collectors items. Penguin’s long history of collectable book began over eighty years ago when Allen Lane founded the publishing house. Design was instantly a focus for the publishers as they focused on creating affordable books for everyone. This developed into creating affordable works of art, and collections of art, as images of modern art began to appear on the covers. Most recently Coralie Bickford-Smith (The Fox and The Star) created beautiful block print designs for the Penguin English Library series. These beautiful designs use symbols from the books in repeat patterns, subtly suggesting content and setting. The colour schemes are simple but bold, keeping the traditional Penguin orange as a streak down the spine.

I am fascinated by the idea of creating books in to works of art. I have mentioned this many times before. Penguin manage it in a different way from other books I have looked at, whose beautifully illustrated pages make them art objects in themselves. Penguin use the covers to link the works into a collection of works. Each book is beautiful in it’s own right, but it is as a collection that the work really comes together. The detail of the striped spines creates a beautiful set even when they are on the shelf.

penguin classic 4

I love that Penguin have kept design as an important part of their publication process. Everyone can picture the style of a Penguin Classic with it’s artwork at the top, black band and title along the bottom with the iconic penguin in the middle. It seems that Penguin’s design has become just as classic as the books they publish.

To learn more about the history of penguin design see this article from the BBC last year.

An Evening with Rebecca Perkins

Rebecca PerkinsRebecca Perkins visiting Ruislip Manor Library this week to talk about her best-selling book Best Knickers Only, 50 Lessons for Midlife.  She read several lessons, that we had selected previously, chosen for the audience who came on the night.  After each lesson she gave the audience a chance to to think and answer a coaching question related to the subject. These answers were personal and not to be shared.  However when asked ‘ what if you were 10x more bodacious?’ a local lady (who has pink hair) shared that she’d be in jail!

Rebecca shared readings, insights and inspirations in her talk to the audience  who were totally absorbed.
At the end of the event Rebecca asked the audience to answer several questions and share their answers:

What are you grateful for?
What do you want less of?
What do you want more of?
What’s your next chapter?
The answers were all insightful and very different.
At the end of the event most people stayed to talk to the other members there.  It was touching to see how everyone opened up and if we had longer time I think they would have stayed talking, possibly starting new friendships.
Thanks so much for coming Rebecca! We can’t wait to have you back.
Best Knickers Always in available to borrow in Hillingdon Libraries and is available to purchase in all good book shops.
By Jane – Ruislip Manor Library

An Interview with Katherine Webb

k webb

Katherine Webb, author of the bestselling novels The Unseen, A Half Forgotten Song and the Misbegotten, took time out of her busy schedule promoting her latest novel, The English Girl, and devising her next novel, a “kind of whodunit” set in a “village near Bath” (one particular twist is already proving a bit of a “headache”), to speak to us about The English Girl and her writing process.

Katherine described herself as a “magpie,” picking the moments in history that interest her. This is, she said “[the] joy of being a novelist rather than a proper historian […] you don’t have to write a comprehensive study […] you can just follow your heart […] into what sparks your imagination.”

With The English Girl her imagination was sparked by the desert; “I desperately wanted to write about the desert and about early exploration.” Her fascination with the desert is obvious, she describes it as “gorgeous [even though] it could kill you so easily.”

KW 1         KW 2         KW 3

And yet while the ideas behind her books normally appear as a “set of characters or a single character […] in a [particular] era and landscape,” The English Girl was a little more difficult to place. Katherine explored a few different locations before finally settling on Oman. “Oman,” she said “was the perfect fit.” This was partly because of the timeless nature of the country. “[Oman was] still unchanged [and] conservative […] almost nothing ha[d] changed.” It was also an area she could actually visit. Travelling to the locations is “key” for Katherine, because it allows her to discover the “tiny details that you would never find in a book but will see when you’re out there.”

Despite her incredible attention to detail, Katherine focuses more on making her novels “historically plausible” than “historically accurate.” She explains that what she writes is not a “not a comprehensive history.” There are moments where she might play fast and loose with historical facts because ultimately the “story dictates.” The quality of historical fiction, Katherine explains, is to make history “accessible” for people who might have no particular interest in the certain history of a certain region. But she also argues that “with historical fiction it’s far easier to recreate the lives of normal people.”

Her love for discovery is also present in her reading habits. She confesses to a love of finding cloth bound books in junk shops with titles and by authors that she has never heard of. It’s through that process that she discovered the book “Child of the 20s” by Francis Donaldson, having picked it up from “a pile in a cardboard box.” Whether it’s the desert, a historical period or the junk shop, it’s clear Katherine Webb enjoys exploration.

It’s a love that finds itself expressed in her latest novel The English Girl. In the novel, Joan Seabrook, an archeologist desperate to escape personal turmoil, longs to explore the desert fort of Jabrin, but gaining permission might be impossible. But it is meeting her childhood heroine, Maude Vickery, that might change everything. Will The English Girl ever be able to find her way back?

Katherine Webb will be talking about her latest novel. The English Girl, at The Stables, Manor Farm, Ruislip on Thursday 24th March 2016. To book please contact your local Hillingdon library or e-mail  culturebite@hillingdon.gov.uk

KW 4

For more information visit http://www.hillingdon.gov.uk/kwebb

The English Girl is due for publication on Thursday 24th March 2016.

By Mark – Uxbridge Library

Judging Books by Their Covers

Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti

hansel and gretelThis weeks cover of the week is Lorenzo Mattotti’s wonderfully dark illustration on the cover of Neil Gaiman’s Hansel & Gretel. To me this image is everything a fairy tale illustration should be, dark, creepy and mysterious. The ink illustrations continue throughout the book. White of the paper is used to create the suggestion of shape and light in a wonderfully subtle way. It’s almost as if the images have been drawn in negative. I love this style as it emphases the darkness of the wood where the story is set, and the apparent haven of the house found by the children.

I have a love of illustrated books where the artwork is as important to the telling of the story as the words. The images on the cover and throughout this book continue the spooky and mysterious atmosphere throughout. Another book that I find does this really well is Jim Kay’s illustrated edition of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. a monster callsThe illustrations have a very similar feel to Mattotti’s and help to create the feel of the whole book. The later editions of A Monster Calls do not feature Kay’s illustrations. To me this changes the whole feel of the book and how it is read.

Mattotti’s usual style is more colourful and playful than his cover for Hansel & Gretel, though there is still something of the fairy tale about many of his images. His website can be found here.

Judging Books by Their Covers

This week’s post is by Ramie at Uxbridge Library, who has an interesting theory about eyes…
Do the eyes have it?

I have been interested to see the covers chosen for their differing qualities over the past couple of months but my choices raise another point. What is it about a cover that makes it striking enough for you to stop and look at a book and, in a completely non-scientific way, I have come to the conclusion that eyes could play a part in this.

As strange as this sounds we ran a staff suggestions display for a month with a diverse range of reading material and the two most popular books by far both had covers where eyes feature prominently, albeit in completely different ways.

Princess more tears to cryThe first was Princess:  More tears to cry by Jean Sassoon (Cover design by Heather Hodkinson )

This cover feature a photograph of a striking pair of eyes looking out from a dark background and these eyes seem to be looking right at you almost willing you to come over and take a closer look. The beauty of this cover lies in its simplicity, it’s not fussy or complicated but the mesmeric quality of the eyes suffice in making it a book which draws you over to take a closer look.

The second is a much more abstract cover The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (illustrated by crushed.co.uk).

the psycopath test

Again the cover features eyes but these are zany and less obvious than the first cover. The colours of orange and brown jump out at you but are the stylised eyes – a pair of spiralling circles  joined across the bridge of the nose – it’s most striking feature?
Going back to a previous choice on this blog – Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick was the first cover mentioned, this cover has a face on it but rather cleverly there is an eye staring at you from the spine setting it apart from all the other books on the shelf.
There are many other books whose arresting covers feature eyes – Wonder by R J Palacio, What Milo Saw by Virginia Macgregor to name but two.
Which brings me back to my original question, do the eyes have it? Possibly they do.

Literary Challenge #2 – Books Made into Film

Hillingdon Libraries staff second literary challenge of 2016 was to read a book that has been translated into film.

This theme was explored as it has become cultural cliche that to say that the written word consistently surpasses the visual screenplay. While I am traditional books biggest advocate, you have to admit that the media of film is an art in its own right that can often explore themes and details that are difficult to express in a book.

We have 13 reviews for you from 13 wonderful members of library staff. The big question being – is the book always better?



1. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

9780141182605Before I read this book, I saw the film. A dodgy pirate VHS video copy at that, because the film was not available at the time – not banned, as often claimed, but withdrawn from distribution in the UK by Kubrick after he received threats against his family. The film is a sonic and visual assault that juxtaposes gut-churning ultraviolence with Singin’ in the Rain. It’s now available in glorious high definition and is a dazzling if terrifying watch. (Local fact – some scenes were filmed at Brunel University.) The film puts the violence on screen, but book does something much cleverer and ultimately more disturbing.

The inventiveness of the language, via the first person narration of Alex, the psychopathic teenager who narrates the story, distances you from the violence. Yes, you’re reading about an old man being beaten up for money – but it becomes the tolchocking of an old veck for a malenky bit of cutter. This is Nadsat, Burgess’ invented teen slang based on Russian. So we become brainwashed – not only do we start to understand the language as we read but we aren’t as appalled as we should be by what’s being described, and Alex is worryingly good company with a wonderful way of expressing himself.

Before too long, Alex is imprisoned for the murder of an old woman (a starry ptitsa) and enters a government behaviour modification programme himself to cure him of his evil urges. It works, but at the cost of his free will – a philosophical problem that Burgess explores through the voices of authority in politics, law and religion. Alex isn’t choosing to do good, instead he’s forced not to do evil.

The film was based on the American edition of the novel, which didn’t include the last chapter. This gave the film a more downbeat ending than Burgess intended as well as destroying the elegance of the book’s structure – 3 parts of 7 chapters each equalling 21 chapters, 21 being the age Alex is when the novel ends. Adulthood finds him free of his conditioning, but choosing to turn his back on his youthful thuggery because it’s lost its appeal. It’s a less sensational conclusion but one that makes sense and closes the action of the book on a sober, reflective note. A work of genius.

5 out of 5 stars

Darren – Uxbridge Library



2. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

tumblr_mw238vEJhK1r1957co1_1280I absolutely loved this book. It tells the story of a group of boys who find themselves mysteriously secluded on a enclosed piece of land surrounded only by a giant ever changing maze. The story tells of the community that has been built by these boys and follows the story of Thomas who arrives at the maze and is determined to find his way out. Obviously placed in this compound with no idea why or who by the boy’s develop a way of living, hierarchy and relationships with each other as they try to solve the mystery. It is only when Thomas arrives that they really start looking for clues and answers and his appearance starts to upset the balance of the previous boys way of living as he pushes the boundaries and asks the questions to try and escape. I was worried that The Maze Runner would be too similar to The Hunger Games. Although there are loose similarities there wasn’t a major clash between the two novels and it didn’t make me want to compare/judge them side by side. In fact I found myself being drawn back to my school reading where we were given Lord of The Flies to read and actually themes of that seemed more similar. I am pleased of this because it meant the book stood in it’s own right. It wasn’t ‘just another YA Hunger Games wanna be’ it was a brilliant individual novel in my opinion.

5 out of 5 stars

Richard – Harefield Library



3. The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

1135831248625853The novel and the film follow the same broad outline of making you root in some ways for a psychopathic killer, but the novel is more subtly done. Ripley is an orphaned misfit, manipulative, amoral, a master of lies and disguise, worming his way into the affections of a rich young American man before (spoiler alert) killing him and assuming his identity. The author retains our sympathy for him by sharing his mental processes as he assesses the risks of each step and improvises successfully when danger threatens. The film, unable without a voice-over to mirror all this, compensates with extra melodrama (an abandoned pregnant mistress for the doomed heir; a third murder to protect Ripley’s secret.) It’s sumptuously shot and splendidly acted, but coarsens and simplifies the book’s impact. Chalk one up to the readers!

5 out of 5 stars

Mike – Eastcote Library



4. Half A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

half-of-a-yellow-sun-1I have been meaning to read this book for years and I am so glad I finally have. Once I started I was really keen to find out what happened to the characters. The story was told so well, with all the central characters stories intertwining. I don’t often like books that don’t run in chronological order, but in this novel it was really effective, hinting at things that had happened, to keep you guessing. I really knew nothing about the civil war in 1960’s Nigeria and the creation of the separate state of Biafra, so it was really interesting finding out about these events through the characters stories. I am not sure if I would like to watch the film as some of the scenes described in the book were quite gruesome; regarding the soldiers actions towards civilians. I would highly recommend the novel, as it was so well written and historically informative too.

5 out of 5 stars

Siobhan – Uxbridge Library



5. Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement_(novel)Atonement: a resonant yet simple abstract idea, which says it all of this brilliant novel in terms of theme, characterisation and plot! Cast in four parts, set variously in 1935, 1940 and 1999 in England and France, we read of a 13 year old girl who tells a big fib, which lands a man in prison for sexual assault of a minor. The epigraph from Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (posthumous, 1818) references the dangers of an adolescent female, over-active imagination, and possible consequences for all involved. But, whereas Austen is relatively light, wryly ironic and even comic about these possibilities, McEwan is far darker and more-deadly serious. The cost to the protagonists is high, yet skilfully veiled to the reader until the final pages, and is both heart-rending and dramatically satisfying, though tragic for…well, read the book and weep! The style of the writing is clear and Realist on the whole, and the tone and genre basically melodramatic and romantic. It could be said to be a work for both sexes to enjoy, as (like most classic fiction and poetry) it entwines the age old combination of Love and War into the moral and ethical frameworks of its central theme, the eponymous ‘Atonement’! Likewise, the film version (2007) captures all these aspects whilst simultaneously condensing a fairly-long novel into two hours or so of cinema. Look out for the 6 minute uncut tracking shot of the Dunkirk evacuation, it was actually made on Redcar sea front in Yorkshire!

5 out of 5 stars

Len – Harefield Library



6. Perfume – Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind


The novel is a gripping story about a murderer, driven by the sense of smell, as he was on the search to create a perfume, whose scent would cause people to fall into awe and admiration of him.

The novel is set in the 18th century France and I would highly recommend this book. I originally read it in his original German version and I enjoyed the english translation as much.



5 out of 5 stars

Franka – Hayes End Library



7. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City_of_BonesInitially I had watched the film half asleep, but then I had the book recommended hundreds of times by friends until recently I decided to finally read it. I’m not sure where to start! The book was brilliant, the magic and mystery of it all and the constant plot twists that left me hanging and reading until the early hours. After finishing the book, I decided to rewatch the film with a newly acquired view of the book. I was horrendously disappointed by the film, nothing was left to the imagination and twenty minutes into the film they’d uncovered all the best parts of the book, no mystery, no magic. I think I will stick to letting my imagination create the movie rather than Hollywood. The characters had a specific look in my head and on screen they didn’t look the same. I’d recommend the book to others but not the movie nor the new TV series. The book has everything ticked off for a YA book, romance, action and a cunning victim. My only main problem with the book was the difficult vocabulary, as this book is intended for teenagers/younger children I found myself having to google what half of the words meant and it took away from the flowing plot of the story. I look forward to reading the next book and seeing where the plot leads to.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Alison – Relief Library Assistant (She could be anywhere)



8. Howl by Allen Ginsberg

HowlBookCoverI had never thought of reading beat poetry (too pseudy) until I caught the 2010 film ‘Howl’, based on a collection of Allen Ginsberg’s poems. ‘Howl’, published 1955, caused an obscenity trial in the States – there are several references to drug use and sexuality, especially homosexuality. But to dwell on the poems’ supposed shock value is to miss the point. ‘Howl’ undoubtedly trawls the dirty, miserable underbelly of mid-20th century America, but it does so with a breathless, visionary energy which is deliberately hallucinogenic.Ginsberg fused opposing images to get his ideas across. In the title poem, we move from those ‘who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets’ to men ‘who bared their brains to heaven…and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated’. Like trains racketing ‘through snow toward lonesome farms’, we plunge headlong, from ‘Harlem crowned with flame under the tubercular sky’ to ‘the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns of the east’. Howl’ is an unblinking look at a transforming America. Ginsberg shows us all the bright possibilities of the impending free love and drugs culture, and the grimey reality of it at the same time. One line says it all, celebrating (or mourning) those ‘who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish’. Read it and have your mind expanded (legally of course). Films based on this are ‘Howl’ 2010 and ‘Kill Your Darlings’ 2013.

4 out of 5 stars

Paul – Uxbridge Library



9. Carrie by Stephen King

51sliNO9gyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Stephen King’s first novel Carrie (which has been made into a movie twice) follows an American high school girl ‘Carrie’ who appears to have telekinetic powers. She is bullied and ridiculed as she doesn’t fit in at school, her ‘Mom’ has extreme religious views and Carrie seems very naive for her age. Although the book deals with the supernatural, I found it moving in it’s portrayal of Carrie and her plight. King uses different ways of telling the story, which moves it along at a much faster pace than having just one storyteller. It’s a great story, moving and emotive, graphic at times. It’s a book that has stayed with me after reading. I have seen the original film, but many years ago, a hazy memory now apart from the dramatic ending, which is not in the book!

4 out of 5 stars

Marie-Louise – Hayes End Library



10. Beloved by Toni Morrison

girls-no-10---belovedWhile in the full throws of reading this story I did not enjoy it. It was confusing and mythical, using colloquial language with strikingly graphic sex and violence – but now that I can look at it as a whole I am really impressed and slightly unnerved at the effect it had and still has on me.

It is essentially about an escaped black slave called Sethe, who travels from Kentucky to Ohio and who at the beginning of the book lives in a haunted house with her youngest daughter and mother-in-law. This spirit is dangerous and upsets things at the misery of all the family.

When Paul D, another slave from Sethe’s plantation comes to find a place to stay, he manages to remove the spirit from the house and things begin to change in a positive way for the family. But this can only last for so long….very soon a young girl appears on the doorstep of the family home saying that her name is Beloved – the very name of Sethe’s previous elder daughter who died. The girl is confused and doesn’t really make much sense and almost immediately Sethe comes to accept her as the daughter who she lost that has come back to her. Sethe & Paul D start a relationship which Beloved very oddly becomes involved in almost forcing Paul D into sleeping with her.

You then get in an insight into Sethe’s back story as a slave and this is what disturbed me most. Horrific things happened to her at the hands of her masters, her children as taken away from her at birth, her breast milk is stolen and the beatings, as well as rapes, are viscerally cruel. You go with her when she escapes with her youngest child after her worst beating and tries to make her way to her mother-in-law’s house in Ohio. She makes it there at the expense of her health and is reunited with her 3 other children. Then her slave master finds her – she does what she can to make her children safe, but whether or not she is justified is another matter.

The story has a relatively happy and tied up ending, with Beloved essentially disappearing in a whisp of smoke and Sethe & Paul D accepting each other as they are. Her youngest daugher Denver even gets a job. As to whether this is literary fiction, horror, fantasy or even a murder mystery baffles me – I am inclined to think it is all 4 genres rolled into one. I must say that when I watched the film I followed the story a lot easier and sympathised with the main character a lot more. The power of the language and what the slaves had to endure has struck me hard and will stay with me for a long time. Definitely worth reading.

4 out of 5 stars

Lara – Harefield Library



11. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

51vH4vUmQyL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_The book is a heart-rending story about the circumstances leading to a young girl leaving Enniscorthy for New York in the 1950s.The matter of fact style of writing hides the enormity of the events which affected the family.Ellis the main character has a sister Rose who longs for a glamorous life away from dreary Enniscorthy but it is Ellis who is sent to America,because one of the sisters has to stay with her widowed mother.Ellis,through her hardworking efforts begins to do well in America but only when she meets an Italian-American man that she begins to live.She is suddenly recalled to Ireland for the heart breaking funeral of her sister.Rose and the uncanny fact that on this trip back she meets the man who is her soulmate but unfortunately Tony had insisted she marry him before she went back to Ireland so once again Ellis has to return to fulfill her responsibilities.There are no breaks for this girl who has never reneged on her responsibilites to anyone.The film although with an excellent cast does not quite pin down the heartbreaking choices this girl has to make and the acceptance by her of the cards fate has dealt her.

4 out of 5 stars

Marian – Northwood Hills Library



12. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

5th-waveUnusually for me I actually knew about the film before the book when I saw the trailer starring Chloe Moretz and then put two and two together when I started seeing the book in the windows of various Waterstones. From the trailer I thought I was going to be reading a book similar to The Hunger Games or the Divergent series but actually other than it being YA & Dystopian it was very different. For a start The 5th Wave has aliens and I’m not talking the ET kind. Aliens have invaded Earth and are on a mission to wipe-out mankind and of course being a YA novel there are a number of teenagers and children who have plans to stop them. The book’s straplines describe it as both scary & terrifying but I really didn’t feel that when reading it, at times it is intense but for me the fact that the story is told via different points of view sometimes left me just a little to confused as to which character I was reading about. It took a while for me to settle into Rick Yancey’s writing style and to work out who everyone was but once I hit the final quarter of the book things really started to ramp up and I started to find myself invested in the characters. I’ve yet to see the film but I will watch it once it is out on DVD or on Sky.The 5th Wave is book one in the series with The Infinite Sea already out and book 3, The Last Star due out in May. It’s certainly worth a read if you like sci-fi/dystopian books but in my opinion there are far better ones out there.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sam – Manor Farm Library



13. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

LA_BOCA_POTO_500pxFirst serialised in France between 1909-1910, Phantom of the Opera was neither commercially or critically successful. It was not until the successful film of 1925 (sold more as a vehicle for Lon Chaney, the man of a thousand faces) and the exuberant stage musical that the novel began to receive considerable attention. It is notable that the framing device used in the novel is that of a narrator interested in solving the mysteries of the Paris Opera House. The author, Gaston Leroux, was originally a mystery writer inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. The narrator attempts to work out the origin of all these mysterious circumstances and subsequently prove the existence of the legendary Phantom. One of the constant themes of the novel is an attempt to explain the apparently supernatural with cold reason and logic, perhaps inspired by the successful Sherlock Holmes stories. The novel also differs from subsequent adaptations in that it details the background of the Phantom, explaining his mastery of rope tricks and illusions. However, while there is often something cold and detached about the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Phantom of the Opera is a novel that dives fully into Gothic and melodramatic excess. Raol, Christine’s less monstrous love interest, is often described as weeping and his emotions, which switch constantly, are as thunderous as the soundtrack which would accompany the stage musical. He is a man that suffers greatly and openly for his romantic love in a way that might surprise modern readers. It is a novel that is difficult not to read with a wry eye but, having entered the spirit of the thing, it is a novel that is easy to enjoy for it’s unapologetic excess of melodrama. It is a bombastic approach to very old themes of supernatural/logic, the Faustian bargain, the power of music, love/lust, the perils of romantic love and, to a certain degree, the way in which aesthetic values of a society can be so confining to those that contradict them. It is notable that novel, film and stage musical all ask us to sympathise with the Phantom and that to Christine the darkness is contained within the troubled monster rather than in his appearance.

3 out of 5 stars

Mark – Uxbridge Library


So which would you vote for – film or book?

Thanks for reading!




Judging Books by Their Covers

Cover of the week – Raven Girl by Audrey Niffengger

This week’s cover was chosen by Sophie at Ickenham Library. She says;

Raven Gril‘This book is illustrated by the author herself with beautiful pictures inside and out. The book is a short unusual fairy story.’

The cover image accurately represents the story inside the book; ‘the tale of a postman who encounters a fledgling raven on his route and decides to bring her home. The unlikely couple falls in love and conceives a child—a raven girl trapped in a human body. The raven girl feels imprisoned by her arms and legs and covets wings and the ability to fly. Betwixt and between, she reluctantly grows into a young woman, until one day she meets an unorthodox doctor who is willing to change her.’

This story was created in collaboration with the Royal Opera House Ballet and turned into a choreography by Wayne McGregor. Ballet is frequently used as a medium to tell fairy tales and the poetic description of the book, together with the beautiful illustrations, link the two forms beautifully. The print on the cover, for example, inspires costume ideas that have been seen frequently in ballet – the transformation from one creature to another.

The dark and eerie side of fairy tales are represented throughout Niffenger’s work. She began her career as a print artist, using a technique know as aquatint. This technique is similar to etching and involves the use of a metal plate that is covered in a ground (either wax or resin). The design is worked into the ground and acid is used to remove layers of metal to achieve different tones when the plate is used to create a print. It can be a long process, and the final results cannot always be predicted. Niffengger’s use of prints turn her books into art objects. Many of her books were originally released as limited editions with original prints. These beautiful books all have the air of fairy tales about them. She is also the author of the best selling ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ and is currently working on a sequel.

If you like the look of this book I would recommend checking out Niffengger’s website here, where you will be sucked into the eerie fairy tale world she has concocted.