Becoming a better reader

I am naturally a galloping reader.  I rattle through books at top speed, eager to know what happens next, then (if the book is good) I’m gutted when I get to the last page.  I feel like I’ve lost a great friend.  

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this approach – it’s an indicator of how much I’m enjoying the book in question and the fact that it’s a good page-turner.  But I sometimes think some of my appreciation of the book is lost in the speed at which I devour the words.  

Since I’ve started writing the way I read has definately changed.  Before I read mainly for enjoyment (I’m talking about novels here) but now I also read to learn.  I think about the author’s style, genre, characters, language and anything else I can absorb along the way.  I still read quickly but I think I appreciate and reflect more as I go along and it means that not only do I know whether I’ve enjoyed the novel, I also have a clearer understanding why.

I’ve just finished The Fearless by Emma Pass which I enjoyed a lot.  A great adventure, which I gobbled up at the usual speed.  But I stopped and reflected several times along the way so when I read the final page I knew exactly why I enjoyed it: sound plot, straightforward language, strong characters, each with their own clear voice (the chapters are written in the first person from the point of view of one of the three main characters which is very effective) and vivid settings (I was in no doubt where the story was without any unnecessary long descriptions). 

I think my point is that I enjoy books more now that I’m becoming a better reader!  I would love to know what your reading style is and whether you are a galloper or a reflector when it comes to reading…..

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Book Review: Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

So I’ve been off-radar for a couple of months….I”m going to blame that on the very early arrival of sprog #3 (all fine just little!) which kind of scuppered all attempts at writing and well, using my brain at all for the past 9 weeks.  It has also meant my reading has ground to a halt (sleep wins) but in the midst of it all a friend bought me this book to escape into while I was in hospital and I couldn’t put it down.

Noughts & Crosses is the story of Sephy and Callum.  It’s a love story – a dystopian Romeo and Juliet, set in a time where the superior black Crosses control society and lord over the inferior white Noughts.  Sephy is a Cross, Callum a Nought and the two don’t mix.

I’m not going to risk any spoilers by saying much about the story but I have to tell you what captivated me about this book.  The writing is lovely; sharp and real.  The characters though are what did it for me.  They jump out of the page and you can’t let them out of your sight until their story is finished.  The book deals head on with the issue of racism in a brave way and some of the scenes are very vivid.  In particular there is a scene where white Noughts are allowed to attend a school with black Crosses which comes to life in such a powerful way – it stayed with me long after I finished the book.

In the note at the beginning of the book, the author says; ‘Noughts & Crosses was quite simply a book I had to write, a story I had to tell.’ which sums it up really.  This is a wonderful book.  Really encourage you to pick it up if you haven’t already.  It’s a keeper.

Book Review: Half Wild by Sally Green

When this book arrived it felt like a real treat – I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since I finished its predecessor, Half Bad.  It’s the second in the Half Bad trilogy, which tells the story of Nathan Byrn – a half white, half black witch living in a world where (putting it mildly) the two do not get along.

In order to talk about Half Wild I need to say what Ioved about Half Bad (apologies if this turns into a review of both!).  I listened to an interview with Sally Green on Women’s Hour last year and felt drawn into the story as she spoke about it.  There are of course plenty of stories out there about witches and wizards and all things magical but this one sounded different.  And intriguing.  A genre I love, written by a former professional (in her case accountant, in my case lawyer).  I must read this book, thought I!

Half Bad is all about Nathan himself, how he becomes a fully fledged witch and deals with some pretty horrendous things along the way.  I think that it is so tempting, especially in this genre to throw your main character straight into the acton, not giving them a chance to process what is happening to and around them.  After all we are eager to get into the adventure as quickly as possible!  But Half Bad does both adventure and character so effectively.  Sally takes us straight into the action and intrigue (I was hooked instantly) but this is unmistakably Nathan’s journey and his way through it is wonderful to read.

Nathan is a great character, developed further throughout Half Wild; again an engaging balance between action and character.  I enjoyed the other characters too: Mercury, Celia, Van, Gabriel, Annalise and Marcus to name a few – not typically all good or all bad but instead all wonderfully flawed and rounded.  Even the ‘baddies’ have elements which you want to like about them and nothing is black or white (in the usual not the witch sense!) – this theme is clear through both books.

I’m not going to give away much about the plot of Half Wild but Nathan’s story continues – he discovers his powerful Gift, given to him by his father, Marcus (a powerful Black Witch with dubious violent tendencies) and he learns how to use and live with it.  He is determined to rescue the girl he is in love with and his relationships with the other key characters develop and deepen.  And the story of the increasingly dangerous conflict between White Witches and Black Witches continues.

Sally’s writing style is punchy and distinctive and suits the story and the voice of Nathan so well.  I liked the use of the second person point of view at the beginning of Half Bad, which returns briefly at the very end of Half Wild, setting it up beautifully for the story’s conclusion in book three, which is due to be out in March next year.  So you have plenty of time to read the first two before then!

PS I know you shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but these two are brilliant, as are the blurbs on the back 🙂

PPS There’s a great interview with the author here: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/mar/27/sally-green-interview-waterstones-half-bad-wild