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

Book of the Month for October 2016

A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩwa Thiong'o

A Grain of Wheat by Kenyan novelist Ngũgĩwa Thiong'o, weaves together several stories set during the state of emergency in Kenya's struggle for independence from 1952 to 1959.

When Kenyans rebelled openly against the British, they were defeated so had to choose to compromise their principles, or join the underground resistance "the Movement", known by the British as Mau Mau.

The story focuses on the quiet Mugo, who, unbeknown to his peers, secretly chose compromise. This dark secret rules his thoughts, as he participates in his home village's preparations for Kenyan independence.

Mugo, is not alone. The struggle for independence leaves many with secret scars that make returning to a normal life, difficult and complex. The characters are portrayed with understanding as they struggle with their demons. Visit for notes on the book.

Classic Suggestion for October 2016

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Bodies mount with no apparent link other than the word for revenge in German painted in blood near the bodies. The police are at a loss. Dr John Watson is at a loss. Sherlock Holmes is not fooled. Using evidence that no-one else notices, he solves the murders. The book derives its name from a speech that Holmes gives, in which he refers to the case as his 'study in scarlet', referring to the 'scaret thread of murder' running through the murders.

A Study in Scarlet, written in 1886, was the first Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson story, and in contrast to subsequent success, there was very little interest in it when it first appeared. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on to be so successful that when Arthur Conan Doyle, killed off Holmes having tired of the character he created, the public outcry forced him to contrive a way to bring him back to life.

With the many, many TV shows and films, it is easy to overlook the books but they are a compelling read with engaging plots. Once started, 'A study in Scarlet' is hard to put down. It is an example of superb story telling, and will bring delight for many years to come.

Teen Book Idea for October 2016

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is a heartbreaking but hopeful. It explores a very controversial topic with incredible skill and honesty.

The novel set in a refugee camp in the Australian desert where the boy Subhi has spent all nine years of his life.

Subhi is a Rohingya Muslim whose family fled persecution in Myanmar. His father is missing, his mother is dying, and his older sister is focussed on making the outside world aware of their plight. Subhi is left to himself.

Subhi escapes the camp in his dreams, in which the sea reaches his tent and brings treasures with it, until he meets local girl Jimmie.

Jimmie lives near the refugee camp, and carries with her a notebook that she cannot read. In addition, she wears a sparrow made out of bone around her neck. Subhi reads aloud from Jimmie's notebook, and together the friends learn about the importance of their own stories in shaping their futures.

Children's Book Recommendation for October 2016

Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo

Listen to the Moon brings together many of Michael Morpurgo's favourite themes which readers of his other books like Kensuke's Kingdom and War Horse, will know all too well.

The action is set on the Scilly Isles during the first world war. Alfie Wheatcroft and his parents, Jim and Mary, live on the island of Bryher, fishing and farming to survive. One day Alfie skips school to go fishing with his father. Together they go to an uninhabited island and discover a girl on the island. The girl is in very poor shape. She is injured, and nearly dead from starvation, so they take her back to their island, Bryher.

The girl is at the centre of the story as the family tries to find out how she came to be stranded on one of the Scilly Isles. When she won't speak, the working of a small community and the paranoia of the war, the intrigue of the islanders turns to suspicion.

Michael Morpurgo is a skilled story teller, and like his other books, this one is a rewarding read.

Author Suggestion for October 2016

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, born on 7 February 1812 in Portsmouth, is an English writer and social critic. He is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. He was very popular during his life, and his novels and short stories continue to be read and studied.

When his father went to prison, Dickens left school and took a job in a factory. Despite not completing his formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, 5 novellas, many short stories, and several non-fiction articles. He also lectured and performed extensively, and was an active campaigner for social reforms, especially children's rights, and education.

The Pickwick Papers launched Dickens' writing career, with his novels published in installments, the Victorian mode of publishing novels. He quickly became popular internationally because of his satire laced with humour. His plots and characters were carefully constructed to reflect topical issues for which he campaigned, and his writing is thus as much entertainment as it is social commentary.

Prize of the month for October 2016

Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2016

The Best Younger Fiction category and overall winner of the Watersones Children's Book Prize went to David Solomons for his debut book My Brother is a Superhero. It is a hugely funny book about desperate-wannabe superhero Luke Parker and his superhero brother Zack. Their page-turning adventure is delightfully spiced with comic book trivia.

David Litchfield won the Best Illustrated Book Category with his picture book, The Bear and the Piano. The detailed illustrations weave a wonderful tale of warmth and emotion through a bear that plays the piano. It is a tale about dreams and friendship that can be read with pleasure again and again and again and ...

The winner of the Best Older Fiction Category was Lisa Williamson with her cleverly named book The Art of Being Normal The book deals with the complex issues of gender, identity and sexual orientation. The narrative revolves around two friends both very different from the normal, introducing young people to the challenges faced by some of their peers, whilst delivering a compelling story.

Poem of the month

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (Sonnet 18) by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
       So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
       So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

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 is varied, which 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 truly distinctive and often 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.

Jude Hanlon

Jude Hanlon is a software development manager working and living in the North West of England.

Her hobbies include reading, writing, knitting, skating, gardening, cooking, films and TV (not necessarily in that order). This diversity of taste is reflected in Jude's reading materials, from chick-lit to sci-fi. As her children are now of an age where they watch and read independently, she is enjoying exploring grown-up culture again, and really likes a good twist in the tale.

Jude is also a trustee of the charity Porridge and Rice which supports education in the slums of Nairobi. She has visited Nairobi twice, and plans to be a regular visitor.

Read book reviews by Jude.

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, which deserved to win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize; and (2) All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a masterpiece describing the impact of wars started by distant leaders on the people they purport to represent.

I recently set up Original Gravity Tours, a specialty travel company providing high quality beer tours turning my love of travel and beer into a business.

Visit Gene 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. Their 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.





'They had issues': Sally Wainwright and Tracy Chevalier discuss the Brontës

Sally Wainwright's new drama To Walk Invisible offers a radical new take on the Brontës. She talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about the siblings' extraordinary lives.

The 10 Best Books of 2016

The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.

Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch

Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.

Beryl Bainbridge was nice as well as naughty - and a brilliant novelist

The fictions of Beryl Bainbridge's life were as important to her as the facts. As a novelist, she knew the dramatic exigencies of telling a tale.

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

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

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

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

Porridge and Rice

Porridge and Rice is an education charity that supports children living in the Nairobi slums. 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.

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