B as in…

10 08 2014

1) Brock and Barrington Stoke

Now, I’ve always liked Anthony McGowan and his wittier-than-witty sense of humor in books. Seriously, if you want to know how dark and twisted should be used in the same sentence as humor, go on an read *any* of his other books. I promise you there is no one like McGowan out there. But, I think Brock just made me like him even more! Brock was published by Barrington Stoke. On their website you can read that they are an “independent publisher dedicated to cracking reading. We know that every parent wants their child to become a reader, and every teacher wants their students to make the jump from learning to read to loving to read. Our books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop this happening, from dyslexia and visual stress to simple reluctance.” As a teacher I know how hard it can be to get reluctant readers to pick a book, a2014-08-05 12.15.20ny book… and often books that they might pick up are just books they have to read but don’t like anyway, or they pick it up because it only has X number of pages… as few as possible.

With Brock McGowan accomplishes a number of things at the same time, not in the least just telling a really greatand poignant story. McGowan does not compromise on integrity or heart in this book, which is what makes any of his other books also so memorable. Brock is the story of Nicky and his brother Kenny and their ‘adventure’ with a badger.  The brothers themselves don’t have an easy life as is made clear early on, but the story McGowan tells is not just a harsh one. This book is a perfect combination of dark and light, horrifying and sweet. A excellent read for a reluctant and basically any reader.

4 stars


2) The Boy in the Smoke or World Book Day…

In 2014 Maureen Johnson wrote a short little book called The Boy in the Smoke, especially for World Book Day. Bonus for Maureen Johnson fans is that this book is part of the Shades of London series and that it gives the reader an insight into Stephen Dene’s background. Stephen Dene is the lead detective of the Shades, of course, and the more interesting of characters from that set of books. The prequel is nicely done, nothing too special, but a sweet in-between thingie to keep you going until the 3rd book in this series comes out (scheduled for March 2015).

3 stars

The year 2013 in reading

22 12 2013

Sometime during summer the cat thought 2013 would be a really weak reading year. And there have been some major disappointments and some serious stinkers this year, for sure. I didn’t care for Allegiant (the last in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series). I definitely thought Lauren Myracle’s The Infinite Moment of Us was the biggest disappointment of 2013. I thought Melvin Burgess’s The Hit totally stank. I honestly don’t understand how people could rate books like Where She Went or Virtuosity more than, “Mèh, they’re OK…-ish.”

But, more than anything the books I read in 2013 have convinced me that there’s one thing I just can’t take anymore and that’s… mediocrity. I absolutely hate it when it seems like there’s no effort in the book I’m reading. And most of all, I want to see personality in the words I’m reading, I don’t just want to see craftsmanship (although it’s a big plus, obviously!), I want to see balls! I want to read character – not as in a well-rounded character or protagonist (although, again, that’s obviously a major plus), but as in: show me what you’ve got, show me your stuff, show me your fucking talent! Take a risk, don’t play it safe and show me you care. Your book doesn’t have to be perfect, but I want to see you care. I want to see authenticity and honesty and intellect in the writing. I want you to be an author, not just a writer. If that makes me a book snob, then so be it.

I absolutely loathe carelessness and disinterest when it comes to the book I’m reading. If you only write half a character, then don’t put that character into your book. If you only have half a plot, or dozens of half-assed developed plots, then cut them short and focus on the essential. If you show me fake sentiment, cheap thrills, or go for the lowest common denominator I really don’t care much about what you write. If you write a book because that’s what people happen to do these days or because they want to sit at the cool kids’ table, or if you write a book because a book packager has this great idea of what will work and sell, I cannot take you seriously.

So… on to 2013 and the books and authors that passed the one and only true feline test of authenticity! (books published in 2013 will be indicated in bold)

For the cat 2013 was absolutely the year of Andrew Smith, no question about it… I read all his 6 published books in 2013, starting with The Marbury Lens in February and ending with (his debut) Ghost Medicine in October. An absolutely highpoint was Winger in June. But also Passenger, Stick and In the Path of Falling Objects showed me the talent of a true author: fierce and intense, an authentic voice amidst an ocean of average wannabes. He does not always turn out ‘perfect’ books, but they always – always – make an indelible impression. I cannot wait for Grasshopper Jungle in February 2014!

If I mention Andrew Smith, I cannot not mention A.S. King, and not just because she pointed me in the direction of Andrew Smith. In October Reality Boy once again proved how she can see through the bullshit and is one of the most – if not the most – open and caring authors out there these days. She rocks and she’s my hero. And she writes like no other. Respect.

I have one book on my bookshelf, unread, that I’m afraid to touch, because I know that if I do, that’s it… I won’t have any left of that author and what will I do then, if I don’t have one of his books to fall back on… The first book to leave me completely drained and shattered this year was Adam Rapp’s 33 Snowfish. Rapp is the master of voice and in 33 Snowfish, stream-of-consciousness is the logical narrative device to carry the characters’ voices, giving the novel a certain cadence and musicality that is unique in YA literature today. Looking back on 2013, I do think that it’s not a big leap from liking Adam Rapp to liking Andrew Smith’s novels, though, in that both go places where very few YA authors dare to go. Again, balls, man, balls! *

One author showed that “Yes, it’s really OK” to have obvious literary ambitions as a YA author, and that’s David Levithan. His Two Boys Kissing was important not just because of its topic, but also because of its narration: daring and poetic. David Levithan definitely showed his talent once again in 2013!

Adam Rapp, Andrew Smith, A.S. King or David Levithan… these people are so good I want to keep them a secret, but I realize that wouldn’t be fair, so if you buy someone a book for Christmas this year, then make it one of their books… but if you have more money to spend, then there are definitely a couple of other authors and books that made 2013 worthwhile reading-wise:

I figured out you can’t go wrong with Chris Crutcher (Deadline, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Whale Talk) or with garden gnomes on book covers (Jordan Sonnenblick’s Notes from the Midnight Driver).

I don’t understand why Gregory Galloway’s The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand didn’t get more recognition. Well, I do understand, but I don’t get it… I read two extremely good debuts this year, namely Jesse AndrewsMe and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Evan RoskosDr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets . And Matthew Quick also confirmed this year that he’s so incredibly good at describing feelings of isolation from the world in Please Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock . But he doesn’t revel in the despair but shows what it means not to get stuck in that isolation and hopelessness.

I didn’t read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, this year, but what I read was excellent:

  • Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now, which is MG and YA of course, because Gary D. Schmidt is just absolutely boss and can do no harm. Ever.
  • Anthony McGowan’s Hello Darkness confirmed that McGowan is the funniest British MG and YA writer around these days.
  • Jo KnowlesSee You at Harry’s scores big on integrity and humaneness (although I just noticed, I didn’t write a review of it).
  • Paul Zindel’s The Pigman: how good is this book! Totally withstands the test of time!


2013 isn’t over yet, and I’m still reading a few books, but it’s already very obvious that this ‘best of 2013’ or how you want to call it, isn’t the most standard of ‘best of YA lists’ of 2013…** but I don’t care, this is what I read, this is what I like. Take it or leave it.



*I totally get that I’m not being very woman-friendly here. But then, I don’t want to be PC. Fuck that shit 😉

** Yes, I only have 2 women in my ‘list’, but what women they are!

Double take (October 2013)

23 10 2013

Two authors proved this week that they’re among the cat’s favorites: Chris Crutcher and Anthony McGowan.

Hello Darkness (by Anthony McGowan)

hellodarknessWith Hello Darkness McGowan shows just how much of a ‘funny’ serious writer he is. The topic of this book is no joke, though. Johnny Middleton has had some serious (mental) problems in the past and he’s still being bullied because of them. And right at this time, there’s a killer on the loose at his school. Not just any ordinary killer: a vicious take no prisoners miscreant who’s killing off the weakest of the weak: the school’s animals, from stick insects over hamsters to chickens! Whodunnit? That is the question! Because of his past, Johnny’s prime suspect number 1, but he’s hell bent (get it, get it?) on proving that someone else at school – Queen or Lardie? Or maybe even the evil vice-principal? – is responsible for these heinous crimes! In true noir style (including the wise cracks, the incredibly cool similes, the (middle school) femme fatale…), McGowan leads us along in Johnny’s quest for truth… but the truth is an elusive and ambiguous concept when you have to rely on a narrator with ‘issues’, like Johnny who forgets his meds once in a while.

Anthony McGowan is funny! He really really is! And this book, which is just the right amount of twisted and dark, puts him up there amongst the best contemporary British authors!

Oh and look at that gorgeous cover!

4 stars


Whale Talk (by Chris Crutcher)

whaletalkCrutcher’s Whale Talk dates back to 2001 and is trademark Crutcher: highly readable, a tad funny, sad at times, sports-oriented and not holding back on the more controversial issues of our time: multiculturalism (our protagonist T.J. is the biological son of a white mom and a half African-American / half American-Japanese father), abuse, racism, bullying, gun violence… you name it, it’s there, all blended together in the most realistic and believable of ways. Never gratuitous! It’s obvious that book banners never read the books they challenge or ban!

Despite being a great athlete, T.J. has always refused to join any of the sports teams at his high school. This has angered the sports coaches, who pride themselves on “school spirit” and the athletic prowess of the school’s sports teams. But T.J. (whose real name is “The Tao Jones”, by the way) is no stranger to hard challenges, and with the help of John Simet, his English teacher, he decides to start a swim team even though the school… has no pool. T.J.’s goal: to earn the letter jackets that are the envy of every sports buff at his school. To accomplish this, T.J. recruits the outcasts of the school, including Chris Coughlin, an intellectually disabled student (who’s been bullied by some of the most vicious jocks, like Mike Barbour) Dan Hole (who prefers to speak in multi-syllable words), bodybuilder Tay-Roy, the one-legged Andy Mott, the non-talking Jackie Craig and the obese Simon DeLong.

Crutcher’s book and Crutcher’s language is powerful! When we’re introduced to Heidi, for instance, the black girl whose stepfather abuses her in such a way that she tries to wash off her black skin with steel wool, we’re shown what truly evil people are capable of. Why would you want to challenge or ban a book like this? Whale Talk is a book that promotes open-mindedness and tolerance. It doesn’t promote profanity (despite the language used) and it doesn’t promote racism. Rather it shows what hardships people have to go through, and the situations in the books may make you feel uncomfortable – they should! – but they’re real (Crutcher has long been a teacher for at risk kids,  and a therapist).  So this book: absolutely necessary and a must read for everyone with a heart.

4 stars

Hellbent (by Anthony McGowan)

15 01 2012

Rewriting Dante’s allegorical La Divina Commedia would be one hell of an ambitious endeavor (pardon the pun) for even the most accomplished of writers, so when you attempt something like that with your debut novel, you’d better have the right amount of skill, balls, wit and eschatological jokes at your disposal… turns out Anthony McGowan has all of those – something the cat already knew after reading Henry Tumour. Unfortunately, even though this novel starts out brilliantly, McGowan can’t keep up the sizzling & hilarious pace of it until the end of the ride.

Hellbent features 15-year-old Conor who’s ended up in hell after being run down by an ice cream truck.  Turns out living your life like a normal teenager (a few fibs now and then and some other innocent enough teenage misdemeanor sins) might be enough to end up eternally in hell. For some hell is other people, but for Conor, Hell is boredom and being surrounded by classical music and educational books about history, philosophy, anthropology and so on. Though Conor is accompanied by his faithful – though completely useless – mutt of a dog Scrote (Arsecheese!), and assisted by his personal devil Clarence, it is the elusive Francesca who makes the most of an impression on Conor in his search for a way out of hell (it must be Love).  Somewhere out there in the innermost circles of hell, there must be someone for whom Conor’s hell is like heaven, and obviously somewhere out there, there is someone whose own personal hell is Conor’s idea of heaven… It’s up to Conor to find a way out so he sets out on a adventure with Clarence and a Viking called Olaf.

Anthony McGowan clearly wants to make an impression with his debut: it’s comedy, it’s an adventure story, it’s an imaginative rewriting of a classic most kids will never have heard of and definitely an attempt at an almost philosophical treatise all in one. The cat wishes that books with eschatological humor,  and existential references to the Divine Comedy had existed and had been so readily available when she was 15 (“Not suitable for younger children”, up yours!), because for the idea alone this is a book that deserves to be read. The raucous fart and zit jokes are just a bonus here… And the execution of it all starts off with a couple of laugh-out-loud funny scenes (prepare for the most hilariously funny fart story in a children’s or other book ever!). However, divine it ain’t… unlike in Henry Tumour, McGowan isn’t really able to sustain the level of intensity until the very end… Hell and Conor’s soul searching tend to become a little bit tedious.

Nevertheless, knowing what Hellbent led to (both Henry Tumour and The Knife that Killed Me are highly recommended!), the cat recognizes that McGowan’s take on the afterlife is a great first attempt. It sags at times, but has some great highs too. Kudos for telling it as it is: hell is shit, long live hell.

The knife that killed me (by Anthony McGowan)

26 06 2011

According to KnifeCrimes.Org, a charity, supported by a.o. the UK Home Office, “A knife incident happens every 25 minutes – 4 in 5 offenders aged between 12 years – 20 years and a third of victims aged between 10 years – 17 years.” With more and more children and teenagers carrying a knife when going to school, Anthony McGowan’s third novel seems to be a sign of the times, a warning as well as a message. Almost completely devoid of all of the humor and wit that was characteristic of Henry Tumour, The Knife that Killed Me, nevertheless feels as poignant. Read the rest of this entry »

Henry Tumour (by Anthony McGowan)

2 04 2011

One of the coolest ideas (a talking brain tumor) and definitely one of the coolest opening words for any book: Arsecheese. The tone is set: we get deliciously vulgar ( though often decidedly man-) humour as well as unpredictable scenes featuring Hector Brundy – your typical nerdgeek who’s into comic books, Star Trek as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That last part definitely won over the cat.

Henry Tumour is a sensitive tale about growing up, and making the best of things, despite your shortcomings , even if that something is a brain tumor that threatens to take over your life as well as your geeky personality. When life is short, the last thing you need is a brain tumor trying to turn you into Super Stud (to keep in tune with the comic book theme of the novel). The sensitivity of the novel is smartly disguised in brutally honest bully scenes, sex-talk and snogging fests with Uma Upshaw (I am not inventing this name!) and tragic-comic reveries about has been hippie-feminists.

Also disguised amongst the stream of consciousness writing are important questions about your own mortality, and the need/want/use of morality in light of the finality of all things (with Hector as the Ego and Henry as the Id). This is never an easy question to answer, but in the mind of a teenager with a brain tumor, the whole thing almost gets something hilariously grotesque.

The cat definitely rates this book 4 stars, but she felt her mind wander a bit at times, much like Henry takes Hector’s mind on a bit of a mind trip. Otherwise it would have been a 4+… Be that as it may, Henry Tumour is as fresh as fresh can get, and you’ll find yourselves sniggering along with the crude jokes and reveling in the TV and other pop culture references.

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