Posted in general and welcome, pre-teen, Young Adult

Caramel Hearts… or don’t melt chocolate in a microwave…

I have an interesting book review to write tonight because it’s also a write-up of an experiment with one of the recipes in the book. So it’s a double review, if you like!

The book in question is Caramel Hearts, written by E.R. Murray, and if you like YA fiction with some baking thrown in, this will be a winner for you.

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The concept behind this book is a novel one. The main story, narrated in the first person by Liv, a fourteen-year-old being raised by her older sister while their alcoholic mother recovers in rehab, is framed by a series of recipes found in a book her mother had compiled at a happier time in her life. The recipes, all for cakes, biscuits, desserts and other sweet treats, often reflect or suggest what is happening or is about to happen in the story, as Liv tries to navigate her way through life. She finds solace in the baking she does, and discovers that she has a talent for it too – a gift she has no doubt inherited from her mother.

At first I wondered if the novel might be too heavy and traumatic for me, though the front cover does suggest something lighter – a teen romance, perhaps, with the heart motif. However, Murray handles the topic of a parent’s addiction, and the fallout on the family, skilfully, and the story, while evoking sympathy, never falls into depressive territory. The stresses are there – the older sister forced to put her university career on hold to look after Liv so Social Services don’t take her into care while her mother dries out, the mother who swears to get better but always falls off the wagon, and Liv who makes some appalling choices and proves to be as much an antiheroine as a heroine. But this is what makes her human. She is damaged – anyone in her situation would be – plus she has bullying to contend with, so how Liv manages to plod on in spite of all this is amazing and endears her to the reader. Her one huge mistake is frustrating but understandable… but the question is whether she can or will manage to put things right.

As stated before, this kind of material risks depressing the reader, but I never felt that way as there was always a current of optimism underlining this. I enjoyed this novel a great deal and read it in the space of a couple of days. Liv’s voice is unique and Murray keeps the narrative moving swiftly on, slowed only, and strategically, by the inclusion of the recipes. It was a novel (pardon the pun) idea and I think it worked very well and will offer the teen/young adult reader a little something extra when they dip into it!

After I finished reading the book today, I decided to try one of these recipes: ‘Rocky Road’ since Holly has been very stressed and anxious about her forthcoming exams, and the recipe states that: ‘Because life isn’t always straightforwards, you need a few treats to remind you that there’s still goodness in the world. Make when you’re worried, give with love and enjoy with a happy heart.’

(Disclaimer: I must also admit that I chose Rocky Road because I am notoriously BAD at baking and the absence of anything that needed raising was attractive. Plus I am hyper-sensitive to the smell of eggs on plates, cutlery, etc, and no eggs were involved in this. Result!)

The recipe calls for 400g of chocolate, 8 bars of chocolate Turkish Delight, a bag of marshmallows and some blanched almonds. I stood, red-faced, at the local Co-op as the checkout girl scanned the products, insisting that I actually ate very healthily despite the obscene amount of sugary goods in my basket. The cost of the Turkish Delight alone came to £6, so this isn’t a recipe to do on a budget!

I came home, thinking this would only take a matter of minutes to prepare, but lack of baking time does not equate short making time. Chopping the Turkish Delight into smaller pieces and then cutting up marshmallows with scissors that are soon so covered in gooey stuff that they cannot cut takes A LONG TIME. And then I made a VERY BAD MISTAKE, mainly that I didn’t take in the instruction to  melt the chocolate over a bain marie. Nope, instead I stuck it straight in a pan while I helped Holly with her own recipe (which also involved melting chocolate, but she chose the microwave).

Long story short, I ended up nearly setting the kitchen on fire as chocolate in the microwave or pan burns. Smoke billowed out and we had every window and door open to stop the fire alarm going off. The good news is that we still had enough chocolate left to salvage the recipes… and Holly laughed properly for the first time in a long time. I had to suffer the accusation of being a bad baker – fair enough (I would have done better if this book had been a collection of curries) but the recipe delivered the promise that our troubles would melt away, even if only for a few hours.

Anyway, I mixed all the ingredients into a proper melted-chocolate base and put them into the fridge to set for four hours. This is what came out:

rocky road

It’s pretty poor quality (photo and presentation) but it tasted like Rocky Road and Holly and Carl enjoyed it. Though I think mine should more accurately be called ‘Boulder Road’ or ‘Avalanche Road’ since the chunks are still pretty … chunky.

This is another charming book by Alma Books, whose list for children’s and YA readers is proving interesting and unique. I can’t wait to see what their next book will be, if this and The Emergency Zoo are anything to judge by.

Please note that while I received a review copy of this book I was under no obligation to review it. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

Posted in general and welcome, Popsugar Reading Challenge 2016, Young Adult

Forever – a book you can finish in a day

The latest instalment in the Popsugar Reading Challenge is A Book You Can Finish in a Day. My choice for this was Judy Blume’s Forever.

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When I was a pre-teen, I rapidly read my way through all of Judy Blume’s books but this one passed me by. Probably just as well as I would have been a little too young for its contents, which I think are more suited for girls aged 14+ (although a quick look on the internet shows that others my age who read Forever did so when they were 13, with copies hidden under pillows, away from parental discovery).

Forever has courted controversy every since it was first published in 1975, as it deals, frankly, with teenage sexuality generally and, more specifically, with a young woman’s first sexual encounter. There is not much plot beyond what happens between Katherine and her boyfriend Michael as their relationship develops from simple dating to a full-blown physical relationship – but that is the exact point of  the novel. It takes an honest approach to showing how a responsible young adult approaches sex, and Katherine is a good role model for girls in this respect – she doesn’t allow her boyfriend Michael to pressure her into anything she’s not comfortable with. She also takes responsibility for her contraceptive choices, travelling into New York to attend a special sexual health clinic for teenagers. Katherine is an empowered female making important decisions about her own body, away from parental concerns and peer pressure. Katherine’s body is her own and she doesn’t need permission from anybody about what she should do with it.

Additionally, her parents are pretty cool about boyfriends, and she has a very modern grandmother, who sends her leaflets on safe sex in the post (bear in mind, again, that this was the mid-1970s). This shows a forward-thinking family, who don’t try to scare a girl into celibacy or making her feel bad or disgusting for having sexual thoughts and needs. Blume stated that, growing up in the 1950s, she was told that there were two groups of girls – nice and naughty. No prizes for guessing which girls were the ones who participated in, and enjoyed, sex…

In a country that still has difficulty with teenage sexual emancipation, this book has constantly faced the censors’ wrath. Not only does it show sex as a normal, natural thing for teens to want to engage in, she shows how they can take responsibility for their own bodies, without deferring to parental permission. Schools and public libraries in some areas of the USA have fought to have Forever banned because of its honest look at sexuality (including an early portrayal of a boy’s struggle with latent homosexuality). Blume first published the book during the sexual revolution of the Seventies, which explains the enlightened attitudes of Katherine’s mother and grandmother. One might imagine, or expect, that things would have moved on since then but Blume thinks otherwise, stating that religious fundamentalism has grown in power since the 1980s, as she revealed in an interview in the Guardian:

“The 70s was a much more open decade in America… Forever was used in several school programmes then, helping to spur discussions of sexual responsibility. This would never happen today. How are young people supposed to make thoughtful decisions if they don’t have information and no one is willing to talk with them? Girls and boys have to learn to say ‘no’ or ‘not without a condom’ without fear. I hear from too many young people who give in because they’re afraid if they don’t, their partner will find someone else.”

Interestingly, Forever doesn’t seem to have dated much and that is because the issues central to the story are perennial teenage concerns. And Judy Blume has a gift for portraying these sensitively, in a voice that her readers immediately identify with. She is informative yet reassuring, like the cool aunt you want to share your problems with, who you know will understand what you’re feeling and who won’t judge you.

Forever isn’t a long book which is why I got through it so quickly. But I think it’s a very important novel for girls in particular – from around 14 years upwards. It’s quite amazing, really, that this book will have informed a generation of females (my generation) in the 1970s and 1980s, and that it is still relevant to their children nowadays, and probably beyond.

Have you read any Judy Blume books? Which are your favourites?

 

Posted in general and welcome, Young Adult

Mockingjay – my YA bestseller choice

I’ve started the Popsugar Reading Challenge with Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay, which falls under the YA Bestseller category.

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Warning: I will be including spoilers so you might not want to read on!

I’ll begin by saying this wasn’t a book I was ever planning on reading, even though I’d read The Hunger Games, the first book in this popular trilogy, several years ago and was hooked by everything about it. I loved Katniss’s independence, her fiery nature and her flaws too. What a heroine! She’s cool, a skilled archer, and is no one’s fool. However, while I devoured the book in a matter of a few days, I felt emotionally exhausted by the end. The usual rules for writing suspenseful stories recommend that readers get a breather amongst the tension but Collins, somehow, managed to keep anxiety levels sky-high. It was almost unbearable. I don’t think I have ever read anything as tense before or since.

Soon after fininshing The Hunger Games, I had a quick peep at the second story – Catching Fire. After reading the first few chapters and learning that Katniss would, again, be returned to the Hunger Games arena, I felt I couldn’t put myself through that again and abandoned the book. However, after watching the film versions of the first and second books over Christmas, I decided I needed to know the outcome.

Mockingjay concerns itself with the rebel onslaught on the Capitol, after Katniss’s continued defiance of President Snow has inspired citizens of Panem to take up arms. After being rescued from the Hunger Games arena by Games Maker Plutarch Heavensbee and her mentory Haymitch, she struggles to come to terms with her ally and friend Peeta’s capture by Snow and the announcement that Alma Coin, leader of District 13 and of the rebellion, wants her to become the Mockingjay – the symbol of the revolution. Katniss discovers that this was the plan all along – that half of the ‘tributes’ who fought with her in the Arena knew this and made it their job to ensure she escaped. The question is not will she take up the role but how can she not, with her family, Gale and friends relying on her to provide the inspiration needed to overthrow Snow’s dictatorship.

I enjoyed reading Mockingjay but I didn’t feel as involved as I did in The Hunger Games. Katniss was less empowered in this than in the previous two stories, and I am sure that that was Collins’s point. Ironically, with her physical freedom from the Games comes personal constraint: she is constantly at the mercy of Heavensbee’s and Coin’s PR demands. She has to film inspirational ‘propos’ to keep the rebels’ spirits high but she’s initially prevented from fighting alongside the troops to achieve the desired outcome because the side needs her alive so the fighters don’t lose hope. However, as soon as enough victory has been secured, it turns out that Katniss is worth more dead to the side – a martyr will guarantee the Capitol’s total defeat.

The point Collins makes through this is key to the series, I think, and I hope younger readers pick up on it. And this point is that even heroes can be easily created and destroyed, and are thus indispensible. Those in power will use and abuse a person until they are no longer of value, and the media is key in manipulating both the hero(ine) and their supporters. Appearance is key – and this has been a constant theme throughout the series with the Hunger Games, and how a contestant’s image can secure their life or death. Katniss reluctantly engages in this but her most successful moments are when she reacts genuinely rather than according to a script. She never loses that ‘fault’ which  becomes her strength.

However, I feel that Collins let her down a little in Mockingjay. She spent long periods in the hospital which was frustrating. Interestingly, in the films, these episodes were shortened which helped keep her more engaging and less mopey (in the books she is less likeable, especially in Mockingjay, as she veers from one sulk to the next). She can’t make her mind up as to whether she fancies Peeta or Gale, which also becomes tiresome. The debate is never as evident in the films as it is in the books, and this is a benefit to the storyline and the heroine. Both the book and the film are good at showing how Peeta suffered at the hands of Snow, though, and how being ‘hijacked’ poisoned his view of Katniss, almost irredemably.

Many people are split about how the book ends. In brief, the rebels win, though Katniss never makes it through to kill Snow, which was her aim throughout the book. Instead, she is seriously burned in an explosion that kills a huge crowd of children and her medic sister Prim, and which she discovers was caused not by the enemies but her own side in an act of trickery. Katniss is reduced to accepting that she helped lead the rebellion but now she is retired to the position of ex-victor but is guaranteed the job of executing Snow in public.

However, in a final act of defiance and self-determination (thank goodness!) Katniss uses the opportunity to execute Alma Coin, the interim leader of Panem, whom Katniss discovers would merely replace Snow not provide a better alternative (Coin wanted to hold a final Hunger Games with the children of the Capitol to satisfy the rebels’ calls for revenge). She is rushed away, taken back to District 12 with Haymitch and struggles to live with no purpose and no family. Peeta finally returns and the two are finally reunited. We learn that they live together and have children but are never free from the nightmares gained from their experiences. It’s a bittersweet ending – there is happiness but it’s never complete and never will be.

People hated that so many of the main characters died in Mockingjay. This is understandable – when you have invested so much emotion in a person it’s hard when they succumb to a (usually!) horrible death. However, it’s more realistic. It would have been unbelievable (yes, I know this is fiction) for them all to survive and live happily ever after. War isn’t like that. I felt bereft at the end, mainly because the realisation that everything Katniss faught for was as flawed and evil as the regime she was trying to replace was appalling. However, her execution of Coin ensures that a better future is possible, at least, and she ceased being Coin’s Mockingjay.

Fiction is a difficult thing. We demand verisimilitude but get upset when actually we feel more comforted by happiness. I love a happy ending, don’t get me wrong, but I think the ending we got was the right one for the book.

More generally, I think the films did the story better than the books – something that I never normally believe. Apart from the first book, perhaps. The cast was amazing and Jennifer Lawrence made Katniss more likeable and stronger in her portrayal. I am so weary of the adjective ‘dystopian’ now, with regards YA fiction but this is a story that will remain with me forever because it is so relevant to our supposedly not dystopian reality.

What did you think of the Hunger Games trilogy? Do share, please!

 

 

Posted in Young Adult

Sue Townsend: thank you for the memories

It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of Sue Townsend on 10 April 2014.

I’d caught it as a Tweet on Twitter just before going to bed but couldn’t find any confirmation until the next day, when it was all over the newspapers and internet. Tributes were pouring in for a woman who caught the imagination of not just one generation but of many.

I’ve spent the first part of the Easter weekend devouring the book that made her a household name: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4. It’s the 30th anniversary edition and it contains some fascinating information about Townsend’s journey to becoming a bestselling author. I’d had no idea that:

  • she had left school aged 15 because she said her parents couldn’t afford the uniform for her to go to the local grammar schools to take exams
  • one of the most famous diaries of recent times started off as a secret writing project, and the very John Tydeman, who Adrian writes regularly to with his attempts at poetry, championed it at the BBC
  • Adrian was originally called Nigel but Townsend was persuaded, with difficulty, to change it after BBC people pointed out it was too similar to Nigel Molesworth. Before Townsend arrived at Adrian, she experimented with the name ‘Malcolm’ but rejected it, saying that it reminded her of blocked sinuses
  • Sue Townsend had originally written the diary as reading material for adults, despite the age of the main protagonist
  • she had become a virtual recluse towards the end of her life because of ill health and what she called ‘late-onset shyness’.

I first read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 when I was around the same age, and certainly in the mid-1980s soon after I moved over here from Canada. The books were a joy to me – pure comedy and so evocative of the times I was growing up in. I felt both sympathy and frustration for the wannabe-intellectual, who pestered Malcolm Muggeridge for information on what it was like to be an intellectual, and who badgered the kind John Tydeman with his dreadful poetry. His teenage angst, heightened by raging hormones, lust over Pandora, acne (which he mistakes for Lassa Fever) and the insecurity that many if not most teens feel, rang true and I was staggered that a middle-aged woman could capture this so well. Townsend did say to her publishers that she didn’t want her name on the book cover precisely for this reason: ‘It was supposed to be written by a 13 3/4-year-old boy. It seemed stupid to have my name on it.’

Returning to the book several decades later, and it still seems fresh to me. I still laugh aloud at Adrian’s ineptitude and his seriousness. This is one of my favourite passages:

Thursday January 22nd

It is a dirty lie about Pandora’s father being a milkman! He is an accountant at the dairy. Pandora says she will duff Nigel up if he goes round committing libel. I am in love with her again.

Nigel has asked me to go to a disco at the youth club tomorrow night; it is being held to raise funds for a new packet of ping pong balls. I don’t know if I will go because Nigel is a punk at weekends. His mother lets him be one, providing he wears a string vest under his bondage T shirt.

My mother has got an interview for a job. She is practising her typing and not doing any cooking. So what will it be like if she gets the job? My father should put his foot down before we are a broken home.’

For all his aspirations to intellectualism, Adrian is still very provincial and narrow-minded and this is what gives the books much of their irony. Take, for example, his comments on his mother’s disillusionment with marriage: ‘… she said that for some women marriage was like being in prison…Marriage is nothing like being in prison! Women are let out every day to go to the shops and stuff…’ Later he gets a worse shock when she cuts her hair off, wears boiler suits (sometimes with sequins) and joins a feminist group.

Similarly, his despair at not being able to do his maths homework drives him to calling the Samaritans for help. ‘The nice man at the end of the phone told me the answer was nine-eighths. He was dead kind to someone in despair…’ only to later lament the help: ‘The stupid Samaritan got the answer wrong! It’s only seven-fifths.’ For all his attempts at intellectual loftiness (reading and not understanding Iris Murdoch, for example), Adrian still remains quite sheltered and, dare I say it, mediocre.

Adrian as a teenager nowadays

In the notes at the back of the 30th anniversary edition, Sue Townsend is asked what Adrian would be like if he were a teen nowadays. She replies: ‘He would be exactly the same, but he wouldn’t be using Twitter … He would keep a secret diary. … He would not use social networking.’ As someone who does use Facebook and Twitter and has a blog, I feel strangely happy about this revelation. Perhaps this is because Adrian Mole represents a certain time in my life when these activities weren’t even dreamt of and teens did other things, like go to Ricky Lemon’s Youth Club and have slide shows on wombs cut in half as a form of sex education (actually, I never experienced anything like that). It’s strange that, despite the lack of social media in the Adrian Mole books, they still feel timeless. Or maybe they do to old-timers like me.

RIP Sue Townsend, and thank you for the memories and the laughs.

image courtesy of i.telegraph.co.uk

Quotes are taken from: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (30th anniversary edition), published by Puffin in 2012, first published by Townsend in 1982.

 

Posted in difficult subjects, humour, Young Adult

Review: Madame Doubtfire, by Anne Fine

Today’s review is of the book Madame Doubtfire, by Anne Fine, and the film it inspired: Mrs Doubtfire.

courtesy of annefine.co.uk

What it’s about (taken from the author’s website): Lydia, Christopher and Natalie Hilliard are used to domestic turmoil and have been torn between their warring parents ever since the divorce. That all changes when their mother takes on a most unusual cleaning lady. But there’s more to Madame Doubtfire than domestic talents.

Holly’s review: This book is about three children whose parents are divorced. When the mum decides to get a house minder to look after the children and won’t let Daniel the dad look after them, well that’s when Madame Doubtfire comes along. I liked this book because it is funny but also it has some inappropriate language which I think would make me say that children below the age of eight shouldn’t read this book. I think it is more for an older child – for example, there are a lot of fights in the book between the parents or the parents say nasty things or act nastily towards each other. In conclusion I think this is a good book even if there is bad language in it because it is funny and exciting because of what happens when Madame Doubtfire goes to work as a child minder. But don’t let me say too much or I will spoil the surprise.

When I watched the film of Madame Doubtfire (aka Mrs Doubtfire) I think I liked it slightly better because they changed it and I liked how they changed it. I don’t usually prefer the film to a book but I did with this one.

Sam’s review: I must admit that I first came to this story from the film and as an adult, having not known about the book. Therefore, when I saw it in the library, I got it out for Holly, remembering how the film, despite its sad subject matter, made me laugh. I was quite surprised and rather shocked by the very different tone in the novel. Anne Fine does warn on her website that it is a book for older readers and I can see why – as Holly said in her review, there is a lot of fighting between the parents and the language is rather ripe in some of the passages, though certainly nothing offensive and I am sure many younger children nowadays – 16 years after its initial publication – will have heard all the words before. But what really made me feel uneasy reading this with Holly (aged 10) was the vitriol between the mum and dad. This of course is entirely realistic in the situation and I am not condemning Anne Fine for it at all, especially in light of this perhaps being more suitable for children older than Holly. I would argue that ten would be the absolute minimum age for children to read this at, not eight, as I think the subject matter is not so easily understood by younger children who might just find it all distressing – I must admit to squirming when reading certain passages.

Anne Fine has done a marvellous job capturing the emotional turmoil of a family caught up in the intensity of divorce. The humour provides a relief from discomfort but even that at times doesn’t come across as easily as in the film, which has its visual nature on its side. The film felt less bitter, no doubt so that younger children could enjoy the content and I think this is where the two diverge: the book is for teenagers/young adults whereas the film is aimed at younger children and up. The book seeks to explore the raw emotions of divorce and the lengths a parent will go to in order to see their children. The film does this too but it relies more heavily perhaps on humour to lighten the mood (whereas I think Anne Fine wanted to explore the emotional depths more). Like Holly, I preferred the film, which tended to play on sadness rather than bitterness in its more emotional moments, but perhaps that is because I find the subject matter difficult to deal with anyway and the film provides more of a comfort blanket.

Madame Doubtfire is a good book but needs to be approached as a young adult book, as Anne Fine originally intended.

 

Have you read Madame Doubtfire or seen the film? What did you think about either or both?

Posted in Young Adult

Review: I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

Today’s review is I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.

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Image courtesy of amazon.co.uk

 

What it’s about: Teenager Cassandra Mortmain has just started writing a diary about her life with her poor, bohemian family in a dilapidated castle in the English countryside. Cassandra chronicles daily life with her father (a one-book-wonder author who seems to have permanent writer’s block), her sister Rose (bored and in need of pampering), her stepmother Topaz (who tries to keep the house running while reminiscing about her days in London as a model) and her young brother Thomas, still at school. And then there’s Stephen, who writes love poetry to Cassandra, copied from the masters. All changes when an American family arrives at nearby Scoatney and two dashing young men attract the attention of Rose and Cassandra, luring them out of their previous rural isolation and into their first forays into love.

Holly’s review: This book is quite a grown-up sort of book. I would say it was for 12 and above. It is an amazing book because you discover about how life was like in the 1930s if you lived in poverty. It is about a girl who writes about her life. It is by Dodie Smith, written in 1949. I would definitely recommend this to people who are 12 and above. For example, it has bits in it that are a bit inappropriate for under-12s. Cassandra writes a journal and lives in a castle and talks about how her life depends on getting herself and her sister married.

Sam’s review: For some reason I had no idea that this book was aimed at older children – say early teens and up – rather than Holly’s age. In fact I don’t really think I had any idea what the book was about, only that it was one that had been recommended as a must-read. Most of the content was fine for Holly; since it was written in the 1940s, there was nothing too risque for her to read. There were just a couple of incidents where we wondered if it was a little too old (to explain here would be to give a spoiler) so we read on further before we let Holly continue on her own at school and during the daytime. I must admit to enjoying the book – it’s quite lengthy and nothing much really happens but the attraction lies in the characters, their motivations and their actions rather than being plot driven, like most literature for young children is.

It was a fascinating insight actually reading this alongside my Masters, as we’re studying children’s cognitive development in reading. Apparently ‘adventure series’ are popular with children around Holly’s age precisely because they are plot driven, full of dialogue, short on character development and end predictably, which is what children want. This book was a first for Holly because it didn’t match this formula. It very much followed Cassandra’s inner life and monologues (consistent with the diary format, but much wordier than, say, diaries like those of the Wimpy Kid) and often pages would go by without any dialogue at all. The ending doesn’t meet standard requirements for children of Holly’s age group and her reaction showed that – again I can’t say anything or I will give it away but suffice it to say she had had an image in her mind of how the book would end and when it didn’t she was quite shocked!

If you like novels such as Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, you will like I Capture the Castle. In fact, we might soon progress on to Gibbons’ classic, which is one of my all time favourites.

Have you read I Capture the Castle? What did you think of it?

Posted in general and welcome, Young Adult

Have you ever really wanted to like a book but just couldn’t manage it?

I am a fan of Margaret Mahy’s writing and I was delighted to discover that her Young Adult novel The Tricksters was a set text for the first module in my MA in Children’s Literature. I couldn’t wait to start reading the book, especially as it had been given such rave reviews.

 

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Image courtesy of childrensbookshop.com

 

What it’s about: Goodness, it’s hard to know where to start with this as the story is quite convoluted. The main gist of the plot is as follows. The story opens in New Zealand (Mahy’s homeland) with the Hamilton family and a few hangers-on arriving at their beach house – called Carnival’s Hide – for the Christmas holidays. But as soon as their bags are unpacked, they are visited by a trio of brothers who aren’t what they seem… or are they? No one knows because they appear suddenly one day on the beach, out of nowhere. The story’s heroine, teenager Harry (Ariadne), is convinced she has created them from the pages of the book she is secretly writing but they insist that they are descendants of Teddy Carnival, who once lived at the beach house and drowned in the sea many years earlier. The arrival of these brothers calls into question who is real and who isn’t and causes unrest amongst the family members. As the book nears its end, deep and serious family secrets start being aired. The question is whether anyone will come of out this the same as they were before.

Sam’s review: Even though I try to share a lot of what I read on my Masters with Holly, this was definitely not a book for her. Some of the themes were too mature for her age group and, to be honest, I really struggled with the storyline. I think the plot itself was a wonderful one – truly original and with the promise of being very spine-tingling. However, from page one I battled to get into it. I tried over and over again for that moment when a book grabs you and keeps you hooked but it didn’t happen. Instead I started dreading trying to read it.

I think the main problem for me was that there were just too many characters to keep hold of. Harry (Ariadne) was the one we were most meant to identify with or sympathise with as it was into her mind we were most often taken. However, even when this happened, other characters intruded. The narration skipped so much between everyone that I couldn’t create that all important link to the text, as I kept trying to remember who said or did what and how were they related to the other person, etc. Had Mahy focused on Harry, I think this book would have been excellent.

This can be seen at the beginning, in chapter 2. Harry is with her two younger siblings at the beach, and her feelings at being a middle child are cleverly captured: ‘Being the middle one of the family seemed like an illness she had suffered all her life, which might finally kill her if things did not change’ (page 22), and she was ‘sick of being gratefully but carelessly praised for docility when she wanted to have a turn at being the difficult, brilliant one instead…’ (page 22)

There are moments of narrative magic too in this part of the book. The three of them are talking about what they would like for Christmas. Benny and Serena scoff at Harry for saying she wants a book, but then she tells them it isn’t just any old book:

‘It’s a special book… As you read my book you alter the world… It would be just little changes to start with, and nothing would move while you watched it. But each time you looked up, the world would have altered more and more. Things would get brighter, and the moon would come down, inch after inch, until it broke into a thousand little moons. Mirrors would begin to  cry silver and leak out rainbows and the glass people would come out searching for those they belonged to. You’d look up from a page and see the reflections getting about, peering into people’s faces and when they found the right one they’d hug them, and from then on that person would be seen in their true beauty.’ (page 23)

For me, The Tricksters would have been a special book if Mahy could have kept it a little simpler. I’ve not read many novelists who write with such readable poetic ease and some of the images she has created in this book are breathtaking. I just wish I could have become more involved with the plot and enjoyed the story. As it was, I was relieved to come to the end and hand it back to the library.

Have you ever wanted to like a book but just couldn’t?

Have you ever been surprised by a book and loved one you thought you’d hate? 

Please share your reading experiences!