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The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for teenagers

Book of the Month for January 2017

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Brothers Subhash and Udayan are inseperable as children growing up in Calcutta. They are seperated for the first time when they go to university, and their relationship slowly unravels as they choose different paths.

Udayan, the popular outgoing brother, is drawn to politics because of the injustice he percieves in his society. He joins the Naxalite movement, fighting against the local government to eradicate inequity and poverty.

Udayan is prepared to risk all, and does, leaving a young pregnant wife. Subhash is alone, and chooses to leave, taking Udayan's wife with him, as his own, and intending to raise the child as his child.

The family of three cannot escape the past by moving to America. Superficially, they are both successful and happy, but behind closed doors, the past shapes their relationships and the choices they make. Even though he is long dead, Udayan is ever present in many ways.

Classic Suggestion for January 2017

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The book is so compelling and the writing so skilled that it is difficult to believe that Mary Shelley started writing it when she was only eighteen.

Frankenstein is the story of scientist Victor Frankenstein, determined to find the secret of life and after years of research, discovers it. He creates a being from stolen body parts and one night in the secrecy, brings it to life. He looks at what he has created and is horrified by the monster that he sees.

The naive monster escapes, and in his ignorance of the world, unleashes a campaign of wickedness including the murder of Frankenstein's youngest brother. Justine Moritz, a kind, gentle girl who had been adopted by the Frankenstein household is condemned, and executed for the murder.

Victor grows despondent, guilty with the knowledge that the monster he has created bears responsibility for the death of two innocent loved ones.

The story is both terrifying and profound raising questions still relevant today.

Teen Book Idea for January 2017

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

It became the bestselling young adult hardback debut of 2015 for very good reason. "By turns almost unremittingly poignant, caustically honest and very, very funny, The Art of being Normal, is, as you might expect, the antithesis of what it says on the tin." Lisa Williamson writes with remarkable clarity on a controversial and difficult subject.

David Piper and Leo Denton appear to be very unlikely friends because they seem so different. However, they become very good friends after when Leo stands up for David in a fight, on Leo's first day at Eden Park School. The friendship works because both boys are wrestling with great personal problems.

David has always been an outsider at school, and the secret he has, makes matters worse. He's a girl in a boy's body and not gay as his peers and parents assume. Leo also has a secret. He has numerous issues because of a difficult background and simply wants to attend school without being noticed by anyone.

While written for young adults, this is a book that all ages will enjoy and appreciate.

Children's Book Recommendation for January 2017

How Machines Work by David Macaulay

How Machines Work won the Royal Society's young people's prize for 2016. The Society promotes science books for children.

Seventy-five panels of children's judges across the UK picked the winner from a short list of six books. Feedback from the children on the winner was extremely positive.

It is the story of a clever and intelligent sloth who makes and invents endlessly to achieve his goals and outwit the keeper. He builds levers and bridges using cogs and pulleys, in fact, each page explains how he solves a problem using the the principles of engineering and mechanics.

The book uses pullouts and pop-ups to demonstrate the principles used in each problem. It makes what is an applied science lesson, seem like entertainment. It is what the teaching of science should be - fascinating and fun, as well as educational.

Author Suggestion for January 2017

Peter Carey

Peter Carey is an Australian novelist, science graduate, and the author of two collections of stories, nine novels, a children's book, and several short works of nonfiction.

He has focused on fiction, with only brief forays into non-fiction, and explored a range of genres including both science and literary fiction. Australian identity and historical context are a recurrent topics in his work.

At university, he first planned to be an organic chemist then a zoologist but according to him, "he had no aptitude for either, started faking his science experiments and then failed his exams anyway" and writing was a fall back option with no firm plan.

Carey has won the Miles Franklin Award three times and is one of only four writers to have won the Booker Prize twice, in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda and in 2001 with True History of the Kelly Gang. Jack Maggs and The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and Jack Maggs both won the Commonwealth Writers Prize winner.

Prize of the month for January 2017

Goldsmiths Prize 2016

Mike McCormack won the Goldsmiths Prize on 16 November for his novel Solar Bones.

Marcus Conway, is a middle-aged husband, father and a civil engineer. He returns to his home in rural Ireland, and considers the events that took him away and then brought him home again.

Marcus Conway is responsible in his own way for the many buildings and bridges that sprung up in the boom and changed Ireland. He recalls his father and mother's lives in small town Ireland, and the constant pressure from politicians and developers at work. He remembers skyping his son in Australia, and visiting his artist daughter's first solo exhibition which consisted of the text from court reports written in her own blood. He is overcome by a "a crying sense of loneliness for my family".

The book experiments with structure and succeeds. The brave approach to story telling produces a wonderfully original and provocative novel from a writer who looks like he will become deservedly famous.

Poem of the month

JABBERWOCKY by Lewis Carroll

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
   The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
   The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
   Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
   And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
   The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
   And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
   The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
   He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
   Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
   He chortled in his joy.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

Kuljit Dhami

I am an English Language and Culture student in Groningen (NL) which means, more often than not, I can be found with my nose in a book. Or gallivanting around the country trying my hand at street photography, whilst successfully avoiding my responsibilities.

While my taste in literature is varied, which ranges from political satire to psychological thrillers, I definitely have a penchant for postcolonial literature. The amalgamation of unfamiliar settings, politics, and foreign cultures always make for truly distinctive and often poignant tales.

I am also a trustee of Porridge and Rice, a charity working to end extreme poverty in the Nairobi slums through education. As a result, Kenya and its people have found a very special place in my heart and I am constantly looking forward to the next time I can visit. Visit Kujit for book reviews that I have written.

Jude Hanlon

Jude Hanlon is a software development manager working and living in the North West of England.

Her hobbies include reading, writing, knitting, skating, gardening, cooking, films and TV (not necessarily in that order). This diversity of taste is reflected in Jude's reading materials, from chick-lit to sci-fi. As her children are now of an age where they watch and read independently, she is enjoying exploring grown-up culture again, and really likes a good twist in the tale.

Jude is also a trustee of the charity Porridge and Rice which supports education in the slums of Nairobi. She has visited Nairobi twice, and plans to be a regular visitor.

Read book reviews by Jude.

Gene Lopez

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and came of age during the turbulent 1960s. Very early on, I became interested in environmental and social issues, which continue to this day to shape my world view.

I enjoy fiction, music biographies, and political & military history, like (1) All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which deserved to win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize; and (2) All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a masterpiece describing the impact of wars started by distant leaders on the people they purport to represent.

I recently set up Original Gravity Tours, a specialty travel company providing high quality beer tours turning my love of travel and beer into a business.

Visit Gene for book reviews that I have written.

Original Gravity Tours

Original Gravity Tours is a specialty travel company focused on providing excellent tours of the "Beer Capitals" of Europe like Munich & Bamberg. Their aim is to provide a high quality travel experience emphasising the history and methods of brewing, combined with local history and select cultural sites.

According to Gene Lopez, the founder of Original Gravity Tours, "... after 30+ years in the high-tech industry, it was time to focus on what I love, international travel and well-crafted beer", and Original Gravity Tours was born.

The Farm at 64

I don't really have a farm. I don't even have a small holding. I just keep a number of small animals as pets.

I live in Whitton in the UK about ten minutes from Heathrow between Hounlsow and Twickenham in Greater London. I live with my wife, three children, one dog, two rabbits, seven Pekin ducks, a flock of Pekin bantam chickens, four chinchillas, just over 20 guinea pigs, a group of African Pygmy hedgehogs, and numerous birds like a number of budgies, various finches, Diamond doves, Zebra doves, and Chinese painted quails (button quails).

Understanding Drugs

Drugs are a fact of life. Furthermore, drugs are readily available at all schools, plus temptation and peer pressure is huge.

Every parent, teacher, guardian, or person who has contact and/or responsibility for a child or young person should therefore know about drugs in order to be able to respond quickly and effectively should a young person or child be tempted.

UK National Drugs helpline: 0300 123 6600

The Secular Atheist

I describe myself as a secular atheist, hence the name of the site. I am also a committed humanist.

As an atheist, I actively oppose religious privilege especially when religion tries to force its values on civil society like the denial of equality for LGBQT people and limiting women's reproductive rights.

As a humanist, I am an avid supporter of human rights as defined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and in my own small way, promote them through the charity that I chair Porridge and Rice and my work teaching through KS Learning.

BOOKS BY REVIEWER

ARCHIVES 2017

ARCHIVES 2016


'They had issues': Sally Wainwright and Tracy Chevalier discuss the Brontës

Sally Wainwright's new drama To Walk Invisible offers a radical new take on the Brontës. She talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about the siblings' extraordinary lives.


The 10 Best Books of 2016

The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.


Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch

Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.


Beryl Bainbridge was nice as well as naughty - and a brilliant novelist

The fictions of Beryl Bainbridge's life were as important to her as the facts. As a novelist, she knew the dramatic exigencies of telling a tale.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote for A level English Literature essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

Porridge and Rice

Porridge and Rice is an education charity that supports children living in the Nairobi slums. The goal is to ensure that these children receive a sound education to enable them to break the cycle of poverty and deprivation.

At present, the charity supports 2000 pupils in 5 schools through its 7 programmes which do everything from providing sanitary pads to girls that have reached puberty and delivering text books for core subjects like Maths and English.

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