My Lockdown Books: Twenty Eight

I decided to treat myself to a re-read of the Ishmael trilogy by the award-winning Michael Gerard Bauer.  Why?  Well, I don’t really need a reason but I was in a very unsettled mood earlier in the week and needed to read something I could just sink into.  These books are funny, and clever and thought-provoking – and I love them!  There was no way I could choose just one of the three so here you are: Don’t Call Me Ishmael, Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs and Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel.  Apropos of absolutely nothing at all, I got surprise points in Australia recently when someone asked me if I knew about dugongs AND I DID.  Thank you Michael!

As I said, I find it impossible to split these three books.  Even when reviewing the final one for The Scotsman, the others tagged along!

There’s a special treat for mature, confident and enthusiastic readers this spring. Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel is the concluding book in Michael Gerard Bauer’s trilogy revolving around Ishmael and his friends. It had me by turns hysterical with laughter, deep in thought and in floods of tears. When I finished it I was devastated because I knew there was no more. Readers who don’t know Ishmael will want to start at the beginning (Don’t Call Me Ishmael and Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs) in order to get to know the boys and live with them as they progress through high school in Australia. Bauer’s writing is deceptively simple, easy to read and dialogue driven. He meets difficult issues head on and allows his characters to deal with them. The characterisation is truly outstanding: even the fringe characters leap off the page as they interact, grow and develop. The plot twists and turns entirely believably, creating a world that I would like to inhabit.  Read this series.  Be a part of Ishmael’s world.

The Things That Will Not Stand by Michael Gerard Bauer

Last month Michael Gerard Bauer won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for his young adult novel, The Things That Will Not Stand.  I should clarify for those who aren’t aware that the Prime Minister in question is Australian.

Michael is known to me (and, as a result, any regular readers of this blog) through his wonderful Ishmael trilogy, books about a group of male friends moving through school in Australia.  I was fortunate enough to be given them to review by Templar Books and was delighted to meet Michael briefly at the Edinburgh International Book Festival some years ago.

Since then I’ve been following his blog and re-reading the books.  I’d read about The Things That Will Not Stand and was intrigued by it.  It’s set at a university open day and the entire action takes place over a matter of hours.  Like Ishmael, it’s funny and clever and heartbreaking, often at the same time.  Michael has a genius for creating believable characters who leap off the page.  If his characters were pictures they’d be lightning sketches, so quickly and clearly do they come to life in front of your eyes.

If things were different I’d be raving about this book and encouraging you to read it and buy it for all the teenagers you know.  But here’s the thing: it’s not available in the UK.  It seems to me that all you publishers out there are missing a trick. Happily for me, Michael generously sent me a copy which I devoured overnight.  Someone out there do the rest of the YA reading public a favour and get the UK rights sorted out.

In the meantime read about Ishmael.

6th December

It was The Edge of the Cloud by KM Peyton that first made me aware of the Carnegie Medal.  I borrowed it from Lossiemouth Library back in the day and the front cover had an image of the Medal on it.  I didn’t know what it was at that point but it was clear that this book had won it and it was significant. The Edge of the Cloud is still one of my favourite books – and I now have a signed copy, a treasured possession.  Set in the run-up to the First World War, it’s the story of Will and Christina and Will’s passion for flying.  It’s also the second book in Flambards quartet, to which, I might add in passing, has now been added The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery (written with Kathy Peyton’s approval).

Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel is the concluding book in Michael Gerard Bauer’s trilogy revolving around Ishmael and his friends. It had me by turns hysterical with laughter, deep in thought and in floods of tears.  When I finished it I was devastated because I knew there was no more.  Readers who don’t know Ishmael will want to start at the beginning (Don’t Call Me Ishmael and Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs) in order to get to know the boys and live with them as they progress through high school in Australia.  Bauer’s writing is deceptively simple, easy to read and dialogue driven.  He meets difficult issues head on and allows his characters to deal with them.  The characterisation is truly outstanding; even the fringe characters leap off the page as they interact, grow and develop.  The plot twists and turns entirely believably, creating a world that even I, a middle-aged, female Scot, would like to inhabit.

Ishmael by Michael Gerard Bauer

I love this trilogy so much that I have to share with you my review of it from The Scotsman last month:

Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel (Templar £6.99) is the concluding book in Michael Gerard Bauer’s trilogy revolving around Ishmael and his friends. It had me by turns hysterical with laughter, deep in thought and in floods of tears. When I finished it I was devastated because I knew there was no more. Readers who don’t know Ishmael will want to start at the beginning (Don’t Call Me Ishmael and Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs) in order to get to know the boys and live with them as they progress through high school in Australia. Bauer’s writing is deceptively simple, easy to read and dialogue driven. He meets difficult issues head on and allows his characters to deal with them. The characterisation is truly outstanding: even the fringe characters leap off the page as they interact, grow and develop. The plot twists and turns entirely believably, creating a world that even your fortysomething female reviewer would like to inhabit. Be a part of Ishmael’s world.

Please go and find these books and read them and pass them on to teenagers you know. And don’t judge them by their covers. I was very nearly put off by them. Now I’m so glad that I opened the first book and started reading.

2012’s Bookshelf

The other day I was clearing out all the books I’ve received from publishers this year. Don’t worry; they all went to good homes. I dealt with the books for primary children first, as they were being given as prizes, and the picture books had already gone. So I was left with the teenage titles. One of my colleagues took them to pass on to a local organisation which is collecting gifts for young people who might not otherwise receive anything. Hopefully there will be lots of happy teenagers in Moray this Christmas.

But they’ll pretty much only be happy if they like dystopian novels or the paranormal/supernatural. Fairies, vampires, zombies, angels, werewolves and dark spirits of all kinds were clustered on my shelves. And I hate them all! I’ve never met one that I could enjoy reading about. I’m sure some of them are good books. In fact, I know they are. Take a bow, Joss Stirling. But I can’t get interested. Part of my problem is that I’m irritated by publishers jumping on the bandwagon and giving us more of the same – even when it’s badly written, plotted and populated. The dystopian novels aren’t quite as bad but I do think that they’re going the same way as authors run out of anything new to say. But Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy was interesting and I thought that Slated by Teri Terry was a great concept.

Once these genres were off my shelves, I was left with very little. Fortunately some of it was very good. Sophie McKenzie’s Missing trilogy was represented and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Similarly, I am loving Anne Cassidy’s Murder Notebooks. I’m surprised by both of these as I don’t particularly enjoy thrillers. But these are gripping without being a ridiculous strain on the nerves. More to my general taste were the historical novels by the likes of Mary Hoffman, Rosemary Sutcliff, Paul Dowswell and Marie-Louise Jensen, who is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine. And my small Australian collection: Garth Nix, Michael Gerard Bauer and Morris Gleitzman. I met the first two at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year and they were as lovely as their books. (I’ve met Morris Gleitzman previously and he is too!)

Clearly there are other brilliant books out there and I do understand that publishing is a business and it needs to be commercially viable. But my wish for 2013 is that more publishers will be brave and take risks – and that they’ll keep sending me their books!