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

Book of the Month for October 2017

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
reviewed by Ken Surridge, 29 January 2017

The novel starts by following the mischievious activities of ten-year-old Darling and her friends. The children steal guavas off the trees of the rich and play games of make-believe in which they live lives of luxury overseas.

Darling and her friends live in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. They have been forced out of their homes into tin shacks, and live in fear of the paramilitaries that represent a government determined to cling to power by any means. Violence and intimidation are a part of their lives.

Despite being a child, Darling is forced to deal with this complex world and the resulting social challenges such as trying to secure an abortion when her friend Chipo falls pregnant.

Darling escapes to her aunt in America, expecting a life of ease and wealth but her aunt's life, as an illegal immigrant, holding down two jobs, is hard. She has to adjust to the poor neighbourhood where she now lives, a new culture, and misconceptions about Africans, all the while keeping the illusion that money is abundant and life is easy in the US, alive for those back in Zimbabwe.

Classic Suggestion for October 2017

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a gothic novella by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. While first published in 1886, it is still a compelling read and relevant to today.

On their weekly walk, London lawyer, Gabriel John Utterson, listens as his friend Enfield tells the tale of a sinister figure, Mr. Hyde, who tramples a young girl, disappears into a door on the street, and reemerges to pay off her relatives with a check signed by the respectable gentleman, Dr Jekyll.

Puzzled, Utterson visits Dr Jekyll then their mutual friend Dr. Lanyon who having fallen out with Dr Jekyll over his research, cannot enlighten him. Utterson investigates uncovering inexplicable links between the respectable Dr Jekyll and the invidious Mr Hyde, revealing a complex tale of subterfuge and extreme wickedness.

Stevenson's gothic adventure reflects the anxieties of the Victorian era, a time of unprecedented technical logical progress and social change, in essence, the same concerns of the 21st century.

Teen Book Idea for October 2017

Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman

It is 1752 in the West Country, when teenager Caleb Chappell, finds himself alone when his father Jospeh is sentenced for a murder that he did not commit and is shipped out to the territories. He is left to fend for himself with no way of earning an income.

Caleb is mixed race. At a time when slavery was legal, his white father sheltered him from the racism of the society he lives in. With his father gone. he learns that being poor is not his only problem as being black makes him a target to almost everyone.

Before being transported, Joseph tells Caleb to find his aunt, a relative that he didn't even know he had. His aunt and her husband who already have 2 daughters, take him in, causing the entire family a great deal of trouble.

Caleb discovers a dead body on the beach, and he and Letty find themselves unravelling a mystery that involves the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by the rich and powerful - and a murder. Their lives are threatened, but the biggest surprise for Caleb is what he finds out about his own origins.

Children's Book Recommendation for October 2017

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham

While Home in the Rain is based on simple, ordinary life events, this picture book is full of delight and charm. It a beautifully illutrated, profound and touching story of family life.

Francie and her mum, who is expecting a baby girl, are driving home from visiting Grandma in mum's little red car. It rains heavily for the entire journey.

On the way home, they pull into a picnic area and Francie writes "Daddy", "Mummy", and Francie on the misted windows leaving a space for her unnamed, soon-to-be sister.

Francie and her mother return to the road wondering about what to name the expected sister. Francie has lots of ideas. Later, they stop for petrol and while Francie is dancing in a little puddle and the perfect name comes to Mum, to be shared with Dad later as they tumble in their front door.

The story is thoughtful and perceptive, reflecting on the extraordinary nature of family and life.

Author Suggestion for October 2017

Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman was born in Norwich in October 1946.

His father died in a plane crash when he was 7, and orphaned children often feature in his books, because for children to have an adventure, one needs to be "rid of those who stop [the child] falling into danger".

Pullman went to Exeter College, Oxford, to read English, receiving a Third class BA in 1968. He said later that he did not enjoy his degree and would have preferred to go to art school.

He first published adult novels. His second children's novel, Ruby in the Smoke (1986), told the story of a young Sally Lockhart trying to unravel her father's death in Victorian London. The series of 4 novels was a great success. More than 10 years later, he won popular acclaim with the Dark Materials Trilogy. The trilogy sold more than 17.5 million copies, was translated into 40 languages, and became a box office hit film.

Philip Pullman has proved to be an accomplished storyteller with a vivid imagination and exceptionally skilled with words. He has deservedly won many awards for his work.

Prize of the month for October 2017

The Pen/Faulkner Prize

On 6 May 2017, Imbolo Mbue won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her debut novel Behold the Dreamers, the story of a young Cameroonian trying to make a life in the US.

Imbolo Mbue tells the story of Jende Jonga who moves to the US with his wife, Nene, and their young son. Jende wants a better life for himself and his family, and ecstatic when in Autumn 2007, he gets a job as a personal chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at the prestigious Lehman Brothers. A bright future appears to be on course for the Jonga family.

Working for Clark Edwards works out well to begin with, with the Edwards' family also hiring his wife to work in their holiday home in the Hamptons. It also gives Jende a view of a world of incredible wealth and astounding privilege, very different to his life in Haarlem, and drawing attention to the huge chasm between the rich and poor of America.

When Lehman Brothers collapses, triggering the global financial crisis, and the Edwards family starts to disintegrate, Jende is forced to fight to keep his dream alive and his family together.

Poem of the month for October 2017

Where do all the Teachers go when its four o'clock by Peter Dixon

Where do all the teachers go
When its four o'clock?
Do they live in houses
And do they wash their socks?

Do they wear pyjamas
And do they watch TV?
And do they pick their noses
The same as you and me?

Do they live with other people
Have they mums and dads?
And were they ever children
And were they ever bad?

Did they ever, never spell right
Did they ever make mistakes?
Were they punished in the corner
If they pinched the chocolate flakes?

Did they ever lose their hymn books
Did they ever leave their greens?
Did they ever scribble on the desk tops
Did they wear old dirty jeans?

I'll follow one back home today
I'll find out what they do
Then I'll put it in a poem
That they can read to you.

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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