Monthly Archives: September 2008

Strangled Silence

Well, at least it has flying saucers. Oisín McGann’s new novel Strangled Silence is one of the most menacing looking books I’ve seen for a while. It’s all black, even around the edges, which makes you think you’re not looking at a book at all.

Strangled Silence

The flying saucers help lighten the atmosphere somewhat, which is good, as otherwise this would be a much scarier story. It happens here and now, in a normal London, post Iraq war, with a new war in fictional (I hope) Sinnostan. And it’s not the terrorists who are the most frightening. What is the Government up to?

This thriller is just that little bit too real and too likely. And that’s including the flying saucers. Conspiracy everywhere, a bit of brainwashing every now and then, subtle violence, and not so subtle violence. And who wants to travel on the tube from now on?

Amina is a work experience journalist and Ivor was wounded in Sinnostan. Chi is a computer nerd and Amina’s brother Tariq has problems at school. They all get caught up one way or another with the seemingly crazy and inexplicable things that are happening. As it’s fiction, the reader feels that surely they will be all right in the end? But will they? This feels very real, and very scary.

I Am David

It took about two minutes for the tears to get going. We’re back with my journey books, and to me this is the ultimate journey book. I Am David by Anne Holm is a triple-hanky-at-the-end story, and it works on me every time.

First published in Danish in 1963, it’s unusual for having become so popular in English, as translations never seem to do so well. On the other hand, the book is all about the beauty of languages, and if it doesn’t sell you on the idea of learning a few more, then I don’t know what will.

Back to the crying. I only needed to reacquaint myself with the book a little, so leafed through it very quickly. But it didn’t help; I still felt soppy and sad. I remember listening to the audio book while doing the ironing years ago, and feeling exactly the same then.

Published as it was after years of the cold war, it’s hardly surprising that it starts in some unnamed country in southern Europe, on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. The young boy David has grown up in a kind of concentration camp, when one night the opportunity to escape turns up.

He journeys, often on foot, through Greece and across to Italy, and then the length of Italy towards Switzerland, Germany, all the time with Denmark as his goal. He is helped by his somewhat unlikely command of languages, his good manners and by being a generally really lovely person. But setting all that aside, it’s still a remarkable journey. He makes some enemies, but mostly he meets good people who help him towards his goal.

I don’t know how it works for young readers today; whether they can relate to old, but recent history like this. It’s too wonderful a book for it not to be put in front of new readers.

The Big O, take 2

Here we are again, one year on from my first little review of The Big O by Declan Burke. This very funny crime novel, with less killings than you’d expect, is now out in the US. Lucky Americans! Declan has found a publisher for this second novel through all the sheer hard work he put in with the Irish version of              The Big O, sharing publishing costs with Hagshead Press, and starting up the witch’s favourite blog in order to sell himself and his book.

The Big O American cover, Declan Burke

For someone who writes so well, and so intelligently, Declan is very modest, and often seems to believe he is no good at all. But you wouldn’t have crime writing colleagues and bloggers all over the place praising rubbish, would you? No. This is good stuff, and I really like the American cover design, as well.

As I mentioned last year, Declan does use bad language an awful lot, but it fits in well with the hardboiled Irish Noir style. The rest of the time you couldn’t wish for a more well behaved, and funny, Irishman. He’s the only one I know who calls me ma’am, and that has a nice, old-fashioned cowboy/wild west feel to it. One of these days I’ll adopt him as the younger brother I never had.

Should I tell you more about The Big O? No. I think you should read it instead. And afterwards you will only have another year to wait for the sequel, which is better still. I won’t mention its title, as the dear boy seems undecided between two equally good ones.

Personally I just want to read another Declan Burke novel, and soon. I do realise that new fatherhood takes time, and if Princess Lily is only half as adorable as my Offspring, I can see Declan’s dilemma. But there’s no lack of talent, and us fans are not deluded, or even bribed. (Apart from my cardboard diamond necklace, that is.)

Bloggers at Crime Fest copy

(Declan with friendly bloggers in Bristol. Photo taken by Norman Price, and stolen by me.)

Shifting books

I moved my books around last week. Again. Not the books lucky enough to have arrived so long ago that they actually have a space on a shelf. Nor the ones piled higgledy-piggledy on the floor in the “other” room. That just means I don’t see the mess so often.

It was the “urgent” books I put into new order. I have fooled myself into believing this will make life easier. Now I have “bookwitch” books in one row, ordered according to perceived urgency. I have a secondary row of similar character. Then I have all my crime, which although I will most likely blog about these books, too, I look on them as more private. The fourth row is a mix of whatever else was left.

The ones that arrived after this re-organisation are sitting on a table, where the Resident IT Consultant will carelessly rest his evening snack, so something has to be done about that. Move books, or move him?

What struck me as I looked at my new, and most likely shortlived order, is that I have faces for far too many of the books. I mean that I have met the authors, and in many cases it’s a signed book. I tend to think in images, so it makes complete sense to me to see my authors sitting there talking to me. And as long as I’m not reading Blyton or Christie, or even Shakespeare, that’s all right.

Too old to sell?

We’re not talking about me here. I’m talking books. When is a book so old it’s not worth the PR any longer? Obviously publishers will work harder with a brand new book. It will need introducing and explaining and all that, as nobody will know it from earlier. But when do you give up?

A few months ago I was engaged with writing a couple of reviews of very old books. Another blogger had the idea of asking people to write in with reviews of old and forgotten books that they thought were worth reminding others of. So I came up with two books that I used to like.

Roundabout the same time someone on here recommended Scott Westerfeld to me. As I try to avoid paying for books if I can possibly help it, I did my usual background work, but couldn’t work out for certain who publishes the books in Britain. Next step was an email to Scott to ask him. Had an immediate reply with the necessary information. Emailed the publisher, and heard no more for six weeks or so. They were very sorry but they don’t do publicity on old books. (But I could have a new one if I was interested in something else.)

I can understand them. But if the book is so very old, there can’t be all that many others writing in asking for a copy, so it needn’t break the bank to send me one.

I am so very grateful to all the publishers who send me books. Sometimes I ask for them specifically. Sometimes they send me everything they’ve got. Some have lists where I can tick what I’d like. Some limit the ticks to no more than five. And occasionally they ignore me completely. That’s fine. It was the idea of the book being too old that intrigued me.

When Sonya Hartnett was awarded the Astrid Lindgren prize in April, I needed to read up on her very quickly, so began by asking her publisher for advice and possible books. They sent me everything they had, straight away, apart from the slight delay where a title had to be found somewhere further afield. That’s absolutely wonderful, and I was so pleased. Some of those books were most likely more ancient than the Scott Westerfeld I was after.

Don’t Panic

When I saw the headline in the Guardian over Wednesday’s lunch, I very nearly screamed. Can’t they leave anything alone? Then I hurriedly skimmed for details as to which stupid children’s author thinks he/she can write a new Hitchhiker book. And it turns out it’s Eoin Colfer, and I immediately forgave him and Penguin and anybody else who may need forgiveness. It might just work. I hope. There are many of us who wouldn’t mind reading about Arthur Dent again. But can he do it? If anyone can, Eoin can. Let’s leave it at that.

I’ve got my towel standing by.

The Princess Bride

This is a sneaky, tricky book, and I’ve had lots of fun while reading it, but is it a children’s book? Hmm, don’t know.

The Princess Bride had already half slid to the position where it might get read, but most likely not, when I came across an excerpt in the free magazine Booktime. So I hunted it out for immediate consumption.

Some of you may well have read it long ago, or seen the film. If I’ve got this right, William Goldman wrote the book in 1973, for adults, pretending to be abridging an older novel by S Morgenstern which his father had read to the young William when he was ill. And I think that what I’ve just read is a new, children’s version of the pretend, abridged book.

The story is completely barmy, full of pirates and other villains, a beautiful girl, weird beasts and masses of swashbuckling. I like swashbuckling and always have. The question is whether I would have liked this book when I was a child? Would I have understood the rather adult content and the very Jewish humour? For anyone who does, this is a great adventure story, and you don’t get much in this vein any more.

The plot sort of follows ordinary plots, but not quite. It’s incredibly gory at times, and the end isn’t necessarily what you’d expect it to be. It’s very funny. I may have said that already. I kept thinking “I must quote this”, but in the end there’s just too many wonderful lines. “You mean you’ll put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword and we’ll try to kill each other like civilized people, is that it?” Wow. Must be irony.

Princess Bride

Any book that has a heroine called Buttercup and features a Prince Humperdinck is never going to be ordinary. What’s good is that the various characters get properly introduced to the reader. Whether a hero or a villain, you get a reason for why people are who they are. They are totally unrealistic, of course, but occasionally loveable.

The cover is sneaky, too. It’s trying to behave as though it’s old, with the picture of the Man in Black, and the attempts at making the book look old and worn. So once it’s genuinely worn it will look older still, and I could easily assume it’s from my childhood, except I never saw it before.

Try The Princess Bride on a child near you, and if it doesn’t work out, have a go yourself. If it works out, read it anyway.