BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued
the middle of this stressful time he meets Mina, a girl from his school who eventually helps him to locate his mum. This is a wonderful, uplifting book, a fabulous story of friendship, loyalty, ingenuity and brotherly love. Laurence isn’t a saint; he struggles with his responsibilities and sometimes does the wrong thing, but as the reader you are really rooting for him to succeed. CP
Marissa Meyer, Puffin, 400pp, 978 0 141 34013 5, £6.99 pbk
This is the first volume in ‘The Lunar Chronicles’ quartet in which each novel is based on a different fairy-tale, none adhering slavishly to the original. In this futuristic adaptation of Cinderella, for instance, the protagonist’s silver slipper is transmuted into the heroine’s prosthetic foot, a mark of her inferior cyborg status. Common to both the traditional story and Meyer’s version, however, is the central theme of romance, between, in this case, Prince Kai and Cinder, the city’s best mechanic. However, the equally prominent strand of mystery and adventure which underpins the narrative ensures that no simplistic resolution is possible. The Lunar ruler, Queen Levana, sees marriage to Kai as a way of extending her empire and bribes him with the antidote to the plague gripping earth which has just killed his father. Cinder’s immunity to
the disease raises
questions concerning her origins, the unfolding of which, while no surprise to the reader, undermines the queen’s position and threatens Cinder’s life.
Meyer’s novel is engaging and often witty, with side-swipes at tabloid journalism, jokes about the dominance of wives and England’s ruler, this being one Queen Camilla. On a more serious level, her exploration of cyborgs, like Rowling’s discussion of mud-bloods, allows for analysis of social prejudice, while the depiction of the ‘brainwashing’ abilities of Lunars, coupled with the sensory deprivation of the stark whiteness of Cinder’s prison cell, evokes notions of the outrages of the cold war period. The ambivalence of the ending leads naturally into a sequel.
CR Far Rockaway HHHH
Charlie Fletcher, Hodder, 432pp, 978 0 3409 9732 1, £12.99 hbk
Far Rockaway is the last stop on the NYC metro line, a place Cat Manno and her grandfather Victor have always meant to travel to, just for the sake of it. On the day they do, Cat is crossing a street (her hood up, headphones in and staring at her smartphone) when she’s hit by a truck (teenagers – beware!). Victor dives in front of her, saving Cat from instant death, but both end up in hospital and in a coma.
While their family wait anxiously for an outcome to their condition in the real
world, Cat and Victor wake up in a place they have never been before, which yet feels incredibly familiar. It’s a world vividly created from the best classic books Victor has read to Cat over the years: The Last of the Mohicans, Treasure Island and Kidnapped! Here Cat must rescue Victor and survive the villains from these stories – or face death in the real world.
Cat’s got some allies, in the form of classic characters Chingachgook, Long John Silver and Alan Breck but thankfully she’s also the sort of girl who ultimately relies on her own smarts, reactions and quick-thinking to save her skin. Which is just as well. Despite a fairly slow first half, the chases, scrapes and escapes build into real thrills – there are lethal warriors who just won’t die, a night-time trek across a mountain peak, being tied to the top of a ship’s mast, a pirate crew and treacherous characters, to give you just a flavour of what’s on offer here. Cat’s headstrong nature and deep-running emotions make her an appealing character to adventure with, although she is slightly dwarfed by the famous rogues and heroes – all huge fun and exploding off the pages here. It’s a great way to show that the classics are not as dry and boring as some young readers may think.
Rippling with an undercurrent of the themes of death, grief and making the most of life, this is pure adventure for readers who love being drawn into descriptive, fascinating, real worlds. MH
Muhammad Ali – fifteen rounds with the greatest
Hugh MacDonald, 120pp, 978 1 9061 3466 2
Charles Dickens – Hard Times and Great Expectations.
Alan Taylor, 120pp, 978 1 9061 3467 9
John Lennon- the story of the original Beatle
Chris Dolan, 126pp, 978 1 9061 3468 6
J.K. Rowling – the mystery of fiction
Lindsay Fraser, 126pp, 978 1 9061 3469 3
Argyll ‘Inspirations’ series, £5.99 pbk
Argyll is a Scottish imprint and the ‘Inspirations’ series editor and some of the authors here are senior household names with the (Glasgow) Herald. The series styles itself as ‘well written,
28 Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012
pacy, intelligent biographies …created with the bright teen in mind’. Let’s see how they do.
Hugh MacDonald is a leading Herald sports writer. His is an appropriately snappy, jabbing style as he tells the story of Clay/Ali the gifted fighter and draws our attention very clearly to the two levels on which he chose to fight. Not only was he one of the ring’s finest athletes but he saw himself as an ambassador for black supremacy and separateness. All the time he was boxing he was kicking against the pricks of the moneymaking white establishment, which mean he went on too long. MacDonald tells a straightforward story in (wait for it) a punchy style. He’s a professional sports writer so names are dropped like June-time apples and ‘legendary’ characters and events abound. His tale will be readily understood and enjoyed by fight fans.
Charles Dickens lives with all of us – we may not know his stories but Micawber, Twist, Fagin, Scrooge and Squeers inhabit our everyday converse. But what of their creator? Ex-librarian and now Herald uber-lit-meister Taylor uses household words to present a Dickensly readable account of his subject’s life. In doing so he skilfully points up episodes and circumstances that influenced Dickens’ development of plots and characters. He also makes us aware that, in the times on which Dickens put his hand, writing was a physically strenuous and draining process. Dickens’ relentless personal drive allowed him to succeed on a rock-star scale against odds that - had he a lesser strength - would have stopped Master Humphrey’s clock for good and all. Truly a writer for all the year round, Charles John Huffam, the ex-blacking boy, is well served here.
I never liked John Lennon His caustic rudeness – increasing in later life – seemed to sour all his music; I could not align with all the adulation that many of my peers accorded him. I was hoping that this ‘Inspiration’ might change my mind about this. No. Dolan tells Lennon’s life-story all right, confirming the spiky persona and prick-kicking attitude that made him a punk before their time. We are shown how the fractured family life may have shaped (or warped) his undeniable talent. Unfortunately there’s something in the way Dolan’s narrative lurches along that is profoundly irritating. This is mainly down to authorial or editorial carelessness – characters and places appear without any explanation of their identity or significance and dates of cardinal events are largely absent. Proof reading errors abound too, as do geographical misconceptions. And ‘Ain’t that a shame’ was recorded by Fats Domino, not - as Dolan has it - by Fats Waller! And the Beatles ‘kick-star ted world music’ – what rubbish! But the bright teen (you know what I mean) won’t be bothered by such slippages. For him or her it will take more than a headful of nits to make a book lousy – but can’t buy me, love.
Harry Potter is a true phenomenon of our time – to many of us more real than the rest of the world. We all know the story of how the young wizard was allegedly conceived in an Edinburgh
café, but know little of Harry’s modest creator. And this, it seems, is how this creator wants it. Fair play to her. Fraser has had a ringside seat at the Potter circus and, while telling us as much as is prudent about J.K. Rowling’s life story and character, gives us a highly informative and - to many – revelatory insight into the intricate world of publishing and selling children’s books. And this is this the book’s main strength, for it delineates the landscape through which developing authors like Rowling must negotiate the way and in which Castles Dangerous and Sloughs of Despond abound. Luckily Rowling is Mrs Worldly Wisewoman and has, thanks to her underlying strength of purpose and character, most empathetically made it. We are shown too not only the modest negotiator, but the upstandingly forthright philanthropist and committed parent. This is very skilfully delivered story and a great read.
Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found their Way by Land, Sea and Air NON-FICTION
Stewart Ross, ill. Stephen Biesty, Walker, 96pp, 978 1 4063 0479 4, £16.99 hbk
A remarkable and visually exciting book that traces the history of exploration 1through fourteen different journeys, from the voyage of the Ancient Greek Pytheas to the Arctic Circle in 340 BC to the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon in 1969. Ross is a masterly storyteller whose style is vivid and full of historical detail, bringing the past to life by quoting from the explorers’ journals or contemporary accounts. In this he is matched by Biesty’s wonder fully intricate pictorial maps, cross-sections and cutaways, many of which fold out from the page. He succeeds in combining a wealth of technical detail – on the construction of a Viking knarr for example, with its strong and flexible hull, or the descent of the bathyscaphe Trieste – with an atmospheric style that can conjure up a sea ‘like curdled milk’, or the Trinidad, one of Magellan’s fleet, seen not just in cross-section but in a roaring gale with its main sail tearing out and a man flung overboard. Together they paint a vivid picture of what is was like to travel the Silk Road with Marco Polo from Venice to Kublai Khan’s Palace in Shangdu and the importance of safe shelter afforded by the caravanserai that dotted the route. We learn about the giant nine-masted Treasure ships that sailed in tight formation from the Yangtse Rive to Calicut and on to Java and East Africa. We travel across the Pacific with Cook, down the Zambezi with Livingstone and up into the air with Nobile and Piccard. More impor tantly we begin to understand how explorers built up a picture of our world as though assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle, and the courage and determination of the individuals who overcame formidable challenges, hardship and dangers to reach their goals.
An inspiring book and a sumptuous production by Walker, even the jacket folds out to form a poster.
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