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.