Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Over the holidays, I read (or began) a large number of books. Some had been just sitting around and others I had just bought. My highlight, though? It would have to be Neverwhere by that incredibly creative Neil Gaiman.

How does he do it? What American Gods did for the American psyche and culture, Neverwhere does for England. It is set in London Below, a kind of alternate reality into which the hero, Richard, is transported against his will, initially, but as he tries to deal with various quests and characters, he comes to appreciate that it is in fact, a better London than the one he left behind. The novel is far too complex to describe. It has some of the best descriptive passages I have ever read, especially of characters, and though the author intrudes a little into the text, it is never a problem.

The book makes an interesting comparison with Un Lun Dun, by China MiĆ©ville (2007), also set in “another” London though Gaiman’s is far more adult in tone.

If you love reading, can handle fantasy which is dark, you simply have to read this book. Enough said.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld

It really has been a steampunk holiday! Leviathan was the most recent steampunk title I devoured and it was another cracker. If you want to read more about it, try here, at the author’s own site, but it basically takes an alternate view of the beginnings of World War 1. The main difference here is that the British alliance are Darwinists, who managed to uncover the mysteries of “life threads” (DNA) and have been able to manipulate it to create living machines. The Leviathan of the title is a whale-based airship, compete with hydrogen-sniffing dogs and messenger lizards. Opposing them are the Machinists (or Clankers), basically the Germans and their allies. They have placed their faith in large machines, akin to the walkers and machines from Star Wars.

It is a fascinating world and one which will continue in the rest of the series, we presume, as we follow young Alek and Deryn, a young boy and girl from opposing camps, who meet on the Leviathan and we presume will develop some form of relationship there.

The book is illustrated throughout by beautiful pencil and charcoal drawings. These certainly add to the book and give us a real insight into the book’s world. I am certainly looking forward to the next installment.

I Put a Smell On You

Not too many things can upset me but here is one, though it is kind of funny. We had a pile of textbooks delivered on Monday while we were away, having a long weekend. Upon our return on Wednesday, we all noticed a funny smell. Just the new books, we thought. Must be the cardboard or the packing.

Thursday, the cleaner greeted me at the door with the news that there was a dead possum up there, which had been removed already but there would be some other issues. She had already been sick, there were maggots dripping from the ceiling tiles onto the floor, and we still had two days of textbook distribution to go…Off to the undertakers for some smelly stuff, which they apparently use when they discover a corpse in a house. And Glen-20, Mortein, other air fresheners…

The smell is still there and last night I was sure it was still on me. How can that be?! I can’t wait till Monday, after a weekend of heat and humidity in a closed up building. Love the job!

Goodbye and Good Luck, Mr Venz

There have been many changes to our little library over the past couple of years. Not only the library, the school in general is constantly changing. I guess we are only small fry at the moment but bigger things are on the horizon. Anyway, one of these changes has been the gradual “winding down” of the school’s Teacher-Librarian for the past couple of decades (or more), Mr Venz. 2008 saw him drop back to four days a week; 2009 was three days a week; and 2010 is … nothing.

He has left the building.

It is a rather melancholy situation. How much changes do you think you would notice in a lifetime of work? Especially with most of it in the one place. As I attempt to step up and fill those shoes, i am reminded (by myself) of how much knowledge people have stored away. It is not just where things are. It is how things are done, when they happen, why it was done this way in the first place and so on. I can be guilty at times of rushing into things, creating a frenzy of activity as the mood strikes me, and it has been handy to have a calming presence around to make me step back every now and then!

Mr Venz handed his keys in this afternoon but promises to be back once the fabled air-conditioning is turned on! That will be poignant!

Victory, by Greg Broadmore

Want a funny book to read? (Well, funny in a twisted Boys’ Own way?) Look no further, comrades! This is the business, but like all things funny, you need to pick up the references otherwise the jokes may not work as well. What am I on about?

This is a graphic novel which is a mixture of classic SF from the ’50s, steampunk, Biggles, Hornblower and Ripping Yarns. How does it work? Brilliantly. It is billed as “Scientific Adventure Violence For Young Men & Literate Women”. Vol. 127, if you please. The world is populated not just by humans but also by Venusians, Martians, moon creatures, bug-eyed monsters and more. Lord Cockswain travels around the various planets and such, easily blasting the disgusting aliens with his rayguns and other weaponry. Screen shot 2010-01-14 at 1.49.30 PM Every few pages, there is a brief comic strip-style story, interspersed with dialogue along the lines of “You bounder” and “I taught the first moon man that I encountered a little Earth culture in the form of some Marquess de Queensberry” (which accompanies a lovely frame of Cockswain punching the alien in the face!). These are classic tales from times when boys wanted to be men, join the armed forces and serve their country, fighting nasty beasties with wither sharp blades or devices which make loud noises and explode.

Other bonuses include posters urging men to join up and “Stride to Victory, good man”, a bestiary with illustrations of the wildlife of Venus (one of which as an anatomy as if “someone got blind drunk and sewed a big bag of genitals together while getting punched in the face”!), adverts for ray guns, articles on tanks (“grinding ever forward like a massive grindy thing that likes going forward”!) and robots, and more. All illustrated by Broadmore with a rich palette of browns, reds, greens and yellows. The copy I bought has very thick card-like pages in its hardback cover; I just hope it lasts the distance as I will certainly be putting into more than a few peoples’ hands.

Author website has a lot of other info on his works, role in New Zealand’s Weta Workshop and more.

I shall leave you with the text from the last frame of one of the stories…Pure genius…

Another tremondous success! My guide had disappeared into the wild like an enigmatic blue badger and I never did see him again. Suitably mysterious. However, I was home in time for buttered scones, so that was nice.”

How could you not love it!

Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater

I had heard some brief snippets about this book before Christmas and have only just now finished it. I have a feeling that it will be as big as Twilight was, it has a lot of similarities. Vulnerable but curious female character, damaged but worthwhile male character, a touch of the supernatural, a large chunk of doomed romance…how can it fail?

Anyone who reads the inner jacket will quickly figure it out but be prepared for a small spoiler alert! Six years ago, Grace was bitten by wolves and rescued by Sam. Sam is a werewolf but managed to regain a human form long enough to save her and since then, she has been entranced by the wolves which continue to hang around her house in the woods. Is one of them her wolf? Well, yes, as it turns out. The bulk of the book deals with their relationship and is filled with the stuff that made Twilight so popular with some readers. Talk of how his smell affects her, how his eyes affect her, how she loves watching him…get the picture? Will he stay human? Can he fight the urges which come with winter to become wolf? How will all of Grace’s friends deal with the new boyfriend? How can she hide him from her parents?

The story is told by both Sam and Grace and chapters alternate regularly. Both are strong characters and the author has an honest style of writing. The sense of first love is very real and will certainly ring a bell with many teenagers. Sam has a tendency to compose lyrics in his head and these fit in nicely. I can see the soundtrack now! It may be coincidental but the setting is Minnesota, a very cold part of America (I imagine!), and has a similar flavour to the setting in Twilight. The characters drive to school in pickups, run from their cars to their front doors, crank the heating up, traipse through the dark woods, leave footprints in the snow and so on. The temperature is noted at the beginning of each chapter and is a vital clue to the narrative. As the temperature drops, the risk of Sam becoming a wolf rise so it is a constant battle against the elements in more ways than one.

I think that the book will be very popular and I will probably buy another copy for our shelves. It is not the kind of thing I normally read but makes a nice break from the usual holiday pile!

The author’s website has a lot of info about the book, including a book trailer which she made herself.

Display Cabinets

There is a lot planned for our school in 2010. Building work, refurbishments, renovations, new projects…Some of this will involve adjustments to how we do things. Sometimes, though, there are other benefits.

IMG_7097a These display cabinets were originally in the Science Block which is due for a major refit. They were going to be put into storage and who knows where they might have ended up? I thought they might look a it better in my library but there are some snags. They have locks but nobody has keys! So I have removed one of the locks and will look into getting a key built for it. The cabinets have been in the school for a long time, probably since the building was originally built, but have been unused.

I am keen on putting student work in them so I will see how that works out.