Good reads for a lockdown situation!

While most of us have a bit of time on our hands it’s a great time to indulge yourself in a book. Here are a few interesting book reviews for both adults and children that may inspire you to make an online purchase!

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Mental health is in the news a lot these days with high profile campaigns by the younger royals to raise awareness, and discussions over funding for people who need help. When we talk about mental health it helps to reduce the stigma surrounding the issues, and people have been shown to be more likely to seek help. And this is where the book by Daily Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon comes in.

This is a funny, inspiring, and frank look at mental illness as Bryony recounts her own personal experiences. Starting in her childhood when she developed OCD and bulimia she looks back on her experiences and doesn’t shy away from reality of her life back then. A pervasive fear that she had killed someone but had forgotten about it led to her to try to find some aspect of her life that she could control – which led to the bulimia. Each chapter then leads the reader through different phases of her life as it begins to spiral out of control with drug abuse, before an inspiring trip to the Arctic Circle as part of her job helps her to turn her life around. It was a slow process, but she finally decides to take control and starts on the journey that lead her to the present day.

This is a must-read for everyone, regardless of how good, or otherwise your life currently is. We all struggle at times and Bryony’s story provides plenty of food for thought.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Marcia Williams

Much has been written around the mythology of various cultures – from the Greeks and Romans to the Norse gods. All too often our own mythology is forgotten though, so this wonderfully illustrated comic strip style book is a treat. It retells the British myths of King Arthur for a new generation. 

Marcia Williams has gathered together a number of different stories and, with a wonderful sense of humour, presents them for young readers. There is something for everyone: the sword in the stone, the origins of the round table, and the search for the holy grail, to name a few. Familiar characters are on every page including Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, and Lancelot. She also introduces characters who are not so familiar such as Sir Pellinore, and Sir Accolon, who nearly kills Arthur in a case of mistaken identity!

This is a fantastic introduction to the stories of King Arthur and is bound to inspire young readers to want to learn more about these stories that have gripped readers for centuries.

Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Look beneath the surface of British life and you will find many different communities and cultures – some more hidden than others. Naomi Alderman’s 2006 debut novel deals with one such hidden, but long-standing culture: Orthodox Judaism.

Ronit is a young woman living in New York. She emigrated to America as a way of escaping the strict Orthodox Jewish community that she had belonged to in London. But one day she receives a phone call. Her father – an esteemed and respected Rabbi – has died. Torn by duty, the desire for a sense of closure, and uncertainty of what she will find, Ronit makes the journey back home. At the very least she can clear out her father’s house and maybe reconcile with some part of her past.

However, this journey sets her on a collision course between her new modern life and traditional Jewry. Not least an encounter with her childhood girlfriend, Esti, and a reminder that tradition is a powerful force and one resistant to change.

Received with some controversy when published this is a fascinating insight into a world that is often hidden. A community trying to hold onto their traditions when the modern world is changing. Brought up in a Jewish community, Alderman writes convincingly from the perspective of her characters and peppers the novel with Jewish theology, thought, and culture (including some delicious sounding Jewish recipes in the appendix).

Secret Suffragette by Barbara Mitchelhill

In the years just before the First World War the suffragette movement in England was in full swing and it is this that provides the setting for his historical novel. Daisy is 12 years old and dreams of following in the footsteps of Florence Nightingale and becoming a nurse. However, it’s not that simple. Born and bred in Bow, London, her family is poor with her parents working hard to try to afford even the basics. So, the pressure is on for her to leave school and work in the local factory. After all, according to her father, why does a girl need to be educated?

Then one day the Suffragettes arrive and start holding meetings to encourage people to support their cause. Despite instructions from her father, Daisy and her mother sneak off to attend one. This single event leads to her family being turned upside down and propels Daisy into a world that she could never have imagined – yet one that seems perfectly normal and logical to us today. A world where women have the right to vote and live their lives as they wish. A world where the politicians will have no choice but to listen to the demands of education and rights for all.

This is a great introduction to the suffragette movement for young readers, and it will no doubt come as a shock to many that women and girls were treated as second class citizens only 100 years ago.

Glass Geishas – Susanna Quinn

Susanna Quinn’s novel, Glass Geishas, is a thriller set in modern day Tokyo – specifically in the notorious Roppongi district, where everything has a price.  As the novel opens, Steph, the principal character, is just arriving in Japan with the specific aim of making as much money as possible as quickly as possible.  However, her friend Annabel seems to have vanished – and her other friend Julia does not seem to recognise her, let alone welcome her.  Something is clearly wrong.

Having found Annabel’s abandoned diary, Steph sets out to find out what has happened to her friend and quickly becomes involved in the hostess trade.  As the novel moves on, Steph’s own quest is intercut with two other storylines.  The first, a set of emails from Chastity, an established hostess, shows the harsh reality of the life that Steph is moving into.  The second, the memoirs of Mamasan, owner of one of Roppongi’s oldest clubs, explores how the trade has developed and changed over time.  By the end of the novel, these strands are drawn together into a twisting conclusion which will keep you gripped.

Quinn has clearly drawn on some of the recent writing about Japan and the significance of the geisha.  However, her portrait is far from romanticised, and whilst her hostesses are certainly as elegant and glamorous as the traditional geisha and maiko, Steph’s world revolves around alcohol, sex and money – a fragile combination which puts her in significant danger.

If the novel has a fault, it is in the slow reveal of Annabel’s diary – it is hard to believe that Steph, curious as she is, would not read the whole book at once.  However, this is a minor point, and by stringing this out, Quinn is able to keep us guessing at what has happened to Steph’s friend – and what will happen to Steph herself – making us turn the pages rapidly as the end approaches.

I picked this book up in a used-book shop while on holiday. It appears to be out of print at the moment but there are cheap second hand versions available and I recommend you look one out. 

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – Mo Willems

What do small children like best in a picture book?  If anyone knows, it is Mo Willems, who spent several years as a scriptwriter for ‘Sesame Street’.  And here, what he has hit on is that little word beloved of toddlers – ‘NO!’

The premise of the book is simple – and summed up neatly in the title.  The reader needs to stop the pigeon driving the bus while the bus driver is away for a few minutes.  However, this is a very determined pigeon.  On every page he comes up with a good reason why he could, should and must drive that bus.  

Reading this book aloud is a delight.  As you read the pigeon’s increasingly desperate attempts to get behind the wheel, your audience can say – or shout – ‘No!’ at each page, usually accompanied by a great deal of giggling.  And parents will recognise the toddler’s range of tactics – from pleading, to sulking, to promises to ‘be your best friend’ – all of which are summarily rejected.

With simple drawings and a thoroughly endearing main character, this is ideal to read to pre-school children of any age.  The pigeon makes several reappearances in Willems’ other books – ‘Don’t Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late’ is probably the next one you will want to seek out, and it is just as much fun.  Really.  

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  1. Good reads for a lockdown situation – Part Two! – LS26 Local

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