Monthly Archives: March 2007

The Roman Mysteries

Don’t play sad music to Caroline Lawrence. It apparently makes her want to kill people. Her thirteenth Roman Mystery, The Slave-girl from Jerusalem, out this week, has just given me a bit of a Sirius Black moment. Caroline has killed off one of her characters. Daughter14, who snatched the book from me when it arrived, was left crying on her own without the comfort of an understanding mother. Well, I didn’t know what to comfort her about, did I?

Daughter was given the first three Roman Mysteries for Christmas some years ago. I reasoned that she liked crime and she liked history, so these would be perfect. She didn’t read them. The Resident IT Consultant read and liked the books. So we forced her to read the first one. As you’ll find, there’s a fair amount of book forcing going on chez bookwitch.

Then I found Caroline was coming to Daughter’s school, and hurriedly bought the next five books. So now we had eight, seven of them untouched by Daughter’s hands. That summer holiday she dutifully started on number two. Then there was a frenzied movement as Daughter gobbled up all eight. I read them after her, reasoning I’d have plenty of time being second. No. Daughter started re-reading them, coming closer and closer to my book. Then we read in tandem, taking turns, before she overtook me the second time. There’s been no looking back.

Caroline has been here three times, so Daughter and the rest of us have lunched and brunched with her, and read plenty more books.

It’s not very proper to admit to a general lack of interest in the classics. I blame my school. But I find these books provide an excellent way to get a bit of a classical education. In fact, I’m amazed that Caroline can manage to fit in so many real dates and people into her plots. I’d never even considered the possibility of feeling close to Pliny the elder or any of those boring old Roman emperors, but I do. I couldn’t have cared less about Roman latrines, despite my enormous interest in toilets.

It’d be easy to dismiss the Roman Mysteries as light reading and just another series. Caroline herself admits to being inspired by the Famous Five and by Nancy Drew. But these books are great. They entertain. They educate. There’s another five to come. What shall we do after number eighteen..?

I’ll leave you with the opening sentence of The Slave-girl from Jerusalem. “Someone was going to die; of that he was perfectly sure.”

Hope you are halfway down the road to your nearest bookshop by now.

Harrogate here they come

More good news as the local bookshop is regional winner for the North and Scotland, so now it’s down to just five of them fighting it out in Harrogate on the 1st of May. Or whatever it is they do to find a winner. They only heard the news yesterday, but it seems that Jacqueline Wilson, who is one of the judges this year, spilled the odd bean when she saw Sue and Andrew at the British Book Awards on Wednesday night. So I’d say that Radio Manchester are spot on with their timing for tonight’s live show with Sue. I feel the glamour is almost rubbing off on the rest of us here. Though I believe I might draw the line at being photographed with Gordon Ramsay. Daresay he’d feel the same about me.

Radio for Mancunians

Radio Manchester in their wisdom have invited one of the owners of the local bookshop to do a one hour programme for them, which I’ve just been told will be on at 22.00 on Friday. Listen to it. I’ve got no idea what Sue will do, but I do like the fact that bookshops are being recognised for their work. The message was rather hasty as Sue was running to catch a train to London for the British Book Awards thingy. So maybe a glimpse on television even?

Feeling younger still

Cathy Hopkins’ rejuvenating talents are still at work on me. Her latest books to be published next week are aimed at the 8-12 age group. Though I must say I feel they can and should be read by older girls too, without seeming too young for them. Zodiac Girls is Cathy’s new series, and as the name suggests there will be twelve books, published two at a time. I only got hold of one proof so have just read From Geek to Goddess. But as Cathy had the good taste to start with a Gemini girl, I’m more than satisfied.

This is about Gemma (Gemini…) who gets sent to boarding school in Year 8 and has to learn to make new friends. It’s a nice mixture of real life problems and a bit of Zodiac fantasy. The Greek Gods keep popping up in lots of books these days, but I was a little surprised to find them at Gemma’s boarding school as well. I must admit to having joined the ranks of those who fancy Hermes, even though I don’t normally go for the really handsome type. Must be my new age, again.

The other Zodiac Girls book out is Recipe for Rebellion, and I wish I knew what it’s like!

Listen to this

Don’t miss Open Book at 16.00 on Radio 4 Sunday 25th March. And you will if you’ve forgotten about summertime. So don’t forget that either.

Mariella Frostrup will be talking to two favourites of mine, Caroline Lawrence and Mary Hoffman, on the subject of history in children’s books. They both have new books out in early April.

Someone else with a book out that week is Derek Landy, but for him it will be for the first time. I have only started reading his Skulduggery Pleasant this afternoon, and it’s fun. Really fun. Will report back later when I’ve finished the book and met Derek. Glow-in-the-dark pages…

Open Book is repeated at 16.00 on Thursday 29th on Radio 4. That will be a busy day radiowise, as you really shouldn’t miss Philip Pullman and his teacher that morning, at 11.30 on Radio 4. I’ll have to tie knots in my hanky.

Fresh Armadillo

Introducing Armadillo Magazine for those of you who don’t know it. Author Mary Hoffman obviously doesn’t have enough to do “just” writing very good books for children and teenagers. So, some years ago she started a magazine about children’s books, which now has turned into an online magazine. And it’s only £5, so everyone subscribe please! Mary’s good at networking, and if you take a closer look you’ll see that most of her book reviewers are other authors.

To tell the truth, until recently I had avoided Mary’s Stravaganza series, for the poor reason I didn’t feel the covers were my kind of covers. Once I ignored that ridiculous idea, I found some very enjoyable books. Even the Resident IT Consultant reads them and likes them.

As Mary won’t blow her own trumpet in Armadillo, I’ll just say that she has a new book out in early April called The Falconer’s Knot. It’s a romantic murder mystery for teenagers, set in medieval Italy. It’s great. Read it.

Brownie points

On the train home Stephanie Calman ate her children’s chocolate Brownies. I had been prepared to stand up and say she’s not a bad mother, for all her writings on the subject. But now I don’t know.

Stephanie had dragged herself north for a Mother’s Day night with the girls, at my watering hole. The Brownie recipients had given her a cold and she wasn’t feeling well. It was strictly aspirin and water and no pink cocktail for her. Though I’d say Stephanie doesn’t require a drink to party. Even with a cold she fizzes.

Earlier that day Meg Rosoff had tasked me to ask Stephanie if she remembered lunch at one-legged Mary’s apartment ten years earlier. Wow. I wish I had unusual topics of conversation like that. Though in a way I did of course, as I got to borrow Meg’s conversation starter. Thanks. Turned out Stephanie had a lot to say about Mary, who sounds very interesting.

Just as well. Stephanie’s husband was meant to come along, but the aforementioned colds put a stop to any romantic ideas. Which at least meant that our gathering could concentrate on the subject of men and husbands and their possible uses. (No apology to the lone male who strayed into our midst – what were you thinking?)

Stephanie kept fretting about her doggy bag of Brownies for the children. I thought it was rather sweet. And now it turns out they didn’t get any. Mind you, I’d have done the same. Low blood sugar is no laughing matter for a tired bad mother.