The Child’s Elephant : Rachel Campbell-Johnston

The Child's ElephantThe Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a couple of things I need to acknowledge about my reading of The Child’s Elephant and it’s those that influence my rating and feelings around the book.

This is a glorious big book, but it’s also resolutely a book of two halves and it took me two goes in reading to actually complete it. The first time I read it, I think it suffered both from my preconceptions and reactions to it (expecting something akin to a Michael Morpurgo, which is not a bad thing but it is not the right thing for this book), and also the slow, leisurely pace of the first half. The pacing of the first half is one of those things that do make sense upon completion, and I understand it now and see the shape of this book, but it was the reason I put the book down at first. So there is something to learn from this and it is something to do with pacing, but also of expectations and of the difficulty of classifying a book before you have read it.

Because the second half of this book told me that I had got it all wrong and that beneath this world, edging the beauty, was a kernel of darkness so horrible and so gutwrenching that it would inevitably pull Bat and Muka and Meya into its path.

You’ll note that I’m telling you very little about what actually happens in this book, and that is quite deliberate. I’m starting to wonder if it’s one of those books that benefit from the blank slate, from not being compared and contextualised against others. I wonder if it’s one of those books you sort of have to slide into a little blankly, a little reluctantly, maybe, to read into the book, to wade through the beautiful, painterly passages about the jungle to fall a little unexpectedly into the bit where everything starts to fall apart, too fast, too soon, too hard, and to feel that shift, to feel that wrench from everything you’ve become comfortable with, that you have come to love and accept as the truth of this world and to be left breathless at the awful, awful truth.

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*note* I’ve just dropped this book back off at the library and have realised that everything I’m trying to say in the above review can be summed up if you look at the coverwork (shown here in an excellent review over on We Sat Down). My utmost applause to David Dean.

Every Day : David Levithan

Every DayEvery Day by David Levithan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have heard a lot about this book. It is a beautifully elegant hook. A. wakes up in a different body every day. A. is sixteen always, but his ‘host’ may be fat, thin, short, tall, black, white – anyone really. And every day, his life starts over. Every day until he meets a girl called Rhiannon, and falls in love.

I keep thinking of poetics, when I think of Every Day, of the poetics of prose and of the light, graceful way Levithan uses words.There’s such an art to his writing that makes me recommend him solely on that, if I have to. I think it’s an important book. And I’m glad books like this exist, really, books that push at the edge of literature and define their space by making their space.

But it is interesting to, to me, that A. is not quite … likeable. I don’t think he’s presented to wholly be likeable, which I think is an important distinction to make at this point. He is presented as a real person. I admire that. There’s a lot of ethical and moral and social issues presented in this book, quite subtly and gracefully so, and throughout it all Levithan never forgets the truth of A. regardless of what that truth happens to present itself as during the book.

There’s elements in Every Day that remind me of things like The Time Traveler’s Wife and Quantum Leap, but it’s not derivative. It just sort of is, which again bears great weight to Levithan’s skill as an author. The space that Every Day occupies is a sort of artful, liminal space. It doesn’t pretend to solve the problems. It doesn’t pretend to explain things that don’t need explaining. It simply lives, very much, very viscerally in the moment.

And I think that there is something rather beautiful about that.

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Saving Daisy : Phil Earle

Saving DaisySaving Daisy by Phil Earle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daisy is trying to hold onto the life she has, but each and every day sees her losing her grip on it just a little bit. And when the worst of things happen, when tragedy strikes, she has to decide whether she sinks or swims. Or, to be fair, it’s not a question of decision. She really doesn’t know whether she can survive this.

Guilt is the hardest of things.

Earle’s powerful, precise prose makes this an almost unbearably hooky read. I couldn’t stop. It’s shot throughout with an ineffable truth. Despite the horrors of what happens to Daisy, and there are some very dark pained moments, I didn’t stop believing. That’s a credit to the simple, judgeless narrative and oh god, how you want her to get through this.

I have a lot of time for books like this which face up to the dark shadowy pain-filled moments of life. I think that’s so vital in our literature and to do it with the quiet simplicity of Earle? I think that’s rather vital. In ‘Saving Daisy’ he has that most iconic of things, the troubled heroine, but he shifts it so well away from cliche. I believed this book. Even though I didn’t want to, I really rather did. ‘Saving Daisy’ is a very worthy introduction to an honest, gutsy writer.

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Foxy – Rivalry at Summer Camp : Belinda Rapley

Foxy: Rivalry at Summer Camp (Pony Detectives, #5)Foxy: Rivalry at Summer Camp by Belinda Rapley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d heard about Rapley’s Pony Detective series on the grapevine and marked it down as one to watch. It’s a series of books, for sort of seven / eight year olds and upwards, set around a group of pony-obsessed friends who also solve mysteries. Think something like the great, great Saddle Club meets the equally great Famous Five and you’ve got Pony Detectives. Or well, to be a bit more precise, you have something approximating Pony Detectives. Once you throw in some healthy horse knowledge (Rapley so very much knows her stuff), some healthy (and unhealthy!) drama, and a dash of an own-a-pony day, you have this series down to a T.

Oh guys, this is lovely. I can’t reccomend this enough for those of you who have pony obssessed children, know pony obsessed children or who were pony obsessed children. Can I tell you I was the latter? I had a horse, too, after years of Scrooge-like saving. He was ace was Robert. Solid, tank-tastic, and randomly amazing at dressage. To give the latter fact a little bit of context, he was a 16.2hh shire cross with hooves the size of dinner plate. Not one that you’d expect to be good at dressage and yet, when he wanted to, he would throw in a change of leg and a half pass that made me hit cloud nine.

And Rapley gets that, she gets that so much. She gets that phase of losing yourself in ponies, and of finding yourself too. Her characters are funny, fallible (so key in books like this) and lovely. And good friends, too, the best of friends when it counts! I loved this book. It’s full of so much heart. And horses. Heart and horses. That’s it. That’s so very much it.

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Kentucky Thriller : Lauren St John

Kentucky ThrillerKentucky Thriller by Lauren St. John

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So before we do this, I think you need to have a look at my review of the preceding titles in this series. Here’s what I thought of Dead Man’s Cover and here’s what I thought of Kidnap in the Carribean. Suffice to say those reviews will give you context for what’s about to occur.

And if you didn’t click on them, this will give you even more context. There are not many books that make me go “YES!” when I discover them at my library. Kentucky Thriller is one of them. Reader, I fistpumped.

The third in the series of Laura Marlin Mysteries, Kentucky Thriller is centred around racehorses and two in particular – the big, bold stallion ‘Gold Rush’ and his talented son ‘Noble Warrior’. It’s through a variety of circumstances involving Gold Rush that Laura and her best friend Tariq are invited to Kentucky to help his son win the Kentucky Derby. But there’s problems aftoot and mysterious abounding on Fleet Farm and it looks like those problems may cost everyone dearly.

I love these books. I practically cancelled my weekend to read it. In Kentucky Thriller, we have a book which is full of joy. Laura and Tariq’s trip to America is so reminiscent of Dora from Follyfoot’s trip to meet Earl Blankenheimer that I practically curled over with happiness. More of this sort of thing please world, lots more.

I can’t tell you how much I loved St John’s ability with this book. Her sense of place is outstanding, whether it’s the palatial surroundings that the racehorses enjoy or the equally palatial breakfasts served to Tariq and Laura. Coupled with that, we have her Black Stallion moments during the racecourse, Laura going full Nancy Drew when it counts, a terrifying Haunted House, Tariq pulling his inner Horse Whisperer out of the bag and drama of the drama-est kind! Did you ever come across the Wonder series by Joanna Chapman? Kentucky Thriller is the Wonder books meets Nancy Drew meets Buffy.

God I love these books. I love Laura. I love how much she takes pride in her skills and is proud of her friends. I love that she’s taken seriously, you know, that her talent of mystery-solving is very much that – a talent. I love how she’s strong and yet fallible. I love how she loves her friends and Skye, her dog.

I love that there’s books in the world that exist like this, that mix peril and bravery and friendship up with horses and produce something of this quality.

I love these books so much.

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