February Book Picnic Recommendations

On the first Wednesday of every month, GWL team members and volunteers share what we’ve read recently at our Book Picnic. In the current climate, our Book Picnic takes place remotely, giving all of us some valuable social interaction and providing us with many excellent book suggestions…

  • Debatable Land by Candia McWilliam

    Recommended by Annie, this work by Scottish author McWilliam tells the tale of six people sailing from Tahiti to New Zealand aboard a yacht. During their journey, crew and boat owners interact in these close quarters as they get to know one another, and reveal aspects of their respective lives. Annie enjoyed the incredibly descriptive writing, rich with metaphor and allegory, that she said “took [her] breath away.”


  • The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen

    Also recommended by Annie, this haunting novel portrays a woman’s journey through insanity. Lise, a children’s book writer and mother of three, is increasingly unsettled by disembodied faces and the way people slip in and out of their faces. Ultimately, it is an exploration of the freedom that insanity can bring, and the experience of coming out of it on the other end. Annie “recommends it, but didn’t find it to be an easy read.”


  • Winter (Seasonal #2) by Ali Smith

    In this follow-up to Smith’s book Autumn (although these can function as standalone books as well), a group of disparate individuals are meeting in a house for Christmas. Although rife with surrealism and a bit of madness, the book stays grounded with politics and contemporary events and themes. This book was recommended by Caroline, who particularly admires how Smith brings together several very different characters, but manages to be generous with all of them.

  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

    Also recommended by Caroline is Kindred, a mainstay on “best sci-fi” lists. The story is centered on Dana, an African-American woman from the 70s who is snatched through time and plunged into slavery in antebellum Maryland. Though this book was written in 1976, it feels as fresh and timely as ever, presenting a fascinating and horrific journey through a dark time in American history that does not feel as far removed as it should. Caroline felt that is was an amazing read, and was impressed by the way it handles the psychology of the situation.

  • Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine

    Recommended by Jenna, this book provides some much needed escapism. The story takes place on the Scottish island of Ullaness, with three interwoven timelines involving a 21st century archeologist, a 19th century woman, and a 9th century Norsewoman. Although the legend and island at the center of the story are fabricated, the mystical pull of the interconnected storylines and the vivid atmosphere within create a light, easy, and engaging lockdown read.

  • The World I Fell Out Of by Melanie Reid

    In this memoir, journalist Melanie Reid tells the story of her journey of recovery following a fall off of her horse that left her paralyzed from the chest down. This book was recommended by Mary who found Reid to be a remarkable writer. She was particularly impressed with her ability to make her experience “funny and not maudlin.” Filled with Glaswegian dark humor, it remains a very accessible read. Reid gives profound insight into both the precocity of one’s health, as well as the way the world changes for, and towards, someone with a disability.

  • Big Sky (Jackson Brodie #5) by Kate Atkinson

    Recommended by Pauline is the long awaited return of private investigator Jackson Brodie. Far more than just a detective novel, Atkinson deftly weaves many threads in a story that provides insight into human nature and handles serious issues carefully, whilst preserving her trademark wit and vivid characters. Pauline enjoyed the relationships of the characters, but felt that you get more out of the story when you have read the other Jackson Brodie books.

  • The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

    Recommended by Shumaila, this 1994 science fiction novel is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. In this surveillance-state dystopia set on an unnamed island, the Memory Police first start “disappearing” objects and concepts that are of seemingly little importance, like perfume, or a certain type of candy, both physically and from the minds of the people. However, things begin to escalate, and those who remember the items that have been disappeared are in great danger. As the people lose memories associated with the disappeared objects, they begin to lose their very sense of self. With layered themes and hypnotic prose, Ogawa explores the trauma of loss and the power of memory. Shumaila remarked that is was “an easy read, but a delightfully weird read”, and felt that everyone should give it a chance.


  • This Mournable Body (Nervous Conditions #3) by Tsitsi Dangarembga

    Also recommended by Shumaila, who is in the process of reading it now. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020, this book centers on the life and experiences of Zimbabwean Tambudzai, and is the third in a trilogy. (It is recommended that the previous two books are read first.) Tambu is a complex protagonist, having found herself somewhat lost and envious of the success of those around her. At every attempt to forge her own path, she is beaten down by reality and the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her actual day to day experiences, leaving her exhausted as she tries to fight against a system designed to hold certain people back. Ultimately Dangarembga presents a psychologically charged novel that delves deeply into many multi-layered themes including institutionalized racism, corruption, poverty tourism, sexism, and life in a post-colonial and post-war society.

  • The Familiars by Stacey Halls

    Recommended by Sonia, this exceptional debut novel by Halls is set against real historical events in England in the 17th century. Young noblewoman Fleetwood Shuttleworth has suffered past miscarriages, and while pregnant again discovers a hidden doctor’s letter predicting her death should she bring a child to term. Desperate, Fleetwood hires a midwife named Alice who promises to help her with herbal remedies. However, Alice becomes entwined in the Witch Trials of 1612, and soon both women find their lives at stake. Sonia felt it was a great rainy day read and said “I was drawn to the relationship between the two women, who become close despite their different backgrounds.”

  • The Lido by Libby Page

    This book comes recommended by librarian Wendy, who is going to do an extract from this novel at the virtual Story Cafe about kindness today (February 11th). When researching, Wendy found it quite difficult to find a book for adults where kindness was a main theme, so she was delighted to come across this debut novel by Page that features “snippets of everyday kindness.” The light and poignant storyline centers on young reporter Kate and eighty-six year old Rosemary. Rosemary has swum daily at a local lido (an outdoor pool and recreation center) since she was a child, and it has been a cornerstone in nearly every part of her life. However, the impact of gentrification threatens when a local developer attempts to purchase and shut down the lido. Wendy found it to be a “very easy and moving read”, and enjoyed the way that it dealt with big topics like loneliness, mental health, and aging in a positive way.

  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie

    Recommended by Gaby, this haunting and remarkable novel deals with the events leading up to and during Nigeria’s Biafran War (1967-1970), experienced through the lives of three unique and multilayered characters. Powerful, dramatic and rife with themes of moral responsibility, colonialism, and the effects of class and race, this book sheds light on a dark and often tragically forgotten period of history. Gaby particularly enjoyed Adichie’s fantastic multidimensional realistic female characters. Pauline had also read this book in the past and agreed that it was “absolutely brilliant.”

If you’re looking to pick up some interesting reads for yourself, GWL is delighted to offer our ‘Select and Collect’ service.

Request up to 6 books in advance, and we’ll have them ready for you to pick up. Or, if you’re not sure where to start, we can select some titles or make up a “book bundle” for you. Click here to find out more!

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