Category Archives: Books

Brock, Pike & Rook by Anthony McGowan some thoughts and a review

It is grim up North – at least that is what they tell us! Peopled with cloth-hatted whippet fanciers that probably have ferrets down their trousers that mumble things like “Ee bah gum!” and suchlike! The problems with stereotypes is that they obscure the truth, and for people that do not venture out of their comfort zones then stereotypes is all they have to go on! This is just one reason why reading is so important – it gives us windows into parts of the world that we may not experience!

There appears to have been a dearth of novels about the North and working class lads since the late, great Barry Hines’ seminal work A Kestrel for a Knave was published in 1968.

Into this breach has stepped Anthony McGowan, I will not deny that I am a fan of his works, he is a great wordsmith and one that is too often pigeon-holed as a writer of lavatory humour, yes his works often contain laughs of the scatological variety but to pigeonhole on his works as solely of that style is to do him a grave disservice!

His Kenny & Nicky trilogy: Brock, Pike and Rook are three wonderful, brief books that take you into the lives of two poor, single-parent boys that live in Yorkshire. Their lives appear grim but the brotherly bond between Nicky and his older, special needs brother is crafted as a thing of beauty. The boys are the main characters and the supporting cast, particularly their father, portrayed, initially as an unemployed, recovering alcoholic facing a potential jail sentence are wonderfully realised, and the three of them grow and develop through course the books.

In Brock, the brothers have to contend with a gang of bullies that involve Kenny in badger baiting, the story is, as are the others, narrated by Nicky who has to balance keeping his brother safe, with avoiding the police and keeping his father in the dark as to what is happening around him.

Pike continues the tale of the brothers, this time catching the glimpse of a flash of gold in the local pond, inhabited, or so the legend goes, by a monster pike that is large enough to pull down a human. This time the stakes are higher, involving the disappearance of a local hard man and his son stepping up and making the lives of Nicky and Kenny a misery.

Rook, the third tale is more personal in nature; Nicky falls in love with a girl in his class; the sister of the school bully. The feelings of confusion engendered within Nicky threaten his relationship with his beloved brother and risk fracturing his family. The stresses in all their lives are focused around an injured Rook rescued by Kenny.

Thinking further upon these novels, I realised that they are based on the elements: Earth for Brock, Water for Pike and Air for Rook, the symbolism of this only became clear a short time ago. We are introduced to Nicky and Kenny, their family is fractured and dirt-poor, living in squalor in Brock then moving on to Pike with the family fortunes gradually improve – with Water as a symbol for them being washed clean and finally with Rook Nicky is ready to fly in the Air filled with hope and love.

If there is a fourth book to come I hope that it will have something to do with the brothers travelling beyond the bounds of their village life to visit their mother (Fire transporting them) but that is pure supposition on my part as Anthony has not commented one way or another as to whether there will be another.

This trilogy is truly glorious! All three books are published by Barrington-Stoke and are available now!

Rook, and the sense of place by Anthony McGowan

I like to think that if the world were destroyed in some apocalypse, and a future race – perhaps descended from ants or koala bears or mung beans – tried to rebuild our world from literary sources, my books Brock, Pike, and Rook would enable a pretty accurate recreation of the Yorkshire village of Sherburn in Elmet.

Although, in writing for young adults, I’ve invested most of my energies into characterisation and narrative, I’ve always known exactly where my books were set. It’s almost always been a version of my old school – Corpus Christi, in Leeds. The stained concrete and glass of the building, the polluted beck running past it, the tussocky field beyond where travellers would come and go in mysterious patterns, the surrounding Halton Moor council estate – these were where my characters worked through the dangers and joys of teenage life.

Although I went to school in Leeds, I was actually brought up ten miles outside, in Sherburn. It’s an odd sort of place – once split between farming and mining – with the old village centre topped and tailed by large council estates, but now swollen with private housing, serving commuters to Leeds and York. As kids, it was glorious. The countryside was a short bike-ride away, and the building sites for the new estates were the perfect playground, in those pre-health and safety days. We built elaborate dens and fought huge wars against rival gangs of urchins. We played football all Winter, and cricket all Summer.

It’s a place I can still see clearly, whenever I close my eyes. The high street with its four pubs, ranging from rough to dead rough. The Spa. The Co-op. Two fish and chip shops. There’s a joke about a Jewish man who washes up on a desert island. The first thing he does is to build two synagogues – the one he goes to and the one he wouldn’t be seen dead in. It was like that with the fish and chip shops. We went to Kirkgate, but wouldn’t dream of getting our chips from Huggan’s. The beautiful old church on the hill. The Methodist chapel down in the village. The old cinema converted into a Catholic church, where I served as an altar boy all through my childhood. Then, just out of the village, the Bacon factory – a huge meat processing plant. And next to it, the Bacon pond, where monstrous pike lurked, fattened, we were told, on rotten meat from the factory.

I populated this remembered microverse with kids I knew or half knew. Nicky and Kenny live up on the Highfields council estate. At the beginning of the series, their world was falling apart, their family split, money short, hope all but gone. What saves them is love: the love of Nicky for his older but simpler brother, Kenny. Kenny’s own wide-beam love, which encompasses not only his family, but anything helpless and vulnerable they encounter. And so, over the first two books, things get better. Their dad begins to sort out his life. They move on.

In Rook, the last (I think …) in the series, their problems change. Rather than survival, the issues are more typical teenage ones. Kenny has made new friends – one of who appears to be Doctor Who – and Nicky no longer feels quite so needed, quite so central to his brother’s being. And he’s fallen for a pretty girl at school, with the horrible complication that her brother is a vicious bully. There are twists, which follow, I trust, the organic patterns of life, rather than the artificial needs of plot. In the end things work out … OK.

But I hope that I’ve been true both to my characters, and to that place – that particular small town in North Yorkshire, typical, and yet unique, seemingly ordinary, and yet overflowing with stories, with eccentrics, with danger and joy, with life.

BrockPike and Rook are published by Barrington-Stoke and are available now

This Is Not A Sex Book


What? The Uncensored Manual for All Things Intimate

Who? Chusita Fashion Fever is the pseudonym of Spanish YouTube sensation Maria Jesús Cama. She speaks vry openly and honestly to teens about a range of topics on her popular channel. With illustrations by Maria Llovet, comic author and illustrator.

Where? In all good bookshops, libraries and other places where books are found.

When? This Is Not A Sex Book is published on the 13th July.

The first thing you notice about This Is Not A Sex Book is that it is incredibly, almost retina-damaging fluorescent, this makes the title in white caps jump out at you, then you notice the two teens subtly looking at each other and you can almost feel their desire!

Books about sex and sexuality have come along in leaps and bounds sine I was a teen and this book is one of the best I have come across!

Aimed squarely at a teen/young adult readership This Is Not A Sex Book does not talk down to the reader but takes a no nonsense approach to educating them about sex and their growing sexuality. Chusita has taken the questions she has been asked via her YouTube channel and has created a book that is open, honest, sexy but never feels prurient or needlessly raunchy! It covers dating, sex, hooking up, breaking up discovering who you might be sexually and many of the other hurdles young people face when going through puberty.

I would like to make special mention on the art, by comic artist Maria Llovet she makes use of sequential art showing both vignettes and static scenes. the art is imbued with a sensuality that I have rarely encountered in a book of this nature.

From a Librarian perspective I think that although this book will be incredibly popular, it will not be officially borrowed that often. Instead I expect that it will disappear periodically and turn up in strange places and may even never be found again. I will make sure that there are multiple copies to make up for any disappearances because this book is important and should be made available to all teen readers.

Including it in a school library collection may be contentious and I am sure that some staff and parents may take umbrage at its inclusion but hey I may be wrong!

Highly recommended!

Further viewing: https://www.youtube.com/user/Chusitafashionfever

Feminist Fiction, Graphic Novels & Non-Fiction (a list in progress)

Novels

  • Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • The Making of Mollie – Anna Carey
  • Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho
  • The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
  • Beauty Queens – Libba Bray
  • The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge
  • The Bermudez Triangle – Maureen Johnson
  • A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
  • Ash – Malinda Lo
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks – e. Lockheart
  • Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
  • Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill
  • Asking For It – Louise O’Neill
  • Alanna – Tamora Pierce
  • The Ruby in the Smoke – Philip Pullman
  • How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff
  • Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – Mildred D. Taylor
  • The Hate You Give – Angie Thomas
  • Maresi – Maria Turtschaninoff
  • Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
  • Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein
  • Uglies –Scott Westerfeld
  • Blood Red Road – Moira Young
  • The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
     
    Graphic Novels
     

  • Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More – Kelly Sue Deconnick and David Lopez
  • Ghost World – Daniel Clowes
  • Hark! A Vagrant – Kate Beaton
  • Hilda – Luke Pearson
  • Lumberjanes – Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson
  • Ms. Marvel – G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
  • Paper Girls – Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
  • Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
  • Sally Heathcote Suffragette – Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot
  • Skim – Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki
  • This One Summer – Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Ryan North and Erica Henderson
     
    Non-Fiction
     

  • Crafting with Feminism – Bonnie Burton
  • Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World – Kate Pankhurst
  • We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Wonder Women 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History – Sam Maggs
  •  
    Compiling a list of books on a subject as emotive as Feminism is difficult and often prone to sparking arguments as books are left out or sometimes disagreed upon due to a variety of factors. If you would like to suggest books for inclusion please feel free to do so in the comments section below, disagreements are also welcome!

    My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner

    Our town is not safe for us any more.
    Leaving will be sad, but quite exciting too.
    The journey will be long, but Mum will be there every step of the way.
    How would you feel if you had to leave your home behind?

    My Name is Not Refugee is an interactive picture book told from the perspective of a young boy that has become a refugee with his mother. This is perfect for introducing why people become refugees to children of all ages, it asks the reader to consider what they would do if they became a refugee and is perfect for sparking group and individual conversations. This book is not just for onlookers it has been designed with young refugees in mind and reinforces that while they may be refugees – they should not let this define who they are.

    Kate Milner has created a book that is both heartbreaking and hopeful; in this current climate of multiple global crises it is an essential book for all libraries and collections.

    My Name is Not Refugee written by Kate Milner and published by The Bucket List imprint of Barrington Stoke is out now.

    The Inspiration Behind When Dimple Met Rishi By Sandhya Menon


    I firmly believe that marginalised teens need more books where they’re allowed to be happy, to make friends, to fall in love, to chase their dreams, and to have that perfect ending. When the opportunity to write When Dimple Met Rishi, a light YA rom-com, presented itself, I couldn’t believe my luck!

    I’ve always been a huge fan of writers like Sophie Kinsella and Jenny Han, and although I’d never written a light YA before, I knew that that reading experience would help immensely. While I wanted to show that Indian-American teens have many of the same hopes and fears as the rest of the population—and to make people laugh and swoon, of course!—I also wanted to give the culture the space and respect it deserved on the page. That’s why I put in nuances and experiences that would (hopefully!) ring true for other teens living in the diaspora.

    But above all, I wanted When Dimple Met Rishi to resonate with teens who’ve ever felt like they don’t belong or that their families simply don’t get them. That’s a very universal experience, I think, and you don’t have to be Indian-American to experience it!

    Peppa Goes to London

    The record skips, there is a screech as the needle runs across the surface… Peppa Pig appearing in Teen Librarian?

    Surely Peppa is more suited to a younger readership? Yes – yes she is!

    However… Peppa Goes to London is one of my daughter’s current favourite books of the moment.

    I know that if I wish to attract her attention then all I have to do is pick it up and concentrate furiously on the story and ignore her; moments later as if by magic I will see her smiling, cherubic face peer round the side of the book before she pushes it aside to sit in my lap and wait for me to read the story, sometimes she will grab the book and tell me all about it – I may not be able to understand what she is saying, but she is emphatic in her love for this book.

    Featuring recognisable London landmarks from Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge and ending up at Trafalgar Square with Her Majesty the Queen acting as a daredevil bus driving tour guide. Any story that ends with the Queen, Peppa and all her friends joyfully jumping in muddy puddles is great for all ages!

    Look – Peppa Pig is phenomenally popular, appearing as she does on TV, in books, as plush toys and stickers and more! All the books that feature her are exceptionally popular as small children around the world love her and her family. I know too that much like Tellytubbies and other popular child-centric characters that appeared in pop culture before her that some adults are not massive fans but my daughter loves reading and watching her.

    But don’t just take my word for it. Check out my daughter below:

    Daddy Pig is also the ‘face’ of The Book Trust’s Bath Book Bed programme to help weary parents get their children to sleep at night.

    This Beats Perfect blog tour

    Working as a Music TV Producer for Rockfeedback was easily the most fun, exciting and exhausting job I ever had in television. What could be better than traipsing the world filming your heroes and being occasionally paid for it?

    I spent countless hours backstage at festivals running around arranging interviews and live filming for bands and one of the things that never ceases to surprise is how dreary backstage areas can be.

    The image of wild, all night parties is not generally the reality (although these do definitely exist!) Firstly, bands are often on gruelling tour schedules and they are often tired and jet-lagged. They’re also wary of strangers and especially film crews, so you have to be respectful of their space and grateful for their time.

    And a lot of artists don’t drink at all these days –since touring became the bread and butter for a lot of artists, they simply can’t afford to put on a bad show. It’s not unusual to see them hunched round their tablets and phones, updating social media and catching a bit of shuteye before the show.

    And you might not see the bigger artists AT ALL, as they stay with their dressing rooms firmly shut and only come out to perform, but there is always some group who are on the up and super excited to be there and to play and party.

    The best ‘backstage’ area I ever went to was at Fuij Rock Festival in Japan. You can see the hotel we stayed in overlooking the campsite (perks of the job). It was partially shut since the resort is mostly used for skiing, and at night we ran round all the cordoned off areas –sneaking into ballrooms and huge empty restaurant areas. It was super creepy.

    Backstage, the atmosphere was really friendly and upbeat – and just look at that 2007 line up!

    Red Hot Chili Peppers , The Strokes , Franz Ferdinand , Jet , The Raconteurs , Sonic Youth , Wolfmother , Snow Patrol , The Hives , Dirty Pretty Things , KT Tunstall , Jason Mraz , The Cooper Temple Clause , Madness , Mogwai , Scissor Sisters , Yeah Yeah Yeahs , Super Furry Animals , Gnarls Barkley , The Zutons , Ore ska band- and many others.

    ~ Rebecca Denton

    HiLo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

    I have had a copy of Hilo written and drawn by Judd Winick since December – it is a comic book that I loved and have been meaning to write a review of since I read it. However I have been dragging my feet with this and I have no idea why.

    Last night I had a dream, and in that dream I wrote a Hilo review and compared it to The Iron Man by Ted Hughes – this is better known internationally as The Iron Giant thanks to the fantastic Warner Bros. animated movie. When I woke up I was confused as on the surface they two beings appeared to be completely different; on deeper reflection I realised that the stories had a number of similarities, my brain also threw about Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy and Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot into the mix as well as the parallels to Judd’s early work The Adventures of Barry Ween Boy Genius (the book that made me a Winick fan-boy)

    Judd – if you do read this can you *please* let me know if Barry Ween will ever come back – thank you!

    ANYWAY! Hilo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is funny, sweet and contains some surprisingly hidden depths to the surface story of a mysterious boy who falls to Earth and the children that become his best friends.

    There is a lot of screaming and running away from alien monsters and pathos in the form of familial relationships and the feeling of not fitting in with both Hilo and D.J. filling the role of outsider Hilo on earth and D.J. within his family.

    JW has always been championed diversity in his works and HiLo is no exception, a Caucasian from another dimension with a Hispanic and African American as best friends who get equal development within the story.

    HiLo is a fast-paced, enjoyable romp for all ages and there are two other books in the series that are also available so there will be no long waiting for more once you have finished it!
    If I could sum up HiLo The boy Who Crashed to Earth in one word then it is:
    OUTSTANDING!

    HiLo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is published in the UK by Puffin

    The Territory: Escape by Sarah Govett

    territory-escape

    The year is 2059. Fifteen-year-old Noa Blake has passed the exam to stay in The Territory but her childhood friend Jack has been shipped off to the disease-ridden Wetlands, a death sentence in all but name. Noa and Raf have vowed to rescue him, but how? With an electric fence, gun towers and a police state monitoring their every move, getting into the Wetlands looks impossible, let alone getting home again. Second in The Territory trilogy, The Territory, Escape follows Noa, Raf and Jack as they battle through a world of raiders, mosquito swarms and psychopathic prisoners. Noa faces her own battle too is it just friendship that drives her and if not, is Jack still even hers to claim?

    The Territory: Escape is the sequel to The Territory – my favourite dystopian novel of 2015.

    As a follow-on novel, Escape does not disappoint continuing Noa and Raf’s quest to save their friend. One of the things that gripped me when I started this series was that Noa was not a gung-ho action heroine; actually none of her friends are they are just young people much like teens today doing their best to survive and overcome the odds (which are definitely not in their favour).

    In this current age of political uncertainty and the ongoing talks on sacrificing of rights for safety, The Territory trilogy brings young readers face to face with serious questions about survival, choice and the type of world we want to live in.

    It is also a damn good adventure and survival story!