Chickenfeed – Minette Walters (2006) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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One of the continuing aims of World Book Day/Night is to get reluctant readers immersed into the world of books.  Back in 2006 a set of “Quick Reads” were published in an initiative between publishing and other related industries.  Twelve popular authors were asked to produce short, fast-paced books to bring people back into reading and to encourage the emerging adult reader.  It was a highly successful enterprise which has been repeated in subsequent years.  Amongst this first batch of Quick Read authors were Val McDermid, John Francome, Ruth Rendell, Maeve Binchey and Minette Walters who was presented with the Readers’ Favourite Award for this short novel “Chickenfeed”.

I have read three earlier Walters novels, “The Breaker” (1998) which I really enjoyed, her 1993 breakthrough novel “The Sculptress” which I had more reservations about and “The Tinder Box” a novella from two years prior to “Chickenfeed”.  I’ve seen that book described as a “Chapbook”, I’m not sure what constitutes that in the 21st Century.

In “Chickenfeed” Walters fictionalises a real-life crime. It has a simple plot-line, understandably given its length and scope and much is given away in just a few lines on the back cover.  I like the surprise element of reading and often do not read back covers until I’ve finished the book and too big a reveal is the main reason why.

The murder took place in the 1920s on a chicken farm and it’s a tale of boy meets girl, girl has unrealistic expectations, boy wants to get rid of girl but she won’t take the hint- a universal life-lesson theme but here it ends in tragedy.

The most interesting and thought-provoking aspect can be found in the author’s notes at the back of the back where Walters doubts the established turn of events and gives a very valid reason why.  This challenges what has been assumed before and if I was a reader with limited recent experience of books I might just feel stimulated by this doubt raised and want to read more.  This book could very well be an entrée into crime fiction and true crime accounts.

By its very nature this is a slight book but well handled.  As I didn’t read the back cover I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out or even who was going to be murdered.  I read it in under an hour, the largish clear print meant I could read it on the bus without my usual slightly nauseous feeling and it was certainly time well spent.  Just sometimes there’s a lot to be said for a “quick read”.

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Chickenfeed was published by Pan Books in 2006

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World Book Night Special – 100 Essentials – The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2007)

 

It’s World Book Night with thousands of free books being given out (form an orderly queue please!)  I confess I missed the deadline to volunteer to be a book giver but I have just discovered the organisers suggestion that we buy our favourite book to give to someone else.  That got me thinking (and unfortunately that’s all it would be for today as I am not near any bookshops) – favourite book – “The Book Thief” to be given to my friend Val who volunteers with me at the local library and has seen the film but not read the book.  So here for World Book Night is a special 100 Essential Book Review.images
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My Hopes For The Book Thief

1. That Everyone Reads This Book

2. That I don’t end up ever watching the film

Please excuse the bold type above. It’s a little device which is used so effectively by Markus Zusak in his 2007 publication “The Book Thief.” This original, thrilling novel is one of my all-time favourites and with each re-read I am blown away as to how superb it actually is. Excellent use of descriptive writing makes reading this a multisensory experience. Zusak’s narrator is none other than Death himself whose function is to gather up the souls of the departed. Kept very busy by World War II, he finds time to pick up an abandoned book written by a young girl he has had his eye on for some time. This is the writings of Liesl, the Book Thief. Death, as one would imagine is not a perfect narrator. He playfully toys with us, gives hints, makes lists and asides and reveals events before he should, but there is no doubt that he is captivated by Liesl and the residents of Himmel Street in the German town of Molching. He is not the only one. There are few characters in fiction I care for more than Liesl, her neighbourhood friend Rudy, and her foster parents, the accordion playing Hans Huberman and his wardrobe-shaped, potty-mouthed wife, Rosa.

Death narrates a tale which is full of memorable incidents which come to define the characters; Rudy’s obsession with Olympic athlete Jesse Owens which is taken a little too far; Hans’ acts of recklessly selfless kindness and for Liesl; the theft of books. Anyone who has a love for books should read this novel as it is undoubtedly the best book about books. Liesl’s first theft occurs in tragic circumstances in an icy cold cemetery, a useless acquisition for the illiterate nine year old but that inappropriate volume becomes her lifeline and when she learns to read from it her need for futher reading matter grows. There are a number of books within this book.   Zusak gives us the chance to experience a wealth of other titles, some stolen by Liesl and some produced for her by other characters. There is no greater testament to the power reading and words can have on our lives and for that alone Zusak should be celebrated. On a previous re-read I noted in my Book Journal that I hoped they would never make a film of it. It could only dilute the power of the book. At the start of last year the film I didn’t want to see made opened to a muted response and mixed reviews. I do not want to see it. I don’t like that there will be people out there who will say, “I’ve seen the film, I don’t need to read it.” You do. If you loved the film I’m sure the experience of the book will be even better, if you didn’t like the film just try and wipe it from your mind and give the book a chance. Hopefully it will find a permanent place on your shelves.

A SHORT LIST OF OTHER FILMS I AM UNABLE TO WATCH BECAUSE I LOVE THE BOOK TOO MUCH

  • The Time Traveller’s Wife
  • The Golden Compass (Northern Lights)
  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  • The Grapes Of Wrath (even though I know the John Ford 1940 version is an acclaimed masterpiece)
  • The Narnia books

 

“The Book Thief” is a beautifully told story, which will make you laugh, cry and fall in love with the characters. It offers the perfect reading experience.

Let me know what other books you would add to my short list of “love the book don’t want to see the film”……..  Do you agree with my suggestions?

This review appears in a slightly edited form in the current edition of  newbooks magazine (nb84) as my contender for the Best Books of The 21st Century.

 

Book News – World Book Night Is Approaching

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The date for World Book night is approaching. The date to note in your diary is Thursday 23rd April. As on previous years hundreds of thousands of free books will be handed out at venues around the country. The titles have been announced and the application date to be sent books to hand out has gone by (Jan 30- How did I miss out on that?) As always the selected books are an interesting cross section. No real classics this time (on previous lists we’ve had Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Robert Louis Stevenson) and a couple of titles are classed as “Quick read” editions, but if the aim is to get reluctant readers reading then maybe this is not a bad idea. I’m very surprised to say I haven’t actually read any of the chosen titles this year, so probably I wouldn’t be the best person to volunteer to give out a chosen title. In previous years I would have liked to have copies to give out of great favourites of mine such as “Tales Of The City”, “The Book Thief”, “The Time Traveller’s Wife”, “Toast”, “Fingersmith” and “Tale Of Two Cities”. Has anyone applied/been selected for distribution duties for World Book Night? What title did you choose to champion? The books selected are:

  • After the Fall by Charity Norman
  • Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton
  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
  • Chickenfeed by Minette Walters
  • Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson
  • Dead Man Talking by Roddy Doyle
  • Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
  • Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy, Neil Astley (ed.)
  • Honour by Elif Shafak
  • My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
  • Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante
  • Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
  • Skellig by David Almond
  • Spring Tide by Cilla and Rolf Börjlind
  • Street Cat Bob by James Bowen
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The Moaning of Life by Karl Pilkington
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman

More details on the books and events can be found on the official website at www.worldbooknight.org.

I know it’s called World Book Night but is this just a British thing?