1990s 2016 Books for Children

The Castle of Inside Out by David Henry Wilson

 Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: starving, fumes, selfish, resources, save

The Castle of Inside Out is a children’s book that deals with issues of greed, inequality and pollution. I read it to my two boys (aged 9 and 11) and was impressed by the way it got them to think about the complexity of these issues. It made them realise that some people (and businesses) benefit from creating lots of pollution and it isn’t easy to get them to change their ways. Best in Nashik can provide you guide or tips for better business operations.

The book begins with Lorina, a school girl, following a black rabbit into a magical land; where she discovers a population of starving green people. She befriends them and discovers they are used as slaves by the rich society, who live in a large castle nearby. Appalled by the conditions they are forced to live in, she decides to head to the castle in order to negotiate a better life for the green people.

The book lacked the subtlety required for a entertaining adult book. It was packed with heavy metaphors and the character names (His Porkship, The Piggident, and the bureaurat) were often eye-rollingly cringe-worthy, but my boys found them hilarious. The chatty tone engaged them throughout and they loved the vivid imagery of each scene:

“Help them? Help them? Because, my dear little girl,” said the pig, “it’s none of my business. Whether they starve or don’t starve is their concern, not mine. My concern is money. The cashiest, coiniest, notiest concern in the world. Now pass me my bathrabbit, will you?”
He pointed towards the door, and there, hanging on a hook, was a large white rabbit.

The Castle of Inside Out is a very important book and I think it would be especially useful for schools looking for material to discuss climate change. Children probably won’t grasp all the concepts without explanation, so I recommend reading this aloud with them – that way you’ll also benefit from seeing them laugh at the bizarre scenes.

Recommended to children between the ages of 8 and 12.



1990s Chunkster

The Long Night of White Chickens by Francisco Goldman

 Source: Personal Copy

Five words from the blurb: Guatemala, orphan, murder, corruption, friends

I bought this book because the title intrigued me and I hadn’t read a book set in Guatemala before. It is a long, slow read, but gives a good insight into the problems faced by those living in this country.

The story begins with us discovering what life is like for Roger, a child raised in Boston by his Guatemalan mother. The differences between the American and Guatemalan cultures were revealed and I discovered many facts I didn’t know:

Houses in Guatemala generally don’t have basements. It’s an earthquake country, so people aren’t going to rest an entire house over an abyss. During the rainy season basements would flood. In Guatemala City’s General Cemetery even the dead are buried aboveground, the rich in mausoleums the poor in long, high walls, coffins slid into them like cabinets, decorated with flowers and wreaths, Indian boys running around with rickety wooden ladders they rent for ten centavos to mourners who need to reach the top rows.

As Roger grows up he bonds with his maid, a Guatemalan orphan. One day she leaves to set up an orphanage in her own country. When Roger hears that she has been murdered he heads straight to the scene of the crime to discover what really happened to her.

The Long Night of White Chickens is a massive book. It took me over two months to complete as it is rich in detail and cannot be rushed. This means it occasionally felt frustratingly slow, but on reaching the end I was impressed by the accomplishment. It is an important book that raises more questions than answers; revealing layers of corruption and violence within a frightened society.

This book isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy detailed, meandering stories and would like to understand what it is really like to live in Guatemala then I think this is a great place to start.


1990s Uncategorized

Chocolat by Joanne Harris


Five words from the blurb: chocolate, boutique, French, town, church

Chocolat is one of those books that everyone seems to have read, but I hadn’t even seen the film. This meant I was pleased when someone from my book group selected it for our next discussion. Chocolat tells the story of Vianne Rocher, a newcomer who decides to open a chocolate shop in a small French town.

Everyone else in my book group enjoyed Chocolat, but unfortunately it didn’t really work for me. It was a fast paced read, but it lacked depth. The characters were difficult to distinguish from one another and the setting was so vague that it was hard to tell where/when it was set.

The book also seemed to wage a war on the church, hinting that religion was evil and chocolate good. I’m not religious so wasn’t offended by these sections, but I struggled with the simplicity of the arguments. The best stories don’t pit good against evil, but instead show that there are shades of grey in everything. This was all too black and white for me.

Much of the plot was also a bit far fetched. I often struggle with magical realism and although this book didn’t venture far into this genre I still found the implausibility of some scenes difficult.

On a positive note – the description of chocolate manufacture were wonderful – they made me so hungry!

Protected from the sun by the half-blind which shields them, they gleam darkly, like sunken treasure, Aladdin’s cave of sweet clichés. And in the middle she has built a magnificent centrepiece. A gingerbread house, walls of chocolate- coated pain d’epices with the detail piped on in silver and gold icing, roof tiles of florentines studded with crystallized fruits, strange vines of icing and chocolate growing up the walls, marzipan birds singing in chocolate trees…

I’m interested to see how the film handles these subjects, but it seems as though I’m in the minority in not loving this one.




1990s Memoirs

Flight of Passage by Rinker Buck

Flight of Passage

Five words from the blurb: plane, boys, across, America, adventure

A few weeks ago, in an effort to ease my fear of flying, I requested recommendations for positive stories about aviation. Alex suggested Flight of Passage and I’m so pleased that she did as a passion for flying oozes from the page and I now have a bank of positive images to combat the negative ones I’ve seen on the news – it is exactly what I was looking for!

Flight of Passage is written by Rinker Buck, who was fifteen-years-old when he flew from New Jersey to California with his seventeen-year-old brother Kernhan. The pair bought an old plane and spent the winter lovingly restoring it in their barn. They set off in the summer of 1966 and it is easy to see why they became minor celebrities as news of their adventure spread across the country:

Buck and Kern, the teenage pilots

The book gives detailed descriptions of flight, but it wasn’t boring and technical in the way I found Saint-Exupery to be.

I constantly peered forward to the altimeter on the instrument panel, whacking my brother on his shoulder when he let it get in the way. The little hand on the dial couldn’t move off that 6, and when it did, I wiggled and fishtailed and nudged the stick to move the nose into better wind, to get us back up.

The book was perfectly structured to enable the reader to understand the process of flying. The technical difficulties they encountered showed how resilient aeroplanes are and it was reassuring to understand how pilots are able to overcome problems. It was especially good to know how much can be achieved, even with an old, basic plane.

As well as being a fantastic book about aviation it also showed the fragile relationship between teenage boys and their father. There was a real emotional depth to the story and I loved seeing the way in which they matured over the course of their journey.

Flight of Passage was a fascinating book and contained exactly the right mixture of suspense, information and emotion. Their youthful enthusiasm was contagious and I think it has done a lot to alleviate my fear of flying. For that reason alone I highly recommend it.




All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills

All Quiet on the Orient Express: reissued

Five words from the blurb: Lake District, quiet, camper, stays, amusement

I used to live in the Lake District and so am drawn towards books set there. I had no idea that All Quiet on the Orient Express was based in the region until Annabel included it in her choice of books to represent the UK. I immediately bought a copy, keen to be transported back to the Lake District. Unfortunately that failed to happen, but it was a light, entertaining read.

All Quiet on the Orient Express focuses on a man who finds that he is the only person left on a campsite at the end of the tourist season. He agrees to do a few jobs for the owner and ends up staying, forming relationships with the locals. There was very little plot, with most of the book being a satire that revolved around an eclectic mix of characters.

Unfortunately I didn’t recognise the Lake District in any part of the book. It described a lake, but it failed to conjure up the majesty of the surrounding fells and much of the text made me feel that he wasn’t familiar with the area at all. Take this passage, for example:

He placed a perfect pint of Topham’s Excelsior Bitter on the counter, and I paid him.
‘Won’t you be getting any more after that?’ I asked.
‘We’d never sell enough to make it worth while,’ he replied.
‘What about the locals though? Don’t they drink it?’
‘Course not,’ he said with a grin. ‘They’re not interested in real ale.’
‘Aren’t they?’
‘No, they much prefer keg beers. Lager and such-like. You know, from a factory.’

Nonsense! Cumbrian locals are passionate real ale drinkers. It is probably one of the strongest Bitter supporting regions in the country. There were many other details that didn’t ring true and that, coupled with the lack of the regional dialect, made me feel this book was set in another part of the country. In fact, if I’d read this blind I’d have placed it in Berkshire or Buckinghamshire.

If I ignore the disappointing setting of this book it was a reasonable read. It was an accurate reflection a small community reacting to an outsider and there were many amusing little scenes. It was bit too charming for me, but I can see why so many people love Mills’ writing.

Recommended for those who love light character driven satire.



1990s Chunkster Classics

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

A SUITABLE BOY [A Suitable Boy ] BY Seth, Vikram(Author)Paperback 01-Oct-2005

Five words from the blurb: love, India, independent, struggle, destiny

After 10 months I’ve finally finished A Suitable Boy! It has been a strange reading experience as half the time I loved it and the rest of the time I was battling the urge to abandon it. 

The book is set in 1950s India and gives a complex picture of what life was like as the country struggled to adapt to its Independence. The main plot revolves around Mrs. Rupa Mehra trying to find a ‘suitable boy’ for her younger daughter, Lata, to marry; but it is much more complex than that. There is a massive cast of characters, each with their own subplot, and the book covers many different aspects of Indian politics, religious conflict, and family life. It is an impressive record of Indian history during this time period, but I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped.

The book had a frustrating structure:

  1. 30 – 50 pages to become familiar with a set of characters
  2. Enjoy them for about 20 – 30 pages before being thrown straight into the lives of entirely new group of people
  3. Repeat this process about 10 times
  4. After about 750 pages some of the different sets of characters start to come together (but by this point I had forgotten who many of them were and had to do some research!)
  5. Continue to add new characters
  6. After about 1000 pages finally understand what is happening
  7. Finally, after 1500 pages, experience a massive sense of relief that it is all over!

I might have enjoyed the book more if I’d read it quicker, but reading was such a battle that I dreaded the experience. I often fell in love with it 20 pages after picking it up, only to be thrown out of the narrative a few sections later. It was infuriating! I did enjoy the last 500 pages, but that still meant I struggled through 2/3 of the book. 

I normally love epic reads like this, but I think A Suitable Boy reinforced my need for a small cast of characters – I’d prefer to know everything about a few people, rather than a little about lots. Perhaps my struggles were compounded by the fact it reminded me of my favourite book, A Fine Balance. Mistry’s book managed to convey many of the same themes, but within a smaller, more memorable cast of characters. I wonder how many characters readers will remember from A Suitable Boy a few years after finishing? 

Vikram Seth plans to release the sequel, A Suitable Girl, in 2015. I wont be reading it.