Hillingdon Libraries’ staff fourth literary challenge of 2016 was to read a book that had a one-word title. This was harder than you may think!
There are hundreds of titles you assume are one word and then it has “The” or “A” in front of it – but we soon discovered there were plenty to choose from. Here is what twelve members of staff thought about the books that they chose to read during April.
1. Stoner by John Williams
This book popped up a few years ago as a lost classic, and initially I didn’t believe the hype, having not heard of either the author or the title. And the title made me think this was going to be some sort of 1970s counter-culture novel. Then, a few people whose opinions I respect recommended it to me and I gave it a go.
It’s a wonderful novel – detached, unsentimental and with an eye for the small victories and tragedies that characterise the lives of most of us. Like James Joyce with Stephen and Bloom (but without the wild intellectual experimentalism), John Williams holds up William Stoner, the everyday man, as a hero, allowing the normal trials of mere human existence to be examined and as a result ennobled. It is a very moving book, more so for being without schmaltz, and I cried at the end. But ultimately, it’s life-affirming because it speaks about ordinary triumphs, ordinary mistakes, ordinary love and ordinary death.
Believe the hype.
5 out of 5 stars
Darren – Uxbridge Library
2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I initially read Frankenstein when I was thirteen and was struck by the way it started with letters about how a sea captain had found a strange man in the Arctic; this was my first experience with an epistolary novel and I really liked the style.
The media had lied to me about the created creature; his name was not Frankenstein but it was his creator’s; and the monster was not a monster at all, but a product of an obsession to create life. This struck me as something beautiful and when the creature was shunned and abandoned I felt pained and scared for it. I completely related to the creature’s bitterness towards people after the way it had been treated and was touched by the humanity expressed within it’s consciousness in the decisions it made. Something very special and unique, I would be happy to read this again and again.
5 out of 5 stars
Lara – Harefield Library
3. Revelation by C.J Sansom
Revelation is the 4th book of the Shardlake series by C J Sansom, which is set in 1543 England. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer, who is trying to discover the murderer of his best friend and colleague. His investigations lead directly to the court of Henry VIII. After initial struggles to remember the names, positions and involvements of key figures at Henry’s court, I was unable to put the book down, because the story was extremely gripping and well written.
C J Sansom’s has vast knowledge about the ways people lived during Henry’s time and his descriptions were so real, that I could visualise individual scenes clearly, almost as if I could smell, hear and touch everything. I also enjoyed how the author included the old fashioned language. Each book of the Shardlake series is complete on its own and readers are able to follow the plot without having read the prequels. Revelation has inspired me to read all the other books in the series and I am now on my third book. I have also listened to one of the audiobooks and found it well recorded and a good alternative when out and about.
5 out of 5 stars
Franka – Hayes End Library
4. Once by Morris Gleitzman
A beautifully written book by Morris Gleitzman, every chapter begins with Once… This book is just a rollercoaster of emotions leaving you wondering what will happen next. The protagonist is Felix, a 10 yr old Jewish boy sent to an orphanage. His bright imagination keeps the spirits up at the orphanage until one day where Nazi soldiers come to the orphanage and burn all the jewish books. Initially, Felix believes these Nazis hate Jewish books but soon realises it’s not about the books. This book makes you laugh and cry and every other emotion. Would highly recommend for the witty humour and heartfelt story with plenty of twist (good and bad).
5 out of 5 stars
Alison – Relief Library Assistant
5. Hellboy by Mike Mignola
Hellboy, the comic series by Mike Mignola, describes the adventures of a red, nearly hornless ‘demon’ conjured up after World War 2, who finds himself in America with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), combating an array of supernatural foes. He is a giant, wise-cracking cigar-chomping guy with a soft heart underneath. Think of Ron Perlman who plays him in the movie versions, and you have it. So much for the character himself. There are two things that raise these graphic novels above the usual superhero fare. The first is the artwork. Hellboy is one of the few graphic novels where the colour black is used to such great effect.
Characters appear in silhouette, the eyes and teeth of monsters are sketched against a shaggy black background, statues loom out of the dark. Many of the panels look wonderfully staged or decorative. There is great use of historical locations and details – a church monument with long dead bishop and attendant angels, brilliantly etched in black and gold, a half-toppled ivy-covered khaki statue in a graveyard. I mention the colours, because when they are used, they absolutely blaze out. Each page positively glows with them. The second thing are the themes Mignola chooses to write about. He borrows his stories from across the folkloric spectrum. Hellboy not only comes across the obligatory Nazi mad-occult-scientists but faerie folk, vampires (proper old-school ones), werewolves, the Morrigan, golem and Baba Yaga – and he is scrupulously faithful to the original mythology. When you open a Hellboy comic, you are taken back to the strange and powerful roots of European legend. So drop your X-men and Avengers and immerse yourself in colour and wonder instead.
5 out of 5 stars
Paul – Uxbridge Library
6. Engleby by Sebastian Faulks
Mr Faulks – NB rhymes with ‘folks’ not ‘forks’! – was not a writer I’d tried until Engleby was recommended by a colleague. And, knowing that he had fairly recently taken up the 007 franchise challenge with Devil May Care (2009), I was weary of liking him, for obvious if elitist reasons! However, I loved Engleby, although it was a pretty self-indulgent read for me. The author is not much older than myself, and has filled the narrator’s life with much of what could be inferred to be Faulks’s own experience of Britain from the 50s to more or less the present day, i.e. it’s a ‘my time’ novel! Thus, I was particularly pleased to find mention of specific beers, pubs, bands, musical tunes and many more exact cultural references, which both pinned the tale and its protagonist to his times and delighted me with a gleeful nostalgia of my own discoveries as a youth, young adult and then…er…adult! In terms of genre, it is a first person account of Mike Engleby’s university days in the early 70s, which brings him his childhood and previous education and then moves on to his career out in the great world. The political, socio-historical and cultural mores of each decade are nicely sketched in, and the whole thing fits together and convinces very nicely, indeed.
****Spoiler Alert***** Alongside and interwoven with this Bildungsroman-type of narration is a darker strand of uncertainty, and the growing possibility that Engleby is a psychotic who has abducted and murdered a female student whilst at Cambridge. One or two critics have been less than thrilled that Faulks/Engleby drags out this increasingly-obvious ‘main point’ to the text, especially as the victim (Jennifer Arkland) is absent in person for so much of the work. But, I can only say this is one of very few books that I did not want to end, yet could not put down; and anything Mike Engleby said was good enough for me!
5 out of 5 stars
Len – Harefield Library
7. Pleasantville by Attica Locke
I decided to read Pleasantville by Attica Locke as it was one of the twenty titles longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction. I’ve never read any books by this author and was a little surprised when I started reading it to find that it featured the same hero from Locke’s debut novel Black Water Rising but this did not impact on my reading as Pleasantville can totally be read as a stand alone.
This book follows lawyer, Jay Porter fifteen years after the events that took place in Black Water Rising and those events have left Jay damaged and struggling both personally and professionally. On Election Night in 1996 a girl goes missing from the neighbourhood of Pleasantville and Jay Porter is reluctantly dragged into the forefront when he is asked to defend the nephew of one of the local mayoral candidates who is accused of the young girl’s murder. What follows is a rollercoaster ride through the murky world of politics and a town that is controlled by one family. Attica Locke writes a great story that has many layers and explores many different issues including grief, greed, politics, racism – everything you need to create the perfect suspense/thriller. One of the best things about Pleasantville is that I was left guessing right up to the very end and I will most definitely be going back to read Black Water Rising to learn more about Jay Porter.
4 out of 5 stars
Sam – Manor Farm Library
8. Thud! by Terry Pratchett
Thud! was the first Terry Pratchett book I ever read. It is, perhaps, an odd one to start with. Pratchett’s fantasy books have explored a wide variety of subjects including cinema, rock music and Shakespeare through fantasy and comedy. The more ambitious Thud! tackles race relations and extremism, finding parallels to real life issues in the form of trolls and and dwarves. The anniversary of the Koom Valley battle is coming up and that spells tension. Sam Vimes and his Night Watch struggle to try to keep the peace in this hostile environment. Thud is more serious and darker than Terry’s usual works. Reading it again, and particularly following Terry Pratchett’s passing, I’m reminded of Neil Gaiman describing his friend not as the “jolly old elf” people presumed him to be, but rather as an “angry” man” whose anger fuelled him to write. In Thud!, more than any other Pratchett book, you can feel his frustration with the world and how it has led to the development of a gripping read. There’s still comedy there but it feels more serious in its intent.
Thud! is perhaps not the ideal starting point into the Discworld series, there are certainly other books that serve as a better taster to the usual flavour of Discworld stories, but it is one of the best examples of Terry Pratchett as a great novelist able to explore the world and serious issues. Some might still be put off by the fantasy trappings and comedy but that would be a tremendous shame, Pratchett’s novels are not about vampires or werewolves but humans and all that they are capable of. Ankh Morpork, the setting of many of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, is not just a place in Discworld or London but everywhere where humans live.
4 out of 5 stars
Mark – Uxbridge Library
9. Poppet by Mo Hayder
Poppet: An endearing sweet or pretty child or a small figure of a human being used in sorcery and witchcraft. I kept looking at this book in the library and to be honest the picture alone scared me. (A china doll type cat figure which reminded me of ‘The Great Gabbo’ a black and white film with a ventriloquist dummy that comes to life) This is the 6th book featuring detective Jack Caffery, but this novel can be read as a ‘stand alone’.
The story takes place in a creepy high security mental health ward of a hospital that used to be a workhouse and had rumours of ghosts, need I say more? Being a bit squeamish and easily spooked I found the first few chapters difficult as it deals with macabre deaths carried out by ‘The Maude’ a ghost from the workhouse days. I forced myself to read on, otherwise I knew the book would haunt me forever, and I can reassure you the supernatural gives way to good old murder and crime!
4 out of 5 stars
Marie-Louise – Hayes End Library
10. Gone by Michael Grant
This is a teen series by Michael Grant. I fell upon this book by accident when I was trying to read Gone Girl and I absolutely loved the series.The book is about Perdido beach and a world where all the adults disappear and the main characters are Sam, Astrid,Edilio, Albert and Caine. Some of the young people have super powers.
The story is gripping and fast paced and the children fight for survival and in the series different things happen from the children finding food, or fighting amongst themselves or dealing with different challenges like the Plague. A barrier that cannot be penetrated is up and towards the end of the series the barrier is see through and you get to see the other side and this is when it gets interesting. As a reader I was impressed by the resilience of the young people and it is centered around good and evil.
4 out of 5 stars
Farhia – Botwell Library
11. FAT by Grant Naylor
I decided to read this book as it was recommended to me as a thought provoking and good read. I was a bit unsure as I do not normally read any Sci Fi, however I found this novel accessible as it is set not in a mythical world but in the very near future; where being fat is practically a crime. It was an enjoyable read and once I started I did want to read on to find out what happens to the three main characters. I think the plot was well devised in the way the characters stories linked together. I didn’t find there was a lot of depth to the characters but I could picture them as I read the novel and sympathized with some of their struggles. The chapters with the anorexic character were particularly hard hitting.
This novel is written by one of the co-writers of Red Dwarf and there was some humour in this novel. The scathing tone came through regarding his thoughts on the minor irritations of everyday life and the world’s obsession with weight and health. He even provides links to studies disproving popular theories on health related issues at the end of the story. Some of the ideas and policies in this novel do feel as if they could actually end up happening in real life. I feel the author is very interested in the world around him and questions everything that is reported.
3 out of 5 stars
Siobhan – Uxbridge Library
12. Purity by Mike Franzen
A Jonathan Franzen novel is an ‘event’, and after The Corrections and Freedom this was much anticipated. For me it was slightly disappointing, lacking the brilliant wit which suffuses both previous books. Only occasionally does a memorable or humorous phrase emerge. It is as if the author didn’t want his prose style to distract from his themes. These include identity, since Purity, the eponymous heroine, grows up not knowing her father’s name, or (spoiler alert), as it turns out, her mother’s. Other threads are the scope and limits of the internet, and the ethics of organisations such as Wikileaks. It’s never less than absorbing, but could have been much more so.
3 out of 5 stars
Mike – Eastcote Library
What’s your one-word title and do you agree with our reviews? Remember all of the above books available to borrow in Hillingdon Libraries.