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

Book of the Month for November 2017

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
reviewed by Ken Surridge, 29 January 2017

The novel tells Matilda's story, a girl caught up in the brutal civil war on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville. While Matilda has the support of her strict mother and kind teacher, it is her relationship with Pip, the character from Great Expectations that maintains her desire to live.

When war breaks out, Mr Watts, married to Grace, a native of Bougainville, is the only white person who stays. With the school closed, he decides to teach the children, introducing them to the author Charles Dickens.

Dolores, Matilda's mother, determined not to let the white man pollute her daughter's mind, steals Watts' Great Expectations book. When soldiers find Pip's name carved into the sand, they are convinced that Pip is a rebel and without the book, Mr Watts cannot prove them wrong. The soldiers burn the village to the ground, kill Watts, and rape and kill Matilda's mother.

The novel blurs the boundary between fiction and reality. There is a lyrical quality to Jones' writing where people are "silly as bats" and "argue like roosters". It is an extraordinarily powerful book.

Classic Suggestion for November 2017

A Passage to India By E. M. Forster

A Passage to India is based on Forster's experiences in India. It is set in the 1920s, the time of the British Raj and the independence movement. It won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, and Time magazine included the novel in its "All Time 100 Novels" list.

Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs Moore feel trapped in the Indian town of Chandrapore. To escape, they seek the help of the cultured. muslim Dr Aziz together with whom they visit and explore the Marabar caves.

When Adela thinks she finds herself alone with Dr. Aziz in one of the caves, and panics and flees. Despite the fact that Adela is wrong, Dr. Aziz ends up charged and tried for assaulting her. The incident stirs up tensions between the Indians and the ruling British.

The novel is a brilliant study of a society ruled by an imperial power. Through the four main characters, it explore contemporary political and cultural issues from race to identity.

Teen Book Idea for November 2017

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

It is 1910 and fifteen year old Sig Andersson is sitting in a cold, bare shack many miles north of the Arctic Circle, alone but for his father's frozen body lying on a table, when there is a loud knock on the door. His older sister and stepmother have gone for help.

A giant of a man has come to collect the gold that he believes he is owed by Sig's father, Einar Andersson. The man, Gunther Wolff, has a gun and seems ready to kill to get the gold he came to collect.

There is a gun in the shack, but it is in the storeroom and Sig has only ever fired it once, when he was 12 years old. Even when Anna, Sig's sister, comes back, they are still not able to overpower Wolff.

The arrival of Gunther Wolff forces Sig to investigate his father's history as an assay clerk for the mining company in the settlement of Nome, and his mother's murder.

The action in the novel takes place over a few days moving between past and present, explaining how Einar was lured to Alaska by stories of gold. The tension of the story holds the reader firmly until its end.

Children's Book Recommendation for November 2017

A Busy Day for Birds by Lucy Cousins

Award-winning author, Lucy Cousins, delivers a beautifully illustrated picture book filled with delightful characters doing what they do each day in technicolour animation.

"Can you imagine ... just for one day ... you're a busy bird? Yes, a bird! Hooray!"

Lucy Cousins' story of birds is brimming full of energy with flying, flapping, pecking, and hopping galore, accompanied by lots of noise - "cock-a-doodle-doo!", "tuwit-tuwoo" and even "tra-la-la" - and all told with wit and charming rhyme.

From a flamingo standing on one leg to a waddling penguin, it is difficult to decide whether the prose or the illustrations are more skilled and delightful. Regardless, both will engage and entertain readers of all ages again and again.

While this picture book is intended for children two and over, its bold, bright birds will appeal to both adults and children. The author has delivered yet another remarkable book.

Author Suggestion for November 2017

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway is regarded as one of America's greatest novelists famous for novels like A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Hemingway was born in 1899. At 17, he started work as a journalist and in 1918, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army. and was later by the Italian government. On his return to the US, he returned to journalism and was soon sent back to Europe as a foreign correspondant.

Living in Paris in the twenties, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises (1926), and A Farewell to Arms (1929), about an American ambulance officer's disillusionment in the war. Hemingway drew on his experiences as a reporter during the Spanish civil war for his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the story of an old fisherman long and lonely struggle with a fish and the sea, won him the 1953 Pulitzer Prize.

In 1954, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize. His physical and mental health deteriorated steadily and on 2 July 1961 suffering from depression, he committed suicide.

Prize of the month for November 2017

Books Are My Bag Readers Awards 2016

Max Porter won the 2016 Books Are My Bag Readers Awards winners with Grief is the Thing with Feathers.

Two young boys and their father are grieving the death of a mother and wife. In the midst of their grief, Crow arrives, uninvited, to stay.

He is needed by the family, despite the ever-present smell of decay and scruffy feathers. He is a friend, a reminder, a message, a comfort, and a nuisance. He antagonises, cares, and tricks, but most importantly, he helps the family heal, very slowly but steadily.

Crow is drawn to the grieving family, and becomes a fixture. There is no fanfare and the change is almost imperceptible but effective. Crow enables, without any fanfare, healing for the boys and their father.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is Porter's debut novel. It is an extraordinarily well written novel from a talented new author who will hopefully continue to produce books of such an exceptionally high standard.

Poem of the month for November 2017

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

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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