April 2015 – Book Bridgr/NetGalley/Kindle/ARC Month

Published April 1, 2015 by bibliobeth

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It’s that time again. One whole month devoted to catching up with some review copies, books I’ve received from Book Bridgr and NetGalley and those poor forgotten books on my Kindle that I’ve been meaning to get around to. Here’s what I’ll be reading this April (linked to GoodReads and then my review once written):

Strange Girls And Ordinary Women – Morgan McCarthy

(courtesy of BookBridgr)

Noah’s Rainy Day – Sandra Brannan

(courtesy of NetGalley)

The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

(bought for Kindle)

Getting Rooted In New Zealand – Jamie Baywood

(from author)

This Is The Water – Yannick Murphy

(courtesy of BookBridgr)

Divinity And The Python – Bonnie Randall

(courtesy of NetGalley)

The Love Song Of Miss Queenie Hennessy – Rachel Joyce

(borrowed from Chrissi Reads for Kindle)

Off Key – Mark Robertson

(from author)

Roseblood – Paul Doherty

(courtesy of BookBridgr)

Piano From A 4th Storey Window – Jenny Morton Potts

(from author)

There’s a lot of goodies on this list I’m looking forward to. I’m really excited about The Girl On The Train and Queenie Hennessy (as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of my all time favourite books). Bring it on April, I’m ready for you!

Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit 2015 – MARCH READ – Diary Of A Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Published March 31, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Boys don’t keep diaries—or do they?

The launch of an exciting and innovatively illustrated new series narrated by an unforgettable kid every family can relate to

It’s a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

In book one of this debut series, Greg is happy to have Rowley, his sidekick, along for the ride. But when Rowley’s star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend’s newfound popularity to his own advantage, kicking off a chain of events that will test their friendship in hilarious fashion.

Author/illustrator Jeff Kinney recalls the growing pains of school life and introduces a new kind of hero who epitomizes the challenges of being a kid. As Greg says in his diary, “Just don’t expect me to be all ‘Dear Diary’ this and ‘Dear Diary’ that.” Luckily for us, what Greg Heffley says he won’t do and what he actually does are two very different things.

Since its launch in May 2004 on Funbrain.com, the Web version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been viewed by 20 million unique online readers. This year, it is averaging 70,000 readers a day.

What did I think?:

I’ve known about the popularity of the Wimpy Kid series for some time now so it seemed fitting for Chrissi Reads and I to include the first book in our Kid Lit challenge this year. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the story of Greg Heffley and chronicles a year of his life in middle school with all the dramas and issues that children of this age go through. Greg makes us very aware though that this is NOT a diary, so we shouldn’t expect weepy or heart-rending entries. The author, Jeff Kinney paints a marvellous picture about what it’s like to be a young teenager – we have the embarrassing mum who dances around to popular tunes, the older sibling who mostly ignores him and the younger irritating sibling who never seems to be in the wrong.

Greg is not a particularly popular boy at school, he has the skinny, weedy sort of look going on which girls don’t seem to be interested in but he can always rely on his best friend Rowley to play video games and go trick or treating with. In the year that Greg keeps his diary, a lot happens in his life. He attempts to run for Class Treasurer and Class Clown, both plans failing spectacularly. In fact, his biggest achievement of the year is becoming a Safety Patrol member, which escorts kindergarten children to school (and that’s only because of the free hot chocolate each member is entitled to!). Unfortunately, even this position doesn’t last for long when he is discovered to have frightened the smaller children with worms, made worse by the fact that at first he let the blame for this fall on his best friend Rowley which threatens their friendship indefinitely. As if losing his best friend is not bad enough to deal with, (horror of horrors) he is subjected to a “wrestling unit” as part of the school’s P.E. program. Greg really doesn’t know how he is going to survive this year and there’s always a possibility that he could be subjected to the deadly “Cheese Touch,” which would definitely lead to no-one coming near him at all.

I’ve read a book similar to this last year as part of my Banned Books feature – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, although Wimpy Kid is targeted at a lower age range. For the audience it’s aimed it, this book does exactly what it says on the tin and I loved the cartoons which were simplistic, but very sweet. I’ve read a few reviews of the book that were quite negative about the character of Greg but I tend to disagree. He doesn’t come off in the best light, he’s lazy, his attitude is questionable and he is quite mean towards the character who is meant to be his best friend. However, I think this is probably an authentic portrayal of what many twelve year old boys are like, before they discover themselves and learn about the world a bit. For this reason, I think a lot of children will identify with the book and enjoy it more – at that age, who wants a perfect character that you could never live up to anyway? It’s a fun, easy read that has the potential to get a lot more kids interested in reading and that can only be a good thing.

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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Banned Books #9 Crank by Ellen Hopkins with Chrissi Reads

Published March 30, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the “monster,” the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or “crank.” Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne’er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: “there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree.” Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won’t, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank.

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Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to our third book of 2015 and the ninth book in our series of Banned/Challenged Books. We’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. This is what we’ll be reading for the rest of 2015 – the post will go out on the last Monday of each month so if you’d like to read along with us, you are more than welcome.

APRIL

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Chosen by : Beth

MAY

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Chosen by : Chrissi

JUNE

Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Chosen by : Beth

JULY

Detour for Emmy by Marilyn Reynolds

Chosen by : Chrissi

AUGUST

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Chosen by : Beth

SEPTEMBER

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Chosen by: Chrissi

OCTOBER

Forever by Judy Blume

Chosen by : Beth

NOVEMBER

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Chosen by : Chrissi

DECEMBER

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Chosen by: Beth

But back to this month….

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

First published: 2001
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2010 (source)
Chosen by: Chrissi
Reason: drugs, offensive language and sexually explicit

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: This book was unlike anything I’ve ever read before and to be honest, I could understand the reasons for it being challenged when published in 2001. I admit that I am vehemently anti-drugs and although I agree whole-heartedly that there should be more education about what is out there, at points it felt like the more pleasurable parts of taking drugs was focused on. However, I thought the way it was written was incredibly unique and teaching it in a classroom could be interesting and quite challenging!

CHRISSI: Yes. I understand why this book was challenged when it was published. I’m also anti-drugs like Beth, and at some points in the book I felt incredibly uncomfortable with how it was being represented. It is SO important that there is a good level of education about the consequences of drugs, but I don’t feel like it was represented in the best way, despite it being such a unique read. I think it would take a very brave teacher to use this book in the classroom, but good on them if they do!

How about now?

BETH: Even though the book was published only fourteen years ago, I think teenagers nowadays are a lot more clued up then we give them credit for and may know a lot of facts in the novel already. Saying that, I think we do need a lot more education about the real dangers of drugs to counteract any false information or hearsay that kids have picked up from their peers. The book is written in verse and some parts were very beautiful but also very dark. I can’t imagine it being taught in classrooms but it might be a good book for teenagers to pick up outside of school hours and learn for themselves.

CHRISSI: This is a very dark book, and I do think, as Beth says, there is a lot more knowledge about drugs in the present day. Perhaps teenagers would love to explore this book. It would certainly be a challenge but could very well be worthwhile if tackled in such a way that teenagers really consider the dangers of drug use. So, to answer the question…if it is going to be used well then yes, I’d say it’s worth exploring. It just needs to be considered if the teenagers in question are mature enough to handle it.

What did you think of this book?

BETH: As I mentioned before, it’s a unique read and one I won’t forget for a while. I learned a lot that I wasn’t aware of previously (I didn’t realise I was so naive when it came to drugs, obviously I’m glad I am!). What really makes it unforgettable is that it’s based on a true story which really made it come alive for me.

CHRISSI: It was okay. It’s not something that I’d usually read and I found it quite heavy going in parts. It was unique and took a while for me to get used to, but I’m so glad I read it.

Would you recommend it?

BETH: Probably – to get a message out there!

CHRISSI: If used wisely..yes!

 

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):
 3 Star Rating Clip Art
Please join us on the last Monday of April when we will be discussing my Banned Book choice, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.
bannedbooks

Short Stories Challenge – Keeping Watch Over The Sheep by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published March 29, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Keeping Watch Over The Sheep all about?:

Keeping Watch Over The Sheep is about a father who is desperate to see his child in her first nativity at school. However, he is thwarted by the teachers who claim an injunction brought against him by the child’s mother.

What did I think?:

The stories that I’ve read so far in this collection have all moved me in some way and I’m always a bit excited when this book rolls round again in my Short Stories Challenge. Keeping Watch Over The Sheep is one of his shorter stories out of the bunch so didn’t take me long to read at all but I was surprised just how much it made me think. It jumps straight into the action with the first line: “They told him he wasn’t allowed on the school premises.” Of course I was instantly intrigued. Our unnamed narrator in the story is a father who is attempting to gain entry to his daughter’s school in order to see her in her first nativity play. However, he finds his way barred by a teacher, Mr Carson, who politely informs him that his presence on the grounds is forbidden before physically blocking his way. Our narrator tries to reason with the teacher, desperate not to miss the chance to see his daughter but the man is immovable.

We learn that there has been an injunction taken out against the father by the mother and our narrator mentions “sessions,” where he has learned the importance of so-called conciliatory gestures like holding up his hands in surrender as he leaves the school building. He is not finished though. By walking through the school playing field he realises he can get close to the hall and may even be able to hear his daughter, certain that he will know her voice even if he doesn’t have a clue of what part she is playing. He makes several comments about the mother that suggest a lot of bitterness and are even fairly creepy:

“He didn’t know if Rachel’s mother would be in there. She’d have a prime seat at the front, if she was. Guaranteed. He hadn’t seen her going in the whole time he’d been waiting up the road from the main entrance. But she’d got pretty good at sneaking around in the last few months. Since the injunction.”

Quickly, his mindset seems to change and tugging at the heart-strings of the reader, he tells us that all he wants is to see Rachel’s little face lighting up – just sometimes. He begins to reminisce about his relationship with the mother, suggesting that there were faults upon both sides but following it up with:

“Maybe there were some things he probably shouldn’t have said, or done. Or broken. Breaking things had never helped. But sometimes it was hard to know what else to do. When she said those things. When she purposefully misunderstood what he was trying to say.”

All this just kept me wondering, Jon McGregor – whose side are we supposed to be on?! It was fantastic the way he managed to mess with my thoughts and emotions that kept me reading and wanting more. There is so much in this story that is left unsaid. Unfortunately for our narrator, the evening does not end well with the furious Mr Carson striding towards him having ferreted out his hiding place, although he vows to return and get some answers that he feels he is due (I won’t mention why). And right at the end, we find out the reason for the title of the story – Rachel was a sheep.

This story is a work of genius and had me all riled up for all the right reasons. We never learn exactly what Rachel’s father has done or why an injunction was held against him which is frustrating but I love that the author leaves a lot for the reader to muddle through alone. And yes, I was definitely muddling with this one. Is he a “baddie” or is he a “goodie?” The beauty is that this story is just a few pages yet the author manages to write things in that short space that had me tearing my hair out. Finally, he manages to write characters with such a distinctive voice that you feel that you instantly know them and understand what they are going through. I don’t know how he did it but all hail Jon McGregor, the new king of the short story. Absolutely brilliant.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Archduchess by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave – John Boyne

Published March 28, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield’s father promised he wouldn’t go away to fight – but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn’t know where his father might be, other than that he’s away on a special, secret mission.

Then, while shining shoes at King’s Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father’s name – on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realises his father is in a hospital close by – a hospital treating soldiers with an unusual condition. Alfie is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place . . .

What did I think?:

I was already pre-disposed to like this novel having read a few of the authors other works, including his arguably most famous novel The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (if you haven’t read it yet, why not?!). Furthermore, after reading the synopsis and learning that it was set in the horrific time period that was the First World War, I had no doubt that the author would do it justice and attract many new readers/fans in the process. Our main character is a young five year old boy called Alfie Summerfield who begs his father not to leave the family and fight, a promise broken by his father the very next day which understandably, devastates him.

Fast forward four years to an entirely different family dynamic. Alfie’s mother, Margie works hard and long hours to try and put food on their table but somehow it just never seems to be enough. Alfie takes it upon himself to cut school and shine shoes at King’s Cross station to try and bring in some extra money and keep the small family’s head above water. There has been no word from Alfie’s father during this time, although Margie reassures Alfie that his father is on a special secret mission where he is unable to contact them. Alfie accepts this fact although slightly sceptical, yet his world falls apart when one day after shining a military doctors shoes, he notices his fathers name on a list of the doctors patients who are in hospital in England.

Alfie becomes determined to travel to the hospital by any means to discover the truth about his father in the hope that he can bring him home so that they can all be a family again. Life, as we know, is not that simple and Alfie is horrified to discover that the father he comes across is not the father that he remembers. Georgie Summerfield is suffering from extreme shell shock and is not making much progress, not even recognising his own son. Yet with a bravery beyond his young years Alfie is hell-bent on a mission to try and make his father better and return him to the home where he belongs.

This was such a beautiful novel from John Boyne that I thoroughly enjoyed and can picture being read and taught to children for many years to come. I loved the sensitive way in which the war was written about i.e. not overly graphic but with enough information for younger readers so that they do not feel in any way patronised. Also, I’m really glad that the author tackled the subject of shell shock – a trauma often overlooked or undermined by the medical profession at that time (and sometimes even now!). It was also interesting to read about the men who were treated and labelled as cowards either for running from the trenches, not fighting at all or being from a different and therefore suspect culture. This was a novel so thoughtfully presented and brilliantly executed that I’m certain it will stay with me for a long time to come.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Miss Carter’s War – Sheila Hancock

Published March 27, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

It is 1948 and Britain is struggling to recover from the Second World War. Half French, half English, Marguerite Carter, young and beautiful, has lost her parents and survived a terrifying war, working for the SOE behind enemy lines. Leaving her partisan lover she returns to England to be one of the first women to receive a degree from the University of Cambridge.

Now she pins back her unruly auburn curls, draws a pencil seam up her legs, ties the laces on her sensible black shoes, belts her grey gabardine mac and sets out towards her future as an English teacher in a girls’ grammar school. For Miss Carter has a mission – to fight social injustice, to prevent war and to educate her girls.

Through deep friendships and love lost and found, from the peace marches of the fifties and the flowering of the Swinging Sixties, to the rise of Thatcher and the battle for gay rights, to the spectre of a new war, Sheila Hancock has created a powerful, panoramic portrait of Britain through the life of one very singular woman.

What did I think?:

Miss Carter’s War was chosen for the Spring Richard and Judy book club this year and was a novel I was looking forward to being set in one of my favourite time periods, the Second World War. The story boasts a powerful, intelligent and independent female character, (hurrah!) Marguerite Carter who is something of a revolutionary. I really enjoyed that we saw her journey over a period of years from a young woman with a lot to learn about the world but with a strong desire to “do some good,” to a mature and much wiser older woman who still manages to achieve her dreams.

When we first meet Marguerite the war is over and she is about to begin a teaching job at a prestigious school for girls. However, throughout the novel we get flashbacks to times during the war which were particularly traumatising for her, working as part of the Specials Operations Executive in Vichy, France where she bore witness (and participated in) some incredibly harrowing events. Now a newly fledged teacher she is passionate about teaching her girls whilst still harbouring strong political notions that throw her into action if peace is in any way threatened or if she feels justice has not been served.

I loved the emotional connection Marguerite developed with her pupils and as life goes on, she descends almost like an Angel of Mercy if any of her girls are in trouble. There is a particularly poignant part of the story where one of her more gifted pupils becomes addicted to drugs and homeless. It is obvious how much love Marguerite has for the girl as she desperately tries to get her back on her feet again. In terms of her own relationships, poor Marguerite isn’t very lucky. First of all she falls for a fellow teacher but there is quite an important factor that prevents them from having a conventional er… “physical” relationship. Following this, she begins a relationship with a man called Jimmy who brings a lot of excitement to her life but has a dark little secret of his own. We as the reader find out quite early on that she has left her heart in France with a colleague from the SOE, Marcel. So will she ever manage to find love? Or will she be married to her precious teaching for life?

As a debut novel from Sheila Hancock, I did think this was a good read but it felt a little slow at points, particularly at the beginning. I absolutely loved the little snippets that we got of Marguerite’s job during the war and wished there were more of them or that they had been longer with more detail as that would have been intriguing to read about. Marguerite herself was a fascinating character and I loved that she was so independent and passionate, but occasionally it felt like I was reading about two different people regarding the flashbacks versus present time. I enjoyed the relationship/friendship that she managed to forge with Tony, the P.E. teacher but didn’t really believe or buy into the relationship with Jimmy all that much. Saying all this, the ending of the novel was really lovely and left me with a little warm feeling inside and I do believe Sheila Hancock has a real gift for writing fiction.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Short Stories Challenge – The Ceiling by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Published March 26, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Ceiling all about?:

In the O. Henry Award winning “The Ceiling,” a man’s marriage begins to disintegrate after the sky starts slowly descending.

What did I think?:

After finishing this beautiful and powerful short story, I agree wholeheartedly that it deserved an award and is probably my favourite story in this collection so far. It all begins on a clear blue day where our narrator is relaxing in his garden with friends at the birthday party of his son, Joshua. He remembers this day so clearly for two reasons – one, that it was the first time he noticed something not quite right about the sky and two, he realises that something is wrong with his wife when she utters the dramatic statement: “My life is a mess.” Generally, the town is quite perplexed about what exactly is wrong with the sky. It appears at first as a small opening which seems to increase in size, continually pushing down towards the ground until even our reliable gravity is compromised. Meanwhile, Melissa, our narrator’s wife is becoming increasingly more distant and uncommunicative:

“It was clear to me at such times that she had taken herself elsewhere, that she had constructed a shelter from the wood and clay and stone of her most intimate thoughts and stepped inside, shutting the door. The only question was whether the person I saw tinkering at the window was opening the latches or sealing the cracks.”

Despite his worries about his wife and the presence of the ever descending “ceiling,” (coined by the newspapers) our narrator tries to lead as normal a life as possible for his son. He takes him to the library for a reading session where, ominously, the story of the day is Chicken Little, which tells of a chicken that throws his small town into panic after insisting that the sky is falling down. He also looks at his son’s homework, an essay Joshua has written which confirms something that he fears he already knew, in that all the birds and migrating insects have disappeared. As the ceiling continues to descend, knocking down energy pylons, trees and eventually houses, our narrator’s marriage is in complete turmoil and it looks like life as we know it is doomed.

This short story was such a pleasure to read, buoyed by Kevin Brockmeier’s wonderful way with language and sentences that are so delicious they definitely deserve a second read. I loved the way that he combined the everyday problems of the world (in this case, the disintegration of a marriage) with something entirely out-worldly and deep within the realms of science fiction i.e. a potentially apocalyptic ceiling descending from the sky. At times, I felt slightly frustrated with our narrator as I found him quite naive and wished he would open his eyes to what was happening within his marriage. However, I like to think of this heightened emotion within myself as the sign of a good story and I can assure you all that the author definitely reeled me in with this offering. Have you read it? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Keeping Watch Over The Sheep by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

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