Monthly Archives: April 2007

The Wooden Mile

Chris Mould

Hodder

0340944773

Mar 2007

‘If ever a kid could look after himself, here he was. Stanley could box like a champ. A proper little jack-rabbit he was, and like all true champs he had the heart of a lion along with that mane of stringy blond hair.’

With its nuances of shadow and uncertainty, darkness pervades throughout Chris Mould’s new book, ‘The Wooden Mile’. The first in a series, ‘Something Wickedly Weird’, featuring the unlikely hero Stanley Buggles, these books mark Mould’s first full length fictional offerings.
Following the death of Admiral Bartholomew Swift, Stanley inherits the Estate of Candlestick Hall on Crampton Rock. A peopled by a peculiar populace, Crampton Rock is cut off from the mainland by a mile long jetty that is only traversable at low tide, meaning the community harbours more than its share of dark secrets…
Bringing together a brigand of pirates, a prophetic pike, a lycanthrope in the guise of a sweet-shop owner in addition to a hoard of treasure, ‘The Wooden Mile’ is a faster-than-light, highly paced exciting story for newly independent readers.
Illustrations are carefully interwoven and add a brilliant visualisation to the sense of shady, brooding menace’ As much weirdly wicked as wickedly weird! With its discernable rhythm and pace, here is a story that rises above mere words, it is a symphony of shadows ‘ music for the mysteriously minded, a masterpiece in miniature!

Kill Swap

James Lovegrove

Barrington Stoke

1842994476

Jan 2007

‘You shot a man at point-blank range. That took guts. Most people would have chickened out, but not you.’

Jack Jennings’ father has debts that are crippling both him and his family. Driven by desperation towards loan shark, Tony Mullen, his father suffers an error of judgement when he gambles this borrowed money unsuccessfully.
Answer to the families financial problems seems to come through the door when a card for ‘Trouble Fix Ltd’ is posted through the door. Jack takes the decision to contact the company, who inform him that his father’s debts and problems might be solved if Jack is able to take on the problems of another client by ‘killing their problem dead’, in return for which that client will reciprocate by eliminating Jack’s problem.
A lithe twist in the tale forces readers to reassess Jack’s actions, the measure of desperation he has felt and the moral rectitude of his choice as it becomes apparent that Jack has been a pawn in a much larger game. A chilling portrayal of behaviour driven by extremity.

Hard Luck

Mary Arrigan

Barrington Stoke

1842994484

Jan 2007

The brief note from the authors of Barrington Stoke books allows insight into the creative process, giving privileged access to the grist from which the story ideas were gleaned.
Mary Arrigan, author of ‘Hard Luck’ describes the poignant memory of a school visit to the theatre and meeting a homeless boy outside prior to and following the performance’ This becomes the base for ‘Hard Luck’.
Constant spats and feuding with his mother’s new partner, Bill means that tensions have risen high for Matthew at home. As the situation worsens, Matthew makes the decision to leave home and to take to the streets. A chance encounter with one of his teaches at the supermarket leads to his being given a blanket and it is this that forms the centre-point of the story.
Outside the protected environs of his home, Matthew suffers at the hands of bullies and thieves, but contrary to this, also experiences kindness and support from Gentleman Jeremy who befriends him. Resolution is eventually found as Matthew’s school teacher recognises not only the blanket she had given to Matthew but, in a surprise ending, also Gentleman Jeremy’s true identity which comes as something of a revelation!
Strong depictions of the emotional and physical space a home provides in formative years make this a notable gritty and contemporary tale.

How Embarrassing is That?

Pete Johnson

Barrington Stoke

1842994506

Jan 2007

‘All the other parents were just looking around without any fuss. Only two were making a right show of themselves ‘ mine.’

Ruby, affectionately known as Tiddles to her parents is mortified when they attend the school open day. Loud voices, flamboyant clothing and embarrassing anecdotes from childhood combine to make this a cringe-worthy visit.
Following the open day, Ruby, Grace and Callum decide to hold their own competition, the ‘Ouch Factor’ to decide the most embarrassing set of parents. Scoring is one point for clothing too young for said parent, two points for assuming youth parlance, three for discussing schoolwork with friends, four for a public reprimand, five for public singing and six for a big hug or kiss, anywhere or anytime!
With the parameters firmly established, the competition begins but its outcome surprises the friends, who come to realise the value of parents as the people that they are regardless of whatever perceived freakeries and foibles they might have’ Compromise is reached in a way that shows understanding, but that does not belittle children’s feeling and often self-conscious outlooks.
Characteristically, profundity of Pete Johnson’s social comment is made accessible via his grasp of the palliative qualities of the comic.

Resistance

Craig Simpson

Corgi

0552555711

Feb 2007

‘It struck me that true evil probably lurked in only a few men but its effect was felt across borders, continents even.’

Opening with full force as brothers Marek and Olaf shoot a deer, the remainder of this notable book by debut novelist Craig Simpson packs a similarly powerful punch. Marek and Olaf’s late childhood is lived out in Nazi occupied Norway. Seeking vengeance against their father’s arrest for conspiring with the Norwegian Resistance, the brothers arrange and execute the assassination of the Nazi, Wold. After killing him, they discover there had been a passenger in the car who witnessed the act.
In a desperate attempt to escape the ramifications of their subversion of occupied rule, the boys flee to the hostile environs of the Hardanger where survival itself is a ordeal. There Resistance workers save the boys who find themselves caught in endeavours to liberate their country from its oppressors.
Simpson successfully mirrors the bleak reality of Fascist rule against the cold and barren landscape of the Hardanger. Careful research and historical accuracy into the method and means of the resistance workers lends a quite literally real sense of urgency and imperative to this gripping and hard-hitting thriller that, in speaking of the past gives chilling warning for the future…

The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Doubleday

0385611463

Jan 2007

‘When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started not just to mean something, but everything.’

Opening with the cruel death of Liesel Meminger’s brother on the epoch of a new life as the two children were to be fostered to the Hubermanns, the book is set in Nazi Germany and examines the extremes of human behaviour, from absolute intolerance and hatred to the benevolence of generosity and love against the harshest, most repressive of political and social regimes.
Paranoia regarding the seditious nature of literature gives ready emphasis to the act and the art of reading both in a metafictional sense, as Liesel encounters a variety of personal, political and polemical writings and recordings, and for the reader of Zusak’s book, who piece together the overall picture.
Though fragmented in terms of the narrative ‘ for the most part split between Liesel’s story and Death’s aching attempts to comprehend the nature of a humanity that he is fearful of, but that necessarily delineates his own role and purpose ‘ indelible images are burnt upon mind and memory.
Death’s narration bleeds a beauty and tenderness into the novel, but also an incredibly intense pain. Yearning for comprehension in amongst atrocities that are incomprehensible, the novel is lastingly affecting and inspires depths of compassion.

The Underwood See

Michael Lawrence

Orchard Books

1843628759

Oct 2006

‘As the eye mirrors the soul, the sky quite often reflects the health of the reality. It certainly does here. This is a ‘fast’ reality, evolving many times more rapidly than most. It would take several millennia for a standard reality to age as much as this one has in seven years.’

Hurrah for Micahel Lawrence! Reading ‘The Aldous Lexicon’ has been the literary equivalent of sinking one’s teeth into a juicy orange on the most parched of days and finding oneself overwhelmed by the complex flavours of sweet and piquant that simultaneously stimulate the tastebuds’
Strength and quality of writing delivered throughout this trilogy has been consistently high as too have the heady injections of musings on philosophy and personal history that make these books so far-reaching and exceptional.
Picking up the intrigue and creative space inhabited by his first novel, ‘When Snow Falls” (Andersen Press, 1995), ‘The Aldous Lexicon’ is a rich, vibrant novel pieced together from the multiplicity of lives we each of us lead. The series lures readers into its ideas-base before guttering into manifest worlds, time-lines and portrayals of identity and self.
The first book, ‘A Crack in the Line’ introduces the cast and promotes the idea of an alternative reality by positing the question, what would happen if the capricious chance leading to the occurrence of a seminal event in one’s life was altered’ In it, dual protagonists Alaric and Naia are brought into uneasy alignment as the realisation dawns that they inhabit the same familial space in their respective worlds.
‘Small Eternities’ the second book takes place four months following the events of the first. Alaric and Naia have switched places. With flood waters high they become caught in a timeslip to 1945 where they witness the premature death of their great uncle, Aldous Underwood and realise the background and impact of this point in their shared history.
In this, the third novel,The Underwood See‘, the potential for change to character, setting and history is fully unleashed. The butterfly wings of caprice that have beaten in previous novels now mean the winds of change blow with an invigorating hurricane force through this impressive third novel.
The book is necessarily discursive, tracking different reality strands and the characters that have formed within these. Lawrence outlines some of the mechanics of these alternate realities and goes on to explore the impact and attempted rationalisation of these phenomenon.
As a whole, the series is demanding and challenging, but readers are amply rewarded with a legacy of expanding conceptual understanding and awareness. It is refreshing to read a series that operates wholly between its constituent parts, devoting little space towards constraining recapitulation. The books are taut, wholly engaging and, when read together move with an exhilarating, almost break-neck pace.
At once incisive and insightful, this criminally under-rated sequence represents some the strongest and most influential contributions to teenage fiction in recent years.
[Star rating is for the series as well as this individual book]

The Tortoise and the Dare

Terry Deary, ill. Helen Flook

A&C Black

0713682205

Mar 2007

‘Slow and steady wins the race’


Books of instruction have played a seminal role in the history and development of children’s literature. Arguably, children’s literature has never ‘ and perhaps can never ‘ fully escape its didactic and pedagogical base. Aesop’s fables have been amongst the most enduring of fiction for children since first publication in English translation by William Caxton in 1484.
Terry Deary brings both ardour and aptitude to his new series, published by A & C Black, ‘Greek Tales’. Opening with morals gleaned from Aesop, the books utilise new stories to expand upon and make modern the premise of these fables.
Opening with contextual information, the book tells how Heracles won a race at Olympia, proving himself to be the strongest, fastest hero the world has ever known. Remembrance of this achievement is held through the Olympic Games.
Using the fable of the tortoise and the hare as its ideas base, Deary creates a modern fable that will resonate with many disillusioned siblings as Cypselis uses his sister as a wager on a bet that he will beat Bacchiad in the school Olympics. The trouble is, Ellie knows her brother is not a strong winner’ How can they secure her safety and future?!
Witty and wise, this is a cleverly penned series for first readers that will have readers themselves racing to the finishing line’

When We Lived in Uncle’s Hat

Peter Stam, ill Jutta Bauer

Wingedchariot Press

1905341040

Nov 2006

Three generations experiment with coexistence in ‘When we lived in Uncle’s Hat’, together trying out life lived in numerous different locations. The first of these is the house with blue lights, where the sun was so hot the curtains had to be kept closed and the smell of lilac permeated from outside.
Moving through an increasingly outlandish range of abodes, the family spend time living in the forest, in Aunty’s violin and in Uncle’s hat. The real skill of this picture book is the way its characters are depicted with such minute detail through the situations in which they are encountered. There is no dialogue within the book and yet it is hard not to feel an intimate warmth and closeness to them, evidenced by Grandpa, whom when they live in the church yard feels sad every time that they bury somebody.
Exploring change and the means employed for acceptance, this is a reflective and contemplative book that succeeds in taking its readers ‘outside time’ to experience and appreciate the ways our senses act as keys to unlock particular memories and the means via which the places we live in comes to be made home. Soulful pattern and resolve is reached by the end of the novel as ‘now our house has four corners. And out year has four seasons. We moved here four years ago”