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January 2022: Currently Reading

By - 31 January 2022 - 09:48am

Find out what the team have been reading this month

We hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year (although it feels like ages ago now!). We’ll be sharing everything the team has been reading during January and have a great announcement for budding writers at the end!

Sian, Festival Director: The Fell by Sarah Moss

We’ve probably all wondered when the first novels would appear that try to make sense of our shared experience of the Pandemic. Sarah Moss’ The Fell is one of the first to be published. It has just four main characters: a single mother, her teenage son and their widowed neighbour, all self-isolating for different reasons, and a mountain rescuer. It captures the claustrophobia of our situation as well as exploring the draw of nature in a thought-provoking way, presenting the moral dilemma of breaking lockdown rules. The fact that it’s set in the Peak District adds another level. I have only read one of her books to date but will read more of her beautiful prose.

Gini, Festival Manager: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

A raw and brave memoir, set amongst the extremes of East London hedonism in the 90s and the Orkney Islands of her childhood, Amy Liptrot's 'The Outrun' describes her experience of returning to live in Orkney, where she grew up on a farm against the backdrop of family mental health, to begin her rehabilitation after ten years of alcohol and drug addiction.

Immersing herself in the cold waters of the Atlantic and exploring the wildlife on a small, remote island, Amy discovers the restorative powers of the wild and, one day at a time, begins the long journey to sobriety and inner peace.

Beautifully written, 'The Outrun' explores the elements and environments that shape us and our own accountability for the choices we make.

Sarah Ward, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C Richards

I'm currently reading The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C Richards. It's a work of fiction but reads like a true crime memoir. Set in Milwaukee, a woman digs deeper into the disappearance of her sister nearly thirty tears earlier. I'm always looking for innovative forms for the crime novel and I like the freshness of the author's voice. I'm looking forward to seeing where the story takes me.

Fiona Apthorpe, Derby Book Festival Trustee: The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

I am reading The Women of Troy by Pat Barker, a followup to The Silence of the Girls. An excellent book from a highly regarded author which looks at a well-known subject from a different angle, i.e., that of the women, whether royalty or slaves, who have historically been footnotes to the story of Troy. Told from the perception of Briseis, Achille’s slave and the mother of his child, it is at once poignant and exciting.

Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Fear (2018), Rage (2020), and Peril (2020) - Bob Woodward’s trilogy on the Trump Presidency

I have just finished reading Bob Woodward’s trilogy on the Trump Presidency: Fear (2018), Rage (2020) and Peril (2020). A typical rollicking Woodward romp through the four years of Donald Trump’s administration from the initial capture of the White House to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to the eventual, and contested, defeat by Joe Biden. Presented as a dysfunctional presidency, a parody of the office made real, which might have been humorous if it was not for the power and authority vested solely in the Office of the President of the United States of America.

Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: The Second Worst Restaurant in France by Alexander McCall Smith

Probably everyone has heard of Alexander McCall Smith, with his Scotland Street series and the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The Second Worst Restaurant in France, published in 2019, is an ideal read for the dark winter months and the "almost out of Covid" feeling. Light, funny, an easy read, with great descriptions of France - the food, the people in a remote rural area, the countryside. I now can't wait to go back to France, a long car drive, sunny weather and wonderful food. Enjoy!

Keith Donald, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: There is Nothing for You Here by Fiona Hill, Cop by Valentin Gendrot, Dog Days by Andrew Cotter, and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

There is Nothing for You Here by Fiona Hill

The author has had a high profile in the couple of years since she is an expert on Russia and its politics and worked under President Trump. This book is part autobiography, part eulogy to the north-east of England where she was brought up, and part political critique. I found it fascinating; Fiona Hill writes so well. If you are interested in the concept of “levelling up” and one person’s rise from being a child in a colliery village to global recognition in Washington D.C., then this is the book for you. Also, do try to catch up with the writer on BBC Sounds and her recent interview on Woman’s Hour.

Cop by Valentin Gendrot

I bought a copy of this book since I am a Francophile. This is an inside story by a journalist who masqueraded as a police officer for a couple of years. The book was well reviewed in The Guardian, but I was disappointed. The most interesting point was the cultural challenges which haunt the Metropolitan Police are mirrored in Paris.

Dog Days by Andrew Cotter

Andrew Cotter wrote a surprise best seller a couple of years ago about his two Labradors after the videos of the two dogs went viral and attracted global (sic) attention. This book is a follow up; it is just as hilarious as his first book in parts, but there is an underlying more serious tone to this work. This note is caused partly by his and society’s challenges over Covid, and his thoughts about the ageing process as it relates to Andrew and to his dogs. I found it fascinating, but then I would do so; as I type this, I have a golden retriever snoring at my feet and a curly-coated retriever trying to push me off the sofa so that she has more room. I won’t compare the strengths of our personalities, but I’m going to move to sit on the floor. Andrew would be proud of me.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I have read and heard so many eulogies to this book that I thought that it could not be as good as it has been made out to be. However, it is. The story is simple and complex. It is set on a small canvas, in a house washed over by the regular tides. There is a central character, Piranesi; his thoughts, adventures and challenges keep the reader interested throughout. I loved the book; the hype is well deserved. In my view, the novel is part love story, part science fiction and part political commentary on the complexity of our lives. Other readers will have a different opinion. Please read this book; whatever your thoughts about the novel, we will agree that it is a monumental work of imaginary fiction.

Felicity, Festival Administrator: Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

In recent years I’ve really enjoyed reading books inspired by Greek Mythology (think Circe by Madeline Miller) and historical fiction (think The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and The Familiars by Stacey Halls), so when I heard about Pandora, I knew I needed to read it.

Through her brilliant writing, Stokes-Chapman transports you to Georgian London with ease. Once there, we meet Dora Blake who is living with her uncle. She helps him run her parents' former antiques shop. One day a mysterious vase arrives, which causes her uncle to act strangely. This only furthers Dora’s intrigue in the item. There is one more character you need to know about in this brilliant debut… Edward Lawrence. Edward is enlisted to help Dora find out more about the vase, but what she learns will force her to question everything.

Have you read any of the books featured in this instalment of Currently Reading? We’d love to hear from you via our social media channels!

Calling all budding writers! Our Flash Fiction writing competition is back for 2022. You can find out everything you need to know (including the theme) by visiting this link: https://www.derbybookfestival.co.uk/flash-fiction

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