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

Book of the Month for April 2017

Time And Time Again by Ben Elton
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 12 March 2017

Unlike previous novels from Ben Elton, I found this to be well written, and with an intriguing story that kept me turning the page right to the end. Compared to Elton's screen work, this feels more considered and intricate. It's not a new trope that going back in time to change a single point of history to prevent bad things may make things worse in the long run. I liked the alternative that was posed here.

The hero, ex-SAS widower Hugh Stanton is alone in the world and so is an ideal candidate for the "loop in time" that Newton left details of for Hugh's Oxford professor. He is trained, equipped, and sent back to prevent the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

Although I guessed who a supposed "mystery figure" was at one point, the plot didn't feel predictable, and I was as un-nerved and taken aback by the ending as I think I was supposed to be. I liked that the baddies and goodies weren't necessarily fixed as either one or the other, but that most of the characters that are introduced have layers and depending on your point of view could be either good or bad.

Even though I was left feeling a little lacking optimism generally, this is well worth a read in my opinion.

Classic Suggestion for April 2017

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Controversial when first published, The Grapes of Wrath is considered one of the great American novels. Telling the story of the Joad family, it earned Steinbeck the Pulitzer prize in 1962.

Steinbeck writes with a deep sense of social injustice as he recounts the dreadful conditions experienced by immigrant farmhands. He details the social and economic horrors of farming in the American dust bowl, and which drive people to migrate from Oklahoma to the fruit fields of California in search of a better life.

The novel follows the Joad family, dispossessed farmers fleeing dust bowl conditions. At the same time as Tom Joad is paroled from prison, the family loses their farm to the bank. The Joads set out in search of work in California. Nothing goes right. The family is exploited and bullied, and begins to fall apart. Old Ma Joad takes the lead as Tom is linked to another killing and must go into hiding.

It is a story of false hopes, thwarted desires and powerlessness driven by social injustice, written skillfully and sensitively by an skilled author. It continues to be one of the great works of english literature.

Teen Book Idea for April 2017

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

Natalie's summer in her small Kentucky town is going really well until she starts seeing things that shouldn't be there.

At first, they are brief and unimportant. For example, she looks at her front door and instead of it being red, it appears green. Also, a pre-school appears where the garden store should be. Before long though, matters escalate - her whole town disappears for hours, replaced by rolling hills and grazing buffalo. It is then clear to Natalie that something is horribly wrong.

Natalie is then visited by a kind but enigmatic apparition that she calls "Grandmother" and who announces mysteriously, "You have three months to save him." But who?

The very next night at the high school football field, she meets Beau, and it is as if nothing except Natalie and Beau exist. She falls head over heels in love, beginning a beautiful and profound tale that captures the joy and hurt of high school, love, and shaping a future.

The book is well written capturing the feelings of being a teenager with empathy and understanding. It is also just an entertaining read.

Children's Book Recommendation for April 2017

Giraffes Ruin Everything by Heidi Schultz

Many people don't realize that giraffes ruin everything like birthday parties, going to the movies, playing in the park, Hide and Seek and Everything Else. "A giraffe will eat the ice cream right off your cone from half a block away," with its long spotted neck according to the boy narrator.

Giraffes aren't being mean, in fact, they just want to be good friends, helpful and appreciated. They really cannot help always being in the way.

The tables are turned when the boy is accused of being in the way and the giraffe demonstrates that he is a real friend.

The book reminds us that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and with understanding, friendship is rewarding even with a lanky, spotted friend who tests your patience. It is funny, mischievous and entertaining. It delivers aheartwarming message with engaging illustrations. Ideal for 5 to 7 years olds.

Author Suggestion for April 2017

Alan Hollinghurst

Hollinghurst was born in 1954 and grew up in Faringdon, a market town twenty miles from Oxford surrounded by farms and chalk hills.

Hollinghurst established himself as a skilled author when he won the Man Booker Prize in 2004 for The Line of Beauty, the moving story of James, a young student, beguiled by the glamorous life of a Tory family. The novel is set in the Thatcher years when deaths from AIDS were at a peak.

Hollinghurst moved to London in his twenties where he discovered an active gay scene. In his first novel, The Swimming Pool Library. William Beckwith, a promiscuous young gay man, learns what being gay was like for an earlier generation, with graphic descriptions of gay sex.

The Folding Star and The Stranger's Child, reflect the rural England of his childhood, and both The Folding Star and The Spell feature a man who falls in love with someone much younger. The ways in which the present is shaped by the past is a theme in all his novels, including the last, The Stranger's Child.

Prize of the month for April 2017

Costa Book Awards

The Costa Book Awards provides literary prizes in the UK for authors based in the UK and Ireland.

The prize has five categories - First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's Book - with one of the five winning books selected as the overall Costa Book of the Year.

This year, on 31 January, the overall Costa Book of the Year went to Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, described in the Guardian as "a searing, magnificent depiction of a gay relationship during the bloody founding of modern America".

The five category prizes were awarded on the same day and are as follows:

  • FIRST NOVEL - Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
  • NOVEL - Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
  • POETRY - Falling Awake by Alice Oswald
  • CHILDREN'S BOOK - The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan
  • BIOGRAPHY - Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew

The Costa Book Awards provides brief reviews of the award winners and their books.

Poem of the month

War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy

In his dark room he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands, which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don't explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger's features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man's wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black and white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday's supplement. The reader's eyeballs prick
with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns his living and they do not care.

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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