Tim Bowler interview

The latest in our series of author interviews sees us catch up with one of the masters of teenage literature, Tim Bowler. Tim has written twenty books for teenagers and won fifteen awards, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal. He has been described by the Sunday Telegraph as ‘the master of the psychological thriller’ and by the Independent as ‘one of the truly individual voices in British teenage fiction’.

OUP have recently reissued the Blade series of books (Literature for Lads review of No.1 in the series here) written by Tim so we grasped the opportunity to ask Tim some questions about this series in particular.

How would you as the author describe the Blade series of books? 

The series consists of one long story and it covers many themes, but in essence I would describe it as an urban odyssey about a complex, dangerous but hopefully engaging fourteen-year-old boy with a violent past and his desperate attempts to make sense of his life and to achieve some kind of redemption for the things he has done.

The Blade books look at the issue of knife crime. Why did you choose to write about this particular social issue? 

All violent crime is hideous but knife crime has always seemed to me to be particularly vicious. It is not the click of a trigger from a safe distance. It is close and raw and chillingly personal. I have always been horrified at the thought of young people carrying and using knives and it was this that prompted me to start the Blade books. I wanted to write about knives as honestly as I could, without in any way glorifying them, and to show that those who wield the blade becomes victims too. The boy in the story has a terrible past but one of the reasons for writing the series was to discover whether he could have a future as well.

Some of the language in the Blade series is a little unusual, i.e. gobbos, dronks, trolls. Is this used to help take us into the environment that Blade is living in? 

Blade’s language is a personal slang that I invented just for him. It is his own deeply individual way of describing his world and his feelings. The boy is incredibly creative with language. He basically does four things with it. Firstly, he makes up completely new words, e.g. gobbo (guy), neb (person), dimp (idiot), dunny (old woman), grink (enemy). Secondly, he takes existing words and gives them an additional meaning of his own. So ‘muffin’ means the usual thing, i.e. something you can buy at the bakery, but in Blade-slang it also means ‘a harmless person’. ‘Troll’ has its usual meaning, i.e. a creature you might find in a mountain cave in Norway, but in Blade-slang it also means ‘rough teenage girl’. Thirdly, he takes words we know, adds a secondary meaning, and then twists that as well, often into a verb, e.g. he takes the word ‘snug’ and turns it into a noun meaning ‘a safe place to doss’ and then he makes a phrasal verb out of it too, so that ‘to snug out’ means ‘to spend time in a safe place’. Fourthly, he makes up his own ornate phrases for things, e.g. I don’t give two bells = I don’t care; one more crack up the line = another thing sorted; it’s no bum gripe = it’s no big deal. There are many more examples of all the above and I worked very hard to make sure that the meaning of what Blade says is always clear through context and would not require a glossary at the back of the book.

Did you do any research on gang culture for the Blade series? 

I read a great deal about gang culture and the kind of criminal underworld in which Blade has lived his life. As the story developed, however, I came to realise that I was writing about much more than just gangs and crime. Essentially I was writing about a boy who is far older than he should be. There’s a line towards the end of the series when in a moment of revelation Blade suddenly reflects (perhaps for the first time in his eventful life) upon how very young he actually is. It’s almost as though he’s forgotten he’s fourteen. But even as he ponders this aloud, another character contradicts him: ‘You ain’t fourteen,’ he says to Blade. ‘You’s as old as sin, brother.’ When I wrote that line, I realised that the contradiction in those words went right to the heart of this boy’s story and almost transcended everything else.

The chapters in Blade are short and sharp, often ending on a cliffhanger…were they fun to write?

Yes, they were. Each chapter felt like a sprint. I was aware that I was writing a long story, i.e. a tale that would be told over several books, but the scene-by-scene expression of that tale felt breathless at times, especially as there is lots of fast-moving action. Having said that, it took a long time to get those chapters right. I would usually get the rough shape down quickly, but once I’d established that, it would then take me ages to hone the text so that it ran smoothly, and especially to get the slang right. So yes, they were huge fun to write but challenging too, and as the boy’s story deepened and grew more emotional, I found myself increasingly anxious not to mess it up. Blade may be a fictional character but he felt so real to me and I grew so attached to him that I was desperate not to let him down by writing his story badly.

Many thanks to Tim for taking the time to give us an interview.  If you would like to find out more about Tim visit his website here

Delivered No.1

It’s been a little quiet here at Literature for Lads lately and we can only apologise for failing to give you your regular fix of reviews and interviews. However we are back, with a new feature, and hopefully we won’t be posted missing again anytime soon!

Delivered will allow us to share with you the books that publishers and others have kindly sent to us for review over the last little while. When I started the blog I didn’t think for one second that we would be invited to review books by publishers but over the last few months there has been a steady stream of books popping through our letterbox.

It seems only fair to share these with you – and give you a sneak preview of the reviews that will be coming up on the blog in the near future! If you have already read any of these books it would be great to hear what you thought of them so please do post a comment.

First of all thank you to Catherine Alport and the team at Scholastic for sending copies of Goblins by Philip Reeve and The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson.  Both of these look great!

Nina Douglas and the team at Orion Books were kind enough to send a copy of An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons and also a signed(!) copy of Hollow Pike by James Dawson.  We were so chuffed to receive a copy of Hollow Pike as we have heard such good things about this – and to get a signed copy was just awesome!

Next up Caitlin at Unbound gave us a copy of the 1st two books in the Hattori Hachi series by Jane Prowse. We are looking forward to reading these twoadventure stories.

Our next book didn’t come from a publisher but from the author himself.  Phil Earle kindly gave us a signed copy of his new novel Saving Daisy.  This is another book that we have heard great things about so can’t wait to read it.

Finally thanks to Random House for a copy of Radio 2 DJ’s Simon Mayo’s first novel Itch.  Itch doesn’t sound like your stereotypical superhero so it will be interesting to get to grips with him in this novel.

Boxer Beetle – Ned Beauman

Boxer Beetle; Ned Beauman; Sceptre; 2011

Book Summary(taken from Amazon UK): This is a novel for people with breeding. Only people with the right genes and the wrong impulses will find its marriage of bold ideas and deplorable characters irresistible. It is a novel that engages the mind while satisfying those that crave the thrill of a chase.

There are riots and sex. There is love and murder. There is Darwinism and Fascism, nightclubs, invented languages and the dangerous bravado of youth. And there are lots of beetles.

It is clever. It is distinctive. It is entertaining.

We hope you are too.

Please note this book is intended for a 16+ audience

Literature for Lads Review:
‘Boxer Beetle’ is Ned Beauman’s debut novel and has evidenced by the ‘blurb’which appears on the back of the book, it’s a little different! Discussing themes as far reaching as Anti-Semitism, Eugenics and Nazism, not to mention the Class System and New Towns this book is far from your average novel.  The fact that it comes from a first time novelist, who is only 26, should make you stop and think a little as you start your reading journey.

The book has two narratives running through it, one set in present day England, the other set in England just before the outbreak of the Second World War.  In the present day storyline Nazi memorabilia collector Kevin (who suffers from a very unfortunate medical condition) becomes embroiled in a violent adventure to recover a Nazi artefact.

Back in the 1930’s Philip Erskine, a private school educated scientist with an interest in Eugenics, becomes involved in a relationship with the talented Jewish boxer from London’s East End, Seth ‘Sinner’ Roach.  As the book progresses Beuman begins to link the stories together as we learn that the Nazi artefact at the heart of Kevin’s adventure, was initially discovered by Phillip Erskine.

There is no doubt that this is an interesting book and it is clear that Beauman most definitely has a talent.  However as a novel it doesn’t quite work for me. The historical story is definitely the strongest part of the novel.  It has a cast of intriguing characters; Seth ‘Sinner’ Roach is brash, violent, and at times just nasty. Philip Erskine is an eccentric scientist, in denial of his sexuality, yet yearning after Sinner. And let’s not forget Millicent Erskine, a minor character in the book but one who is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud with her various quips.

The Modern day storyline in contrast is rather disappointing.  It appears infrequently in the book making it hard to follow what has happened previously. It’s difficult to like the main character Kevin (and not because of the peculiar smell emanating from him) as we know so little about him. He is one dimensional, self pitying and with very few redeeming features. I almost feel the book would have worked without the modern day second narrative due to the strength of the Historical story.

‘Boxer, Beetle’ is definitely not your average book.  It will make you  think and may even educate you as you read it. Beauman’s research is meticulous and the the sense of the Britain in the 1930’s is wonderfully evoked. The characters in the book are, on the whole far from likeable, and at times frankly offensive.  The book includes some rather offensive language and some scenes which many will find distasteful.  However I’m pretty sure that Beauman wants us to be challenged and feel uneasy reading his novels. He may not be out to offend but he is definitely out to make us think.

This book will not be for everyone but if you are looking for something a little different from the supermarket sold, formulaic fiction currently proliferating bookshops bookshelves, give this debut author a go.

Marks out of 10: 6

I was invited by the Scottish Book Trust to talk about ‘Boxer, Beetle’ as part of their Book Talk Podcast series along with Peggy Hughes from the Edinburgh’s City of Literature Trust.  If you would like to hear Peggy and I in discussion, along with host Paul Gallagher, click here.

And thank you to Scottish Book trust for providing me with a copy of the book!

Here is Ned talking about ‘Boxer, Beetle’…

For more information on Ned Beauman visit here and to visit the ‘Boxer, Beetle’ mini site click here

The Adventures of GRK!

Today I’m delighted to welcome to Literature for Lads the author of the popular GRK series of books, Josh Lacey. The GRK books have been shortlisted for both the Blue Peter and Branford Base awards and have seen GRK (a small dog with black eyes, white fur with black patches and a perky little tail) and his owner Tim embark on adventures all over the world.

GRK’s latest adventure, ‘GRK and the Phoney Macaroni’ takes them to the home of Pizza, Pasta and the leaning tower of Pisa.  Italy is a country Josh has visited many times and he loves the people, the culture, the weather and of course, the food!

In an exclusive guest post for Literature for Lads Josh explains how the adventures of GRK are often based around where he wants to eat…

(Watch out for the Literature for Lads review of GRK and the Phoney Macaroni appearing later this week)

When I’m thinking about a new Grk book and deciding what to write about, only one question really matters to me. Where do I want to eat?
If you haven’t met him, or read about him, I should tell you that Grk is a small dog who has (so far) had eight crazy, exciting and funny adventures in different countries around the world. He’s climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building. He’s whizzed around in planes, trains, bikes, rickshaws and speedboats. And he’s eaten a lot of food.
Grk has eaten hot dogs in New York, feijoda in Rio de Janeiro, spicy curries in Delhi and succulent chicken pie in Sydney. He has explored our planet through its tastes.
Wherever he goes, I go too, and I only want to travel to a place where I’m going to enjoy the food.
When I’m at home, spending my days with my computer, staring at the screen, writing the Grk books, I make sure that I carry on eating appropriate food too. When I was writing Grk and the Hot Dog Trail, I gorged on burgers. After I’d finished Grk Smells a Rat, I couldn’t eat another poppadom for months.
My own favourite national cuisine is Italian, so you might have thought that Grk wouldn’t waste a moment before heading to Rome, Naples or Bologna, but it’s only in the eighth book about his adventures that he’s finally got there.
While he was there, did he get the chance to eat some glorious pizza? Did he scoff plates piled with pasta, munch mouthwatering mozzarella, and gobble slices of parma ham and chunks of parmesan cheese? Of course he did, and I did too.
I haven’t decided where Grk might go next. I don’t even know if I’ll write another book about Tim and Grk. But if I do, it’ll have to be somewhere with delicious food.
I did ask Grk this very question, and he knew the answer immediately: he doesn’t care. He loves food. All food. He’d happily chomp on Swedish herrings, Swiss fondue or South African biltong. There’s only one thing he can’t stand, and that’s having an empty stomach.
Where should Grk – and I – go next? Where would be the best place for us to get a great snack? Which country has the best grub in the world? If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

You can contact Josh via his website http://www.joshlacey.com/ where you can also find out more about GRK and the other books Josh has written.

The Hunger Games – Film Review

Unless you have been living on Mars for the last month it’s been impossible to avoid the ever increasing press coverageof the release of The Hunger Games movie. Based on the best selling book by Suzanne Collins the excitement amongst teenagers (and adults – myself included!) has reached fever pitch in the last week or so.

And now the wait is finally over! The film goes on general release today, Friday 23rd March.  However I was lucky enough to get a ticket for one of last nights limited preview screenings! Does it live up to the Hype? Does it stay true to the book? Read on to find out…

Book Summary: The Hunger Games was one of the first in the current vogue of dystopian teenage thrillers.  Set in Panem, a near future version of North America destroyed by war, the country is now divided into 12 districts each ruled by the Totalitarian Capitol. Each year the districts are asked to send two tributes to compete in ‘The Hunger Games’ a reality TV, battle to the death and the Capitol’s way of ensuring that the forgiveness they gave each district for the previous civil war and uprising, is never forgotten…

(Please be aware that if you have not read the book this film review may contain spoilers.) 

Literature for Lads Film Review:
It can be a dangerous thing going to see the film of a book you have loved.  We have our own image of the characters, our own interpretation of events and can only hope that these are mirrored in what we see on screen.  Our dilemma becomes even more difficult if the film starts to receive rave reviews and the hype surrounding it reaches fever pitch.  Is it worth the risk of disappointment?  For fans of The Hunger Games the answer to this is a resounding yes!

Lionsgate and director Gary Ross have captured the essence of this book and brought to life one of the most exciting novels of this generation. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are both expertly cast as Katniss and Peeta, with each portraying an uncanny resemblance to how I saw them in the book. Katniss strong and rebellious and Peeta, brooding and deep.  Haymitch, previous  ‘Hunger Games’ winner and mentor to Katniss and Peeta, is played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson whilst Donald Sutherland does a great job as the quietly spoken, yet dangerous President Snow.

Other characters are equally well cast with  Lenny Kravitz capturing the tenderness of stylist Cinna and Stanley Tucci proving himself to be the expert chatshow host in his role as Caeser Flickerman.  Gale, Katniss’ loyal friend back in District 12 and the other tributes also stay close to their book characterisation.  However it is little Rue who almost steals the show by ensuring the whole cinema has a tear in their eye with ‘that’ scene.

The images of District 12, the Capitol and the Arena itself are just as imagined in the book with the greyness and poverty of District 12 in evidence, just as the colour and greed of the capitol is. In fact at no point during the film was I ever thinking that’s not how I thought it would be.  It’s clear that Suzanne Collins has been involved with the screenplay as the film has not been hollywidised and stays almost entirely true to the book throughout.

The real strength of the film lies in the fact that Katniss takes us on her adventure without ever saying very much.  It’s almost as if we are out hunting with her, quietly watching as our prey stalks around us. This is not to say the film is slow or lacks the intensity or brutality of the book.  This is still very much on show and the collective gasp from the audience when Thresh breaks the neck of a fellow tribute was evidence of this.

So often the film adaption of a book can go wrong and spoil our memories of the story.  The Hunger Games is not one of those films!  Staying true to the book and capturing everything that made the book such an amazing read this is one film that you must go and see.  You will be blown away all over again by the story that Suzanne Collins has created. Happy Hunger Games and May the Odds be Ever in your Favour!

Marks out of 10: 9

Still can’t make up your mind whether or not to go and see it?  Watch the awesome trailer for The Hunger Games…

Grk and the Phoney Macaroni – Joshua Doder

Grk and the Phoney Macaroni; Joshua Doder; Andersen; 2012

Book Summary (taken from Amazon UK):Dognapped! Grk is walking happily through the park, sniffing trees and chasing squirrels, when he’s suddenly snatched by two men in black suits. Where are they taking him? And how can Tim get him back? Tim and Grk’s eighth amazing adventure takes them to the home of pizza, pasta and the leaning tower of Pisa. There they meet the Duke of Macaroni, a man with a terrible secret which he will do anything to hide.

(Last week Josh wrote an exclusive guest post for Literature for Lads on how the adventures of Grk are often based around where he wants to eat… To read it click here) 

Literature for Lads Review:
Grk is a small dog with black eyes, white fur with black patches and a perky little tail.  Along with his owner Tim he has been on seven previous adventures (don’t worry if you haven’t read any of the previous novels, they each work as standalones), taking him all across the world.  In this latest adventure Grk is dognapped and flown to Italy leaving Tim to try and rescue him from the evil clutches of the Duke of Macaroni.

This is the first Grk book that I have read and it was thoroughly enjoyable! Full of adventure, suspense and it’s fair share of laughs, Josh Doder ensures we are hooked into the story with an intriguing end to the 1st chapter.  Each chapter that follows is full of a good mix of action, mystery and humour, and all of this is usually crammed into 5/6 pages.  These short, sharp chapters make the book very readable and will appeal to younger readers who will enjoy the bite size nature of the chapters.

Younger readers will also enjoy travelling along with Tim on his mission to rescue Grk.  Although unlikely to find themselves in similar situations to those that Tim does, they will love to imagine that they could end up in a situation not too dissimilar. The fact that Tim has no magic powers or fancy gadgets to help him on his quest makes the story all the more realistic.  The lack of these elements is strangely refreshing and somewhat bizarrely gives the novel an element of originality.

Like all good adventurers Tim does of course have a friend he can rely on and the character of Alessandara will ensure the book has an appeal to girls as well as boys.  The fact that Alessandara speaks on occasion in Italian adds a nice little learning element to the book. This is in addition to the many cultural (not to mention food!) references about Italy that the reader is exposed to.

The book moves along at a good pace and has plenty to keep young readers entertained, particularly a clever twist near the end of the book which I admit I didn’t see coming.  The tales of Grk are good old fashioned adventure stories, something that maybe we are lacking at the moment. At a time when technology is king Josh Doder should be congratulated for being brave enough to ditch the gadgets and magic and concentrate on telling a right good story.
Marks out of 10: 7

 

Here is Josh talking about Grk takes Revenge, the 6th book in the series…
For more information on Josh and the other Grk books (including an interview with Grk himself!) click here

Insignia – S.J.Kincaid

Insignia; S.J. Kincaid; Hot Key Books; Publication Date – 2nd August, 2012

Book summary(From Hot Key Key Books Catalogue): Tom’s life changes dramatically when his virtual-reality prowess is discovered in a future world where war is fought by robots.  Equipped with a new computer chip in his brain it looks like Tom might actually become somebody…but what happens when you start to question the rules? The first part of an electrifying new sci-fi trilogy by debut author S.J.Kincaid.

Literature for Lads Review:
As a librarian and book blogger I read a lot of books. Many of the books I read are good, some of them great. Sometimes they are disappointing. And then occasionally I read something which is exceptional. Something that is so good that it consumes me and everything that I do.  Where previously I couldn’t find time to squeeze in one more chapter, I can. A book so enjoyable, engaging and exciting that reaching the end of the book will only end in disappointment as the adventure will be over, and I will be left with nothing to fill the void the book has left. ‘Insignia’ is one of these books…

When I first picked up this book I will admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. ‘Insignia’ is set in a high tech future where multinational companies control everything, even the world’s food and water. Each company is aligned to either the Indo-America or Russia-Chinese alliance and the world is at war.  World War Three however is not happening on earth but rather in space with computerised machines, controlled by humans back on earth, fighting each other for control of the solar system’s natural resources.

During the first couple of chapters we are introduced to Tom Raines, the books main character, whilst at the same time it is explained to us how the world has once more become engaged in global conflict.  Tom is a gamer who supports himself and his gambling addicted father by hustling players in Virtual Reality (VR) parlours.  When Tom is approached by the Indo-America alliance and offered a place at the Pentagonal Spire the home of the Indo-American Military Academy, and where the next generation of Virtual Reality Soldiers are trained, ‘Insignia’ bursts into life.

On arrival at the Spire Tom is fitted with a neural processor, a computer chip implanted into the brain.  This is our first taste of some of the futuristic technology that Kincaid explores in the book.  It’s a fascinating idea and Kincaid executes it brilliantly.  The constant stream of information flowing into Tom’s brain after the device is implanted is eerily similar to the information overload theory Patrick Ness explores in ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go.’

The Pentagonal Spire also has a sense of familiarity to it, it being reminiscent in many ways of a certain school for wizardry.  Full of futuristic technology, common rooms for each ‘division’, teachers with hidden histories and an engaging set of characters the Spire and what goes on there is one of the books greatest strengths.  Kincaid writes in a way that will make teenagers feel they are in the Spire, sitting alongside Tom and his gang of friends, Vik, Wyatt and Yuri. This gang of four are engaging, funny and you will love following them on their journey through their first year at the Spire.

Much of the originality in Kincaid’s book is in her use of video games and the concept of gaming.  Students at the Academy train for battles using Virtual Reality (VR) software.  The scenes in the book where students are hooked up to the VR software create some of the most exciting parts of the novel, taking the character, and the reader, out of the Academy’s classroom and into (virtual) battle. Of course at some point our Academy recruits must put their training to use in the field, engaging in battles with fellow gamers high up in the echelons of space, fighting not only for their own pride, but for their country.

There is so much to enjoy in this book.  Although full of futuristic technology there is a real sense of realism throughout the book. The book is full of humour and has a great cast of characters who you will not only believe in but want to be friends with.  But maybe most importantly Kincaid does not shy away from the issues hitting the headlines and making an impact on the lives of teenagers today. Corporate greed, corruption, the impact technology has on the world, the ever diminishing natural resources on earth and the power of democracy are all prominent themes in this book.

The skill that Kincaid has is that she takes these themes and uses them to form the backdrop for a thrill-a-minute adventure that is full of originality and is far from predictable. ‘Insignia’ is one of the best debut novels I’ve read and I suggest you start counting the days until you can immerse yourself in the world of Pentagonal Spire. You won’t be disappointed.

Marks out of 10: 9(and a half)

For more information on S.J. Kincaid and the Insignia books visit her websitehere

The website includes a very cool playlist to accompany the book!

Has this review whetted your appetite for the book?  Does it sound like the kind of book you would read? What do you think about the concept of gaming being included in a novel?

We would love to hear your feedback on the book and the review via our comments section below.

World War Two and Walliams

The Messenger Bird Blog Tour
We have some exciting news to announce on Literature for Lads today…in fact we have two pieces of exciting news to announce!
Firstly we are absolutely delighted to tell you that we will be part of a book blog tour for the first time!  Not only will we be part of the tour but we will in fact be launching the tour.(we are very, very excited!)
The book blog tour is for the new novel by Ruth Eastham, ‘The Messenger Bird’.  Ruth will be on our blog on Friday 11th May and will be answering our questions on her novel.  In addition we will have a giveaway to win one of five copies of ‘The Messenger Bird’.  And on top of all this Ruth will also be announcing details of her very own competition which will run across all the blogs on the tour!
David Walliams Online Author Event
Our second exciting announcement is from our good friends at the Scottish Book Trust who have released details of their next online author event.  Having already brought Charlie Higson, Liz Lochead and Jacqueline Wilson into your classroom on Thursday 10th May the Scottish Book Trust will be streaming David Walliams live to audiences across the UK.
The Multi-talented funny man will be talking about his hilarious new book ‘Gangsta Granny’ which is guaranteed to cause an epidemic of smiles to breakout across the UK. The event will be streamed live to audiences across the UK at 11am on Thursday, 10th May. It will then become available to watch again for free by Thursday, 17th May for everyone worldwide!
If you would like to join the tens of thousands of pupils across the UK who will be watching the event live you can watch the event by going directly to the BBC website at 11am on Thursday, 10th May Click here
(If you are a teacher or librarian you can register your entire class by following this link)

 

Don’t worry if you can’t make the live broadcast the entire event can be downloaded or streamed for free from Thursday, 17th May here

This promises to be a fantastic event so make sure you put the date in your diary!

And the Land Lay Still – James Robertson

And the Land Lay Still; James Robertson; Penguin; June 2011

Book Summary (taken from Amazon UK:)And the Land Lay Still is nothing less than the story of a nation. James Robertson’s breathtaking novel is a portrait of modern Scotland as seen through the eyes of natives and immigrants, journalists and politicians, drop-outs and spooks, all trying to make their way through a country in the throes of great and rapid change. It is a moving, sweeping story of family, friendship, struggle and hope – epic in every sense.

Please note this book is intended for a 16+ reader.

Literature for Lads Review:
Standing at 670 pages it would be easy to be scared of reading this book.  To read something this large requires a certain devotion, not to mention a large amount of time.  But for those who undertake to read this novel from James Robertson they will be richly rewarded. Every page is to be treasured as Robertson magnificently weaves together 60 years of Scottish political, social and cultural history.

The main thrust of the story centres around Michael Pendreich a photographer who is forever living in the shadow of his father, also a photographer.  With his father dead Michael prepares an exhibition of his Father’s work allowing him to reflect on both the relationship between him and his Father, and also the scale of his Father’s work. The photographs that form the exhibition provide a link to the rich tapestry of characters that inhabit this book.

Characters from all walks and classes of Scottish life feature in the novel with Robertson cleverly intertwining their stories as the book progresses. As we revel in the detail that Robertson gives us on each individual, the iconic moments of Scotland’s post war history are played out before us.  Sometimes we are given a birds eye few of these moments whilst at other times, they merely play out in the background of family life.

The list of characters in the book is sizeable. The enigmatic Jean Armour provides a link between Michael and his Father that the two of them were never able to establish.  Don Lennie is the industrious working class Scot and World War Two survivor. David Eddlestane is a young Tory politician with an unusual sexual fetish, whilst linking each of the parts of the book is the mysterious wanderer handing out small white pebbles to those he meets. There are many others, each woven by Robertson into the book and Scotland’s history expertly.

The plot at times can be a little difficult to follow as it sidesteps, moves backwards and jumps around rather than sticking to a steady course through Scotland’s post-war history. This doesn’t distract the reader too much though and despite the aforementioned length, the pages fly by such is the quality of the writing.

This is an important book which in time will be marked as one of the most important in Scottish Literature.  Not only does it record the post war history of Scotland but it discusses the very nature of Scottishness. The political arguments for and against independence are played out across it’s pages but not in the style of a party political broadcast but in a much more subtle fashion. This book is an exploration of Scottish identity and what it means to be Scottish.

Robertson has created an engrossing, hugely ambitious, but delightfully satisfying novel which is a pleasure to read from beginning to end. As Scotland moves towards a vote to decide on Independence it should be required reading for anyone who wants to know what it means to be Scottish.

Marks out of 10: 8

Here is a trailer for the book which features James Robertson reading from the book alongside some wonderful pictures from Scotland.

For more information on James Robertson visithttp://literature.britishcouncil.org/james-robertson

The Messenger Bird – Ruth Eastham

The Messenger Bird, Ruth Eastham; Scholastic; May 2012

Book Summary (taken from Amazon UK:) Nathan’s father has been arrested. He works for the Ministry of Defence and is accused of leaking top secret information. But as he is dragged into a police car, he gives Nathan a message. It leads to a riddle, but it’s not from Dad. It’s from an ex-Bletchley Park employee, Lily Kenley, and was written in 1940. Nathan begins to follow the clues left behind by Lily. But how can this war-time story link to his father’s fate? Hope for Dad’s appeal is fading fast. He must solve the puzzle. Time is running out.

In addition to our review of The Messenger Bird we have an interview with the author Ruth Eastham on the blog on Friday. We  also have 5 copies of the book to give away (thank you to Scholastic for supplying the books!)click here to enter our competition.

Literature for Lads Review:
The Second World War has provided the backdrop to an enormous number of novels so I was a little apprehensive that this book might suffer from a lack of originality and new ideas. Thankfully Ruth Eastham has ensured this is not the case. Taking the story of one of World War Two’s biggest secrets, Bletchley Park and the code breakers who worked there, she has written a compelling mystery story for teenagers, whilst at the same time enlightening all who read the book on what actually happened in those mysterious huts at Bletchley Park.

By the end of the first chapter Eastham has sown the seeds for this mysterious story to begin. As the Father of 11 year old Nathan is arrested and pushed into a waiting car with tinted windows, Nathan ponders the message his Dad has just given him.  Quickly realising that his Dad has tried to pass information to him in code, Nathan begins to unravel the 1st stage of a mysterious trail.  What follows sees Nathan and his fellow school friends, Josh and Sasha, in a race against time to solve the trail and gain freedom for his Dad.

The book cleverly combines the present day with that of 1940’s Britain as Nathan’s trail leads him to first to an attic full of Second World War memorabilia before this in itself leads to Bletchley Park. Eastham keeps each of the chapters moving along at a good pace, giving us just enough information to try and solve the puzzles that Nathan and his friends face themselves.

At times the book is hugely atmospheric and you can almost feel the coldness of the snow as our intrepid explorers make their way under cover of darkness to Bletchley Park one evening. As the three school friends get closer to saving Nathan’s Dad they at the same time begin to unravel an unexplained mystery regarding one of the former Bletchley Park employees. This adds some depth to the book and allows Eastham to delve more deeply into both the history of the Second World War, and in particular the German bombing of Coventry.

It’s clear that the author has researched the material for the book meticulously and the background given to such things as the Enigma Code breaking machines are an interesting deviation from the quest to solve the mystery trail. Youngsters (and others!) will be fascinated with what they lean about Bletchley Park and what went on there during the war.

The Messenger Bird is a thoroughly enjoyable read, full of mystery, intrigue, puzzles and riddles. As the story progress you will find yourself willing the three school friends to solve the next clue and take one step closer to not only saving Nathan’s Dad but also unravelling the mysterious story from seventy years earlier. Well done to Ruth Eastham for taking a piece of History which has given us so many stories already and creating a new, original and exciting one.

Marks out of 10: 7

For more information on Ruth Eastham do visit her brilliant website here

Watch this video to find out a little more about the Enigma Code which features in The Messenger Bird

Please let us know what you thought about the book if you have read it by adding a comment to the blog post. And if you haven’t read the book let us know if this review has convinced you!