My favourite for World Book Day

This blog usually covers the new things I read, my library picks and theatre I go to see. But on World Book Day I want to tell you about my favourite books, Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series.Lioness Rampart Shield

“Why do boys say someone acts like a girl as if it were an insult?”

Since being a teenage I have loved fantasy novels, starting as we all did, with Harry Potter. But it was Pierce’s Alanna that changed my world. It didn’t pretend to happen in the real world, but set aside its own world, where magic could be real. And even better than that, here was a girl who wanted to choose her own path, and is prepared to break rules to get there.

There was even just enough light romance for a middle-teenager.

“Lord Raoul asked me to tell you that if you get yourself killed, he will never speak to you again.”

Then there were the Protector of the Small books, better again as Kel is the determined working one. Taking on the same world, but as herself, not disguised as a boy. She takes on bullies, struggles to make friends and to learn how to survive on her own terms.

This is the best series I own, and well into adulthood I am still rereading regularly. Reading again with Mark Reads was one of my most fun online time.

The Zoo Father – Pascale Petit

This is a collection of poems about an abusive relationship between father and daughter as the father is dying. There is vivid imagery of the Amazon rainforest and a thread of healing through the rainforest.

I’m never quite sure how to read poetry, read some of these aloud, which definitely helped with the “rhythm” of the poems, although I feel a bit foolish reading aloud on my own (and didn’t want to read poems this violent with my son in the room).

The Lollipop Shoes – Joanne Harris

Having reread Chocolat, the next book I picked up had to be The Lollipop Shoes, which returns to Vianne and her daughters four years later. They still have a chocolate shop now in Montmartre, but are hiding from themselves and their past in search of permanence and stability. The chocolate shop is not a success, the chocolates are made elsewhere and Anouk is moving away from her mother.

Against this, Zozie turns up in her lollipop shoes and bright character. Another witch, she offers friendship to the family, and helps make the shop something like that in Chocolat. Another tale of unwinding secrets, only this time the secrets belong to Vianne and Anouk more than the shop’s customers.

This is a more substancial book than Chocolat, with the magic being a more key part of the narrative rather than something to help smooth things along. This is mostly Zozie who has no problem with using her talents in spite of repercussions and offers an interesting contrast to Vianne, emphasised by the three-narrator structure of the book, with the two adult women and Anouk all given voices.

Chocolat – Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris – Chocolat

This is the book which made Harris famous: a tale of chocolate and magic set in rural France in the late twentieth century.

Vianne has blown into the village of Lansquenet on a Mardi Gras parade and decided that this is a good place to try and fight the urge to wander that comes with the changing wind and appearance of the “black man” in the tarot cards. As the book unfolds we learn her secrets, and what she is afraid of. This is set against a backdrop of wider change within the village as the shop acts as a catalyst to enable change within the families resident there, and the history of the village itself and how this is tied to the priest’s own past.

Chocolat is the best book possible to read over the Easter weekend (unless you were hoping for your eggs to last past Easter Monday), looking at the self-denial of lent and the extravagance of the Easter festival itself, and how the church relates to this.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa – Nicholas Drayson

Mr Malik is a gentleman, living in Nairobi and attending the local Tuesday morning bird walk where he has secretly fallen in love with the leader Rose Mbikwa. Having constructed a plan to win her heart, he is thwarted by an old school rival who is everything Malik is not: a salesman and womaniser who joins the bird walk to flirt with the leader.

As gentlemen and members of the Asadi Club it is agreed that to prevent upset for the lady by being approached by both men, whoever wins a challenge to see the most birds possible in a week will have the first opportunity to approach her, and that the loser will stand aside until after this has happened. This is a rather sexist premise for a book, but if this can be overlooked it is a fun light read.

What follows is an adventure through Kenya, with the honourable Malik having many hurdles placed in his way whilst his rival enjoys the chance to bird-watch on the best of Kenya’s nature reserves. There is also a chance to discuss corruption in Kenyan politics and what is truly important to people as well as charming illustrations of birds between the chapters.