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review 2018-01-02 01:06
A Funeral for an Owl - Jane Davis

Using a novel to highlight invisible social issues, such as runaway teenagers, taking flight as a consequence of factors such as domestic violence, gang culture and parental rejection is a tricky business. For example, who knew “one in ten run away from home before they reach the age of sixteen, a massive 100,000 every year”? It’s a fairly damning statistic, which says much about British society and an apparent incapacity to protect vulnerable young people. Moreover, “two thirds of children who run away are not reported to the police.” Still, against this rather bleak backdrop, Jane Davis has constructed a subtle plot, which does far more than merely generate pathos. Indeed, JD has also sought to establish that this is not a problem solely besetting some poverty-stricken underclass, but rather an issue that crosses mundane social boundaries and ‘runaways’ might therefore be seen as victims of an extreme degree of family separation.


‘A Funeral for an Owl’ centres on history teacher, Jim Stevens, who works at an inner city high school, but originates from the nearby council estate and though the vagaries of social mobility have enabled Jim to move literally to the other side of the railway tracks, he has not strayed far from his roots. When a violent incident at school sees Jim hospitalised, colleague (‘Ayisha’) is drawn into the clandestine support he has been providing to one of his pupils (‘Shamayal’) and Ayisha’s own integrity, in the face of strict policies and procedures, is challenged.


Ayisha has benefitted from a stable family upbringing and though struggling with the expectations of a distant and demanding mother, she has little insight into the profound hardships experienced by some of her disadvantaged pupils, away from school. And so, while Jim languishes in a hospital bed, the story alternates between examining Jim’s past experience, which culminated in his being stabbed and the very pressing present, which finds Ayisha discovering that doing the ‘right thing’ can take courage and a sense of bewildering isolation.


In spite of his inner city upbringing, ten year-old Jim is into birdwatching and this egregious pastime enables the boy to connect with the troubled Aimee White. Two years his senior, Aimee is destined to attend the all-girls school designated by her wealthy parents, but for the intervening six weeks of the summer holidays, the pair fashion a poignant relationship, which bridges their respective worlds. Almost spookily prescient, Aimee observes that “Indian tribes believe owls carry the souls of living people and that, if an owl is killed, the person whose soul they’re carrying will also die.”


Later, the geekiness of Jim’s birdwatching also captures Shamayal’s imagination and there is symmetry too, in Jim’s burgeoning relationship with Ayisha.


However, what stood out most for me in this book was the crafted writing, in which JD changes gear so smoothly that the journey was simply a pleasure and over all too quickly. The plot was deceptively simple and yet the characterization of the protagonists was insightful and interesting (I especially enjoyed ‘Bins’ the estate eccentric, who is curiously invisible) and made the story eminently plausible and readable. Clearly the book is not targeted solely at young adults and as with a lot of good fiction, the food-for-thought it provides is rightly taxing. As a social worker myself, it would be easy to criticize the rather neat conclusion, which perhaps sanitizes the ‘messiness’ that attends typical family life, but that would be churlish and miss the point. The adage that ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’ is at the heart of this book and we all need to do our bit…

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review 2017-12-25 01:55
What thoughts do eggs have?
Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book - Jomny Sun

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun was an odd little book.  The reader follows our main character who is an alien (or aliebn if you prefer) sent to earth to learn about humans but because he's never met one he assumes every living thing he sees is a human. Therefore, he becomes good friends with a tree, beaver, egg, etc. Reminiscent of Find the Good, this book is chock full of life lessons about what truly matters. Our little alien friend learns how to be content and happy, what loneliness is, how to be a good friend, the value of creativity, and most of all how to accept oneself. There's also an underlying message about doomsday and what the planet would be like without human habitation. Is this actually an apocalyptic tale cloaked behind a cute alien story?  I have to point out that the misspelling (as you see in the title) was highly annoying even after I managed to somewhat successfully ignore it and took away some enjoyment from the overall reading of the book. However, if you are able to look past that (and I was mostly successful) then it's a nice little read with great messages. This author isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects and I believe he does so with sensitivity and insight. This would make a great gift for that introspective friend (or a great addition to your own collection). I'd say it was a solid 7/10 because while it was a really nice book it didn't blow me out of the water. (The best graphic novel remains The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins.)

 

Source: Sweet

 

 

What's Up Next: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

 

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 1 day til Christmas...do you think I'm reading?

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-12-21 22:13
Not exactly what I wanted
Find the Good - Heather Lende

I went into Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende with a lot of perhaps too many expectations. I anticipated (and hoped for) humor of the macabre variety. Find the Good is a book of anecdotal advice from someone who regular faces death head on...or at least experiences it alongside those left behind. From the book's blurb, I thought that this was going to be a look at death with a light touch because how else can one continually run up against death and retain their positive outlook on life? I guess in a way Lende does explore the way she has had to structure her life so that she can continue to be a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen when the grief overflows. As an obituary writer in a small town, most of the notices that she has had to write were about people that she knew if not intimately then by sight. That takes a toll on a person and also fosters an environment for emotional and spiritual growth.  There are some good, positive points made but in my opinion not enough to warrant an entire book. It would have made a good article or think piece. There's very little I can say about this one other than it didn't really live up to my expectations or blow me away. It would probably work well on a short train ride or as a beach read. It's a 3/10 for me, guys.

 

What's Up Next: Thornhill by Pam Smy

 

What I'm Currently Reading: still reading Scythe and Mine Own Executioner

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-12-20 20:46
Thinking ahead
The Great Questions of Tomorrow (TED Books) - David Rothkopf

Have you guys ever watched a TED Talk? Well, apparently some of those Ted Talks are turned into published works so that the ideas can be delved into a little deeper. (To see more you can visit their website here. (They haven't asked me to review today's book by the way.)) I hadn't watched David Rothkopf's talk but The Great Questions of Tomorrow was featured in my regular 'what's new at Simon & Schuster' email and it seemed to be calling my name. Rothkopf is exploring a very wide and diverse range of topics with a central theme of  'what does this mean for the future?' running through them all. I guess it should come as no surprise that this book thoroughly freaked me out while at the same time fascinating me. Have you thought about the future of drone warfare and whether or not it might constitute the necessity for intelligent machines to have rights as members of society? WELL, NOW YOU ARE. He jumped from frightening scenarios like that to ones that hadn't even occurred to me such as complete mobile banking which would see the demise of physical currency and brick and mortar banks. O_O I especially enjoyed his take on government and how we should be trying to elect leaders who not only understand technology but can look towards the future to prepare accordingly. His example of how this was not done was that just because there was one shoe bomber it shouldn't mean we have to remove our shoes at airports into perpetuity. All in all, it was a fascinating read that I zipped right through. It's great for the people in your life (or yourself!) that enjoy philosophical discussions about the future and how actions of today and yesterday have and should continue to have direct bearing on how we handle events in the future. 10/10

 

Rothkopf's original TED Talk "How fear drives American politics"

 

 

What's Up Next: Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Mine Own Execution by Nigel Balchin

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-12-01 16:09
Little boys at war
The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane,Alfred Kazin

Today's book is a classic that I have wanted to read for quite some time but never got around to...until now. Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage covers the American Civil War from the point of view of a Union soldier. It's the gritty portrayal of life at the front and just what it's like to lay down your life for a cause that you don't fully understand. In fact, our protagonist has almost no clue what it is that he's fighting for or against. He joined up because it was the done thing which seems to be the case for the rest of his regiment as well. There are those that brag about their bravado but when the time comes for the bullets to fly they are the first to turn and run. At first, our soldier is condescending towards these 'cowards' as he sees them but he very quickly sees the futility of their regiment's actions as they seem to be merely feinting and arbitrarily gaining and losing ground. It is a gritty, raw description of battle and defeat which is undercut with confusion and fear. These are children playacting warfare but the injuries and death are very real. Crane's insistence on not holding back lends a realistic, deadening of the senses feel to what it's like on the battlefield when you are surrounded by death and horror at every turn. He was making a commentary on the futility of war and how those who are a part of the 'war machine' are generally lost as to the meaning of why and who they are fighting. I am immensely glad that I finally picked this book up and gave it a read. I encourage ya'll to do the same. It's a slim volume and will take no time at all (though I don't promise you'll want a break every now and again from the bloodshed). 9/10

 

Here are a few more covers which I thought were worth sharing because they tell slightly different stories (and illustrate the point that covers do matter):

 

This one screams patriotism. Source: Goodreads

 

 

Yes, that is a bald eagle. [Source: Waldina]

 

 

Just so you get the message. [Source: Goodreads]

 

 

And my fave because RAINBOW. [Source: Amazon]

 

What's Up Next: Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers by Matt Kaplan

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Slightly Foxed: Issues 50-53

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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