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My So-Called Life

My So-Called Life
Written by Joanna Nadin
Price: £6.99
Recommended age: 13+

So, for the last time for a few weeks at least, I am delving in to a back catalogue of books from school reading lists, books I love and haven’t read for ages, and – in this case – a book I just plain wanted to read, despite the fact that it has been out for ages.
Not to be confused with the US TV series of the same name (as I did – most mortifying!), Joanna Nadin’s books about Rachel Riley (there are six to date, and Joanna just tweeted me that she is in the planning stages of a new one) offer a fantastic heroine, an Adrian Mole meets Bridget Jones for a new century but funnier, and far ruder. Her boring, middle class life in the backwater that is Saffron Walden (punctuated by visits from her hilarious, Spar-bag wielding grandparents from Cornwall) is just too normal to be borne, and Rachel dreams of lesbian experiences on Brighton beach, and gangsters and ASBOs in London. In the meantime, she misses much of what is going on under her nose: her grandfather is having an affair with his care worker, her best friend’s Mum is a sex therapist who asks her to pass ‘the Rabbit’ onto her Mum for testing, and her other best friend… is he gay, or is there something else going on?

Rachel is a fantastic heroine, and I loved her and felt sorry for her in equal measure; but it is the minor characters that really star in this book, from the outrageous (Thin Kylie and Fat Kylie), the funny (the aforementioned Cornish grandparents and their obsession with Cornish discount outlet Trago Mills were my absolute favourites), and the tragic and aptly named Sad Ed. And don’t even get me started on the dog.
Hugely recommended if you haven’t read this series already; just one word of warning – it is rude, so parents and teachers may like to read a few pages in first to know exactly what is being discussed. But I can’t wait to read the rest!

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Mockingjay

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Mockingjay
Written by Suzanne Collins
Price: £7.99 each
Recommended age: 12+

I don’t usually like to review sequels; after all, if you liked the first book, you will buy the sequel anyway, right? Especially when it’s being advertised everywhere and the film is about to be released. So, in this case, let’s just put it down to a bit of self-interest: I just really, really wanted to read them myself, and it was well worth the day-and-a-half of not speaking to anyone it took me to get through them. I actually enjoyed the second book, Catching Fire, even more than the original if possible. It tells the story of what happened after the Games, and without giving too much away, Katniss finds herself in major trouble with the Capitol as the districts choose to take her action with the berries as a signal for revolution. I loved the twists in this one – it kept me on the edge of my seat all the way through. I started The Mockingjay sometime after midnight, because I just needed to know what happened next – the book offers more heartstopping moments than is healthy at that time of night, and I loved it. It is great, for once, to read some books that live up to the hype. Go read them, quick, before the film comes out!

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Congratulations to Brian Selznick…

…for Hugo‘s triumph at the Oscars last night. Review of his other masterpiece, Wonder Struck, coming soon.

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Written by Suzanne Collins
Price: £7.99
Recommended age: 12+

As visions of the future go, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games makes the prospect of worldwide recession look positively cheery. Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, the poorest of those controlled by The Capitol, and has to hunt for food to feed herself and her family after the death of her father in the mines. Yet starvation would be almost preferable when faced with the annual TV extravaganza that is the Hunger Games, in which 24 children are forced to fight for their lives – with only one winner. When Katniss’ little sister is chosen and Katniss volunteers as tribute in her stead, she has little idea that her worst enemy in the arena will be friendship. A tense, frightening, amazing story, The Hunger Games had me reading until the early hours of the morning. It does deal with difficult subjects and some (especially parents) may find the prospect of children being forced to kill each other particularly harrowing, but Collins writes with a skill and dexterity of touch that leaves the blame firmly with the adults, and even allows a love story to develop. Right, I’m off to buy the sequel.

The film is out in cinemas 23rd March 2012

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