About Me

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Stockport, United Kingdom
Angela Cater is a writer, illustrator and self-publisher. Her books are published by Tabby Cat Press. She is the writer/illustrator of "The Adventures of Sailor Sam" and "A Perfect Nest for Mrs Mallard."

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: Review

 It was inevitable that a novel featuring my three favourite historic figures (Diego Riveira, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky) should find its way into my supermarket basket. How glad I am that it did!

The Lacuna is a well-researched and beautifully written epic novel that captured my imagination and held my attention from its early pages. It combines modern and ancient Mexican history with modern US history and an anti-war message. It tells the life of Harrison Shepherd, an American boy growing up in Mexico, and later of his career and exile in the USA. His story is interwoven with that of famous artists Riveira and Kahlo, and the Bolshevik leader, Trotsky.

Chancing to meet Frida Kahlo in the market place one day, he offers to carry her basket, and not discouraged by her rather scornful reply, he follows her home – the start of a complicated life-long friendship and his first job in the Riveira/Kahlo home.

Shepherd makes himself indispensible as a mixer of the best plaster, a fine cook and a secretary. When the household takes in exiled Russian leader, Leon Trotsky, Shepherd becomes his main scribe and translator. His diaries give colourful descriptions of the vibrant personalities he lived amongst and of a life under constant threat of attack.

After Shepherd’s death, he makes his way to small-town American and establishes a new life as an author. He leads a reclusive life and tries as much as possible to be unnoticed, but his novels are overnight successes and draw a lot of attention from women (in which Shepherd) is not remotely interested) and from the media.

As McCarthy’s witch-hunt against Communism draws momentum, Shepherd comes under suspicion by his former association with Riveira, Kahlo and Trotsky and is drawn into an ugly legal battle.

Will he clear his name? You will just have to read this fascinating and entertaining story to find out.  Highly recommended.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Fearsome Beastie by Giles Paley-Phillips

It's always exciting to receive a new picture book to review and "The Fearsome Beastie" was quite a treat. It cast me back to childhood when we were threatened with the bogeyman if we didn't behave.

The Fearsome Beastie is quite a threat as he eats children (there's seven live next door to me that he's quite welcome to!) The story is told in simple rhyme that is fun to read out loud and easy for children to memorise, and the dark humour appeals to adults too.

The children try to hide from the Fearsome Beastie but he is sly and cunning at hunting them down. By pretending to be lonely and just wanting to play, he gets a meal - an important lesson in not talking to strangers.

In the end, in a scene that is reminiscent of Red Riding Hood, Granny saves the day by chopping the Beastie in two so that the children can escape.

The story is superbly illustrated by Gabriel Antonini, in a style that reminded me of another famous beastie, 'the Gruffalo'. The beastie is scary, but not so scary that children would be too frightened to look at the book. The expressions of fear on the children's faces is well-captured and Granny is a great character with her big bloomers.

All in all, an entertaining, well-written and beautifully illustrated book that deserves to be a bed-time favourite.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Out of the Shadows by Jason Wallace (Carnegie finalist)

This book generated the best discussion so far, which surprised me as I really hadn’t been sure at all what the girls’ reaction to it would be. The school staff, whilst not disliking it as such, had found it quite a bleak read with nothing positive happening in it to draw you out of the misery.

This novel is set in Zimbabwean boarding school for boys, in the early years of the Mugabe government after a long, bitter struggle for black independence. Long held school traditions are being overturned by the admission of a few black teachers and students and this breeds resentment amongst many of the pupils.

New pupil, Robert Jacklin, freshly arrived from England, initially makes friends with a young black boy, the first pupil he meets there. But in the end, he turns his back on his friend in an attempt to avoid the vicious bullying of Ivan, and he is drawn into his gang’s violent and racist games.

The girls felt that they could empathise with Robert’s predicament and inner turmoil and felt greatly sorry for him as his home life was a mess too. Although they did not understand a lot of the history and political references, they felt that this did not detract from their enjoyment of the book. This scored the highest so far amongst the group.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin (Carnegie finalist)

Our second book, “Prisoner of the Inquisition” by Teresa Breslin was a historical novel set in the era of the Spanish Inquisition and the exploratory voyages of Christopher Colombus. It is fast paced and begins with a harrowing scene of a woman being burnt at the stake for treason.

The story has two main characters – Zarita who is the spoilt daughter of the rich town’s magistrate. Saulo is the son of a peasant who is hanged by that magistrate and he seeks revenge on the family.

The majority of the girls in my group loved the book. Its simple language explained the history behind the Inquisition in a way that was easy to understand and inspired them to get on Wikipedia and find out more about it, and the instruments of torture used! In particular, they enjoyed the swashbuckling chapters of the sea voyage and the battle with pirates. At the same time the romance between Saulo and Zarita satisfied those who had been yearning for the Carnegie to present a Mills & Boons type of offering. They also recognised the moral that runs throughout that even your smallest action can set of a chain of reaction that has huge and devastating consequences for those around you.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Death Defying Pepper Roux - Geraldine McCaughrean (Carnegie finalist)

Shadowing the Carnegie Medal is without doubt my favourite time of the school year as it affords me the opportunity to read books that I normally wouldn’t pick up. I have discovered some great authors this way. This year, I have a Year 9 group from the independent girls’ school where I work. Their differing (generally very strong!) opinions are as entertaining as the books themselves – sometimes more so. So far, we have read three of the books on the short list.

The Death Defying Pepper Roux – Geraldine McCaughrean

Personally, I was disappointed with this book as I had loved one of her previous novels, “The Kite Rider,” and had high hopes for this story. From the group, one of the girls absolutely loved it and gave it top marks of 20 (the same girls has top- marked all the books so far!). The rest felt that it was too far-fetched and unbelievable and were bored rather than amused by it. They could not understand what period it was set it or why it had to be set in France. Their favourite character was the Duchess (although there was some confusion as to whether he was male or female). Pepper’s many changes of identity also confused and they did not believe that he would have been accepted as a Captain on the ship. Most of the girls said that they had looked forward to reading this book but it had ultimately disappointed. The book was scored from 0 to 20, with 7 been the average mark given.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

It beggars belief to learn that once your cells leave your body, you are considered to have voluntarily given them up and they no longer belong to you.  This is as true to day as it was in 1951, when Henrietta Lacks, a poor young Afro-American woman was admitted to a hospital in Baltimore with an exceptionally invasive and aggressive form of cancer.

A biopsy was taken of these cells without her knowledge or consent.  At this time, human tissue culture was in its infancy and researchers struggled to keep the cells alive.  Yet, they found that Henrietta's cells not only lived, but thrived and multiplied and seemed nigh impossible to kill.  Soon, these cells, named 'HeLa' were being used in medical research experiments worldwide, and became big business.

In this book, Rebecca Skloot aims to tell the personal story of Henrietta, her life of poverty, her illness and death, and the way her death has contributed to huge advances in science.  She talks to the people who knew Henrietta, and to her family who were initially hostile and suspicious of her motives.  Despite the fortunes that Henrietta's cells made for those who controlled them, her family never received a penny and remained unable to afford healthcare.  The story exposes the racism and hypocrisy of the medical industry of that time.  Despite being a science book, it is very accessible and easy to understand and reads more like a fiction novel.  It is a book that enrages and inspires, and I recommend it to all.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella

When it comes to coffee, I admit that I'm a bit of a Philistine.  I hate cappuccino, espresso, latte and all that Italian muck that has taken over coffee shops worldwide.  Given the choice, I'm much happier with a decent filter coffee, and happier still with a mug of plain old Nescafe.  I can't resist my local newsagent's bargain price and don't care that the jar may be written in Russian or Arabic.

Despite my unrefined tastes, I was drawn to the idea in Anthony Capella's novel of being able to define coffee its aromas and tastes.  The main character Wallis is pretty much blackmailed into working for Pinker's coffee shop, where he soon sets his sights on the owner's daughter, Emily and her father's money.  She accepts his proposal but before they can wed, Wallis is sent away to Africa to start a coffee plantation (a shrewd move by her father who hopes the playboy will be out of sight and out of mind there).  Once in Africa, Wallis promptly falls for a slave girl.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but this is a really fun, rollicking good read, frequently bawdy, and gives a flavour of life in Edwardian London as well as colonial Africa.  It is also interwoven with politics - Emily despite marrying a Liberal MP, is an active member of the Suffragettes.

Make yourself a cup of your favourite coffee, sit down and get stuck in.  You're in for a treat.