Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sequels, sequels

Hmm - two such dissimilar sequels could not be imagined but both work on their own terms.

Following on from well loved authors must be a nightmare in many respects but both of these authors have been chosen by the executors - so at least they are 'approved' in some sense.

Eoin Colfer has been recognised for his wonderful humour in many of his children's books - especially the Artemis Fowl series (read them if you haven't already), so it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise when he was suggested as the author to follow Douglas Adams and write a sequel to HHGTTG. And Another Thing follows straight on from the last of Douglas' books and offers a fun and fanciful chapter in the plot to exterminate the Earth by the Vogons. I'd like to know more about Constant Mown - and his dilemma - hope there's more to come. If you have enjoyed Douglas, Tom Holt or Pratchett try this as a holiday read - you wont be disappointed. Knowing Douglas in his University days I imagine he would approve too...

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus is also a success - Christopher Robin returns from school to new adventures with Pooh and Piglet - a delight, especially with the coloured illustrations by Mark Burgess (Shepherd's illustrations colourist). Rabbit is the most eminently sensible soul, Tigger dreams of Africa and Pooh can't help being growly - he is a bear after all! Children will love this as much as our well loved originals.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

NB plot spoiler below

I'm not one for reading books about football - but as with any TP book, the football is slightly skewed, and the humour and observations on life generally are what makes these books such a joy to behold.

Nutt is the slightly unusual, mysterious character we meet in Unseen Academicals - and it turns out he is an orc, but one that has been raised not knowing what he is and thus not knowing he has the potential to be a dangerous and violent character. The book has as one of its main themes the issue that race (or breed) must not be held against one, and difference should be celebrated.

The other delight of the book is Glenda Sugarbeam - a cook in Unseen University's night kitchen. She is the sensible one, the homely character and the one with the undeniable need to fall in love with Nutt.

A barnstorming football match between two universities - using the very new rules that have just been drafted makes a fitting and funny climax to another wonderful Discworld novel.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Children's Book by A S Byatt

This is a rich book that deserves you linger over every word. It starts in 1895 when 2 boys discover a third less fortunate boy living in the basement regions of the newly developing Victoria and Albert Museum. The story develops as we follow the familes and the connections between these 3 boys, their own and their adoptive families and the way the developing cultural, social and political scene develops and impacts on their worlds and their lives, culminating in the devastation of the first world war.

You need reading stamina to tackle this story but the research and imagination that has gone into it sits lightly in this enthralling but sad mammoth novel. The title derives from one of the main characters - Olive Wellwood, a children's author - who writes imaginative tales that reflect and inspire her children in their own specially constructed books - kept on a shelf in the library at their home. These are constantly added to and rewrittten over the period of the novel - with varying results.

This is a book that you want to continue reading but that you have to read quite slowly so as to savour the experiencce. Read it now!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

This is a cinematic presentation of a life set in a film noir type 1947. Evie, with Mum Bev and step Dad Joe set off to Palm Beach, but out of season. All is not well, but it takes the arrival of an apparently wealthy young man, Peter Coleridge, from Joe's war time past to put the cat among the pigeons and start the inexorable tragedy unrolling. This is a thriller in the best sense, full of romance and longing, treachery and double cross; but all based on some fabulously well drawn characters and situations. Do read this book!

Killing God by Kevin Brooks

Brooks always writes compelling and hard hitting teen novels and this is no exception. Dawn Bundy is a fifteen and an oddball who doesn't fit in. Her Dad walked out some time ago - seemingly in search of God and answers. How can Dawn (and her Mum) deal with this and get on with their lives...

Their is humour midst the chilling message, and this short novel is very hard to put down. The abuse at the centre of the book is handled with care and this makes for a good read with a very strong message

Shadow of the Windby Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Interesting - I nearly gave up on this but persevered and waas glad to have done so. This is an intriguing book, following Daniel's fascination with the life and books of one author, Carax, and the way such a literary curiosity may lead you into a deep and compelling mystery.

Gripping read, full of atmosphere and I wish I knew the way to the Cemetary of Forgotten Books...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Nicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess

Melvin set out to write a campaigning novel in the style of Dickens, and using Dickens' literary architecture - based on Oliver Twist. Most of the stories used in this novel are based on the true stories of people who were in the care system in the corrupt 1980s. This is a compelling novel, full of violence, unbelievable abuse and a deep sense of dread at what will happen next. But it is also a story that needs telling and that needs exposing to a wider audience. I have some qualms that it will seem alien to today's youth, but perhaps that is my construct, and young people read as they find and skip what they don't - so it may create opportunities for talk and discussion, and may stop such abuse ever happening again; and should certainly stop the unforgivable acceptance or rather denial that these things happened in the first place.

The Bride's Farewell

Meg Rosoff's new novel is, as ever, a masterpiece of plotting and character. Pell Ridley leaves home on the morning of her wedding to avoid a marriage to the local blacksmith. Her young brother (who is mute) comes with her and they set off on her pony Jack to escape their destiny. This is set in mid 19th Century Nomansland, with lots of horses, dogs, poachers and open country (around Salisbury Plain) with itinerant people and those out to do others down. This short novel is rich in characters and incident. A real page turner.

Spring Reading

What can I say - it's been a busy time and I haven't had the time to comment as much as I would have liked - but nonetheless I have kept reading....

Some recommendations for a Good read...

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. Set in the American colonies at the time of the revolutionary wars this is the story of Isabel and Ruth - and their slavery in New York. I found it gripping and involving - as well as feeling authentic and I felt I learned a great deal about how it might have been.

The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 by Harriet Goodwin. Not yet published I was lucky enough to have a proof copy. This is a new take on the boy who takes and drive away a car to escape his constant grief and guilt over his father's death - and though it deals with a hard subject - and dwells on death (most of the characters are ghosts in the Underworld) the ultimate story is both uplifting, humorous and fun - as well as being an adventure quest of sorts. A good debut novel.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant. A thriller where the detectives are a slightly misfitting boy and girl in a small German town - where their classmates are going missing. Some of the adults are totally sinister. Another new talent - well worth reading.

Malice by Chris Wooding. I love the idea of this novel - which has graphic elements as well as the usual chapters but was disappointed that it was left on such a cliff hanger ending. A sinister comic - Malice- entices young people into it's terrifying world where they may perish in their attempts to escape...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This was a recommendation from the Facebook Reading Group - not something I think I would have otherwise picked up. It is a post apocalyptic novel, the world is reduced to ash and burned out cities, everything is melted, dead and gone. The main protagonists, the man and his son are trying to reach the coast of the destroyed US in the hope that there is some life there - this is the story of their journey, and the horror and devastation they meet along the way.

There is little evidence of humanity left in the few survivors they come across on their journey. You want to turn away from the page at some of the sights described, but the power of the writing is such that you don't, you keep on reading, hoping for resolution and some hope for the future. The relationship between the man and boy is touching, frustrating and ultimately profound. You share their fear and their hopes. The sparsity of the language and the episodic telling keep you turning the pages. A modern classic.

Catch up

A hectic month has meant I am way behind with my reading log - so here's a catch up...

Feather and Bone by Lazlo Stranglov (Matt Whyman in disguise) - scary story of a village cut off from everyone except the rather threatening Mister Petri. Why is he so odd, and what is happening in the deserted chicken sheds, and why is there only the food brought in by Mr Petri and his thuggish sons? An interesting and scary read for children.

Don't Cry for Me Aberystwyth by Malcolm Price - there were a couple of really laugh out loud moments in this amusing thriller, a pastiche noir novel, but it was generally just an OK read.

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd - a tale of a runaway who takes on the persona of Solace to try to journey to Ireland and find her birth mother. Written with heart wrenching honesty and a real insight into the lives of children in care. Read it with compassion.

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve - the prequel to the Mortal Engines books. The tale of Fever Crumb, a foundling in the times before all the cities became traction cities, when stalkers were little known in London. Fever knows she is different, but it is not until events unfold that she realises just how different she actually is. A wonderful adventure, full of heroics and sorrow, violence and caring. Watch out for this when it is published in May.

Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn - set just as war breaks out in 1939, exploring the life of a scizophrenic boy and his role as a guinea pig for the newly discovered electro convulsive therapy. Beautiful, gripping, sad and totaly involving. Hearn's best novel to date.

Warriors of Ethandun by N M Browne - the third novel in the Warriors Trilogy, but can be read as a stand alone title. Dan and Ursula find themselves in AD 878 - King Alfred's time, when there is distrust and magic in the air. Will they survive the horrors and trials of life in Wessex? Well written and involving.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This is another classic from Gaiman - who always amuses, challenges and compels you to read.

The story starts as an ordinary family is murdered by a cold blooded killer - but the baby manages to escape by crawling away and finds his way into the Graveyard of the title. Here he is protected by the mysterious Silas, whilst being adopted by Mr & Mrs Owens - who had themselves died in the 1750s. He is called Nobody Owens (Bod for short) and he is given the freedom of the graveyard so he can can go about the graveyard and see as the dead do.

This is the story of how he grows up, some of the fascinating ghosts and people he meets along the way, the off beat education he receives from the ghosts and how he ultimately defeats the mysterious and secret organisation that wanted him dead in the first place. Wonderfully amusing, frighteningly scary and a great adventure too. The Sleer - a sort of ghostly serpent - that protects the treasures in one mausoleum is a nightmare creature you would never want to meet, it inspires fear and dread in all who enter it's realm (and that includes you as reader too!)

Fantastic ink and wash style illustrations by Dave McKean add to the menace and the enjoyment.

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

I enjoyed Stroud's previous trilogy and looked forward to this first in a new series. I was not disappointed even though the feel of this is quite different.

Halli lives in a time and place that feels Nordic, and is steeped in a history of saga-like stories. He is a bit of a misfit, and an adventurer in a society that has a settled feel to it. He meets a girl, Aud, who is equally as headstrong and misfitting as he is and they challenge all the legends to find a place for themselves. A strong and involving adventure - I hope there will be more to follow.

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera

This is every body's nightmare realised. To be an innocent person arrested and charged is a horrifying thought, just imagine the horror when not only are you innocent, but you are caught up in anti-terrorist actions and end up in the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison.

This is such a gripping book you are horrified but can't turn away, and must live through all of Khalid's nightmare. The torture scenes are sickening, but need to be read; the sense of time and being totally disoriented is compelling; the fear of normal life on the return to home is understandable and sympathetically dealt with. A book for our times.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Patrick Ness - The Knife of Never Letting Go

This book has won a recent teenage prize - it's an exploration of how society may develop as man sets off to colonise new worlds, how they live with what they find there, and how they cope with the mistakes.

That makes it seem rather prosaic - it certainly isn't. It is written from the viewpoint of Todd, a boy on the threshold of manhood, who works on the farm of his carers, and has a talking dog - Manchee. The colony they are part of is all male, a sickness has wiped out all the females, and given the men an ability (or curse) in that they can hear each others thoughts all the time. There has been a war on the Spackle who were thought to be the cause of the sickness and who are all thought to be dead as the story starts.

Once you have read the first page you are dragged into this terrifying vision of the future and have to unravel the truth, little by little, as Todd does as he tries to flee the despotic, cruel Mayor and the rest of Prentisstown. Manchee is a wonderful character, with all the characteristics of a truly faithful dog, but he can talk!

I can understand why this won - it's a roller coater ride with fear at every turn.

Charles Dickens - Little Dorrit

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Dickens until I got annoyed with the BBC serial being on the TV at odd and inconvenient times, so I went out and bought a cheap paperback copy to immerse myself in a re-read (I didn't want to carry the volume from my collected works about in case it got damaged!)

What a pleasure and a joy, the language is so rich, the humour broad and also sly, the plot so convoluted and the characters so engaging. I shan't leave it so long before I re-read another volume! The Circumlocution Office really lived up to it's reputation - and tragically reminded me of the bureaucracy we still see today.

David Almond - Jackdaw Summer

This is the summer when Max Woods is on the very edge of growing up and he goes a little wild trying to hold onto his carefree childhood. But there are other things that impinge on his summer - the other members of his family, his friends and ex-friends and the baby the Jackdaw seems to lead him to.

The baby is abandonned in the ruins of an old building on the moor - and finding her is the start of a series of encounters for Max that lead to him discovering lots of people and how they live, other outsiders in society and how they all interact. A really beautifully, sparsely told tale that will grip you from the start- David Almond at his best!

A Miscellany

The last few months have been hectic - here's just a few books worth reading and enjoying

Tim Bowler - Bloodchild - William wakes from an accident with little memory and a dread that something is seriously wrong - but what should he be afraid of. When you can't remember even your parents faces how do you know what is true and who to be scared of? A really gripping thriller, you're never quite sure if William is mad, or if he has uncovered something really, really terrifying. Read it to find out...

David Walliams - The Boy in the Dress - Footballer Dennis is a little different - he likes colour and poetry, and enjoys wearing a dress. A gentle humourous exploration of being different - and wonderfully illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Morris Gleitzman - Then - Felix and Zelda are trying to escape from Nazi Germany at the height of the worst of the Jewish attrocities and witness horrors which should be beyond belief. This is the their story - and the tragedy of the world. Heartbreaking in it's simplicity.

Philip Reeve - Mothstorm - Continuing Arthur Mumby's adventures in space during the steam driven Victorian age. Wonderful fun, a ripping yarn!

Alfred and the Pirates by Irving Finkel

Alfred Appletree gets rather too involved in writing a school history project about pirates - not just about the legends but actually trying to find out what they were like. Before he knows it, when he just starts to get into his library research, he's aboard a pirate ship finding out first hand just how hard the life was and what dangers faced all involved.

The life on board a pirate ship is depicted in all it's grimness and violence and how can Alfred escape, or is he trapped on the ship forever.

This captivating book keeps you hooked from begining to end, and the resolution has one cheering for good friends with common sense! (You need to read it to find out why...)

This was illustrated by a teenager - Emily Donegan - with detailed pencil sketches of ships and other seafaring stuff - a talent I hope she continues to develop.