Sunday, 28 August 2011

Review: Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery by Keren David

I loved When I was Joe and the sequel Almost True, so when I saw that Keren David had a new book out I was desperate to read it!  While it is the summer holiday I've not been in school so despite having ordered it it won't arrive until September, so I was really pleased to see that UK Book Tours was offering a copy to review!

Money can’t buy you love. But it can buy many other very nice things. Lia’s mum is a nag, her sister’s a pain and she’s getting nowhere in pursuit of the potentially paranormal Raf. Then she wins £8 million in the lottery, and suddenly everything is different. But will Lia’s fortune create more problems than it solves? Everyone dreams of winning the lottery - but what’s it really like?
Synopsis from Amazon

Lia is an excellent main character, such a proper teenage girl, and I really enjoyed her voice. The characters are believable and at no point did I think 'that wouldn't have happened', with Lia's thought processes and understanding of situations sounding perfectly believable all the way through.  Saying that, I thought that the references to paranormal romance were brilliant, with the questions surrounding Raf's background keeping you guessing right up to near the end!

A couple of serious issues are broached in this book, Lia's best friend has recently become more religious, her younger sister has been bullied, and of course with a romance there's the physical aspect of a relationship as well as the emotional.  The 16 year old characters are very mature about it all and I thought it was well done.

It is a very different story to Keren's previous two novels with a much more lighthearted plot, but it is written with the same wit and style and so was equally enjoyable.  I'd expected a lot and I was not disappointed, 5/5

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Mindless Violence or Realism?

In which I disagree with one of the most popular authors for teen boys in the UK.  I feel terrible but I can't help it...
 Grey Wolves
Spring, 1941. German submarines are prowling the North Atlantic, sinking ships filled with the food, fuel and weapons that Britain needs to survive. With the Royal Navy losing the war at sea, six young agents must sneak into Nazi-occupied Europe and sabotage a submarine base on France's western coast. If the submarines aren't stopped, the British people will starve.
taken from Goodreads

I loved the first couple of books in the Henderson Boys series by Robert Muchamore, but I just finished reading Grey Wolves and was frankly disturbed by the coarse language, not just that the characters used but in the descriptions, and the blunt killing of dozens of German soldiers without remorse. So ok, the Germans are the bad guys in the book but they are still human beings.  At one point near the end I think perhaps Muchamore thought about the emotional impact and so had one of his young characters feel bad (admittedly a minor character had earlier had a small attack of conscience), with Henderson giving the worldly advice “When you stop feeling it you're not human any more”. Too little too late for me, especially with other characters very obviously  enjoying the large scale devastation and slaughter.

I am always amused by how violence is much more acceptable in something written for children than s*x scenes but I don't like it having no real purpose or consequence. I'm a big fan of a lot of books that have extreme violence in them, and often these scenes are necessary to give life to the story, but I think there needs to be consequences or at least a bit of remorse! As a couple of brief examples: The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins are extremely violent, but Katniss was not a willing participant and the series has a strong message, while Darren Shan's Demonata series might be gory enough to put me off my lunch but it is demons that are the bad guys and although a large number of humans die the deaths are regretted. 
Having recently read All Quiet on the Western Front, written between the Wars by a German about a German boy sent to the front in WWI, I was particularly aware of the truth that the majority of German soldiers were fighting for the same reason as the majority of the British – their country was at war so they had no choice. Remarque's story happened to be about a German boy but change a few sentences about home and it could have been about a British soldier. The German soldiers that Henderson and his young team murder in cold blood in many scenes of the book could have been trussed up or avoided rather than taken out using such vicious means. Even if a lot of them were actually terrible people (I'm sure in real-life there were few Gestapo Officers I'd get along with) it does not follow that every soldier they came across deserved to be tortured and killed.  A battle scene is one thing but sneaking up behind someone and cutting their throat, although something that would have happened in occupied France, is not something to promote to young readers as brave and honourable. The very brief mentions of French civilians being killed in retribution for the acts of the Resistance at a couple of points in the book were probably intended to highlight the evil actions of the German occupiers, but to me they just highlighted the callous, selfish nature of Henderson and his team and the lack of worth they afforded a human life.  Muchamore might make the point that Luc is abnormally nasty but he needs to get more of a comeuppance, not just the occasional scolding as if he is a naughty schoolboy.

It could have been a really exciting story, indeed it was in places, but in my opinion so many horrible happenings without any real emotional fallout (I know the point is that teenagers can be hardier than you'd expect with a bit of training but there are limits!) made it uncomfortable reading. It is going the same way as the Cherub series, in which the levels of moral corruption of minors – s*x, drugs and violence – in later books have begun to wear thin. Instead of 'gritty realism' they are books in which the characters just feel like bad role models for our kids, and although I don't like preachy books that have an obvious moral being forced down the readers' throats, I like heartless books even less.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

World Book Night

Last year I signed up for the first World Book Night.  For those of you that don't know, 20,000 volunteers chose from a list of 25 titles to give away 50 copies of (hopefully) their favourite book, so a million books were given out in one night.  I chose The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre (it is an excellent book, I was very pleased it was on the list) and pledged to give out my 50 books at an evening about Reading For Pleasure that I would hold in my Library, for parents, school governors and staff.
I planned an amazing evening, with book trailers on the electronic whiteboard, displays of literacy stuff & brilliant books, tea & cake, and a kick-ass which 1 parent, no governors, and 15 teachers turned has not put me off though!  The number of teachers that said they'd wanted to come, and that have told me since how much they enjoyed the book, made me think that this year I'll just do it for staff because, honestly, teachers are just as likely to be reluctant readers as other members of the public.
They're doing it slightly differently this time round, firstly it is being held on April 23rd (Shakespeare's birthday, and the international World Book Day - the UK does it in March so as not to clash with schools' Easter Holidays).  Secondly, they're letting The Public create the list by gathering everyone's Top 10 books.

I thought long and hard about what to choose as mine, trying to think of things that should have wide appeal, and here's my list:

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Across the Nightingale Floor by Lean Hearn
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Go sign up to the website and tell them your's, you have until the end of August so get thinking, if enough of us do we can get some great YA novels into thousands of hands!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Who Next...?

Who Next...? front cover

The new (4th) edition of Who Next...? A Guide to Children's Authors was published last month by LISU, edited by two Librarians, Viv Warren and Mary Yardley.  I just received a copy in the post as thanks for contributing to it.

It is a tool for parents and Librarians (and anyone else interested in children's books) to help them find authors that write in the same genre or on the same theme, so if they've found a book they love they could find similar things through this book.  It is divided into the age ranges 5-7, 8-11, 12-14 and 14+, obviously not a perfect division because every child is different, but it is still a helpful way of determining whether the content might be appropriate.  There is also a section that just separates by genre, and a list of useful websites and prizes worth perusing.

Worth a look methinks.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Building a Dyslexia Friendly Library

As you may have noticed reading is one of my favourite things, and I can't imagine not being able to do it. For some people though the simple pleasure of sitting down with a good book is unthinkable. This may be because they just prefer to do other things with their time, but for 1 in 10 people in the UK it is because they are dyslexic. I wrote an article about making a Library dyslexia friendly, because even though reading might be a struggle for someone with dyslexia a story can still be enjoyed by other means, information still needs to be found, and the Library as a space can still be important to them. Really that applies to people with all sorts of needs, those with visual impairment, any learning 'difference', physical access issues, or simply the reluctant reader, but I focused the article on dyslexic users in a School Library as my school is working towards achieving the British Dyslexia Association's accreditation of Dyslexia Friendly School. An edited version of the article is Information Today Europe, and look out for the full length version in a future edition of Teen Librarian Monthly!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

What I read

I've always been a reader.  We did tests in middle school (so aged 10 or 11 I think) to establish our reading ages and I got one mark away from full marks, meaning I had a reading age of over 18 (that was as high as the scale went).  I actually don't remember reading many children's books...of course there was Roald Dahl & Dick King-Smith, I loved Flat Stanley and The Worst Witch, will always have a soft spot for The Moomins and The Beano comics and there was one about a house that sailed away...but I skipped out the odd teenage novel that existed back then, I'm ashamed to say I never read a Judy Blume novel because I thought they were a bit girly.  Agatha Christie and Stephen King were my mainstays from 11-14, with the odd classic like Swiss Family Robinson, Coral Island and Campbell's Kingdom slipping in from Dad's bookshelves.
At the age of 15 I discovered The Discworld by Terry Pratchett \o/ by which time he was already up to Jingo (there's a clue to my age folks) so I had some catching up to do!  Amongst other comic fantasy I read a huge number of Robert Rankin and Tom Holt books because they were kept in the same area of the bookshop/library as TP but didn't enjoy them as much (but of course I loved Douglas Adams).  I have a rule that I will only buy a book if I have borrowed it from the Library and loved it.  Terry Pratchett books are the only ones I will preorder without thinking about it.

By the time I went to University I'd caught up with Sir Terry's back catalogue and actually I stopped reading as much because, to be honest, I was having too much fun!  Not much stands out...I picked up the odd Ellis Peters (I do love a good medieval murder mystery), finally got round to reading Lord of the Rings (great, but what's with all the songs?!) and decided I should read all the Jane Austens (I read them too close together though so all the stories have blurred into one).
My degree was in Geology but I didn't really want to be a geologist, and when I finished I decided that my ideal job would be working in the Earth Science Library of the Natural History Museum in London.  With that in mind, I volunteered in a Public Library one summer.  I did try to keep reading the grownup novels, things that would be popular with library users but I didn't particularly enjoy, but because I was the youngest person there by about a million years (in attitude at least) they threw me into the children's section to deal with the Summer Reading Scheme...a real job as a Library Assistant came up and I applied, and they kept me working in the kids section as often as possible simply because no one else really wanted to do it!  Long story short, I did an MA in Library and Information Studies with the intention of becoming a Children's Librarian in Public Libraries but then was totally demoralised - all job applications were met with the criticism that I had no management experience - and I continued as a Library Assistant in various authorities.  Eventually - from the day that I was told I would be taking over running the over 50s club in the Library instead of working with young people (horror) - I started applying for School Library positions.  So here I am, just finished my 2nd year of working only with teenagers (and the odd teacher of course) and love it, yay!

So for nearly 6 years I have really only read children's and YA books, mainly those aimed at 11+.  I particularly love the action packed stories for boys (and discerning girls) - Darren Shan (Lord Loss made me nauseous), Anthony Horowitz (Scorpia Rising was an amazing conclusion to the Alex Rider series), Derek Landy (the humour in his books is fantastic) and Mark Walden (I love that the heroes are on the side of evil!) are some of my favourites.  I don't enjoy the girly books at all but feel I should read the odd one to keep my pupils happy (they think I've read every book in the Library and I like to maintain my image).  I've read a lot of the paranormal romance that has come out in this time, so that some of them have blurred together into one big Vampire/Were/Angel-thing, but I love everything by Maggie Stiefvater and Shiver is one of my favourite books.  I loved Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori and lots of historical books (where you might learn something by accident while enjoying the story, or it will make you think about events you've studied) I rate highly, for example Burning Mountain by R.J. Adlington or Apache by Tanya Landman.  There is a fine line though, between writing an exciting story with a factual background and preaching or teaching a lesson, that is difficult to keep to!  I read a lot that I guess you could call 'issues' books, that also walk a fine line between casting judgement or preaching morals and being a good story, recently I enjoyed Killing Honour by Bali Rai, and reviewed Entangled by Cat Clarke.  Jenny Valentine writes brilliant books along the same lines.  I'm a big fan of the dystopian genre, having read the odd world-changing book like the Chaos Walking and Hunger Games trilogies that I mentioned in my Top Ten Books and of course there's the comic fantasy, like the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer.
I have read and enjoyed too many books to mention, but I've had a Goodreads account for 2 years now, that I imported a couple of year's worth of reading into from another online bookshelf so have a look if you're interested (search for Caroline Fielding, I'm the only one!) or go back through my twitter mini-reviews.  No long reviews but I give a star rating in Goodreads to everything I read, I'm pretty mean with my stars, to have got 4 or 5 I have to have been totally engrossed!  My top 5 books (that I haven't mentioned either here or in the Top Ten) that I've read this year and particularly loved are, in no particular order:
When I was Joe by Keren David - A boy and his mother go into witness protection - really exciting and well written, the sequel Almost True is also excellent.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher - a story about a family's grief and prejudices, from the eyes of the young son - very moving.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - a beautiful story about a boy who's mother has cancer.  I briefly mentioned previously but I feel worth mentioning again - just don't read it in public because you'll blub like a baby!
Savannah Grey by Cliff McNish - a girl is settling into a new foster home and discovers she has supernatural powers - to be honest I have no idea why I loved this book, the premise is ridiculous, but it is just so well written!
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney - so silly, and I love it!

I tend to not enjoy things that adults say you must read, especially the 'classics', but recently I've been reading a few grownup books - I asked friends and family for recommendations - because it was about time really, but I'm alternating things I 'should' read with things I want to ;-)  If you guys can think of anything I'm missing out on then let me know!