Friday, 21 December 2012

The Mrs Marriage Project

The Mrs Marriage Project
Pauline Fisk
London, Faber & Faber, 2005, 260p

After reading so many drama and fantasy novels, I thought it would make a chance to read something a little more feminine. 

The Mrs Marriage Project is exactly that. Elin decides her life ambition is to get married. She sets aside her GCSEs and focuses upon researching married life, aiming to get married on her 16th birthday, with or without her parent's permission. 

She investigates men - what they want and how she can nab one; she looks at case studies of couples around her, like her unmarried parents; she tries to work out how she can come across as more mature, as this seems the key to becoming a woman. 

Many times, I despaired for Elin. So naive in her deturmination, she blocks people out of her life - she convinces herself that she can't tell her friends or family about this mad ambition, because they will be angry, and they won't understand. She spirals out of control, taking refuge with online friendships and fantasy romances.

This novel addresses the problem that many young girls face through their teenage years - that desire to be loved. But Fisk shows us that love is not just about boys and dates and kissing. Love is everywhere, in our relationships with our families and our friends, and even with kind strangers (though not the sort you meet on the Internet). 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Quantum of Tweed

Quantum of Tweed: The Man with the Nissan Micra
Conn Iggulden
London, Harper Collins, 2012, 74p

I had hoped this short story would be funnier than it turned out to be. The blurb spelt out a brilliant plot, full of comedy and irony, but the Quantum of Tweed was not what I had anticipated.

In a strange series of events, Albert Rossi is mistaken for a world-class assassin. He is in debt, due to the lack of custom at his Gentleman's Outfitters, so quashes his moral concerns and takes on the financially-rewarding challenge of professional murder. 

Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, I found the plot wanting. This may be blamed on it being a "quick read", but I have read many brilliant short stories. The potential for comic genius was there, but the tone did not suggest confidence in the comedy. Rossi should have been likable and witty and camp, but was simple and underdeveloped. Even the chapter headings were disappointing - simply labelled "Chapter 1" etc., when they could have been developed into clever puns on classic spy titles. 

I did enjoy the situations that Rossi found himself in - he is the luckiest of men. Though not well-trained or experienced, he manages to complete all the assassinations he is paid to do, through fortunate accidents and coincidences. If only the rest of the novel had been as strong.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Hobbit

The Hobbit
JRR Tolkien
London, Harper Collins, 1993, 285p

So here I am, jumping on The Hobbit bandwagon. I tried to read this a few years back, but all I remember now is the excessive singing whilst sat around fires in the forest. Reading it now, there is so much more to Tolkien's story.

I am sure I do not need to tell you the plot of The Hobbit, but just in case - Bilbo Baggins is talked into going on an adventure with thirteen dwarves, over mountains, along rivers and through forests, to reclaim the treasure stolen from the dwarves by the dragon, Smaug. It is Tolkien's prequel to The Lord of the Rings, written for the younger reader.

The language isn't totally accessible for the modern reader, it having been originally published in 1937; but the plot is fast paced and exciting, and Tolkien's narrative tone is light-hearted and easy. The story progresses smoothly and rapidly, and the characters are brilliant - Bilbo in particular, of course. Gandalf repeatedly tells the dwarves that Bilbo will prove to be invaluable, and indeed, this is true. He is their spy and burglar, creeping into all sorts of dangerous situations to gather information or plan an escape. 

The action is easy to visualise, especially due to Tolkien's maps and illustrations. Yet, simultaneously, he leaves much to the imagination of the young audience, as his typical reader is probably adventurous and intelligent. It is incredible that a world so far from our reality can so easily come to life!

Like many other Tolkien fans, I am excited to see how this story plays out across the film adaptations, though a little apprehensive about this short tale being converted into 9 hours on screen. I really hope that a product of the release of this film is an increase in readers, young and old, going back to the original adventure story.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Best Christmas Present in the World

The Best Christmas Present in the World
Michael Morpurgo, ill. Michael Foreman
London, Egmont, 2004, 39p

Another masterpiece from Michael Morpurgo. The book itself is beautiful - a small, square hardback covered with Foreman's brilliant artwork. And inside, is a lovely story of hope and love.

The Best Christmas Present in the World is a short story, in which a man finds a wartime love letter in a cluttered antique shop, and seeks to reunite the message with its intended recipient.

The letter is typically Morpurgoan, telling the tale of soldiers on the front line during Christmas in World War One. The events of that day are legendary already, but Morpurgo's re-telling is poetic. He describes the approach of the Germans across no-man's-land, and their day spent playing football and drinking. Morpurgo shows that, even during times of war, peace can come to those who need a little love and hope. 

Foreman's artwork is beautiful, just as it was in A Medal for Leroy. He fills the space around Morpurgo's words, bringing the story to life, making it leap from the pages. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Lost Christmas

Lost Christmas
David Logan
London, Quercus, 2011, 278p

Christmas is almost upon us now. At work, with the help of my marvelous volunteer, we have created a Winter display, full of books, both fact and fiction, about this cold time of year. We have covered the tree with silver decorations and hung silver tinsel along the desks. I have even received my first Christmas cards, addressed to Miss Librarian and Miss Library Lady, as my name has proved too complicated for them to tackle.

And so, Christmas stories must be read, and must be blogged. My book of choice is Lost Christmas, which I first encountered last year on television, with a brilliant cast, including Sheffield legend and my sister's favourite, Eddie Izzard. As a Librarian, I tend to insist on reading the book before watching the film - but in this case, the television version came first, so I don't feel guilty.

You may notice that this blog post has a lot of tags (see the bottom of the post). That is because it falls into a lot of genres. Lost Christmas is the tale of Goose and Anthony. who meet on Christmas Eve, both having lost something - Goose's dog has run away, and Anthony has forgotten where he came from. In order to find what they are looking for, they must reunite others with their lost belongings, starting with a bangle Goose stole from an elderly widow.

The story is rather a tragic one, full of loss and heartbreak. The characters long to be reunited with loved ones and missing items; they long for what they once had. Predominantly set during the course of one, action-packed day, Anthony and Goose run all over Manchester in order to solve the mysteries they uncover.

My favourite thing about this novel is the random facts Anthony comes out with every now and again. He is portrayed as slightly unstable, claiming to not know how he got to Manchester on this Christmas Eve. He struggles to say what he wants to - the reader is taken through his slow mental process of articulation. But occasionally, the sadness of this novel is softened by Anthony informing us that Coca Cola would be green if they didn't add food colourings. And Thomas Edison invented the light bulb because he was scared of the dark. In isolation, his facts have little meaning or purpose, other than comic relief; but as you read, you realise they add something special to the events of the novel. 

Perhaps a little bit of a sad story with which to start Christmas, but Logan's novel and screenplay (alongside John Hay) are beautiful and optimistic - showing the best in people, in spite of their drama and tragedy.