Month: June 2018

Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif

redbirdsThis book, with it’s flashes of brilliance and thorough weirdness is hard for me to rate. It is the kind of book that Booker judges love. Clever, ridiculously funny in parts while it’s utter grimness makes it not amusing in the slightest. There is no doubt that the author is a master of metaphor and the writing is engaging, particularly in the beginning and end but I found myself having to re-read parts to figure out whose voice I was reading.

Ellie is a pilot whose plane has come down in the desert while he is on a bombing run. He is starving, dying of thirst and reflecting on his relationship with Cath his wife while he slowly runs out of life. Mutt is a dog, fed up with the treatment he receives, he has headed out into the desert to die and comes across Ellie much to his annoyance. Next up is Momo, a teenage boy who arrives to collect Mutt and who is convinced that Ellie is stealing his dog. Ellie eventually convinces Momo to give him a ride to his village which turns out to the be the refugee camp that he was supposed to be bombing in the first place. So far so funny! But it is the kind of funny which is tinged with tragedy, threat and sorrow. The characters you meet will each have so many sadnesses as they deal with the realities of life under threat by the very armed force that supposedly keeps them safe. It is lies upon lies and weirdness galore.

I loved the final chapters of this book but the middle section was like a metaphysical journey where I was never quite sure what I was reading. I guess that was intentional, this book takes you on a journey into a world seldom seen, these people are forgotten in so many ways.

I didn’t love this book but I think it is clever and interesting and I’m glad I chose it. It is a reminder that war is much bigger than the battle at the frontline.

Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for giving me access to this book.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

jupiterThis is an absolute gem of a book. I loved the characters from page 1, I shed tears at the terrible things that had happened to Joseph in his young life, I desperately wanted things to be ok for him. This tiny and completely perfectly formed novel is one I meant to read ages ago but didn’t quite get to, I’m so pleased I’ve read it now. It is the story of Joseph who has been removed from his abusive father, sent to prison due to something terrible that he did to a teacher because a kid gave him drugs and he went crazy. He loved a girl and fathered a child and now he is being fostered by the kindest family you could ever meet. But Joseph is so damaged it seems like he might never thaw from the angry, het up, damaged young man he has become. His foster brother desperately wants to melt him and over time you see the relationship between the two boys develop over a shared love of cows and the trials of going to school in the most miserable climate you can imagine.

Gary D. Schmidt does place so well, you feel so much for these people living in this miserable cold, you feel the skin on their fingers freezing and their breath turning to ice crystals. You feel the warmth of the animals and your emotions are tugged and pulled at the beautiful sparse writing. Crikey this is good!

If you are a high school librarian and you haven’t read this and don’t have it in your collection you are missing a gem. Buy 3 copies and share this with your reluctant readers, your country kids and your teachers.

And look!  Molly made a book trailer for it.

A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

spectreParts of this book I just loved completely, other parts I found myself skimming through. It is such an interesting mix of historical fiction (the parts I loved) and science fiction (the parts I had problems with) and the meshing of these two so distinct storylines was well done but at times too confusing and strange. It certainly is well written, almost lyrically written in parts. The observations of nature and the wildness of Scotland through the eyes of Leonora were stunning, the book is worthwhile just for this. And, you can hear that there is a but coming.

So, you’ve got Jeff who has scurried off to the west of Scotland to die, he takes with him an automaton who will take care of him he believes, he also has a device which enables him to live life through the eyes and mind of another person, he should only enter their life 3 times but of course, he can’t help himself and he spends a lot of time being Leonora, a young woman who lives on a farm with her father. You have an alternating story line, firstly through Jeff’s eyes as he examines his life, loves and losses. Then you have Jeff, living Leonora’s life, her beginning of fondness for the Laid, the relationship of her father and his new wife and Leonora’s struggle as she is swept away to Edinburgh to the care of her thoroughly weird aunt.

There is a lot going on. And remember you’ve got alternating paragraphs. It almost feels like you have two side by side novels, which I guess was the goal. I wonder if this rather good author tried to do a bit much. Having said that it is engaging, the tech is clever and well thought out. Maybe it is Jeff, I just couldn’t care about him. He seems like a pillock and I always find it hard to read a character I don’t like. On the other hand I loved Leonora, I hated what Jeff was doing to her and I was really invested in her survival.

All in all it is complicated and at times totally fabulous, I’ve dithered about writing this review and how many stars I’d give it, I’d love to hear someone else’s opinion of it, I see the reviews below are very mixed, and I guess that might make it a really good novel, people are polarised, for me it is half way there.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this book.

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman


Well, thank goodness for that! It would have been so upsetting if this novel hadn’t lived up to the first in the series. The ending sets us up brilliantly for a third and gives us a new hero, but that is getting ahead of things.

The story picks up with Rowan reinventing himself from Scythe to justice maker, he is taking the bad out of the Scythes. Expunging the bad and keeping the good. This is of course totally outside the rules and he is in hiding. Citra is now a fully fledged Scythe and is working alongside Marie, her humane approach to killing is not efficient and she is under pressure to work faster. She gives people time to prepare for death and there is an argument that she should be working more efficiently. Back from the dead is Goddard, evil as ever, he wants control of all the Scythes and sets about making that happen. Citra is a threat to him, so he is out to get her.

This story is full of great twists and turns, unexpected characters from the past and with an ending which sets you up nicely for the next one. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t loved these books and I think this is an author who is so reliable that you can trust him to take you on an exciting and thrilling ride. That is certainly the case with this book. As we powered towards the end, the tension was full on!

My boys are fighting to get their hands on this and I’m going to need lots of copies. A very good read.

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

feathersOh this is such a charged book. So many things to think about and process. Bobby Seed is a 17 year old boy dealing with far too much. There is his mum, dying of MS, his handful of a younger brother Dan who doesn’t really understand what is happening to their mum and Bel, friendzoned when she doesn’t want to be and helping Bobby shoulder responsibility out of the goodness of her heart. All this responsibility is wearing for Bobby, a mum who can’t look after either him or his brother and all the drama of daily teenage life, it is boring, it is relentless, it sucks and it is only going to get worse as his mum gets worse.

Then Bobby is encouraged to go to a group for those caring for an ill parent and whammo, there he meets Lou, exotic, sexy as all get out and equipped with a vintage Vespa. And Lou likes Bobby, starts hanging with him and because they have shared experience and plenty in common it seems they might have something more than friendship looming. But, Lou is tricky, he tells stories, is he to be trusted? As things move along, mum getting worse, Dan being Dan, Bel always there and Bobby’s guilt getting larger and larger, it all gets so incredibly complicated. Lou is possibly more than he seems. A crisis point is reached when mum asks Bobby to help her die.

This is a slow, thoughtful novel. It is full of Bobby’s angst at the terrible situation he finds himself in. This huge responsibility, weighted with love for Dan and his mum, his grief and his heartache. Interwoven are his thoughts on his emerging sexuality and confusion at the way Lou treats him and all the weirdness surrounding the way Lou acts. I loved the character of Bel, so kind, tolerant and so willing to help so that she doesn’t have to deal with her own terrible homelife.

This would be a wonderful novel for students to study, so full of moral complexity and full of heart. You root for Bobby, you want him and Dan to be ok. This novel is one which will make you think and feel. I’ll definitely be buying it for our library.