Book Review: The Candidate by Alex Nunn

the candidate

This non-fiction book tells the story of the rise of Jeremy Corbyn (relative rise of course!  He’s not in power…yet).  It focuses on how a man given the odds of 200/1 became Labour leader up against ‘more obvious’ leadership candidates and then how, after predictions from experts that Labour were on tract to lose 100+ seats at the snap 2017 election, they defied predictions to dramatically increase their number of seats and vote share and forced the Tories into a coalition.

It is very sympathetic to Corbyn and left wing politics so would probably be enjoyed most by people of a similar political persuasion but there is plenty in it for none ‘Corbynites’ – it deals with the changing unpredictable natural of modern politics, the rise of social media and the arguable decline of influence of traditional media.  Anyone interested in politics or media should find it interesting but it is also just a really good story of a man and a movement achieving the unexpected, it would be a great basis of a political thriller!  It’s easy to read and I don’t think it would be necessary to be a political expert to follow what is going on.

4.5/5

Zoe

 

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Book review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

This is the final instalment of the Divergent trilogy (there is another book, Four, but I believe this is a spin off not part of the main story).  The first novel Divergent introduced us to Tris and her strange home city that divides everyone in regimented factions, in Insurgent this society began to crumble, Allegiant takes the characters out of the city into the wider world for the first time.  Out there they discover some dramatic truths about their society, why it is closed off from the rest of the world, how the system of factions came to be and what it really means to be divergent.

Allegiant

I was disappointed with this book, not because it was totally terrible but it just didn’t live up to its predecessors.  It begins right after the end of the action in Insurgent, which got me off to a bad start… I left about a year between reading the two books and couldn’t remember what was going on!  The book isn’t generous with the reader in this respect, there is no handy reminder with the characters conveniently reflecting on everything that has just happened within the first few pages!  (So if you do want to read this I recommend you read it not too long after Insurgent.)  It is good that it gets straight into the action though, this is the book’s main strength, it is fast paced throughout.  I can’t tell you too much about what the action entails as it is full of major reveals and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

As to the books weaknesses – a main one was the way Roth switches the narration between Tris and Tobias.  I don’t remember her doing this in the first two.  It seems totally pointless as the two characters experience almost all the same things and their inner voices seem totally interchangeable.  This often confused me, I would pick up the book half way through a chapter and after reading for a bit come across something like ‘I pull Tris to me and kiss her hard’ and I’m thinking hang on I thought this was Tris, has she just kissed herself?  This happened frequently.

I also found aspects of the plot irritating and a bit lazy.  The aspect I am referring to is the ‘serums’ that the whole plot suddenly seems to depend on.  We already came into contact with the fear and truth serum; now there are memory, death and peace serums too.  It seems that most problems could be solved with an application of the correct serum and also perils caused to characters by being exposed to the wrong serum at the wrong time which could then only be overcome by developing an antidote to the said serum.  The science of the development of all these serums and antidotes was as vague as expected.  It felt that rather that deal with how the characters were behaving and looking for ways the plot could cleverly effect their actions you just squirt someone with a serum and get the result you need.  A bit disappointing.

There were some good moments though, a few surprising elements and scenes with real heart (just not enough!)

3/5

Zoe    

 

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Book Review: City of Masks by S D Sykes

Poor Oswald De Lacy is in a bad way.  He is running from grief in his past and internal mental torment when he finds himself stuck in Venice.  “That doesn’t sound so bad” do I here you say?  But this isn’t Venice of today filled with light, beauty, energy and tourists this is the Venice of deep winter 1358.  The city is under siege due to a conflict with Hungary.  Provisions are running low.  The city has barely begun recovering from the black death.  Suspicion and paranoia rule in the form of the mysterious and autocratic ‘Council of Ten’.  The secret police can seize anyone suspected of spying or immoral behaviour and drag them away for torture and even execution.

He finds himself here after being diverted from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his mother.  They take accommodation in the home of an old family friend, John Bearpark, a rather bad tempered old man who chargers them for their stay and is far from a gracious host.  Along with a couple of odd fellow pilgrims the household is also consists of the Bearpark’s young pregnant wife Filomena (who Oswald finds himself disturbingly drawn to), his hard drinking party loving grandson Enrico and a handful of rude servants.

I suppose the best our Oswald can do is keep his head down and stay quiet until the siege is lifted and he can move on…some hope!  First he is persuaded to join Enrico in his partying and gets mixed up with some rather rough people, gets in trouble with too much gabbling and attracts the unwelcome attention of the Council of Ten.  The last thing he needs is to stumble across a mutilated corpse…but that is what happens.

Compelled to investigate the crime by pressure from his host who wants to avoid potential scandal he embarks on a quest that puts him in danger from every side.  He must seek out a murderer in a city where asking questions can see you accused of spying.  He must explore the underworld of Venice at a time when any moral transgression, or mere suspicion of it, can see you burned at the stake.  A tricky task indeed!

The best thing about this book is the setting.  The dark, spooky canals of medieval Venice help increase the sense of peril.  I also liked an historical book set in an era that has not been overdone, as I sometime feel the Tudor period has.  The characters were also good, I was left wanting to know what happened next to the characters (…those who survived that is!).

It’s a fairly exciting story but I felt the mystery itself was the weakest aspect.  I think the characters and setting would have been even more enjoyable if this hadn’t been a ‘who-done-it’, this aspect felt a bit shoehorned in, I could almost picture the meeting in the publishing house when they decided this had to fit into the crime genre because historical detectives are so popular.  The novel would have worked just as well if it had been the same characters in the same setting experiencing a number of things including murder but without following the formula of a detective character investigating the crime.

4/5

Zoe

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city of masks

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Book Review: Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

bring me backThis is an easy to read fast paced mystery/thriller.

We meet Finn, a 41 year old financial trader who lives with his fiancée near Cheltenham.  12 years earlier Finn experienced an awful tragedy when his much loved girlfriend, Layla, disappeared – assumed kidnapped and murdered – while they were on holiday in France.  After briefly being a suspect Finn was released without charge and has worked hard to rebuild his life and has finally found love again.  But no body was ever found, so closure has not come easily.

His uneasy peace is then blown away.  An old neighbour reports seeing Layla at their old cottage in Devon.  There have been fake sightings before, all turned out to be hoaxes or mistakes, but this is different, the old man knew Layla well plus it coincides with other strange happenings.  Layla always carried the smallest of a Russian doll set as a good luck charm and childhood memento, tiny Russian dolls start appearing on the walls near Finn’s house, they are sent to him in the post and left for him to find in other places he visits.  He also starts receiving emails from a stranger, again this has happened before with trouble makers and attentions seekers claiming to know where his lost girlfriend is, but this stranger seems to know things only he or Layla would know.

Despite this Finn is adamant Layla is dead and it must be a hoax or cruel trick.  But why is he so certain?  Has he been telling the full truth all these years?  Does he know more than he has told the police?  And if so, why did he lie?  What is he hiding?

It’s a great set up to a mystery.  I really enjoyed the early stages and trying to guess the twist I felt was coming (in case you are wondering, I suspected from page 15, convinced by page 136 – well done me!)  One reasons I enjoy mysteries is trying to guess the twist and in my experience guessing it either right or wrong needn’t spoil the rest of the book.  But in this case I do feel the story went downhill a little towards the end.  I liked the idea Paris had but didn’t feel it was perfectly executed and at times the plot veered from ‘crazy but possible’ to far-fetched.

Still a very good read and hard to put down once you have started.  I look forward to reading more from B.A. Paris.

3.5/5

Zoe

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Book Review: Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

 

This is a good Read.  It takes us back in time to Amsterdam in the 17th century.  Holland is in the grip of ‘Tulip Fever’ when tulip bulbs were exchanged for huge sums of money and fortunes won and lost on this rather bizarre craze.  But our focus, at least to begin with, is on Sophia a young wife married to a much older husband who is about to have her portrait painted.

Bored and unhappy married to a man more than 30 years her senior she throws caution to the wind and embarks on a love affair with the artist employed to paint her.  Her only confidant is her maid who is a sympathetic ear (at least to begin with!) as she too is in love and willing to help her mistress pursue romance.  But how will it end?! If Sophia is discovered her reputation would be ruined and although she does not love her husband she relies on his good opinion and generosity to support her impoverished family.  Has she really found true love with her artist or just lust?  Will her servant keep her secret?  Will the lovers have a happy ever after or be disgraced by their reckless passion?  You’ll have to read it to find out!

There are plenty of twisted and turns to keep the reader engaged and a good dose of humour along with more serious moments.  I really liked the way Moggach moves the reader’s sympathy this way and that – I think we pity Sophia one moment as she is trapped in a marriage (and marriage bed!) with a man more than twice her age and longs for love and passion and fun with someone her own age.  Next we sympathise with her husband who is kind, loving and trusting – if lacking awareness as to how his wife might feel – he has a kind of oblivious vanity in assuming his wife is satisfied with him but is basically a good soul and doesn’t deserve what is coming to him…

A good light-hearted read ideal for a holiday or commute.

4/5

Zoe

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Tulip Fever

 

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Book Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Are you happy? He once asked Jude (they must have been drunk).

I don’t think happiness is for me, Jude had said at last

 

This is a brilliant and heart-breaking novel.

The main character is Jude St.Francis.  We follow him, and his friends, from young adulthood to middle age with detours into flashbacks along the way.

Jude’s childhood and adolescence was the stuff of nightmares.  Abandoned by his parents and then abused by those who should have cared for him.  Along with his mental scars this abuse left him horribly injured and physically disabled for life.  The focus is how he copes, or doesn’t cope, coming to terms with his past throughout his adult life.  As an adult he is a successful man is many respects with an impressive career, a good income, friends who love him and acquaintances who admire him but he can never escape the horror of his past and carries his childhood trauma with him his whole life.

As you may have gathered this isn’t a happy novel!  At times it is almost unbearably sad.  Jude is such a pitiable and compelling character and you long for him to find peace.  So it is not an easy read but nor is it a not stop tale of misery for the entire 720 pages!  Yanagihara inserts lighter moments to keep it just the right side of bearable, there is hope and joy in the friendships Jude manages to make, friendships that endure from his college days.  There is also a lot of content most of us can relate to.  As well and the more dark and serious struggles Jude has with his physical and mental health and haunting memories of child abuse are the more mundane dilemmas around career choices, growing up, moving from young adulthood to full adulthood and the transitions this involves.  Jude isn’t always the focus either, we also get to know his three closest friends who, while they have their own fair share of troubles, haven’t faced the living hell Jude went through as a young man.  So it is also a novel about growing up and finding your way in life.

I would recommend it to everyone.  It really moved me.  It also made me reflect on my own life at times.  Not many of us will go through what Jude did (thankfully!) but we all do have our own demons to face, our own painful memories to confront or forget, and our own life struggles.  It was a very human book, the focus was an extreme example of human suffering but I think through that came reflections and messages about the types of pain we all experience: loss, disappointment, shame, weakness.  No solutions offered I’m afraid, but the realisations that humans are bound by these common experiences and emotions was poignant.

5/5

Zoe

A Little Life

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Guest blog: Life changing stories about changed lives

*This blog is a guest article part of the Foster Care Fortnight campaign. It was written by Brent Fostering in collaboration with Brent Libraries staff. We would like to thank everyone for the wonderful titles they recommended.

 

Placing decent work and social justice at the core of policy making is simply a recognition of the obvious: none of us can build a better future for ourselves unless we include others.

Guy Ryder

 

We must work to help all families and all communities realize their dream of a better future.

Christine Gregoire

Future means different things for different people, but one thing is clear – future means change, and change is the only constant in life. With this in mind, we always strive for change for the better that leads to brighter futures. When it comes to writers and their published works, many writers have dedicated thousands of pages to stories of people growing to become better humans thanks to others’ love and support.

In fostering, which is our area of expertise, we try to change things by finding loving families for Brent’s looked after children. When we see these children become successful young adults, we know that we have done something right – we chose the right people to change their futures.

Inspired by our children’s stories, we decided to write this short piece about the good reads out there about changed lives. This way we hope to show that even though it is hard to keep under control a situation where inequality leads to children suffering, there is hope thanks to loving and devoted adults who become foster carers. Between 13 and 26 of May we celebrate fostering, the foster carers and the children during Foster Care Fortnight. This year we are focusing on changed lives and how fostering has changed children’s future in Brent. Discover what we’re planning for Foster Care Fortnight.

With this in mind, we asked our colleagues from Brent Libraries to recommend some powerful reads about changed lives. With their help we managed to put together the list below that we hope you’ll enjoy.

harry-potter-and-the-philosopher-s-stone-3

 

  1. Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling

Harry was an orphan child fostered by his uncle’s family. While this isn’t a positive fostering example that we would like to hear about in the service, we have to admit that Harry’s story is truly inspiring. The way this young boy stays positive during his time with the unloving Dursley family and how he fights the evil to discover his strength is empowering. Just like with fostering, challenges never end and things are never easy; the same happens in the story where Harry and his friends have to fight the evil in order to find peace and happiness. The novel is also a great because it speaks about the hard life of children without parents who relies solely on friends to find their sense of belonging. The mystery and the suspense it creates coupled with the humour and the imaginative descriptions make all the Harry Potter books a read suitable for everyone aged 8 to 80.

Find copies of Harry Potter on our catalogue .

  1. Lost and Found Sisters – Jill Shalvis

Sarah Smith, Library Development Manager recommend this novel “to curl up with on the weekend with yummy food. This is about what happens when chef Quinn finds out she’s adopted whilst still going through bereavement for a sister lost. A whole new world opens up when her birth mother whom she met without knowing, whilst in a coffee shops listening to two women discussing post-menopausal sex life (too funny but stick with me…), leaves her an inheritance with some challenges. Yes, another death but it’s the beginning of an adventure laced with lots of laugh out loud moments. I’ve just discovered this author and will definitely look out for more of her work. Go check it out!”

Find a copy to borrow in a Brent Library near you.

book thief

  1. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Recommended by Andrew Stoter, Library Stock Manager, this is a book perfect for children and adults alike. “By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.” For a realistic experience of the 1939 Nazi Germany, Find a copy to borrow here.

a little princess

  1. A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Recommended by both Fiona Heffernan, Development Officer and Zoe English, Culture Services Marketing Officer, this novel follows the story of “motherless Sara Crewe who was sent home from India to school at Miss Minchin’s. Her father was immensely rich and she became ‘show pupil’ – a little princess. Then her father dies and his wealth disappears, and Sara has to learn to cope with her changed circumstances. Her strong character enables her to fight successfully against her new-found poverty and the scorn of her fellows.”

Discover the story of Sara and how she grows up to be stronger while shaping her own personality in the absence of her father by borrowing a copy from the library.  We also have the ebook available.

oliver twist

  1. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

Or The Parish Boy’s Progress, tells the story of orphan Oliver who was born in a workhouse and sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. After escaping, Oliver travels to London, where he enters a system of exploitation run by a member of a juvenile pickpockets’ gang. Crowned with a happy ending, this novel speaks about how the life of Oliver improved after overcoming the obstacles far too challenging for a young boy. The story gives us the opportunity to reflect on how far the English social care system has come since the 1800’s, and it is a reminder of how much poverty impacts the lives of innocent children, hindering their development.

If you fancy a read, you can borrow Oliver Twist from our libraries or download the ebook

Catalina

 

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The Wrong Trousers: Making Laurel and Hardy’s “Liberty” — will / write and talk

“Liberty” was released in January 1929 and was the 28th short comedy Laurel and Hardy had made together. It stands today as one of their funniest achievements but also as an important transitional moment in their film-making. By the time the film was being written in September 1928 by Stan and his regular director, Leo […]

via The Wrong Trousers: Making Laurel and Hardy’s “Liberty” — will / write and talk

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April 13, 2019 · 12:44 pm

Book Review: Z by Therese Anne Fowler

Z

This is a fictional account for the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, focused, as you’d expect, on her marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It takes us though the gay years of their time as the darlings of the Jazz Age, through their financial problems and Scott’s literary triumphs and failures on to alcoholism and mental illness.

I think the strongest parts of the novel came at the beginning and the end.  The establishment of their relationship and its eventual decline, there are parts of the mid-section that become a little dull, a little ‘…and then we went here, and then we went there and then we did this…’ in style but that is my only real criticism of the novel as overall it is a very good read.

“For days, while at my morning and afternoon dance classes, while I ate, while I bathed, while I tried but failed to sleep, I considered how I might become more like the woman I respected and admired.  Surrounded as I was by such ambitious, accomplished women, I couldn’t ignore the little voice in my head that said maybe I was supposed to shed halfway and do something significant.  Contribute something.  Accomplish something.  Choose.  Be. “

A running theme throughout the novel is Zelda’s conflict with her role in life as a wife, a sidekick if you like, Mrs F. Scott Fitzgerald, merely an extension of her famous successful husband.  There are times when she enjoys the luxury Scott’s earnings bring and enjoys spending without having to earn and basking in his reflected glory, she enjoys helping with his novels and short stories without the credit.  But there are other times when she feels a niggling dissatisfaction with the life she has and wants to achieve more herself and explore her own creative talents.

It is well written because the author is not implying she is any kind of feminist heroine, Zelda doesn’t particularly have any interest in feminism or campaigning for women’s rights.  Zelda is an imperfect confused character who could perhaps be accused of wanting it all – but then who doesn’t?  It is a very human portrait and so is Fowler’s writing of Scott.  He can be quite controlling of Zelda and jealous of any attention she gets independent of him but we also see that he is sensitive and insecure and can be a loving and generous husband when at his best.

An interesting tale of two flawed people in a flawed marriage.

3.5/5

(This novel was made into a TV series, Z: The Beginning of Everything with Christina Ricci on Amazon.  I recommend this very highly and in some ways found the adaptation more insightful and entertaining than the novel itself).

Zoe

Z poster

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LGBT History Month at Wembley Library

February is LGBT History Month in the UK, a month long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender histories, civil rights movements, achievements, cultures and rememberances. It is held in February in the UK to coincide with the anniversary of the abolition of Section 28, which was a clause that banned schools from ‘promoting’ homosexuality in schools.

The painful history of Section 28 specifically concerns books – the rising support for it in the parliament and public came from fears that books promoting homosexuality were present in schools and around young children, and they would encourage ‘abnormal’ ‘bad habits’.

Sappho

Ancient Greek poet Sappho

It feels especially fitting then to celebrate literature about and by LGBT people in Wembley Library this month. Countless well known authors from around the world have been gay, bisexual and / or trans throughout history, sometimes written out of history and therefore hiding in plain sight. Historical examples are TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde (whose birthday coincides with both LGBT History Month and Toni Morrison’s birthday!), Leslie Feinberg, June Jordan and Sappho. More modern day examples are Juno Dawson, Jeanette Winterson, Paula Gunn Allen, Roxane Gay, Jack Monroe, and Sarah Waters. Much famous literature can be read under an LGBT lens – for example Shakespeare, or Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. The endless list spans centuries, races, ethnicities and religions, a testament to the enduring desire of people to speak and hear and see themselves through the written word.

It was important to choose literature for the display that ranged in genre, tone, target age group, time period, and author. LGBT literature often gets sidelined in publishing houses and bookshelves. Publishing rates are limited, and historically in LGBT films and books, storylines have been confined to negative stereotypes and unhappy endings. The books in the display do reflect that aspect of LGBT literature, but also encompass literature with positive depictions and happy endings, which are a becoming more popular in mass media. Importantly, there is also a section of LGBT literature for young people, who may be searching for visions of themselves in literature in a formative period of their lives.

The books in the display encompass just a small section of the memoirs, fiction, poetrty, plays and non fiction written by and about LGBT people in Brent Libraries. I would encourage staff and borrowers to have a look at the display, which is arranged by genre, and grab anything that attracts them, but also to peruse other books in the library with an open mind, because people might find that more authors, characters, themes and subtexts related to LGBT history and culture are weaved into the fabric of libraries and literature than they realise.

LGBT display

Wembley Library’s LGBT display

Alternatively if you want to buy copies for yourself, Gay’s the Word in Marchmont Street (near King’s Cross) is the UK’s oldest LGBT bookshop and offers a range of LGBT fiction and non fiction. It’s holding a range of events for LGBT History Month.

To end, I’d like to recommend my personal top favourites in LGBT literature and film: Zami, by Audre Lorde, The Handmaiden by Park Chan Wook (a film adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith), and Heather Has Two Mommies, an iconic children’s picture book by Leslea Newman.

Happy LGBT History Month and Happy Reading!

Neelam

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