Monthly Archives: November 2010


This is not a novel featuring time travel. Or perhaps it is. Hard to say. At first I was worried it would be, and then I was relieved that it seemed to escape the need for inexplicable transportation to another era. And then, well maybe, or maybe not.

I heard so much good about Jennifer Donnelly’s A Gathering Light, but never got to it, so this is my first. And it’s great. I hated the beginning, but put it down to me having a bad night and returned to the book the following day. And soon I could barely put it down.

Revolution may be about the French Revolution, but it’s a very American story. So American that I wouldn’t have objected to the UK edition having the odd extra piece of information, like how old Andi, the heroine, is. She’s doing – or rather she’s doing her best to avoid doing – her senior thesis. And the main part of the book is set during winter break, which I took to mean Christmas. There is however no sign of Christmas in the novel, so I double-checked with an American friend. Yes, it should be Christmas. Hmm. The time of year when the sun in Paris rises soon after 4.30.

I suspect the reason I hated the beginning is that to set the scene for Andi’s state of mind and the problems with her parents, you need a dark start. Her younger brother died a few years earlier and she’s still suffering from guilt. Hence her willingness to throw her future away by misbehaving in school and trying to skip the senior thesis.

Dad – the Nobel prize winner (and don’t get me started on that one!) – drags her off to Paris, where Andi is able to talk and read and generally understand everything, because she is bilingual. Yes. She has to work on a proposal for the thesis, which is to be on Amadé Malherbeau, the famous composer. Music is the one thing Andi cares about, and she is an accomplished guitarist.

Staying with friends, she accidentally comes across a diary from the time after the Revolution. It’s written by a girl her own age, and through reading the diary Andi learns much, both about the Revolution and about France, as well as about herself. She also meets a boy who is a talented singer and falls in love.

The background to the Revolution is fascinating, Alexandrine’s adventures in the 1790s really pull you in, and Andi’s romance is satisfying and rings true.

It was at this point when I felt secure in the knowledge there would be no time travel, that things develop. Did the iPod end up in 1795 or didn’t it? It’s powerful stuff, regardless.

So, take no notice that I’ve been griping about details. I loved the book.

Although, the comment about ‘purple menopause clothes’ was hitting below the belt, surely? I know it’s Andi saying it, but Jennifer has had the thought, or she wouldn’t have written it.


Monkey Photo

For the child – or parent – who has tired of pale and cute picture book illustrations, a change of scenery can be found in Monkey Photo. This extremely colourful book by Gita Wolf and Swarna Chitrakar, is about a monkey who is always photographed by tourists.

Until one day he grabs a camera and goes out to take photos of the other animals. What follows is a series of exotic and vibrant pictures of snakes, painted elephants, birds, stripey and spotty ‘cats’ and many more.

Tara Books is – I believe – a small publishing house in India, and it’s so easy to forget that other countries have their own English language books, not to mention their own styles.

If plenty of colour makes children intelligent, as I’ve heard said, then this monkey and his pals should raise a few IQs. And I would guess the book might get children started painting their own exotic animal pictures.

Monkey Photo

(Sorry about the glare-y photo. And the blurriness. I suspect the monkey did a far better job. On the other hand, I didn’t steal my camera.)

Mother’s helper

An author was ‘boasting’ on facebook recently about her lack of household skills, which reminded me of a friend I used to have at school. And her parents.

The mother went away, leaving the father to deal with necessities such as watering the houseplants. He was a man, so he forgot. He forgot until soon before the mother was due to return. So he overdid things slightly. He watered rather enthusiastically. Which wasn’t good, either.

Even he realised the plants were soggy beyond belief. As a last-ditch attempt to de-sog, the poor man put them in the oven to dry out.

Luckily my friend arrived home from school and found them baking away. She was furious with her father and hastily removed the plants from the oven.

She then proceeded to chuck them in the fridge to cool off.

Oh well.

The school fair potted palm

Lucky they didn’t have this pot plant to deal with. This is the puny little thing Daughter carried home from the school fair one year when I had – inexplicably – not accompanied her. Didn’t have the heart to tell her it wouldn’t do well, the way it looked.

Good thing, or I’d have been busy eating my words now.

We’ll be looking at making a hole in the ceiling next.

Bookwitch bites #32

Nick Green

The revamp of Nick Green’s website has vamped even further with this very fetching photo of the leather-clad author of the cat-power adventure books. Can you resist?

Mary Hoffman couldn’t resist Firebrand by Gillian Philip. Review hot off the presses here.

Random House have come up with an application for changing nappies and burping babies, based on Malorie Blackman’s Boys Don’t Cry. As I’m really quite ancient I’ve not totally got my head round this yet. But I think it’s a ‘game’ for iPods and things where you can learn to look after a baby.

It’s possible to learn almost anything. Michael Rosen reviewed School Blues by Daniel Pennac in the Guardian. It’s about French schools and how to educate ‘dunces’. You’re never hopeless. Anyone can become a someone, and good teachers are important.

Also in the (Education) Guardian, an article by Jonny Zucker about how worthwhile author visits to schools can be. For the children. I know we discussed the comfort of the visiting author a few weeks ago, but it’s always worth keeping in mind who schools are actually for. The teachers. No, that’s not right. The children. They matter.

In actual fact, Jonny lists things to do to make the author comfortable, but he does so with a view that the author will then be good for the children. And I love his idea that schools should splash out and book an author in for a full week. It’d be great. Probably very improbable for 99% of schools, but a wonderful idea nevertheless.

Rats with fluff

Autumn deck

I sit in my reading chair and swear as I see the ghastly squirrels scampering back and forth on the deck, a few feet away. They were never this forward before. They are probably hungrier, and there are more of them. They are really nothing but rats with a slightly fluffier tail.

My thoughts get this far every time, and then I think that since I know how squirrels reason, I should be more sympathetic. Because they are nice creatures, only wanting to stock up on food for the winter. After which I pull myself together and tell myself that I do not know anything of the kind. I just happen to have read Kate Thompson’s Switchers series. Tess, the main female character, can switch and become an animal. She often chooses to become a squirrel, and you can read about life as seen from the squirrel’s point of view.

That does not mean it is real. I mean, it’s not as if Kate actually tried being a squirrel before she wrote the books. I hope she didn’t.

To Tess, in her human form and as a squirrel, rats are horrible. That’s why she’s so reluctant to switch into a rat when she meets another switcher. But she does, and she discovers rats are also quite noble creatures.


The Switchers trilogy is one of those lucky finds. If it didn’t seem too nerdy, I’d tell you that it was ten years ago when Red Fox celebrated some anniversary or other by selling (some of) their books on a bogof offer. Ever the frugal reader I stocked up on as many books as I liked the look of. And once I’d read Switchers I had to go and buy Midnight’s Choice and Wild Blood too. I bet Red Fox knew that would happen.

It’s a fantastic trilogy, and it got me started on all Kate’s other books. But as for her ‘relevant experience’ before writing these books, I don’t believe she switched into an animal at all. Though, you never know, do you? When I think of rats, I try to think of her noble ones.

Squirrel highway

But as for squirrels, I’m afraid I’ve had enough of them. When we first moved here I was taken by the way ‘ours’ travelled through the ash trees, but now that I can’t put down bulbs or bedding plants without them coming along and digging everything up again, I don’t think very fondly of them.

The difference here is that these are grey ones, and I grew up with red ones. We didn’t have them in the garden, but I used to see them a lot on Gallow’s Hill, which was (and still is) a lovely place. Named after people doing you-know-what there in the olden days. Somehow red ones seem nicer. Is there a scientific reason for this?

Future tulips

Nowadays I use chicken wire. We once had a squirrel proof bird feeder. They actively ate the wood! So what chance do tulip bulbs stand? I’m just concerned I’m being lulled into a false sense of security.

Funny Girls

I drank my tea and ate my toast while watching some breakfast television show with Philip Ardagh doing his utmost to avoid mentioning that the Louises had won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. I kept thinking he’d slip up. (Sorry, P.)

Glad to hear that many children’s authors are both short and funny. Like their books. Which would make a certain person’s books extremely long… (Or is that a tall book..?)

Last year’s winner (that’s Philip again) looked quite presentable (this is turning into some lowlife glossy magazine) with freshly trimmed beard and hair and he seemed to have the tickling of small children down to a fine art. I don’t know where they could have found quite such tiny and cute children. And getting them out of bed even earlier than I had crawled downstairs. The little boy favoured Where’s Wally, which was not on the shortlist, but if you ask a child a question, you get an answer.

Philip wrote in the Guardian on Saturday about the trials (and the odd bit of fun) of judging the prize. It’s a relief to learn that not all funny books are funny. And just because you think you are Julia Donaldson and believe you write like her, doesn’t mean you are or that you can.

Louise Rennison

Louise Yates and Louise Rennison can. Write funny, if not necessarily Gruffalo style. Louise Yates won the younger award for Dog Loves Books, inspired by one of the other shortlistees, Quentin Blake. And Louise Rennison triumphed with Withering Tights, which is such a delicious title.

I have adored the Rennison (here I thought it was going to be labour saving having two winners with the same name, whereas I now have to resort to surnames…) titles for years. I’ve never read her books, but each time I spy a new one I pause and enjoy the sheer wittiness of the title.

As a girl who likes humour, I’m more than satisfied with this double female win.

Halfway Angel

Dear – young – Postman,

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t actually stand just inside my front door all day long. I know I should really, in case you come scratching. (What’s wrong with the doorbell? The sound of it carries further than that scraping sound on wood.) Knocking impatiently does not enable me to move faster.

I’m a slow mover at the moment – as you noticed – and due to my dodgy knee I’ve sort of rationed my journeys in-house. I save up several things I want to do upstairs, or in the basement, before I change floors.

So I had just made it down below when I had to dash as fast as I’m currently capable of dashing. I thought I wasn’t doing badly up those stairs, but I arrived finding something halfway in and halfway out, with you pushing and pushing to get it through the letterbox.

I opened the door explaining that I was unable to run any faster, only to be told you didn’t need me to come because it was halfway through. Yeah? So maybe not bother scratching next time? Although I sincerely hope my usual postman will be back when the next book arrives.

That was my eagerly awaited Angel you were shoving through my door. She’s quite nice and fat, which will be why she only went part of the way through.

And this morning I will not be in at all. I’ll be doing things to envelopes elsewhere.

Best wishes from the old witch at no. 20.