Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez


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Both Harris White and Dee Winter encounter monsters and drownings in their early lives.  Harris loses his friend ten-year old Jonty to the Mediterranean from the island of Formentera, just off Ibiza.   Twenty-four children have drowned in the lake at Thorpemere.  Both Harris and Dee are there when the twenty-fifth, Jordan King, is taken by the mere. Dee as a little girl has met monsters, or so she believes, and Harris thinks a monster took his friend. The year Jordan drowns the convention about monsters , held at the hotel where Dee works, is closed early. The following year, Harris is about to offer an explanation about what really happened to his friend.  Was it, according to the dictionary definition, really the act of a monster? The attendees do not get the chance to find out.  Time and place are taken over by an event that is probably to do with climate change.

Both Harris and Dee grow and this is to some extent a bildungsroman for each of them. We are with Dee most of the time though occasionally the point of view passes to another, more often than not to Harris.  

Are the monsters real? Do they and the Monster Belt really exist?   We are kept guessing until the end and throughout more important is what is happening to Dee and Harris.

This is a long read – 351 pages of blocked text in a serif font. At the back of the book is a little information about the author and news of other books published by the innovative UCLan publishing company, the publisher that involves student on the publishing courses from the University of Lancaster.                  

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Kintana and Captain’s Curse by Susan Brownrigg

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The story is set around Nosy Boraha, Pirate Island and Madagascar. Susan Brownrigg introduces some real people: Captain Blackbeard, (Edward Teach), William Kidd, and Israel Hands, who in the book is Kintana’s father. Many of the animals mentioned are native to Madagascar –an island that has 25,000 different species, many of which are only found there.

We also have the normal ingredients of a pirate story; treasure, parrots and a man with a wooden leg.

There is plenty of pace.  The story just does not stop moving. The chapters are also short, almost all ending with a cliff-hanger.

There is also a domestic story of a sound relationship between a father and daughter who spend their time looking after animals and managing a pet shop. Kintana also befriends the naïve cabin boy, Bartholomew.  

The book is 174 pages long.  The text is blocked but double-spaced. The font, Kingfisher 10 -16, has a serif.  It is actually small in the book.  At the front of the book there are sketch maps of the two islands. There are also monochrome pictures of eight of the animals. Each chapter heading has a monochrome picture of a parrot and a skull and cross bones.

At the end of the book there are a useful glossary, a note from the author about some of the facts in the story, an author bio and some acknowledgments. These may be of more interest to adults than the chid reader though the glossary may be helpful to the young reader.                

Saturday, July 3, 2021

I am Thunder by Mohammad Khan

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Muzna Saleem is the only child of Pakistani parents.  Her mother and father have high hopes of her becoming a doctor but she wants to be a writer.  Her father loses his job and a cousin takes pity on them.  They move into a flat above the cousin’s Michelin-starred restaurant and her father becomes a waiter.

This offers Muzna an opportunity to reinvent herself as she starts at a new school.   She is still a   serious scholar and gets on well with English teacher and form tutor, Mr Dunthorpe. And she meets Arif Malik.

She becomes convinced by Arif and his brother Jameel that the Islamic faith is the right one but just in time realises that Jameel is a terrorist.  She goes to the police.

Mohammad Khan’s narrative is very convincing.  We really get to know Muzna well and can understand how she almost became radicalized. The issue is complex. Muzna’s teenage rebellion against her parents takes the form of her becoming more religious.

This is truly a bildungsroman. Muzna learns to make her own mind up. It has an upbeat ending: she successfully helps the police to prevent a disaster, she is reconciled with her parents and in the final scene she meets Arif again.  There is every hope that their relationship can continue.            

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Art of Kate Greenaway by Ina Taylor

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This book gives us a brief introduction to Kate Greenaway’s life. We get to know a little about the young woman who never really grew up. She is portrayed as naïve, a very talented artist and seamstress, and as a rather shy person. She makes a lot of money from her work but then overspends somewhat though she never really gets into extreme difficulties.

The account whets the appetite for more information about Greenaway. Adults might now like to read a more in-depth biography. There is probably enough material here for a secondary school student who wished to complete a school project though more may be needed for GCSE Art or A-Level art.

There are many very well annotated examples of Greenaway’s work.     

The book is 127 pages long, hardback, and it contains a useful bibliography at the end.     

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Horse and His Boy by C S Lewis

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 2007, first published 1954  

We have a familiar fairy tale trope here:  a prince is abducted and brought up by a poor family. Shasta meets talking horse Bree.  They set out for Narnia, meeting another talking horse Hwin and her rider, the runaway princess Aravis.

Eventually, Shasta is mistaken for the Prince Corin. Later we establish that Shasta is really Corin’s twin brother,  Cor.  Cor is the rightful heir to the throne and he is the one that was born first. Corin is full of fun and often takes unnecessary risks that land him in trouble. Cor is more cautious but less experienced in battle.

Edmund, Lucy, Peter and Susan are still kings and queens in Narnia.  Susan escapes marriage to Rabadash.  Lucy, Peter and Edmund are active in the battle with the Calormens. Susan waits behind at the castle. Is this a hint that she is already growing too grand for Narnia?

Aslan appears again.  He guides Shasta along a ledge and protects him from falling and he scratches Aravis’s back to show her how a slave girl who was punished because of her would feel.

The four children use a strange language. Are they as Susan will claim in a later novel just playing some sort of fantasy game about Narnia? Also a little odd, they  freely drink wine and sometimes stronger alcohol. There is much talk of marriage. Can we interpret this as an archetypal fairy tale?

The book is 240 pages long, in an adult font that is slightly larger than normal. The text is blocked.  There are some line drawings which illustrate.  There is a map at the beginning of the book.

The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez

    click on image to see on Amazon  Both Harris White and Dee Winter encounter monsters and drownings in their early lives.   Harris...