Review: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

night-paradeThe Night Parade is about Saki, a thirteen-year-old Tokyo brat who is mad at having to spend four days of her precious vacation visiting her grandmother in a remote village, instead of with her odious-sounding ‘friends’, including the venomous bully Hana.

Saki, her younger brother and their parents are at her grandmother’s village to celebrate the Obon festival, which is something like Qing Ming for the Chinese. Saki is glued to her mobile phone, more interested in getting a signal than bonding with her grandma.

She’s an average teenager, basically; a typical brat who doesn’t appreciate history, culture and traditions. She (probably) loves her family, but at this point in her life she considers them boring spoilers-of-fun. To her, the countryside is also boring – because it’s so far away from the city and malls and concerts.

However, while Saki is far from likeable, her flaws are familiar – not only do I have teenage kids, and one tween, which means I know all about children grumbling while on holiday, ignoring the beauty around them and focusing on how they miss their video games, and YouTube vlogs, but I also remember being that age and getting stupidly angry about going on trips if it meant missing my favourite telly programmes . So, sure Saki’s irritating, but she’s also believable and recognisable, and I understand that the person she is at 13 isn’t the person she’ll be forever. Also, I expected her experiences in the book to make her grow and change for the better, and so, become a more sympathetic character. Thankfully, she does become less bratty by the end of the book, although, in my opinion, no more likeable.Read More »

Review: All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins

all-aloneI finally read Lynne Rae Perkins’s All Alone in the Universe, which I only managed to find this year, at Kinokuniya.

I read Criss Cross several years ago and if it’s possible for a writer to be one of your favourites based on just one book then Lynne Rae Perkins is that author.

I might have known, one-upon-a-time, that All Alone has the same protagonist as Criss Cross, but I’d forgotten. In fact, I’ve forgotten what Criss Cross is about, just that I loved every word of it.

All Alone comes before Criss Cross and it’s a short book that left me wanting more. Indeed, it could be one of Alice Munro’s longer shorties, and as beautifully and evocatively written. Debbie, the main character, is well-realised, and I completely related to her and her struggles.

It may sound crazy that I, at 49, totally gets the feeling of loss, indignation and isolation a 14-year-old feels when she senses her friend drifting away from her, but there you go. Not only do I remember feeling those emotions when I was Debbie’s age; I still feel them now, and then also feel petulant and spoilt when I do.

Books in which ‘not a lot happens’ are my favourite sort, and this story is one of those: not action-driven, but flowing with the meandering currents of Debbie’s state of mind and emotions.

criss-crossCombined with art by Perkins (it was her major as an undergraduate as well as in grad school), the overall impression is both whimsical and contemplative.

All Alone‘s only fault, in my opinion, is that it’s too brief and thus, somewhat lacks a sense of resolution. Of course, this (resolution) is not a must: Life doesn’t always (hardly ever, actually) resolve neatly in a concluding chapter and paragraph, and Debbie is obviously a work-in-progress.

I’ve started reading Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem (continuing my Oct to Dec TBR challenge), but I think I shall make a short detour to Criss Cross.  

 

lynneraeperkins_490
Lynne Rae Perkins

Book Review: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

paxFirst published on 18th June, 2016 in The Star

PAX

Author: Sara Pennypacker

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

THE reason I am leery of stories about pets, or in which humans and animals have close relationships, is because they invariably contain heart-breaking scenes featuring death, separation, cruelty or all three.

The heartbreak occurs early in Pax by Sara Pennypacker. In chapter one, Peter is made to abandon his pet fox, the book’s titular character, at the edge of a wood.

The method employed to distract and leave Pax behind is shockingly cruel, even more so because it is so familiar.

However, we learn that this is not a matter of human whim and fancy. With the country in the midst of war, Peter’s father has enlisted in the army and so, Peter must go live with his grandfather where there is no room for pets.

But Peter and Pax are pragmatic in the face of their separation. The boy sets out to walk the 300 miles back to where he left his pet, while Pax, steadfast in his belief that his human will return for him, just gets on with life.Read More »

Book Review: Pigeon Post by Gwen Smith

pigeon-postFirst published on 16th February, 2014 in The Star

PIGEON POST

Author: Gwen Smith

Publisher: Oyez!, 112 pages

WHEN I was about five, I received my first boxed set of books from my Godmother Evelyne. I still own three of the five books that were part of that set and still read them from time to time.

One of the books is Another Lucky Dip by Ruth Ainsworth, a collection of stories about the everyday lives of ordinary children. There are no mysteries, no amateur sleuthing. Some of the characters are young enough for a wander round the garden to be an awfully big adventure. One of them, Charles, features in several of the stories. Charles has a Useful Bag from which he produces wonderful objects, like notebooks and envelopes, jars and crayons, and sticky tape. He likes to be told stories about when he was ‘small as a pin’.

Then there is the story of a young boy and his precious matryoshka doll. Unlike other dolls of this type, she doesn’t have smaller dolls nested in her body, just a small, wooden red ball. I’ve loved matryoshka dolls since I first read this story, but I have yet to find one that hides a wooden red ball – I have not given up looking.

My favourite story is about three children who spend a day making surprises for their mother. Like the other stories, it’s a quiet tale, not obviously thrilling, although I remember being excited and inspired by the ingenuity of the children and the descriptions of the beautiful, simple, imperfectly perfect things they create for their mother.

The stories in Another Lucky Dip are about the mouth-watering delight of getting thoroughly lost in play that is driven and shaped solely by imagination. Not a lot happens in them, but the lives described are, nevertheless, full and rich, filled with the surprises and adventures ordinary life coughs up in the course of an ordinary day; the characters busy at the difficult, absorbing job of being children.Read More »

Book Reviews: Thursday’s Children & Listen to the Nightingale by Rumer Godden

First published on 26th May, 2013 in The Star

THIS week, two ballet novels by Rumer Godden. Thursday’s Children and Listen to the Nightingalewere out of print, but are two of the 15 titles that Virago Books has acquired for its Modern Classics list.

I’m not sure if girls still love reading ballet stories. A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a group of young ballet students in a local dance school and was dismayed to find that none of them had heard of Noel Streatfeild’s classic Ballet Shoes. They liked reading but they didn’t read ballet stories. I suppose it was presumptuous of me to assume that just because they danced, they would like to read about dancing. Perhaps only those of us who love ballet but don’t actually dance need to live vicariously through the characters in ballet books.Read More »

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

monster callsFirst published on 3rd July, 2011 in StarMag

A MONSTER CALLS

Author: Patrick Ness

Publisher: Walker Books, 215 pages

IN a radio interview, Patrick Ness said that he wept during the writing of A Monster Calls. “If I’m writing anything that’s this difficult and I’m not upset, then I’m not doing it right,” he said. “If I’m not crying why would I think anybody else will be moved?”

When I received my review copy of the book, I read the last couple of pages and found myself simply blubbing. I then read the book all the way through and, at the end, I cried again. Ness has obviously done it right.Read More »

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

graveyardFirst published on 12th Oct, 2008 in StarMag

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK
By Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 289 pages

THIS BOOK opens with a murder – three murders, actually – and yet, I would call it a comforting book. A man, Jack, is sent to kill a family of four, including two children. The opening paragraph contains the description of a knife, its handle and blade wet with blood. But, yes, on the whole, a warm and fuzzy book.

The title doesn’t suggest a cozy story. Neither does the cover (a thin and ghostly woman astride a pale horse haunts the back).Read More »

Book Review: Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

ways to liveFirst published on 6th April 6, 2008 in StarMag

WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER
By Sally Nicholls
Publisher: Marion Lloyd Books, 200 pages

IT was hard for me to read this book because it’s the story of a little boy who’s dying of leukemia. Not only do I suffer agonies reading anything that describes children suffering, I also happen to have a son who has congenital heart disease. He has already had several operations to correct his heart deffects, and he is on longterm medication, but he’s not an invalid and you wouldn’t guess, to look at him or watch him play, that he has a problem. He was diagnosed at birth and has lived his 11 years knowing that he isn’t like his friends. He is quite matter of fact about it, only ocassionally expressing irritation that he has to remember to pop pills thrice a day and not to exert himself physically. When he was born, his dad and I were told that he wouldn’t survive for more than a month if he wasn’t operated on right away. But even after corrective surgery, Elesh’s chance of survival isn’t certain.

I guess one of the worst things about being the parent of a child who has a serious health problem is knowing that you might well outlive him. Because of how I feel about Elesh, I could totally identify with Sam’s dad who is in denial. For a parent of a sick child, denial could be seen as a form of hope even if it is hope that’s not based on reality or hard facts. It flies in the face of the truth or, rather, it turns its back on the truth. It waits for a miracle or to wake up one morning to find, like Pamela Ewing did in Dallas, that it was all just a bad dream.Read More »

Book Review: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

chasing vermeerFirst published on 6th February, 2005 in StarMag

CHASING VERMEER

By Blue Balliett

Illustrated by Brett Helquist

Publisher: Scholastic

SEVERAL foreign reviews have called Chasing Vermeer a children’s Da Vinci Code, but I think the only thing the books have in common is that they encourage an interest in art, or at least certain artists and their works.

A number of portraits by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer appear in Blue Balliett’s novel, but none harbour secrets about Christianity or the, supposedly, true identity of biblical figures. There are no codes to crack, no puzzles to work out, no trails to follow in Chasing Vermeer. Rather, it becomes gradually clear that the mysteries in this book are solved by methods that are themselves mysterious. They remain, till the very end, unexplained phenomena.

As a result, some readers might close the book feeling short-changed. Personally, I was surprised that so little logic went into the mapping and unfolding of the plot. Pentominoes feature largely in the story, but although they are a mathematical tool, they are used in a strangely fanciful, even superstitious, manner.Read More »