Hive’s Books of the Month for September

Golden Boyby Abigail Tarttelin

9780297870944

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Inevitably, this extraordinary novel will be compared to Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and Kathleen Winter’s Annabel but neither plumb the depths of despair that Max Walker the Golden Boy shares with the reader. This is not an easy read, not because of its challenging content but because it tears into your heart. Max was born with a mix of chromosomes that make him intersex, he has been raised as a boy but his life is thrown out of kilter when his trust in a friend is betrayed. This has a devastating effect not just on Max but on all of the family.

Every chapter is relayed by Max, his mother, father and brother, his doctor and his girlfriend. I can honestly say that no other book I have read has played with my emotions so much because although it’s unlikely we can share in his trauma we can empathise as parents or a sibling. One of the most engaging characters is Max’s younger brother, they have a wonderful and loving relationship and much of the quality time they spend together involves playing violent computer games, blitzing zombies and monsters, which also serve as a coping mechanism for both of them.

The core of this book is about choice and every character fights with decisions they have to make, it’s also one of the most insightful books about being a teenager and embracing that you can be different. Please don’t let the subject matter be a stumbling block to your decision to read this because if you don’t, you are missing out on a brave and inspiring story.

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The Gallery of Vanished HusbandsBy Natasha Solomons

9781444736342

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Who wouldn’t love a woman who on her 30th birthday who sets out to buy a refrigerator but blows all the money commissioning a portrait of herself? Let’s celebrate the brio and sheer self-assurance of Juliet Montague. As a deserted wife in a close knit Jewish community she feels she is becoming invisible and you begin to understand why she continues to have her portrait painted by a series of artists in her search to claw back her identity as a woman. Set in post war London in the 50’s with a burgeoning art scene Juliet has an instinct for “the hang” in a Gallery and is soon sought after as a woman whose opinion matters in the art world.

This is a very different novel to Mr. Rosenblum’s List but it has similar themes in common, the legacy of the faith that you are born into and an absolute determination to follow a dream, even if those closest to you are sacrificed. Juliet’s parents love her unconditionally but she has to break away in order to become her own person so inevitably when she sets off on a journey to California to find her errant husband (taking her two children with her) tears are shed and like most parents they wonder what they did wrong. Her own relationship with her children is beautifully observed but not without some very dark aspects which form their characters as they grow up.

Solomons has written a well-paced and descriptive novel which is a very satisfying read and did remind me of The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell so there, you have two recommendations for the price of one!

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Letters from SkyeBy Jessica Brockmole

9780091944636

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This is a love story, so snuggle down under the duvet or sink into your favourite chair with a beverage of choice and perhaps a piece of shortbread and be prepared to be charmed by the ancient art of letter writing.

An accomplished debut novel, that spans from 1912 to 1940 and both of the wars are a backdrop and indeed the central theme of the book. Its 1912, Elspeth Dunn is a published poet living on the Isle of Skye and she receives a letter from a student in America praising her poetry, she replies and thereafter a tale unfolds, told purely by letters. Brockmole very cleverly weaves the reader into the lives of Elspeth and David, they have much in common and you can see them teetering on the edge of a love affair but clouded by guilt because Elspeth is married.

In 1940  after the family home in Edinburgh is hit by a bomb, Margaret (Elspeth’s daughter) goes to the house, hidden letters are found and Elspeth disappears, so Margaret sets out on a desperate search to find her mother and in doing this discovers much more about herself. It’s inevitable in war that lovers lose each other but sometimes there is a thread that repeatedly pulls them back and this thread is a constant throughout nearly 30 years.

We are so used to instant communication today that to even think about waiting for a week to hear from a loved one is almost inconceivable for some of us, so the “getting to know process” by letter is beautifully paced in the progress of the relationship between David and Elspeth and is truly romantic but don’t be lured on to a fluffy pink cloud, there are some very bleak episodes which are all part of making this a worthwhile read.

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The Bone Season – by Samantha Shannon

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I feel some sympathy for Ms Shannon because she is being feted as the next JK Rowling but what elegant shoulders to sit on! She is published by Bloomsbury, this is the first of a seven-book deal, film rights have been optioned yada yada… and so the comparisons will continue to be made. Let’s not compare, let’s read this on its own merit.

This is a stonking good read. It’s pacey, has a very feisty girl as its key character and a plethora of fascinating and truly evil characters. Much of the staging is in Oxford and London so you can identify many of the set pieces, particularly Seven Dials in London. But this is 2059 so not quite as we know it now. There are nods to Dickens, steampunk, goths and I love it that the “Warden“, a man with a mission, chills out by listening to Frank Sinatra!

I’m sure that you will find many reviews good and bad about this debut but I loved it and can’t wait for Bone Season 2.

 

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September’s Children’s books

The Kids Only Cookbookby Sue Quinn

9781849493314

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Some of the best times to be had with our kids are in the kitchen and this is such a great book for them to decide what they want to cook, so mum and dad (et al.) you should be able to cope!

50 recipes in full colour in a unique cartoon format with speech bubbles and *hurrah* the book will lay flat on your kitchen surfaces. Recipes are on 2 pages with clear and concise instructions. You can tell that the writer; Sue is a mum because throughout the book you find Epic Fail Alert, Adult Help Alert, Safety Alert and Warning…

The book is aimed at 8-12 year olds and each recipe has a star rating easy, not too tricky and challenging but the key point is that they are being shown basic cooking skills.

The most fun recipe has to be the “Kick’n’roll” tin can ice cream, once they’ve made it, this is a great excuse to encourage the kids to go outside and roll the can about for 25 minutes then they can come back in and share the ice cream with the family so double whammy, exercise and ice cream – perfect parenting.

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Oska Pollock: The Last Hope – By Anne Plichota and Wolf Cendrine

9781782690009

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Originally published in French, this gained a cult following with the inevitable comparisons to Harry Potter, so yes when it arrived on our shores in English translation the hopes were high for a new Harry Potter. This does have some echoes of the young magician but 13 year old Oksa is very much her own girl, strange things start to happen to her when her and her family move from France to England but unlike Harry she is surrounded by a loving family and the most amazing grandmother who now lives with them. Let’s cut to the chase here, granny is the key to all this and tensions arise when she insists that Oksa is told, that all the weird things that have been happening to her …um, making fire with her hands, moving things with her mind and yes, she can fly, are because the family are from a magical kingdom but were driven out by evil forces, hence the move to England BUT the forces have followed them, are determined to destroy the Pollock’s and Oksa is the only person who can save them because she is their Queen.

The two authors have created a gutsy heroine and a cast of fantastic, funny and alluring magical creatures but have also written into the plot a lovely relationship between Oksa and the boy next door Gus. As Oksa struggles to come to terms with her new found powers and responsibility, Gus does ground her with his common sense and his ability to stand back and take a measured view of all the challenges thrown at her.

Oksa Pollock Review

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I really did enjoy reading this and I know this might be a trifle early but if you have children that loved Harry Potter and haven’t yet found a suitable alternative, this might be one to pop in a Christmas stocking.

You may gather I’m not the target audience for this book so just have a look at the attached review (with permission from her mum!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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George’s Dragon Goes to Schoolby Claire Freedman

9781407132068

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Well, it’s back to school for us all so just to cheer things along Claire Freedman of Aliens Love Underpants has brought us this sequel to George’s Dragon.

George and his dragon are just the best of friends and hate to be apart so when “bring your pet to school week” approaches it’s a no brainer, George wants to take Sparky but mum is a little bit worried, because at home Sparky is just a bit clumsy as he has a tendency set fire to the cushions and bump into lampshades. Mums are always right and on the day when George and Sparky set off for school (with matching rucksacks) it all goes a little bit off the scale.

This is a great story to read with the kids as it fires off some very imaginative ideas. I particularly like Emily’s hamster that can squeeze fourteen peanuts into her cheek pouches – Emily is so proud. All the pages are bright and lively and the text is clear, with lots of prompts for you all to shout out actions and make the appropriate noises. It’s great for boys and girls and any passing dragons!

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Huge Shampooby Karen George

9780199137381

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If we wake up to a bad hair day, then that’s it for the rest of the day, nothing is right but Hugh doesn’t care and to cap it all, his parents are the proud proprietors of  Salon Shampoo – check out Mr. Shampoo’s luxuriant tache and Mrs. Shampoo’s up do! Hugh is quite proud of his mum and dad and really wants to be part of Team Shampoo so when they are told they have reached the final of Scissor Showdown he does want to help but not if it means having his hair washed.

This is a really beautifully illustrated story and every page has an immense amount of detail with some lovely washes of colour. There are quirky touches such as the page where they are eating spaghetti and it loops over to the next page forming backdrops of potential styles for Mrs. Tree from next door (I like the spidery one).

I can guarantee you’ll spend a lot of time identifying many of the creatures that end up in Hughes hair but because he loves his mum and dad he does save the day and if you want to know if he does wash his hair then you need to read right to the end.

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Ruby Blue and Blanket – by Jane Hissey

9781908973443

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This has so much of the ‘Ahhhh’ factor that I’m tempted just to say trust me it’s perfect. Old Bear is an absolute stalwart for many a night time story and this is just as gentle and comforting. It’s hard to believe it’s over 25 years since it was published and it has lost none of its charm over the years.

The charm is still evident in this new paperback which was published in February. The three toys want to play a game of dressing up and award a prize to the one that makes them laugh the most, each page is just beautifully illustrated with Hissey’s trademark coloured pencils plus four line rhymes which are made to be read over and over again.

If you are looking for a gift for a small child or just something to read with the family you will not fail to please everyone with this utterly lovely story.

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