Category Archives: Brent Libraries

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

This is a really fun book and will be enjoyed by anyone who liked fairy tales as a child.

It is a collection of stories from Norse mythology, the tales of the ancient Scandinavian Gods: Thor, Odin, Freya, Loki and quite a few you many not of heard of.  The tales are mostly funny and light but with darker elements here and there.  The Gods are mischievous, and also quite hapless at times.  They get up to no good and make silly mistakes.  My favourite stories were about Loki, who is a real trickster – doing things like removing the hair of Thor’s wife permanently just because he thinks it will look funny, and Thor, who is brave and strong…but also rather stupid (spending most of the time thinking about food and drink)!

It’s enjoyable and easy to read.  I think it probably works best dipping in and out of it and reading the stories one at a time, I got stuck on a long journey with this book and read a large chuck of it in one go which I found less enjoyable that just reading in short bursts.

3.5/5

Zoe

Borrow Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman from Brent Libraries

 

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Book Review: House of Names by Colm Toibin

“If the gods did not watch over us, I wondered, then how should we know what to do?  Who else would tell us what to do?  I realized then that no one would tell us, no one at all, no one would tell me what should be done in the future or what should not be done.  In the future, I would be the one to decide what to do, not the gods.” Clytemnestra

house of names

This is a retelling of the ancient Greek story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and their children.  Of the sacrifice of their eldest child, Iphigenia, and the revenge of Clytemnestra on her husband then the revenge of her remaining children upon her.  The story will be very familiar to many readers they form part of the Odessey and the legends of the Trojan War and are in the plays of Aeschylus and Euripides.  Despite their relative familiarity I think a retelling is a good idea as they are such interesting and dramatic tales with loads of scope for new interpretations and lots of opportunity to flesh out the characters and twist the reader’s sympathies this way and that.  Having said that I don’t think this particular retelling worked and I just found it dull.  I found it dull in the beginning but decided to give it a chance, I started to quite enjoy it and found the writing style quite relaxing and there were a few nice scenes but my generosity ran out and by two thirds through I was finding it dull again.  I was very happy when I finally finished it and was free to move on to something more lively!

If someone is interested in the tales of Agamemnon and his family I would recommend finding a good production of one of Aeschylus or Euripides on this subject and giving this book a miss.  I think if this had been my only experience of this legend I would be left thinking ‘what a boring story’.

2/5

Zoe

If you do want to give this book a try you can borrow it from Brent Libraries

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Book Review: Red Queen and Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

red queen.jpg

These are the first two novels of a four part teenage, fantasy series.

The books are set in an alternative universe, or possibly our own future, we don’t really know.  The planet is like earth with towns, cities, rivers, mountains, etc etc. but the people are rather different.  In this world people are divided in two, there are the Reds and the Silvers.  Reds are just like us, humans, with red blood; Silvers look and more or less act like humans but they have silver blood and even more dramatically have what we would regard as magic powers, the Silvers call them ‘abilities’.  Some Silvers can control fire, some water, some can run amazingly fast others are incredibly strong, some have none physical powers like being able to read minds or perform mind control or see into the future.  There are a large range of abilities which tend to run in families.

As you may have guessed with such amazing powers the Silvers become the ruling dominant section of society – and they do not use this power benevolently!  Reds and Silvers live separately (except when Silvers need servants) the Reds live in all the poorest least desirable areas and are used by Silvers to perform all the horrid tasks in life; cleaning, hard labour, dangerous factory work etc.  And even worse, they are used as disposable foot-soldiers in the wars Silvers wage between their different groups and factions.  All young Reds must spend time serving in the Silver army and many don’t live out their conscription period, others come home physically broken, mentally scarred or both.  Obviously the Reds don’t like living this way and some do try to rebel but it is not easy when any insurrection can be crushed by superhuman Silver soldiers who the Reds cannot possibly beat in a fight.

So this is the set up for the novel.  In The Red Queen we meet 16 year old Mare who is a Red, living in poverty, trying to avoid conscription and help her impoverished family by petty thieving.  But one day something incredible happens, Mare discovers she has an ‘ability’ too, just like a Silver, except her blood in definitely Red and if anything her power appears stronger than that of an average Silver.  Her unique power is discovered by the ruling family of her country and they quickly decided the discovery must be kept quiet; their whole social order partly depends on everyone agreeing that Silvers are naturally superior to Reds.  By threatening the safety of her family she is forced to live in the palace and masquerade as a Silver so they can keep a close eye on her and study her developing ability.  I don’t really want to say much more about the plot as I don’t want to spoil it for you, there are lots of unexpected twists and turns which is a real strength of the novels.

In the second instalment, Glass Sword, we see Mare leaving the confines of the palace and taking her ability out into the wider world as she goes on a search to find more Reds like her.  This is a dangerous quest as most Silvers are determined to hold on the power and squash any threat to the existing hierarchy.

Overall these are very exciting fun books, though the Red Queen is a slightly slower burner.  After the interesting set up to the story then exciting revelation that Mare has powers this book becomes a little more steady paced as Mare spends time in the palace learning how to act like a Silver; etiquette, history and dance lessons included (yawn).  The only thing to really spice up this dull section is an intriguing love triangle developing between Mare and the two half-brother princes of the Silver royal family.  I did reach the point when I decided to give up on the series as the Red Queen was a bit too boring…but then the final chapters are so thrilling and unexpected that I just had to find out what happened next!

Glass Sword does not disappoint, it is a thrill ride from the opening pages.  It is an improvement from the Red Queen in that there is constant movement and peril and a team of other characters helping Mare on her quest.  My only criticism of this book is that in the dialogue the characters can come across as a bit one note, everyone seems angry all the time!  It is a pet hate with some teenage books in that the authors seem to think the best way to demonstrate that the characters are spirited is to make them endlessly snappy and irritable!  Also, although some anger is expected in times of difficultly and peril, how come all characters seem to react to stress in the same way?  In the real world some people react to bad stuff by becoming quiet and withdrawn, or deflecting how they feel with humour, or being depressed, or over the top positive etc etc.  In Red Queen world everyone just seems to get cross so there is a lot of dialogue where everyone is snappy and angry with everyone else and the voices seem to become interchangeable.  BUT this is not a novel to choose for subtly drawn characters and sensitive dialogues it is all about the action so this fault is not difficult to forgive.

I look forward to the next instalment.

4/5

Zoe

Borrow Red Queen from Brent Libraries

Borrow Glass Sword from Brent Libraries

 

glass sword

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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

Borrow this book from Brent Libraries

city of masks

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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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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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Guest blog – Healthy Chocolate

Ahead of her event for Brent Libraries next month Aneta Grabiec tells us more about her mission to inform the world about the benefits of raw chocolate.

I Love chocolate and chocolate loves me back!  It all started with the Mayans in Mexico where they would use cacao as medicine, and modern science agrees – chocolate can be good for you!

green chocolate

Let’s get things straight linguistically here: chocolate is the product of cacao (raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans). ‘Cocoa product’ is a sugary powdered milk substitute of chocolate.

Cacao has nearly twice the antioxidants found in red wine and almost triple the antioxidants of green tea. Most people know that dark chocolate contains magnesium, and most of us don’t get enough of it. But there are many other nutrients in cacao, including vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, D, E; and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and phosphorus.

To extract the health benefits from every bite, I recommend dark chocolate. Dark chocolate falls into the category of healthy monounsaturated fats—along with avocados, nuts, and seeds. Milk chocolate contains milk, which counters the benefit of the flavanols, a type of flavonoid (phytonutrient) in cacao. For example, one flavanol in chocolate is epicatechin, which acts as an antioxidant and supports insulin sensitivity. (Insulin imbalance causes diabetes type 2 and overweight).

What’s more: Dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent cacao has been proven to lower cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Another molecule in chocolate called phenylethylamine acts like a gentle antidepressant. Dark chocolate raises serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical in charge of mood, sleep, and appetite. Do I need to say more?

Research shows that subjects who had 40 grams (1.5 ounces) of dark chocolate per day, for two weeks, showed lowered cortisol levels.

Dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure. It reduces cholesterol and lowers your risk of heart disease.

It increases blood flow to the brain, which helps the brain remain neuroplastic and young. It improves executive functioning—including attention, working memory, cognitive flexibility, problem-solving, and planning.

Many people speak about the medicinal properties of chocolate, particularly because it provides an antioxidant boost that counters the stress of aging and modern life. From a nutrigenomic perspective, cacao interrupts the motor pathway, which helps to slow down aging. It reduces the inflammation associated with acute stress.

Read the labels!

Extra dark chocolate—at least 80 percent cacao or higher, is ideal. When chocolate has higher cacao content, it has more health benefits, in part because there are more flavanols and in part because there is less sugar. I recommend organic, soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free chocolate. If you want to cut out sugar altogether, there are some options sweetened with stevia and coconut sugar. Avoid chocolate with 5 grams of sugar or more (per recommended portion of 25g)

I feel that the best and healthiest way to enjoy the chocolate is to make it! I praise and promote raw chocolate due its exceptional medicinal content (the ingredients don’t get heated up to high temperature, therefore, most beneficial nutrients of the ingredients remain in the chocolate). Come along to my fun and informative raw chocolate making workshop on 6 December where I will be sharing the knowledge and creating dark delicious superfood out of best quality ingredients.

Come and join me for the Healthy chocolate workshop, at The Library at Willesden Green, 6 December 6.15-7.30pm.  £2 – book here.

Aneta

Aneta Grabiec,

The Wellness Designer, http://www.thewellnessdesigner.com

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The Muse by Jessie Burton is the 2018 Cityread book

The Muse by Jessie Burton (Pan Macmillan) has been chosen as the book for Cityread London 2018. The title will be the centre of a month-long celebration of reading in the capital, starting on 30 April and running throughout May.  Cityread is a huge city-wide book group which aims to help Londoners explore and celebrate their city through its stories.

The Muse cover

The Muse opens in London 1967, where we meet Odelle Bastien, recently arrived from Trinidad and trying to make her way in a new country.  A new job at the Skelton Institute of Art brings a mysterious painting, and even more enigmatic colleague, into her life.  We are then transported to Spain, 1936, and meet Olive Schloss, and we begin to discover how the painting came into being, against the turbulent backdrop of Spain on the eve of civil war.

Taking Burton’s depictions of 1960s London and 1930s Spain as a starting point, a programme of events exploring The Muse’s themes of arrival, the creative process, art history and family secrets will take place in Brent Libraries (and indeed across London!) throughout May.  Highlights will include:

  • A life drawing art workshop on Tuesday 8 May
  • A Spanish cookery class on Thursday 10 May
  • A history talk about the Moors of Spain on Wednesday 16 May
  • An art history talk, Guernica and beyond, looking at the art of the Spanish Civil War on Tuesday 22 May

We will also be holding a competition for the best book review of The Muse with some exciting themed prizes!

For full details of our events look out for our special brochures, keep an eye on our online events lists or email libraries@brent.gov.uk

Jessie Burton

“I’m truly delighted that The Muse will be London’s Cityread for 2018. It’s a novel that celebrates the diversity, humour and spirit of Londoners – both those who were born here and those welcomed in to make it their home. It’s an honour to support our city’s libraries and to be reminded of their incomparable value, and I can’t wait for new readers to find my story of Odelle and Olive, and make it their own.”

Jessie Burton

 

Further details of all Cityread London activity can be found at the website:

www.cityread.london and at Facebook/CityreadLondon

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Book Review: Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing persumed

The clue is in the title plus a serious crime has been committed. Great mix of characters reflecting UKs rich diversity. Author Susie Steiner really captures ordinary lives, the hustle and bustle of urban living and social welfare challenges.  The  protagonist does online dating and you really relate the all the uncertainty surrounding such attempts. Brent folk will enjoy recognisable locations including watering hole McGoverns. An engrossing crime mystery with  some unexpected outcomes. Looking forward to reading the next in the series following good reviews for this first crime novel which has garnered a lot of attention.  The follow up second crime novel Persons Unknown  was given Sunday Times book of the month for June 2017. Happy reading!

Sarah

 

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Event: Meet Author Anne Corlett

Anne Corlett

Come and meet author Anne Corlett at Kilburn Library on Thursday 7 December at 6.30pm.

Anne Corlett is originally from the north-east, but sort of slid down the map, finishing up in the south-west where she now lives with her partner and three young sons. Before she became a full time writer, she spent 16 years working as a criminal lawyer in London and Bristol.

The idea for The Space Between the Stars came to her while on one of the regular family trips up to the Northumberland coast. While walking on Beadnell beach one evening, she had a sudden clear image of someone arriving on that spectacular stretch of coast after an impossibly long journey, and the story grew from there. At the time, she was working on another novel as part of the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, but she put that project to one side to write The Space Between the Stars.

Anne has had short fiction and non-fiction pieces published in various magazines, journals and anthologies, and she has won, or been shortlisted for, various literary awards.

Anne has lots to share about the writing process and about her life as an author.  Book now for this free event.

Space between the stars

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