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HOME      May 2017
The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for teenagers

Book of the Month for May 2017

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

English civil servant George and his new french wife Sabine Harwood move to Trinidad from Harrow in England. George falls in love with his new home instantly. By contrast, Sabine spends much of her married life, looking forward to the day that her husband takes her back to Harrow.

Sabine feels isolated, hates the heat, dislikes the racial segregation on the island, and is anxious about the approach of independence. She takes comfort in an imagined conversation with Eric Williams, the charismatic leader of Trinidad's new national party. She pours out her heart to him, both her hopes and fears in letters, that she never is confident enough to send but keeps instead.

After decades of marriage, George discovers the hidden letters. He is moved by his wife's unhappiness and resolves to prove his love for her, with far-reaching tragic consequences.

It is an unforgettable novel that explores a troubled marriage on the island of Trinidad. The characters are described with empathy and understanding providing insight into their motivation and emotions.

Classic Suggestion for May 2017

1984 by George Orwell

The novel is a dystopian novel set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war.

Everyone is watched all the time by a ruling class determined to hold on to power. The Inner Party persecutes individualism and independent thinking as "thoughtcrime".

Society is ruled over by Big Brother, the Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality. The Party "seeks power entirely for its own sake. It is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power".

Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party, is the novel's protagonist. He works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue). His job is to "correct" or destroy newspaper articles, so that the historical record always fits with the party line. Revisionism is covered up as corrections to misquotations. Smith secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

1984 reflects on the implications of state control and the loss of personal rights for individuals and society.

Teen Book Idea for May 2017

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli

Sixteen-year-old Simon Spier is gay but not openly at school. However, when one of his emails falls into the wrongs hands, his secret is about to be revealed to his whole school. He is blackmailed into being a wingman for Martin, the class clown, to avoid having his sexual identity revealed.

The issue is not just that everyone will find out Simon's sexuality, but the boy that Simon has been emailing, known as Blue, will also be exposed.

As the emails from Blue become more intimate, Simon is faced with difficult choices. He doesn't want to alienate his friends, expose his identity, or destroy his chances with a guy that he thinks of as adorable. To make matters worse, Simon is not comfortable with change, and the dilemma's of his current life require him to deal with many changes.

The novel is both funny and poignant, making it thought-provoking and enjoyable to read. It is a coming-out and coming-of-age romance told with humour and insight by talented author Becky Albertelli.

Children's Book Recommendation for May 2017

No, No, Gnome! by Ashlyn Anstee

It's time to harvest the school's garden, and Gnome cannot wait. Everyone has a responsibility, even Gnome, but because he is so eager and excited he keeps getting things wrong, and whenever he does, the other students shout in unison "No, no, Gnome!".

It actually seems that no matter what job Gnome is given, even watering or collecting clippings, he can't seem to last without doing something wrong, so is eventually sent back to the classroom and the harvest is postponed.

When Gnome finally realises how much he has upset his schoolmates, he sets out to make amends. The next day, they are excited to discover that Gnome has tidied up, and their garden is beautiful again. This time they shout, "Oh, oh, Gnome!", and can happily bring in the harvest together.

The story is clever and charming, and supported by illustrations that are full of life and colour. It is bound to become a favourite of any child, and will encourage a love of books and reading.

Author Suggestion for May 2017

Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle is an Irish novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter, probably best known for the novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, for which he was awarded the Booker Prize in 1993. He has written in a number of forms including novels, children's books, and short stories.

Doyle's first three novels, The Commitments (1987), The Snapper (1990) and The Van (1991), centre on the Rabbitte family, and are known as The Barrytown Trilogy. The Van was shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize and all three have been made into successful films. In 1993, Doyle published Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which portrayed Dublin through the eyes of a ten-year-old in 1968. His vivid portrayal of the time and convincing use of colloquial language, resulted in a passionate and challenging novel.

The Woman Who Walked into Doors is the story of a battered wife, The Last Roundup series follows Henry Smart through several decades, and The Guts continues the story of the Rabbitte family from the Barrytown Trilogy, focusing on a 48-year-old Jimmy Rabbite and his diagnosis of bowel cancer.

Prize of the month for May 2017

National Book Awards 2016

Colson Whitehead won the National Book Award for fiction for his novel The Underground Railroad on 16 November.

The central character is Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. While life is bad for all the slaves, it is worse for Cora because she is rejected by the other slaves.

Her life takes a turn when she learns about the Underground Railroad from Caesar, and together they plan to take the risk and escape from slavery. Her journey is fraught with difficulty.

Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, which seems at first to be a haven, but turns out not to be the case for black people. Even worse, Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close to catching them so the have to flee. Cora runs from state to state to avoid being returned to slavery.

The novel is both the story of one woman's brave and determined struggle to be free, and the powerful contemplation of a major element of American history.

Poem of the month

She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

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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