Monthly Archives: December 2010

Christmas card

Wishing all my lovely readers a very Happy Christmas!

2010 Christmas card

It’s meat cleaver time


And I’ve worried so much about this that I’ve barely been able to decide whether to do it and if so, how to do it.

But I do like lists, and in a way I’ve mentally ticked books throughout the year. But should it be ten best, or five best, or just a random number of bests?

Oh, come on witch!

My best book of the year has to be Tall Story by Candy Gourlay. It just has to.

It is closely followed by Linda Sargent’s Paper Wings and by Keren David’s When I Was Joe/Almost True. Keren having had two books out this year I can’t choose between them, so they share.

They in turn are barely ahead of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes and Ellen Renner’s City of Thieves.

I have a very complex list of candidates, with circles and highlighting and things going on. So I could go on. But I feel that too long a list dilutes the effect.

I think I’ll stop here. But believe me; there are many many wonderful books. It’s been a tremendously good year for reading. Please keep those books coming!

2010 books

City of Thieves

Someone very wisely said something about second novels often being so much better than the first, and it was only just the other day, too. City of Thieves is such a book. I liked Ellen Renner’s Castle of Shadows, but have to say that with the sequel she has come a long way with her writing. Castle of Shadows had a hint of Joan Aiken about it, whereas this could almost be mistaken for an Aiken.

Where the first book concentrated on Queen Charlie, before Queenhood struck, this is the story of her faithful friend Tobias. And contrary to what I expected there is little contact between the two of them. They end up doing their bit for the nation of Quale separately. Charlie in her castle, and Tobias out in the town, where he finds himself uncomfortably close to his thieving relatives, the Petches.

So not only does Tobias have to contend with his biological father, the disgraced former prime minister, but his equally unsavoury adopted uncle Zebediah Petch gets his hands on him and trains him in the skills of thiefhood. It’s quite fascinating, really. A good little earner, and a skilfully set up company. You have to admire old Zebediah.

Between the thieves and the crooked politician and the scheming royals you get a fair bit of excitement. What will Tobias do? What can he do? His pal Charlie may be Queen, but what can she do?

Neither Zebediah nor the ex-prime minister Alistair Windlass are nice people, but they are awfully interesting. The Petch family also has some real characters who no doubt will be given an opportunity to do more.

Because, unlike Castle of Shadows, this book is not finished. You could have left things – just about – after book one. Now you’ll be panting for more, and fast.

I like very much.

Bookwitch bites #36

My first paragraph on today’s bites has nothing to do with animals at all. It’s my editor (I do like the sound of that!) Mike French on The View From Here who has started up a blog. I can only assume Mike became jealous of the fun that can be had with a blog. And he seems to have got himself a publishing contract for his first novel, The Ascent of Isaac Steward. That might be it.

Armadillo Magazine’s Christmas edition is hot off the internet this week with a few good reviews and other bookish stuff.

Sara Paretsky has been interviewed by Bark Magazine about her dogs. Both she and V I love dogs, but it seems it wasn’t always thus. Great angle, and lovely for dog owners. It would suggest all hope for me is not yet lost, although I wouldn’t hope too much if I were you. Or me.

I had my first Christmas present this week when someone sent me an early draft of a few chapters of a YA novel they are sort of working on. Absolutely marvellous, and very funny. It’s got lots of goats in it. But not only is the story not finished yet, but with publishing being what it is, I’m afraid I’ll be the only reader.

As you may know I read very carelessly, sometimes. Especially when I’m out and about. I read signs and posters and see something that’s not there. My local betting shop (no, I do not bet) had a poster about AUK millionaire guaranteed. I’m so pleased. It’s time those poor birds did well. It could be the same place that advertised ‘smoking skills’. If required.

I must take more care when reading.

Did you write that yourself?

The cover of G2 one day this week made me happy. I think it was the photo featuring a man and a stack of books. The man didn’t do much for me, but I like stacks of books. Just wish they had turned them all the same way before taking the picture. The ferret faces the opposite way from all the others, and I’m unsure if by design or accident. You don’t know with ferrets.

John Harris undertook to read an awful lot of celebrity autobiographies in a very short time. He is to be admired for surviving. I knew that kind of book is likely to be dire, but the direness was worse than expected. It would appear that the kind of editing that novelists experience does not take place when a highly paid celeb sits down to write about themselves.

Maybe ghostwriting is too much to hope for, but they could at least work on the opening sentence in order not to put the prospective reader off before they’ve paid for the book.

Though I do understand why the books sell. I may not know who Cheryl Cole is (I have an inkling, before you all write in), but were I a fan of hers, I’d like to read more about her. So anyone who writes a biography of someone I admire, be it themselves or a ghost or someone else, I’d probably buy it. And if it’s bad, it will join its sisters in Oxfam before long. Two months after I’d heard Roger Moore talk about his autobiography in Cheltenham, the charity shops were awash with copies.

I enjoyed reading about Rolf Harris and Billy Connolly, and John Barrowman, sort of. John very sensibly got his sister in to write. I did not last past the first 100 pages of Michael Winner. Though I did learn something from his book. If you can fill pages with photos of yourself with the caption ‘here I am with XX’, then Daughter can use hers with Mr Winner in her autobiography, when the time comes. It’s quite a good photo, even if it did embarrass her dreadfully. I believe he helicoptered in for it, as well.

But is it important that Joe Bloggs writes the book himself? Is it not more important that we can read something readable about Joe Bloggs? If we are fans of his. Admittedly, I feel the only person I could write a passable biography of is me. And I’m not interesting to more than a handful of people.

It seems the book to read at the moment is Keith Richards’, but I’m not interested in him. Maybe I should be.

I just looked at the original article again. I apologise. It’s a meerkat. Not a ferret. Ferrets are better.

Where are the wild dogs when you need them?

I don’t suppose Adèle Geras expected her email alert to have quite this effect on me. But that’s the blogging world for you. I was out all Sunday so did not, in fact, see the Observer article where Ed Docx – ‘literary author’ – tears Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown to pieces. And the crime fiction genre and genres in general. Thank god for real literature. What would we do without it?

Ed Docx 2

A brief meeting with the good Ed means I seem to know that he has a literature background, which will be why he knows so much. He lectures quite strongly, and wrongly, in this Observer piece. Just as he did at the bookshop event I went to, where he thought nothing of telling the assembled readers, most of whom were at least twice his age, how to read a book. He wasn’t trying to be funny, either.

On Normblog Mr Geras had this to say about the article. Such a relief to find some well put-together sentences such as ‘Oh dear, Yeats! If only he’d roamed free of those poetic forms’, even if Norm doesn’t share my fondness for crime.

Stieg Larsson would surely turn in his grave if he knew he was being bracketed with Mr Brown of Da Vinci fame. There is a lot of difference between the two, and I think Ed would have been better to concentrate on complaining about only one of them.

Over on Crime Always Pays there is also a debate going on, with John Connolly sticking up for Ed. Which I will forgive him for. This time. And I agree with the comment about Lee Child, but then I would.

I was going to find a way to link to what I wrote about Ed a couple of years ago, but technical difficulties are getting in my way. Besides, when there are quotes like this one from the Observer comments section to enjoy, who needs old witch material? ‘The important thing is that anyone who claims to be a writer and writes copy like Docx’s should have their bowels torn out by wild dogs.’

(And you can never have two many drinks. As long as they balance.)

The angels are definitely here

Wall angel

Should I be concerned? Even worry? There are an awful lot of angels here now. And you know, I used to think they were nice. ‘People’ to be trusted.

From this point of view it was unfortunate that I read L A Weatherly’s Angel last week. Her angels being of the not very nice kind, I now find myself eyeing the angels in my house rather differently. Might not be as benevolent as I imagined. Not even mostly harmless.

And Christmastime is when they appear. They hadn’t arrived when I blogged about Angel the book last week, but now they are here in force. On the other hand, this ‘beanpole’ looks so very sweet and innocent. Doesn’t she?

GM Angel 2

GM Angel 1

IN Angel 1

HG lookalike angel

The one at the top of the tree has always struck me as sweetness itself. Likewise her sister creature further down the tree.

Friend Pippi’s hand-tatted angels, with and without body, look serene and kind. The Daughter (younger version) lookalike from the furniture giant may have a hole in her head, but is otherwise quite angelic. If that’s not a stupid thing to say.

I noticed the same Daughter had positioned the little dumpy BW-shaped angel in the white tutu near my chair, so that she and I can stare at each other. Her wings are ridiculously tiny and will fly her nowhere.

The tree at Bookwitch Towers has a dozen angels, if not more. We never had angels when I was young, so I wonder if it’s fashion, or maybe the foreign influence of living in a strange country. Very strange. (But nice!)

Perhaps I should simply ignore the badness of Lee’s fictional angels? There are other angels in books. Philip Pullman’s are fairly nice, and on the side of good. Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s angels in Good Omens are a little bad, but not in a terribly unpleasant way.

BW shaped angel

Though I always felt a bit uncomfortable with the angel in David Almond’s Skellig. Might be just me. Tim Bowler has several characters with that same angel feel to them, though I don’t think Tim actually says they are angels. A bit scary, though.

IN Angel 2

And then there is my bathroom radiator…

Out of Shadows

I kept worrying throughout reading this book. It’s a marvellous story and I very much enjoyed it. But it is so nerve-wracking. You sit there knowing this is going to be bad. There is not much hope of any happy ever after, or that it can all be explained somehow.

The Costa shortlisted Out of Shadows is set in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, and you can tell Jason Wallace knows what he’s writing about. He too, has been the new English boy in a hard boarding school in post-war Zimbabwe, and he has seen what Mugabe’s early rule was like. Hitler gets a mention, and the parallels are painfully clear. As a portrait of recent modern African history this is unmissable.

Robert is 13 and naïve. His father has got a job at the British Embassy and he adores Mugabe and tells his son what a great country this will be. Although Robert starts off as friends with Nelson, the other new boy, who is black, he soon learns that this is not a school where you befriend blacks. His classmates hate Mugabe, hate blacks, and want all things to go back to what they were.

Out of Shadows

Ivan is the son of a farmer, and he is a bully. But he’s a bully who wants Robert on his side, against the blacks. The question is whether Robert can stand up to Ivan and his plans, whatever they might be. What’s particularly fascinating is how this dreadful boy is also shown as quite human at times, and we can see how and why he became what he is. But that’s more explanation than excuse.

As it’s a traditional boarding school for boys, there is institutional bullying from older pupils towards younger ones. And then there is the bullying of blacks, be they pupils or staff or ‘villagers’. Or even teachers.

You can tell Ivan and his friends are going straight to hell. The question is what route they will take. We know where they must end up. Who will be dragged along? And can you try and do good, or is decent behaviour doomed?

Set over five years the book makes the reader grow more and more tense. Will they stop at nothing?

This is a fantastic book! But really scary when you have seen the developments in Zimbabwe from our supposedly civilised European corner. Hindsight. If you’d known, would you have acted differently?

Beedle the Bard

I wouldn’t have got round to reading this had it not been for Ron Weasley in the film last week. He fired my curiosity for The Tales of Beedle the Bard, looking so shocked at the blank faces of Harry and Hermione, realising that they didn’t share his childhood memories of Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump.

Yes, well.

Beedle’s tales have been sitting around here ever since publication, but I sort of had very little interest in the book. It felt like too little, too late after the Deathly Hallows. Reviews were varied, I seem to recall, with many newspapers doing what they do best; being clever and superior about Harry Potter and J K Rowling.

Anyway, I dug out my copy of the book and have read and enjoyed a story a day this week. I have enjoyed them. They are so traditional that they could be centuries old, and that’s what J K R does so well; borrowing from tradition and twisting it into something of her own.

So not only do you have Beedle’s tales. You get Dumbledore’s – quite lengthy – comments on each tale, and to top it off J K R has made footnotes on his comments, all in her dry, humorous voice.

It’s not Harry Potter, but it’s really very enjoyable. And better late than never.

Do I even know you?

It was Adèle Geras who got in first. I knew that as soon as I had tidied up my address book, someone would move house. As the tidying happens, you know that it won’t be long, but you don’t know who will be the first to ‘break ranks’. And Adèle’s  name, beautiful though it is, begins with a G. So do most of the other surnames in my address book.

Anyway, I discovered the need to cross out and make a mess, when I was writing my Christmas cards. I write fewer cards every year, preferring instead to send e-cards. Saves money. Saves trees. I could of course save money and trees by not sending cards to people I barely know. Do other people send cards to virtual strangers?

I can’t decide which of my recipients is the most farfetched. How about my late aunt’s English teacher? My aunt was 93 when she died eight years ago, and no, that does not make the teacher 125. We renewed our acquaintance at the funeral. And I believe she enjoys hearing from me.

Or is it the niece of the Australian woman I met in an Italian restaurant in London in the 1970s? Basically, D the elder was another of those who enjoyed contact after what was her trip of a lifetime. As she got older she could no longer write, so her niece D the younger wrote on her behalf. And just because D the elder died, I can’t just break off writing to D the younger.

The lady we bought our house from keeps moving, but she still gets a Christmas card. So does the man who was walk leader on the holiday when the Resident IT Consultant was unfortunate enough to encounter a witch.

For years my in-law family had three ladies by the same first and surname. One remarried, so now it’s only two, but I still get confused. And I’m the one who as a child knew by heart the addresses, postcodes, telephone numbers and dates of birth for every relative and friend. I still would, if people weren’t inconsiderate enough to move house or marry. I don’t want change!

Just over ten years ago I acquired a whole new set of relatives, mostly with a surname beginning with a G. That part of the address book was quite full as it was, thank you. Those who were married, decided to revert to their maiden name. The one beginning with a G. Most have moved house since. One of them seems to move every 18 months.

Then there’s religion. Swedes have less of a tradition of religious cards. But the vicar’s widow likes them. So, send religious cards or not? Is it my beliefs or the recipient’s that matter? And the stamps! Now you have to choose between religious and not. Will I offend someone by picking the wrong kind? If you recall, I’m not close to those on my Christmas card list.

So you’ll forgive me for not sending you a card, won’t you? I know you too well.