Five librarians from across the UK pick autumn highlights
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Published September 3, 2021 by Bookseller News Team
Daren Kearl, adult fiction stock and development librarian, Kent Libraries
I really loved the atmosphere and message in Sarah Moss’ Summerwater. The story of a woman in quarantine who goes hill-walking at dusk, The Fell (Picador) should chime with lots of us who used walking in the countryside as a means to keep our mental health during lockdowns.
My interest in Rose Tremain’s writing was reignited after Islands of Mercy; as a fan of Joseph Conrad, the Malay settings were familiar and such was the power of the writing and investment in the characters’ lives, I didn’t want it to end. Lily: A Tale of Revenge (Chatto & Windus) looks to be another engaging novel exploring the Victorian underbelly.
I always enjoy reading a haunting story around Halloween and The Haunting Season (Sphere), a new collection of stories from a fantastic range of authors—such as Bridget Collins, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Elizabeth MacNeal and the folk horror master Andrew Michael Hurley—will be my go-to read this October. Following The Librarian and Grandmothers, Salley Vickers is on a roll, using her psychology background to produce interesting, nuanced characters. The Gardener (Viking), a tale of a neglected English garden being brought back to life by an Albanian migrant hired by two sisters, looks like a reflection on the present day—and I love any books that hold a mirror up to now.
I really enjoyed the intelligent literary murder mystery Snow, and sequel April in Spain (Faber) is set in the rather warmer climes of Spain, following John Banville’s exploration of some of the darker aspects of Irish history.Daren Kearl, adult fiction stock and development librarian, Kent Libraries
Andy McDonald, libraries development officer for digital delivery, enterprise & innovation, Cumbria County Council
I grew up on Narnia and I’ve always loved the tangential material, from Shadowlands to Neil Gaiman’s The Problem with Susan. I also love reading about the creative process, how ideas take shape and develop. So Once Upon a Wardrobe (Harper Muse) by Patti Callahan, a novel about how C S Lewis built his fantasy world and what motivated him, is a must.
The 1619 Project (W H Allen) by Nikole Hannah-Jones is a timely history of colonial America and how its legacy is still felt today. Rather than being a phase the US grew out of, this book argues that the colonial influence resonates in every aspect of society and needs to be urgently addressed.
Harlem Shuffle (Little, Brown) by Colson Whitehead is set in New York in the 1960s: organised crime, the Civil Rights movement, the counterculture—and a massive heist at Harlem’s grandest hotel. This should be sharp, funny, thrilling and impossibly cool.
John le Carré’s final novel Silverview (Viking) revisits old territory: concepts of public duty and private morality and the gaps between our true selves and the faces we show the world. He was a master of depicting social changes and confronting the big issues we all face. Nobody parodies tabloid culture quite as accurately or mercilessly as Viz and its annual offering of pinpoint social and political satire The Copper’s Torch (Dennis Publishing) will have me giggling throughout Christmas Day. I particularly love Simon Ecob’s send-ups of Boy’s Own comics, while the reader’s letters and Top Tips are tiny comedic masterpieces.
Stu Hennigan, senior librarian for stock and reader development, Leeds Libraries
Bluemoose has an unerring eye for literary talent and has published stunning books by modern greats such as Heidi James and Ben Myers, so any new release from them is cause for celebration. Three Graves by Sean Gregory, based on the life of legendary writer Anthony Burgess, is sure to be a stellar addition to its catalogue.
This Is How We Come Back Stronger (And Other Stories) is a collection of pieces, edited by the Feminist Book Society, in which feminist writers respond to the pandemic of 2020 in essays, fiction and interviews. Twenty per cent from every copy sold is being donated to Women’s Aid and Black feminist charity Imkaan, so it’s supporting some worthy causes. Influx is constantly at the cutting edge of modern fiction, as demonstrated by the first UK publication for Percival Everett by Virgil Russel by Percival Everett, a metaphysical, philosophical “story within a story within a story” by a writer described by the Wall Street Journal as “a scandalously under-recognised contemporary master”.
Annie Ernaux’s searching, probing memoirs have been recognised as modern classics in France and with some justification. Exteriors is the latest in a line of English translations of her work from Fitzcarraldo Editions, and it is guaranteed to be an absolute joy.
Dark Neighbourhood by Vanessa Onwuemezi (Fitzcarraldo Editions) is a short story collection which aims to take readers “on a surreal and haunting journey through a landscape on the edge of time”. It sounds intriguing and fantastic in equal measure. Definitely one to look out for.
Sarah Mathieson, school librarian at St Francis’ College in Letchworth, Hertfordshire
I am a massive fan of Onjali Q Rauf’s previous titles so I’m keen to get my hands on her next offering, The Lion Above the Door (Orion). It looks set to be a timely novel highlighting those stories which are missing from current history books. With Rauf, you know you are in for a thought-provoking read.
I’ve got high hopes for Stuntboy, in the Meantime (S&S UK) by Jason Reynolds and Raul the Third, an illustrated novel aimed at middle-grade readers. Reynolds’ writing is amazing—he makes character development and building empathy look easy—and Raul the Third’s incredible illustrations add those all-important details to the story. This looks set to be a winning combination. Biographies and autobiographies are consistently popular in my school library and I’m certain that Coming Up For Air (HarperCollins) by Tom Daley will be no exception. Covering his path to Olympic Gold in Tokyo, as well as his personal journey of self-discovery, this book will no doubt appeal to a wide audience.
I love Karen McManus’ previous thrillers and I’m already hoping I find You’ll Be the Death of Me (Penguin) under the Christmas tree. McManus’ whodunits keep me reading late into the night with her cleverly written and fast-paced twisting plotlines, believable characters and tense drama. Adam Kay’s last book, Kay’s Anatomy, was so popular in my school library with its humorous, informative writing on all things body-related. Kay’s Marvellous Medicine (Puffin) focuses on the history of medicine—and I can already hear the students giggling.
Claire Warren, school librarian, South Nottinghamshire Academy
Giften (Pushkin Press) by Leyla Suzan is a stunning début novel about a post-apocalyptic world with dwindling resources. Ruthie is one of a rare group of Giftens, who have a special gift and can grow things with their hands. A fascinating environmental, dystopian story that gets increasingly gripping. The prequel to The Last Wild trilogy, which I absolutely adored. I know many readers will be ecstatic to get their hands on Piers Torday’s The Wild Before (Quercus). It follows Little Hare’s journey to protect a magical calf, whose death foretells the arrival of a plague. A very timely book.
A YA book that is getting lots of traction on Twitter, and is apparently going to be released as a Netflix film, The Upper World (Penguin Random House UK Children’s) by Femi Fadugba is a philosophical sci-fi thriller. It weaves between Esso and Rhia’s stories, as well as different time periods, hinged on a single shot from a gun. It looks, simply, delicious.
Having read Jasbinder Bilan’s other works, it’s clear that she’s brilliant at writing simple yet beautiful narratives about myths and identity within thoroughly exotic settings. And Aarti & The Blue Gods (Chicken House) doesn’t look to disappoint. I cannot wait to find out about and learn Aarti’s story.
Julia and the Shark (Orion) by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illustrated by Tom de Freston, combines beautiful black and yellow illustrations with gorgeous poetry. About a mother, daughter and shark, this story is a journey of discovery and a feast for the eyes. I think this is soon to be a very memorable modern classic for many.