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3 Festivals for 2024


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August 2022: Currently Reading

By - 31 August 2022 - 13:56pm

Have you read any of the books we've enjoyed in August?

It’s the end of August and we can’t believe how Autumnal it feels already! Just the other week we were struggling to keep cool because of back-to-back heatwaves. While we’re making the most of summer, we’ve also been busy behind the scenes planning our Autumn Edition.

This year it’s taking place from November 4-6th at QUAD (Derby), and we’ve got 12 great authors lined up for you. We’ll be making some announcements this week, so make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter and following us on social media.

Sian, Festival Director: Agent Sonya by Ben Macintyre

Fact is stranger than fiction - and this book certainly proves this. I don’t read much non-fiction, but this sounded interesting, and I was gripped by the incredible story.

Ursula Burton was a German Jew who embraced communism in her teens in the 1920s. Her life as a Soviet spy took her to China, Switzerland, England and East Germany, and she conducted some of the most dangerous espionage operations of the 20th century. At the same time, she was a very engaged mother to three children. It is written in a very engaging, accessible style and moves at breakneck speed. It certainly made me feel more keen to read non-fiction, which I tend to avoid.

Elizabeth Fothergill, Derby Book Festival Chair: Love Marriage by Monica Ali

Last week I read my first Monica Ali, Love Marriage. I enjoyed it very much and am now reading Brick Lane.

Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: The Hong Kong Diaries by Chris Patten

Of the books I’ve read over the past month, one which has stood out has been Chris Patten’s The Hong Kong Diaries. Covering the five years of his Governorship of Hong Kong through to its handover to China in June 1997 and concluding with an essay on the current state of Hong Kong’s politics, there is inevitability some repetition in the entries. However, as Patten’s writing can be so beautifully irreverent and more often than not unexpectedly waspish, particularly when he takes aim at real and perceived political enemies in China, the Foreign Office & Commonwealth Office, the Conservative Party, international business and Sinologists generally (the list is long), it never becomes tedious; the 500 pages whipped by.

Fiona Apthorpe, Derby Book Festival Trustee: East West Street by Philippe Sands and On The Road: Adventures from Nixon to Trump by James Naughtie

I have just finished East West Street by Philippe Sands, which interweaves a tragic story of family loss with the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg trials. A slow start, but it picked up halfway through. Currently, just finishing James Naughtie’s On The Road: Adventures from Nixon to Trump. I actually read it last year but then he re-released it with a new chapter on the election results and, being the Americanophile (if such a word exists!!) that I am, I had to buy the new version! The book is a memoir of his experiences which have included covering every Presidential election from Reagan to Trump... it is witty and erudite and totally absorbing! A must read!

Keith Donald, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, The Familia Grande by Camille Kouchner, Granta 160, Putin – His Life and Times by Philip Short

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

I had bought a copy of Gorman’s poem shortly after her recital of the poem at President Biden’s inauguration. I had seen her live on television at the ceremony, and I had seen it again several times on YouTube. I regret now that it has taken me so long to read the poem. The cadence, the positive emotion and the intricate use of language become more apparent on reading the work. It is an outstanding and astounding poem, full of hope and optimism. It is just such a pity that the poet may be disappointed at the results of the Democratic initiatives to date; is there a dichotomy between the words and energy of the stanzas and the achievements of the administration?

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I thought I had read this book, but when I picked it up in a bookshop while abroad, I realised I had made an error. I was gripped by the novel from the first paragraph, and without a doubt this book has gone into my list of my top five novels which I have ever read. It is so creative, entrancing, magnificent and spellbinding. It is set in the coastal marshlands of North Carolina. Interwoven in the story is a mystery about the unexplained death of a local young adult, but the main characters are Kya, the local environment, and a small cast of characters involved in Kya’s life. We follow her development from child to adult, and Owens holds up a mirror to class, gender, and racial tensions in this gripping novel. I know I must sound like a Radio 4 reviewer, but if you read only one novel this year, then please do read this one. It is a superb work of literary fiction. The novel has been made into a film, (but I don’t know much about the film yet), and I suggest you should read the novel before you see the film.

The Familia Grande by Camille Kouchner

This autobiography was published in France in the last year. It was met with great praise for its honesty; many French readers were shocked at Kouchner’s story. Camille was born into a left-wing French family and was brought up on the Left Bank of Paris in a privileged environment. The book is written in a loose form; at times, it comes across as a stream of consciousness. Her parents were very liberal in their outlook, and this caused profound psychological damage to Camille and her brother. The parents and their social circle believed that sexual freedom was liberating, even when it was abusive of children and young adults. Within that group, there was a conspiracy of silence which normalised such behaviour. I did not enjoy the writing in the same sense in which I enjoyed “Where the Crawdads Sing”, but I am passionate about France and French society, so it was remarkable for me to see this level of decadence and depravity behind the façade. Very few people spoke out about the abuse.

Granta 160:

This is a quarterly literary magazine which comprises essays, fiction, and poetry. I really enjoy it and I love to see it on the doormat every three months or so. However, not all the selected pieces are appealing to me; like a buffet, there is excellent writing and some works which just do not attract me, (but I know that only after I have read them). I enjoyed Lindsey Hilsum’s letters from Ukraine, and Sarah Moss’s long work on her eating disorder was gripping, although even with hindsight I don’t know if it is autobiographical from the last year or so or whether it is fiction. I would love to find out. Dizzy Tate’s work was a good read, and I shall look out for her first novel next year. So, good in parts, but the good bits outweigh the strain of having to plough through some of the writing. (Yes, I know I could just not finish that part of the collection, but that’s just not in my character; I read every word, and I watch bad films to the bitter end too.)

Putin – His Life and Times by Philip Short

This is a monumental work, in terms of length of the work and the depth of research which the author has carried out. I cannot give a full review since I am only halfway through the book, but already I have found the content to be gripping and illuminating.

I think that many of us know about Putin’s early years as a professional in the secret service, but I did not know about his childhood and his background. Also, I did not know the detail about his consistent wish to see the reconstruction of the Soviet Union; Putin believes Gorbachev caused the downfall of the U.S.S.R. I expect any official mention of Gorbachev’s death last night will be muted.

There is more to follow, but this is an important book for those of us who want to understand more about this influential figure whose stance on Russian expansion is creating so many challenges for us today in the U.K.

Felicity, Festival Administrator: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (book 1), Good Girl, Bad Blood (book 2), As Good As Dead (book 3) by Holly Jackson

I love reading twisty thrillers with fascinating characters and fast-paced, gripping writing. I also particularly enjoy YA murder mysteries/thrillers. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson had been on my radar for a little while before I read it (with almost 350,000 ratings on Goodreads, it’s a popular book indeed).

I was instantly hooked when I met Pip and Ravi and learned about Andie Bell and Sal Singh. What I love about the trilogy is the evolution of the characters and the fact all the loose ends get tied up. By the end, I strongly agreed that Ravi is one of the most underrated partner-in-crime boyfriends in any book.

But I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to still like Pip? I found myself questioning what she was doing. I could understand her 'why', but it also goes against so much of what book one Pip believes in. It’s explained and I get it, but I found myself questioning whether she was being too selfish? Or whether it was justified.

Have you read any of the books featured in this month’s Currently Reading? We’d love to know what you’re currently reading. And don’t forget to keep an eye on our socials for exciting updates this week!

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