That Was The Year That Was, part 1

It seems to be fairly traditional to use the ending of the year as a time to do a quick round-up of the twelve months gone by.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that. Some people can tell you their favourite books of 2017 but I don’t think I can do that either – I just checked on Goodreads and I exceeded by 126 book target by a couple. I read quantity and am possibly not the best judge of quality but, I suppose I can try a bit of a highlights showreel. Month by month, so I don’t get lost….

January

shtum2017 started with one highlight and one failure. I was very moved by Jem Lester’s Shtum – the story of a father and his severely autistic son – and left slightly cold by Paul Auster’s 4321 (in fact it was one of my rare failures to finish a book). I think I’m old enough now not to worry about finishing a book I’m just not enjoying – and since this was a well-reviewed and Booker shortlisted novel I’m going to assume that was down to me not the book.

February

9781848126015A short month but a good one for me. It contains my birthday so I usually take a few days off – which is usually why I get more read then than in January.  No real stand-out favourites but I did particularly like Samantha Ellis’ look at Anne Brontë and kept up my quota of unusual fairy tales with Garth Nix’s Frogkisser.  Also, as previously mentioned, I had a birthday so that was a highlight too.

March

20170302_092657.jpgSpring sprang and I took up running. I even joined my local running club (which, if you’ve seen the size of the hills around here, I thought quite brave…). The nights, however, were still starting a bit early so I had lots of time to read. Oddly two of the books I enjoyed most this month were featured later in the year as their authors appeared at the Bradford Literature Festival. I’d been gripped by Ross Raisin’s earlier book so looked forward to A Natural – this tale looked at a side of football culture which is overlooked: the emotional and physical strains placed on young players, some still young teenagers, especially those struggling with their sexuality. I also enjoyed The Djinn Falls in Love – a collection of short stories about djinns, genies and other supernatural beings. More material for my ongoing interest in folk and fairy stories from various cultures around the world. I also got to wear my best dress for World Book Day and spent a couple of days visiting my Mum.

April

IMGP0638Another big month. Easter, more running, trips to the Harrogate Flower Show and to see my niece in Nottingham (with a visit to the cat cafe – great fun!) and, very excitingly, the Tour de Yorkshire. This meant lots of cycling related books at work but also a chance to see the race come through the village I live in – so much bunting! In book terms the stand out book for the month was, unusually for me, non-fiction. Dave Goulson’s Bee Quest told me lots I didn’t already know about bees – fascinating and uplifting overall.

May

spacestarsWe always try to take our holidays fairly early in the year and this year was no different. Towards the end of May we headed off for Denmark and for once I couldn’t think of any books specific to the area I wanted to read (since I was already up on my Hans Christian Andersen). Still, I had plenty to read on the trip and managed to find a couple of contenders for favourite of the year too. Alison Weir is always on my list of must-read authors and her series on the wives of Henry VIII had now got to Anne Boleyn (almost a guaranteed subject for excitement and passion…). It was as good as I’d hoped it would be. Unexpected highlights were one of the new crop of thoughtful sci-fi novels and a Young Adult psychological thriller with heavy Breakfast Club overtones.

June

plumWe were still on holiday in early June – celebrating our wedding anniversary with Rob’s cousin in Sweden and then moving on for nearly a week in Latvia. I’m just going to say now that if you love cake and open-air bars with live music then go to Riga – you won’t be disappointed. Still lots more time for reading although, looking back, I am surprised to realise my favourite book of the month was one of poetry. I do like the odd poem but rarely take the time to read a book full. The end of the month saw the start of the Bradford Literature Festival – always a fun time but very busy. This year, however, I also got the chance to dress up for the gala dinner. It’s a tough job, bookselling!

Jane

 

 

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Christmas – it’s all about the kids

I’d be the first person to agree that Christmas is a time for the kids. Of course, I also disagree that I’m too old for an advent calendar or that sitting at the front upstairs on a bus and pretending to drive is immature… That said I do get very much in touch with my inner child during December – if you call into the shop during the second half of the month I’m the one in a festive jumper, wearing reindeer antlers and jingle bells – and one of the best ways is by reading through some of the great children’s books available.  Old favourites like The Snowman or How The Grinch Stole Christmas come back every year (quite rightly) but sometimes a forgotten or neglected classic reappears. This year has been the turn of  The Invisible Child – a Moomin story by Tove Jansson – which has been reissued to raise money for Oxfam. This one is on my Christmas list because the Moomins is another thing I’m not too old for.

Books for the Smallest People (and no, I don’t mean elves…)

9781908745743One of my favourite jobs at work is reading stories to groups of little ones. I may not be a parent but I can do all the different voices required for the Gruffalo and I’m particularly proud of my rendition of What The Ladybird Heard – however, I also know that sometimes you just need to find a new book to read (no matter how much they love their favourite…). For those who loved Oi Dog! and Oi Frog! I can certainly recommend Oi Cat! (because rhymes are always good) and for little ones who are learning to count Ten Little Elves is educational, seasonal and fun. The ‘That’s Not My’ series is always a winner – and the latest volumes are cute and zeitgeisty since they involve unicorns and otters.

Books to take to Big School…

9781447277910There comes a moment when every youngster declares themselves too grown-up for picture books (even if they won’t let you throw out their copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and they discover the delights of books with chapters. Although most of them still have lots of pictures and many seem to be written by off duty pop stars and comedians.  Children this age (5ish to 8ish) seem to love series – there seems to be a never-ending supply of Beast Quest or Daisy Meadows titles – so if you find a character they love there should be plenty to read. If you’ve not tried them yet though have a look at the Goth Girl or Ottoline stories by Chris Riddell – wonderful marriages of fun stories and quirky illustrations with strong heroines. Also this is a great age to discover the joys of Paddington. Just saying…

Booty for Bookworm Boys and Girls

9780141986005As usual we have new titles from favourite authors David Walliams, Jeff Kinney and Jacqueline Wilson to keep 9 to 12 (ish) year-olds quiet on Christmas morning but if you are looking for a new direction I’ll be suggesting Matt Haig again this year – the first two books in his Christmas series are now in paperback and the new hardback looks at how hard it is to be the child of Father Christmas and his wife, Mary… Funny and heart-warming with a dash of peril – what more do you need? And remember lots of youngsters have yet to discover the joys of Harry Potter – start them on the paperbacks or go straight for the glorious illustrated editions. I’m quite jealous to think that there will be youngsters reading about Hogwarts for the first time…

9780241253588Let’s not forget that some children may prefer to get a non-fiction book under the tree. From the evergreen Guinness World Records to The Lost Words (a gloriously beautiful illustrated book of ‘spell-poems’ designed to reintroduce a new generation to the wonders of nature) there is plenty to choose from. Junior palaeontologists may enjoy the Dinosaurium and both boys and girls will be fascinated by the lives described in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Hopefully all the adult shoppers will enjoy ‘researching’ for presents too!

Teens/Young Adults/ Those of us who don’t want to be grown up…

9780857561091Most of the youngsters I buy Christmas presents for are now in the ‘young adult’ category and, as I’m sure you know, they can be tricky to buy for. Mine (nieces and nephews) would rather have cash than most gifts but that doesn’t feel right to me but luckily they are mostly keen readers. Books by Vloggers and Youtubers seem to go down well in this age group and there is still lots of love for old favourites like Wreck This Journal but there also plenty of more traditional fiction options. A new John Green will be welcome in many quarters and older teens should enjoy One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus but, I hope, many of them will be settling down to our book of the year. La Belle Sauvage is a brilliant return to the world of His Dark Materials but, because its storyline runs parallel to that of the original trilogy, it can also be read as an introduction to Pullman’s world of dust and daemons. The only problem will be getting it out of the hands of the adults…

Jane

 

 

 

Holiday reading June 2017 – a bit of YA

Today has been a bit of a day for making decisions (largely of a political nature) and I got to thinking that a lot of that kind of thing goes on in YA books. The target audience (12-18 or 15-24 year-olds I guess, certainly not me….) are often having to make the first big decisions of their lives – about what subjects to study, what future careers to aim for, about what they stand for politically, about what sort of adults they want to become. They are deciding whether to form relationships, where they fall onto the spectrum of sexuality, politics, religiosity and social tolerance. Some of these decisions will be wrong. From the perspective of 20 or 30 years it is easy to see that a choice made at 17 is not final: at 17 it feels very decisive.

25458747In Non Pratt’s Truth or Dare the main characters, Claire and Sef, need to decide how to make a lot of money in order to finance Sef’s brother’s care after a catastrophic brain injury. They decide to raise cash by filming dares and promoting them on some sort of Youtube-like channel and become Truth Girl and Dare Boy. The story is told in two main sections – one each from Claire and Sef’s points of view – and no final decisions can be made until both are able to see the other’s viewpoint. Pratt really seems to be able to speak in the voice of modern young people – their doubts, fears, joys and passions. She manages to touch on issues of sexuality, race and social privilege without making them the centre of the story (which remains as Claire, Sef, their burgeoning relationship and their fundraising attempts). It is particularly refreshing that Sef is a young British muslim lad but his story is not one of radicalisation or terrorism – his cares and concerns are those of any young man of his age (although he still has to deal with racism and islamophobia, obviously).

9780141375632In One of Us is Lying Karen McManus gives us a 21st century update on that 1980s classic, the Breakfast Club. In a typical American high school five students have detention – there’s a princess, a jock, a brain, a bad boy and an outsider who is both feared and feted for his online gossip column – so far, so close to the film but then Simon, the online gossip, dies suddenly while the supervising teacher is out of the room and things start to go a bit C.S.I.

What I enjoyed most about this book is the fact that nobody is quite what they seem. The bad boy shows that he can be both kind and resourceful (although he’d never admit it), the princess is hugely insecure about her looks, the jock may not be the all-American hero he’s touted to be and the brain may not have got all her grades in the accepted way. We see these young people from their own points of view – each chapter moves from one voice to another – and yet we find that they are not as fixed in their cliques as they first appear. They each have to make choices about who they could become (with shades of Grease as the ‘brain’ makes an Olivia Newton-John style choice of boyfriend) while also trying to work out who could have killed gossip-boy.

contagionMy final YA holiday read was Contagion, the first in a new trilogy from Teri Terry. (This one is a slightly more tenuous link to my ‘decision-making’ theme since it is rather firmly in the post-apocalyptic genre but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.) The book opens with a girl called Callie, in a mysterious facility full of doctors and nurses in biohazard suits, being sent for a ‘cure’. We switch to Shay, in a Scottish village, who sees a poster about a missing girl (Callie) and realises she saw her on the day she disappeared a year before. She contacts the number on the poster and meets Kai, Callie’s older brother. Shay and Kai end up trying to investigate Callie’s fate while dodging the effects of both a deadly epidemic and the even deadlier shadowy figures who appear to be behind it.

Again this book comes from two different voices – Callie and Shay.  They have similarities, especially in the way that they both love Kai, but also very many differences. Callie is much younger, more emotional and less rational – Shay is thoughtful, willing to make personal sacrifices but also more inclined to keep her worries to herself. Towards the end of the book we start to discover much more about the nature of the epidemic, its effects on the few who survive and the motives of those who seem to control its development. There are two more books to come – I think I’m hooked enough to need to know how this ends. Shay, and Kai’s, decisions will be important but I have a feeling that Callie will be the lynchpin (or, just possibly, the firing pin from a deadly grenade…)

Jane