September 2006 Archives

Tanglewreck

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Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson
Bloomsbury
0747580642
July 2006
The return of Doctor Who to our TV screens in 2005 gave rise once again to the vast possibilities of using time-travel as the central premise of a storyline. Jumping on the time-travel bandwagon, Jeanette Winterson has seized upon its potential with a spirited originality in her first children�s novel, a gripping and provocative fantasy-thriller.

The central character, Silver, is an orphan forced to live with her selfish aunt Mrs Rockabye and her ferocious pet rabbits. Silver�s only comfort is the magical, sprawling house in which they live. When the mysterious Abel Darkwater arrives at Tanglewreck, seeking the legendary Timekeeper, Silver is dragged away from her beloved home and drawn into a sinister plot which sees her thrown through time and space, with the future of the universe on her shoulders.

To give much more away would risk spoiling others� delight in unravelling this juicy adventure story for themselves. Packed with colourful characters, and skillfully paced, Tanglewreck also throws up some weighty questions about the nature of existence. Rarely does one encounter a children�s novel which so succesfully combines pure entertainment with serious philosophical and scientific contemplation. A hugely satisfying and memorable read.


RS


Christophe's Story

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Nikki Cornwell, ill. Karin Littlewood
Frances Lincoln
1845075218
Aug 2006
�Each time you tell a story, the spirit of the person who told you the story is standing behind you; and behind him there�s the spirit of the person who told him the story. And each time you tell a story, they help you to make pictures in the sky.�

The potency of storytelling, its ability to traverse terrain and to cross cultures blazes strong in �Christophe�s Story�, an impressive, deeply thought-provoking and moving short novel whose understanding and compassion bathes readers in hope and belief that regardless of who we might be, whatever our backgrounds or beliefs, all our tomorrows might one day be better and brighter.

Removed from a landscape and populace that has been savaged by war, Christophe�s familiar homelands of Rwanda have been substituted for England. Starting at a new school, Christophe is taunted by one of his new class-mates Jeremy. These playground persecutions offer a glimpse at the dynamics of conflict that in the macrocosm of Rwanda led to Christophe�s family becoming embroiled in the programme of ethnic cleansing that was carried out there.

Accidentally revealed his war-scarred body, Christophe comes to tell his class his story of war-torn Rwanda, the death of his brother Matthieu and the burning of his house. That his class are unaware there has been a war in Rwanda is an indictment of the narrowness of focus and the Anglo-centricity of the classroom.

His storytelling constitutes a process of abreaction for Christophe who through reliving his trauma is able to begin the process of relieving that trauma arriving at resolve. Eager that the wider community should be aware of Christphe�s story, his teacher Miss Finch writes this down, an act of sacrilege for Christophe, who follows his grandfather Babi�s belief that stories begin to die when written down. Angered Christophe tears the story into pieces, however, Babi�s spirit visits him vesting within him the role of storyteller, master of words, lives and light�

Karin Littlewood�s illustrations brilliantly capture the suffering and pain surrounding the war in Rwanda yet successfully sparkle with the innate pleasures and life of childhood. To document such large political ideas, such hatreds and injustice in so short a novel and yet to leave readers awed, heartened and feeling in a real sense more tolerant is an enviable achievement and one which this exceptional book achieves with a real zeal.



The Fearful

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Keith Gray
Definitions
0099456567
Aug 2006
�For those who want to believe, no proof is needed. But for those who can�t believe, no evidence is enough.�

The furthest fathoms and deepest depths of the lake at Moutonby are matched by the probing philosophical enquiries as to the roles belief is able to play within modern civilisation. Is all belief now made blind by technological advance and the possibility of scientific verification?

The atmosphere of the novel crackles with a flaring, electrostatic energy that juxtaposes with the harsh unredeeming landscape of Moutonby. Favourable comparison to the celebrated works of Alan Garner is easily justified.

Underpinning village life in Moutonby - a small bleak assemblage of habitations clustered along the banks of the lake - is a dark legend about a beast that lurks in the depths of the water, the Mourn. Modern times have seen the village divided between those who believe in the Mourn � termed the Fearful, their lives being driven and dictated by custom and ritual as they endeavour to assuage the beast�s fury � and those who reject the legend believing it a pseudo-feudal means via which the Milmullen family have been able to dominate the village through false fear and hysteria.

Son and heir, Tim Milmullen, grows up alongside this and is expected to assume the role of the Mourner on his fast-approaching sixteenth birthday. This mantle is one his forefathers have held before him, making ritualistic sacrifices to the Mourn, securing the protection of the villagers through so doing. Tim is unsure as to his belief, a fact brought into rapid relief by his twin sister�s own fervently held beliefs. The questions surrounding the Mourn isolate Tim from his family and from the community who increasingly come to depend on him for their future.

A particular achievement in the novel, alongside the means by which belief is charted against fear of that which is not easily understood and which is seemingly senseless, is the constant challenges that twins Tim and Jenny pose to traditional belief. This emphasises that regardless as to the polar extremes the two�s views take, both are founded on their own level of experience, of thought and consideration of stimuli that their lives have been presented with. These questions and indeed the eventual resolve arrived at is an important facet of their growth and development, one that in a world that is increasingly geared to the materialistic, is oft neglected yet deserving of careful consideration. Even disbelief is a belief that must be arrived upon through experience, if it is a standpoint arrived at responsively...

This is a dense, thoughtful and thought-provoking novel that demands careful reading providing ample reward through its sociological and implicit religious comment as well as its lithe determination to avoid the condemnation of any systems of belief or world views.




The Library

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Sarah Stewart, ill. David Small
Frances Lincoln
1845074947
May 2006
From it�s bookshelf inspired end-papers to it�s card-catalogue dedication, every aspect of this picture book has been tailored to appeal to bibliophiles. With the high profile Love Libraries campaign now well under way the publication of �The Library� is very timely.

The book is a biographical account of book lover and philanthropist, Mary Elizabeth Brown (1920-1991) documenting the life long affinity she felt for books and for reading. Whether depicting the means through which books allow our imaginations to soar, manifested here by pigeons in flight, or the shelter and shade the interior world of books are able to provide, David Small�s illustrations brilliantly capture the highly personal dynamic opportunities for thought and reflection that books provide without diminishing its meaning.

Framed pictures and the rapid encroachment of books outside the parameters of each frame emphasise the extent of Elizabeth�s collection enabling an understanding of how sizeable an endowment this was eventually to be for the town. Reading is a gift and libraries, offering access points to almost every book ever published, are in a unique position to keep on giving endlessly A powerful reminder as to the remarkable community and cultural resources libraries are.




Tundra Mouse Mountain

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Riitta Jalonen, ill. Kristiina Louhi
WingedChariot Press
1905341059
May 2006
�Dreams often disappear from me if I don�t talk about them first thing in the morning. Sometimes it�s as if they never even existed.�

Personal voyages, the importance attributed to homelands that are able to be returned to and the strength of family ties bind and intersect this Spartan, yet delicately beautiful tale by Finnish author Riitta Jalonen, one of the latest continental offerings made available in the United Kingdom by WindedChariot Press.

More a full-colour, highly illustrated novella than a traditional picture book, the opening sees mother and daughter on a journey . The daughter�s enthusiasm and interest in words and in naming things provides insight into an imaginative world that that the narrative and pictures here present only a glimpse of and that readers� imagination brings to the fore.

The couple's journey aims to take Tundra Mouse, a flowering plant more commonly called �Alpine mouse-ear� that mother collected years previously, back to the Arctic. The voyage is built up of a series of moments each one vivid in the way it sensuality, making this a memorable voyage and books. The pair pass amongst Lapland birches, pinic by the river Teno, cllect waters from the oceans and stones from the beach. A real sense of holisticity between man and environment is presented.

That the daughter has collected so many mementoes of her trip leaves one wondering whether with time�s passing another voyage into personal pasts might be made with a child of tomorrow, this book allows that and is itself a soulful treasure�



I very really miss you

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Jane Kemp, ill. Jonathan Langley
Frances Lincoln
184507260X
Jul 2006
The prospect of big brother Ben going away on school camp for a week is one that brings a smile to Ben�s face as Sam remembers the means Ben employs to tease and taunt, boss and belittle him as only a big brother knows best! Sam looks forward to the respite that time spent on his own will provide.

The reality of Ben�s absence, however, makes Sam appreciate the fun and the frolics, the games and the guffaws the pair have shared together. To alleviate Sam�s pinings, his mother suggests he writes a postcard articulating his feelings to his brother.

Sam eagerly anticipates the return of his brother and on his homecoming, Ben whispers to him how he missed him too. Contrary to the misguided notion that boys are all rough and rigour, with two brothers at its heart, this book legitimises male emotion and indeed the importance of communicating these.




Dad's Bug Bear

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Peter Dixon, ill. Natalie Chivers
Red Fox
0099472929
Aug 2006
The wonderfully exuberant story and illustrations that together form the make-up of this picture-book will echo the experiences of all who have longed for a pet. Dad does not like pets, minor or more major quibbles disillusion his opinions on all animals � cats miaow too much and dogs eat too much...

When Frank the goldfish dies, dad shows an almost sardonic lack of restraint in his response; �Never mind, son�. Mum is more considerate towards the loss suggesting a special cheer-up treat thereby setting in motion a trip to the zoo � a trip that is accompanied by a tirade on camels, elephants, giraffes, seals, penguins and rhinos by dad!

The visit to the zoo, however, is forestalled as two African elephants have pushed down the walls meaning all the animals have escaped. Concerned for the welfare of his home, dad drives the family home to find a delivery of domed dung deposited upon the doorstep.

Whilst our hero takes a bath, a tremendous paw crashes through the bathroom ceiling. Dad rises to the occasion, tapping it with the toilet brush. Endeavouring to remove the bear from the roof, the gutter, the bear, the ladder and dad all tumble. Fortunately nothing makes for a softer landing than the arms of the bear. Dad�s opinion of animals is altered slightly as he comes to appreciate the bear but readers are left to anticipate what happens next as they lift the flap to gain access to just what is concealed within the family refrigerator!

The divide between childlike rapture with animals as shared inhabitants of the world and adult disillusionment and focus on responsibility creates the tension that drives this story and which is depicted here by Natalie Chivers' engaging collaged illustrations which perfectly compliment to the text.




Just in Case

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Meg Rosoff
Puffin
0141380780
Aug 2006
An exhilarating and accelerated sense of change, of personal evolution and development are the driving forces behind the eagerly awaited new novel by Meg Rosoff. The novel charts the life of the eponymous Justin Case, the assumed name of David Case, following an epiphany as to the fragility of life and the influence fate plays upon the future� In assuming the identity of Justin Case a wholesale change of appearance and of outlook is engendered for the protagonist previously known as David� Fascinatingly this leads to a disruption to the sequential line along which most people�s lives are 'seen' to be led

Readers are made privy to a series of discursive vignettes that constitute the life of Justin. This is achieved in an assured and lively manner. The imagination and eccentricity of Justin make him an immensely agreeable if not at times a worryingly breakable individual whose fears, feelings and frighteningly fatalistic outlook on life isolate him from the society that orbits around him.

Justin�s personality is one of extremes, the love he harbours for Agnes who becomes ensnared by Justin�s vitality and his web-like neediness, fast becomes all-consuming leaving him incomplete amidst a mire of uncertainty. The gradual corrosion of the influences of logic, reason and rationale in lesser hands could become dirge-like and dull, that the prose here is iridescent, teeming with differing philosophies of perspective and perspective, makes for a strikingly life-affirming read that is not easily forgotten.




The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless

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Ahmet Zappa
Puffin Books
0141383097
Aug 2006
��it was too late. The book had invitingly opened itself up to me and snapped closed around my outstretched hand, biting me with its poisonous paper teeth. The last thing I saw before I passed out was the book�s mysterious title��

A multitude of threads taking the form of action photographs, illustrations of manifold monsters and extracts from the Monstranomicon, interweave to make the fabric of this fable. Minerva McFearless, the eleven-year-old daughter of a monsterminator, narrates the adventure. Her relationship with brother Max, who plays an integral role in the action and adventure of this novel, is fraught with sibling rivalry a shard of realism that helps allow the suspension of disbelief and that secures the riotous pace in thisnarrative.

On seeing a red moth, the intrepid McFearless duo discover a secret passageway in their house, leading them to their father�s study and to the revelation that he is in fact a monsterminator, one who exorcises monsters of all sizes, types, and veracity. It is in the study that the pair first encounter, the Monstranomicon, a living book, a bestiary of sorts with the added bonus of detailing recipes and methodologies for the slaying or repelling of creatures. Following the kidnapping of their father, Max and Minerva set upon a quest to release him.

The book has a cinematic quality and photographs are reminiscent of early silent films, richly resplendent in exaggerated facial expressions and extreme emotions! The graphic nature of the book, together with short chapters, punctuated throughout by excerpts from the Monstranomicon make this an excellent choice for those who are perhaps less confident readers. The claim of pedestrainism in the language that could be levied against Zappa's book is an observation made neither entirely with or without criticism. It is this that facilitates the novel's pick-me-up-and-read-me appeal, but lends it at times a non-distinct feel. The strong cliff-hanger ending leaves one with a monster appetite, wanting to know what happens next, with a sequel forthcoming it is hoped this might soon be sated!



Captives

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Tom Pow
Corgi
0552555479
Aug 2006
�I don�t hate you. What are you? Fathers, mothers, two children on holiday. No, I don�t hate you. I hate what you stand for. Not tourism. I am proud of my country. I want to share it with others. Our people share their history and their pain and their struggle. We are used to sharing. No, I hate the dollars economy you bring, which makes our pesos, our once proud pesos � now defaced with Quitano�s ugly face all over them � almost worthless.�

Martin, his mother and father are holidaying on Santa Clara an island whose intrinsic beauty and resources have been exploited and where political insurgence is now rife following the development of nickel mining that ravages the country�s natural resources and its people.

In a desperate and dramatic attempt to highlight the plight of the islanders, El Taino, Rafael and Eduardo capture Martin and his family together with French tourist,s Louise and her family, intending to make a plea for a national enquiry to be made into the nickel mine that brings the scourge upon their country.

The story is complex and web-like, whilst it is told primarily from the dual viewpoints of Martin�s father�s diary entries and Martin�s own account of the shocking, unnecessary and surprising death of Louise, there is more than a passing empathy with the plight of the islanders who make this desperate bid to remove the blight that has been forced upon their land.

Judgement is never easily arrived at in this novel and it is difficult not to feel pulled in two quite distinct directions. Far from being a criticism, this is one of the great accomplishments of the book, that in failing to impose a resolute judgement as to where moral rectitude truly lies it coaxes the conscience to consider the standpoints of all.




Roar Bull Roar

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Andrew Fusek Peters & Polly Peters
Frances Lincoln
184507520X
Aug 2006
�history is full of tales, and sometimes it takes bravery and pluck to uncover them.�

Bravery and pluck are the lifeblood that abound and flow so thoroughly through Czech siblings Jan and Marie Klesek who, following their father Frantisek, a maths teacher who has got a new job in England, move to a small village. Their arrival in the middle of the night is met by a welcome that is quite literally divest of any warmth and hospitality, a bull charges down the side of the car and the cottage in which they are staying � the curiously named �Shoe Cottage� � is cold, damp and in a state of near dereliction.

Bob Thomson the families new landlord is a seemingly uncaring and miserly individual who has a great nephew, Ross, and a great niece, Kerry, who both become the bane of the Klesek children�s life, taunting, teasing and being malicious to them both. On one such occasion the children take flight and come across a barn where they take shelter from a sudden storm. Lady Beddoes lives in the barn and the two children quickly befriend her.

Marie encounters prejudice and xenophobia in the guise of her new friend, Ashleigh�s mother, Carol Jillson who has a decidedly narrow outlook and small-town mentality when it comes to accepting newcomers, let alone �foreigners�.

What Jan and Marie find hidden in a shoe in the chimney of their cottage and that landlord, Bob Thompson, is desperate to gain possession of and thereby conceal, leads to a revelation and through a series of plot twists and turns lead to Lady Beddoe ascending to her rightful position within the village thereby setting about making things right once more! This is a real romp of a read, Jan and Marie make for particularly endearing protagonists whom it is difficult not to feel a joint affinity and affection towards�



Stray

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David Belbin
Barrington Stoke
184299381X
Jun 2006
�You mean Stacey? You don�t forget a face like hers. She could have been a model if she�d played her cards right. But Stacey was a mess. She always chose the wrong guys.�

The lack of parental control, discipline and most importantly care in Stacey�s life coerces her into the ever-tightening enclaves of Simone�s gang. Amidst her quest for acceptance, Stacey is assimilated into systems of ethics distinct from her own, a choice that leads her, albeit unwittingly, to diminish her life-chances.

Increasingly unable to play to her own strengths, Stacey�s behaviour becomes ever more extreme, documented in the first-person and with strength of emotion and moral resolve by Kev, who is seduced by Stacey�s physical appearance.

Lacking in similar resolve, Stacey who already has an ASBO is fed drugs by her boyfriend whose combined intimidation together with the peer pressure of Simone�s gang sees Stacey spiral from stealing cans of lagers to taking part in a large scale jewellery theft. This is a well executed cautionary tale told through explorations of the types of people we can all too easily become when circumstances and our circle of friends conspire against us.