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!

 

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo #BookReview #BaileysPrize

downloadStay with Me deals with the marriage of Akin and Yejide, in Nigeria, who are struggling to have a child of their own and after unsuccessful attempts and huge societal pressure, bring in a new wife. This is how the novel opens.

While the characters aren’t always likeable, they are written remarkably well. Yejide seeps into you through the pages and the pain she suffers through not being able to be a true “woman” by bearing a children is absolutely heart-breaking. Akin, her husband, and the second wife are also complex characters and make this an intriguing three dimensional plot that keeps you immersed in their world.

Adebayo has written a really impressive cast of characters that feel very authentic and real. Their conversations, struggles, and identities are easy to imagine in real life.

A beautiful and inspiring debut – my second choice for the Baileys Prize winner.

 

About Ayobami Adebayo

Image result for About Ayobami AdebayoAYOBAMI ADEBAYO‘s stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, and one was highly commended in the 2009 Commonwealth short story competition. She holds BA and MA degrees in literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, and has worked as an editor for Saraba Magazine since 2009. She also has an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded an international bursary for creative writing. She has received fellowships and residencies from Ledig House, Sinthian Cultural Centre, Hedgebrook, Ox-Bow School of Art, Ebedi Hills and the Siena Art Institute. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria.

Find out more about Ayobami here.

Find out more about the Baileys Prize here.

Thanks for reading!

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant #BookReview #BaileysPrize

TImage result for the dark circle linda granthe Dark Circle is a compelling read. It tells us the story of twin siblings Lenny and Miriam Lynskey, who are diagnosed with tuberculosis and shuttled to a sanitarium in Kent where they are subject to idle days and wondering if they’ll fall victim to a diseases that’s traditionally fatal. The year is 1949 and the NHS is standing shakily tall in it’s shiny new glory. The story weaves around this inner circle of patients, people who would have never met normally, due to various issues of racism, class and circumstances, but in the book they form relationships that seem to cross all borders.

I sometimes felt that the narrative was a bit slightly too earnest in it’s way that we must help everyone, every way we can.  Not something that I disagree with, that I felt the point was made a a few too many times. But this is nothing to quibble about really.

Ultimately The Dark Circle is a thoughtful and well-written book: funny and revealing, it is a novel about what it means to treat people how you wish to be treated.

About Linda Grant

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Linda Grant was born in Liverpool on 15 February 1951, the child of Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants. She was educated at the Belvedere School (GDST), read English at the University of York, completed an M.A. in English at MacMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and did further post-graduate studies at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, where she lived from 1977 to 1984.

 

Her first book, Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution was published in 1993. The Dark Circle is her seventh novel.

 

To find our more about Linda click here.

To find out more about the Baileys Prize click here.

Thanks for reading!

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Medeleine Thien #BookReview #Baileys Prize

I did not expect to adore this book as much as I do.

download (3)When reading the blurb it sounded interesting and I thought it would be a good read, if not slightly too political for me, but oh! How wrong I was!

This is a lyrical and fairy-tale like novel that mixes fact and fable with joyful ease.

The story is essentially a coming of age novel about the 11-year old Marie (Ma-li) growing up in Canada, dealing with the death of her father, protests and politics going on in China that she does not really understand and then a burgeoning relationship with a girl who turns into an adoptive sister, Ai-Ming.

Ai-Ming seeks help from Ma-li’s mother, since her father and Ma-li’s father used to know each other. Infact, Ai-Ming’s father tutored Ma’li’s father in the art of music and composition.

While you have this contemporary story going on in the 1990’s, Ai-Ming also provides a history of her family and it’s ties to Ma-li, going back 60 years. 60 years through the communist regime and all the heart-breaking things that people had to do to survive.

Even thought this deals with quite a heavy subject matter, I didn’t find it depressing but inspirational. Even when I read the story – it did not really feel like reading but more being swept along in a fairytale.

Thien has done a marvellous job of writing this book and it’s my favourite to win the Baileys Prize!

 

About Madeleine Thien

Image result for madeleine thienMadeleine Thien‘s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize 2016 and the Governor General’s Award 2016. She is also the author of the story collection Simple Recipes (2001) and the novels Certainty(2006) and Dogs at the Perimeter (Granta, 2012), which was shortlisted for Berlin’s 2014 International Literature Award and won the Frankfurt Book Fair’s 2015 LiBeraturpreis. Her books and stories have been translated into 23 languages. The daughter of Malaysian-Chinese immigrants to Canada, she lives in Montreal.

You can find out more about her here.

To find out more about the Bailey’s Prize click here.

Thanks for reading!

First Love by Gwendoline Riley #BookReview #BaileysPrize

First Love is the shortest of all the books selected in the Baileys Prize 2017 shortlist but this does not make it any less powerful.

Gwendoline Riley writes in a sober and sad style. There is a resignation about life that exudes from the main character who narrates in first person.

Neve, is stuck. She drifts through her life with a husband who at times could be considered abusive and whilst she does have thoughts about changing her circumstances she is plagued by a James Joycean sense of paralysis.

What makes this novel stand out though, is it’s beautiful poetic prose. There are times when it could almost be read as an epic poem or a powerful piece of spoken word. Riley holds nothing back, exposing the very inner being of Neve,  how she became the woman she is and how she is powerless to stop what is happening to her. It is an extremely uncomfortable read and one that ends in a stomach-twisting way. An intense and oppressive read.

Is this a commentary on the Western version of common modern love? No – this is a trail of consciousness from a woman who believes that she does not deserve love.

 

About Gwendoline Riley

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Gwendoline Riley is an English Writer and was born in London in 1979. She has published four novels: Cold Water, which won a Betty Trask Award, Sick Notes, Joshua Spassky, which was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and won the Somerset Maugham Award, and Opposed Positions.

First Love is her fifth novel.

 

First Love, published by Granta Books, is available to buy here.

For more information about the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction click here.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan #BookReview #BaileysPrize

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan #BookReview #BaileysPrize

Image result for The Sport of KingsOf all the books on the #BaileysPrize shortlist this year, this one lends itself to be described most suitably as an “epic”. A family saga that follows the Forges through three generations. Linked into the main character of Henry Forge are horses and not just any horses, thoroughbred horses, racing horses. Henry becomes obsessed with the very best of horses and breeding them from an early age and wants to completely renovate the family farm to create a stud farm. He eventually realises his dream and is assisted by his grown daughter Henrietta and a black groom fresh from prison, Allmon. As the three lives intertwine to create a new super-horse and win the Kentucky Derby, events don’t go according to plan.

The “Southerness” of this book is undeniable and I could not help but imagine the dialogue read in a long Kentucky drawl that transported you right into the heat, wide fields and white supremacy of an old time. There are of course, the inevitable, comparisons with other southern classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, as there are moments in the narrative when racism and morality are questioned even though it was a norm. Parts when you hear the thoughts and reasoning of the characters that are stuck in bigotry and reel against it.

There are many disturbing aspects to this book as stories linked into all three main characters, over many generations, rise and fall through the clever and thoughtful narrative.  Slavery, racism, brutality,  class, poverty, incest, abuse… but throughout these dark and taboo subjects I didn’t feel that this was a depressing book. I felt that it was more of an account or cautionary tale of lives that went down the wrong paths whether it be through choice or no fault of their own.

Ultimately, a tale of redemption and emphasising the importance of always being open to new ways of thinking. The new life of Henry’s grandchild towards the end of the book represents a fresh start, a new leaf and that there is always a time to change into something better.

 

About C.E. Morgan
Image result for all the living by c e morganC. E. Morgan (b. 1976) is an American author. She won the 2016 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize, among other honors.

As an undergraduate, Morgan studied voice at Berea College, a tuition-free labour college for students from poor and working-class backgrounds in Appalachia.

In exchange for a free education, all students work for the college while enrolled. Morgan also attended Harvard Divinity School, where she studied literature and religion. She wrote All the Living while at Harvard. She lives in Kentucky.

 

You can purchase your copy of The Sport of Kings here.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Power by Naomi Alderman #BookReview #BaileysPrize

The Power by Naomi Alderman #bookreview #BaileysPrize

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The Power! What a book. I’d been told by countless people that this was one to look out for and was not surprised that it made the Baileys shortlist.  Dealing with themes such as gender, sexism, oppression, equality and religion it really does make a fascinating read.

What makes it event more interesting is the frame narrative in which the story is set. While the concept of one sex having a huge power advantage over the other isn’t food for thought enough, Alderman sets the character who writes the novel, within a world where women are the dominant species and always have been. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud where the man who has written the novel is talking to a more experience female author who suggests he consider writing under a female pseudonym to be taking seriously! Very thought-provoking.

The story itself is action-packed and has such a range that I think this would appeal to practically everyone. Told from the view point of four different girls and two different men the power shift in a world very similar to ours changes everything. Chauvinist men who cannot help but reason that this is monstrous that women have more power then them crawl out of the woodwork in a disgusting and disturbing way…but neither sex is shown to be completely innocent. When women discover that they can overcome the patriarchy, while initially this is for freedom, eventually it becomes for tyranny.

For what does absolute power do? But corrupts absolutely.

 

About Naomi Alderman

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Naomi Alderman is the author of four novels. In 2006 she won the Orange Award for New Writers and in 2007 she was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, as well as being selected as one of Waterstones’ 25 Writers for the Future. All of her novels have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. In 2013 she was selected for the prestigious Granta Best of Young British Writers. She lives in London.

 

 

You can buy your very own copy of The Power, published by Viking (Penguin Random House) here.

You can find out more information about the Baileys Prize here.

She’s on twitter as @naomiallthenews for public and @naomialderman private.

Her website is http://www.naomialderman.com/

Thanks for reading!