Tuesday 30 September 2014

Mr Nobody by Natalie Gordon

Apologies for the horrendous photo - my decent camera is out of action so I'm stuck with my phone and rubbish lighting!

When I read children's books for myself (aside from reading to my children, obviously) they are often classics and they are often rereads. However, although my own children are young I do find myself thinking about books to read them and recommend to them as they grow older, and I'm really glad to be able to add Mr Nobody to this list.

From the blurb:
When nine-year-old Katie's gran comes to live with the family, Katie is forced to share a room with her moody big sister, Lou. They soon discover that Gran has an imaginary, mischievous friend, Mr. Nobody. Before long, stockings are found cooking in the oven and Gran is found wandering the streets in her nightie, singing along to Elvis. 
As Gran's actions become even more peculiar, Katie begins to wonder if Mr. Nobody might actually be real. And why do her new friends, Margaret and Hugo, always appear just when she needs help? 

As a young child I have very faint memories of visiting my great grandmother in a care home. I hated it because she was always confused and had no idea who we were or why we were there, and it always smelled weird. She suffered with dementia and although she never lived with us, I related to so much of Katie's experience with her Gran in this novel.

At times, Mr. Nobody was uncomfortable to read, purely because it deals so well with its' subject. The story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Katie and her Gran Vera, and as Vera's condition escalates the story gets increasingly intense. Natalie Gordon writes really really well about the way children feel and respond. Throughout so much of the story I found myself remembering feeling very similarly as a child to the way Katie does a lot of the time.

A lot goes on in the story and although ostensibly the novel focuses on Katie and Vera, it also does a fantastic job of showing the strain that a disease like Alzheimer's can put on relationships, and how incredibly difficult it is for the people who love the sufferer to deal with. I actually found myself getting really angry with Vera at points, although obviously a) she's a fictional character and b) she can't help it, but for me the best fiction full stop, but especially children's fiction, is the books which make you care and respond. From the beginning I was so, so sad for Katie, who felt like she was being pushed out of her own home and whose stupid 'friends' started picking on her the minute her Gran showed up, without the slightest attempt at understanding, and although really I have very little experience of the disease I felt that Vera's struggle with it was really heart-wrenching and incredibly well written. Mr. Nobody is the 'person' she blames when she doesn't remember having done something, he encourages her in her paranoia and provokes her increasing hysteria and as a literary device he is incredibly effective.

I've not come across many novels which deal with Alzheimers as a subject, and I think that to do it this well and especially for children is an absolutely fantastic accomplishment. Mr. Nobody would be a great book to read with a child if you wanted a way into discussing the disease, but also aside from that, just read it because it's really worth your time.  

Saturday 27 September 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Because I have ridiculously wonderful friends and family I ended up with lots and lots of giftcards, book tokens and money 'for books' for my birthday this year, which somehow, miraculously led to several small shopping trips which was incredible. I love a big blow out as much as the next person (Hi, Leeds!) but (and especially at the moment) it's sometimes really nice to have a regular hour completely on my own to browse around a bookshop totally undisturbed, picking stuff up and putting it down again. Amassing a pile and then talking myself out of things, eventually leaving with a couple of books I'm excited about, and that's how I acquired Since You've Been Gone.

I just went looking for my review of Amy & Roger's Epic Detour but apparently I never reviewed it, which is totally insane because it was one of the first books to make me think that YA might not be all sparkly vampires etc. Anyway, there was that and I adored it and then people were talking about Since You've Been Gone and it just made me want to read it and so I did.

From the blurb:
Emily's best friend Sloane disappears, almost without a trace - the only thing left behind is a to-do list. 
On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that wallflower Emily wouldn't normally do, and definitely not without her best friend. But what if completing the list could bring Sloane back?
Emily only has the summer to check everything off Sloane's list. The question is, what will she find at the end of it?
From the premise of this it seemed like I was going to enjoy it and I was right. I'm very much a fan of the concept of lists and the plot just sounded fun, and I was right. Since You've Been Gone was really enjoyable. I read it really quickly and am still trying to decide whether I should keep it or not, based on how likely to reread it I am. I'm leaning towards keeping it, which doesn't happen too often anymore!

I liked that although there was a boy involved in the story, the story wasn't about him, and it was way more about Emily discovering that she could do stuff she thought she'd never be able to do, and meet people without Sloane and actually stand on her own than it was about the love interest aspect. I also really liked that Emily's parents were playwrights - it made me think about taking up writing again, although it did just take me four attempts to spell 'playwright' so maybe not the best idea I ever had!

My favourite thing about the book was that all of the characters felt real. They all had several sides to their personalities and related differently to different people, and there was a pretty good diversity of relationships throughout the story. Although it's based on Emily and Sloane's friendship, the fact that Sloane isn't actually there allows a lot of time for Morgan Matson to talk about Emily's relationship with her parents and her brother as well as the new friends she makes in her quest to tick everything off of Sloane's list. She also did a really good job of making me believe in Sloane as a character who could just go off and leave her best friend without a word and making me understand a lot about why she would behave that way.

Morgan Matson is pretty much winning the whole YA thing for me at the moment, and you should probably read this book.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Banned Books Week 2014

I've changed my mind so many times on what to write about for Banned Books Week this year. Last year I wrote about some of the books which made the most frequently challenged list for 2012-2013 and how they'd effected me, the year before (my first year blogging about Banned Books Week) I basically ranted about why it's ridiculous to ban books just because you are personally uncomfortable with their subject matter. It's still one of my favourite posts. This year I was originally planning to extend last years' post by writing about some of my childhood favourites which have been challenged and banned, but then I came across this post on the fabulous Book Riot today about how we should stop 'celebrating' Banned Books Week, and I started to think about why BBW and the reading of Banned Books is so important to me.

The ability to read any book you wish to off any shelf anywhere is about the freedom to thought. It’s about the freedom not to have to jump through hoops to pick up the book everyone is talking about. It’s about being able to decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the central premise of the book or the ideas expressed by the author of that book. It’s about your right to read and think, free from other people making those decisions on your behalf.
Please Stop 'Celebrating' Banned Books Week, Kelly Jensen, Book Riot,22/09/2014
Why do I read banned books? Because I can. Because, thankfully, I live in a country where they don't tend to go in for book banning so much, and so I can go into bookshops and second hand shops and find books and I don't buy them because they're banned books but because they're books that I want to read, and because everybody should have the right to read the things that they've decided they want to read.

As a child, nobody ever told me I couldn't read anything. My parents are fairly strict Catholics and there was restriction in our house on what TV we were allowed to watch, but never once in any of our many and extensive trips to the library was I ever told I couldn't read something. My mum actively encouraged me to read from the adult section once I got bored of the children and teen sections, and she was always more than happy to discuss whatever I was reading with me. My dad's really into non-fiction and is very knowledgeable, so while my mum's the big talker in our family I did also go to him with questions that had been raised by what I was reading and he would always take the time to talk with me. To me people who ask to have books removed from schools or libraries because they don't want their children to have access to it are people who are scared of the conversation. I think that's terribly sad. I've said before that banning things or not talking about them doesn't make them not exist and I feel so strongly that our children should hear about the scary things which can happen in the world from the people they love the most and feel the safest with - hopefully their parents. Although there's no way to make the horrible and scary and sad things that happen less so, if you take the time to talk to your children and educate them on what they can do to help/stay safe/avoid situations then that can only be positive.

Thus this year, as every year so far, I've reached the same conclusion; the importance of Banned Books Week is the conversation. Challenging censorship is about having the freedom to talk with each other and with kids about things that may make us uncomfortable, but which will help them in the long run.

This year, for the first time I actually read the book I meant to read for this event! I bought The Outsiders a few years ago because it's one of those seminal teen books people are always talking about, and always quoting the movie and I had never read it. If you're like me, you should go read it now. It was fantastic. Read my review here.

And so, because of all the things I've just been talking about I'm running a giveaway. Because it's all about the freedom to choose what you read, the prize will be your choice of one book from the top 100 Banned and Challenged books from 2000-2009 (click on the title to get the list). Where it says series, pick one please! :-p To enter all you have to do is fill in the form.

If you tweet about the giveaway you will receive an extra entry - please mention me (@fairybookgirl) in your tweet so I know you've done it!

I will draw one winner on Sunday evening, good luck!

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The Ninja Book Swap Is Back & It's Trick or Treat Time!

Guys! It's that time again! It seems to roll around super quickly but The Ninja Book Swap is back for our second Halloween, and what's more we now have our own dedicated sparkly new blog! You can find out way more information than you ever needed to know over there, but just in case you've not heard of us before I'll do a quick recap here. 

- Sign up is open until September 30th. To sign up please fill in the form here. This is different from past swaps so please note that you no longer have to email us to sign up! We will then match you up with your person & email you their details in the first few days of October. You then have until October 25th to shop and send your parcel.

- As it is Halloween we are running two swaps: the straight swap for which you create a package of a book or two from your person's wishlist, a little gift and a card revealing who you are, and the Trick or Treat swap, for which you will need to tell us your three favourite books and a genre you'd like to read more of. We will then partner you with somebody who has a favourite book in the genre you'd like to read more of and vice versa. Your parcel should consist of a trick (the book that you love in the genre they want to read more of), a treat (either a book from their wishlist, a small gift based on their likes, or both) and a card revealing who you are!  

- If you'd like to send two parcels please fill in the relevant form twice (i.e 2x straight swap, 2x trick or treat or fill in both forms to send one of each)

- You can choose whether you'd like to send internationally or not. We like to keep the swap accessible to as many people as possible so if you can't afford to send internationally that's totally find, just click that option on the sign up form!

- IMPORTANT - When buying books for the straight swap or 'treat' books for the trick or treat swap you MUST shop from your person's wishlist. If you don't you have no way of knowing that they haven't already read/don't already own the book you're buying them and it can be really disappointing for people to receive something they already have. 

So far the swap has been getting bigger and better each time and we hope to continue that trend. Please help us out by tweeting about the swap using #ninjabookswap, or liking us on Facebook, or blogging about it! The more participants we have the better it is! 

Blog - www.theninjabookswap.blogspot.com
Twitter - @NinjaBookSwap
Email - ninjabookswap@gmail.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Ninja-Book-Swap/276370692568514?ref=hl

Saturday 13 September 2014

The Outsiders by S.E Hinton

I know a book's really good when I finish it and immediately put my name in the front of it (if I don't name them my sisters borrow them and assimilate them into their house claiming they 'thought it was theirs'). I haven't done it with any books except ones by Rainbow Rowell for a while, but that's what happened with The Outsiders. Ellie claims she didn't tell me to read it but just 'sneakily planted it in your mind thanks to repeated mentions on the blog' (direct quote from twitter), but either way I'm forever indebted to her and to Banned Books Week coming up for giving me the final push to read this beautiful, brilliant novel. 

The Soc's idea of having a good time is beating up greasers like Ponyboy. 
Ponyboy knows what to expect and knows he can count on his brother and friends - until the night someone takes things too far. 

That's all the synopsis I got on the blurb of my edition, and to be honest it's kind of all you need. The premise of The Outsiders is a little bit West Side Story - the Soc's are the rich kids, driving around in Mustangs, and the Greasers are the poor kids like Ponyboy and his brothers Darry and Soda, who hardly have anything. 

As usual I'm not going to talk too much about the actual story except to say that it's pretty great and not at all what I was expecting. In all honesty it's not the stand-out part about the book. For me the reason that I know I'll go back and reread it was the characters. I actually honestly loved them all. The Outsiders more than anything else is a story of relationships - the relationship between Ponyboy and his brothers and the members of their gang, between the Soc's and the Greasers, between reputation and actuality, between people... 

As usual, I read the introduction to my edition after I'd finished the book. Generally they're full of spoilers and more than one novel has been ruined for me by reading the introduction first, so I didn't find out till after I'd read it that S.E Hinton was only seventeen when she wrote this. To me that's just incredible. When I was seventeen I was still writing book after book of angsty, wallowing poetry. It was horrendous (I still have the books so if you don't believe me, I can prove it!), and here she is writing this incredible, insightful and really moving story about teenagers in which there's no stereotyping at all, as there so often is in books about teenagers. Ponyboy's observations about life and his ability to see through the 'us and them' reality he's grown up with to the people behind the labels is brilliant and in a lot of ways I wish I'd read this as a teenager - I think it would have resonated in a totally different way. 

In the same conversation with Ellie on twitter I was trying to pick out my favourite character and I couldn't. Even the ones who weren't nice at all had facets which made you root for them and I will give fair warning, this book is seriously sad, which is another thing which makes Hinton's age incredible to me. The events of the novel are dealt with in a way which feels so real - sometimes when a book has heavy events in it I feel like the author has contrived it and is trying to make me feel a certain way but I never felt that with The Outsiders. I felt like all she was doing the whole way through was saying 'here this is, how do you feel about it?' and I think I'll go back again and again to find out how I do feel about it. 

I wanted to rent the movie tonight but couldn't get hold of it, so it looks like it'll be going on the list to hunt out at car boot sales/charity shops etc. Basically I'm keeping this book because I want to read it again and again and also because I want my kids to read it when they're older. I will be mentioning it again in my Banned Books Week post coming up next week so keep your eyes out!

Friday 12 September 2014

Dickens in December - What to Read?

Some of you may remember that I hosted a #dickensindecember readalong of A Tale of Two Cities last year, and that I'd mentioned my desire to read a Dickens novel each December as I can pretty much only handle one Dickens novel a year. Well, I was thinking about it the other day and wondering if people would be interested in reading along with me again this year? I know that for a lot of people A Tale of Two Cities was haaaaard work, and I don't think Dickens ever isn't (A Christmas Carol aside) but actually I've liked every one I've read so far and the hard slog is usually worth it in the end! 

I asked Twitter what we should read, and there were a lot of different responses, so I've decided to set up a poll on here. I've given you four choices and whichever gets the most votes is the one we'll read in December, so what are you waiting for? Go and cast your vote!

The poll is in the right hand sidebar at the top and will remain there until early November. That should give you enough time to spread the word so that there can be a large number of us whinging at each other about the amount of description and what the hell is going on!

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Reading Man Booker Nominees or Why There Have Been No Reviews of Late...

Those of you who have been with me a while will know about my love for lists. Every year when longlists are announced I think I should read the longlist but I never do because I'm always ultimately overwhelmed by the knowledge that I'll fail. Usually it puts me off before I start, but not this year. This year I went on a bit of a mad 'let's reserve everything at the library' and as apparently most of Kent are doing the same it's been nicely staggered so far. However, it turns out that those books nominated for the Booker tend not to be the quickest, lightest of reads. Did you know that? So I've been reading The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (whose name I will never, ever be able to spell without looking) for pretty much three weeks. I'm about two thirds through and I like it I think. The subject matter is incredibly interesting and the characters are gripping and I'm interested enough to want to find out how it turns out but it's not the kind of book that I just must read every spare moment I get, not that there are a lot of those anyway at the moment but you know. I'm sort of at the point with it now where I just want it to be over so I can move onto the next thing (inevitably another of the longlisted titles, but you know), but not enough that I might actually, you know, stop writing this post and actually read instead.

Anyway, The Blazing World going on (and on and on) is why there haven't been many reviews around these parts lately. I've basically not finished a book in what feels like forever, so instead of feeling bad about that I thought I'd make a list (yes another one!) of all the past Booker winners and remind myself of the joyous times spent reading the one or two that I have actually read previously! 

The more I read, the more I wonder whether the Orange/Bailey's/whatever it is now Women's Prize might not be more my thing.... Never mind!

2013 Winner - The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - I keep looking at this in Waterstone's and not picking it up because it's huge. I have her earlier novel, The Rehearsal on my wishlist though.

2012 Winner - Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - I actually loved and adored Wolf Hall and I bought this on my epic shopping trip in Leeds last year with Laura, Hanna, Ellie and Charlotte. I've been eyeing it up every time I go past the shelf it's on (by the kitchen, so like... twelve times a day?) and I'm thinking soon it will be time!

2011 Winner - The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes - I think I read this, but I don't remember it at all...

2010 Winner - The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson - I read this and it was good, but definitely took me a while to get through.

2009 Winner - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - actually really easy reading and I have Bring Up the Bodies waiting to be read, kind of not proving my point but you know!

2008 Winner - The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - I've owned this for years and not read it yet. I'll get to it one day!

2007 Winner - The Gathering by Anne Enright -

2006 Winner - The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - Started it a few years back and got distracted by something else. As far as I remember it required perseverance, which I obviously didn't have at the time!

2005 Winner - The Sea by John Banville

2004 Winner - The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

2003 Winner - Vernon God Little by D.B.C Pierre - I've read half of this book about four times and every time something else comes along while I'm in the middle and I give up. I feel like I would really like it, if only it could make me want to read it enough to stick with it for long periods, you know?

2002 Winner - Life of Pi by Yann Martel - I actually read this waaaay back when it won and everyone else was reading it and really enjoyed it. Even then I thought it was over hyped and I haven't seen the film yet, but yeah, good. 

2001 Winner - True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey - this is pretty much the book that sets the scene for the long drag of reading award winners. This book took me SO LONG to finish, and I really didn't enjoy it that much. I was kind of just glad I'd finished. 

2000 Winner - The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - I have this on my shelf to re-read as I probably read it around 2000 and haven't read it since, but it's Margaret Atwood and I remember loving it at the time, so that should be good. 

I started writing this post about a week ago, since when I gave up on The Blazing World because we tidied our house and I've yet to find where it got tidied to, and I've started To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris which is much faster moving and also on the shortlist which has just been announced! Plus I've started reading The Outsiders by S.E Hinton for Banned Books Week (I know Ellie will be excited about this!), which has the added advantage of being on my Classics Club list, so two birds etc :-)

Anybody read any of the previous winners from the last 14 years? Or any of this years shortlist? What's worth reading and what can I give a miss?