Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “sevenstories”

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Reviews #53 – 60: YA Fiction

53. My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick

My Swordhand is Singing

I’m a big fan of Marcus’ books, I’ve read most of his novels for teenagers and this is probably my third favourite (second is below and first is
Midwinterblood which I reviewed properly on my blog here.) This is a wintery, fast-paced story of family, myth and vampires (the scary, not sparkly, kind). Peter is a very engaging hero and his relationship with his father incredibly moving, especially at the end. There are plenty of twists and turns and some wonderful supporting characters. Marcus also directed a superb theatre experience of a section of Swordhand for the Pop Up Festival in London this year which was phenomenal – there’s a video of bits of it on his website.

Blood Red, Snow White54. Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

As I said, this is my second favourite of Marcus’ books and another wintery setting – this time in Russia. This is the semi-true story of the author Arthur Ransome and is an intricate and moving fairy tale within a fairy tale as Ransome’s stories and his own story wind around each other and around communist Russia, politics, spies and romance. I really enjoyed the way Marcus plays with the stories within stories and found it refreshingly different for a YA novel. Marcus has visited my school a few times now and also helped me out with my dissertation but I’m pretty sure I would still have loved this if I had never met him!

55. Jimmy Coates: Killer by Joe Craig

Jimmy Coates

This is the action packed first book in the series about Jimmy Coates, a kind of teenage Bourne. It’s engaging from the very start, with lots of action and suspense and is insanely popular with my students at school – particularly Y7 & 8 boys. The final action sequence is very unputdownable with some unexpected twists and lots of conflicting loyalties. Jimmy is an incredibly likeable hero – he was chosen by one boy as his literary best friend in a recent Book Club activity where we picked our literary family trees (which was so much fun). Again, Joe has visited my school and did a wonderful session for my Y7s where he asked them for ideas for stories and wove them all together in front of them, and had them in stitches whilst doing so.

A Monster Calls56. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This was a re-read and I reviewed it properly when it first came out last year here. Since that review, A Monster Calls has won a whole heap of awards over here in the UK including the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Carnegie Medal, both of which I was lucky enough to be invited to take some students to. Red House is a wonderful award because it is voted for by the children and they get to be a big part of the process and also the ceremony day. We got to go to London and have lunch with all the nominated authors and illustrators and have photos taken etc. and the two Y8 girls I took had an amazing day, so thank you Red House. Carnegie is a lot more industry-y with not many children invited, which made it awesome for us to get tickets, and there were amazing canapes, but it was also a bit less child-friendly and bit more networky. It’s such a prestigious award though that me and the four students I took were just super excited to be there, we got to see the winner announced and hear Patrick’s speech and get photos with him afterwards as well as meeting the shortlisted authors who were all lovely and happy to sign books for my students (and me!).

57. Just In Case by Meg RosoffJust In Case

I’m a big fan of How I Live Now, Meg’s first novel, but thought that The Bride’s Farewell was a bit too Hardy-esque and melancholy for it’s intended audience (I reviewed it here). Whilst I didn’t love this as much as How I Live Now (even though this one won the Carnegie in 2007), I thought it was intelligent, thought-provoking and engaging. Our hero decides that Fate is wreaking havoc in his life after his baby brother nearly falls out of a window and decides to change his name and complete personality to try and give Fate the slip. Meg’s writing is wonderful in this, we here from the perspectives of several characters including his baby brother in a particularly clever and emotive way. This is a serious book that doesn’t patronise teenage readers and I imagine will really connect to their struggles in deciding who they really are.

What I Was58. What I Was by Meg Rosoff

I did like this story of friendship and first love and I always find Meg’s writing beautiful but I just wasn’t as engaged emotionally as I wanted to be. It does capture wonderfully the wistful longing and constant second guessing you get when you meet someone  and the exploration of growing up and gender is clever and subtle. It’s basically the story of a boy who goes to a stern coastal boarding school and meets Finn who lives in a cottage by the sea. It’s a lovely study of memory and freedom and self and I struggle to articulate why it didn’t quite connect with me the same way How I Live Now and Just In Case did. A key element of the story is that we don’t know a great deal about Finn because we see through our protagonist’s eyes but between that and not actually getting that much about our protagonist beyond his opinions about Finn I think I just lacking a bit of engagement with the central relationship. But the quality of Meg’s writing is undeniable and I would recommend it to fans of hers.

59. The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen PetersThe Secret Hen House Theatre

This is a perfectly serviceable family story for younger readers about a girl who dreams of writing and starring in plays whilst also dealing with the death of her mother and her family’s farm running out of money. If it had been a bit shorter I would probably be a lot more positive about it but it’s just too long for a simple story with a bit too much faffing around in the first half of the book. But, I imagine it will be enjoyed by girls between about 8 – 12, particularly those with a love of animals or drama. There’s a good balance of family drama and adventure but probably could have done without a subplot to do with some boys at school which didn’t add much. A pleasant but flawed read.

Billy Dean60. The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond

Definitely my favourite on this list; David is a phenomenal writer and Billy Dean is no exception. The story is written in very short chapters from the perspective of Billy and as Billy can’t read or write well, it is written semi-phonetically which does take a while to get used to but creates such a powerful voice for Billy. The basic plot is that Billy was born during the bombing of his town and that has allowed him to hidden away as he is the secret child of his mother and the corrupt town priest. The first third of the story is before Billy is introduced to the world and is heart breakingly beautiful as he negotiates the occasional visit from his father and wrestles with what life is all about. The rest is when he is brought back into the bomb-ruined town and forced to work for the medium contacting the dead for the bereaved. The story is incredibly powerful and jaw droppingly beautiful and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is intricate, careful and wonderful.  It’s currently on the Carnegie longlist for 2013 and I hope to see it on the shortlist.

” I am entransd. I am enchanted by the byuty of the world. I wark throu lejons of the lovely living things. I wander in the relms of lite.”

A hello, an explanation and a lot of very short reviews from sevenstories

Hi.

I’ve not been here in a while although I have been reading the reviews. I managed to hit 52 reviews in the summer and was very pleased. I only just made it last year so I was glad to be in plenty of time this year. I wrote proper, long reviews on my blog and linked to them from here.

However, once I hit 52 I must admit I got a little lax with my reviews and got very behind. It also coincided with me beginning to research and write my MSc dissertation which has taken up a huge amount of my time. (But it’s super interesting! You’ll see some reviews of some books I’ve read for this – it’s about the links between fairy tales and teenage fiction). Anyway, I have still been reading lots and lots of wonderful books and am sad not to be able to share them with you all so I’m going to do a few posts of some very brief reviews of what I’ve been reading. I think I’m going to divide them up and do separate posts for YA fiction, adult fiction, and then non-fiction/graphic novels/any other random categories so the posts aren’t too mammoth. I hope this still counts for Cannonball!

So anyway: hello, I’ve missed you all, and my next few posts will be a summary of my reading life since I completed the official Cannonball 52! I hope you don’t mind me posting this pre-cursor to it!

 

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #52: The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Number 52, finally…

(Yay!)

“Barcelona, 1957. It is the week before Christmas in the Sempere  & Sons bookshop. Daniel Sempere has married the love of his life, Bea, and they have had a son whilst their partner in crime, Fermin, is busy preparing for his wedding to Bernarda in the New Year. Just when it seems as if luck is finally smiling on them, a mysterious figure with a pronounced limp enters the shop. He insists on buying the most expensive volume on display – a beautiful illustrated edition of The Count of Monte Cristo – and then proceeds to inscribe the book with the words ‘For Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from the dead and who holds the key to the future’. Who is this man and what does he want of Fermin? The answer lies in a terrible secret that has lain hidden for two decades, an epic tale of imprisonment, betrayal, murder and love that leads back into the very heart of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.”

The Prisoner of Heaven is definitely an enjoyable read with some great moments and plenty of intrigue but it really felt like a build up towards the fourth and final novel that is planned and is not satisfying enough as a standalone read. It suffers for being weaker than its predecessors. The Shadow of the Wind is absolutely exceptional, The Angel’s Game is good although flawed and unfortunately The Prisoner of Heaven is just a little too mediocre to stand up to their reputation. It does work as part of the series and the love of books and the written word as well as the hugely appealing character of Fermin make it enjoyable but it doesn’t have the depth to stay with you after you’ve finished it.

My full review is here.

First Line: “That year at Christmas time, every morning dawned laced with frost under leaden skies.”

Why I read it: I adored The Shadow of the Wind and really enjoyed The Angel’s Game and was keen to see how Zafon would add to the story.

Who I would recommend it to: People who have already committed to Zafon’s Barcelona and have read his previous two installments.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #51: Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

“In 2008, the presidential election became blockbuster entertainment. Everyone was watching as the race for the White House unfolded like something from the realm of fiction. The meteoric rise and historic triumph of Barack Obama. The shocking fall of the House of Clinton – and the improbably resurrection of Hillary as Obama’s partner and America’s face to the world. The mercurial performance of John McCain and the mesmerizing emergence of Sarah Palin. But despite the wall-to-wall media coverage of this spellbinding drama, remarkably little of the real story behind the headlines has yet been told. In Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, two of the country’s leading political reports, use their unrivaled access to pull back the curtain on the Obama, Clinton, McCain and Palin campaigns. Based on hundreds of interviews with the people who lived the story, Game Change is a reportorial tour de force that reads like a fast-paced novel. Character driven and dialogue rich, replete with extravagantly detailed scenes, this is the occasionally shocking, often hilarious, ultimately definitive account of the campaign of a lifetime.” 

This took me months to get through but I found it fascinating. As someone who follows US politics, but not in a huge amount of detail, it gave me a huge insight into not only the 2008 presidential election but also how the whole US political system works. Despite being pretty dense, it’s very readable and accessible to people with only a smattering of political knowledge. Heilemann and Halperin are clearly big fans of Obama as he is portayed extremely positively, but it felt as though the key figures were all represented relatively fairly, from my somewhat ignorant perspective. All in all, an interesting and enjoyable read that taught me a lot.

First Line: “Barack Obama jerked bolt upright in bed at three o’clock in the morning.”

Why I read it: I was vaguely aware of the book and then came across it in a hostel I was staying at in Reykjavik where I read it.

Who I would recommend it to: Anyone with an interest in politics – it’s a great introduction for people who don’t know a great deal about the US system and an interesting new way of writing political history for those who already know the facts.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #50: Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

“By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry’s actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as he falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king’s pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a ‘truth’ that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.” 

In short, this novel is superb. It perhaps doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of Wolf Hall, which is one of my all-time favourites, but it is certainly significantly better than nearly everything else I have read recently and is a wonderful, lyrical look at the next section of Thomas Cromwell’s life, which follows Anne Boleyn’s reign and downfall and Jane Seymour’s rise. Mantel creates an enigmatic Cromwell, so different from what the history books tell us, who is aggressive and single minded and yet intelligent and sympathetic. The real draw though, is Mantel’s phenomenal writing, the book is a joy to read and to wallow in the wonderful way that she writes. This book is magnificent and I am unsurprised but pleased to see it on the Man Booker longlist, and am fairly confident it will make it on to the shortlist, if not win. Mantel’s soaring, beautiful language is playful and clever and a joy to read.

You can read my full review here.

First Line: “His children are falling from the sky.”

Why I read it: I adored Wolf Hall and so this is one of the books I was the most excited to read this year. I read this when it first came out, but it has since been announced as being on the Man Booker longlist.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of literary historical fiction, people who enjoy beautifully crafted novels.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #49: The Kissing Game by Aidan Chambers

“From the master storyteller, Aidan Chambers, comes a collection of Stories of Defiance – moments in life, realisations, insights and sudden revelations. Mixed with longer stories are some ‘Flash Fictions’ – very short but complete stories that reveal, as in a flash of light, a moment of awkward truth in the life of their characters. Prepare to be amazed, enchanted and to gasp with shock. In ‘Kangaroo’, a girl loses her humanity when she takes an unusual summer job. In ‘The Tower’, a boy rescues a girl from a fiery death, only to have her disappear. And in the unforgettable title story, a seemingly innocent game between a boy and a girl takes a horrific turn. Once again Chambers treats his readers to his intelligent prose, playfulness of form and incisive understanding of the wonderings of young people on the verge of adulthood.”

It’s difficult to review a book of short stories as they are obviously varied and different, these particularly so. Chambers tries a variety of different style, ideas and tones throughout the book so it is pretty much impossible to characterise the whole book in a few words. I found many of these very effective, especially the modern retellings of fairy tales and the titular The Kissing Game is particularly powerful. Some of them fell a bit short for me though and elements didn’t quite feel authentic. Nonetheless, I enjoy it when authors play with language and form and I also like it when teenage authors don’t patronise their readers so all in all, this is definitely a success in my book. Also, I love Aidan Chambers – I’ve heard him speak at several library conferences and the man is inspiring!

http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/review-49-kissing-game-by-aidan-chambers.html

First Line: “Enough! She said to herself.”

Why I read it/Full Disclosure: The author bought a copy of this book for me.

Who I would recommend it to: If you enjoy authors playing with what fiction is, trying new versions of old stories or just trying new things.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #48: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

After a six week delay, and a 23 or so book backlog, hello again.

My 48th review is of a lovely, funny short book about weird things people say to booksellers and my review develops into a spiel about why we should use real, local bookshops, or libraries, not vast online, faceless corporations.

http://acaseforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/review-48-weird-things-customers-say-in.html

“Customer: I read a book in the sixties. I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?”

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #47: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Argh to the huge delay between this and my last review. I have been reading still but I am now even further behind with reviews as I have been so insanely busy at work and in life that my reviews have taken a bit of a backseat. Anyway, hopefully I will manage to get through plenty and catch up a bit in the next week or so.

I don’t quite know how I’ve managed to miss this book for so long. I’d heard of it and knew a little about the basic plot. I started reading it when I was eighteen but my bag was stolen with it in when I was only a few pages in so never finished it. I’m so amazed because I loved it so much, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been foisted on me by people who know my taste, maybe people assume I have already read it. Anyway, this is the funny, charming and wonderful story of Cassandra Mortmain and her eccentric family as Cassandra grows up and learns a bit about the world and herself. It is told as Cassandra’s journals and she has such a lovely voice which repeatedly made me giggle as well as really love her as she attempts to navigate life and love.

First Line: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

Why I read this: I recently bought the lovely new Random House Vintage Classics cover (designed by Celia Birtwell) for the library and remembered that it is one I had always meant to read.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of classic coming of age stories such as Anne of Green Gables or My Name is Mina, for something more modern.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #46: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

“One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother, are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle carts and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia. An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope. Lina hopes for her family. For her country. For her future. For love – first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose… Will hope keep Lina alive? Set in 1941, Between Shades of Gray is an extraordinary and haunting story based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors.”

First Line: “They took me in my nightgown.”

Why I read it: It is the last of the eight books on the current Carnegie shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: If you appreciated The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and are prepared for harrowing and upsetting details of horrendous things that really happened.

Whilst I was very impressed  by this, I did feel that its strength lay in the importance of the story being told rather than Sepetys’ skill as a writer. Whilst she is obviously a very capable writer, her words themselves didn’t uplift and inspire me with the way she captured her story. The story itself though is a traumatic one with moments of hope and happiness few and far between and plenty of moments of heartbreak and tragedy. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this win, and apparently its been very popular at lots of school but for me, and for many of my students, Sepetys isn’t at the top of the pile.  I’m not sure that I’ve convinced that Sepetys’ writing is quite worthy of pushing this above novels such as A Monster Calls or My Name is Mina which are transcendent and written so beautifully as to give you goosebumps and soaring moments, regardless of the nature of the subject being sad.

The full review is on my blog.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #45: The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

“The wolf turned an ear a little, and Andrej wondered what the animal was hearing. Tanks churning through burning cities perhaps, or whales talking to one another in the sea. “There’s no limit to what a wolf can hear,” Uncle Marin had said. “A wolf can hear your heart beating even before you’re born.” Can you? Andrej longed to ask it. Can you hear my heart? Under cover of darkness, two brothers cross a war-ravaged countryside carrying a secret bundle. One night they stumble across a deserted town reduced to smouldering ruins. But at the end of a blackened street they find a small green miracle; a zoo filled with animals in need of hope. A moving and ageless fable about war and freedom.”

First Line: “If the old bell had been hanging in the steeple it would have rung to announce midnight, twelve solemn iron klongs which would have woken the villagers from their sleep and startled any small creature new to the village and unaccustomed to the noise.”

Why I read it: It is on the current Carnegie prize shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: If you like the Once series by Morris Gleitzman or The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Fans of lyrical, haunting writing.

Well, this has been another pleasant surprise on the Carnegie shortlist. As I’m not generally a fan of animal stories, I was not expecting to particularly enjoy this but I wasn’t expecting a moving and haunting story of family and loss. Hartnett’s writing is truly beautiful, I am in awe of her talent and would definitely like to read more of her work. This is familiar territory, being set in World War II, but Harnett offers a totally unique take on it which balances fantasy and magic with the cruel truths of the war. This is a wonderful novel that surprised me with its beauty and is definitely in contention for being my favourite on the shortlist. It is a love story to the strength of human spirit and to loyalty and love itself.

The full review is on my blog.

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