27 March 2013

Review: The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

'As though a word could change the truth.'

"Armed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At homer her mother's heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat." 

First Line: "The wheels on the suitcase break
                 Before we've even left Gdansk Glowny."

This is a wonderful book that I read in one sitting. It deals beautifully with both big, difficult ideas such as immigation and identity but also celebrates the small wonders of growing up. Despite the novel being written in verse, and therefore being sparse on long descriptions and dialogue, Crossan gives us a cast of characters that are real and sympathetic especially in our lovely heroine, Kasienka. It also has a beautiful cover designed by Oliver Jeffers.

Why I read it: It was on the Carnegie longlist, and has since been announced as making the shortlist (which I predicted, and hoped, that it would).

Who I would recommend it to: If you enjoyed The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce or The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett.

24 March 2013

Favourite Books of 2012

I have historically done Top 10 lists for my favourite books of the year, ranking them in order for young adult and adult fiction. For book awards I've been shadowing I've also often done a ranking post of the shortlists. However, I am hereby officially abandoning ranking lists from my blog because they ignore the wonderful undefinable aspect of good books. Do you rank by sheer enjoyment? Or by literary worth? Or by how much it spoke to you? If it will get good reviews? If it will win the award it is shortlisted for? Do you put a book that was challenging and impressive above something that was fun and engaging?

I had started writing a Top 10 for 2012 but got stuck because I read so many wonderful books and so abandoned it but I'm now sad I didn't share what I loved (and goodness knows, the Internet needs more lists) so here is my favourite books of last year.

(Some of these books I didn't get round to writing a full review of, mainly those I read in the second half of the year whilst I was also beginning my MSc dissertation. If I have done a full review, clicking the title of the book will take you there. Reading some of them back, some books I have clearly grown more fond of in hindsight.)

20 March 2013

Why I Love to Read

I often try to explain why I love to read and struggle to find the words. As a librarian trying to stimulate a love of reading, stories and words in young people, it is a conversation that I have regularly but any victory I have in creating readers relies far more on my ability to match a student to a story that will open their eyes than my own capacity to explain this moment of realisation. My work relies on other people’s words to inspire far more than my own and it is other people’s words that have made me a reader.

In my library I often quote George R. R. Martin; “A reader lives a thousand lives before  he dies, a man who does not read lives only one.” Some students light up at hearing a familiar sentiment articulated but some remain unconvinced. At times I feel faintly ridiculous telling sceptical teenagers that I have travelled to extraordinary places and met remarkable people through books, but it is true. Without stories I would never have watched Chroma the Great conduct the sunrise with Milo and Tock. I would never have laughed and cried with Augustus and Hazel or wondered at the beauty of the night sky with Mina.

Reading has shaped me and I sometimes wonder about how different I would be if I hadn’t had these experiences. Would I have a simpler relationship with faith if I hadn’t prayed ceaselessly with Franny Glass?  Would I still be a librarian if I hadn’t fallen for Henry DeTamble? I definitely wouldn’t get a little thrill of excitement when I see a tree disappearing into the sky if I hadn’t been exploring with Jo, Bessie and Fanny when I was a child, and I don’t suppose I would think of my friends as kindred spirits if I hadn’t met Anne Shirley. When  I visited Iceland and didn’t see the Northern Lights I was consoled by having seen them with Lyra and Pantalaimon.

I love the feeling when you pick up a book and open it for the first time – that feeling of limitless possibility. That this book might change your life, this author might express things you think and feel but in words that float and soar. Every book you start could be the best book you’ve ever read. Of course if you read a lot, you will read the average, disappointing or mundane but you will also discover the illumianting, the sublime and the magnificent. Every so often when you read, you will find a book that speaks to you so profoundly that it will make you  giddy with wonder. It will reveal and provoke, wound and heal, comfort and astound. We should seek these books out, soak them up, marvel in them and then share them with as many people as we can. 

17 March 2013

Review: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson (Shades of London 2)

'There's no point in anything happening if you can't talk about it.'

"When madness stalks the streets of London, no one is safe... There's a creepy new terror haunting modern-day London. Fresh from defeating a Jack the Ripper killer, Rory must put her new-found hunting skills to the test before all hell breaks loose... But enemies are not always who you expect them to be and crazy times call for crazy solutions."

First Line: "Charlie Strong liked his customers - you don't run a pub for twenty-one years if you don't like your customers - but there was something about the quiet in the morning that pleased him to no end."

This is the second book in a series and I haven't read the first, and this turned out to be a bit of a problem. I enjoyed reading this in a vague way and found Rory a largely appealing heroine but it felt like a middle book - there were lots of references to the first book and lots of set up for the next and not enough of it's own plot arc. There were too many frustrations that pulled me out of the story. Having said that, Johnson's writing zips along, the series has a great concept and it did make me want to read the first one, The Name of the Star.

Why I read this: I have lots of fans of Maureen Johnson at school although I haven't read anything by her myself so when this popped up on NetGalley I requested it.

Who I would recommend it to: To be people who have read the first book and are already invested in it or fans of easy to read thrillers.

*There are spoilers of the first book in the review.*

15 March 2013

Review: Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

'The what ifs are as boundless as the stars.'

"What if the football hadn't gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn't want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell - who has different coloured eyes, who can't read, can't write, Standish Treadwell isn't bright - sees things differently than the rest of the train-track thinkers. So when Standish and hs only friend and neighbour, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it's big..."

First Line: "I'm wondering what if."

Maggot Moon is a staggeringly beautiful, hugely unique story. The story moved me and Sally Gardner's writing just filled me with wonder. It is simple and yet challenging, abrupt and yet soaring, beautiful and also incredibly cruel. It will make you angry at the atrocities humans are capable of whilst marvelling at what one person can achieve - be it our hero Standish in the story or Sally Gardner through her beautiful writing.

Why I read it: It was the first book I read from the Carnegie longlist as I had heard such good things about it.

Who I would recommend it to: I rarely say this, but anyone. I struggle to think of anyone who wouldn't find some merit in it. Men, women, boys, girls, teenagers, adults (maybe a little dark for younger readers), confident readers, slow readers.

13 March 2013

Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist 2013

It's an exciting week for book awards with the UKLA and Carnegie shortlists being announced yesterday and the Women's Prize for Fiction today. The Women's Prize is what used to be known as the Orange Prize until this year before they withdrew their funding. This year the prize is being funded by private donations before a new headline sponsor for the 2014 prize. This prize isn't one where I 'shadow' it and read the whole shortlist but I'm always interested to see what is on the longlist and shortlist and always end up reading a least  a handful of the books. As with other book prizes, it is a great way to discover new books you haven't heard of. This year the longlist is very exciting indeed:

- A Trick I Learned from Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge
- Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
- Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
- Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Honour by Elif Shafak
- How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
- Ignorance by Michele Roberts
- Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
- Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany
- May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
- NW by Zadie Smith
- The Forrests by Emily Perkins
- The Innocents by Francesca Segal
- The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
- The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber
- The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
- The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan
- Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

CKG Twitter Shadowing Schedule

To give us all a little structure and so people don't have to rely on being on Twitter at the right point to see what we're reading next I thought I'd do a very simple schedule. I've given us a week or two to get hold of books and start reading so we can keep up once we get going, I've also slotted in two weeks for Kate Greenaway discussion for those of us who are shadowing that as well. For Carnegie I've just gone alphabetical by author to try and resist the urge to give my favourites the star slots, if there are such things.

I thought for the last two weeks we could separate out our personal favourites and who we think will win because often these are two very different books and I think it's great to have the opportunity to discuss the ones we really loved without reference to winning or judging criteria and just celebrate discovering such awesome stuff before getting into the nitty gritty of what we think is going to actually win.

So TweetCKG will be happening roughly on Wednesdays but hopefully chat can continue ad infinitum or as people are online etc. I'll probably post an introductory tweet on Wednesdays with some of my thoughts and some of the talking points from the shadowing website. Remember to use the #tweetckg hashtag, whoever you are replying to, so I can keep track of discussions as I'm planning on using Storify to chart each week's chat.

12 March 2013

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Shortlists

The shortlists for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway shortlists have just been announced! The shortlist for the Carnegie award is:

- The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
- A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
- Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
- In Darkness by Nick Lake
- Wonder by R. J. Palacio
- Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
- A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Whilst my personal preference would have David Almond there my Top 6 predictions are all there which makes me a pretty happy librarian and I can't help but feel a little proud my predictions were right :) The two I haven't read are A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle and A Boy and a Bear and a Boat by Dave Shelton. Boy Bear Boat really appealed to me but unfortunately I couldn't get an ecopy to read whilst I'm in Asia and am going to have to get one of my friends who is visiting in a few weeks to bring a copy out for me. I've heard very mixed things about Greyhound so will be interested to read it.

10 March 2013

Carnegie Shortlist Predictions

The Carnegie longlist was announced in November with nearly 70 books on it - a rather daunting task. I've read 15 (and a bit) of that longlist, not an especially impressive count, but I managed to read most of the books that either appealed to me or were being talked about a lot. The only one I really wanted to read but couldn't got hold of an e-copy whilst I'm travelling was The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne. I have a print copy at home and wish I'd got round to reading it before I left. So I have a flavour of the longlist and the below opinions are just based on that - I may well have missed some gems. All credit to school librarian Caroline Fielding who managed to read the entire longlist! You can read her thoughts on it and her personal shortlist here: http://cazapr1.blogspot.com/2013/03/my-personal-ckg2013-short-list.html.

The Carnegie shortlist has between 6 or 8 books on it. If I have to pick six my personal shortlist would be: (Any links in this post will take you to full reviews.)

- The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond
- The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
- Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
- Wonder by R. J. Palacio
- Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

7 March 2013

Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

"Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things - eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside. But ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren't stared at wherever they do. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he's being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted - but can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?"

First Line: "I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid."

Wonder is an inspiring, funny and altogether lovely story about people. It's about adults and children, teachers and students, brothers and sisters, boys and girls and friends and bullies. It is written very accessibly (although with a lot of Americanisms) and simply but intelligently and compassionately and won't fail to move you with it's realism about the difficulties of human relationships but also ultimately people's capacity for kindness.

Why I read it: It was already on my to-read list but then I chose it to read aloud with a Year 7 English class I help with once a week.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of John Green's style of writing and you're looking for an inspiring story full of heart.