David Nicholls – Starter For Ten
I adored One Day, and have a fondness for campus novels generally, so Starter for Ten – about a boy from a working-class background who goes to university in the mid-80s and gets on the University Challenge team – seemed like an obvious one to read. It’s very funny – there are some great bits about all the things Brian expects university to bring him, including women and wisdom, and some utterly cringe-worthy bits where he does stupid things or tells jokes that fall flat or there’s anything acne-related (oh, dear). Funny, fast-paced, moving, great dialogue – definitely one to check out.
John Boyne – Noah Barleywater Runs Away
A young boy runs away and meets a mysterious toy maker. Well worth reading, though would have loved to have seen a little bit more at the end. Nice blend of the fairytale and the real. As with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas I’m curious to know what the age profile of readers is like – although it features a young hero, it seems like something that’ll appeal more to the 12+ age group (except for the fact that many of them will shy away from reading a ‘kiddie book’). Any thoughts, those of you who’ve read it/sold it?
Jennifer Donnelly – Revolution
As I noted here, YA novels set during the French Revolution rank pretty highly on my list of shiny things. So I was particularly excited to discover this book. It’s an interesting blend of fact and fiction – e.g. the main character’s father is a scientist working on the DNA test for Louis-Charles’s heart, real-life musicians are alluded to along with fictional ones, etc – as well as being a rather nifty blend of contemporary and historical fiction. There are two intertwining narratives. Andi, modern-day New Yorker, is in Paris for the winter holidays with her father, working on her senior thesis at his insistence, while her mother – still recovering from the death of Andi’s younger brother, Truman – is in hospital. Andi finds a diary of a girl her age in Paris, Alex, who recounts the events that led her to become a wanted figure in 1795. The parallels between the present-day and the past are a little awkward the more specific they get (there’s a Maximilien R Peters in the present-day who keeps talking about revolution and uses the word ‘incorruptible’ a lot) but the broader comparisons and comments work quite well. Aside from blaming Robespierre a little too much, the historical side of things is beautifully done, with a gorgeous mix of general atmosphere and specific details. So much French Revolution fiction cuts off in 1794 (much like its protagonists’ heads) so it’s quite cool to have something that explores post-Terror Paris, with Victims’ Balls going on in all their strangeness – although I have a sneaking suspicion that the Napoleon Bonaparte references may be a little too foreshadowy and not entirely accurate. The strength is in the blending of the two timelines, though (readers more fascinated by the historical stuff would do well to check out Deborah Cadbury’s non-fiction work The Lost King of France) – Andi’s voice is more authentic, raw, and – in places – funnier than I expected it to be. Even though Alex’s tale resonates with the reader, it’s Andi we’re rooting for all the way through.
Codex – Lev Grossman
Computer games, medieval manuscripts, a quest for a centuries-old secret, and lots of descriptions of libraries – what’s not to love? A fun and smart pageturner.