Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

Boy In The Tower Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: strange, plants, menacing, trapped. tower

Boy in the Tower is a modern-day version of Day of the Triffids. It is equally powerful and, although it was originally released as a book for children, it deserves a place on adult reading lists too.

Ade lives on the seventeenth floor of a tower block with his mum. One day the buildings around him start falling down and it becomes obvious that strange plants are eating their foundations. Most people evacuate, but Ade is trapped because his mum is too depressed to leave their flat. The paces quickens as the battle between Man and plants begins…

I picked up a copy of this book with the intention of reading it to my two boys, but stopped reading it to my seven-year-old when I saw a remark about Father Christmas that would have led to too many questions! Undaunted by this initial set-back my 9-year-old and I continued reading and we fell in love with it. It was impossible for either of us to put down and he couldn’t wait all day for the next installment – I caught him reading it 2 hours after his bedtime! I was equally hooked and finished the second half in one sitting.

Boy in the Tower is an example of what is missing from the majority of the book world. The central character lives in a tower block, but isn’t treated as a pariah for doing so. It also sensitively handles depression, cleverly weaving the subject into the story without it dominating or becoming distressing.

The text was simple, but that didn’t prevent it from being vivid and packed with emotion. It was cleverly paced and didn’t dumb things down for children in the way many other books do.

There are a few moments, while we are all eating our food, when, if you were looking at us sitting around the table enjoying our dinner, you would not have been able to tell that we are on the very edge of disatser. That while we are pushing forkfuls of soft rice into our mouths, the Bluchers are creeping around us in a deadly circle, ready to eat the stones and bricks of our home.

 I was slightly concerned that my 9-year-old would find the concept of dangerous plants disturbing, but he loved it. This was the perfect introduction to dystopian fiction for him and an impressive addition to the genre for everyone else. I’d like to see it introduced to the school curriculum (probably for children around the age of 12) and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Day of the Triffids.

(for children aged 10 – 14)

(for adults)

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Who Will Be Longlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize?

The Booker longlist will be announced on Wednesday 29 July. For the last few months I’ve been studying the contenders. It’s a pretty average year for fiction and there are no obvious front-runners for the prize, so it will be interesting to see which titles are selected.

My personal favourite is I Am Radar by Reif Larsen as I thought it pushed the boundaries of both literature and science in new directions – something the majority of other books fail to do, no matter how insightful or well-written they are. I’d also be happy to see The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber do well, especially as it is a fantasy novel – a genre often ignored by the prize committee.

After much deliberation I’ve chosen 13 books that deserve a place on the Booker longlist. I hope that you like my selection!

I predict that these books will be selected for the Booker longlist:

 

The Book of Strange New ThingsOne Third of ParadiseLila

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

One Third of Paradise by Julietta Harvey

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

I Am RadarThe Mark and the VoidA Little Life

I Am Radar by Reif Larsen

The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Spool of Blue ThreadQuicksandAll Involved

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Quicksand by Steve Toltz

All Involved by Ryan Gattis

The Green RoadA God in RuinsPuritymiller

The Green Road by Anne Enright

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Crossing by Andrew Miller

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

What do you think of my choices?

Who would you like to see on the Booker longlist?

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre

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Last week I was fortunate enough to be offered tickets to see a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre in London. I read the book, written by Mark Haddon, shortly after its release 12 years ago and loved it; so I was looking forward to seeing how it had been adapted to the stage. It was even better than I’d hoped it might be and I thoroughly recommend that you go to see it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time begins with fifteen-year-old Christopher, who has Asperger’s syndrome, discovering that his neighbour’s dog has been murdered. He decides to investigate the crime, but ends up discovering dark secrets about his own family.  It held my attention throughout and made me laugh on several occasions. The play also had more serious moments and I loved the way it effortlessly switched between these darker and lighter elements.

The stage adaptation seemed to follow the plot of the book closely. Most of the dialogue was taken directly from it and playwright Simon Stephens cleverly used Christopher’s teacher Siobhan to narrate the rest. The staging was impressive and I particularly liked the cacophony of sound and light produced to show how easily everyday tasks can overwhelm those with autism. It was also wonderful to see real animals used in the production – the arrival of a puppy melted everyone’s heart!

My oldest son has Asperger’s syndrome, but he wasn’t born when I read the book so I knew I’d be watching it in a different light.  I was pleasantly surprised by how accurately the play portrayed the condition, showing how noise and visual stimulation can lead to overload. It also highlighted the positives of the condition, including an honest nature and a single-minded determination to complete the task at hand. Sion Daniel Young deserves special praise for his flawless performance in the lead role. It was amazing to see someone mimic the characteristics of autism (including facial ticks and lack of eye contact) without being condescending or disrespectful.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is one of the best things I’ve seen at the theatre. I think it’s even better than the book and I highly recommend watching it!

Tickets start from £15 and are available from the National Theatre and  Guilgud Theatre Box Offices.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram Source: Personal copy

Five words from the blurb: India, slum, fugitive, prison, redemption

Shantaram is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is an amazing story and the fact that most of it actually happened makes it even more incredible. It may be long, but every single page is a joy to read and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, The Mountain Shadow, when it is released in October.

In 1980 Gregory David Roberts escaped from a high security prison in Australia. He travelled to India using a fake passport and hid from authorities in a Mumbai slum. Shantaram chronicles his adventures as he integrates with the local criminal community; learning how to make money and protect himself in this dangerous environment. He commits many crimes, but the most interesting aspects of the book were the good things he did – setting up a health clinic in the slum and going to extreme lengths to help those around him. This book will make you question the boundaries between right and wrong and to admire the strength of the human spirit.

When all the guilt and shame for the bad we have done have run their course, it is the good we did that can save us. But then, when salvation speaks, the secrets we kept, and the motives we concealed, creep from their shadows. They cling to us, those dark motives for our good deeds. Redemption’s climb is steepest if the good we did is soiled with secret shame.

Shantaram contains everything I like to see in a book – fantastic writing, a cast of well-rounded characters, a compelling plot, and thought-provoking moments of deeper contemplation.  I was gripped throughout and found myself feeling sympathy for even the most notorious criminals. I loved the way everyone was deeply flawed, but most managed to conquer their problems and live a happy life, even when faced with unimaginable hardship.

This book explained a way of life that was unfamiliar to me, but by the end of the novel I felt as though I understood exactly what it would be like to live in this lawless society. The vivid writing created an atmospheric picture of their unconventional lives. Everything was described in unflinching detail, occasionally making the reader feel uncomfortable, but writing with a honesty that can only be admired. 

This is one of those rare books that is almost impossible to criticise. It is a modern classic and should be read by everyone. Highly recommended!

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Familiar Wars by Julietta Harvey

Familiar Wars Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: Greek, boy, massacre, uprooted, family

Familiar Wars was originally published in 1987, but was re-released last week to coincide with the publication of the sequel, One Third of Paradise. I hadn’t heard of Julietta Harvey until review copies of these books fell through my letter box, but I quickly released she is an author I want to follow.

Familiar Wars begins in 1922 and follows Gregoris, a young Greek boy who flees the Turkish massacre in Smyrna.  I loved the way the book combined historical fact with vivid descriptions to create an atmospheric story. Julietta Harvey was born in Greece and her love and knowledge of this country was evident throughout. I knew very little about this period of history, but everything was explained so I could understand the details of this conflict.

The writing quality was excellent and many aspects of the novel reminded me of my favourite book, A Fine Balance. I especially loved the way the descriptions included the sounds and smells of the area, as these added a wonderful depth that too many writers ignore:

But they knew how to eat! The shop flooded with new appetising smells. Hunger for the delicacies appearing behind the counter caught him unawares: it gripped him, he was in tears with sudden total desire. Large green olives swimming in herbs and spices, pickled cabbage fragrant with aniseed, baby aubergines stuffed with dill and basil, pink octopus tenderised in spiced wine, potted prawns as big as mackerels and as fresh and sweet smelling as the sea at dawn, caviar from the Black Sea, each egg as big and juicy as a grape, pastourma – the flower of the Karamanli genius wrapped in layers and layers of cayenne, and underneath, the meat, red and moist and tender, begging to be eaten, ready to melt in the mouth.

The vivid detail meant that some scenes were disturbing, but these were necessary to show how brutal this period of history was. They also helped to show how communities can overcome hardship, harnessing resilience to rebuild a happy life.

The only real negative was that the story contained too many characters. I frequently struggled to remember who some of the peripheral characters were, but in the end I decided this didn’t really matter as the central characters were so strong. 

This is an impressive book which highlights an important period of history. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the way conflict affects ordinary people, especially if you have an interest in this area of the world. I look forward to reading the sequel soon.

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June Summary and Plans for July

June hasn’t been a very good month for me. I wanted to tell you that Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is one of the best books I’ve ever read and that Familiar Wars by Julietta Harvey is an amazing book that reminds me A Fine Balance. Instead I’ve been in and out of hospital; both for myself and members of my family.

It started early in the month when my knee swelled up and I became unable to walk. They successfully drained some strange orange gunk from it (which enabled me to walk again) but still haven’t worked out what is wrong with it. Then my husband went in for surgery on his shoulder; and finally my youngest son was admitted to hospital for suspected epilepsy. Things seem to be on the mend for us all, but we still have far too many hospital appointments scheduled for the next few weeks.

Anyway, enough of my troubles…let’s get back to the books!

Book of the Month:

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth 

Books Reviewed in June:

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield 

Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad 

The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue 

Quicksand by Steve Toltz 

Mary Poppins by PL Travers 

Plans for July

Hopefully I’ll have time to write a few reviews soon. I haven’t had any thoughts about what I might read next – I’m afraid it will have to be a surprise for you! 

Let’s hope July is a much better month!

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