The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

Published by Penguin

Another Carnegie Winner today, this time 2014's winner - The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. I had no idea when I read this that it had been extremely controversial, although with hindsight I can see why it caused a stir. 

Linus, named after the Peanuts character, is the son of a rich musician. One day he is kidnapped whilst helping a man he thought was blind. He wakes up in an underground bunker with no way out other than a lift. The bunker contains six bedrooms a kitchen and a bathroom. The whole place is rigged with cameras and microphones. 

After a while, Linus is joined by a young girl, and then four adults, all kidnapped by the mysterious man. Together they try to find a way of escaping or raising the alarm, but every attempt is met with a viscous response. 

This is a brutal, frightening, tense and claustrophobic read. There is nothing easy about the plot here, although the writing is tight and it is easy to fly through. It asks many questions of the reader. What would you do? How would you cope? It is aimed at Young Adults,  but I would suggest that anyone giving this to a young person read it first to make sure that they won't be upset by it. I was quite shaken by the end, but I am very glad I read it. This is an extraordinary read. 

Where In The Literary World Are You Today?

Today I am in some sort of military compound. I am surrounded by children who have to be strapped into wheelchairs to protect those around them. They are totally unable to move, but the threat is deadly. This doesn't bode well...

- The Girl With All The Gifts by M R Carey

Well, who'd have thought it?

The Delightful Mr B's in Bath - The best bookshop in all the world.

The Delightful Mr B's in Bath - The best bookshop in all the world.

A week or so back I was in London and so I pottered into one of the flagship bookshops that are around and about the place. There are several of these very large bookshops for different chains in London, and I always get a nice warm glow as I walk past, but rarely do I get the chance to go into one of them. 

On this particular day, I had an hour or so to kill, and so in I went.  I hadn't been in for a few years, and had forgotten just how vast it is. There was every section of fiction and non-fiction you could possibly want, shelves upon shelves over several floors of books all wanting to be taken home and read. 

Fiction being my normal modus operandi, I headed there first. And stopped dead. There was so much choice I simply didn't know where to start. hardbacks, paperbacks, classics, literary fiction, science fiction, crime, romance, *ahem* erotica, graphic novels, children's fiction, Young Adult fiction... it went on and on and on... 

I started to wander along the shelves, but there were so many tomes that I was starting to find it hard to focus. I got out my trusty "would like to read" list and started to look for those books, but I lost interest quite quickly. The normal joy of wandering along a book shelf and finding a wanted book was lost because the wander had become a hike across the store, only to find that the next book you wanted was back on the shelf you just left. 

After a little while, I gave up and headed to the sports section to see if they stocked any good martial arts books for The Delightful Mr F. I found a couple of good ones which came home with me. 

I left feeling rather deflated. A massive shop full of books should be my idea of paradise, but the reality was a disappointment. All the booksellers were lovely, and hearing snatches of conversation, they seemed to know their stuff, but still it wasn't quite right.  I mulled all of this over on the train coming home, and came to the realisation, that what I like, and frankly need, is a curated collection of books to choose from. I know I bang on about Mr B's* a lot on here, but they are the best example of what I am trying to get at. The shop is a nice size, not too small, but not too big, and every book in there has been carefully selected to offer a wonderfully curated selection, which the booksellers then help the customers understand and choose from. I also find smaller independents have a cosier and friendlier feel. Reading for me is an escape, a pleasure, and a way to relax. Going to these huge shops makes it feel like a book supermarket, and I don't really like the experience all that much.

Well, who would have thought it? I found a bookshop I wasn't that keen on... 


* I have no affiliation with Mr B's, just a very, very happy and loyal customer.

The Age Of Miracles By Karen Thompson Walker

Published by Simon & Schuster UK

Another doomsday type book here for Young Adults. This doomsday is a little different from other world in acute danger type books. I have been racking my brains over this, and in all the other doomsday plots I can think of, the world is in immediate danger from an earthquake, alien invasion, meteorite or such like. This danger is much more subtle. The earth rotation of the earth is slowing down, meaning the days and nights become longer. A full rotation no longer takes twenty four hours, but slowly lengthens.

The governments of the world have no idea why, and try to calm the people through various, quite hopeless means. Nobody knows what the outcome will be, but it is clearly disastrous for mankind.

In amongst this rather weighty problem we meet Julia, a teenager who is trying to make sense of life just as it undergoes a massive change. Her mother becomes ill with a sickness which seems to be related to the slowing and her friends and neighbours all take different approaches to dealing with the changes. Some head off to communes in the desert to await the end, whilst other try to stick to a 24 hours cycle even if that means being at work and school in the middle of the night. Others choose to go with the natural day and night cycle. 

The science behind all of this strikes me a bit dubious, I am not sure how robust some of the repercussions are which are detailed in the book. However, that isn't really what is interesting. The pull of this book is about how society copes, not with imminent threats, where everyone goes into crisis mode, but with a slow, insidious change which spells disaster. 



Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

Published by Penguin Classics

You may remember this post from some months ago, the one where my To Be Read Pile became instantly larger by about 75 books...

Well, here is the first one from the new Penguin editions of the Maigret stories. Now I must come clean here, I have never read any Maigret stories. I can hear the gasps from here. How can she claim to be a crime fiction fan and not have read George Simenon? I know, I know, I hang my head in shame. I'm making up for it now though.

Pietr the Latvian, is a scoundrel, but terribly good at it. He commits crimes left, right and centre across Europe, but never gets caught, mainly because nobody knows what he looks like. 

Inspector Maigret is a member of the Flying Squad and is called to meet a train which is believed to have Pietr the Latvian on board. When he arrives, all he finds is a dead body jammed in the on board loo. Not one to be put off once on the trail of a criminal mastermind, Maigret starts a long dash around the country hunting down his quarry. 

I really rather enjoyed this. In general I am more of a cosy crime sort of person. I like a tea and scones with a high body count, and perhaps a splash of genteel blackmail. This is much more gritty and felt much more real than just a whodunnit puzzle. Paris of the 1930s is shown as  glamorous with a  rather seedy criminal underside. 

All in all I am a new Maigret fan. I can feel another series collection coming on...

Where In The Literary World Are You Today?

Today I am working for the Department of the Environment safeguarding the newts of Newport Pagnell from annihilation. I am being investigated by my boss for the theft of two second class stamps and am still yet to become a published author and recognised intellectual. Pandora is as perfect as ever.

- Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years by Sue Townsend

Autumn Is Here

I took this photo, really, I did!

I took this photo, really, I did!

Well, autumn* has definitely arrived here at Fennell Towers. This is my favourite time of year as it brings The Delightful Mr F's birthday, our wedding anniversary. and my birthday in the space of a couple of months.  I also love the light, it is gentle and warm and everything seems to have a golden glow**. 

The evenings start to draw in, and it is time for me to settle in my favourite chair with a stack of books. 

This year has definitely seen a net accumulation of reading matter, what with several trips to Mr B's, and some generous gifts. I know I keep saying I won't buy anymore books until I have read the ones I have already got, but long time readers will know that my willpower is not that strong. This has resulted in some rather ugly double shelving of books on one bookcase, which does rather jangle my organisational nerves. The Delightful Mr F commented that I didn't have too many books, we just didn't have enough bookshelves and offered to nip to Ikea to rectify things. The man is perfection in human form. 

I have given up writing a reading plan, I used to do this and found that I never stuck to it, so being the free spirited reader that I am, I will go where the literary whim takes me for the next few months. With the blog in mind though, I will read a few Halloween books, and some festive ones too in order to meet the, apparently obligatory, season appropriate blog post requirements. 

I am aiming to get through some Christies and a few more Wodehouses before the end of the year. Some novels I definitely want to read before 2015 hits include Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss (a genius in my book, who frankly can do no wrong). 

So, what books are on your autumnal reading list?



* A slightly strange aside, but I can remember very clearly learning to spell the word "autumn". I was six years old and was at school. It was November, and the teacher (red cardi, sensible shoes) was taking us through the words we had to learn for the spelling test the next day. The list also included "horizontal" and "police".

** I apologise, I started to sound like an episode of Larkrise to Candleford, please don't be sick.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Published by Hot Key Books

I am thoroughly enjoying reading my way through the Carnegie Winners list. This was the winner in 2013, and it is fantastic. 

Set in a dystopian future, which feels rather like the 1950s, Standish Treadwell and his family live in Zone 7 under a brutal government who have closed off the entire country, referenced only as The Motherland,  from the rest of the world. The Government is issuing enormous amounts of propaganda about a moon landing that the country is about to make, live on television. 

Standish and his friend Hector understand that it is best not to draw attention to yourself, if you do, then it is likely that you will disappear, to where, nobody knows. 

I don't want to write too much of the plot for fear of giving things away. What I will say is that it is brutal, there is violence, although nothing gratuitous. It is aimed at the Young Adult market, and I can image if I read this at say 12 or 13 years old it would have stopped me in my tracks and made me think about what is going on in the world, there really are people out there who live in a world just like the one Standish inhabits. Even as an adult it hasn't left me, weeks after I read it. If you don't know what to read next, find yourself a copy of this. It is a book you will be glad you have read.