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

Book of the Month for February 2017

Adventures of a No Name Actor by Marco Perella

reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 23 January 2017

Marco, the no-name actor of the title of this book, is an actor who you will probably recognise, but be unable to name. He's been 'cop at roadblock' or 'baddie #2' in many films, TV movies and movie shows - enough to earn the cash to qualify for the health insurance that comes through his Screen Actors Guild membership.

This series of entertaining anecdotes gives a witty, dry and unpretentious insight into the world of a man trying to make a living in a frankly ludicrous industry. We learn that a hard days work can consist of waiting most of the day in an un-air-conditioned 7-11 for your big scene which involves lying on the floor and growling threats at the Hollywood Star, or it can result in trying to pick leaves and twigs out of impossible places after spending 5 hours battling the forces of pretend nature in a simulated hurricane. Still, it's better than spending 8 hours a day at a desk. Allegedly.

Highly recommended for pure entertainment value, even if you have no dreams of making it big on the silver screen.

Classic Suggestion for February 2017

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

When John Durbeyfield discovers he is descended from a wealthy family and has a relative living nearby, he sends his 16-year-old daughter Tess, who is a simple country girl, and their eldest child.

Tess meets her relative Alec d'Urberville, and he finds her a job with his mother. Shortly after she begins work, he seduces and rapes her.

Tess returns to her family home, where living with her parents, she gives birth to a son called Sorrow, who dies in infancy. While working at a nearby diary, she meets Angel Clare, and falls in love.

She eventually marries Angel, not telling him about her past. After the wedding, the couple reveals their pasts to each other, and while Tess is able to forgive Angel, he cannot doing the same. He is unable to get over the fact that she had a child with another man.

Life treats Tess unfairly. She is raped by a relative, her son dies when very young, and the man she loves leaves her. The story is told with sensitivity enabling the reader to empathise with Tess.

Teen Book Idea for February 2017

Moths by Anne Cassidy

Two girls are drawn to the dilapidated house on Princess Street, like moths to a flame, and are never heard from again. That same night, the old man who lived in the house was murdered and his killer never found.

Five years pass, and Mandy contemplates the disappearance of her best friends Tina and Petra. She is now 18 years old and still blames herself for what happened to them, plus she has never got over the disappearance.

The police and the community assume that the girls had stumbled in on the old man's killer, and so were themselves killed even though their bodies have never been discovered. However, their disappearance, turns out to be far more complex than the police presumed as they discover when the house is knocked down, that one of the girls, isn't gone after all.

The novel is an exciting thriller, skillfully crafted with unexpected twists, and hard to put down. Through the characters, it explores female friendships and bullying. As the reader progresses, they realise that nothing is quite what it seems. It is a compelling read.

Children's Book Recommendation for February 2017

This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne

A little girl Bella takes her dog for a walk when it disappears. This may seem like an ordinary tale but it is not, but quite the opposite. Bella actually takes her dog for a walk across the page of a book and it is during this walk, that the dog disappears into the book. Yes, the book captures her dog.

Bella goes through a range of emotions from surprise to shock, and then hope when the authorities arrive to help her. She, her friend Ben, and the authorities agree that the book is dangerous but no-one can help. Then matters go from bad to worse when Bella heads towards the dangerous centre of the book, and she disappears too.

The book has eaten its characters and all is lost, unless maybe the reader can help. A note appears, from Bella, asking the reader to intervene and save the day.

A wonderfully creative story that will delight its readers.

Author Suggestion for February 2017

Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester on 19 January 1946. He read for an honours degree in modern languages from Magdalen College at Oxford University.

He worked as a lexicographer, then a reviewer and literary editor, followed by a television critic before establishing himself as an author.

Julian Barnes has received an impressive list of awards and honours, simply too many to name in a brief review of his career to date.

He won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending and was nominated a further three times, no mean feat. He has won awards in France, America, Italy, Germany, and Austria including, in 2016, the American Academy of Arts & Letters which elected Barnes as an honorary foreign member, and the Siegfried Lenz Prize for outstanding contributions as a European essayist.

So far, Julian Barnes is the author of ten novels, two books of short stories, and also three collections of journalism, with his work translated into more than thirty languages. He has proven himself to be an exceptionally highly skilled author producing novels, short stories, and essays that are well worth reading.

Prize of the month for February 2017

Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2016

Alex Wheatle is 53 years old and traces his interest in books back to his time in jail after the 1981 Brixton riots. It is his first prize, after writing 6 adult books then turning to fiction for young adults.

On 16 November, Wheatle won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize with a novel set in a fictitious, crime-ridden estate, where knives and phone jacking are common by those he calls "hood rats".

The winning novel, Crongton Knights, is number two in a trilogy, set on the South Crongton estate - the date for the publication of the third book has yet to be announced.

McKay, a local schoolboy, attempts to help a girl whose is worried that the thief who stole her phone, will expose her sexting. His action turns into a dangerous adventure.

"I love this book. It's elegant, authentic and humane. This is mature, powerful writing by an author with great talent and great heart," said Almond, who won the prize last year with A Song for Ella Grey.

Poem of the month

Mrs Darwin by Carol Ann Duffy from The World's Wife (1999)

7 April 1852.

Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him -
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

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.





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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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