Well, we’re back in the swing of things with book reviews, almost caught up with what I’ve actually been reading recently, and I’ve even managed to create one of my pairs of books here, as both of these are aimed at the children’s / young adult market. I won “The Marvellous Mongolian” in a raffle organised by Jane Badger Books – I’m not usually one for winning things, but there was the draw and there was my book in the post. It does have a slightly sad theme, but Jane warned me, so all was well! The other one came for Christmas, and completes a slight Paul Magrs binge I’ve been having lately (I think; maybe there’s one more lurking on the back TBR shelf …). They are also another pair to add to my Reading a Century project, covering 1974 and 2002 respectively, so that’s coming along nicely!
James Aldridge – “The Marvellous Mongolian”
(13 November 2013 – won in a raffle from Jane Badger Books)
A lovely children’s book told in letters between a Mongolian boy living with a horse-herding family and rather reluctantly going to school in the local town and a Welsh girl, Kitty, whose grandfather runs a nature reserve. They come into contact when a magnificent specimen of the original Mongolian Wild Horse is shipped over to Wales to live in the nature reserve. Kitty’s pet pony, Peep, is earmarked to be the first member of the herd, and Kitty and Peep go through a process of separation that is beautifully observed as Tachi the stallion claims the tame pony for his own.
Tachi and Peep are not then happy where they are, and the seemingly safe and protected reserve seems to have more permeable boundaries than was first thought. Could the two horses really be trying to make their way across Europe to get home to Mongolia? If so, this will be an epic journey – and one that will end in tragedy for one of the characters (this is signposted and necessary to the plot, so it’s not too much of a jolt and is sad but not devastating).
Really well done in the letter format, which I haven’t seen in a pony book before, with lots of information about wild horses, but presented naturally, and a sympathetic and attractive hero and heroine. Some of the events echo all stallion stories, with shades of the Black Stallion and Thunderhead from the Mary O’Hara books, but this really doesn’t matter, and it’s a good read. Even though it’s in letters and the children’s lives are old-fashioned, it’s not dated and is still a good one. Thanks, Jane!
Paul Magrs – “Strange Boy”
(25 December 2013 – Christmas present from Gill)
Although this covers some of the same ground as “Diary of a Dr Who Addict” (a lad growing up in Newton Aycliffe in the North East, in a fractured family with a policeman dad, and his dawning awareness of his sexuality and trips to the precinct to buy books and comics), this doesn’t centre on the TV show (although it does of course mention it) and is a bit more explicit (not troublingly so, and in the context of an examination of sexuality and (perceived) masculinity).
It’s a warm and touching book, with the portrayal of David’s relationship with his younger brother and of the various matriarchs in his extended family particularly well done (I love his grandmas and slightly scary mothers-of-friends and the strong older women that crop up throughout his early work are obviously the ancestresses of Brenda and Effie). The strong identification with region and the touch of magic recall his earlier novels, and it’s a good read which would certainly help any reader struggling with the issues around masculinity/sexuality portrayed here, or those seeking to understand.
But it’s not just an ‘Issues’ novel: it’s a good read in its own right. I loved the voice in this first venture into YA fiction of Magrs’, and I loved the glossary at the end, which maintained that voice perfectly.
So, two more off the Reading a Century project, and next up we have a very exciting combination of a book review and a film review! The latter doesn’t happen very often, so I hope you’re looking forward to that!
Oh, and one small acquisition – I saw the announcement of this book’s paperback version in ‘The Guardian’ but decided to treat myself to the hardback, as it was only a couple of pounds more. And I bought it from “Bank of Matthew”, my seemingly inexhaustible fund of Christmas and Birthday money from Matthew and his family, so it was effectively FREE. It’s a biography of Snorri Sturluson, writer of Egil’s Saga and the Edda which records the Norse myths, as well as other books and histories, and it’s a lovely physical object, with untrimmed page edges and a very shiny cover.