Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: I Am Pilgrim

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes starts with a murder, seemingly the perfect murder, and then someone is brought into the equation – in fact the protagonist – in quite an unassuming manner. And suddenly it’s not just about a murder in a NYC motel, done in the flurry and inferno of the Twin Towers’ bombing so the killer can cover their tracks. The protagonist, code named Pilgrim, has an interesting past (an adoptive wealthy childhood) and he just happens to have written the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation. Through this book, Pilgrim is tracked down and given a mission upon which the world depends. America faces mass murder using a weaponised form of a disease thought to be eradicated.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is like no other book I have read. It is well worth the hours spent reading long past your bedtime. I was a little daunted by the size of the book, but remembering how I used to love well written, lengthy tomes, filled with intrigue, great characters, and riveting plots (where are all those books gone now?), I opened it. And could not put it down. I spent as much time as possible absorbing this incredible story. However, where the author keeps the reader gripped is in a seemingly disparate number of events that appear to be unrelated – a public beheading in Mecca, ruins on the Turkish coast, a flashback to the Nazi death camps, military action in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, a doctor performing life saving deeds, a man gripped by a mission of spiritual vengeance, the tragic and seemingly accidental death of a wealthy young American, newly married. Did he jump off a cliff in the middle of the night, was he pushed, or did he simply fall? And what of the beautiful widow and her enigmatic female friend? Can one truly get away with murder? Just when a certain event seems to fade from your mind, perhaps forgotten as you keep turning the pages, Terry Hayes brings it back, and slips yet another thread into an increasingly complex but somehow not at all confusing tapestry.

I had given up on ‘big books,’ simply because I find most have been very timidly edited in that the author waxes on ad infinitum and definitely ad nauseum, filling pages with descriptive ‘guff,’ just padding the plot until (horrors) one starts skimming. I found Hayes’ writing to be tense, succinct, relevant, gripping. Each word plays its part. There is no extraneous detail, just solid story. It has been a long time since I did the old trick of reading more slowly as the book neared its end. I found myself doing that with this book, and thinking, “Oh no,” when inevitably it came to an end. Looking for a meaty read that is a banquet of intrigue, mystery, suspense, conspiracy, and thrilling action? Pick up I Am Pilgrim. PS: There are no interminable “for pity’s sake kill him already” fight scenes…

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Book Review: Gizmo Goes on The Polar Express

Gizmo Goes on The Polar Express, written by Heidi Phillips and illustrated by River Wilson, is the adorable story of a fluffy little white dog named Gizmo who has dreamed of riding on the Polar Express on Christmas Eve. And it’s a dream that comes true because he receives an invitation … what a wonderful looking invitation it is too! It’s a golden ticket, it smells of milk and cookies, and it instructs the recipient to “Believe!” All Gizmo has to do is close his eyes and drift off to sleep. Suddenly, with blinding lights and whole lot of noise, the Polar Express arrives! The conductor shouts, “All aboard!” This is going to be such a special treat for all those children who have been very good. What excitement, what fun as cookies and hot chocolate are being served. Then just as suddenly, everything comes to a halt as Gizmo is accused of being a thief! Will he have to give his ticket back and be put on the Naughty list? Is this a terrible misunderstanding? It must be! But there’s the photographic evidence! Can Gizmo clear his name with Santa? Will he miss out on visiting Santa’s Village, riding in the sleigh, and feeding the reindeer with everyone else?

What a lovely children’s story! This is a tale that will captivate young readers with the mix of hand drawn illustrations and photographs of the real Gizmo and his family. I loved the rhymes, I loved the story, and I was on tenterhooks as to how Gizmo could be (hopefully wrongly) accused of pinching some popcorn. There are such pertinent life lessons woven into the tale of Gizmo’s Christmas Eve, and these are lessons that will stand young readers in good stead as they grow up. People often look for only the bad in others, when we should be looking for the good. We can’t control what others do; we can only control what we do and how we react. Remaining steadfast, telling the truth, and believing in oneself is something that all youngsters will do well to learn, and Gizmo sets a great example. The flow of the story is fast and exhilarating, and young readers will be caught up in the flurry of action and excitement as the Polar Express sets off for the North Pole.

I enjoyed the way the author captured Gizmo’s emotions of excitement, ebullience, happiness as his dream comes true, and then the complete disappointment, the fight to hold back his tears, the feeling of being let down because of someone else being nasty. I think youngsters will relate to the story, and be uplifted by the joyful ending. The end of the book shows the real-life hero, Gizmo, in his festive Christmas jacket, enjoying a ride on a real Polar Express and visiting Santa’s Village! This is the third of Gizmo’s adventures and, by all accounts, Gizmo has quite a following, especially at book readings! This is a charming story for youngsters at Christmas, but just as fun any time of the year!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Book Review: Chipo and the Mermaid

Chipo and the Mermaid by Grace Ashley is subtitled An African Fairytale and it is certainly also a mermaid story with a difference. Chipo and her father, Mukoko, lived in a little village in the savanna plains of Africa. Chipo’s mother died in childbirth and Mukoko, realising he would need help raising his little daughter Chipo, so named in memory of her mother, decided to marry a beautiful young woman he had fallen in love with: Nakai. Chipo’s stepmother was angry that Chipo and her father were so close. Later a daughter, Tino, was born to the couple, but things did not improve because Mukoko did not show as much love to Tino as he did to Chipo. Nakai visited a powerful wizard for a potion to change Mukoko’s feelings towards his daughter … and it worked. Chipo became practically the family skivvy, doing all the work, while her sister, Tino, lolled about, doing nothing. One evening Chipo went down to the river to fetch water and met the mermaid of the river. The mermaid felt sorry for Chipo and decided to take her to the cave where she lived in the bottom of the river. How Chipo’s life changed after that!

I loved this story and laughed out loud at the end when lazy Tino and greedy, vengeful Nakai definitely get the “reward” they so richly deserve. There are so many lovely lessons embedded in this delightful tale that it’s hard to know where to start. Family love is highlighted, along with caring, consideration, respect for others, and putting others first. As also are being careful to avoid being jealous, not being rude to people, not being demanding, and to be mindful of what you do in life and how you treat others because you never know what repercussions can happen. This is both a fairytale and a fable in a unique setting that is sure to get youngsters both wanting the story read out loud to them again, and wanting to find out more about Africa. In case you don’t think it is possible, mermaids are well known in African culture.

I loved the illustrations that are simple, bold, and beautiful and perfectly depict the setting and the characters. The bright, vibrant colours will attract and keep young readers’ attention, and they will also enjoy picking out the other visual elements that enhance the story. This is a Cinderella style story with a difference and one that both teaches and entertains. It’s the kind of book that can lead to great further discussion between an adult or teacher and young readers, with many points to ponder as well as sparking youngsters’ curiosity to learn more about Africa, the culture, and the animals. I would recommend this to parents, teachers, and caregivers for that “something different” to pique young readers’ interest.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review: Curious Mary and Esme the Bunny

Curious Mary and Esme the Bunny by Dr. Julia E. Antoine is the third book in the very entertaining Too Clever book series for youngsters. This story revolves around a young girl called Mary whom readers will have met in Too Clever book 1. Mary is a curious young girl and thus earned the nickname ‘Curious Mary.’ Ten-year-old Mary lives on the tiny island of St. Lucia, one of the Caribbean islands. Mary lives in the city with all its modern conveniences that most of us take for granted. However, she just loves visiting her aunt and uncle’s farm in the country where life is simpler, albeit a lot less comfortable – no telephones, electricity, or running water. But Mary doesn’t mind; she enjoys the outdoors, nature, and the many varieties of flowers growing there. She enjoys spending time with Aunt Edna, Uncle Nathan, and her two cousins, Timothy and Aaron. Life on the farm is never boring because there is always something to do. Besides, Mary has a special little friend on the farm. A bunny called Esme, named after Mary’s best friend who had moved away. But Mary learns of a terrible fate in store for Esme on Easter Sunday! What can Mary do to save her best friend from being dinner on that day? Animal lovers will endure some nail biting moments as Mary racks her brains to come up with a plan to save Esme.

I really enjoyed learning about the island, and this is a wonderful way for teachers and parents to get kids interested in the geography, culture, the types of plants and fruits on the island, and a life style that will be quite novel to them. Youngsters will also enjoy reading about someone their own age that lives in another country. The author manages to include such a wealth of interesting details with facts that just slip so naturally into the narrative. The photographs are beautiful and show a positively paradisiacal countryside filled with the most beautiful flowers, as well as images from the village and surroundings. Young readers will also learn about a lifestyle that involves hard work by the family members. Chores on the farm take up a lot of time, but everyone pitches in.

Life on a farm is very different to life in the city, where we go off to the supermarket and more than likely never think of how food is grown or produced. On a farm, animals are generally raised for eating, which Mary learns, to her horror, from her older cousin Timothy. Young readers will enjoy reading about life on a farm. There are good discussion points in the narrative that teachers and parents can use to get young readers thinking. These include the differences between city and country life: how one can survive without gadgets and mod cons and become self sufficient on a farm. So many lovely themes are covered in this enchanting story - going that extra mile for a friend, thinking of solutions to a pressing problem, trusting in people, trusting in God to help one find an answer when there seems to be none, as well as enjoying the simple pleasures that many times we forget about in the hustle and bustle of modern life. Young readers will adore the photos of the farm and the animals, and Esme’s ‘pawtrait’ of herself in a blue ribbon is just adorable.