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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A Daughter, A Wedding, A Murder, A Quest

With what feels like late summer sunshine streaming in through the window as I type, I am in slight denial that this next batch will take us through to the beginnings of Spring 2016:

Eudora Welty (the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for The Optimist's Daughter. Set in Mississippi, Judge McKelva is a quiet, solid reassuring figure who, ten years after his first wife's death, marries the frivolous young Wanda Fay to the shock and disbelief of his daughter, Laurel.
(October 29th)
Published in 1962, Cassandra at the Wedding examines identity and inheritance through the eyes of twins, one of whom is attending (and possibly sabotaging) the other's wedding.
(November 26th)

Starting 2016 with a meaty read in translation from Spanish, The Infatuations is a murder mystery of sorts addressing questions of life, death, love and morality.
(January 28th)

"It is three weeks since the boy came to town, carrying a book of poetry to return to the old sea captain..." - longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014, The Sorrow of Angels is a quest novel set in 19th-century Iceland.
(February 25th)

A reminder that places are open but limited and it is essential that you let us know in advance if you would like to join in the discussion (7:30pm start time). Email us at hello@ravenbooks .ie

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Friday, 25 September 2015

Perfect Parents

For the boys bookclub (10-11yr olds), today we discussed David Baddiel's first foray into kids lit, The Parent Agency. After chatting about it, I asked them to think about what would be the Top Ten Traits they would look for if they were able to choose Perfect Parents, and also what were the things they liked most about the parents they actually have. Many imaginative answers ("has an octopus head"), some pragmatic ("feeds me"), a few that made my heart swell ("my ma watches Strictly [Come Dancing] with me"). Here's a selection (click on each image to see a readable size):

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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Camus, Art, Cold-blooded Murder

A very diverse selection for Raven Readers to take us through the summer and into autumn:

Shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt, winner of the Goncourt du Premier Roman, the Prix des Cinq Continents, and the Prix François Mauriac, The Meursault Investigation is certainly not short on accolades. The novel is an attempt to do justice to ‘the Arab’ killed by the infamous Meursault, the antihero of Camus’s classic novel, L'Étranger. As we've five weeks, readers may wish to (re)acquaint themselves with the original story too.
(July 30th)
A short book for a short month, the synopsis of Asunder is intriguing - our protagonist is a museum guard in the National Gallery, London - and has been recommended by @STomaselli.
(August 20th)

"a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery and cold-blooded murder" - those of us who read and loved Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers are eagerly anticipating his new offering, possibly with unfairly high expectations.
(September 24th)

A reminder that places are open but limited and it is essential that you let us know in advance if you would like to join in the discussion (7:30pm start time). Email us at hello@ravenbooks .ie

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Thursday, 16 April 2015

Dear James Patterson

Dear James Patterson

thank you for allowing us to dream. Yes, you have given us cold, hard cash - very, very generously so - but more than that you have encouraged us to shake off the inhibiting "if only we could afford...." and nudged us to explore concrete possibilities for enhancing children's lives through books. For the single project we eventually decided upon, there were a half dozen others that had us energized with the potential they held. Though on the back burner for now, some of those ideas may yet find their way to becoming a reality.

On May 1st, we will celebrate our 7th birthday. Children just born when we flung wide our door for business are now on their way to becoming solidly independent readers and discovering for themselves the magic hidden between two covers. We firmly believe that teaching a child to read opens up the world, and teaching that child to love reading reveals to them a myriad of galaxies awaiting exploration. Books empower children and young adults to better understand themselves and those around them, to figure out their place in the grand scheme of things (for many of us, an on-going quest), to find respite, adventure, answers. Being even a small part of that process is a joy and a privilege that I hope I never take for granted. As I hope you never will; what you are doing with Independent Bookshops, with schools and libraries, is philanthropy at its finest and for that, sir, I say go raibh míle, míle maith agat.

Louisa & the Raven Crew


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Elena, Elif & Edith

A new selection of Raven Readers books to take us through to midsummer:

Elena Ferrante first appeared on my radar last August during Women In Translation month when she was by far the most read & reviewed author. In the last few weeks there has been a groundswell of interest with pieces on her in the papers and on the radio so it seems the perfect time to move her to the top of my To Read stack. (April 30th)
The most recent novel from Elif Shafak, one of the most widely read Turkish authors, The Architect's Apprentice is "filled with all the colour of the Ottoman Empire, when Istanbul was the teeming centre of civilisation". (May 28th)

Edith Pearlman won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Binocular Vision in 2011 and I've been meaning to read these stories ever since. I love that she didn't publish her debut collection until she was 60. (June 25th)

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Saturday, 21 March 2015

Girls Prefer To Be Skinny, or, Why I Do Junior Bookclubs

The Maze Runner is a Young Adult novel which opens with around 60 teenage boys living in a fabricated Utopia-prison surround by a Maze they believe holds the key to their release. I met with a dozen 11-12yr old girls to examine the book and what follows is a small portion of a lively, engaged discussion which included authorial treatment of race, misogyny, narrative devices, tribes, inverted portals, and the minds of teenage boys.

How do you think the book would have been different if the gender was reversed and there were 60 teenage girls in The Glade?

It wouldn't have worked at all, girls wouldn't have been able to live like that, they're not strong for all the hard work.
And when a group of girls get together.... it can be a bit nasty, they wouldn't work as well together as the boys.
They wouldn't be able to what the boys did like sowing seeds and hoeing and weeding and slaughtering animals.
Yeah, they're more interested in make-up.

This is a life-or-death situation, do you think they'd care how they looked?

Well OK but girls prefer to be skinny rather than muscular.

[stunned pause]
Right. OK. Let's see how many females - fictional or real - you can name who have shown strength and courage.

Hermione Granger! Mrs Weasley! Professor McGonagall!

Good, how about beyond Harry Potter?

Katniss! Cassia! [plus a few others I didn't recognise and sadly can't remember]

Great, how about in real life? Any female sports heroes?


Yes! Anyone else in real life?

Countess Markievicz. Mary Robinson. Grace Gifford Plunkett.
Emma Watson! Malala!

Excellent! So, if you put all of those women in The Glade, would they have managed it?

Of course! Plus they would have solved it quicker.
Yeah, no way they would have spent two years running around a stupid maze.

Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver - Countess Markievicz

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Friday, 5 December 2014

The Snow Merchant

This is why I love Twitter: a few Fridays ago I tweeted that my #FridayReads was Sam Gayton's The Snow Merchant which I was thoroughly enjoying and anticipated choosing for our boys bookclub. Entirely of his own volition, the lovely Mr Gayton responded that he would happily do a Twitter chat with the bookclub when we next met. That meeting was today!
First, I had the boys think about and write down the questions they wanted to ask about the book and the author's writing/reading habits. Then, with a slightly rocky start as frankly ten hyper youngsters crowding around does slightly impede ones ability to focus on tweeting, the conversation began. I only wish I could include all of the reactions of the boys to Sam's responses. (I've ordered the sequence below to make for easier reading)

RB: @sam_gayton Hi Sam! Are you ready to go? Lots of enthusiastic boys here!

SG: @ravenbooks READY, STEADY, TWEET

RB: @sam_gayton Q1 (ready or not!): Why did you write The Snow Merchant?

SG: @ravenbooks A: World Domination

RB: @sam_gayton Great answer! Lots of giggles :)

RB: @sam_gayton A comment: I don't think you should be tweeting an evil mastermind, it might be inappropriate!

SG: @ravenbooks but... but... won't you guys be my minions? I plan to take over the world in the next few years

SG: @ravenbooks Also, seriously, I was working late one wintry night and looked out my window and saw all this snow on my windowsill. I got that

SG: @ravenbooks crackly magic feeling you get when you look out at snow falling. And I looked at my windowsill and I thought, 'Who put that snow

SG: @ravenbooks there?' (It was late, I'd had lots of coffee, I wasn't thinking straight). And at once I thought of this Jack Frost type guy,the

SG: @ravenbooks Snow Merchant, who brings snow to all the towns of the world, and I had the start to my story

RB: @sam_gayton Excellent. #thepowerofhobnobs

SG: @ravenbooks Oh yes indeed. I'd had a whole packet. The ones with the chocolate top!

RB: @sam_gayton Q2: How did you come up with the name Lettie Peppercorn?

SG: @ravenbooks my friend @lotteallan moved to Finland (snowy place) while I was writing it, so Lotte sort of inspired Lettie.

SG: @ravenbooks and a Peppercorn rent is sort of something people pay as a token amount of money for somewhere

RB: @sam_gayton Q3: Is the published ending how you first wrote it?

SG: @ravenbooks yeah it is! I wrote that first time and changed barely anything. It was the middle where things got really crazily rewritten

RB: @sam_gayton Q4: Were the characters influenced by real people?

SG: @ravenbooks YES My Uncle's name is Pat McNulty (he doesn't have a beard though)

SG: @ravenbooks and I have two Nans... wonder if you can figure out who they are based on...

RB: @sam_gayton Q5: Who is your favourite author (other than yourself!)?

SG: @ravenbooks an American guy called Cormac McCarthy. He's a genius. Very dark and terrifying. Also, I like Ursula K le Guin, Terry Pratchett,

SG: @ravenbooks MT Anderson, Shaun Tan, Stephen King... I've said too many, haven't I? You said just one. Sorrrrrrrrry

RB: @sam_gayton Q6: What is your favourite book, and what was it when you were 9/10?

SG: @ravenbooks I think it was... Hmm... Either REDWALL by Brian Jacques, or THE IRON MAN by Ted Hughes, or beautiful stories of RAY BRADBURY

RB: @sam_gayton Ray Bradbury is new to them, some have read The Iron Man, and one has read a comic version of Redwall

SG: @ravenbooks Ray Bradbury is magic. MAGIC. His stories are like ghosts. They get inside your skull and haunt you for years

SG: @ravenbooks Try 'The Day It Rained Forever' or 'The Martian Chronicles' or 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'

RB: @sam_gayton Q7: What would you be if you weren't an author?

SG: @ravenbooks taxi driver

SG: @ravenbooks rock star

SG: @ravenbooks stage-fight choreographer

SG: @ravenbooks zombie apocalypse survivalist expert

RB: @sam_gayton "Zombie apocalypse??! That's not gonna happen!"

SG: @ravenbooks that's what the zombies want you to think

RB: @sam_gayton Q8: What is the greatest adventure you've ever been on?

SG: @ravenbooks I went to LARPS once. It's where you dress up as an elf and get a foam sword and run around a forest pretending you're in Mordor

RB: @sam_gayton "Can you hit someone?"

SG: @ravenbooks yeah but the swords are rubber. I got carried away though cos there was a special move where you yelled out CLEAVING BLOWWW and

SG: @ravenbooks then bring the sword down over your head and stun the enemy and I did it too hard and really hurt a goblin and we had to stop

SG: @ravenbooks it was very embarrassing all the orcs were shaking their heads at me

RB: @sam_gayton Q9: Who is your favourite character in The Snow Merchant and why?

SG: @ravenbooks I like Teresa the best and in fact I have just written another story about her, and how she turns a nasty Prince into a kitten

SG: @ravenbooks she's the best because she's strong and sure of herself and makes big choices that make crazy things happen in the story

RB: @sam_gayton Q10: Have you ever been to Dublin? Have you any plans to visit?

SG: @ravenbooks never been, no. I would love to visit. Can I sleep on the floor of Raven Books?

RB: @sam_gayton "we'll use fictional books for his pillow" (that's a yes!)

RB: @sam_gayton Q11: Do you prefer reading fictional or factional books?


RB: @sam_gayton Q12: How long did it take you to write the book from first line to publication?

SG: @ravenbooks ~2 years in all. But I did have breaks in that time. It wasn't all just typing and hob nob eating

SG: @ravenbooks now can I ask you some questions?

RB: @sam_gayton okey-dokey!

SG: @ravenbooks Q1. Where do you think Noah ends up? Q2. If you were an alchemist, what would you turn your teacher/parents into? Q3. Ant or Dec

RB: @sam_gayton A1: In the ocean, with his gran

SG: @ravenbooks aww tragic

RB: @sam_gayton A2: A muffin, a goblin that runs into walls, a stick of dynamite, a dinosaur, someone that turns everything into sweets

RB: @sam_gayton A3: Dec. (most too young to know, bless)

RB: @sam_gayton Huge huge thanks from the boys

SG: @ravenbooks awesome, thanks it was great :-)

We're so grateful to Sam for generously sharing his time with us and heartily endorse The Snow Merchant as a lively, fantastical, adventure-laden read.

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