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

Book of the Month for September 2017

Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out
reviewed by Gene Lopez, 29 January 2017

This book is an oral history of Bill Graham, arguably the founder of the modern music concert scene. If you are a baby boomer and into the music of the 60s and 70s, you will enjoy the "behind the scenes" stories in this book. The style makes for an easy read detailing a series of different episodes in Graham's busy life that reveal his importance to modern music.

The book begins by exploring Graham's interesting childhood. He was born a Jew in Nazi Germany, and fled on foot eventually arriving in the U.S. He grew up in New York, and finally landed in San Francisco in the early 60s, an exciting time for music.

For the music fan, the fun begins when Graham started the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Not only are Graham's experiences described, but those of some musicians and competing promoters, and the early days of the "flower child" movement. It follows Graham into larger venues as the live music scene grew nationally & internationally, like the Rolling Stones 1981 & 1982 tours.

As a baby-boomer music fan raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, I found this book most enjoyable.

Classic Suggestion for September 2017

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row, an important novel written by John Steinbeck, is set in a reall street in Monterey, California, a street lined with sardine canneries providing employment for a poor town. Set during the Great Depression, the novel features three key characters - Lee Chong (the local grocer), Doc (a marine biologist) and Mack (the leader of a group of layabouts).

Mack and his friends decide to throw a party for Doc, who has done so much for so many people never asking for anything in return. Mack engages the local community in organising the thank you party for Doc.

Unfortunately, the party goes horribly wrong, with Doc's home and lab being ruined, angering Doc. In an attempt to repair their relationship with Doc, Mack and his friends, decide to throw Doc another party, but a successful one this time.

The novel explores in detail the lives of the people living on Cannery Row with compassion and insight, and while fictional, probably based on real people known to Steinbeck. It is a wonderful study of the values and emotions that drive society. The book reflects Steinbeck's personal knowledge of both the location and the impact of poverty on it, resulting in an sensitive and revealing study of the human condition. The book demonstrates the genius of Steinbeck as an author and why his books have lasted the test of time.

Teen Book Idea for September 2017

Panther by David Owen

Derrick's life is a complete mess. His weight is out of control, his best friend has betrayed him, he is hopelessly in love with a girl who simply would never be interested in him, he is being bullied at school, and his family is falling apart. According to Derrick, his sister is the cause of all the problems besetting him and his family.

Derrick's sister Charlotte suffers from depression and recently tried to commit suicide. Her actions and illness are definitely having a a huge impact on the family. Derrick's parents have split up, his mother is always exhausted, and all the family members feel isolated and alone.

When South London news reports that a panther has been spotted wondering around the allotments near his house, Derrick believes that his family's problems will be ended if he can catch and tame it. He believes he has found a way out for himself and the family from their troubles.

This is a compelling and powerful novel about depression among young adults. It deals sensitively and empathetically with the impact on the sufferer and those whose lives are linked to the sufferer, like family members. It deals candidly with their reactions and responses, along with the misunderstandings and the stigma of mental illness. It is a wonderful way to tackle a difficult and important subject that is affecting young people more and more.

Children's Book Recommendation for August 2017

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

Two parents and their son set out on a long, boring car trip to visit Grandma for her birthday. The son complains that the journey is taking forever, asking repeatedly "Are we there yet?".

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a steam locomotive appears beside the car, chased by a cowboy on horseback. The journey is taking so long that time slows down and takes the young boy on an thrilling adventure into the past.

Pirates fight, ancient Egyptians parade, dinosaurs rampage, and knights battle. This wonderful picture book is an amazing journey through the imagination of a child.

Readers have to turn the book around and upside down to read the text and follow the pictures reflecting the twists and turns in the plot as it explores the amazing possibilities of the past.

The book is clever and entertaining as it dazzles the reader with the breadth of the events it embraces. It works well as a picture book and provides an effective platform for numerous educational opportunities ranging from history to geography. The delightful illustrations and fast pace makes it highly likely that it will quickly become a favourite, read over and over again.

Author Suggestion for September 2017

Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy was born in London, England in 1956 to Jamaican parents.

Levy did not begin writing until in her mid-thirties. At the time, there was little if anything written about the black British experience in Britian. She helped lead the way in documenting the experiences of black immigrants and British born black people through the novels she chose to write.

Her first book, Every Light in the House Burnin' (1994) is about a Jamaican family in 1960s London. Her second, Never Far from Nowhere (1996) is the story of two very different sisters living on a 1970s London council estate, and in her third, In Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Faith Jackson, a young black woman, visits Jamaica after suffering a nervous breakdown.

She is best known for her fourth novel, Small Island (2004) which won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction, the 2004 Whitbread Book of the Year, and the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize. It is set in 1948, explores the interaction between a black couple, Gilbert, a former RAF recruit, who has returned to Britain on the SS Windrush, and his Jamaican wife Hortense, and a white couple: Queenie, their landlady, and her recently demobbed husband, Bernard.

Andrea Levy has been a judge for the Saga Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Prize of the month for September 2017

Dylan Thomas Prize

Fiona McFarlane won the Dylan Thomas Prize on 10 May 2017 with her collection of short stories , The High Places.

From Australia to Greece, England to a Pacific island, the stories travel continents and eras, recounting pivotal moments in the lives of people, when they are forced to re-examine their lives from a new and different perspective. It details the emotional sometimes irrational ways that they then react, often showing people at their most vulnerable.

In "Mycenae," a middle-aged couple go on holiday with long-term friends and the holiday goes horribly wrong after revelations from their 'good' friends, and "Good News for Modern Man" tells the story of a scientist who is haunted by a giant squid and the ghost of Charles Darwin on a small, remote island on which he is researching. In the story that gives the collection its name, an Australian farmer resorts to Old Testament methods to bring a severe drought to an end.

From an accident on a dark country road to the sudden arrival of American parachutists in a country town, 'The High Places' is an insightful collection of stories of events which force people to rethink causing them to act in unexpected and surprising ways. The stories range from sensitive to dramatic, and from sad to shocking. The collection is a worthy winner.

Poem of the month for September 2017

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art by John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art -
         Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
         Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
         Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
         Of snow upon the mountains and the moors -
No - yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
         Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
         Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever - or else swoon to death.

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, a worthy winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize; and (2) All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a masterpiece on the impact of wars begun by distant leaders on the people they purport to represent.

I recently set up Original Gravity Tours, a specialty travel company turning my love of travel and beer into a business. The aim is to provide a high quality travel experience emphasising the history and methods of brewing, combined with local history and select cultural sites.

Visit Gene for book reviews that I have written.

Jude Hanlon

I am a software development manager working and living in the North West of England.

My hobbies are diverse including reading, writing, knitting, skating, gardening, cooking, and watching films and TV (not necessarily in that order). My diverse taste is reflected in the books I read, anything from chick-lit to sci-fi. As mychildren are now of an age where they watch and read independently, I am enjoying exploring grown-up culture again, and really like a good twist in the tale.

I am a trustee of the charity Porridge and Rice which supports education in the slums of Nairobi, home to many of the poorest people of the world. I have visited Nairobi twice to work in the schools supported by the charity, and plan to be a regular visitor.

Visit Jude for book reviews that I have written.

Ken Surridge

I have been an avid reader all my life. I cannot imagine not having a book on the go and several more lined up to read. I already I own more books than I can possibly read, and the pile is still growing as a result of recommendations and reviews.

When I am not reading, I can be found earning my living tutoring as KS Learning, pottering around planting, weeding, or pruning in my gardening, or doing something for the small animals I keep, collectively known as the Farm at 64.

I chair a charity known as Porridge and Rice which supports schools for children living in the Nairobi slums, some of the poorest children in the world. I spend 4 to 8 weeks each year in Kenya overseeing the work of the charity and supervising volunteers.

Visit Ken for book reviews that I have written.

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 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 distinctive and 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.

Theresa Sainsbury

I read to escape and I read to learn, but most of all, reading is my hobby. When I was young, there was little else to do when you weren't at school. There were only three TV channels, no Netflix, no play stations, and parents tended to leave children to their own devices, so I either listened to the radio and learnt song lyrics or read books. I started with Enid Blyton and never looked back

I recently developed a soft spot for American writers, like the beauty of Steinbeck's rural landscapes and the grittiness of Yanagihara's urban New York in A Little Life in Equal Measures. I'm currently reading the biography of Frank Auerbach, a modern artist whose painting I don't particularly like, but whose approach to life and art is fascinating.

I'm a part time English tutor, part time mum and part time taxi driver for my two teenage sons. Visit Theresa 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. The 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.

Porridge and Rice

Porridge and Rice is an education charity that supports children living in the Nairobi slums, home to some of the poorest children in the world.

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.

When Porridge and Rice partners with a school, it begins by implementing a feeding programme providing breakfast and lunch, hence the name of the charity.

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


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

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote to help with A level English Literature revision.


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

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