Category Archives: Modern Fiction

Book Review:  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


This novel follows the stories of two young people growing up during the Second World War.  Marie-Laure is a blind girl living with her widowed father in Paris and Werner is an orphan boy growing up in an orphanage with his sister in a German mining town.

The book alternates with short chapters from each of their stories.  There are also time hops.  The book begins on a night of terrible peril for both characters towards the end of the war then jumps back a few years to tell us how the characters arrived at this point, then every now and then the author throws in another moment from this one night to sort of remind us where we are heading before jumping back to the more linear story of our characters.

hitler youth

Werner is still just a boy when he is called on to fight for Nazi Germany

Overall I did not feel this book worked, which is a shame as there were some good moments and themes within.  I loved the character of Werner and the dark journey he found himself on.  It really dealt well with the question often asked about the rise of Nazism ‘how did this happen?’ ‘why did so many people go along with this evil?’.

Poor Werner has a really bleak future as a child, no parents and the only possible future mapped out for him is a dangerous grim life toiling in the mines.  But he is exceptional bright and wins a place at an elite school run by Nazis.  It feels like an amazing opportunity and his sister is the only one with doubts that it is the right path for him.  He never actually decides to become a Nazi and early on his journey the marching, chanting and arm bands seem relatively harmless, just meaningless routines he must go along with to get a good education and the advantages it brings.  By the time the more sinister elements become apparent it is almost too late and would take a huge act of courage and rebellion from Werner to leave the path he has found himself on…and he is still just a boy.  Although I wished Werner would rebel I understood why he didn’t and had huge sympathy for him and his plight.

The only problem with the very compelling story is I kept having to leave it every few pages to read about Marie-Laure!  I felt the author seemed to prefer her journey and devoted many more pages to it than Werner’s.  I found her tale a little dull in comparison.  There was some interest in reading how she copes with her blindness in wartime and some tension as her father and her have to flee Paris to stay with relatives.  But she is just so good, and her father is good, and her uncle who she later stays with is good – there wasn’t any of the juicy moral conflict we got with Werner.


Our characters face real danger as the Allied bombs rain down

Another issue with the book was I felt the climax of the book (although not the end of the story), which I referred to earlier, this one night of terrible peril when our main character’s stories merge together and each faces extreme danger – was badly handled.  Doerr tries to build up to it throughout the book by starting there and giving us regular reminders it is coming, then when it finally arrives for our characters he tries to rack up the tension further with very very short chapters, some less than a page, alternating between viewpoints and some covering just a few minutes of time.  This seems to go on forever, bouncing back and forth between them for page after page after page, I got to the ‘oh just get on with it!’ moment very quickly.  And, of course, when the climax comes it is bound to be an anti-climax after all that build up.  From there the novel sort of fizzles out and Doerr does that really annoying thing where he feels he has to tie up every possible lose end, going years and years into the future and ensuring the reader has no opportunity whatever to make their own minds up about any aspect of the fate of the characters.

I quite enjoyed the beginning and the middle sections but by the end I was sick of it and very glad to take it back to the library.




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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

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: and at Facebook/CityreadLondon

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Filed under #LovetoRead, books, Brent Libraries, Cityread London, Event, Historical novel, Libraries, Modern Fiction, reading

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!



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Filed under Book Review, books, Brent Libraries, Crime, Libraries, Missing people, Modern Fiction, reading, Thrillers

Book Review: Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

almost missed you

Almost Missed You is about Violet and Finn, the couple that were ‘meant to be’. They met on a beach by chance and year’s later fate aligned and put them back into each other’s paths. Fast forward 3 years, happily married with their son Bear, one day Finn disappears taking Bear with him. What could possibly make Finn leave is the burning question?

Almost Missed You is a gripping debut by Jessica Strawser which takes readers through a journey of deceit, betrayal, tragedy and heartbreak. Peppered with lots of shocks and twists, it is not a book to be missed and leaves you with the question are some things really meant to be?

By Nazia

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Book Review: This Charming Man by Marian Keyes


I really struggled with this book.  It’s not my usually thing, I picked it up on holiday as a This_Charming_Manprevious guest had left it in the apartment where we were staying.  I’d stupidly brought some philosophical tome to read which I just couldn’t get my head around so thought this book would be less challenging for holiday reading.  It certainly looked it from the colourful cover and from getting to know the main character Lola – a stylist from Dublin with a passionate love of designer labels who’d just been dumped by her more heavyweight politician boyfriend (Patrick D’Courcy, the charming man from the title).  She goes to the county to recover where she meets amusing and quirky characters and tries to lick her wounds.

After establishing this set up the narration then switches to other women who have also been close to the ‘charming man’.  Steadily it unfolds that he is actually a sadist who beats, rapes and mutilates the woman in his life.  It’s quite shocking and the tone pretty much remains in chicklit territory while dealing with these horrifying issues.  I think it is a brave move from the author but for me she just doesn’t quite pull it off, the switches between silly moments and serious I found a bit jarring.  But that does reflect life doesn’t it?  Just because you’ve been a victim of rape, assault or domestic violence doesn’t mean you’ll never laugh again, fall in love again or that you’ll cease to care about the content of Vogue magazine.  No, that isn’t my main criticism, I actually think the idea of tackling more serious issue in an accessible style is a very good idea (even if it didn’t entirely work for me).

The main reason I didn’t like it was the plot.  I felt let down by it on behalf of abused woman.  I’m not sure if I have misunderstood the author but it sent out a very strange message.  After we learn about the four different women who have been abused by Patrick their plots start to move together.  One of them, a journalist, finds out that Patrick is planning to leak a story to the press to destroy the career of a honourable female politician who she admires.  She gets the girls together and they threaten to go to the press with their stories unless he agrees to abandon his scheme, and he does agree and also apologies to them…and they celebrate!  He’s raped and tortured them and they are happy to have caused an inconvenience to his career? ! All the woman have been left with permanent physical and psychological scars from his treatment and yet are we to think this is the only justice they can expect?  I found this so disappointing.

The novel ends with Patrick’s career badly damaged and him going off to continue to abuse his latest victim…and yet the main characters seem pretty happy with the outcome.  I don’t think this holds up in a post Operation Yew Tree, Weinstein and #MeToo world – perhaps the world has moved on since the book was written about 10 years ago or maybe I am just naive.  I understand that abuse can damage people mentally as well as physically and maybe the women are so damaged that they don’t have the confidence to aim to bring him to real justice.  But then if that is the case the author deals with it very strangely with the girls whooping, laughing and celebrating their ‘victory’ with a night out in the pub.






Filed under Book Review, books, chicklit, Modern Fiction

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors is about the perfect couple Grace and Jack whom everyone envies, but when you delve deeper you begin to uncover the cracks beneath. Why does Grace never answer the phone when her friends call? How can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim? And why are there bars on the bedroom windows?

Behind Closed Doors is an emotionally gripping and thought-provoking thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat.  Recommended for the not-faint hearted readers who want a fast paced and captivating read. An excellent chilling debut from B.A. Paris who I am intrigued to read more from.

This addictive read leaves you with a pervasive sense of uneasiness long after the last page is turned and with the lesson…. you never know what’s going on behind any closed door!

By Nazia

Behind Closed Doors

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Book Review: Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe

I recently read The Silence Between Breaths By Cath Staincliffe. This book starts with Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester to London with ordinary people going about their ways. Amongst these people is Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack….

This book was clever and harrowing and it tells us about Saheel’s family and what they too have to face with the knowledge of knowing the unthinkable.

It was an easy read but emotionally heartbreaking  and has been proven to be an excellent topic in any reading group.


Silence between breaths


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Filed under Book Review, books, Brent Libraries, Cath Staincliffe, Crime, Modern Fiction, reading

Book Review: Ten Days by Gillian Slovo

ten days

Overall I enjoyed this book but a felt it needed more work and didn’t reach its full potential.

The book is about some fictional London riots, it is inspired by the real riots in 2011.  We follow a cast of characters involved in various ways: a family who live on the estate at the heart of the riots, the chief of police, the ambitious Home Secretary and his scheming entourage.

Some of the characters are more engaging and convincing than others.  My favourite was Peter, the Home Secretary, had the whole book been about him and his plotting for power I think I would have enjoyed it much more.  The least convincing I found was Cathy, who lived on the Lovelace estate with her teenage daughter.  Her character felt very two dimensional and also not very entertaining, I mean you could say that a scheming politician is a two dimensional cliché – but at least they are fun to read!  Cathy is a sort of dull too-good-to-be-true do-gooder, she cares deeply about her community but seems like an outsider too, no real explanation is given as to why she is living in relative squalor on a estate that is about to be demolished.  The book doesn’t tell us her background but she doesn’t seem to originate from that estate which makes you ask “how did she end up there?”  It was interesting that I had a chance to go to an event where Gillian Slovo was talking about her work, one of the audience asked her what Cathy does for a living (the book mentions her coming and going from work) and Gillian said that she didn’t know, she hadn’t given her fictional character a job.  Now I think some novels go into too much detail about each character, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination, so I don’t think we have to know every detail – but I think the author should know!  Perhaps because Gillian’s past work has often involved adapting other people’s words for the stage she hasn’t gotten into the habit of creating her own characters in detail, she says she doesn’t work that way – but I think she should try it, the novel was weaker because some of the characters felt half formed.

London riots


Apart from following Peter’s sordid tale my other favourite part of the novel was the build up to the riot.  It occurred during a boiling hot early summer and you can almost feel the heat coming off the pages as you read.  Slovo skilfully captures a tense overheated atmosphere of something about to erupt.  Unfortunately the scenes describing the actual riot didn’t live up to the early promise as they felt flat and unconvincing to me, I tried to picture what she was describing (considering I’ve never been in a riot of any kind!) but nothing realistic came into my mind – was this down to bad writing or my lack of imagination?  Not sure.

I felt the novel could have scored an extra point if it had just had another thorough edit or two.


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See the Life Through Their Eyes – 13 YA Novels about Mental Health

Do you know someone that has a mental health condition? Would you like to know more about how hard are they struggling with their conditions? Would you like to find stories full of love, hate, sadness, happiness, tears, laughter, lost, pain, joy? Are you able to show empathy and patience towards all the people who need “someone to talk to”? We are not doctors, but we can be a friend, or a shoulder for someone that desperately needs it.

If the answer is YES, than have a look at the list bellow with books that shine a light on experiencing mental health difficulties. Young adult novels are powerful potions that can blow up the bridges between I’m fine and I’m not fine, and this stories remind us that above everything, we are Humans.































































































By Georgiana

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Book Review: If You Go Away by Adele Parks

If you go away

I’m afraid this book has gone on to my small life is too short pile of unfinished books.  The book was highly recommended to me by a friend so clearly not everyone feels this way!

It was just so humdrum and dull (IMO).  I gave it a fair chance, I got to page 233 before I decided that I had no interest in finding out what happened to these characters and would quite easily shut the book and never think of them again (obviously I’m thinking of them now – but only because I’m writing the review).

The book gives us alternate chapters following our heroine then hero over the same time period.  Our heroine is Vivian a very beautiful (we’re told this repeatedly) and slim (which we’re told over and over again) debutant.  Slim, beautiful Vivian is a popular girl who hopes to make a good marriage and help raise her family’s flagging fortunes but then when she fears she is losing the attentions of the man she has set her sights on she has sex with him in an attempt to seal their relationship.  This is a shocking thing for a high born young woman do to in 1914 and, although it is not clear that the details of her indiscretion are widely known, her reputation is damaged so her family rush her into a hasty marriage much more lowly than they had hoped for.  Her husband is not cruel or anything but he is cold and unaffectionate so their marriage is rather unsatisfactory.  It gets worse for Vivian when war breaks out her husband goes to war and it’s decided she should relocate from London to their relatively modest country home in the midlands where she is very lonely and isolated.

Our hero, Howard’s, story runs concurrently.  He a handsome (we are told this repeatedly), tall and manly (we are told this again and again) playwright who has a promising career ahead of him.  But then war breaks out and Howard is pressured to sign up, he resists because he does not agree with war and instead goes to the trenches as a journalist.  There he sees the horrors of war first hand and becomes even more convinced of the futility of war.  He returns to England just as conscription is introduced.  He becomes a conscientious objector and is imprisoned because of this.


Howard witnesses the horrors of life in the trenches

At this point I felt the time was coming for our heroes to meet as Vivian had befriended Howard’s mother in the country and she had started to talk to Vivian about the plight of her son.  That’s when I decided I just couldn’t go on.

It’s hard to put my finger on why this was so rubbish.  I guess in a way it wasn’t terrible just so so, it seemed to have nothing to offer that hadn’t been done better elsewhere.  There have been better books about lonely neglected wives and much better books about the horrors of war.  The characters were very two dimensional with nothing about them that drew you in or made you feel an emotional link to their journeys.  I just thought they both sounded fairly inoffensive but dull and I couldn’t imagine having an interesting conversation with either of them (even though I’m sure they would have been very nice to look at!)

I’d really like to hear from anyone who strongly disagrees with me on this.  What is it about this that you liked so much?  Does something extraordinary happen in the second half to make it all worthwhile?!




Filed under Book Review, books, Historical novel, Modern Fiction