On the Bookshelf—Joy Court reviews

On the Bookshelf

River Boy by Tim Bowler

In perfect tune with our Author Focus we feature on the Bookshelf a stunning new edition of the Carnegie Medal winning novel by Tim Bowler.

River Boy also has a heroine, Jess, seemingly more at home in the water. She is another powerful swimmer and there is a mystery inextricably linked to the river to unravel. Awarded the Carnegie Medal in 1997, the judges said ‘River Boy has all the hallmarks of a classic… You are not the same person at the end of this book.’

Having re-read with enormous pleasure I can vouch for the fact that the story is as fresh, relevant and moving as ever. A river is the perfect motif for the journey between life and death. Jess’s beloved grandfather is at the very end of his life, but this passionate and very cantankerous artist cannot rest until his final picture is completed. Before his collapse, the family, at his bidding, are returning to his childhood home for a holiday in a remote cottage beside the river. This is the setting for the painting already named River Boy. No boy can be found in the image as yet, but Jess begins to see him and feel his presence all around her. Gradually Jess and the reader come to understand the links between the mystery boy and her grandfather’s life. With her help in the completion of the painting, and the marathon swim down river to the sea, Jess brings her grandfather peace and ultimate release.

This beautiful study of grief and creativity, with wonderfully nuanced family relationships, is a truly compelling read that packs a powerful punch in such a relatively short novel. With the stunning new cover by Tom Clohosy Cole, this is a must have replacement for your library.

The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Feet by Martin Howard

The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and illustrated by the wonderful Chris Mould could not be more different! But no two readers are the same, and even the same reader has different moods. There are definitely days to be brightened by the anarchic, irrepressible humour to be found in these pages.

When we meet, alongside Alfie on his quest for enough money to buy his beloved Mum a very specific birthday present (a Sole Sensation 6000 Foot Spa) is Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont. So we know we are in for a pun-filled treat! The Professor is the sole remaining member of the Unusual Cartography Club. The mini Stonehenge in his basement is a time and space travelling machine and his task is to update the Cosmic Atlas with details of new worlds. So far so good, until Alfie inadvertently collapses the structure and together with Betty the moped they are trapped on Outlandish. There they meet Derek ( a fearsome warrior who just happens to be a girl), Sir Brenda (top knight on the planet who also happens to be female) and a glamorous elf  appropriately called Hoodwink. Together they have to defeat the dragon to find the henge beneath the horde and get back in time for the birthday.

Stupendously silly with more than a hint of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (as Alfie pens updates to the Atlas and plans a future travel agency) – this is a real treat to attract readers.

The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis

Any new book from the acclaimed Gill Lewis is a real treat and her new novel The Closest Thing to Flying is no exception. It is, however, something of a departure from what she is best known for. As The Telegraph describes, she is ‘the principal contemporary writer of animal stories, combining a vet’s knowledge of her subject with a novelist’s capacity for character and plot’. But with her novel A Story Like the Wind, Gill showed that she is equally impassioned by the plight of refugees and now we see that she has strong feminist roots too.

This impressive new novel cleverly interweaves the stories of two young women living a century apart, both linked by their determination to find freedom. Freedom not just from persecution and oppression, but freedom of expression too. Semira travelled with her mother from war torn Eritrea, but they are living a life in the violent shadows of a so-called ‘Uncle’ claiming to protect them. In 1891, Hen is stifled by her mother and by a society which has no place for women. But Hen’s Aunt Kitty opens her eyes to a world where women campaign for suffrage and animal rights and bicycles quite literally give their rebellion wings. Semira finding and reading Hen’s journal with her mother gives them the courage to break free and bicycles open the door to freedom for her too, as well as being the link to her beloved father.

Animal fans will not find themselves disappointed either since we learn about the fascinating female-led origins of the RSPB and the shocking and barbaric trade in feathers during the Victorian period. This is a powerful plea for freedom and human rights and an engaging and emotive read.

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