The Libraries NI Book Blog
August 11
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Finding Audrey

Finding Audrey is Sophia Kinsella’s first foray into writing teenage fiction and she deals with the sensitive subject matter of the aftermath of extreme bullying and teenage mental health in a thoughtful way, but with a lot of humour and heart. 

Audrey has ended up in therapy with extreme social anxiety and agoraphobia after an undisclosed event of bullying by a group of girls at her previous school, which has led to several of her tormentors getting expelled and Audrey unable to attend school. She goes to therapy sessions, wears dark glasses at all times and has shut herself off from the outside world complexly, obsessing over the events that led to her illness (we are never told the details, in my mind I imagined some Carrie-like event that only Stephen King could dream up) and shrewdly analysing the other members of her family and the impact her mental health has on them. .

Audrey is slowly making progress in therapy but feels stuck in a hopeless situation, until she meets Linus, a gaming-friend of her brother Frank. She develops a crush on him and with Linus’s help she slowly starts to reconnect with the outside world and the people around her.

Sophie Kinsella makes an earnest attempt at portraying teenage mental health problems and Audrey’s inner thoughts feel very authentic - her family situation, however, is full of kooky characters  and bizarre situations that are sometimes dangerously close to farce and the ending is resolved too quickly and easily given the seriousness of Audrey’s mental illness. 

Overall this was an enjoyable book that struck a chord with me and that I would recommend to teenage readers and readers of any age who like engaging stories with entertaining characters and a serious issue at their core.

Submitted by Bettina

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August 09
The English Spy by Daniel Silva

The English Spy

The English Spy is the fifteenth novel featuring Silva’s character ‘Gabriel Allon’, a legendary spy and assassin.  Events begin when a senior member of the British royal family is murdered when a bomb explodes aboard a luxury yacht.  British intelligence seek the services of the legendary Allon to hunt down the killer, a known bomb maker and former IRA man Eamon Quinn.  Allon works on the case with Christopher Keller, who like Allon has a personal history with Quinn.

The novel is fast paced and moves from continent to continent, even ‘Larne’ gets a mention.  There are lots of twists and turns in the book and while some scenes are brutal, we feel for Allon’s character, who is slightly different to other  fictional detective characters, in that he leads another quite different life from that of tracking down killers.  Keller’s character on the other hand is more ruthless making the two seem like chalk and cheese as they work side by side.  Quinn’s character is portrayed as what he is, a cold ruthless killer, who works for the highest bidder following no rules but his own.

As a group we all found this read very enjoyable and were very satisfied with its ending and all its twists and turns providing plenty of lively discussion.

Submitted by Larne Reading Group

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August 09
The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

The Dragonbone Chair

Fans of fantasy will rejoice at this epic saga trilogy. It has stark underdogs, family feuds, damsels in distress, mythical creatures and beings, good versus evil and a solid yet understated dash of magic. In this the first of the trilogy we start by following Simon, an orphan working in the kitchens of a great castle. We follow him as he unwitting and reluctantly becomes entangled in events that see his life change as he knows it forever. We travel with Simon as he meets new friends and enemies and encounters things that he only ever dreamed existed.

A lot of this book particularly as far as Simon is concerned presents as a coming of age tale, although not all of the book is told from Simon’s point of view a great deal of it is. We become immersed in Simon’s world quite quickly and go with him as he changes from a “mooncalf” to a frightened, helpless runaway to a reluctant and yet central figure in events he has very little control of. The author is very good at making us care for Simon right from the offset by giving us excellently timed information about his past and by having some chapters voiced by other characters expressing their views of the boy.

Simon is not the only thing going on in this book. War is brewing and we follow some of the other key characters from the various districts as things go from bad to worse and steps start to be taken.  This is the book for you if you enjoy fantasy sagas on a grand scale, well rounded characters and just a little bit of magic.

Submitted by Helen

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August 09
Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan

Based on a tru story

Delphine de Vigan is a French writer and a number of her novels have been translated into English by George Miller, including Based On A True Story. 

The title encapsulates one of the key themes of a book which early on posits that ‘readers expect something different from literature […]: they expect the Real, the authentic’. In this regard, Delphine de Vigan does not disappoint because readers will constantly ask themselves if Based On A True Story is autobiographical, semi-autobiographical or pure fiction. There are even challenges as to whether anything can be pure fiction because novelists must draw on their own experiences or on events contained in fiction by other authors. 

The novel is a first-person narrative by a writer called Delphine whose most recently published work has been both successful and controversial. Consequently, Delphine is unable to start her next novel and her writers block is exacerbated by the intrusion of a character known only as L. The novel reads like a factual account of events after they take place and the ponderous first half sets the scene for a thriller paced conclusion. At all times, readers question which events are a product of fictional Delphine’s imagination, while also wondering how much of the novel is real and how much is invented by the author. 

Based On A True Story is being adapted for a screenplay by Roman Polanski and Olivier Assayas and it is not difficult to visualise the thriller element of the novel on the big screen. However, it is likely that only the written version will have the scope to fully explore what is reality and what is a product of imagination. 

Submitted by David

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August 09
The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

The Summer of Impossible Things

Rowan Coleman is not an author that I would normally read, however I got an advance copy of this book about 6 months ago and after reading the blurb, ‘Magic. Time travel. Disco....’ I decided to give it a try and I am so glad I did! 

If you could change the past, would you? Thirty years ago, something terrible happened to Luna’s mother. Something she’s only prepared to reveal after her death. The book follows the story of Luna as she somehow magically can time travel back to 1977 to when her mother was still a young woman and can there decide to help prevent a major incident in her mother's life that could have catastrophic results for Luna herself! This is a story of love between daughter and mother. And the lengths that Luna would go to change the world of the person who means the most to her even to the possibility that she can no longer be part of that life.

The Time Traveler’s Wife meets Sophie’s Choice, The Summer of Impossible Things is a rich and beautifully written novel which swept me away to 1977 and back again.

Submitted by Pete

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August 07
Seasons of My Life by Hannah Hauxwell

Seasons of My Life

I watched the Yorkshire television documentary about Hannah Hauxwell’s life years ago. I was captivated by her life in remote Dales, half envying her, half thinking how crazy and scary it would be living alone amongst nature and animals. I read both Daughter of the Dales and Seasons of my Life with interest. We are used to technology and everyday conveniences such as electricity, tap water, toilet and a bathroom. It is hard to think of the working class of a Dicken’s novel as an everyday state of life in England nowadays. Some of us would cherish peace and tranquillity away from the crowds and fancy ourselves as farmers, healthy living with nature. I doubt we would last very long. Hannah is a very engaging person, telling it as it is. She lived a self-sufficient life running the family farm on her own. She talks candidly about her childhood, the animals and nature. Her needs and values are simple. Unfortunately, she is at the mercy of the weather and harsh winters. As I read along I want her to survive, to overcome the hard times and to conquer all. I want her to carry on living the simple life destiny dealt her at birth which she loves so much. I will for her to stay strong and healthy. Her impressions of London and the Royals are somewhat childlike, yet with depth and common sense. Her experience contributed to her wisdom and need to be realistic in the running of her life. She is a unique person. 

Submitted by Nicole

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August 07
Whisper to Me by Nick Lake

Whisper to Me

Whisper to Me is a vivid picture is created by the brushstrokes of grief, heartbreak, and falling over the edge into the nadirs of mental illness. We are introduced to 17-year-old Cassandra; her sentences are sharp, almost witty, but interspersed by Greek mythology and dreamy philosophical musings that make for a refreshingly anecdotal and conversational style. 

The event that catalyses the downfall of her mental state is the discovery of a severed appendage. Washed up on the beach of her town, Oakwood, Cassie links this to the Houdini Serial Killer at large and finds herself being taken over by an irrational, demonic voice. Her father, a volatile veteran suffering from PTSD, owns a flat above the garage and through a lease, Cassie is drawn to a tenant – referred to as “You”.   The entire novel is written as one long email, second person narrative, as an apologetic love letter to the boy whose heart Cassie broke. 

Perhaps the most profound element of the novel is Lake’s sensitivity in dealing with the topic of mental illness, and his portrayal of Cassie’s unraveling. A stint in a psychiatric ward, medication, and alternative therapy all feature through the chapters, and Cassie meets people suffering in a similar way she is. Lake creates layered characters facing their own demons as seemingly ordinary people, which strikes a chord and gives hope to Cassie. Her struggle is not romanticized, but is depicted candidly showing the universality of suffering. 

‘'There’s a convention: If someone has cancer, they’re “brave” and “fighting.” 

If someone is having problems with their mind, that person is only ever “struggling.” This is, on one level, stupid and offensive. I mean, the people who die of cancer—what, they didn’t fight hard enough? They weren’t brave enough?’

The idea of losing connections with those around you and more importantly, with yourself, is what makes the novel so deeply emotive.  A shift away from the general concoction of heartbreak that YA fiction often depicts, Whisper to Me is a novel that is impossible to forget. 

Submitted by Aashna

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August 07
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse 5

This satirical novel set during the events of World War II takes us through the life of the protagonist Billy Pilgrim as well as his journeys through time. The novel is many ways considered autobiographical, with Vonnegut being present at Dresden. Released during the middle of the Vietnam War, it is in many ways an anti-war book. 

The style can be a little confusing but this adds to the individuality of the book, with the story coming together in a series of flashbacks with a questionable narrator. Although Billy is stuck in the middle of war, he hates fighting and is his own worst enemy, managing to get himself captured. 

Due to the events of the war which he survives, he is later treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, he goes on to lead a normal life but is captured by aliens and travels to different points in his life due to becoming ‘unstuck’ in time.

The novel is full to the brim with satire and dark humour throughout the irregular writing style. The book has often split opinions, but it is like no other book out there and can be re-read over and over to provide more layers and more meaning.

Billy Pilgrim is an everyman and his travels through time are never explicitly explained, is he really travelling through time, or is he still suffering from the aftermath of his experiences in WW2? It is up to the reader to work that out for themselves.

Submitted by Rachel

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Reserve a copy here​ or download it here 

August 07
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

This is a key book in the genre of dystopian fiction and is in many ways a cautionary tale. The Handmaid’s Tale is a story which should be read by all.  In the not too distant future, women are forced into subjugation in a totalitarian society.

In many ways shocking and gruesome in parts, Atwood is able to inject dark humour throughout the novel with our unidentified female lead. The book is a warning of what might happen if religious ideology is used as a solution to social problems.

Rule is enforced by the Guardians of the Faith and the Handmaids are watched by the Eyes, a big brother-like entity. The women in this fictional world are separated into different classes, with colours clearly identifying who they are. 

The Handmaids are the only females in this world who can have children. One Handmaid is provided to each wealthy household in order to provide children for the husband and wife living there. The ‘ceremony’ which takes place when the Handmaid is most fertile, is truly disturbing, with their rights and personal freedoms abolished, they are literally the property of the male commander of the household and their name makes this clear. They are named for their Commander, with our protagonist being named as Offred – ‘Of Fred’.

Our protagonist pushes back against the system, doing simple things that would seem normal to us, but in the world of Gilead, would have her either killed or shipped off and forced into hard labour.

This provides the reader with some needed hope throughout reading the novel. The story ends on a cliff-hanger, providing the reader with no let up and has us constantly questioning all the characters and their actions throughout.

Submitted by Rachel

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August 04
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

The life and death of sophie stark.j

Anna North is a journalist working for the New York Times and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is her second novel. 

Relationships and communication are difficult for the eponymous protagonist which explains why she has chosen to direct films as a medium through which she can convey her thoughts and her outlook on life. In fact, the novel reads like a film script and the reason for this is explained towards the end of the book. 

Interspersed between chapters are reviews of her films by a critic whose career trajectory coincides with the rise and fall of Sophie, while the chapters are narrated by different characters as if they are talking to a camera. As the narrators include Sophie’s husband and a lesbian lover, it is clear that Sophie is a complex individual, yet she is repeatedly portrayed as distant, robotic and monosyllabic. Nevertheless, she attracts individuals who care deeply about her and remain fiercely loyal, even when that loyalty is repaid by Sophie literally walking way. 

It is not giving anything away to say that Sophie dies – that is clear from the title of the novel – and more is revealed about those relating their experiences than about Sophie. Consequently, readers will relate differently to this intriguing character and will form their own perceptions of Sophie, helped by Anna North’s visual imagery of the innovative and deliberately provocative films that Sophie directed. 

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark introduces readers to a character who will stay with them, albeit she is at times unfathomable, and is for those who enjoy thought provoking literary fiction.

Submitted by David

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