January Book Picnic Recommendations

an illustration of an open book. blue line on white.

After our holidays some of our volunteers and staff got together online to share what they’d been reading over the festive period: lots of fiction, including for children and young adults, and a self-help book inspired by bees! Here are our recommendations…

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otzuko

Recommended by Pauline, this is the story of a Japanese family living in the USA and what happened to them after the Pearl Harbour attack and the USA going to war with Japan in 1943.  It’s about how they cope with their internment in a camp in Utah and the father’s imprisonment, and how they return to life when the war ends.

A gripping story, sparely written, the author never wastes a word.


The Other Bennett Sister by Janice Hadlow

Also recommended by Pauline, this is the story of Mary Bennett, the bookish ugly duckling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’s five Bennet sisters.

Pauline said that despite being quite long, this is a nice and easy read, well written but light and with a happy ending!


Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto

Recommended by Annie: a celebrated actress who has died in mysterious and shocking circumstances leaves behind an unconventional extended family that includes an older sister, a woman in her twenties through whose eyes the story unfolds; a young brother who possesses mystical powers; and a fiancé who is writing a novel with uncanny parallels to his own story.

Annie described this as being “pretty different” and “like an onion”, discovering new layers to the story as she read it.


Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse

Also recommended by Annie, this true story recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women, spanning almost a hundred years. Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China, to newly prosperous 1930s Hong Kong and finally to the West. Their lives were as dramatic as the times they lived through.

Annie found this book very readable and provides great insight into how these different generations of women lived.


Be More Bee: How to Find Your Buzz by Alison Davies

Recommended by Doreen, this is a light-hearted self-help book, which she found reminiscent of mindfulness advice.  It celebrates bees, shares facts about bees, and draws on their wisdom.

Doreen says it’s a very beautiful book, with not so much to read and interspersed with quotes and pictures. 


10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

Recommended by Anna, this novel tells the story of Tequila Leila, an Istanbul sex worker. The novel’s title and first half describe the last moments of Leila’s consciousness as she crosses from life into death. 

Anna found this book funny and very entertaining, albeit in a dark way.


You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Recommended by Elaine who had seen the TV series inspired by the book, The Undoing, advertised but couldn’t watch it as she doesn’t have a Sky subscription!  It’s a psychological thriller with lots of twists. (Available to buy in Asda)


The Darkisle by BA Nelson

Recommended by Joyce, this children’s book involves a dragon with a grudge, a resourceful dodo, a talking rat and a young girl who learns to be brave who are all on a quest that takes them into another world.


Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Recommended by Gabrielle, this young adult novel tells the story of Jam and her friend Redemption, and how they face up to the fact that unthinkable things do happen, despite having been told all their lives that the city where they live has been cleared of evil for decades.

Gabrielle found this quite an intense read, but she enjoyed the diversity and non-conformity of the characters, and has really enjoyed reading fiction aimed at young people.


Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

Also recommended by Gabrielle, this children’s book is set on the remote island of St Kilda, or rather on one of the sea stacks near the main island, where a small group of boys and men find themselves stranded while on a seabird hunting trip in 1727.  Based on a true story, this book explores what people do to survive and look after each other.

Gabrielle loved the main character’s honesty and kindness, as well as the descriptions of this hostile and wild landscape. And she learnt lots about sea birds and survival skills!


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