Still more Shiny linkiness


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I know, it’s getting a bit like Monty Python’s Gondolas around here… but I have to highlight my last two new reviews in Issue 2 of Shiny New Books for you, don’t I? Again, it’s one fiction, one non-fiction:


The Way Inn by Will Wiles


I really enjoyed Wiles’s first novel Care of Wooden Floors (which I reviewed here) – a quirky farce about flat-sitting for a minimalist with new flooring.

His second novel is equally quirky, but he has moved into much darker territory. The Way Inn satirises lookalike hotel chains, trade conferences and the business types that frequent them, and be warned, it will definitely mess with your head!

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this one. (9/10 and I bought my own copy.)

Read my full Shiny review here.

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The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman

You may have heard of Lightman before from his quirky novels and stories. However, first and foremost he is a physicist and has published many books of essays.

This is his latest – a survey of the latest thinking on the origins of the universe. Each essay takes a different aspect and alongside the technical discussion (which is lucid and understandable to the non-scientist), he illustrates it with his own life experiences and how nature does it. Fascinating stuff (8/10, Source: publisher – thank you.)

Read my full Shiny review here

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To explore either of these books further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Way Inn by Will Wiles, pub Fourth Estate, June 2014, Hardback 352 pages.
The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Alan Lightman, pub Corsair, May 2014, Hardback 176 pages.

OK – you’re wanting to see the ‘Gondolas’, aren’t you. Here’s the full Python travelogue, narrated by John Cleese. It was originally shown as a short in the cinema before Life of Brian

We followed our men to Los Alamos …


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The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

wives of los alamosThis is not a novel about the development of the atom bomb, but rather the development of the community surrounding the laboratory which produced the bomb. Most of the scientists who worked at Los Alamos were seconded to the military from all over the country in 1943 for the Manhattan Project under its director Robert Oppenheimer, who had chosen the location for the new top secret facility.

Many of these scientists were family men and TaraShea Nesbit’s novel tells the story through the eyes of their wives. The need for secrecy was such that the scientists’ families followed them to Santa Fe, and on to Los Alamos on the mesa – much easier to keep a lid on things with them all there. Their wives, and children if they already had them, were installed in a fenced compound of pre-fabs outside the ‘technical area’, and she tells how they established new lives for themselves during the later years of WWII.

Nesbit’s style is experimental. Each paragraph is a little vignette set within a collection of paragraphs on a theme. Each paragraph is written using ‘we’, the first person plural – but makes it clear that within the collective ‘we’ are the many different individuals that made up the community – they all have a voice, so both sides of the story are usually expressed within each paragraph…

We were round-faced, athletic, boisterous, austere, thin-boned, catlike, and awkward. When we challenged people’s political views we were described as stubborn or outspoken. Our fathers were academics – we knew the academic world. We married men just like our fathers, or nothing like them, or maybe only the best parts. As the wives of scientists in college towns we gave tea parties and gossiped, or we lived in the city and hosted cocktail hours. We served cigarettes on tin trays. We leaned in close to the other wives, pretending we were  good friends, cupping our hands and whispering into their ears. And, most importantly, we found out how to get our husbands tenure.

The themed collections of paragraphs built up to present the chronological story from arrival to departure. Many of the families had a hard time settling into the army way of doing things, not forgetting the weather – from snow and mud to blinding, never-ending sunshine. They also had to get used to not seeing as much of their husbands…

Many of us hated the women scientists. And the women scientists hated us, or they had better things to worry about. We tried to be their friends. We invited one of them to lunch but she was busy. We despised what she knew and how she laughed at our questions.

But there must have been something in the water, for soon the community was awash with babies.  The Army General complained. The Director said, ‘I’m not going to interfere in the lives of adults.’ There is a sense of settling down, the women build their friendships and routines; some become friends with the local Tewa women who are hired to be helps. Naturally too, some friendships and marriages will founder and not all will last the course. Not being able to quiz their husbands about their work, the women try to make their often mundane life sound exciting. They just do their best to get on with things as their husbands work towards the big one. You know how that ends – but it’s still shocking to read about it in the novel.

It may be experimental, but the style worked for me. It does require more concentration to absorb all the strands than a straight-forward narrative, and consequently it took longer to read than a conventional novel. What was truly fascinating was the way that the style celebrates the differences in the women, they are all individuals and they each have a story to tell in the book. Having said that the middle section, once the wives were well established in situ, was not as riveting as the beginning or the end, but I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s a brave author that debuts with such an unconventional first novel, but Nesbit shows great promise and I shall look out for her name in the future. (8.5/10)

For another review of this book see Susan’s at A Life in Books here.

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Source: Amazon Vine review copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit, pub April 2014 by Bloomsbury Circus, Hardback 240 pages.

P.S. Following Col’s comment below: here is a clip of Deacon Blue singing Looks Like Spencer Tracy Now from 2013. Thanks Col!



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ManfredsThe bulk of this post is just a bit of fun for the start of the silly season – but the theme happens to coincide with the title of one of classic UK R&B band Manfred Mann’s greatest hits.  The Manfreds as they are now known, are still going strong – still with Paul Jones singing, and original members Tom McGuinness and Mike Hugg in the band – augmented by other musicians including my school-colleague Simon Currie (2nd from left) on sax! They’re probably touring near you somewhere soon – details on their  website.

Which brings me back to 5-4-3-2-1… There’s not enough poetry on this blog, and when it does happen, it tends to be short and flippant – that won’t change in this post I assure you! I just wanted to explore different forms of short poems and share some with you:

Five Line Poems – The Limerick

A well-crafted limerick should make you laugh and trip off the tongue in the proper meter (A-A-B-B-A). Some good word-play always helps too. Here are a few clean faves:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.    (Anon)

There was a young lady called Wright
Who could travel much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.    (Anon)

Naturally, that scientific one appeals to me – and apprarently it was Einstein’s favourite too.  Before we leave limericks, we mustn’t forget the ‘anti-limerick’. This one is attributed to W.S.Gilbert and is a parody of Lear.

There was an old man of St. Bees,
Who was stung in the arm by a wasp,
When asked, “Does it hurt?”
He replied, “No, it doesn’t,
I’m so glad that it wasn’t a hornet.

You can find a few more limericks in a post I did ages ago here.

Four Line Poems – The Quatrain

The_Tyger_BM_a_1794There are different rhyming schemes to the quatrain – A-B-A-B or A-A-B-B or even A-A-A-A. Just to turn serious for a mo, the first is eloquently shown by a verse from Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, and the second in Blake’s The Tyger:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Many song lyrics also contain quatrains. Take these verses: The first from Hotel California by the Eagles, the second from A New England by Billy Bragg:

Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.

Three Line Poems – The Haiku

Once upon a lilypad © Larry Ostby

Once upon a lilypad © Larry Ostby

Basho was one of the masters of this Japanese form. Three lines with 5-7-5 syllables. Usually seasonal or nature based like this famous one of his…

An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

I had a go back in autumn 2009 – it was fun …P1000210 - Copy (800x544)

Autumnal sunshine
Lifts the spirits when reading
Books about vampires.

Early October
screaming girls sing ABBA at
Juliet’s party.

A damp evening,
forty pounds doesn’t go far
at the fair.

Two Line Poems – The Rhyming Couplet

Just a couple of examples for you…

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree. – Joyce Kilmer

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind. – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare.

One Line Poems - Is there such a thing?

Looking for some quotes, I kept coming up against the argument that most sentences touted as one-line poems are really aphorisms like Hippocrates’ famous one (orig Greek, but always quoted in Latin) Ars longa, vita brevis.  Art is long, life is short.

Uneducated in poetry as I am, I am of the feeling that if it sounds like poetry – why not let it be poetry. However, I think Ogden Nash got it right with the internal rhyming of:

Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.

If you have any short poems you’d like to share, do leave a comment.
Thank you and good night!

Some more Shiny linkiness …


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Two great summer reads for you today from my reviews over at Issue 2 of Shiny New Books. One fiction, and one non-fiction. Fiction first…

Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy

meetingI met Kate at an event a few weeks ago and she was lovely to talk to – she even knew about my little early blog review of her first non-poetry book Antigona and Me. I read this novel before I met her though, so wasn’t influenced by how nice she is!

Shortlisted for the Costa first novel award this year, and longlisted for the Desmond Eliott Award, Meeting the English is a delicious social comedy set in Hampstead, and chronicles the events of one summer when a young Scotsman comes down to London for a job in 1989. If you enjoy Fay Weldon or Allison Pearson’s novels, you’ll like this one too. Read it in the sunshine and have a good giggle – there is one scene that made me absolutely snort with laughter though, you have been warned… (9.5/10)

My review at Shiny is here.

A Curious Career by Lynn Barber

Curious CareerI’ve long enjoyed Barber’s celebrity interviews in the British press, and some of her best are included in full in this volume of memoir about her long career in journalism. Alongside the good, the bad and the ugly are a myriad of tips in the art of interviewing – the most important of which are do your research, always take two recording devices..

Read my full Shiny review here.

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To explore either of these titles on Amazon UK – please click below:
Meeting the Englishby Kate Clanchy, Picador 2013, paperback 320 pages.
A Curious Career by Lynn Barber, Bloomsbury 2014, hardback 224 pages.


Are there dark days coming? I don’t think so …


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Apocalypse Next Tuesday by David Safier

apocalypse_next_tuesday_1A bestseller in Germany, Safier’s novel, translated by Hilary Parnfors, got me interested within a few words of the press release in which it told how Satan, who has come back to Earth as a dead ringer for George Clooney, is recruiting horsemen for the apocalypse next week.

Gorgeous, soon-to-be-married-and-thus-no-longer-available-for-us-me, George? Nooo! But you must admit that’s one hell of a hook for a contemporary comic novel about Armageddon, guaranteed to pique the interest of readers of both sexes.  You know how it’s going to go from the first paragraph, in which we meet Marie…

There’s no way that Jesus can have looked like that, I thought to myself as I sat in the parish office staring at the painting of the Last Supper. He was a Levantine Jew, wasn’t he? So why did he look like a Bee Gee in most of the pictures?

Marie, a single, overweight thirty-something has gone to discuss her forthcoming nuptials to Sven with the Reverend Gabriel. Gabriel is challenging her desire to get married in church because he thinks she doesn’t believe enough. ‘You were already doubting God during confirmation class twenty years ago,’ he quipped.

20140715_132241_resizedMarie definitely believes in the free will approach to the Almighty, unlike her atheist sister, Kata who is a cartoonist and draws a regular strip chronicling their sibling life. Kata’s cute philosophical cartoons crop up throughout the novel, whenever there is a big question to be asked.

When Marie has a crisis of faith and jilts Sven at the altar, she retreats home to her father’s house, where her Dad’s new even-younger-than-Marie, Belarusian bride Svetlana is in place. Everyone else is happy except her, and she hates Svetlana. She moaned: ‘I was now officially a M.O.N.S.T.E.R. (i.e. Majorly Old with No Spouse, Tots, Energy or Resources).’  As if to confirm this, the roof falls in on her, literally.

However, her life will change with the arrival of a thirty-something carpenter come to make the repairs called Joshua. ‘The carpenter’s gentle, dark brown eyes seemed very serious, as if they’d already seen a thing or two.’ Yup, you’ve guessed it. It’s the Messiah, returned to Earth to thwart Satan and reclaim Earth for God. Joshua hand’t reckoned on arriving in a little town in Germany though, let alone meeting a third rather outspoken and tomboyish Mary in his life.

What follows is one of those When Harry Met Sally type of romances, with added Satan doing nasty things in the background.  Joshua has a lot of wising-up to do to exist in the 21st century – being nice isn’t good enough. Marie finds herself falling for this old soul, and their one step forward, two steps back relationship is rather charming.  I’ll refer you to the Book of Revelations for an idea of how it all might end …

I did enjoy this book a lot, but I don’t think it was entirely successful as a comedy. Although I’m a non-believer, I did like the way it didn’t make fun of Jesus or God, just the situations they were in, but there wasn’t enough of Satan. He could have been more like Bulgakov’s devil, whipping up the townspeople more, creating more obstacles for Marie and Joshua to overcome. Instead he was mostly absent in the middle of the book, and just left them to get on with it.

The novel is set in a small town in Germany and, like the Asterix books, all the German idioms and references have been translated into the appropriate English ones. Sometimes this jarred a little; Marie would comment for instance, ‘There seemed to be more sex and crime in this book [the bible] than on Channel 5.’  There were many pop music references but I suspect that many, if not most of them, also appear in the German.

I found this novel chucklesome rather than laugh out loud, (unlike the wonderful Rev Diaries) but it would make a diverting summer holiday read. (7/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Apocalypse Next Tuesday by David Safier, pub May 2014 by Hesperus Press, paperback 272 pages.

Is it raining?


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robin page bookI’ve been dipping into my lovely little book of weather lore again (a previous dipping here) to see what Robin Page has to say about St Swithin’s Day – I’m sure you all know the proverb:  One version goes like this…

St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.

Page says:  Even now farmers take this date very seriously, for a dry St Swithin’s can mean a less worrrying harvest. On our farm we certainly take notice of the weather on 15 July and view rain on that day with anxiety.  

St Swithun was Bishop of Winchester in the 9th Century. According to legend he asked to be buried where rain would fall on him, and was buried in the churchyard. Later though, his remains were brought into the cathedral, and he was said to be so angry it rained for forty days and they moved him back outside again! (Various versions of this story can be found in/on different sources.)

english yearIn The English Year – another lovely book on my shelves – a sort of almanac of folklore and traditions, it also suggests that St Swithin’s day was crucial to the apple crop.

“You won’t have the jam made till the apples are christened … We never eat or cut apples until St Swithin has christened them.”

However, the Met Office says it’s never been proven – since records began back in 1861 there have never been 40 consecutive dry or wet days starting on St Swithin’s day.  That’s fair enough, for forty days is a long time – however depending on where the jet stream lies apparently, it does tend to be either unsettled and damp or dry and settled so a predominance of rain or sunshine over the forty days is much more probable …

Happy St. Swithin’s (or St Swithun’s) day!  

Very Inspiring Blogger Award


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It was lovely to log in this morning and to find out that the lovely Susan of the lovely blog A Life In Books has nominated me for a lovely Very Inspiring Bloggers Award. Thank you Susan, it’s much appreciated, coming from someone who has such a finger on the pulse of what’s good in the world of books. I must add that we’re delighted to have you on board as one of our reviewers over at Shiny New Books too and next time I come to Bath for a day out, I’d love to meet you in person…

The award has the following rules:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated
  • Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you

Here are my 7 facts:
1. I was born in leafy Surrey in the much-maligned Purley, which is just south of Croydon proper, and my immediate family all still live there. I’m the one that got away!
2. I’m a single mum to a teenaged daughter with gorgeous Pre-Raphaelite tresses, (strawberry blonde or light auburn depending on the light).
3. I’m lucky enough to have two indie bookshops on my doorstep in Abingdon. Mostly Books and The Bookstore. I am spoilt for choice and try to support them both.
4. I’m going to have a break from compiling and hosting the Abingdon Mostly Bookbrains literary quiz next spring. After doing five, I’d like to have a go at actually competing. Fingers crossed that one of the MB Book Groups will take it on…
5. These days I work as a science technician/TA in a local prep school for boys – which is actually fun (apart from washing up test-tubes – yes I do have a dishwasher, but you can’t mix chemicals in the machine – they must be rinsed first). Although the pay doesn’t match up to a teacher’s salary, I do get to do pond-dipping, flame-testing for fireworks colours, all sorts of activities with the Junior Science Club, growing crystals… and hopefully help to enthuse some future scientists.
6. My musical claim to fame is having played (second) violin in an orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle, before he hit the big time. It was in 1979 or 1980 (bit hazy), and having led the Croydon Youth Orchestra for a while, now at uni, I was invited by CYO conductor Ian Butterworth to join the Salomon Orchestra – a London-based non-professional symphony orchestra, for a series of concerts at St John Smith Square amongst other venues. We played Mahler 5 (I think) as the main piece. I only did one season though.
7. My personality type tends to be ‘extrovert introvert’ – I’m rather shy until I get to know you. But I love extrovert colours – driving an metallic apple green car, wearing a lot of bright red.

That’s enough about me… here are ten other wonderful bloggers that I’d like to nominate to receive this award (15 is too many).

1. Tales from the Reading Room. As co-founder of Shiny New Books, I’d be remiss not to put Victoria at the top my list. Apart from that, her blog is inspirational in the sheer quality of her writing about books and her life, and she’s a lovely person too.
2. Stuck in a Book. Simon’s blog is one of the first I discovered when I dipped my toe into the blogosphere. We rarely read the same kind of books, but I really want to know about all the mid 20th century novels I don’t have time for – he is for me, the go-to expert at middlebrow fiction, (and another Shiny colleague and friend).
3. Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. I always thought I was a fan of books-Russian (although you wouldn’t know it from my blog), but Karen is a real expert and writes so interestingly about many Russian and Eastern-European authors and poets, she makes Russian literature fascinating.
4. Thinking in Fragments. Alex reads a big variety of novels, crime in particular, but underlying it all is a love and understanding of Shakespeare and an academic passion for the art of storytelling. A theatre fan, she can often be found in Stratford.
5. Tolstoy Therapy. A relatively new to me blog that I plan to visit more frequently, Lucy has a unique angle on literature as bibliotherapy and is interested in the mood-enhancing powers of a good read.
6. Harriet Devine’s Blog. I have to include my other Shiny New Books Editor. Like Simon and Victoria, Harriet has been blogging for years, and I respect her opinions a lot. She’s a big crime fan and lives in France, so that’s already two ticks – but also manages to find wonderful pictures and artworks of women reading each week.
7. Reading The End. Jenny’s blog is such fun! She’s young and opinionated and has the most hilarious tags I’ve ever seen.
8. His Futile Preoccupations. Guy has two reading passions – translated classic European fiction and noir. I must admit I gloss over the first category, but I adore his noir reviews. He is also one of my most frequent commenters – Thank you Guy!
9. Lonesome Reader. Another new to me blog, Eric writes some great reviews on a wide range of books, and we’ve recruited him to Shiny!
10. Savidge Reads. I couldn’t leave out the other Simon. If Simon was a Mr Man, I’d call him Mr Project as he always has so many sidelines on the go – but his passion for books always comes through on his blog.

Books of the year … so far


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As we’re just past halfway through the year, I thought I’d take a quick look back at my favourites so far – all books getting 10/10 from me…

tigermanI’ll start at the top – my book of the year, so far, is one I’ve recently reviewed for issue two of Shiny New Books. Tigerman was the first novel I’ve read by the amazing Nick Harkaway. I loved this book, and I became a complete fangirl (if you can say that of a 54-year-old woman – Ed) when I met him at a recent event (see here). Tigerman is an eco-thriller about an post-empire island paradise and features superheroes and romance in a style Graham Greene would have been proud of. And, I’ve got Nick’s first two novels still to read – Yay!

hangover squareBack in January, I experienced the beautiful prose of Patrick Hamilton for the first time when I read Hangover Square. This story of unrequited love in darkest Earls Court just before the war was simply stunning. Very dark though… See my review here.

Life-After-LifeI’d been put off reading Kate Atkinson by not liking her debut when I tried it many years ago. I’m so glad our book group chose Life after Life – for I loved it. It’s sheer cleverness won me over within pages and then I started to appreciate the writing. See my review here.

It’s back to Shiny New Books for two last favourites – well it is a book recommendations site after all:

bedsit disco queenBedsit Disco Queen is Tracey Thorn’s autobiography of her life in the world of pop and it is such fun and so brilliantly written all the way through (unlike a certain other popstar’s memoir!). You don’t need to be a fan of Everything But the Girl, the band which formed the major part of her musical career, but after reading this you’ll want to be one.

into the treesAnd lastly, Into the Trees by Robert Williams. Everything that forests stand for, both good and bad, is used to great effect in this understated contemporary novel about the effects a forest has on a family living in it. It deserves a wider readership – see my review here.

So that’s my top five so far out of over sixty books read. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re still in my books of the year by the end of December.  There’s some big names coming up for autumn – McEwan, Waters, Amis, and John Cleese’s memoir to mention just a few that I’ll be reading…

What has been your best read of the year so far? Do share …

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To explore any of these titles further on Amazon, click on the author name below:
Harkaway, Hamilton, Atinson, Thorn, Williams.


So bleak – thoughts about the Carnegie winner


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The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

BunkerI’d been too busy lately to get involved with reading any of the Carnegie shortlisted books this year until the results were announced. The Carnegie Medal for 2014 was recently awarded to Kevin Brooks’ latest novel The Bunker Diary – and it’s been very controversial. I immediately turned to the copy I’d bought and read it in one session with a short pause to make tea. Gosh! It was good … BUT … and there is a big but – it is the most depressing book I have read in a long time.

It’s now traditional for years 7-8 in schools (11-13yrs) to shadow the Carnegie Awards and pick their own winner from the shortlist. The boys at my school picked this book as their winner, as did a wider group of Abingdon schools (see here), so it has been very popular with early teens indeed. Let’s find out a little about it.

The book starts with a boy telling us how he’s woken up to find himself in a concrete room – a small complex with six bedrooms, a bathroom and communal area. The only way in is by lift. He’s all alone. He tells us how he was kidnapped: ‘I thought he was blind, that’s how he got me.’  He went to help a blind man lift his case into a van…

Teenager Linus has been living on the streets for five months, he ran away ‘to escape the shittiness of school and the emotional madness of being at home.’  His father is a successful cartoonist and illustrator and has no time for his son. His mother is gone. Linus’ father is rich – he supposes he’s been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. That hope is dashed a couple of days later, when the lift comes down and disgorges a seven year old girl, Jenny, from Essex where her father works for a DIY chainstore.

It’s obvious that they’re being watched. Linus and Jenny try sending messages up in the lift to ask for food. It works. But the lift also brings down four more people to fill the rooms: Fred, a big burly junkie, Bill a businessman, a woman Anja who mostly keeps to her room and cries, and Russell an older man who is already dying of cancer. You’ll root for Linus and Jenny all the way through as they are forced to grow up fast in the changed dynamics of the group and take the lead on thinking of escape plans.

I have to pause there for a *** SPOILER ALERT *** I won’t discuss the plot any more in detail, but it is difficult to discuss the novel further without giving away the sense of the ending.

I mentioned earlier that there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the selection of this book as the Carnegie winner. The Carnegie awards were set up to champion children’s fiction, and the short-listed books ‘appear’ to be edging up the age range each year. The Bunker Diary is a young adult novel. Despite the 11-13 year-olds enjoying it in the shadowing exercise, I wouldn’t recommend it to that age group in general. If you look at the official shortlist page here, you’ll see that three of the eight books including The Bunker Diary are recommended for 14+, four are 11+ and just one is 9+. The Carnegie Medal is, according to the website, ‘awarded by children’s librarians for an outstanding book for children and young people,’ so it is fair to include YA books isn’t it? Or should a separate prize be developed for 14+ titles?

If you look at the list of winning books there are many titles that are full of war, violence, revenge, bullying and so on – all challenging subjects for young people to read about. Not all the prize-winners have happy endings either, e.g. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and even C.S.Lewis’s The Last Battle, however, the context that they are set in, i.e. war in both these cases makes tragedy seem an acceptable way to end a novel. The Bunker Diaries doesn’t have that excuse - the kidnapping and forced imprisonment of the six is apparently entirely at the whim of the kidnapper. There’s no explanation about it at all. It doesn’t even feel like the kidnapper is treating them as experiments – it’s purely a game until the end, like a cat playing with a half-dead mouse. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

I think it’s this feel of senseless violence and gratuitous torture that has got people riled. Read Alison Flood’s coverage of the debate in the Guardian here, and see what novelist and children’s book critic Amanda Craig says here. It’s fascinating stuff.

I must admit to feeling a bit conflicted. I didn’t like it - it’s not a book you can like, but I appreciated it and was numbed by it. I’m not a fan of unnecessary happy endings, but this one got me asking why, why, why? There are no answers, but yes, I would let my daughter read it if she wanted to, and I would be happy if they were to discuss it at school. Not every parent or librarian will feel this way though.

junkCILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals aren’t afraid of controversy though…

Can you remember back to 1996 when Melvin Burgess’ novel Junk, about teenage heroin addicts won?

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
The Bunker Diaryby Kevin Brooks, Penguin 2013, paperback 272 pages.
Junkby Melvin Burgess.


A ‘Shiny’ review …


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I was so busy doing other things behind the scenes etc with issue 2 of Shiny New Books this time, that I didn’t write as many reviews, plus a couple of the books I’d hoped to recommend there didn’t quite come up to scratch, so there won’t be as many linky posts from me this time!

However, I did read several really, really good novels and would like to direct you over to read my full reviews, and the first I shall highlight is:

Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato


I think that Much Ado About Nothing is possibly my favourite Shakespeare comedy (especially the film version with Ken and Em), and Marina Fiorato is one of the few authors of mostly historical novels that I really look forward to reading. Her first novel The Glassblower of Murano was one of my first book reviews on this blog (here) followed by The Madonna of the Almonds the following year (see here).  I find her novels more fun than many other historical ones, and although they’re based upon impeccable research, they are not slaves to recorded history living happily alongside.

So to Beatrice and Benedick. It’s a brave author who takes on Shakespeare to write a prequel – to flesh out the sparring would-be lovers back story that it’s obvious they have, but old Shakey never told.

I loved it. It’s very dark in places, but also very funny, and if you liked Ken and Em in the film and imagine them in this novel, you’ll love it too. Perfect lighter summer reading. (9/10)

So get thee over to SNBks ==> full review here.

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Source: Review copy – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato, Hodder & Stoughton, May 2014, Hardback 448 pages.
The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato, paperback.


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