Category Archives: Books

Night Sky Watcher

Night Sky Watcher

I’d want this book for Christmas if I was a little younger. Raman Prinja’s Night Sky Watcher is just the thing for children who want to know about planets and stars, and it’s just the kind of thing I feel would sit well on anyone’s Christmas wish list.

Because I’m a girl (well, I was) I have to start by pointing out how exciting the book looks, presented in a plastic folder kind of arrangement, complete with a silver zip to close it. More businesslike, while also having child appeal. And I suppose it would survive being taken out at night when you go to look at the stars. In case it rains. Except if it rains there is no clear night sky for the stars to twinkle down from. Oh well.

Night Sky Watcher

Raman is professor of Astrophysics at UCL, so he knows what he’s talking about which is always reassuring. I’m tempted to say that everything you’d want in a book like this is in there. Lots of information and masses of great photos. Little suggestions of what you can do and what to look for and things to make.

Night Sky Watcher

Aimed at the beginner’s end of taking an interest in astronomy, this is a book for younger children. It’d make a good place to start, and then you can work your way up to your own degree in Astrophysics if you feel so inclined. It’s what I’d have done if I’d been intelligent.

Getting a grip

Can be harder than you’d think.

I’m currently reading a great book, and by that I mean I like the contents. But it is also great in size. And that’s my problem. I can’t get a grip. I literally can’t pick it up with one hand, and to use both hands can occasionally be a little inconvenient. To do that I’d need to pick it up before I sit down, in which case I have to sit down while hugging this great book to my chest.

It’s a hardback so won’t bend. It probably has to have every one of its 600 pages. Even if more densely typeset I imagine it’d be 500 pages. The size of the pages is also large, but less of a problem than the thickness.

I know. It seems churlish to moan. But in this instance I have to claim to have hands the size of a child. It is a children’s book. If you want to encourage small-handed readers to read, it looks like a mistake making books so outsize that they dwarf the child. On the other hand, I suppose it could make you feel you’re getting good value for your money.

Speaking of money, it will also cost more to store this great book. More centimetres widthways and a couple of extra ones heightwise. It’s not my fault that our recently vacated bookcases could only accommodate the larger (=newer) hardbacks lying down. The books, not the bookcases. In the last ten years or so, hardbacks have become more XXL in size.

I just hope the largest size doesn’t become larger still. I’ve grown almost fond of my lying-down novels, but it has to stop now. Or I’ll need to employ a bookholder to sit in front of me when I read.

You know how books for dyslexics have been adapted to make everything easier? Well, I think having a spot of RSI/arthritis in my fingers should qualify for grippable books that won’t make the pain worse. I know, I could Kindle. But I don’t want to! I like book books.

My Christmas conundrum

I know it’s still September, but only just. The shops are already full of Christmas stuff. Saw some ugly trees at Dobbies the other day, and was disappointed, as this year I might actually be interested in a new tree (on account of the old one possibly not fitting into the new house so well). But I wouldn’t dream of buying it now.

Though that is perhaps my problem. I should buy now, while stocks last.

It’s not trees I wanted to discuss, of course, but books. In the book world they start being sold in October. It will be October in only a couple of days. I have had a pile of Christmas books lying around for weeks and weeks. The latest one to arrive I browsed through and found myself slipping into a Christmassy mood and that was way too early. Off to the premature Christmas pile with it!

I used to think that if I read them early and wrote reviews I could then post them on the blog close to Christmas. Handy. But I worked out that by the time we all feel more or less Christmassy in mid-December, no one will be reading reviews or going out to buy seasonal books for their little ones.

So December is too late. Maybe. When is the right time? If you ever want to read reviews of books with a Christmas theme, rather than suggestions of a book to buy as a Christmas present, when do you want it?

When would you buy it?

And who buys them and for whom? Is it as a Christmas present, or just as something December-ish to read to your tiny person (or give a slightly bigger tiny person to read themselves) to get into a Christmas mood?

I don’t remember Offspring being given anything like that, even by me. I think that any books featuring Christmas I got for me to read to them, to enjoy as December strolled along. So perhaps they aren’t presents?

It seems stupid to ask, but I just don’t know what purpose the books have, or who would buy them. Or when the ultimate time for reviews of them would be.

I have blogged before about my fondness for Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice which is the perfect book to read in December. Or the various Advent-y books to read a little bit of every day, like those by Cornelia Funke or Jostein Gaarder. Those you do need to know about in time, or it’d be too late when Christmas arrives.

I’m not ready to read or review the Christmas pile yet. Are you?

Bookwitch bites #127

You know books? There is money in them. Sometimes, at least, and not only for author and publisher, although I’d wager Michael Morpurgo has made a reasonable sum from War Horse the book. Possibly more from the play and the film.

Michael Morpurgo at the Lowry

War Horse the play has just finished its second run at the Lowry, hopefully pleasing the 200,000 people who came to see it. But what’s more, it hasn’t merely earned money for Michael or the theatre. It has been estimated that Greater Manchester is better off by £15 million. And it’s pretty good that books can have such an effect.

For the last performance in Salford they had a Devon farmer as a Devon farmer extra.

Not a farmer, nor a twinkly old elf, is how Neil Gaiman doesn’t describe his friend Terry Pratchett in the Guardian this week. Terry is driven by rage, Neil claims, and I can sort of see where he’s coming from with that. I reckon Terry got pretty annoyed to hear me say that my local library service banned him from the under 16s. (Correction, it was their representative who did. Not the whole service. But still.) And any person with any decency would be furious about what’s wrong in this world. And luckily we have the non-twinkly Terry to write wonderful books about it.

Someone who scares me much more is Kevin Brooks. I know. He seems non-scary, but his books deal with people in circumstances I find hard to cope with. Kevin has just written a book for Barrington Stoke, to be published in January 2015, and it might be short, and it might be an easy read. But it’s also not an easy read, in that it deals with the hard reality for young, male, teenagers. A typical Brooks, in other words.

Barrington Stoke make books accessible to readers who would otherwise not read. Daniel Hahn was on the radio this week, talking for 13 and a half (his own description) minutes on the importance of translated books. They make books accessible to people who would otherwise not be able to read French or Finnish, or any other ‘outlandish’ language.

Daniel has also worked hard on the new Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, to be published in March 2015. I’m looking forward to that, and hopefully this new companion will pave the way for a few more readers, too.

Whereas authors playing football will achieve exactly what? OK, let’s not be negative or anti-sports here. I did actually want to go and see the football match between English crime writers and their Scottish counterparts. It was part of Bloody Scotland last weekend, but unfortunately the match clashed with an event, and being lazy, I chose to sit down in-doors instead of standing on the side of a rectangle of grass watching grown men kick a ball around.

The winning Bloody Scotland football team - 2014

I understand the Scottish team won. Ian Rankin is looking triumphant, and I can see Craig Robertson, Christopher Brookmyre and Michael J Malone, plus some more people I don’t recognise in shorts.

The two Marys travel back in time

The two Marys, Hoffman and Hooper, have unravelled some more history for me in their new books for Barrington Stoke. Mary Hoffman writes about the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire in 1571, and Mary Hooper visits plague-ridden London in 1665.

Both historical events are ones I ‘know’ of, especially the plague. But that doesn’t mean I know all that much, so I’m grateful for some fiction to help me learn.

Mary Hoffman, Angel of Venice

Angel of Venice features Luca who dreams of running off to war. But he’s in love, so can’t quite make his mind up, until it’s forcibly made up for him. And war is not at all as you tend to imagine, but hell on earth and he soon wishes he hadn’t gone.

Lovely romance and history lesson all in one. The Ottoman Empire is no longer as hazy to me as it was, and Venice with Mary is always good.

Mary Hooper, Ring of Roses

Ring of Roses is pretty scary. You imagine that ‘your’ character will be all right because it’s fiction and you can’t kill off the main character, can you?

Abby has come to London to look after a rich woman’s baby, and she stays well while the rest of London succumbs to the illness. Mary describes graphically what happens to the people in houses where someone dies of the plague and it’s not good.

Very realistic, and very informative.

The Marys do this so well, and I’m pleased they have written these dyslexia friendly books. They are much needed.

Skink No Surrender

‘Don’t fart on my Steinbeck.’ Who could not love a book with a sentence like that in it? It is genius in its simplicity. The phrase, not the book. Well, that too is genius, but not simple. Carl Hiaasen’s book might appear simple, but is really very complex, and in that respect Skink No Surrender is no different from his other fantastic novels.

I was looking forward to reading it from the moment it arrived, in all its anonymous glory. Would you believe, they didn’t put his name on the book? At first I was outraged by the description of the plot and the characters, because it was a total Carl Hiaasen rip-off. And then I twigged that it was Carl, and his finest creation, Skink himself.

Carl Hiaasen, Skink No Surrender

This is about the danger of strangers, and in particular going off in a car with a man you don’t know. Richard’s cousin Malley has done exactly that. She seems fine at first, but soon it becomes apparent that things have turned bad. And to help Malley, Richard goes off in a car with a man he’s just met. So, parents might not approve of this scenario, and they’d be right not to. In a way.

Skink would agree with them, and he’s the one who drives off with Richard to find Malley. Hiaasen aficionados will know Richard is perfectly safe with Skink. And Richard feels safe, despite his new friend’s lunatic behaviour. But he can’t actually know that!

Skink No Surrender is yet another mix of crazy, kindness and saving the environment. It’s an odd mix, but it works so well. Skink can’t tolerate people who steal turtle eggs or shoot at herons. Or throw drinks cans from their cars. So don’t. Just don’t, if there is any possibility of Skink being in the vicinity.

The adventure of finding Malley, and saving a little bit of Florida, is as fun as you’d expect, and you sit there laughing helplessly, or seething over human folly. And you know Richard will be fine, and that Malley will be found, safe and sound.

With a bit of luck, Skink will survive the tale too, with most of his body parts almost intact and not too much missing.

The Case of the Bogus Detective

Imagine the joy of finding that the trilogy you liked so much didn’t, in fact, end with the third book. There is a fourth! The last one, from what I’ve heard, but very nice all the same. (And I don’t think we should rule out more from the way things were left…)

Caroline Lawrence, The Case of the Bogus Detective

Caroline Lawrence’s very likeable aspie detective PK Pinkerton is back, in The Case of the Bogus Detective. We now know what sex Pinky is, but that only adds to the fun. PK’s long lost dad, the famous Pinkerton detective turns up, and together they set out to solve the robberies on stage coaches carrying valuables. Pinkerton Sr wants PK to dress as a girl, and goes so far as to teach Pinky how to act like one, how to walk, and so on. He doesn’t appear to have much dress sense however, which is so like a man.

Jace seems to have let PK down and the relationship with Ping sours somewhat, and Mark Twain, as he now calls himself, sets off for San Francisco. Pinky isn’t far behind, on the trail of the stage coach robbers.

So this time we have a true western adventure on a stage coach, followed by more adventures in San Francisco. We’ve heard so much about the city, and now PK can see what it’s like, as well as solve a mystery. Things are tied up most satisfactorily.

I have loved these westerns with a difference, and would happily read more. And I’ll have my own Sioux outfit now, thank you. I’ve always wanted one.