books

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

gnomonYou need to be match fit for a Nick Harkaway, you need to prepare for massive vocabulary, difficult concepts, layer upon layer of story and get yourself ready to be taken on a trip where you don’t have a map and you just have to surrender yourself to the captain of the journey and trust you will get there in the end. Usually this works really well for me, but sadly not this time. I just couldn’t get into it. I did love the complicated words, I liked the main character, but I got horribly confused. I wound myself in knots trying to get through this, then I walked away. I have loved all the other books I’ve read by this author, I knew what I was getting into, but I just couldn’t make it to the end.

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La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, book 1, by Philip Pullman

dustAfter reading this I’m ready to forgive Philip Pullman for all the books he has written that I didn’t want to read. This one made the wait worthwhile. It takes you into Oxford where His Dark Materials began and we meet Lyra as a baby, but this story isn’t really about Lyra it is about Malcolm Polstead, the son of the publican of the Trout. The pub is close to a convent and in the convent there is a baby, a baby who needs to be protected from dangerous forces who are out to get her. Malcolm and the kitchen maid Alice rescue baby Lyra in Malcolm’s canoe and begin a journey which will be terrifying and deeply fulfilling.

I knew from the first page that this was going to be wonderful. The fact that the peacocks were called Barry and Norman was enough for me, I felt that I was in safe hands, that Philip Pullman was going to make me smile and fear and worry about the characters who were coming along as the chapter progressed.

The presentation of the book is lush and gorgeous, the cover alone is a thing of beauty. The illustrations at the beginnings of the chapters are simple and perfect. The print is large and friendly and makes the book seem like a giant, but it isn’t really. It is a manageable size and best of all, it never talks down to it’s reader, it understands that it is for a reader of all ages. I just loved it.

Timebomb by Joelle Charbonneaux

timebombLook at all those 5 star reviews and I’m giving it a 3.5. I found it hard to get into at first, it felt a little bit messy at the beginning, however once the story gets going it really rocks along. You’ve got a lot of characters being set up at the start which you need, but there are so many people I just got a little bit lost. Then once they are all at school on a Saturday for their various reasons you realise they are in terrific danger and then it becomes a great big rollicking survival story. Being stuck in a multi story building where bombs are going off is a very scary scenario and the story is about how they survive and deal with this horrible situation.

I like Joelle Charbonneau’s writing, her The Testing and it’s sequels are one of my really popular books at school, she does tension and teenage drama really well. She has a lot of characters in here and they all have issues. The kind of issues that teenagers all over the world are dealing with, these are all dealt with really well. A few of characters I didn’t actually come to grips with until they were at the centre of the action but the majority of them were people I came to understand and feel for.
There are some really good plot twists and as the book goes on, it is as tense as a really good crime novel.

In summary, it is a good book, thoroughly engaging once you get into it This is a novel which has mass appeal, I’ll definitely be buying copies for my students.

Thanks very much to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

darlingThis is one of the most shocking and moving books I’ve ever read. At times I found myself gasping at the horror of Turtle’s situation and constantly admiring the atmospheric world that Gabriel Tallent had made for her to live her horrific life in. This is Julia’s life, she prefers to be called Turtle and her awful father calls her Kibble. She is growing up on the outskirts of Mendicino in California with her survivalist, abusive and frankly psychotic father, her grandfather lives nearby and he eventually eventually figures out that Turtle is in danger, real and constant danger. There is a heap of terrible family history and lives lived with regret and anger. Turtle knows how to survive, she knows all these things about the natural world, but cannot manage so well at school, is not good with people because her life is so opposite to anything any of her peers or teachers have experienced and she lives in constant fear.

I loved the way that the author wrote Turtle’s conflicting emotions about her father and grandfather. I loved the way he gradually introduced other people into the story. I loved the way that the teacher was written even if that seemed somewhat unrealistic compared to the rest of the story. This book is cringingly awful, mind blowingly beautiful and engrossing. The abuse is like watching a train wreck, you can’t take your eyes off it even as it looms in front of you and makes you want to cover your eyes in horror (I did actually do that). I loved it and I hated it and it is a clear 5 stars from me.

I’m also just adding that this book looks and feels beautiful.  I completely love the cover.  Here is the lovely Joan Mackenzie talking about the book far more eloquently than me.

Summer at Mount Hope by Rosalie Ham

MountHopeI am a Rosalie Ham fan. Through and through! She makes me laugh uproariously, she brings a tear to my eye, she nails her characters and she loves a feisty young woman. Her descriptions are second to none and really she is one of the great underappreciated Australian authors. I’ve had this sitting on my bookshelf for ages and I’ve been saving it for a moment when I needed cheering up and a wee break from YA fiction. I have been savoring it and now that I’m finally done I need to sit down and write about it.

Set at a time of drought and depression in rural Victoria in the 1880s and 90s this book tells the story of Phoeba, a feisty young woman who is practical and along with her father, running their farm and vineyard. Her ridiculous sister Lilith is only interested in making herself glamorous and finding a fine specimen of a husband. They couldn’t be more different. There is no money, their mother is constantly criticising their life and the misfortune of having to live in the country, there is a wonderful aunt who is poverty stricken. All in all, there is a wonderful cast of characters who inhabit Mount Hope and they each have a role in determining Phoeba’s future. My I loved the descriptions of the terrible neighbours, particularly the poor gasping woman whose corset was eventually her undoing, Spot the particularly ornery horse and Freckle the delivery man. This is domestic drama, laced with a dose of rural romance and given a hefty dose of Jane Austenish spice. In other words, it is perfect.

A response to the question Why Don’t Kids Read NZ Young Adult?

Tonight I have read an article in the wonderful The Sapling which has made me cross.  I’m responding here because I’m forming my thoughts and this is my blog and therefore my opinion.  This is a bit stream of consciousness, so apologies for it’s rantishness.

In the article, promoting her book review site, Eirlys Hunter makes the argument that NZ kids don’t read young adult fiction written by New Zealanders. She asked teenagers if they had read Margaret Mahy, and they hadn’t heard of her.  I can assure her that she is right in supposing that teenagers currently at school right now will never have read Mahy or Tessa Duder or a heap of other NZ writers who were popular in the 90s. This is for a really good reason.  These books will have been weeded from libraries long ago. We have to keep our collections current, they have to cater to the tastes of our current students.  If we cater to students by providing the books they should read, we will have no readers.

Now, I’ve been working in school libraries for nearly 18 years now, I have never read the Tricksters, The Catalogue of the Universe or Memory, in all honesty I’ve not even heard of them. While they might be admirable books, they are not books that I would ever attempt to pitch at a 14 year old in 2017.  But maybe a movie of The Changeover will start a Margaret Mahy resurgence, but maybe not.  Books and authors are not perennial in the YA world.  Despite the marvellousness they might have, they fade.  It is totally the same as with adult books.  20 years ago everyone was reading Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, now they are not (I do understand that they are not literature!)

If you ask some students now if they have read some of the common crop of New Zealand authors, people like Mary Anne Scott, Brian Faulkner, Fleur Beale and Melinda Szymanik you will find that there are quite a few who have.  Definitely not lots of them, but definitely some.  These are students who have either had a book sold to them by an awesome librarian, or they have come across the book been attracted in some way, in some cases this is definitely because of the cover!  There are certainly some dreadful covers floating around the NZ YA world.

I don’t think it is true that NZ YA is better than other places, there is some pretty ordinary stuff published here sometimes, but there is also some excellent stuff.  It is the same in every country.  The Self-publishing boom is getting even more books out there, and a few of those are great.  But when the Council tell us that only a small percentage of teenagers read, and some of the borrowing stats around the country would bear that out, you need to do more than just tell people that they should be reading books ‘from the olden days’.  Our teenagers want the cool stuff.  They are totally influenced by social media and librarians who are purchasing books are equally impressed.

It is a strange thing that reading, which is supposed to be pleasurable and a lovely thing to do, can so often be treated as a ‘should’ kind of thing by some of us.  That students are asked to write ‘proper’ reviews, of at least 500 words.  Surely that just turns something that could be fun, into something that is now work.  A surefire way to kill a love of reading is to make it a chore. Or worse, to make it homework.  Kids are already doing all kinds of other stuff which is drawing on their time, they don’t need to be guilted into writing pedantic reviews.  There are kids who yearn to be published authors, there are heaps who are writing for fun in their spare time but forcing it, taking away the joy and insisting on terms which are outdated and irrelevant to their lives.  We old people have to accept that the world has changed.  And engage with what youth think is cool.  Want to see some decent reviews by the target audience.  Go to this Goodreads List.  Read the reviews of people who read YA.  Who are the target audience for YA.  And then go and check out this You Tube channel.  There are lots of people who do this stuff.  They are not the book reviews of old, they are much more likely to be read by teenagers and they are the opposite of ‘proper’ book reviews, but I can guarantee the books are more likely to be read by teens when they are recommended in this way.  So yes, peers are the way to sell books to teenagers, But don’t discount librarians working in their libraries recommending books to readers, selecting great books and chatting to readers every day.

I want to address a comment in the article:

A side issue: how is it possible that, in many secondary schools, a student can study English for five years without meeting a single New Zealand book on the curriculum?).

Well that is simple.  They haven’t been set as prescribed texts.  Schools can teach whatever books they like.  They tend to go for books from which they have seen great exam responses in previous exams.  Some of the books they do read are amazing.  In our school we have class sets of books by David Hill, Denis Wright, David Hair, all New Zealanders, while some students might not encounter those books, lots will.  And there is another thing, you need to get teachers to read the books.  In every school, in every English Department, you struggle to find a bunch of teachers who are reading YA, let alone those reading NZ YA.  There is a lot of good talk about reading and it’s importance to literacy by English teachers across the land, but very little in the way of reading the product and .  It constantly amazes school librarians!

And while I’m ranting, were you aware that it is considered in literacy circles that school librarians are inherently connected with literacy in schools! Yes, I know.  Ridiculous, but it is a fact.

I could go on.  But it is late and there is a leaders debate to watch.

 

 

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

sapiensI’ve been obsessing about this book, telling everyone I spoke to about how fantastically interesting it is. I felt like I was reading a more objective Bill Bryson, and I think that if you like Bryson’s books you will love this.

This is a history of the human race from it’s origins to 2014, on the way we will discover foraging, the formation of settlement, transport, agriculture, economics, industrialisation and a bunch of other stuff along the way. You begin to realise that the links between all these are more complicated than you think, that throughout history people have benefited at the expense of other people and the machinations of how that works, who ultimately wins and who loses. Every time I thought I was reading my favourite chapter I found another one which was my new favourite. I love the tone of the book, slightly snarky and not taking itself too seriously, but not playing for laughs in an obvious way. Complicated ideas explained in a way that anybody can understand and linked together in ways that make you go oooohhhh!

I’m going to add his next book to my tbr pile, it might take me a while to get to it though.