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3 Festivals for 2024


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Currently Reading: January 2024

By - 08 February 2024 - 12:29pm

Have you read any of our featured books this month?

January seemed to stretch on forever, but which books helped to pass the time?

Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee: Lost and Never Found by Simon Mason

The highlight of my January reading was the eagerly anticipated Lost and Never Found by Simon Mason. This is the third outing for DI Wilkins and DI Wilkins of Thames Valley Police. A shared surname but there the commonalities cease: two very different DIs – Ryan Wilkins, hard scrabble school of life, track suit and trainer wearing versus Ray Wilkins, suave Oxford educated, sharp suited. As a duo, they work together barely, but their different approaches prove effective. The two earlier books in the series A Killing in November and The Broken Afternoon introduced and built the backstory and relationship of both which Lost and Never Found continues embedded within a cracking police procedural plot that is grim and a morality tale for modern times.’

Sarah Newton, Derby Book Festival Trustee: The Cider House Rules by John Irving

During the autumn edition of Derby Book Festival, the brilliant John Boyne was asked to name his own favourite authors and I hurriedly scribbled down his recommendations. In case you are wondering, Irish novelist Donal Ryan, the prolific Anne Tyler and John Irving were his top three recommendations, which is how I came to discover The Cider House Rules.

It follows the life of Homer Wells, born and brought up in St Cloud’s Orphanage under the loving and watchful eye of Dr Wilbur Larch who also takes care of pregnant women – either by delivering and taking in their babies or by performing illegal abortions. The novel covers some tricky subjects – racism, abortion, addiction and abuse – but it is joyful, at times outright funny and, like Boyne’s writing, beautifully easy and comforting to read. We don’t discover what the Cider House Rules are until at least halfway through the book, when Homer has left the orphanage for life with another family who live in an orchard. The rules are positioned on the wall of the cider house for the benefit of its migrant workers who, ironically, can’t read.

And this list represents the main theme of the book. Irving tells us that while we are governed by rules and regulations, there is always a different way. The migrant workers for example have their own unwritten rules – you can fight, but don’t harm enough that the authorities will get involved. It’s an epic tale, but the real joy comes from John Irving’s storytelling – which has clearly inspired John Boyne’s own writing. If you like one, I am sure you will like the other.

Sian, Festival Director: The Trees by Percival Everett and The North Water by Ian McGuire

Having gone away on holiday with a limited supply of books (due to baggage restrictions!) and an even more limited supply of ebooks on BorrowBox I was forced to read books which weren’t my usual choices. But what a surprise that was brought with The Trees by Percival Everett and The North Water by Ian McGuire. The Trees is a hilarious story with a very profound basis: lynchings. I knew little of this awful history. It’s written with great pace and some wonderful characters but it’s the wise cracking dialogue that was the most entertaining.
I missed North Water when it was dramatised about a year ago on BBC1 and didn’t really think I would enjoy it, but again the characters are vivid and strong and the sense of place is chilling. A bit too gory in terms of detail but a riveting story.

Gini, Festival Manager: When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Sarah Winman is one of my all-time favourite authors. A coming-of-age story, spanning over three decades from the 1970s to 2001, this beautifully written book, follows the lives of a brother and sister, Joe and Elly, as they navigate life from childhood through to adulthood. It is a story about family, loss of innocence, family ties and friendship and of love in all its forms, with wonderfully imagined and colourful characters and an unbreakable sibling bond.

Rose, Strategic Lead for Shared Reading: Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology by various writers.

I got this short story anthology for Christmas and I've been really looking forward to diving in. I'm only 10 pages in so I can't give a review, but can say that the first 10 pages are great! 'Never Whistle at Night' is described as a bold, clever and sublimely sinister collection that dares to ask the question: "Are you ready to be unsettled?" to be honest I'm not sure I'm ready as I don't usually go near spooky books, but I'm incredibly intrigued and here for the ride! I might even discover a new favourite author or two! Apparently I'm in for a rollercoaster whirlwind of ghosts, curses, hauntings, monsters and revenge, all caused by whistling at night... So wish me luck!

Amy, Shared Reading Volunteer and Support Officer: Haweswater by Sarah Hall and The Happy Couple by Naoise Dolan

Haweswater is a beautiful, début novel about an isolated Cumbrian village in the 1930s which is identified as the perfect site to create the Haweswater dam, forcibly uprooting a community who have lived and worked this land for centuries. Hall’s descriptions of the landscape and the characters who inhabit it are exquisite and moving. The novel describes a passionate love affair between the man who comes to relay the news of the impending waterworks, and the daughter of a long-established tenant farmer. As the dam nears completion, the two central characters grapple with the force of their love and the meaning of belonging in the face of great change. This is a melancholic and slightly dreamlike novel, populated by vivid characters who are shaped by dramatic and powerful forces. I think this novel will stay with me for a long time. It is stunning.

The Happy Couple is a sharp, witty novel that had me laughing aloud. It tells the story of Celine - a professional pianist in her late twenties – and her fiance Luke in the run-up to their wedding day. As the day approaches, Celine and Luke examine their understanding of what it means to love a person, their commitment, and their compatibility. Dolan has a knack for exploring the inner workings of her characters’ heads without this seeming contrived or heavy going. Quite a feat. The voices feel authentic, and the sparkling dialogue makes it a fast-paced read. Dolan’s colourful characterisation - of Celine’s family in particular - put me in mind of Dickens. I’m keen to seek out her first novel.

Felicity, Festival Administrator: Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

I had no idea what to expect, but I’d seen Fourth Wing and the second book Iron Flame was dotted around Waterstones when we had our Christmas thank you evening. Fourth Wing starts and you’re immediately dropped in the action, which I appreciate. The author sets the scene as she goes and uses the most beautiful descriptive writing. When she writes, I’m right there with Violet and the other cadets. Fourth Wing is set in the intense and brutal Basgiath War College where cadets train to ride dragons and everyone has their own agenda because they know not everyone will survive… I’ve only been reading it a few days but it’s the kind of book that I find myself thinking about when I’m not reading and rushing to finish whatever task I’m doing so I can read.

Vanessa, Children and Young People’s Co-ordinator: Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell

Having seen Impossible Creatures reviewed here by our Trustee, Di, I was keen to try this novel for younger readers. I was really impressed by Rundell’s quirky storytelling when I read One Christmas Wish with my son in December and Impossible Creatures has the same enjoyable style. This adventure story feels exciting, from the amazing creatures to the complex relationships between the ensemble of main characters. The dialogue feels fresh and surprising. I found myself devouring this book about a magical archipelago hidden from our eyes off the shores of Scotland. I will definitely be reading more of Katherine's books.

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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