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

Book of the Month for August 2017

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 26 February 2017

The premise is that a well-known author who is struggling to create his second novel goes to spend time with his college tutor, Harry Quebert. While there, the "Affair" explodes around him - the body of a girl who went missing 33 years ago is dug up in Harry's garden, making him the chief suspect.

Our hero knows (in his heart) that Harry cannot have abducted and killed the girl, despite the mounting evidence. It starts to look like this should be the material for his difficult second novel. Indeed, the implication is that the book in your hands is this second novel (which I found to be quite clever).

The story doesn't move quickly, and there are quite a few threads to track. The writing conveys the characters' motivation really well, and the twists and turns of the story are well revealed when the time comes - it was rare that I felt "there's a twist coming". The ending was satisfying - too often when I finish a novel, I think "meh, is that it?" - not so this time.

Also, by the time I had read to the end, I was surprised to be reminded that this was a translation. The language felt natural and well-constructed throughout.

Classic Suggestion for August 2017

The Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was an important and influential American writer. He had a complicated and troubled personal life which is reflected in his work. He was prolific writing novels, poetry, short stories, and literary criticism, and the first author to try to make a professional living as a writer. Despite the positive views of the literary establishment, he failed miserably to achieve the sales necessary during his life, leading to a life of perpetual financial hardship and numerous disappointments. He became very bitter and angry about his failure.

Poe's poem "The Raven" made him famous when it was published in 1845. Most famously, Poe transformed the genre of the horror story with his tales of psychological depth and insight not envisioned in the genre before. Stories like "The Tell-Tale Heart","The Cask of Amontillado","The Pit and the Pendulum", and "The Fall of the House of Usher" demonstrate his talent at its height.

The brilliance and skill of Edgar Allen Poe are in evidence in this collection. The collection includes some of his most masterful writing such as The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Purloined Letter. The melancholy and torment of the stories combined with mystery, terror, and humour show why he is one of the most respected of American authors.

Teen Book Idea for August 2017

The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong

Riley Vasquez was babystting a young girl when strangers broke in and murdered the child's parents.

Riley and the child saw the entire brutal event from under the bed, where they were hiding. Unsurprsingly, Riley is haunted by memories of the event, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Max Cross has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a life-altering diagnosis. He is struggling with reality made worse by the fact that he doesn't want anyone to know about his illness. Max and Riley meet at a weekend camp that they and five other teenagers are made to attend. The camp is specifically for teenagers with issues.

Three masked men break in and take the teenagers hostage, demanding money from one of the fathers. The building they are in has no windows, the exits are sealed, and they do not have their phones, so they cannot call for help. When the hostage-takers start killing, the two are forced to work together to survive.

The book is an action-packed thriller which explores the complex emotions of two teenagers with serious personal challenges. The characters are treated with sensitivty and empathy providing insight into their illnessess along with a plot that is a real page-turner.

Children's Book Recommendation for August 2017

Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

This wordless, picture book features two families whose paths rarely cross.

A mother owl and her three owlets are living happily on their branch when one night when they are trying to get some sleep, another family choose to make the same branch their home, a mother bat and her bat children.

Adult bats and adult owls know that owls and bats do not mix, even when sharing the same branch. The baby bat and the baby owl have no such knowledge, and make friends much to the consternation of the adults. Then a stormy night disrupts the families shared home forcing them to think about the meaning of difference and acceptance.

The illustrations in this book are exceptional especially the expressions of the characters, which the author-atist uses to tell the story. It is an extremely joyful book abounding with humour and charm that will be willingly read again and again.

Author Suggestion for August 2017

Thomas Keneally

Born in Sydney in 1935, Thomas Keneally is a highly successful Australian novelist. He studied for the Catholic priesthood but was never ordained and instead became a school teacher until his success as a novelist. He is not only a novelist but has also written screenplays, memoirs and non-fiction books.

Thomas Keneally has been short-listed for the Booker Prize four times for The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith in 1972, Gossip in 1975, Confederates in 1979, and Schindler's Ark in 1982. He finally won the prize with Schindler's Ark which Spielberg made into the award-winning Schindler's List in 1993. In Australia, Keneally won the Miles Franklin Award twice with Bring Larks and Heroes, and Three Cheers for the Paraclete. In adddition, The People's Train was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Schindler's Ark was inspired by Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. In 1980, Keneally met Pfefferberg in his shop, and finding out the Keneally was a novelist, he showed him his extensive files on Oskar Schindler. Keneally was interested and Pfefferberg became his advisor accompanying Keneally to Poland where they visited the sites associated with the Schindler story.

Thomas Keneally is both prolific and highly skilled, already having produced an impressive collection of novels, no doubt with many more to come.

Prize of the month for August 2017

The PEN/Hemingway Award

Yaa Gyasi won the 2017 PEN/Hemingway Award on 2 April 2017 for her historical fiction novel Homegoing. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best First Book and was shortlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for the same novel.

The book tells the story of two sisters whose lives follow very different paths. One sister, Effia marries James Collins, the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle and a slave trader, while her half-sister Esi is held captive in the dungeons below waiting to be sold into slavery. Their lives take very different paths, the consequences of which have an impact on future generations in complex and telling ways.

The story starts at the Gold Coast of Africa, passes through the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi, and leads to the dive bars of Harlem. It crosses continents and generations telling the story of both sisters, and those there descendents, generation by generation.

The novel explores the lives of woman from Africa to America with brilliance and flair. They are in many ways the story of America itself from slavery to Harlem through the eyes of its black citizens. As the Guardian puts it, Homegoing is a touching and profound debut from a masterly new writer.

Poem of the month for August 2017

Fireflies by Frank Ormsby

The lights come on and stay on under the trees.
Visibly a whole neighborhood inhabits the dusk,
so punctual and in place it seems to deny
dark its dominion. Nothing will go astray,
the porch lamps promise. Sudden, as though a match
failed to ignite at the foot of the garden, the first squibs
trouble the eye. Impossible not to share
that sportive, abortive, clumsy, where-are-we-now
dalliance with night, such soothing relentlessness.
What should we make of fireflies, their quick flare
of promise and disappointment, their throwaway style?
Our heads turn this way and that. We are loath to miss
such jauntiness in nature. Those fugitive selves,
winged and at random! Our flickery might-have-beens
come up form the woods to haunt us! Our yet-to-be
as tentative frolic! What do fireflies say?
That loneliness made of light becomes at last
convivial singleness? That any antic spark
cruising the void might titillate creation?
And whether they spend themselves, or go to ground,
or drift with their lights out, they have left the gloom,
for as long as our eyes take to absorb such absence,
less than it seemed, as childless and deprived
as Chaos and Old Night. But ruffled, too,
as though it unearthed some memory of light
from its long blackout, a hospitable core
fit home for fireflies, brushed by fireflies' wings.

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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