Monthly Archives: December 2009

These I loved

The year is almost over and I need another blog post for 2009 and I spent too long at the laptop hospital for any peace and quiet and spare time to blog. So I was going to do my top ten books of the year, and then I chickened out when I realised how many people would come after me with a meat cleaver, so I’m making it my top five. Though that may add to the number of meat cleavers  out there…


What I need to point out is that I liked an enormous number of books this past year. I have only considered new books in 2009. And the list is anything but scientific, so now that I think of it, don’t pay any attention at all.

But here goes – alphabetically:

Morris Gleitzman, Then

Helen Grant, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer

Meg Rosoff, The Bride’s Farewell

Marcus Sedgwick, Revolver

Kate Thompson, The White Horse Trick

And yes, I know it’s six books. I’m a witch. I’m allowed. And besides, six is a nice witchy number.

It’s not ‘best’ books. It’s sort of ‘loved’ books. And did I mention that it’s impossible to do this kind of thing?

Have a nice New Year’s Eve!


Through the wormhole

Write about what you know. Always a good idea, so Adrian McKinty’s YA novel The Lighthouse Land starts with 13-year-old Jamie in New York, and quickly dispatches him and his Mum to Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland. There Jamie becomes friends with Ramsay (McDonald…), and in the old lighthouse they find a salmon which catapults them through a wormhole to Altair, which is another world…

OK, so maybe that part wasn’t based on Adrian’s life.

They meet the beautiful and resourceful Wishaway, who is as capable a girl as you’d want. Jamie and Ramsay have their good moments, too, when not being immature.

The people of Altair are at war with each other, and the two boys bring a powerful weapon with them, which helps settle things in an unexpected way. (Not sure about the timings of this, Adrian.) Old Greek myths help, and so do Ramsay’s mathematical skills. And I’m fairly sure that computer games assist the boys with their warfare.

This is fantasy, which you may have gathered from the wormhole bit, but there is plenty of real world experience which plays a role in what happens. Towards the end of this first part of the Lighthouse trilogy I began to suspect that things could well be left in an unexpected way, and they are, but not as I’d thought.

As you can see I began at the beginning, and I plan to read the second book next. Adrian sort of wanted me to start with number two, as he thinks it’s the best. Doesn’t strike me as a good idea, so I’ll do the conventional thing.

The Ahndorils

Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril, by Carl-Johan Paulin

I found this picture both fascinating and scary. It’s from the latest edition of the magazine Vi, which by some previously unheard of miracle turned up on the right day, i.e. before Christmas, which I’ve never experienced in the past. (It’s the Christmas edition with seasonal quizzes and stuff, which tend to feel irrelevant in mid January. Likewise the Christmas food recipes.)

Photo, yes. It’s good, from the point of view that so many magazines have rubbish photos these days, and I don’t enjoy them. But isn’t it a little scary, too? You can access the first part of the interview in Vi online, where there is another photo. The paper version of Vi has a third photo, and they are all large. All scary.

What I found fascinating was that just as I was about to read the article, I came across a mention of their much hyped crime novel Hypnotisören on the Scandinavian Crime Fiction blog, and a short discussion in the comments section ensued, involving Stieg Larsson’s translator. He has, unlike the witch, read the book, and was not impressed.

Vi has seemingly moved from their sheer utter disgust earlier this autumn, that ‘proper’ authors should lower themselves to writing popular books for money, to admiring them. Hence the interview.

I’m all for people entertaining others and for authors to make money. I’m just a little concerned over the automatic assumption by both Vi and the Ahndorils that they really are such very proper and such very real authors. Some quite lofty remarks were made by both of them, along lines that tend to make me a bit nauseous.

(Photo by Carl-Johan Paulin)

Cherry and Jill

Even in the English speaking world, they seem to be called Cherry and Jill. This foreign-ness is not easy, because you can never be totally sure what your book heroine from the olden days is called elsewhere. Having learned that Kitty Drew inexplicably was a Nancy, I always proceed with caution. The little witch and her friends were heavily into the Kitty books, as we called them.

The witch and school pals also loved nurse Cherry Ames, and Jill of the horses. There were other nurse and horse series, too. Do we have a Sue Barton in this world?

I was reminded of good old Cherry Ames in a crime blog earlier this year, and was most relieved to find that people other than me had read about Cherry, and still remembered her. Sometimes I feel that my past possibly never happened, so it’s reassuring that I may have imagined less than I’ve come to suspect.

And now Fidra Books are re-publishing Ruby Ferguson’s books about Jill, starting with Jill’s Gymkhana. It’s a great relief to me, since I had decided that Jill was bound to have had another name in the rest of the world, unless all of her was a complete figment of my imagination.

Jodhpurs. Such an intriguing word.

And typhoid and ice cream.

The things that a person files away in their memory…

Picture books; the good and the bad

Let’s not even get onto the subject of the ugly. Because there are picture books out there that are all this, and more.

I don’t often blog about picture books. It’s not because I don’t like them. I do like them. But with no children to read to, and picture books not generally being something I sit down and read for my own fun (they finish before I’ve barely begun), I don’t see so many of them.

There are some absolutely beautiful picture books, but I started wondering who likes them. Is it just the adults? Does it matter which picture books children read?

As a child I had some classic books, but I also had books that were nothing special at all in a literary sense, but which I loved and read over and over again. So did Offspring at that age. We had some quality books, but that didn’t prevent them loving ‘rubbish’. You just do, for whatever reason. I suppose it’s the book equivalent of enjoying Brio toys and McDonalds’ freebies equally much.

When I’ve been sent picture books for review, I generally only blog about the ones with adult appeal. That’s not to say that the ones I ignore aren’t capable of being loved to pieces by lots of children.

So how choose? And why?

To watch or not to watch

I think I may be lightweight enough (metaphorically, obviously) to prefer the 15-minute version of Hamlet.

Swedes have long admired the British for their wit. The English department at Gothenburg employed several such witty Englishmen to dazzle the Swedish students with their Englishness. They were usually called David something-or-other.

The short Hamlet was written by David Wright while he was still at school, if I remember correctly. He provided us students with copies of his admirably brief play, which was very funny, primarily because everything had to happen with such speed. I may still have it somewhere.

I rather wish it had been available at the Gardner Centre at Sussex University a few years later, when the Resident IT Consultant and I went to see Hamlet in the university theatre. I lasted – almost – until the interval. I had great difficulty staying awake, and after considering my lack of enjoyment, I actually got the train home alone and went to bed.

So my Hamlet track record isn’t the greatest.

Do I watch David Tennant in Hamlet tonight? The jury is still out. David T is quite lovely, isn’t he? But it does look like they intend to take three hours over it, instead of 15 minutes. On the other hand, my bed is closer, should I require it.

A Guide to Choosing the Best

Children’s Books, that would be. The Resident IT Consultant felt your witch could do with a guide to picking good books. (You mean I can’t just close my eyes and throw a dart at the piles?)

So, a book about books, was what he got me for Christmas. Along with those chilli oat cakes, I must add, and a book on the nation’s favourite comic poems.

Even I can’t review a book overnight on Christmas night, although having already done church, I have one thing less to do. Sleeping is what I’d prefer to be doing, so this will be brief and irreverent. Michele Landsberg’s guide is from 1988, so pre-Potter and pre-His Dark Materials and everything.

There’s a good chapter on fantasy, and Michele has an interesting selection of suggested books for over 13s. I’m not sure you can write this kind of guide any more. It would go out-of-date almost immediately, but I can understand the urge to advise. That’s what I do on a daily basis here, except I know that much of what I say is fresh, and will be obsolete next week.

You do get books on what to read next, but surely we all now see the book world spinning ever faster and we can’t read all the worthwhile books, let alone write a book about them. But as a piece of history this guide will be fun to look at. And I’m sure to find something new in there that I will enjoy.

Daughter very wisely stayed out of the book game, and Son only provided a book I had suggested as being suitable. It was on the advice of one of you, but I’m not telling. Yet.

The best of gooses

Don’t worry. I’ve not suddenly got more illiterate than I was. But Son – childishly – likes gooses. And the book I’m burbling on about here is actually titled The Best of Times, and I think it must have been one of the ones Michael Morpurgo was talking about in Edinburgh. It sort of rings a bell.

It’s Michael’s Christmas story, and as usual it’s rather nice. The illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark are just right. The story is not all that original, in a way, but it works well in spite of this. It’s the popular Prince who marries the love of his life, the beautiful Princess, and after a period of happiness, the poor Princess becomes sad.

She gets sadder and sadder and the Prince doesn’t know what to do. This being a children’s story, things turn out well in the end. And for anyone who has seen War Horse at the National Theatre, you will recognise the puppeteers, and you will understand the relevance of the goose.

Long live all puppet gooses!

The Wish List

A book for the ladies, is how Eoin Colfer himself put it. He seemed to feel that The Wish List would be a good starting point for mothers unwilling to read his books. And there is some truth in that.

Personally I do like The Wish List very much, but I’m picking it today because it goes with what we are all doing right now. Dealing with lists and wishes. I have no lists for things I want to be given. (Oat cakes with pepper or chilli will do fine.) I only have lists of things still to do, and they are all the boring things I’m still trying to fool myself into believing don’t really need doing.

Back to Eoin and his book. It, too, of course, is a list of things to do. Things to do before dying, but very humorous even so.

Meg Finn has been both naughty and nice, so when Saint Peter and Beelzebub speak on their mobile phones, as they sometimes do, she gets given some extra time to do something. The ‘something’ is what old Lowrie McCall wants or needs to do. His list is, as he points out, the only way to Heaven for the very ill Lowrie and the already sort of dead Meg.

Kissing an old flame comes first. Then football in Croke Park. Men!

Dealing with a bully. Always a good one. Like forgiving them. And Meg has a go at wishing, too. There’s spitting. I don’t get it, but we all want different things from life.

People die, which is good. And bad.

You’d think this kind of subject might be boring, but Eoin doesn’t do boring.

Happy Christmas To All

This year I decided to bake my own Christmas card. Cheap (and red) and green, rather like your witch. And it’s possible to eat afterwards, at least at this end. I’d advise you not to chew your computer screens.

2009 Christmas card

A Very Happy Christmas To You All!