I’ve been incredibly excited in the last few weeks by lots of book related news. Firstly, our Warwickshire Shadow Readers book group choice for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction (you can read our thoughts about ‘Hamnet’ and the other books that made the shortlist here). Also, a couple of Thursdays ago, nearly 600 new books were published meaning that there are loads of new books out there to discover, many of which will be winging their way to our libraries soon, ensuring TBR (To Be Read) piles across Warwickshire, including my own will soon be overflowing!
On top of this, more details were revealed about the forthcoming BBC Two ‘Between The Covers’ show. It starts in October and will feature books by some fantastic authors. I can’t wait to see it and am already picking out which books I want to read from their list. AND on top of all of that, throughout this year there has been a new monthly theme in the amazing books bought together in the ‘Novels That Shaped The World’ collection (for brevity, I will refer to this as ‘NTSOW’ going forward). Readers, we’ve been spoilt for choice!
Now, as I have neglected the ‘NTSOW’ collection somewhat this year, I thought I would use today’s blog to highlight the theme and some of the titles from each month that are available to borrow and that make my TBR list. Some I might have read already, others I want to read. I have included links to the physical books which you’ll be able to borrow from our libraries or indicated where titles are available on BorrowBox, either on eBook or as an eAudio title.
The titles featured are just a few for each month so I’ve also included a link for you to find out about the other books that feature each month. Some of your favourites might be included, or some might have been ignored – let me know in the comments or you can tag Warwickshire Libraries on Twitter and include #MyBookLife to shout about the books you have loved.
January – Identity
This is on my TBR list (and I must admit has been for a while so I really should bump it up!). It tells the story of Jakob Beer, who is seven years old when he is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried village in Nazi-occupied Poland. He is the only one of his family who has survived. Under the guidance of the Greek geologist Athos, Jakob must steel himself to excavate the horrors of his own history. While the topic might be quite a sombre one, this is a period of history that interests me greatly. It’s also been recommended to me by friends.
This strikingly covered book has been catching my eye ever since it was published. I have heard nothing but good things about it and again, it makes my TBR list (I promise that there will be books I have read included later in this blog). The book follows the lives of Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from Africa to Mississippi; from Ghana to Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, this book covers a lot.
Find out about the other titles chosen for the theme of ‘Identity’ here.
February – Love, Sex & Romance
This one I read as a teenager and even today, amongst my friends, we discuss whether we prefer Jake or Rupert! It’s quite a saucy read and if you are of a certain age, you may remember the TV series too but it created a character in Rupert Campbell-Black that many readers love to hate (or hate to love). Set against the glorious Cotswold countryside, this has become a classic and a bestseller that offers an intoxicating blend of skulduggery, swooning, romance, sexual adventure and hilarious high jinks. It’s a 900-odd page read too so lots to keep you enthralled – probably a bit late for this year’s holiday reading but one for next year maybe?
What can I say about Bridget Jones’s Diary that hasn’t been said before. It’s a very funny read (and film) and introduced us to Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy, Bridget’s family and friends and, of course, to Bridget herself – a character that resonates. Loosely based on another book in this month’s list (‘Pride and Prejudice’ – physical copies, eBook, eAudio), I will freely admit that this book made me laugh, cry and nod my head along to the ups and downs that befall Bridget throughout its pages (and through its sequels too).
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (physical copies)
James Baldwin is an author that I have become more and more aware of in recent years. After the success of the film adaptation of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ (physical copies, eBook), the subjects of his books sparked my interest and I am slowly making my way through them. I haven’t yet got to ‘Giovanni’s Room’ but it is on my list. This novel follows David, a young man awakening to his sexuality. Undertaking a relationship with a barman named Giovanni, he awaits his fiancee’s arrival from Spain and the consequences of his actions.
There are some great books featured in this month and it was hard to pick just a few. I also loved Judy Blume’s ‘Forever’ (physical copies) which features and I am hoping to read ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston soon (physical copies, eBook, eAudio). Find out what other titles feature in his there here.
March – Adventure
The group who picked the novels featured in ‘NTSOW’ were a bit sneaky in this month and included a number of series rather than individual books. Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ is one that I struggled with, despite it being so popular that it was recently turned into a TV series. Although I have read the first book in the series, ‘Northern Lights’, it didn’t grip me enough to make me want to read the others in the series. Now I know that that is probably an unpopular opinion amongst readers who love these books but if we all liked the same type of books, reading would be a very dull experience! I did enjoy another series mentioned in this month though, ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins and was most excited when a prequel was released earlier this year, ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ (physical copies, eBook, eAudio).
The blurb for this one is: “His weapon is the stiletto, his codename: The Needle. He is Henry Faber, coldly professional, a killer, Germany’s most feared deep-cover agent in Britain. His task: to discover the Allies’ plans for D-Day, and get them to Germany at all costs.” If that doesn’t make you want to read, then this probably isn’t the book for you!
You’ll find the other books listed for this month here.
April – Life, Death & Other Worlds
One that a lot of people have probably read at one time or another, or seen a TV or film adaptation of but a good one to revisit, especially as the nights draw in and your reading tastes turn towards spookier reads (or is that just me?). From the blurb: “Obsessed with the idea of creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material with which to fashion a new being, shocking his creation to life with electricity. But this botched creature, rejected by its creator and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy Frankenstein and all that he holds dear.” I enjoy both the story within this novel and the story of how this novel came to be written – conceived when Mary Shelley was only eighteen and living with her lover Percy Shelley near Lord Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. It’s worth seeking out the story behind this well known novel if you have time!
The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett (titles in the series are available as physical books and eBooks – search our catalogue to find the title of your choice)
Another month with a number of series to choose from – George R R Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ features, as do ‘The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis and ‘The Earthsea Trilogy’ by Ursula Le Guin, I have picked Terry Pratchett’s comic fantasy ‘Discworld’ series to highlight. While I must admit, I struggled to get into the series, my brother ploughed through these books and they remain very popular with readers so they must be doing something right! I do love the cover designs of many of the Discworld series – there is so much detail and I am sure if I had read them, they would make a lot of sense but even without knowing what each novel is about, the covers often cheer me up when I see them! Find out more about the illustrations here.
Not a topic to dwell on for too long perhaps so here’s the rest of the list for ‘Life, Death & Other Worlds’ to peruse at your leisure.
May – Politics, Power & Protest
This is a classic of American fiction and one I have read a couple of times down the years. Exploring attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of America, it is both gripping and thought-provoking. Although not written by Harper Lee, I can also recommend ‘Furious Hours‘ by Casey N Cep which looks at the “stunning true story of an Alabama serial killer, and the trial that obsessed the author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in the years after the publication of her classic novel – a complicated and difficult time in her life that, until now, has been very little examined“. If you like true crime, it’s one to read!
You may have seen the recent TV adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s bestselling series or this may be one you read when it was originally published in 2001. Either way, it remains a very popular novel amongst readers. Featuring the topics of race and class, it tackles issues of discrimination, violence and distrust, while also following the relationship between main characters Sephy and Callum. If you haven’t already been drawn in by this series, now is the time to try it.
This was a novel that I hadn’t heard of before the ‘NTSOW’ list was announced but it sounds like it could be a very interesting historical fiction read. The blurb paints a vivd picture: “Centring on the seminal lockout of 20,000 workers in Dublin in 1913, ‘Strumpet City’ encompasses a wide sweep of city life. From the destitution of Rashers Tierney to the solid, aspirant respectability of Fitz and Mary, the priestly life of Father O’Connor, and the upper-class world of Yearling and the Bradshaws, it paints a portrait of a city of stark contrasts, with an urban working class mired in vicious poverty.”
To find the other titles on the ‘Politics, Power & Protest’ list, click here.
June – Class & Society
I have to hold my hands up for this month and say that I have not read a single title on the list. Find out what they are here. There are a number of books I have heard lots about but I just never got round to reading. ‘The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne’ by Brian Moore (physical copies) is one that intrigues me and I have always meant to read both ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro (physical copies, eBook) and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys (physical copies).
So that I don’t damage my reader credentials too much, I have read other books by authors featured on this month’s list – John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens.
July – Coming of Age
The Outsiders by S E Hinton (physical copies)
This is one of the books that made me a reader! After seeing the film (you know the one, staring many an 80s heart throb and the male half of the ‘Brat Pack’), when I found out it was a book, I was hooked. Growing up in the Midlands in the 1980s was the polar opposite from the characters featured in the book but I couldn’t get enough of the Socs and the Greasers. I probably shouldn’t have been reading it quite so young because of the violence but now, it remains one of the seminal books in my reading life.
The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer (physical copies)
We should probably refer to this series as a ‘marmite’ series – many readers either love it or hate it. I am on the former side, though I do realise that there are problematic elements to the story and that you can only read the word ‘murmur‘ so many times without wanting a character to enunciate properly! This is a good series to use in the argument about whether the book or the film is better – for me, the books in this series will always triumph over the films and so I was, of course, very excited to hear about the publication of ‘Midnight Sun‘ earlier this year. Revisiting the story but from Edward’s perspective, the tome of a book (it’s 700+ pages) is currently on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf waiting for me to open its pages.
This month’s list is perhaps my favourite of the bunch. Find out the other titles here – I wonder if any of them were books that made you into a reader?
August – Family & Friends
It would be terribly rude of me not to feature a Warwickshire author in my round up of the list of ‘NTSOW’ and we were so pleased when we found out that ‘Middlemarch’ had been included. Taken from the BorrowBox blurb as I couldn’t put it better myself: “Dorothea is bright, beautiful and rebellious and has married the wrong man. Lydgate is the ambitious new doctor in town and has married the wrong woman. Both of them long to make a positive difference in the world. But their stories do not proceed as expected and both they, and the other inhabitants of Middlemarch, must struggle to reconcile themselves to their fates and find their places in the world. ‘Middlemarch’ contains all of life: the rich and the poor, the conventional and the radical, literature and science, politics and romance. Eliot’s novel is a stunningly compelling insight into the human struggle to find contentment.”
One of my favourite series of books, with such a wide variety of characters and themes explored that there is so much to consider and so much to fall in love with when reading. Set against the 1970s San Fransisco skyline, the first book in the series introduces the unconventional tenants of 28 Barbary Lane, the domain of the eccentric landlady Anna Madrigal. Subsequent books in the series follow this cast of characters through many highs and lows. You may have caught the recent TV adaptation or, like me, may remember the 1990s version. Both made me want to revisit these books and dig out my copies!
I am not afraid to admit that this book (and its 1990 film version starring Angelica Houston) still unnerve me today as a grown adult. Although written for children and adored by them quite rightly, the thought that you could be sitting next to a witch and not know it, a witch who wants to squish, squiggle and make you disappear sends shivers down my spine! I still love it and have ensured that the children in my family have a copy!
The other titles on this month’s list can be found here.
September – Conflict & Crime
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again“. One of the great opening lines of a novel and since its publication in 1938, it has remained a favourite amongst many readers. It is about to have another film adaptation and has also been adapted for TV, stage and there is even an opera. It is a haunting novel that tells the story of the new Mrs de Winter and how the influence of the old Mrs de Winter has never really gone away…..
The Children of Men by P D James (physical copies)
“The year is 2021. No child has been born for a quarter of a century. The human race faces extinction. Under the despotic rule of Xan Lyppiatt, Warden of England, the old are despairing, the young beautiful but cruel.” It is strange to think that this novel was published in 1992, imagining what life would be like in 2021 and here’s us now reading it just before 2021 and it could feel quite unnerving! A dystopian read with a nearly 4 star rating on goodreads.com and just think, after next year, this becomes historical fiction!
For the other fantastic books in this month’s list, click here. The ones I didn’t get to include but that I love too are ‘American Tabloid’ by James Ellroy (physical copies, eBook) and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ by Patricia Highsmith (physical copies).
October – Rule Breakers
Habibi by Craig Thompson (physical copies)
This amazingly illustrated graphic novel was one of my lockdown reads. It is both funny in places and devastatingly upsetting in others. It is based on a Middle Eastern fable, telling the story of Dodola, who escapes being sold into slavery and rescues an abandoned baby she names Zam. They live in isolation in an old boat in the desert. As they age, their relationship shifts from mother and son, to brother and sister and eventually lovers. Relationships become complicated, violence and life get in the way and both Dodola and Zam face challenges they never could have foreseen. A very good read I would recommend.
This is on my TBR pile so I can’t say much about it at the moment but it is a widely regarded biographical novel by Audre Lorde. From the BorrowBox blurb: “A little black girl opens her eyes in 1930s Harlem. Around her, a heady swirl of passers-by, car horns, kerosene lamps, the stock market falling, fried bananas, tales of her parents’ native Grenada. She trudges to public school along snowy sidewalks, and finds she is tongue-tied, legally blind, left behind by her older sisters. On she stumbles through teenage hardships — suicide, abortion, hunger, a Christmas spent alone — until she emerges into happiness: an oasis of friendship in Washington Heights, an affair in a dirty factory in Connecticut, and, finally, a journey down to the heat of Mexico, discovering sex, tenderness, and suppers of hot tamales and cold milk. This is Audre Lorde’s story. It is a rapturous, life-affirming tale of independence, love, work, strength, sexuality and change, rich with poetry and fierce emotional power.“
The other ‘rule breaking’ titles can be found here.
There are lots of other great titles to explore in the ‘NTSOW’ list (and a lot of novels that had I been compiling the list would have featured!). I hope that’s given you some ideas for titles to read and if there are any I haven’t mentioned that you love, let me know in the comments!