Monthly Archives: July 2009


I couldn’t help thinking while reading Troubadour that it might be Mary Hoffman’s best book. So far. There’s always scope for more, I hope. And it’s possible that you love best what you’re reading right now; a little bit more than the last really good book. But trust me, Troubadour is wonderful.

My second thought was about series versus stand-alone novels. I love returning to the characters of Stravaganza, and the settings are seductive. And I loved The Falconer’s Knot, because it was great and because it was a single novel. But perhaps Mary is doing it the best way, alternating between her Stravaganza and her stand-alone books.

With Troubadour she has moved into southern France in 1209 and the religious war between Rome and the True Christians. They all seem to be church people, but then we always get wars between very similar groups, who just have to disagree about something. It sounds very bloody, and pretty unreasonable from where I stand.

Troubadour is about a young girl, Elinor, who escapes an arranged marriage by dressing as a boy and travelling the country as a minstrel. She is in love with the troubadour Bertran, who is caught up in the war with the Pope.

These days we have almost forgotten the kind of love story where you love from afar and rarely meet, let alone touch each other. Quite refreshing to be reminded that love can live on through wars, for years and years.

Mary must have done a tremendous amount of background reading for Troubadour. It has a real flavour of the 13th century. It has the war with actual and fictional characters. It has a lot about troubadours and it’s got some early women’s lib.

All is not well at the end of this book. The war is far too bloody and unreasonable for that. But some things are good. And that’s good.


‘Early’ this morning

With a gale warning and rain and thunder forecast for most of today, it made sense to dash out for the daily walk straight after breakfast, since it was still dry and sunny, but with dark things gathering out over the sea. Your witch had one sock on when Son phoned. When she had finally got rid of him, she had managed another sock when Son’s father phoned. Daughter told him what’s what as the witch escaped.

It had to be the ‘short loop’ walk down to the sea, and as I got to the far corner I thought the people there had visitors with a very oversized mobile camper vehicle, until I discovered that it was the mobile library sitting there looking out to sea. We call it the book bus, and as I write this very sentence I can hear it go pass my house, after its session at the end of my road. It comes once a month, so I rarely see it. (I know, it would help if I lived here all the time.)

Down at the loop I looked back towards the bus and it was a beautiful sight, with the sea behind it and the gathering storm clouds. As I have a lovely purple mobile phone which is so ancient that camera phones hadn’t been invented, I can’t share the sight with you. The camera was safely at home.

And so am I now. I will post this and come off the internet, in case of thunder.

Cathy’s Ring

‘How is that possible?’ asked Daughter when she saw the newly arrived Cathy’s Ring by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart. ‘I felt they had tied things up quite neatly and couldn’t write any more.’ Well, I don’t know, because I have yet to find enough time to tackle the previous two Cathy books. I don’t usually rely on even my lovely family for book reviews, but felt that the speed with which Daughter devoured Cathy one and two was some sort of guarantee as to their desirability.

It was no different this time round. Daughter sounded a little superior when telling me I wouldn’t understand, but this time she really felt there could be no more books about Cathy. Still don’t know enough to be sure if she could be right.

But it seems Cathy’s Ring met expectations and was equally readable. I can testify to the speed. This book too, comes with all the bits and pieces that are clues and stuff, in an envelope inside the front cover. And I haven’t given up on the idea of reading them for the simple reason that they look good, and I would like to read them.

Boobela – more me than I thought

I was sort of about not to read the two Boobela books I had in front of me. But something made me look inside. And I felt I might want to after all. It took me some more time, but once I did sit down with Joe Friedman’s Boobela and Worm, and Boobela and Worm, Ace Detectives, I felt quite warm inside.

They are books that would be suitable to read aloud to a young child, or for a slightly older child to read on their own. I reckon both would work well, but I quite fancy the idea of reading them to someone. If I had a someone of the right age.

Boobela is a giant. She is eight years old to start with, and in the latest book she is ten. She seems to have normal parents, except for the fact that they have gone off to Africa looking for medicine plants. That’s not nice, but it’s what fictional parents do. Her grandmother has also abandoned her temporarily.

Boobela isn’t too good at housework, or indeed at washing herself. When she meets Worm, things look up, and she starts to take more care, because now she finally has a friend. Boobela is very much about friendship.

Each book has four short stories, and they cover subjects such as balloon rides, dowsing, detecting and they even feature hoodie worms, of the hooligan variety. In fact, the hoodie story is quite romantic, and is all about courage. Worm isn’t too keen on kissing, however.

Great illustrations by Sam Childs.

Where are my glasses?

Not where I am, that’s for sure. The reading glasses, that is. Generally I will notice if my ordinary glasses aren’t perching on my nose, because life becomes very fuzzy.

This is mainly a travel related problem. At home I have three pairs of reading glasses strategically placed, so that most of the time they are very near me. While away, I have only the one pair, since I want a few other things to fit in my bag as well.

The holiday house is a bungalow, so none of the tedious running up and down stairs, and the glasses should never be very far away. Just not here. Now. They were here recently, but then I was in the other room. Or over there.

Working wardrobe

I sometimes sit down to read, feeling sure the glasses are next to the book. They’ll be with the laptop. When they are not resting on top of the laptop as I want to compute a little, they may be with the morning paper on the kitchen table. Or with the latest novel. There are four main resting places, so it’s like the toast falling butter side down. Never the way you want it.

Daughter keeps laughing at me. She’s the one who insisted on this blog post. She should be thinking of her ancient mother, and go get the glasses instead. Wherever they happen to be.

Music while you work?

I’ll steal ideas from anyone, anywhere. I happened to notice that the Swedish book magazine Vi Läser had been asking around to find out if authors listen to music when they write.

Varied results, as was to be expected. As for your blogwitch, it’s mainly iTunes. I can get frantic trying to decide what mood I’m in, and the upset when I have chosen the wrong CD is not good for the creative juices. So a random mix of my own favourites upsets me the least – if that’s not too negative – and can on occasion make me quite happy when something especially nice comes on.

So, what do you do?


Where should I draw the line on comments? I found a somewhat unpleasant comment left here some time ago, on an old post. This time I left it on, but quite often I clean up and remove what I feel doesn’t belong. But then, people are entitled to their opinions.

I’m not very clever with my interviews. I don’t ask all kinds of intricate literary questions. I don’t try and pry into people’s private lives either. It’s just nice with a little window opening on a person, and it’s not meant to be complete or anything.

I have found most authors that I’ve met to be nice human beings. I have no inclination to start digging if someone seems too nice, in order to find ‘dirt’.

The comment in question was about Neil Gaiman, who apparently has had things going on in his private life. He’s mentioned it a little on his own blog, so it’s no secret. But even he seems baffled that he can’t be allowed to live his own life. I’m sure people have been upset, but that’s private. What I did was talk for a short time to a nice and interesting individual whose books I like. He doesn’t have to be perfect.

To return to my thoughts on vetting authors the other day, I’d say that most of us have something ‘Not Good’ in our past. And I’m not even going to ask what yours is.

Short-Ness story

While the world and possibly Patrick Ness wait for the witch to read The Ask and the Answer, she has read the short story that Patrick wrote as part of his agreement with Booktrust. It’s about what happened to Viola and her parents before The Knife of Never Letting Go begins.

I think it’s very sci-fi, and Patrick disagrees, but I’ll let him. Where The Knife is fairly down-to-earth, arriving in a spaceship is sci-fi as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t see anything negative in that.

Not surprisingly Patrick gets asked about Viola a lot, so he felt this was a good way of explaining her background. And he definitely felt it was preferable to writing about Manchee, although since he kills off Viola’s parents too, he feels he’s a bad person.

Not at all, Patrick.

You can find The New World here.

Last night I dreamed

that I sat next to Ann Pilling. My dream was set somewhere holiday-ish where the whole witch family had gathered, and there were loads of children’s authors. I ended up sitting next to someone by the name of Ann, but it took me ages to find out who she was.

I wouldn’t be telling you about my dream, if it wasn’t for what Daughter did next. She needed occupying, so being a bookwitch I suggested reading. Of course. I also suggested Michelle Magorian’s A Little Love Song, but sadly it has turned into one of these suggestions where Offspring have to say no, just to keep up tradition. So she went off to see what else there might be and came back with Vote For Baz, by none other than Ann Pilling. Witchy.

I don’t know the book myself, as it’s one of the review cast-offs from Librarian Husband of Cousin, which has been hanging around for a few years. But it was good enough to result in Daughter not doing anything else for a whole day. But she would like it known that the cover sucks.

When Son and Dodo arrived, they proudly mentioned they’d brought a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with a view to reminding themselves what it’s about. I told them they were idiots, as it’s the only Harry Potter we already have here on holiday, so a waste of a kilo of luggage allowance. They remedied this by reading a copy each, side by side. Then they went to the library for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The library had no other Harry Potters in English except The Deathly Hallows, and they even had two copies of it. So they have side-by-sided HP7 as well.

The library has been useful in other ways too. Daughter had to have some more audio books to listen to at night, so she found an Alex Rider and Philip Pullman’s The Scarecrow on CD. It’s free and you can keep them for four weeks.

Other than this, we have tidied the book collection a very little. Over the years we have carried spares and jumble sale books for those desperate days when you just have to have something else to read. But unless we are to hang on to lots of old books for any grandchildren we may have, we have quite frankly outgrown some of them. They are now sitting in the Salvation Army bag, waiting to go.

Holiday shelves

Daughter wanted to relieve the Salvation Army of a second-hand bookcase to put them in, but I felt we didn’t need more shelves. We need fewer books. I prune and re-order every now and then, and we have a passable collection by now. In fact, my former neighbour used to let herself in with the spare key and borrow books every winter. Well, I always wanted to be a librarian.

One book that is going nowhere, is I Am David, which Daughter read a few days ago, at long long last. She asked about the title, which she thought she had overheard when her brother listened to the audio book. They are the last words of the book, and just thinking about it made me want to cry a little. She finished the book and then told me she could find nothing sad…

What’s a witch to do?


I think Nicola Morgan is warning her young readers to be careful with things like Facebook and MySpace. In her book Deathwatch the heroine, Cat, goes on the fictional Phiz against her parents wishes. Don’t they all? And it could end quite badly, couldn’t it? Deathwatch is about stalking, and why it can be worth taking care about what you put on the internet for all to see.

Cat is a capable athlete, who trains a lot. Too much she thinks, and she wants to give some of it up, but her parents don’t agree. Cat doesn’t like insects very much, and her now ex-boyfriend Danny likes insects a lot. And then one day on Phiz, Cat’s computer screen fills up with the picture of a spider. And it won’t go away.

She feels herself being watched wherever she goes. But who is it? Nicola very cleverly lets the reader see the private thoughts of more than one possible culprit, and they all seem obsessed with insects. But which of them is the stalker?

Deathwatch is also about the importance of being like everyone else, whilst making you think about what’s important to you. For Cat the question is whether sport is right for her, even when it’s not what her friends do.

And it’s always worth knowing what your parents are up to.

If insects freak you out, this novel could be worth avoiding. But it will make good reading and offer food for thought for young teens. Those without arachnophobia, that is. In these parts we go both ways.