Monthly Archives: February 2012

Book 10 – “The Prisoner”

“The Prisoner” by Robert Muchamore (2012)

I don’t think there’s anything as wonderful as pre-ordering a book and receiving it the day it is released in the store. I queued up for more than one Harry Potter book with Julian over the years and there is definitely something exciting about knowing that readers with the same love of a series as you are eagerly salivating over the latest book at exactly the same time as you are.

So, first I should recap, on the off-chance that you haven’t kept up with my Muchamore obsession. Robert Muchamore has published 19 books and written 20 (one, a novella, was a one-day only release, on World Book Day, 2008) about CHERUB and its founder, Charles Henderson. There are 13 books (plus the novella) in the original CHERUB series. There is one book in the new ARAMOV series, which is still about CHERUB, but with all new characters. Then there is the series for which a new book was released a little over a week ago… the HENDERSON BOYS series. In a nutshell, CHERUB and ARAMOV are set in current time, while the HENDERSON BOYS books are set during World War II, when Charles Henderson first realised how effective using children as spies could be. But if you were reading my Reading Notes last year, you already knew all of that…

In the fourth book of the HENDERSON BOYS series, “Grey Wolves”, one of the characters, Marc Kilgour, was captured and disappeared while undercover in Paris. “The Prisoner” is Marc’s story. Once captured, he was sent to Germany and held on a prison ship. Fortunately, his ability to speak French and German meant that he was given an administrative job instead of a labouring one, and it is his work for a Commandant in the prisoner administration office that leads Marc into cooking up an elaborate escape plan for himself and some of his fellow prisoners. What follows is a complicated and dangerous adventure that sees Marc narrowly escape capture and death several times, before he ends up right back where he started, 5 books ago, in an orphanage in France. And that is when the real adventures begin.

I love the way Muchamore writes, and I loved this book. However, the HENDERSON BOYS in particular, are written for older teens, and seem to be more appealing to boys than girls. The CHERUB books, on the other hand, seem equally attractive to either sex. Certainly, I know one boy in my year 9 class who will be extremely pleased to see me with “The Prisoner” in my hand tomorrow as he has been desperate for me to finish it and hand it over!

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Book 9 – “Death of a River Guide”

“Death of a River Guide” by Richard Flanagan (1994)

Oh, how I wanted to love this book. Sadly, our love affair was short-lived, as Flanagan’s cleverness wore thin and became Flanagan’s curse to my work-weary eyes at the end of each day. I really should have known. It’s not as if I wasn’t warned. On the back cover the plot is described as exploring the “existential struggle” of death. Oh dear. Flanagan’s writing is described as flirting with literary greatness. Well, now, we’ve all flirted with someone who hasn’t flirted back, haven’t we???

At this point, I need to apologise to Brett. It was Brett who encouraged me to read this book. He loves it. I know why he loves it. It’s just that I don’t. At first, when Flanagan’s protagonist, Aljaz, bumps back and forth between first and third person I completely accept the ‘cleverness’ of his style. But after a few chapters, I decided Flanagan just took different drugs on different days or sometimes wrote a little more pissed than the day before. And let’s not even get started on how irritated I get when authors use names that make me stop and concentrate on their pronunciation every-single-fricken-time the word is on the page. Blerk.

Aljaz is dying. He’s drowning. It takes the entire bloody book for him to die. He has a very long, very drawn out, psychic experience while he’s dying. But at the end of the book… he’s dead. So, no, no you don’t need to read it. I know. I know. Same, same for Winton and “Cloudstreet”, but Winton never rubs your nose in it…

To be fair, there is some beautifully descriptive language in “Death of a River Guide” and I do feel like I understand the Tasmanian landscape better for having read it, and that is what Brett specifically mentioned when he recommended it. So we can’t blame Brett. After all, he’s done me a favour. I never need to read another Richard Flanagan book. Phew, cross “The Sound of One Hand Clapping”, “Gould’s Book of Fish” and the newly crowned, book of Tasmania, in this, the year of reading, “Wanting” off my list. Almost a community service really. Cheers, Brett.

Do let me have it if you disagree, readers.

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Book 8 – “History (Without the boring bits)”

“History (Without the boring bits)” by Ian Crofton (2007)

This is one of those wonderful books that offers snippets of stories from history that seem too good to be true – but they are. The perfect ‘dunny’ book, this was heaps of fun to read. I can’t resist – I’m going to share my favourite bits…

Circa 456 BC: The Greek dramatist Aeschylus died when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his bald head.

Circa 973 AD: King Edgar of England demanded a yearly tribute from the Welsh king Hywel of 300 wolves. Hywel kept up the payments for three years, after which he complained that he could find no more wolves.

1363: The Statute of Diet and Apparel forbade anyone with an annual income less than 20 pounds from wearing a silk nightcap.

1718: The Irish Parliament passed the Coffee Adulteration Act, by which it was forbidden (among other things) to attempt to pass off sheep dung as coffee beans.

1748: Voltaire, a French philosopher, offered his opinion of Hamlet: It is a vulgar and preposterous drama, which would not be tolerated by the vilest populace of France, or Italy… One would imagine this piece to be the work of a drunken savage.

1799: The painter George Romney returned to his wife in Lancashire, having left her 37 years earlier to make his fortune in London. There was, apparently, no ruction: Romney had kept her in funds throughout his absence, and spent his last few years happily living with his long-deserted spouse.

1818: Publication of Dr Thomas Bowdler’s Family Shakespeare, an expurgated (or ‘bowlderized’) version of the bard, in which the good doctor ‘endeavoured to remove every thing that could give just offence to the religious and virtuous mind’. For example, Ophelia’s drowning in Hamlet is reported as an accident rather than suicide, and Lady Macbeth cries not ‘Out, damned spot’ but ‘Out, crimson spot’. Bowdler’s work was so successful that it went through many editions.

1837: Alfred Bird invented custard powder. As his wife was allergic to eggs, his powder went without them.

1856: Charles Dickens moved to Gad’s Hill, and installed a secret door to his study, concealed by a false bookcase containing the spines of dummy books whose titles he delighted in creating. These included A Carpenter’s Bench of Bishops, Shelley’s Oysters, the three-volume Five Minutes in China and the nine-volume Cat’s Lives.

1908: The Times Literary Supplement dismissed The Wind in the Willows thus: ‘As a contributor to natural history, the work is negligible.’

1948: A member of a Liverpool audience was heard to opine at the end of the performance of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, ‘Well, Mildred, that was the worst play I’ve seen since King Lear.’ Of the latter, Queen Victoria had opined, ‘A strange, horrible business, but I suppose good enough for Shakespeare’s day.’

1999: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was briefly banned in schools in Merrimack, New Hampshire, as it was believed to contravene an act prohibiting ‘alternative lifestyle instruction’.

2000: Along one of the main roads in Rotherham, the daffodils coming into bloom spelt out the words ‘Shag’ and ‘Bollocks’. The bulbs had been planted the previous autumn by a gang of thieves doing community service.

Obviously my own interests have influenced my choices. If you feel like reading it, I think it’s probably going to be added to the basket in my bathroom, so you only need come over for a visit and a visit.

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