Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ostrich Boys - Keith Grey

Over the summer I will be reading loads of teen fiction and hope to share with you my thoughts on the books. First up is Keith Gray's Ostrich Boys. Originally published in 2008 the book was shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award and the Carnegie Award and also shortlisted for the Teenage Book of the Year Award.
Kenny, Sim and Blake kidnap their best friend Ross, this is easily done as Ross is dead. Killed whilst riding his bike, Ross' three friends are angry and hurt at what they see as the hypocrisy of his funeral, particularly as the people organising and speaking at the service had been giving their friend a difficult time in the weeks before his death. Believing Ross would have been disappointed in his memorial service they decide that a more fitting memorial would be to take their friend the place that he always wanted to go, they are going to take Ross to Ross ( in Southern Scotland). Having stolen his ashes the boys set out on a road trip that is by turns hilarious and tortuous but underlying this is a serious theme, the friends discover that there is a suggestion that Ross deliberately ran his bike into the path of the car that killed him.
As the boy's journey towards Ross they begin to discover that their friendship is based on shifting sands and the truth about Ross' death is more complicated than they thought. It gradually emerges that there are other, darker, emotions and motivations within the group of travelling friends. Grief, loss and guilt are played out within the group as their disastrous journey draws to a close with increasing, page turning, tension.
For a book that deals with a serious subject Gray has written a humorous and engaging story that is one of hope and an affirmation of the unexpectedness of the journey that life is. There is no sex, no obvious violence and only a little swearing in the book. Age recommendations I have seen vary between 11 and 14, probably due to the themes of teen suicide and the devastation that such an act leaves in it's wake which are explored in the book. I would say the book is suitable for 12+, those in second level education, although younger readers (particularly competent 9+ readers ) would be able to read the story, the issue is one of comprehension and understanding of the themes Gray is exploring as opposed to reading competency.
You can read an interview with Keith Gray about the book here:

June's Book Newsletter

I'm putting the final touches to Junes E-Book Newsletter, some good new teen reads and a few notable adult selections. Email us if you would like to be added to our mailing list. The Newsletter is free and delivered to your email account once a month - nothing could be simpler!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Buddying Up

Why not choose a buddy this summer for a buddy read! The rules are easy:

Choose a buddy you want to share a book with

Choose a book you both want to read (why not pick one that matches one of the Reading Challenge Prompts)

Read and discuss with your buddy.

You can have more than one buddy for a book and you can read more than one book together - hey you have started a book group!
That wasn't hard, was it?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Challenge #7 - Some suggestions

Stuck for a play, challenge #7 in our Summer Reading Project. Here are David Mamet's top 10 American plays which comes courtesy of The Wall Street Journal
1. Thornton Wilder’s 'Our Town'
2. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’’s 'The Front Page'
3. Edward Albee’s 'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'
4. Tennessee Williams’s 'A Streetcar Named Desire '
5. Arthur Miller’s 'All My Sons'
6. John Patrick Shanley’s 'Doubt'
7. William Saroyan’s 'The Time of Your Life'
8. Mart Crowley’s 'The Boys in the Band'
9. Gore Vidal’s 'The Best Man '
10. Clare Boothe Luce’s 'The Women'
Would anyone like to suggest some Irish or European plays, Oscar Wilde springs to mind. How about reading a play rather than a novel as your next book group read?

Didn't like the ending?

'I enjoyed that book' says the customer

'Great' I say

'But I didn't like the ending' she looks at me expectantly

'Oh I haven't read that one', I say

'No I didn't like the ending' More looking at me expectantly. I begin to worry 'What was wrong with it'

'It was as if there is going to be a sequel' the customer says

'Maybe there will be' , I am getting a bit desperate what does this customer want me to say?

'The ending was very disappointing' More looking and a silence develops

I decide to take the plunge 'I can't change the ending'

'Oh I know but it was very disappointing'

Monday, May 17, 2010

Beloved - Toni Morrison

How do you review a book that won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize and is written by a giant of American letters. This is a daunting task, books have been written about Beloved and the story remains a seminal piece of writing. It is however my book group's choice for this month and, as it has been my last read, I will try to do it justice.
Beloved is the story of Sethe a slave on a farm in Kentucky. There are five other slaves on the farm all of whom determine to escape when their living and working conditions deteriorate. Sethe makes it to the home of her mother-in-law in Cincinnati who is a freed slave, freed on payment by her son of his labour. Twenty eight days after arriving and living a life of liberty men arrive to retrieve Sethe. Rather than allowing the men to take her and her children Sethe takes the children to the woodshed and tries to kill them, she succeeds in killing only one child, her eldest girl. Sethe is sent to prison with her other newborn daughter Denver, her two sons run away. Sethe is ultimately released from prison with her surviving daughter and moves back into her mother-in-laws house. The events of the book take place 20 years later in and around 1873.
In an interview for 'Race Today Review' Toni Morrison said that her main aim in writing Beloved was 'to bear witness to a history that is unrecorded, untaught in mainstream education.' It is certainly true that whilst I know what slavery was and am also aware of some of the events surrounding the abolition of slavery, it is clear from reading this book that I did not really know about slavery. What impacted me most about this book were the small details Morrison provides of the conditions and treatment of these human beings.
During the course of the book Sethe and the other slaves on Sweet Home Farm (a misnomer if ever there was one!) undergo rape, beatings and the selling of one of their number. We learn that slaves were regarded as animals, which legitimated the way they were treated. Men and women were put to stud and women were valuable because they were capable of reproducing and thus providing new free labour. The children of slaves were regarded as assets that could be sold and one of the themes of this book is the way that family relationships and bonds were destroyed by the selling of human beings. We learn that it was dangerous for slaves to love to much because that love could be sold or destroyed on the whim of another, thus they only loved a little.
We also learn the penalties for a slave that runs away. Of the five slaves that ran from Sweet Farm, only two survived, Sethe and Paul D. One slave was shot, an attempt to burn another alive failed and he was shot, a third was unhinged by witnessing the rape and beating of his wife (Sethe) and his outcome remains unknown. What happens to Paul D after he runs and is captured provides details of the oppression and suffering that put into context Sethe's extreme response to being recaptured, a response that is based on several actual cases of infanticide amongst slave women.

But who is Beloved? Perhaps the central question in this book. Sethe is literally haunted by the ghost of the child she killed. When Beloved appears on Sethe's doorstep Sethe believes that she is the reincarnation of her dead daughter and Denver believes she is her sister but by the end of the novel none of the characters can remember Beloved with any clarity. Is Beloved real or just an incarnation of Sethe's guilt?
It is an entirely different thing knowing something on an intellectual level and being shown and involved in the suffering of others. Morrison has managed to bring the reality of slavery, the human as object, to life on the page. She has shown us what it is to be owned and how the human mind can so easily twist and reclassify to justify anything. As I have said previously, there have been books written about this book and it is possible to write pages on the multiple levels that this book works at - but this blog is not the place for those pages. Suffice to say that this is an important, near perfect work of fiction.
This book is dedicated to 'The Sixty Million and more' being those slaves that died on the voyage from Africa to the American continent - this novel is dedicated to the dead.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Summer Reading Challenge

As the end of term approaches and you are wondering what to do with your teens for the summer why not challenge them to a readathon or summer reading challenge. We have listed a set of prompts and those taking part in the challenge must select one book for each prompt (12 in total) and finish all 12 books before the new school year starts at the end of the summer - thats 1 book a week!

And parents, if you are challenging your teens why not challenge yourselves and read along with your teens, the prompts are not just to be used with teen/young adult fiction, they can equally apply to adult books or read the books your teens choose so that you can talk about them.

Let us know what books you intend to read either through our comments box below or come and see us in the shop and we will post them on the blog so that everyone can see what everyone else is reading.

If you need help finding books for the prompts come and see us and we will be able to suggest something.

The Challenge:

Read one book from each of the categories below (12 in total) before school resumes at the end of the summer.

  1. As it's the holidays, choose a holiday destination and read a book either set there or by an author from that country or place.
  2. As 20th June is Father's Day, read a book that features a father or has the word father/dad in the title
  3. Read a graphic novel
  4. Read a book set in the future
  5. As its summer read a book with a 'hot' word in the title (eg heat, sun, summer, scorch).
  6. As the summer is the time for the beach and we all want to be toned and tanned why not build a better body, read a book that deals with improving the body eg cloning, genetic manipulation, body modification, cybernetic implants, tattooing, cosmetic surgery, organ donation).
  7. Read a full length play.
  8. Read a book by an Irish author.
  9. Read a book by an author from another country.
  10. Read a book where the main character is a different gender to you.
  11. Read a book from one of the genres (try choosing something that you wouldn't normally read) ie. crime/thriller, fantasy and sci-fi, humour, romance, horror.
  12. Read a book set in the past/alternative past.

Start Date is Saturday June 5th

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Should I Stay or Should I go!

What to do when the book you are reading has it's merits, some good ideas and dialogue but as a whole does not work for you.
Do you plough on in the hope that it will all at some point come together, if so how long do you give it?
Do you abandon it, tossing it aside without further thought?
Is the problem the book or is it you?
Having passed the point of 40 time has become precious and I am less inclined to waste my time on something that does not work for me. A true indicator is the time it has taken me to reach page 197 - 7 days!


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Just Started 'Kraken'

I have just started China Mieville's 'Kraken'. A strange, funny and funny (peculiar) book. Not sure I'm enjoying it yet but it is definitely interesting. I never thought of a giant squid as an object of worship before!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Whisperers - John Connolly

A new book by John Connolly is always a treat, particularly if it is one featuring Connolly's private detective Charlie Parker. The Whisperers is Parker's 9th outing in a series that has propelled Connolly into the position of being one of Ireland's best selling authors, with not one of his books actually set in Ireland.
Parker has been asked to look into an ex soldier, Joel Tobias, who is mistreating his girlfriend. The client, Bennett Patchett, has a secondary motive which is to uncover why his son Damien, also an ex soldier and who served with Tobias in Iraq, committed suicide. As Parker's investigation develops he discovers a suicide cluster amongst the ex servicemen who served together and it rapidly becomes clear that Tobias's income can not support his lifestyle.
The soldiers are smuggling looted Iraqi artefacts but they have transported more than they bargained for across the Canadian border. An item has come to the attention of several interested parties, shadowy figures that embody the evil in men's hearts and minds. As the object of desire whispers to those who might bend to it's will, Parker, The Collector and The Captain manoeuvre for possession of something that could unleash terror and destruction on the world.
Connolly is clearly intent on informing as well as entertaining in this novel, principally about the problems of post traumatic stress disorder in returning soldiers and the poor quality of aftercare afforded those injured both physically and mentally by participation in the conflict in Iraq. His research is extensive, not heavy handed and is imported into the storyline almost seamlessly, no mean feat.
Fans will be pleased to see the return of Louis and Angel, if only briefly, and there are intimations that Parker will be put to further and greater tests in the future.
My one reservation is that the end seemed rushed, we are told rather than shown how the story ends for one of the characters, a character who it seemed had little significance but whose influence turns out to have been crucial. This reservation aside, The Whisperers is a compelling read, one that you will find it difficult to put down once started and which fans of Charlie Parker will find satisfying.
Whilst the detective/supernatural/horror mix will not appeal to everyone I would suggest that Connolly's work should be read not only for the shear quality of the writing but also, in the Parker books, for the breadth of Connolly's vision. Parker is not just a detective, he is, in the tradition of those epic poems of old, battling the demon, slaying the dragon, killing Grendel. He is the scarred hero fighting the darkness in men's souls and as such is the hope of civilisation, a last bulwark against the demons and monsters that lurk just outside of the comforting glow of the firelight. Epic tales do not come much better than this.