Monday, March 27, 2023

The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin


Aster’s mother died of cancer.  She and her sister Poppy travel to New Zealand to live with their aunt.  But Aunt Iona is not living in the respectable semi that she had sent photos of to the girls’ social worker.  She is living on an ecovillage where she is secretly conducting research into a vaccination that will prevent cancer. There is a predisposition to it in their family; their mother and grandmother both died of it. She gives the vaccine to the girls, telling them it is a tetanus jab.

Iona had been working with Jonathan Nygard. He had wanted the blood from Iona’s trial patients to use in an actual cure for cancer.  Coincidentally he had used it on Sam’s grandfather. The girls had met Sam on the plane.

Iona takes the whole of the colony out on a boat trip. Poppy leaves her hoodie and phone on the shore. Sam finds them when he goes looking for the girls. He takes the sim card out of the phone and loads it on to his computer.  He finds out the coordinates of where Ion has moved the colony to.  

Iona had put the patients now including her to nieces into hibernation. Iona, Aster and a couple of the others come out of hibernation after the rest.

Nygra had found a fossil of a mermaid and that become important in the vaccine that Iona was producing and the cure he was working on. An astonishing side effect is that once the patients are in the water they develop gills and can stay underwater for a long time.  They also continue to be able to breathe on land.

They establish that the hibernation is an important part of making the drug effective.

Iona and Nygard are killed during a final show-down. Aster, who has always been good at maths and science at school, resolves to continue her aunt’s work.        

The novel is 276 pages long in the paperback edition. The text is blocked and has a normal adult font.              

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford


In this book Francis Spufford reflects on his journey through childhood, a journey that is coloured by the books he reads.  The title suggests that those books shape the adult he has become.

Spufford begins by reassuring us he is still a great reader of fiction. Much of his discussion of how books built him is useful to us in that it recaps on what is available. Towards the end of the text he offers a reasoned explanation of how books for adults differ from those for children. He also attempts to analyse what he is looking for in fiction – and what he has found lacking in some fiction written for adults. He explains how the classics lead use gently from literature for children into literature for adults.  Science Fiction is his saviour.  It seems to do for the adults what children’s fiction does for the child.

Spafford’s sister was very ill and despite a reprieve in the form of a kidney transplant died at the age of 22. Books may have offered a form of escape. Or this may not be relevant at all.  Yet he tells us much about his sister’s illness in the book.

The book is written in a very elegant and engaging prose.  The paperback is 224 pages. There are some long paragraphs in the text – some going over one or even two pages.       

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Friend or Foe by Brian Gallagher


This book really does straddle two reading groups. Because of the age of the protagonists it fits the fluent readers group.  However, complex issues, including politics, and sophisticated language make it also suitable for the older reader.    

Emer Davey and Jack Madigan are members of a close circle of friends. Emer saves Jack from drowning. Emer’s father is a member of the Irish Volunteers, who are fighting for a free Ireland and Jack’s is a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police who has to keep law and order for the British.  During the uprising Emer’s father is shot and Jack’s is kidnapped.  Jack and Emer stage a daring rescue to get Sergeant Madigan out of the clutches of the Irish Volunteers. Friendship proves to be stronger than politics.

All of the characters are interesting.  The really poor Gerry lives with his uncle.  Joan ends up marrying an American naval officer. Gladys is a model student and goes on to be a teacher. Phelim and Brother McGill are ardent nationalists. Miss Clarke is a teacher who really gets her students to think. Sister Assupmta is a stickler for discipline and routine. All of these characters are fictitious but they are made to seem all the more real when Brian Gallagher gives us an epilogue at the end of the story that tells us what happens to the children when they grow up. Of course the Easter Rising is a real piece of history.

The story should provoke a few talking points.       

The novel is 235 pages long but has endpapers which contain the epilogue and an historical note from the writer. There is as short biography of him at the beginning.

The text is blocked with a serif font that has difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s.  

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Igloo by Jennifer Burkinshaw


Nirvana – Niv to friends and family - does not enjoy skiing. Her two mums and her step-brother do. She sneaks away from the pistes and stumbles across an igloo that Jean-Louis has built.  She and Jean Louis become friends and then lovers. She has to initially keep him secret from her family.

Niv is at odds with her two mums.  She wants to join an apprentice scheme and work with wood. She has been forbidden from attending a wood-work group whilst she gets ready for GCSEs.  She wants to work with the wood saved from the oak tree, nick-named Quirky, which had to be felled. Jean-Louis shows her his grandparents’ house where there is a shepherd’s table. She decides to replicate this as a miner’s table for her grandfather’s new cottage.

Jean-Louis has problems too.  His mother has constantly rejected him.   She is not a nice person – she smokes in the restaurant, she fails to stop the ski-lift when Niv almost has an accident and she makes sure that Jean-Louis’ igloo is flattened.

Niv and Jean-Louis rebuild the igloo.

A crisis point comes for both young people at the same time. Niv’s mock GCSEs are a disaster.  Jean- Louis’ mother finally leaves.

Niv steals money and credit card details from her mother and dashes back to see Jean-Louis. Mum comes after her. Niv manages to make her mum understand about what she wants in life and about Jean-Louis.

The final scene is where Niv has finished the table for her grandfather and they are having a celebration in the garage. The doorbell rings; it is Jean-Louis. Niv’s mum has sent for him. We can’t know at this point whether their relationship will last or whether Niv will succeed with her work plans but it looks very optimistic.

The novel is 294 pages long in the paperback edition.            

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The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

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