The Fault in Our Stars

Buy at Amazon John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was recommended by a sixth form student, who said reading it had changed her life. Any book that can be that influential is worth reading, so I downloaded it to my kindle as soon as I got home. It coincided with a Times article about how this ‘nerd’ had become a teen-lit favourite, and I’d watched his ted-talk about Paper Towns (the title of one of his books) and how online education has the potential to change the world (he is apparently also a prolific vlogger, having tutored his brother …

Jack Maggs: A problem of expectations

The problem with Jack Maggs (Kindle) isn’t really a problem with the novel – it’s the expectations it’s sold with. The description suggests it’s a “variation on Great¬†Expectations, in which Dickens’s tale is told from the viewpoint of Australian convict Abel Magwitch which isn’t really what I got. What I expected was a close relation. What I got was more like a third cousin twice removed. There are similarities; Maggs is a convict, transported for life, and has made good in Australia. He’s given a young man, Henry Phipps, a good education and a home to live in (which Maggs …

In defence of the blockbuster

The Atlantic has an interesting article in defence, really, of Stephen King. Essentially, it says that despite the fact his prose is neither beautiful nor poetic, he writes excellent stories that are worth reading. That’s not exactly full of praise, but I suppose it’s a start: What’s not really arguable, I think, is that such tales are worth writing and worth reading, even if beauty of language and subtlety of characterization get sacrificed along the way. Not all stories have to do the same things. In the original argument over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, the debate was …

Ways to Live Forever: Sally Nicholls

Sam is a 12 year old boy with leukemia. He starts writing at home, because he’s too ill to attend school, and starts making lists of questions he wants answered, and of things he wants to do before he dies. He writes in a very honest and open way about his fears, hopes and worries about dying, and what the rest of his family are experiencing. At the same time, though, there’s a depth to it because Sam doesn’t explicitly describe a lot – he ignores his parents’ relationship, his sister’s emotional difficulties and other things he alludes to but …

India Knight’s Comfort and Joy

I really wanted to like this book. I love India’s columns in The Times, and find her tweets often hilarious – especially when she and Caitlin Moran are watching Downton Abbey at the same time. I think she usually has a lot of interesting things to say and a sarcastic, yet honest, way of writing. It doesn’t feel, in her columns, as though she’s going for a cheap laugh or a moment’s entertainment at the expense of the point she’s trying to make. But I didn’t feel the same warmth from her novel. Set over three conscutive Christmas Days, 2009-11, …

Christmas Ghost Stories

Ghost stories always seem to have a particular resonance at Christmas. Perhaps it’s the atmospheric frost, fog and snow that almost inevitably occurs. Perhaps it’s the late-night images of telling them around the fire, or the thought that somehow there is something about Christmas, the way that people are so open with one another and more forgiving, which thins the boundaries of this world and another. The Victorian Christmas annuals became a tradition of ghost stories, with famour authors vying to have their contributions accepted – particularly in those published by the likes of Dickens. The Turn of the Screw …