Saturday, 27 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Thirteen


Up in the Attic by Pam Ayres (Ebury)

Own book

I've been dipping in and out of this book for a couple of weeks  and this is how I normally approach poetry books not a reflection on the quality or the ability of this volume to capture my interest.

As is to be expected not every poem in the book is to my taste but certainly enough were to mean that I did read them all and laugh mightily at some of them.

I think my favourite was the series about long haul travel - I recognised every stage of that cycle and it was a way to remember that the pandemic and not being able to travel does have some plus sides!

The one thing I couldn't quite capture with this was Ayres' own voice - she has a great accent and her work does sound best (to my ears at least) when she is reading them and I'd have loved this even more as an audio book.

As a World Book Night introduction to poetry I think it is a brilliant choice and I'm not sure that I will be passing my copy on to family as I initially thought.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Twelve


Elevation by Stephen King (Hodder and Stoughton)

own copy (eBook)

This was another book that I was dreading reading, I am not a horror fan and Green Mile/Shawshank Redemption excepted I only know King as a writer in that genre.

The first bit of good news about this book was that it wasn't a horror novel. The second bit of good news was that it was short - only 160 pages so definitely a novella.

However that's where the positives stopped for me. I found the writing clunky, the message didactic and patronising and as for the 'mystery'...words fail me.

Unlike many of the books I've discovered through this challenge and others similar to it there was nothing in this book that made me want to read more by the author but at least now I can say I've read a King novel and he isn't for me at all!

Thinking about WBN as a project I can't help but feel a little sorry for people who are gifted this book on the back of saying they liked recent films based on King's books. I guess it might introduce them to new genres but I don't think they'll be expecting what they get!

Friday, 19 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Eleven


Ask A Footballer by James Milner (Quercus)

Own copy (eBook)

I'll confess I nearly put this book off until last from the 2021 WBN list. I had no idea who James Milner was, and I've only watched one football match from start to finish in my entire life. I expected to skim this read and then struggle to write a review.

How wrong I was, and it was a needed lesson about not judging books before you've read them!

It didn't matter that I had no clue who Milner was, or what the rules of football are - in this book Milner answers questions that fans have asked him about life as a footballer and he (for the most part) answers them fully and honestly.

We get to see life on and off the pitch, as well as how fast sport science has changed the thinking on being a top level athlete. From chips and parties post match in 2002 through to tailored menus, superfood smoothies and early bedtimes in 2019 every aspect life seems to have changed

There were questions I glossed over, I don't know anything about football so the techincal questions on matches, positions and results I'll confess to skim reading but the rest was fascinating and really opened my mind to see past the 'celebrity' players to the hard graft that they put in. 

Don't get me wrong I do still think that they are overpaid and over represented in the media but Milner, through this book, and Rashford, through his charity campaigning, have made me think in a more rounded and less biased way about some aspects of the Premier League.

Monday, 15 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Ten


A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi (Square Peg - a Penguin Random House imprint)

Own copy (eBook)

I saw reviews for this pre-publication and it instantly went on to my 'I want to read this' list and so I am very glad that it has been picked as a World Book Night title as it means I got to it quicker!

This was never going to be an easy read, coming out memoirs rarely are and when the addition of a strong faith is also part of the equation then the book becomes even more layered. This book also added in the pressure of living in an area with many social and economic and so from all these issues I was expecting a heavy read.

I won't lie, at times this book did make for a hard read but it was also full of surprises and joy too. The start of the book, where Mohsin is taking his boyfriend home to meet the family was cleverly stopped at a key point so you aren't sure for the rest of the book what family reaction will be at this occasion and left me with my heart in mouth as I read the rest of the book.

No spoilers as you need to see the story unfold in real (life) time but this book was brilliant and taught me a lot about what life in the UK must be like as an outsider, as well as if you are an outsider in your own family.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

An entry from KentishBookBoy


Retelling the classics

Like the majority of school children the Kentishbookboy has been learning from home since the new year and once in a while I have been called to see if I can help explain a question from the work set. Who knew that in America the terms trapezium and trapezoid have the exact opposite definitions to the ones we use this side of the pond? I guess I've learned something from the Year 6 maths curriculum too!

All the English work has been centred around the Oscar Wilde story The Selfish Giant. Thanks to the eBook library service I was able to also download the story and read along with KBB and be involved in the work. It was good to stretch my mind and look at a text in a critical way again.

The final task for the class was to rewrite the story but from a different viewpoint, my first thought was to pretend to be one of the children and to retell it in the first person but Kentishbookboy decided to use the third person but make it all about the giant.

The feedback came from the school this week and we found out that if they'd been in school the work would have won a 'head teacher's award,' it has also been featured on the school's blog for year 6. Unsurprisingly we are all very proud of this piece of work - he had no help in writing this, the first we saw of it was when he was ready to submit!

Usually KBB and I have a 'Valentine's Day Out' around now but this year it can't happen, and while we're planning lots of fun as soon as it is allowed my Valentine for him is to publish his writing here.


By Kentishbookboy

Every weekday, as they were returning home from another school day, the children went and played in the Giant’s enormous garden.

It was a massively vast area, with smooth, lime-green grass. Gorgeous peach trees were here and there, while multi-coloured flowers in bunches were scattered around the lawn. Sweet-voiced birds were perched precariously on the trees, singing their heart out as if at a concert. Every so often, the children would pause in their game and listen to its beautiful, high-pitched voice.

“How we love it here!” the children would shout into the cloudless sky.

One fine day, the Giant returned home. He had stayed with a friend in Cornwall for almost seven years and was surprised to see the children playing in his once-pristine garden and wrecking it! “What do you think you’re doing in my garden?” he boomed at them. Petrified, the poor children fled the grounds and out of the gates.

Distraught that they’d trespassed into his property, the Giant constructed a towering stone wall around the perimeter and wrote a notice:


He was a very self-centred Giant.

The hapless children didn’t have anywhere to play in. They found playing on the road boring because of the hard stones and dust. They strolled around the garden border after lesson time, and conversed about the pretty garden and its wonders inside. “How we loved it there”, they said to each other.

The Spring soon came, stunning blossoms and birds coming out all over the country. However, in the Giant’s garden, it remained winter. The birds daren’t sing because of the children being forbidden, and the marvellous peach trees forgot to bloom. One time, a flower awoke, lifting its head above the soil, but it saw the notice and slid back amongst the soil again.

Snow and Frost were the only people who were pleased that Spring had forgotten the garden. “We will live here all year through.” they decided. With a sweep of her great white cloak, Snow covered the grass, while the Frost decorated the trees with silver. The North Wind came and roared all day, damaging buildings as he went. They invited Hail to visit, and he came. He constantly rattled the roof tiles until most broke off. Dressed in grey, breath like ice, he was a force to be reckoned with. 

“The Spring is so late in arriving, and I don’t know why,” said the Giant, who was resting on the windowsill. “I wonder when the weather will improve.”

But however much he pondered it, the Spring never turned up in his garden, nor the Summer. Autumn came and produced rich, succulent fruits, but none to the Giant’s trees. Winter, it seemed, was permanent in his garden. 

The Giant was resting on his bed one crispy morning, when he awoke to gorgeous music outside. It was a beautiful linnet chirping away in the early sunlight, but since the Giant hadn’t heard birdsong in ages, it was the greatest sound on the planet to his ears and as he jumped out of bed, he was pleased to think that Spring had finally come again.

Children had snuck in via a hole in the wall, scurrying through the blossoms, sitting down on the trees. Birds were singing their little hearts out, soaring above the branches. One tree, though, was still in winter, and underneath, a tiny boy. 

The tree bent down its branches for the boy to climb up on, but the juvenile boy was just too small to reach.

Hard heart dissolving, he realised how selfish he’d been. “I will put that boy into the tree, knock down the wall and my garden will be the children’s playground forever.” The children ran for their lives when they saw him, but the boy, who was too busy crying, didn’t notice the Giant behind him. When he placed the boy in the tree, it at once bloomed with flowers. Grateful, the boy reached down and kissed the Giant on the neck.

The children who’d ran away noticed that the Giant wasn’t being selfish or cruel to the boy, so they ran back and joined in the fun again. And the people going to the market at noon saw the Giant playing with the children in the prettiest garden ever.

At the end of the day, the Giant went to the gate to bid them goodnight. “Where is that little boy?” he asked.                                                                                                         “We don’t know,” the children replied. “He must have gone away”

This made the Giant very disappointed.

The little boy was never seen again, even as the Giant aged and became ancient and frail. He could only watch the children play now, and while they did that, he admired his garden.

One misty winter morning, the old Giant looked out at his garden while dressing. He knew that his flowers were getting their winter kip, and Spring would be back soon. Then he saw it: the farthest tree was covered with bright white blossoms, sparkling silver fruit, and underneath it, the little boy that had kissed him all those years ago!

In hastened joy the Giant dashed downstairs, across the garden and then stopped abruptly before the boy. His face was red with anger and all he wanted to know was who had hurt the boy. The Giant could see that there were the imprints of nails in his hands and feet. He was relieved when the boy replied, “Do not worry, for these are Love’s wounds. You let me have fun in your garden; you shall now join me to go to my garden; Paradise.”

And so when the children ran into the garden to play, they found the Giant under the tree, white blossoms all over him, unmoving.                                                           


Saturday, 13 February 2021

Book hangover, February 2021


O, The Brave Music by Dorothy Evelyn Smith (British Library publishing)

Own copy

I've enjoyed all of the books from the British Library Women Writers series that have been published so far - some more than others of course but all of them have been engrossing. This one was something else entirely.

In many ways nothing really happens in the book, we follow about 7 years of Ruan's life at the start of the twentieth century and all the ups and downs that this comes with. Her parents are mismatched and their marriage doesn't last, there are bereavements and full life upheavals but nothing too shocking or unbelievable and the book is told from her viewpoint, although from her adult perspective.

I can't explain why this book has wormed its way under my skin in the manner it has managed but since finishing a week ago I have struggled to read any fiction at all as none of it measures up to the beauty of this book. 

I've been very glad for my WBN challenge as that has kept me reading, admittedly mostly the non fiction titles but it does mean that my mojo hasn't completely vanished. Is it too soon to re-read this one?

Friday, 12 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Nine


Good Food for Bad Days by Jack Monroe (Pan Macmillan)

Library eBook

Recipe books are possibly one of the most personal type of book to review - you are either going to love the recipes or you aren't (or they don't work when you try to make them).

I very much liked the idea of a book full of comfort food, that is still quite healthy but for me there weren't any recipes that leapt out as wanting to try.

Unlike some of Monroe's other books not all of these recipes use natural store cupboard ingredients, nor are they all budget dishes, but as cook books are often so expensive that being gifted one of these really could change someone's life.

Monday, 8 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Eight


The Pocket Book of Happiness from Trigger Publishing

Own copy

When I ordered myself a copy of this book I wasn't sure what type of book was going to arrive, and I'm afraid that when I opened the parcel and saw what it was my heart sank.

Working in book retail for over a decade has left me with a slight aversion to this type of book - the pocket gift book. They used to clutter the till point and people would  read them in store (often breaking the spine) but not buy them. The very first Black Books episode parodies the genre wonderfully.

There was nothing wrong with this book at all, and it is fun to open it at random just to get a 'quote for the day' but, ironically, it just wasn't a book that made me happy.

Buying an independently published book from an independent bookshop however did make me happy!

Friday, 5 February 2021

Family Reading in 2021


Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (Oxford University Press)

Library Book

Although the new school year for the Kentishbookboy hasn't included writing book reviews so far we are still reading books together occasionally,  the first one for 2021 was Tom's Midnight Garden. I remember reading this a child, and then again more recently when I was studying children's literature. I think that we picked this book  as opposed to any other as it was on a list of titles that were recommended for Year 6 pupils.

The Kentishbookboy (and his mum) didn't fall in love with the book in the same way that I had as a child, they found Tom himself to be an annoying character and I can see where they are coming from. He certainly isn't very much like the 'heroes' of more modern books.

I was more surprised at how old fashioned the book felt on this reread. Then I did some sums... the book was written in 1958 and I imagine that it was a contemporary setting. The time travel takes us back to the 1890s. This means Tom travels around 60 years in time. However reading the book now (2021) we are travelling back the same amount of time to meet Tom - the culture shock for the Kentishbookboy was the same as Tom's!

I still love the book, but again it is definitely a book shadow that I was remembering - scenes that I recall as being huge and important (because of the pictures they created in my mind) actually came at the very end of the book and weren't as pivotal as I thought. There were huge chunks of Hatty's story that I'd forgotten. As well as the very 1950s attitudes of Tom's aunt & uncle.

I'm a bit sad that the Kentishbookboy didn't love the book as much as I did but Tom's life was far closer to being one I recognised - I was only reading it with a 30 year gap after all and there hadn't been quite the same technological advances in those 3 decades as we've seen since the 1990s. Perhaps I should try to find him a modern classic (not fantasy) that has the same age gap between setting and now to see how that fares...

Monday, 1 February 2021

Micro Review 19


A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Simon & Schuster)

proof copy

Again regular readers may realise that this book was actually in my top 10 for 2020 but that I hadn't reviewed it. I was a bit sneaky adding it to last year's top reads as it was only published a few weeks ago - in 2021.

However this was a book that really made an impact on me and was certainly one of the best books I did read last year so I bent my (pretty non-existent) blogging rules!

This book brings to light a lot of inequalities that exist in modern India and very much like Two Tress Make a Forest and Kim YiJung, born 1982   really made me reconsider my opinions on the nation.

The book has a simple plot outline: 

Set in contemporary India, Majumdar’s debut is a pulsating character study based in the aftermath of a terrorist attack and the complex, conflicting legacy that the atrocity unleashes on ordinary people’s lives. 

but is so much deeper than this. It brings to light the stories of minorities and also shows how quickly someone can be radicalised. It also shows the dangers of social media, albeit in an extreme manner.

I'm loathe to say too much about the book as the gentle (and not so gentle) unfolding of the story is one of the best things about it. In many ways the tone of the story reminded me of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and how that made me think when I read it. For a debut book this is astounding and Majumdar is definitely an author who's next book I will be eagerly awaiting.