Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Hen in the Wardrobe

Chicken soup for the soul. I’m sure someone said that, but I can’t remember who. We had a starring chicken here just the other day, but a hen in a wardrobe is not to be sneezed at either. Unless there is a cold involved, in which case sneezing might occur and good books are very much wanted, and much better than soup.

I have been reading Wendy Meddour’s debut A Hen in the Wardrobe, and it is true chicken soup material. I absolutely loved it! It’s short and a seemingly easy read, but not at all a simple book. It deals with important issues like where people belong, and what you do when life just doesn’t feel right.

Yes, what do you do? Ramzi’s Dad sleepwalks. That’s why he ends up looking for a non-existent hen in Ramzi’s wardrobe one night. He’s not entirely happy in England, and secretly longs for his native Algeria.

And what do you do about that? Taking professional advice, Ramzi’s family come to the conclusion they need to visit Algeria, so they do. His Dad is very happy to be home again, and Ramzi quite likes visiting. At least for some time. Until he sleepwalks and finds a sheep in the kitchen.

Not everyone can be happy all the time, but what to do when half the family wants one thing and the other half wants something else? Because there is no right or wrong. It’s a case of where we come from, and we only really come from one place, however good somewhere else is.

Wendy Meddour, A Hen in the Wardrobe

This story lets the reader actually ‘live’ Algeria. There is no preaching or showing, just an immediate dip into Algerian life. And you can see how people are the same everywhere, but also different.

We can never really solve the puzzle of where to live when families are mixed. There is no single right answer. But it would be a whole lot easier if countries didn’t have so many obstacles in place to prevent free and easy visiting between people who belong together.

This is a lovely tale about families, and about Algeria as well as Muslim life in England, and none of it quite like any other book I’ve read.

(Great illustrations all done by Wendy.)

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Wereworld

‘I think it’s always best to start at the beginning,’ said Curtis Jobling when I asked for his expert knowledge of his own books. That’s why I’m giving you the first Wereworld – Rise of the Wolf – rather than Curtis’s brand new third Werebook – Shadow of the Hawk. I’ll have to work my way slowly through this Wereworld, which is going to be hard if Curtis keeps up his current publishing speed. Basically, we’ll never be on the same level. Oh well, his loss…

The word ‘were’ sends shivers down my spine, and not the team Jacob kind of shivers. OK, so I loved Lupin, but there are only so many werewolves a witch can grapple with, and you do tend to think of black books and silly romance. But in this case you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Wereworld is your good old-fashioned adventure story, where some of the characters simply happen to be were-somethings. You need some magic, and pulling on were-powers when you’re in dire straits is about as normal as becoming Spiderman.

Curtis Jobling, Rise of the Wolf

We begin with young, innocent Drew who has a very bad day. A creature turns up, does unspeakable things, and Drew’s father isn’t as understanding as he could be, so throws Drew out, leaving him both shocked by what has happened, and having to look after himself in the woods of Lyssia.

After living wild for months, Drew meets people who come to have something to do with his future. He learns that he is a werewolf, and while he makes new friends and allies, there is a lot of backstabbing going on, too. Basically, this is a fast paced adventure where Drew and friends and foes head for the exciting end of book one. There is a temporary ‘happy’ end, but the cliffhanger is good and ready and we want to know what happens next.

If you like adventure, and are ready for weresharks and werebadgers (yes, really) and any other kind of ‘were’ you can think of, this is for you. Hard to say when this is set, if you can ask that about a fantasy world. Mostly it feels historical, but some of it seems more modern. The thing with fantasy is you can do what you like.

Lovely hints at a possible romance, although I suspect Curtis won’t take it in the direction I’d like. There is a warning on the back cover that the book ‘contains scenes of violence’ and it does, but probably no more than readers would expect. It’s a bit gory, but not too bad. Personally I feel it’s the politics that leave you feeling sick.

And I’m afraid they ate Bambi.

The Sewer Demon

I can always rely on Caroline Lawrence to write an entertaining story. She has a new Roman book out in early February – The Sewer Demon – part of her new spin-off series The Roman Mystery Scrolls. It’s nice to return to the Roman settings and to the mystery solving.

Caroline Lawrence, The Sewer Demon

This one is about poo. There are some pretty graphic descriptions of Roman toilets and sponge sticks. And poo. For good measure there is a large illustration at the beginning of the book, which I’m fairly sure shows five grown men on the toilet, some of them dark in the face. Constipation, perhaps?

We met young Threptus in a short story the year before last (I think it was), and he’s friends with Lupus. He’s another beggar boy, and he admires Lupus a lot and wants to be like him. So he solves mysteries. His first one gets him a job and a home with a grown-up, and he should be safer than he was.

But Threptus ends up in trouble almost immediately, when he runs into the same old bullies. It’s as he tries to escape them that he encounters the men on the toilet, and you don’t really want to know where Threptus is just then.

We also meet Aphrodite the chicken, and there is a wealthy widow with a problem. And Floridius, Threptus’ grown-up, lets go of something important in the wrong place. (You can guess where.)

Floridius isn’t terribly good at much, but Threptus is. He notices things and he remembers them, and he puts them to sensible use. He will do Lupus proud. There is romance developing for another old Roman friend, as well.

And down in the sewer; it could be mud, or a log, or ‘something worse.’ You just never know what you’ll find there. Or perhaps you do…

The Sewer Demon is a shorter story than the Roman Mysteries, and will make perfect reading for slightly younger children, while not stopping us elderly fans from having fun.

Bookwitch bites #66

Double sixes! How exciting. Let’s be mean. I mean, let me be witchy.

I know. I’m not a native English speaker. I may have been headhunted (hah!) by an agent last week, but I won’t be writing a book. The Resident IT Consultant said he thought I could, until I informed him of my limited vocabulary. After close to 30 years, it’s not as if he will have noticed yet. OK, it’s not bad. But it’s not good. My passive vocabulary is acceptable, but what I am actually able to use confidently is so much smaller.

And on those occasions when I consider saying ‘that word’ out loud (whatever the word might be), I realise I haven’t got a clue how to pronounce it. And you people do not want to know what I do to monasteries on a regular basis. I mean, I know, really. But it just slips out.

So, this morning I’ve been unable to let posturepedic out of my head. (I dare say that’s as good a place as any for it.) I saw this bed advert recently. I have seen the word posturepedic before, and made sense of it. This time I tripped and it took me ages to see what word it was. Try and say it yourselves, using the antepenult rule for where the stress goes. There’s no escape.

It wasn’t beds I set out to have a go at. Just wanted to point out how far from perfect I am before I start complaining. But could someone please tell me why, why, why intelligent and well educated people who work with words will use a phrase like ‘it was a surprise to my husband and I’??? Remove the husband (generally to be recommended) and where are you?

That old teen heart throb David Cassidy used to do a column in my beloved teen magazine, and even he got it right. He reminisced about a girl from school who used to run after her friends, calling ‘wait for I!’. Without a husband it just didn’t work, did it? And I’ve now found it in the book I’m reading, which until then was going so well. Editing? What editing?

I sit up at night, editing. I still leave the odd thing for Son or Daughter to email me about, just to make them feel superior. But I do my best.

Now, at long last, I have found something that I rate below ‘wait for I’. I just don’t know who to blame. David Walliams? Or Penguin? Or the Guardian? At some point there must have been an editor in charge. I quote. ‘…which of course made we kids love it all the more.’

Hrmph.

And that leaves me ‘sat’ here moaning about one last thing. I put my trust in Daughter’s teacher, fondly imagining she would tell her how wrong it is. She didn’t. You now get it everywhere, and the Resident IT Consultant has gone so far as to suggest I could be wrong. (He’s sufficiently scared of me not to say so absolutely…) Am I wrong?

I was beginning to think I was, when a lovely author on facebook agreed with me and even offered up a grammatical rule. (I’m useless at grammar.) Soon after there was another author, busy flogging her newly published book in the Guardian (twice in one week), using the phrase, thereby immediately absolving me from any need to show further interest.

Perhaps we are all reading from the same English work sheet Offspring brought home from Primary school. It was about tenses. Present tense looks like this, apparently: ‘I am sitting’, where it’s the sitting that is the present. I always imagined it was ‘I sit, you sit, he/she sits’ and so on.

Goodness me. It’s Saturday. This is supposedly a Bookwitch bites, and here I am, going on and on. Sorry. It must have been the 66 that bewitched me.

I’ll just proofread this now. It’s a mere blog, but…

(This makes it 666 words.)

Being critical

I’ve done nice, in a Thumper-ish kind of way. If I don’t like a book, I will stop reading. If I can’t, I probably won’t review it. Though, having lost time reading something I didn’t care for, it’s possible to salvage something by blogging about it in a more general way.

In a week that began with Anthony McGowan’s much discussed negative review in the Guardian, and continued with Julie Bertagna’s blog, I have come to the conclusion that it might be time for a policy change. Not to slag off books, but to blog about them, warts and all. I have some way to go before I can do what Anthony did, because he got it just right (not having read the book in question I don’t know if I share his opinions), which requires skill.

What’s the verdict of my review of Advent yesterday? It’s a book I liked for the most part, and in the past I would have concentrated on that, while leaving a bit of a hole in the middle. I now feel that when I’ve invested the time, I shouldn’t do half a review. (Or should I?)

I remember the book by GPT some years ago, which I had to finish because I was leading a group discussion afterwards, only to find that not a single child in the group had bothered, so I needn’t have either. If only I could have that week back!

More recently I was grabbed by the description of a novel by a new author, except the story ended up going nowhere. By then I felt I might as well finish the book, and that’s when it turned out it was the first in a trilogy. So no review. Perhaps that’s where I went wrong? Maybe I should have shared my thoughts?

I tested this idea on the Resident IT Consultant yesterday. In no uncertain terms he pointed out that my review of Advent was negative. At least for me.

So where do I go?

Advent

James Treadwell, Advent

This first part of a new trilogy begins most promisingly. James Treadwell’s Advent introduces troubled 15-year-old Gavin, on his way to stay with his Aunt Gwen in Cornwall, having been given up on by his parents and everyone else. I was very excited by this book from the moment it arrived.

The great start does however make detours into more boring country every once in a while, before leaping back to where it was. And thus it goes on. There were bits of chapters I wanted to prune. I felt I was being given information I didn’t seem to need. (I could be proven wrong, of course. Might be like the polyjuice potion.)

Gavin has had a secret friend all his life. And the woman he encounters en route to Aunt Gwen’s cottage has been hearing voices for as long. When Gwen fails to meet him off the train, weird things start to happen at an ever increasing pace. Things go bump in the night in Gwen’s cottage, followed by Gavin meeting some unusual neighbours. Not all of them as alive as you’d want.

There are some truly interesting characters in Advent. Most of them meet at some point, but remain surprisingly separate. I wanted much more from Hester, who is a tremendously promising character. And the boy Horace has so far been too marginalised.

You have your man-eating dogs and talking black birds (again) and mermaids and a strangely ancient man, as well as people rising from the dead. Evil seems to be returning to the world, after centuries of absence. The people around Gavin have something to do with this, but we don’t get a full explanation.

Advent has plenty of humour and excitement and I enjoyed the good parts enormously, while ignoring the historical flashbacks to Faust. There are a couple of lapses of point of view, and the 21st century shouldn’t mingle with the 16th.

SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING!

By the end I wanted to go on to read the second book, and that is when James went and switched characters with no warning, leaving me wondering about Gavin and co. The next lot seem interesting, too, but will the twain meet? Will enough threads be tied up?

In his Author’s Note James explains stuff, carefully ignoring all that I wanted to know. Oversight, or cunning?

(Do you want to win a copy of Advent? If so, use the Contact form at the top of the page – not the comments – to tell me about it. And we’ll see.)

My mentor is 80!

Yes, I know. I mentioned the Retired Children’s Librarian only just the other day. These things happen.

But it’s not every day a person’s mentor turns 80. Strictly speaking, I’d say it only happens once, unless you are the multiple-mentor type.

It’s very easy to forget to appreciate what people do for you. Especially those who have ‘always’ been there.The Retired Children’s Librarian was the unmarried, childless friend of parent, who had the time and the inclination to do things with a fledgling witch that are outside the parental remit.

Slightly crazy, and very generous. As I’ve said on here before, she started me on a life of crime, for which I’ll always be grateful. She doesn’t do computers, so I’m fairly safe. However, whenever we talk blogs (as if she knows what a blog actually is…) she always asks if I’ve got anywhere with that topic she holds dear. I expect I’ll need to pull my socks up soon. And Get On With It.

Grisslehamn

We didn’t murder her, that time when the police were after us. But she’ll murder me for putting a photo of her on here. I have been kind enough to pick one which is better than most. We visited her a few years ago and she took us to Grisslehamn, where we went to see Albert Engström‘s writing shed. (Some shed!) It was a harder task than it sounds, carless as she is. She ‘hired’ her niece for the day, except the niece became unavailable and in turn fixed us up with a handsome young man as our driver for the day.

So that was all right.

Happy 80th!