Meandering through Middle Grade: Running On the Roof of the World…

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Today’s book is one that was an unexpected winner for me and highlights once again the plight of those forced from their homes due to political unrest.  We received Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Join 12-year-old Tash and her best friend Sam in a story of adventure, survival and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India. Filled with friendship, love and courage, this young girl’s thrilling journey to save her parents is an ideal read for children aged 9-12.

There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them. ‘Dalai Lama.’

Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.

And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins.

running on the roof of the world

I was somewhat hesitant going in to this book, simply because stories about child refugees having to flee their homes are by their nature, sad and distressing, and given what’s going on in the world at the moment, I can get a bit hand-shy of books that are too real in that regard.  Thankfully, Butterworth manages the story of Tash and Sam with great control so that while the dangers and sadness are apparent at every step, they aren’t so prominent as to overwhelm the reader.  In fact, Running on the Roof of the World is a remarkably accessible book for young readers who are interested in real life events and what’s going on outside their own bubble, written in a tone that is both moving and dignified.

Tashi’s parents are part of the secret resistance against the Chinese occupation of their village in Tibet.  After seeing a man set himself on fire in protest of the occupation, Tashi is shocked and awakened to the danger that is coming toward her own family.  After a surprise visit from the Chinese police, Tashi and her best friend Sam find themselves in a desperate dash away from the village, carrying a coded message from Tashi’s father and the resistance…a message they don’t know how to read or to whom it should be delivered.

The beauty of the book is in the simplicity and authenticity of the children’s journey.  After leaving their home in abrupt and unprepared circumstances, Tashi and Sam have one goal – cross the mountain pass into India and reach the Dalai Lama.  The simple acts of avoiding patrolling soldiers, moving from one spot to another and deciding who they can trust, all against the background fear of what might have befallen Tashi’s parents, feel very immediate throughout the book and heighten the suspense of the story.  The chapters are quite short, which made it easy to take the “just one more” approach and dig deeper into the story.  I also loved the mandala-style illustrations that adorn each chapter heading.

While the story eventually has a happy ending, it’s not without loss and trial and Butterworth does well to capture the uncertainty of the life of those seeking refuge in a way that young readers can appreciate.  I feel like this is a story that will stay with me for quite a while and not least because it deals with an occupied territory that is somewhat forgotten or just accepted in the West.

I would highly recommend this book as a classroom read aloud or simply as an engaging and moving story of two children alone in a hostile environment.  Having passed some time between reading the book and writing this review, I think Running on the Roof of the World deserves to be a Top Book of 2017 pick, because of its authentic tone and relevance to world events.

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I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #45: a book about an immigrant or refugee.  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for the year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

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Fi50 Reminder and TBR Friday!

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fi50

It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

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Good luck!


TBR Friday

And now it’s time for TBR Friday!  Today’s book is Time Travelling with a Hamster, a middle grade contemporary sci fi by Ross Welford.  This one was not on my original list, but I’ve just received Welford’s second book, What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible, for review, so I thought it was high time I knocked this one over. Let’s kick off with the blurb from Goodreads:

 

“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve.

The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn’t been for his ‘time machine’…”

When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…

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Ten Second Synopsis:

On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his late father that offers him the secret of time travel and the chance to change the event that caused his father’s death. Life is never that simple and Al soon finds himself up to his hairline in twisted timelines.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Just short of a year.

Acquired:

I bought this one from an online shop -either Book Depository or Booktopia – shortly after it was released because I HAD to have it and wasn’t lucky enough to score a review copy.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Not sure really.  Like I said, I HAD to have it so it’s a mystery as to why I haven’t read it yet.  Possibly it was the thrill of the chase that I was really after.

Best Bits:

  • For those who don’t enjoy a lot of technical sciency information, this story focuses more on the relationships in Al’s life rather than the whys and wherefores of how time travel works.  There is a bit of technical info in order to shut down any loopholes, but the story isn’t overwhelmed by it.
  • This felt like a bit of a mix between Christopher Edge’s The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and Mike Revell’s Stonebird, with the nerdy, science-y originality of the former and the serious issues-based subplot of the latter.  Considering I enjoyed both of those books, it stands to reason that I enjoyed TTWAH as well – especially since it seems to combine the best of both of those books into one memorable package.
  • Al and his dad’s side of the family are Indian (from Punjab), while Al inherits his webbed digits (syndactyly) from his mother’s side, so there is a bit of diversity all round here.
  • Al, his father and grandfather all seem quite authentic as characters in all the timestreams in which they appear, which makes for some genuinely engaging reading throughout and a plot that isn’t dumbed down in any way simply because the book is aimed at younger readers.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • There’s a bit of threatened animal cruelty in two parts.  It never eventuates, but for some people I know this is a deal breaker.
  • The first half of the book wasn’t as fast-paced as the second half.  Before Al has really figured out the time machine, parts of the plot drag a little, but the ending (and especially Alan Shearer’s role in it) is worth the wait.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yep.  It’s a solid middle grade growing up story with a fascinating time travel twist.

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf.

Obviously, I’m submitting this one for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017, as well as for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.  You can  check out my progress toward all my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Book Uncle and Me

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TBR Friday

Welcome to my first TBR Friday for 2017!  I have made it a goal to read at least one book from my TBR stack each month, with a goal of completing Pike’s Peak level – 12 books – on Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 by the end of the year.  Today’s book is not only going to count toward that challenge, but also Bev’s Colour Coded Challenge, the Epistolary Reading Challenge AND the PopSugar Reading Challenge in category five: a book written by a person of colour!  Boom!

Today’s book is Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Nine-year-old Yasmin intends to read a book a day for the rest of her life. Book Uncle, who runs a free lending library on the street corner, always has the perfect book for her. But when Book Uncle seems to be in trouble, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something. With the elections coming up and the grown-ups busy with their own affairs, what difference can Yasmin and her friends possibly make? Will they get help from Karate Samuel, the eccentric superstar who’s standing for Mayor? Yasmin gets to work, ideas begin to fly like feathers, and soon everything starts to spin – out of control.

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Ten Second Synopsis:
Yasmin has a goal to read a book a day for the rest of her life, ably aided by Book Uncle, the man who runs a free little lending library on the corner of Yasmin’s street. When Book Uncle receives a notice from the Council that he must close his book stand, Yasmin must find a way to change Council’s mind and bring books back to her community.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

About six months or so.

Acquired:

Purchased from Booktopia’s bargain section after recently having put it on my TBR list.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s short, easily readable and therefore easy to ignore.

Best Bits:

  • Even though this is a short book, it’s chock full of underlying social issues and culturally interesting elements just ripe for discussion by young readers
  • Yasmin is delightfully flawed and determined and compassionate and an all around charming heroine.  She speaks without thinking, then feels guilty for it, then tries to rectify her mistakes, then manages to mobilise a whole lot of strangers to her cause simply through her passion for it. If you are looking for realistic female protagonists in early chapter books, then look no further!
  • This book celebrates books and the people who read them.  It celebrates the power of books to change people’s lives in big and small ways, and to bring people together who otherwise have little in common.
  • This book wasn’t written to be a “diverse” book, but if you aren’t an Indian person reading it, it certainly fulfills that criteria.  The story itself is completely transferable to any Western classroom in which civic education is a priority, but there are also lots of parts of the story that will inspire discussion about difference – particularly issues of access to free lending library resources and election processes.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • None.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes.

Where to now for this tome?

I may donate this one to the mini-fleshling’s school library.

If you would like to check out my progress in each of my various challenges you can check them out in the links in the header, under 2017 Challenges

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Until next time,

Bruce

 

Memoir as Fiction: Black British…

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We’re having a bit of a change of pace today on the shelf with some historical adult fiction that reads like a memoir, written by an Australian author and set in 1960s India during a time of social upheaval.  With India being one of the countries in whose history we are particularly interested (the other, of course, at the moment, being Japan), it would have been remiss of us not to get our collective paws on Black British by Hebe De Souza.  We were lucky enough to snag a copy from Ventura Press for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In the turbulent years that follow the British Empire’s collapse in India, rebellious and inquisitive Lucy de Souza is born into an affluent Indian family that once prospered under the Raj. Known as Black British because of their English language and customs, when the British deserted India Lucy’s family was left behind, strangers in their own land.

Now living isolated from the hostile locals who see her family as remnants of an oppressive regime, a young Lucy grows up in the confines of their grand yet ramshackle home located in the dry, dispirited plains of Kanpur. But when it is time to start her education, Lucy finds herself angry and alone, struggling to find her place in this gentle country ravaged by poverty and hardship, surrounded by girls who look like her but don’t speak her language. Encouraged by her strong-minded mother and two older sisters, as she matures the ever-feisty Lucy begins to question the injustices around her, before facing a decision that will change the course of her life forever.

Black British is, for the most part, a thinly-disguised memoir dressed up as fiction.  The story revolves around a woman who has returned to her ancestral home and ends up telling her life story to a stranger who asks a simple enough question: “Where do you come from, lady?”  The majority of the tale occurs in 1960s India, with extremely brief flashes back to the original chatting pair at the end of each chapter to link the sections together.

While I enjoyed the book, narrated by thinker and independent spirit Lucy, the youngest of three sisters living a comparatively wealthy upbringing as English-speaking, private school-attending young ladies surrounded by great swathes of people living in poverty, it was not the suspenseful and tumultuous ride suggested by the blurb.  I was expecting a lot more insight into the social upheaval of the time, but most of the story takes place within the walls of Lucy’s family’s compound and the girls are largely shielded from their family’s precarious social position and its implications by the adults in their lives.  Basically, I wanted the danger to feature more largely in the telling of a story that sees Lucy go from her early years of schooling to the cusp of adulthood with nary a scary experience to report – except for an overzealous monkey intruder and a very hairy cab ride after she ventures as a young adult into the community with her father.

Even though the book didn’t end up being quite as exciting as I expected, it remains an absorbing snapshot of a time and place undergoing rapid and permanent social change.  As English-speaking Catholics, Lucy’s family are well outside what was considered typical in her community and the struggles of being the outsider, even in one’s own home, are thoroughly explored. The prominent motif throughout the book is the security provided by a loving family unit and the ways in which adults nurture the enquiring minds of young people, even in situations that will cause the young person to move up a rung on the ladder of social maturity.

The book deals with a number of social issues including domestic abuse and the place of people identifying as homosexual in an unforgiving culture and time, and as the reader experiences these issues through Lucy’s eyes, it is clear that situations that one might consider black and white, move through every shade of grey when considered in a larger social context.  The implications for individuals of their life choices – whether to remain in an unhappy marriage or relegate oneself to a life of hardship, for instance – are offered as fodder to fuel Lucy’s own looming crisis: to remain in the only home she knows, despite her outsider status and the ever-present threat of violence and hardship, or leave her roots behind for the sake of building a comfortable future.

This is certainly a book that focuses on familial relationships as a means for exploring the wider social conflicts that influence the decisions we make as individuals.  As a fictional memoir, it is engaging and the characters are fleshed out and authentic.  I would have liked to have seen more made of the Lucy of “twenty-one years later”.  The tiny flashes we get of the Lucy who has returned to her homeland in search of belonging felt a bit contrived, as so much of the focus was on the period set in the 1960s, and I would have liked to have been privy to what Lucy did with, at least, some of her life since her family’s decision to move away.  Nevertheless, this is a strong debut from De Souza and I would be interested in seeing what she comes up with next – particularly something that is wholly fictional.

If you are looking for historical fiction that reads like a memoir and places an emphasis on growing up as an outsider in one’s own land, you should certainly give Black British a look.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction GSQ Review: The House of Hidden Mothers…

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Today’s book turned out to be a bit of an unexpected read, hence the GSQ format. Drawn in by the delightful cover art and the promise of a book written by Meera Syal (she of The Kumars at Number 42, the Doctor Who episode with the Silurians and various other humorous creative exploits), I requested The House of Hidden Mothers from the publisher via Netgalley with the anticipation that this would be a quirky read. And it was. Sort of. Just not in the way I was expecting. So let’s dive in!

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Welcome to Little India, East London, where Shyama, aged forty-four, has fallen for a younger man. They want a child together. Welcome to a rural village in India, where young Mala, trapped in an oppressive marriage, dreams of escape.

When Shyama and Mala meet, they help each other realise their dreams. But will fate guarantee them both happiness?… Brimming with warmth, wit and indignation, Meera Syal immerses us in a double story of friendship, family and the lengths women will go to have a child. Crossing between East London and rural India, its universal tale of female triumph over adversity tickles as much as it bites, while asking searching questions about what makes us human.

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The Good 

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First off, it was certainly a relief to find out that Syal is as talented at writing as she is at dramatic stuff. This is a well-written book, that deftly entwines two – well, more than two actually, but we’ll get to that in a moment – seemingly unconnected stories and shows enough respect to the characters to ensure that none of them ends up stereotyped or two-dimensional.

There is a lot going on in the book, because both the main female characters – Shyama and Mala – have fully fleshed out tales that carry the main plot. Alongside these two ladies however, is Tara, Shyama’s young adult daughter to whom much of a secondary plotline is devoted, as well as Prem and Sita, Shyama’s parents, who also embody a fully developed plotline involving distant family members who have unlawfully taken up residence in their retirement apartment in India. So all in all, this is a hefty read that doesn’t skim over the trials of its characters.

Underlining the struggles of the characters are the social issues that Syal brings to light – the relative merits and pitfalls of international surrogacy; violence against women in both the UK and India; the struggles of those living in poverty and the ways in which businesses might support or exploit them. There is certainly a lot to consider here and I was impressed with the way that the author has managed to span such a range of characters and situations while keeping the writing tight and relevant.

The Sad

 

There’s not a lot that I can think of to fill this section, but if I had to nitpick, the only drawback of having so many fleshed out storylines going at once is the fact that it makes the book very long. I have coined the term “Kiimagendle Heft” to indicate the relative “heaviness” that I ascribe to an ebook as I’m reading, relative to how thick I imagine the print version to be and how tiny the font therein. This one comes out as “hefty”, which means I felt like I was reading for a long time and not getting very far through the
page count.

I suppose I expected this book to be lighter in tone than it ended up being. This is not necessarily a negative point, as I did get a lot out of the reading experience, but I did expect this to have a lot more “wit” – as in humour – than was actually present. Essentially, if you’re looking for a light bit of fun, fluffy reading, you won’t be satisfied by this book.

The Quirky

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This could have so easily been a book that focused in on the contemporary couple wanting a baby and being faced with fertility issues. That would have produced plenty of material for a standard women’s fiction novel. Because Syal has included both the perspective of a younger generation (in Tara) and an older generation (in Prem and Sita), the book really does give an overall view of the whole infertility experience and the fact that it doesn’t happen in a contextual vacuum. I suppose what I’m saying here is that while this is a “contemporary couple wanting a baby and being faced with fertility issues” kind of book, it’s also a lot more than that – which is something you don’t often get with your general women’s fiction novel.

This turned out to be a much more thought-provoking read than I expected and has duly increased my level of admiration for Meera Syal. I don’t think it will be for everybody, particularly if you are expecting a fun, funny, relaxing-by-the-pool sort of a read, but if you are in the market for a well-developed, multi-plotted tale that mixes contemporary with traditional then I’d definitely recommend adding this one to your list.

Until next time,

Bruce

Read it if…: Deranged Marriage

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Something different for today’s review – a memoir!  Deranged Marriage by Sushi Das is an easy read, and a thought-provoking take on the author’s experience of growing up in Britain as the child of Indian migrants.  It’s also more than a little bit chuckleworthy, particularly in the way it addresses some of the more…colourful…oddities of British, Indian and Australian culture.

A continuing theme of the book is the author’s aversion to accepting an arranged marriage, and how this struggle affected her own choices and the lives of those closest to her.  One of the best (and sneakiest) parts of the book for me was the way Das managed to drop in facts and statistics and questions about arranged marriage around the world as compared to other types of marriage, without dragging the whole piece down into the mire of complicated and important ethical, cultural and legal issues.  Instead, the important questions are asked in the context of the author’s lived experience, allowing the thought to be lodged in the reader’s mind for consideration at a later stage, and the narrative flow to continue largely uninterrupted.

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Anyway, this is supposed to be a review for the time-poor, so, READ IT IF:

 

* you are or have ever been a migrant, or you know someone who has – particularly one moving between cultures with glaring differences

* you have ever wondered why England has classes for its postal system (presumably the first class post gets to eat using the good silver)

* you are, have ever been, or are ever planning to be, a teenager with ideas

*you have even a passing interest in feminism, or cultural issues that involve or affect women

* you have ever wished you could change your name to something (preferably with new and interesting spelling combinations) to reflect your real, though hidden, identity

 

It’s a big dinky-di, you-beauty-mate two thumbs up from Brucey on this one.

Until next time,

Bruce