Thursday, 10 May 2018

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

Emma Carroll is a graduate from the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. I personally champion the MA in Writing for Children at Winchester. But then I would do. That's where I got my MA. I have to admit though in Carroll's case they're on to a winner.

She has a diverse portfolio of novels and I'll now try to read some more of them. 

Letters from the Lighthouse is set in World War II. It touches also on the Holocaust. One of the main characters, Esther Jenkins, has come to England on the Kindertransport.

A little unusually for this age group – I would describe this as a fluent reader book, though it may cross over from late Key Stage 2 to early Key Stage 3 – it uses a first person narrative. However this gives Olive an authentic voice and shows us what it was like for a child in that era. 

There is also a very good story, woven together via a carefully crafted plot. Not only is this story exciting and our attention is held but it explores the themes of prejudice and friendship in a sensitive way.  

A lovely read. 

No wonder it was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal.            

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Leaving Poppy by Kate Cann

I read a lot of young adult books and I write a few. Back at the turn of the century I pretty well knew every young adult book that was published and labelled as such as well as many that were clearly young adult but that didn't have the label. The new works then were fresh and experimental. The older, unlabelled ones, appealed to the young adult reader and those who like reading young adult books.  Now, it has all become somewhat formulaic even though "high concepts" are continuously brought in.  There are also now so many that it's impossible to know them all.

I've studied quite a few of Kate Cann's books. They border on what I call chicklet-lit but have a darker side and are fundamentally about relationships. I was expecting he same of this one. I found it refreshingly novel.  

Yes there is still quite a lot about relationships and as you might expect the main characters are a bunch of students sharing a flat. Protagonist Amber is on a gap year. In true Bildungsroman fashion she grows over the course of the story. She has two main challenges: disturbed younger sister Poppy and something creepy about the house. I'll say no more about the story and in fact I'm giving no more away here than in the book's own blurb. 

I will say that this book is well written, the chapters are delightfully short, the characters are believable and that we are kept guessing right until the very end. It has an upbeat but open ending. The voice is pleasing.                         

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Her Father's Daughter by Nessa O'Mahony

I'll be quite upfront to start with and say that Nessa O'Mahnoy is a friend of mine. We both worked for our PhDs 2003-2007 and graduated together form the Bangor University in 2007. I'll also say that straight away afterwards that that makes no odds.  I'm fastidiously honest in my reviews and only that which has really impressed finds its way on to this blog.

I've had this book for quite a while. I wish I'd read it sooner. It is a delight.
As the title suggests, there are autobiographical elements here of the Nessa's relationship with her own father. It also contains the story of her mother's relationship with her grandfather.
The poems are strong because they relate to the real world. Nessa uses a powerful mix of writing with the senses and her own inner thoughts and observations to tell an engaging story through language carefully chosen. 

A particular favourite of mine is 'Natural Selection' (34):
April blusters into May,
plays a glassy tune
on the wind chime
guarding the crab-apple
from bull-finch rapine.

At my desk on the first floor
I miss most of the garden action,
though the upward climb
of pink and white
on the silver birch
can still arrest me  
There are a further three stanzas.  

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon

It's rare for me not to be able to predict the ending of a short story or indeed even what is going to happen next. The collection of stories delighted me because every single one took me by surprise.

'Wodwo' starts off like a rerun of Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings where a family come together to celebrate Christmas and the cracks begin to show. Except Mark Haddon's story turns even more sinister than Ayckbourn's very quickly. 'Bunny' might set out to be a salvation story. We are kept waiting for the overweight title character to be saved. 'The Woodpecker and the Wolf' goes through some bad phases but the ending is surprising. 

All of the stories are on the dark side.  The title story tells of a disastrous accident. 'The Gun' will surely end badly. 'The Boys Who Left Home to Learn Fear' leaves us with the opposite of hope. 'The Weir' brings two struggling characters together. Perhaps it is very appropriate that this is the final story in the collection. We are left with a little hope this time.     

Haddon gives each story a unique and convincing in voice. If you've read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time you'll know that control of style is one of his fortes. You won't be disappointed here.
The book was a gift from a friend. This edition is hard back and has a delightful cover. It was easy to hold which is not always the case with thick hardback books. Just think of some of the later Harry Potters. It also has a handy bookmark ribbon. It includes Haddon's sketches. The font, its size and line- spacing are all just right. This all makes it a delightful book to own.    


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Great War by Dawn Knox

This little volume contains one hundred stories, each told in exactly one hundred words, written one hundred years after they might have taken place.
They are naturally of great interest to me as I am also writing in this era. Although my own historical work is set mainly in the 1940s and World War II, much of my work has connections with that time.

The one hundred word story requires some delicate craft. The whole story arc must be contained there, and arguably there should be a three act structure as well. Dawn Knox manages this demanding task very well.
She has clearly invested in a great deal of research and sustains the variety. There are some really heart-breaking stories such of that of the young man facing a firing squad and another one about the young men who make up that firing squad. One young man, who has been sent back to Blighty because of a hand injury, is constantly accosted by the young women of the White Flower Movement. There are lighter-hearted stories too: the young man who grumbles because his parcel from home is constantly delivered to another man with same name, the man who survives but misses his pals after the war, the Land Girl who appreciates working in the fresh air instead of in a munitions factory.

This great little book looks at so many different aspects of the Great War. The short extracts make it very easy to digest and always tell a very human story. A great resource for anyone wishing to learn about this terrible war.