It’s the last month of the year and there’s just time to squeeze in some more excellent reads before 2019 is over. This month, our librarian Dhimati has picked a fascinating non-fiction, a heartbreaking audiobook and a whimsical children’s story that are sure to lift your spirits over the festive season.
Top non-fiction: The Five: The Untold Lives Of The Women Killed By Jack The Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.
Now, social historian Hallie Rubenhold gives these women back their stories. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. Individually they wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.
“They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time—but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.”
This well-written and intensively researched book is the Winner of the 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.
Top fiction: The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Alice Wright, an English woman, in small-town Kentucky. To escape her claustrophobic life at home, Alice joins a team of five women who deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new travelling library. The leader of these Packhorse Librarians is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman. Izzy is polio stricken and comes from a well to do family. Beth is a farmer’s daughter and Sophia, is an astute black librarian. The five women are later joined by Kathleen, a woman whose family benefited from the books brought to them.
Though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.
This is a funny and heart-warming book about how women who come to know each other and support each other. And it is about the power of books.
Top audio book: The Pianist Of Yarmouk by Aeham Ahmad, read by Nezar Alderazi
This is the story of Aeham Ahmad who, in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, wheels out his piano to perform in the streets, often surrounded by children or neighbours. Amidst ruin and despair, he plays of love and hope, playing for his family and his fellow Syrians. In June 2015, an Islamic State jihadist group burned his piano.
Eventually the fighting, the hunger and the fear becomes too much and he looks for asylum in Europe. His journey resembled that of millions of migrants: the separation from his family, the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean on a rubber boat, the trying Balkan route, and finally, the arrival in Germany.
This is a deeply moving account of one man’s struggle to survive while bringing hope to thousands through his music.
Top children’s fiction: The Snow Dragon by Abi Elphinstone & Fiona Woodcock
This is a beautifully illustrated children’s picture book, perfect for a Christmas bedtime story.
In a gloomy orphanage, where daydreaming is banned, skipping is forbidden and Christmas is well and truly cancelled, everyone except Phoebe has had their Miracle Day (the day a family comes to take them away for a happy new life).
It’s Christmas Eve and Phoebe and her dancing sausage dog called Herb are being punished by nasty Griselda Bone who makes them spend the night in the kennels. Then, it starts to snow.
This is when the adventure begins for Phoebe and Herb. A Snow Dragon comes to whisk them away on an adventure. They fly into the sky and over the mountains and see the colourful Northern Lights.
AND, there’s a happy ending to this story. Phoebe’s Miracle Day happens!
Top teen non-fiction: Somebody Give This Heart A Pen by Sophia Thakur
Written by Sophia Thakur, the acclaimed performance poet, this collection of poetry is perfect for teenagers looking to begin reading poetry, but I would recommend this to adults as well.
Thakur’s poems touch on a myriad of issues, including love and relationships in all their wonderful, messy, complicated forms, body image, bullying, racism, police brutality, art, and identity.
Sophia Thakur gives a voice to the experiences that connect people, and encourages readers to “look into themselves and explore the tendencies of the heart”.
It’s a great book to dip into and I would recommend it to all – whatever your background and whatever your dreams, these poems are for you.
Have you read any of the books featured this month? If so we’d love to hear what you thought! Leave your reviews in the comments below. Missed last month’s top five? Catch up on them here.
Watch out for our New Year’s edition of Get In Our Good Books, where we’ll be looking at the must-read books of 2020!
You can find out more about libraries in East Sussex by visiting the East Sussex County Council website.