Margaret Atwood is our author of the month for September. Born in 1939, this well-loved Canadian novelist, poet and essayist has won two Booker prizes and been shortlisted for three more, making her one of only four authors to have won twice!
She has become associated with the rights of women and girls all over the world. The iconic red dress of the Handmaid’s Tale has become a symbol of protest against attacks on women’s rights.
Margaret Atwood is a great read for those looking for strong female characters, uncomfortably plausible dystopias and razor-sharp wit and satire. Her novels have had enduring popularity and raise questions as relevant now as when they were written.
The Summer Reading Challenge is a great way to share stories and encourage reading throughout the summer holidays, a time when children’s reading skills can sometimes dip.
The theme of the challenge this year is Gadgeteers. Join Eddie, Leo, Ajay, Maggie, Aisha and James and discover the amazing science and innovation behind the world around you!
You can sign up at your local, Hampshire library, or online, from Saturday 16 July and read or listen to any six books to earn a certificate and medal. You can read story books, fact books, eBooks,audiobooks, and even comics! Once you have read/listened to your first few books, pop into your library to receive your Gadgeteers collector card and first stickers. Every time you finish reading/listening to a book, visit the library and see a member of our team to talk about the books you have read and collect your next stickers .
When you finish the challenge come to the library to collect your final stickers, finisher’s certificate and medal! Everyone who finishes the challenge has a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy tablet too!
Watch this video to find out more and see how you can take part!
The challenge is for children aged 4 – 11, and we look forward to you joining us in reading or sharing six books of your choice. Children aged 4 and under can join in the fun and earn reading star stickers throughout the summer.
You’ll find thousands of children’s eBooks and audiobooks free to download using our BorrowBox service with lots of titles always available without the wait. You’ll find links to some of our recommendations on this webpage and information about downloading ebooks and audiobooks.
If you’re not already a member of Hampshire Libraries, you can join to take part.
Early Biography Marian Keyes is an Irish author born in 1963, who grew up in and around Dublin as part of a large family. Keyes completed degrees in law and business, moving to London in 1986 to take on an administrative role. However, Keyes began to struggle with alcoholism and depression in her twenties, eventually attempting to take her own life in 1995. Keyes underwent rehabilitation for her alcoholism in Dublin and began working on short stories, based in part on her own experiences. Keyes submitted these stories to the publisher Poolberg Press, with the promise of a novel to follow. The novel she submitted, Watermelon(1995), would become a best seller in Ireland and launch her career as an author. While Keyes has struggled with mental health difficulties for most of her adult life, she has described her writing as a ‘rope across the abyss’ which has given her the strength in times of crisis. Keyes has been sober now for over 25 years and lives with her husband Tony in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin.
Work and Career Keyes’ works are darkly comic but insightful novels, often based on her own experiences. They cover sensitive topics such as mental illness, divorce, substance abuse and domestic violence while maintaining a tact and approachability which makes them instant favourites with readers. While Keyes’ books tackle heavy topics, their tone and narrative are optimistic and uplifting with a happy ending for all your favourite characters. Keyes main series is the Walsh Family novels, where we join the Walsh Sisters as they navigate the ups and downs of modern life. Watermelon (1995) is the First book in the series, while her latest work Again, Rachel (2022) is the most recent addition. Despite being associated with the genre, Keyes has been a strong critic of the term ‘chick-lit’ and its ‘belittling’ and ‘demeaning’ connotations. Equally, Keyes is a strong feminist and has drawn attention to differences in the way that male and female written works are represented and awarded.
Accolades, Awards and Statistics
Keyes is the British Book Awards Author of the Year 2022, recognised for her ‘expert storytelling, incredible warmth of heart, and significant contributions to the publishing industry over three decades of writing’. She has sold over 33 million books worldwide and her works have been translated into 36 different languages. Keyes has won ‘Popular Fiction Book of the Year’ at the Irish Book Awards in 2009 and 2017 for This Charming man(2008) and The Break (2017) respectively. Keyes has had multiple best-selling books in the UK and Ireland, where her works routinely top bestsellers lists.
Poetry comes in all different shapes and sizes. From flowery language mixed with rhyme and rhythm, to plain speaking pages that confess something profound (and everything in between). Discover your favourite kind of poetry with these varied recommendations to get you started.
This collection of writers new and old is an amazing way to find poems that connect with you. Everyone Sang is a wonderful selection of accessible poems that are arranged to help us map out our emotions. Chosen by the creator of the bestseller ‘The Poetry Pharmacy’, William Sieghart, and brought to life by illustrator Emily Sutton. The collection includes Maya Angelou to A.A. Milne, Lemn Sissay, Jackie Kay, Carol Ann Duffy, Joseph Coelho, Kae Tempest, W.B. Yeats, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, and many others.
A symphony of personal and political fury. Sometimes probing delicately, sometimes burning with raw energy. In 55 poems that swerve and crackle with a rare music, Inua Ellams unleashes a full-throated assault on empire and its legacies of racism, injustice and toxic masculinity. In just 80 pages Ellams shows us the many faces of contemporary poetry and how we can use it to understand the world.
While Bluets narrator sets out to construct a sort of ‘pillow book’ about her lifelong obsession with the colour blue, she ends up facing down both the painful end of an affair and the grievous injury of a dear friend. Winding its way through depression, divinity, alcohol, and desire, visiting along the way with famous blue figures, including Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Yves Klein, Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol.
Raised in Chorley in the north of England, Yrsa Daley-Ward’s work draws on her early life and her Jamaican and Nigerian heritage. The first collection from a ground-breaking poet, bone looks at identity, race, mental health, and femininity. With celebrity fans from Beyoncé to Florence Welch, this isn’t a collection to be missed.
Hold Your Own is a rhythmic retelling of the Tiresias myths set-in modern-day Britain. Kae Tempest’s first full-length collection takes a close look at class and gender in this ambitious multi-voiced work. A vastly popular and accomplished performance poet, Tempest commands a huge and dedicated following on the performance and rap circuit.
Part novella, part sound-poem, Max Porter’s debut depicts a wild and unruly grief embodied by the character Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. In a Nanny McPhee-like series of events, the sentimental bird visits a grieving family after the loss of their mother and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months, and the physical pain of loss gives way to memories, the family begin to heal.
Through essays, images, and poetry, Claudia Rankine’s book recounts mounting racial aggressions in 21st century daily life and in the media. The accumulative stresses that come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform and stay alive. Taking a close look at how racism has impacted the lives of Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane, Mark Duggan and others.
Remember, there’s no wrong way to read poetry, but reading poems in different ways can be great for finding out how they can create different feelings. Why not try reading a poem as fast or as slowly as you possibly can and see whether it changes the sense of meaning you get from it? Lots of poets like to play with how words sound too, so you could even ask a friend to read a poem aloud to you. It’s a great way to discover more about poetry and share your favourite reads with those closest to you.
Find out what it’s like to work behind the bookshelves, how libraries become a part of the community, and what three novels Libby would take with her to space.
What is your role and what do you like about it?
My name is Libby Saer and I’m a Library Team Assistant with annualised hours. It’s like being a supply teacher, except for libraries. If one of the team is ill, on leave or doing some training, I step in to cover for them. Sometimes it’s just for the day, but often it’s for the week or longer. Fortunately, (if my memories of school are anything to go by) people are much nicer to library assistants than teenagers are to cover teachers…)
Not having fixed hours means that every week is different – and I love that. I’m usually at Hedge End, West End and Netley libraries, and each has its own particular atmosphere and loyal users. It’s fun to work with colleagues I may not have seen for a while, and to help customers with requests. I do everything from helping new members join, to tracking down the next book in someone’s favourite series. I love hearing about which books people have enjoyed (or not) and trying to match someone with a book they might like. Sometimes I find items that aren’t in the right place and send them to the library they are meant to be in, a job I find bizarrely satisfying. Even tidying books is more fun because I’m not doing the same set of shelves each week.
What did you do before you came to Hampshire Libraries?
A bit of everything. I’ve taught in secondary schools, catalogued books in academic libraries, worked in marketing for universities, and provided pastoral care for students. Often at the same time as volunteering at church, at a community-run library and raising my children.
What made you want to work at Hampshire Libraries?
I’ve lived in lots of different places, and everywhere I’ve been I have joined the library. Libraries are magical places to me. So, when I had the chance to volunteer in a community library I jumped at the opportunity, and I loved it.
I don’t think I really appreciated until then that a library can be a warm refuge for people who need it. For lots of people I talk to, their local library is a lifeline. Whether someone needs to make a Universal Credit claim, apply for a job, find a different book to read to a toddler, or even if they’re just curious about the world – the library is the place for them. I spoke to a student from a low-income family recently, who told me that without her local library – the kind encouragement of the library assistants and access to stories and information that widened her world – she would never have made it to university.
Once I was volunteering, one thing led to another and before long I was offered a job with Hampshire Libraries – getting paid to do what I already loved doing.
Is there anything that surprised you about working for Hampshire Libraries?
Quite often when people come into one of our libraries, they see me and their faces sink a little bit because I’m not the person they’re expecting to find. It’s lucky I’ve got thick skin! They’re relieved when I tell them I am just a temporary substitute, and their usual library assistant will be back soon. It’s really brought home to me how libraries build connection. Someone who works in the local library becomes a key part of the community. Ask anyone who has been in the job for a while, and they can tell you what the regulars like to read, where they are going on holiday, and how their health is. And the customers know their names and like to ask how they are doing too. It’s lovely.
Another surprise was just how many books someone can get through in a week. Sure, I expected to see younger readers leaving with piles of children’s books and then coming back the next Saturday for more. But many of our older customers get through an enormous stack of novels in a day or two. They can tell you exactly which authors to check out, so it’s always worth asking them if you’re after a good recommendation.
If you had to live out the rest of your life on a lonely space station overlooking the planet, what 3 books would you take and why?
You may as well ask me which of my kids is my favourite. (Hint: it’s the one who unloads the dishwasher without being asked). But after much sighing and reluctant crossings-out, I’ve managed to narrow it down.
I’m going to assume that I get Desert Island Discs privileges, so this space station comes equipped with the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. And – shhh! – I’m going to smuggle aboard my e-reader stuffed with novels by my favourite authors: Jane Austen, John le Carré, Dorothy L Sayers, Robert Galbraith, Lee Child, Georgette Heyer, John Wyndham, Rosemary Sutcliff and Hilary Mantel.
But if you are going to allow me just three actual books in my space luggage, I guess I’ll pick the following:
I first read this as a teenager and have read it to all my children in turn. Conservationist Durrell really wrote two different books in one: a natural history of the Greek island of Corfu with beautiful, detailed depictions of the landscape and the wildlife, and a hilarious account of living on the island in the interwar years. The escapades of his family would make me giggle, and, as I looked down from the cold expanse of space, his warm descriptions of the island would bring alive to me the amazing beauty of our planet.
I could have picked any one of Le Carré’s early books, but this humane, intriguing and tense espionage novel is one of his best. Like a game of chess, he carefully moves every piece around Cold War Europe until – checkmate – George Smiley, the retired spy refighting the battles of his past, meets both victory and defeat. Every character is wonderfully drawn, from the civil service mandarins covering their backs to the émigrés from behind the Iron Curtain being used as pawns by the security services. Le Carré never wrote more exquisite prose about the human cost of the secret life.
Sayers was one of the queens of the Golden Age of crime fiction. If you haven’t read her Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories – what are you waiting for? Don’t start with this one, but when you get to Gaudy Night you are in for a treat: it’s a cracking mystery set in an Oxford college, centred not around Wimsey but Harriet Vane, the woman he loves. More than mere detection – although certainly not less – it’s a sharp and funny meditation on work, love and integrity, asking a question today’s feminism still wrestles with – is it possible for a woman to have it all? My copy is falling apart and I refuse to be separated from it, even if I go into space.
We caught up with one of Hampshire Libraries Area Managers, Liz, to find out how she came to work with the libraries, her time as a children’s librarian, and her top picks for younger readers.
How did you come to work at Hampshire Libraries?
I’ve always worked in libraries. When I left school, I started working in the libraries in Hull. I went off to university but came back to working in libraries in North Yorkshire after. I came to Hampshire as a Children’s Librarian in Fareham. That was a brilliant thing to do because it’s all about getting the right book to the right child at the right time. It really shaped my way of working. I’m an Area Manager now, so I manage an operational team, keeping the libraries open and developing services, but I think I’ll always be a Children’s Librarian by trade. As a Children’s Librarian, you have to be quite comfortable in front of large groups of children, telling stories in quite extravagant ways. I got to meet so many children’s authors and illustrators as well through book launches and the Wessex Book Fair.
I was so enveloped by children’s books at that time. Parents would come to me with questions like “my child doesn’t really like reading, do you know a book that can help?” or “my child has to go to the dentist soon, are there any books that will help them feel less scared?” and I needed to know those things. Books enable children to articulate what they’re feeling because children don’t always have the language to tell you what they’re thinking. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to somebody through a book than it is to have a direct conversation, especially when children are learning to communicate. Reading develops so much more than literacy and language, it’s empathy and understanding too. Even as an adult reading them, you learn things about the world you didn’t know before. Whether it’s about somebody else’s culture or about being a refugee, they just help you to understand somebody else’s life.
When I was younger, I really struggled to learn to read. I can still remember how humiliating it was because I just couldn’t do it, it was hard. So, I wasn’t really much of a reader when I was a kid, but I think that’s why I really believe it is about getting the right book to the right child at the right time.
Where do you like to read?
I read in bed a lot, but I really enjoy reading on the train. I have family in Yorkshire and if I go to visit them, I like to go by train so I can read and relax. I’ll always take a couple of books with me because I think it’s important to give yourself permission to stop reading something you aren’t enjoying. When we’re younger we have to finish the books that we’re told to read because they’re on the curriculum, and that can make reading feel like a lot of work. But one of the brilliant things about being an adult is that you don’t have to do that.
How do you read?
I usually read in small bits and get through books that way. I don’t tend to listen to audiobooks, I do own an e-reader which is great for reading at night, but I do prefer a physical book.
What do you read?
I’m reading a book called Coasting by Elise Downing and another book about triathlon training. I’m reading a lot of non-fiction lately, but I really like novels and depending on my mood I do love a bit of Chick Lit. I enjoy books with central female characters and books about women’s lives. One novel that really stayed with me was A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier. I really love the writing of Tracy Chevalier, I think they’re just great stories and her novels can give such an insight into the daily hardships of women from the past. Another author who does that really well is Kate Atkinson, particularly in her book Life After Life. The book is set during the second world war and really impressed on me how difficult it is for us to understand what it must have been like to live through that.
In terms of non-fiction, I really enjoy reading books about endurance sports. Over Christmas, I read Relentless by Alistair Brownlee, the Olympic triathlete. It’s a really interesting book because he talks to lots of different sports champions about their mindset and training, from footballers to darts players. I do triathlons and love cycling so it’s definitely a topic that interests me.
I must admit though, in times of stress where you just need a story to wash over you, a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine is Alan Titchmarsh’s novels. They’re so easy to read and there’s always a happy ending. If you’re feeling a bit anxious about something they’re just a proper escape.
What books would you recommend for children and teenagers?
A lot of my favourite picture books aren’t very new, but I think the sign of a good picture book is that it can really stand the test of time. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen would be my first pick. It’s a very simple story about a magical balloon but the book has fold-out bits and some lovely language. I was reading it to a group of children and afterwards, I heard a boy say “I know what indestructible means” because it was used in the book. He must have only been about three or four years old, but he understood that word and how to use it because it was in the book. To me, that just perfectly illustrated how important picture books really are. Peace At Last by Jill Murphy, it’s a great story about poor Mr Bear trying to find somewhere to sleep but wherever he goes there’s a different noise that keeps him up. Another wonderful book is Winnie the Witch by Valérie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul. We had a visit from Korky Paul a few years ago and he saw a Winnie doll that I had made myself. He said he liked it so I made me one which lead to him signing a book for me addressed to “The Witch Maker”. But the book I would always give to a new baby is Dear Zoo which is such a classic.
Another genre I do love is teen fiction or YA. I’ve read so much teen fiction it’s difficult to pick favourites but one I really enjoyed is Beauty by Robin McKinley. It’s a wonderful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. Quite different but equally brilliant is Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful which is just such a beautiful book. I had a flick through the last couple of pages earlier and it still brings me to tears. When it didn’t win the Carnegie medal for children’s fiction, I was just so disappointed.
If you like books that are a bit more whimsical, I would really recommend Skellig by David Almond. It’s about a couple of kids who find a man in their shed, but the man has wings so it’s as if he’s an angel or something like that. All of David Almond’s books are set in the Northeast of England so they’re all grounded in the Newcastle and Northumberland area. He has this quite beautiful way of writing that builds the relationships between the characters really strongly. Some of them can be quite gritty so the books have quite a realistic aspect to them as well.
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman is a must read as well. It was recently turned into a TV series. It shows a different perspective of racism, it’s one of those books that really open your eyes, especially if you’re white.
What books have you loved that might get overlooked?
I really like books about people and their lives. A book I enjoyed reading recently was 12 Birds to Save Your Life by Charlie Corbett. After his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and subsequently died, he found a way through his grief by reconnecting with the world through nature and bird songs. It’s more about his experience than about nature so even if birds aren’t your usual subject, you can still really connect with the story. A similar book is the amazing true story by Raynor Winn, The Salt Path. It’s about how she and her husband became homeless just as her husband is diagnosed with a terminal illness. With nowhere else to go, they decided to walk the South West Coast Path. She talks about how it just gave them purpose and time to process what was happening. I actually bought it for my niece last Christmas because, it’s such a wonderful book, I just thought she had to read it.
Do you consider yourself creative or do you think that you haven’t got a creative bone in your body? Either way, Hampshire Libraries has put together a collection of titles for you. The Make! collection has arrived in selected branches to empower you in your creative skills. This selection has titles from macramé to song writing, sour dough baking to embroidery, water colours to anime illustration.
Inspired by Get Creative and the way the population turned to arts and crafts during the lockdowns, this collection has inspiration for everyone from children and their caregivers to teens and adults. You are never too old to learn a new skill! Creativity has been shown to improve your mood, self esteem, cognitive function, alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety and now that the world is opening up to us again, joining a creative group can improve your social life. Hampshire Libraries run many different creative courses – why not give one of them a try? Have a look at and search for a course near you Learning in Libraries
Michael Rosen’s Book of Play These days, we seem to have less and less time for play. At school, children are focused on exams, while at home we’re all glued to our phones and iPads. Here, Michael Rosen shows us why we need more play in our lives. He explores the influence of play on everyone from Shakespeare to Dickens and Dali, delving into the history of play via puns, nonsense, improvisation and physical toys. He also explains why play is a core part of child development, proven to bolster creativity and resilience. Above all, play should be fun – and this book is full of silliness and laughter. Every chapter features exercises and prompts for creative indoor and outdoor play for all the family, with specially designed pages for scribbling, word play and more
The Art of Repair – Molly Martin For Molly Martin, it all started with a pair of white woollen socks. Her favourite pair. When the heels became threadbare and a small hole appeared on the right toe, her mother got out her grandmother’s old darning mushroom and showed her how to mend them. In ‘The Art of Repair’, master repairer Molly Martin explores the humble origins of repair and how these simple sewing techniques offer not just a practical solution but a philosophy for life. Using her own charming illustrations, she teaches us the basics of the craft – Kantha, the running stitch used by Bengali women to sew together discarded cloth scraps, saris and dhotis; and Sashiko, the ancient Japanese practice of repairing workwear using a ‘boro’ or ‘little scrap’ – and shows how the art of mending can turn something old and worn into something new and meaningful.
Paint Play – Katie Rose Johnston Forget everything you think you know about traditional watercolour painting – ‘Paint Play’ will show you how to experiment with paint, use it spontaneously, and have fun, no experience required! Through a series of 21 simple, achievable activities, artist Katie Rose Johnston demonstrates different ways of mixing colours, experiments with textures using salt and cling film, makes spatter art, animal print patterns and much more.
Knit Yourself Calm – Lynn Rowe and Betsan Corkhill The therapeutic benefits of knitting have long been recognised and holistic health expert Betsan Corkhill, together with knitting designer Lynne Rowe, create beautiful projects designed to calm and soothe. Suitable for beginners and more experienced knitters, discover how the repetitive process of knitting can relieve stress and improve your well-being.
Quilt Petite – Sedef Imer Quilt Petite’ contains 18 sweet small quilts designed by Sedef Imer. Learn how to make mini quilts, cushions, table toppers, doll quilts, place mats, potholders, and lots more. It includes detailed instructions on a wide range of techniques such as patchwork, hand and machine quilting, English paper piecing, foundation paper piecing, raw edge applique, free motion applique, and hand embroidery. A range of projects are suitable for both beginners who wish to learn new techniques and for advanced quilters who wish to practice more challenging ones.
Look out for these titles at your local library, you can also find a selection in eBook and eAudio format on BorrowBox.
Jayne Mushore, Project Support Officer at Hampshire Libraries, speaks with us about empowering reads, childhood joys and the complexities of international identities.
Click on any of the book images to reserve that title.
Where’s your favourite place to read?
I used to commute between Middlesbrough and London so a lot of my reading happened on the train, but I love listening to audiobooks in the car too – you can just put something on and drive, it’s a great way to pass the time. But for me, the best place to read is on holiday. Looking out across the sea without a care in the world, just getting completely lost in the book. I’m not rushing to get here or there I’m not rushing to do anything. There’s just that chilled vibe, knowing I don’t have to put the book down until I’m quite ready. I can just get lost in the pages.
How do you read?
I always read a fiction and non-fiction book at the same time. Sometimes the non-fiction becomes too much and I’ll need something more exciting and that’s when I’ll switch to the fiction book. With fiction, you have to conjure those images in your mind to picture how the scene would look and so I can’t read two fiction books at the same time. In an ideal world, I would love to start a book and finish it in one sit-in, but with work and home life, I really have to make time. So I take any chance I get to just sit down and read.
I love audiobooks and I use BorrowBox a lot. I would say my reading is about 50/50 between audiobooks and physical books. When someone is reading the book aloud to you, they will put the emphasis on parts that wouldn’t necessarily stand out to you. But when you read something yourself, you can pause on the parts that resonate with you personally. So while I love audiobooks I do really like to read a book myself when I can.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently reading Slay In Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene. It’s a non-fiction book of black British women telling the story of their experience stepping on the career ladder. It talks about the challenges that they faced and how they navigate the working world. For example, one of the women talks about how they created a lingerie line for women of colour, producing tights that work for different skin tones. If it isn’t something you think about it can seem small, and if you don’t have the option, it may not be something you think you need. But actually, being able to wear something that works with your body is great and it’s really important for somebody to have that option.
“The quest for good is a marathon and not a sprint; it is measured over years, not fleeting moments; over failures and missteps and, of course, successes.” – Slay In Your Lane
The other book I’m reading is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s quite out there and the cover really caught my eye. It’s about a girl who is communicating with spirits but is cursed by her community as her conception was from rape. It’s set in Africa and over the last year a lot of the novels I’ve been reading are Africa-based. I love reading about Africa in fiction, it’s always brought to life so differently each time, particularly in Who Fears Death. It’s quite different from any book I’ve read.
I don’t really follow a genre or author in particular, I usually pick my books by going onto the library’s online catalogue to see what’s new and what catches my attention. Book covers really do grab me, they make me curious and tempt me to find out more. That may sound like a weird way to pick what you read but I always find something interesting by just having a browse. My friends and I always make recommendations to each other when we’ve read a really good book too. Slay In Your Lane was one that was a recommendation, I think it stood out because it’s such an empowering read for young black women.
I tend to read with my mood so if everything is going well, I will read quite uplifting books but if I’m going through something they’ll take a darker turn. Last year with the pandemic I was in the headspace of questioning a lot of things in my life and I couldn’t really be in “the now”. My friend recommended The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and it really kept me going through lockdown.
First love, best loves
I’m from Zimbabwe so most of what I remember reading at a young age was in my native language. When I started learning English, I remember I used to read a lot of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series. Fantastic Mr Fox is the book that really stands out from my childhood. A talking fox sneaking around being mischievous was hilarious to me. The world in the story was so different from our way of life in Africa I found it so intriguing. When I was a bit older one of my school friends had the Harry Potter books, I remember we read a few chapters of the prisoner of Azkaban and started asking ourselves “should we be doing this?”. With my African background and the Christian culture I grew up in, reading about witches wasn’t really acceptable. It shows how different attitudes can be as well because that was quite a big thing and we felt so wrong we didn’t end up finishing it! The Devil Wears Prada was one of my favourites too, I remember being really excited to get a hold of the second book when it came out. The Hunger Games series was another big favourite of mine as well, but I remember reading a lot of John Grisham novels too. He was a lawyer before he became a writer, and The Firm is one I really remember enjoying.
The series of books I used to really love was The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – I used to read the books over and over again, I think I know them by heart! Reading about this strong African woman who’s doing exciting things was really thrilling. They hold real sentimental value to me, I remember thinking “I want to be that woman who’s out there getting stuff done!”
A book I really connected with recently was We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Bulawayo is from Zimbabwe too and reading the book brought back so many memories. In the book, she writes about being playing ‘countries’ outside as children like I used to growing up. I can really understand the perspective she writes from. The main character, Darling, witnesses the violence happening in Zimbabwe as she’s growing up and doesn’t really understand what’s going on and then she moves to America. Something that made me quite emotional when I was reading the book is when she’s in America and calls a friend back home. The friend says that Darling can’t say ‘our country’ when talking about Zimbabwe because she decided to leave. I can relate to that because the friends and all the things you used to hold dear that built your friendship are no longer there. You don’t belong in Zimbabwe anymore, but you don’t feel as if you belong in this new world yet either. You’re in limbo. You’re very grateful for the opportunities you’ve found in this new world but trying to fit in parts of your old life with it is really hard. Then when you try to connect with the people back at home to say, “I’m one of you still”, they reject you and so you don’t know where you stand. It was very bittersweet to read about that through the story of Darling in We Need New Names. Everyone I know who has read the book and has migrated has agreed that this book perfectly tells the story of how it feels.
Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter was extremely endearing and touching to me. I think the message of teaching a girl-child to be independent and themselves. That message of keeping going and finding your strength really resonated with my upbringing and some of what I witnessed as part of my cultural background. Reading a book like this, where somebody is really holding out their heart and saying, “things happen and life is hard but you do need to keep moving because there is light at the end of the tunnel”, is just so powerful to me.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Letter to My Daughter
Jayne Mushore is the Project Support Officer for the digital initiatives of Hampshire Libraries, working to deliver services such as the publicly accessible computers and the procurement of audiobooks. Jayne was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.
Tuesday 14 September is National Reading Group Day, a yearly celebration of reading groups and the communities they create. Reading groups are great if you want to grow your reading habits and make new friends. It’s easy to get started if your reading group has a Hampshire Libraries membership, you’ll have access to up to 1,300 reading sets including large print and audio formats for members with different needs. Sets can be booked up to 12 months in advance so that everyone will have their book at the same time and sets can be borrowed for 8 weeks to ensure you have plenty of time to read. Find out more about borrowing reading sets, joining a reading group, or starting your own.
Check out this video which shows you how to reserve reading sets through our website:
Here are 10 of our favourite reads that are all available to borrow as reading group sets:
Two women, bound by a child, and a secret that will change everything…
London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, Bess is astonished to be told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.
Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.
When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in “self-defence” and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…
On 21 June, 1922, Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.
Instead of being taken to his usual suite, he is led to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely.
While Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval, the Count, stripped of the trappings that defined his life, is forced to question what makes us who we are. And with the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose.
Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice – but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse. He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book, and you will never remember your secret, however terrible. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and memories – are meticulously stored and recorded. Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it.
Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her-from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it-in her own words and on her own terms.
Shocking and controversial when it was first published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer prize-winning epic remains his undisputed masterpiece. Set against the background of dust bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams, yet out of their suffering Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human, yet majestic in its scale and moral vision; an eloquent tribute to the endurance and dignity of the human spirit.
Morgan Leafy is hardly the most respectable of Her Majesty’s representatives in the West African state of Kinjanja. For starters, he probably shouldn’t have involved himself in wholesale bribery. Nor was it a good career move to go chasing after his boss’s daughter; especially when his doctor banned him from horizontal pursuits.
But life is about to change for young Morgan Leafy. Every betrayal and humiliation he has suffered at the hands of petty persecutors is suddenly put into perspective. For Morgan has a dead body on his hands – and somehow, some way he’s going to have to get rid of it.
A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorise it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, they flee with a dangerous secret. Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father’s life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering. At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in.
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
In the UK, February marks LGBT+ History Month, which we celebrate every year as an opportunity to explore LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) history and culture, and recognising the achievements of LGBT pioneers from all fields of life. Beginning in the UK in 2005, it is supported by a network of various charities, organisations and schools, but after many years of welcome progress in LGBT+ rights and recognition, it can be easy to wonder why we still have events like LGBT+ History Month. Aren’t we living in a tolerant society?
This year’s theme is ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’. Our mental and physical health has never been more important, yet inequalities still exist today. Contemporary research today highlights the work that still needs to take place, with the LGBT community disproportionately affected by mental health problems and discrimination in sport.
More generally though, despite progress there has been a prevalent and consistent thread of LGBT+ erasure in our society and culture. Be it through morality codes restricting what could be broadcast on television and film, government legislation, civil discrimination, to censorship of materials about LGBT+ relationships and families. Growing up in a time of Section 28, I felt this absence keenly, and there was a lack of positive representation or role models in literature or television.
That’s why I’m proud that a collection like the LGBT+ Collection exists. Consisting of thirty-eight permanent titles, the collection is always on display and always available, representing some of the best talent from classic and contemporary authors, and I am so happy, knowing that LGBT young people today have the opportunity to read books that acknowledges them.
LGBT+ History Month needn’t be a dry or boring experience. I challenge you to explore one aspect of LGBT+ history or culture that interests you. A great starting point is our book list, with recommendations that span the breadth of LGBT+ talent. Good as You by Paul Flynn is a brilliant thirty year history of British gay culture, while 2020 Polari Prize winning novel In at the Deep End by Kate Davies is a delightful novel about reinvention and finding your identity.
To reserve the books below from our catalogue, just click on the book image.
Good as You by Paul Flynn
In 1984 the pulsing electronics and soft vocals of Smalltown Boy would become an anthem uniting gay men. A month later, an aggressive virus, HIV, would be identified and a climate of panic and fear would spread across the nation, marginalising an already ostracised community. Yet, out of this terror would come tenderness and 30 years later, the long road to gay equality would climax with the passing of same sex marriage.
In at the Deep End by Kate Davies
Until recently, Julia hadn’t had sex in three years. But now a one-night stand is accusing her of breaking his penis, a sexually confident lesbian is making eyes at her over confrontational modern art, and she’s about to learn that she’s been looking for love – and satisfaction – in all the wrong places.
Other titles in our LGBT+ Collection
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
For Patsy, a visa to America is her ticket to freedom, a passport to the ‘land of opportunity’. She yearns to be reunited with Cicely, her oldest friend and secret lover, but her plans do not include her religious mother or even her young daughter, Tru. As Patsy struggles to survive as an undocumented migrant, Tru grapples with her own questions of identity and sexuality. Can she ever understand, or even forgive, her mother’s decision to leave?
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
‘Rainbow Milk’ is a coming-of-age story told from the point of view of a young black man from a religious background, who identifies several major contradictions between himself, his family life, and his beliefs. Upon rejecting the doctrine, he is shown the need to form a new centre of gravity, and uses his sexuality to explore new notions of love, fatherhood and spirituality.
Swimming in the Dark by Tomsaz Jedrowski
You were right when you said that people can’t always give us what we want from them. Poland, 1980. Anxious, disillusioned Ludwik Glowacki, soon to graduate university, has been sent along with the rest of his class to an agricultural camp. Here he meets Janusz – and together, they spend a dreamlike summer swimming in secluded lakes, reading forbidden books – and falling in love. But with summer over, the two are sent back to Warsaw, and to the harsh realities of life under the Party. Exiled from paradise, Ludwik and Janusz must decide how they will survive; and in their different choices, find themselves torn apart.
Homie by Danez Smith
A mighty anthem about the saving grace of friendship, Danez Smith’s highly anticipated collection ‘Homie’ is rooted in their search for joy and intimacy in a time where both are scarce. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family – blood and chosen – arrives with just the right food and some redemption. Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, ‘Homie’ is written for friends: for Danez’s friends, for yours.
Gears for Queers by Abigail Melton and Lilith Cooper
Keen to see some of Europe, queer couple Lilith and Abigail get on their old bikes and start pedalling. Along flat fens and up Swiss Alps, they will meet new friends and exorcise old demons as they push their bodies – and their relationship – to the limit.
The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan
Stevie is eleven and loves reading and sea-creatures. She lives with her mum, and she’s been best friends with Andrew since forever. Stevie’s mum teases her that someday they’ll get married, but Stevie knows that won’t ever happen. There’s a girl at school that she likes more. A lot more. Actually, she’s a bit confused about how much she likes her. It’s nothing like the way she likes Andrew. It makes her fizz inside. That’s a new feeling, one she doesn’t understand. Stevie needs to find out if girls can like girls – love them, even – but it’s hard to get any information, and she’s too shy to ask out loud about it. But maybe she can find an answer in a book. With the help of a librarian, Stevie finds stories of girls loving girls, and builds up her courage to share the truth with her mum.
Proud by Juno Dawson
This is an anthology of stories and poetry by top LGBTQ+ YA authors and new talent, responding to the broad theme of pride. Each story has an illustration by an artist identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community.