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

Book of the Month for July 2017

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

It's 1982, and two brown girls are taking dance lessons, Tracey and the unamed narrator. Tracey is a talented dancer while the narrator is not. However, she has talents of her own being a person of big ideas from rhythm to freedom. They are drawn together into a complicated and turbulent friendship that continues into their early twenties.

The two girls grow up on neighbouring council estates in equally disfunctional households, but are separated by subtle class and racial differences.

Tracey's black father is absent and her overweight, white mother's biggest aspiration is to qualify for disability benefits. By contrast, the narrator lives with her unhappy, ambitious Jamaican mother and brow-beaten father.

The novel follows the narrator from child to adult, as she distances herself from her parents, envies Tracey's life, and lets work take over her life. It takes her from North West London to West Africa and back to London again, as she negotiates the complexities of race, identity, friendship, and betrayal.

Swing Time is about how we face the great challenges that define us, and how we make sense of them. Zadie Smith shows her exceptional skill as an author yet again.

Classic Suggestion for July 2017

Time Machine by H.G. Wells

A group of people is listening to the Time Traveller discuss the theory that time is the fourth dimension. The next week, they return, and the Time Traveller, looking tired and dishevelled, begins his tale.

The Time Traveller travels to the future where he encounters the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are small human-like creatures that live above ground, and are kind and gentle. The Morlocks are pale, ape-like creatures that live below ground, and come out at night to hunt.

When his time machine disappears, the Time Traveller ventures underground into the world of the Morlocks looking for it. Even though, he finds that they are scared of matches, he is still forced to flee.

One night, he accidently sets fire to the giant wood and many Morlocks die and an Eloi friend die in the ensuing battle. He finds his time machine, and escapes to the future.

The Time Traveller makes several more stops before returning to the present time, where he tells his story. The next day, he leaves again, but never returns.

While the science and technology have moved on considerably since the book was written, it still is an excellent read that continues to be able to engage and enthrall the reader.

Teen Book Idea for July 2017

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss is the touching story of young Hattie, who as a result of time spent with her long-lost great-aunt Gloria, faces and resolves the predicaments in her own life.

Hattie is stuck at home, facing a summer without her friends. Reuben is 'trying to 'find himself' somewhere is Europe, while Kat has headed for Edinburgh with a new girlfriend. Hattie is, in effect, home alone.

Hattie's mother is focused entirely on her wedding. She engages with Hattie whenever she needs help with an endless string of impending disasters in the wedding arrangements. In addition, Hattie is left taking care of her twin siblings. Then to add to her problems, she discovers that she is pregnant with the absent Reuben's child.

Enter Gloria, Hattie's charismatic great-aunt, who no-one even knew existed, with an over-fondness for gin and in the early stages of dementia. She takes Hattie with her on a road trip to revisit her life before she forgets it, and Hattie is forced to face difficult decisions as a result.

This book is a wonderful coming of age story achieved by the main character, Hattie, engaging with a much older person who is facing great tragedy sanguinely and with stoicism.

Children's Book Recommendation for July 2017

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (2+)

This book is the final book in Jon Klassen's very popular prize winning hat trilogy. The two prior books in the series are I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat.

Two turtles find a large white hat in the desert. "We found a hat. We found it together" they announce seemingly united and in harmony.

Each tries the hat on and is convinced that it suits them perfectly, although the reader is likely to conclude otherwise. They both want the hat but there is just one small problem to overcome, a problem on which the book is based - there are two turtles and only one hat.

Klassen skillfully tells the tale through the expressions and actions of his characters, beautifully portrayed with delightful illustrations. The book evokes sympathy, laughter, and surprise as the story works it way towards an unexpected twist before it concludes.

The book can be enjoyed on several levels multiple times. The story and illustrations are a delight in themselves that will charm both adults and children. If you want to look deeper, the story is about justice illustrating that it means different things to different people and is not always easy to achieve.

Author Suggestion for July 2017

James Kelman

James Kelman, a Scottish author born in 1946 in Glasgow, has written novels, short stories, plays, and political essays. He left school at 15 and decided to write when he was around 22 years old according to him.

He won numerous prizes, including the Cheltenham Prize with Greyhound for Breakfast in 1987, the 1989 James Tait Black Memorial Prize with A Disaffection, and the 1994 Booker Prize with How Late It Was, How Late.

How Late It Was, How Late is the story of a man who wakes up in a police cell after an encounter with the police leaves him blind. Awarding it the Booker Prize was controversial due to the novel's use of bad language. Rabbi Julia Neuberger, one of the judges, threatened to resign stating that the award was "disgrace" and "frankly, crap" while a critic denounced it as "literary vandalism". Kelman argued that that "standard english" was unrealistic for his characters.

Kelman used Glaswegian speech patterns and language saying "The stories I wanted to write would derive from my own background, my own socio-cultural experience. I wanted to write as one of my own people."

Prize of the month for July 2017

National Book Critics Circle Awards 2017

On 16 March 2017, the NBCC board awarded the National Book Critics Award for fiction to Louise Erdich for her novel LaRose.

Situated on the Native American reservation in rural North Dakota, the novel begins with Landreaux Iron, father of five, accidentally shooting his neighbour's five-year-old son, Dusty. According to custom Landreaux must give his own young son, LaRose, to the family whose son he has killed.

The families wrestle with the emotional challenge of LaRose moving between the two homes as the child integrates into his new family complicated by the fact that the mothers are half sisters. LaRose demonstrates great courage as an instrument of reconciliation and forgiveness, while helping one of his new siblings fight an injustice.

Besides the family members, there are two other key characters - Romeo, a drug addict, abandoned by Landreaux years before, and Father Travis, a war vet, in love with someone he shouldn't be in love with.

Erdich blends tradition with human tragedy, love, and forgiveness, in a moving and memorable novel.

Poem of the month for July 2017

The Creature in the Classroom by Jack Prelutskya

It appeared inside our classroom
at a quarter after ten,
it gobbled up the blackboard,
three erasers and a pen.
It gobbled teacher's apple
and it bopped her with the core.
"How dare you!" she responded.
"You must leave us . . . there's the door."

The Creature didn't listen
but described an arabesque
as it gobbled all her pencils,
seven notebooks and her desk.
Teacher stated very calmly,
"Sir! You simply cannot stay,
I'll report you to the principal
unless you go away!"

But the thing continued eating,
it ate paper, swallowed ink,
as it gobbled up our homework
I believe I saw it wink.
Teacher finally lost her temper.
"OUT!" she shouted at the creature.
The creature hopped beside her
and GLOPP . . . it gobbled teacher.

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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