Book Review: Father Christmas’s Fake Beard, by Terry Pratchett

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_father_christmass_fake_beard.jpgFather Christmas’s Fake Beard is an hilarious story made up of emails or memos within Arnco Supersaver Store from various departmental heads regarding the employment of a Mr Nichols. Apparently Mr Nichols is from the north of Lapland and as a Equal Opportunities Employer they were not going to discriminate against someone from Lapland. He will provide his own costume and will not require false whiskers.

Father Christmas takes upon himself to let the children that come to Father Christmas’s grotto “help themselves” from the selection of gifts, and he offers children the chance to ask for different toys. Reindeer droppings appear overnight which in itself is suspicious, as all of the reindeer are made of plastic. Stuff goes missing from the DIY section, and the temperature in the toy department mysteriously seems to be very cold. And what could possibly see an employee need to leave early on Christmas Eve as he has another “job” to go to?

Ten other stories are included in this book. These stories are amazingly wonderful, for either a read-alone or a book for sharing with a younger child. The stories have titles such as The Blackbury Pie,  Judgement Day or Father Christmas, The Abominable Snow-baby, The Twelve Gifts of Christmas (another version of the twelve days of Christmas – I like this one better!)

I’m keeping this aside for 6 ½ year old granddaughter Abby for Christmas. She can read but doesn’t read my reviews – YET!!! She’s going to love it.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Father Christmas’s Fake Beard
by Terry Pratchett
Published by Doubleday

Book Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_hearts_invisible_furiesI must be honest and admit that I spent four days handling this book before actually starting to read it. Why? Well I have really loved all John Boyne’s books. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas was a stunner and I have never forgotten the impact it had on me when I read it. When I heard he had finally written a story based on the Ireland he had grown up in, I was anxious lest it be a disappointment.

This book was something different. Fear not, you will love it.

The tale of Cyril Avery takes us through the Ireland of the 1940’s to the present day. It is the story of an unmarried mother, denounced from the pulpit, who travels to Dublin where she gives her child up for adoption. Cyril is taken in by an unconventional family. This provides much of the comic relief in the story as his writer Mother (adoptive) and businessman Father (adoptive) struggle to cope with a son they rarely see and a world which is a mystery to them.

Cyril’s childhood, adolescence and advance to old age take us through political, social and literary changes in Ireland and the world. The detail is fascinating and Boyne knows the Dublin landscape so well. In a natural way, the lives of Cyril, his parents, friends and birth Mother interweave across the 60 years. We revisit them in different times and locations but the storyline keeps us guessing. It is a truly funny book with descriptions of erratic behaviour and genuine prejudice from the times. I can remember hearing the bigoted comments he captures so well, in my own youth. It is also a deeply moving story and I will admit to a few tears. Such cruelty and such love in one story.

Some will enjoy the book as an engaging tale written with style and great literary talent. For others, it is a reflection on what it means to be alive. Is happiness due to us, do we have to earn a sense of belonging or do we grow to be part of a family? It is about acceptance and rejection, religion and sexuality, love and loss. This all sounds cliché but the book is not. My suspicion is that this will become a great Irish novel. It tells a story we all suspect, we all know, but we could not say it so well. Make sure it is on your 2017 booklist.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
By John Boyne
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780857523488

Book Review: Rent a Bridesmaid, by Jacqueline Wilson

Available now from bookshops nationwide.

cv_rent_a_bridesmaidThis is an amazing book from start to end! Written by none other than Jacqueline Wilson, the author behind Hetty Feather. I have grown up reading some of Jacqueline Wilson’s book such as Little Darlings and Clean Break, but this is definitely my favourite so far.

Rent a Bridesmaid is about a young girl named Tilly, who desperately wants to be a bridesmaid. After Tilly’s best friend Matty is a bridesmaid at her aunt’s wedding, Tilly posts an advert in the window of the local shop renting herself out as a bridesmaid. The story then follows Tilly as she is a bridesmaid in all sorts of different weddings, for all sorts of different couples. But Tilly only really wants to be a bridesmaid at her Mum and Dad’s wedding, if her Mum comes back home…

I really enjoyed the suspense and drama of this story as Tilly’s story continued. Rent a Bridesmaid is a good read for anyone interested in a simple novel, or for a 8 – 10 year old girl who loves reading. I can guarantee anyone who reads this book will thoroughly enjoy it!

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston

Rent a Bridesmaid
by Jacqueline Wilson
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780857532718

Book Review: Different Class, by Joanne Harris


cv_different_classJoanne Harris is admirable in her versatility. From penning the deliciously bright Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange and Blackberry Pie, to the dark and gothic mystery of Sleep Pale Sister.

Of course, even her lighter tales have their darker moments, but it is her psychological mysteries that entice me the most. Different Class is one of these. Nestled in after the events of Gentlemen and Players, but before those of Blueeyedboy, it returns us to St Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys and re-acquaints us with Roy Straitley and a few other characters that you may, or may not, recognise.

Different Class moves at a more leisurely pace than Gentlemen and Players, with Straitley placed as the white king, sharing the narrative duties with the black king, a character whose identity is, as expected, kept purposely anonymous. I did not find quite as many surprises in this as with the others, but that is not so much due to Harris’s writing, but more because when you expect the unexpected, you start looking outside the box for the answers. And there were still plenty of little twists to keep me intrigued. It felt almost as though I were trying to unravel an elaborate puzzle, seeking the deeper secret buried inside, and whilst it did not disappoint, I do feel that there were many hints and clues that I overlooked. I believe it would benefit from a repeated reading, maybe in close concert with the other two.

Roy Straitley is perhaps the most memorable of her cast of characters, with his acerbic wit and wry observations on the changing nature of education. He is very much an old schoolmaster, teacher of Latin and the classics, and feeling the push from the modern system. He still has his Brodie Boys, for which he shows unflinching loyalty, sometimes to his own disadvantage. His unnamed antagonist, whose story starts back in 1981, is darker, underlaid with creeping menace and makes for disconcerting reading.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable installment, despite the darker material: it does deal with homophobia and, although not graphically or intensely, child abuse. For a psychological novel, it is more a drama than a thriller, as the excitement does not really pick up the pace until fairly late in the book, with the earlier parts instead being replete with sinister undertones. A slow burn, rather than a quick fire. But definitely one worth a read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Different Class
by Joanne Harris
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780385619240

Here is a Q & A on Joanne Harris’ website about Different Class


Book Review: The Days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead Maupin

The full series is available in bookstores nationwide. 

I began reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City cv_the_days_of_anna_madrigalafter honeymooning in San Francisco, the city in which these are based. The love that Maupin has for his city shines through, and as somebody who counts San Francisco as one of their favourite cities in the world, I could hardly avoid becoming an avid follower of Maupin’s world.

The start of the series sees country girl Mary-Ann arrive in the big city, all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. This is the ninth in the series, and while most of the main characters are there, this story focusses on Anna Madrigal’s childhood.

This is a road-trip book, with everybody going off in what appears to be opposite directions. Brian, one of the original tenants of Barbary Lane, comes with his new girlfriend, to take Anna (92) off for what they assume is likely to be her final trip ‘home’, to the town she grew up in as a young man. We learn, through flashbacks throughout the book, about Anna’s youth, and her mother’s friend Margaret, who helped her to understand her differences and gave her the confidence to make the ultimate decision.

Meanwhile, Anna’s live-in friend Jake (introduced many books earlier in the series as a workmate of Michael’s – one of the original flatmates) has another plot in mind, and hopes to take her to Burning Man. The descriptions of Burning Man are phenomenal – while I couldn’t ever imagine myself at one, to have one described by such a passionate participant in the artistic lifestyle, is a fantastic ride. (below is a concept for a central sculpture for this years’ Burning Man) embrace_burning_man

The ending wasn’t the one I expected, and there were some heart-wrenching moments in the process, but it had everybody, and it carried on the stories to possible conclusion with Maupin’s usual panache.

This isn’t a stand-alone novel. What you will get out of embarking on the series though, is well worth it. They are well-written, based around a likeable group of friends who have their loves and losses, and they do a better job than any other set of novels to elucidate the San Franciscan lifestyle. One thing Maupin does well (he is now 70) is to keep up with the cultural trends. Where once gay San Francisco was all bath-houses and indiscriminate sex, segueing very sadly into AIDS; now the main gay couple are a cosily married loved-up couple.

Another good reason to start the series is to open your eyes. As a straight, white, married woman, I haven’t been faced in my life with the choices that gay and transgender people must make, in sometimes challenging circumstances, in order to feel like themselves. I embrace the fact that, in many parts of the world, these choices are no longer as difficult as they were decades ago.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Days of Anna Madrigal
by Armistead Maupin
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780857521293


Book Review: Diamond, by Jacqueline Wilson

Available in bookstores now.

Fans will be thrilled to know that the story of Sapphirecv_diamond Battersea (heroine of Jacqueline Wilson’s popular Hetty Feather series) isn’t over yet. The fourth book set in the Hetty Feather world, Diamond tells the story of little Ellen-Jane Potts and her life as a circus acrobat.

Ellen-Jane was born into a poor family who longed for a strong son. As money grows scarce, her father grows desperate…until finally he sells his tiny, delicate daughter to a stranger for a bag of coins. Little does anyone know that this stranger is the cruel Beppo the clown, who works at the Tanglefield circus and is searching for people to hire for the circus. Ellen-Jane, heart-broken and terrified, is taken to the Tanglefield circus, where she is introduced to the circus as Diamond. Ellen-Jane is excellent at acrobatics, as the circus quickly learns, and so she becomes part of the show as a child acrobat.

Diamond soon adjusts to her life in the circus.  While she loves her new name and the beautiful fairy costumes she wears during shows, Diamond is deeply afraid of Beppo, who trains her and the other acrobats, teaching them new routines and punishing them for every mistake.

Many shows later, still fearful of Beppo, a new girl joins the circus. Her name is Sapphire Battersea, and she is hired as the new ringmaster… Awed by Sapphire’s bright, witty personality and bold actions, Diamond quickly befriends Sapphire, and the two share stories about their lives before the circus. Sapphire protects Diamond from the spiteful Beppo all she can, but her power is limited. When life becomes dangerous at the circus, Sapphire and Diamond have a choice to make. Could they escape the circus?  Or is Diamond doomed to flip and tumble as the Wonder Child for the rest of her days?

All Jacqueline Wilson fans will love this new novel- the Hetty Feather series is historical fiction, but isn’t too heavy for younger readers.  The old-fashioned style feels genuine; it’s an excellent portrayal of Victorian London.  The quirky characters will amaze, terrify and delight; bright, clever and full of stunning plot twists and turns, Diamond is a circus of a novel.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon, age 14.

by Jacqueline Wilson
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780857531087

Book Review: Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett

Available in bookstores.

I have a long history with Pratchett’s Discworld novels. cv_raising_steamI read my first one aged 14, it was called Maskerade, featuring the witches of Lancre and based on Phantom of the Opera, and I never looked back. They have long been my favourite companions on bus journeys from Dunedin to Christchurch, and Christchurch to Westport (10 hours in total, about the length of time it took me to read one); on long-haul flights to the UK, and basically anytime I need a light book that will make me laugh and learn something about humankind in the process.

I was sad to hear that Terry Pratchett had been diagnosed with Alzheimers, and amazed when despite this diagnosis, he recently signed a 10-book deal with his publisher. Looking into this, he has stated in twitter though that ‘The rumours of my 10 book deal have been greatly exaggerated…the majority have already been published in the UK’.

Regardless, when I saw Pratchett had a new book out, I jumped on the chance to read and review this. Particularly because it stars one of his more recent lead characters, Moist von Lipwig, one of the most lovable shysters ever written. Moist came to light in Going Postal, carried on the good work in Making Money, and now tackles the industrial age with Raising Steam.

The brilliant thing about writing in a made-up world seems to be that you have endless inspiration provided by the real world. Ankh-Morepork, the major city, can be read as any major city in Europe in the age of change. The city is constantly changing, growing, gobbling up everything it finds in its path. There is cultural diversity provided by dwarves, goblins, trolls, vampires, werewolves, and Nac Mac Feegles; and there is spiritual diversity provided by the Oi Dong Monastry and the Small Gods. This book is ostensibly about the introduction of the steam engine, but what it is actually about is the prevention of civil war, and how things that seem to be a big deal actually aren’t, when it comes down to it.

The dwarves are being driven against each other by factions of grags (read fundamentalists), who don’t believe that dwarves should mix freely with trolls, goblins, et al. Though it isn’t clear from the book, they believe that they should stay in the deep mines and live traditionally. This doesn’t sit well with the King of the Dwarves Rhys Rhysson, and what comes to play is a drama based on the creation of a train service to reach the other side of Discworld in time to stop the grags claiming the traditional throne (the Scone of Stone).

Pratchett’s work is driven by witty one-liners, pithy sentiments, and happy endings. You feel as though each and every one of his many hundreds of characters live in his head and talk directly to the page. Sometimes he curates the story well, and sometimes there are holes in the plot you could drive a car through, but I have never read a book of his that fails to entertain.

This isn’t the book I would suggest those who have never read a Discworld book in their lives pick up* – but it is a good addition to the longest-running fantasy series in history.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

*I would recommend Equal Rites if you like witches; Soul Music if you like twisty philosophy (Pratchett’s Death is brilliant); and Small Gods for wizardry and idiots.

Raising Steam
by Terry Pratchett
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780857522276