Literary Challenge 2017 #10 Horror


During October Hillingdon Libraries staff were set the challenge to read a horror novel… Oh, the horror! As part of our Literary Challenge 2017, they reviewed some horror hits. Happy Halloween!

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

1. The Small Hand by Susan Hill

8675320A supernatural chilling tale that is ideal for this spooky time of year. I can’t think of anything more creepy than feeling a small child’s hand take yours with no child visible. The story takes place in a derelict old house in the country. The author’s description of the current state of this early 1900’s derelict house is vivid, but when she described the house in its original magnificence, my imagination was filled with the visions I was reading about. I won’t go into the story line, that would spoil it, but this story has a modern classic feel about it. It’s good and atmospheric – just like a creepy tale should be.

4 out of 5 stars. Barbara – Ickenham Library

2. Carrie by Stephen King

6360296I haven’t read many, if any, horror books so I thought that I should choose something by the master of the genre, Stephen King. ‘Carrie’ was his first published novel, written in 1973 and set in the (then) future, 1979. I nearly abandoned this book after the first few pages as I found the opening quite distasteful but I persevered and found it a fast read. Carrie is telekinetic; she can move objects with her mind. After being humiliated at the school prom she uses her powers to cause terror and destruction on a massive scale. I didn’t find this book chilling or scary (as the blurb had promised me). I think that if I had read it when it was first published I would have found it quite horrifying but unfortunately there have been some terrible real events in schools since that time and I can understand why ‘Carrie’ is one of the most commonly banned books in US schools.

2 out of 5 stars. Carol – Northwood Library

3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Haunting-of-Hill-House“Whatever walked there, walked alone.” These words end the superlative first paragraph of this haunted house story, and set the tone of dread and isolation. An investigator invites three young people to join him to live at Hill House in order to observe paranormal happenings. What follows are classic tropes of the genre – unexplained noises, writing on the wall, malevolent voices in the air – but Shirley Jackson is an unparalleled creator of terrifying atmosphere, so instead of being hokey or risible, what happens at Hill House really does fill you with horror. The remoteness and strangeness of the house is claustrophobic, and much of what transpires remains unexplained. Like all of Jackson’s best work, you’ll be left with a delicious, uneasy feeling that you’ll never entirely shake.

4 out of 5 stars. Darren – Uxbridge Library

Have you read any of these books? Do you enjoy scary fiction? You can borrow all these books from our catalogue. Thanks for reading!


The Woman at Number 24 by Juliet Ashton #StaffReview #CultureBite

the-woman-at-number-24-9781471158896_hrHaving met the author at the Girls on Tour Afternoon Tea at Haste Hill Golf Club as part of Culture Bite, I was excited to read this book and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It’s a great story of what goes on behind closed doors, an ever-fascinating topic and in this book, one with all sorts of twists and turns and mistaken identities, all told with a light touch while covering some pretty deep issues.
While the main character Sarah recovers from her divorce and has a crisis of confidence at work, she finds more time to interact with the families living in the flats at number 24 and finds that everyone has their own story and is able to help, or be helped, in different ways.
Overall, it’s a great message for the power of kindness, love and friendship and how we all need to be cared for and supported. And there’s a happy ending which left me closing the book with a smile on my face and in my heart. I recommend you go ahead and read it!
About the Author
Juliet Ashton was born in Fulham and still lives in London. She writes under a variety of names, including her real name, Bernadette Strachan, and as Claire Sandy. She is married and has one daughter. Find out more at
You can borrow a copy from your local Hillingdon Library!
Thanks for reading!

Literary Challenge 2017 #9 A book you want to see on the big screen


As part of the Literary Challenge 2017, this time Hillingdon Libraries staff review books that they would like to see on the big screen. Is there any book you want to be made into a film? And what kind of film it would be?

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

1. The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

17594390This charming little book, translated from French, is set in Paris in the mid-1980s. Daniel is dining alone in an up-market Parisian brasserie when President Francois Mitterand arrives and sits at the adjoining table. When the president leaves he forgets his hat. Daniel picks it up and decides to keep it – immediately he begins to feel somehow different; the hat gives him authority and confidence. He, in turn, loses the hat and it passes to someone else whose life it changes, until it is lost again. The hat continues its journey with each new caretaker experiencing a change in their life. I would love to see this book on screen; it has a very Gallic feel to it and I can almost hear the accordion music in the background as I am reading it!

5 out of 5 stars. Carol – Northwood Library

2. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tartThere are sections of this book which are so visual, characterful or action-packed that when I remember them back to myself it’s like I’m watching a film. There are also moments when this book feels in good need of an edit, and perhaps turning it into a film would pick out the very best plots, characters and images. I don’t believe the book is always better than the film (‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’, ‘Don’t Look Now’ to name a few) and as much as I enjoyed ‘The Goldfinch’ as a novel, I can imagine loving it as a film!


4 out of 5 stars. Darren – Uxbridge Library

3. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

79550Tove Jansson set ‘The Summer Book’ on the last inhabited island before the open sea in the Finnish archipelago. A wild and unspoiled landscape, a home away from civilization, where a grandmother and her granddaughter live alone. Their daily life follows the rhythm of the holidays: occasional visits, storms, little adventures. This charming book possesses an ironic and light touch, touching on the complexity of living and the cruel impartiality of nature and time. Jansson’s happy childhood emanates from her writing: she conveys the delicate balance between security and risk, the thirst for knowledge, typical of children. Also, the need for loneliness and independence. At the same time, the need for affection. Sofia is a little girl who begins to face life, and her grandmother an older woman who has lived it deeply. They have a lot to learn from each another. I would love to see this book made into a film, a Finnish island as a set and a good script should be enough. And can I have Vanessa Redgrave alongside some talented child actress?

5 out of 5 stars. Federico – Northwood Library

Have you read any of these books? Do you think that your favourite novel could, or should, be made into a film? You can borrow all these books from our catalogue. Thanks for reading!


Literary Challenge 2017 #8 A novel you have read twice


As part of the Literary Challenge 2017, this time Hillingdon Libraries staff review novels that they have read twice. Why reading a book twice? What is your personal record?

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

1. The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill

19168646It may seem strange to re-read a crime novel as, surely, one knows ‘who did it’, but this series by Susan Hill featuring DCI Simon Serrailler is definitely worth revisiting. These books are so much more than crime novels; one gets completely absorbed in the Serrailler family. Although the crime in each book is complete in each book the family story continues throughout the series, so not only are you turning the pages to find out how the crime is solved, but you can’t wait to read the next book to find out what is happening in the family and see how the characters develop. This book is actually the fourth in the series and, whilst I would recommend starting with the first, in my opinion this is one of the most gripping. Serrailler must stop the serial killer who is targeting women in the cathedral town of Lafferton, at the same time dealing with tragedy in his own family. Susan Hill does not flinch from making bad things happen to good people. You will want to read the next book!

5 out of 5 stars. Carol – Northwood Library

2. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

coverNot only have I read this twice, I’ve read it about seven times. I seem to exist in two states – ‘just finished The Crimson Petal and the White’ or ‘ready to re-read The Crimson Petal and the White’. It’s over 800 pages, and details the rise of Sugar, a Victorian prostitute living in London who aspires to a better, more comfortable way to exist. It’s often reviewed as the novel Dickens could not have published (it won’t spare your blushes) but it’s also a postmodern take on the Victorian novel. Told in the first person, with a narrator who leads you in then abandons you, it’s absolutely compelling. Despite all the pungent sex, it’s fair to consider this a feminist novel as Sugar takes on the patriarchy and seems to succeed. There’s a great host of supporting characters and enough plots to fill another 3 books. I love it. (And if you want to know more about some of the stories and characters, Michel Faber has written a book of short stories that fill in some gaps.)

5 out of 5 stars. Darren – Uxbridge Library

3. The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Hours‘The Hours’ is the only novel I have read three times. I am sure I read some collections of short stories as a teenager many times, but this is the only full length novel that I have read more than twice. And I will probably read it again. Michael Cunningham wrote a story so dense and rich and filled with complex characters and their lives that, since the first reading, I thought it somehow mirrors the complexity of real life. It also includes an amount of indelible paragraphs, and this is part of its charm. The author famously wanted to write a book based on ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf. Within this frame, the lives of three women mirror each other across space and time. One of them is Woolf herself. All in a moment of crisis, all linked by a pattern of cross references and correlations. I think of ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell as a sort of expanded ‘The Hours’… The moments which mirror ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ are so many that they almost force you to read Virginia Woolf’s novel again, or in parallel, which is a good thing in itself. I loved the Hollywood film made out of this novel, which features Meryl Streep, mentioned in the first chapter. ‘The Hours’ also won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. What can I add? Please borrow it from your local library and read it, possibly twice.

6 out of 5 stars. Federico – Northwood Library

Have you read any of these books? Have you ever read a novel more than twice? You can borrow all these books from our catalogue. Thanks for reading!


Children’s books we love!

Throughout the summer, young volunteers have been helping Hillingdon Libraries with the Summer Reading Challenge, which challenges 4 to 11 year-olds to read six books while they’re off school. We thought we would find out which books our teenage volunteers enjoyed when they were younger…

Kai (Age 15)

My favourite book that I have read is the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series. I was reading it for about six years and have bought most books. It is entertaining throughout the entire book, it was funny and I wanted to read more. Although the series was good, there were some boring parts!

I also like Roald Dahl books like The BFG, Matilda and George’s Marvellous Medicine. They were interesting and funny, which made them enjoyable. Another book I enjoyed reading was Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo, which was a class read. I have also read Private Peaceful in class, which was a sad and emotional book to some because the author created an effect that we were there and feeling the environment around the characters. The most interesting book I have read was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Although I have read many books in the past years I particularly enjoy autobiographies about my favourite musician artists because I can read about how they became famous or their past lives before they became famous. For example: Michael Jackson before he died, Lil Uzi Vert, Migos and rising UK rappers/singers like J Hus, Wstrn, SL and Chip. 

Sara (Age 16)

As a young girl, I fell in love with a writer named Enid Blyton. I found that I was able to escape whilst reading her books. The first book I ever read of hers was Five on a Treasure Island. It is about siblings Anne, Dick and Julian. They get invited to stay with their uncle and aunt at their home, Kirrin Cottage. This is where they also meet their cousin Georgina who answers by the name of George throughout the book. This is because she is a very head-strong character and likes to see herself as a boy. They get off to a rough start, however the cousins become great friends and together they come across mysteries that they have fun solving together. George also introduces her cousins to her dog Timothy who also has the pleasure to accompany the children amongst their adventures in the coastal village of Kirrin.

As a child I was thrilled by the mystery within the book. I was completely mesmerised by her storylines and the different adventures that the children endured, allowing me to escape within their lives and follow the story. This book is one of my childhood favourites and I feel that this is because it was the first time I was introduced to Enid Blyton’s writing. I then went on my own mission to find other Enid Blyton books.

I would recommend this book as it is a great foundation into her adventure stories. Its also a light read and you are able to easily grasp the storyline as well as the different characters. The book is also ambiguous which effortlessly builds suspense at times and this hooks you as the reader, especially a young audience, as you discover that you are desperate to determine the ending.

Parveen (Age 16)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket is my favourite book. Being the first book in a series it begins the tale of the newly orphaned Baudelaire children , Violet (the oldest, inventive child), Klaus (the clever middle child)  and Sunny (a teething toddler). The Baudelaire children’s happy lives are turned upside down when their loving family home is caught alight, with their parents still inside.The children soon find themselves in the search of a new happy home, whilst doing so they try to find the culprit behind the mysterious house fire.

The Series of Unfortunate Events books are filled with whimsical characters and interesting distant relatives that the Baudelaire children encounter.

For me personally, The Bad Beginning is truly unforgettable as it starts the series and is where the Baudelaire children are first introduced. The occasional illustrations (drawn by Brett Helquist) are for me extremely important to the story as they make it easier to imagine the characters and the situations they face. They also enhance the gothic aspects of the book, often being cartoons drawn in minimal colours.