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.

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How Dogs Think: What the World Looks Like to Them and Why They Act the Way They Do by Stanley Coren

dogsAs a new dog owner, I’ve been interested in books which talk about dog training and thinking. This one has been really interesting. I liked the detail, although at first I thought I might have chosen something a little bit dry, it isn’t that way at all. There are lots of examples and anecdotes to keep you reading and to clarify the scientific points being made.

Stanley Coren is a psychologist and he applies his knowledge to dogs by looking at the various senses they have and using that as a basis to look at the behaviour they exhibit. I learnt so much from this book, about breeds and the generalisations we apply to them which are often not actually based on any evidence. I loved hearing about dog physiology especially about their paws and whiskers. As I have a dog which needs grooming, I’m really not keen for him to lose his whiskers anymore! They are removed as a standard part of the ‘making him look gorgeous’ process, but he needs them to help him navigate the world. There is so much in this book, and a lot of it is about assumptions and things we think we know about dogs and quashing the inaccuracies. A lot of it is about training and the ways dogs learn – or don’t learn. I enjoyed learning about the different methods in which dogs are trained and the thoughts about how dogs might be useful to us in the future when we train them to do even more for us.

I learned so much about the way my dog uses his senses and where his behaviour has come from. The things that have been passed down to him from his ancestors and why he does some of the things he does. This book was a great read, I highly recommend it if you are new to dogs or are even just interested in learning more about your dog.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

tinmanI’ve been savouring this book and eking it out so that it wouldn’t finish too soon. It is a warm and moving account of love. The kind of love that exists in so many places but isn’t talked about. The kind of love that is furtive and therefore more passionate than if it were openly expressed. It is love in the round, between husbands, wives, friends, lovers, family all interconnected and beautiful in it’s own ways.

One of the most wonderful parts of the book is the scene where Gile’s mother wins a paining in a raffle. She chooses the painting of Van Gough’s sunflowers despite the fact that her husband is horrified at her choosing a painting over a bottle of whiskey which is the other raffle option. This is the first time we learn of the bullying nature of Gile’s father and the first stand made by his mother. The story of the sunflowers runs through the book, creating constant links back to this moment.

It is a book with sections told by different characters. First you meet Giles, working nights at the car factory where he has spent his working life, polishing out the dents in the cars and desperately sad after the death of his wife Annie. But Giles reflects back to the friendship and relationship he had with his mother and most poignantly with Michael his childhood friend, the moment when they became more than friends and then when life intervened and he married Annie forming a three way bond between Annie, himself and Michael which was strong and beautiful but which was always bound to be difficult. Michael loves both Giles and Annie. Giles is alone now after Annie and Michaels deaths and he looks back on a life full of love but now so lonely. His lonely life is beautifully portrayed.

Michael has been bought up by his grandmother, a woman he had hardly met when he has to come and live with her. They become wonderful together. Michael and Giles become firm childhood friends and then go to France on holiday and their relationship is taken to the next level. Michael looks back on his life, with Giles, with Mabel, with G (what he calls his lover) as he dies slowly and painfully of Aids and of his relationship with another patient in the hospital. For me the most moving part of Michaels story is his journey to Arles the place of the sunflowers in Van Gough’s painting. A place where he mourns for everything that is lost from his life.

This is so moving and beautiful, I am so looking forward to see what Sarah Winman writes next, When God was a Rabbit was a glorious read. I think this author just gets better and better.

Last Pick by Jason Walz

lastpickThis is a really well done graphic novel for junior high school students. Plenty of issues, lots of big decisions to be made by a brother and sister who are desperately trying to save the world from an alien invasion. It is seat of your pants stuff! They have limited time, few resources and a fiery determination. Especially Sam, she is full of guts and grit. Wyatt however is a thinker, he is unusual and has trouble with social skills but is resourceful. Sam feels responsible for Wyatt now that their parents have been taken by the aliens. I love the bond between the siblings their fight against the evil aliens is epic and full of drama. Plenty of tension and good relationships, this is great!

The art is great, nice to see something not too designed and smooth and computer rendered looking. It has a good grungy look. This is definitely a book for the school library.

This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock

LieThe title says it all. Loop upon loop, lie upon lie, it isn’t the narrator who is unreliable in this story, it is everyone around him. Just when you think you have it sorted there is another twist and you are duped again.

Pete is the shy mathsy nerd to his twin sisters confident angry, rebelliousness. These two are as different as siblings could possibly be yet there is a strong bond, they have been bought together by their love of their mother, a frightfully important scientist who is doing secret work. Dad is never spoken of and is mysteriously absent. Pete is friendless and isolated but not unhappy as he has security and love at home, this helps when he is bullied and picked on at school.

As more or Pete’s problems are revealed to us, his paranoia and his obsession with counting and managing his life by dealing with it using numbers, you begin to realise that all cannot be what it seems. Things come to a head at a large function where his Mum is to be awarded the highest award in the country for science by the Prime Minister. All hell breaks loose, there is violence and suddenly Bel is missing and Mum has been stabbed. At this point you realise this is a thriller. The pace is wild and the action is kick arse. In the extreme.

This is one of those books where you have to suspend your disbelief and just go along for the ride. It is full on! I was guessing all the way to the end, Bel is such a cool character, totally kick arse and nasty and at the same time so loving to her brother. I loved being in Pete’s headspace, the wheels turning while he tried to figure out what was going on, who he could trust, who was good and who was evil.

This is movie ready and I have cast the characters already in my mind. It isn’t for the faint hearted and there is violence and gore all over the place. Tom Pollock does a brilliant job of keeping you guessing. A really cool and interesting concept and I enjoyed every second.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me access.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano (Illustrator)

IllegalWhat a gem of a book! The tone is exactly right, we come to feel the fears, hopes, exhilaration and live through the trauma of Ebo, as he searches for his brother who has headed off to try and get to Europe as a refugee. This is only the beginning though, after rejoicing at finding Kwame, he is then trying to earn enough money to gain passage on a boat for them to go together to Europe, where they hope to find their sister. It is hard to read, and it is quite an emotional experience for the reader to see their struggle in the pages of this gorgeously illustrated graphic novel. Hard, because for every good thing that happens to them, several terrible experiences occur to them. I felt a bit like I needed to take a break from the suffering at times. This was especially the case when they were sleeping in a water pipe which at any time might gush huge tons of water and drown them in their sleep. Gahhhh that was horrible.

This book is a must have addition to a secondary school library, you’ll probably need several copies, Social Studies teachers will use it with their classes studying refugees, art students will be drawn to the gorgeously drawn comics. Readers will enjoy, yet be horrified by, the experiences of the brothers. I liked so much about it. I liked the way that the authors didn’t shy away from the horror of the experiences of these people, I loved the change in tone in the colouring, which indicated the timelines and which made the then and now seperate, and yet relevant to the ongoing action in both storylines. This is clever but not too clever for it’s own good. I love that this graphic novel isn’t trying too hard, it just gets on with the stark story and draws you in. The fames are so well placed and the story is clear.

I’d love to see another story from this team on a social issue.  Take a look at the clip below to see the beauty and sadness.  Turn the sound up!

 

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

bookseller3.5 stars. I’m going to be in the minority on this one, my heart wanted me to love this, especially after hearing an interview with the author recently, but I’m stuck firmly at the 3.5 mark.

Those of us who dream of one day owning a bookshop would probably feel the same way about the general public as Shaun Bythell does, that we are irritating, we don’t know what we want, or we do know but we can’t describe it. However, I’d hope that I could be slightly more tolerant towards people like me than Shaun Bythell is. I understand his shop is cold, that he has limited choice of staff in a small town, that he has chosen to live in a place where the weather isn’t ideal all the time, that bookish people are often painful. I however, thought that he was a bit of a pain himself. His constant whining about how kindle is killing the book industry was very wearing. He might even be right about it, but his snobbish attitude is not at all helpful.

This book is fun. It is incredibly readable. It wasn’t my favourite though.