Friday, July 13, 2012

book review: Kiera's Quest by Kristy Brown

Young adult fiction has to do a couple of things to work well. It needs to grab you from the off and it needs to maintain a pace until the end.

This does both as a story of parallel universes unfolds with evil trying to destroy good. Only Kiera can save the day but she knows very little about witch queen's and orphaned princes and has to get up to speed quickly.

As she discovers what's going on her troubled life is revealed and you feel that she can barely cope with the day-to-day let alone succeding with a quest to save a world from evil.

The chapters fly by with the pace maintained and you are told enough to understand but there are plenty of questions still left unanswered, which will be no doubt answered in subsequent books.

The action plays out around a core of four friends that find that one of their number Kiera suddenly starts acting strangely and winds up talking to a doll she believes is a prince that can communicate with her. She suffers taunts and fights at school as she tries to work out who she can trust as she tries to confide in friends the quest she has set out on.

The idea of trust is the main theme I will take away from this book. In some senses it is a coming of age tale with a trouble teenager finding out that trusting people can be a real challenge. Just as you think you know who is on your side and a friend the goal posts move and you wind up even more vulnerable than before.

I'm not going to reveal much of the story because that would spoil things plus this is very much a story in progress so working out of evil has really been vanquished is a bit of a case be continued.

An enjoyable read that grips you from the off and keeps that pace going until the end. Good characterisation and a strong story set this up as being the start of a solid series.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

book review: Finding Soutbek by Karen Jennings

Occassionally you will see children interviewed for some lifestyle programme and they are asked what their favourite subject is. When asked about history sadly some will reply that it's 'boring' or 'just about old kings and dates'. Those statements will be countered by that old quote about not knowing history and allowing horrible things to be repeated.

But history can also be a powerful force providing identity, pride and even hope to people that are struggling to find much good in their current situation but find solace and inspiration from the past. That is one of the themes Jennings is exploring here with the town of Soutbek struggling to find a place on the South African map. Ignored, despite a fire and flood that have devastated half the town, it's a History of the town that provides some hope. It describes the adventurers that first discovered the town and as the book becomes popular the tourism and national interest provides a glimpse into a different future for Soutbek.

Along with looking at the importance of history there is also a strong investigation of poverty and wealth and the condequences for those that find themselves on the dividing line of those two states. The mayor and co-author of the history book are trying to put the town on the map but Soutbek risks division and segregation once the upper town is destroyed in a fire and the inhabitants have to come down to the lower town.

As those from the destroyed homes camp out in the fish factory by the sea and start to litter the town with the smells and sites of poverty any dream of it becoming a tourist destination are smashed.

At the centre of it all is the mayor Pieter who has risen to a position of wealth and influence after a career selling stolen goods accompanied with a determination not to remain in poverty.

He loses sight of what really matters - love and family - and as it all comes tumbling down is left to realise that the family he cared so much for in terms of providing status and wealth, were not particularly interested in either.

This is a slow building story, interspersing the present with the past of the memoirs of Soutbek's founders, but the idea that the town was founded in a spirit of openness and love becomes a bitter irony as the upper and lower town becomes segregated. Bearing in mind this is set in South Africa and Pieter is the first black mayor, there is a great sadness that the have and have-nots have emerged again.

A powerful book that does make you dwell on the idea of your own response and obligation to others. It also underlines the truth that money does not equal happiness.

Monday, July 09, 2012

book review: Walks in the Wheatfield by Richard Jefferies

One of the numerous attractions of reading is the way that a book can transport you to a different world and give you a mental break from the day to day routine of a commute.

This book describes a world completely alien to me as a city dweller. The ways of the country are things I know little about and this is not only a glimpse into a landscape of wheat fields and rabbit burrows but also of the past.

The narrator tells simple stories about his development as a countryside expert in shooting and land management and so you are taken into a world where a day is quite happily spent hunting birds, clearing out rabbit burrows for a neighbouring farmer or simply valuing the importance of wheat.

Not all of the story is easy to follow and it's not always green and pleasant in the countryside, but in terms of transporting you away for a few hours it does the job perfectly.

In some ways it made me think more about the countryside and the jobs undertaken by those that live there alongside the fields, trees and animals. Watching Countryfile or occasionally dipping into the Archers does not deliver quite the same experience.

Along with it being a hymn to the beauty of the countryside this also acts as a requiem for a lost age. Pre-war shooting birds was as far as it went but before long those same farmers would have to take to the trenches and the countryside described here would change even further because of mechanisation.

See this book for what it is: an almost perfect escape into an idyllic past balanced with real life creeping in at the edges.