Welcome back to the second half of our Books of 2021 post. Library staff throughout Warwickshire love reading (obviously) so they are always happy to share some book love. These are the titles that have been memorable reads for them this year.
As mentioned last time, you’ll find these titles on our library catalogue or in our BorrowBox collection. If you still need reading inspiration to see the year out, you can always pop in and see us too – we’ll have multiple recommendations of titles for you to try, whatever reading mood you’re in.
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.
A book to inspire anybody who’s struggling to find time to find time to read. The author devoted a whole year of his life to reading most of the books he’d always wanted to read and some that he thought he should read!
It is an amusing and entertaining memoir of a man re-discovering the inner avid reader in himself. It comes with lists of all the books he read and recommendations to sustain the reader’s enthusiasm after reaching the last page of his story.
A few more of the titles I’ve enjoyed recently and their blurbs to spark your interest.
Danger at Dead Man’s Pass by M G Leonard and Sam Sedgman
A mysterious letter from an old friend asks Hal and Uncle Nat to help investigate a spooky supernatural mystery. Legend has it the Kratzensteins, a family of rich and powerful railway tycoons, are cursed, but there is no such thing as a curse, is there? Hal and Nat take the night train to Berlin and go undercover. From a creaking old house at the foot of the Harz mountains, they take the Kratzenstein family’s funeral train to the peak of the Brocken Mountain. Can Hal uncover the secrets of the Brocken railway and the family curse before disaster strikes?
Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury
This is an illustrated story of two beloved friends as they journey through the seasons of the year together, into the wild, exploring the thoughts and emotions, hardships and happiness that connect us all.
Inspired by Buddhist philosophy and spirituality.
When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten
I really enjoyed this book. It’s set in Jamaica in a tight knit community. The main character, Clara has suffered some sort of trauma the year before & has blocked it out. Her relationship with her best friend has broken down & her behaviour causes issues at home & within the community where everyone knows everybody. There is a twist at the end which I didn’t see coming at all – I thought it was going off in another direction entirely.
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
Julian Jessop is tired of hiding the deep loneliness he feels. So he begins The Authenticity Project – a small green notebook containing the truth about his life.
Leaving the notebook on a table in his friendly neighbourhood cafe, Julian never expects Monica, the owner, to track him down after finding it. Or that she’ll be inspired to write down her own story.
Little do they realize that such small acts of honesty hold the power to impact all those who discover the notebook and change their lives completely.
Two of the books that have left their mark on me this year are The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin and Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay – both for very different reasons.
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot tells the story of Leni and Margot who meet in an art class held at the hospital at which they are both receiving treatment. While that may not sound like the concept for an uplifting novel, it couldn’t be further from the truth – I laughed, wanted to meet Lenni and Margot though yes, I did cry. I loved finding out about Lenni and Margot and their different life experiences and the book itself is so pretty (yes, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but this one is just beautiful!). It’s also set quite locally in some of the chapters which is something I love when I am reading a book!
Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a thriller. A family is found dead years after their true-crime Netflix documentary made them infamous and only their surviving son can uncover the truth behind the tragedy. It was a book that kept me guessing which I also enjoy – I thought at one point I had the story figured out but then there was yet another twist.
Alex Finlay is now a name I look out for when picking my next thriller read and I recommend you do too!
This year, I also re-read my ultimate favourite book in the whole wide world – Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. I love this book and if I am ever asked to recommend a book, this is my go-to title. Here’s the book’s blurb:
Big Stone Gap is a sleepy hamlet where kids get married and start families at eighteen, and stay for ever. So thirty-five-year old Ave Maria Mulligan is something of an oddity. A self-proclaimed spinster, as the local pharmacist she’s been keeping the townsfolk’s secrets for years. Now Ave Maria is about to discover a scandal in her own family’s past that will blow the lid right off her quiet, uneventful life.
With an unforgettable cast of characters and a heroine with an extraordinary story to tell, all living in this quirky, remarkable town where even Elizabeth Taylor pays a visit, Big Stone Gap is a wonderfully vibrant, unashamedly feel-good novel.
The Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
This short novel from Sarah Moss is tense from start to finish, slowly ratcheting up as the summer heat and social friction wear down civility.
Teenager Silvie has been dragged along to a historical re-enactment by her parents; a university professor is taking some students to rural Northumberland to live as they did in the Iron Age, and Silvie’s dad, Bill, has been invited along as an amateur historian. Bill’s insistence on the purity of the exercise brings conflict, and gives licence to the violence that he keeps thinly veiled.
I was first told about this book as an example of folk horror, a description I’m not sure works perfectly (it’s by no means The Wicker Man!), but the tension and mounting sense of dread definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Valley, The City, The Village by Glyn Jones
I read this novel as part of my PhD research, and reading for work rather than pleasure always means an apprehensive approach. Glyn Jones does much to dispel any apprehension very quickly; his command of language, revelling in many-syllabled words and colourful metaphor, draws the reader in without becoming overwrought.
Trystan Morgan, the central character, is a boy from South East Wales who desires more than anything to be a painter. His family have other intentions for him, and set him upon a path to become a preacher instead. Throughout his life, Trystan moves away from his Welshness and back again, and although Jones clearly loves English (particularly its Latin or Greek-derived words: ‘eleutheromania’, for example), the Welsh language stands alongside it in all its own glory.
An excellent exploration through a life and the struggle to live the way we want.
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
A fascinating, richly researched novel, based on the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary from the point of view of Esme – daughter of one of the lexicographers working on the book in the Scriptorium – from her early days of sitting silently underneath the worktable, collecting word slips that fall from the editors (the ‘lost‘ words) through her growing experience of life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Working on the origins of words, Esme is also caught up in the growth of feminism: the suffrage and rights of women and the traumas of the first World War. Her story is wonderfully portrayed – as are the characters in it – at times funny and at others sad, but altogether a wonderfully satisfying read.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T J Klune
This is such a beautiful novel that it’s hard to find the right words to do it justice. A contemporary fantasy, for want of a better description, it is a demonstration of humanity pitched against the prejudices and denials of bureaucracy.
Linus at 40 has worked for the government Department in Charge of Magical Youth, monitoring and assessing orphanages for a number of years. He lives alone, except for his cat, Calliope, and the only colour in his life comes from the sunflowers he grows in his garden. All this changes when he is sent on a ‘top secret’ assignment to an island orphanage, spending a month with six extraordinary – and at first, terrifying – children and their enigmatic guardian, Arthur Parnassus.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I really was captivated by this tale of the Vignes twins, and it provided a chance to step into a completely different life and community. The twins are born into an American South black community who all have a lighter skin tone and follows how, as a community, they celebrate their paler skin while not fitting comfortably into the black American identity or white American identity.
This story follows how both sisters run off in search of their own place in the world, and opens the readers’ eyes to racism, oppression, identity and that human desire to belong and to fit in to the society we live in. We also meet along the way one of the twin’s daughters who falls in love with a young woman who identifies as male.
The parallels of the lasting influences of the past as it shapes the characters with the desire to live as people and identities that are different to their natural origin. This book was cleverly written with a beauty and love and understanding of humanity, it will stay with me a very long time.
The Library of the Unwritten by A J Hackwith
Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.
But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell… and Earth.
We’re looking forward to what we’ll read in 2022 and as always, Happy Reading!