News & Features
November 2023: Currently Reading
By- 06 December 2023 - 11:21am
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By- 06 December 2023 - 11:21am
Have you read any of our featured books this month?
We have raced into December after a busy Autumn Edition Festival in November. Our reading this month has been greatly inspired by some of the authors that we met and heard at our fabulous events.
Sarah Newton, Derby Book Festival Trustee: Listening Still by Anne Griffin
Inspired by Anne’s recent visit to the autumn edition of Derby Book Festival I’ve just finished reading Listening Still, her second book. It’s a charming story about a young woman from a small Irish town where she works in the family funeral home. Like her father before her, Janie Masterson has the unusual gift of being able to hear the last words of the dead and, while it’s a blessing and a curse, she helps the recently deceased right their wrongs, tailoring the message so as not to upset those left behind. When her parents decide to retire, leaving Jeanie and her embalmer husband to run the business on their own, she starts to question her decisions and looks back on a life lived mostly for others.
Anne’s writing is lyrical, you can hear the Irish accents singing off the page, and her characters are so deftly drawn you feel your own sense of bereavement when the novel comes to an end. I normally tear through books, keen to reach the end of each chapter, but I found myself reading Listening Still slowly, so I could savour every word, which is the best recommendation I can give. I’m looking forward to reading her first and third books.
Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Politics on the Edge: A Memoir From Within by Rory Stewart
Amongst the books read in November, Rory Stewart’s Politics on the Edge: A Memoir From Within stood out. Those who are familiar with Stewart’s other books such as The Places in Between and The Marches: A Borderland Journey Between England and Scotland will know him to be a lyrical writer of Hemingwayesque attention to descriptive detail. Politics on the Edge stands within that tradition but the subject matter – a memoir of his time as MP, Minister and Secretary of State - means that it rattles along, blending insider Westminster gossip with composed reflections on the state of UK politics.
Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Water by John Boyne
My choice for this month's 'Currently Reading' is easy, following the recent excellent Autumn edition of the Derby Book Festival, which ended with an event featuring John Boyne and his latest book Water. I can only echo the Guardian review which describes this as "an almost note-perfect piece of first-person storytelling" - the first person being Vanessa Carvin, who changes her name to Willow Hale when she retreats to a small isolated island following traumatic events in her family life. She is left wondering how much she is to blame for these events, and how to move forward. Water is the first of four interlinked books, their titles taken from the four elements, Water, Fire, Earth and Air, which will be published at 6 monthly intervals. I can't wait for the next volume.
Gini, Festival Manager: All the Broken Places by John Boyne
I read the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas when it was first published in 2006 although it was aimed at a Young Adult market and I was therefore interested to see what happened to some of the surviving characters in All the Broken Places - John Boyne's novel for adults. And, of course, those original young adults of 2006 are now adults themselves, so perhaps that was part of the plan.
The story is told through the experiences of a now aging Gretel as she reflects on how she fled with her mother from Poland to Paris and then on to London as she tried to escape their terrible past and the role they played. Having protected herself for so many years, it is the arrival in her life of a young boy that finally leads her to face the responsibilities of her past. A powerful story of grief, shame, accountability and redemption.
Rose, Strategic Lead for Shared Reading: Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews
I just finished Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews and a quick content warning - this book features eating disorders. Between the delicately written prose by well-loved Andrews, I discovered a captivating love story that unfolded between the rich tapestry of England, France, and Spain. Andrews, swiftly securing her place as one of my favourite authors, delivers another set of delicate prose that speaks to the hearts of women navigating a world that often demands they shrink to conform. This novel is a poignant exploration of self-discovery and empowerment. A great read, and I can't wait to see what Jessica Andres does next!
Felicity, Festival Administrator: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke and Maame by Jessica George
I'm currently reading two books, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, which was the winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2021 and Maame by Jessica George. These are two very different books, which makes it easier to read them alongside each other. I have to be honest, I have absolutely no idea what is happening in Piranesi. I'm about halfway through the book and I'm enjoying it, it's giving me Discworld vibes. Every day, Piranesi makes detailed notes of everything that happens within the House, and it is clear that things are not exactly as The Other has explained. I'm intrigued to see where this goes. In terms of Maame, which Maddie explains has many meanings in Twi, but in her case it means woman, we're going on a journey of self-discovery in what I think will be a sort of coming-of-age tale. I'm not that far in, but I'm really enjoying this book - it's been on my radar for a while and I'm glad to finally be diving in.
Amy, Shared Reading Volunteer and Support Officer: After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell
As a huge fan of Maggie O’Farrell’s more recent work, I decided to go back and fill in the gaps. ‘After You’d Gone’ is O’Farrell’s debut novel and is a powerful story about love and obligation and grief. We’re immersed in Alice’s world, and swept along with O’Farrell’s typical rollicking pace, through an exploration of familial love and romantic love. Heart-breaking choices must be made, and their far-reaching consequences shape the lives of all the characters. I didn’t want this story to end, and by the last page I was out of tissues!
Vanessa, Festival Administrator: The Caliph's House - A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah
This book appeared on my radar when I was searching for a book to read whilst travelling in Morocco. Shah writes of his own experience of moving his family from London to a dilapidated ‘Palace’ in Casablanca. He tells his tale of renovation in a style that is easy to read, with many moments of humour and a few harrowing events. The reader is easily drawn into Moroccan life with witty commentary on the quirks of a traditional Islamic culture mixed with North African folklore. A great read for anyone interested in Morocco, major renovation or moving your life across the world.
Have you read any of the books featured in this month’s Currently Reading? We’d love to know what you’re currently reading. Don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter and follow us across social media!
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