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Book Nook - 22-05-2017

Monday, May 22, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

Magical Fighting Spirit
The intriguingly titled David Baldacci book for young readers—The Width Of The World—is the third in the Vega Jane series. In the first two books, Vega Jane fought all kinds of creatures in a scary place called the Quag, that divides her town of Wormwood from the rest if the world. She escaped into a world she had never heard of, to a future she could not have imagined.

In book three, she and her pals Delph and Petra along with the one-eared dog Harry Two land up in a place that looks very strange to them; there are trams and trains that Wugworts, as the people from Wormwood are called, have never seen. They speak a different language—not all that distinct from English, but Vega has to memorize an encyclopedia to get by.

The enemy is a set of evil magicians called Maladons, who look like London bankers in pin-striped suits and bowler hats, but wield mean wands and spells.
Vega Jane has discovered her terrific magic powers, Petra is quite adept too; the ‘unmagical’ Delph is there to provide the good looks and create some romantic tension between the two girls.

What is surprising is that best-selling author Baldacci has written a book for young readers, in the chirpy voice of a sixteen-year-old girl. The series, is obviously inspired by the Harry Potter books, but has turned into a bestseller anyway, perhaps because young readers like non-stop action. The books have been snapped up for a movie series, to tap the teen or young adult demographic that turned page-to-screen franchises like the Twilight and Hunger Games into big money-spinners.

In this book, Vega Jane and gang, running away from Maladons, accidentally finds themselves in her in her ancestral home, where they could have lived safely for the rest of their lives, since the enemy cannot see it. But they discover that the Maladons capture innocent people looking for a better life in the city, and enslave them.

Vega Jane has to find a way to free them, turn them into warriors and lead an army all at the age of sixteen. Since kids today are practically unshockable, the violence is graphic and plentiful, but there are also magical creatures in the hidden mansion that serve as the househelp, including a suit of arms that is a butler and a broom that is a chef.

It’s all quite crazy and delightful, but no match for Harry Potter; still a popular series has a young female leader in Vega Jane, who should serve as a kind of role model for girls. Book Three ends with a ghastly tragedy that no young person should be exposed to, and a definite promise for a Book Four.

The Width Of The World
By David Baldacci
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 480

Excerpt of The Finisher, Book#1 of the Vega Jane Series
I WAS DOZING WHEN I heard the scream. It pierced my head like a morta round, doing terribly befuddling things to my mind, as loud and terrifying as though it were all happening right there and then.

After the sound came the vision: the blue, the color blue. It was in a mist like a cloud on the ground. It enveloped my mind, pushing out all other thoughts, all memories. When it finally disappeared, my befuddlement cleared as well. Yet I always believed there was something of great importance that had simply not come back to me.

I suddenly sat up straight on my planks atop my tree, the vision along with my sleepiness struck clean from me. At first light, I was almost always up in my tree — a stonking, straight-to-the-sky poplar with a full towering canopy. Twenty short boards nailed to the trunk were my passage up. Eight wide, splintered boards constituted my floor when I got up there. And a stretch of waterproof cloth I had oiled myself draped over branches and tied down tight with scavenged rope represented my roof. But I was not thinking about that, for a scream was ringing in my ears and it wasn’t the scream of the blue mist, which apparently existed only in my mind. This scream was coming from down below.

I hurtled to the edge of my planks and looked down to the ground from where I heard the scream once more. This cry was now joined by the baying of attack canines. The sounds shattered what had been a peaceful first light.

Wugmorts did not, as a routine matter, scream at first light or at any other time of the light or night. I scampered down the short boards nailed to the trunk of my tree. My booted feet hit the dirt, and I looked first right and then left. It was difficult to tell from where the screams and baying were coming. Amid the trees, sounds bounced and echoed confusedly.

When I saw what was coming at me, I turned and started running as fast as I could. The attack canine had hurtled from out of a stand of trees, its fangs bared and its hindquarters lathered in sweat, a testament to the effort it was employing. I was fleet of foot for a female Wug, but there was no Wug, male or female, who could outrun an attack canine.  Even as I ran, I braced for the impact of its fangs on my skin  and bone. But it flashed past me and redoubled its efforts, soon vanishing from my sight. I was not its prey this light.

I glanced to the left and saw between two trees a glimpse of black — a black tunic.

Council was about. The attack canines must have been unleashed by them.

But for what reason? Council, with one exception, was comprised of males, most of them older Wugs, and they kept themselves to themselves. They passed laws and regulations and other edicts that all Wugs must obey, but we all lived in peace and freedom, if not in much luxury.

Now they were out in the forest with canines chasing something. Or maybe some Wug? My next thought was that there had been an escape from Valhall, our prison. But no Wug had ever escaped from Valhall. And even if they had, I doubted members of Council would be out trying to round them up. They had other means to collect bad Wugs.

I kept running, following the baying and the racing footfalls, and soon realized that my path was taking me perilously close to the Quag. The Quag was an impenetrable barrier that circled Wormwood like a noose. That’s all there was in existence: Wormwood and the Quag. No one had ever gone through the Quag because the terrible beasts in there would murder you within slivers. And since there was nothing beyond the Quag, there had never been visitors to Wormwood.

I neared the edge of this most terrible place that Wugs were repeatedly warned from the age of a very young to avoid. I slowed and then stopped a few yards from where the Quag began. My heart was pounding and my lungs bursting, not simply from my running but from being this close to a place that held only death for those stupid enough to stray inside.

The baying had now ceased, as had the sounds of the footfalls. I looked to the left and glimpsed canines and Council members staring into the depths of the Quag. I could not see their faces, but I imagined them to be as full of fear as was mine. Even attack canines wanted no part of the Quag.

I let out one more long breath and that’s when a sound to my right reached me. I looked in that direction and in a stunning moment realized that I was seeing someone disappear into the tangled vines and twisted trees that rose up like a barricade around the perimeter of the Quag. And it was a Wug I knew well.

I looked to my left to see if any of Council or the canines had caught sight of this, but it didn’t appear they had. I turned back, but the image was now gone. I wondered if I had simply imagined it. No Wug would voluntarily venture into that awful place.

When something touched me on the arm, I nearly screamed. As it was, I just about collapsed to the ground, but the thing, now revealed to be a hand, kept me upright.

“Vega Jane? It is Vega Jane, isn’t it?”

I turned to look up into the blunt features of Jurik Krone. He was tall, strong, forty-five sessions old and a fast-rising member of Council.

“I’m Vega Jane,” I managed to say.

Adding to the kids’ bookshelf for vacation reading is The Challenge by Tom Hoyle, bestselling author of Thirteen. It is, says the synopsis, a gripping adventure thriller about an online game gone wrong. “Ben's been grieving for his best friend, Will, who suddenly disappeared from their tiny village a year ago. But when twins Sam and Jack begin at the school, things start to look up. Cool, good-looking and popular, they draw Ben into their world and introduce him to The Challenge. What first appears to be a fun internet game quickly turns sinister as Ben's tasks become wilder and more dangerous, starting to raise questions over Will's disappearance. But once you're involved with The Challenge, it's very hard to get out.”
The Challenge
By Tom Hoyle
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 272

Excerpt of The Challenge:
My story begins when I was fifteen years old. It was May 2011, a Saturday, 4.45 p.m., immediately after the FA Cup final. It begins the moment I spun the back wheel of my bike and sprayed wet mud across the road.

Bullseye, the dog belonging to Mike, who lived opposite, stood in his open gate and howled. Will swore at me as he wiped specks off his T-shirt.

Will Capling. We had grown up together, our houses more or less opposite one another.

‘Hey – where’s my hoodie? Have you got it? Thief!’ Will’s favourite jumper was blue with white strings. If I hadn’t splattered his T-shirt with mud, maybe he wouldn’t have thought of his jumper.

‘You left it in my room, you muppet. You just sit there while I’ll get it,’ I said as I ran inside. I glanced behind once, and saw Will circling in the road on his bike, one hand on his mobile phone.

Bullseye barked.

‘Benny, when you come back, I need to tell you something,’ Will shouted. Those were his last words. They were possibly his last words ever.

The very last time I saw Will Capling, he was playing on his bike in the road.

That was a line from my statement.

‘I need to tell you something,’ he’d said.

He never had a chance to tell me what.

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