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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Book Review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Author: Philip Pullman

Release date: 2011
Genre: Modern, Myth and Creation
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Canongate

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a twist on the story of Jesus the man and Christ the Redeemer. It’s a complex tale but told with the easy narrative of a traditional tale.

I certainly found this book easy to read. The narrative voice is clear and enticing. It almost invites you to sit by the fireside and listen. Perhaps it is inevitable that this story, which is known so well to the reader, reads like putting on a comfy jumper. And yet, the book may be easy to read but it is difficult to understand. At times I felt confused. I didn’t know which character to trust.

In Pullman’s retelling, Jesus and Christ are twin brothers. Both are flawed, as all humans are. They both believe in the coming of the Kingdom of God but it is in the method of preparation that their views differ. Beyond that, I don’t want to say much more because you already know this story and any twist I reveal would spoil the retelling for you. Every time we tell a story from memory a little detail changes in the retelling. If it is a witnessed event, everyone will remember it a bit differently. I think in part this is a theme of the novel. Sometimes we see what we want to see. Sometimes we change something for dramatic effect.

Although I did find the subject matter interesting and at times even mysterious, there are some passages which are excessively long. They tended to be Jesus speaking or giving a sermon with very little interruption. I’ll be honest here and say that in those parts I was a bit bored.

I know this book caused considerable controversy when it was first published. I think it’s a challenging subject matter to novelise and reinvent in an age where race, religion, ethnicity and belief are sensitive topics which shape identities and communities but can also be entirely misrepresented and misunderstood. I think having the courage to explore this story is to be commended. I wouldn’t call myself religious but religion (from a sociological point of view) fascinates me.

This book won’t be for everyone. But if you enjoy thinking and looking at the world from different viewpoints, it is a rewarding read. I have never read anything like it before.

Source: Gift

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Book Review: Genesis

Author: Bernard Beckett

Release date: 2009
Genre: Science Fiction
Target audience: YA
Publisher: Quercus

Genesis is a sci-fi tale of survival, philosophy and artificial intelligence. In my mind it is also about compassion and what makes us human.

This is a story set in a future where humanity faced extinction. On the island republic founded by Plato, a small society survived and cut itself off from the rest of the world.

The inner form of this novel is really unusual. It is told largely as a record of an examination. The dialogue is between the main character Anaximander and the examiner. Anaximander is being tested on her knowledge and if she passes, she will enter the Academy. The topic she chooses for the exam is the life of Adam Forde. Through the interview, we learn about Adam, Eve and the fate of humanity. In the pauses between the parts of the exam, we also learn about Anaximander and how she comes to be sitting the examination.

This book was such a quick, gripping read. It was intriguing to be given the back story to Anaximander’s exam in little tiny snippets. I was willing her to do well in the exam even though I didn’t know what would face her on the other side. Beckett creates great tension and the feeling of standing on a precipice as if one wrong move will send you into the abyss. The writing is skilfully done.

The ending was a twisty, surprise. I never saw it coming and that was both thrilling and shocking in equal measures. It is weeks since I finished reading this book and I’m still ever so slightly confused by it all but in a good way. It was a revelation! And for a book with the title Genesis, that seems entirely fitting.

Read Genesis if you like your novels concise, thought-provoking and compelling until the very last page.

Source: Own copy

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Book review: Counting by 7s

Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Release date: 1st May 2014
Genre: Contemporary / Realism / Family & Friendship Stories
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: Piccadilly Press

Counting by 7s is a bitter-sweet tale of tragedy, perseverance, friendship and hope. It will make you laugh. It will bring a tear to your eye.

Willow Chance was adopted as a young child and flourished with her new parents but sadly at the beginning of the novel, her life is yet again struck by tragedy and she becomes an orphan. She’s intellectually gifted and not everyone understands her. She tries to make sense of the world in her own unique way. Willow observes plants, animals and diseases and conducts studies into their properties. When her parents pass away, her life is turned upside down. Yet Willow is a change-maker. Her presence impacts the lives of those around her and she transforms others even as she tries not to put down roots.

This story is really easy to get into. Willow’s voice rings clear and you can’t help but like her and admire the things she does for others. Sometimes she doesn’t mean even mean to effect change but it happens anyway. That is what is really charming about her.

The story is written in the first person with Willow as the narrator. But rather unusually, we divert from Willow to read the events experienced by other characters like her counsellor Dell, the taxi driver Jairo and her friend’s mum Pattie. An interesting approach and for this book it works well. It allows you can see the plot coming together and want to see the best possible outcome for Willow.

I think the title doesn’t do this book justice. It is quirky but it doesn’t (for me) capture the spirit of the book. It’s a book about growing towards the sun, about doing good in the world and seeing the best in people. The fact that Willow has a habit like ‘counting by 7s’ is almost irrelevant to the heart of the story. Although it is significant to her as she changes through the course of the novel. It doesn’t really communicate the joy that her influence on others brings into the world and to the reader as they enjoy this book. But whatever the title, this is a wonderful, emotive read that sweeps you into Willow’s world and the Gardens of Glenwood.

Counting by 7s is a heartfelt, endearing book. I really enjoyed reading it. Highly recommended.

Source: Borrowed from the school library

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Book review: Shadow Study

Author: Maria V Snyder

Release date: 12th March 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: YA+
Publisher: Mira Ink

Shadow Study is the first novel in a new fantasy series by Maria V Snyder. It’s a story of power and conflict, love and loyalty.

The story follows Yelena and Valek and takes place almost a decade on from the events in the Poison Study series. Yelena is the Liaison between the realms of Sitia and Ixia. Valek is still the commander’s right hand man. The story begins with an assassination attempt on Yelena’s life as she travels to meet Valek. The attack leaves Yelena vulnerable as she loses her powers. Keeping her predicament secret from Valek, she returns to Sitia to seek help from the Masters and the Council. But her enemies are many and she doesn’t know who she can trust. Meanwhile Valek returns to the Commander to find that security is more than a little lax and that the Commander is testing him...

This book is as thrilling and dramatic as all the other books I have read by the author. She has a wonderful way of creating tension and making you fear the worst is about to happen. It really keeps you turning the pages. Of course, the love story between Yelena and Valek is at the heart of this book and that will please her fans: Especially me.

There is the usual cast of colourful characters Janco and Ari, Opal and Devlen, Leif and Irys all make an appearance. But there are some new characters too and one in particular who really shakes things up. I think most people will guess how it ends but it doesn’t make it any less exciting.

What I loved most about this story was learning about how Valek came to be an infamous assassin and the most feared man in all of Ixia. Imagine a man who leaves you a sculpture on your pillow as a warning to tell you you’re about to be assassinated – terrifying! And yet it was wonderful to find out what drove him to become a cold-blooded killer.  

Shadow Study is a fantastic fantasy read. If you haven’t read any of the books by Maria V Snyder, then go and grab a copy of Poison Study. You won’t be disappointed!

Source: Purcahsed from Foyles online shop

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Book review: Blown Away

Author & Illustrator: Rob Biddulph

Release date: 29th Jan 2015
Format: Picture book
Target audience: 3+
Publisher: HarperCollins


Blown Away is a wonderfully adventurous picture book which delights the reader with its cheeky animal characters and its bright setting.

The story begins with Penguin Blue who is taking a kite for a flight for the first time. He gets blown away and calls for help to his animal friends to help him. They get blown along too and thus they embark on their adventure.

Blown Away is a rhyming picture book and has a lively rhythm. It’s a perfect read aloud book. There is ingenuity in the illustrations which adds charming details like the blue whale becoming the school bus.

This is also a really useful book for beginning to teach the idea of animal habitats and adaptation. The penguins find it too hot in the rainforest. It would be a nice starting point to discover why some animals live in cold climates and some in tropical, humid climates.

I read this book to the Nursery children and to a Year 2 class. It was great to see the different things they noticed and the questions that the older children asked about the language and the setting.

Blown Away is a must have for any primary school library. It’s fab!

Source: Borrowed from the school library