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December 2023: Currently Reading

By - 19 January 2024 - 09:53am

Have you read any of our featured books this month?

As we welcome in a new and exciting year for Derby Book Festival, we take a moment to look back on our cosy December reads.


Liz Fothergill, Derby Book Festival Chairperson: Fidelity by Susan Glaspell, All the Broken Places by John Boyne and Sofia Petrovna by Lydia Chukovskaya

Fidelity by Susan Glaspell is a moral tale set in Iowa in 1913 of the peril of a young girl falling in love with a married man in small town America.

All the Broken Places by John Boyne is the adult sequel to the Boy in the striped Pyjamas. A disturbing but memorable and thought provoking novel.

Sofia Petrovna by Lydia Chukovskaya is a terrifying contemporaneous account of the Great Purge in Russia in 1939.


Narinder Sharma, Derby Book Festival Trustee: Enlightenment Now by Stephen Pinker and The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Over Christmas I took the rather daunting task of reading Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now at the same time as starting the Richard Osman Thursday murder club books. As you will know the enlightenment period is also known as the Age of Reason when the ideas of emphasising reason and rationality over superstition and science over blind faith. It is heavy going but has key positive themes arguing there is great grounds for optimism and that the world is continuing to improve. I want this to be true, but am troubled by the increasing polarity in the world on so many issues, increase in blind faith, denial of science and dismissing of experts and the prospect of an American election fuelled by pure tribalism. Thursday murder club protagonists (residents of an upmarket retirement village ) use their powers of analysis and emotional intelligence to solve confounding crimes. The characters are endearing, the books are page turners and enjoyable without glossing over inconsistencies. Characters use powers of deduction and logic for their conclusion. I think I want to live in Richard Osman’s world, perhaps he has been reading Pinker.


Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Petain by Julian Jackson

‘Of several books read over the winter holidays, Julian Jackson, France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Petain was the standout. Jackson is a celebrated historian of France with arguably the definitive biography of Charles de Gaulle to his pen and he doesn’t disappoint with France on Trial. By recreating and relating the story of the trial of Marshal Petain, leader of collaborative French Vichy regime during the Second World War, Jackson holds a mirror up to issues of identity, nationalism and values from 1945 through to the present day.’

Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Politics on the Edge; A Memoir From Within by Rory Stewart and The Great Post Office Scandal by Nick Wallis

My reading over Christmas was Rory Stewart’s “Politics on the Edge” - very well written and easy to read, full of personal comments and insights into leading political figures, few of them either flattering or complimentary. I found it addictive, even though it is depressing to see how governments work - or fail to do so, - and his disillusion with life as an MP is vividly depicted and clearly justified. But I had to break off to re-visit Nick Wallis’ “The Great Post Office Scandal”, more evidence of the failure of governments. The recent ITV drama has at last brought this miscarriage of justice right into the headlines, and I wanted to go back and reread Nick’s book; I remember him coming to the Book Festival a few years ago, and just how appalled the audience all were to learn about the treatment of the sub-postmasters. A good start to the year to feel that at last justice and compensation will be given to all those caught up in the scandal.

Isn’t it impressive that the Derby Book Festival has hosted so many impressive and influential writers?

Sian, Festival Director: Yellowface by Rebecca F Yuang

A fascinating story about two young writers: one very successful, one struggling - and sort of friends. A great insight into the publishing business. I'm not claiming to be an expert on this, but it did ring very true in terms of how success is handled and the different experiences of authors at each stage of their writing career.

It is also a thriller as there are so many twists and turns - a real page turner! The premise is that Athena, the successful one, dies in a freak accident whilst with June, the struggling one. June steals her unpublished manuscript and, after much editing, presents it to her

publisher as her own. It is then published to great acclaim which transforms her life. But will her secret be revealed ...

Rose, Strategic Lead for Shared Reading: Toad Triumphant by William Horwood

In December I have a yearly tradition of jumping into the adventurous world of the Wind in the Willows to catch up with some of my favourite fury friends. This time, I read Toad Triumphant by William Horwood, illustrated by Patrick Benson. This sequel follows the further adventures of Mole, Water Rat, Badger and of course Toad as they tackle first loves and a trip down river. There's something about the Wind in the Willows that transports me to the woodlands in winter, where it's a time for cosy fires, blankets, mulled wine with friends and sometimes chucking on your warmest jumper and your thickest socks for a stroll in the woods!

Felicity, Festival Administrator: Shiver by Allie Reynolds, Exciting Times by Naiuse Dolan and Five Survive by Holly Jackson

Desperate to reach my Goodreads goal for 2023, I read a couple of really great books in December. I started with Shiver by Allie Reynolds, a debut thriller that packs a punch. The premise is simple: a group of old snowboarding friends meet up at a resort in the French Alps ten years after they last saw each other, but everything is not as it seems. There are so many unexpected twists and turns, and I spent the duration of the booking trying to guess what had happened ten years ago, but I didn't guess correctly. I also found it interesting reading about snowboarding.

The next book was short but sweet (keeping the Goodreads goal in mind), and was Exciting Times by Naiuse Dolan. It was longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction back in 2021 and has been on my radar ever since. I don't know particularly what I was expecting, but I absolutely loved reading this book. It gave Sally Rooney Conversations with Friends vibes to give an idea of the style. The book was about a young Irish woman called Ava who moves to Hong Kong to teach English abroad. It's about being in your twenties, being abroad, but it's also about friends, relationships, romantic relationships, money, and perhaps the distribution of wealth.

Lastly, I dived into the brilliant Five Survive by Holly Jackson - an absolutely brilliant YA novel. It's standalone to the A Good Girl's Guide to Murder series and was gripping from start to finish. The premise is simple: there's a group of friends (teens) taking a road trip for Spring Break, but when the RV unexpectedly breaks down in the middle of nowhere, it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem. There are so many twists and turns in this gripping character-driven novel, 10/10, would recommend. I'm really looking forward to reading Holly's new book, The Reappearance of Rachel Price (out in April).


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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