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HOME    January 2018
The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for teenagers

Book of the Month for January 2018

Rotten Row by Petina Gappah
reviewed by Ken Surridge, 29 January 2017

Rotten Row is Gappah's third book, and her second short story collection. In 2009, her first collection of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly, won the Guardian First Book Award to much critical acclaim.

Most of the stories are set in contemporary Zimbabwe, Petina Gappah's homeland, and depict a society of opposites, troubled but hopeful, confused but normal. Petina Gappah wrestles with a wide range of topics like class, race, crime, and gender, in modern Zimbabwe, a country like many of the characters, in great difficulty and pain. The tragedy and complications of the country are reflected in the stories,

Petina Gappah writes with compassion and humour, about her homeland exposing the hypocrisy and indifference of the country's leaders and the suffering of the ordinary man. Gappah directs her satire without selection whether black or white, male or female, charity volunteer or villian. No one escapes.

Read a full review of Rotten Row by Petina Gappah, as beautifully written as An Elegy for Easterly.

Classic Suggestion for January 2018

Crime and Punishment By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment is the second of the Russian author Dostoyevsky's novels, written after 10 years of exile in Siberia. It explores crime and punishment, and the impact of social isolation.

Raskolnikov is a poor ex-student living in a tiny apartment in a run-dwon building in the city of St Petersburg. Sickly and wearing threadbare clothing, he visits a pawnborker, Alyona Ivanovna, to get money for a watch and to refine his plan to kill her for her money.

Afterwards, he meets a man named Marmeladov, who tells him how his wife and daughter were forced into prostitution to survive.

After he carries out his plan, Raskolnikov argues that he has removed an unpleasant person whose money he can now use for good. Despite working to supress his feelings of guilt, they surfaces in his dreams where the pawnbroker taunts him.

It is not hard to see why this book is an important part of the literary cannon with its skilful story telling, and insightful handling of complex themes. It remains an outstanding read.

Teen Book Idea for January 2018

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has had no short-term memory since the age of ten, when a tumour was removed from her brain. She remembers nothing from one day to the next.

Then she kisses Drake, her best friend's boyfriend, the day before he leaves town, and the memory remains with her, the memory that she has kissed someone that she shouldn't have kissed. Flora believes that Drake is responsible for the return of her ability to remember.

So when she receives an encouraging email from Drake from Svalbard in Norway, Flora is certain of what she needs to do, follow him to the arctic, cold and dangerous, in her quest to reclaim her memory and her life.

Emily Barr is an succesful writer of thrillers for adults and draws on her established expertise in this her first novel for young adults, to produce a captivating page turner that is both moving and exciting as Flora wrestles with her conscience and her desire to be able to remember. The book challenges young adults to think about complex situations in which there are no easy answers.

Children's Book Recommendation for January 2018

Radio Boy by Christian O'Connell

Spike Hughes appears to be an ordinary 11 year old boy, clumsly and cheeky like many boys his age, with a forceful mother. He has two loves, Katherine Hamilton, the most popular girl at school, and radio.

Spike volunteers for his for his local hospital station, but despite trying really hard, he gets fired. Determined not to let go of his dream, he decides to set up his own radio show in his garden shed. He enlists the help of two good friends Artie and Holly, to launch his station, disguising his voice and calling himself Radio Boy.

News spreads of Spike's radio show and soon he becomes a local star. His success boosts his confidence grows and he pushes his boundaries. One day he goes too far when he mocks his horrid headmaster on the airways, and the hunt begins for the identity of Radio Boy.

The author, Christian O'Connell, himself a radio star, has written an appealing book for 8 year olds and over which is likely to inspire many young youtubers, hoping to find success and fame.

Author Suggestion for January 2018

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith was born in North London in 1975 to an English father and a Jamaican mother. She read English at Cambridge, graduating in 1997.

Her first novel, White Teeth (2000), is the story of two North London families and three cultures over three generations in contemporary London. Plodding Archie married to Jamaican Clara, heads one family and Muslim Bengali Samad, father to very different twin sons named Millat and Magid, heads the other. Archie and Samad are a unlikely friends.

White Teeth won a number of literary awards including the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. She has since written The Autograph Man (2002), On Beauty (2005), NW (2012), and Swing Time (2016), as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind.

Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. She has proved herself to be an exceptional talent.

Prize of the month for January 2018

The Stella Prize

On 18 April 2017, Heather Rose was awarded Australia's prestigious Stella Prize for her seventh novel, The Museum of Modern Love.

In 2010, Abramović sat at a table in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in silence every day for three months, inviting members of the public to sit opposite her and exchange meditative gazes. Heather Rose reimagines this event, focusing on the stories of the people like Arky who attended the performance and why they chose to engage.

Arky Levin is a film composer living in New York, and estranged from a wife who has asked him to keep a devastating promise. Each day, Arky watches the performance and the people who attend. Slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.

Rose has met Abramović in person only once, although she participated in the 2010 performance four times. Rose got permission from the artist to include her in the novel, and she interviewed many of the people who had participated in or watched the performance.

Poem of the month for January 2018

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Gene Lopez

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and came of age during the turbulent 1960s. Very early on, I became interested in environmental and social issues, which continue to this day to shape my world view.

I enjoy fiction, music biographies, and political & military history, like (1) All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a worthy winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize; and (2) All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a masterpiece on the impact of wars begun by distant leaders on the people they purport to represent.

I recently set up Original Gravity Tours, a specialty travel company turning my love of travel and beer into a business. The aim is to provide a high quality travel experience emphasising the history and methods of brewing, combined with local history and select cultural sites.

Visit Gene for book reviews that I have written.

Jude Hanlon

I am a software development manager working and living in the North West of England.

My hobbies are diverse including reading, writing, knitting, skating, gardening, cooking, and watching films and TV (not necessarily in that order). My diverse taste is reflected in the books I read, anything from chick-lit to sci-fi. As my children are now of an age where they watch and read independently, I am enjoying exploring grown-up culture again, and really like a good twist in the tale.

I am a trustee of the charity Porridge and Rice which supports education in the slums of Nairobi, home to many of the poorest people of the world. I have visited Nairobi twice to work in the schools supported by the charity, and plan to be a regular visitor.

Visit Jude for book reviews that I have written.

Ken Surridge

I have been an avid reader all my life. I cannot imagine not having a book on the go and several more lined up to read. I already I own more books than I can possibly read, and the pile is still growing as a result of recommendations and reviews.

When I am not reading, I can be found earning my living tutoring as KS Learning, pottering around planting, weeding, or pruning in my gardening, or doing something for the small animals I keep, collectively known as the Farm at 64.

I chair a charity known as Porridge and Rice which supports schools for children living in the Nairobi slums, some of the poorest children in the world. I spend 4 to 8 weeks each year in Kenya overseeing the work of the charity and supervising volunteers.

Visit Ken for book reviews that I have written.

Kuljit Dhami

I am an English Language and Culture student in Groningen (NL) which means, more often than not, I can be found with my nose in a book. Or gallivanting around the country trying my hand at street photography, whilst successfully avoiding my responsibilities.

While my taste in literature ranges from political satire to psychological thrillers, I definitely have a penchant for postcolonial literature. The amalgamation of unfamiliar settings, politics, and foreign cultures always make for distinctive and poignant tales.

I am also a trustee of Porridge and Rice, a charity working to end extreme poverty in the Nairobi slums through education. As a result, Kenya and its people have found a very special place in my heart and I am constantly looking forward to the next time I can visit.

Visit Kujit for book reviews that I have written.

Theresa Sainsbury

I read to escape and I read to learn, but most of all, reading is my hobby. When I was young, there was little else to do when you weren't at school. There were only three TV channels, no Netflix, no play stations, and parents tended to leave children to their own devices, so I either listened to the radio and learnt song lyrics or read books. I started with Enid Blyton and never looked back

I recently developed a soft spot for American writers, like the beauty of Steinbeck's rural landscapes and the grittiness of Yanagihara's urban New York in A Little Life in Equal Measures. I'm currently reading the biography of Frank Auerbach, a modern artist whose painting I don't particularly like, but whose approach to life and art is fascinating.

I'm a part time English tutor, part time mum and part time taxi driver for my two teenage sons. Visit Theresa for book reviews that I have written.

Original Gravity Tours

Original Gravity Tours is a specialty travel company focused on providing excellent tours of the "Beer Capitals" of Europe like Munich & Bamberg. The aim is to provide a high quality travel experience emphasising the history and methods of brewing, combined with local history and select cultural sites.

According to Gene Lopez, the founder of Original Gravity Tours, "... after 30+ years in the high-tech industry, it was time to focus on what I love, international travel and well-crafted beer", and Original Gravity Tours was born.

The Farm at 64

I don't really have a farm. I don't even have a small holding. I just keep a number of small animals as pets.

I live in Whitton in the UK about ten minutes from Heathrow between Hounlsow and Twickenham in Greater London. I live with my wife, three children, one dog, two rabbits, seven Pekin ducks, a flock of Pekin bantam chickens, four chinchillas, just over 20 guinea pigs, a group of African Pygmy hedgehogs, and numerous birds like a number of budgies, various finches, Diamond doves, Zebra doves, and Chinese painted quails (button quails).

Understanding Drugs

Drugs are a fact of life. Furthermore, drugs are readily available at all schools, plus temptation and peer pressure is huge.

Every parent, teacher, guardian, or person who has contact and/or responsibility for a child or young person should therefore know about drugs in order to be able to respond quickly and effectively should a young person or child be tempted.

UK National Drugs helpline: 0300 123 6600

The Secular Atheist

I describe myself as a secular atheist, hence the name of the site. I am also a committed humanist.

As an atheist, I actively oppose religious privilege especially when religion tries to force its values on civil society like the denial of equality for LGBQT people and limiting women's reproductive rights.

As a humanist, I am an avid supporter of human rights as defined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and in my own small way, promote them through the charity that I chair Porridge and Rice and my work teaching through KS Learning.

Porridge and Rice

Porridge and Rice is an education charity that supports children living in the Nairobi slums, home to some of the poorest children in the world.

The goal is to ensure that these children receive a sound education to enable them to break the cycle of poverty and deprivation.

At present, the charity supports 2000 pupils in 5 schools through its 7 programmes which do everything from providing sanitary pads to girls that have reached puberty and delivering text books for core subjects like Maths and English.

When Porridge and Rice partners with a school, it begins by implementing a feeding programme providing breakfast and lunch, hence the name of the charity.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë to assist with A level English Literature revision, essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to assist with A level English Literature revision, essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote to help with A level English Literature revision.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams for A level English Literature.

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